SUNDAY NOTEBOOK: WINNERS WITH LOTS OF HEART CROWNED IN THE HEARTLAND
LUCKY OR GOOD? DEFINITELY NOT THE QUICKEST - The "better to be lucky than good" motto worked for Top Fuel's Dave Grubnic for three rounds Sunday at the NHRA's Dollar General Summernationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
But in that final round against three-time winner Spencer Massey, Grubnic was good. He had to be, for opponent Massey didn't stumble: no red-light foul, no tire-smoking, no mechanical breakdowns, nothing quirky such as parachutes popping out early.
Grubnic earned his first victory of the season and third overall, joining two-time winner Morgan Lucas in chipping away at Don Schumacher Racing's early-season domination.
With a 3.893-second elapsed time at 319.07 mph in the Candlewood Suites / Optima Batteries Dragster for Kalitta Motorsports, Grubnic ran down Massey, in the FRAM / Prestone Dragster, to win by about four feet, or .0097 seconds.
It was Grubnic's first victory since the March 2006 Gatornationals and the first for the Kalitta Motorsports Top Fuel team since Doug Kalitta captured the July 2010 Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver. (Jeff Arend won in the Kalitta-owned DHL Toyota Funny Car last April at Houston.)
"It's been a long time between drinks," Grubnic said, quickly saying that the dry spell hasn't been for lack of trying.
"My whole career has been like that with ups and downs," he said. "but sometimes you've got to go through these troughs to appreciate the peaks. And today is one of those peaks."
His first NHRA Top Fuel victory came at Heartland Park Topeka in 2005.
"I've had a lot of success here. Kalitta Motorsports has had a lot of success here," Grubnic said. "The reason why, I honestly don't know . . . if there are some hidden track characteristics conducive to the team or what it is. But we really don't care, as a team. We'll just take it wherever we can get it."
But as he did six years ago, he credited his team.
"We drivers come up here (to the media center) and make these speeches, but it's all about my guys, my crew, Conrad," he said. "This sport is extremely labor-intensive. We're the total opposite of NASCAR. We're on the racetrack for about four seconds and we're in the pits for about 50 minutes. So the crew has to pull that thing apart and put it together perfectly every time. And that's what they did today. And that's what my guys do every day, every race weekend. So I really owe them a lot.
"And to Conrad for making the decisions today. It was very, very challenging for crew chiefs," Grubnic said. "When you look at some of the times that were run in first round, with low 70s, mid-70s, they were giving 70s away. Then to have conditions change as they did during the day, and for Conrad to come back and beat one of the top-running cars is an outstanding achievement.
"Again, that's him," the winner said. "He sat there and he stared at that computer. He analyzed the whole process of what we had to do and told me, 'I think we need to run a (3.)9-flat and we went up there and ran an .89. He was right on target with everything he did. So all the credit goes to him, to my guys, and to everybody that supports us. This week, with Candlewood Suites, I'm very fortunate to have a funded car with great sponsors." He named Red Line Oil and Rocky Boots among them.
"This win's not about me. It's about a whole group of people," Grubnic said. "I'm just up here, trying to represent them. It's a fantastic day."
He said his winless streak -- calculated by one reporter as 2,254 days -- has weighed on his mind.
"I have thought about it a lot," Grubnic said, adding that to win is a "huge" relief. "We come out every weekend. Our goal is to win. To go that far without winning, it starts to affect you a little bit but you still believe. You never stop believing. You still work at it and you do whatever you have to do to try and make those wins happen. And finally, eventually you break through."
He replayed Sunday's final round aloud. "Going down the racetrack -- I can see it now -- just before half-track, the back of the car starts sliding around and drifting to the left. I corrected it back, and while I'm correcting it back, I'm glancing over and going, 'Where's he at? Where's he at? I don't see him.' That doesn’t mean you’re going to win. It means you can't see him."
Seeing the win light come on in his lane, Grubnic said, "is like driving through a brick wall. All of a sudden the bricks disappear and you start smiling."
Grubnic spoiled Massey's bid for a repeat victory at Topeka and blemished his record of being undefeated this year in final-round appearances. In the previous seven races, Massey had won all three times he reached the showdown for the $50,000 winners share of the purse.
Sunday's payout went to team owner Connie Kalitta, as Grubnic also kept Don Schumacher's organization from doubling in the winners circle. The Funny Car final was an all-DSR affair between Jack Beckman and Ron Capps.
After beating Bob Vandergriff with the slowest winning time of the first round (3.817 seconds), Grubnic said, "What's important is winning."
Then in the quarterfinals against Steve Torrence and the out-of-shape Torrence Family / Capco Contractors Dragster, Grubnic -- battling his own engine problems -- won by default when Torrence crossed the center line.
"We'll just keep taking these round wins," he said. "What we have to do is look at our opponent and look at the conditions. If you feel you have to run a .70, then you do. It's all about running faster than your opponent and keeping the risk of smoking your tires as low as possible.
"It's honestly a chess game. It's about analyzing your opponent and figuring out what you need to run at the least risk of smoking the tires," Grubnic said. "It's all about risk and reward. Depending on who we're racing, we might have to risk more."
And he took another lucky break in the semifinal, at Brandon Bernstein's expense. Grubnic made a solo pass in the semifinals, capitalizing on Bernstein's broken fuel line after his burnout in the MAVTV / Lucas Oil Dragster. Even then, Grubnic didn't make a clean pass. He clicked off the engine early because of tire shake and coasted into the final round with a 4.992-second E.T.
("It's unfortunate because the MAVTV car ran so great all weekend," Bernstein said. "We really thought this was our weekend and we had the car to beat. It's just unfortunate it happened when it did. It could have just as easily happened at any point during the weekend. And of course to add insult to injury, Dave smoked the tires on his run. I knew that was coming.")
Said Grubnic, "Why we have that luck here is beyond me. We were given a free trip to the finals. That's not track related. That's just take it when you can get it. But I really don't care. I'll just take it. We were the slowest winner all day, but I'm still up here (as the winner), and that's all that matters."
Massey, meanwhile, was in top form for the start of the day. Against first-round foe Shawn Langdon, the FRAM Flash recorded the fourth-fastest pass in 1,000-foot Top Fuel history at 329.10 mph. That gave Massey six of the class' all-time top nine speeds, including the fastest (his 332.18-mph national record from the April race at Charlotte).
He got razor-thin victory against points leader and desperate-to-win Tony Schumacher, squeezing into the semifinal by just four inches. His margin of victory in the tire-smoking pedalfest officially was .0008 seconds. That sent Schumacher to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., in two weeks with a winless streak of 31 races.
("Beyond the fact it was pretty ugly with the tire smoke, it was an exciting race,” Schumacher said. "I thought I might have gotten him right at the finish line, but the clocks said otherwise. We're definitely not going to dwell on this result. We have plenty of racing left this season to make things happen.")
Against Kalitta in the semifinals, Massey had to pedal the car, too, but Kalitta was having more traction problems and having them earlier. So Massey made his fourth final-round appearance in eight races.
BACK IN THE GAME - To say it’s been an unconventional stretch over the past several weeks for NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Jack Beckman might be the understatement of the year.
But through all the changes, the Don Schumacher Racing driver hasn’t complained and has simply been content with following the boss’s orders.
That perseverance paid off Sunday in Topeka when Beckman used a massive holeshot to beat DSR teammate Ron Capps in the finals of the Dollar General Summer Nationals.
With an incredible .004 reaction time, Beckman’s 4.158 at 303.09 miles per hour stood up, giving Beckman a huge win that came after a rocky month.
“Now that we know we have a good running race car again and we can take to the next race, we’re right back in the hunt here,” Beckman said.
“So much transpired since Vegas (in early April) – the switching cars, switching trailers, switching teams. It took us 19 runs on that chassis to get it to the finish line two runs in a row. That’s how tricky that thing was.
“It was my 13th win and every win I get now, I tell myself, ‘Just appreciate everything because you don’t know if it’s going to be your last.’ To get a win is so gratifying. I told the guys on the NAPA crew, my former crew, and all the Valvoline crew, ‘Let’s get everybody in for a huge winner’s circle’ because all of those hands worked on that car and made it possible to get this. This is what it takes to get everybody right back on the same page and right back in the hunt for the championship.”
Of course, in April, Schumacher sent Beckman’s previous crew and crew chief, Rahn Tobler, to Capps’ team following the resignation of Capps’ former tuner, Tim Richards.
That left Beckman’s Valvoline Funny Car team with plenty of questions. Todd Smith was named Beckman’s crew chief and after a number of struggles – including not qualifying last month in Houston – Beckman and company have righted the ship.
He even got a lucky break en route to the holeshot victory against Capps, who went 4.107 at 304.39 mph.
In the finals, Beckman double-bulbed at the starting line, which certainly wasn’t by design.
“I love it if someone double-bulbs me because you can do some things and take advantage of that. I’m very fortunate Ron didn’t hang me out after doing that,” Beckman said. “It’s one of those things where I had a plan in my head and when I went up there and lit both of them I had to back away from it and try to re-group real quick.”
He clearly did, as Beckman was still dynamite on the line to cap off a rewarding day.
Heading into the final, Beckman had a plan and it included beating Capps off the line since Capps’ NAPA Funny Car ran as quick as 4.09 during eliminations and was living comfortably in the low 4.10s.
“They were clearly outrunning us. That’s the car I drove until after the Vegas race and there’s not many secrets. Our four trailers are pitted row-to-row. We’re not closing our books, they’re not closing their books,” Beckman said.
“Not only do they go down the track every run, they’re also one of the fastest cars every run. When we saw them run a 4.12 in the semifinals, we couldn’t run that. So we thought let’s put a 4.15 in it and hopefully something will happen with their car.
“I dodged a little bullet there on the starting line. I’m not sure we could have beat them any other way and that’s the irony of it.”
After qualifying sixth, Beckman ran 4.123 in a first-round win against Alexis DeJoria and then had gritty runs of 4.386 and 4.217 to beat Mike Neff and Tim Wilkerson, respectively.
Beckman then raced to the victory in the 13th DSR vs. DSR final, claiming the win in the 700th race in NHRA Funny Car history.
“That’s pretty cool,” Beckman said. “I’m a huge fan of this sport and I still think I’m a bracket racer who is fortunate enough to get a paycheck to drive a nitro Funny Car.”
FIRST BLOOD - The rivalry is now official in NHRA Pro Stock and Allen Johnson made sure it got a little more heated in Topeka on Sunday.
After losing in four of the first six races to Greg Anderson in 2012, Johnson finally got the best of Anderson and the Summit Racing team, tracking down Anderson with a winning 6.587 at 210.54 miles per hour in the finals of the Dollar General Summer Nationals.
Johnson claimed his second win of 2012, but more importantly to the Mopar team was its first win against the two-car Summit Racing team of Anderson and Jason Line.
“I’m so darned tired of those Summit cars winning. We’ve been after them for the last 2-3 races and finally got this win and gave them a run for the money,” said Johnson, who was also the No. 1 qualifier in Topeka.
“This Pro Stock championship and rest of this year, it’s going to be a knockdown, drag-out.”
Anderson had a remarkable .004 reaction time in the finals, but shook almost immediately and Johnson took advantage with another strong run.
Anderson, who qualified No. 2, finished with a 6.696 at 210.21, making it his worst pass of eliminations by a considerable margin.
Johnson improved to 2-2 overall against Anderson in final rounds, adding a little ammunition to a rivalry that picked up considerable steam over the weekend.
“The Mopars and the off-brand cars have a little rivalry going,” Johnson said. "You know, I had a .014 light in the finals and got left on, so Greg, he knows we’re there and he was wanting to beat us just as bad as we want to beat him.
“We’ve had a big rivalry over the years and he’s got the upper hand at this point. Throughout the rest of the year, we may just have something for him with those Hemis.”
Johnson was on point throughout eliminations on Sunday, beating Ronnie Humphrey in the first round with a 6.587 at 209.79 mph.
A round later, he ended Ron Krisher’s day with his best run of the weekend – a 6.57 at 210.31 mph – before ending Shane Gray’s underdog run in the semifinals with a 6.59 at 210.24 mph.
In a day filled with upsets in nearly every class, Johnson also showed remarkable poise in what ended as a standout performance.
“The whole crew was just so strong and consistent. Our mission was to be consistent and maintain lane choice and we did that until the final round,” Johnson said. “It just so happened that in the final, the right lane came around better than the left, so it worked out.
“I stay focused on race day, I can barely tell my crew chiefs what the car did. I stay really focused and try to stay in the groove.”
Johnson also touched on how much adding Jim Yates has meant to the team and especially to co-crew chief Mark Ingersoll.
“Mark has been fighting the Pro Stock battle and he’s been with me 10 or 11 years now. Let’s use the Summit Cars again, they’ve got three crew chiefs over there, and Mark’s been fighting toe-to-toe with them for years,” Johnson said.
“Everybody in the pits will tell you Mark is the best crew chief in Pro Stock, but come Sunday, he’s fighting unfair odds. So I had to get him an engineering-type person to help him keep all the data straight and Jim has done that. Mark relies on him to feed him data to make decisions and just keep him calm. That’s the reason I got him and it’s paying dividends.”
QUICK HITS RACE RECAP
THIRD-QUICKEST EVER - Morgan Lucas fired a powerful salvo to open eliminations, running a 3.745-second elapsed time that's the third-quickest in Top Fuel's 1,000-foot history. In the process, he beat Khalid alBalooshi, the reigning Pro Modified champion who in his rookie Top Fuel season still hasn't won a round yet in the Al-Anabi / Toyota Dragster.
Actually, Lucas tied Spencer Massey's 2012 Winternationals run for third-quickest. But Lucas owns four of the top six E.T.s in class history. He ran the second-quickest (3.743) in March at Gainesville, Fla., where he also made the list at No. 5 with a 3.746 and No. 6 at 3.747.
The GEICO / Lucas Oil Dragster driver said of crew chief Aaron Brooks, who apparently is wearing a new pair of socks this morning, "Aaron, man, he's got some balls. He's not afraid to go out there and get after it. It must have been the new socks, I guess. Whatever he did, it's working for him."
His second-round opponent will be his strong-running teammate, Brandon Bernstein, in the MAVTV / Lucas Oil Dragster.
"Nobody's going to be mad at each other. We're going to go out there and want to beat the crap out of each other, but that's just part of it."
MAVTV DRAGSTER ON A ROLL - No. 3 starter Bernstein advanced past a struggling Terry McMillen, who lost with his career-best E.T. of 3.847 seconds (at 313.22 mph). Bernstein, who was second off the starting line, ran down McMillen with a 3.787, 325.85. With that, Bernstein has won seven of his eight meetings with the Hoosier Thunder Motorsports owner-driver. Bernstein has advanced from the first round for the third time in the past four races. He gave up lane choice to Lucas for the quarterfinals.
"To be so consistent and run the numbers we've run all weekend long, it's been awesome," Bernstein said after qualifying Saturday. "We've got a great, consistent race car. It seems like (crew chief) Joe Barlam and the guys have a good handle on the race car. It's just repeating and going down the track, no matter the conditions. It's been an exciting weekend so far and we've got to do some good tomorrow to cap it off right."
He took that first step but said earning those seven bonus points from qualifying has provided a huge value-added. He was the only Top Fuel driver to earn bonus points in all four sessions. "It's important to get all the points you can," Bernstein said.
As for racing Lucas in Round 2, he said, "It's a bummer, but it also shows how important getting those freebie points in qualifying can be."
HURTING AND HURTING MOTORS - Meanwhile, McMillen -- who in his rookie NHRA season three years ago never oiled the track until the very last race -- has been depleting his engine inventory in the past two races. He blew two motors at Atlanta, and Sunday's fireball toward the end of the 1,000-foot run destroyed his third engine of this weekend.
"I need another part-time job somewhere," McMillen said Saturday about affording to pay for the explosions. "We're struggling again, for some reason. The car's trying to go A to B and trying to run in the (3.)80s all the time." He said at the end of the fourth and final qualifying run, "I felt the car shudder. Kind of knew what was happening but didn’t know how bad it was going to be until we got down here at the end [of the track]. But it went A to B. We needed that."
He called his ability to qualify "bittersweet" and said, "I don’t know how many motors we have to keep going through. The supply's running short. We'll have to regroup and find the problem."
ARMY STRONG - Tony Schumacher knew right away he would be first-round winner, as Clay Millican turned on the red light and disqualified himself in the Parts Plus Dragster. But Schumacher put on a terrific show in the U.S. Army Dragster with a 3.799-second E.T. that was just two-thousandths of a tick slower than Antron Brown's No. 1 performance. That makes Schumacher 17-2 against Millican in this showdown of NHRA- and IHRA-record champions who have 13 series titles between them.
'CHUTE TROUBLE - Racers had a headwind to contend with Friday and Saturday, but Sunday brought a tailwind. Whichever way the wind was blowing, top qualifier Antron Brown found himself in trouble. His parachute broke and he had to use his brakes to stop his Matco Tools Dragster after defeating Cory McClenathan in the Rapisarda Racing entry. Although McClenathan launched first, he smoked the tires early and his parachutes automatically came out, allowing Brown to win easily with a respectable 3.802-second clocking.
WINNING AT WILL - Steve Torrence used his career-quickest E.T. -- 3.776 seconds -- at 326.79 mph to eliminate Hillary Will, who was battling a couple of dropped cylinders from the start of her run.
MASSEY FAST - As Shawn Langdon smoked the tires of the Al-Anabi / Toyota Dragster, Massey -- in 3.781 seconds from the No. 13 slot -- reeled of the fourth-fastest pass in 1,000-foot Top Fuel racing: 329.10 mph. In a reprisal of this rivalry between the two young guns and quick-reaction-time specialists, FRAM / Prestone Dragster driver Massey ran his record against Langdon to 8-0 and barely won the Christmas Tree challenge with a .047-second light to Langdon's .050. Massey has clocked six of the class' all-time top nine speeds, including the fastest (his 332.18-mph national record from the April race at Charlotte).
SLOW BUT SURE - Kalitta Motorsports' Dave Grubnic, who scored a breakthrough victory here in 2005, posted the slowest winning time of the opening round at 3.817 SECOND AGAINST Bob Vandergriff. "What's important is winning," the Candlewood Suites Dragster driver said. That still was Grubnic's quickest pass of the weekend so far. Vandergriff had some traction and engine trouble. He gave up lane choice to Steve Torrence in the quarterfinals.
WE MEET AGAIN - Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown will meet for the second straight race, after Kalitta ran 3.783 seconds at 324.05 mph -- his quickest and fastest -- to defeat J.R. Todd, who also registered his career quickest and fastest pass (3.810 324.12).
CRAZY AND EXCITING - After beating boss and teammate Lucas, Bernstein said of his estimated 13-inch (.0031-second) victory margin in the pedalfest, "That's crazy. I knew it was going to be tough. But that's not what we thought. Great job by Morgan and those guys. We're a tough team together. Man, that was exciting!" Bernstein won with a 4.267-second E.T. at 244.56 mph to Lucas' 4.278-second E.T. and faster 247.29 mph.
STAYING AMONG BIG HITTERS - For Lucas, the weekend saw progression, even with the second-round loss and some less-than-perfect passes. "We've been making some great runs this weekend, despite the car not making it all the way to the end of the track under power," Lucas said. "We've stripped teeth off the blower belt and hit the rev limiter." And although it did him in ultimately, Lucas said Saturday night that he was especially proud of the way both Morgan Lucas Racing team cars have built on one another successes during race weekend: "Both cars are finally on the same page. We're learning so much from each other." Lucas fared well in the bonus-point derby this weekend, too, grabbing eight of a possible 12, the most of anyone in Top Fuel. That can do nothing but help him in the standings as the tour moves to Englishtown, N.J., in two weeks.
HERE YOU GO, DOUG - Antron Brown handed Kalitta a free pass to the semifinals with a red-light foul. It marks the Kalitta Motorsports headliner's fourth time to reach the semifinals or better in eight races this year. This, by the way, is Kalitta's 330th event, which gives him more appearances than anyone except Tony Schumacher, who is competing in his 345th. Brown was .098 of a second too eager off the starting line, and the No. 9 qualifying Kalitta scored the day's biggest upset in Top Fuel. It was Brown's first red light since the Las Vegas event last fall (10 races ago) and just his fourth in the Top Fuel ranks.
The red light, Kalitta said, "is a sigh of relief, especially when you're running Antron. This Kalitta Air / Technicoat car, we're just happy it’s doing what its doing. Jim (crew chief - team manager Oberhofer) and all my guys are doing a great job. We'll just keep at it."
OOPS - Things seemed to be sailing along smoothly for Steve Torrence, who led the field at Charlotte, won at Atlanta, and stared second in the lineup at each of these past three races in his Torrence Family / Capco Contractors Dragster. But again Grubnic in the quarterfinals, nothing seemed to go right. He did get off the line first, but then both engines detonated and Torrence fared the worse of the two drivers.
With oil under his rear tire, Torrence got out of shape and way over to the right in his left lane. He crossed the center line and hit the 330-foot timing cones. Grubnic hopped back on the gas and pedaled his dragster to the victory. With his ugly 4.634-second E.T., he yielded lane choice to semifinal opponent Bernstein.
So Grubnic had another unspectacular E.T. and moved on. "We'll just keep taking these round wins," he said.
"That car went .77 first round -- we had to take a shot at it," Grubnic said of his desire to beat Torrence and the Torrence Family / Capco car.
JUST FOUR INCHES - Four measly inches is all it took to propel Massey into the semifinal against Kalitta and send Schumacher to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., in two weeks with a winless streak of 31 races. Massey edged Schumacher, 4.112, 268.06 to 4.114, 264.03, by .0008 seconds. It makes Massey 9-2 against his Don Schumacher racing mate.
He said he knew Schumacher was hanging right with him but was hoping he could apply just the right amount of aggressiveness for these "temperamental, 8,000-horsepower cars." Said Massey of his perspective of the pedalfest, "I was hooking back up. I heard him right there. I heard him right there. Crossed the finish line and I was giving that win light a stare and it came on." He was elated about "giving the FRAM car another win and hoping we can get in the final and have some fun."
Massey is gunning for his fourth final-round appearance in this year's eight races. He has been perfect in his three previous finals.
GO DADDY - Billy Torrence was able to do what son Steve couldn't this weekend -- reach the semifinal round. Dad did it in the Super Comp class.
GRUBNIC GETS A BREAK - Dave Grubnic didn't have anywhere near a perfect run, but it didn't matter after Brandon Bernsetin shut off before their semifinal matchup.
Bernstein had a fuel leak backing up from his burnout, which immediately forced a shutoff, making it an extremely disappointing turn of events for the No. 3 qualifier. That handed the victory to Grubnic, who smoked the tires right off the bat but will happily take the finals appearance.
Grubnic, seeking his first win since 2006, went 4.992 at 141.97 mph.
"Believe me, we'll take those. It's wonderful. I saw them cleaning something off, and it's tough luck for Brandon and his team, but for Candlewood Suites, Connie and all my guys, they deserve it, (and) let's see what we can do in the finals," Grubnic said.
MASSEY MOVES ON - There won't be an all-Kalitta final, as Spencer Massey, the only driver to have a win over the last two years among today's Top Fuel semifinalist, knocked off Doug Kalitta with a 4.151.
Kalitta had to pedal and went 4.60 at 267.32 mph, while Massey had a 4.151 at 267.91 mph.
Amazingly, Massey is undefeated in 2012 when he advances past the quarterfinals, making him a huge favorite against Grubnic, who has not won in six years.
Kalitta lost traction immediately, and could never track down Massey, who had a relatively smooth run despite having to pedal it briefly late in the run.
It hasn't necessarily been a pretty day for many in Top Fuel, but Massey is proud of the gritty effort from his team.
"It's one of those things when the track is this hot, it's tough for the crew chiefs and that makes it tough for the drivers. As the crew chief and a driver, let's see what can make happen in the finals for the Fram team," Massey said.
GRUBNIC GRABS THE SPOTLIGHT WITH WIN - Six years is a long time to wait, so expect “Aussie Dave” Grubnic to savor this one.
In a Top Fuel final not many would have predicted, Grubnic grabbed his first NHRA win since 2006, running a 3.893 at 319.07 mph to slip past Spencer Massey and his 3.91 at 309.98 mph.
Massey had a slight edge off the line thanks to a .039 bulb, but Grubnic tracked him down with his most complete run in eliminations to win by an estimated four feet.
The race, the first between the two in eliminations, was a fantastic one, with Grubnic putting it all together after struggling to get down the track the previous two runs. It came at a perfect time, as the solid and straight run left Grubnic with a victory and a winning moment that is a long time coming.
LOWERING THE BOOM – Robert Hight returned to his point leading form after an uncharacteristic No. 9 qualifying effort. Hight ran low elapsed time of the round, a 4.050 at 315.27 to beat sister-in-law and No. 9 qualifier Courtney Force. Ms. Force lost with a 4.124, a run capable of winning half of the first round races.
“We knew the clouds were coming,” said Hight. “It’s a shame this run didn’t come in qualifying because then we wouldn’t have had to race the Traxxas Car. Those Traxxas guys will be over helping us to try and win three of these Topeka races in a row.”
CAPPS BEATS AREND – Ron Capps wasn’t fooled by the incredible performances turned in by the Top Fuel dragsters. He beat Jeff Arend in conditions different then the long, skinny cars faced.
“I knew as we got close to running the sun was going to come out,” Capps said, after winning with a 4.093. “That was conservative for Rahn Tobler. I’m glad I went in and shallow staged because we run Johnny Gray next round.”
UGLY WIN FOR CRUZ – Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson said there are no ugly wins and no pretty losses. With all due respect to Johnson, the No. 1 qualifier Pedregon’s first round win was ugly.
Pedregon ran a 4.573, 216.97 to beat Todd Lesenko. The off-pace run was unintentional.
“We weren’t trying to throw down a run, we were trying to respect the track and Jim Dunn’s team and Lesenko,” admitted Pedregon. “It just goes to show you when you have a strong car to push it over the edge. We’ll dial it back in for the second run.”
SO THAT’S WHAT IT’S LIKE? – Jack Beckman’s response was indicative of how his last month has gone. Beckman’s first round victory over Alexis DeJoria represented his first round win in a month.
“So that’s what a win light looks like,” said Beckman, who won with a 4.123 elapsed time. “You don’t realize how spoiled you are driving a Don Schumacher car until you have a mini-drought like we did with the Valvoline/Next-Gen team. I think it’s over and we on to bigger and better things.”
SO THAT’S WHAT IT’S LIKE? PT. 2 – Tim Wilkerson won only his third first round match in the first seven races in a match where he had all kinds of problems prior to staging.
“I went over there and apologized to them,” said Wilkerson, who beat Matt Hagan. “We had all kinds of problems and I have to go over and apologize to Tommy Delago. The car wouldn’t idle and had all kinds of issues. I think we might have held them up ten seconds or so. We usually do a better job than that."
Wilkerson ran a 4.098 to easily overtake Hagan’s 4.168.
FAVORITES ADVANCE – Bob Tasca III (Bob Bode), Mike Neff (Tony Pedregon), Johnny Gray (John Force) advanced to the second round.
WEIRD ISN’T THE WORD – Normally Robert Hight wouldn’t rejoice over smoking the tires. With all due respect, there was nothing normal about his second round win over No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon.
Hight smoked the tires about 200 feet into the run and apparently was handing the win to Pedregon, who was on a strong run. Inexplicably Pedregon's Toyota Camry, in the last 50 feet of the track, darted left and crossed the centerline taking out a timing cone.
“Cruz is a great driver and normally you don’t get wins like that,” said Hight. “I guess sometimes out here you make your own luck.”
Pedregon peeled back the front fender of his new Toyota Camry body in taking out the cone.
“We were all worried about scratching it – I guess we don’t have to worry about that anymore,” said a dejected Pedregon. “Looks like oil got under the tire, maybe from the blow-by. It just got away from me and shot over. We’ve had an extra bit of slap in the steering wheel. That probably didn’t help.”
CHECK YER SHORTS – Jack Beckman had one of those kinds of moments at the tail end of his second round victory over Mike Neff. Beckman ran 4.386 seconds as his Valvoline Next-Gen Funny Car wagged the tail while crossing the finish line.
“The guys [on the team] asked me how my shorts were,” said Beckman. “When you can’t see the other car. You don’t know that you can just coast and make it. If it smokes down track, maybe the rev-limiter will catch it. If it’s early, you pedal it and you can be okay. When it’s in-between, it can get dicey.”
CAPPS ROLLS ON – The ride of momentum continues for Ron Capps. Capps needed only a 4.123 to take the measure of teammate Johnny Gray. The win will provide Capps a rematch of the Atlanta final with Robert Hight.
MORE ACTION THAN HE BARGAINED FOR – Never mind the fact he drove his Shelby Mustang for the last 600 feet with oil under his tires thanks to an expired engine. Tim Wilkerson’s victory over fellow Shelby Mustang racer Bob Tasca III was the most normal his second round win would get.
According to team publicist Bob Wilber, the real action transpired in the pits.
“The car was already a mess from the (first) run,” explained Wilber. “The team was just starting to service the engine when it blew the pan off of the car sending fire everywhere. I had my back turned and there was a loud, ‘Poof!”
No one was injured in the incident but there were quite a few quick reactions from the inferno.
“People were flying everywhere and fire extinguishers were coming out. It was wild.”
BECKMAN BREAKS THROUGH - Jack Beckman finally got the breaks he was looking for and the Don Schumacher Racing team advanced to its first final this season, running 4.21 at 297.02 mph to beat Tim Wilkerson, who dropped a cylinder and finished with a 4.38 at 248.39 mph.
In their first meeting of 2012, Beckman was first off the line against Wilkerson with an .070 reaction time and put together a workmanlike performance that ended up being a straight and smooth pass.
This run might be the light at the end of the tunnel for Beckman and his new crew, which, of course, is formerly Capps'.
"There's jubilation for this Valvoline crew," Beckman said. "We haven't seen the win light for a couple races, and we'd like to get one more today. These guys need this desperately. There's been a lot changeover here. Schumacher made all the right decisions to bring people here, and we want to show Don it was good."
CAPPS CONTINUES TO HAVE HIGHT'S NUMBER - Ron Capps continues to get the best of Robert Hight, beating him for the third straight time in 2012, running a 4.12 at 303.50 mph.
Hight had the early advantage, thanks to a .054 light, and led as late as 300 feet, but he shook the tires and let off the throttle en route to a 5.139 at 150 mph. Capps, who will have lane choice against Jack Beckman in the finals thanks to his strong pass, advances to his fourth straight final on what has been an incredibly consistent Sunday.
Capps also had a little fortune with him after a strange sequence of events leading up to the run.
"We got lucky. I might have double-stepped. The bolt on the bottom of the brake handle was stuck and I couldn't get it over to the throttle to make the run," Capps said. "All I had was the bottom of the throttle pedal and I didn't think I was going to be able to go down the track. It was a long light, but somehow I was able to push on it enough."
BECKMAN’S BRILLIANT BULB - In what is a truly special win, Jack Beckman delivered a special performance.
In an all-Don Schumacher Racing final in Topeka, Beckman used a huge holeshot to hold off Ron Capps, as his 4.158 at 303.09 edged Capps and his 4.107 at 304.39 thanks to a remarkable .004 reaction time.
Beckman double-bulbed his DSR teammate and was then incredible on tree to get his first win in 2012 and 13th for his career in what was also the 13th DSR vs. DSR Funny Car final.
In the 700th race in NHRA Funny Car history, this one was oozing with storylines, as Beckman’s old crew and crew chief, Rahn Tobler, are now working with Capps after Schumacher recently decided to make some major changes.
Beckman and his new crew, led by crew chief Todd Smith, delivered their best showing of the season in Topeka, capped off with a brilliant all-around run in the finals.
TOP PERFORMERS – Jason Line (Steve Kent) and Vincent Nobile (Kurt Johnson) were the top performers but for different reasons.
Line used low elapsed time of the event, a 6.568-second pass, to beat Kent, who got crossed up and crossed the centerline.
Nobile beat Johnson on a .037 holeshot, but most impressive is the face he did it with a .000 reaction after accidentally rolling in and doubl- bulbing in the staging process.
A TALE OF TWO FRUSTRATIONS – V. Gaines has had five DNQs this season and didn’t have a round win to his credit in 2012. Jeg Coughlin has two DNQs and hasn’t won but one round since reaching finals at the first race of the season.
ANOTHER GOOD FORTUNE – Ron Krisher ran a 6.604 to beat Rodger Brogdon in the first round. It was his first round win since Las Vegas when he beat Kurt Johnson.
Gaines won the battle of good fortunes while misfortune continued to plague the multi-time series champion Coughlin.
Gaines ran his quickest run of the weekend, a 6.629, 209.10, to advance to his first second round of the season where he will race Jason Line.
THE DOMINATION CONTINUES – Allen Johnson proclaimed on Saturday that a rivalry was brewing between he and the Summit Racing team. Johnson continued his domination over the KB third car with a third victory over Humphrey with a 6.587.
OTHER WINNERS – Erica Enders (Chris McGaha), Shane Gray (Mike Edwards) and Greg Anderson (Richard Freeman).
BAD FEELING – Shane Gray hasn’t experienced the kind of season he anticipated, experiencing an inordinate amount of misfortune. Gray said he felt bad for opponent Erica Enders after she fouled against him.
He didn’t immediately notice his second round victory.
“Noticed it about the top of third gear,” said Gray. Too bad. I feel bad for her. She did a good job, I didn’t do a very good job. I just got lucky. I guess every squirrel gets a nut sometimes.”
OVER THE LINE – Luckily for Jason Line, what happened to his engine transpired just shy of the finish line as he beat V. Gaines. Line won with a 6.571, 209.26 in winning.
“It just expired,” Line said. “Something happened. It might have hit the chip but shouldn’t have.”
Team officials were still at a loss for what happened after getting the car back to the pits.
LIVE BY THE SWORD – Vincent Nobile feels victim to the sharpness of his own sword. One round after he slew Kurt Johnson with a perfect [.000] reaction, he fouled by .005 against Greg Anderson.
Greg Anderson was no slouch with a .018 reaction time and won with a 6.575.
Anderson was well aware of Nobile’s starting line prowess and envied it.
“I guess I have no danger of red-lighting,” Anderson said with a laugh, commenting on his reaction times. “Sometimes when you are that close you go over the edge. I don’t have to worry about that.”
NO. 1 ADVANCES – Allen Johnson was just a little nervous when it came his turn to run in the second round. Ahead of Johnson, the No. 1 qualifiers in both nitro divisions lost.
Johnson ran a 6.570, 210.31 to beat Ron Krisher.
ANDERSON TAKES BATTLE OF TEAMMATES - In a great side-by-side race between the two Summit Racing teammates, it was Greg Anderson who prevailed against Jason Line, running a 6.575 at 210.93 mph to slip past Line and his 6.58 at 210.57 mph.
Both had strong reaction times - an .020 for Anderson to an .028 for Line - but Anderson, the No. 2 qualifier, never trailed in the tight race, edging Line by four feet at the finish line.
In knocking off Line, Anderson is making his sixth finals appearance in 2012 and will be seeking his fourth win. Anderson is also looking for his first win in Topeka since 2007.
JOHNSON ENSURES NO. 1 VS. NO. 2 - Allen Johnson ensured the top two qualifiers in Topeka will meet in the finals, running a 6.59 at 210.24 mph to track down Shane Gray and his 6.648 at 207.75 mph.
It's been a strong weekend for Johnson, the No. 1 qualifier, who went in the 6.50s for the third straight round.
He'll give up lane choice to Anderson and will likely need more than a 6.59 with Anderson going 6.575 for two straight rounds.
The two standouts have not met in the finals since 2010 when Anderson won in Atlanta. They met there two weeks ago in the semifinals, with Anderson also winning there.
In the semifinals in Topeka, though, Johnson’s 6.59 was enough to beat Gray by more than a car length.
Gray got out first with an .028 reaction time, but Johnson had him by 300 feet and easily held off Gray, who was coming off upsets of Mike Edwards and Erica Enders. Still, it was a rebound of sorts for Gray, who won at Topeka last year but has struggled mightily in 2012.
JOHNSON FINISHES COMPLETE WEEKEND IN STYLE - Allen Johnson wrapped up a weekend on top in Topeka with one last fantastic run, chasing down Greg Anderson to win the Pro Stock final with a 6.587 at 210.54 mph.
Anderson was brilliant on the starting line as usual with a .004 reaction time, but he got loose almost immediately, going 6.696 at 210.21 mph, his worst pass of the day by far.
Johnson, who had a great .014 reaction time, took advantage of Anderson’s early trouble, passing him at 100 feet and never looking back.
The victory gives Johnson two in 2012 and 11 in his career.
The duo is now 2-2 against each other in finals.
PIVOTAL MATCH FOR SUNDAY - Top Fuel driver Antron Brown took the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot for the Dollar General Summernationals in Friday night's session and admitted he was eager to get right to eliminations
"We could just skip Saturday," he joked after securing his first top-qualifying spot of the season in the Matco Tools Dragster on the strength of his 3.797-second, 324.98-mph performance in early time trials on the Heartland Park Topeka 1,000-foot course.
His first-round opponent in Sunday's eliminations will be longtime buddy Cory McClenathan. But Brown indicated he isn't too concerned about who the driver in the other lane might be. He simply said he knows how critical, how pivotal, that opening-round performance is for any racer.
"The way our field is right now, it would be a good feeling to know you're No. 1. That's what were doing, preparing all weekend long to make the field first," he said. "It feels good to get No. 1 and run four sessions in a row, but we've done that and you lose first round.
"You've got to qualify to get there first. Everything's important. But that first round on Sunday, that's when it all goes down. That pretty much sets the tone for Sunday, who's going to be who," Brown said. "That first run on Sunday, that is the run that gets you started and ready.
"When you line up on Sunday, and when you get you shot into the race, anybody can win. It matters who is 'the car' on one day, and that's Sunday. We've been qualified 13th before and we won the race. On race day, you want to have the confidence on that first run and you get the car in that groove. That's the run that really counts, that first one on Sunday," he said.
If Brown were a betting man, he said his money would be on his own Mark Oswald- and Brian Corradi-tuned Matco Tools Dragster team.
"You see 'em get better every round. We might not be the quickest car sometimes," Brown said, "but on Sunday, I definitely put the odds on our team. I like our team a lot. We've won a lot of rounds like that, by just being focused and being poised."
He wasn't able to improve on his own performance from Friday, but he said he noticed that the Morgan Lucas Racing tandem of Lucas, in the GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster, and Brandon Bernstein, in the MAVTV Dragster, ran well Saturday in the Kansas heat.
"You have to set the bar up," he said. "Those two Morgan Lucas Racing cars went (3.)82 out there in the heat. We tried to step it up for that last session, but we just didn't make it down. So tomorrow we're just going to regroup and go back and just do what we do. It's race day, and that's when it counts. That's when the points get put on the board."
Brown hasn't forgotten how an early stumble in the 2009 Countdown squandered his regular-season lead and how he began the six-race playoff in first place at Charlotte and wound up third. He's resolute about learning from those experiences. And he talked as if the time is now to prepare for the Countdown that begins after the Labor Day weekend at Indianapolis.
"Our deal is to keep getting round wins so we can try to lock ourselves into this Countdown. Once you do that, you can go into the Countdown with a little confidence," Brown said.
"You can try things and get ready for it, because when the Countdown comes, you have to give it all you got. You can't leave nothin' unturned," he said. "You have to go out there and if the track looks like it could run an .84, you have to go out there and run an .82, because if you don't, you can go down. You can lose. We've been there. We've done it. Now we're just working our tails off, just trying to stay on top and gain points and rounds on this tough Top Fuel class."
How can he do that?
"You have to have one good round after another. You've got to focus on one round and go out there and hit it with everything you got. The first round's the final round now," Brown said. "Before, we used to go out there and say, 'OK, first round, track can hold an .82 but we're going to go out here and be safe and run an .85 and get that first round win.' You can't do that anymore."
It's a building process as race day moves along.
"Each round you get a better grasp on what you're able to do. And when you're able to do that without having lane choice, without swapping lanes, that's what gives you the advantage to builds up confidence for each round. And when you get to the final and you still have that same lane, it's like you can go out there and throw the hammer down because you've tuned into that lane three times," he said.
"That's pretty much been the story this year on winning races and how these teams have been winning races this year."
Brown is seeking his first victory at Topeka in his career 30th No. 1 start.
"We seem to do well here for some reason. Of course, that's always been in qualifying. I haven't gotten a win here yet, so maybe we can change that tomorrow," he said. "We earned some points this weekend in qualifying." (He had six, while Lucas had the most with eight and Bernstein had seven.)
Steve Torrence, the Charlotte low-qualifier and Atlanta winner, will start again from the No. 2 spot for the third straight race. Bernstein's third-place showing and Shawn Langdon's fourth in the Al-Anabi Dragster gave Toyota three drivers in the top five in the order.
As for McClenathan, his former Top Fuel teammate at Don Schumacher Racing, Brown said, "Cory is a terrific driver. He's a good friend, but we'll be up at the starting line looking to take each other out. We can be friends again after the race."
Eyes will be on No. 5 starter Tony Schumacher, who will need to get past No. 12 Clay Millican if he is to brak his 30-race winless streak.
"It's time to take care of business," Schumacher, the points leader, said. "We need to get rid of this winless streak. We're all tired of being the proverbial bridesmaid. We're going after a trophy tomorrow."
"I'm glad we're leading the points and, of course, that's where we want to be at the end of the season," he said, "but we are incredibly hungry for wins. Again, maybe this weekend is our time for the spotlight. I'm certainly ready for that to happen."
Other first-round match-ups are JR Todd - Doug Kalitta , Langdon - Spencer Massey, Torrence - Hillary Will, Dave Grubnic - Bob Vandergriff, Bernstein - Terry McMillen, and Lucas - Khalid alBalooshi.
CRUSING AND IN CONTROL - There was a very slim chance anyone was going to beat Cruz Pedregon’s 4.046 No. 1 qualifier from Friday evening. Knowing this, the Snap-on Tools driver went to work in the heat of Saturday qualifying at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals testing where he could and couldn’t go during Sunday’s final eliminations.
“Today was a good day for us as far as learning where our parameters are,” admitted Pedregon. “We were a bit more aggressive than we had planned to be in the first session. That was fine. When you cross the line, there’s only one place to go, you back it up some.”
The second run also provided some insight as he was shooting for a mid-four-teen run and appeared to be headed for one until the engine dropped a cylinder.
“We just have to adjust the fuel system,” Pedregon said. “We’ll get that squared away and be ready to go on Sunday.”
Pedregon’s No. 1 represented his third of the season. He’s a four-time winner at Heartland Park – Topeka with his last victory dating back to 1995.
“The key to winning is to not make mistakes,” explained Pedregon. “If we don’t – I like our chances.”
And what he likes is carrying a new car design, the 2012 Toyota Camry, into a final elimination competition where an advantage could be crucial.
“We really have a great car regardless of the body and that’s a good situation,” said Pedregon. “I can tell you this new body is easier to see out of. The visibility from the drivers standpoint is great. These cars aren’t always easy to see out of, but because the dash is lower you can look right down the track. If you get the car out of the groove, you can negotiate it back in easier. It’s good that we are not giving up any aero to the Fords and Dodges, who have had their stuff out there a couple of years already.
Pedregon meets Todd Lesenko, driver for Jim Dunn, in the first round of eliminations.
“I learned at the last race how looking ahead can come back to bite you and we did it against Jim Head,” said Pedregon. “Nothing against Jim but we didn’t feel he could run against us. We went out and made a mistake and there it was. We’ll take Lesenko very serious, that’s Jim Dunn’s car.
“We’ll try to be boring tomorrow. Just workman like. We want to pound out four round wins if we can. We’ll wake up and see what the weather is like and we’ll deal with the conditions Mother Nature gives us. I’d prefer for it to be hot.”
RIVALRY-A-BREWING - There’s a Pro Stock rivalry brewing and Allen Johnson is all too happy to partake. His latest No. 1 qualifying effort, acquired on the strength of a 6.618 elapsed time during Friday night qualifying at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals, has his Mopar starting ahead of the three car KB Racing team for the third time this season. Jason Line has four pole positions thus far in 2012.
As fate would have it, Johnson will meet the lesser publicized KB Racing team member Ronnie Humphrey in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.
“We have great momentum and we are stuck in with those two Summit cars battling it out,” said Johnson. “My boss at Mopar has told that he’s tired of seeing those Pontiacs out front. That’s our deal to keep this momentum going.”
As it turns out Humphrey is the only member of the team Johnson has beaten. He’s lost in four of the first six events to Greg Anderson.
“We are friends, but this is turning into [a rivalry] and it’s getting a little heated,” Johnson admitted. “They make a few comments about us and we make a few about them. It’s going to be a knockdown drag-out for the rest of the season.”
Saturday’s warmer conditions didn’t make for a change in the upper qualifying positions. However, there were some strong runs with the quickest runs falling only .02 off of the Friday evening pace.
“NHRA is doing a great job with the racing surface out here,” said Johnson. “We actually had a better 60-foot time in worst conditions during the second session. That’s credit to the NHRA and to my crew. We just keep getting more consistent. I believe the track will get cooler tomorrow and we might even be able to reset the track record. We’re going to keep doing more of the same and go after those two Pontiacs with a vengeance.”
Tomorrow’s weather forecast of a cooler front rolling into the Topeka area with a threat of thunderstorms could potentially throw out the window every bit of data gleaned in the first two days of the event.
“That’s a game changer and when the crew chiefs earn their money. By going through the notes and doing all of the engineering work. Getting to the point where you set the car up where you are perfect tomorrow. If you’re not perfect, you’re not going to win.”
DOING WHAT'S BEST FOR NITRO - The NHRA announced on May 17, the formation of nitro technical advisory council aimed at making better decisions on rules and other technical matters. The seven member technical committee met for the first time on Saturday morning during the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals in Topeka. Kan.
Glen Gray, vice president of technical operations, and also chair of the committee believes this committee will be proactive in improving the nitro categories by providing a good cross section of input.
“We just thought it was a good idea to get the best minds out there who represent not only the big teams but the smaller ones too about technology and where we should be going,” said Gray. “We want to bounce ideas off of them and get their opinion. We felt with this strong cross section of technical people we would get honest answers about what’s right for the sport and their class.”
The formation of the committee, sources say, could be the NHRA’s version of replacing the nitro liaison position previously held by Dan Olson and before him, Ray Alley. Gray wouldn’t say this was necessarily the case and emphasized the importance of the new committee.
“I think even if we did have a nitro liaison, we would still have formed this committee,” added Gray.
One of the tasks Olson was challenged with during his tenure as nitro liaison was slowing the nitro cars down for a possible return to quarter-mile racing. While Gray didn’t speak specifically on a return to quarter-mile nitro racing, he did point out the committee was not formed with the intention of finding a viable way to slow them down.
“We just want to do what’s right for nitro racing to keep this kind of racing strong,” explain Gray. “We want to address safety issues when they need to be as well as cost issues. If speed gets to be an issue we'll then address that. Any issues we have we will bounce off of this committee.”
One of the largest fears many have conveyed from the nitro pits is getting the committee together on the same page when it could be easy to have multiple agendas in play simultaneously.
“There absolutely will be,” said Mike Green, crew chief for Tony Schumacher and committee member when asked if he believes there will be agendas in place. “Hopefully we can get past that. That’s the reason for having the group is to get different ideas. Hopefully we can accomplish stuff in these meetings. It’s like any decision that’s going to be made, there’s always going to be one person unhappy. We have a good group here and everybody wants the same thing. We want this sport to grow. We want it to be successful and do the best we can.”
Multiple agendas can have its benefits; at least that’s how Mike Neff sees.
“I’m sure everyone will have their own points and in the end, there might be someone who explains an issue that enables you to see something in a different light,” added Neff. “Common sense tells you the most logical solution will prevail. The NHRA has to be the judge in the end. We will help them see it in a different light.”
Communication will be key to the survival and efficiency of this group’s efforts. This is one area which intrigues green the most.
“I think the biggest thing this will do is improve the communication,” said Green. “If they want to accomplish something that is very technical. They can give it to us and we can help develop the best way to do something. This is the cheapest way to do it. They don’t know because they haven’t been crew chiefs. I think this is a situation where we can help to educate them before decisions are made. I think it will be good.”
Gray understands he hasn’t studied the nitro tuning curriculum as long as those on his committee have and in the end believes this could lend a different perspective to the group. He understands how easy it could be for the group to develop tunnel vision.
“I think me not being a tuner will help,” said Gray. “I will have a wide view of what we plan to do. My interest is in doing the best thing for the NHRA. I don’t think it will happen. But if it does, I think we will know right away by having something specifically that they want to do. It will be evident they have blinders on. By having myself and Rich Schrek, neither of us with tuning backgrounds, we will be able to see the big picture."
Gray isn’t so naïve that he hasn’t realized committees have been formed in the past which have essentially fizzled away over time. His role as chairman is to ensure this doesn’t happen.
“I think we need to continue to engage the group,” said Gray. “It’s our responsibility to keep the lines of communication open. We won’t have meetings every race. I will actively keep in contact through emails, texts and voice mail. I want to keep them in the loop and get their input. I see us meeting every three races or so. Even if it is for an hour or so, that will be my responsibility.”
REBOUNDED - Mike Neff is pretty adamant about what he would have done differently during his recent DNQ at Atlanta – nothing.
Neff became the fourth driver out of the top six Funny Car point earners to miss the cut in at least one race this season.
“Stuff just happens and we got some bad breaks,” Neff said. “Just bad timing and it just brings to light how tough this is. Things can and will go wrong. You can never take anything for granted. It’s been a long time for me since I failed to qualify. Even then, it was just an issue where down track we’d have something go wrong.
“We had an ignition issue on the first run and popped the blower off of it. It was on a good run that would have put it in the field solidly. The second run I was a bit too aggressive. Saturday’s first run, it put a cylinder out and screwed the run up. I entered the final session needing only to make a run good enough to get in the field.
“We backed it down, it’s trucking down there and it looks like we are going to qualify. Then it shoots a snap ring out of the barrel valve, leans out the engine and pops the blower about five hundred feet and pops the parachute out. I ran a 4.35 and needed a 4.32 to get in.”
Neff responded this weekend in Topeka with the quickest run of the four-car John Force Racing team, a 4.063 to qualify third. He didn’t make changes to the car for this weekend confirming the Atlanta incidents were just a matter of misfortune.
“It just wasn’t meant to be. Being the man of faith I am, I know that sometimes things happen for a reason. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. It’s a bummer but certainly nothing I am going to dwell on.
“Certainly it was disappointing and you do something like that and you feel you have let everyone down. People are counting on you. I had done everything I could. Do I have regrets? Would I have changed anything? Not really. I did everything I was supposed to do and just ran into bad circumstances.
“Maybe if I had qualified something bad might have happened. I’m still up in the points and doing fine. It’s the first time I ever had the Countdown do me a favor.”
INTERNATIONAL MAN OF HORSEPOWER - Jimmy Alund figured a good weekend of shaking down his brand new Jerry Haas-built 2011 Camaro would get his team on the right foot before heading back home to Norrkoping, Sweden to pursue an unprecedented eighth FIA Pro Stock title.
Racing in the United States is a fun challenge for Alund, who learned early in his career that racing here is worlds apart than he is accustomed to across the pond.
“It’s totally different than what we face back home,” said Alund. “Here, you race against guys who do this 24/7 and 23 races a year, where we only have six. For us it’s a hobby while to them it’s a full time job. It’s tough but if we can run within .05, we are happy.”
Alund said he was inspired to begin racing in the U.S. to compete on the big stage on the NHRA.
“Over here is where it [Pro Stock] started and it’s the biggest place to race,” said Alund. “I probably have more fun racing at home because back there it’s still on a hobby level.”
Given his preference, there’s no place like home.
“We are all pretty competitive for the money we spend over there. We are all in the same boat over there.”
Alund admitted the challenge of adjusting to the different arena is more difficult than back home, where he admits to knowing the tracks like the back of his hand.
“The adjustment is tough coming here because the tracks are different along with the air and everything,” explained Alund. “It’s tough for us because we don’t have the same information all the teams here have for conditions. They know where they are with the clutch; with the conditions. It’s those kinds of things that bite us. We are trying to learn though.”
“Back home we know what to do. We’ve been very successful over there.”
HI, HILLARY; HOPEFULLY 'BYE, HILLARY - Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors Dragster driver Steve Torrence paid respect to Hillary Will, his first-round opponent in Sunday's eliminations. "It's nice to see Hillary racing again," he said. But in a nothing-personal vein, he indicated he'd be happy if she makes only one pass on race day as the No. 15 qualifier in the Dote Racing Dragster. "We want to keep following the same plan we used in Atlanta. We liked the way one turned out," the Summit Southern Nationals winner said. As he looked at the possibility of back-to-back victories, Torrence said, "We are happy with the way our car is running, but tomorrow is a new day. And w are in Topeka, so we never know what kind of weather to expect."
IMPROVEMENT - Multi-time world champion and past Topeka winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. guided his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger to his second-best qualifying effort of the 2012 season Saturday at Heartland Park Topeka, earning the No. 11 starting spot in the 24th annual Dollar General NHRA Summernationals with a 6.661 at 206.70 mph.
It was a nice step forward for the new team, which came together just seven races ago. So far this year, Coughlin has a best finish of second place at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. Overall, he is 4-5 on race day.
"We came out swinging much harder than we have in previous races," Coughlin said. "We were a little sluggish early but our back-half numbers and our speed looked pretty decent. In Q2 last night, we picked up a little bit on our program and that's what initially got us into the field. In Q3, we picked up our ET and moved up to 11th, even though our back half numbers slipped a little.
"But we're in the game, and have some depth in our program. I feel confident behind the wheel of the car. The car has been driving really well, and I feel great behind the wheel. All of it gives us the bottom line of being able to have a great day."
Coughlin won this event in 2000, a victory that helped catapult him to his first of four Pro Stock titles.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE - It's a curious flip-flop for Top Fuel's Spencer Massey. Uncharacteristically, the FRAM/Prestone Dragster driver qualified 13th and will face No. 4 Shawn Langdon. Last year at Heartland Park Topeka, Massey started fourth and used a victory over the No. 13 qualifier to begin his march to the victory. "This is nothing our FRAM team can't handle," Massey said after posting his team's worst qualifying effort so far this season. "We'll get in gear and be ready for race day, as we have another monster first-round match-up, this time with Shawn Langdon." Speaking on behalf of crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler, Massey said, "We'd have liked to have qualified better this weekend, but we found a few things and we're working the bugs out. Sure, we'd like to be in the top half of the field, but these are race cars and they can be temperamental. I'm certain Todd and Phil will put a good tune-up in the car Sunday and we'll start off with a solid run."
INTRASQUAD RIVALRY - When you have four Funny Cars competing for sixteen qualifying spots the odds are against you sometimes. The goal is to get all four Funny Cars qualified and then get as many round wins as possible.
As tough as the Funny Car category is this season in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series John Force Racing has faced more than its fair share of tough match-ups. Tomorrow another intra-team battle will unfold between points leader Robert Hight and Rookie of the Year top contender Courtney Force. This will be the third time this season Hight and Courtney have squared off. Hight has won four national events already this season and is looking for the elusive three-peat at Heartland Park Topeka while the youngest Force is looking for her first win of her career.
For Hight the match-up will be especially tough considering he had a hold of lane choice going into the final qualifying session only to see his teammate race around him by one thousandth of a second. Force’s run of 4.109 seconds was the quickest pass of the final qualifying session.
“It is always a tough deal to race a teammate in an early round. This Auto Club Mustang will be ready. We have had a couple little things bite us but we are right on the edge,” said Hight a five time finalist in 2012 and the run-away points leader. “Jimmy and Eric have a really good tune up and I have a lot of confidence in them. I want to with this race three times in a row. It will be tough but every race is tough. Cruz ran good yesterday and Courtney ran good today. We are right in the thick of things. We have won from the middle of the pack already this year.”
Hight has good reason to be confident in his crew. They have a 20-3 round win record this season and are 8-0 the last two years at the NHRA Dollar General Summer Nationals. He has only dropped one race in the first round this season and that was in the season-opening NHRA Winternationals.
As the Top Rookie of the Year candidate for Auto Club’s road to the Future award, Courtney Force, made a couple strong passes today for the third and fourth qualifying sessions of the weekend. She was able to qualify her Traxxas Ford Mustang in the No. 9 spot going into Saturday and make a 4.135 ET at 304.67 mph in the heat for her first pass of the day. They posted a 4.135 ET and were second quickest of the round, gaining the team two useful bonus points.
“Today we got to qualify earlier in the day than yesterday. Q3 and Q4 were pretty much in the hottest part of the day, but I think they were good conditions to learn from to get the car ready for race day. It’s always tough trying to get a car down a race track that’s hot, but we managed it and I think we ran pretty well,” said the rookie driver. “We ran a 4.135 elapsed time in the first session and were second quickest of that round of qualifying so we got two bonus points.”
Force, the youngest daughter of fifteen-time champion and legend of the sport of drag racing John Force, ran a 4.109 ET at 310.13 mph in her second session and ultimately switched qualifying positions with teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight. She will go into Sunday’s eliminations in the top half of the field, the No. 8 spot.
“The second run out we were kind of learning some new things with me as the driver. I was trying to take in all of the information that my dad and my crew chief Ron Douglas were telling me. Ron had me placed in a little bit towards the centerline when we went up for Q4 and told me to launch and then ease back over and keep the car straight down the middle after that,” said the Cal State-Fullerton graduate. “There were apparently some issues with some spots in the track that we wanted to avoid so that’s why we were trying to do that.”
“It was a big accomplishment because you want to be subtle about those kinds of things or else you can cause the car to smoke the tires if you’re too aggressive. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re in that car and just inches in or out of the groove can cost you a run and you know, it’s a lot of money for a run, it’s important.”
Unfortunately for the John Force Racing clan, neither Force not Hight could get out of having each other for a first round match-up on Sunday. The spokesperson for Ford Racing’s Driving Skills for Life initiative will have lane choice over Robert Hight in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
“I did manage to get around him (Hight) so we have lane choice, which is good for our Traxxas Ford Mustang. Robert is going to be a tough competitor, obviously, with four wins under his belt already this season. They have Jimmy Prock over there and a tough team, but you know what, I have a tough team too. I think Ron Douglas knows how to tune this race car and getting our car down the track today in the dead heat shows us that we should be good for tomorrow,” said Force.
TOYOTA SHINES - Antron Brown, who has Brown reached the Top Fuel final round at five of this year's seven races and enters eliminations in second place in the standings, combined with top Funny Car qualifier to give sponsor Toyota a sweep Saturday. This marks the third time this season Toyota-sponsored cars have earned the No. 1 positions in both nitro classes in the same weekend. Toyota-sponsored Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel) and Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) led their respective fields at Gainesville and Houston.
CAPPS GETS EVEN BUSIER - Ron Capps rushed from one interview to another on Saturday afternoon during the Dollar General NHRA Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
After making his first Funny Car qualifying pass on Saturday afternoon, Capps had to pack his parachutes. It's good he's been doing that for almost 20 years because several were awaiting his presence.
There was a patient newspaper reporter waiting for Capps to complete an interview with an ESPN2 crew. Then there were photos to be taken with the NAPA AUTO PARTS Honorary Crew Member.
As Capps finally was able to take a breath and talk about his wondrous turnaround he jokingly told Gregory Halling of Indiana's The Elkhart Truth newspaper, "Man, where was everybody when we weren't doing any good?"
It's attention Capps relishes since Rahn Tobler became his crew chief about six weeks ago.
While he was bouncing from request to request, the voice he reacted to instantly was that of Tobler when it was time to warm up the NAPA Brakes Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car that is part of the "super team" at Don Schumacher Racing.
"It's like my career was restarted," Capps said of the realignment.
Capps is qualified No. 4 for Sunday's championship eliminations of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event in Topeka where he is trying to win a second consecutive event title after winning at Atlanta two weeks ago.
Since Tobler and Capps were teamed by owner Don Schumacher after Capps' car didn't qualify April 1 at Las Vegas, they have advanced to the final round in each of three events in which they've been teammates.
"I'm feeling like I'm starting to run out of words talking about how much fun I'm having driving Tobler's race car," Capps said.
"Several times this weekend, Rahn reached into the (clutch management control) box and made the move to be safe rather than sorry and this NAPA car made it down the track all four runs again. That's some crazy number like 45 of 46 passes this car has gone down the track. That allows you to gather data and I'm as confident as I've ever been going into race day on Sunday."
I AM IRONMAN - Antron Brown already has said the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals is going to be grueling. He called the visit to predictably hot and muggy Heartland Park Topeka "an Ironman race."
But after driving the Matco Tools Dragster to the provisional No. 1 qualifying position with a 3.797-second elapsed time at a track-record speed of 324.98 mph on the 1,000-foot course, Brown said a diversion from the forecast could mean trouble, too. With Top Fuel competition so intense these days, a rain shower could bring more suitable conditions for quick and fast runs.
"You don't know what you're going to have on Sunday. It shows thunderstorms. If you have thunderstorms, we could get to run some. So that means it's just going to be cloudy, just like this again, where we could actually run some good numbers," he said.
With a nod of respect for his own tuners, Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, Brown said, "This is a racetrack [where] you don't want to be a crew chief, by any means."
But Corradi and Oswald have to do their jobs at this eighth race of the season, just as they must for the other races on the Full Throttle Drag racing Series tour. But they have done an excellent job in positioning Brown to be ready to claim his first top spot of the season and the 30th of his career.
The last time he led the field was last fall at Reading, Pa., 11 races ago.
Brown said it's gratifying "anytime you swing a shot and you land it." He said, "It's tough out there, and you've got to really squeeze on it. It feels good to sneak one out here.
"Man, it's been awhile since out Matco Tools boys have been No. 1. It sure hasn't been because of lack of work. They've been working their tails off, Brian and Mark and all the guys. We've been trying to dig deep," he said.
"It just shows you how tough this class is right now. Last year we had some No. 1s. The year before we had some No. 1s. We haven't got one yet this year, so we'll see tomorrow. Our class right now is incredible.," Brown said. "You saw a slew of (3.)80s that were out there -- it shows you how tight the field is. We went about three-thousandths quicker than [Steve] Torrence, who had a 3.80 with a 1."
Torrence, Brandon Bernstein, and Shawn Langdon -- respectively the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 drivers overnight -- were at 3.801, 3.804, and 3.805. In other words, the second- and fourth-place drivers in the Friday order are separated by a mere four-thousandths of a second.
"Tomorrow's going to be another day," Brown said, "but we've got to keep on doing the same things that we're doing right now."
Even though Brown recorded the fastest speed of the first session Friday at 316.01 mph and was No. 2 in the order behind Morgan Lucas, he said, "It's always tough out here. The deal of it is that the weather out here, it's humid. You have to make some power to get through that clutch. That's the deal.
"You saw the Funny Cars. They ran well. We tried to get after it. Bri [Corradi] looked at me and said it [the Matco Tools Dragster] was still lazy off the starting line. We still went a (3.)79, but the car did it all from 150 feet out to the half-track mark. It ran really strong. We were still a couple of numbers behind in 60 foot, so there's still some more out there."
He predicted that "tomorrow, when it gets hot, you're just going to have to back it off."
Running the sessions earlier in the day, he said, might make things easier, but he saw the other angle to it.
"The Friday deal, that's what makes the sport where it is, because it makes the tension high. It makes it intense, because you have to try to throw a shot out on Friday night to make yourself solid in the field. Then again, you've got to say, 'How far a shot do I have to throw?' Because if I smoke the tires, I could be on the outside looking in, which is where we caught ourselves a couple of times this year," he said.
"And you have to get it together on Saturday and make some quality runs to get in the field. If you're in the bottom half of the field on Sunday, that makes it crazy, because you're racing somebody really good," Brown said. "It doesn't make any difference where you qualify now. Every first round is like a final. You want to be in the top and get that lane choice, which we know is really important for us to get."
Brown has qualified in the top half of the field at every event this year except the Summit Racing.com Nationals at Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, tentative No. 2 Torrence -- who started second in his most recent two events, after qualifying No. 1 at Charlotte -- wasn't tentative at all about his car's performance.
He said, "Our car continues to run well, and that's what we want. We are focused on making consistent runs, and Richard [crew chief Hogan] and the crew continue to do great job. We want to show everyone that we are out here to stay and our win at Atlanta was no fluke. It feels real good to have a competitive car that can run with anyone out there."
Torrence was fourth in the order after the first session.
Tony Schumacher leaped from No. 19 out of 20 entrants to No. 5 awaiting Saturday's two scheduled sessions. "We had to kind of slide it down there after not getting down the track in the opening session," the U.S. Army Dragster driver said. "We'll be fine. We now have the proper data to utilize for tomorrow's runs."
Brown will be seeking his first victory at the Kansas venue when final eliminations begin Sunday.
SWINGING FOR THE FENCE, NOT! - For a driver who claims he never swings for the fence, two-time series champion Cruz Pedregon has become a proficient Friday night long ball hitter.
Pedregon drove his brand-new Toyota Camry-bodied Funny Car to the provisional No. 1 spot at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals in Topeka, Kan. His 4.046-second elapsed time and 315.56 mile per hour speed secured both ends of the Heartland Park – Topeka track record.
“Yeah, my friends ask me why I do so well on Friday and not on Sunday,” Pedregon said with a laugh. “We’re getting tired of that and hopefully we can put it together soon. You have to start with a fast car. It’s definitely one of the quicker cars so we have to do our jobs out there and not beat ourselves. We’ve done a pretty good job of that in the first seven races.”
Pedregon’s strong performances of late have overshadowed the season-opening DNQ performance in Pomona. Thus far this season four of the top six point earners have failed to qualify at least once this season.
“People were asking me that first race, including my sponsor, ‘what’s wrong?” Pedregon admitted. “This stuff just happens. If you look at the top five cars, everyone is getting their shot at [a DNQ]. It was frustrating but we have clawed our way back.”
Pedregon, who was outside of the top ten in points for the first three races, had worked his way to fourth headed this weekend.
“We’re getting there,” Pedregon added.
Pedregon further explained a large measure of frustration has come in losing races he should have won.
“We go up there against Jim Head in the second round and smoke the tires. On paper, we should have won. We should have won Charlotte and Robert beat me on a holeshot. You can’t have good luck all of the time but you shouldn’t have bad either.”
Pedregon credited Friday’s Topeka performance in part to a new Toyota Camry body the team debuted this weekend. He had been running a five year old Solara body.
“It has definitely given us that little extra we needed,” admitted Pedregon. “Even with the older body we were able to qualify No. 1 a few times.”
Then he credited his team for helping a driver who wasn’t physically up to snuff on Friday.
“Lee Beard made great calls and a great job by the team,” said Pedregon. “It feels good and I am a little under the weather with a sinus infection. I have been able to get my adrenaline rush with this run. It was a shot in the arm I needed.”
CONSISTENCY COUNTS - Practice makes perfect. It also makes for a consistent car.
This was Allen Johnson’s assessment after establishing the provisional low elapsed time during Friday Pro Stock qualifying for the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals in Topeka, Kan.
Johnson ran a 6.618-second elapsed time at 207.85 miles per hour to edge Greg Anderson.
Johnson has tested extensively this season and in the days leading into Topeka, made mid-6.5 second runs at St. Louis’ Gateway International Raceway.
“We’ve got a great consistent car right now with the Mopar Dodge Avenger,” said Johnson. “We fought inconsistency for the last few years. We’re finally climbing that mountain and it looks like we are settling on the top.
“Every test session we have is valuable. We just peck away at thousandths, not major things. Thousandths in the motor. Thousandths in the chassis. Thousandths in the clutch. Most of all, we preach consistency. We don’t want to beat ourselves because we have a car that is capable of winning every race if we do our job.”
The difference in the track temperature from the second to the first session was 35 degrees. Johnson improved by .036 as a result. He credited .02 to the cooler track and the balance to better air.”
“St. Louis testing always has a big impact,” said Johnson, who tested under almost identical conditions. “The conditions were awful close … maybe a little better barometer in St. Louis. The starting line and track conditions there were similar to what we faced here.”
Armed with the St. Louis data, Johnson said he opened the first day right on the ragged edge of what he believed the track would hold.
“We trying to be close to the ragged edge,” admitted Johnson. “You have to be that way to outrun the Summit cars and Vincent [Nobile] and Mike [Edwards]. You have to be on the edge, this side of the edge. The goal is to be consistent while not shooting ourselves in the foot.”
As Johnson will attest, practice makes one’s aim better.
Following Johnson and Anderson in the field, Jason Line, Mike Edwards and Erica Enders rounded out the top five. Defending event champion Shane Gray failed to crack the top 12 with the 16th quickest run.
THE MOTHER OF ALL BAD WEEKENDS - Cory McClenathan rated his tantrum a “two-veiner, 8 – 9” on a one to 10 scale.
After failing to break the finish line timing beams and getting no further than two feet under power, McClenathan displayed his frustration before a packed house at Sydney Dragway two weeks ago. He pulled off his driving gloves and to the cheers of the crowd flung them against the windshield of the tow vehicle.
McClenathan took a walk. The weekend hadn’t gone as he expected.
McClenathan, who was competing in the Australian National Drag Racing Association [ANDRA] Nitro Champs event, had every reason to believe he was in store for a good weekend. After all, the dragster he was driving was the defending event champion and nothing had been changed but the paint.
The misfortune began with the first qualifying session and a combination of rookie driver and a misunderstanding of the way the ANDRA timing operates. Teammate Daniel Schultz, driving a Rapisarda Racing dragster, accidentally rolled into the beams lighting both stage and pre-stage bulbs.
The veteran McClenathan understood the situation and planned to stage in such a manner so as not to rattle or rush Schultz. The plan backfired for McClenathan.
“We had agreed he would stage first,” explained McClenathan. “I saw him go in an light both bulbs. I wasn’t going to rattle the kid, so I took my time. I had planned to give it a three count and go on the high side. Then I got counted out.”
McClenathan learned the hard way that seven seconds after the pre-stage bulb lights is not the benchmark.
“It’s different, I get it,” McClenathan said. “I was okay with it. I figured I had two more runs.”
McClenathan was okay until on the second run, he stepped on the pedal and blew a fuel line off the engine, effectively spraying the starting line.
“I thought to myself, ‘really?’. This can’t really be happening on back-to-back runs.”
On the third run, an electrical problem with the starter left McClenathan’s dragster sitting unfired on the starting line and without a run down the strip throughout qualifying.
McClenathan was perturbed with qualifying but not overwhelmed with anger considering there were only eight cars on the property and he’d at least have an opportunity to redeem himself on race day.
“I figured all of our bad luck had to be out of the way for Sunday and we’d do fine,” said McClenathan.
McClenathan had a tall order with first round opponent, defending series champion Darren Morgan.
As he prepared for the race, lightning struck a fourth time – no oil pressure.
Then he lost it.
“At that point, ‘I said, ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me,” McClenathan said. “I think I kinda blacked out. I remember throwing my gloves and thinking, I might better go back and get those.”
McClenathan believes it took him about 70 minutes to cool down.
“It doesn’t matter where I go to race, I go to win,” McClenathan explained. “I don’t want to go here just to drive a car. Whether it’s a go-kart or Top Fuel dragster, I race to win. When qualifying and eliminations go that way, I need to take a walk and come back down to earth. By the time I got back from my walk the boss looked at me and asked if I was alright. And I was.”
McClenathan entered the Sydney event smarting from three consecutive U.S. DNQs, a first for the storied veteran.
In the midst of what some might deem a huge dark cloud, McClenathan sees a silver lining. Veteran tuner Lee Beard has been retained to help the Rapisarda team.
“Really with Lee’s [Beard] help, everything is starting to go really well,” McClenathan said. “We are starting to gel. I think Topeka will be the start of a turnaround.”
TELLING TEN - Scott Woodruff wants your help in growing drag racing. He wants you to tell ten friends about how exciting NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing is and encourage them to tune in to the television broadcasts.
Woodruff, the highly efficient publicist for the Jegs Mail Order team, believes the straight line sport can use word of mouth advertising through the “Tell Ten Friends” initiative as a viable promotion in a challenging economy where entertainment dollars are not as easy to come by.
“It’s a simple point that if you have friends who value your advice, you can make a solid point by advocating drag racing,” said Woodruff.
Woodruff said the goal of the program is to encourage those who aren’t familiar with drag racing to either come out to drag races in their immediate area or either tune in on ESPN2 during the weekend coverage.
“We have to start planting the seeds of interest,” said Woodruff. “It’s a relatively easy way for those of us who are involved in the sport to bring in a new demographic. I think the more people we let know when we are on television is a good start. Even if we are getting a one or two person increase if we all step up, the end result could be incredible.”
Woodruff said “Tell Ten Friends” was actually born out of frustration.
“You just get tired of hearing talk about what is wrong with our sport and no one does anything to try and fix it,” said Coughlin. “I really don’t think you can complain until you’ve tried to do something to fix it or presented a potential solution. Complaining is wasted energy.”
He was also influenced by learning of friends who had stopped watching the ESPN broadcasts because of Jeggie Coughlin’s absence from Pro Stock.
“They just stopped watching because Jeg wasn’t racing,” said Woodruff. “Those are just the people who know me. They know who I work for, what I do and they know Jeg. That really got me to thinking that people will engage in something they have a vested interested in. Their vested interested is they know the driver and in trying to find out how he did exposes them to the entire sport. What’s that worth?”
Woodruff says his solution is actively implementing word of mouth advertising and challenges the entire community to do the same. He has presented his initiative to many people within drag racing’s inner circle who have planned to pull their part of the load.
“I spent about 30 minutes talking to Shawn Murphy [producer for ESPN2 coverage] and he pointed out how much a one-percent swing could benefit,” said Woodruff. “When we can do this, we can eliminate the need for outside advertising and besides, it’s the word of mouth advertising which can carry more weight. I think it breaks down barriers.”
Woodruff said he’s enlisted the support of the sport’s leading publicists to help spread the movement to grow the sport. He’s even gotten the NHRA’s social media driving force, Alex Baca, to jump in by providing the latest in television scheduling and revisions.
Elon Werner, public relations director for John Force Racing, is one of those who has joined Woodruff’s movement.
“I love it,” said Werner. “I think anytime we can step up and do what we can to stir the masses, can only help our sport. I think this is the most critical thing we can do to grow our sport. We promote it on our Facebook and Twitter page.”
And in the end, these drag racing loving publicists hope their efforts combined with the race fans efforts can grow the sport.
TORRENCE CONTINUES TO SHINE - The beat goes on for Steve Torrence, who produced Friday night’s second-quickest qualifying run for Sunday’s Dollar General Summit Nationals in ideal conditions.
Torrence’s black Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors Inc. Top Fuel dragster picked up the front wheels and bolted from the starting line on the way to a 3.797-second, 320.51-mph lap that put him into the top spot for about three minutes. Antron Brown moved ahead with a 3.797 at 324.98.
“Our car continues to run well, and that’s what we want,” said Torrence, who has started second in his last two events. “We are focused on making consistent runs, and Richard (Hogan, crew chief) and the crew continue to do great job.
“We want to show everyone that we are out here to stay and our win at Atlanta (two weeks ago) was no fluke. It feels real good to have a competitive car that can run with anyone out there.”
Torrence began the day with a 3.875 at 311.05 run that was fourth quickest.
Hogan will use Saturday’s two runs to work on the race day tune-up.
PLEASED WITH CONSISTENCY - Greg Anderson received a pleasant surprise during Friday’s opening qualifying sessions for the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals in Topeka, Kan., as his Summit Racing Pontiac delivered its most consistent first day performance of the 2012 season. After posting the third-quickest time in afternoon session, the four-time Topeka winner picked up almost three hundredths of a second in the evening round, with his 6.624-second, 208.55 mph pass slotting him in the second position with two attempts remaining on Saturday.
Although naturally pleased with this solid showing, Anderson was also surprised as in previous races he and his KB Racing team had struggled to find a consistent handle in qualifying, offering his own reasons for this sudden return to form.
“I am absolutely shocked at how well my Summit Racing Pontiac ran today,” joked Anderson. “I actually think it’s because it knows this is probably its last race before we switch to our new Chevy Camaros and it wants us to reconsider.
“Today was very different from the rest of the season because we had been struggling in qualifying and today it wanted to run in both sessions, which is a different feeling for me on Friday, and one I am very happy with. The car is showing a lot of potential – we didn’t make perfect runs with the car, but the motor ran really well, and I think, given the right conditions, it’s capable of going to the pole.
“We’ll see what the rest of the weekend brings – the weather is supposed to be similar tomorrow, with a little change coming for Sunday. Fortunately, we’ve started off pretty close to the target, so now we have to fine tune it and see if we can hit the bulls-eye.”
LATER THAN SOONER - After losing his first run of the day with a tire-smoking effort, Tony Schumacher returned with a solid 3.818-second pass at 321.42 mph in the evening session. He fell in behind Brown, Steve Torrence, Brandon Bernstein and Shawn Langdon, respectively, in the order.
“We had to kind of slide it down there after not getting down the track in the opening session,” Schumacher said. “We’ll be fine. We now have the proper data to utilize for tomorrow’s runs.”
GOT WILK, OR A HEAD GASKET? – Funny Car racer Tim Wilkerson heads into Saturday qualifying on the outside of the provisional top 12. His 4.185-second pass on Friday evening was only quick enough for 14th.
“It hurt itself,” Wilkerson admitted. “It must have pushed a head gasket out. I’m not very happy with that run. I could tell I was in trouble when I left the line. That was way too slow.”
WE PLANNED IT THAT WAY – With the exception of Ron Capps’ 4.078 elapsed time, the rest of the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars could have gone team bracket racing. Jack Beckman, Johnny Gray and Matt Hagan all ran a 4.105.
“I think Ron might have staged crooked and got better rollout,” said Beckman, joking.
Regardless of how quicker Capps was, Beckman was simply elated to have a consistent car qualified in the field.
“This car has not been as consistent as the four Force cars,” said Beckman. “We feel that we are all working together to turn some corners. We are on our way.”
Beckman has now made seven consecutive runs down the track without smoking the tires.
“We had not made it down the track consistently on the first 18 runs so this is a big deal to us,” explained Beckman. “Todd Smith is getting up to speed on the DSR Funny Car tune-up. I’m pretty excited to get in the car for every run.”
HE KNOWS HIS CREW CHIEF – Defending event champion Robert Hight was the eighth quickest after the first day, a ranking likely not to be embraced by his tuner Jimmy Prock.
“We are in the field, but this thing didn’t sound good,” said Hight. “It was popping and banging on the starting line. We’ll fix it and maybe change engines to come back tomorrow.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME - He had worked so hard on that fence, painting it and sprucing it up. Then Rob Wendland saw it blow away in the Kansas night, as if a tornado had splintered it.
What destroyed the fence there at the eighth-mile Lawrence, Kan., dragstrip, to 10-year-old Wendland's amazement, was the celebrated "Green Monster," the creation of dragster and jet-car genius Art Arfons.
Today Wendland, 46, is in his second season as Johnny Gray's crew chief for the Don Schumacher-owned NTB/Service Central Dodge Charger. But those memories flood back like they happened yesterday. This weekend's Dollar General Summernationals at Heartland Park Topeka provides the backdrop for his special homecoming.
"This is all I've done since I was 12," Wendland said of his involvement in drag racing. And this is where it began.
"When I was eight, I would have neighbors pick me up and take me to the local track in Lawrence. I worked at the track or washed parts." Then he graduated to what he called "the VHT kid."
Said Wendland, "At that particular track, you backed up to a wall. It was the burnout area. Then you’d roll forward and you'd have a VHT line. I was the VHT kid. They'd do a dry hop through the VHT. I'd throw a little VHT in front of the cars. That's how we used to do it."
Then one day, special -- famous -- company, including "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, was coming.
"I remember when the Green Monster came. I think I skipped school on Friday. I must have been about 10," Wendland recalled. "We decided we were going to paint this fence up and make this place look bitchin'." That night, he recalled, "Here comes the Green Monster. First thing he did was start pumping that thing. And it blew that fence clear across the road!"
All Wendland could think was how cool that was and how he wanted more than ever to be part of this unpredictable and crazy world. So he gravitated toward the best in the region, working for such notables as Top Alcohol Dragster racers Donnie Kornbrust, Tim Baxter (the 1977-79 division champion), and Darryl Hitchman. Then he helped Randy Parks, in a car Parks bought from Alan Johnson, qualify No. 1 and win at the 1994 U.S. Nationals.
Before landing a job at DSR, first in 2009 with Antron Brown's Matco Tools Dragster team, Wendland tuned Mike Gunderson's A-Fuel dragster to the first 280-mph run, worked with Mark Oswald on John Lawson's Funny Car (2003-05), served as car chief for John Force, and was an adviser with Morgan Lucas Racing and Cruz Pedregon Racing.
"I've worked on every type of hot rod over the years with numerous great racers, tuners, and fabricators, including having my own speed shop, been a car chief on a nitro Funny Car, and drove a Top Alcohol Dragster in 1999 for Mike Troxel," he said.
Wendland drove for only one season but finished sixth in the standings and earned four national-event victories. That included one victory at Route 66 Raceway at Joliet, where he took over the reins as crew chief for Gray's Funny Car.
"I got a lot of respect for drivers from that experience," Wendland said. "I used to think a driver should just suck it up and drive through tire shake, for example. Well, after driving, I called many of the guys who had driven for me and apologized about my attitude."
Today he has Gray in the top five among Funny Car drivers, as they both said they felt excited to return to Heartland Park Topeka.
"Rob and I both ran well there back in the alcohol days," Gray said. "Topeka is just a fun racetrack. It's good and it's fast, and I'm feeling really positive about the NTB/Service Central Dodge. It's coming back around. After the first round of eliminations in Atlanta, I told Rob, 'There's my old racecar coming back to me.' They're getting the bugs out of it and getting a handle back on it, and we feel pretty strongly about having a good chance to step back up to third or fourth in the points."
The homecoming has an extra-special twist for Wendland.
"I love racing at Topeka," he said. "These are my old stomping grounds, and in the past I've had some good luck there. This time around will be really special because we'll be running our NTB/Service Central car with a tribute decal honoring Tim Baxter and the Jayhawker. I'm always excited to get back there, but this is going to be really neat."
Baxter, considered one of the greatest Kansas drag racers of all-time, died from cancer this January 31, at age 56.
"I'm so grateful to Tim and his family," Wendland said, "and this is just one small thing that we can do to honor them."
Another strong showing, like the one they had last season, would make it even better. Gray drove the NTB / Service Central Dodge to the semifinals from the No. 2 starting position, qualifying only four-thousandths of a second slower than leader Jack Beckman.
"Last year we did very well in Topeka," Wendland said, "and right now I think we're all excited because the car is really responding to what we're doing. Thankfully, we're still in the No. 5 spot in the points, and we're just going to continue to look forward. The future looks really good for us."
The past hasn't been so bad, either.
GETTING BACK ON TRACK - Things have not gone according to plan this season for NHRA Pro Stock driver Shane Gray.
The third-year driver has had his share of struggles and stands 11th in the point standings heading into Summernationals this weekend at Heartland Park in Topeka, Kan. A year ago, Gray won at Topeka which also was the last time he reached the winner’s circle.
“It has been a very frustrating year so far,” Gray said in an interview with Competition Plus Thursday. “We need to try and do good (at Topeka) and try to have lane choice on Sunday morning. I like Topeka’s race track.”
Last season, Gray came in ninth in the season points, following a stellar rookie campaign that saw Gray place fourth in the standings.
Unfortunately in 2012, Gray hasn’t been able to get his Service Central Pontiac GXP on track. Gray has a 2-7 season round record with his lone round wins coming at the season-opening race at Pomona, Calif., and the 4 Wide at Charlotte, N.C.
“We have done some testing and we think we have improved a few things, but it is really hard to say until we get to the track (at Topeka), and see how much everybody else has improved as well,” Gray said.
According to Gray, his Gray Motorsports team made some test laps at Rockingham, N.C. before the Southern Nationals at Atlanta May 4-6.
At Atlanta, Gray lost on a holeshot to Erica Enders in first round. Enders ran a 6.618-second elapsed time at 208.75 mph, while Gray was at 6.617 seconds at 208.36 mph. The difference was Enders had a .020 reaction time and Gray’s was .037.
“Yeah it (the Pro Stock class) is competitive, but we are just struggling,” Gray said. “There are a lot of good competitors in there, but we have just had just issues, and we do not really have our stuff together right now, but it is coming. We are getting it.”
Gray said Justin Elkes remains his crew chief. Elkes came onboard the final three races of last season for the Gray Motorsports team.
“Justin has been here (with Gray Motorsports) for a little while and we are all used to each other now,” Gay said. “It has just been a combination of we have not run the car real good, the engines have not performed real good and the driver has not performed real good. It is a conglomeration of things. We hope at some point we get our sh*t together, you know.”
Gray has simple expectations for the remainder of the season.
“Maybe we can win a few rounds and finish in the top 10 again,” Gray said. “We want to win every time we go somewhere, but that is something you do not worry about. The first thing you do when you get there (to the track) is worry about getting qualified. Then, you worry about winning rounds. We have some exciting things going on right now and something is going to come out of it good.”
Gray does have a brand-new Jerry Haas-built Chevy Camaro at the Gray Motorsports shop in Denver, N.C., but he is not rushing to race the Camaro.
“It is sitting in the shop, but I do not have a time frame on that deal (when they will run the Camaro),” Gray said. “We have some things in the works right now and different things going on in our engine shop and we will just try to get that stuff worked out and then get the Camaro out. We do not really need to introduce something new into the mix right at the minute.”
WANTING MORE - Steve Torrence said he isn't bothered at all about the forecast for 85-degree temperatures this weekend at Topeka. After all, his Torrence Racing / Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster
performed well in the heat two weeks ago at Atlanta Dragway, when he earned his first professional victory two weeks ago. "The car performed well in the heat. It was absolutely flying," Torrence said, "and it will be hot in Topeka, so that definitely bolsters our confidence. We know Richard Hogan, our crew chief, has a good handle on the tune-up in hot weather conditions and on hot tracks. It really takes a good crew chief to be able to finesse the race car and get it to go down the track . . . and still run quick. That was huge for us." He also won at Heartland Park Topeka in 2005 in the Top Alcohol Dragster class.
Torrence said the Atlanta victory "has made us hungry for another one. We are not satisfied with that. We want to keep going."
CAPPS HAPPY TO BE BACK IN KANSAS - Because of its central location and flat topography, Kansas hosted the first NHRA national event in 1955, on an airstrip near Great Bend. The race simply was called "The Nationals," and it allowed hot-rod enthusiasts across the U.S. could test their cars against the best of the best. Ron Capps, Funny Car's most recent winner and a student of the sport, said he's excited to be in Kansas, at Topeka, this weekend. "What is so special to me is just going to Kansas to race where it really all started," he said. "I'm a West Coast guy, but the first NHRA national event 57 years ago was here in Kansas at Great Bend. Now, Heartland Park Topeka is a long way from what it was like at Great Bend, but the spirit of competition is still there." Capps, who has reached the last three finals, is looking to keep his momentum intact. Robert Hight has won the last two Topeka races, but Capps has leaped into a second-place tie in the standings with Mike Neff. And Capps has won at Topeka three times (1998, 2006, and 2009) and was runner-up to John Force in 2000. "We won for the first time there in 1998, beating Al Hofmann, but it wasn't until eight years later when we won again. We have been able to celebrate there three times, so I like the track," Capps said.
ENOUGH, ALREADY - He gets it but he hates it. Tony Schumacher understands the fascination with his 30-race winless streak in the U.S. Army Dragster, but it's annoying to hear about it at every opportunity. "We have come so close this season. It's really amazing that we have not been able to get over the hump. It's something I don't think anyone can explain," he said. "To be 0-11 in finals the last couple of years is unbelievable to me. But I still hold to the belief we will break through in the near term. If anything, the percentages have to eventually swing our way." As far whether he's tired of hearing about the streak, Schumacher said, "Yes, yes, and yes, again. But I do understand it's sort of headline-grabbing because of the kind of team we are. We’ve won numerous championships and now suddenly that same team is being shut out. Once we get that first win, we all can move on from there. Like I've said over and over, it's not a question of if, but rather when it will happen." Because he has advanced to four finals this year Schumacher is the Top Fuel points leader. He was No. 1 qualifier at Heartland Park last year, and he won here in 2010. The day after the Atlanta race, he and his team stayed there and tested a new Don Schumacher Racing-built chassis. "We made only three laps because it rained in the morning, but the numbers were good each time. So it's my understanding we will roll that new chassis out this weekend in Topeka. As one of my crew guys said, it's time to mothball the old chassis, since it only gets to finals and doesn't win."
FOR THE TROOPS - Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher will perform twin burnouts during the pre-race ceremonies at the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race during Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte. "We hope to put on a good show for the NASCAR fans. Also, it will be Don Schumacher Racing's salute to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom," Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster. "Every day we should keep our soldiers, both past and present, in our thoughts and prayers." Brown said, "I can't wait. We should have a lot of fun. We're going to be there only one day, but I guess the schedule is pretty jam-packed with activities. Ultimately we want to give a little something back for what all of our soldiers have done for us. It's all about honoring and remembering our brave men and women."
RALLY TIME - Antron Brown might be wearing his baseball cap inside out and backwards at Topeka, for he's planning a rally in his Matco Tools Dragster. In the most recent race, at Atlanta, he had his first opening-round loss in 33 starts. He has led the Top Fuel standings three times this season and would like to take it back from Don Schumacher Racing colleague Tony Schumacher. He was top qualifier at Topeka in 2009 and 2010 but never has reached he final round at Heartland Park Topeka.
He said he and crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald have figured out why he smoked the tires and lost at Atlanta but said, "We're not used to packing up so early on race day, so the disappointment has kind of stuck around, to be honest. Actually, you want to remember how bad a taste that left so you don't have it happen again."
Brown said the Top Fuel competition is "crazy right now," adding, "I think most of the veterans like Tony will say that Top Fuel is as competitive as it has been in a long time. I think the days of one team dominating are over. Nobody is going to run away and hide from the rest of the field."
'REAL QUALITY MACHINE' - Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson called his Team Mopar / J&J Racing Dodge Avenger "a real quality machine right now." He has proof. After winning at Las Vegas, he has fared no worse than a semifinal finish in four consecutive events, qualified first or second at each of those races, and recorded the fastest speed of the meet at each of the last two events.
"The car itself is great and dad (J&J Racing engine builder Roy Johnson) and the engine guys are making great horsepower with the HEMI engines. While we've had the fastest car each of the last two weekends, we were a little disappointed that we didn't win those races. We’ve learned a lot and just have to keep building on what we are doing and what is working," he said.
Johnson, the 2009 Topeka winner and 2010 runner-up, is third in the standings, behind the KB / Summit team of Greg Anderson and Jason Line. "Being that high in points is a definitely testament to our team and the product that we have," he said. "The front two guys are pulling away a little bit, so we'd like to put a stop to that. We certainly have the package and the personnel to do it. Normally at Topeka, you have hot and humid conditions, similar to what we had at Houston and Atlanta. Topeka also has a little bit higher of an altitude, and that's when we seem to have our best runs. We'll have our Mopar Dodge Avenger all ready to go."
HEY, TULSA, COME ON UP! - Mike Edwards' Pro Stock race shop is just a little less than 250 miles from Heartland Park Topeka, and the Tulsa-area resident said having a huge cheering section "takes some of the pressure away." Said Edwards, "It is the closest track to the Tulsa area, where all our family and friends live, so they make the couple-hour drive north every year to be able to see us race in person. That makes the Topeka stop a special place for all of us, because it allows us to be surrounded by those who love and support us. While you are focused on getting another Wally to drive back with the caravan on Sunday night, you are not consumed by everything and it might allow you to make the correct decisions and not second-guess. On the flip side, it also adds a bit of pressure because you do not want to disappoint everyone that took time away from their lives to watch you race."
Edwards has been No. 1 qualifier at Heartland Park Topeka in each of the last three years. He won here in 1999, from the 16th and final spot, and then in 2010 from the No. 1 position. "I can say I have won this race from both ends of the spectrum," Edwards said. "In 1999, that was one of those race days you could do no wrong from the starting line to making the right calls on the track. It meant a lot because I did something nobody before did, and that was winning from the No. 16 position." Then in 2010, Edwards led the field and beat Allen Johnson on a holeshot in the final round.
"Topeka usually comes down to who does better at the start," Edwrads said, "because the track is very consistent throughout the weekend. I just need to do my job like I did in the couple years I've won, and I can add to my Pro Stock trophy collection and have the biggest winners circle photo with everyone coming up from Tulsa area enjoying the moment with us."
TWICE THE FUN - Pro Stock's Jeg Coughlin Jr., driver of the Mopar/JEGS.com Dodge Avenger, hardly will find time to take a deep breath this weekend. He also will compete in the Stock Eliminator class in his Mopar Challenger Drag Pak. Coughlin, the only driver in NHRA history to win in six professional classes, won at Topeka in Super Stock in 1994 and in Pro Stock in 2000.
HOW CAN THAT BE? - Everything seems a bit mixed up for Lucas Oil Ford Mustang Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan. Take, for instance, his opinion about Heartland Park Topeka and the weather forecast for temperatures in the 80s and humidity above 50 percent: "It'll be hot and muggy and nasty. It's got everything going for it." His performance has been a bit backward, too. He has defeated a No. 1 and No. 2 qualifier (Alen Johnson at Gainesville, Mike Edwards at Las Vegas) as part of four first-round upset victories, and he has earned a top-10 spot in the standings. He still hasn't made it to the semifinal round yet at any race. "I've done well," he said, "but I kind of feel like I've not really had the best year. I've done more good than bad, so I can't complain. I'm in the top 10. I don't know. What can you say? I need to catch fire. It'd be good to get on a hot streak." He has eliminated a pair of No. 6 qualifiers. However, he also has struggled with his Mustang's tune-up after discovering an odd problem with one of his wheels earlier this year. Morgan won here in the fall of 1993 and made it to the final rounds in 2008 and 1997. "I've done well at this track," Morgan said. "I don't know why. I guess I like Kansas. I don't dislike any track, but Topeka's been pretty good to me, so it's a favorite. I hope it's good to me again this year. We're working on our stuff, trying to make that happen."
LOVES THAT HEAT, HUMIDITY - MAVTV Pontiac driver Rodger Brogdon, slumping despite a No. 9 place in the Pro Stock standings, tested in St. Louis this week. And he said, "That's the only way to do it: Just go run the car, over and over and over and over." At St. Louis, he said, "We went at it hard for two full days." He had a semifinal effort at Las Vegas, but other than that, he has had trouble -- with first-round defeats at each of the past five races. "We're hopeful we'll get better, starting right now," Brogdon said. "We made some improvements at the test and I'm happy with the way things are going. Only time will tell. We'll know when qualifying starts but it's promising so far." He said he's hoping he'll have the same luck at Topeka he has enjoyed in his sportsman days. "It'll be hot and miserable, but in the past I've done well when it's bad. I might have a little bit of advantage on them," the Houston native said. "I am used to it, for sure. It's bad at home already. I probably am a little more used to it than most people."
WANTS CARRY-OVER SUCCESS - Jason Line has had success at Topeka as sportsman racer, but the two-time Pro Stock series champion hasn't carried it over to his pro career. He never has won at Heartland Park Topeka. He said he and the track "have a long history together. I raced my Stocker at the first event, when they were still pouring concrete when we rolled through the gates. I also won a points meet in Topeka. But for reasons I can't quite explain, that success has yet to translate over to my Pro Stock car. If there ever was a time that we had a car capable of winning the race, it would have to be right now. My Summit Racing Pontiac has been extremely strong all year, so I feel there is a good possibility we are going fix any issues we’ve had with Kansas in the past this weekend." He has one victory in two final-round appearances this year and is ranked No. 2 in the standings.
"To win this weekend, we will need a total effort, with four good runs, four good lights and no mistakes, which we haven't been able to do since Phoenix," Line said. "We've been close to getting it done, including Atlanta two weeks ago, but just came up a hundredth shy against our teammate in the final. I know there are many people who would be more than happy to have our Summit Racing team's record so far and would gladly trade places with us. However, without trying to sound cocky or arrogant, we are only satisfied when we win. By the same token, as soon as one race is over, no matter how we've done, we put it behind us and start working on the next one." Today's focus for Line? "It's about time I took a Topeka Wally home," he said.
MAKING FEWER MISTAKES - From 2003 to 2007, Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson was almost unstoppable at Heartland Park Topeka, with three No. 1 qualifying performances and four victories -- one shy of Warren Johnson's all-time class mark here. This year, Anderson said, he wants "to rekindle some of the magic this Summit Racing team had with Heartland Park Topeka. We seem to have misplaced it over the last few years."
He knows what will do the trick. "I think our success this season comes down to our making fewer mistakes than our opponents," he said. "Even though we haven't always been the baddest dog on the planet, somehow the people we've raced have made mistakes, which you cannot do in this class if you expect to win. The bottom line is that we keep racing tough, focusing on every little detail, and finding ways to capitalize on our competitors' mistakes."
Said Anderson, "The first few years we went there, we considered it one of the supertracks and saw numerous records set there, especially in the fuel classes because the surface was so good. It's got some age on it now, and the track has become a little more finicky, putting it in the hands of the crew chiefs."
He said the facility is "a real challenge, a lot like Darlington Raceway in NASCAR, in that it’s very tough to tame," but he quickly added, "which is the way it should be. They shouldn't all be perfect surfaces that are easy to tune for."
Anderson has a 72-point advantage over No. 2 Jason Line, his KB / Summit teammate. He is the only Pro Stock racer with multiple victories, the most recent of which came at Atlanta.
"I have no idea how we have gotten three wins and five final-round appearances this year," he said. "Who knows? Maybe because we seem to struggle in qualifying, no one expects a lot from us in final eliminations, but somehow this Summit Racing team keeps getting the job done on race day."
He said he and his team "just seem to have a love/hate relationship with this particular car, and we continue to work on swinging it more into the love side. She's a feisty one, fighting us every step of the way, but this KB Racing crew is also a bunch of fighters, throwing everything we can at her. So far I'd have to call it a draw, and as long as we keep finding ways to win races, I'm good with that."
'WE'RE NOT LOST' - Funny Car's Jack Beckman saw team owner Don Schumacher move his crew chief and the whole crew over to Ron Capps' side of the pits after Capps' DNQ at Las Vegas. So he had to get used a whole new set of comrades. Then he failed to make the cut at Houston with the Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger. But new crew chief Todd Smith stayed at Baytown, Texas, to test, and the effort paid off at Atlanta. Beckman's performance at Atlanta was in the upper tier of the field on all five of his runs. Or as Beckman put it: "More than half the Funny Cars would have loved to have had that level of performance."
He insisted, "We're not lost." He's sixth in the standings as he returns to Topeka, where he was top qualifier last year. He's still seeking his first final-round appearance and victory at Heartland Park Topeka.
THREE'S COMPANY - If Robert Hight wins this weekend, he will become the third Funny Car driver to win this race three straight times. Mark Oswald (1989-91), Antron Brown's Top Fuel crew chief, was the first to do so. A decade later, Tony Pedregon did it (from 2001-03). Only five drivers – Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Oswald, Pedregon and John Force - have won three consecutive Funny Car trophies (or more) at the same event in NHRA history. John Force owns the longest event winning streak; he took five straight Gatornationals from 1992-96.
Hight has a commanding lead in the Funny Car standings -- 203 points ahead of No. 2 drivers Mike Neff and Ron Capps. His only stumble was a first-round loss to No. 16 qualifier Todd Lesenko in the season-opener at Pomona, Calif. If one subtracts that from his totals, Hight is averaging 110 points per race. That is 85 percent of all available points. Even with the uncharacteristic Winternationals results, Hight has earned 77 percent of all available points for Funny Cars through the first seven races.
"Having this points lead is a luxury," Hight said. "(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock and my guys have been giving me a great race car. We got to the final in Atlanta and gave Capps a run for his money. I think if we would not have dropped a cylinder versus (Jim) Head in the semis, we might have had lane choice and then who knows what the outcome could have been? Capps' Funny Car has been running great lately, and so has this Auto Club Ford Mustang."
FORCE STILL KICKING - John Force said his biggest concern is that people will think that his recent induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Ala., is an indication he's slowing down. But he assures that he isn't that his racing career isn't winding down. "I always thought they put you in the Hall of Fame when you were done racing or dead," Force said. "Well, I'm not done racing and I promise you, I ain't dead. I still love it, and I'm going to keep on racing until someone tells me I can't do it anymore."
|< Prev||Next >|