SUNDAY NOTEBOOK: AND WE PRESENT TO YOU, THE WINNERS
OH YEAH, HE'S A CONTENDER - All the talk this past weekend at the Toyota SuperNationals had been about Spencer Massey and his Friday-night heroics of posting the quickest pass in Top Fuel history with a 3.728-second blast on the 1,000-foot Old Bridge Township Raceway Park course.
But the one who prevailed Sunday was a new single-car team owner from Kilgore, Texas, who didn't feel up to par after pulling his parachutes and tweaking his back at the end of his first-round run.
But Steve Torrence has overcome cancer and fresh challenges, and flying under the radar all weekend and gutting out some extremely close victories Sunday were nothing he and his Torrence Family Racing / Capco Contractors Dragster couldn't handle.
He earned his second Top Fuel victory in three races -- by seven-thousandths of a second -- as he outlegged resurgent Brandon Bernstein in the MAVTV / Lucas Oil Dragster. Torrence registered a 3.800-second elapsed time at 323.66 mph.
Bernstein was close behind at 3.807, 321.04, as Torrence denied him his first victory since the 2009 race near Richmond, Va.
Torrence said the victory, which follows his Atlanta triumph, is "a little surreal, coming out and having so much success in such a short time.
"I built this team to be a competitive team and come out here and run with these guys. We didn't have the expectations to do as well as we have done. It's really gratifying to go out and do this well," he said.
"We had some really tough races today and against the two Schumacher cars (Tony Schumacher in the quarterfinals and Massey in the semifinals) won by a thousandth. It's more gratifying to go out and win races where you have to beat the guy beside you and not because they are smoking the tires beside you," Torrence said.
"I had my best light of the weekend in that [final] race against Brandon," he said. "I was pumped up because I knew he would be on it. I may have cheated the car a little bit, because it would have gone a 3.79 instead of an .80. I stole it from the starting line."
But he won, and Torrence said, "That's all that matters. The 3.800 came on [the scoreboard], and it took a little while for the light to come on beside it. It lit up, and then I coasted down through there and rolled up to the same Safety Safari guys who had helped me out of the car all weekend long. I pulled around, through my arms up, and they drug me out."
He said he hurt himself at the finish of his victory over Bob Vandergriff Jr. in the opening round.
"Something happened in the car when I pulled the parachutes in the first round, and I’ve been crippled ever since," he said. "One of the guys came over and pulled on my leg before the finals, and maybe that helped me."
He grinned at the thought but said, "I was in quite a bit of pain. The combination of adrenaline and winning covered the pain. It will probably be more sore later tonight.
"It's part of the deal. You have to drive this race car the best you can, no matter what is going on. You have to block all of that out. Having the good car we did made it easy to do. I had every bit of confidence the car was going A to B. That helps a lot."
Torrence tried to repeat the cliché that "We are still going one round and one race at a time. Consistency is the key." But he said while he isn’t getting ahead of himself, he does think that it's within reach, if he continues to perform well. He's fifth in the standings, 13 points behind No. 4 Morgan Lucas, 27 behind No. 3 Antron Brown, and 75 behind No. 2 Schumacher.
Massey will carry his points leads into the June 15-17 Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn.
He said he thinks about being in the Countdown and racing with more experienced Top Fuel contenders "in the back of my mind." He said he and crew chief Richard Hogan and his team "are trying to get parts built up for the Countdown. When that time comes, we will start looking in that direction. I don't want to put the cart before the horse. I just want to keep racing and getting round wins."
As for whether his dragster will see him through the summer grind with outstanding performances before the Labor Day Countdown cutoff at Indianapolis, Torrence said, "The car I have now is the best Top Fuel car I've ever driven. I do feel like we have a championship contender car if it stays running the same."
Winning at Englishtown, which is steeped in drag-racing history, meant a lot to the Texas native: "It's a huge thing for Torrence Racing and a monumental win. There's a lot of history here. It's just a cool place to win. It's Englishtown. The place has been here forever."
He stood in the winners circle with Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Throughout this NHRA season, Johnny Gray has shown glimpses of how good his Don Schumacher Racing Service Central Funny Car can be.
Sunday, there was no one better than Gray.
The veteran racer won his second career nitro Funny Car event by defeating his DSR teammate Ron Capps Sunday at Englishtown, N.J.
Gray claimed the victory with a solid 4.078 second lap to beat Capps who smoked the tires.
“There wasn’t anything easy about it,” Gray said about the win. “There is nothing ever easy about trying to outrun any of the fuel cars that are out there, but the Service Central NTB car, Rob (Wendland), Ripp (Reynolds) and all the guys back at the deal (DSR), they just gave me a great car all weekend. I think 11 was our slowest pass of the weekend. What can you say? That car is just awesome and it is fun to drive. It goes straight and you know what it is going to do and we are looking forward to going to the next race (Bristol, June 15-17).”
Gray is now fourth in the point standings. He beat Jim Head, John Force, Robert Hight and Capps to claim his win.
“We struggled a little bit and we lost it just a little bit a few races back, but we made some changes along with the help of Rahn Tobler and Mike Green and just really all of the guys over at the DSR braintrust,” Gray said. “They came over and got us back on track and helped the guys get the car kind of lined out. Now, she is just a pooch. You just take her up there and she goes right down the race track.”
Against Force, Gray claimed a narrow victory with his 4.090 second lap.
“Ripp leaned into the car right before we ran John and he said lane choice is imperative, go shallow,” Gray said. “I was thinking John was going to roll in deep and kill me on the tree. Then, I got to thinking too much and I should have a 1 flat light and I had a 1.20 light. I left myself wide open to get tattooed, but my guys gave me a race car that I could drive around him. Then, we turned around and ran Hight and Hight out ran us a little bit, but I happened to be good enough on the tree that time to get back around him. It is a team effort any time you win one of these things. Anybody who tells they can go out and win one these things by themselves is either stupid or a liar.”
Although Gray is fourth in points, his DSR teammates Capps and Jack Beckman having been grabbing all the headlines recently, but flying under the radar doesn’t bother Gray.
“We came into the season after last year thinking there would not be any doubt we would be in the top 10,” Gray said. “I feel like my team is good enough to give me a car that we can legitimately run at the championship with. We are on the backburner, but we will be there to reckon with and that’s the way I like it.”
Gray won his first career nitro Funny Car national event last season at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway. He also beat Capps in that final.
EDDIE-TOWN, AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT - Paul Bailey is the operations manager at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, and he just can't help but needle Eddie Krawiec.
"Wayne Paul," as he's known by his working pals, has done that for many years, even when Krawiec was -- in Jersey lingo -- "a punk kid" who dreamed of drag racing's big time, long before he became dragstrip manager at the multi-purpose Englishtown, N.J. facility.
In the tower at Raceway Park hangs a vintage photo of Krawiec -- with some of Wayne Paul's best graffiti. In the picture, Krawiec is standing behind a lineup of Pro Stock Motorcycles. Bailey long ago had scribbled "P.S. Wannabe" on it beside Krawiec's image.
So Krawiec took some ribbing for his aspirations to race in the National Hot Rod Association's bike class. But Bailey has kept up his antics his past weekend, although Krawiec has moved away and become a two-time series champion who works for Vance & Hines in his day job and rides the company's Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson in NHRA competition.
Bailey posted a sign in the Raceway Park office that reads, "What does the 'E' in 'E-town' stand for? . . . Eddie?"
Yes, Wayne Paul, you're in Eddie-town. And you might not ever be allowed to forget it.
The "wannabe" became winner on his home track Sunday, benefiting from Hector Arana Sr.'s foul start in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final round of the Toyota SuperNationals.
Krawiec joined Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) in the winners circle after a nearly two-hour rain delay that emptied the place then saw the stands fill up again to see their hometown hero take another shot at a Wally trophy from his beloved Englishtown.
"I let Craig Treble whip my butt here back in '09 just because I thought I had the faster motorcycle and I sat back," Krawiec said. "I was .50 (seconds) on the tree (in reaction time), and he was .00. He basically picked my pocket, and he reminded me of that a lot. I thought that was my one and only chance, because it's not too often where it's at your home track and you get to go to a final and you have a great motorcycle that can win. But this year I've had an awesome motorcycle all year.
"My crew chief , Matt Hines, is doing an awesome job. The key thing is consistency. He's given me a bike that has consistently been 60-foot good, and it allows me to focus on hitting the tree and doing my job."
Krawiec said he cried even before he pulled off the track and again during his post-race interview on ESPN2.
"I don't know what it was. Something weighed on my heart really heavy, and I wanted to get it off. This race means a lot to me. There's a lot that's happened at this track, and it's where my career started," he said, adding that this long-awaited victory left him "speechless" -- something rare, he said.
"Actually my boss, Terry Vance, has said many times that a sentence that never comes out of Eddie's mouth is 'I have nothing to say' -- because I always have something to say. It's just the New Jersey in me."
He found his groove quickly, though.
Talking about winning thanks to his opponent's red light, Krawiec said, "Pretty much I just went up there and stayed focused. I knew I had to be .20 green then tuck and be part of the paint and hopefully I'd see green. And that's what happened. As soon as I popped the clutch, I saw the red light on his side.
"I almost shut it [the motor] off and I was going to wave going down the track. And I said, 'Well, if I shut it off here, I'm going to have to walk to the shutoff area and that's probably a bad thing. So I opted to click it out at about 1100 feet and just pull on the clutch," he said.
Arana Sr., who lost his in his first final-round appearance since the last race of the 2010 season, might have wanted to cry, too.
"The hardest thing, and the biggest thing I'm mad about, is how I lost. I lost," the Lucas Oil Buell rider said, pointing to himself. "I didn't give him a chance to beat me. I beat myself."
It was a fitting match-up for this rain-delayed final that Krawiec predicted wouldn't happen once nasty weather blew in and saturated the property, making the looming noise curfew a sure nail in the coffin. But the sun came back and so did No. 1 qualifier Krawiec and No. 2 Arana, who thought he just might have the bike to knock off the points leader who set both ends of the track record in Friday qualifying.
The rain delay, Krawix aid, "let me concentrate and think -- not thinking in a bad way, because sometimes when you get to thinking, you can get yourself in trouble. I knew my motorcycle would come around, because it had cooled down.
"I ran really well out here Friday night. Saturday, I slowed down a little bit, but I had a fast bike in the last session. But as the day went on today, we couldn't really get it to respond to our tune up. The Hectors had bikes that were going faster and faster, then when you start looking at that you start scratching your head and thinking, 'What are they doing that we're not? Obviously if they're running those E.T.s', then we should be pretty close to them.' And we weren't. It's just one of those things, sometimes you have the tune-up and sometimes you don't. I just hated it to go away," he said, "because we were so strong off the truck, then we just got slower and slower. You start seeing your opportunities going away. That's where the driver has to come in and do his job and be good on the tree."
Krawiec had said that he had two races on his must-win list: this one and the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the NHRA's oldest and most prestigious and historically significant event.
If he had his choice of the two, he said Sunday, "I'd pick Englishtown any day of the week. This race means a lot to me. There's a lot that's happened at this track and it's where my career started. I can live with my career at this point. I don't have to win Indy, but I want to."
Wayne Paul's jabs only served as motivation, Krawiec said.
"It's a very driven sport, drag racing, and you have to have that want, that fire, and that desire," he said, "and when that goes out it's your time to get out. But it's something that for me makes me want more. You should always set your goals high and when you reach them set them higher, because you should never be just satisfied with what you have or who you are."
Krawiec will carry his points lead into the June 15-17 Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn. -- where maybe he will discover it's a lot like Eddietown.
NEW CAR DELIVERS - Even with a brand new Camaro, NHRA's Pro Stock competitors couldn't catch up to Greg Anderson.
The 2010 world champ was as strong as ever Sunday, culminating with his victory Sunday at Englishtown, N.J.
Anderson beat his Summit Racing teammate Jason Line in the finals.
Line was leading almost to the finish before having apparent engine problems late. Anderson clocked at 6.560. Line came across at 6.588.
“Jason broke a valve spring there in the final round,” Anderson said. “He would have won. He absolutely was ahead. It is not Top Fuel, we do not quit at the 1,000 foot. If it was a 1,000 foot race, he would have won, but it is a quarter-mile. It was a sad deal for us, you have to lose a motor like that, but the bottom line is we really couldn’t lose the final.”
This was Anderson's 74th career win and fifth at Englishtown.
This was also his fourth of the season and the first time a Camaro won a Pro Stock race since 2000 at the World Finals.
"We brought it (Camaro) it with high hopes and it exceeded our high hopes," said Anderson, who now has the most career Pro Stock victories at Englishtown. “It was a fantastic weekend. A couple weeks ago I thought I had a better car then Allen Johnson but I shook my tires a little and it caught me by surprise. I called Ken (Black) and said maybe that is a sign maybe they want you on hand for the 100th win for your KB Racing. He said you know what I'm coming to Englishtown, and for him to pack up and come across the country all the way from Las Vegas is a major effort for him. We made a gutsy call to bring our Camaro out here with all that on the line, because I just made it to a final round (at Topeka), and it was a tough decision but we are really excited that General Motors is involved with Pro Stock, and we are so excited about General Motors getting back involved with the Camaro.”
Still, Anderson wasn't sure what to expect this weekend with his Chevy Camaro.
"We tested a couple of days this week and we certainly figured it wasn't enough but we made it through four rounds of qualifying and we ran very good today (Sunday) and we gained a little bit each round on Sunday, and we ran good (Sunday) and well enough to win an NHRA Full Throttle Series event, which is not an easy task. For a brand new car to come out like that with a new body and a new chassis and for its first time out, I can't say enough about these guys that work with me at KB Racing. It is a special feeling tonight (Sunday) to take pictures and share the winner’s circle with these hats and this 100th KB Racing victory with Ken Black and all the guys, especially the ones who have been here the whole time. It is a special day for me."
On Sunday afternoon, Anderson praised his new Camaro.
"To come out on top of the mountain like that is pretty cool,” Anderson said. “I love the car. I love the way it looks. I love the body lines. I love the way it drives. It is an exciting feeling. We are going to have another one (Camaro) at Bristol (June 15-17). Jason (Line) is going to have his at Bristol. The Pro Stock class is fantastic right now. You have Mopars, you have Fords, you have GMs, and all Pontiacs up until now. Now, we have got Chevy Camaros. For Chevrolet to put all the work they have into this body and come out and win in its first Pro Stock event, that just proves how superior General Motors is to the other brands in my opinion. And, I feel very fortunate that I have been in a General Motors car all my life. They keep giving me great products to go out and win races with.”
QUICK HITS RACE REPORT
BALOOSHI STILL WINLESS – Defending NHRA Pro Modified champion K.A. Balooshi was seeking his first Top-Fuel dragster win eight races into this season. However, the Al-Anabi driver lost in the first round to Clay Millican.
“When you’re racing one of the baddest cars in the country, it can be nerve racking,” said Millican, the multi-time IHRA series champion who drives for Mark Pickens Motorsports. “I’m so proud of my boys; they’ve been battling this thing. We have a bunch of young guys tuning this Parts Plus dragster.”
Adding insult to injury, Millican’s victory was the only one from the bottom half of the ladder.
SOLO TO LOW ELAPSED TIME – Morgan Lucas made the quickest bye run of the first round. In fact, his run set the pace for the class.
When Bruce Litton broke in the first round, Lucas soloed to a 3.770, 326.40.
ARMY TRUMPS THE GATOR – Tony Schumacher continued his dominance over Terry McMillen, beating him for the fourth time this season, with three of the wins coming in the first round.
ADVANCING AHEAD – Steve Torrence (Bob Vandergriff Jr.), Spencer Massey (TJ Zizzo) also advanced.
THAT’S AN IDEA – The lane preference has largely favored the left lane. In the second round, Torrence lost lane choice to Tony Schumacher prompting him to suggest, “I might walk over to Tony and tell him a real man would take the right lane.”
SAME PAIR, DIFFERENT RESULTS – In a rematch of the last event in Topeka, David Grubnic and Brandon Bernstein faced each other. This time the end result was different with Bernstein laying down a 3.789, 320.66 to beat a tire-smoking Grubnic.
“That’s a great team over there and Grubnic is a great driver,” Bernstein said. “It’s a shame what happened – happened.”
DOWN GOES BROWN – The hometown advantage didn’t do Antron Brown any favors. Brown lost in the first round to Doug Kalitta after he smoked the tires. Kalitta won with a 3.811, 318.77.
Brown has lost in the first round, two of the last three events.
TORRENCE SCORES BIG WIN – Lane choice or not, Steve Torrence was waiting in ambush for Tony Schumacher and mowed him down by a 3.838, 319.75 to 3.809, 320.89 margin. Only .001 separated them at the finish line.
“To win that round against Tony Schumacher is great … that’s a great race car,” said Torrence.
MILLICAN WINS AGAIN – Even though it wasn’t pretty, for Clay Millican and the Parts Pro team ugly wins are a beautiful experience. Millican smoked the tires and came out on the winning end of a match against Morgan Lucas.
“I’m pretty sure I got left on, Morgan is a great racer, but we got the win light and that is what we are here to do,” Millican said.
Millican understands he’s got an unhappy race car.
“I know it,” Millican confirmed. “I was real mean to it on that run. I stayed in it. It held in there long enough to get the win.”
ADVANCING TO THE SEMIS – Brandon Bernstein (Shawn Langdon) and Spencer Massey (Doug Kalitta) advanced.
TORRENCE HOLESHOTS MASSEY, BERNSTEIN WINS - Spencer Massey is considered one of the best leavers in Top Fuel. Well, that wasn't the case in the semifinals. Steve Torrence beat Massey on a holeshot.
Massey ran a faster 3.813-second time, but lost to Torrence's 3.814. Torrence's .072 light was just enough to beat Massey who had a .074 light. This was Torrence's first career win against Massey.
In the other semi, Brandon Bernstein used a solid 3.815-second lap to defeat Clay Millican's 3.859-run. This is Bernstein's first trip to the finals since he joined Morgan Lucas Racing in the offseason.
TORRENCE WINS AGAIN - Steve Torrence captured his second win of the season by narrowly beating Brandon Bernstein. Torrence clocked a 3.803-second run. Bernstein had a led at 330 feet but came up short with a 3.807.
BODE KEEPS CAPPS HONEST – Ron Capps stated unequivocally that he and the Napa Auto Parts team had placed scoring their required one percent back-up for the national record on the back burner. He said the team’s goal was to save the national record reward of 20 points for later in the season.
Crew chief Rahn Tobler backed the engine down for the opening round and the end result was still a win but maybe a little too close for comfort.
Bode grabbed .009 off of the line but Capps drove by at the stripe for a 4.162, 306.05 to 4.233, 296.89 victory.
Capps said his team never underestimated Bode.
“You’re stupid if you do that,” Capps added. “There were guys last night, talking about cool air and the semis, and I said, ‘What are you thinking?’ We didn’t take anyone lightly.”
ROOKIE UNDER PRESSURE – Courtney Force was focused on beating Tim Wilkerson. He had plenty more racing experience than she did and had out-qualified her by nine spots. With this overwhelming challenge on her mind, she came to a stop after backing up and the car’s shifter would not go back into the forward gear.
Force’s crew came to her rescue, as well as Mike Neff and managed to get the car into gear.
At the hit, Wilkerson smoked the tires and Force scored a winning 4.11, 311.70.
DESPERATE TIMES – John Force had to resort to desperate measures.
“I’ve won lots of races, but I can't hit my tail end lately,” said Force. “I had to pull everything out of the tree I could. I hated to do that against that girl because she’s like my daughter Courtney. I know she wanted to win a round for her dad. I needed a round for John Force.”
Force ran a 4.142, 308.14 to advance to the second round for the first time since April.
LOW ET OF THE ROUND – Robert Hight scored low elapsed time in winning the first round, a 4.094, 313.00, to defeat Blake Alexander.
Advancing past the opening round was defending series champion Matt Hagan (Tony Pedregon), Mike Neff (Bob Tasca III) Johnny Gray (Jim Head) and Jack Beckman (Jeff Arend).
SOMBER MOMENT – Ron Capps ran a 4.104, 305.98 to beat Jack Beckman in a rematch of the Topeka final round. As elated as he wanted to be in winning, Capps’ was down upon learning of former Top Fuel team owner John Mitchell’s passing.
“He gave me my start in driving with the Montana Express car,” said Capps. “I want to win so I can send the trophy to his son.”
A GRAY AREA – Johnny Gray was forewarned by his crew. He was going to need every advantage he could snag to get by John Force, who is hungry for a race win since opening the season in victory. Furthermore he needed more ammo for the semis should he win.
“They told me lane choice was imperative,” Gray said. “I knew I needed to go in shallow because Force would go in deep. I told them I am going to get killed on reaction time.”
And, he did. Force grabbed nearly .07 on Gray out of the gate.
Gray needed every inch of the track to chase down Force and win with a 4.090, 309.84 elapsed time. The margin of victory was one inch.
TARDY DEPARTURE – Robert Hight needed only a 4.107 to beat a quicker 4.083 from Mike Neff. Neff was extremely late with a .209.
“I have no idea what happened to him up there,” said Hight. “I would not want his job. He does a good job of tuning and then to have the added stress of driving, no way I could do that.”
SEMIS, HERE I COME – Rookie Funny Car driver Courtney Force continued to sail uncharted waters as she scored her first semi-final appearance by running a 4.123, 308.57 to beat defending series champion Matt Hagan, who lost with a 4.172, 292.27.
ALL DSR FINAL - Ron Capps ended Courtney Force's storybook weekend in the semis.
Capps, arguably the hottest driver in the nitro Funny Car ranks, upended Force with a 4.079-second time at 303.64 mph. Force was with Capps until the end before losing with a 4.11-second lap.
The finals became an all Don Schumacher Racing affair when Johnny Gray beat Robert Hight out of the John Force Racing stable in the other semi. Gray ran a 4.091-second lap to beat Hight on a holeshot.
Hight clocked a 4.084-second run, but the difference was Gray's .085 reaction time compared to Hight's .095 light.
GRAY WINS - Johnny Gray claimed his second career nitro Funny Car win. Gray clocked a 4.07 to beat Capps who smoked the tires.
ONE LANE BACKTOP – If you were the quicker qualified car, you took the left lane. If you took the left lane then you advanced to the second round.
COSTLY VICTORY – Hometown favorite Vincent Nobile won the battle but lost the way against Shane Gray. Nobile snagged the quicker reaction by .016 and led Gray to the stripe by a 6.563, 205.04 to margin 6.563, 210.11. As he exited his Dodge Avenger, it was apparent the victory was a costly one.
“That was my lucky round,” said Nobile. “We blew up around 1200 feet. I had to stay in it because I was out front.”
SUMMIT CARS, ONE AND TWO – Jason Line in his seasoned Pontiac and Greg Anderson, in his brand-spanking new Camaro, were the two quickest winners of the first round. Line ran a 6.527, 211.76 to drive past Grace Howell while Anderson’s 6.529, 211.93 was more than enough to beat Ron Krisher.
Other first round winners included Mike Edwards (Larry Morgan), Rodger Brogdon (Steve Kent), Ronnie Humphrey (V. Gaines) and Erica Enders (Kurt Johnson).
YOU GO, NO YOU GO … - Allen Johnson and Warren Johnson staged a nearly :45 staging duel. Johnson broke the duel when he went in and staged. Just like WJ followed AJ into the staging beams, he did likewise at the finish line with the Mopar scoring a 6.532, 211.26 victory.
NOBILE FORFEITS – Erica Enders ran a 6.584, 211.30 in a solo effort as Vincent Nobile couldn’t make the second round call. Nobile wounded the engine in his first round victory.
Allen Johnson also scored an easy victory as Ronnie Humphrey fouled. Johnson won with a a 6.564, 211.46.
LUCKY AND GOOD – Greg Anderson was both of them in beating Mike Edwards. Anderson, driving his new Camaro, spotted Edwards .07 on the starting line and if not for a severe bout of tire shake, might have ended his day in the second round.
Anderson advanced to the semis with a 6.595, 210.90.
“I had no business winning that race,” said Anderson. “Obviously the Lord is shining on us and this Camaro, we get another chance.”
SUMMIT, OLD AND NEW IN THE FINALS - Greg Anderson put his Camaro in the final round with a 6.543 run to beat Allen Johnson. Johnson's victory hopes were dashed when he shook the
Jason Line made it an all-Summit final when he defeated Erica Enders with a 6.540 lap.
ANDERSON GETS 74 - Greg Anderson grabbed his 74th career win by beating his Summit Racing teammate Jason Line. Line was leading for almost the entire race before having apparent engine problems late. Anderson clocked a 6.560. Line came across at 6.588. Anderson got the win in his new Camaro.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
THE LEADERS OF THE PACK – The Lucas Oil-sponsored father and son team of Hector Arana Sr. and Jr. had their Buells in a zone. The elder Arana ran a 6.844, 194.18 to beat Steve Johnson while his son posted a 6.847, 193.21 to ride past Jerry Savoie.
The Harley-Davidson team’s Eddie Krawiec ran a 6.897 to beat Joe DeSantis while Andrew Hines needed only a 6.946 to beat Karen Stoffer.
Other winners include Matt Smith (Michael Phillips), L.E. Tonglet (Mike Berry) and Michael Ray (John Hall).
WEIRD – Shawn Gann was well on his way to a first round victory over Scotty Pollachek when his Buell inexplicably drifted into the opposite lane and took out a timing cone, subsequently drawing a disqualification. Pollacheck advanced to the second round with a 7.00 elapsed time.
BUELL BLITZKRIEG – The Arana Family Buells continued to dominate the bike competition. Hector Sr. ran a 6.850, 194.02 to easily beat Pollacheck. Hector Jr. ran a 6.858, 195.28 to eliminate Andrew Hines.
Hometown favorite Eddie Krawiec advanced to the semis by topping Matt Smith with a 6.872, 193.93.
L.E. Tonglet (Michael Ray) ran a 6.916 to advance.
KRAWIEC WINS; FATHER KNOWS BEST - Eddie Krawiec kept Harley-Davidson the focal point of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class by beating former world champ LE Tonglet in the semis. Krawiec was handed the win when Tonglet had a redlight start.
In the other semi, Hector Arana Sr. proved, at least on this run, father knows best. Arana Sr. beat his son Hector Jr. Arana Sr. came across the line at 6.836 seconds to beat his son's 6.901 run.
KRAWIEC MAKES IT 3 - Eddie Krawiec kept Harley's victory parade going by defeating Hector Arana Sr. Krawiec, who used to be the track manager at Englishtown, was handed the win when Arana had a redlight. This was Krawiec's third win of season.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
RECORD IS ON HIS MIND - Visions of a national elapsed-time record are swirling around in Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier Spencer Massey's head.
His 3.728-second blast Friday night in the Prestone/FRAM Dragster makes him the quickest racer in NHRA history, and his 329.91 makes him the fastest. But the points leader has backed up neither for a national record. And if it’s on the table, Massey cannot resist making a grab for it.
The Don Schumacher Racing headliner tried to do that Saturday in the final qualifying session for the Toyota SuperNationals, but the heat on the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park 1,000-foot course proved too much. Massey said he would like to go for it -- but only if he reaches Sunday's final round and conditions are right.
"We're just going to focus on going rounds," Massey said. "I'm focusing on the record, focusing on reaching the final round. It's one round at a time for us. If we are fortunate enough to make it to the final round and the conditions come back to us, you can count on us going for it -- not in first or second round."
He said he and crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler "were pushing for it the last session. We knew it was going to be borderline with the sun going in and out of the cloud cover. It just so happened the sun came out, and then even then we knew we were on the edge. It proved to be just a little too much and spun the tires. That's OK -- we will just put our race-day tune-up back in the car.
Surprisingly, with three victories in four final rounds in eight races this season, Massey notched only his first No. 1 start of 2102.
"It's obviously a huge confidence builder," Massey said, quickly tempering it by saying, "Anything can happen. This is drag racing. You can be No. 1 in points, winning everything, and then go the opposite way in the Countdown. You can have highs and lows in drag racing, just like life.
"We are doing well and hopefully we can stay on this high the entire season and compete for the championship," he said. "I'm content to take it one race at a time and obviously running as well as we have here is a huge confidence builder. When the car performs like this, it just makes my job that much easier. It makes it fun doing what I love to do."
With lane choice always a plus, Massey said he thinks the lanes at this 43-time NHRA host "are pretty even, although in today's first session, it seemed like some were having problems smoking the tires in the right lane. I don't think it had anything to do with the racetrack. It was just their set-up and everyone pushing for it.
"I feel very confident when I get up tomorrow and it doesn't matter the weather, that we can just go down the racetrack," Massey said. "I prefer the left lane because that's where we made the pass on Friday night. I also won from the left lane last year. It is what it is, just my personal preference."
Of course, winning the race and setting he national E.T. mark and getting an extra 20 points is his personal preference, too.
THE DAY AFTER "THE RUN" - Ron Capps will be racing this coming Wednesday on Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway dirt oval in the Prelude to the Dream charity race, alongside NASCAR's greatest drivers.
And one of them, Jimmie Johnson, tweeted congratulations to Capps. The five-time Sprint Cup Series champion saw the broadcast of Capps' history-making 3.964-second blast Friday on the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park 1,000-foot dragstrip that made him the quickest Funny Car driver in NHRA history.
And Saturday, Capps was the toast of the pits during the final day of qualifying for the Toyota SuperNationals.
"Every autograph I've done, the fans ask for the 3.96 beside my name," Capps said Saturday after securing his first No. 1 start of the season and 12th of his career.
For Capps, pushing to stretch that feat into a national record was not high on his priority list, or that of crew chief Rahn Tobler. No, for Capps, it was satisfying enough that he and Don Schumacher Racing teammates Spencer Massey recorded their historical marks at historical Raceway Park.
The track, he said has been unfairly maligned, alluding to criticism in the aftermath of fatal accidents here of nitro veteran Scott Kalitta and well-respected Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Neal Parker.
"This track reminds me of the guy you run across in life, all weathered, blue collar, who has labored all of his life, wrinkled and into his retirement -- this track reminds me of that. It has been around forever," Capps said. "It's neat to give this track what we did last night. It's a legendary track on our circuit. I think it's kind of neat [for the run], because there has been a lot of bad press when bad things have happened in the past. I guess, in all essence. To give it something cool like we did on Friday night was pretty neat.
"More so, we are going back to the Kalitta pits tonight like we do every year, and Connie throws a party to celebrate Scott's life," he said. "I feel like Friday was something that Scott would have been proud of."
What was a little bit harder for some to understand was why Capps didn't go for the national record Saturday and the fact he's not champing at the bit to try it Sunday.
"I can't speak for Rahn, but I can tell you we didn't want to back up the record," Capps said. "Those 20 points could be whoever does it later in the year. If you had to run 3.95 in the Countdown, that's a pretty tough task. It leaves it there that someone can snag it later in the year.
"Not that we couldn't have gotten it," Capps said, "because he [Tobler] backed it down today. He didn't want to try it. He wanted to make sure we went down the track. It's not a fun Saturday night if you don't go down the track on the last run."
He indicated he isn’t concerned that the decision might come back to haunt him.
"If someone else gets it – they get it," Capps said. "I don't think the conditions were there, but I can tell you it wasn’t in the back of Rahn Tobler’s mind to back it up. When we woke up this morning like everyone else, raining or had been, it was cool out … you probably could have gotten the back-up [4.00] without trying. The conditions were that good, if we had left the car alone.
"I had the conversation this morning with Rahn, and he suggested that we may not want to touch the back up. It won't backfire on us. If someone else gets it, they get it."
I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I? - No telling what someone is supposed to do when he's called a "rubber-crank."
Who knows exactly what that means, although a decent bet would be that it is surely some derogatory comment about the other racer's engine?
Then again, maybe it isn't. Only two-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Jason Line would know.
He made up the term, it appears. It isn't in Webster's Dictionary, and it's not registered in official Googledom (which is a Competition Plus-coined term, as of Saturday night).
Anyway, it's what Jason Line calls Allen Johnson.
He has said it a number of times, including after they played tug-o-war Saturday for the No. 1 qualifying position for the Toyota SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, highlighting a Pro Stock rivalry between Line's KB-Summit Chevy Camaro team and Allen Johnson's Team Mopar / J&J Racing operation.
It's a friendly rivalry, as they like each other off the track. But it's incredibly fierce. And that brings up what Johnson did Saturday in response to being called a "rubber-crank."
He went out and almost swiped the top starting position from Line, who was the early leader Friday. When the qualifying dust had settled, both Line and Johnson had posted 6.518-second quarter-mile elapsed times to top the order.
Line kept the No. 1 spot by virtue of speed. His was exactly one mile an hour faster than Johnson's, 212.76 to 211.76.
"It feels good," Line said of his fifth No. 1 start in nine races this year for the KB / Summit team and the first for the newly unveiled Chevy Camaro.
"But I believe we should have run quicker. We just didn't. It's just one of those things, and we will try to figure it out. We have the Camaro working right, which is more important than anything else for us right now."
He said getting the new Camaro up to speed is a challenge.
"You can't just test in one place and have the car be fast there while running in different conditions. You have to just start running the car and learning," Line said. "That's why we are here. We are pretty happy with the car. It has come a long way in a short amount of runs. We'll have two good race cars for Sunday."
Grace Howell will be his first-round opponent in Sunday's eliminations.
Line shrugged off any notion that the cloud cover should have produced better Saturday runs.
"Getting the racetrack and the weather to cooperate is sometimes difficult," he said. "A.J. did run the quickest in the last session, and I'm sure if we all went up there again tonight, we could go quicker.
"It comes down to making the best educated guess you can before you get up there. That's what makes it difficult to get the No. 1 spot. Timing is everything. It's a big deal to get it," Line said.
As for Johnson, who insisted that his Team Mopar / J&J crew chief Mark Ingersoll was the best in the Pro Stock pits, Line had an answer.
"The 'rubber cranks' are really fast now. We have our work cut out for us. That's racing, and we love a challenge," Line said. "It's going to be a great battle until the end of the year."
And Friday night, he put in a plug for his own crew chief performance and the KB / Summit brain trust. "Mark is really a great crew chief, but we've had six championships and I don’t think Mark has any. But he's really good. I just don’t know if I would say that everybody in the Pro Stock pits would say he's the best."
And so it goes.
THE BIKE TO BEAT - Points leader Eddie Krawiec kept his grip on the Pro Stock Motorcycle class' top qualifying position Saturday at the NHRA Toyota SuperNationals.
And it seemed fitting that he would rely on his 6.782-second run and top speed of 197.48 mph from Friday evening's session on the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park quarter-mile aboard the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson.
Krawiec, an Old Bridge native whose former job was dragstrip manager here, said he still loves this track, that he still thinks of it as "his" track, his baby. So he was especially proud that he could set both ends of the track record for the bike class this weekend.
But he also was bursting like a proud new papa because Top Fuel's Spencer Massey and Funny Car's Ron Capps also brought a happy distinction to his home track.
"I am always excited to see racers set records," Krawiec said on he second day of this triumphant return home from the Vance & Hines shop at Brownsburg, Ind. "To see it happen at Englishtown, a track synonymous with naturally aspirated vehicles and we have great support from almost every crowd. To watch the fuel cars run so well, I was as proud as if I owned the track. It's awesome to see this facility get national records back."
He carries this place with him like he carries his helmet and racing leathers.
"As much as I am not here, it still feels like I was there yesterday," he said of his absence from Raceway Park.. "I spent so much time all the way back to my childhood and in my teen years and up until my 30s. I was here every day. I probably worked seven days a week for 30 weeks of the year. It's something I love.
"I come back and do The Shakedown race every year here," Krawiec said, referring to New York Motorsports owner / Pro Modified driver Dave Hance's decade-strong outlaw showcase.
"I try to help the Napps [Raceway Park owners] whenever they need me. I'm only a two-hour plane ride away, and they all know that," Krawiec said. "I love it and enjoy it, the track side of things is enjoyable and is my hobby now, not my job."
As for Sunday's eliminations, in which he must first face Joe DeSantis, Krawiec said, "I have an awesome motorcycle. The motorcycle's consistent and working well. It's running 1.05 60-foots, and that's all I could ask for. I should have the bike to win, because it is running really well."
He said he had some excellent chalengers to watch out for, though.
"There are three other motorcycles in the pits that come to mind. Hector, Jr. comes to mind. He hasn't made a clean run off of the line and down track all weekend. So you know he's going to be able to pop up a number. [Hector Arana] Sr. is there, too. You look at Michael Ray's performance, and it ran a 6.87. He's only .01 off of me," Krawiec said.
He said those riders, and others, "can knock you out. It's kind of good to see a couple of other guys in contention. Sunday will be a starting-line race. Whoever leaves the starting line at any given race can win," he said after recording his second No. 1 qualifying position at Englishtown and the 11th of his career. "That's the way I like it."
COURTNEY WORKS THE CARWASH - It was a waterless carwash.
On Thursday in advance of the event, Courtney Force spent the afternoon at ESPN’s world-wide headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut participating in the “carwash” media experience. The experience is referred to as a “carwash” since athletes move from one media interview to another similar to the stages of a carwash.
After arriving on the sprawling campus two and a half hours from Englishtown, New Jersey, site of this weekend’s Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, Courtney immediately dove into over four hours of interviews with various ESPN media properties. She began with a sit-down interview with espnw.com followed by a live online chat with espn.com which led into an introductory interview with espn.com’s Front Page editor.
The interviews touched on a variety of topics from racing to family to personal interests. Courtney will also begin penning an online blog for espnw.com following each NHRA national event starting with this weekend’s Toyota NHRA SuperNationals.
“I am really excited to be starting the blog for espnw.com. I really felt like I hit it off with Heather (Burns, espnw.com deputy editor) during our interview. We talked about doing a blog and I jumped at the opportunity to write about my experiences both on and off the track. I had some photos in my iPhone of me and my dad in the winner’s circle when I was just a little kid that I showed Heather and Christina (Johnson, espnw.com editor in chief) and they loved seeing stuff like that,” said Force.
After the one on one interviews Courtney moved to a video interview segment and then she was on-set with SportsCenter. Following the live SportsCenter interview Courtney talked with the ESPN Front Row video crew and finished the afternoon off with a meeting with the editors from ESPN The Magazine.
“It was an overwhelming experience to say the least. Everyone at ESPN was great. I loved meeting everyone and talking about racing my Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car as well as what I do when I am away from the track. All the interviews went well and the interest level from all the different ESPN outlets in NHRA was really impressive. I can’t wait to come back next year,” said Force.
ANDERSON'S NEW RIDE SHOWS PROMISE - Greg Anderson had multiple objectives for Saturday’s final day of qualifying. He wanted to secure as high a starting position as possible for Sunday’s final eliminations, while they also looked to continue to familiarize themselves with their new Camaro. Anderson was successful on both counts with the new car’s quickest pass of 6.538-seconds and a top speed of 211.99 mph to earn the No 6 qualifying position.
Anderson was pleased with the progress his team had made with the new car in its debut.
“The bottom line is that there is a ton of potential with this new Summit Racing Camaro,” said Anderson. “We just haven’t gotten all the round pegs in the round holes yet, but we will. You always think it’s going to happen quicker than it does because we have so much confidence in this crew. They’re sharp guys, so you always think you’re going to get it done right away, and I still believe we’ll get this new car straightened out fairly quickly.
“I love everything about this car. Just the fact that it’s a Camaro and a muscle car makes perfect sense that we’re racing it in Pro Stock. There’s no downside to it, and when we get it to run at the top of the class and winning races, it’s going to be happy times.
“The last run we made today was absolutely our best one so far with this car, and I’m confident we wouldn’t have done any better with my Pontiac. We just have missed the set-up, and it took us a few runs to figure out what this track wanted. The good news is that we took a big step forward this afternoon, and should be able to take another one tomorrow.
“I think this Camaro is going to be very fast in the first round. I feel confident about our chances, so I’ll sleep well tonight, and I will be itching to get out here tomorrow so we can try to get Chevrolet their first win with this new car, and Ken (team owner Black) his 100th with the KB Racing team.”
TWO IN A ROW? BECKMAN HOPES SO - Jack Beckman looks different this weekend at the NHRA SuperNationals.
First, he and crew chief Todd Smith are the only Funny Car team that can win a second consecutive title.
Second, their Dodge Charger R/T is carrying the yellow and red colors of Don Schumacher Racing sponsor Sandvik Coromant, the world's leading supplier of cutting tools to the metalworking industry
Fans can't miss the brightly colored Funny Car, and if they look closely they can see a glow surrounding the team that lingers after it won its first title of the year two weeks ago in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event at Topeka, Kan.
"I can't say how much winning Topeka meant to this whole team," Beckman said.
The success showed the progress the team has made since Smith took over as crew chief about two months ago. The team's poise showed with its last qualifying run of 4.085 seconds (309.98 mph) that was one of the quickest runs under conditions that should be similar during Sunday afternoon's elimination rounds.
"It's nice taking a level of confidence into Sunday, especially considering we didn't qualify in the top half," said Beckman, who qualified ninth and will not be able to select his lane for the first round.
"What happened is, we underpowered the track on the first run on Friday, so we did not want to take a chance and throw away the second run on Friday night. We made some sensible changes to it, we didn't make a big swing at the track, but it responded.
"That let us play with a couple of clutch things (Saturday) and that put us where we thought it needed it to be for Sunday. It ran a 4.08 so it's nice being one of the quick cars in the session.
"Even though we don't have lane choice, I don't think it's going to be a factor and I think we have a car that we can race to another final round."
THE FRUSTRATION CONTINUES – Past Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. has failed to qualify again.
"We had a tough run here this weekend," Coughlin said. "We've got the whole puzzle in front of us; we've just had a lot of struggles putting the pieces together the right way."
Coughlin only made it down the track one time under power in four qualifying attempts during the weekend. His lone full-pull clocked in 6.663 seconds at 207.46 mph. The No. 16 qualifier had a best lap of 6.628 at 208.39 mph.
"We changed motors before Q4," Coughlin said. "The other one was down on power after it took two beatings on Friday when we shook the tires both times. It showed in Q3 this morning, when we went down the track but were down about 80 horsepower, which was reflected in our elapsed time."
The Q4 run was almost a carbon copy of the tire shaking runs from Friday.
"I'm not sure where we're going to go from here," Coughlin said. "I think that we'll come up with our most aggressive plan yet. So far we've been taking a wait-and-see approach. I think it might be time to corral the troops up and see where we need to go.
"What we've been doing has not been well-received by the car, and the only thing we can do is work even harder fix it. Drag racing can be humbling. We're putting in the same amount of work it takes to win a championship, which we know from personal experience, we just haven't been rewarded yet."
Coughlin said he's had similar bad starts to the season in the past, so no one on Team JEGS is close to panicking.
"In 2002 we had some DNQs early in the year, and were able to rebound big time." Coughlin said. "There's a lot of racing left in the season, but it's always better to get the ship turned around sooner than later."
BACK ON TRACK? - Tommy DeLago has tried everything to get Matt Hagan back to where he was at the end of last season when they won the NHRA Funny Car world champion.
If they aren't back on course now they are very close.
After producing four qualifying runs between 4.035 and 4.119 seconds at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., there is reason for optimism heading into Sunday.
"These guys changed a bunch of stuff at the shop last week, so this is pretty much a brand new race car," said Hagan. "These guys went through everything with a fine-tooth comb and it's obviously working."
The 4.035-second effort on Friday night earned him the No. 5 qualifying position. It also is by far the quickest the team has gone this season.
"It feels really good to have not just made it all the way down the track on each run but to do it with such strong numbers," Hagan said. "I knew it was only a matter of time till we were back on track. Tommy and all the Aaron's guys having been working hard to get us to this point."
After only one qualifying effort in the top-eight spots on the 16-car elimination ladder for the first six events, Sunday will be the third consecutive event when the Aaron's Dream Machine earned the right to select the best lane for the first round.
"Man, that's big," Hagan said. "It's so close out here that any edge you can get you've got to take."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - A RECORD-SETTING RACE DAY ENSUES
CAPPS, THE DANCING MACHINE - Friday night’s qualifying run at the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals was so important to Ron Capps that he nearly worried himself into frenzied panic over a rubber suction cup inadvertently left on the windshield of his Funny Car when the team removed the tire cover off the windshield.
The atmospheric conditions weren’t the greatest he’d ever seen; 1300 feet above sea level with a 67 degree air temp and the racing surface was holding at 81. Yet, as he sat in the car, strapped in, he watched as those in line ahead of him ran quicker and quicker.
Then he noticed the suction cup.
“I started screaming on the radio … that little suction cup … that could be the difference,” screamed Capps on the radio.
As it turned out, the suction cup, along with Capps, went for the quickest run in Funny Car history at 3.964-seconds and at the second fastest speed of 320.89 miles per hour.
It’s not as if Capps hadn’t been forewarned.
“I saw the 4.01 and 4.02 ahead of me, like a video game, and I knew it was going to run because Rahn came over and told me to strap in tighter than ever because we were going for it,” Capps explained.
Watching the flame pattern through his side window, Capps knew this was a pass worth keeping. He admitted to running the car a little further than the standard shut off point and added he really wanted to drive to the old quarter-mile shutoff.
“John Collins [co-crew chief] came on the radio screaming, and the only number I could decipher was 6,” admitted Capps. “I didn’t think he was screaming over a 4.06, and he confirmed a 3.96.”
The emotion of the moment led Capps to understand the spirit of overwhelming elation. He likened the experience to witnessing a race win celebration from the late Blaine Johnson. Capps danced a celebration of his own.
“I remember the video of Blaine up on the hill, celebrating and jumping around,” Capps recalled. “You could tell he was overwhelmingly happy. I thought of him when I jumped around on the top end. I thought to myself, ‘This is how he felt.”
Capps paused and offered, “I just wanted to jump out of the car and run out on Pension road and celebrate with the people.”
CALL HIM HAPPY ... GO LUCKY - Spencer Massey, content in his unshakeable happy-go-lucky demeanor, sat there in his FRAM / Prestone Dragster Friday evening at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, once again like a racehorse ready to lurch out of the gate for a Triple Crown race.
He had seen Don Schumacher Racing colleague Ron Capps run the quickest Funny Car elapsed time ever in qualifying for the Toyota SuperNationals.
He shrugged off a few raindrops and watched crew chief Phil Shuler wipe down his windshield like he was lollygagging at Goober's filling station. Shuler laughed and gave him a friendly thumbs-up as if it were a neighborly wave. They seemed to defy the sprinkle and the noise curfew and all the low 3.7s before Massey's final pairing alongside Tony Schumacher.
"We were just out there having fun. But I knew we could have a chance of rain at any moment, so we needed to hurry up and stage this race car," Massey said.
It all seemed so lighthearted. But Shuler and his co-crew chief Todd Okuhara knew something was up.
Massey suspected something was up, too. But he had no idea he would blast into the Top Fuel history book with a 3.728-second, 329.91-mph pass on the 1,000-foot course to become the class' quickest and fastest driver.
It was a nitro performance coup for Don Schumacher Racing, which also fields Capps' NAPA Dodge Charger.
"Todd and Phil both told me, "If it sticks, hang on.' I've heard that from them before," Massey said, "and they're usually right."
The if-it-sticks part had Massey a bit concerned at first, and he talked to his tires, talking them through a tentative part of the run. "It started quivering he tires once it set the front end down. And I was like, 'Don't smoke! Don't smoke! Don't smoke!' " he said.
The tires obeyed and carried him to the pinnacle of a record-setting night that also saw Eddie Krawiec set both ends of the Pro Stock Motorcycle track record and Jason Line set the early Pro Stock pace.
Massey said he wasn't sure he had eye-popping numbers like he did but said it felt quick and fast. "I knew once it made it past that point [where the car had the potential to smoke the tires], I knew it would be something killer," he said. "I figured maybe 73 and some change."
When he saw the clocking on the scoreboard, he said, "Trust me, it was like winning a race. It's great having great crew chiefs and great crew guys to put together a car like that and allow me to do what I just did."
He put the pass in perspective. Referring to tentative No. 4 qualifier Tony Schumacher, Massey said, "Tony went a (3.)74 and didn't even get any qualifying bonus points. That shows you how awesome this whole Top Fuel (class) is."
Ahead of Schumacher were Morgan Lucas and Shawn Langdon, who ran side by side and posted 3.739 and 3.742-second E.T.s.
"It's an honor to even have the opportunity to even drive for Don Schumacher. I'm racing with guys I've looked up to my entire life, It's amazing to be standing side by side with them and putting records up and racing with them and hopefully beating them. I feel very blessed, thanks to Don Schumacher Racing and Don Schumacher himself. I don't want to let him down."
He didn't Friday night, with a historic pass on a storied racetrack.
STILL PRODUCING - Jason Line doesn’t have the swoopy new car in the KB Racing pit area. This was just as well, as his long-in-the-tooth Pontiac GXP ran like a spring chicken down the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park quarter mile to secure the provisional No. 1 qualifying position at the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals Friday evening.
Line ran 6.518 seconds at 212.09 miles per hour to edge Topeka winner and increasing rival Allen Johnson, who was .01 behind at 6.528 seconds.
Teammate Greg Anderson brought out his new 2012 Camaro and was ninth quickest while Line and No. 3 team driver Ronnie Humphrey ran quicker with the older cars.
“I’m liking my old car, but I cannot wait to get in the new car,” Line admitted. “His didn’t have quite the debut we were hoping for. We’ll get it straightened out. I don’t know if my run will hold, but at least it was good enough for No. 1 tonight. We are off to a good start. Should have gone quicker.”
If his run holds through Saturday’s sessions, Line will have earned five top qualifying positions thus far this season.
But, Line isn’t counting his chickens before they hatch, especially if Saturday dawns dry and with the same cloud cover which blanketed the Englishtown region on Friday.
As Line will attest, it's tough to make a Pro Stocker run quick when there's water in the air. He confirmed water grains were present throughout Friday’s competition.
“It slowed us down a bit,” Line admitted. “We didn’t run all we could have and obviously everyone missed it a little bit. There’s something we are just missing a little. The good news is we have a couple of runs to figure it out tomorrow.”
Line estimated the heavy air (water laden) cost his team about .03.
“I feel like we should have been able to go at least a 6.49,” Line said.
Luckily for Line, he was ahead of Johnson, a key player in a rapidly escalating rivalry between Summit-sponsored KB Racing and the Mopar team.
“He made a bold statement last race that everyone knows Mark Ingersoll [Johnson’s crew chief] is the best crew chief in drag racing,” Line said. “I will say that between our two crew chiefs they have six championships in nine years. I’m not sure if Mark has any. Mark is a great crew chief, no question about it. I don’t know if I would go as far as to say he is the best.”
Line admitted he's having fun with the rivalry.
“They are great guys and right now are tough competitors,” Line explained. “They are going to be tough to beat. We have our work cut out for us.”
SPEED SECRET: GET LIQUID WITH THE BIKE - Old Bridge, N.J., hometown favorite Eddie Krawiec displayed his NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle muscles Friday at the Toyota SuperNationals, dominating his class on the Raceway Park quarter-mile.
He shared the spotlight with the Don Schumacher Racing nitro tandem of Spencer Massey and Ron Capps, who recorded the quickest runs ever in the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes and Jason Line, who set the provisional Pro Stock pace.
Krawiec, who knows every foot of this dragstrip as its former manager, set both the elapsed-time and speed records in his first run at 6.794 seconds and 197.48 mph on his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson. He lowered the E.T. mark to 6.782 seconds in the evening session.
"It sets the tone for the weekend," Krawiec said. "When you have a bike that's consistent and smooth, it's fun to ride and it leaves me to do my job. I made two straight-as-a-string passes.
In the weekend's first qualifying session, Krawiec reset his own track elapsed-time record, lowering it from 6.819 seconds to 6.794. He also set the speed mark at 197.48 mph. Michael Phillips had owned it with his 197.36-mph clocking last June.
In the second session, Krawiec went even quicker: 6.782 seconds on the quarter-mile he used to manage before he joined Vance & Hines. In March, Krawiec rewrote both ends of the national record, at 6.750 seconds, 199.26 mph.
"I almost had to shut it down, It stalled on me. I had to keep calm and cool," Krawiec said after his second run of the day that kept him on track for a second top-qualifying position. Naturally, he said he was pleased, with what he called "two really great, great laps on opening day."
With two victories in the first three races and a 9-1 elimination record heading into Sunday's race, Krawiec seems almost unbeatable. But he downplayed his qualifying achievements, saying that what counts is his Sunday performance: "Making good, clean runs is the key."
Krawiec might know this track and its tendencies better than anyone else, but even he had no magic formula to ward off the crosswinds that slice across the lake beside the facility and blow through the nitro pits and across the lanes.
"The wind's pretty gnarly," Krawiec said of Friday's conditions. "Here we have a crosswind that's left to right." He said the best strategy he has is "to try to stay liquid."
Liquid . . . Quick . . . Quickest . . . Fastest . . . Use any word to describe Eddie Krawiec. He's the best Pro Stock Motorcycle rider here and has been all season long. His rivals have two more chances Saturday to prove that wrong.
PIT SAFETY BECOMES FOCUS - Tim Wilkerson has watched the firefighter-inspired movie Backdraft enough times to know the “whistle” sound and it’s after effects.
Wilkerson heard the telltale sound as he stood at the doorway of his hauler holding a roll of absorbent cloth. In the moments following the sound, his pit area became involved in flames, sending crew members scurrying in search of fire extinguishers following a second round victory at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals in Topeka.
Wilkerson had witnessed the same end result as portrayed in the movie. Fire follows the whistle.
“We’ve had fires in the pits before but nothing of that magnitude before,” said Wilkerson. “When you have oil, hot clutch parts and nitro in the bag, they don’t coexist well.”
The fire was triggered when a crewman routinely dropped the oil pan and the fluids when combined with a spark to ignite the inferno. Members of Don Schumacher Racing [U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster] ran to the aid of Wilkerson’s crew armed with extinguishers. Luckily no one was injured in the incident.
Wilkerson believes his team might have been the victim of too good of an engine containment system. His containment system, a carbon fiber shell system which fits over the oil pan, is more than just a bolted on unit. There is an absorbent sealant around the edges and resembles oatmeal or kitty litter. This keeps a solid seal unless the engine is totally detonated.
“That’s the problem we face with sealing all of that stuff up as well as we do – there’s nowhere for the fire to go,” said Wilkerson. “Truthfully there probably was already fire in the pan. You just couldn’t tell it until it got a good puff of air.”
Wilkerson admits he’s probably one of the teams in the nitro pits who, up until the Topeka event, took for granted fire prevention under the awnings.
“Unfortunately it always happens when you are running about a million miles an hour in a thrash,” Wilkerson said. “It never happens when you have plenty of time. It happens between rounds when you are pressed for time. It made us more aware, I can tell you that. One thing about coming to Englishtown, the Fire Marshal has already been by. He wanted to make sure I had my fire extinguishers in plain sight.
Wilkerson said he’s got four extinguishers now in his pits.
He believes pit area safety should be further explored because of the potential for disaster which looms with a potential bad situation.
“As close in proximity as these trailers are to one another, if you caught one on fire, it would be a bad thing,” Wilkerson said. “I think this could be a good lesson to every team out there. Maybe we need to adopt some fire plan.”
DISTORTED - Tony Schumacher's tire distorts at the hit during Friday's evening qualifying session.
ONE BIG FAMILY - Brothers Dom and Bobby Lagana live in Norwalk, Ohio, if the nomadic Top Fuel tandem puts down any real roots at all. But they grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., so Old Bridge Township Raceway Park the closest the whole Lagana family has to a home track.
"I spent a lot of my childhood at [this] track," Dom Lagana said. "It was just an hour and a half drive over the George Washington Bridge, and there were always a lot of good times there. I remember terrorizing the pits on my bicycle, riding around and having a really good time.
"We've raced there a million times, but last year I had the opportunity to drive the car for the first time at our home race, and that was really cool. It's a beautiful track, and it feels so homey. Every time you pull up to the track or walk around the grandstands, you just have so many memories," he said. "The best part is that we have a really good fan base that started a long time ago with my dad, and they all love that our family team is still out there. It's always cool to meet people who have been following my dad for all of those years."
His and Bobby's dad, Bob Lagana Sr., used to match race here Wednesday night in the 1970s in his "Twilight Zone" entries. Among his opponents were the father of Dom's NTB / Service Central Dragster team owner, Paul Richards, as well as against such stars from the Northeast as Shirley Muldowney and Chuck Etchells. Paul Richards' dad is Gary Richards, an East Coast match-racing barnstormer in the 1970s and 1980s.
So this already is an extra-busy weekend for the Laganas.
"You definitely won't be able to miss our pits," said Dom Lagana, who skipped the NHRA's Topeka event last month but ran a match race at Martin, Mich., a couple of weeks ago. "There will be lots and lots of family and friends, and it's really a neat deal because for a lot of people, this will be the first time they'll get to see what we do. Hopefully, now they'll be able to understand why we gallivant around the country and sometimes miss Thanksgiving or Easter dinner."
Lagana has some special help this weekend: Jake Sanders, the 22-year-old who's the youngest crew chief in the NHRA's Nostalgia Funny Car class, is working on the clutch. Lagana is the beneficiary of the skill that allowed Jake Sanders to build his dad Mike's chassis in he family garage as his high-school senior project.
WEATHER THE FOCUS - GEICO Suzuki rider Karen Stoffer said husband / crew chief Gary Stoffer "is versatile, and he can usually adapt fairly quickly" to the fickle weather that usually besets this track. And that versatility is a handy thing this weekend, as yesterday's hot, sunny conditions turned to cool, overcast, breezy ones.
"Sometimes Englishtown has that," she said of cooler temperatures. "But it's notorious for hot, humid weather, and Englishtown gets both. We'll have one day of cooler, crisper, fast weather, and then we'll have one day where it's hot, humid and sticky.
"Englishtown has always been a challenging track in one way or another. It's definitely a tuner's race. I'm saying that more and more this year, just because it's such a crazy weather year for everybody."
She improved from 14th to ninth by the end of Friday qualifying.
'C'MON ALREADY' - Hector Arana Jr. gets antsy when he has time off. The Lucas Oil Buell rider said, "What's crazy is that after this race, we have another month off," he said. "Then the season starts to roll. The breaks are nice in a way, because we have time to work on the engines and find more horsepower. But in another way, it's like, 'Come on already. Let's get going.' You like to get into the groove of things. You start to get your riding consistent. But when you have a month off and you don't ride, and then you get back on, you feel rusty." He didn't look all that rusty. He was fourth in the order after the first session. He moved up to third, but his father, Hector Arana Sr., slipped in ahead of him overnight.
LOOKING IN - Suzuki rider Steve Terkowski, of Gilbertville, Pa., is the odd man out, 17th in the lineup with two more qualifying sessions scheduled for Saturday.
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK: GETTING READY FOR A SUPER KIND OF SHOWDOWN
HISTORY, CONDITIONS MAKE IT SPECIAL - The Morgan Lucas Racing Top Fuel tandem gives a big thumbs-up to Raceway Park, especially if the weather is optimum. Both Lucas and Brandon Bernstein said it can return some stellar elapsed times and speeds.
"With all the trees everywhere, there's a lot of oxygen in the air," Bernstein said. "If the weather stays cool, you can really fly there. We're looking forward to going there. It's going to be a good track."
Said Lucas, "If the weather and air are right, we can really thunder there. You get excited to go anywhere that is sea level and has a good barometer reading."
The two-wheelers like it just as much. "It's a fast track, and the fans are really great," LE Tonglet, a Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, said.
Funny Car's Johnny Gray said, "We like Englishtown. It's really a beautiful racetrack. You're in the trees, and the cars love it. You get to run real fast there, and we hope to do that in our NTB / Service Central car." His son, Pro Stock's Shane Gray, said, "Everything is fast there, and that makes us happy. This has the potential to be a real fun race."
Whatever the conditions, Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Ford Mustang driver Tim Wilkerson counts Old Bridge Township Raceway Park as one of the sport's major venues.
"It's one of the most historic places we go, and everyone knows the fans there are incredible," Wilkerson said. "They know their racing, and a lot of them have been going to Raceway Park for decades, while they pass the experience on from generation to generation. It's a major deal to win in Englishtown, and the fans are a big part of that. When they stand at the ropes while we warm the car up, it's like a pep rally. Let's just say they're not shy about letting you know they're having fun.
"The other great thing about it is just how unique the whole place is. We race in some amazing stadiums now, places that have changed the whole look and feel of the sport, but Englishtown is still New Jersey, and not a second goes by when you don't know where you are and how much history is around you. There's no place like it, and we'd really get a kick out of it if we could go four rounds on Sunday and leave there with the trophy. That would be special, for sure, but it would also be a real boost for us to start picking up more rounds and get going for the summer."
Topeka Funny Car winner Jack Beckman understands the history, too. "I can't imagine any Funny Car driver considering his career complete without a trophy from Englishtown," the Valvoline / NextGen Dodge Charger driver said. "Englishtown is synonymous with Funny Cars. I can't tell you what it would mean to get a trophy from a track with so much history. Beckman is seeking his first final-round appearance at Raceway Park.
Pro Stock's Jeg Coughlin said, "the fans are some of the most knowledgeable and passionate in the sport and the facility hold legendary status for drag racers."
WHAT COUNTS - Tony Schumacher, fresh from his exhibition pass alongside Antron Brown at NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 last Sunday, put his uncharacteristic dry spell in the U.S. Army Dragster in perspective. "As long as we remain in serious contention over the next nine races, we'll be positioned where we need to be when the six-race Countdown to the Championship rolls around," he said. "I would give up winning now in favor of winning six straight races in the playoffs and capturing another world championship."
What counts to him, too, is how he and DSR got to represent the Army at Charlotte during Memorial Day weekend. "It was pretty cool. The fans seemed to really enjoy it. It was Don Schumacher Racing’s salute to all of those Soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "Memorial Day is very special to me, given my passionate, long-term connection with the U.S. Army. We had a great opportunity to interact with so many soldiers down at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Frankly, that was the most enjoyable part of the trip."
With a new chassis -- one he said "seems fine to me -- I know it has some new components that the race fan probably wouldn't notice" -- Schumacher wants an enjoyable trip to the track where he has won just once, in 2008. "Once you finally cross a track off your 'No-win List,' I think it makes it easier to return there. In a way, you have cleared an obstacle that was once firmly planted in front of you," he said. "With that said, it's a track that can still bite you if you let it. It's all about focus and determination."
BACK TO STRAIGHT-LINE RACING - Like Schumacher, beleaguered Funny Car champion Matt Hagan got inspired about racing again at Charlotte Motor Speedway this past weekend. He spent last Saturday afternoon with Travis Pastrana before the NASCAR Nationwide race and then with Pastrana's crew on pit road. During Sunday evening's Sprint Cup Series race, the Virginia cattle farmer was on pit road with the crew of Aaron's teammate Mark Martin. He held the No. 55 pit stop-sign for Martin's first break. "Man, that was very cool," Hagan said. "All the Aaron's guys made me feel real welcome. I just didn't want to drop the sign or hit Mark's car with it when he came in to stop. It was fun hanging out a race as a guest and a fan, but now it's time to go back to work."
Hagan took time off from killing weeds on his farm to be part of the NASCAR festivities. Now he has to kill a losing streak in which he has won just two rounds of competition in eight races this season. "We could really use some help from the Aaron's Lucky Dog," the 13th-ranked driver said. A victory, Hagan said, "is going to happen, and it could be this weekend. We are the same team we were when we won two races at the end of last season and won the championship. Our first goal now is to move into the top-10 in points before the last six events so we can defend our title."
GLAD TO BE HERE - Who wants to be in 10th place -- OK, aside from anybody 11th or lower in the standings? Most everyone would like to be nine places ahead of that, but LE Tonglet knows 10th place is better than sitting at home in Metairie, La., wishing he were competing again in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Since the bike-class season began in March in Gainesville, Tonglet has seen his sponsorship go away then come back. The 2010 champion is aiming only at this point to make the 10-racer Countdown field. "We want to make sure we get into the Countdown to the Championship in a few months. We have been working on a few things . . . trying to squeeze out every one-thousandth of a second we can on each run. We will have a new body for this race. It's going to be orange. We hope we can have the same success we had with our last orange bike. It would be nice if the horsepower came with the paint."
NO HARD FEELINGS - Nine years have passed since Brandon Bernstein suffered a season-ending back injury in a first-round accident here. And he know he'll hear about it again the weekend, but a lot has happened to him since then and the incident seems like 100 years ago. He has gotten married, become a father, is facing the arrival soon of a son to join his daughter, has watched his father retire and be inducted into yet another hall of fame, and moved out of his comfort zone to a non-Kenny-Bernstein team will all new folks to adjust to.
So the annual SuperNationals, the MAVTV/Lucas Oil Dragster driver said, is "a big race, but it's like any of the other ones to me. Everyone always asks me about my crash there, but I don't even think about it any more. It's a big, prestigious race, and there's a lot of history there. But you have to treat it like just another race. The wreck was bad, and I hurt my back, but that was a long time ago now. I'm sure lots of fans will ask me about it, as they do every year, and I get that, but as a driver we really don't dwell on that sort of stuff."
He has much more to focus on this season -- like a first victory since October 2009, one that seems right around the corner. "We're looking forward to keeping the momentum going," a resurgent Bernstein said. "The guys have been working mighty hard on this car, and they are hungry for a win. We're making the right steps, and I think we'll have a real good chance to get one this weekend."
EMOTIONS SURFACE - Alexis DeJoria was driving a Top Alcohol Funny Car when she took one of her scariest rides ever, plowing through the sand trap and safety nets as her brakes failed and her parachutes ripped off the back of her car. That was two years ago, but her close call and the fatalities of Funny Car champion Scott Kalitta and her TAFC colleague Neal Parker weigh heavily on her mind. She's trying to store those in some other place in her head this weekend as she drives the Tequila Patrün Toyota Camry Funny Car in the manufacturer's sponsored race. The Kalitta Motorsports driver is not one to focus on fear, but she did say, "Obviously it's an intense race and there are a lot of emotions flowing. It's a tough weekend for a lot of people. We've seen so much sadness there, and I feel so grateful and blessed that I’m able to return to that track when others weren't so fortunate." In a twist of events, working with the Kalitta team following her own incident led to her step up to the nitro ranks. "This weekend is especially emotional for me, but in a good way. It will be not only my first time visiting the track as a nitro Funny Car driver, but also as a member of the Kalitta Motorsports team. So it's almost like I’ve come full circle. We've all been through a lot there, but I'm excited and honored to come back as part of such a wonderful organization. I've always done well there, and believe it or not, it's my absolute favorite track. Even when I had my crash, I was running my career best at the time, so I'm hoping we can run some good numbers this weekend and go a few rounds on race day," she said. "I just want to stay very focused on doing my job and not get too wrapped up in the emotional side of it."
'JERSEY BOY' IN SPOTLIGHT - Antron Brown said he has put his red light at Topeka out of his mind and it's green light all the way as he heads home to New Jersey to go for his first Top Fuel victory at Raceway Park, where he spent a lot of time playing by the grandstands as a child.
"I'm good to go," he said of last week's stumble that left him no worse than third place in the standings. "It was definitely disappointing at the time, but you have to erase that from your memory and move forward. It's a new race weekend with the opportunity of gaining another win. That's the only way you can look at it. I have a great team and a great race car, and that's what I care about. We're in this for the long haul. There are way too many races left, so I'm not going to dwell on one that's already history."
As for Englishtown, not far from his Chesterfield roots, Brown said, "I love it there. If the weather holds up, we usually get some awesome crowds. I haven't won in Top Fuel, as yet, but being able to win two races in Pro Stock Motorcycles was very exciting. I look forward to claiming that first Top Fuel trophy back in Jersey.
"I love being able to race in front of my friends and family. You do end up with people constantly tugging at you, but you are prepared for that going in. Living in Indianapolis, now, I don't get back to New Jersey that often. But, when I do get there, I want to maximize the experience as much as possible. Of course, come Sunday afternoon, you want to be able to share a win with everyone."
INSPIRED - Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Jerry Savoie always will remember his first trip to this race, last year. Not only did the White Alligator Racing team owner and alligator farmer from Cutoff, La., qualify as the provisional No. 1 and end up starting No. 3 before posting his first semifinal finish, but he took a side trip to New York that he said "affected me deeply." He visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. "It was a reminder of how this country was built. It was a reminder of all the people over the years who came here with nothing but a dream and through honesty and hard work, they made something of themselves and built a great country in the process. I think everyone should have to go to Ellis Island at least once and see it for themselves. If that doesn't inspire you to work hard and pursue your dreams, nothing will."
As for his racing, Savoie said, "Last year, this race was good to us, and I'd like to think we can do at least as well as we did last year, hopefully better. I was still kind of new to the class, but this was the first time we really felt like we could contend. Now we've got more experience so I think we should be better."
FOND MEMORY - Two years ago as a rookie here, Pro Stock driver Shane Gray reached his first final round -- beating six-time series champion Warren Johnson in the first round then dad Johnny Gray to land a berth against Mike Edwards. "Racing my dad in the semis and the 2009 Pro Stock world champ Mike Edwards in the final in Englishtown, what more could a guy ask for? It was a great day and one I hope we can replicate," Shane Gray said. "We got to run Mike Edwards in the final, and of course he whipped my butt all over the place, but we were just so happy to even be there. To get to a final round in our first year was a big confidence boost."
TRIVIA TIME - Forty years ago, Don Schumacher won his only Funny Car trophy from Englishtown. This weekend, Ron Capps, one of his four Funny Car drivers in the seven-team organization, is going after his second. Capps, now 45, was seven years old when his boss won the Northeast's premiere drag race. "That is good trivia. It's cool," Capps said. "There is so much history at Englishtown. As a kid in California, I went with my dad to great dragstrips like Lions, Irwindale, Ontario . . . all legendary dragstrips. But everybody on the West Coast talked about Englishtown in New Jersey. I never thought one day I'd be able to go there let alone race there and win." Capps, a dad of two, said winning here on Fathers day "just made it better, to be able to look at that trophy and remember it happened on Father's Day." The other DSR Funny Car driver to win at Englishtown was Whit Bazemore (2003), who spent his childhood in nearby Manhattan.
NOW IT’S MY TURN TO RACE - Morgan Lucas got caught up in the traditional pageantry and drama of the Indianapolis 500 this past weekend, and that only made him want to see if he could take his GEICO / Lucas Oil Dragster out again and improve on his record so far of two victories and four No. 1 qualifying positions through eight races.
"We're on the right track," he said. "We've got some good information for running on hot racetracks the last couple of times out, so we'll be ready for anything. This is the best car and best crew I've ever been a part of in my career. It's a joy to drive, and it's fun to share in the success with these guys."
He also wants to improve from No. 4 in the standings. Part of his strategy this weekend is to forgo his usual fun visit to nearby New York. "We had a busy week last week, with all the stuff that was going on around the Indianapolis 500," Lucas said. "So this time we're going to go in on Thursday like we would on any other race weekend. We're just going to get down to business. If we win this weekend, then we can go into Manhattan and celebrate."
MAGIC SHOW ENCORE? - John Force has won four times here but not since 1999 -- and he's more than gung-ho to win in the backyard of longtime sponsor Catsrol's headquarters in nearby Wayne, N.J.
"I used to run for Vinnie Napp back in the match race days," Force said, remembering the late Raceway Park operator. "We'd run on Wednesday nights, Friday nights, Saturday, Sunday. They always had something' going on. He was one of the first guys who gave me a chance. I wasn't nobody, but he saw something in me even back before I won a race."
When Napp was alive, Force won with regularity at Raceway Park – and usually in spectacular fashion. With his 1998 victory, Force drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to an NHRA national Funny Car speed record of 323.89 miles an hour which, at the time, made his the fastest drag racing vehicle, faster even than the Top Fuel dragster of Joe Amaro (323.50 mph). That was when he quipped that he wanted "to get a sex-change operation so I can be the fastest man and woman." In one nine-year stretch, he took a car to the final round at Englishtown six times and won four of those times. But he has been shut out since before the turn of the century -- odd for a 15-time champion who, in a 33-year pro career, has won 71 percent of the two-car races in which he has been involved (1,102-445).
He said his organization looks great because "fortunately, we've got a four-car team that’s covered for me but, at the end of the day, you want to feel like you're pulling your own weight. And I still have that gut-ache to win."
SIDELINED - Pro Stock driver John Gaydosh raced at Atlanta but just before the event tore a tendon in his right forearm and is recovering from surgery. And the Dundalk, Md., resident said he's completely bummed that he'll miss this race at his closest national-event track. "This situation really stinks, but nothing is going to keep me away from drag racing," Gaydosh said. "Englishtown is right in my backyard and I'll be there spectating, but I can't wait to get back in my Pontiac so that I can represent Pypes Performance, Snapping Turtle Tie Downs, Weldon Fuel Pumps, and Competition Products the right way. These few weeks of sitting on the sidelines will be tough, but I'm going to labor through it with my eye on the future and getting back in that race car.
"I knew I was hurt, but I didn't know how bad," he said. "Thankfully, they were able to get me in for the surgery pretty quickly, but during the recovery process I haven't been able to do anything at all, including drive a regular car. The most frustrating part is that we have all of these new parts, and I can't work on the race car."
Gaydosh is healing through rest and physical therapy, with plans to return to competition in late June at Route 66 Raceway at Joliet, Ill., and Norwalk, Ohio in July.
IF I COULDN'T WIN . . . - Steve Torrence had an engine problem that turned him sideways and on fire at Topeka, but he said he was happy to see Dave Grubnic, the driver who beat him in that round, go on to claim the trophy. "We had a motor problem in the last race at Topeka that knocked us out in the second round against David Grubnic. After the guys inspected it, they said it was a parts failure . . . and we know what caused it," Torrence said. "We were running well before that happened and I don't think that should hinder us any this weekend. We were happy to see Grubnic go on and win the race. He hadn't won in a long time."
FORE! - Five-time NHRA champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, and learn to play golf at Muirfield Golf Club, the site of this weekend's Memorial PGA Tournament. His father went to high school with golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, a longtime friend of the Coughlin family. The two sports are drastically different, but Coughlin said the lessons he learned at Muirfield carry over to his racing career. "You have to be patient in both sports," he said. "You want to hit that 300-yard drive every time, just kill it, but maybe that's not the best move. Same with drag racing; you want to set a world record every pass but some times it's a better idea to just get the car down the racetrack and take the win light.
"We started a new team this year and although our group is very seasoned, we have to remember the basics every time we go up there to make a pass," the JEGS.com / Mopar Dodge Avenger driver said. "We need to see what the track will give us and make a good run in Q1 and tune from there. We need to make four good passes in qualifying to put ourselves in position to win rounds on Sunday. We want to win as much as ever, but we need to be patient."
He has won at Englishtown four times, three in Pro Stock (2009, 2000, 1998) and once in the Super Gas class (1997). He also has two runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2002. "Englishtown would be a great place to take a big step forward," he said. We're not holding anything back.
"We feel like we're building momentum," Coughlin said. "Every motor we build at JNR comes out a little bit better than the last one, and the guys on the crew are making the right adjustments on the chassis. We're pecking away at it. Just like in a golf tournament, our first big goal this year is to make the cut for the Countdown to 1 playoffs. We have nine races left to earn a spot, and we're focused on that goal."
KILLER INSTINCT - Robert Hight has such an innocent face and even-tempered demeanor. But he has a killer instinct on the racetrack: "Our goal is to dominate all season." He has done that, pretty much in the Funny Car class. In addition to winning half the races -- all in a row, in record-tying fashion -- Hight has also been qualifying well, too. He has four No. 1 starts, and his average starting position this season is 3.75.
"Every time I get into that Funny Car," the Auto Club Ford Mustang driver said, "I feel like we would run low E.T. We are not going to let up. We want to get back into the winners circle, starting this weekend."
With his car, he could. "My Auto Club Ford Mustang has been so consistent. We have 22 round wins and have gotten down the track just about every time I have hit the throttle, whether it is qualifying or eliminations. Our goal coming into this year was to not beat ourselves. We want to qualify smart and race smart. We may not win every round, but we don't want to give away round wins. I look at it as kind of a Moneyball idea where the Oakland A's were trying to squeeze the best play out of small-budget players by looking at statistical performances," Hight, an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan, said. "We are looking at making the most runs as quick as possible without pressing too hard when we don't need to."
ONE'S LEARNING, OTHER HUNGRY - Shawn Langdon and Khalid al-Balooshi naturally would like to notch their first Top Fuel victories at any race, but this one is branded for one of their biggest sponsors, Toyota. And Langdon said with all he is learning, he should be close to sealing the deal. "If we come out of a race weekend scratching our heads, we probably didn't learn much. But when we come out of a weekend, look at the information and know why the car did what it did, that’s good." That happened at the most recent race, at Topeka, and he said he's eager to make the Countdown and have two cars that are running well. His Top Fuel rookie teammate alBalooshi said, "I'm doing a little better, but the car is doing a lot better. Everything is working well together now. I think the Al-Anabi cars will be two of the better cars this weekend. I am more excited to get this race than any other race so far. The team is hungry for a trophy."
FEELS FAMILIAR - Top Fuel points leader Spencer Massey, last year's winner here, said, "We've been doing well this season, and this year is starting to look a little like last year. That was the stretch when the car went down the track like 40 straight times and Englishtown was part of that run." In 2011, the Prestone/FRAM driver won at Topeka and Englishtown and two of the next four events. He said winning at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park on a holeshot "felt good" because he was able to help out crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler and the crew. He said they "have gotten me through many races by how well that car gets down the track. Most of the time I'm just hanging on. When I can win a race on a holeshot, it's good for me to have been able to help the team win." This year, just two weeks ago, at Topeka, he advanced tot the final but lost to Dave Grubnic. "We just need to keep doing what we've been doing and keep the momentum," Massey said.
OH BOY . . . - Just what the other Funny Car teams needed -- a newly confident Johnny Gray. With a top-qualifying position at Phoenix and a final-round appearance at Gainesville, Gray is way ahead of where he was this time last season. He's sixth in the standings, an improvement from No. 9 this time last year. He missed the Countdown in 2011 but got hot during the playoffs, which he couldn't exploit. So he's ready to resume racing -- and ready to win. "The confidence level of our team, for myself as a driver, for my crew chiefs Rob Wendland and Rip Reynolds, and for all of the guys on the team, it's really improved," Gray said. "We have our heads held high, and we will feel very confident going into each and every race from here on out. With just a little bit of luck, we can win any race we're at on any given day."
JFR (HEARTS) NY - While Morgan Lucas has declared New York off-limits for himself, Courtney Force (who used to drive for the same Top Alcohol Dragster team as Lucas) has a completely different approach. She, sister Brittany (who attended college in New York), mother Laurie, and some of the crew have been doing a bit of site-seeing and visiting with friends and traveling to Bristol, Conn., to tour the ESPN campus. The Connecticut detour saw her doing interviews for TV, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN radio, as well as an online chat. "I'm looking forward to visiting this campus which is the base of all major sports news," Courtney Force, the Funny Car rookie, said. "I'm hoping to expand their knowledge of NHRA drag racing as well as the products of the fastest name in radio control, Traxxas, and am excited to learn about the ESPN campus."
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