SUNDAY NOTEBOOK: WINNER'S CROWNED ON FATHER'S DAY
FINALLY! - Tony Schumacher's NHRA Top Fuel victory Sunday that snapped a 32-race winless streak came by one of the smallest of margins but brought the biggest sense of satisfaction.
His holeshot triumph over Doug Kalitta in the final round of the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals -- a 3.819-second elapsed time in the U.S. Army Dragster to Kalitta's 3.802 on the Bristol Dragway 1,000-foot course -- was more than another epic match-up between the two veterans.
Schumacher, a father of three, was able to join Funny Car teammate Ron Capps in presenting his dad and team owner Don Schumacher (who won here in the Funny Car class in 1971) with two Wally trophies in one day. That marked a double-DSR whammy on Kalitta Motorsports, as Capps beat Kalitta driver Alexis DeJoria in the Funny Car final.
The winner's share of Sunday's purse was $50,000, but the victory was worth so much more to Schumacher, as it also coincided with the U.S. Army's 237th birthday celebration.
(He even gave a shout-out to NASCAR's Dale Earnhart Jr., who also broke a long winless stretch Sunday, winning the Quicken Loans 400 Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway: "For the National Guard [-sponsored car] to go out there [and win] . . . that's pretty awesome.")
With his semifinal victory over Clay Millican, Schumacher became the points leader for the third time this season.
He and Capps joined Pro Stock's Mike Edwards in the winners circle.
Meanwhile, Kalitta's winless streak grew to 40 events.
"It is unbelievable that two really good teams like we have went that long," Schumacher said.
"One thing I have learned is that our Army car has made teams better. We have forced them to do things, because we were so great for so long that we forced the to turn knobs that they never turned before. For 12 races, the car in the other lane made it down the track. That's not even heard of, let alone making their low-E.T. runs of their careers against me.
"I take it as a compliment. Those guys are not taking us lightly," Schumacher said. "And Dom Lagana, he ought to feel like we gave him some respect. We went out and laid down a .79 against him, because guess what --that's what you've got to do to win these things. That is how tight these fields are.
"You look back at our career -- six championships in a row -- and any one of those years, one thing goes wrong and you don't win," he said. "It's about being able to come up with the big moment at any given time."
As for his own drought, Schumacher said, "You get used to winning those races. We won 15 races in one year, and we're just not used to that. We had a great car, and more often than not, we got beat by some incredibly talented teams in very close races.
"It was tough to deal with," he said of the lean times that seemed to ignore his 12 final-round appearances in that stretch.
"But it is what we do," Schumacher said after closing the deal in this fifth final. "We had the points lead already two times this season without winning a race. We keep our chin up. We don't fire people. We get through the adversity. We lead. We make them believe in themselves. I said all along, 'Have faith. We're going to go out and win these things.' "
Schumacher said he was driven by the desire to avoid being the third racer, after Top Fuel's Rob Bruins and Pro Stock Motorcycle's Eddie Krawiec, to win a series title without winning a single race that same season.
"It's so much more fun to win and dominate," he said. "For a long time, we had a car that was a tenth-of-a-second quicker than everybody, but it's not out there anymore. It's very hard in any given day to outrun people four times in a row. You've got to go out and do your job.
"I'm very, very thankful that Mike [crew chief Green] and Neil [assistant Strasbaugh] and all nine guys did a phenomenal job." They labored through a complete motor change after Schumacher beat DSR mate Spencer Massey in the quarterfinal.
As if beating dogged Dom Lagana, points leader and quickest-and-fastest dragster driver Massey, and long-overdue Clay Millican weren't enough for a Sunday drive, Schumacher said, "It's one of those finals you dream about. None of us want that single in the final, as much as I was joking about it -- 'I hope his car doesn't start . . . because that's the kind of finals we've been needing -- you want to go out and run great cars and win all those very close ones. It makes what we do worth it."
Schumacher, cashing in on his sixth Bristol Dragway final, had split a pair of final-round meetings at Bristol with Kalitta, winning in 2009 and losing in 2001. He was making his fifth final of the year (after not finishing the deal at Phoenix, Gainesville, Charlotte, and Atlanta) and the 115th of his career.
Kalitta began this season losing to Schumacher -- in the opening round of the Winternationals and the next week in Round 2 at Phoenix. Schumacher ended Kalitta's day at three consecutive races (Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta). And this sixth meeting with Schumacher in 10 races so far this season denied him his fourth victory here and his 33rd victory in 65 final rounds.
A winner at Bristol in 2001 and back-to-back victories in 2005-06, Kalitta had made only one other final-round appearance since he won the July 2010 Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver. This was his first final of 2012.
PUTTING A CAP ON FATHER'S DAY - On a day where the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars teams were in control throughout, it only made sense that its most dominant driver these days had the final say.
Racing in his sixth straight Funny Car finals, Ron Capps won for the second time in 2012, taking out the Cinderella story of the weekend in Alexis DeJoria with a 4.076 at 312.35 miles per hour in the finals of the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
Capps admitted the headlines of possibly advancing to a sixth straight final were draining, but it hardly showed on a day where he was in the 4.00s three times during eliminations.
“There’s a lot of pressure coming in with people asking if I’m going to get six straight finals, but every race we’ve gone to, the bond is just getting stronger and stronger with (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and this team,” said Capps, who won for the 35th time in his career. “Don Schumacher does everything to give us what we need and it’s impressive to see what Rahn Tobler has done with this car.
“He’s such a perfectionist. It’s great communication we have and it was a great weekend all-around. We gained a lot of points and it’s not out of the question for us to catch Robert (Hight). That’s the carrot out in front of us.”
The other carrot was not wanting to be the driver DeJoria beat in the finals for her first NHRA win.
That didn’t happen when DeJoria smoked the tires early in their head-to-head meeting, though DeJoria, the No. 15 qualifier still had quite a weekend to remember.
After only one round win in her first 13 races, DeJoria racked up three on Sunday, including a victories against Mike Neff, teammate Jeff Arend and Capps’ teammate Jack Beckman in the semifinals.
Capps, though, was all business in the finals, putting together a run that was only topped by the 4.06 he put together in a first-round win against Courtney Force.
Still, it was an exhausting day for Capps.
“You see what Alexis did all day, you’re thinking, ‘Oh man, this is another one of those stories where they’re going to get the win and you’re be another stat and the guy that gave Alexis her first win.’ I was just trying to block everything out and dig deep. I was just exhausted,” Capps said.
Part of that was the mental toll of the day and part of that was entering the race with a heavy heart after the father of a close friend passed away earlier in the way.
But Capps was plenty composed when he had to be, knocking off Force to kick off a dominant day for DSR Racing. It went 4-for-4 in the opening round and was also a major reason why John Force Racing was finished early after an 0-for-4 performance in the first round on Sunday.
“It’s a big hit for us to beat a Ford with a Dodge and the Charger body we have,” Capps said. “When we can beat those Ford bodies, it’s a real pump in the arm.”
Capps followed with a narrow victory against Tony Pedregon in the quarterfinals, running him down with a 4.10 after Pedregon had a great reaction time.
In the semifinals – which featured three DSR cars – Capps knocked off teammate Johnny Gray with a 4.093 at 305.63 mph before another consistent pass in the finals to keep his incredible stretch going.
“You have such a good car, you’re hoping nothing goes wrong and you’re not the one that goes wrong,” Capps said. “When we put this team together, I wanted to add to the team. It was already a great team, and I wanted to add to it and make my crew chief proud. This team is pretty stout.”
A CLOSE SHAVE - Winning four straight races at Bristol Dragway was special enough for NHRA Pro Stock driver Mike Edwards.
How he picked up that fourth victory on Sunday at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals will be a moment he will likely never forget.
In one of the closest races in NHRA history, Edwards and No. 1 qualifier Allen Johnson raced to a virtual dead heat in the Pro Stock finals. With a brilliant .005 reaction time, Edwards and his 6.674 at 206.16 miles per hour was deemed the victor by less than an inch, with the margin of victory reading an improbable .0000, the first time that has ever happened in an NHRA final.
“I don’t even know how to describe something like this final in words,” said Edwards, who won for the second time in 2012 and 34th time in his career.
“It was just unbelievable. Sometimes it’s just your day and it seems like we come to this place and get healed up. Hats off to Allen Johnson and all those guys. They did an awesome job, too.”
On the losing side, Johnson, who had been the dominant driver all weekend, was understandably crushed after losing in what ended up an absolute dead-heat and one marvelous side-by-side final race.
“We’d rather shake the tires, hit the wall, do anything than lose like that,” said Johnson, who went 6.661 at 207.05 mph in the finals.
“We all thought we had it. Hats off to everyone. We did everything we needed to; he just did a better job in the final. Today just wasn’t our day.”
As for trying to explain a .0000 margin of victory, Johnson succinctly summed it up perfectly.
“That’s Pro Stock racing at its best,” Johnson said.
It is surely a race that will go down in NHRA as one of the closest and Edwards was plenty pleased to end up the victor in such an historic race.
Racing against Jim Yates in Seattle, Edwards once was in a race featuring a .000 win margin, but Sunday’s final against Johnson topped even that.
The circumstances certainly had something to do with it, as Edwards, who qualified No. 2 with a 6.641, picked up his 16th straight round win in Thunder Valley.
Only Bob Glidden and his five straight wins at Columbus can top what Edwards has done the past four years in Pro Stock in Bristol.
“I can’t explain it. We just run exceptionally well here,” Edwards said. “I wanted this four in a row so bad that I came here right after Englishtown and tested here for two days.
“I’ve never done that at the next track coming up. I wanted it real bad. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to do this. To come back here, it’s just an awesome deal.”
The pre-race testing paid off for both Edwards and Johnson, who also tested before the event.
Johnson’s Mopar impressed all weekend, taking the No. 1 qualifier spot with a 6.623 and racking up a series of 6.65s during the first three rounds of eliminations.
He slowed up slightly in the finals, but still ran well and coupled it with a great .018 reaction time.
But Edwards was dynamite on the staring line all day, starting with an .025 and a 6.664 at 206.57 mph in a first-round win against Larry Morgan.
A round later, Edwards had an .0017 reaction time against Jeg Coughlin Jr., and then added an .007 in an impressive semifinal performance of 6.680 at 206.54 mph in the semifinals against Erica Enders.
That carried Edwards to the finals, where he and Johnson delivered a tremendous piece of history.
“Some days, it just clicks,” Edwards said. “Some days you concentrate better than other days.”
QUICK HITS RACE REPORT
HOW CAN THAT NOT BE GOOD ENOUGH? - Shawn Langdon needed a break, and by the time he got down the Bristol Dragway strip to start eliminations for the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals, Bob Vandergriff clearly couldn't catch a break. Langdon advanced with low elapsed time of the weekend, 3.796 seconds at 318.44 mph. Vandergriff lost despite posting the second-quickest E.T. ever at this facility (3.801 seconds) and top speed of the meet at 324.81 mph. Langdon's first comment after climbing formt he race car was that he was hoping he could relay some of the relevant data to Al-Anabi Racing teammate Khalid alBalooshi, who was farther back in line, awaiting his run against Doug Kalitta. "Cloud cover makes ofr a good track," Langdon added.
MY TWO DADS - Tennesseean Clay Millican dashed Steve Torrence's hopes for a third victory in four races, winning their opening-round match with a 3.872-second, 316.84-mph pass in the Parts-Plus Dragster. Millican, of the West Tennessee burg of Drummonds, said on this Fathers Day, "I want to win for my daddy."
He also extended a shout-out to Ray King, a man he called "my second daddy." King was the gasket guru who was director of marketing for Federal-Mogul/Fel-Pro and is the one Millican has said was responsible for him getting his first chance to drive professionally. King was vice-president of TCI -- Torque Converter Incorporated, a sponsor for many sportsman-level racers. Felpro, based in Skokie, Illinois, bought TCI and hired King right away. That business acquisition led to Millican's move from NHRA's Super Comp class and IHRA's now-defunct Modified class ("a poor man's Comp Eliminator," as he described it) to drag racing's elite Top Fuel dragsters.
"They had an Employee Day," Millican said. "I carried my car up there, started it up, revved the motor up." And that's when the Fel-Pro owner's son, Peter Lehman, saw that he and Millican could become way more than just a local bracket racer. He knew they could become successful business partners. It wasn't just the way Millican fired up the race car. It was the way he fired up the employees standing around watching the spectacle. Lehman and Millican formed a successful partnership that delivered five of Millican's six IHRA championships.
Today Millican has plenty of fans at Bristol Dragway, and they will be watching closely as he meets Terry McMillen, another former IHRA racer.
UNDERDOG IS TOP DOG - Terry McMillen has had some engine problems in previous races, and he had another one in the first round against Cory McClenathan. But McMillen, the underdog who grabbed the No. 3 qualifying position, took advantage of McClenathan's troubles in the left lane and blazed down the right lane in 3.872 second at 316.84 mph to earn only his third round-win of the season and first in three races (since he beat Khalid alBalooshi at Atlanta).
The excitable Elkhart, Ind., resident and owner-driver of the Amalie Oil / UNOH / Motor State Dragster, said his motor "is not happy at all. We'll put this thing back together. This is Sunday, and if we got to put a motor in after every round, then we'll put a motor in after every round. We'll figure it out."
He got some extra time -- 52 minutes, to be exact -- to prepare for the quarterfinals, as did Shawn Langdon and Clay Millican who ran in front of him. McClenathan oiled down the track in the Santo Rapisarda-owned dragster.
TODAY COULD BE THE DAY - Each of the first three winners in Sunday's eliminations -- Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican, and Terry McMillen -- is seeking his first NHRA Top Fuel victory.
LAGANA CHALLENGES SCHUMACHER - Tony Schumacher, won despite Dom Lagana giving him a close side-by-side race and recording his best numbers of the weekend at 3.931 seconds, 312.13 mph. "That Lagana team, those guys, you don't mess around with thtem," Schumacher said after winning with a 3.799-second, 322.96-mph run in the U.S. Army Dragster.
ODD EVENTS IN BOTH LANE - Scott Palmer didn't have a chance against top qualifier Antron Brown. His car, leaking some kind of fluid, never moved when the light went green. Brown, in the Aaron's Dream Machine/Matco/Army/Toyota Dragster, didn’t know for a few seconds what his solo-pass performance was officially, for no E.T. or speed popped up on the scoreboard. After about 30 seconds, a 3.939, 311.49 appeared on the screen. He'll face Shawn Langdon in the quarterfinal round.
KALITTA ADVANCES - Kalitta Air Dragster driver Doug Kalitta said he had his eye on a Traxxas radio-control car earlier this morning, but he reacted quickly once he had to focus on the Al-Anabi car of opponent Khalid alBalooshi. After using a 3.797-second E.T. at 323.97 mph that topped his qualifying time (3.835) and speed (321.81), Kalitta said, "We're just happy to get dwn the track. Hat's off to Jim O. [crew chief Jim Oberhofer]."
UGLY BUT EFFECTIVE - Neither Hillary Will and Bruce Litton would have a stunning elapsed time, as both were in trouble and smoking the tires and pedaling early. But Litton survived the ugly pass with a winning 4.692-second E.T. in his Lucas Oil Dragster. He lost the blower belt and said doing so at the outset of the run means "1,000 foot of agony." He will meet Doug Kalitta in the next round.
UNPREDICTABLE BUT FAST -Spencer Massey's FRAM/Prestone Dragster, like some unpredictable Thoroughbred, acted up a bit after winning over a traction-troubled Dave Grubnic. "In the shutdown area, it spun and sputtered. These Top Fuel cars have a mind of their own," Massey said after his victory in 3.82-seconds at a 324.98 mph that reset the track speed record. Massey and Schumacher will meet for the fourth time this year in the second round.
'FIRST-CLASS RACE' - Tony Schumacher and Spencer Massey put on a sensational side-by-side display, and Schumacher prevailed with a 3.818-second E.T. and 323.66 to Massey's 3.821, 317.12.
We lost last week by a thousandth. We lost the race before that by a thousandth. Those are critical points. And Spencer, [he's] the points leader." He said when two Don Schumacher Racing cars meet, "all bets are off. No team orders. The fans just got to see a first-class race." As his sponsor/marketing partner, the U.S. Army, celebrates its birthday this weekend, Schumacher encouraged fans to "send our love to the soldiers who are missing their kids today."
'TAKING WHAT WE CAN GET' - After Doug Kalitta reached his fifth semifinal with a victory over Bruce Litton, he said, "We're taking what we can get here. This is a great crowd, great atmosphere." Kalitta used a 3.797, 323.97 to Litton's 3.917, 307.93 that was a huge improvement from his opening-round winning numbers.
'POISED AND ATTACKED' - Antron Brown said his Mark Oswald- / Brian Corradi-tuned Aaron's Dream Machine Dragster "stayed poised and attacked" against Shawn Langdon. He won with a 3.825, 323.35 to Langdon's too-close-for-comfort 3.847, 320.43. Said Brown, "You got to have some luck behind you. That team's tough. That's as tough as they come. I feel good to get past that round."
'HOW COOL IS THAT?' - The three circles on Clay Millican's uniform Sunday, he said, represent the message "I love you" and that the message is directed to his father. Millican turned in a 3.860-second E.T. at 316.52 mph. McMillen's Cinderella story ended with some more blow-up parts and a 4.589, 178.97 showing. "How cool is that? Another semifinal for this Parts Plus team," Millican, a Tennessee native, said. He said he's concerned about staying in the top 10 for the Countdown.
LONG WAIT - Dom Lagana said his next race in the Service Central Dragster will be in August at Brainerd, Minn., but said he's always ready to get back on the track if more funding becomes available sooner.
PRACTING - Brittany Force will test her dragster Monday here at Bristol Dragway. Meanwhile, Funny Car driver/four-car owner John Force, who said of his contingent, "We all got spanked," said he gave Don Schumacher a Fathers Day present. "Schumacher got a personal gift from me -- all my hot rods went out first round."
MAGNFICENT - Public-address announcer Bob Frey called No. 4 Doug Kalitta's match-up with No. 1 qualifier Antron Brown "a magnificent run." And it was, as Kalitta won with a 3.831-second E.T. at 320.51 mph to Brown's 3.872, 322.88. Said Kalitta afterward, "If you're going to run with the big boys, you've got to beat 'em. Hopefully Tennessee's our spot."
WHERE HAVE WE HEARD THIS BEFORE? - Tony Schumacher set up a reprisal in the final round of his one-time rivalry with Doug Kalitta by eliminating Clay Millican. The pair in this semifinal match-up has a combined 13 series championships, seven for Schumacher in the NHRA and six for Millican in the IHRA.
Looking ahead to his fifth final-round appearance of the season, Schumacher said of himself and Kalitta, "We're both running good, and neither of us has won this year." Neither won last year, either. Kalitta's last victory was in July 2010, at Denver. Schumachers' was several races later, in October, at Las Vegas.
Both want to earn a berth in the Traxxas Shootout that will be part of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals this Labor Day weekend. "For the Traxxas Shootout, this is a big run for both of us," he said.
Schumacher said he has been "gifted with a chance to run in the final." Referring to DSR teammate Antron Brown's defeat to Kalitta, he said, "It's hard to see you teammate get beat -- but it ain't that hard -- we're going to the final."
He said his new DSR-built chassis is "one of those cars that's going to be the fastest car we've ever run," once crew chief Mike Green and team get to make all the tweaks hey need to make. "We're getting closer and closer."
SCHUMACHER BACK IN GROOVE - Tony Schumacher snapped a 32-race winless streak in the U.S. Army Dragster with a victory by the almost the smallest of margins against Doug Kalitta, whose own drought extended to 40 events. Schumacher scored on a holeshot, using a better reaction time to win with a 3.819-second E.T. to Kalitta's 3.802 in the Kalitta Air Dragster. Schumacher, celebrating Fathers Day and the Army's 237th birthday, became the points leader for the third time this season with his semifinal victory over Clay Millican. He joined Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) in the winners circle.
CAPPS STAYS HOT - Ron Capps made one big statement to start eliminations in Funny Car, knocking off Courtney Force for the second straight race.
How he did it was more impressive, running a 4.06 at 310.48 mph, giving him the low E.T. of the weekend in Bristol. Force stayed with him early, but had some trouble near the finish line en route to a 4.376 at 213 mph.
"There are some pretty stout cars back there, but Rahn Tabler gave me a heck of a car for that run," Capps said.
DSR OFF AND RUNNING - Jack Beckman made it back-to-back strong runs for Don Schumacher Racing, putting together the fastest pass of the weekend with a 4.072 at an eye-opening 313.66 mph.
Tim Wilkerson was all over the track and never had a chance against Beckman, who made the second straight, quick and fast pass for the DSR team.
"That felt good. When you have a track like this, you can really get after it," Beckman said.
NO UPSETS HERE: No. 1 qualifier Bob Tasca III had no upsets to worry about in the first round as No. 16 qualifier Blake Alexander struggled to a 6.525 at 99.80 mph.
Tasca, meanwhile, stayed solid and consistent, running a 4.122 at 311.77 mph. It didn't match his top qualifying run, but it was more than enough to move on.
"It was a solid run. We had a tough competitor there, so we'll take it," Tasca said.
DEJORIA NABS FIRST UPSET OF ELIMINATIONS - Round wins have been too few and far between for Alexis DeJoria in 2012, but she did just enough for a first-round upset win against Mike Neff, the No. 2 qualifier entering eliminations.
DeJoria, the No. 15 qualifier, didn't put together a perfect pass, going 4.29 at 231.99 mph, but did enough to beat Neff and his 4.425 at 226.96 mph to satisfy crew chief Del Worsham.
"Anytime you win, its' pretty exciting. Alexis is moving on and she's a tough driver. She showed a lot of heart there and drove well," Worsham said.
DeJoria was just as pleased.
"I'm pretty happy. We haven't won a round since Gainesville. I'm just amazed right now," DeJoria said.
PEDREGON WINS MARQUEE MATCHUP - John Force and Tony Pedregon had met 81 times before Sunday's first round of eliminations. Pedregon took the 82nd and it was a huge one, too, as it was his first round win of 2012.
Both cars met trouble, but Force ran into it first after a great .009 reaction time, limping to a 4.875 at 159.85 mph. Pedregon ended with a 4.542 at 209.14 mph, holding off Force at the end of the track.
HAGAN MOVES ON - it's been a frustrating 2012 for Matt Hagan, but he had a first-round win to smile about in Bristol, running a 4.134 at 308 mph to send Cruz Pedregon home.
Pedregon had the slight lead at the 330-foot mark, but ran into trouble - ending with a 4.883 at 162.12 mph - and Hagan pulled away for the victory.
"I'm just glad we got this. We've got a big race and we want to do well for everybody. Our guys are really working hard,” Hagan said.
AREND SETS UP KALITTA -KALITTA: Team Kalitta will have one car in the semifinals after Jeff Arend followed DeJoria's victory with a 4.136 at 30.282 mph to beat Jim Head and his 4.908 at 166.33 mph.
It was a relatively straight run for Arend and his DHL car, setting up a great quarterfinal race with DeJoria.
"It's going to be a good battle. We've both got great cars," Arend said.
GRAY KEEPS ROLLING, KEEPS DSR STREAKING - Johnny Gray is hoping for a second straight win in Funny Car and he kept DSR rolling on Sunday, too.
DSR went a perfect 4-for-4 in the first round, and Gray gave John Force Racing a rare winless opening round, knocking off Robert Hight with a 4.091 at 312.86 mph. The rematch from the semifinals from Englishtown against went to Gray, while Hight's 5.036 at 155.60 wrapped up a thoroughly frustrating first for team Force.
"I was nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof racing against Robert, but we'll see what we can do second round," Gray said.
DSR VS. DSR DELIVERS BEAUTY - The Don Schumacher Racing pairing of Matt Hagan and Jeff Beckman delivered a spectacular side-by-side duel to kick off the quarterfinal Funny Car session, with Jack Beckman taking the win with a 4.100 at 310.70 mph.
Matt Hagan had the slight edge at the starting line and finished with a 4.14 at 299.40 mph, but Beckman had enough to track him down, advancing to the semifinals.
"It was pretty close. I was hoping their front end wasn't going to peak out ahead of us, and it's pretty cool to be moving on. We've got a chance to get a win," Beckman said.
CAPPS GETS SCARE, KEEPS ROLLING - Tony Pedregon gave Ron Capps everything he could handle in the quarterfinals, but Capps shrugged it off and kept right on rolling, delivering a winning 4.109 at 306.53 mph.
Capps won by a mere .006 after Pedregon had a dynamite .017 reaction time. He gave it an admirable effort, finishing with a 4.172 at 306.12 mph, but Capps was not thwarted en route to another semifinal berth.
"There was a lot going on at the starting line and you have to block it out. He's a gamer and very, very good, so this was a good win," Capps said.
GRAY PUTS 3RD DSR CAR IN SEMIS - It wasn't pretty, but Johnny Gray didn't mind, knocking off No. 1 qualifier Bob Tasca III with a 4.225 at 295.14 mph.
Chalk it up as an opportunity wasted for Tasca, the No. 1 qualifier, after he smoked the tires before the 300-foot mark, ending with a disappointing 6.245 at 109.64 mph.
Gray will give up lane choice to Ron Capps, but he also inches closer to his second straight win in Funny Car.
DEJORIA MAKES IT A FIRST - By just .001, Alexis DeJoria is in the Funny Car semifinals for the first time in her career.
From the No. 15 qualifier position, DeJoria's underdog run on Sunday continues, running a 4.172 at 302.35 to squeak by teammate Jeff Arend and his 4.182 at 301.67 mph.
It ended up being a marvelous side-by-side race between the two Team Kalitta drivers, but it was DeJoria who narrowly prevailed (by less than a foot) to head into uncharted territory in her Funny Car career.
"When we're up there, you just want to win. My guys are amazing and congrats to the DHL team (of Arend) as well," DeJoria said.
CAPPS GETS REVENGE, MOVES TO FINALS - AGAIN - This advancing to the finals thing is starting to become routine for Funny Car standout Ron Capps.
In Bristol, Capps advanced to his sixth straight final, going 4.093 to beat DSR teammate Johnny Gray in a great side-by-side race.
Gray went a solid 4.107 at 305.93 mph, but he couldn't replicate his win against Capps in the finals from two weeks ago in Englishtown. Capps was quicker off the starting line with a .063 reaction time and never let Gray go around, continuing his remarkable run of finals appearances.
"Johnny ran a great race. I can't tell you how excited I am to drive this NAPA car. I'm living my dream right now," Capps said.
THE MAGIC CONTINUES FOR DEJORIA - The glass slipper still fits for Alexis DeJoria and so do the runs of firsts for the Funny Car driver who came into eliminations as the No. 15 qualifier. That hasn't mattered during eliminations on Sunday in Bristol.
Jack Beckman pedaled late in their semifinal pass and it was once too many as DeJoria slipped past with a tremendous 4.159 at 301.27 mph to advance to her first Funny Car final.
Beckman was out first by a large margin, but the pedal job limited him to a 4.378 at 293.28 mph, and DeJoria was all smiles crossing the finish line first.
"That was an excellent run. It was amazing. The left lane hasn't been the best but we've gone down a couple times and I'm going to the finals right now. I'm so amazed right now," DeJoria said.
DeJoria will give up lane choice to Capps in the finals.
CAPPS CRUSHES CINDERELLA'S HOPES - In his sixth straight final, Ron Capps added one more dominant run to his 2012 resume, ending Alexis DeJoria's storybook Sunday in Funny Car.
In what was a dead-even race early on, Capps delivered a straight and strong run, one that has symbolized his 6-race hot streak, going 4.076 at 312.35 mph.
DeJoria broke traction and smoked the tires around 300 feet, finishing with a 5.232 at 144.15 mph.
It was still a standout weekend for DeJoria, who advanced to her first Funny Car final with what will be a memorable weekend for her in Bristol.
Capps, though, didn't allow DeJoria to finish off her Cinderella story, winning his second race in 2012 with his third run in the 4.00s in eliminations.
CALL HIM HOLESHOT HUMPHREY - In the first meeting in eliminations for Ronnie Humphrey and J.R. Carr, Humphrey did his work immediately, winning the race thanks to a .052 holeshot.
Humphrey finished with a 6.711 at 205.13 mph, holding off the quicker Carr, who ran a 6.697 at 204.20 mph. Carr, though, had a .095 reaction time, falling by nine feet.
ENDERS WITH THE CHASEDOWN - Hoping to replicate - and perhaps even top - her runner-up performance from Bristol a year ago, Erica Enders chased down Rodger Brogdon, going 6.670 at 206.51 mph to advance by just more than a foot.
Brogdon had the slight advantage at the start and ran a 6.682 at 205.91, but Enders caught him at the 1,000-foot mark.
"We've had a little bit of trouble this weekend, but we're hoping to turn our luck today," Enders said.
BREAKING THE TIE - V. Gaines and Ron Krisher were 8-8 in eliminations against each other heading into Bristol, but Gaines took the momentary lead thanks to his 6.699 at 205.69 mph.
Krisher and his .033 reaction time gave him an early edge but his 6.708 at 206.10 mph couldn't hold off Gaines for more than 300 feet.
WALKING THE LINE - Jason Line was dominant at both ends against the legendary Warren Johnson, running a 6.682 at 205.69 mph to set up a quarterfinal matchup with V. Gaines.
Line's .050 reaction time gave him the early lead and this race was never in question, as Johnson finished with a 6.696 at 205.54 mph.
K. JOHNSON GETS A GIFT - Vincent Nobile was a little too anxious on the light and Kurt Johnson will gladly take the gift, moving to the quarterfinals after Nobile went red by .014.
Johnson had a strong reaction time of .020, but will give up lane choice to Enders after running 6.689 at 205.44 mph.
DIFFERENT CONDITIONS, SAME RESULT - Allen Johnson said the conditions were different on Sunday in Bristol than at any other point this weekend.
It didn't matter in the first round, though, as the No. 1 qualifier stayed hot, running a 6.656 at 206.99 to beat Shane Gray and his 6.716 at 204.42.
Johnson's Mopar continued as the dominant car in the class, putting together the quickest and fastest run of the round.
EDWARDS STAYS HOT AT BRISTOL - Mike Edwards can now claim 13 straight round wins in Thunder Valley thanks to a fantastic all-around performance in a first-round win against Larry Morgan.
After an .025 reaction time, Edwards turned in a solid 6.664 at 206.57 mph, which was more than enough to keep Morgan and his 6.701 at 205.38 mph at bay.
HOLESHOT HEAVEN FOR COUGHLIN - In what was perhaps the marquee matchup of the first round, Jeg Coughlin Jr. delivered a superb holeshot upset win, sending points leader Greg Anderson home after the first round.
It was a huge win for Coughlin, who had a .027 reaction time, making his 6.684 at 206.23 stand up. Anderson had a 6.671 at 205.91 mph, but fell by 1/2-car length after his .065 start at the line.
LINE DOES ENOUGH - Jason Line still doesn't have his new Summit Racing 2012 Camaro locked in, but he knows the potential is there.
It didn't have an incredible run in the Pro Stock quarterfinals, but his 6.706 at 205.82 mph was enough to beat V. Gaines and his 6.710 at 205.41 mph at bay.
Line was helped by a .046 reaction time and Gaines never truly challenged Line and his new Camaro.
"It's going to be an awesome race car, it really is," Line said.
ENDERS INTO SEMIFINALS - For the weather and track conditions, Erica Enders delivered a solid quarterfinal run, putting together a 6.667 at 206.04 mph to oust Kurt Johnson and his 6.703.
Enders passed Johnson by 330 feet, though she will give up lane choice in the semifinals.
EDWARDS OUSTS COUGHLIN ON TREE, IN RACE - Mike Edwards didn't let Jeg Coughlin win this one on the tree. In fact, it was Edwards who turned the tables on Coughlin, thanks to a .017 reaction time. Edwards led throughout and turned in a strong 6.669 at 206.42 mph, rolling to an impressive victory.
Coughlin knocked off points leader Greg Anderson in the first round, but couldn't repeat the effort against Edwards, going 6.695 at 206.16 mph.
A. JOHNSON STAYS HOT - Leave it to the hottest driver in the class of late to steal the show in the quarterfinals.
Johnson delivered a 6.657 at 207.24 mph, the quickest and fastest pass of the round, to leave Ronnie Humphrey behind.
Humphrey ran a 6.694 at 205.44 mph, but Johnson remains deadly consistent heading to the semifinals.
EDWARDS LEAVES NO DOUBT - Mike Edwards continued his starting line dominance this weekend in Bristol and now he's on the cusp of his fourth straight Pro Stock win in Thunder Valley.
His 15th straight round win in Bristol came after he routed Erica Enders in the semifinals, thanks in part to a brilliant .007 reaction time.
That essentially handed the win to Edwards, who went 6.680 at 206.54 mph. After Edwards' awesome start, Enders pushed the clutch in early, finishing with a 7.372.
"We're putting some stuff together. We'll see what we can do in the finals," Edwards said.
JOHNSON STAYS AHEAD OF PACK - Allen Johnson continues to roll, advancing to the finals with an impressive 6.659 at 206.67 to beat Jason Line and his 6.677 at 206.54 mph.
Johnson also remains the best car in Pro Stock going into the finals, putting together a complete run - thanks to a great .018 reaction time - to set up a finals between the top two qualifiers in the class.
Johnson will have lane choice against Edwards in the finals.
AS CLOSE AS IT GETS, BUT EDWARDS GETS 4TH STRAIGHT - Well, Mike Edwards got his fourth straight win in Thunder Valley in Pro Stock, but it couldn't have been any closer in an absolute outstanding final between Edwards and Johnson.
In a virtual dead-heat, Edwards barely - and we mean barley - knocked off No. 1 qualifier Allen Johnson, who had been the dominant driver all weekend, by going 6.674 at 206.16 mph. Edwards, who was remarkable on the starting line on Sunday, had his best reaction time of the weekend with a .005 and he needed every bit of it in an absolute dead-heat.
Johnson was nearly as good at the starting line thanks to a .018 reaction time and finished with a 6.661 at 207.05 mph.
But by the slimmest of margins it wasn't enough, giving Edwards, the No. 2 qualifier, his 16th straight round win in Bristol.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK: FIELDS ARE SET FOR A FATHER'S DAY SHOWDOWN
THE TIMES ARE TOUGH - The NHRA Top Fuel entry lists haven't always been overstocked this season, but Antron Brown has insisted that what the class offers is quality more than quantity.
He has been warning everyone all year long that this year's Top Fuel competition is tougher than ever. And sometimes it hints of modesty, of perhaps Brown downplaying the power and cooperation of his Aaron's Dream Machine/Matco Tools Dragster.
But the truest words about this historic facility nestled into the side of the East Tennessee hills came from Morgan Lucas: "Just about anything can happen in those hills."
That Brown is leading the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals field on the strength of his 3.814-second, 323.12-mph track-record blast Friday night is no surprise. He has qualified No. 1 one other time this season (at Topeka), and he has done it 31 times now in his career.
The stunning news was that teammates Brandon Bernstein and Morgan Lucas both failed to qualify. Lucas is a two-time winner and four-time No. 1 starter in the GEICO/Lucas Oil/Toyota Dragster in the previous nine Full Throttle Drag Racing events. Bernstein, with more than his share of gut-twistingly close performances that fell short but a sense he was on the verge of something grand, had his hopes dashed for the MAVTV/Lucas Oil/Tyota team.
On the flip side, Terry McMillen, who has struggled to make the Countdown to the Championship field in each of this three years and has struggled lately with mechanical malfunctions and seven first-round defeats so far, seized the No. 3 starting slot, the best of his NHRA career in the Amalie Oil/UNOH/Motor State Dragster.
The bottom half of the field has almost as many stellar names as the top half, with the likes of Shawn Langdon, Dave Grubnic, Clay Millican, and Cory McClenathan.
That, Brown indicated, is exactly why a Top Fuel driver this season has to be what he called "pinpoint-perfect" to excel.
Brown said Saturday's result -- particularly the unexpected DNQs from Lucas and Bernstein, who was runner-up at Englishtown two weeks ago -- "blows my mind. We've been there a couple of times this year, too, where we've qualified in the bottom half of the field and got in on the last day. That's how tough this class is. A lot people don't understand how tough Top Fuel is right now. It's the toughest this class has ever been.
"When you see somebody like Morgan Lucas -- he's definitely one of the top five [drivers] out here -- and Brandon Bernstein -- they run hard but when you come down here in Thunder Valley, that's what this place can throw at you."
He said this venue "is really tricky. You've got to be aggressive. But you can't be overboard-aggressive. You've got to hit it right in the right spot to make these perform on this racetrack. They got bit this race -- and all of our teams get bit [at one time or another]."
Brown said his own car "responded well" on the final run, which he thinks the conditions for Sunday's eliminations will mirror.
"That last session was a great run," Brown said, adding that the strong side-by-side showing with Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher "hopefully that could be tomorrow's final round. We know we have a lot of tough competition to get there."
Brown will start with Scott Palmer in Round 1.
SATURDAY CHALLENGES - Bob Tasca III spent all day Saturday at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley wrestling with the unpredictability of an 8,000-horsepower nitro Funny Car. Despite the grappling, he ended the day as the No. 1 qualifier on the strength of Friday evening's 4.063 elapsed time.
This was his second consecutive No. 1 qualifying effort at the facility located in the mountains of Bristol, Tenn.
“The track was definitely tricky today,” said Tasca. “We were really aggressive today. We really wanted to go from start to finish under power today because this is what we will face during Sunday’s eliminations.”
Tasca wasn’t too dismayed by a day of tire smoke.
“We were just a whisker away from hitting the right combination,” Tasca admitted. “The data we have is important for my guys to study in making a race day combination. The data from Friday’s first session will be important and has lots of meaning for us. The second, and I don’t think you will need a 4.06, but it will help to run a 4.0. When it heats up, you will definitely need to know how to pull it back.
“We really wanted to go down the track in Saturday’s Q-4, but we gained good data nonetheless.”
Pulling yourself back can be a challenge, but for Tasca and his brain trust of talented tuners, could be a blessing on Sunday. Then, again the predictability of unpredictability for nitro racing could leave the team struggling on Sunday.
“We have lots of good data for hot track conditions,” said Tasca. “You would think it would be easy just to go back and plug in the numbers and make the car repeat. It’s not that easy. You have to adapt to the race track and the conditions.”
Then there are the nuances of Bristol Dragway where every part is not showroom floor smooth.
“This race track is a lot bumpier than most,” said Tasca. “You see a lot of cars just before 300 feet, take the tires off. We were just too aggressive and even backed it off for the last run. It wanted a little more [taken off]. We have good data and I believe Sunday, you are going to need a big number for first round.”
Tasca races Blake Alexander in the first round.
THIRD TIME THE CHARM? - Allen Johnson has been preaching consistency all season long, because the lack of it has bit him in the recent past when he came so close to winning more races and that elusive first NHRA Pro Stock championship.
His commitment to that in this preseason and through the first 10 races finally is paying off at the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals. The Team Mopar / J&J Racing driver from Greeneville, Tenn., Saturday capped a recent string of positive news by recording his third consecutive No. 1 qualifying position at Bristol Dragway as he seeks his first victory here.
It's where his dad / engine guru Roy Johnson raced and won for years before stepping aside to help his son launch his own career. It's where the local businessman, who owns a variety of ventures from warehouses to a beauty salon to mini-mart gas stations to a pawn shop, can show his employees just how much fun he is having and just what he does when he flits about the country more than 20 weekends a year. It's where he couldn't want more to win.
He has half the task mastered this weekend, relying on his Friday night run of 6.623 seconds, which rewrote the track elapsed-time record.
"We feel like we’ve already won the battle. Now we've got to go win the war," Johnson said.
"We've got a really, really good car here," he said. "Hopefully that'll continue tomorrow and we can go out there and have a couple hundredths on the field. Wouldn't that be great?
"We've got a very, very consistent race car right now. We've got good people making good decisions and good Mopar engineering behind us. Driver's just got to go do his job tomorrow," Johnson said. "The driver does his job, we've got this thing licked."
Consistency, he said, means "we don't have to go for the jugular every run. We can just be consistent and just get from A to B and we've got a chance to win the race. The Mopar Dodge Avenger has been so solid . We were low every round except this morning."
He said Mopar is "feeding us great stuff."
He said the three straight top-qualifying positions being "a little more pressure, because you're home, not a lot.
"We're an experienced team. We try to keep our focus, no distractions, no added pressure," Johnson said. "The crew chief knows what his job is. The engine guy knows what his job is. And I certainly know what my job is. We try to be really focused and double- and triple-check one another and have each other's back and go out there and make sure we do that job.
"If we have any advantage," he said, "it looks like maybe our engine performs a little better here than the competition's. We just came from Englistown, and we certainly didn't have an advantage there and it's the exact same engine. Maybe it's because Dad's here dynoing all the time in the exact same weather. He knows the optimums for engines in this weather."
And Allen Johnson knows he has the chance of a lifetime to win for the first time in front of family, friends, neighbors, and employees.
“We had some good clutch discs,” said Pedregon. “I think Lee and I got tired of not making it down the track. We’re better than this qualifying time shows.”
Several crew chiefs have confirmed the inconsistency of clutch discs in the past couple of years have made for many inconsistencies in nitro racing.
“I don’t know what happened,” admitted Gray. “It was running fine and about 800 feet it started popping and banging and parts started falling off it.”
Teammate Ron Capps was low elapsed time of the final session with a 4.122.
HOPPING MAD - Tim Wilkerson was mad at himself after Q3 after taking out a timing block and damaging his Shelby body.
That miscue left him outside the field going into the final session, and with everything on the line (including, most likely, his playoff hopes) Wilk ran a 4.131 to qualify.
"It was just not cooperating on Friday, giving us some fits, but I'm mad at myself for hitting that timing block today," Wilk said. "It was running pretty good, but when we went over one of those bumps it unloaded the tires enough to cause us to drop a hole on the left side, and I let it get away from me a little. It punched a little hole in my yacht car, and I couldn't find a cork to keep it afloat, so we brought the LRS Mustang back out.
"Then, you get all worked up about not being in the show going into Q4, because you know you can have the tune-up just right but any fluke little thing, or a 50-cent part, can cost you a spot in the race. Being 11th in points right now, we really couldn't afford a DNQ, but it went right down there clean as can be and it gave me some hope. We'll see what we can parlay this into on Sunday because we're in, and that's all that really matters right now. Just a lot of relief around here."
A GATHERING OF THE GENERATIONS - Matt Hagan knows he'll have a winning day on Sunday before he straps into his Mopar/Aaron's Dream Machine Funny Car to start the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
The reigning NHRA Funny Car world champion from nearby Christiansburg, Va., is qualified sixth in his Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger R/T and he started celebrating on Saturday and it had little to do with the team's successful qualifying effort.
His father, David Hagan, arrived on Saturday and will remain there for Father's Day when he will be joined by Matt's children, 5-year-old Colby and 2-year-old Penny.
"Colby would have been here Saturday but he had his last T-ball (baseball) game and he couldn't miss that," Matt said.
"It's definitely special for me any time I can get my dad here to a race. Before racing I don't know if we were really that close, but racing has really brought us together. We've spent a lot of time at the racetrack. He's a very busy man if I can pull him away from his business and have him spend some time at the track I'm tickled to death."
Hagan sees fatherhood from a different perspective now that he has two youngsters and a devoted wife, Rachel, to make up for when he is traveling or working on their cattle farm.
"I have two great kids, and I'm just looking forward to having a good time with them.
"Having kids changes the meaning of everything. These kids gave me life. Before I was just a big kid, now I have something to work hard for. To go out there and make sure that you're better at what you do for your family and trying to better their lives.
"It's about you until you become a father, then you realize that it's not just about you; it's about them. That's the coolest part about it, watching them grow up. Even though I'm gone a lot, I still get to see quite a bit of their little lives. It's just something that's truly incredible. When you take a little kid and mold him, put your values into him and just really shape a person that they are going to be the rest of their lives. That's a huge deal."
For a few moments at a racetrack, fatherhood was Hagan's focus instead of elapsed times or miles per hour.
That could be a good way to get ready for Sunday's eliminations. It sure is a good way to get ready for Father's Day.
NOT LUCK AT ALL - The fifth-longest qualifying streak among active drivers came to a sudden halt Saturday when MAVTV/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster driver Brandon Bernstein missed the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
Bernstein had qualified for 114 races in a row, last missing a race at Chicago in 2007. Chicago, interestingly, is the next race on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule.
"It just seems like the track conditions and everything were pretty horrendous all weekend long," Bernstein said. "Unfortunately, if you miss the Friday night session – and we dropped a cylinder on that run – you're behind the 8-ball come Saturday.
"It's just unfortunate. The MAVTV car was running terrific, and we had some good momentum going after the last three races. To come in here and have that happen, it just sucks."
The car's best pass was in 4.221 seconds at 231.16 mph, the No. 16 qualifier ran a 4.045 at 294.54 mph.
Bernstein, seventh in the Top Fuel points standings, came to Bristol off a runner-up finish in Englishtown, N.J. Plus, Bernstein had semifinal appearances in the two races before that and had qualified in the top half of the field for five races in a row.
Bernstein, though, is confident the MAVTV team can get the momentum back in the O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, ill., on June 29-July 1.
"There's no doubt at all they'll bounce back," Bernstein said. "This is a top-caliber team, and we've proven it. It's just one of those races. You have to chalk it up to that. We'll come right out to Chicago the next race, and I'm sure we're going to perform perfect."
The way to bounce back, Bernstein said, was simply to "stay positive."
"That's all you can do. You can't change it now," Bernstein said. "My good buddy Eric Medlen always used to say when bad stuff happened and you're all mad and depressed, 'Can you change it now?' No, you can't. So you've got to stay positive and go in the right direction and keep the morale up on the team. We'll go into Chicago and be ready."
FUELED BY THE FALLEN - NHRA Pro Stock driver Rodger Brogdon had a little extra motivation in the car with him this weekend and it is already paying off.
Brogdon, carrying nine photographs inside his MAVTV/Lucas Oil Pontiac GXP for the Hot Rods for Heroes program of Eastern Tennessee soldiers killed in combat, qualified sixth as he continues his consistent runs of late.
"You see those soldiers pictures on the dash and it can't help but get to you," Brogdon said. "You want to do everything you can. It gives us a lot of motivation. This is tough deal we are in, but we are going to do our best for them."
Brogdon's 6.678 second run at 204.60 mph on Friday night held up through the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday in the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
He will take on Erica Enders in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
"It is definitely better than we have been doing," Brogdon said. "We made four good runs, that is for sure. It doesn't surprise me. I have a good team."
Brogdon came into the weekend not needing any motivation to continue his consistent runs he has made over the past two events – including his first round win in six races in Englishtown. But, he got more when he was approached by the organization for fallen soldiers.
"It is a good weekend with the Hot Rods for Heroes people here," Brogdon said. "It is such a good organization. We just need to get these soldiers some awareness. … These guys need some help. They need some attention. … We are gonna try and do something for them. I am just glad they got in touch with us and we were able to help them out a little bit. I am going to try and win some rounds for them this weekend."
Winning rounds would be an excellent way to honor those soldiers and their families, but it would also mean that Brogdon is continuing an upswing he has been on since Atlanta – a streak of three events that have seen him qualify in the top half of the field.
But he knows they still have a ways to go if they want to be in the hunt for a Wally.
"The car is good," Brogdon said. "We are getting just about everything we can out of every run. We are not as fast as the top guys, but we have been in that position for much of the year. We can really tell by looking where we need to be and what we have to work with. To be sixth, that is higher than normally where we should be."
Something hard work, consistency and a little extra motivation this weekend has helped him achieve.
THANKS DAD - John Capps won't be at Sunday's NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Neither will his grandchildren, Taylor and Caden.
Although Ron Capps' father and children will be home on the West Coast, he will cherish Father's Day for what his dad gave him and how that has enabled him to provide good lives for his wife and kids.
"My dad is the reason why I've been in drag racing my whole life," said Capps, who recalled traveling to all the fabled West Coast dragstrips when his dad raced a Fiat Topolino altered.
"We were regulars at all the California tracks. He was a track champion at Santa Maria and we'd go to Bakersfield, Irwindale, Fremont, Famoso.
"I've been going to drag races since I was born, whether he raced or we went there to camp. It was part of my childhood."
Capps will be in Tennessee at Bristol Dragway on Sunday where he qualified fourth in his NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T tuned by crew chief Rahn Tobler. Capps, who ranks second in points in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, has won 34 NHRA pro titles and owes his career choice and success to his father.
"My dad instilled in us that you didn't have to have the most expensive cars, trailers or any of that; you just had to be the best on the track. Whatever we raced growing up we were one of the best because he taught us how to approach racing.
"My need for speed came from my dad."
Capps recalls winning two NHRA titles on a Father's Day, but has never shared either with his father. He also has never been home with his children on the special day.
"That bums me out a little. I've always been racing back East on Father's Day. They're able to listen on the Internet so they can share the day with me, and then we celebrate when I get home regardless of how we did."
After returning home from a race weekend he often prefers not to talk about racing, but then he knows he'll get a call from his father.
"He'll want to know what went on at the track. I might not want to relive the weekend, but I will because it's him and because what I learned from him is how he is able to kind of live his racing dreams through me now."
John Capps always will be appreciative of the gift he received on the special day in 1965. Ron was born on June 20 that year which happened to be on Father's Day.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK: RACERS INVADE THE VALLEY
DINNER TIME - Antron Brown helped turn Terry McMillen's Top Fuel carriage into a pumpkin around the stroke of 10 o'clock Friday night.
Now he wants to turn in a performance the rest of the weekend that's worthy of a prince -- a prince who loves mashed potatoes and gravy.
Brown set both ends of Bristol Dragway's Top Fuel record in qualifying for the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals. With a 3.814-seconds elapsed time at 323.12 mph in the Matco Tools/Aaron's Dragster, Brown took the provisional No. 1 qualifying position.
He and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher came along in the final pairing of Friday night qualifying and ruined Terry McMillen's Cinderella performance.
McMillen, driving the Amalie Oil / UNOH / Motor State Dragster, had outdone himself with a 3.823-second pass at 315.27 mph. Schumacher took the No. 2 spot overnight with a 3.822, 320.66 in the U.S. Army Dragster.
"You know, it's like when you're cooking that big ol' pot of gravy and you've got those mashed potatoes, man. You've just got to dig that spoon in a little deeper. That's all," Brown said. He said McMillen "put his in there deep" but his own crew chiefs, Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, "just dug a little deeper."
Said Brown, "The moral of the story is I remember that because when I was a kid, my brother used to always get a big ol' spoon in there and my spoon would be half full. I'd get halfway done with my mashed potatoes and the gravy would be all gone. Plain 'tatoes -- you know that stuff don't taste good. Got to have gravy in there. My brother's just licking his chops, and I got to get up from the table again and go get some more gravy."
So Terry McMillen had to settle Friday night for plain potatoes, thanks to Brown.
"He got no plain potatoes," Brown shot back. "I'm sorry -- he still had a good meal. But my meal tasted REAL good!"
"So," teased one reporter, "you'll take a meal from a homeless man."
Brown replied, "He ain't home;ess! You see the way he looks? That stomach, man, it ain;t from being homeless!" Brown laughed and quickly said, "That's my homie."
New Jersey native Brown had wanted to perform well at Englishtown's Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, his home track two weeks ago. But uncharacteristically he lost in the opening round for the second time in three races. So this showing helped recapture his momentum.
If it holds up through Saturday's two qualifying sessions, it would mark Brown's second No. 1 start in the past three events.
"Let me tell you, it's tough out here. In the last three races, we've been fighting all kinds of things that have been happening. So it felt good to get that run in like that. S it was actually like a breath of fresh air."
Brown's and Schumacher's 1-2 start in qualifying -- it was the reverse order in the opening session -- came on the day the news became public that FRAM/Prestone will not returning after this season to NHRA Drag Racing as sponsor and marketing partner of the Don Schumacher Racing dragster that Spencer Massey drives.
If this holds up, it will be Brown's second of the season and 31st of is career.
BETTER LEFT UNSPOKEN - Sometimes it’s better to not ask questions.
Bob Tasca III isn’t about to inquire about his good fortunes at Bristol Dragway. Tasca ran a 4.063, 310.48 to wrestle the top spot away from Robert Hight and head into Saturday’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol as the provisional No. 1 qualifier.
If the run holds it will be his second consecutive Bristol pole position.
“I don’t know what it is about Bristol, but I love racing here at Thunder Valley,” Tasca said. “We had been looking for a run like that for the last few races. We were on it in Englishtown until we put a hole out at half-track. That obviously killed that run.”
Friday in Bristol the valley turned into a peak.
“Dickie [Venables], Chris [Cunningham] and Marc [Denner] are really working together and making this car smooth,” said Tasca. “The thing has been shaking for the last four or five races. I couldn't even see for 200 feet and I’m laughing when I got back to the pits because I can finally see out of it now. I can see out of the car and keep it dead-nuts center.”
Last year in similar Bristol conditions Tasca ran a 4.05 to claim the No. 1 spot.
“I don’t think you are going to see that this time,” said Tasca. “I think the 4.06 is pretty safe.”
One might think the Bristol success could be relevant to the team’s adaptation to the humidity of the southeast since his team is based in Concord, NC.
“I don’t know … someone suggested Bristol might just be my lucky track,” Tasca explained. “We haven’t won here yet, so we aren’t THAT lucky. Dickie, Marc and Chris have a good handle on this car, that’s what it is.”
Tasca said the fortunes of his team have been changing over the last few races.
“We just haven’t had luck go our way when we needed it,” Tasca said. “Clearly this Ford Boss engine is making a lot of power. It’s really applying the power. That’s the big change. We’ve been struggling with tire shake. When the car is shaking, it is not happy. It makes it unpredictable and hard to drive. It moves it around in the groove.
“Our goal in Englishtown was to make the car smooth. I don’t know what they are doing to it, but it is smooth and happy. The driver’s happy and the car’s happy.”
And that’s enough to keep Tasca from asking questions.
HOME SWEET HOME - Home is where your heart is and for Allen Johnson, his heart was with his dad in celebrating success at the family’s proclaimed home drag strip.
Friday in Bristol, the Greenville, Tenn.-based Johnson drove his Pro Stock Dodge Avenger to the No. 1 qualifying position in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. He ran a track record 6.623-second pass at 207.75 miles per hour.
“It’s such a blessing to be here,” said Johnson, who has qualified on the pole at Bristol the last three seasons. “This is for the boys who take care of me all year and get to come out here and see what we do. It’s the same thing for my family. The Mopar Dodge crew is absolutely hitting on all eight cylinders.
“It’s just awesome that this could be three in a row and because it’s at home makes it an awesome experience.”
On a Friday evening, when Allen could have thrown barbs at his quickly escalating rivalry with KB Racing, instead he chose to focus on his father and engine builder Roy Johnson, who suffered a heart attack in February 2007.
“It’s been five years since I thought I lost him,” Johnson said. “I watched him quit breathing and fall over there in the hospital room. There was a period of five minutes where I didn’t know if he lived or died. That was a very trying moment for us. He’s been hitting on all cylinders ever since. He’s been working his butt off.”
Johnson leads Mike Edwards, who is second with a 6.641-second pass. Johnson’s teammate Vincent Nobile was third with a 6.667.
To say emotions were running high for the hometown favorite was an understatement.
“I’m a pretty low key guy but I get sentimental,” Johnson admitted. “Dad had his engines in the top two spots during the first session and the top three at the end of the day. It’s just awesome to see him succeed. I always knew he would do well when we started back in 1996. To do it here in front of his friends, who love to see him do what he does, is so great.”
HELP WANTED - Top Fuel owner-driver Terry McMillen is helping raise funds for Wheelie Wagon wheelstanding car owner-driver Ryan Gortney, who sustained serious injuries June 3 in a testing accident at Osceola (Ind.) Dragway.
Gortney was preparing for an appearance at the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at nearby Route 66 Raceway at Joliet, Ill. His car crashed, cartwheeling him end over end three times. That left the Granger, Ind., resident with multiple broken vertebrae in his neck and mid-back, a broken rib, bruised lungs, and a severe spinal cord injury.
The benefit from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, June 24, at Osceola Dragway will feature a silent auction that will offer Whirlpool appliances, a portable generator, autographed items from Bob Tasca III and John Force, two Saturday tickets to an NHRA race as a guest of McMillen's Amalie Oil/UNOH/Motor State Dragster team. A 50-50 raffle will raise additional funds to help Gortney with his recovery, and fans will have chances to win door prizes every half-hour.
Local and Midwest car-show regulars will have their prized rides on hand, including the Hot Wheels Mustang of Scott Wahlstrom, the Motor State marketing representative. Casey Mears' GEICO-sponsored show-car replica of his NASCAR Spring Cup Series Dodge also will be on display.
All proceeds from the fundraiser during Osceola Dragway's National Dragster Challenge will go to Gortney's recovery.
Gortney is a teacher at the Elkhart Area Career Center, and his students have won competitions to participate in the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge at Las Vegas. Through McMillen, he has Amalie Oil sponsorship for the Wheelie Wagon.
Racers will have the chance at the event to become licensed to drive McMillen's Competition Eliminator car.
SECOND DRAGSTER COMING SOON? - The second hauler is wrapped and the car already is sitting ready to run. The biggest question mark is who will be Terry McMillen's Top Fuel teammate when the car rolls out sometime after the Western Swing to Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle. Plans for the Armed Forces Racing Dragster surfaced in February at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., and along with that Hoosier Thunder Motorspors hospitality area would be job fairs for unemployed military veterans. However, funding details have put the program on hold since then. McMillen said Friday the second car might race the remainder of the season or might appear at two or three selected races. McMillen said that depends on funding terms. He declined to name the driver he is leaning toward selecting, hinting only that the racer will be a male and he's one who already has a Top Fuel license. He said he has had several offers to drive the car.
NO BRUTE - Tim Wilkerson said he didn't want to be "a brute" and keep his foot in the throttle of his special-edition Diversified Yacht Services Shelby Ford Mustang during Friday night qualifying. But he's 16th, ahead at least of Cruz Pedregon and Todd Lesenko overnight. What saved him is his 4.257-second pass in the opening session. "Dropped a hole at the hit, so it wasn't going to be good enough anyway," Wilkerson said of the second try. "Rather than be a brute and keep my foot in it and then blow it up like we did in Topeka, I thought it was smarter to get out of it and let it live to see another day. That day will be tomorrow, and we'll just have to find a way to get our LRS and Diversified Yacht Services Ford into the field. Once you're in, you can win. That's the only way to look at it."
NOT IN BRISTOL THIS WEEKEND - For the second NHRA national event in a row, Greg Stanfield is parking his Pro Stock Camaro.
Stanfield didn’t compete at Englishtown, N.J., and he also didn’t make the trip to the Thunder Valley Nationals this weekend at Bristol, Tenn.
“We are just regrouping right now to try and get our financial situation where we can afford to race,” Stanfield said Thursday in an interview with Competition Plus. “That’s where we are at.”
Stanfield has competed at eight national events this season, the last coming at Topeka, Kan., on May 20. Stanfield is 12th in the point standings. He finished seventh in the points last season.
“I really didn’t have a primary sponsor, I just had a bunch of people (helping out),” Stanfield said. “We are working some things and hopefully something will come about here in the next couple of weeks so we can get back out there.”
Stanfield, however, was hesitant to name an exact race where he will return.
“It is hard to say, it could be soon, and it could be late, but we are coming back,” Stanfield said. “Financially we were struggling to keep it running and our power department is down. We need to regroup and try and get some money where we can work on these motors. We have been running the same stuff since 2010. The Camaro is really good. We are really happy with that. We will come back and do something, but at this point I can’t say Chicago (June 28-July 1), Norwalk (Ohio) (July 5-8), Denver (July 20-22), I do not know. It could be Indy (Aug. 29-Sept. 3). It is hard to say.”
Stanfield runs his own business Stanfield Enterprises based in Bossier City, La.
“It’s brutal right now,” said Stanfield when asked about how the economy is for racers. “We do not want to give up, but we have to race within our means.”
Stanfield debuted his Jerry Haas-built Camaro at NHRA’s national event at The Strip in Las Vegas March 30-April 1.
“I ran the Camaro at Vegas, Houston, Atlanta and Topeka,” Stanfield said. “We went and tested before Topeka and broke two motors and that really put us behind. We have had a lot of freak failures this season.” - Tracy Renck
CAN HE RELY ON 'BRISTOL BOOST' AGAIN? - Tim Wilkerson's camp is calling it "The Bristol Boost." It's his label for the phenomenon of the role Bristol Dragway plays each year in his quest for a Funny Car series championship. The dates for this race have shifted around the calendar throughout recent seasons, but whenever Wilkerson visits, he feels the Southern Hospitality. The place always seems to deliver whatever he needs at the time. This time, the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang owner-driver needs to break into the top 10. He's 11th, trailing No. 10 Jeff Arend by 36 points.
The Springfield, Ill., veteran has developed an undesirable habit of starting his seasons slowly, but the Bristol stop on the tour is like visiting a spa. He leaves invigorated, refreshed, and renewed for a run at the title. In July 2007, Wilkerson qualified No. 1 in Thunder Valley and went to the semifinal. He didn't need too much help from Bristol in 2008, his best season ever as a pro, but the next year he used a semifinal finish to cement his spot in the Countdown. He turned his 2010 performance around here with a final-round appearance. A faulty safety switch shut off his car on its way to an apparent victory. The late-day action, tough, sparked momentum for back-to-back victories at the next two races, at Norwalk, Ohio, and Seattle.
He didn't make much of a splash here last year, with an opening-round loss. But maybe in a twisted way, it inspired a strong Western Swing that ended with his third straight triumph at Seattle.
So naturally Wilkerson would like to use Thunder Valley as his springboard for another successful stretch on hot summer tracks.
"Looking back, it's kind of interesting to see how Bristol has played a role in so many seasons for us, so I'm all for getting back to that this weekend," Wilkerson said. "Last year, we waited a long time before we really got going, and without the runner-up in Sonoma and the win in Seattle we wouldn't have made the playoffs. That was pushing it a bit too far, so the goal this weekend is to get over the hump and get this LRS Mustang rolling.
"It's a great facility, a typical Bruton Smith track, but it's not without some challenges and that's OK by me. If every track was as smooth as a billiard table with perfect grip, there wouldn't be much drama out there," he said. "So I like the challenge of finding the bumps and the loose spots over the course of the weekend. Every track that has a tunnel running under it has a small bump, that's just a fact of geology, so the teams that can handle those tough spots the best are going to do well. Bristol has two tunnels, so you have to be sharp, and I think we've done a pretty good job of it over the years."
He said, "We're getting better, but it's a pretty simple formula and the only thing that counts is what happens on the track. You have to win rounds, plain and simple. We'll never get into the playoff picture if we don't earn it by winning the rounds it will take to get ahead of some people. So in that regard it's in our hands. If we win rounds, we'll be in the playoffs. If we don't, that's our fault. If we race as well as we usually do in Bristol, good things will happen."
THEY'LL START WINNING - While current Funny Car champion Matt Hagan and seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher are more than primed to break their winless streaks, one person at Don Schumacher Racing who isn't feeling sorry for the organization's two headliners is Tommy Johnson Jr. He has been successful in both nitro classes as a driver, and he knows how difficult it can be for anyone to win any race on any weekend. But he also knows the quality of these two drivers and their teams, and he said this week he expects both to come alive as the season heads toward the halfway point.
As for Hagan's plight which has left him out of the top 10 and with just three round-wins for the season so far, Johnson said, "They've had some dumb luck. They had some things earlier in the season where . . .yeah, that was a bad call. It's one of those years where 99 times that would have been the right choice and this one time you go, 'Aww- that wasn't even close to being the right choice.' It's just one of those years that everything you think and do will be the wrong thing.
"But these last few races, they have actually run very well. They've had some stupid stuff happen to them, things that you go, 'I've never seen that happen.' And they go, 'Yeah, no kiddin'.' It's just one of those things," he said. "Everything that went perfect for them last year, things that could have been ugly last year, this year . . . well, that didn't work out very good. Sometimes things fall your way. Sometimes they don’t. Last year some of these things wouldn’t have been a big deal but this year [the conversation is ] 'Oh, God, how did that happen?' "
Johnson said Aaron’s / Mopar Dodge Charge crew chief Tommy DeLago and assistant Glen Huszar were calculating points and scenarios at the Brownsburg, Ind., shop before traveling to Bristol and found a nugget of encouragement. Johnson said, "They said, 'We're only two rounds out' [of 10th place]. ' He told them, 'You're right there.'
No. 10 Jeff Arend has 388 points. Tim Wilkerson is in 11th place, 36 points behind. Hagan is 12th, 10 points behind Wilkerson and 46 out of making the provisional Countdown field with seven races remaining in the so-called "regular season." The Countdown field will be set by Labor Day weekend at the end of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
"I expect them to be in," Johnson said. "They will hit their stride. Yeah, they've got to get their act together. But I don't think it's a thing where you go, 'Yeah, we're done.' Look at [resurgent Ron] Capps -- all of a sudden -- bam! He's in second place, closing in on the lead.
Schumacher's story is different from Hagan's. The U.S. Army Dragster driver hasn’t won since October 2009, at Las Vegas. But he has led the standings on two separate occasions this season, advanced to four final rounds, and qualified first at Atlanta.
So Johnson said he not only pays no attention to some of the ignorant idle chatter about that team's performance, but he also warns the naysayers.
"People were saying, 'The Army car can't win a race.' I said, 'You'd better hope they don't,' " Johnson said. "They are so close. They haven't run bad. They've run grrrreat!! Anyone else would loooove to have what they've had. But when they do win, you'd better look out, because they're so close [to a winning combination] that they're liable to win six in a row. That Army team is running so good that win they do win, they could win a whole string of them. I told everybody I'd take what they're doing, because it's pretty darn good.
Last year, when Schumacher led the field six times and reached seven final rounds, he shook his head at the possibility he -- like Rob Bruins years ago in Top Fuel and like Eddie Krawiec in 2008 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class -- might win a championship without winning any races. That might be the only method Schumacher hasn’t used to earn a series crown. But Schumacher said, "We don’t want to be doing that."
Here it looms as a possibility again. Said Johnson, "The way they're running right now, they very possibly could. But I don't foresee them not winning races. They'll probably win multiple races by the time the year's over."
DSR VP SET TO RACE AGAIN - Mike Lewis, senior vice-president of Don Schumacher Racing and former Maple Grove Raceway general manager who remains on its board of directors, will be back in the seat of a race car.
He'll compete a week from Saturday (June 23) in the Auto-Plus Cavalcade of Funny Cars during the Reading, Pa., track's 50th Anniversary Spectacular. But he'll be in a different car than he had expected to be.
Lewis originally was planning to drive "Stardust," a famous brand name that his boss, Don Schumacher, campaigned in the 1970s. However, Lewis said, "Justin Grant sold 'Stardust' and we substituted the Brand X car into the field."
He wasn't speaking in the generic sense -- that's the name of Henry Gutierrez's Ford Mustang that was the popular centerpiece of the Texas Jungle race team. This Brand X version is a revival of the Funny Car that Texas star Cecil Lankford drove.
Lewis, who is no slouch behind the wheel, said he's ready to race again.
"Just made some 5.60 passes in an A/FD to get back up to speed," he said this week. "I'm grateful to Henry Gutierrez for the opportunity."
Twice he was runner-up in the Top Alcohol Dragster class at the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals and once at the Geezers Reunion, to Peter Gallen, while driving the Wonder Wagon Funny Car, another of Schumacher's storied hot rods.
Tuning the car will be legendary team owner / crew chief Paul Smith, and this pairing will be a first. "I've known Paul for 40 years but never drove a car that he tuned," Lewis said.
The Cavalcade features eight nitromethane-powered Funny Cars and eight Alcohol Funny Cars that promise to be one of many highlights during an historic day. Said Lewis, "We'll be racing in an all-star field for sure."
Maple Grove's gates open at noon June 23 for a full day of racing at noon that includes a car show and a bracket race showcasing Maple Grove’s weekly racers. The main event will start at 6 p.m., with introductions from Bob Frey, the voice of the NHRA, along with grand marshal and Funny Car legend Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. The first round of racing is set for 7 p.m. and will include eight alcohol Funny Cars, Jet Dragsters and Jet Funny Cars, a Jet Truck, and a Wheelstander.
Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for teens 13-15. Children ages 12 and under will be admitted free.
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK: PREPARING FOR THE THUNDER
LOOKING AHEAD - Steve Torrence is planning for the Countdown, although the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series has seven races to go after this week's Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. That's not to say he thinks he's in the catbird seta after winning two of the first nine races. But he has won two of the past three (perfect in two final-round appearances), is fifth in the standings, has a 15-7 elimination record, and has qualified no worse than second at the past four events.
The Kilgore, Texas, Capco Contractors Dragster owner-driver said he's not counting points: "The only time points matter is at the final race at Pomona." He said, "We will continue to do the same things."
But Torrence said though he doesn't "want to get the cart before the horse" and "will continue to take it one race, one round at a time," he and crew chief Richard Hogan are war-gaming the Countdown. "Richard has been out here long enough to know exactly how to run the car," Torrence said. "He knows we are going to need a lot of inventory for the Countdown. We are making plans for the Countdown now."
And he has faith n himself. "We have had some success. I don't think that it is just a flash in the pan. I do think we have a very good team," he said.
JUST A BLESSING TO BE WITH KIDS - Johnny Gray, Funny Car's most recent winner, said earning his career-second trophy in the class two weeks ago was wonderful but he's not frittering away time wallowing in the triumph. "You know, it was great to get that win, but that was then and this is now," Gray said. "And this NTB/Service Central team has shifted gears and is focusing on what it will take to repeat. I can tell you that we are all very focused on taking everything that we've learned so far and building on it in Bristol.
"I feel just as confident as anyone out there right now," he said. "There is no reason we can't get two in a row. My car is running as well as anybody's, and I think my team is better than anyone's. There is absolutely no reason in the world that we can't turn around, go right to Bristol and double up."
His elder son, Shane Gray, will show off his brand-new NTB/Service Central Chevy Camaro in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class. Younger son Jonathan Gray will compete in the Lucas Oil Series, driving the Service Central Pontiac GTO in the Competition Eliminator class.
"It's such a special weekend, and you always hope that you can make it even more special," Gray said. "It would be great to win a race with both kids there, but really, just being with the family on Fathers Day is such a blessing. It's so much more than so many other families have. And if all that happens is I get to spend the weekend with my kids, well so be it. It's going to be a great time, no matter what."
CAPPS CREEPING UP - Funny Car points leader Robert Hight won four of this season's first five races (in a row) in the Auto Club Ford Mustang and has been the runaway leader in the standings. He led the John Force Racing contingent as it claimed the first six Funny Car Wallys. However, the balance has begun to shift. No. 2-ranked Ron Capps, of Don Schumacher Racing, remains 157 points off the pace. Still Hight might want to keep his eye on Capps and the NAPA Dodge Charger. Since Hight's last victory, in the Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte, Capps has beaten him three straight times, including in the final round at Atlanta. "We're creeping up on Robert," Capps said. "Catching him before the Countdown to the Championship is not out of the question."
Capps is seeking his third Bristol victory. He won here in 2001 and 2006. His crew chief, Rahn Tobler, who has guided him to five straight final rounds since moving over from Jack Beckman's team, had a better effort at Bristol in their most recent visit. Capps qualified 11th and lost in the opening round. Beckman started fourth and was runner-up to Hight. "Rahn had great success there a year ago," Capps said, "so I hope that can transfer over to us this weekend."
'ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THOSE HILLS' - Top Fuel team owner-driver Morgan Lucas said picturesque Bristol Dragway is "my favorite track to race at and to even just watch racing." But he indicated the fabled East Tennessee facility has its own mystique that can help, aggravate, or even fool a driver. "The performance we'll get will be dictated by the weather," he said. "Conditions are pretty unpredictable at that track. I've seen it hot, seen it cold. I've sat through rain and hail – just about anything can happen in those hills. The mountains around the track can really change the conditions in a hurry. You've got to be as perfect you possibly can be every time you roll up to the line." Just the same, he said, "We just want to try and put on a clinic this weekend. Thunder Valley is one of those tracks where I've always wanted to win. This weekend would be a perfect time to get it done."
He said when he isn't running his GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster, Lucas said, he likes to "watch some of qualifying from the motor home at the top of the hill. Everywhere you turn at this track, there's something new to see." He and his team spent Thursday enjoying some of East Tennessee's natural splendor. They went boating. "It's a chance for us to all relax and press the reset button a little bit to get our heads right for a long weekend of racing. The cool thing is we all like to hang out with each other. The camaraderie of this crew has been fantastic," the two-time winner who's No. 4 in the standings said.
IF YOU CAN BEAT 'EM, WHY NOT HIRE 'EM? - Dodge Avenger driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. was in an unfamiliar spot after the Englishtown race: out of the Pro Stock class' top 10. He's just 13 points out of the provisional Countdown field and hoping for some Bristol magic like he had in 2007, when he beat Kenny Koretsky in the final round. Coughlin has an11-7 record in Pro Stock eliminations in nine appearances at Bristol Dragway. He's hoping he found some in hiring veteran tuner Eddie Guarnaccia -- ironically, the crew chief who tuned Koretsky to that final round against him at Bristol five years ago.
Guarnaccia joined the Tomi Laine-led JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge team immediately after the Englishtown event as they went straight to Bristol Dragway and tested.
"Eddie went over the car from front to back and corner to corner, and it felt different right from the first hit," Coughlin said. "We ended up making 11 runs over three days, and our elapsed times were right there with the top guys testing there. Eddie goes about things a different way, and that's exactly what we needed. We needed a fresh set of eyes."
Guarnaccia will work with Laine, who has been with the group since it was formed late last year. They will continue to get horsepower from JNR Racing Engines, a Charlotte-based shop owned by JEGS, Nick Ferri, and Roy Simmons.
"We've had all the pieces here to be successful," Coughlin said. "The crew is made up of a bunch of guys who have won championships both here and in Europe. The engine shop is first-rate. We have an awesome race car. We just haven't put the puzzle together correctly just yet. I feel like we've made a giant move in the right direction, adding Eddie to the team. He's a longtime friend and a hard-working guy who really wants to win and knows how to get it done. I see nothing but good times ahead."
FAST JACK, SLOW BOB SHARE WEEKEND - Jack Beckman will be missing his children on Fathers Day, but the No. 5-ranked Funny Car driver will have his dad with him at Bristol as he participates in the family-themed Fathers Day track walk. "My dad gets to come to about eight races a year and it will be special having him at Bristol on Father's Day," Beckman, driver of the Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger said. "After we moved to the West Coast, Dad had two kids to raise and started a new career. So he has been racing vicariously through me."
Bob Beckman, 75, who calls himself "Slow Bob" in contrast to son "Fast Jack," often rides his motorcycle to races from his Arlington, Texas, home. If Jack Beckman earns a Wally trophy, he plans to give it to his dad, he said, not sharing whether he would mail the statue to Texas or strap it to his father's bike. He almost found out last year how it would work -- he was runner-up to Robert Hight.
"It's a unique experience at Bristol, whether you're racing or being a spectator," Beckman said. "No racetrack captures the sound like Bristol. When you whomp the throttle, the sound of 8,000 horsepower echoes three times off the sides of the canyon walls. It's the ultimate place to see and hear our cars."
LOTS OF CONFIDENCE-BOOSTERS - She has her "new Bristol friends," a corrected piston problem that knocked her out of Funny Car contention at Englishtown, a career-best 4.040 elapsed time in her pocket, and excitement about racing at a facility he only go to peek at last March. What more does Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry driver Alexis DeJoria need as she heads to Bristol Dragway?
She never has raced here, but she was a guest last spring at the NASCAR Food City 500, where she was a drag-arcing ambassador to the stock-car world and was able to see the dragstrip next door for the first time. "It’s so cool how the whole complex is built into the valley," DeJoria said. "I've been excited to race Bristol ever since. From what I hear, the surface is nice and smooth, and when the weather is right, you can put up some great numbers there. I've also heard a lot of fans talk about the acoustics there and how they carry pretty well. Compared to the NASCAR cars, our cars are so loud. It'll be neat to hear what it sounds like when we fire them up!
"This should be a good weekend for us. Our car has been consistent, our team is feeling good, and we have the excitement of racing at this track for the very first time," she said. "When we were here for the NASCAR race, we had the opportunity to meet the local fan base, and they were awesome! We were an NHRA team in NASCAR territory, but they embraced us with open arms. I'm looking forward to putting on an exciting show for all our new Bristol friends."
As for her outstanding E.T. in qualifying at Englishtown, DeJoria said, "Running that 4.040 really set the tone for the rest of the season. We always knew we were capable of running those competitive numbers, but that pass proved it to everyone else and gave us that extra kick of confidence we needed."
VIVA BRISTOL, BABY! - Robert Hight, last year's Funny Car winner at Bristol, set the track records at 4.047 seconds and 316.45 mph last June in the Auto Club Ford Mustang. That speed mark, which he clocked in the semifinal round and backed up with a 314.90 mph in the final round, was the national speed record (his first) when he left a year ago. (Jack Beckman has the distinction today, at 318.99 mph.) Today, the points leader is just two round-wins away from joining an illustrious list of Funny Car drivers who have won 250 rounds or more. This weekend, Hight could join boss John Force (1,103), Tony Pedregon (502), Cruz Pedregon (451), Ron Capps (444), and Tim Wilkerson (261). And he could do it 171 races (including Bristol), at a pace of nearly 1.5 round wins per race. The only driver who has a better round-win-to-race ratio is Force (1.85).
"Getting round wins is what this sport is all about. I remember when John got his 1,000th round win in St. Louis a few years ago. I don't know if I'll get that many but you look at the list of guys who have won 250 rounds and it is an impressive group. These are drivers you want to pattern your career after" the 2009 champion said.
To reach the exclusive plateau, Hight will channel Elvis in an Elvis 35th Anniversary / AAA Insurance Ford Mustang. Representing Elvis Presley Enterprises, even if it across the state from Elvis's beloved Memphis, is as thrilling as going for a back-to-back feat at Bristol Dragway. "Elvis has fans all over the world, and to be associated with a person of that stature is amazing," Hight said "Music has always been an important part of my life, and when you think of rock 'n' roll, the first name that pops into your head is Elvis."
Hight's wife, Adria, has her own recording label and has sung in a band for the past few years, and her mother and dad, John Force, both have been keen Elvis Presley fans. But Adria Hight also is a Robert Hight fan, and she'll be cheering for her husband to write those historic accomplishments at this historic racetrack.
THOSE ARE STILL RECORDS?! - The Pro Stock records at Bristol Dragway, surprisingly, are three years old. Mike Edwards set the E.T. record at 6.633 seconds in May 2009, and Greg Anderson was fastest at 207.94 mph that same weekend. That's quite a bit slower than the national marks (Jason Line's 6.477 seconds from last October at Reading, Pa., and his 213.91 mph this April at Charlotte). Moreover, the current Bristol Dragway Pro Stock E.T. record -- Edwards 6.633 -- wouldn't have gotten a No. 1 qualifying position at any race this year except the one at Las Vegas. There Line used a 6.659 to lead the field, the slowest top spot in the class this season.
LIKES BRISTOL AND HIS CHANCES - It was just Shawn Langdon's luck this year. He qualified third at Englishtown with a Friday-evening pass of 3.742 seconds that was fourth-quickest in NHRA history. But former teammate Morgan Lucas edged him with a 3.739, and Spencer Massey, with whom he has had a bit of a rivalry all of his Top Fuel career, outdid both of them with the quickest-ever run of 3.728 seconds.
But as Langdon enters the Bristol race that's 10th of 17 "regular-season" races and approaching the halfway point of the 23-event season, he's eighth in the standings. That's especially positive, considering he has four first-round exits in the first nine races and just two semifinal efforts. Langdon chooses to focus on the positives.
"With the way the Al-Anabi car is starting to run, going to Bristol, I really like our chances this weekend in Thunder Valley. I definitely still feel the Al-Anabi team is moving in the right direction," he said. "The car is showing really good signs of improvement, . . . responding to what we want it to do. We ran into a little mechanical problem on Sunday in the second round at Englishtown which caused us to smoke the tires, so it's just these little things that continue to plague us. We're working through these gremlins now so we won't have these problems when the Countdown starts."
He said he loves racing at Bristol" "It's my favorite track on the tour because of the setting and the way it sits between the mountains. When the cars hit the gas, the echo off the mountains, the whole setting of driving into the mountains, it's just my favorite track on the tour."
MAKING HAY - As DSR publicist Jeff Wolf pointed out, "The phrase 'making hay while the sun shines' refers to cutting hay when it's not saturated with rain and it's not heavy. In drag racing parlance," he said, struggling Funny Car champion Matt Hagan can use this weekend to make hay with another big move, like his No. 5 start and quarterfinal finish at Englishtown.
That was his second-best starting position this year, and his 4.035-second elapsed time was much quicker than the 4.110 that put him No. 4 on the grid at Phoenix in Race No. 2 (and would have dropped him to 14th at Englishtown). So doing cartwheels about qualifying fifth might not sound so terrific, but it shows Hagan is making progress.
The 29-year-old cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va., literally has been making hay at his property, and he'd like to do it, figuratively speaking, in front of family members and lots of friends at this race that's just about 100 miles from his home.
"Folks might be getting tired of me saying this, but we are so close to turning the corner," Hagan said. "We still have a problem dropping cylinders, but on the 4.03 all eight kept firing and you can see what the result was. We're getting there." Referring to crew chief Tommy DeLago, he said, "Tommy' closing in on it."
BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE SOME LUCK? - Khalid alBalooshi joined the Al-Anabi Racing Team as a Pro Mod driver when it was formed in 2009 and has raced with its maroon and gold banner in both Arabian Drag Racing League and American Drag Racing League competition. He's the current NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod champion with 158 career victories in various classes of competition. But he's 0-8 in his rookie Top Fuel season, qualifying well but not able to break into the quarterfinals or the top 10 in the standings. "We are way behind in points, and we need to be in a much better spot," the No. 13 ranked driver said. "We have the same equipment as everyone else, but we just need to find our luck. We do a good job in qualifying, but we have not found our luck on Sunday. One day, the Al-Anabi team will do as well in eliminations as we do in qualifying, and I hope that starts this weekend."
237 YEARS AND GOING STRONG - The U.S. Army will celebrate its 237th birthday this weekend, and Army-sponsored Top Fuel drivers Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown will share in a cake-cutting ceremony Saturday at the starting line just before Top Fuel qualifying. For Schumacher, it probably seems like 237 years since he won his last race, but it's only 32 events since October 2010. Brown, always antsy to get back in the race car, probably feels like 237 years have gone by since he lost in the first round at Englishtown. But of course, it has been not even two weeks.
"It would be great if we can present the Army and my dad nicely wrapped gifts on Sunday afternoon," Schumacher said of team owner dad Don and a long-awaited Wally trophy for the Army Dragster team. "We are way overdue to get to the winners circle. People have been asking me if I have forgotten how to get there. Don't forget: we've been there 67 times. I'm confident it will all come back to us pretty quickly. Even though we haven’t won, we have one of the baddest hot rods out there right now. This new DSR chassis seems to be doing exactly what we want it to do." Schumacher set the Bristol Dragway speed record at 322.34 mph a year ago.
Brown, too, is confident. He said he has "all the confidence in the world we will continue to improve with each passing race. We had a little bit of a hiccup in New Jersey, but there's a new race weekend in front of us. You always want to be leading the points, but we're in third at the moment, and that's not bad at all. We're right there in the thick of the battle, which is where you want to be. It's just been little things that have bit us the last few weeks, but we'll have our Aaron's/Matco dragster right and tight for Bristol."
Both perk up at the prospect of racing at Bristol Dragway. "What separates it from a lot of the places we go to is that there are so many passionate racing fans," Brown said. "And the place is just incredible. It's an adrenaline rush to hear the sound of an 8,000-horsepower Top Fuel engine bouncing off the mountains that surround the track." Schumacher, who has won three times to share the class-best honors with Larry Dixon and Cory McClenathan, added, "It's a beautiful facility with a great racing surface. If the weather gods cooperate, you can usually put up some good numbers. We have been fortunate to win as many races as we have there (2000, '03. '05)."
BRISTOL BEEN BERRY, BERRY GOOD TO ME - Two semifinal finishes and a runner-up finish in the past three have Brandon Bernstein thinking this really could be his weekend to break a 67-race slump (since Oct. 2009 at Richmond). Moreover, he said, "we've had a lot of success at Bristol," referring to his victories there in 2003 and 2007 and his 2010 runner-up showing. He also owns the track elapsed-time record at 3.828 seconds, which he set last June. "Bristol has been great to us. I love going there. Hopefully that breeds more success."
The MAVTV/Lucas Oil Dragster driver is scheduled to participate in Sunday's track walk with Johnny and Shane Gray, Morgan Lucas, Jack Beckman, and Erica Enders. "We've done a lot of track walks, but it's Father’s Day, so it's going to be an extra special track walk," Bernstein said. "In the past we've had the fortune of having my dad and my family here, but unfortunately it'll just be me this year. But the next best thing I can do is call them at the end of the day and hopefully tell them I got a Wally."
He had an adoptive racing family in the Lucases in this first year without his father as his team owner. "It's unbelievable over here," he said. "I love being over here with the Lucas family and Morgan. It's so much fun. We've really bonded, and I feel so comfortable. It's different, but it's a good different."
ROAD SHOW PROMOTES DRAG RACING - John Force has reinvented himself a few times in his long and highly successful career, and his fleet of Funny Cars has taken on different looks, as well. A few of them were on display this past week at shopping centers at Bristol, Kingsport, and Elizabethton to whip up some excitement about the Ford Thunder valley Nationals. Among the John Force Road Show exhibits were the "American Warbird" and "Superman" Mustangs. The Warbird ran -- and won -- at Norwalk, Ohio, in 2010, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the P-51 Mustang fighter plane from World War II. "Superman," with tuners Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, won the inaugural (1999) Winston Showdown at Bristol that pitted Funny Cars against Top Fuel dragsters. Force beat five Top Fuel dragsters to earn a $210,000 payout, the largest for a single event in history of the sport. The Castrol GTX 25th Anniversary edition, with crew chiefs Coil and Mike Neff, won six times in 2010 to give Force his 15th NHRA championship.
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