SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - SCHUMACHER GETS HIS BIG WIN IN INDY; SURPASSING GARLITS AND TYING GLIDDEN
Earlier this season Tony Schumacher couldn’t win a race.
At the biggest event on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series no one could stop him.
In one fell swoop at the rain-delayed NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Schumacher beat teammate Spencer Massey, eclipsed the Top Fuel most-win mark for the event and pulled into a tie for the most Indy wins.
Schumacher scored victory No. 69 in 3.806 seconds at 315.34 miles per hour and in doing so, scored an unprecedented ninth Top Fuel victory at the final event in the regular season. He pulled away from a tie with “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and into a tie with Bob Glidden for the most Indy victories.
“This might be sweeter than the first,” said Schumacher, who won his first Indy race in 2000. “Right now I’d say it’s more difficult than it’s ever been to win a race. There was a time when we were a tenth of second ahead of everybody; when it was me and Alan Johnson. We just had to stay away from making mistakes. Now we are all tied. The top seven cars are so close and it’s fantastic. How gratifying. And then to get a chance to win a nine, against my teammate and they are qualified better and running as good, if not better and they have lane choice. A perfect moment. Just a perfect moment.”
Schumacher had to drive his way to the final round in facing some tough drivers along the way. He opened with victories over Hillary Will, then Brainerd winner Morgan Lucas before getting the best of No. 1 qualifier Shawn Langdon in the semis.
Facing a known leaver in the final, Schumacher knew he had better be on his game if he hoped to win. Instead of focusing on his starting line leave he focused instead on just relaxing.
“I sure didn’t want to lose it,” Schumacher said. “I tend to stage shallow. Today I told Mike I wasn’t going to stage shallow. I wasn’t going to stage deep. I was just going to make one move all day. Lane choice or not, and I gave it up a few times but we had .035 lights. It’s not that hard to have a good light if you relax. It’s when you go in thin, you leave 40-percent on the guy and the other sixty percent, someone leaves on me. I have a better sixty-foot most of the time. Today, I was ‘forget it … I want to win Indy.
“Forget the stats, I am just going to roll in and do what everyone else does. That’s just how it is. We went out and won Indy doing it. It’s not a bad way to win. Lane choice at some places will help you win. When lane choice is important, you have to go in shallow. Here the lanes seemed to be fine. We did what we had to do, go out and try to win.
“I didn’t feel like my lights were stellar but I left on him. My goal was to leave on everybody. I did that and Mike made the car run fast. Here we are with the trophy.”
Schumacher understands the historic Indy trophy has a place in today’s record books. He dares not discount the importance of Garlits’ era when the schedules had less than half the number of races and the drivers were more than hired guns.
“What that man did was so different,” said Schumacher. “We just drive the cars. It’s a different world now. Those guys built their cars, drove their trucks and trailers, innovated the sport and went out and won Indy eight times.”
Schumacher said when he tied Garlitsl Garlits was there to cheer him on, a gesture he says, was inspiring. This time Garlits was back home with his wife Pat who is ill.
“Where he should be,” Schumacher said. “I appreciate the fact he was behind my car and clapping when we won No. 8. He’s a great guy who has done so much for the sport. I really don’t want to feel like I am taking anything away from him. He had a great record in a different time period. He accomplished so much and one day, people are going to pass me too.”
With Indy behind him, Schumacher now focuses on the Countdown, which begins this coming Friday in Charlotte, NC.
“We have six races now and we are starting in third, we need to win races,” Schumacher said. “If we want to be the Full Throttle champion this year, we need to continue on from what we did today and go to Charlotte and get a good start on it.”
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK (WEEK TWO) - LANGDON CONFIRMS AJ'S WARNING
Alan Johnson sent the warning his team would come alive at the right time. His driver Shawn Langdon provided the proof.
Johnson and the Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel team embarked on a new combination earlier this season intending to reach competitive strength once the Countdown arrived. The timing couldn’t have proven any more perfect as Langdon captured the No. 1 qualifying position at the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
This is the fourth pole position of Langdon's career and first in Indy. It was his first since joining Al-Anabi Racing in 2012.
“I think with the last few races we’ve seen the car respond very well to the changes they’ve made,” said Langdon. “We’ve been working on it all year. It’s been slowly progressing and hasn’t been as quickly progressing as they wanted. Fortunately, just having a great group of guys working on the car that are very understanding and working under the philosophy of ‘Alan will get it figured out’, we’ve tried to give him the best possible car. It’s starting to pay off now and we are starting to make some good runs.”
Langdon had a monster run during Saturday’s final qualifying session with a 3.740 elapsed time, the fourth quickest in Top Fuel history, established a new track record of 326.48 miles per hour at Lucas Oil Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
“Seeing Antron’s run ahead of us, a 3.76, showed it was out there,” Langdon admitted. “That 3.74 … that’s a very stout run.”
For Langdon, the run was an opportunity to show he’s a seasoned veteran at 30 years and six days old. He is the oldest professional low qualifier at this year's Indianapolis event.
“First time that’s ever happened,” said Langdon, who entered the Top Fuel ranks after winning two Lucas Oil Drag Racing series championships. “It just goes to show you there’s a bright future ahead for this sport and hopefully for guys like me even though I’m 30 and feel old.”
Armed with the confidence of a historic run, Langdon is ready for Sunday’s rain-delayed final eliminations. He’s hoping for his first win after five career final rounds, the most recent coming at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn.
“The last few months, in talking to Alan, I know it’s close,” Langdon said. “He keeps telling us, it’s there and to keep being patient. I think everyone [on the team] has been patient and knew this was there. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it last weekend when Sheikh Khalid was out here. Obviously we want to show Sheikh Khalid we’ve had a championship contending car, and I think he knows that, he’s very patient too. I had a pretty good talk with him last weekend about that and he knows we have a pretty good shot at it this year. I don’t think anyone can count us out. We’ve got a car that will be there in Pomona.”
And by his actions under the lights Saturday evening, Langdon proved Johnson’s warning prophetic.
GUNNING FOR TOP SEED - Antron Brown has more on the line Sunday then defending his Top Fuel title in the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis. He wants to leave the track as the No. 1-ranked team heading to the six-event Countdown to the Championship which begins next weekend.
Brown qualified No. 3 after the second weekend of the rain-delayed U.S. Nationals on the strength of a career-best time of 3.762 seconds at 322.50 mph. He starts eliminations with a 55-point lead over teammate Spencer Massey, who is qualified No. 2.
"It is important to Brown and Matco team to hold the points lead because points will be reset at 10-point increments after Sunday for the top-10 drivers qualifying for the Countdown to the Championship that will be contested over the last six events of the season," said Brown. "The points leader after Indy, which is the 17th event of the year, gets a 20-point bonus.
"It's really important. It's easy to lose a championship by less than 20 points. Our goal is to get every point we can get and we hope at the end of the season we have enough to win the it."
MILLICAN KNOWS CHALLENGE AHEAD OF HIM - As Saturday’s final round of Top Fuel qualifying neared an end, Clay Millican breathed a sigh of relief, knowing he would be racing in Sunday’s completion of the rain-delayed 58th annual U.S. Nationals.
“It was pretty close . . . but I felt like things would be okay,” he said. They were, and he wound up 15th overall after driving the Parts Plus dragster to a best of 3.894-seconds at 313.15-mph in the day’s opening session.
“We made some changes before our last run, but the car didn’t run like we wanted,” Millican added. “Now we’ll see what happens in the race.” He races Spencer Massey, who qualified second with a run of 3.762 and 324.51 mph
Also on the line are Millican’s playoff chances. He must win one more round than Bob Vandergriff, who now sits in the 10th and final berth in the last race before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin on Friday in Charlotte, N.C.
ALMOST MADE IT TO NO. 1 - Spencer Massey sat on the provisional pole for a week after rain washed out the last two qualifying sessions of the rain-delayed U.S. Nationals, and nearly closed the deal on Saturday night.
It took the fourth quickest run ever in NHRA to prevent Massey from winning his fourth pole of the season. Al-Anabi Racing's Shawn Langdon completed a run in 3.740 seconds at 322.50 that edged Massey's 3.762 (322.50) that he ran a week earlier.
"I'm not surprised no one ran quicker than what they did in the first session Saturday. The track wasn't quite there, but it was getting cooler before our last run and the track was coming around. The more cars that ran down the track made it get better and better.
"I knew there was a chance my (3.76) would be beaten."
DREAMING OF INDY WIN - With his postseason ticket already punched, all Morgan Lucas has to do this weekend is worry about winning drag racing's premiere event.
"To win the U.S Nationals would be awesome on so many levels," Lucas said. "We'd win in front of all our friends and family in our hometown, win the biggest race in drag racing and go into the Countdown winning two races in a row.
POTENTIAL RECORD IN WAITING - Tony Schumacher, who is looking to break his tie with Don Garlits and become the only driver in Top Fuel history to have nine U.S. Nationals triumphs, will face Hillary Will in the No. 4 versus No. 13 matchup.
“I’ve always said that, if you have a good match from the start, it makes you sit up in the seat right away,” Schumacher said. “I’ve faced Hillary many, many times and she’s going to be tough. You have to bring your best every time. I would rather be in my spot than anyone else. Nobody is going to drop the ball tomorrow. It’s going to be a great day and a great day for drag racing.”
YOU AGAIN? - Brandon Bernstein takes on No. 8 qualifier Doug Kalitta in the first round. Kalitta had a best pass of 3.823 seconds at 322.58 mph. It will be the fourth time this season and the second time in three races that Bernstein has raced Kalitta in the first round.
"We just can't seem to get away from those Kalitta guys," Bernstein said. "First it seemed like we were always going up against Grubby (David Grubnic) and now Doug keeps popping up.
"It's funny how you have streaks where you keep facing the same guys in this sport. We're going to be evenly matched and I'm expecting a good drag race."
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK -
SUNDAY - RAIN INVADES THE BIG GO; ACTION SCHEDULED FOR MONDAY
Persistent rains have forced NHRA officials to cancel the final two qualifying sessions for the Mac Tools U. S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Sunday. The fields for all the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series categories -- Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle -- have been set by the qualifying sessions that took place on Friday and Saturday.
Courtney Force in Funny Car, Spencer Massey in Top Fuel, Erica Enders in Pro Stock, and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle will begin eliminations Monday in the No. 1 position.
Fields in the Lucas Oil NHRA Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare RX have also been set.
In addition, the NHRA Traxxas Funny Car Showdown scheduled to run on Sunday has been postponed to a later date.
“We believe that with the forecast for the remainder of the day that it would be extremely difficult to get the track into racing condition,” said Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president racing operations. “We are planning to run a full day tomorrow.”
Sportsman racing will begin at 8:00 a. m. with the first round of eliminations for the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series to take place starting at 11 a. m.
HELLO, BUFFALO WILD WINGS? . . . - After blasting to his $100,000 bonus-race victory, Spencer Massey said Saturday night he had been hungry to win the Traxxas Nitro Shootout -- and any other race he's in. It will look especially impressive on a sponsorship proposal. His Prestone/FRAM deal will dissolve at the end of this season.
But, Massey said, "Winning races helps keep my seat in that race car."
He said he's hopeful Don Schumacher Racing will find a replacement before the 2013 season gets under way.
"We still need to find a sponsor. Hey, that car is yellow. We have Mello Yello as a sponsor next year, so at least it matches that. We need to find something," he said.
"Don Schumacher has so many great sponsors with the rest of the other Top Fuel cars and the Funny Cars that Don will keep us around. I'm certain that something will come up," Massey said.
Then he did a little soliciting of his own, saying, "I haven't heard any word yet, but if you know of anybody at Buffalo Wild Wings, that would be nice, because I like wings."
RECORD ON HORIZON? - Tony Schumacher is tied with "Big Daddy" Don Garlits with the most Top Fuel U.S. Nationals crowns in history – eight. Were he to win Monday -- and that's assuming the storm front from tropical depression Isaac won't wash away the rest of the weekend schedule -- he would become the first in class history to win for a ninth time. That would pull him into a tie with Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden for supremacy at this racetrack.
"It would definitely be a goal of mine, but I'm pretty proud of just being mentioned in the same sentence with [Garlits]," Schumacher said before the race began.
"It's a different world now than when he raced, though. There are more races. He'd win by two second. We win by inches. So in a lot of ways, it's almost a no-win situation. You go and beat him and everyone says, 'Oh, it's different, now.' And if you don't, they want to know why you didn't," Schumacher said.
"All we can do is show up with our A-plus game, and at the end of the day we'll know how it plays out," he said. "I think the most gratifying thing is "Big Daddy" Don Garlits standing behind my car pulling for me, for as important of a person as he is, as big of a role model as he is to drag racing, he likes to see those records broken.
"No one likes to see their own records fall, but it's what racing's been about. He built it, and he's a part of it, setting those records. But, like every great guy, he respects the fact there's somebody else out there doing what he did for all those years," Schumacher said. "Someday I hope to be out there doing the same thing, feeling the same way."
He's crossing his fingers that when Sunday dawns, it's rain-free and he has the chance to feel the same way he does tonight -- at the top of the Top Fuel leader board.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - A LONG DAY IN THE OFFICE YIELDS PAYDAY FOR MASSEY
CHA-CHING - In a bonus race that is helping to restore the luster to the 58-year-old U.S. Nationals, on a Saturday racing card that repeated rain delays threatened to cancel altogether, with a flourish that reflected his resilience, The Unsinkable Spencer Massey sent a clear message
to his Top Fuel colleagues.
Celebrating his $100,000 victory in the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout for the dragster class at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, the Prestone/FRAM Dragster driver he said the symbolic oversized check he received Saturday won't be his last.
"We want that championship this year!" he said, anticipating another giant cardboard check at the NHRA Finals at Pomona. And the way he ran roughshod over the rest of the Top Fuel competition during the Shootout rounds and qualifying for the NHRA's marquee event, Massey just might get his wish.
For Saturday night, though, he was content to appreciate the Traxxas Shootout triumph that makes him eligible for an even bigger payout if he wins the event.
Massey closed the deal by running a 3.780-second elapsed time at 325.61 mph on the 1,000-foot course in the Shootout final in a battle of Texans. The Fort Worth native defeated Kilgore's Steve Torrence, who lost traction in his Torrence Family Racing/Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster and settled for a 4.840, 155.70.
"Just making it into the Traxxas Shootout is huge," Massey said. "To win a race out here, especially this year, is amazing, because every car is bad to the bone."
He said winning the Winternationals in February to grab that first berth in the Shootout put his mind at ease for several months but that "the week leading up to this race, it's been pretty nail-biting."
Through a two-day test session, he wasn't quickest of the Top Fuel lot, but he said he and crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler knew they had gathered plenty of relevant data for this crucial event.
"We knew we had what it takes to win. We just had to put it all together," he said. "With the weather we were having and the way it was looking, it was tough to fathom getting to run all three rounds."
He didn't make it down the track under full power Friday night in his first qualifying chance, so he perked up considerably when he improved 21 positions right away Saturday.
With his triumph over Lucas in the second round of the Shootout -- which served as Q3 -- he unleashed his 3.762-second showing at 324.51 mph that carried him to the top of the order.
"Then in that final against Steve Torrence," Massey said, pausing as if the incomplete sentence said it all, "that car has been running on a string all year long. And he's wanting to win just as much as I am."
The two are longtime friends through Division 4 bracket racing in the Southwest. "We know exactly what it takes to do this, an it's extremely hard," Massey said. And Massey did it in style.
However, inside the car, it didn't seem quite so stylish. Massey was aware that it was nighttime, that the dew was setting in, and that it was humid. And he certainly couldn't ignore the fact the visor on his helmet was fogging up. He said he tried not to breathe but that the humidity caused him to sweat profusely and that fogged up the visor even more.
"All I saw was lights going every which way," he said. But he said he remembered his conversation with Okuhara just before taking off in his sweat-soaked chaos. He kept reaffirming with Okuhara that all he had to do was "go A to B, right? Go A to B." Okuhara nodded and told him, "A to B -- but very fast."
Massey always has said, like teammate Tony Schumacher, that he functions well in following orders. And that simple exchange calmed him down, kept him focused, and helped him navigate the less-than-ideal conditions.
It was a brilliant comeback for Massey, who had lost his points lead to Antron Brown at Brainerd two weeks ago in his first opening-round exit of the season.
"That was pretty devastating," Massey said of that weekend up north. "So we came in and did what we wanted to do. It was just right back to our old race car. That first round in Brainerd was almost a fluke. We just wiped that one out and came in here and did what we know how to do. It made us want it that much more. We already had been really hungry to run this Traxxas Shotout, because we were the first ones in it. And we said, 'Hey, we need to win it.' "
Massey defeated Dave Grubnic in the first round before meeting Torrence. In beating Lucas with a 3.762-second blast, he leaped to the provisional No. 1 qualifying position. If it holds through two scheduled qualifying sessions Sunday, it will be his fourth of the year.
"I don't do it for the cash. I do it for the wins," Massey said. "To drive a race car that goes 330 miles an hour, this is my life's dream. If I had to eat dirt to do it -- don't tell Don [team owner Don Schumacher] -- I would do it."
As he rode up the return road in front of the grandstands toward the winner's podium, Massey told the surprisingly hardy crowd, "All you fans who are out there right now, thank you for sticking around through all this rain. You are true race fans!"
Torrence beat Doug Kalitta and Brandon Bernstein to advance to the final. The final result was a familiar sight, for he had lost to Massey in the Norwalk, Ohio, showdown (after eliminating him in two of the previous three events). Torrence won here in 2005 in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, and he will be trying to earn his first U.S. Nationals Top Fuel victory while trying to thwart Massey's bid for a massive payday Monday.
OH BY THE WAY, HE'S NO. 1 TOO - Spencer Massey always has a smile on his young face, no matter what his circumstances on the racetrack have been. For the past two weeks, that smile has belied the fact he's fiercely competitive.
And losing the NHRA Top Fuel points lead -- thanks to a gut-punch first-round loss, no less -- was, by his description, a "devastating" experience. But he methodically figured out how to salve his wounds.
And it paid off -- figuratively but certainly literally.
Massey participated in a two-day test session at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and gathered data for Prestone/FRAM Dragster crew chiefs Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara to use in this Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. And Saturday -- despite rain delays, a creeping dew problem, nearly unbearable humidity that fogged up his visor, and the knowledge that he had to step up and get his performance level back into that other-worldly zone it's usually in -- Massey applied all the data.
He cranked out a stunning 3.762-second elapsed time at 324.51 mph on the 1,000-foot course during the third overall qualifying session -- which doubled as the semifinals of the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout. It lifted Massey to the No. 1 qualifying position -- ahead of earl y leader Tony Schumacher and sizzling-hot Morgan Lucas, and the re-awakening Shawn Langdon, and new points leader Antron Brown.
And it played a pivotal role in his masterful Traxxas Nitro Shootout victory over finalist Steve Torrence that brought his Don Schumacher Racing organization the $100,000 winner's share of the bonus-race purse.
Winning the Traxaas Shootout was Massey's goal for two weeks. And being No. 1 qualifier to boot made it even sweeter. Before the event began, he said he planned to "take all of our great performances from all year long and bottle it into three runs in a row so we can get that $100,000."
Saturday night he said, "I think we did. Especially with that (3.)76, it showed we knew what it takes to get down the racetrack. I'm extremely happy for all my guys, for all the people at DSR. This would not have happened without the guys who work every day, including the guys back at the shop who build my chassis, to get these cars together."
His 3.762 erased Larry Dixon's September 2010 E.T. mark of 3.776 seconds by four-thousandths of a second. Tony Schumacher's 326.79 from the final session improved the U.S. Army Dragster driver's own track speed record.
After the evening's rain-delayed action, Okuhara modestly said of himself and Shuler, "We do what we can, but he [Massey] is a great kid and he does a great job."
Massey got a laugh from Okuhara's down-playing.
"Todd is a man of few words. But trust me, it's all up here," he said, pointing to his head. "What's not coming out of his mouth is going into the brain and he's putting it down into that race car.
"He's kind of shy in front of a camera. He's kind of shy to talk on TV or radio or anything. But he's not shy to talk to that race car," Massey said. "And he does it very, very well."
Massey indicated he was feeling more than a little pressure Saturday, particularly because he didn’t get off to a stellar start Friday, winding up 24th out of the 27 entrants in his first qualifying chance.
"Coming into the first round [of the Traxxas Shootout Saturday] not qualified and having to get the car down the track and get the round win, that was a little bit tough," he said. "Honestly, getting that out of the way . . . Then I had to run Morgan [Lucas]. He ran low E.T. of the first round. So we had to push for it."
He said the Shootout semifinals, which doubled as Q3, "was like a final round. We knew we had to run well. Morgan was going to run well. It ran extremely well -- a (3.)76 and went to No. 1 qualifier."
Tony Schumacher had expressed surprise Friday night that no one (including himself) managed a 3.7-second pass after taking the early No. 1 qualifying position with a 3.814-second E.T. But Saturday, he found out who can do it -- and now he knows that his own teammate, Spencer Massey, can do it -- did it -- most impressively and lucratively of all.
THE AMERICAN DREAM - Lex Joon and wife Gerda Joon-Dijkstra each raised an arm to show off their "Proud To Be American" bracelets.
But they aren't Americans. They're Dutch, residents of Zaandam, just north of Amsterdam.
They love America, though, so much so that they are in the process of leaving behind all of their property, family, friends, and their comfort zone and relocating, probably to Indianapolis, to pursue a fulltime Top Fuel racing career.
"We decided early this year to quit racing in Europe and put all our arrows on racing in the U.S. It means permanently moving to the U.S.," Gerda Joon said.
"It's our longtime dream," Lex Joon said. We said, 'Let's go for it!' We've done everything in Europe we want. We've seen everything. We wanted to be professional racers in Europe, but it is not possible to do that. Bottom line: here is where it's at. If you can win here and be good here, then you are good in your sport.
"We hired a marketing agency to find a sponsorship," he said, and she added that their European accomplishments and connections "could be added value to the sport of NHRA drag racing."
Lex Joon, the 2005 FIA European Top Fuel champion and runner-up in '07 and '08, became in 2009 the first Dutchman ever to run a Top Fuel dragster in the U.S.
Gerda Joon has served as crew chief Kevin Poynter's assistant for the past three years, and her husband said he certainly is considering naming her his crew chief when their new team takes to the racetrack here in the U.S. That would make her one of the NHRA's few female crew chiefs, in a class with Kim La Haie Richards and Ashley Frye.
They plan to buy a new dragster to kick off their first fulltime NHRA tour. The one they have right now belonged to David Baca, but they said they figured by the time their team was ready to debut the equipment would be outdated.
"If you want to run with the big dogs," Lex said, "you have to have good equipment."
The logistics of such a project can be overwhelming, but he said, "You need to be patient, and at the same time, you need to have everything in place." He said he envisions it "like climbing a ladder. As long as you make the next step, everything is OK. "
And Gerda said, "If they move the ladder, we are going to step on it again. We have talked to friends in Europe, and they all say, 'At least you're trying.' Sometimes you regret everything that you didn’t do, instead of regretting the things that you did do.
"We have said to each other that we'll go for it. We'll put 150 percent of our efforts into it and if it doesn't work, at least we tried. It's not that easy over here. But if you don’t try it, you will never succeed," she said. "So we're trying everything we can. We had to hire a lawyer to get our green crads and everything, because all the legal stuff needs to be done. We're doing everything the right way -- what we think is the right way."
While Lex chose the ladder analogy, his wife said the whole process is "like the chicken and the egg." An organized person, she said everything is moving along well. "I have the gut feeling that every day we are getting one step closer. We're getting more positive signs from the U.S."
On the personnel side of things, she said, "We've got some things already organized. We're doing our homework." However, they are not sharing any hints about that.
Lex said, "This is a lot more complicated than 'Oh, let's ship a car and start racing.' You change your whole life. And if you want to make deals like we are looking for, Corporate America wants to now if we've got everything sorted. Otherwise you cannot do it. But with what we have achieved in the past, we are pretty sure we can make it here, as well."
The kind of deal they are looking for is an ambitious one.
"Our goal is to find a three-year deal with an option for the next three years," Gerda, who's officially the team owner, said. "It must make sense to move all the way from Europe and leave everything behind to go over here. When we have a deal, it will be a good deal."
Lex said his long-term goal is to build a multi-car operation. He said they'll start their program with one Top Fuel dragster but hope to add another one and eventually bring a Funny Car into the mix.
"We are not interested in hiring a seat. We want to put down our own team and go from there, hopefully get some more cars in there in time. We'll start with one car, but I really would like to see more cars. It's not only our dream to race a car over here but also to make more steps into it, really do the business. I think we can do it. I just want to try it and see how far we can go."
In a blog written in cooperation with the publication Eurodragster, Lex declared, "It's time to stop dreaming and immigrate to the land where our sport is strong and exciting, to the land where our team can have a chance to reach the ultimate goal, and become a professional drag racing team."
The United States always has been a magnet for Lex Joon, a beacon for those interested in racing excellence.
"When I was 12 years old, I already liked the big American cars, and they never let go of me," he said.
Gerda shares not only Lex's love for racing but also his love for the United States. She told Krista Wilkerson, wife of Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson, "Every time we are here, we both have the feeling we are home."
Then, dabbing at her eyes, she said quietly, "Just talking about it makes me cry."
The Joons are Dutch, but they have the American spirit -- that entrepreneurial urge, that can-do attitude, that sense of cooperation, that passion for the pursuit of happiness. They love the sport that former Funny Car driver Dean Skuza described so colorfully: "We don't conserve fuel! We don't conserve tires! We don't conserve nothin'! What's more American than that?!"
It all adds up to a way of life these two Dutch drag-racing professionals want to adopt. And that alone trumpets that this move from Zaandam to Indianapolis certainly looks like the right move.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - WEATHER CONCERNS CREATE CONSERVATIVE FRIDAY
SUCCESS AGAIN - Tony Schumacher always expects to be the best in the Top Fuel class every time he straps into the U.S. Army Dragster.
He didn't disappoint himself or let his crew down Friday night in the opening round of qualifying for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. But he didn't see the results he expected, either.
He clocked the quickest elapsed time and speed -- 3.814 seconds at 324.67 mph -- on the 1,000-foot course at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis to claim the provisional No. 1 qualifier honor.
However, he said he was surprised no one dipped into the 3.7-second range.
"I kind of expected to see five or six (3.)7s, because cars were running good at testing," Schumacher said. "Probably because of the weather conditions and forecast of rain, more cars are more conservative. They want to play it smart and get down the track."
He said many of the teams took their cues from the NHRA officials at the midday drivers meeting before the pro session began.
"We heard at the drivers meeting, 'We're not sure what we're going to do. We're going to do our best to get the race in.' To me, that means 'Get the car to the finish line.' "
He did, edging No. 2 Khalid al Balooshi, in the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster, by three-thousandths of a second.
Earning a bonus point as third-quickest of the evening was Doug Kalitta, who ran a 3.824 seconds, a thousandth better than fourth-place Shawn Langdon.
Schumacher is going for his fourth No. 1 start of the season and 71st of his career. And the eight-time U.S. Nationals winner knows -- though he might not be able to explain why -- this is a special track for him.
"We've won the thing eight times. But I've won only one race in two years, so I'm past that," he said, referring to the so-called mystique of Indianapolis. "Right now we're just getting back to where we used to be. We're starting to run good.
"But I’d rather race here than anywhere else, because of the amount of success we've had," Schumacher said. "There's been other tracks where we've been successful. But this one's been so special, from '96, when I first started driving Top Fuel cars [and] as a kid who had never been in a Top Fuel car in his life and going to the finals.
"I don't know how many years I've been racing here -- 16 years? And we've been to 10 finals. That's just incredible," he said. "It's an awful great place to win."
And Friday night it was an awful good place, in the face of an uncertain weather forecast, to be No. 1.
HOME SWEET HOME-AWAY-FROM-HOME - Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon is from Mira Loma, Calif., east of Los Angeles, but he talked like he feels right at home at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
"I've kind of grown up at this track," he said. "I always have a good feeling about it when I roll into the gates."
He felt pretty satisfied Friday night when he rolled out of the gates, too. In the opening round of qualifying, he ran a 3.825-second elapsed time at 304.19 mph in the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster. It was fourth-best for the day, just one-thousandth of a second slower than No. 3 Doug Kalitta.
Langdon had recorded the quickest Top Fuel pass of last week's two-day test session at Lucas Oil Raceway. His 3.783-second, 318.54-mph pass from the first day held up as quickest. Most encouraging for him was that he recorded excellent runs in the heat of the day.
"We're feeling good about the Al-Anabi car, especially coming out of Indy test session last week. We made good runs when it counted, when the air was good and the track was cool. We also made some really strong runs in the heat in the middle of the day, and that was probably a little more key than our good run when it was cool," Langdon said.
"We've kind of struggled at times this year with the hot-weather runs," he said, "but we are definitely pleased with the car.
"I think our Al-Anabi Racing team is starting to peak at the right time. We are excited to get into the Countdown. It's what we've been working towards all year long. We've clinched our spot, and we feel we have all of the necessary tools to make a good run at the championship," Langdon said. "They had a good run at the end of last year, but I feel we have an equal opportunity to get the Al-Anabi team back into championship form like it was the last couple of years."
Langdon won U.S. Nationals in Super Gas in 2010. He also advanced that year to the Top Fuel semifinals (while driving for Morgan Lucas Racing) and lost to winner Larry Dixon -- in the Al-Anabi car.
"I've always enjoyed the U.S. Nationals because of how big a deal everybody makes about it. Everybody makes it into a big race because the history of this event runs so deep," Langdon said. "As a kid and a fan of the sport, you follow the history and the big names, and a lot of those big names have done big things at this event. Being a part of that is always fun.
"I raced here when I drove Junior Dragsters for two years, when we did the Junior Dragster national championships at the U.S. Nationals. So I have good memories of racing here as a kid," he said. "And in the sportsman classes, I raced here for many years, trying to get a win and won Super Gas in 2010."
Langdon, whose only No. 1 start this year came at Phoenix, qualified in the top five at 11 of the previous 16 races. His average qualifying position this season is 5.13.
Seventh-place Langdon trails sixth-place Morgan Lucas in the standings by 71 points and leads eighth-place Dave Grubnic by 65.
TODD-LIN' ALONG - J.R. Todd, who hadn't driven Bob Vandergriff's second C&J Energy Services entry since the Topeka event in May and wasn't able to participate in last week's test session at Lucas Oil Raceway, said before Friday night's pass, "I just hope it goes down the track tonight." Anticipating forecasted rain showers that had the potential to cause havoc with each of the remaining days of this pivotal event, he said, "Tonight's going to be pretty critical."
Todd recorded a 3.913-second E.T. at 313.00 mph that put him into the 11th spot.
"It would have been nice to come out and test with these guys," Todd, of Lawrenceburg, Ind., said. "But only a handful of them made good runs." Given that and having studied his numbers from Atlanta and Topeka earlier this year, he said, "We're not that far off. We're not out of the ballgame. We're just more runs behind everybody. The more runs we make, the more comfortable Kurt [crew chief Elliott] gets. We should be all right."
Todd said he and Vandergriff are "taking baby steps" toward a new marketing-partnership deal for 2013. He said, "We're working on some things for next year that look pretty promising -- not fulltime but more than what we've done this year."
Todd is scheduled to race at Dallas during the Countdown to the Championship.
He said he has been "partly waiting for this weekend to get here" and "just messin' around at the shop, getting things ready" and otherwise "hanging out at the sprint-car races with my buddies." Todd drove Sheikh Khalid Al Thani's '57 Chevy Pro Modified in Qatar and won a couple of races and the Arabian Drag Racing League championship. But Todd downplayed that achievement.
"That doesn't mean anything in the United States," he said.
WHEELCHAIRS BRIGHTEN CHILDREN'S LIVES - Three Indiana children received the precious gift of mobility Friday at Lucas Oil Raceway, thanks to the efforts of the former Top Fuel star Darrell Gwynn and his Darrell Gwynn Foundation. The organization supports individuals with paralysis and promotes prevention of spinal cord injuries.
Zailey Andrade, 3, of Mooresville, Ind., can enroll in preschool and have the chance to play with friends more easily in her $36,000 pink princess-themed power wheelchair on behalf of the DGF and its donors. She is diagnosed with arthogryposis, a condition that leaves her unable to propel herself in a manual wheelchair. Her new custom wheelchair works with a chin joystick. The State of Indiana Medicaid will not approve a power wheelchair to children as young as Zailey, and her medical bills and travel to see a specialist at Shriners Hospital at Philadelphia have caused financial hardships for her family.
Six-year-old Benjamin Bang, of Fishers, Ind., just wants "to be a kid." Starting Friday, with the gift of a $22,000 Dodge Challenger-themed custom power wheelchair from DGF, he can. He is diagnosed with the disorder of mitochondrial metabolism, cerebral folate deficiency, and autism. His medical-care needs force him to be homeschooled, but before he received this power wheelchair, he didn't have the freedom to leave his house or play with friends.
Bloomington, Ind.'s Eli Dilts is just nine years old but he's a huge Indianapolis Colts fan. He'll be able to flash his loyalty in the coolest display in school -- with a $9,000 Colts-themed custom manual wheelchair. Doctors removed his brain tumor in 2010, but a rare side effects from the operation are medullablastoma and posterior fossa syndrome. This new chair helps him escape from the large stroller his caregivers used to transport him. Now he has the neatest set of wheels in elementary school.
These presentations came though the Darrell Gwynn Foundation's national Wheelchair Donation Program. It provides custom power wheelchairs to individuals facing medical and financial hardships that have exhausted all other means of obtaining a power wheelchair that their physicians recommended.
Gwynn, who win the Top Fuel trophy at the 1989 U.S. Nationals, sustained a spinal cord injury in 1990. He and his wife Lisa established the foundation in 2002. To learn more about the program, visit its web site at http://darrellgwynnfoundation.org/the-gift-of-mobility.php .
Gifts such as these three are made possible through the generosity of donations. And the DGF will be able to help even more individuals, including high-school students via its spinal-cord injury prevention program, with the Kenny Bernstein Racing Collection that's available for sale to the public online at www.darrellgwynnfoundation.org.
A special online catalog allows race fans to purchase pieces of NHRA history. Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein gave the collection to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation during the Gatornationals this March at Gainesville, Fla.
"We're excited to make this once-in-a-lifetime collection available to the public," Gwynn said. "It was really an amazing gesture by Kenny and Sheryl to donate this collection to DGF. What's more amazing are the incredible pieces of personal memorabilia from Kenny's collection that fans will now have access to. We received a true treasure trove of keepsakes, trophies, autographed memorabilia, Budweiser collectables, and more. What an opportunity for race fans to own NHRA history and celebrate the career of a racing legend, my former teammate, Kenny."
The Bernstein collection includes race-car bodies, race-worn items, tool boxes, jackets, crew shirts, collectible parts, novelties, art, jewelry and accessories, trophies & plaques, diecasts, fan apparel, trading cards, and print collectibles. Many of the items are autographed.
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK -
IN THE SHOOTOUT! - Brandon Bernstein saw teammate Morgan Lucas's reaction at Wednesday's Traxxas Shootout lottery: arms flying into the air in celebration. From where he was standing, Bernstein couldn't see the hopper in which dozens of brightly colored ping-pong balls were floating around. But he knew NHRA President Tom Compton was pressing the button that caused the winning ball to pop out.
"All I could do is stand there and watch them mix around while I waited. I was thinking, 'Man, Clay (Millican) has a lot, too. I don't know. This may not turn out too great,' " Bernstein said. (Bernstein had 35 percent of the fan vote and Millican 32.)
"All of a sudden Tom Compton hit the button," Bernstein said. "I really couldn't see where the ball popped out, but I could see my teammate Morgan Lucas, who was sitting down there [in the front row] and his arms went straight up into the air. I was like, 'Oh man we've got it!' "
So the Protect The Harvest/MAVTV Dragster will be in the mix and Bernstein will have a chance to race for the $100,000 winner's share of the purse. He'll start by facing No. 1 seed Antron Brown when the Traxxas Shootout starts at 4 p.m.. Subsequent rounds are scheduled to at 7 and 8 p.m.
"I owe the fans a big thank-you for their votes," Bernstein said. "Without their support, I wouldn't have been in the position I was in. They were very supportive on Facebook and Twitter and really got into the spirit of the little campaign we ran during the voting."
He credited crew chief Joe Barlam and his team for giving him a car that in turn gives him confidence: "It feels good to know I'm not only getting to be a part of this race, but I've also got a pretty good car too. Joe Barlam and the guys are doing everything in their power to give me the best car they can. I'm confident that come Saturday we'll be ready for them."
LOOKING FOR LUCKY - Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster driver Khalid al Balooshi didn't have any luck getting into the Traxxas Shootout at Wednesday's lottery, yet he said he's still hoping for racing luck once the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals begins. He will need it to get into the Countdown.
"I think our Al-Anabi car is as good as everyone else's car," the former Pro Modified racer from Dubai said, "but we haven't won a race yet this year. Our car, our team, our crew chief -- are all great, but we have not had the race-day luck we have needed this year.
"If everything works out perfect for us this weekend, we can still get in the Countdown, but I know what our position is. There is no reason to be mad, but we are trying to put the team in a better spot for the rest of this year and for next year. It is what it is," al Balooshi said.
He's mathematically eligible for the 10th and final spot in the Countdown to the Championship. He's 79 points out of 10th place, the final transfer spot into the Countdown.
Al Balooshi added that he loves the spectacle that is the NHRA's oldest, longest, most historic, and most prestigious event.
"I enjoy the U.S. Nationals. It is one of the biggest drag races in the world, and I like racing in it. If you look at all of the races, everyone is talking about the Indy race. It’s the biggest race in NHRA. It’s big, and it’s not a normal race. Bigger crowds, a lot of cars, everything is different because it is a big event, and I like it," al Balooshi said. "I am looking forward to this weekend. The people who win this race are very lucky, and I hope Al-Anabi is lucky this weekend."
HIGHLY MOTIVATED - Spencer Massey saw Antron Brown take over his points lead at the most recent race (at Brainerd, Minn.). He never has won the U.S. Nationals. He has won four times in six final-round appearances in the Prestone/FRAM Dragster, but that sponsor is leaving his Don Schumacher Racing team at the end of the season. So Massey has plenty of motivation to perform well at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
"Obviously it's a huge weekend for a number of reasons," Massey said. "We've got the Traxxas Shootout, and it's the U.S. Nationals. The Shootout field is extremely tough. So the Traxxas Shootout field is the best of the best. It's going to be anyone's game."
Winning and performing well this weekend "is what it's all about," he said. "All year long we've been running well. We've set track records. We've set speed records. This is for all the marbles. We're putting everything into it. Our Prestone/FRAM guys are putting in 125 percent. We're going for it."
Starting with Friday qualifying, through Saturday's Traxxas Nitro Shootout and Sunday time trials, and on through Monday eliminations, Massey said he will be ready and will fire with all the ammunition he has. And that's thanks, in large part, to the work and skills of crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler.
"We're going to go out the for the Shootout and basically take all of our great performances from all year long and bottle it into three runs in a row so we can get that $100,000," Massey said.
"We tested last week [at Indianapolis] and were trying to get data and get ahead of the game. Everything went great during testing. Todd is extremely happy," he said. "Whenever he's saying that he's pleased, that means he's learned a lot and he's happy with how the car is running.
"Come Monday, it's game on. We want to win the U.S. Nationals. That's our main concern. I've never done it before. I've never even been to a final round there. We need to go rounds, get points, and get that win."
GOAL: ANOTHER LABOR DAY TROPHY - Steve Torrence, a three-time winner in five final rounds in his first full season as a Top Fuel owner-driver, said, "I am really pleased with the progress we've made in a short time. Everyone has been working hard. I didn't expect us to be contenders this soon."
The importance of this Indianapolis classic is not lost on Torrence, who won the Top Alcohol Dragster trophy Labor Day 2005.
"That was a great feeling . . . and I would like to win in the fuel car and get that great feeling again,” the Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster owner-driver said. "This is our biggest race of the year, and I'm looking forward to it. Everybody wants to win at Indy.
"This is going to be a very interesting weekend. It's not often we have an opportunity to win two races in one weekend – especially one that comes with a $100,000 check," Torrence said, referring to the Traxxas Shootout bonus race. "The Shootout should be fun. We hope it's rewarding. I thank Traxxas for creating the event."
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