SUNDAY FINAL - CONNOLLY ROLLS TO ANOTHER INDY PRO STOCK VICTORY
Erica Enders seemed like an unstoppable force at the 2012 U.S. Nationals.
Then, Enders’ crew chief of all people stopped her.
Dave Connolly used a holeshot to beat Enders in the Pro Stock finals Sunday to capture the coveted title at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
Connolly clocked a 6.589-second lap at 210.05 mph, compared to a 6.580-second effort by Enders.
The difference was Connolly’s .015 reaction time. Enders came in at .026.
“We tried some stuff in the final because I knew I didn’t stand a chance,” Connolly said. “She is incredibly consistent. I can’t explain what happened to her (car).”
Connolly has only competed in three races this season and he has been in two final rounds. He has 23 career Pro Stock wins and he is now a three-time Indy winner.
“It is incredible,” Connolly said about winning Indy again. “To even race Pro Stock was kind of always a dream of mine as a kid.”
Connolly finished third in the Pro Stock points chase in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
Beating Enders in the finals; however, made it a little harder for Connolly to celebrate.
“It was definitely bittersweet in the final to run Erica,” Connolly said. “I think I’m more proud when she wins than when I win. I truly mean that. But this is the U.S. Nationals and there’s no lying down. It was cutthroat. Somehow, don’t ask me how, our win light managed to keep coming on. We were making pretty ugly runs. Her (Enders’) car is like a bracket car it is just running on mean and then you have mine over there sideways every time I let the clutch out. It was not picture perfect by any means, but I’m definitely not giving the trophy back.”
Especially considering how competitive Pro Stock is.
“Pro Stock is just brutal right now; it does not matter where you get in, you definitely have a shot,” said Connolly, who qualified No. 15 at Indy. “With Cagnazzi power under the hood and judging by Erica’s performance we have the right tools we are just not utilizing them right now. Somehow we slopped our way into the winner’s circle and I wouldn’t give it back for the world.”
Connolly said he will continue to compete in Pro Stock at Charlotte (Sept. 14-16), Dallas (Sept. 20-23), St. Louis (Sept. 28-30) and Reading, Pa., (Oct. 4-7). The six-race Countdown to the Champion begins at Charlotte.
“We are going to go out there and have some fun,” Connolly said. “We definitely need to fix this car. It is not quite the race car we are looking for right now. That’s part of the challenge. Pro Stock is like an ongoing science project, what you think you know, the next day you find out you do not know nothing.”
Connolly said when he is Pro Stock racing, he and Tommy Utt have a joint effort to tune both Enders’ and Connolly’s cars.
“Tommy is the guy I got my start with,” Connolly said. “I think of him not only as a crew chief, but as a second dad. I have learned so much from him in the past and I’m still learning from him to this day. It is a team effort and right now everybody is pulling on the rope in the same direction and that’s what it takes.”
Enders is fifth in the point standings and 50 points behind leader Allen Johnson. The points were reset after Indy for the Countdown to the Championship.
“I tried telling Erica after the final ‘I know you are disappointed, but you have to look at the big picture, and that’s that big trophy at the end of the year and she has the car to beat right now.”
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - (WEEK TWO) - ERICA MAKES MORE HISTORY WITH NO. 1 QUALIFIER
Postponing the U.S. Nationals one weekend did little to slow Erica Enders.
Enders’ GK Racing Chevy Cobalt stayed atop the qualifying chart with a 6.550-second run on Saturday at Lucas Oil Raceway. Enders also made history by becoming the first woman to qualify No. 1 in Pro Stock at the prestigious U.S. Nationals.
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking,” said Enders about the No. 1 spot which was changing hands on Saturday. “When we left Monday (from Indy) we went straight to Charlotte (N.C.) and tested for a few days. We came back Friday and we have been working really hard on all of our set-ups and whatnot. This is just so important those baby points, especially going into the Countdown. Those three little points that we got for qualifying No. 1 put us within one round of Mike Edwards, so that will enable us to go around him providing we go one round further than him. We always have the big picture in mind.”
NHRA’s six race Countdown to the Championship begins Oct. 14-16 in Charlotte. Enders came to Indy No. 5 in the point standings.
Last Monday morning, because rain washed the rubber off the track, NHRA officials postponed the U.S. National until Saturday and Sunday at Indy.
This was Enders second pole position of the season as she also took the top spot in Brainerd, the last event prior to Indy. This also is the fifth of her career.
“I’m really excited to take it (the pole position back),” Enders said. “After that first session (Saturday) I was a little ticked. I have always wanted to qualify No. 1 here since I was a little kid. To be able to steal it back is pretty awesome.”
Edwards qualified second at 6.555 seconds.
Enders admitted her 6.550-second effort was somewhat surprising.
“We weren’t sure,” said Enders when asked about what kind of number her team was shooting for. “The air was a few hundred feet worse and everything else pretty much stayed the same. Dave Connolly, my crew chief and my teammate went out, and blew the tires off the car and Larry Morgan did the same thing behind him and Warren Johnson did the same thing behind him. I was getting a little antsy because we were rolling up a couple of cars back. I was hoping it wasn’t the lane that was causing everybody to blow the tires off like that. I was really excited to hear them come on the radio and say 6.550. I didn’t expect it either. It felt good when I let the clutch out, but then it started to blow the tires off and took a left-hand turn. It was a little interesting getting it down the track, but I was excited that it came around by a few thousandths.”
Despite her No. 1 spot, Enders wasn’t making any bold predictions for Sunday.
“We all have work cut out for each other (Sunday),” Enders said. “We will see how it goes. It is always a challenge that is for sure. I’m really excited and optimistic about what is going on within our team and on the race track.”
POSTPONEMENT BENEFITS MORGAN - Last Monday when the U.S. Nationals were postponed until Saturday and Sunday because rubber had been washed off the track, no driver was happier than veteran Pro Stock competitor Larry Morgan.
Morgan arrived at Indy ninth in the season points at 620, but he was going to be knocked out of the Countdown to the Championship if the U.S. Nationals would have been raced Monday because Morgan failed to qualify. His best run was 6.966-seconds and that left him No. 17 in the 16-car field.
Morgan made the most of his second chance Saturday at Lucas Oil Raceway.
With a 6.621-second pass at 208.10 mph, Morgan accomplished both tasks on a dry Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis.
"We sure are excited," Morgan said. "We've invested a lot of time and effort into getting this car into the Countdown. If we wouldn't have been able to get in, then it would have been shame on us. But at least we got our chance to get in and we did it."
Morgan's lap was good enough for No. 14 on the ladder and earned him a first-round matchup with Greg Anderson, who ran a 6.556 at 210.87 mph to qualify in the No. 3 spot.
"We can't take too much time to celebrate getting into the Countdown," Morgan said. "We'd like to win a round or two tomorrow and improve our standing."
Exactly where Morgan ends up in the final regular season standings is still very much up in the air, because he, V. Gaines and Jeg Coughlin Jr. are still tightly grouped together. Morgan locked his spot in the Countdown when both Shane Gray and Ronnie Humphrey failed to qualify for the race.
No one outside the Top 10 who made the race has a mathematical chance of overtaking Morgan, no matter where he finishes.
JOHNSON’S NO. 1 – Allen Johnson No. 4 qualifying position left plenty for the veteran driver to smile about. That No. 4 spot allowed Johnson to capture the No. 1 spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
“Clinching that number one spot for the Countdown to the Championship is huge for us,” Johnson said. “Those 20 bonus points are especially important since this is going to be a really big ‘knock-them-down and drag-them-out’ fight to the finish, and any little advance will help. There’s a real sense of pride for the team too to show that all our hard work this season and the performance of the Mopar HEMI is paying off.”
The Countdown to the Championship begins Oct. 14-16 at Charlotte. Johnson faces Greg Stanfield in the first round Sunday at Indy.
PLAYING A ROLE - Dave Connolly won the U.S. Nationals in 2007 and 2008 and hasn't been entered since, so he can be considered a defending champion of sorts.
Either way, Connolly races another past U.S. Nationals winner, Mike Edwards, in the first round of Pro Stock on Sunday. Connolly's best lap was 6.622 seconds at 209.23 mph in Saturday's first session, and that was an improvement over his best pass last weekend, 6.684 at 206.61 mph, before rain postponed the event. Edwards qualified No. 2 with a run of 6.555 seconds at 211.13 mph.
"You've got to run somebody, so at least we lucked out and still managed to make the field," Connolly said. "We haven't made a good run since we've been here. It's up in the air who can win. We know we've got the power under the hood, so it's just whether we can make a decent run tomorrow against him.
"If we do, it's played out perfect, (GK Motorsports teammate) Erica (Enders) being No. 1 qualifier. We've got her right there at 19, 20 points down on him, so if we can take him out first round, that'll move her into fourth. It's a huge run, for sure."
TESTING HELPED - Jason Line and the Summit Racing team were among several competitors who headed directly to Charlotte, N.C., taking advantage of the time to put in some testing at zMAX Dragway in preparation for the race to be held there next weekend.
However, the two days proved to be extremely beneficial for Line and his KB Racing crew, as they were able to gain further information about the performance envelope of their Camaro, which they were able to apply upon their return to the Hoosier State. With temperatures significantly cooler than they were a week ago, a premium was put on teams to extract the maximum from their race cars.
Fortunately, Line and the Summit crew was up to the challenge, posting a 6.569-second, 210.83 mph pass on their first attempt, which turned out to be their run of record when he slowed slightly in the final session. Starting fifth, the defending Pro Stock champion was pleased with the progress the team had made, but cautioned that further improvement would be necessary in order to contend for the win on Sunday.
“The test session in Charlotte really helped us,” said Line. “We learned things about our Summit Racing Camaro that we were able to apply here in Indy, and even though we did not make what I would consider a good run, we were still fairly competitive, which is encouraging heading into race day.
“I believe we will have a car capable of winning the race. However, to do so, we will need to do a better job with the tune-up, as well as avoiding any mistakes that could cost us the win. I believe we are directionally correct with this new car, and it’s up to us to get it completely dialed in. If we can do that, we should have a long and productive day tomorrow. After all, it’s about time I added a U.S. Nationals Wally to my trophy case.”
COUGHLIN IN COUNTDOWN BATTLE - Mopar/JEGS.com Dodge Avenger driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. battles for Pro Stock playoff spot, will face Rodger Brogdon in round one
The race with Brodgon is loaded with Countdown implications.
"It's going to be a fun day on Sunday," Coughlin said. "We want to etch our names into that Top 10, and seal a spot in this Countdown. It's what we've been working hard for all season and it's within our reach."
Coughlin took full advantage of the extra qualifying sessions at the rain-delayed 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals moving the JEGS Dodge up from 12th to eighth place on the qualifying ladder and all but locking up a spot in the Countdown in the process.
The Coughlin-Brogdon pairing has Countdown implications because Shane Gray and Ronnie Humphrey both failed to qualify and dropped out of the Top 10, which pushed Coughlin into the 10 spot. The only driver outside the Top 10 with a mathematical chance to pass Coughlin is Brogdon, and Brogdon needs to win the race outright to knock Coughlin out.
"He's like anybody else out there: he puts his pants on one leg at a time," Brogdon said about Coughlin. "The plan is to go out there and whoop him. It should be a great day. The weather will be the same and there's not much difference in the lanes.
"We're going to try to be better on the tree and outrun him."
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.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - LONG DAY CUT SHORT OF COMPLETION FOR SAFETY
SHE'S STILL THE ONE - After a long Saturday at the U.S. Nationals which was interrupted by several rain delays, Erica Enders didn’t run any better than she did Friday.
And, that was a good thing.
Enders’ GK Racing Chevy Cobalt clocked a 6.624-second on Friday and that left her with the provisional pole heading into Sunday.
“It has been a really long day,” Enders said. “We have been changing our set-ups back and forth. Every time weather comes in and things change you have to reassess your set-up. Our cars being naturally-aspirated are more susceptible to atmospheric conditions than the other cars. It is tough on a day like (Saturday), but we went out there and made a pretty good run and kept the No. 1 spot.”
Enders clocked a 6.634-second run on her only qualifying lap Saturday. After eight cars ran in the final Pro Stock qualifying session late Saturday night, several cars got loose at the end of the track. That resulted in NHRA officials cancelling the remainder of the Pro Stock session because of dew at the end of the track.
“Our cars are so much different than the nitro cars,” Enders said. “When the dew gets this way with the humidity and vapor pressure it gets pretty dangerous. It is definitely not fun in the seat. You can see it on our windows and you can’t see out of our car. We keep towels on it to the very last second and it is like chasing nothing. Everybody in the right lane was getting over by the center line. The guys in the left lane were shutting off early. (Greg) Stanfield is one of the best drivers in our class and that just goes to show how dangerous the conditions were.”
Thus, Enders didn’t have any problems with NHRA calling off the remainder of the final Pro Stock qualifying session.
“In my opinion, it is better to be safe than sorry,” Enders said. “I’m sure it pissed a lot of people off that weren’t in, but we are hopeful it stays dry (Sunday) and we can get another run. They (NHRA) made the right call (Saturday night).”
Enders remains optimistic about Sunday.
“Hopefully the weather clears out of here and we get our two runs in (Sunday),” Enders said. “I’m confident in my team. You can only do so much at the race track with what the weather gives you. I’m confident that we can stay at the top of the pack and run with the big guys. I’m really proud of my guys. They work really hard and they deserve it.”
STILL THE ONE IN NO. 3 - Allen Johnson held on to the third spot in qualifying on Saturday.
Johnson, ranked first in the point standings, put up a pass of 6.639-seconds at 208.20 mph in the first qualifying session, which featured an hours-long delay due to the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, which brought intermittent rain showers to the Indianapolis area. Johnson’s run was the second quickest of the session. The second Pro Stock qualifying round under the lights was cancelled due to safety concerns regarding track conditions due to condensation and excess humidity.
Needing to merely qualify for the U.S. Nationals to earn the No. 1 position in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship Pro Stock playoffs and a 30-point bonus, the Team Mopar veteran tripped the timing lights with a 6.634/208.42 to take the third spot in the single qualifying session on Friday.
“We’re happy with the improvement we’re making, and we’re getting to test a little bit along the way too,” said Johnson, who has four wins on the season and is seeking the first Indy victory of his career. “We’re not trying to be too aggressive; we’re trying to learn stuff. That run (the qualifying session that was cancelled), we were going to get aggressive and try to take the pole. But if you’re in the top two or three cars each run, you’ve got to be happy.
“If we can keep the rain away, the first session tomorrow will be the best for the air (conditions), and also if the humidity will get out of here. That’s all we’re hoping for right now.”
On the NHRA’s decision to call the final Pro Stock qualifying round today, Johnson said, “It was the right call. All that fog on the windshield was on the track as well. Somebody was getting ready to put it on its lid and mess up a good race car.”
ECKMAN THRILLED TO BE DRIVING - This weekend at the U.S. Nationals, Jerry Eckman was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
Eckman is driving a Pro Stock car for Steve Kent, trying to qualify at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Eckman, a past NHRA Pro Stock national event winner, recently re-licensed as a Pro Stock driver, a privilege he lost 15 years ago. His license was revoked following unsafe practices during the 1997 NHRA Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio.
“It was exciting, especially at Indy, the biggest race of the year,” said Eckman about what he was feeling during his first qualifying run Friday. “It was kind of special for me. I won this race back in 1990. None of this would have been possible without the kindness of Steve Kent and Rodger Brogdon and the whole crew here. They kind of voted me in the seat again. It was a big surprise to me and it is a thrill of a lifetime. I want to thank them of course and all the fans who stood behind me all these years. This is kind of like a Cinderella story for me.”
Eckman clocked a 6.771-second run at 201.55 mph Friday on his first qualifying lap. That elapsed time left Eckman 18th on the qualifying ladder.
“I tried to relax,” Eckman said. “The one thing I worried about was if I still had that driver instinct. Where you feel the car moving and you make the correction and that came right back. I left the starting line and it went right and I was already correcting it as it was moving and I’m glad I have that ability still. I could feel the car. As far as the rest of the stuff, I was a little rusty here and there. You get in a new car that you have never been in, the pedal doesn’t fit here and this doesn’t fit there, but I have that all ironed out now and I’m pretty relaxed.”
Eckman made his second qualifying pass Saturday. Eckman clocked a 6.727-second time Saturday. That left him 20th on the ladder.
“It would be unbelievable,” said Eckman if he could qualify for the U.S. Nationals. “It has been a Cinderella story up until this point, and that would be like finding the glass slipper. I’m just thrilled to death and we will have to see what happens.”
Eckman does the clutch and transmission work on Kent’s Pro Stock car.
Back in ’97 in Columbus, the car Eckman was driving had a nitrous bottle hidden in the car’s oil tank and when he fired the car for a warm-up it exploded. NHRA officials impounded the car and immediately fined and suspended team owner Bill Orndorff and Eckman.
In July of this year the NHRA, in a surprise move, notified Eckman during a meeting at the SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J., and the sanctioning body returned him to good standing.
PRO STOCK QUALIFYING ON AGAIN OFF AGAIN - Dave Connolly made the first run in Pro Stock’s second session of qualifying, clocking a 6.689-second run. Then at 5:55 p.m. EDT, NHRA officials backed the remainder of Pro Stock cars back and the rain delay began.
At 6:27 p.m. EDT, the second session of Pro Stock qualifying resumed. Then at 6:52 p.m., Pro Stock qualifying was delayed by rain again. Qualifying began again at 7:06 p.m. and finished a few minutes later.
NO REGRETS - Just prior to the Mile-High Nationals at Denver in July, Rodger Brogdon elected to skip NHRA’s Western Swing – races at Denver, Sonoma and Seattle.
Brogdon was ninth in the season point standings before Denver and after competing at Brainerd, Brogdon came to the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis 13th in points.
After Saturday’s qualifying, Brogdon was not qualified.
“We have already proved we can be in the top 10, that is not what this is all about just being in the top 10,” Brogdon said. “We had to make a move to better ourselves for next year and that’s what we had to do. I have no regrets at all.”
Kent recently bought Richard Freeman’s Elite Motorsports equipment to start his team’s own in-house engine program.
Kent is the owner of Kent Services and Trucking, a south central United States, multi-faceted corporation, that primarily specializes in service and support for the petroleum industry.
Kent owns the Pro Stock team he and Brogdon compete for. Brogdon drives the MAV TV Pontiac GXP and Kent pilots the Kent Trucking Pontiac GXP.
Kent has raced in 10 national events this season, the last coming at Norwalk. He plans to return to the track at Dallas (Sept. 20-23), St. Louis (Sept. 28-30), Reading, Pa. (Oct. 4-7) and Las Vegas (Oct. 25-28).
Kent said he will have another driver in his car at the season-ending NHRA Finals Nov. 8-11 at Pomona, Calif.
“I do not know who it will be yet, that is top secret,” Kent said. “It will be a veteran driver, I will tell you that.”
Kent said it will not be Jerry Eckman driving at Pomona.
MARTINO IMPRESSIVE - Following a disqualification at Brainerd Aug. 19 after a second-round win, Mark Martino could have dwelled in the past at U.S. Nationals this weekend.
Martino, who resides in Stoney Creek, Canada, which is 30 miles south of Toronto, has done anything but stress about his opportunity loss in Brainerd.
Following his second-round victory over Larry Morgan, Martino’s Charter-sponsored Pontiac GXP weighed 2,345 pounds, five pounds light of the minimum weight at the scales, thus he was disqualified. The 2,350 pounds of the car also includes the driver.
On Friday in Indy, Martino clocked an impressive 6.659-second run and on Saturday’s second qualifying effort he came in at 6.672 seconds.
Martino said his car weighed 2,360 pounds after his first qualifying session.
“Everything came together for us on that first run,” said Martino, who runs Victor Cagnazzi motors. “It is a little easier when you have some power. We are pretty happy.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - ENDERS STILL THE ONE TO BEAT AS TEAMS STRUGGLE TO FIND THEIR GROOVE
SMOKIN' - When Erica Enders won at Chicago July 1, she made history.
Enders became the first female to win an NHRA Pro Stock national event.
Since then, she has proved she is no fluke, winning at Seattle (Aug. 5) and Brainerd, Minn., (Aug. 19).
Enders kept the momentum going in her GK Racing Chevy Cobalt Friday, qualifying No. 1 with a 6.624-second run at 208.84 mph at the U.S. Nationals.
“We have just had a really, really great race car,” Enders said. “My crew chief Dave Connolly spent a lot of time testing some stuff last week in Rockingham that we have been working on. We were hoping it would carry over to Indy. We all know this is our Super Bowl of drag racing. I’m really honored to be here and carry the momentum we have had the last few races into this event.”
Enders said her team, which is owned by Victor Cagnazzi, wasn’t trying to hit a home run in Friday’s qualifying session.
“We knew this was an important run, and we were kind of conservative not knowing what the weather was going to do (Saturday) and Sunday,” Enders said. “We are hoping this isn’t going to be our only day to qualify, but in case it is we needed to get down the race track. I let the clutch out and it was very soft and it kind of bogged and rolled in low gear. I was very surprised at the ET they called out to me on the radio. Nonetheless, they have worked very hard and it proved to be a good run.”
Rain is expected Saturday and Sunday in Indianapolis as a result of Hurricane Isaac.
“Isaac has kind of been giving us h*** all week being from New Orleans,” Enders said. “It stinks that it is kind of swinging up this way, but knowing that we are in the field solid being in the No. 1 spot we will be able to have the data that we collected from (Friday night) and when we have run here in previous years. We can use that to our advantage if we do not get another qualifying session before Monday.”
Even though Enders finally made history with her Pro Stock win, she hasn’t changed her approach when she comes to the track.
“I honestly have the same mindset going into every event no matter what it is, where we are at and who I have to race,” Enders said. “The win didn’t really change much for me. We have always had the confidence and the team chemistry and everything. We had all the tools we needed to be successful, but to be able to finally get that monkey off our back does take a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
Enders is happy to be winning, but her main objective is to be a Pro Stock world champion.
“That’s our goal and that’s what we are focused on right now,” Enders said. “We have worked really hard testing and doing R&D stuff back in the engine shop and we have wanted to be able to showcase what we have learned over the entire year right prior to the Countdown and then in the last six races. Being that we are sort of on a hot streak right now and we have the momentum, we want to carry that through. Our goal is definitely to win the championship this year. We are definitely not here to visit and it is very important to us and we are going to try and follow through with it, and hopefully come out on top.”
MOVING ON - Mark Martino’s surprising run to the semifinals at the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., on Aug. 19 ended abruptly.
Following his second-round victory over Larry Morgan, his Charter-sponsored Pontiac GXP weighed 2,345 pounds, five pounds light of the minimum weight at the scales, thus he was disqualified. The 2,350 pounds of the car also includes the driver.
“We weighed 2,345 pounds the first time we went on the scales and we went on again and we weighed 2,345 pounds,” Martino said Friday prior to qualifying at the U.S. Nationals. “We were shocked. My crew asked to see the weight of the car (that came up on the scales) and they (NHRA officials) said no. Apparently everybody thought that was the rule (that you couldn’t see the weight of your car on the scales).”
Graham Light, the NHRA’s senior vice president-racing operations, told CompetitionPlus.com Friday that isn’t a rule to not allow drivers to look at the scales.
“I wasn’t there and apparently there was a miscommunication at that race (Brainerd), and the tech guys did not let him look at it (the weight of his car on the scales), which is a mistake,” Light said. “They are entitled to look at it. We typically do not allow the teams to watch everybody else’s weight. Everybody who is legal weight gets to go ahead. They do not need to be congregating. When we have a case of a car being light or fuel is wrong the racer has the right to see what the numbers are.”
Light is confident the drivers will not have a problem viewing the weight of their cars on the scales anymore.
“That will not happen again,” Light said.
When told Light said he and his crew should have been allowed to look at the scales, Martino was surprised.
“Even if we looked at it and it said it, what are you going to do?” Martino said. “It is what it is. At least someone is saying something. It was a little frustrating there (at Brainerd) because I gave my spiel and nobody wanted to hear it, but Graham wasn’t there. We are not accusing anybody of anything. We just want to make sure everybody knows we didn’t try to do something and get away with it. That is not the way we run our program. We like to run at 2,355 pounds because you never know.”
At Brainerd, Martino’s crew was told his car weighed 2,355 pounds after its first qualifying run, 2360 after its second qualify run and 2,355 after his third qualifying run. Martino’s car didn’t make it all the way down the track on its fourth qualifying pass, so the car was not weighed.
Following Martino’s first-round upset win over Greg Anderson, his car’s weight was bouncing between 2350 and 2,355 pounds.
“After our second round win (against Larry Morgan) our car weighed 2,345 pounds twice,” said Martino, whose team has its rig at Victor Cagnazzi’s shop in Mooresville, N.C. “We didn’t touch the car at all. It had the same tires, same engine, same (transmission), and same clutch.”
Now that Martino knows he has the right to look at the scales, he will.
“We will make sure (we look at the scales),” said Martino, who resides in Stoney Creek, Canada, which is 30 miles south of Toronto. “Hopefully it never happens again (that his car is under weight), but if it does we will get everybody down there (at the scales) so everybody can see what it going on. Graham, my crew, just to make sure everybody can see what it is going on.”
This weekend at Indy, Martino is taking steps to make sure his car isn’t too light.
“We are going to run 10 pounds heavy, 2,360,” Martino said. “We have five pound weight pucks and we will add them to make sure we are not too light.”
The U.S. Nationals is the fifth race Martino has competed in this season.
“Hopefully we will go full-time next year if funding can come in,” Martino said. “We would like to keep working with Victor (Cagnazzi) and right now the quest is to see if we can get funding. If not we will do another 10 races next year.”
Martino said following Indy, he will race at Charlotte, N.C. (Sept. 14-16), St. Louis (Sept. 28-30), and he is debating between competing at Dallas (Sept. 20-23) and Reading, Pa. (Oct. 4-7). Martino made his NHRA debut in 2010 and raced a limited schedule the past three seasons.
CHASING POWER? - The past two seasons, Greg Anderson and Jason Line have been the class of NHRA’s Pro Stock ranks.
Anderson was the 2010 world champ and Line was the champion last season.
This weekend, Line and Anderson, the Summit Racing teammates came to the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis second and third in the points behind Allen Johnson.
“The focus is still to try and win the race,” said Line, whose lone 2012 win came at Phoenix. “We have a ways to go. We are not as good as we need to be right now. The focus is to at least be competitive this weekend, and hopefully prepare for Charlotte and the Countdown. This is our last chance to sort of test a little bit and learn some things and hopefully we will be at least competitive soon.”
The six race Countdown to the Championship begins Sept. 14-16 at Charlotte, N.C.
In Friday evening’s first qualifying session, Line qualified fourth at 6.646 seconds and Anderson was fifth at 6.655 seconds.
Line also wasn’t making any excuses for team.
“We just haven’t been as focused as we need to be and we have not done as good of a job racing as we need to do,” Line said. “We just need to do a better job that is all there is to it. A lot of times it takes getting kicked in the butt for awhile to get you get back motivated and right now we are. We do not like losing. We are doing everything we can to at least stop the Dodge and obviously (Erica) Enders is tough right now, so we have our work cut out for us. We are not laying down. We are going to give them a fight for sure.”
Allen Johnson, who is first in the points in his Dodge Avenger, isn’t taking Line or Anderson for granted.
“There are very talented and a great team and they will not be off long if they are off,” Johnson said. “It seems like we have had a little advantage over them the past four or five races, but those guys are mad right now and they will work their butts off and they will be back.”
SAME STORY FOR AJ - Although Allen Johnson is first in Pro Stock’s season points, he is keeping his feet on the ground this weekend at the U.S. Nationals.
“Our approach is more of the same like we have been doing the last couple of months,” Johnson said. “We go up there every run trying to be No. 1 get the little points and let them take care of themselves.”
Johnson is aware of the 20 extra points he will receive if he ends the regular season as the points leader. The six race Countdown to the Championship begins at Charlotte Sept. 14-16.
Johnson qualified third Friday with a 6.634-second lap.
“It might take a little bit of pressure off having a little bit of cushion,” said Johnson about the possibility of entering Charlotte No. 1 in points. “You have to just take each round one at a time and have a little bit of fun. Every round is its own round and we to adjust the car to the conditions and we do not pay any attention to who we are running. We just try to go up there and be the fastest car every round and do our job.”
GRAY STAYS POSITIVE - The race to qualify for the Pro Stock Countdown to the Championship will unfold this weekend at the U.S. Nationals.
Ron Krisher, Shane Gray, Larry Morgan, V. Gaines, Jeg Coughlin, Ronnie Humphrey, Rodger Brogdon, and Kurt Johnson all are vying to secure one of the four spots left in the top 10.
Gray, who is eighth, 11 points behind seventh place Krisher, is not making any bold Indy predictions.
“We just have to do the best we can and see what happens,” Gray said. “We are getting closer, but we are nowhere near where we want to be. I’m not worried about the Countdown, it is what it is. The more you worry about it the worse it will be. If it is meant to be, it is meant to be. If it is not, then we will try next year.”
Gray switched from a Pontiac to a Camaro recently and is happy with his new ride.
“There is nothing wrong with (the Camaro),” Gray said. “We are just off in the engine department right now.”
Gray runs engines built in-house by his Gray Motorsports team, which is based in Charlotte.
“This is the third year in our own engine department, and you stop and look around out here, and these who have their own engine programs they have had them five, six, eight, 10 years,” Gray said. “We are just on that path. You have to take the good with the bad. We had our own engine program when I was a rookie (in 2010) and our engines were pretty good then. But the problem that we have had is that we have not improved them and everybody else has. We got behind and we had some severe short block issues and we got behind all year last year and we have never caught back up yet. It is nothing but a horsepower issue.”
After Friday, Gray was eighth on the qualifying ladder at 6.674 seconds.
NO PLACE LIKE INDY - UNDERSTANDING TRADITION - The storied tradition and the importance of NHRA’s U.S. Nationals aren’t lost on Pro Stock driver Mike Edwards.
"So much emphasis has always been put on this one race," said Edwards, who drives his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP. "When I was lucky enough to win the event in 1998, it brought so much to my team that it is hard to describe. To the world of drag racing, the U.S. Nationals is like the Super Bowl, or in other forms of racing the Daytona 500 or Indy 500, it just has a little bit more meaning than the other stops on the NHRA tour."
Edwards comes to Indianapolis fourth in the season points, highlighted by wins at Gainesville, Fla., and Bristol, Tenn. Now, Edwards comes to Indy with plenty of optimism.
"We came back to the shop, kind of took an inventory of where we were at and what we needed to accomplish and went to work, making sure everything was fresh and we had no issues," said Edwards, who lost to Ron Krisher in the second round at Brainerd, the last event. "Then we have spent quite a few days at the local track in Tulsa making laps trying to find that extra little advantage that might get us into the winner's circle come Monday."
Edwards also does not have to deal with the stress of trying to make the Countdown to the Championship at Indy.
"That we already have our place in the playoffs that start at the next race in Charlotte (Sept. 14-16); we don't have that added pressure of trying to make that field as well,” Edwards said. “We can swing for the fences at Indy and go for broke, because we know come the next race, the field will be leveled and then the pressure will truly begin to mount as we try and win a second championship. It would sure be nice heading into the playoffs with a second Indy trophy sitting nicely on my mantel at home."
Edwards won NHRA’s 2009 Pro Stock world title.
The four-day setup of the U.S. Nationals has drivers like Edwards taking a different approach to this prestigious event.
"With that added qualifying and eliminations on Monday, it makes for a marathon weekend in Indianapolis because you are trying to find the right combination over a four-day period and the conditions in the Midwest can change overnight and make for a whole different strategy," Edwards said. "And we know that we have to come out of the gate fast and not stumble because of possible weather from Hurricane Isaac rolling into the area during the event. It is imperative to make a solid lap Friday night and then see what happens the next two days to get everything lined up for a run through eliminations on Monday."
Edwards has had solid Indy efforts the past several years.
In 2008 he reached the semifinals, and backed that up in 2009 with the same performance. In 2010, he took it a step further by reaching the final before falling to Greg Stanfield. Last year, he lost in the semis. During that run, Edwards has held the No. 1 qualifying position in 2009 and 2010.
"We know we can run fast at Indy, and have always performed well throughout my career," he said. "We have come close the last four years, and have just missed getting that second trophy. I know I have the best team in Pro Stock and with all them focused on this one goal this weekend; I know we are more than ready to work our tails off to leave with the Wally."
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - LOTS OF STORYLINES FOR THIS WEEKEND'S EVENT
SMOKING HOT AND GUNNING FOR INDY TITLE - Erica Enders rolls into this weekend as the hottest driver in Pro Stock.
Enders, who moved up to fifth in the points standings after her victory at Brainerd, has also won three of the last six events.
"There is no better time to be hot that right now," Enders said. "I'm excited that it's Indy, too. It's the biggest race of the year. I'm hopeful that we can make it three in a row."
Enders has long dreamed of winning a national event in one of NHRA's professional categories, but now that she's accomplished that goal, she's not done. Her sights are set even higher as the Countdown to the Championship looms after Indy.
"I'm excited about the recent success, but at the same time, I've got the championship in mind," Enders said. "We've just got to keep pressing forward, working hard and doing our best every week."
SO CLOSE - Pro Stock veteran Larry Morgan knows if the NHRA's six-race playoff were to start now, Morgan would be in the 10-person field of driver's eligible to win it all. However, there's one more event and the competition is intense, with six drivers fighting for the final four slots separated by just 51 points in the current standings.
"Wow, it's close, isn't it?" Morgan said. "That's alright; I love it. We're fired up over here in the Lucas Oil pit.
"If we want to stay in, we better have our stuff together. We're going to Martin, Michigan, before Indy to test. We want to make sure everything is totally buttoned up. We cannot make a mistake or we know someone will be right there to steal our spot."
Morgan, who last made the playoffs in 2007, currently sits ninth in the rankings. He's only 14 points behind seventh-place Ron Krisher, but just 18 ahead of 11th-place Jeg Coughlin Jr.
DON'T WAKE ME, I MUST BE DREAMING - Allen Johnson is having the greatest season of his 17-year career and is heading into Indy and, for the first time, as the heavy favorite to win the world’s most prestigious drag race.
With four victories in six final rounds, and a class-leading nine No. 1 qualifying positions, Johnson has been the leader of the pack since he won at Denver in impressive fashion. All he needs to do to secure the No. 1 seed for the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs is qualify at Indy.
“Hopefully the good vibes we have had the last few races will carry on into the U.S. Nationals, and we can go up there and show off a little in our Mopar Dodge Avenger,” Johnson said.
After getting off to a slow start at the beginning of the season with some early-round exits, Johnson got serious at Las Vegas and won. He added two-time world champ Jim Yates to his tuning braintrust that already included crew chief Mark Ingersoll and his father and engine builder Roy Johnson. The team hit its stride after the Vegas win and raced to victories at Topeka, Denver and Sonoma. Runner-up finishes were claimed at Bristol and Brainerd.
“Indy is one of the most important events of the year, prestige-wise,” Johnson said. “It’s also the last event of the regular season, so you want to get some momentum going for when the Countdown starts.”
Johnson has never been to a final at Indy and his only visit to the media center at Lucas Oil Raceway came in 2008 when he was the No. 1 qualifier for the event.
DOWN TO THE WIRE - Jeg Coughlin doesn't wonder what he needs to do this weekend in Indianapolis. He already knows.
There currently are half dozen drivers vying for four remaining playoff positions. The six are separated by just 51 points, with Coughlin just two points outside the top 10. Points are earned by winning rounds, with each round win worth 20 points, and in qualifying, based on position in each session and on the final grid.
"Those bonus points in qualifying could swing the whole deal so we need to be on our toes from the get-go," Coughlin said. "There also is an extra session of qualifying in Indy so there are a few more points available. It's going to be very close.
"It seems as though we say this every year but the level of competition is pretty incredible. We certainly feel like we have more performance to squeeze out of this JEGS.com Dodge, especially in the first section of the racetrack, and we're going to test before we get to Indy to see if we can't be a little more efficient. We're only two points out of the top 10 right now so any little advantage we can gain would be a positive."
MORE THAN JUST A RACE - Mark Martino has special incentive to bring his Charter Communications Pro Stock Car to largely because of the vast array of family memories he has accumulated while racing the event.
“Indy will always have a special place in my heart because of my family vacations there,” Martino said. “The first time I came to this race I was three years old, and we came every year until 1996.”
This interruption ended a 13 year streak of attending the “Big Go” as spectators for the Martino family. And although they did attend the event a couple more times in the years following, it is the 2011 edition of the event that now stands out as their most monumental.
Martino and his dad, Tony, saw a big part of their lifelong dreams come to fruition when they qualified at the U.S. Nationals in 2011.
“Qualifying last year was probably the biggest achievement in my racing career,” said Martino. “It was a special moment. If you’re gonna qualify, Indy’s the place to do it.”
STILL WORKING ON IT - Rodger Brogdon understands this weekend's Indianapolis event will be a challenge.
More than 30 cars are on the Pro Stock entry list for this weekend's race, which means the cars going home before eliminations even begin will nearly equal the cars making the show once qualifying ends. Not the kind of odds a team racing for just the second time with a new chassis and new engine program likes to see.
"Our class is the toughest one out there," Brogdon said. "I'm sure this weekend the difference between the No. 1 and No. 16 qualifiers is going to be about .06 seconds. This class is so deep that there's just no margin for error."
Brogdon and his team spent the last three days testing to get the new Camaro broken in.
"It's going to be tough, I can tell you that," Brogdon said. "We're going to have to make good runs in the sessions with the best conditions. There's going to be a couple of guys who aren't normally on tour, like Dave Connolly and Riche Stevens. Those guys are going to be contenders.
"We like the challenge and we'll give it all we've got."
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