SUNDAY FINALS - THE WINNERS ARE CROWNED FROM THE MARATHON NATIONALS
Duane Shields and Chris Foster led a list of first time winner’s for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto Plus at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis winning in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car respectively.
Shields, Boulder City, Nev., came out of the number 11 qualifying position and ran low 5.40’s (seconds) in the final three rounds of eliminations to capture the elusive Indy trophy. The win was Shield’s first at Indy and 18th overall as he took out No. 1 qualifier Sidnei Frigo who was coming off a win just a few days earlier from the rain delayed Heartland Park Topeka Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Regional event that was completed at Tri-State Raceway. Shields clocked in at 5.439 seconds at 267.91 mph to Frigo’s tire smoking 5.852, 228.92.
Foster grabbed his first NHRA National event win ever as he took out 15-time Lucas Oil National Champion Frank Manzo and Todd Veney on his way to a final round match up with former national champion Tony Bartone. Foster led from stripe to stripe in his Ford Mustang as he got the hole-shot starting line advantage and never looked back covering the quarter-mile in 5.548, at 258.96 mph for his best run on the weekend.
Mike Welfel and local runner Roger Weaver joined the list of NHRA national event winners taking home trophies in Stock and Super Gas. Welfel put his ’69 Camaro Stocker in the winner’s circle knocking out Joey Wilkes in 11.228 seconds while Weaver, Indianapolis, was near perfect running 9.903 on the 9.90 dial in his win over Jay Bunce.
Greg Kamplain from nearby Brownsburg, Ind., raced to a 6.882 second win in the Comp Eliminator class over Glen Treadwell and his ’23 roadster. Kamplain used a .003 second reaction time for his first U.S. Nationals victory.
In one of the best final round match ups of the day, Tommy Phillips, Forney, Texas, defeated Gary Stinnett, Emporia, Kan., in Super Comp. Both drivers had good reaction times as Phillips was slightly better and held on for the win in 8.905 seconds at 173.18 mph.
The final trophy went to Lynn Ellison out of Kentucky, with a win over Andy Kronenbitter, Millersport, Ohio, in Super Stock. The win is Ellison’s 5th national.
SATURDAY (WEEK TWO) NOTEBOOK - A TOUGH DAY IN THE OFFICE FOR SPORTSMAN RACERS
RUN FOR YOUR LIVES - “It wouldn’t surprise me the next time we start up a pair of cars that all of the orange blocks take their chances, jump the wall, and run away.” – Announcer Alan Reinhart when a large number of Top Alcohol Funny cars took out timing cones.
Five out of eight first round races were determined by disqualification for taking out a timing cone.
DOWN GOES REICHERT – Marty Thacker took out Bill Reichert when he smoked the tires at the hit and lost. Reichert was the No. 5 qualifier.
MAJOR PAYNE – Sometimes it’s best to stick to your guns. After watching the first pair of cars in TAFC and witnessing Paul Gill take out the timing block from the right lane, he exercised his right as the quicker qualified car to change lanes. The plan backfired as Payne crossed the centerline from the left lane and was disqualified in the first round.
If misery loves company, Payne wasn’t alone in his frustration as No. 3 qualifier John Lombardo Jr., apparently en route to a victory, inexplicably drifted across the centerline and took out a block drawing a disqualification.
NO SUPER STOCK TONIGHT – Due to delays, the first round of Super Stock scheduled for Saturday night was postponed until 8 AM Sunday. The cancellation announcement was made at 9:30 PM.
FAVORITES TAKE A BEATING IN TAD – Bill Reichert wasn’t the only TAD top half qualifier to getting an early ticket out of Indy. No. 6 Dan Page (Duane Shields), Jared Dreher (Mike Burns), Garret Bateman (Robin Samsel) and Brandon Booher (Ken Perry) all lost in the first round.
BARTONE TOPS QUALIFYING - Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Tony Bartone has traveled in the last two days. Friday afternoon, he was in Earlville, Iowa, and drove his way to runner-up in the rain-delayed Topeka event. Saturday morning he was in Indianapolis continued his journey right to the top of the qualifying order during the rain-delayed NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Bartone recorded a 5.499-second, 262.49 mph pass to overtake Frank Manzo, who was relegated to No. 2 with a 5.545.
Top Alcohol Dragster’s Sidnei Frigo, who led qualifying throughout the first two sessions, held onto the top spot throughout the third and final session with a 5.339.
Competition Eliminator completed its first round and the most prominent casualty was No. 1 qualifier Bruno Massel, whose turbo doorslammer couldn’t run the number in trying to chase down John Frech. Bo Butner was the only top ten qualifier casualty when he went red (-.002) against Jim Greenheck.
Super Stock, originally scheduled to stage their first round of eliminations on Sunday morning, was given a morning time trial. Wes Leopold was the top runner in the now all-run field by running an 8.595.
Eliminations will open following the pro sessions with round one of both Top Alcohol divisions and Super Stock.
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: RAIN MAKES FOR A MESS OF THE SCHEDULE
ABBREVIATED QUALIFYING – No Top Alcohol cars ran on Saturday due in part to extensive rain delays.
Race officials were able to get in the fourth round of Super Gas and Super Comp, as well as the third round of Stock eliminator before the clouds opened and delayed racing for more than four hours.
HIS RACE CAR IS HIS MARKETING MACHINE - Duane LaFleur might have lost early in Super Gas eliminations at the NHRA U.S. Nationals but the event was a rousing success for the Jiffy-tite fittings executive.
LaFleur staged what he considered to be a successful marketing outing for his employer/sponsor.
“You can’t beat a win-light, but being out here and marketing the product, showcasing it and relating to the racers is extremely important to our objective,” LaFleur said.
LaFleur makes the most of his time at the race track when outside of the cockpit.
“I only have 9.9 to ten seconds in the race car, so this leaves a lot of time to interact with the customers,” explained LaFleur. “You have plenty of time to interact with the customers and the balance is pretty easy between racing and marketing. When you’re focused, it’s like any sport, you stay in your game and it becomes a natural process both in and outside of the car.”
LaFleur, by racing Super Gas and the fact Jiffy-tite’s quick fittings are more of a safety oriented product, doesn’t have to worry about keeping the company’s best parts as a secret from the racing competition. In his world, the more customers, the merrier.
“It’s more of a simplifying of the plumbing,” said LaFleur. “We are here to help people with their plumbing failures. This is my office away from the office.”
GOOD NEWS FOR REGIONAL RACERS - Renowned artist and sculpturer Dan Dreisbach was commissioned by executives at JEGS Mail Order to create a special trophy for the winning Regional Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car team at next year's JEGS Allstars event in Chicago.
When NHRA announced that Top Alcohol competition would be divided among four regions rather than the traditional seven divisions, JEGS personnel immediately began devising a plan to keep the popular racecars as part of the prestigious Allstars format.
"The team portion of the JEGS Allstars race has been such a popular and unifying element and we didn't want to lose that with the Top Alcohol racers," said Jeg Coughlin Jr., who together with his three brothers owns and operates the 52-year-old, high performance parts company. "We brainstormed on a few ideas and worked with the NHRA to figure out how we could keep them involved."
The end result is very similar to the long-running Allstars race, with invitations extended to the top two competitors from each category in each region. Once they get to Chicago, the best-of-the-best will once again be able to race for individual and team titles.
The team that wins it all will take home Dreisbach's handmade creation.
"I really like how this piece came out," said Dreisbach, an Indy Car fabricator who has made numerous trophies for JEGS events in the past. "I used purple heart, red heart and maple woods as well as some aluminum, brass, copper and stainless steel, which I actually harvested from some Indy Car skid-plates.
"The dragster and Funny Car bodies are hammer-formed stainless and are hollow inside. I didn't use any patterns or bucks; I just got out my hammers and dollies to make the shapes and cut the excess with conventional band-saws and grinders. There is about 150 hours of work in this trophy and I'm pleased with the final product. I hope everyone likes it."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - SPORTSMAN RUNS A LOT EARLY; WESTCOTT DOMINATES
BAD TO THE FISHBONE - Charlie Westcott Jr. and Mopar HEMI Challenge mastery – the two go hand-in-hand. The Parma, Mich., native took his 1968 “Warfish” Plymouth Barracuda all the way to the bank on Friday at the 12th Annual Mopar HEMI Challenge at the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, defeating the 1968 Dodge Dart of Jim Daniels, to complete his second straight sweep at the Indianapolis Mopar HEMI Challenge, seizing his fifth overall victory at the venue and pocketing the $15,000 winner’s purse from Mopar.
“Congratulations to Charlie Westcott Jr. for winning the Mopar HEMI Challenge during the U.S. Nationals,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC’s service, parts and customer-care brand. “Mopar is extremely proud to support sportsman drag racing, which is the backbone of the sport. The Mopar HEMI Challenge is an event that we always look forward to, and the turnout was fantastic again this year. Hats off to all the dedicated Mopar Sportsman racers who competed in the event.”
Westcott Jr.’s path to the final included a first-round bye, a pass of 8.498-seconds at 158.91 mph to defeat the 1968 Dodge Dart of David Barton in the second round, an 8.447/159.44 to best former Indy HEMI Challenge champ Rick Houser (who also redlighted), and a 8.434/158.89 pass to win a close match in the semifinals with fellow ’68 Plymouth Barracuda driver Tyler Hard and earn lane choice over Daniels.
In the final, Westcott Jr. unleashed an 8.397/159.06 pass to reel in Daniels (8.485/156.92), who left quicker off the line with a .022 reaction time to Westcott’s slower .091 mark. The horsepower in Westcott’s HEMI proved too much, as the ‘Cuda passed the Dart just after the 1,000-foot mark, with only five-foot margin of victory.
“We come here to win,” said Westcott Jr. “We’re not here for the party. All we do is work on the car, and all I want to do now is take a nap. I’m whipped to the max. The clutch was getting aggressive and I kept tuning it a little bit at a time. I didn’t want to take a big swing at it and throw it away. In the final I turned up the starting line RPM and had the clutched backed off a little and it did a fairly good-sized wheelie for my car. It got a little crooked and he (Daniels) got out front a little ways, but then I started pulling on him. I was pretty sure I passed him, but it was close.
“It’s a great deal, especially for Mopar, with the big crowd. It’s great exposure deal for Mopar. Thank God they put up the money for this, because I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.”
Daniels road to the money round featured a single run of 8.475/157.36 after Lloyd Wofford was unable to meet the bell in the opening stanza, a solid 8.480/157.83 effort to knock off the always-tough Jim Pancake in his Carriage Towne Chrysler 1968 Dodge Dart, a 8.490/157.41 mark to run down Steve Comella’s Dart, and an 8.487/157.45 pass in his semifinals bye into the finals.
“I couldn’t be happier with the car," said Daniels. "We worked pretty hard on it yesterday. Thanks to Ray and David (Barton), my son, everybody that helped out. I can’t thank these guys enough. We come and we have a great time. It’s a great race, and you see people around the country you don’t see a lot.
“Charlie and his father (Charlie Westcott Sr., a former champion at the event), they work hard at it. I give them all the accolades. I told them before the race, ‘Let’s put on a good show for the fans,’ and I think we did. I wish it would have had a different outcome, but I’m completely happy with everything.”
A crowded field of 23 Mopar-powered Super Stock A/HEMI (SS/AH) 1968 Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas duked it out at Lucas Oil Raceway. Daniels earned $1,500 with his runner-up finish, with Hard and Houser earning $500 each for their third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively.
FRIDAY LEADERS - Day three of the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals marked the first two sessions of the Top Alcohol Divisions. Sidnei Frigo (TAD) and Tony Bartone (TAFC) were the provisional top qualifiers.
Frigo, unqualified after the first session, vaulted from the No. 26 spot to lead the Top Alcohol Dragsters with a 5.345, 267.27 pass. Frigo was followed by Jared Dreher's injected-nitro car which turned in a 5.393, 256.94. Bill Reichert was third.
Paul Fishburn, of Rensselaer, Ind., anchored the field with a 5.564.
Bartone used a 5.580, 259.91 to pace the Funny Cars and beat out Fred Hagan, who ran a 5.609. Defending series champion Frank Manzo was third.
Canadian Paul Noakes is on the bubble with a 5.778.
Bruno Massel paced the 54-car Comp field by running -.703 under the I/Dragster index. He ran a 6.597 elapsed time. Rick Hord was second with his CC/A. Steve Ambrose, Jason Coan and Arnie Martel rounded out the top five.
Top Alcohol qualifying resumed Saturday morning as well as the remainder of sportsman eliminations.
"This is awesome,” said Butner. “It’s cool to think that I’ll always be known as the guy who won the first one of these [NHRA Factory Showdown] races. I know it wasn’t easy. I haven’t blocked [the Tree] too much lately and as soon as we left, I knew I was dead late. Thankfully, he spun the tires because he left on me by a lot.”
CONNOLLY SCORES BIG IN STOCK ACTION - Up until last Friday evening, Dave Connolly hadn’t foot-braked a race car since his mother’s Chevrolet Cavalier when he was 15. A week later he won the CC/SA class at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis while driving Pro Stock team owner Victor Cagnazzi’s new 2012 COPO Camaro. He also beat seasoned veteran Dan Fletcher in the first round of eliminations.
No small feat for a driver who had less than eight runs of this style race car. Even more impressive is the car only had four runs before it rolled through the gates of Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
“We didn’t get a lot of test time with it,” admitted Connolly, who is also racing Pro Stock this weekend. “We tested for two days and after spending countless hours working on engines and the fine details, Victor showed up at Rockingham with this car at 8:30 Friday night and we made four runs with the car.
“For the little bit of time we had to test, and to go out there and win class, and do as well as we have done is a big statement for GM. It’s got a lot left. We haven’t had a lot of test time to get everything dialed in.”
Connolly qualified No. 62 in the 163-car field by running a 9.656, .944 under the index.
“I’ve always wanted to run Stock or Super Stock,” Connolly explained. “I’ve always wanted to give bottom bulb racing a try, but my thing has always been the pro-tree and bracket racing.”
Connolly realizes his Stock eliminator experience might be living on borrowed time. Eventually Cagnazzi has visions of driving his special edition Bowtie.
“I asked him on the last run at Rockingham if he wanted to make it,” Connolly revealed. “I know he wanted to and he eventually will.”
Cagnazzi actually has driven the new car, but not on the strip. He has taken a leisurely stroll around the back roads of Mooresville, NC.
“It’s really a lot of fun,” said Cagnazzi. “I just thought the first runs should have been made by him because he’s a better driver than me. My time will come.”
Until then, Connolly plans on getting the job done as best he can.
“The plan is to take the car to Charlotte and beyond that, who knows?” Connolly concluded.
BREWS WITH CREWS DELIVERS - Thursday afternoon, a large crowd had a good time in Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis’ Top Eliminator Club. The exclusive area of the track hosted Brews with Crews, a gathering of race fans, racers and sponsors thanks to the efforts of the IMIS Show, Strange Engineering, Weldon Pumps and Wilwood.
Spearheading the social gathering was Jeff Stange of Strange Engineering.
“This is a way for us to say thank you to the racers,” said Stange. “It’s the best way IMIS, Strange, Weldon and Wilwood can say thank you. Nothing says a good time like a cook out and a party.”
The gathering offered attendees hot dogs, hamburgers, dessert and the beverage of their choice.
Stange likened the event to the days, when as a kid, he used to attend the races with his dad Bob Stange, the founder and driving force behind Strange Engineering. Socializing with the racers, in addition to building a quality product, was an important part of business.
“It’s kind of like the days when my father would bring me to the races at Indy, these kinds of gatherings is what it is all about,” said Stange. “I think sometimes we lose track of that. This is what it is all about, bringing everyone together as a social event.”
The inaugural event was a success and for Stange, this is the start of something he expects to be big.
“We plan on doing this every year, at least at Strange we do,” said Stange. “It looks like it was a great event, we had 800 RSVPs. I estimate we had 800 – 1000 people here.”
“I am very excited to have Old World Industries as our major marketing partner and we will work as hard for them as we do getting the car into the winner’s circle” Duane said.
Jay Payne also unveiled Peak livery in the Top Alcohol division.
WANTS FIRST NHRA WIN - Top Alcohol Funny Car standout Cassie Simonton hopes her crew chief's Indy experience works in her favor. Her tuner, Randy Anderson, won Indy in the first race he ever entered as a driver.
Twenty years later she's hoping he'll get a taste of magic again.
“This is the biggest race of the season; we’d love to get our first win here," said Simonton. "It would be big for the team and for Spiro. We’re considering this as coming off of two finals in a row, even though we had a regional in between. We still have that confidence from back-to-back finals, and we’re hoping to keep that going."
Winning would also be a belated birthday present for Simonton, who turned 26 on Wednesday.
THURSDAY - CLASS ELIMIMINATIONS GET UNDERWAY
TO THE A/S WINNER GO THE SPOILS - In the grand scheme of NHRA U.S. Nationals class eliminations, the A/Stock runoffs pale in comparison to the highly promoted and prestigious SS/AH Hemi Shootout.
Reality has only served as inspiration for Jim Schaechter.
Schaechter, a longtime Stock eliminator competitor who runs in various manually shifted classes, wanted to build more participation in the classes he was running. While pursuing this objective, he formed unofficial, impromptu shootouts aimed at encouraging more participation.
However, when a friend built and raced an A/Stocker – the top of the food chain class within Stock, Schaechter became hooked on this style of car. Hooked being be a lesser word for the description of Schaechter’s obsession.
“I tested it first in J/S and K/S and I/S, the classes I was running at the time,” said Schaechter. I just wanted to encourage more racers to come race with us. It worked. My friend built an A/Stock car and it all just fell into place.”
Schaechter, an admitted promoter at heart, approached different manufacturers in an effort to grow his vision of a shootout featuring what he believes to be the most volatile cars in the eliminator.
Seven years later, Schaechter’s vision has become a rousing success. Schaechter would love to see the A/S class eliminations grow into a full-on NHRA promoted affair but is content for now with just being a big deal amongst fellow racers.
“I am pleased with the outcome and encouraged by the interest,” said Schaechter. “This is a tough class to win. You have some of these cars pulling 900 horsepower. They might stand on the bumper or go into the wall.
“I think these cars have the most appeal. Not everyone owns one but they usually wish they did. They are very demanding cars. They take a lot of expense and upkeep. They are difficult to drive and have a lot of torque on small tires.”
What kind of cars usually end up in A/Stock?
“There are Thunderbolts, new LS1 cars, big block Camaros, ’65 Corvette Stingrays,” said Schaechter. “There’s something new and old you can appreciate. They are on the edge. Yes, there are new classes but I have a soft spot in my heart for these kinds of cars.”
This year’s A/Stock winner was Caleb McFarland who became the first back-to-back winner with his LS-1-powered Camaro. He defeated Kevin Helms for the second consecutive year.
McFarland has followed in the footsteps of his father, Brett McFarland, who won the inaugural event in 2005.
In addition to the McFarland family, Jim Waldo, John Calvert and Helms are previous winners.
Schaechter believed from the start the event needed a prestigious trophy and for the past few seasons a Vertigate shifter enclosed in a wooden box has been the prize at the end of the battle. This trophy is passed on from winner to winner.
“We decided a traveling trophy was best for this deal,” said Schaechter. “It has all the names of the past winners. It actually ratchets back and forth just like a real shifter. It’s something a good stick shift racer can appreciate.”
There are other perks and money available for the winners. Schaechter estimates McFarland will take home about $3,000 in cash and prizes when all is said and done.
McFarland, who turned 20 on Thursday while in Indianapolis, said he might be young, but is old enough to appreciate class racing.
“It’s a lot of fun, and absolutely awesome,” said McFarland.
In addition to the cold hard cash for McFarland, fellow stick racer Shawn Alsep, who is also serving in the military, arranged for the this year’s winner to receive an American flag flown inside of a U-2 spy plane which flew over Afghanistan. The flag was signed by both the pilot and commanding officer.
“There are just some prizes you cannot buy,” said Schaechter. “There’s just a lot of interest and appreciation for these cars.”
Schaechter said a growing majority of racers in the pits, even if they don’t race the class, want to see the unofficial program succeed.
“I’ve had racers come up to me, not even running in the class, and hand me $50 or so to go into the pot, and just say they love what we are doing,” said Schaechter. “We’ve also had big name sponsors, like Wiseco pistons, Edelbrock, Autometer, Jeg Coughlin … they want to contribute in some way. We’ve had big ticket items like a set of pistons … a free set of rods … gift certificates … and it adds up quickly. I think it shows heads-up, class racing is still alive.”
IT'S A NEAT THING WITH PROMISE - The NHRA Factory Stock Showdown made its debut on Thursday at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis with the hopes of showcasing the Ford Mustang Cobra Jet, Dodge Mopar Challenger Drag Pak and the Chevrolet COPO Camaro.
While the U.S. Nationals may have been the perfect place to debut the Factory Stock Showdown class, it simply turned into another chance for the Cobra Jets to grab the spotlight.
Like its ADRL SuperCar Showdown counterpart, the Factory Stock Showdown again turned into a showcase for the Mustang Cobra Jets on Thursday at Lucas Oil Raceway, predominately making up most of the field and putting together most of the top performances.
It’s an impressive nod to the powerful Cobra Jets, and also an indication of how far ahead they still seem to be of the new Dragpaks and COPO Camaros at this point.
“I think (the NHRA and ADRL) are both having the same problems, trying to get the comparison between each car, getting the Camaros and Dragpaks equal with the Mustangs. Again, it turned into an all-Cobra Jet show,” said driver Chris Holbrook, who has won an ADRL SuperCar Showdown event in his Cobra Jet in 2012.
“That’s fine with us, but I think it would just be much better if we could somehow get them closer together, which is hard to do. It’s like Pro Mod years ago, where you’re trying to get everything compared the same.”
Holbrook was ousted in one semifinal by Bo Butner, who will meet up against Brett Candies in the first finals for the new class. Butner has owned the ADRL version, racking up five wins and put together a series of strong runs on Thursday in Indy.
Of course, both Butner and Candies campaign Cobra Jets, but Ray Skillman is still high on the potential for the Factory Stock Showdown.
His son, Billy, and grandson, Drew, both competed – and drove Cobra Jets – in the Factory Stock Showdown and Ray praised the new class.
“I think it’s fun and a neat deal, and I just hope it continues to grow into Stock and Super Stock in the coming years,” Skillman said. “I think the crowd will absolutely love them because you can relate to these things.
“A Mustang looks like a Mustang and maybe by this time next year Chevrolet will be involved. It would be like back in the 60s when Super Stock was so strong.”
BORN AGAIN - Roy Hill remembers being at the NHRA U.S. Nationals the first time Pro Stock ran in the prestigious event.
That was 1970 and now more than 50 years later, Hill is still enjoying every minute of the biggest drag race of the year.
“It’s a dream come true to be coming out here 45-50 years,” Hill said. “To see the way the sport has grown is tremendous. It’s just unbelievable.”
Hill’s outstanding Pro Stock days may also be behind him, but he’s at peace with that, thanks in part to the 2010 Mustang Cobra Jet that has reinvigorated Hill in recent years.
James Finch provided an opportunity to drive the sleek and powerful Cobra Jet in 2010 in the Super Stock class, and that’s all it took for Hill to get behind the wheel.
Since then, it’s also provided the perfect outlet for the legendary driver.
“All he told me was to make it the fastest thing in the country and to win Indy. We’re going into our third Indy and we won Indy that year (2010),” Hill said.
“We’ve gone out nine times and seven times we were No. 1 at national events. Last year, we got the second car and we won Super Stock A and I won Super Stock B.”
Driving the Super Stock A car in 2011 was Charlie Downing and joining Hill in 2012 at the U.S. Nationals is NHRA Pro Mod and ADRL Pro Nitrous standout Robert Patrick Jr.
Hill is sticking with the 2010 Cobra Jet, while Patrick has a 2012 version that checks in at 3,400 pounds, or five pounds lighter than Hill’s.
After four rounds of qualifying at Lucas Oil Raceway, Hill had gone 8.368, while Patrick was right behind at 8.437.
This is the first year they’re competing in the SS/AAA class (9.40 index), and Hill gladly explained why it made its first appearance in 2012 in Super Stock at the U.S. Nationals.
“NHRA made a special class I guess you could say, because between Roy Hill and Ray Skillman, we’ve hit the index so many times that they made a class for us to race in where it’s now hard to hit the index,” Hill said.
A total of seven cars are in the SS/AAA class heading to eliminations, including Skillman’s grandson, Drew, who went a class-best 8.242 on Thursday.
But Hill is aiming high in 2012 and he’s not going to be content with just winning in SS/AAA.
“I’ve won the class two years in a row and that means a lot, but that’s not what Roy Hill wants to do. When I got back in this sport three years ago, I thought I could win again. I still think I can win, but my hat is off to all these sportsman racers,” Hill said.
“It’s a glorified bracket race and I’m learning every time I go out how to cut lights better and how to be more consistent. There’s so many ways you can lose a race.”
Of course, Hill has found plenty ways to win as well, making it practically a habit over the past 50-plus years, and he’s certainly a favorite to make it three straight wins in 2012.
As for his previous area of expertise, Hill continues to marvel at what is being accomplished in Pro Stock in 2012.
With his recent run of success in Super Stock, he also said he’s at peace not racing in the pro ranks these days.
“You know, I really am. As far as my age and my health goes, I could not compete on a weekly basis with the Pro Stock cars with the way they are today and the amount of people it takes to run them,” Hill said.
“You’ve got to have your own engine program and you don’t do this unless you have $3-4 million a year.”
I CAN DO THIS - It hasn’t taken long for Todd Patterson to find the sweet spot in the new COPO Camaro he is driving in Stock Eliminator.
The iconic Comp racer has quickly taken to the 2013 COPO, taking it to the No. 1 qualifier spot in its first race (at a LODRS points meet in Topeka) just days after it was delivered to Bob Tyler, who owns the sparkling new ride.
Patterson will campaign the car for the next two seasons and things already went impressively well at the second race for the COPO Camaro as well.
He qualified No. 12 overall in Stock Eliminator at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, going an outstanding 9.534 on a 10.60 index (-1.066).
It helped lead him all the way to the finals in CC/SA where he went red by .008 in a hard-luck loss to the talented Dave Connolly.
Still, you would be hard-pressed to hear any complaints from Patterson, who has had astounding results in a very short time in a new car that remains relatively unchanged from the factory.
“This has been real good. We couldn’t be more pleased with how the car has been running,” Patterson said. “It’s still got the stock GM tune-up just like it came with when we picked it up two weeks ago. We’ve made some changes to the suspension and, so far, we couldn’t be happier.”
Patterson ripped off a pair of 9.534s, going as fast as 123.37 mph in the COPO. Despite going red in the final, Patterson, considered a master of the small block, still went 9.54 at 121 mph.
It’s undoubtedly been an adjustment for Patterson after succeeding in Comp and with faster Super Stock cars, but he certainly seems to be onto something special in the COPO Camaro.
“Fortunately for me, my son had a C-Stock automatic Camaro two years ago, so I kind of had a general feel for what the difference would be,” Patterson said.
“But I come out of my Super Mod car going 1.13 in the 60-foot and I’m going 1.30 in this car, so there’s definitely a different feel. There’s a lot more lift to the front end when you launch, but it’s fun.”
THE BIGGEST FISH IN THE POND - Charlie Westcott Jr. of Parma, Mich., powered to the No. 1 spot in qualifying on Thursday in his 1968 “Warfish” Plymouth Barracuda at the 12th Annual Mopar® HEMI® Challenge at the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Westcott Jr. banked the Mopar top qualifier $500 bonus with his second straight pole at the Indianapolis Mopar HEMI Challenge event, and will look to capture his second straight Indy win on Friday and fifth overall at the venue.
An impressive field of 23 Mopar-powered Super Stock A/HEMI (SS/AH) 1968 Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas battled it out at Lucas Oil Raceway. Westcott Jr. paced the pack with an elapsed time of 8.386-seconds in his HEMI machine. Clocking in at No. 2 was Jim Daniels of Bristol, Pa., in his 1968 Dodge Dart with an 8.458 mark, followed by Charlie Westcott Sr. in the third spot in his ’68 Plymouth ‘Cuda with an 8.488. Taking the fourth spot was former Indy Mopar HEMI Challenge champ Rick Houser of Pasadena, Calif., with an 8.491 effort in his 1968 Plymouth Barracuda, and Wendell Howes of Rathesay, Neb., rounded out the top five with an 8.510, also in a 1968 Barracuda.
“I think people were surprised when I put that .38 on the board, but I wasn’t,” said Westcott Jr. “Yesterday I had a few subpar passes. We found some adjustments in the suspension and the car went down the track really nice today.”
The Westcott family is aiming for its fourth Indy HEMI Challenge win five years. Westcott Jr. claimed victory in 2008 and 2011, with his father earning the win in 2009. Last year featured an all-Westcott final, and the father-and-son duo would relish a repeat performance.
“He almost beat me last year, because he had a lot better light (reaction time) than I did,” said Westcott Jr. of his battle with his father in the 2011 Mopar HEMI Challenge final. “He’s beat me a few times, and I’ve beat him a few times. It’s all about who makes the best runs. If the ladder works that way, it would be cool. That’s obviously ideal, to get both of these cars in the final and win as much money as we can.”
The Mopar HEMI Challenge winner will earn an impressive $15,000 purse tomorrow, with $1,500 slotted for the runner-up and $500 each for the third and fourth-place finishers.
“It’s a great deal. Mopar supporting us is a great thing, and without them I wouldn’t have one of these HEMI cars,” said Westcott Jr. “They put the money up and make it worthwhile to come out and try to claim the prize.
WEDNESDAY - AND THE BIG GO GETS GOING
LOVE MY TRUCK - When it comes to drag racing, a truck isn’t usually the first choice of racing.
For Paul Wong of Las Vegas, Nev., his truck defied the logic of hundreds of other Stock Eliminator racers during first day qualifying for the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Richard Muhlenhardt confirmed Wong’s logic.
Wong, while racing in U/Stock Automatic, drove his 1986 Chevrolet C-10 pick-up to the No. 1 qualifying position after three rounds of qualifying. His -1.55 under the index run generated a 13.300 elapsed time.
Muhlenhardt, also in U/SA, was second as he pushed 1986 GMC to the second position with a -1.123, 13.727 performance.
Randy Eakins, racing an E/SA 2010 Challenger, was the quickest non-truck with a -1.096, 10.604.
SKILLMAN IS THE MAN - In Super Stock, Ray Skillman led a late model muscle charge as he paced the 163-car field with an 8.580, -1.070 effort.
Skillman was followed by Randy Hopkins (SS/AAA), P.B. Candies (SS/AAA). Rock Haas (GT/AA) and Roy Hill (SS/AAA).
The quickest traditional Super Stocker was eighth-quickest, and Garrett Ghezzi earned the spot with a -1.001, 10.849 under the SS/MA index with his 1969 AMX.
Qualifying resumes on Thursday with class eliminations in all Stock and Super Stock categories.
ADJUSTING FOR THE HURRICANE - Because of impending weather related to Hurricane Isaac expected to arrive over the weekend, the Super Gas division will run their first round of eliminations on Thursday.
GOOD EATS - Wednesday after qualifying at the NHRA U.S. Nationals is completed, if you’re a drag racer, means one thing – good eating.
On opposite ends of the Lucas Oil Raceway Park two major meals attracted a large number of connoisseurs.
On the sportsman side of the pits, Weldon Motorsports, with the help of company rep Chuck Westcott, hosts their traditional Racer Appreciation BBQ.
Nine-to-five, Lydia Bohm spends the lion’s share of her day marketing and directing the company’s promotions. On this day she takes on a different kind of role.
She was serving up heaping helpings of ribs, chicken and baked beans to a line of almost 1,000 racers.
“In the past four years we’ve done this, we’ve had between 400 – 600 people,” Bohm explained. “This year we prepared for 1000. We are almost out of food at this point. This has been a great turnout.”
As the Weldon BBQ draws to a close, a massive pizza party kicks off on the professional side within Funny Car racer Bob Tasca III’s hospitality area.
Tasca, along with Ford Racing, treats the Ford customers and fans to a massive pizza party.
“We started this about four years ago with the objective of getting the Ford racers together to thank them,” Tasca explained. “We wanted to let them know how much we appreciate what they do at the track and in the community. I am very proud this has turned into a standing room only event.”
“This is a great opportunity to spend time with the sportsman racers, thank them and get their feedback,” added Jesse Kershaw of Ford Racing.
And judging by the eats on Wednesday few racers should have a hard time making weight on Thursday.
MODERN TECHNOLOGY MEETS TRADITION - It was highly-anticipated and even a little bit delayed, but when the key to the new 2013 COPO Camaro was finally in his hands, Jim Vasser Sr. was filled with excitement.
But hopefully his friends didn’t expect any ravishing social media update from the longtime drag racer.
“I’ve stayed off of all the social networks. We were out celebrating something and someone told me I had to get on there, and I said, ‘I am not getting on My Face.’ So everybody laughed and I didn’t even know what I said wrong,” Vasser said.
“I’m still not on any of them. I have a computer and that’s what I do my work on. Nothing I have to say is that interesting anyway.”
Some might beg to differ, at least when it comes to his 2013 COPO (his was the fourth produced), but Vasser has kept his virtual mouth shut.
While the COPO is fitted with the latest in modern technology and everything about it indicates state-of-the-art production, Vasser apparently draws the line when it comes to his own social media eagerness.
But that certainly doesn’t take away the enthusiasm he and his son, former IndyCar standout Jimmy Vasser, have when it comes to the eye-catching car.
The father-son team hired Bay Area drag racing standout Eric Reyes to drive the car at this weekend’s NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in the new Factory Stock Showdown.
Their COPO also continues to make strides in a short period, as the car had only been tested two separate times before the U.S. Nationals, a far cry from the month the Vassers had expected to have the car before the event in Indy.
“We had hoped to have it for 3-4 weeks in Northern California, but that didn’t happen. We took delivery of it two Sundays ago and then Monday, we rented a drag strip, made a couple passes and made a couple more last weekend,” Jim Vasser Sr. said.
“It’s going in the right direction and we’re happy. This is a tough race to show up to with a brand new car, but we’re getting there.”
The father-son duo brings an impressive pedigree to Indy as well. Jimmy is the 1996 IndyCar World Series champion and co-owner of KV Racing Technology, which competes in the IZOD IndyCar Series, while Jim Vasser Sr. is a long time drag racing aficionado and General Manager of Jimmy Vasser Chevrolet in Napa, Ca.
With a new COPO, they couldn’t think of a better way to market the dealership – provided the elder Vasser didn’t have to promote it himself online.
“We heard about the COPO and we thought it would be a good way to market our Chevrolet store, so we got on the list and got one, and here we are,” Jim Vasser Sr. said. “There’s a way to go before it’s competitive with the Mustangs. We’ve made some strides in a quick time frame and by Vegas we should be quite a bit better, but there’s a lot of things to do.”
There is, though, plenty of time to marvel at the COPO Vasser Sr. calls his “King Kong COPO,” a nod to his drag racing days that ended in 1970.
Back then Vasser Sr. called his car – an overhead cam Ford – “King Kong” as it competed against the big names in the A/Gas Supercharged class.
Vasser Sr. jokes, “the only thing we ever won was the Best Appearing Car Award at the ’69 Winternationals,” but plenty of those memories remained in the paint scheme that waxes nostalgic as it turns heads.
“It was a lot of fun back in the day, and as you tell by the car, we kind of painted it old school from the 60s and 70s. Everybody says it looks like Sox and Martin, but I said, ‘No, it looks like Butch Leal’s Camaro.’”
GIANT KILLER - Forget bringing a knife to a gun fight.
All Mark Prothero has is a wooden spoon this weekend at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Super Stock.
Granted, Prothero’s awesome green ’57 Volkswagen with black flames is likely one of the wildest cars anyone will see in Indianapolis this week, but there’s no denying that in a class filled with big dogs, Prothero is barking with a Chihuahua.
His VW packs a 135 cubic-inch motor that makes about 260 horsepower, but that’s of no concern to the Whittier, Ca. native.
When things go his way – and going his way can mean as quick as a 10.43 – Prothero and his unique VW can feel as big as a giant.
“I think I am (a giant), but those monsters, those Hemis and Camaros are bad boys. But this car runs good for 135 cubic inches,” Prothero said.
He struggled on Wednesday, as his 11.210 on an 11.60 index (-0.390) had him 153 out of 163 cars.
That’s also why he had motors and parts scattered throughout his pits that made his humble operation look like a Top Fuel undertaking.
But that’s just Prothero doing everything he can to get the car running like he knows it can.
“Right now we’re having problems between first (gear) and second (gear), on the gear change. It wants to cut off. So, I think the engine over-revved, so to be safe we’re pulling that motor and putting in our back-up motor,” Prothero said.
“We’re going to go through the ignition and try to get those gremlins out of this thing and get ready for the third round of qualifying.”
To get to that 10.43 range or perhaps even quicker, Prothero is turning to his green motor, which is aptly called the “Green Hornet,” and ran a career-best 10.43 at this year’s NHRA Winternationals in Pomona.
It will replace the “Black Mamba” motor that couldn’t find its sweet spot on Wednesday, but rest assured that no matter what motor is inside Prothero’s VW, it won’t be among the biggest barkers in Indy. Of course, the biggest bark can often mean little in Super Stock.
While the VW is certainly no big-block Chevrolet or a nitro-burning Hemi, don’t bother trying to discourage Prothero this weekend, even if he’s still trying to dodge bullets with that wooden spoon.
“We know we can go a lot faster,” Prothero said. “We were .80 under (the index) at 7,000 feet (at the Winternationals), so we should be at least .90 under here.”
A DEN OF VIPERS - PB Candies understands the value of having an arsenal.
One look in his pits at the NHRA U.S. Nationals and you’ll see a car lot of modern Detroit muscle.
Candies, son of iconic Funny Car owner Paul Candies, came to this weekend armed with four Ford Cobra Jets (2010,  2012 and 2013) as well as a Mopar Drag Pak Challenger. He is competing in Super Stock, Stock and the new Factory Stock Showdown.
All of the Cobra Jets are in competition this weekend. The Mopar was a catch net in case the 2013 model wasn’t completed in time or stumbled in qualifying.
“She’s kind of mad at us right now,” Candies said, pointing at the 2010 Drag Pak model.
Candies tested the 2013 Cobra Jet last weekend in Milan, Michigan, outside of Detroit, and deemed the results satisfactory enough to enter this weekend’s Factor Stock Shootout.
“We’ve struggled a bit with it because it’s a brand new car,” Candies said. “We haven’t found what it likes and dislikes yet. We’re working on it. We wanted to come out and support the Factory Shootout in hopes that it will be successful and the rules will improve for next year.”
Though Candies grew up largely watching his dad’s nitro-burning Funny Cars and dragsters, he’s perfectly content with the slower pace and less demanding modern muscle class cars.
“Really having a good time at it,” said Candies. “It’s challenging and with dad’s help, we really want to be at the top of the leaderboard. We work very hard at what we do. We’re always trying to develop new parts and pieces to make these cars quicker with each run. We’re not the greatest, but we’re pretty good for a sophomore team.”
And just when you thought Candies had more than enough, two weeks ago he took delivery of a new COPO Camaro.
“After the race, we are going to get back to the shop and put our RACEPAK system in it,” said Candies. “We’re going to make a few more adjustments suspension wise and hopefully we will have it out by the end of the year. We’ll be ready for 2013.”
SCARY MOMENT - Super Stock driver Stacy McCarty, Indianapolis, was not injured in a one-car accident during qualifying for the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
The accident came during Wednesday's first qualifying session.
McCarty's '05 Pontiac Grand Am appeared to suffer major engine damage about 1,000 feet into his qualifying run, with smoke coming from the car, followed by a flash fire at the finish line.
Oil from the engine apparently got under the tires as the car crossed the finish line at 121 mph and the car went fron the right lane across the track, hitting the left wall.
The impact overturned the car, which then spun and slid down the track for several hundred feet before coming to a stop.
Driver Kevin Helms, Schriever, Louisiana, was in the left lane, but crossed the finish line ahead of McCarty and was not involved in the accident.
McCarty did not appear to have any serious injuries and was assisted from the car by Safety Safari personnel. - Larry Sullivan
A DIFFERENT KIND OF STOCK - Past Pro Stock racer Robert Patrick will drive a Super Stock Cobra Jet for Roy Hill during the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
“I’m really excited about doing this and I will tell you, these Super Stock guys are hard-hitters,” Patrick said. “You can look at the caliber of racers in this class and there are no weak links. I think I can adjust easily to the heads up and pro tree in the shootouts but the full tree will be a challenge. I will definitely be stepping outside of my comfort zone. Leaving off of the bottom bulb is something I haven’t done in a while.”
Patrick admits he doesn’t have a plethora of experience in driving these automatic transmission-equipped Mustangs and leaving off of a trans-brake, but in running as quick as 3.8-seconds in the eighth-mile, he’s got what it takes to adapt quickly.
“Been a long time in driving one of these cars,” Patrick admitted. “And, for these cars running low eight second passes on a narrow tire, that’s really moving. It’s going to be an exciting ride and I’m looking forward to it.”
THE NEW BUZZ - Defending two-time NHRA Division 3 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Champion Chris Foster will carry the DragBuzz.com livery as the team’s primary sponsor this weekend.
DragBuzz.com is the latest creation of team Crew Chief Will Hanna, who also runs InsideTopAlcohol.com, InsideCompRacing.com and InsideFastBrackets.com. DragBuzz.com lists the latest drag racing news stories from around the internet, giving race fans a ‘snapshot’ of the news of the day.
“Running several racing websites and being on the computer all day, I am pretty familiar with all the racing news websites out there,” said Hanna. “My goal with DragBuzz.com is to bring all of the stories of the day into one place. We don’t host the news, we just link to it. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s a neat concept.
“When I made the deal with Chris, I was pretty excited to be able to put DragBuzz.com on the car for the biggest race of them all – Indy,” Hanna continued. “There’s a buzz that fills the air at that race from the time the first trailers roll through the gate until Monday evening. There’s not another race like it, and think it’s a great opportunity to debut the DragBuzz.com brand.”
FIRST TIMER - Todd Robertson is no stranger to running big races but, the U.S. Nationals is in a category by itself.
“I’ve raced at the track before, I’ve attended the nationals before and I’ve helped out some friends who’ve run them before but, this is different,” said Robertson.
“This is the race we all thought of when Todd decided to switch from Outlaw Pro Mod to his Motor City Machine NHRA Alky Funny Car It’s a drag racer thing it’s like Dyatona for the stock car guys but more,” said Car Chief, Rocco Wilson.
ALL TUNED UP IN INDY - Troy Coughlin Jr. used the North Central Division Lucas Oil Series event at Beech Bend Raceway as a final tune-up in preparation for the drag racing’s signature event, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, which will take place this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
Coughlin drove his JEGS.com Corvette to a Round 3 finish in Super Gas, but bowed out in the opening session of Super Comp in his JEGS.com dragster.
"I got to make a bunch of runs in both cars and that’s something I really needed," Coughlin said. "I am still new to Super Gas and I haven’t raced too much in Super Comp this year but now I’m getting into a groove. I raced in Super Gas the last two weekends so I’ve gotten more seat time and I feel very good about our chances at Indy."
Coughlin has every reason to feel optimistic about his chances as he heads to the sport’s most prestigious event. As a 20-year-old in 2010, he became one of the youngest drivers to win the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals when he raced to the Super Comp title.
"Every year when we go to Indy, I get the same feeling; it brings back a lot of memories from my childhood," Coughlin said. "When I was a kid, it was always the last race of the summer -- right before school started -- and I loved going there with my family. I think my first memory was 1996, when my dad was racing in Pro Stock and all three of my uncles were also racing. I always knew Indy was a big deal and after I won it in 2010, I really started to understand how special it is."
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