SUNDAY NOTEBOOK: WINNERS ARE CROWNED ON SUNDAY
KEEPING HIS LUNCH MONEY - Antron Brown said Saturday at Madison, Ill., when he officially beat out Top Fuel teammate and friend Spencer Massey for the No. 1 qualifying position for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, "I don't want Spencer taking my lunch money."
That's AntronBrownspeak for, "I don't want Spencer Massey trumping me on the racetrack and passing me for the points lead and championship."
In the showdown between the Nos. 1 and 2 in the standings and the Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers at Gateway Motorsports Park -- in the rematch of the previous week's final round at Texas Motorplex -- in an all-Don Schumacher Racing pairing -- no one stole anything from Brown and the Aaron's Dream Machine / Matco Tools Dragster.
With a 3.766-second elapsed time at 325.22 mph, Brown won the tug-of-war for the points lead that this final round turned into. Massey, who chased Brown with a 3.812, 324.05 in the Prestone/FRAM Dragster, trails by 21 points as focus shifts to this weekend's Auto-Plus Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, near Reading, Pa.
"We snuck off with that win. That was a tough battle against our teammate Spencer. That FRAM car has been tough all year. And to get a win through them is one of those incredible, hard feats," Brown said. "It's definitely very, very competitive, and these guys aren't playing anymore.
"It was a stressful day where we matched up against some great competition. Matching up against my teammate in the final was big – we’ve been back and forth in the points," he said. "It's great to have six wins, but right now they're all in the past. We need to go back to the shop and get focused on these last three races. It's just so competitive out here -- and this point race is going to go down to the last race."
Three races remain on the schedule. After the Reading event, the teams have three weeks off before the Countdown resumes at Las Vegas. The season finale is Nov. 8-11 at Pomona, Calif.
Brown pointed to the team effort that was evident Sunday in the nitro classes.
"From our guys in the shop to our guys on the road, the guys who put this car together, and our crew chiefs, and us drivers, we lean on each other and we're able to make those unbelievable things believable," Brown said.
"We're blessed to have this great team, and it starts with Don Schumacher. He orchestrated this entire organization and, when you see all four DSR cars in the finals of Funny Car and Top Fuel, that's an awesome statement."
With Jack Beckman beating Matt Hagan for the Funny Car trophy immediately before, DSR moved to within five victories of reaching the 200-victory plateau. And boss Don Schumacher reveled in this second time in 2012 that his organization fielded all four nitro-class finalists. They did it at Sonoma, Calif., during the Western Swing, as Brown defeated Massey in Top Fuel and Johnny Gray beat Hagan in Funny Car.
"We did it a year ago in Brainerd, also," Schumacher said. "It's just an incredible feat for my teams: the teams, the drivers, the people back in Brownsburg [the suburban Indianapolis headquarters]. There are about 20 guys who stay back in Brownsburg and machine our engine parts and build our chassis. That's really a salute to all of those people. It's not just the drivers. The drivers get all of the accolades. The crew chiefs get quite a bit. I'm getting more press than I care to get, but that's part of what I do out here. I love the sport, love what we're doing."
But he said it's time to recognize "all of the people who don't get the credit that. Really, they deserve from all of the hard, hard work they do put out day in and day out."
Announcer Bob Frey said the irony of the class today is that "the only ones who can beat your cars are . . . your cars."
But Schumacher laughed and said, "Those other cars, those other dragsters that were running [3.]78, 79, and 77 [namely Brandon Bernstein, Steve Torrence, Dave Grubnic, Shawn Langdon, and Doug Kalitta], they can all beat us any day, any run. We've just been fortunate and blessed with the people we've put together that they make the right calls at the right times. That's brought us to this level."
Brown was the No. 1 qualifier with a monster performance of 3.737 seconds and 326.79 mph that remained low E.T. and top speed of the meet. He advanced by beating Bruce Litton, Torrence, and Bernstein.
Massey, the No. 2 qualifier, eliminated T.J. Zizzo, Khalid al Balooshi, and Grubnic to see Brown even their final-round record against each other at three victories apiece.
THEY DO CALL HIM FAST JACK - With a name like “Fast” Jack Beckman, one is expected to be reasonably speedy.
He lived up to his nickname Sunday the AAA NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park when he defeated his Don Schumacher Racing teammate and reigning Full Throttle Series Funny Car champion Matt Hagan in the final round. The win was part of a DSR sweep of the finals with teammates Antron Brown and Spencer Massey facing off on the Top Fuel side. Brown took the victory, as he has the other two times DSR has swept the NHRA nitro classes (Sonoma, 2012; Brainerd, 2011).
It’s the second time this year Beckman has beaten a teammate for the Wally, the first coming in Topeka, Kans., over Ron Capps, who leads the class standings over Beckman by 30 points.
Beckman earned top qualifier honors of the meet with his 4.049 second ET run Friday night under the lights, a track record, and the time held through two rounds on Saturday. The victory has him batting .500 for his career, his 15th victory in 30 final rounds.
Eliminations kicked off with a win over Team Kalitta rookie driver Alexis DeJoria. Beckman wasn’t finished picking on the Kalitta crew as he topped Jeff Arend, who set a track speed record with a run of 312.93 mph, in E2 after Arend broke on the line. In the semis, two-time class champion Tony Pedregon fell to the eventual winner, leading to his showdown with Hagan.
And a very bizarre battle at the starting line.
Fast Jack was fast when he had to be, but he was anything but off the line in the finals, with a reaction time of .448 seconds. Which was not a problem since Hagan was way early in the other line, firing off .307 seconds before the light turned green.
“Wow,” Beckman said to the assembled media after the race. “From my perspective, you go up there and are ready to squeeze that trigger if anything happens. Noise, then the red light came on, and I saw this big Die Hard logo. I’m like, the tree never came on! I swear it seemed like I got to seven Mississippi before my side came on and then I had a view of Matt’s car mixing up cylinders down there and it certainly was not what I was expecting.”
The situation Beckman is in now is certainly a 180 degree turnaround from what it was after the Las Vegas race in the spring when Capps missed the race and Beckman’s then-crew chief, Rahn Tobler, was moved over to the NAPA team and Todd Smith was given the Valvoline car. Whether it’s good or bad, making a change of that magnitude is never easy and Schumacher acknowledged that he had some trepidation.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to move Rahn Tobler over to Ron Capps’ team, but we really needed to kick that team into gear which was certainly accomplished,” said the multi-time NHRA champion team owner. “I had tried to hire Todd Smith about three years ago. He had a different philosophy about how to run a car that wouldn’t have fit into my organization. After (Kenny) Bernstein shut his team down and Todd sat on the sidelines for a little bit, he’s come in with a philosophy … he’s a team member. He’s doing a great, great job.”
For his part, Beckman, who is on his seventh crew chief at DSR by his count, never doubted Schumacher, saying every tuner he’s ever worked with at the team has provided him with a car that can win at any given track at any given race.
“When we made the change early in the year, I knew at that point, having six crew chiefs in the past, you never second guess Don,” Beckman said. “He’s thought about this. He gets this stuff! Here’s the thing about Don. He’s driven the cars, so you can’t BS him about that. He’s tuned the cars, so the crew chiefs can’t BS him about that. He can look at the computer and tell you what’s going on. He can look at the car the first one hundred feet and tell you what’s going on.”
Beckman and the rest of the NHRA Full Throttle Series head to Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Penn., for the fourth race in the Countdown to the Championship.
HOME RUN - Erica Enders attended the Saturday night St. Louis Cardinals-Washington Nationals baseball game -- which had National League playoff implications -- with Allen Johnson and his family.
Across the Mississippi River from Busch Stadium Sunday, Enders and Johnson met in the Pro Stock class' final round of the NHRA's AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals, and she executed a double-play, of sorts, against Johnson. Their meeting had playoff implications, too, and she beat him and did it with a holeshot.
With that, Enders moved into third place and sent points leader Johnson the message he has others to contend with besides Jason Line, the No. 2-ranked driver and reigning class champion.
She whittled her deficit to 126 points. Johnson leads Line in the standings by 109 points, and Enders is 17 points behind Line as the fourth race of the six-event Countdown -- the Auto-Plus Nationals -- awaits this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway, near Reading, Pa.
Enders, driving the Cagnazzi Racing-owned GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt, used a .013-second reaction time to Johnson's outstanding .019 to win with a 6.540-second elapsed time at 211.79 mph. Johnson challenged in his Team Mopar / J&J Racing Dodge Avenger with a quicker and faster 6.538-second, 212.13-mph pass at Gateway Motorsports Park at Madison, Ill.
She earned her fourth victory in the past 10 races and the fourth in seven final-round appearances. She defeated Shane Gray, her own crew chief Dave Connolly, and top qualifier Line before denying Johnson his sixth victory in his ninth final round of the season.
She also paid back Johnson for winning their final-round match a week ago in the AAA Texas Fall Nationals, near Dallas. It marked her second final-round triumph over Johnson in five events. She beat him in August at Brainerd, Minn.
Enders said following her four-thousandth-of-a-second victory margin that she had wanted to win the previous Sunday in her home state of Texas and that she told Johnson -- whom she teasingly calls "Brutus" -- that this time it was her turn to win.
"We've had a really consistent hot rod. It wasn't the fastest one on the property today, but it was definitely consistent, and that's what counts on Sunday," she said. "I'm really proud to race my bud in the final but even more proud to stand in the winners circle.
"It's a total team effort, and I can't thank my guys enough. I say it week in and week out, but they're the reason I get to do this. We got down a tricky racetrack when there was Pro Stock pedalfest out there, so they get all the credit in the world for this one," Enders said.
"I knew we were a little bit behind, performance-wise, in the final, and I needed to step up to the plate. I couldn't let 'em down."
Johnson plowed though a talented lineup of Greg Stanfield, Mike Edwards, and Vincent Nobile to reach the final round.
THEY'RE BACK - For 13 straight weeks in the NHRA Full Throttle Series Pro Stock Motorcycle class, either Andrew Hines or Eddie Krawiec, both former class champions, were in the Winner’s Circle. The Harley-Davidson riders had accomplished a stretch of domination in that time which hadn’t been seen in years.
But last week, at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas, the Screamin Eagle V-Rod bikes mysteriously disappeared.
Not only did neither Hines nor Krawiec win the race, both riders were absent from the finals as Michael Ray took the victory on his Matt Smith Racing Buell over Karen Stoffer and her Suzuki. They weren’t gone long, though, as the pair returned to the PSM finals at Gateway Motorsports Park for the AAA NHRA Midwest Nationals with Krawiec taking the win after Hines red-lit. Krawiec’s 6.851 second ET was still stout regardless of his teammate’s uh-oh moment and the defending champ also had the fastest speed of the weekend, running the quarter mile in 197.10 mph during qualifying.
Krawiec came into the event looking to improve his reaction times, but has it turned it, he needn’t have worried. Three of his four wins came as a result of his opponent fouling out. Krawiec’s opponent in the semis was Hector Arana, the only rider to go green against him at the line. The 2009 motorcycle champ lost by .04 seconds at the stripe.
In addition to Arana, Krawiec defeated Steve Johnson in E1 after Johnson was .036 seconds on the wrong side of the light and Chip Ellis, who also red-lit by a mere .001 seconds.
“I lost Dallas due to rider error; I call it rider error,” Krawiec said in the media center after the race. “I ran a .66 (reaction time) and a .66 is unacceptable. My goal this weekend was to be good on the tree all weekend. If you’re good on the tree and you have a good bike, you should win a lot of rounds. That was my hurdle. I had three red lights, but I ran good lights all day and that’s the key thing.”
Hector Arana, Jr., the class top qualifier this weekend in Madison, Ill., fell against Hines in the semi-finals despite a .005 second reaction time against the 2008 event winner.
After last weekend’s disappearance from E4, the two Harley-Davidson riders could have easily claimed the bad weekend was a result of the NHRA adding an additional ten pounds to their bikes and announcing rule changes in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class for 2013 to further even the playing field for the Buells and the Suzukis. Krawiec was quick to say while the added weight is a factor, it still comes down to the rider.
“You have to have a good qualifying bike,” he said. “For us, we gave up qualifying points and we didn’t want to do that and that’s our own fault. We were searching for the tune up and weren’t 100 percent happy off the truck pretty much all weekend. The end result of that (was) yes, we had ten pounds added to us.
“Like I tell everybody, yes, it’s going to slow you down a little bit, it’s not going to knock us off the face of the earth. I think we’re going to feel that ten pounds a little more and it’s grabbed on to the other 20 pounds (that NHRA added earlier this season). Our bikes are acting a little different. They’re certainly not back to acting how we want them to yet and we’re still going to work towards that.”
A big advantage for Krawiec, and the rest of the drivers racing in St. Louis, was the cool temps. Gateway was legendary for its blistering heat when the event was scheduled during the summer and the Harley rider, who was a big fan of the facility prior to this weekend, is an even bigger one now with the new date.
“Gateway looks way different because the temperature is way down!” he said, laughing. “I enjoy this place. This was my second-ever win in 2009. I went to Atlanta and won here making it back-to-back wins. I was excited (to return here). I’ve been Tweeting and throwing things out on my Facebook all week (saying) I can’t wait to go to St. Louis, it should be fun, it’s going to be cool. It’s about time it was in the 70s here.”
The NHRA Full Throttle Series continues its Countdown to the Championship with race No. 4 next weekend at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - FAST DAY IN THE SUN, OVERFLOW CROWD
PACE-SETTER - On Friday, Jack Beckman set the pace for the nitro Funny Car class with a blistering 4.049-seond track record elapsed time at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park outside of St. Louis.
Saturday, no one could knock Beckman from the qualifying throne as he won the pole position in his Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger that he drives for Don Schumacher Racing.
“The awesome thing about getting qualified on Friday, aside from qualifying No. 1 is that it gives you Saturday to play on a race-day tune-up,” Beckman said. “We were able to try another Supercharger (Saturday). We dyno all our stuff at Schumacher Racing and everything has its own fingerprint, but the idea is by dynoing it is you know its characteristics. But, until you put it on the race car you do not know for certain, so it was nice to get another run with that.”
This was Beckman’s third pole position this season and seventh of his career. Beckman faces Alex DeJoria in round one Sunday.
“Once we ran that well (Friday night), it was a great thing that happened, but we had to focus on getting a tune-up for the race,” Beckman said. “Making it down the track both times (Saturday) and getting to try that other Supercharger and getting to try a couple of things for the warmer track should help us out. Plus, qualifying first absolutely never hurts your chances.”
Beckman also knows his team must seize the opportunity it has by sitting on the pole. Beckman came to St. Louis third in the season points 97 behind leader Ron Capps, his DSR teammate, and one point in back of Mike Neff. Capps qualified No. 6 and Neff is No. 13.
“I like where we are sitting and we have been doing this on a consistent basis lately, but we have to convert,” Beckman said. “We have to turn this into round wins. We have a maximum of 16 rounds left, and that’s assuming that you make it to the final at every race. In drag racing, once you lose, you lose the potential of those extra rounds and we are five (rounds) out right now and we are not racing for second place. We have to perform on Sunday, so the pressure is squarely on us. You take nobody lightly and you can’t take anything for granted. I absolutely would not trade our position for any other race cars here this week. Period.”
LITTLE CHANGE - Little changed Saturday in the Top Fuel lineup for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, as Antron Brown rode his track-record 3.737-second, 326.79-mph Friday performance to his third No. 1 qualifying position this year.
But Brown can't help but wonder how his Aaron's Dream Machine/Matco Tools Dragster will behave against first-round opponent Bruce Litton in Sunday's eliminations, because it acted up in Saturday qualifying at Gateway Motorsports Park at Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.
"Today was a little struggle," Brown said after moving one point ahead of Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey so far in the tight points battle in this third race of the Countdown. "We couldn't get the car slowed down enough. We've got our work cut out for us."
Just the same, he said, "Tomorrow's going to be a great race day."
Brown hasn't overlooked the significance of qualifying bonus points.
"They're more important than qualifying No. 1 half the time," he said. "If you get three of the quickest runs, that's nine points. And nine points add up really, really quick. That can get you ahead of somebody."
Brown and Massey each earned four this weekend, but Shawn Langdon picked up five, and Tony Schumacher outdid everybody with eight.
Just four more races remain in the Countdown for the final Full Throttle Drag Racing Series championship, as the series sponsor will switch to Coca-Cola's Mello Yello soft drink brand.
Massey is the No. 2 starter for Sunday's race, and he'll open his day against part-time but pesky T.J. Zizzo.
Even in the thick of the points battle with Brown, Massey has been the consummate teammate, Brown said. Both DSR drivers had made eye-popping runs Friday night on Gateway's 1,000-foot course. Massey had gone first and posted a 3.752-second elapsed time, daring anyone to beat that.
Brown did, as Massey sat up at the top end of the track, awaiting Brown's arrival. When Brown stopped the car and climbed out, Massey rushed over and helped him and helped him get his helmet off. Massey, who just turned 30 this month but exhibits pure, almost child-like joy at anyone's outstanding performance, breathlessly told Brown what Brown's incremental numbers were on that pass.
Then, just so Brown knew, Massey warned him, "We're still going to get it on on Sunday."
Shot back Brown, 'You got that right."
Brown said, "That's the way we roll at DSR."
Rolling into eliminations, Steve Torrence will face Bob Vandergriff, and Tony Schumacher will face Clay Millican. Other match-ups are Doug Kalitta vs. Brandon Bernstein, Khalid al Balooshi vs. Larry Dixon, Dave Grubnic vs. Terry McMillen, and Morgan Lucas vs. Shawn Langdon.
MIGHTY FINE, HIS 6.49 - After his Friday night mea culpa for not getting his KB / Summit Racing Chevy Camaro in the 6.4-second range during qualifying for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Jason Line made up for it big-time Saturday.
In the third of four overall qualifying sessions, Line made the fans in suburban St. Louis sit up straight -- even stand up -- and take notice. He clocked a track-record 6.496-second elapsed time at an impressive 213.47 mph on the Gateway Motorsports Park quarter-mile that ties the fifth fastest pass in Pro Stock history.
With that, Line ensured he would lead the field into eliminations for the 30th time in his career and the sixth time this season.
With this stout showing at Madison, Ill., Line owns three of the top 10 Pro Stock speeds, all three set this year. The other two came at the spring Charlotte Four-Wide race. His E.T. Saturday didn't crack the top 10 on the all-time list, but Line already has recorded the top four speeds -- all last October at Reading, Pa., which happens to be the next stop in the Countdown, next week.
The reigning and two-time champion will face four-time class champ Jeg Coughlin in the opening round Sunday.
Line said his team Saturday was "working on trying to get three points. All the little points matter. They don't mean anything if you don't get the big points. I feel like we have the car to beat. I just need to go out there and do a good job and make it happen."
He said he's "super-excited about the Camaro. It has taken us awhile to come around but we have a great car -- at least for the weekend."
Asked whether he was surprised not to see more 6.40-second runs Saturday morning, Line said, "I was surprised there was one!" Changing his prediction from Friday night, he said, "I didn't think we could go a .40. I think it was probably the best corrected run we've made. I was more surprised that there was one in the first place and even more surprised that we did it. It felt good, though. It was a nice run."
Line generally hesitates to compliment himself, but he had to admit that third-session run was "pretty darn close" to being perfect. "It was probably as close as we're going to come to making a perfect run. You can always pick something apart. But really, it was an awful nice run."
He said when he looked at the time sheet after the pass, he described it as "a home run." Said Line, "That's hard to do. It's been years since I had one of those."
He said he was especially excited for his team, "because we've worked pretty hard and haven't gotten much for it" since the Camaro arrived at the KB/Summit shop in Mooresville, N.C.
TURNING UP THE WICK - As good as Hector Arana Jr. was Friday, he was even better Saturday.
Arana Jr. maintained the Pro Stock Motorcycle pole position with a track record time of 6.809 seconds Saturday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park outside of St. Louis.
“The conditions were great,” Arana Jr. said. “We were just able to tune to the conditions from (Friday night) to (Saturday morning) they were pretty close. We were able to make adjustments and as you guys saw the adjustments we made worked out and we ran better.”
This was Arana Jr.’s third pole of the season and the 10th of his career.
“You are always hoping you are going to run better, but I was really surprised we ran that fast,” said Arana Jr. about his track record run Saturday.
Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines, the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson riders had won 13 races in a row dating back to Las Vegas in 2011 before having that string broke by Michael Ray last Sunday in Dallas.
Krawiec and Hines qualified third and fourth right behind Arana Jr. and his father, Hector Arana Sr., who is in the No. 2 position.
Prior to the Dallas event, NHRA announced a minimum weight increase of 10 pounds for the Harley-Davidson riders Krawiec and Hines. Beginning at Dallas, the minimum weight for Harley-Davidson motorcycles was 670 pounds.
Harley-Davidsons now weigh 55 pounds more than a Buell and 75 pounds more than a Suzuki.
“I’m sure they have a strategy for what they are doing,” Arana Jr., said about the Vance & Hines team. “We will see what happens (Sunday).”
Arana Jr., arrived in St. Louis 79 points behind Krawiec for the points lead and 68 in back of Hines. He also hasn’t won since the Phoenix race in 2011, but he is hoping to change that trend Sunday.
“The outlook looks good,” Arana Jr., said. “The bike has been very consistent and I have been riding well. I just have to go out there and do it. I’m just looking forward to living in the present instead of looking back at the past.”
NOT GOOD - The look on Terry Haddock’s face showed the true scope of his despair.
During Funny Car’s final qualifying session, Haddock suffered a body-launching explosion which inevitably cost him a body as well as a chance to race on Sunday in the AAA NHRA Midwest Nationals outside of St. Louis.
This incident was indicative of the luck Haddock tends to attract. Normally this kind of detonation would be the result of a supercharger/engine failure. This time it was neither.
A fuel pump failure split the fuel tank like an aluminum can causing the fuel inside to explode.
“This is pretty heartbreaking,” Haddock admitted as he surveyed the damaged body. “We are working so hard to come out here and race with these guys. There are so many little teams who have the smarts and the ability to run fast but we are so out-moneyed that it feels like we don’t even have a chance.”
The loss of the body and income from qualifying will force Haddock to miss next weekend’s event in Reading, Pa., and casts a pall on his chances to race Las Vegas and the final event in Pomona.
“More and more, as time goes on, I wonder if it’s worth it,” Haddock said. “My dad never taught me to quit. Or maybe, he never made me smart enough to quit. I always feel like I have to win … have to beat this challenge. It looks bad now and I’m sure it’s not the responsible thing but I’m sure tomorrow I will be hard at work trying to figure out how to fix this.”
Haddock said as gloomy as the prognosis might be, there is a silver lining.
“It could have been worse, I could have been hurt,” Haddock said. “We can replace all of these broken parts. I am lucky to be able to go home to my wife and two children. We can fix this other junk.”
Tomorrow morning, Haddock begins his journey back home to Temple, Texas.
“At some point I’ll sit down and determine what the responsible thing is,” Haddock admitted. “All these years I’ve tried and tried and tried. Sometimes when you try there are your skeptics who say you don’t belong out there. But if you’re not there, no one will ever know you want to be there.
“It’s hard to know what the right answer is.”
MOVING FORWARD - Leah Pruett plans to secure her Top Fuel license on Monday.
Originally scheduled to attempt the crossover licensing from her Nitro Funny Car driving credentials the day after the O’Reilly NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway outside of Charlotte, her hopes were washed away with the large raindrops which fell from the Carolina sky.
Monday will present another opportunity as Pruett will once again attempt to make runs behind the wheel of the Dote Racing Top Fuel dragster.
“We planned to make our runs, and a few other drivers that day made a run early at zMax. Instead of running up there to make a run, we took some time preparing the car … taking Larry [Dixon’s] seat out and putting mine in the car. We wanted to make sure I felt comfortable in the car. We warmed the car and shortly thereafter rolled to the staging lanes. As soon as I got in the car, (the rain) started.”
The rains began to fall and after a while, it became evident to Pruett and the Dote team the test wasn’t going to happen.
“We waited the rain out for hours and knowing the NHRA Safety Safari wasn’t going to be there to dry the track as quickly as they do at national events, we just decided it would be better to wait for another weekend,” Pruett explained. “We wanted to make more than just one run.
“It was disappointing because this was to be the first time I had been in a fuel car in a year. The warm-up went great and I wasn’t even nervous. I was more excited to get it done. I had been going through the routine in my mind for weeks. Then to be so close and not get to make the run.”
Equally frustrating for Pruett, was how what was intended to be a low-profile test session turned into the internet message board and media story of the week.
“Thanks to CompetitionPlus.com, we were able to set the record straight,” said Pruett, who was accused of buying the ride away from Hillary Will. “There was always a lot going on with what I figure to be R2B2’s last year in Pro Modified. As one door shuts, another opens. There was a lot going on and I’ve always learned if they’re not talking about you, you’re not doing anything.”
Pruett, who currently races the R2B2 Pro Modified Mustang, has big hopes for a career in the nitro ranks. She has been very close on multiple occasions to securing a ride with Don Schumacher Racing.
“There are so many deals going on out here, and we had planned to let the news release after we had finished the test session,” admitted Pruett. “You just always want to keep all of your options open. Hopefully our next big story will come on Tuesday when we get my license.”
GOLF-COURSE OWNER DRAG RACES, TOO - Just as a drag racer will accept a round-win no matter how pretty or ugly the run looked, so will a golfer take a hole-in-one with no apology. Allen Johnson knows that. He has had some not-quite-textbook Pro Stock victories, and twice on the golf course he has made a hole-in-one.
As the one-time scratch golfer cheered on the U.S. Ryder Cup team against its European counterparts this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis in between driving duties in the Team Mopar / J&J Racing Dodge Avenger, he reflected on his own golfing experiences.
"I've had two hole-in-ones," Johnson said. "One of 'em was legitimate, and one of 'em was a bit of a fluke. But if you write a "1" down [on your card], they don't ask how you got it."
The fluky feat, he said, came when he "hit short of the green on Hole No. 6 at Link Hills Country Club [in his East Tennessee hometown of Greeneville]. And it hit a sprinkler head, bounced right into a tree, then kicked over onto the green, and went into the hole. That was the first one I had. The second one I hit just right past the hole and it sucked right back into the hole. That was at the Member/Guest Golf Tournament at Link Hills Country Club. Won a bunch of John Deere mowing equipment."
While Johnson plays at Link Hills when he gets the chance, he also is part-owner of Nolichucky View Golf Club, down Asheville Highway from Link Hills in Greeneville. It's an 18-hole course that snuggles up to the banks of the Nolichucky River with a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It sits on the land where Johnson and his childhood pals used to run around and play.
It started out as a nine-hole course which a group of investors bought. Johnson said they "bought the nine-hole course and 100 acres around it later and developed it into a real nice 18-hole course and a subdivision, a country-club like atmosphere. They went belly-up about five years ago, and me and a couple of my buddies bought it at foreclosure and it's been going good the last couple of years. Beautiful golf course."
Johnson stopped short of drawing a connection between his dominating, points-leading performance of late and an improvement in his golf game. He said his race car is a separate issue and rejected the notion that his elevated golf game has anything to do with his career-best Pro Stock season. "I don't think so," he said with a laugh.
It certainly hasn't hurt. He has five victories in eight final-round appearances, has led the standings since his July victory at Denver, has 10 of his 28 career No. 1 starts this season, and enters Sunday's eliminations with a 34-14 record.
"Golf is relaxing me. See what's on TV right now?" Johnson said with a nod to the TV set in his motorhome at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals. "I come in here and lay and watch golf all dang weekend every weekend. When it's not on, I'm lost, even though I'm at the races. I just love golf. I used to play before I got into drag racing, played in tournaments. I got down to about a scratch golfer. Enjoyed it. But now I get to play 10-12 times a year. I play in all these charity tournaments. I've been working on my game this year, though, more than I have in several years. Just really love golf."
On his car this weekend are decals depicting his Ryder Cup interest. He said he wants to "keep up with the score and put it on the back window of the Mopar Dodge Avenger to show our support.
"The U.S. is kicking butt, and it's getting me pumped up to watch it," Johnson said. "I hope I can use that as some inspiration. The fans seemed excited about the Ryder Cup decals on my Dodge, so that's cool. I'll update the score tomorrow on my windows, hopefully with more good news for the U.S." And maybe he's thinking some more good news from Allen Johnson, too.
The No. 2 qualifier Saturday said that just as when he plays golf, when he drag races he tries not to over-think his situation, that trouble comes "anytime you get ahead of yourself. That's what we're trying not to do right now. We're looking at each round as if it were the championship [on the line]. We're trying to be the best every round. We're not looking forward. We're not counting points. We're just trying to do our best."
DRAFTING ON 'STEWART-STYLE' - Top Pro Stock qualifier Jason Line used to work for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team before he decided to come home to his drag-racing roots. And he said that although he doesn't follow the stock-car series that much anymore, Tony Stewart's rocket-to-the-top performance in the Chase for another championship inspired him.
Line told reporters Saturday he was in Germany last year as part of the annual USO tour that includes drag racers and that he got up at 2 a.m. to watch the only Cup race he had watched all year. Afterward, he said, he jotted a note to himself and stored it in his cell phone: "Win championship, Tony Stewart-style."
Line, who's second to Allen Johnson in the standings (but leads him in Sunday's lineup and the two start 1-2), said, "We have the opportunity to do that. We have to come from behind to do that." He said Stewart's title run "was one of the coolest things I've ever seen in racing. I'd like to do the same thing. Right now Allen's been getting the best of us, but tomorrow . . . "
NOT GIVING AWAY MUCH - Allen Johnson might have looked like he's opening the door a crack for Jason Line to stick his foot in and cause him some trouble. But Johnson wasn't overly upset about qualifying No. 2 to Line. "We tried some changes on the last run, and we actually picked up more against Jason than it showed," Johnson said. "We just made a bad run down low. I think we've got a good combination going into tomorrow to possibly be the quickest car again. Stanfield [Round 1 opponent Greg Stanfield] is always tough, and you have to do your job against him.
"This Mopar team will do like we did last week, take every round one at a time and race myself, and not pay attention to who is in the other lane. Hopefully, I can do my job, and the Mopar/J&J Racing crew can get our Dodge dialed in," he said. "Every race you can win in the Countdown is special. It would also be special to get my sixth win of the season, and first here at St. Louis. But like I said, we're just going round by round, making sure to keep our focus."
Crew chief Mark Ingersoll said, "We ran decent but not as good as we could have or should have. We're looking right now where we can make some improvements that we hope can help us get a big win here at St. Louis."
DeJORIA OVERCOMES CLUTCH TROUBLE - Del Worsham, crew chief for Alexis DeJoria's Kalitta Motorsports Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry Funny Car, came through in the clutch -- with a revamped clutch package. It got DeJoria in the field, but she had to hang on to secure the 16th and final starting spot. That will pit her against top qualifier Jack Beckman to start her race day.
"This weekend was frustrating," Worsham said. "The car is being a little finicky right now, and we just don't have it quite where we need it to be. We're carefully analyzing all of the data right now. And once we get all of the adjustments right, we should be fine. Our car has proven to be consistent throughout the season, so after we get these bugs worked out, we should experience the faster and more predictable passes like we're used to."
Worsham and crew changed out the clutch levers after the Dallas race last Sunday after discovering the worn levers were causing the car to become too aggressive. But Worsham became frustrated because the new clutch components weren't the same kind as the previous ones. Team Patrón hadn't made the cut after two Friday sessions, so Worsham decided to reinstall the older clutch levers. DeJoria ran a 4.187-second E.T. at 291.13 mph -- on just seven cylinders -- to grab the No. 13 slot. But she was bumped down to 16th.
Still, she expressed excitement, knowing from her Bristol runner-up spot from the bottom of the pile that she has a chance, no matter where she starts in the lineup. "I wish we could've done better during qualifying, but we're in," DeJoria said, "and anything can happen once you're in -- it's a 50-50 chance. We've come from the bottom and risen to the top before, and I'm confident we can do that again this weekend."
LINE-DRIVE HITTER - Wilk's Warriors, the faithful band of friends and fans who cheer on Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson from the grandstands at St. Louis and Joliet and from a living-room gathering at one of their homes when the races are farther away, have been on hand this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park. They saw him make the line-up in the 10th spot Saturday and anticipate a second straight meeting in as many weeks with fellow Ford Mustang driver Robert Hight in Sunday's opening round of eliminations.
Wilkerson's Saturday started out disappointing, as he smoked his tires on the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Ford Mustang in the early session. His last chance ended well, with a 4.131-second elapsed time.
"Just a little too much on the first one, maybe trying to run a couple of hundredths better than the track would allow," Wilkerson said of this final two chances. "We knew we probably couldn't do too much better than the 4.11 on the last one, but the real goal was to get it down the track under power and establish that baseline. You always want to end on a good one, too. You don't want to hit your tee shot on 18 into the woods. You want to hit it right down the middle. Or, since we've been using baseball analogies lately, you want to hit a line drive on your last at-bat. That was as solid line drive."
STILL DOING ALL RIGHT - Before the event began, Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon said, "I think we're in a really good spot. The Al-Anabi team is two rounds out of the points lead with four races to go. We made up a lot of ground with the win in Charlotte two weeks ago, but then we lost some last weekend. We are hoping to make up those two rounds we lost in Dallas this weekend at Gateway."
Antron Brown denied Langdon his fourth straight No. 1 starting position Saturday. But Langdon will start sixth Sunday, going head-to-head against former boss Morgan Lucas after earning five bonus points for the weekend, second only to Tony Schumacher's eight as the No. 4 qualifier.
Langdon is not deterred by the tough Countdown map he must navigate.
"This is the best I've ever felt in any of my three previous Countdown appearances. With four races to go, I feel I have the best opportunity I've ever had to challenge for a championship, and we have a shot. I want to make sure that I am prepared for every run, because I know the car will be, and as a driver, I have to be sure I do my part by being mentally and physically prepared for these last four races.
"I'm having the time of my life. But racing with the Al-Anabi team goes beyond that because it's not just me going out there to drive a race car," Langdon said. "I've built relationships with the people on this team, so I'm racing for this entire team, as well as Sheikh Khalid and the people of Qatar, too."
TOP FUEL PAIRINGS - Antron Brown vs. Bruce Litton, Spencer Massey vs. , Steve Torrence will face Bob Vandergriff, and Tony Schumacher will face Clay Millican. Other match-ups are Doug Kalitta vs. Brandon Bernstein, Khalid al Balooshi vs. Larry Dixon, Dave Grubnic vs. Terry McMillen, and Morgan Lucas vs. Shawn Langdon.
FUNNY CAR PAIRINGS - The opening-round line-up for the Funny Car class Sunday pits Jack Beckman vs. Alexis DeJoria, John Force vs. Dale Creasy, Matt Hagan vs. Jim Head, Courtney Force vs. Mike Neff, Bob Tasca vs. Tony Pedregon, Ron Capps vs. Johnny Gray, Robert Hight vs. Tim Wilkerson, Jeff Arend vs. Cruz Pedregon.
PRO STOCK PAIRINGS - Jason Line vs. Jeg Coughlin, Allen Johnson vs. Greg Stanfield, Greg Anderson vs. Warren Johnson, Erica Enders vs. Shane Gray, Dave Connolly vs. Ron Krisher, Vincent Nobile vs. Chris McGaha, Mike Edwards vs. Larry Morgan, Buddy Perkinson vs. V. Gaines.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE PAIRINGS - Hector Arana Jr. vs. John Hall, Hector Arana Sr. vs. Mike Berry, Eddie Krawiec vs. Steve, Andrew Hines vs. Jim Underdahl, Karen Stoffer vs. Matt Smith, Chip Ellis vs. Jerry Savoie, Shawn Gann vs. LE Tonglet, Scotty Pollacheck vs. Michael Ray,
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - THUNDERING IN THE SHADOW OF THE ARCH
THROWING DOWN - The NHRA Top Fuel points battle that has been brewing for much of the season has carried over to the inaugural AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. At the end of Friday's qualifying, once again it was Antron Brown wrestling the edge away from Spencer Massey.
The two were tied atop the leader board coming from last Sunday's AAA Texas Nationals, near Dallas. After the first session their Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher had the tentative No. 1 position. But Brown used a single qualifying bonus point to sneak ahead of Massey.
Then they really slugged it out in record-setting fashion.
Massey stormed back in the second qualifying session, driving the FRAM/Prestone Dragster to the quickest and fastest pass of the weekend at 3.752 seconds, 326.16 mph on the 1,000-foot course. His joy lasted for a just a few minutes, for Brown upstaged him in the Aaron's Dream Machine/Matco Tools Dragster two pairings later.
Brown blasted to a career-best 3.737-second elapsed time that is third in Top Fuel history at a track-record 326.79-mph. It was a significant leap from his earlier 3.817, 321.04 that left him third after the first session and sixth by the time he pulled to the line for his second run.
"It's the way you want to start," Brown said of his opening day at St. Louis in the third of six Countdown races. "You have to, after you see Spencer with the FRAM car. They laid down that 75 with a 2. That's when you know it's good."
He indicated he knew conditions were conducive for some eye-opening passes also when he saw the Kalitta team of Dave Grubnic and Doug Kalitta jump into the top five. And he credited the Gateway personnel, saying, "We ran the third quickest run in Top Fuel history on a track that hasn't been run on in two years. That's just incredible."
Brown said that at Indianapolis, "we started seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. We went 2.11 to 330 [feet], so we ran the number we knew we needed to do to run a low sub-.70. And here we pretty much got everything. Hats off to Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald], our two crew chiefs, and the Matco-Aaron's boys.
"That run was not the prettiest run, by far," Brown said, "but when it got to the asphalt, it came up and was starting to do left-or-right and to the inside. If it was straight it could be better. But I'm pretty stoked about it."
It was a wilder ride an anyone might have imagined.
"My shield fogged up before I hit the gas. And I could not see one thing [about] where we were going," Brown said. "But we managed to get 'er down through there. I just couldn't be more happy - very blessed to be on this team."
He described the run this way:
"When I stepped on the gas, that car did not hesitate to leave. It picked up and took off. When I stepped on the gas, I felt instant wheel speed, felt the back of the car go up and the car was moving forward. You could feel it right after the 60 foot [mark] where it hunkered down -- and the car never stopped accelerating all the way down the racetrack. I thought, 'This is a serious run.'
"Just when I went through the traps and I popped it, I took a little peek up at the scoreboard and saw that .73. Underneath my helmet, I was like, 'Yeah, boy!' I felt like Flavor Flav. I was just so stoked, because the boys have been working so hard. After Charlotte [with a first-round loss and a fluke mechanical failure], we kept on believing. Lord knows we just believe. We're just beside ourselves, and we're riding that wave."
Brown said that his impaired vision might have been a blessing. "Sometimes that's what you need to do, because when you can't see you drive the car like you're supposed to. You keep the steering wheel straight and let it do what it does. If I had seen everything that car was doing, I'd probably have been all over that racetrack.
"That car was going so fast it wanted to do everything but go straight," he said.
Tony Schumacher opened the event for the dragster class by setting the track elapsed-time mark at 3.793 seconds in the U.S. Army Dragster , while his DSR/Army mate Brown in the Matco Tools/Army Dragster posted the track speed record at 321.04 mph.
Shawn Langdon, who is seeking his fourth consecutive No. 1 qualifying position, went into the Friday night session in the tentative No. 2 spot after an entertaining side-by-side pairing with Schumacher.
By the end of the opening day, Schumacher had dropped to fourth and Langdon sixth, while the Kalitta Motorsports duo of Grubnic and Kalitta quietly jumped into the mix at third and fifth, respectively.
GET YOUR GROOVE ON - Staying in the groove was half of the challenge Jack Beckman faced Friday evening during qualifying for the AAA NHRA Midwest Nationals outside of St. Louis.
Seeing well enough to perform the feat was the other.
“Dark,” Beckman described, when asked about Friday’s conditions following his track record 4.049-second, 308.85 mile per hour run which edged John Force for the top spot.
“It’s one of those things where (when) they drop the body you feel everything looks okay. There are some tracks which may not have as many lighting fixtures as St. Louis yet for some reason you can pick out a groove out there. It might just be because the track is prepped so well that you can’t see a groove out there. About 200 feet in the run, I determined the lights on the wall and the orange blocks in the center, so right in the middle of those ought to be okay.”
Beckman’s run came just moments after Force, the recent Traxxas Shootout winner, thrust his way back into the field with a 4.060 run. Matt Hagan was third in the logjam with a 4.061.
“The people who work on the Valvoline Next-Gen car do a phenomenal job because the car runs well every time.” Beckman said. “I do have tons of confidence in them. But when it comes to a nitro car with a ten-and-a-half foot wheelbase, there are no guarantees. These cars do crazy things sometimes.”
Beckman, at 4.155, was the seventh quickest after the first session, but by the time he staged Friday evening, had been bumped from the provisional twelve-car field.
“We went up there knowing these conditions were not going to be there on Saturday,” explained Beckman. “I staged knowing we needed those bonus points and the favorable spot on the ladder. I knew I had to make it to the finish line. This is the part, I guess, which keeps this exciting. There’s no dials where you can punch in a 4.049.”
Beckman admits the greatest satisfaction he gets is not in seeing the numbers on the board but rather the look on the faces of the three crewmen who pick him up after the run and the rest of the crew when they return to the pits.
“That makes it all worthwhile,” Beckman said.
I THINK I LOVE YOU - Say, "St. Louis," and watch reigning NHRA Pro Stock champion Jason Line's normally cheerful countenance turn sour. Leaping to his mind were torturously hot, humid summer days -- and a failure to qualify the last time he visited the suburban Madison, Ill., racetrack.
But his image of the place changed suddenly Friday at the inaugural AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals.
The KB / Summit Equipment Camaro driver left Gateway Motorsports Park with both ends of his class' track record, a tentative top-qualifying position that's the first with his relatively new Chevy, and maybe even a chance to flirt with lowering his own national records that could put some serious heat on points leader Allen Johnson with four races left in the Countdown.
Line summed up his day on this fifth straight weekend of racing by declaring, "All in all, pretty darn happy to have a starting spot here at St. Louis. Last time I was here I didn't get one. So this place does not necessarily have fond memories for me. Maybe this will be one."
In the first session, which Erica Enders dominated with a 6.521-second elapsed time in her Chevy Cobalt, Line was seventh but registered the track speed record at 212.76 mph.
He scored the one that counted -- a track-record elapsed time of 6.514 seconds that aced out provisional No. 2 Johnson by two-thousandths of a second and relegated Enders to third as she shaved her E.T. to 6.519 seconds.
Line is seeking his first top-qualifying position since early June at Englishtown, his sixth of the season, and 30th of his career.
"We're getting better. We've still got a ways to go," Line said. "It's been so long I can't even remember back that far. First time with this car. We're definitely not where we thought we'd be, where we'd like to be, and where we should be. But all in all, a good day for both the Summit cars. Greg's [Anderson's] was a tick behind mine, but he still made a decent run [6.533 seconds for sixth in the order overnight]."
Line complimented the racing surface and express gratitude that this return to Gateway since the 2010 season is in cooler but still moderate September.
"The track is definitely smoother than the last time we raced here. It really felt pretty nice. And great weather -- any time it's not raining. it’s good. It's not far above sea level, so for a Pro Stock car it's a good place to race," he said.
With talk of 6.40-second E.T.s in reach, Line said, "I definitely felt like it was out there, for sure. But none of us did a good enough job. We definitely underestimated [with the tune-up, what the track could hold]. We definitely left some [potential] out there. Maybe if the weather's good in the morning we can take a crack at it again. We won’t be quite so conservative as we were this time. It's out there. We just didn't do a good enough job to get it."
Line owns the Pro Stock national E.T. record, the 6.477-second performance he made last October at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.. He also has the national speed record -- 213.91 mph -- for the spring race this year at Charlotte's zMAX Dragway.
He entered this race in second place, only 93 points behind leader Johnson, so the 20 points for setting a national E.T. record could put a fresh wrinkle in the tight Pro Stock championship battle. Line didn't guess whether he or anyone else could find conditions ripe enough for a 6.4-second E.T. that could erase a 6.477.
All Line is concerned with, at least until Saturday's two final qualifying sessions, is making sure St. Louis makes him feel a lot more welcome than it did the last time he showed up.
FIRST TIME IS THE CHARM - Quickly navigating a racing surface he’d never raced on before presented no significant challenge for Hector Arana Jr. After all, the 2011 NHRA Rookie of the Year recipient faced a new surface every time he straddled his Lucas Oil-sponsored Buell last year.
Friday, the sophomore Pro Stock Motorcycle rider navigated the Gateway International Raceway, like a veteran in his maiden visit, during first day qualifying for the AAA NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Arana’s 6.826 seconds run vaulted him to the top of provisional qualifying. He was .001 quicker than his father, Hector Sr., who finished second after two sessions. The Harley-Davidson entries of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines were third and fourth respectively.
“It’s exciting to have a different layout every time,” said Arana, who stands on the cusp of his ninth career No. 1 qualifier. “There’s a different compound and in learning about the track you always build your database of notes, knowledge and gain better tuning experience. Every track has its own feel. This one feels pretty good so far.”
Friday was a good experience on a track where his experience is limited.
“I’ve been low for each round and it’s really great because we’ve been consistent,” said Arana. “It’s very important to have this kind of success on Sunday.”
Last year Arana had enough consistency to score three wins. This season he still seeks his first.
“This is what we’re working on,” explained Arana. “Getting rid of the silly mistakes is crucial. We want to go rounds.”
Last weekend in Dallas, Arana fell in the second round of eliminations when he fouled against eventual winner Michael Ray. Upon exiting eliminations, the team packed up and headed back to their Indianapolis home base where the burned the midnight oil freshening up their arsenal of engines.
“We were able to get another engine together,” Arana revealed. “We left the shop at midnight on Wednesday so we could get to St. Louis on Thursday.”
By Friday, Arana and the team arrived at the top of the qualifying list.
HEY, BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE A WEEKEND? - Dave Connolly has reminded Pro Stock competitors and fans alike just how talented he is behind the wheel of a race car and as Erica Enders' crew chief. So it was no shock that he tuned Enders to the top position in the opening session Friday and snagged the No. 4 spot for himself.
The surprise of the first session was young Buddy Perkinson, who was surprised as much as anybody else that he would step in this weekend for Mark Martino and put the DeSantis Crane Service Pontiac GXP in the No. 5 slot on his first pass.
Perkinson was at home at Prince George, Va., when he woke up Friday, having no clue he would rush to St. Louis, strap into a race car, and before suppertime top such class notables as Jason Line, Mike Edwards, and Greg Anderson and beat out V Gaines by one-thousandth of a second to earn a provisional No. 5 showing with a6.547-second, 211.30-mph effort.
"About 8:15 this morning, Dave Connolly called me and said Mark Martino had a tragedy in the family and wanted to know when I could get here," Perkinson said following his whirlwind excursion and his first NHRA competition pass in months. "I told him, 'Dave, I really don't think I can make it. You know, I can make it tomorrow but I don't think I can make it today. But let me see what I can do.'
"I hung up the phone [from Connolly] and made some phone calls and got a plane and next thing you know, I'm here," he said. 'I think I was here about 15 minutes, maybe 10, just enough to put the seat belts in the car and go to the lanes."
Not only was the trip halfway across the country quick, but so was the quarter-mile ride in the Pontiac GXP. "The car was really good," Perkinson said, dragging out the word "really." He said, "I believe we were twenty-some pounds heavy on the scales. We were just trying to go A to B. We didn't know what it was going to run. First time I'd ever seen the inside of the car. So we're really excited -- that was a really good run. I think we were .988 down low [60-foot incremental time] -- not sure what the speed was. But Cagnazzi [Victor Cagnazzi Racing] has given us good power.
"And I can't thank these guys enough -- Mark Martino and Tom Martino. My heart and prayers are out with them with what's happened. But I certainly appreciate the opportunity," Perkinson, who celebrated his 21st birthday only the day before, said.
"I've jumped in cars and gone A to B in a full quarter-mile pass the first time I've gotten in the car, but I've never done it that quickly," he said. "I've had all morning or we've gone testing and I've had all day. I've had all day to get comfortable in the car, sit in it, warmed the car up. I didn't even warm this car up. So that was a big milestone for me. These guys are good guys. I jumped immediately in the car. We went over all the switches. We went over the seat belts. He said, 'Is everything fine?' It's steering wheel and two doors, you know? A car's a car, and every one is different, but it's still a car."
It's unknown the nature of the circumstances that are keeping Martino, of Stoney Creek, Ont., from the race.
GOOD MEMORIES, GOOD EXPERIENCE - Ron Capps knows Gateway International Raceway well.
The current NHRA Funny Car point leader has experienced success while racing at the facility outside of St. Louis. He scored his first career national event victory during the 1997 season and added two more in 2005 and 2007. He was the No0. 1 qualifier in the 2009 event.
"I won the inaugural race there, and it's always been a great place for me.,” said Capps. “I'm glad to have it back on the tour.”
Capps beams when thinking about his first career Funny Car win. He was in his first full year as driver for Don “the Snake” Prudhomme.
"That was a great win at Gateway," Capps said, "and we did it with Snake and legendary crew chief Roland Leong. We were having so much fun. Snake was buddies with Rusty Wallace and his brother Kenny. The whole Wallace family came out that day and stuck around for the winner's circle pictures.
"It was cool to have Rusty and Kenny up at the starting line for every run. It was my first win in a Funny Car. The temperature and humidity were unbelievable. To have the fans still come out was impressive. A lot of good memories there."
SAME STORY, DIFFERENT DAY - NHRA Pro Stock driver Greg Stanfield certainly was startled -- as surely was Rodger Brogdon alongside him -- to see the hood scoop blow off the front of his Nitro Fish / Coffman Tank Trucks Pontiac GXP during the final qualifying session last Saturday at Texas Motorplex.
But Friday evening, at suburban St. Louis' Gateway Motorsports Park -- six days later, almost to the hour -- Stanfield's hood scoop once again ripped off the car. This time it happened in qualifying for the inaugural AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals.
It came once again at the end of his run,as the car ran past the finish line. Stanfield clocked a 6.589-second elapsed time at 209.98 mph, quick enough to be in the provisional lineup at No. 14.
But the Bossier City, La., racer had no more clue Friday why it happened than he had the previous week when the oddity occurred.
"The scoop is obviously not handling the pressure downtrack. I don't know if the motor's coughing at the end or the scoop's too flimsy," he said. "It's definitely pulled it through the Dzus [fasteners]. The Dzus [fasteners] are still attached to the stand. The stand didn't break this time, so who knows? We've got to go look. We can't handle this -- we'll be done here shortly."
He indicated he doesn't have a pile of them in his trailer.
"Last one. This is it," Stanfield said. "I've never done this. This is a first, starting at Dallas."
What's the team going to do to fix this problem?
"I don't know," Stanfield said. "I don't have an answer. Wish I had one."
NO MORE JOY RIDES - Scotty Pollacheck nearly topped his personal best 6.871 with a 6.886 during Friday qualifying for the Pro Stock Motorcycles at the AAA NHRA Midwest Nationals. As exciting as the run might have been down the Gateway International Raceway quarter-mile, it paled in comparison to one he survived last Saturday in Dallas.
During the AAA Texas NHRA Nationals final qualifying session, his rear tire suddenly went flat forcing him to cross the centerline at 190 miles per hour. Pollacheck brought the bike safely to a stop but not before etching a lasting experience in the back of his mind.
“You really never know how you’re going to react when you come back after an incident like that,” said Pollacheck. “The part which made it easy is the crew remained calm and we went out there to do what we have always done. When you don’t change anything, it make it easier getting back into the groove out here.”
Many four wheel racers point out the best way to rebound from a crash is to get back behind the wheel. On two wheels, Pollacheck said it’s an easier said than done experience when it comes to rediscovering your groove. The incident stays in one's memory.
“It’s there but it really doesn’t bother me when I am riding,” admitted Pollacheck. “I continue to talk about and I’ve had many people ask me about it. I’ve discussed it a bunch but it really hasn’t bothered me. We can keep talking about it. It’s a good story.”
And, fixing all the damage keeps the memory from become a bad story.
“One of the crucial tuning points for us is the wheelie bar and we bent the wheelie bar with the flat tire,” Pollacheck said, the added, “We had to change the wheelie bar which is an integral part of the tune-up and everything must be measured correctly. My crew fixed it perfectly when the bike went straight and produced a good lap. I felt more comfortable.”
EDWARDS SHOVELING HIMSELF FROM HOLE - Mike Edwards climbed into the provisional top half of the field in the second session Friday but said he knows he needs to do much more than that to crawl out of the hole he put himself in with his first-round loss at Dallas.
Maybe he needs to stay away from Dave Connolly, for the full-time crew chief / part-time driver has beaten Edwards in the opening round of eliminations at two of the three events he has appeared in -- the past three: bad timing for Edwards.
However, Edwards said, "We know anything is possible over the next four races. We have to come out fighting and hope that all the little things that have bit us and cost us races thus far in the playoffs are behind us. We can't worry about what everyone else is doing. We need to make eight quality runs this weekend in St. Louis, and continue doing that the next three races in Reading, Las Vegas, and Pomona."
The last time the NHRA raced at Gateway Motorsports Park (then named Gateway International Raceway), in 2010, Edwards qualified No. 1 and reached the semifinals. He exited in the most aggravating way -- his car had a mechanical problem and he was unable to stage the car.
"We have some unfinished business with this track" Edwards said. "I can easily say we had the best car on the property in 2010 and just had an issue that didn't allow us to stage in the semifinals. We know we can be even faster than that time, and will need to be to have a chance of getting the trophy."
Edwards was the 2006 winner here, and in 2000, he helped tune Ron Krisher to the winners circle. "In the past we have produced some fast hot rods at the track, and when you've accomplished a couple things at a track, it makes it that much easier to return and try to build on those."
Edwards is in sixth place in the standings. He trails leader Allen Johnson by 215 points.
SCARY MOMENT - NHRA Pro Mod racer Scott Ray, 52, of Greeneville, Ohio, was alert and conscious after his '53 Corvette lost control and impacted the guard wall during the second round of qualifying at the AAA NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, Mo. He was transported to St. Louis University Hospital in St. Louis for further observation.
MO' BETTER - When Top Fuel driver T.J. Zizzo arrived Thursday to prepare for NHRA’s Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, he was quite upbeat.
The charismatic Zizzo’s positive attitude had to do with NHRA announcing Wednesday it had entered into a multiyear agreement with Old World Industries LLC, naming Peak Antifreeze, BlueDEF Diesel Exhaust Fluid, and Herculiner official sponsors of NHRA beginning in 2013. Peak is the primary sponsor on Zizzo’s dragster.
“Anytime your marketing partner is involved with NHRA I think that opens up opportunities for your team,” Zizzo said. “We are certainly doing more racing this year and we will do more racing next year. Those are just some positives that we have going for us as Peak gets more involved in our great sport.”
St. Louis is the eighth national event for Zizzo this season. Zizzo said his team will conclude its 2012 season by competing at Las Vegas Oct. 25-28 and Pomona, Calif., Nov. 8-11.
“10 races will be the most NHRA events we have gone to (in one season) in our entire career,” Zizzo said. “Next year we will be at 12 events for sure and that’s because of Peak and I’m very excited about that.”
Zizzo’s team runs on a limited budget and is owned by his father Tony and it is based in Lincolnshire, a northern suburb of Chicago. Zizzo competed in seven national events in 2010 and 2011.
This season, Zizzo has a 2-6 round record, capturing first-round wins over Tony Schumacher at Chicago and Cory McClenathan at Norwalk.
“We certainly have made some vast improvements,” Zizzo said. “We have improved all of our equipment. Almost every mechanical piece on that car has been enhanced this year. We are learning how to run more aggressively. We are continuing on a path here to be able to run with the top teams out here and that certainly is our goal.”
Zizzo pointed out that his team was able to so some in-season testing which is something that rarely happens. According to Zizzo, his team tested at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago in August two weeks before the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
“We made four successful runs there (at the test),” Zizzo said. “Indy was our first event with all these new parts and pieces and we ended up doing well. At Indy, we were the most consistent car on the property. We are just learning how to go faster with those parts now. There have been a lot of positives that have come about this season and we are continuing to make improvements for next season. Then in 2014, our goal ultimately is to be able to be out there full time with additional money.”
At Indy, Zizzo qualified No. 14 and lost to Antron Brown in the first round.
Although Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis may be new to some drivers this weekend, not Zizzo. St. Louis was last on the NHRA national event circuit in 2010.
“I had to make an additional run to get my (Top Fuel) license and that was done here (in St. Louis) in 2003,” Zizzo said. “The last time I raced here was in 2009. My dad (Tony) ran here when the track went the opposite way with his alcohol car back in 1980s.”
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