FINAL NOTEBOOK - WINNER'S CROWNED AS TITLE CHASES GO INTO FINAL EVENT
RUN FORREST RUN - Photographers were waiting at the end of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the last final round of Sunday's Big O Tires NHRA Nationals to capture the Top Fuel winner joyously bursting from his car and accepting his Wally statue.
But they had to chase Bob Vandergriff -- again.
After he defeated tire-smoking Tony Schumacher with a 3.832-second, 324.75-mph pass in his C&J Energy Services Dragster, Vandergriff continued a tradition he started last September at Dallas in his only other career victory.
He jumped from his car and started jogging up the track to met his crew. Along the way, he waved to the crowd, high-fived a couple of people, received his 10-pound trophy on the fly, and even changed baseball-style caps before reuniting with crew chiefs Rob Flynn and Keith Stewart and the entire team.
“We’ve had a great race car all weekend. It’s been a year since our last weekend. I certainly didn’t think it would take this long to win again. Everybody told me the next one would come easier and I think they are full of it. They don’t come easy. That’s just a great job by the guys. The car ran good all weekend. We made four good runs today. It was a little tough, it got hot out there. Other than that, our car was pretty flawless.”
Vandergriff advanced past Dave Grubnic, Spencer Massey, and Doug Kalitta to reach his first final round of the season. The $50,000 victory was his second in 15 final-round appearances.
The independent team owner-driver from Alpharetta, Ga., had won only eight elimination rounds in the season's previous 21 events. But he denied Schumacher a 70th career Top Fuel victory and seventh at Las Vegas.
Still, Schumacher improved from third in the standings to second. He heads into the Nov. 8-11 season finale at Pomona, Calif., just 65 points behind leader Antron Brown, who lost in the opening round to Al-Anabi Racing's Khalid al Balooshi.
Schumacher beat Terry McMillen, Steve Torrence, and Khalid al Balooshi to advance to the final round but slowed in the final round to a 5.543, 124.25.
Also winning were Ron Capps (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
As for Vandergriff's new tradition, he said, "It's funny -- we did it the first time because it was something I waited so long for. I wanted to do something a little special. I didn’t want to be down there by myself.
"I had such a big response, even when I would go into the grocery store. People would stop me in aisle-ways and ask me if I was going to run back to the starting line again if I win. I think the expectation level is pretty high," he said. "It was funny -- as I ran down the track, Larry Dixon stopped me and said, ‘It’s great you did that. But I won 12 races – let’s see if you can do this 12 times. I said I don’t think I would like to try."
Overall, he said, "It’s great, the fans seem to love it. I love the support and the cheering running down the track. It makes it worth it."
Also worth it was putting J.R. Todd in a second team car.
"J.R. Todd and that crew do such a great job. I think this is its sixth race and it will run Pomona. Every time it comes out, it is competitive. It helps our car so much on the information. They had a car that could have met me in the final," Vandergriff said.
"The had a gear breakage in the second round. They made a mess. They teased me that I needed to win just to cover the parts bill," he said. "It’s a great car and we are working hard to get it out here next season. When we can have two cars we can be pretty darn competitive."
This was the first race Vandergriff's father, Bob Sr., was able to attend since this summer. This August, Vandergriff Sr. visited the doctor for what he thought was a minor heart issue.
"The next thing you know they are cracking him open for a double-bypass," Vandergriff Jr. said. "He’s been out since the Seattle race. This is his first race back. It’s great just to see him back out there. To see how choked up with emotion he was when I win one of these things is pretty special. I am just glad he could be here."
He said he also was glad to defeat Schumacher.
"Anytime you race that team, or one of those cars, you know you have your hands full," he said. "Obviously a premiere organization in our sport. To be able to beat them, you have to beat the best. We were able to do that today."
Once again displaying his sense of humor, the winner said, "You can’t see out of these cars and the whole way down there I couldn’t see or hear him, you get these thoughts in your head and it’s amazing you can have that in 3.8 seconds. You keep wondering, 'Where is he at? Where is he at? Where is he at? Then you see the finish line and the light comes on. Then you don’t care where he’s at. To beat that team is as good as it comes."
For the fans, watching Vandergriff pop from his cockpit and dash up the racetrack is about as good as it gets, too
CLOSE AGAIN - Jack Beckman was a one-man wrecking crew in knocking out three of four John Force Racing cars on race day during the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals hosted by The Strip at Las Vegas. However, when it came to racing a teammate he didn’t show the same potency.
Ron Capps showed he was also a wrecking crew as he pulled to within four points of Beckman by beating him in the Funny Car finale. Capps ran a 4.070-second elapsed time at 315.12 miles per hour as Beckman’s Dodge Charger went up in smoke just past the sixty-foot mark.
The victory marked the fifth for Capps at the Vegas track and a drastic reversal of fortunes from the spring Las Vegas event. At that time, Capps failed to qualify and crew chief Tim Richards resigned his position. Days later team owner Don Schumacher made significant personnel changes sending the crew from Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts team to Beckman and bringing in Rahn Tobler and the crew from the Valvoline Next-Gen/Schumacher Electric team over to Capps.
“It’s difficult because the guys who we beat in the final were once my team,” said Capps. “They were my crew guys, my family. I saw them at the other end of the track and it was tough. In April, it was tough on everybody. I felt bad for Jack because I was getting a top name crew chief with a great running car.
“Jack was getting Todd Smith and we all knew he could do it. He was an unknown with a Funny Car. I’m so proud of what they’ve done. In qualifying they’ve had the car.”
And for a moment, Capps was convinced he might loose to his old teammates after watching Beckman win as Courtney Force smoked the tires.
“I thought for a moment, ‘oh my gosh, Jack’s got the horseshoe again,” Capps admitted. “I figured my tires would fall off or something in the finals. It just felt something was wrong. He was on a roll.”
But, despite his thoughts Capps was on his own roll.
“Qualifying was tough and we had planned to come in here and gain all of these points,” said Capps. “Rahn reassured me we were alright and that we were sneaking up on it. We were just trying to get down the track until today. And man … he unleashed that 4.09. One of the biggest rounds of the year. It was no lane-choice and Cruz went a 4.06 in the first round. We were taking a pistol to a gun fight. I don’t think we were real comfortable we could go up there and run that in that right lane. For him to throw down the 4.09 in the right lane was unbelievable. Then to follow up with an .08 and .07 … it’s a fun car. Now to go to Pomona and have a shot at a championship.”
This victory sets up one final showdown in two weeks at Pomona.
Capps knows he has more than a tough opponent to overcome if he hopes to clinch his first title.
“To go up there and beat him was huge. Jack’s a great guy and has went through many battles but we are both fighting for that first championship ring. I wake up in the morning it’s all I think about and I go to bed still thinking about it. We’re close.”
AN IRON FIST - Allen Johnson has a reputation for being a serious racer but a genuinely cheerful, comfortable-with-himself kind of gentleman with a heart as soft as his East Tennessee drawl.
But sometimes, in the heat of battle, his competitors, fans, and the media get to see just how intense he is on the racetrack -- and even after a victory, specially when he's on the verge of clinching his long-awaited first National Hot Rod Association series championship.
That's what everyone got to witness in Sunday's Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
He defeated fellow finalist Vincent Nobile, who drives the Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger for team owner Nick Mitsos of Rancho Cucamonga but gets his power from Allen Johnson and his dad Roy Johnson.
So Johnson heads to Pomona with a 126-point advantage over second-place and reigning champion Jason Line. And Johnson said he's going to try to stick to business at the Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“I’m going to try and not let it [bother me] because I want to go to Pomona and win that last race with an iron fist. That’s what this team wants to do," he said. "Same thing here. We wanted to win this race. We wanted to come out of here with a big lead and win the last two races. We just want to kill this thing."
Johnson ran a 6.637-second E.T. at 208.17 mph to Nobile's 6.670, 204.39.
Also winning Sunday were Bob Vandergriff (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Johnson said he has relied on a mantra of consistency this year.
"The Mopar Dodge Avenger has been so consistent and this is what we’ve preached all season long. Today, how’s that for consistency? Four .63s in the heat of the day, our best runs. The crew has done an awesome job.
"To cushion that point lead to where we feel a little more comfortable going into Pomona is great," he said. "It was great having our team car in the final, too. Two of Dad’s engines in the final . . . I think we’ve done that three times this year. Unfortunately we’ve raced him [Nobile] every single race in the Countdown. Fortunately I’ve been on the winning end every time. It says good things about our engine program. It says great things about our car’s consistency."
He can't help but think about how he and his father, a former IHRA racer, have pursued this goal together.
"To be able to do this with my dad for 17 years . . .We have been out here a long time. We’ve done it together for a long time, with help from Mopar, of course. It's a tremendous feeling right now to accomplish that right now. He just turned 71 years old, and I am going to give this championship to him. I’ll dedicate this to him, I guarantee you. It’s awesome."
He paid tribute to the noble chase that the KB/Summit Racing team of Line and Greg Anderson have mounted this season.
"The Summit team is a great team. They are great friends of mine. I’ll stand up and salute them for all they’ve done," Johnson said. "To beat them all year for a great game, they’ve been a great team all year. We’ve been a great team all year. We go head to head all of the time and to beat them, one outright in one round and the other the next, and we’ve done that all year. It feels great."
Does he believe he's getting a measure of revenge for the talking and games-playing that rose to a fun and fevered pitch this summer?
"You can’t blame them for what they were doing. They are trying to win a championship," Johnson said. "We were out front, and this was the only way they could do it, to maneuver a little bit and take me out early.
"I made the comment to someone I think they jinxed themselves, because he gets to run me second round. That’s the way we feel --we have a great car."
And an iron grip on the title, it appears.
UNBEATABLE - Eddie Krawiec scored his ninth win in ten final rounds this season.
The Screamin’ Eagle Harley Davidson rider continued the team’s dominance this weekend by running a 6.959-second elapsed time at 194.10 miles per hour to defeat Matt Smith. This marked his second victory of the weekend as he defeated teammate Andrew Hines on Saturday afternoon to score the weather-delayed title from the NHRA Auto Plus Nationals carried over from Maple Grove Raceway earlier this month.
Krawiec carries a 111 point lead into the AAA NHRA Finals in two weeks at Pomona.
“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for another championship,” said Krawiec. “It feels good to have the pressure off of me headed into Pomona.
“Reflecting back, this has been a dream season for me. To say you have nine wins at the end of the season, and there’s still one more, and I want to go after it, I have a great track record in Pomona. There’s no reason to count myself out. I’m really excited and really happy. I’m just proud to be part of this Harley-Davidson team. They support me 110-percent and give me great equipment to make sure it goes up and down the track.
“I have to do my job and I tried doing that this weekend because I knew I was going to have a tough opponent in Matt Smith and I would have to step up my game.”
Smith might have lost in the final round but his 6.967, 192.28 kept Krawiec honest.
“Luckily I left on him because he out-sixty-footed me,” said Krawiec. “He came around me by the 330-foot clock but my Harley-Davidson horsepower came back around in the last few feet. He’s on to something and he digs hard for what he gets.”
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - FAST ACTION WRAPS UP DELAYED FINAL QUALIFYING DAY
DOWN TIME - A rubber-based patch covering a bad portion of The Strip at Las Vegas’ right lane came loose during the final qualifying session bringing the action to a halt for nearly an hour Saturday afternoon at the NHRA Big O Tire Nationals.
Khalid al-Balooshi was making a qualifying run when what is described as the “cold patch” broke loose from the concrete; pulled away by the dragster’s tire.
“The patch disintegrated and we were left with a hole in the concrete,” explained Graham Light, NHRA Vice President of Operations. “I have to give all the credit to our track prep guys and the Safety Safari. This is not the first time a piece of concrete or asphalt has come up.”
Light said the patched portion of the track will be inspected following Saturday’s qualifying to determine whether the afternoon repair was a short-term or long-term solution.
The initial inspection suggests the fix will last through the weekend.
“We have found some good materials for patching,” said Light. “Some of (the patches) take overnight and there’s a cold patch. It works very well. But that’s about a 10 or 11 hour set-up time. Obviously we didn’t have the time today.
“Over the years of dealing with these kinds of situations you learn to keep certain products in the trailer for situations such as this. We try to stay as prepared as we can be for what the racing throws at us.”
Light said today’s fix was made with a liquid rubber-based product when heated, liquefies and pours into the hole. The set-up time averages 30 minutes.
“It remains a little spongy but adheres to the surface,” said Light.
The repair proved successful as the first car down the repaired lane ran top speed of the event. Doug Kalitta ran 327.11 miles per hour and coupled the momentous run with a 3.798 elapsed time.
NO. 50 FOR CRUZ - Cruz Pedregon should have had a clue his final qualifying run for the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals was going to be extra special even though he was unable to see The Strip at Las Vegas’ scoreboard.
“Going too fast,” Pedregon explained when asked about the timing tower which displays the time and speed of each run. “Missed them even though they are at the quarter-mile. Then the guys came on the radio and let me know.”
Pedregon scored his 50th pole position on the strength of a 4.066 elapsed time at 312.50 miles per hour, beating out Friday’s provisional low qualifier Mike Neff.
“I feel like an old guy with 50 of these because it means I have been doing this a long time,” Pedregon said. “If my career were to end, I’ve been lucky to drive some good cars. This San-on Tools car is as good as any of them.”
Pedregon’s run came after qualifying was delayed by an hour while NHRA officials repaired damage to the right lane.
Pedregon’s pace-setting run came in the repaired right lane.
“I thought for a moment we weren’t even going to run,” Pedregon said. “We went from complaining about not getting out of here on time to having the conditions come to us. If we had run when scheduled, the track might not have held that run. We took advantage of it.
“It’s just a credit to our team that we were able to get our fifth No. 1 of the season. This is a great car but we still have a goose egg in the win column this season. This is a credit to my team and a credit to the NHRA’s repair of the track. We want to make the win happen tomorrow.”
The run, as Pedregon put it, was not expected to yield a No. 1 effort but just maintain pace.
“I felt confident and even if it had ran an .08 or .09, I would have been fine,” said Pedregon. “What is great is we usually run a little quicker than we set it up to run. This is a nice bonus. We didn’t expect this.”
If Pedregon had any concern, it was with his crew members picking up debris in their eyes if the track was coming apart.
“I always make sure my guys are either wearing safety glasses or sun glasses,” Pedregon said. “I drove for a team, the Miner Brothers, in 1990 when a son of one of the owner had a glass eye from Fremont Raceway.”
TALKING MIRACLES AGAIN - Tony Schumacher has sparkled at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., during the season finale for two of his seven series championships.
And he was dreaming Saturday evening about doing something similar this year after no one could top his 3.773-second elapsed time on the 1,000-feet course from Friday qualifying at the Big O Tires Nationals at Las Vegas.
"We've pulled off miracles," the U.S. Army Dragster driver said, knowing he must leapfrog Don Schumacher Racing teammates Spencer Massey and Antron Brown, the points leader.
He said of Brown, "He's my teammate, but I want to be champion. If I can't do it . . . OK, he can do it."
But he warned, "I'm going to get some sleep, come out, and kick their butts."
Terry McMillen will be Schumacher's first-round opponent Sunday.
Schumacher said the fans should see exciting racing Sunday: "We are a spectator sport. Without the fans, we couldn't do it. Side-by-side racing is what it has become." He said qualifying gave the spectators, who sat through a track-repair delay awaiting nitro-class excitement, great runs, "one after another after another."
PRO STOCK NO. 1 LINE TAKES BIG STEP - Jason Line, who entered the weekend second to Allen Johnson in the NHRA Pro Stock standings with this Big O Tires Nationals and the season finale at Pomona, Calif., to make up an 82-point deficit, got a huge boost Saturday in the KB/Summit Racing Camaro.
He'll lead the field with a 6.590-second, 209.72-mph clocking on the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway quarter-mile that set both ends of the track record.
"We put ourselves in the position to go for it, to have the opportunity to win," Line said.
"We need to have a banner day," he said, referring to Sunday's eliminations. "I keep saying that, but it's do or die. If we don't have it tomorrow, then it's over," he said.
Line and teammate Greg Anderson are racing with heavy hearts this weekend because days ago they lost friend and public-relations representative Jon Knapp to cancer.
"In the past I haven't liked to use things like that [for motivation]. Jon was a special guy. He's not replaceable," Line said. "It would be nice to win for him. I would have liked to have won for him while he was still here.
"He wanted me to win so bad. He was probably my biggest fan," Line said. "I wish I could have had a chance to tell him the things I thought before he passed. A hard lesson learned -- I should have done it before he got that sick. He was a great guy, a one of a kind, and if we can win in his honor it would be great."
For earning his eighth No. 1 qualifier of the season and 32nd of his career, Line drew 16th-place starter Shane Gray as his first-round opponent in eliminations.
He said his mind set going forward is "easy -- win. That's all you got to do. Obviously, Greg’s mind set is different than mine, in that he's trying to help me win, which is a great thing -- maybe slightly unorthodox. It isn’t anything which hasn’t happened before. That’s why you have teammates. Our philosophy has never been to race each other and dive. That's been done in the past, and nobody likes that. That's not real racing.
"We're going after A.J. to try and beat him. It's going to be tough to do," Line said. "He has a really fast car, and he's good and we have a lot of respect for him. We want to do it the right way, and if it's meant to be, it's meant to be.
"We’re going to do the best we can, and Greg put himself in a position to make that happen. We'll see if Greg and A.J. can both get past the first round. None of that matters if I don't win. We have a great car, and we put ourselves in a great position."
Line was quickest in qualifying at the previous race, at Reading, Pa., but said "it just took us a little longer than it should have" to show that kind of dominance. We're off to a better start than we were in Reading."
But Line knows that it's not the start but rather the finish that's essential Sunday.
DOUBLE DOWN - Eddie Krawiec pulled off an impressive display of killing two birds with one stone during Saturday’s final Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying session at the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals at the Strip in Las Vegas. Not only did he successfully hold onto his fifth pole position of the season with a 6.902-second elapsed time from Friday qualifying, he also scored his eighth victory of the season.
Krawiec completed unfinished business by defeating teammate Andrew Hines to win the rain-delayed NHRA Auto Plus Nationals final round from Maple Grove Raceway. The victory extended his point lead over Hines to 51.
“The win today is huge,” said Krawiec, who will race GT Tonglet Jr., in Sunday’s first round of eliminations. “I had mixed emotions a few weeks ago when we didn’t run the finals. I felt we had a great opportunity and then we unloaded my bike here and still had a fast motorcycle.
“We work on the tune-up and tried to refine it. Made some good laps and I feel I have a good race day motorcycle. I think we missed the set-up just a little in the last session. Overall the end result is the motorcycle went down the track. A lot of little points … I think 11 total. Those are huge when you are in a tight points battle. Looking back at this weekend I’m glad we did it here.”
ANOTHER VETERAN, ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY - Paul Lee is reveling in his opportunity to learn the ropes for the second time behind the wheel of a car owned by one of the sport’s most iconic veterans.
Lee is driving the last two races of the season for seasoned veteran Gary Densham after having most recently driven for Jim Dunn.
“It’s like a fun day at the races … sort of like a match race out in the middle of nowhere,” said Lee, who is promoting his McCleod Clutches company this weekend. “This is about having fun, but also this is very serious. They do a great job and this team runs well. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun and it’s only Friday.”
Lee and Densham qualified No. 14 for Sunday’s final eliminations in their first outing.
Lee, even though he’s having a tremendous amount of fun, understands how tough the experience is for Densham in watching and not driving.
“I know it’s hard on him because there is no one out here with the experience Gary has,” said Lee. “I’m just glad to be driving for him. He’s been doing this forever and there’s no way this is easy for him. There are times I feel guilty about driving because I know he’s a way better driver than I am. I just feel fortunate Gary and Joanne provided the opportunity for me to drive a couple of races.”
How is Densham actually handling his weekend outside of the cockpit?
“Horrible … just horrible,” Densham said, jokingly. “Paul has done a great job and he’s a great driver. It’s going to work out just fine. It’s hard.”
Make no mistake about it, Densham is still very attached to driving.
“The thrill of driving has been something I’ve been lucky enough to experience for over 40 years,” Densham admitted. “When you’re outside of the cockpit, you realize then just how much you miss it.”
Densham understands the potential is there for a healthy income as a crew chief for some of the better funded teams. Added value, he believes, would come in bringing along a talented crew to supplement his tuning abilities.
“I love working with the team and with [crew chief] Greg [Amaral] and hopefully over the years I have been able to offer a bit of input,” Densham explained. “Working on the car is fun and being around my team is fun as well. I’m convinced my crew is the best in drag racing. They do a phenomenal job for the resources we have available. They are also my best friends.
“You also couldn’t get a better team. They are all dedicated and when I could no longer run full-time, they had offers to go elsewhere for more money than I could pay, and none of them did.”
ANOTHER VETERAN STORY - Jerry Eckman served in the U.S. Army as an advisor to South Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War. Little did he know some 50 years later this investment of patriotism would yield drag racing dividends.
Eckman, who serves as a car chief for Steve Kent’s Pro Stock team, will drive in Pomona. Kent’s decision was prompted by the fact Veteran’s Day 2012 is on November 11; final elimination day for the NHRA AAA Finals.
“Steve called me up and let me know I was his favorite veteran and since Pomona fell on Veteran’s Day weekend, he wanted me to drive again,” said Eckman with a smile. “What a guy.”
This will be the second national event in 15 years for Eckman whose status was restored to favorable with the NHRA after partially paying a fine and serving a suspension for an unsafe practices penalty in 1997.
Eckman relicensed after a lengthy hiatus in the sport and competed in qualifying for the NHRA U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend. He fell short of qualifying, ending the rain-delayed event as the No. 18 qualifier.
“I absolutely feel redeemed in being back out here,” said Eckman. “My first runs were a little clumsy. It got better as the weekend went along. I got more comfortable.”
Competing Veteran's Day weekend is a bonus as Eckman considers Pomona to be his home track.
“I love racing there and have won a few events there,” Eckman said. “Then to race on Veteran’s Day as a veteran is pretty emotional.”
Adding to the emotion will be the added responsibility of carrying the mementos of three Medal of Honor recipients throughout qualifying and hopefully into Sunday’s final eliminations.
“They will be taped to my dash,” added Eckman. “What an honor for me.”
HANGIN' OUT, REFLECTING ON YEAR - Steve Torrence's Top Fuel pit was the gathering place Saturday for athletes from several different sports -- and Torrence was converting them into drag-racing fans. Thurl Bailey, the former NBA forward/center with the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves who has become a broadcast analyst and actor/songwriter, joined golfer Brett Wayment in hanging out with the Kilgore, Texas, team owner-driver of the Capco/Torrence Family Dragster. Wayment had attended the Denver race in July with Torrence, but Bailey is enjoying his first spectacle at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "It's always fun to bring out rookies to the drag race. Once you get the drag-racing bug, you’re hooked," Torrence said. As the 5-foot-7, 150-pound driver posed for a photo with the 6-11, 215-pound Bailey, Torrence tried to stand on a step to look taller but gave up and said, "I think I'm in the armpit there."
Kidding aside, the No. 8-raked Torrence said he hasn't made much of a splash during the Countdown because "we had some stuff change in the bell housing and we've been chasing our tails on that deal. We're getting a bigger inventory of used parts. That's something we knew we were going to have a problem with. We just didn't know when it would happen, and it has happened during the Countdown. That's just some of the learning curve and the mistakes that you've got to battle going through the first year."
Looking back on this season, he said, "I think we did better than anybody thought we would do -- including myself. I didn’t think I'd go out and go to five finals. I thought maybe one final, two finals and if we won one of them, great. If not, we got there. So it has been a great season, for sure.
"We've set the bar, and we're going to work from there. We don't want to regress. We want to progress and keep moving forward. We have a good race tem here and an opportunity for anybody who wants to come on board to be aligned with a real professional team," Torrence said. "We've set our own bar at professionalism and competitiveness. If we're not going to be competitive and professional about it, there's no sense inbeing here. Nobody wants to be part of somebody's that just halfway doing it."
He said accomplishing all that has required "hard work, dedication, and good people." He acknowledged running a team also requires a lot of funding, but he said, "You can go out and spend all the money you want, but if you don't have chemistry, don't have the right people in place, it doesn't matter. I've got a great guy -- a great friend -- in [crew chief] Richard Hogan."
Torrence said he and his team will stay at Las Vegas and test Monday and Tuesday, then take off Wednesday for Montana for a hunting trip. Torrence, a skilled bow hunter, will be tracking antelope, elk, and mule deer.
He said he went to the allergist Tuesday before coming here because he has had problems with swollen eyes. He said he learned he is allergic to a curious grouping beef, grapes, and black pepper. Said Torrence, "I can eat venison still, so I'm good. And elk tastes a lot like beef. I'm good with it."
REMEMBERING FRIEND JON KNAPP - KB/Summit Racing drivers and multiple-time NHRA champions Greg Anderson and Jason Line always are a little more emotional and eager to perform well when they come to Las Vegas because it's the home of team owner Ken Black. But this weekend, their hearts are a little heavier than usual, because this past week they lost loyal friend and public-relations representative Jon Knapp to cancer.
"Jon made working with the media easy. He simplified everything and made us look like shining stars," Anderson said. "Jon was a close friend and not just at the race track. He was the most absolutely loyal person, true-blue to the people he worked for and with. I don't know how he will be replaced on this team."
Rob Downing, Anderson's crew chief, remembered Knapp as one who went above and beyond his duties and provided valuable guidance.
"Jon was a huge part of our team. He was always offering to do more, to help with things even if they were not his responsibilities," Downing said. "Jon had the ability to always be in touch with what was going on and made sure Greg, Jason, and the rest of us were doing what they needed to do."
Line said Knapp "did his work wide open. He did things with the same intensity as the race team — celebrated our wins and took our losses just as hard as we did. Jon and Joanne became our friends."
The Summit Camaros and the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Pro Stock Motorcycles of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines are displaying sticker in remembrance of Knapp. Anderson, Line, Hines, Krawiec will travel together to Germany, Bosnia, and Kosovo during the off-season to visit U.S. troops.
For 16 years, Jon and wife Joanne Knapp have formed the most respected PR team, representing such drivers as Whit Bazemore, Jim Epler, Chuck Etchells, Tom Hammonds,
Kurt Johnson, Warren Johnson, Tom Martino, and Angelle Sampey.
Those who worked with Jon Knapp at Summit Racing remembered him as a tireless worker and creative inspiration.
"Everyone at Summit Racing Equipment is saddened at Jon's passing, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Joanne," Ray Tatko, president of Summit Racing, said. "We will miss Jon's professionalism and genuine enthusiasm for the sport of drag racing."
Jim Greenleaf, Summit Racing's motorsports and events manager, said, "Jon was a very creative guy, great at what he did. I always considered Jon and Joanne friends first, co-workers second. They loved everything about drag racing and the people involved in it — an attitude that was reflected in their work."
Nan Gelhard, Summit Racing advertising manager, said, "Jon and Joanne were usually the first to get to the track and the last to leave. Jon always had an idea, a way to connect the team with fans. We all counted on him."
Memorial services will be private, but friends will have a chance to pay respects at a celebration Mass in November. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation: http://www.themmrf.org/.
FATHER-SON OUTING - If Clay Millican knew how to read a calendar properly, he probably wouldn't have had the pleasure of 20-year-old son Dalton's company in his Parts Plus Top Fuel pit this weekend. Dalton Millican is an accomplished motocross racer, and dad Clay discovered the $100,000-to-win Monster Energy Cup Supercross extravaganza was going to be at Las Vegas. So he bought his son an airplane ticket, then he found out that the event that showcased the top motorcycle racers was this past weekend. But the two from Drummonds, Tenn., have had a terrific time together, as Clay has "carried him around Vegas a little bit" since they arrived Thursday. And right away Dalton got a souvenir from "Sin City" -- a large tattoo of the number "25" on his left side. (Inspiration for the number came from the first two digits of Clay Millican's competition number.)
The drag racer told his son not to get a tattoo: "Daddy said, 'No tattoos. It's bad for the sponsors.' " But he gave in. Carey Hart, Clay Millican's co-host for the "Burnout: The Ultimate Drag Race Challenge" on MTV, owns the Hart and Huntington Tattoo Company at the Palms Casino here in Las Vegas. So the younger Millican got a sample of the place's artwork.
Dalton Millican, who has broken his share of bones in competing in motocross, said he'd "be super-happy to be in one of these cars. I'm sure it's a lot less muscle aches and bones hurting." He said that "in the dirt bike world, most of 'em are done by the time they're 30 [years old]. There are a couple of guys who have made it to 40. I don't intend on doing it that long, I don't think. I'd like to be able to walk around when I'm 50."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - TRICKY RACE CONDITIONS COMPLETE FAST FRIDAY IN VEGAS
AGGRESSIVE, KINDA SORTA - Mike Neff described his approach to Friday qualifying at the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals as cautiously aggressive. The former driver turned crew chief for John Force Racing covered The Strip at Las Vegas racing surface in 4.070-seconds at 313.73 miles per hour.
Neff entered this weekend’s event trailing point leader Jack Beckman by 54 points, six points shy of three rounds of competition with eight available in 2012. He cut the deficit to 51 when Beckman failed to gain any in both sessions.
Neff could have been easily characterized as a championship contender with nothing to lose at this point in the season.
“Somewhat,” Neff confirmed. “You have to be cautiously aggressive. This is the way I am approaching the weekend. I have to have two great races after coming off of a great race. I just have to race smart and my car is running really well now. I think I have a legitimate chance at it. If I keep running good, it puts the pressure on the other guys and we have a good chance. I’ve been in this situation before.”
For clarification, Neff described cautiously aggressive as a mix of a careful tune-up with a hint of aggressiveness.
“You can’t be too aggressive and smoke the tires and end up not qualifying,” explained Neff. “You don’t want to go up there Saturday unqualified. It’s a fine line any time you are trying to run one of these cars.”
According to Neff, the racing surface at Vegas is such where it usually yields positive results but for some reason Friday’s track preparation left it below the usual standard. The silver lining in the dark cloud was in getting a good run to build on.
“When you can make a good run like this on your first run, it puts you on the offense as opposed to being on the defense,” Neff said. “We were happy with that and disappointed it didn’t make it down the track in the second session. The track wasn’t what it should have been. That’s why you didn’t see any good runs in the evening session. The lack of spray on the track made for a pretty bad show. I’m disappointed for everyone.”
Saturday will bring a different kind of day than the race teams faced in the first session. Higher temperatures are forecast for the final day of eliminations.
“Saturday will be about getting ready for race day,” said Neff.
Beckman is qualified No. 4 provisionally while Capps is ninth with two qualifying sessions remaining.
SCHUMACHER A LONG SHOT BUT NO. 1 - Top Fuel star Tony Schumacher has had glory years. And unless something drastic happens this weekend and at the NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., in two weeks, this one won't be another one of them.
Schumacher isn't ruling out miracles. How could he, considering two of his seven titles came with "Hail Mary" fanfare? But the U.S. Army Dragster driver was talking Friday at the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals like he wasn't counting on one.
Even after using a 3.773-second pass at 323.66 mph early Friday on the 1,000-foot course at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to take the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot -- while points leader Antron Brown is no better than No. 10 overnight -- Schumacher encouraged his Don Schumacher Racing teammate.
Tony Schumacher said his own chances are "a super long shot. Antron would have to get beat first round and we'd have to win the next two races."
He has won six times here at Las Vegas, more than any other Top Fuel driver.
"Vegas has been very kind to me," he said.
"Now it's up to Antron. You don't want to wish anyone else a mistake, but if we're going to be champs it's required," he said. "I hope he comes out and makes clean runs and becomes world champion. He's earned it," Schumacher said.
"Spencer's right there, too," he said of third DSR teammate Spencer Massey, the No. 2-ranked driver who trailed Brown by 104 points entering this race. "The key is the [Nos.] 2-3-4 cars are close enough that if somebody does make a mistake, someone else could win the championship."
Giving Schumacher some hope was the timing of his class-best E.T.
"More often than not, you're up there [in the order] because of your Friday night run," he said after smoking the tires immediately in his second chance of the day. "It's actually more comforting to know it was a Friday day when we did it. We're going to race in the middle of the day, when the sun is out."
Doug Kalitta jumped from the No. 12 position to No. 2 in the evening session Friday with a 3.8-second run at a class-fastest 324.75 mph. Massey was third Friday, seven-thousandths of a second behind Kalitta.
STAYING FOCUSED, STAYING NO. 1 - Allen Johnson has been trying really hard during the Countdown not to think about the overall picture. He has tried not to get too confident in his NHRA Pro Stock points lead. He has been especially careful not to daydream about how sweet winning his first series title would be for himself and for his father Roy, who chased the dream, taught him drag racing, and builds his engines.
But the fans are no help with that at all.
When they ask for autographs, they remind him constantly that he is on the verge of scoring the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series championship.
"You try to [block it out], but every person who walks up to you asks, 'Can you write No. 1 on there?' or something. It's hard to do, but we're just enjoying the ride and enjoying the success we've had. Hopefully we can take that and build on it this weekend," he said after establishing himself as the provisional No. 1 qualifier Friday at the Big O Tires Nationals.
He recorded a 6.600-second elapsed time at 208.68 mph on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's quarter-mile, payoff for his testing here last week along with chief rival Jason Line and fellow Dodge Avenger driver V Gaines.
Tentative No. 2 Mike Edwards was .015 of a second slower in the Penhall / K&N / Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP, and Line was third at 6.621 seconds in the KB / Summit Racing Equipment Camaro.
"Anytime you can test, it’s great, especially right before an event, at a track you haven't run on in months," Johnson, who drives the Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge, said. "Our engine combination has changed a lot since then. Hemis are a lot different than they were at the first of the year."
He repeated his consistency mantra and insisted that this weekend "our goal is to get every little point we can get. I felt like the day was very successful."
Johnson said he wasn't racing with a special agenda other than to gather every possible point.
"We're not setting out to send a message. We're just setting out to d our own deal and be the No. 1 car every single run and put ourselves in position Sunday to win," he said.
Sentiment has no real place for him during qualifying, either. He and his father aren't becoming swept up in the romance of a championship, at least not yet.
"We don't want to jinx ourselves by talking about it," Allen Johnson said. "But it's always in your mind."
CHRYSLER LOVING NHRA DRAG RACING - Dale Aldo, director of motorsports marketing at Chrysler, is experiencing NHRA nirvana, with Jack Beckman and Ron Capps the top two Funny Car racers and Allen Johnson leading the Pro Stock class.
"It has been a great year for us, because at the moment we've got four Dodge Avengers, Mopar-powered, that are in the 10-car Countdown in Pro Stock, and the leader is the Dodge. Then from the Funny Car side, the Nos. 1 and 2 cars are Don Schumacher [Racing] Mopar Chargers. From that standpoint, we're doing not-bad," he said.
As for Team Mopar / J&J Johnson, Aldo said, "I'm really pulling for him for a million reasons, not just the Mopar brand but on a personal level. It shows the worth of drag racing."
He said he particularly likes the story of the Johnson family racing together and the second-generation dream they're chasing.
"You've got a father-son team. The dad builds the engines and the son owns the team and races the car. It's a human-interest story," he said. "That's something we look at and say, 'That's a really, really awesome deal.'
"I am pulling as hard as I can that they're going to bring home the championship, because we haven't had one for awhile. I believe 1994 was the last time we had a Pro Stock champion -- Scott Geoffrion. If they could bring one home for 2012, it would be considered a true dream season," Aldo said.
LOTS OF DAYLIGHT - Eddie Krawiec’s 6.938 elapsed time at 193.88 miles per hour pass during Friday’s first session put a .03 of a second between him and No. 2 Hector Arana Jr.
If the run holds it will mark his fifth No. 1 qualifier this season.
“In my book, that was a pretty impressive pass,” Krawiec said. “We have a really good tune-up and ran well here last year in Q-3, which the conditions are very similar. It was really close . The most important thing to me are those little points.”
Krawiec claimed the lion’s share of bonus points at six on Friday.
“My teammate [Andrew Hines] and I are fighting this battle for the championship,” Krawiec said. “I have 17 points and we still have the Reading final to settle.”
Krawiec and Hines will meet on Saturday to settle the weather postponed final round from the Auto Plus Nationals in Reading, Pa.
HONORING THE PROFESSOR - Warren Johnson has enjoyed a career marked by stunning milestones, and the Buford, Ga., resident isn't looking to settle down any time soon. Thus far the 69-year-old Pro Stock driver and 2007 International Motorsports Hall of Famer was recently inducted into NHRA's Division 2 Hall of Fame alongside Southern Pro Stock Circuit creator Steve Earwood and sportsman ace David Rampy, and on October 26, 2012, the still-active competitor will join 1970 Daytona 500 champion Pete Hamilton, multi-time Dixie Speedway champion and NASCAR driver Bill Ingram, longtime dirt track and asphalt racer Doug Kenimer, and sprint car champion Herman Wise as Class of 2012 inductees into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
Johnson beams when when recollecting his early days of his involvement in the sport of drag racing when he, wife Arlene, and son Kurt – now a 40-time Pro Stock national event winner in NHRA's Full Throttle Series – began their journey.
"In the beginning, the cost of the entertainment was relatively inexpensive," said Johnson. "It was more accessible to people, and we could go to our local tracks any day of the week. That was at the grassroots level, and it grew from there.
"I approached it as something I felt I could be successful at, but where that success would rank in relation to anyone else in motorsports – well, I never gave it a thought."
Johnson, now the third-winningest driver in NHRA competition behind only Funny Car legend John Force and Top Alcohol Funny Car powerhouse Frank Manzo, has accumulated 97 national event titles – his most recent at the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis in 2010 – and six Pro Stock world championships, including back-to-back crowns in 1992 and 1993 as well as 1998 and 1999. His most recent world title was earned in 2001, the same year he was chosen as No. 7 on NHRA's list of 50 Greatest Drivers.
Johnson's first win came in 1963 at Minnesota Dragway but it wasn't until 1972 before he made an all-out effort. Through ingenuity and pure dedication to his craft, Johnson set forth on a career of tremendous velocity. He was the first driver in the category to eclipse the 180, 190, and 200 mph marks. In 1998, Johnson scored his 100th No. 1 qualifying position and became the first driver in NHRA history to record top speed of the meet at 21 of 22 events. The following season he bested his own record and recorded top speed at every national event.
"If you enter any particular occupation because it's what you love to do, you're going to be successful. Successful people enjoy what they're doing; therefore, they do it better than somebody that approaches it strictly as a job," said Johnson. "Really, nobody enters motorsports with the aspirations of being in any Hall of Fame; that's just a wonderful by-product of enjoying what you're doing. It's humbling to be included. I'm just grateful that I have been able to make a decent living doing what I enjoy."
STILL SINGLE - This season, Terry McMillen had hopes of unveiling a second dragster for his team.
With only two races left at Las Vegas Thursday through Sunday and Pomona, Calif., Nov. 8-11, McMillen told Competition Plus Wednesday his team’s second dragster will not race this season.
“It is not happening this year,” McMilllen said. “The funding is just not there unfortunately. The semi is all wrapped and the dragster is wrapped and ready to go, but it just didn’t work out. It is disappointing, but it just means we have to work harder.”
McMillen failed to make the Countdown to the Championship this season and is 13th in the point standings heading to Vegas.
“I like the Vegas race,” McMillen said. “We had problems back in Dallas (Sept. 20-23) and we have been slowly picking away at it. We had a really good run at Reading (Pa.) in E1, and it is all coming together now. We are going to try and get the car set up like we had it once before when we knew we could run in the same zip code as everybody. We need to get back to that. We finally found the problem that we have been plagued with since Bristol (Tenn.) (June 15-17). I’m just really confident going forward now that we have a car that will run in the low to mid 80s like everybody else. The Schumacher cars are going to run in the 70s and that is what it is and we just have to work at getting better with them.”
Following the 2012 season, McMillen said his team will test at the Palm Beach (Fla.) International Raceway’s Pro Winter Warmup Jan. 18-19.
“We have gone down there and tested the last two years and that will be a big test session for us,” McMillen said.
BROTHERS RACING TOGETHER - When LE Tonglet competes at NHRA’s national event in Las Vegas Thursday through Sunday, he is going to be very familiar with one of his fellow Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors.
GT Tonglet, LE’s older brother, will be riding his own Suzuki at the Vegas event. GT’s motorcycle is being sponsored by Trac Dynamics Aluminum and also will have some support from Nitro Fish.
“I’m excited to run again,” said GT, who has three career Pro Stock Motorcycle national event wins.
LE, who won the 2010 Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship, is eager to see what his brother can do.
“I’m excited,” said LE, who heads to Vegas ninth in the point standings. “We finally fixed his bike and we tested it earlier this year and it is running good. So, I’m excited and I want to see him do good.”
NERVOUS? KINDA-SORTA - With only eight elimination rounds left in the 2012 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, Jack Beckman leads the Funny Car standings and has contenders Ron Capps and Mike Neff within 54 points.
But to hear all three of them tell it, they have more problems than a sick chicken.
Beckman said his stellar weekend at the most recent race, at Reading, Pa., masked the fact he had clutch damage and a "finicky" Valvoline/NextGen Dodge Charger. Don Schumacher Racing colleague Capps said his NAPA Dodge had a hiccup at Reading and a crummy steering box, to boot. Neff, of John Force Racing, said he's "just happy to be in contention" and has been beset by gossip that his team wasn't racing heads-up the day he won at Maple Grove Raceway.
They'll take their assorted issues to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals, the penultimate race of the season. And Beckman said it, but each of them knows that "you can't have any screw ups, mechanical issues, or tune-up question marks." Performance at this race is critical.
"With only eight rounds left and in a sport where when you lose you don't get those next few rounds, if somebody goes out second round at Vegas, they lose out on three rounds: that one, the semis and the finals. I think all three of us would agree, we want to be able to contest all eight rounds to have a legitimate shot for the championship," Beckman said.
Capps indicated that DSR utility player Tommy Johnson helped him dodge a potentially fatal bullet by drive-testing the NAPA car a couple of weeks ago at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
"We hadn't tested all year long, so we put our old stuff back in it and the car went right down the track and [crew chief Rahn] Tobler figured out what the problem was, which is a great sign. He also found a steering box that was going bad, which could have been disastrous the first qualifying run in Vegas," Capps said." So that test was, I think, huge for us, and so are those kind of weekends [such as at Reading], just getting out of there and saving face a little bit, getting a couple round wins. I think now we can put that behind us and go forward."
It's a different perspective for Neff, for his car isn't giving him fits. The tuner-driver just recorded his career-best elapsed time (4.017 seconds) and sped (318.84 mph) in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
"We've been running better here lately," he said, content that he is making progress from last season, when he led nearly the entire so-called regular season, then steadily fell down through the order during the Countdown. The arrow on his chart is pointing upward.
"A few races back, Ron obviously had a pretty substantial lead, and Jack has been running great. Fortunately we felt good to have a good weekend in Reading and get out of there making some positive ground, especially with Jack setting the record getting that extra 20 points there," Neff said. "It's an exciting time right now. This is why you put all that work in over the last winter and go through this whole season to come to the very end here and you just want to have a shot, especially with the way the Countdown system works now."
Beckman said Neff "probably had a little bit of a slump a few races ago and he seems to be figuring it out at just the right time." His driving-school instructor skills have taught him that "there's hardly ever a year where you have a nitro Funny Car team go every single race without going into a slump. I would define a slump as losing a handle on the tune up on your car, and sometimes it lasts for one race and sometimes it lasts three or four races."
Capps, he said, "had a lot of issues at Maple Grove" but knew "they had built up such a substantial lead that they're still very, very much in contention."
He said he also had to learn to face a few curveballs but that his came in the previous race at St. Louis. The final day of qualifying at Gateway Motorsports Park was a challenge for him, as were all four eliminations rounds that Sunday when he earned his third victory of this year.
"Sometimes from the grandstands, it looks like a team is really on top of everything, but once you dive inside you realize we're chasing a whole lot of maladies with the car. When we got to Maple Grove, we reset both ends of the national record, but we tore a lot of stuff up. When we beat Ron in the second round, we ruined a third of our clutch and had to rebuild that before the semifinals and hurt some more stuff in the semifinals," Beckman said.
PRIMED FOR BATTLE - Spencer Massey could wear out Antron Brown -- just in the Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel pit area.
"All our crew guys even race back in the pits. We have 75 minutes and sometimes only 65 minutes in between sessions or in between each run, and when we get back to the pits, I know my guys, we're racing trying to beat everybody else out there just trying to service the race car," Massey said of his Prestone/FRAM Dragster team.
"If we can try and warm up the car before any of the other teams, that means we won as a team, being able to service the car, and usually at about 30 to 35 minutes. Not only are we racing on the racetracks, we race in the pits, as well."
So class leader Brown, who carries a 104-point edge over Massey into this weekend's Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, can't really escape Massey. They have met 10 times this season, and six of those pairings have come in final rounds. Massey won the first three such meetings, Brown the most recent three.
Overall, their personal series is tied, 5-5.
Brown's plan, he said, is to "go in there in an offensive position and just give it everything we've got, not go in there in defensive mode. We want to go in there and we want to attack it. "
He's well aware that no matter how steep the climb to the top might look for Massey, his DSR mate and rival will push himself to the maximum and give him a no-funny-business run if they line up opposite each other.
"When we race each other, there's no games going on, man, it's all business. There's no games when you're running the way we're running right now," Brown said. "When we line up, I mean, it's kind of hard, you've got seven seconds to come in when you stage and stuff like that, and my deal with Spencer is I've got to work on being quicker. I get up there and I'm trying to inch in and put the bulb on and blink the bulb on, and he'll get up in there and he's ready for business. Like he rolls it in and is like, 'Come on, let's go.' That's how Spencer is. He's no joke."
Conversely, Massey said Brown is the real deal at this point in the Countdown and to overtake him could be a nearly impossible mission.
"Antron and that entire Matco Tools team has been kicking butt, especially in the Countdown. When they go to final after final or win after win, it's hard to compete, and they did it again by showing us that they can run and that they're serious," Massey said. They set the national E.T. record. Our team was that close to doing it last year by four-thousandths of a second, and we've been close all season long. And all three of our Don Schumacher Racing cars have been bad to the bone, close to the top, 1-2-3 in points."
Then Massey said to Brown, "Antron, you were just saying how you were going to keep on the offensive side and keep it going and anything can happen. But boy, when you have over 100 points, it's going to be tough to do. But like you said, anything can happen.
"Right now, obviously my team is not going to change what we've been doing. We're going to get out there and try to get as many rounds and try and get a Wally or two before the end of the season. With only two races left, it makes everybody hungry to at least get another Wally with only two of them sitting out there," he said. "And if stuff happens to fall for guys where it changes, to where it makes it close at the Pomona race, we'll see. But right now, obviously, our goal would be stay No. 2 in points, and if it happens to be, we can try and get the No. 1 spot. But let me tell you, with Antron doing how he's been doing, it's a tough one."
HE'S NO CAPTAIN AMERICA - The thought of John Force as comic book superhero is not as far-fetched as it might seem on the surface.
After all, the 63-year-old drag racing icon, who competes this week at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a “Destination Force” version of his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang, has lived a life that defies normal convention.
He overcame childhood polio, grew up in poverty as the youngest son of a fry cook and a truck driver, failed in a bid to follow his brother Walker into law enforcement because, as he tells it, “I failed the ink blot test,” and, ultimately, survived his own ineptitude and that of his volunteer crew to become a professional drag racer.
Starting out with a car that could barely get out of its own way, he went from the spectacular to the sublime, trading the crash-and-burn image he nurtured early-on (“if you can’t win, be spectacular) for the mantle of NHRA Full Throttle World Champion.
Not one championship, mind you, but 15, the last at age 61 after coming back from a crash in Dallas, Texas, that would have ended the career of any normal human being. Force, as it turns out, is exceedingly abnormal.
Despite a compound fracture of the left ankle, broken bones in his hands, feet, fingers and toes plus ligament damage, Force, despite a month-long stay at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, was back in his race car four months after the accident and in the winners’ circle at Topeka, Kan., four months after that.
Having endured all of the physical and mental trials – plus knee surgery before the start of the current season, it doesn’t seem all that strange for the 134-time tour winner’s futuristic adventures as righter-of-wrongs to be chronicled in “graphic novel,” modern-speak for comic book.
Unveiled at last month’s Indianapolis Comic Book Show, the Destination Force Castrol Mustang will be on display Thursday night on Fremont Street before making its only competitive appearance in the 12th annual Big O Tires Nationals starting Friday.
A project undertaken by daughter and two-time former Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Funny Car champion Ashley Force Hood, Destination Force is projected as a continuing series of adventures loosely based on Force’s experiences in the real world.
“I wanted to race this Funny Car the minute Ashley showed me the comic book,” said the 2012 inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala. “The whole story behind Destination Force was my story and to take it in a whole new direction with a comic book was great.
“I know the fans loved the book and we have been selling a lot of them at the car shows, through our John Force Racing website and the John Force RaceStation apparel store,” he said. “We’ll be selling them on Fremont Street, too. Bottom line, I want to get this Destination Force car in the winners’ circle.”
Although he has said he “never says never,” Force concedes that his bid for a 16th series championship may be over.
“Maybe I can’t win the championship,” he acknowledged, “but we moved up (from 10th to sixth in points with a semifinal finish two weeks ago at Reading, Pa.) and we’re gonna keep fighting these next two races.”
While LVMS once was Force’s nemesis (he won just once in his first 18 appearances and twice failed to make the starting lineup), the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection has turned things around since his first appearance in the Big O Tire Nationals resulted in a first round double disqualification involving himself and Bob Bode.
In fact, just two years ago became only the fifth driver in history to sweep the spring and fall races.
TEAMING UP - In an all-out effort to finish the 2012 season on a high note, Jerry Savoie has made major changes to his White Alligator Racing Pro Stock Motorcycle team in advance of this weekend’s Big O Tires Nationals in Las Vegas. Savoie will not only return to the S&S-powered Buell motorcycle that he raced earlier this year, but he has also formed an alliance with former NHRA Full throttle Drag Racing Series champion Matt Smith, who will serve as his crew chief this weekend.
“My bike is on the way to Las Vegas in Matt Smith’s trailer and I’ll be racing with him and [teammate] Michael Ray this weekend,” said Savoie. “Matt is a talented guy who can do just about everything. He is not only a great rider, but he also builds his own engines and he’s a first-rate crew chief. Last week, we sent my bike to Matt’s shop in North Carolina and he replaced the crankshaft and basically put his tune-up in the bike. Matt has been running really well lately so I’m pretty excited to go out there and see if we can make something happen.”
Smith, currently ranked eighth in the NHRA Full Throttle standings, is a 13–time national event winner and the 2008 series champion. He currently fields a bike for second-year rider Ray, who became the only non-Harley rider to claim a victory this season when he raced to the Dallas title. Smith is also the son of Pro Stock/Pro Mod Hall of Fame driver Rickie Smith. The new alliance with Smith’s team has provided a strong reason for optimism in the White Alligator camp.
“I’m determined to build a winning program here,” said Savoie. “In fact, I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with [championship winning team owner] Don Schumacher, and I asked him about the secret to his success. He simply told me to surround myself with good people, and I believe I’ve done that with Matt Smith.”
Last year in Las Vegas, Savoie qualified in the No. 6 spot with a 6.95 en route to a quarterfinal finish.
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