2012 PRO WINTER WARM-UP AND SPEED WEEK - EVENT NOTEBOOK

Written by Susan Wade; Photos by Roger Richards, Rhonda McCole.

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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - RAIN RUNS LOW ELAPSED TIME TO CLOSE THE EVENT

rainPersistent rain forced Palm Beach International Raceway officials to cancel the second night of the PRO Winter Warm-up. Recurring showers kept the track crew busy throughout the day, but a final late afternoon heavy rain forced cancellation at about 4 p.m.

The event will not be rescheduled. The track will honor Saturday advance-purchased tickets at the 2014 event.

Three of the four Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars got in a test lap in earlier Saturday. Ron Capps, in the NAPA Dodge Charger, was the only one of them to make a full pass, a 4.066-second elapsed time at 315 mph.

The John Force Racing Funny Cars had a strong PRO Winter Warm-up performance.

Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang made the quickest and second quickest runs during Friday's two sessions of the PRO Winter Warm-Ups. In the first session, he recorded a 4.048-second pass. The next quickest run was DSR driver Matt Hagan's 4.060-second clocking in the Rocky Boots Dodge Charger.

In the second session, Hight was paired with teammate Courtney Force when he improved his E.T. to 4.021 seconds at 318.24 mph. But she turned in a career-best 4.018-second pass and a record 322.73 mph. Those two E.T.s were the best of the second session.

"It felt like an amazing run," she said. "You can always tell when you are going down there and Robert was right out my window. I could tell he was on a good run, too. I didn't think it would be a 4.01 but I thought it would be a low 4.0. We had been running 4.03s and 4.05s all week in testing. It is a great feeling. I am proud of my Traxxas team led by Ron Douglas and Dan Hood. They gave me a fast race car. We are just having a lot of fun.

"We are pushing the limits to see what our car can take," Courtney Force said. "I think we have seen what our Traxxas Ford Mustang can do. That was my quickest E.T. and the fastest mile-per-hour run for me. I feel good going into a new season.

"I was talking with my guys, and you could tell there was a whole different vibe today. We all just sparked up, because today [Friday] didn't feel like a testing day. We got excited, because this felt like a race," she said. "Having the fans around really brought all our energy up. We know that it is testing, but everybody also wants to get those win lights and be the best out here. You want to show the fans what you have been doing over the off-season. My Traxxas team really stepped it up."

Bob Tasca pulled an impressive 4.06-second d pass and 316.90-mph speed from his Motorcraft / Quick Lane Shelby Ford Mustang in the humid conditions Saturday morning before the first of the rain showers came.

Friday results

Funny Car – First Session

1. Robert Hight, 4.048 seconds, 315.56 mph 2. Matt Hagan, 4.060, 312.78 3. Chad Head, 4.061, 313.15 4. Johnny Gray, 4.066, 311.92 5. Del Worsham, 4.067, 311.34 6. Bob Tasca 3, 4.073, 315,42 7. Ron Capps, 4.075, 316.52 8. Alexis DeJoria, 4.081, 308.21 9. Cruz Pedregon, 4.106, 297.61 10. Jack Beckman, 4.160, 307.16 11. Courtney Force, 7.505, 76.25 12. John Force, 7.895, 87.41

Top Fuel – First Session

1. Doug Kalitta, (Mac Tools dragster) 3.759 seconds, 328.30 mph 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.776, 324.59 3. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.825, 321.50 4. Clay Millican, 3.828, 321.42 5. Leah Pruett, 3.850, 307.16 6. Antron Brown, 3.860, 302.28 7. Brittany Force, 3.860, 290.88 8. Dave Grubnic, 3.870, 271.08 9. Sidnei Frigo, 3.883, 318.24 10. Doug Kalitta (Geico dragster), 6.860, 92.87

Funny Car - Second Session

1. Courtney Force, 4.018 seconds, 322.73 mph 2. Robert Hight, 4.021, 318.24 3. John Force, 4.053, 308.35 4. Chad Head, 4.074, 313.51 5. Jack Beckman, 4.085, 311.99 6. Alexis DeJoria, 4.102, 301.60 7. Bob Tasca III, 4.109, 312.71 8. Del Worsham, 8.563, 91.68 9. Matt Hagan, 9.602, 76.73 10. Johnny Gray, 9.709, 78.34 11. Ron Capps, 10.273, 76.02

Top Fuel – Second Session

1. Doug Kalitta/Geico dragster, 3.787 seconds, 322.58 mph 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.794, 325.30 3. Brittany Force, 3.796, 324.26 4. Clay Millican, 3.804, 322.73 5. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.848, 320.51 6. Dave Grubnic, 3.970, 225.79 7. Leah Pruett, 4.279, 188.07 8. Doug Kalitta/Mac Tools dragster, 5.245. 134.27 9. Antron Brown, 6.512, 98.45 10. Sidnei Frigo, 10.385, 75.32

BENDER OVERSEES BRAZILIAN'S TOP FUEL TEAM - Donnie Bender emerged from Dick La Haie's shadow at Don Prudhomme Racing and earned his own acclaim as tuner for Larry Dixon and later with Todd Smith for Brandon Bernstein at Kenny Bernstein Racing. He's back in the tuning groove this year, with a more steady gig -- and a more global outlook on drag racing.

His driver is Sidnei Frigo, the Sao Paulo paper magnate and dragstrip owner who has been racing in the NHRA in the Top Alcohol Dragster class for the past couple of seasons and won a Division 2 race in 2012 at Charlotte's zMAX Dragway.

Frigo has had sportier rides, including a twin-turbo Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, but the Brazilian has stepped up to the Top Fuel ranks and this week at Florida's Palm Beach International Raceway is driving the colorful, fresh-off-the-line Murf McKinney-built dragster that carries the banner for Artivinco.

That's his company that manufactures environmentally friendly cardboard boxes, paper plates, and specialized refrigerated cartons. (With an emphasis on sustainability, his products contain a small percentage of wood pulp and use instead a variety of components, including fiber cane sugar and plant biomass.)

Bender, with capable help from brothers Bobby and Dom Lagana and a crew that includes Spencer Massey, has taken on the task of organizing a far-flung group of individuals. Frigo travels back and forth between Brazil and the U.S., where he and wife Daniela both completed a Super Comp dragster course at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School. His friend, Fausto Frigo, has managed his Top Alcohol Dragster operation and the team's financials from South Florida.

But for at least the first few months of this year, Bender and his Top Fuel crew will work out of renowned sportsman driver-tuner Tom Conway's shop in Oklahoma. Conway tuned Frigo in the A/Fuel dragster.

"We really don't have a shop yet. Eventually we're going to have to get a shop, and Brownsburg would be the best place to have it," Bender said.

They might not be settled into their own race shop, but the team is settling into a routine and beginning to produce encouraging numbers. They didn't run Wednesday or Thursday, deferring to the tour regulars who come to this facility routinely, but Bender said, "Tuesday the car showed some promise." They made four runs Friday, including a 3.883-second elapsed time at 318.24 mph during the PRO Winter Warm-up, and the plan was to make four more Saturday.

"This first year we're going to take it a little slow and do the best we can and just learn and race good," crew chief Bender said.

Bender is at home in the Artivinco Racing hauler, for Frigo bought it from Prudhomme. So it's the trailer Bender worked in when he was Dixon's crew chief.  While the "office" is familiar, Bender rather enjoys going out of his comfort zone, as well. And he said he'd like to see more foreign drivers stateside in the NHRA.

Lex Joon (The Netherlands), Urs Erbacher (Switzerland), Damien Harris (Australia), Thomas Nataas (Norway) are among the Top Fuel foreigners to join longtime NHRA drivers Dave Grubnic, a Montana resident by way of Australia, and Canadians Todd Paton, Ike Maier, and Tim Boychuk. Years ago, Japan's Yuichi Oyama raced a dragster. And one of the NHRA's brightest rising stars is Dubai native Khalid Al-Balooshi, who drives for the Qatar-owned Al-Anabi Racing team.

Funny Car also has had foreign competitors, including Kenji Okazaki (Japan), Todd Lesenko (Canada), Leif Helander (Sweden), and Grant Downing (Australia).

However, drag racing has attracted fewer foreign drivers than the modern open-wheel era has.

NASCAR largely has fielded all-American lineups, with notable exceptions Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya (who was a guest here Friday of Don Schumacher Racing/NAPA Funny Car driver Ron Capps), Marcos Ambrose (Tasmania), Ron Fellows (Canada), and briefly Dario Franchitti (Scotland). Moreover, a large and vocal segment of fans of the foreign-driver-dominated IndyCar Series have called for more American drivers to cheer for and are celebrating the achievement of current champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Bender, though, advocates a greater number of foreign drivers in drag racing -- a natural progression with NHRA's worldwide initiative. Of course, the sport is popular in Canada and Australia, but it's growing in the Middle East, Australia, South America, and throughout the Caribbean.

"I think it's cool. For our sport to grow, I think it's not bad to have people from different countries in it," Bender said. "Drag racing could become more international than some other styles [of motorsports]. In Europe there's a lot of drag racing . . . Germany, Finland, Sweden, and England. I went over there quite a bit to race with them. They have a real good program.

"It's a global economy, so if we can get global companies involved in drag racing, that will help," he said. "And to get global companies, you have to have global drivers."

Bender has done his part in bridging the talent. He spent a sizeable chunk of time last year with five-time world champion ski jumper Janne Ahonen, of Finland, who also has won two Olympic silver team medals. Ahonen bought Kenny Bernstein's dragster when the legend retired and charged Bender with selling his equipment. Ahonen has proven skilled in drag racing, too, winning Finnish and Nordic titles and setting a European record in 2006.

"I went over there six times last year, to Europe. Last year, I did a lot of stuff, but it wasn't all here [in the U.S.]," Bender, who helped the Laganas race the Service Central Dragster at six or seven NHRA races in 2012, said.

 

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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - GETTING READY FOR THE BIG SHOW

hight robertHIGHT, CREW WORKING HARD - Robert Hight said he doesn't mind that everyone else at John Force Racing seems to be swiping the spotlight lately. The company president and 2008 championship driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car said his goal is to "keep focusing on making this car better" and trying to be the "silent sleeper" in an increasingly crowded field of quality competitors.

It would be difficult for Hight to underestimate or dislike two of the "new" faces in the class this year. He and DHL Toyota Camry driver Del Worsham are longtime friends, and he and Chad Head worked together on John Force's car in 1996.

"It's going to be a fun year. I'm looking forward to it," Hight said. "I'm glad the winter's over. I'd like to race every week if we could."

He agreed with boss John Force's declaration that fielding one fewer Funny Car will bring improvement.

"Honestly, our Funny Car program will be a little stronger now that we don't have so many cars," Hight said. "You look back, we've never done good with four cars, four Funny Cars. Jimmy [Prock] and [Mike] Neff and Ron Douglas work well together, so I think we're going to be strengthened there. And it’s going to be a learning curve in Top Fuel for us."

Hight's crew has added assistant crew chief Danny DeGennaro, whom Prock hired years ago to work with him on Joe Amato's dragster. I've already seen this weekend how well they work and talk together. It's just a matter of putting all the pieces together. We have 'em all right here. We need to put them together."

The biggest change he surely wants to make this year is to pace himself or at least better process the victories if they come in bunches. Last season Hight won four consecutive Wallys by the end of the fifth event, then in the second half of the season had trouble getting out of the first round. He kept his grip on first place in the standings through the Seattle race but in the eight races from Brainerd, Minn. through the season finale at Pomona, Calif., tumbled to seventh (and dipped to eighth once).

"You get mental from that," he said. "It's been s long since we did good that you think, 'Are we ever going to be good again?' I believe we will, because of the people we have. We'll be fine."

He said the 2012 season "was probably the most competitive we've ever had. It's what gets you up in the morning and makes you work hard all day. You know you're not going to get any better sitting still. You've got to work hard."

He said he's thrilled to be here in South Florida, testing his Mustang because "the cars don't get any faster in the shop."

He said this is the perfect time to experiment with ideas developed through the off-season, even if they turn out not to work.

BY THE NUMBERS - Elapsed times and speeds from Friday's opening day of the PRO Winter Warm-up at Palm Beach International Raceway (E.T.s in seconds, speeds in mph):


FIRST SESSION


TOP FUEL


1. Doug Kalitta    3.759        328.30
2. Tony Schumacher    3.776        324.59
3. Bob Vandergriff    3.825        321.50
4. Clay Millican    3.828        321.42
5. Leah Pruett        3.850        307.16
6. Antron Brown    3.860        302.28
7. Brittany Force    3.860        290.88
8. Dave Grubnic    3.870        271.08
9. Sidnie Frigo        3.883        318.24
10. GEICO Dragster    6.860          92.87


FUNNY CAR

1. Robert Hight    4.048        315.56
2. Matt Hagan        4.060        312.78
3. Chad Head         4.061        313.15
4. Johnny Gray    4.066        311.92
5. Del Worsham    4.067        311.34
6. Bob Tasca         4.073        315.42
7. Ron Capps        4.075        316.52
8. Alexis DeJoria    4.081        308.21
9.Cruz Pedregon    4.106        297.61
10. Jack Beckman    4.160        307.16
11. Courtney Force    7.505          76.25
12. John Force        7.895          87.41


**********************

SECOND SESSION


TOP FUEL

GEICO Dragster    3.787        322.58
Tony Schumacher    3.794        325.30

Leah Pruett        4.279        188.07
Antron Brown        6.512          98.45


Clay Millican        3.804        322.73
Brittany Force        3.796        324.36


Bob Vandergriff    3.848        320.51    
Dave Grubnic        3.970        225.79


Doug Kalitta         5.245        134.27
Sidnie Frigo        10.385       75.32
 


FUNNY CAR

Bob Tasca         4.109        312.71
Ron Capps              10.273         76.02


Alexis DeJoria        4.102        301.60
Del Worsham        8.563          91.68


Jack Beckman        4.085        311.99
Johnny Gray        9.709          78.34


Chad Head         4.074        313.51
Matt Hagan        9.602          76.73


Robert Hight        4.021        318.24
Courtney Force    4.018         322.73


John Force        4.053          308.35

pruett leahNOT A SHY ROOKIE - Leah Pruett is scheduled at this point to enter only 15 of 24 Mello Yello Series races this year in the Dote Racing Dragster unless additional funding rolls in. But that isn't stopping her from thinking like a winner.

"If you're going to go drag racing and do this, you can't NOT expect to go to the final every race. You have to. And I do believe we will be in a final, and I do believe we are capable of winning this year and especially [advancing to] multiple semifinals," the 24-year-old California native said. "As a part-time team this season, it would say a lot for a non-fulltime team to come out with a win sometime during this season.

"I know it's early to say, but I've got a good feeling about it all," she said.

Pruett's most recent race, in Roger Burgess' R2B2 Pro Mod car, came last October at St. Louis, but the Doug Kuch-led, Monroe, Ohio-based Dote Racing team's most recent outing was with driver Larry Dixon, also in October, at Reading, Pa. That longer-than-usual layoff, she said, made her two unexpected Thursday runs even more commendable.

She recorded 4.774-second elapsed time at 155.49 mph in her first Thursday pass and improved to 4.011, 240.81 in her evening run. Both were scheduled half-track runs.

"I've got a lot of confidence in Doug and this whole team," she said, impressed that they neither were rusty nor caught off-guard when they got the chance to make a couple of passes Thursday when the Al-Anabi Racing team packed it in and left West Palm Beach.

"We weren't scheduled to run. We were scheduled for only the PRO [Winter Warm-Up] sessions," Pruett said. "[Shawn] Langdon and [Khalid al-]Balooshi called it. They whupped up on everybody with a (3.)73 and .76. And their absence allowed us to make two runs, which got us ahead of our eight-ball."

She said she thought the test session is "going very well" so far. And she said she's prepared -- though her 2010 Hot Rod Heritage Series championship performances and multiple NHRA Pro Mod event victories (including three last year), as well as a brief stint in a Funny Car -- for racing in the Top Fuel class.

"I think it's the same type of pressure. It's the same morale you have with the team. It's the same services. It's all drag racing -- but at the very highest levels it can be," Pruett said.

She said Steve Torrence's three victories in five final rounds last year was an inspiration. "It just shows you don’t have to have a multi-team operation to win," she said. "It levels the playing field."

Team owner Connie Dote said she's convinced Pruett will navigate the season like a pro.

"We've been watching Leah for years, since she had a Jr. Dragster. From there right on up, she has excelled in every class she has been in. This is where she belongs. I think we're going to do very well with her," Dote said. "She works really hard, and we love her over here."

Pruett will debut in the dragster at next month's season-opening Winternationals.

john forceREAL COURAGE - John Force stood by his tow vehicle in the staging lanes just before his Friday night Funny Car run at the PRO Winter Warm-up at West Palm Beach, Fla., waiting to watching daughter Courtney's Traxxas Mustang Funny Car pass and thinking about his daughter Brittany's first few passes in the Castrol Edge Top Fuel dragster. He made a face at the thought of driving the foreign nitro-class beast after 16 championships and about four decades in a Funny Car and said a dragster "scares me."

Then he said he has tried to expose Brittany to the elements he thinks are essential to drag racing, even seemingly contradictory concepts such as courage and fear.

"In my early days, I was talking to my Uncle Beav [Gene Beaver] right here [at Palm Beach International Raceway]. I told him I was afraid, and he asked what I was afraid of," Force said. He replied, citing the usual: fear of failing, fear of crashing, fear of looking silly.

Beaver alluded to the moat full of alligators that rings this South Florida facility and asked Force if he would jump into the canal, knowing it contained alligators. Force, of course, said no.

But Beaver countered with a hypothetical and a challenge: "If one of your kids fell into that water full of alligators, you'd dive right in" in a rescue attempt.

That, Beaver told him, would be an example of courage, one that transcended fear to achieve a goal.

None of the Forces or anyone else on the property, thankfully, had to face a scenario such as that Friday night.

kalitta dougLENDING A HELPING FOOT - Doug Kalitta and Dave Grubnic formed a tag team Friday, not just for Kalitta Motorsports but also for Morgan Lucas Racing. They're alternating turns in the GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster to help Lucas' crew continue testing in Lucas' absence. The team owner-driver had to leave the racetrack Thursday afternoon to honor business commitments.

"Morgan has commitments," Grubnic said. "We're all the same size, and it just helps the crew guys. They don't have to touch the car or change it to suit somebody else.  And it's not really a big deal. It's just for convenience. We all help each other out. He came to us and asked if we could fill in for him, and we said, 'No problem. We'll take care of it.' "

Grubnic drove the GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster for one run Thursday evening, and Kalitta took a spin in it Friday morning. Grubnic said the two of them would share substitute duties during the PRO Winter Warm-up public sessions Friday evening and Saturday.

"We'll figure it out," Grubnic said Friday morning. "We just have to spread ourselves out so one of us can jump over there and get in [Lucas' car]." He said it's just a matter of who's available at the moment Lucas' crew is ready to hit the track.

He said making an extra pass in a friend's dragster gives him no strategic advantage. "Nope. None," Grubnic said with a playful shake of his head. "The only thing it does is helps their team out. We keep all their systems and procedures the same. And Forrest Lucas, he's big into the sport. He's like Connie. We all need to help each other. We're all in this circus together."

DSC 3822MILLICAN ADJUSTS EASILY - Clay Millican won't have the luxury of -- and yes, he always considered it a blessing -- walking out his door and touching his race car. He'll still be in West Tennessee, but his Parts Plus Dragster will be in Indianapolis. But the easy-to-adapt Millican has made a seamless transition into the Bob Vandergriff Racing organization after his official association with Mark and Lauren Pickens ended.

He said he "knew it was coming,'" because Mark Pickens said he and wife Lauren were "ready to do something different" and encouraged him toward the end of last season to make plans for his 2013 season. "Parts Plus wanted to keep racing, which was awesome," Millican said. "Spent a little time figuring out where was the best place for Parts Plus and me and my family. And this is the place for me to be.

"Bob [Vandergriff] and his family have raced forever and ever and ever. Bob Sr. has been involved with racing basically his entire life. Bob Jr. has been with huge corporations over the years out here, and he maintains a clean-running operation, very professional. You just look at all the companies he's been involved with. That just tells you he's good at what he does. It just made sense," he said. "The more I talked with Bob, the more I knew this is where I wanted to be."

Vandergriff continues to work on a marketing partnership that would allow J.R. Todd to run the team's third car for at least a few races this year. "All the equipment's sitting there, ready to go," Millican said.

Millican is driving the Parts Plus Dragster that he brought to the team with its attendant equipment. But Kurt Elliott, and not Justin Crosslin and Mike Domagala, is crew chief for a team that has focused its efforts on Todd's performance in the past. Only three mechanics -- engine builder Kris Martin, short-block mechanic / transportation expert Greg "Nugget" Bennett, and clutch specialist Dave Gaterell -- made the move to the new Brownsburg, Ind.-headquartered set-up.

He said he's subscribing to the "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" theory.

"I griped all year for the past couple of years about the multi-car teams, so the best thing for me to do was get involved with one," Millican said. "It's just the way to be competitive, no two ways about it. It's a good deal. Parts Plus is happy, and that's what counts. I'm enjoying this -- this is nice."

Today, he said, he's able to "get a lot of work done. Instead of my focus heading off to 'I wonder how the cylinder heads are getting put together,' I can focus on those who take care of us. We've got a lot of different people involved in this team. My job is to make sure if they need something we're doing it for them. And I don't just mean putting on their decals. If there's something we can do to help grow their business, that's my job. I've always done that."

But he said he likes the ritual of being hands-on with the car. "I like to work on cars, always have," Millican said. He said he doesn't have an idea yet how many time he'll travel from his home at Drummonds, Tenn., to Brownsburg but knows he'll enjoy being with his crew and car whenever he does: "I still like to be around it and see what the guys are doing."

Meanwhile, the Pickenses will stay busy, Lauren concentrating on her "Hope 4 Sudan" project and Mark still participating in sportsman-level drag racing. "Nobody's mad at each other. It's just business," Millican said of the decision for the team to change hands. "They're great people. I love 'em. I really do." He said Mark Pickens "will always have something to keep him busy. He always has. The race team just added to it." The new arrangement, he said, "will just free up a little more of his time so he can go have some fun."

He said he understands that drag racing "will consume you." Speaking for himself, he said he doesn't mind - "I don't have all the other businesses to take care of that Mark and Lauren do" -- but understands that others might not enjoy that. "Mark and Lauren . . . were just ready to do something different. It was just time."

kalitta dougSURE LOOKS 'PRETTY GOOD' - Doug Kalitta has been at West Palm Beach since Monday and said in his low-key manner, "My car's been running pretty good." That was an understatement. His best effort Thursday was a 329.10-mph speed that topped all racers at 3.756 seconds, an elapsed time that was second only to Tony Schumacher's 3.740 seconds in the U.S. Army Dragster. Kalitta said the car he drove last season will be this year's spare dragster, so those numbers this week are especially strong for a brand-new ride.

brown antronCAN'T LET UP - Still glowing from a Top Fuel championship he called "all that you dream of and then some more," Antron Brown said the grueling work already has begun in an attempt to repeat it.

The entire team also has celebrated the title run, in public at the awards ceremony and in their hearts as they embraced the proof that they could achieve great goals. But Brown, crew chiefs Mark Oswald and Brian Corradi, and each team member knew immediately after the hoopla of last November that it was time to get back to the grindstone.

"We have to work even harder," Brown said, "because it's going to be even harder. The competition was intense last year, but everybody ended the season strong. It's going to be a tough battle from start to finish this year. It's going to be a heck of a street fight out here this year."

With three-time champion Larry Dixon re-entering the mix this year, foreign drivers such as Brazil's Sidnie Frigo and The Netherlands' Lex Joon stepping up their presence, Bob Vandergriff becoming an even bigger threat by bringing Clay Millican in as a teammate, Hot Rod Fuller relentlessly pursuing a deal to drive fulltime in the U.S. again, and Brittany Force and Leah Pruett debuting in the class, NHRA Top Fuel competition will be especially exciting. Brown said he welcomes all contenders.

"The waters are already shark-infested, but they can dive on in. It's just fine. Trust me," Brown said.

"Before, you had to watch what was in front of you," he said. "Now you have to watch your back, your side -- you have to watch every angle, because it's going to be coming from all directions. But we're ready for that challenge. I'm very stoked. I have confidence in my team."

He said he's energized with the off-season acquisition of crew members Chris Stillwell from Matt Hagan's team, Tyler Clouser from the Army team, and Chris Abbott from the Jack Beckman/Ron Capps teams.

"I was honored to get those guys," Brown said, adding that it makes him feel like "we're back in the game."

Brown was not scheduled to run at PBIR Thursday but said that in the Friday and Saturday public sessions "we'll just turn 'er loose and see what we can do. We've been running (3.)78s, .79s and low .80s. So we're right there."

BIGGEST CHALLENGER SIDELINED - Antron Brown said he takes no comfort in knowing one of the biggest challenges to his Top Fuel title defense is parked.

The third Don Schumacher Racing dragster, which originally had Cory McClenathan behind the wheel in a fierce duel with eventual champion Larry Dixon, is waiting in the shop for a sponsor to bring it back into competition.

"It's sad to see our third car sitting in the shop right now. But they're still working on some deals," Brown said. "I think it's real important to have that car out there. They were a great team. It's all just loss because of funding. FRAM and Prestone left and so the car's down because of funding. It's sad to see it sit there. But if I know Don, he's working on some stuff and we're all just pulling together, trying to keep everything going."

Citing December testing with veteran driver and DSR track expert Tommy Johnson Jr. in the cockpit, Brown said, "They're ready to go" if funding materializes. "It was the quickest thing out here in December," he said.

He said either his team or Tony Schumacher's conceivably could press the former FRAM/Prestone car into service throughout the year if it remains idle.

"We could if we needed to, but all of our teams are set up," he said. "There's no need to even touch that team. We're going to keep that team intact like it is."

Don Schumacher Racing marketing specialist Paul Mecca said the third dragster team provides potential sponsors with options for full-time or partial-season opportunities. He said it presents options for prospective marketing partners who also might want to divide sponsorship between a dragster and one of the company's four Funny Cars.

al anabiSO LONG - The Alan Johnson-managed Al-Anabi Racing team packed up Thursday and headed back to Brownsburg, Ind., satisfied with its testing performances from Shawn Langdon and Khalid al-Balooshi.

 

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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK -FINAL DAY OF PRIVATE TESTING COMES TO AN END; PRO WINTER WARM-UP SLATED FOR FRIDAY

Best speeds and times for Thursday testing at West Palm Beach, Fla.
 
TOP FUEL
 
Tony Schumacher        3.740, 328.80
Doug Kalitta           3.756, 329.10
Morgan Lucas           3.790, 323.19
Brittany Force         3.825, 320.20  
Brandon Bernstein      4.154, 204.76
Leah Pruett            4.011, 240.81
 

FUNNY CAR

Courtney Force       4.036, 318.02  
Ron Capps            4.071, 314.53
Alexis DeJoria       4.079. 302.28
Chad Head            4.091, 310.55
Del Worsham          4.099, 310.70
Johnny Gray          4.107. 304.60  
John Force           4.156. 295.66
Robert Hight         4.162. 303.16

 

schumacher tonyFOR THE LAST TIME, HE'S NOT A MACHINE! - It might not seem like a big deal to ESPN announcer Mike Dunn, but it's a big deal to Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher. "I hear Mike Dunn all the time say, 'Tony says he's a machine.' I want to clarify this for the 9,000th time: I don't say I'm a machine," the seven-time series champion said. "[Former Don Schumacher Racing track expert] Lanny Miglizzi used to say, 'BE a machine.' What I say is I try to replicate a machine -- not think about stuff because I'm not smart enough to figure these damn cars out. A machine turns on when the switch is flipped. And I'm not a machine. I make mistakes. We all do. I say you try to be as close to one as you can. I don't call myself a machine. That sounds really egotistical."

capps ronCOMMERCIAL BREAK - Funny Car 2012 runner-up Ron Capps didn't have time to race in the Chili Bowl midget-car classic this winter. He has been busy, making another entertaining advertisement for NAPA Auto Parts, sponsor of his Don Schumacher Racing-owned Dodge Charger. "Our NHRA fans are going to love it," he said. "The commercials are with Martin Truex, the NAPA NASCAR driver, and Michael Waltrip and myself. They're going to air on all the network NASCAR races, starting probably at Daytona, and it’s going to air during our races. "The concept they're going to have this year will have a big effect on our fans this year. You'll have to wait and see. But I think it's one of the best ad programs we've had in a long time. The fans are really going to enjoy getting involved with it," Capps said. "I can't say any more without giving it away."

lucas morganSUBSTITUTE DRIVERS -- The yellow GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster made a Thursday evening pass, but Morgan Lucas wasn't behind the wheel. He was on his way back to Indiana for a Lucas Oil company function. Dave Grubnic took a 4.350-second, 174.77-mph shakedown run, getting used the car he'll drive for Lucas Friday and Saturday when the public will get its first glimpse of the 2013 teams. Lucas had posted a personal best for the day at 3.790, 323.19.

Earlier in the day, Steve's dad Billy Torrence made a pass in son Steve's Torrence Family Racing/Capco Dragster, lurching toward the center line just after the launch. His quickest and fastest in a sportsman-class car was 6.30, 230.

 

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