2013 NHRA TOPEKA - EVENT NOTEBOOK

Written by Bobby Bennett, Tracy Renck; Photos by Steven Wilson, Will Lester.

 

 

 

SUNDAY NOTEBOOK -

WIL 0334GRAY THUNDERS TO TOPEKA WIN - Johnny Gray’s Pitch Energy team has spent the last two weekends battling a problem most any other team would love to have. An abundance of horsepower tested crew chief Rob Wendland’s mettle throughout the weekend as he worked to find just the right horsepower and clutch applications.

In the end, Gray and Wendland kept ratcheting up the ponies en route to stopping a resurgent Robert Hight in the final round. The Pitch Energy driver pounded out a 4.067 elapsed time at 314.90 to win convincingly as Hight’s engine expired just shy of the finish line.

“Rob gave me a race car that could win today,” said Gray. “You can win a lot of races off of the intimidation factor. Rob had her tuned up where she was a bit intimidating. Robert had a great race car and they just missed it by a hair.”

Gray’s victory marked his third of 2013, and the sixth of his Funny Car career. For a driver who has many firsts, he added to the list by gaining sole position of the Funny Car point lead.

Gray’s Dodge Charger was in a thunderous zone and at times looked as ominous as the clouds hovering over Heartland Park Topeka as he cranked out convincing wins over Alexis DeJoria [4.117], Del Worsham [4.047] and Jack Beckman [4.055] to reach the finals.

The performance of the last two events hardly resembles the same team which failed to qualify three races ago.

Gray likened his race car to having a bipolar condition with a hint of hormonal issues.

“My car was acting real ornery,” said Gray. “Maybe borderline bipolar on Friday? I got up in the middle of the night, and got stirred up, thinking about it. I had seen this before at my house. I went in there and sneaked out one of Terri’s hormone pills and popped it in the fuel tank and it was just a pooch all weekend.”
With the car settled down, Gray said it was easy for his confidence to increase.

“If the same car shows up at championship time, and Rob keeps her tuned up, we have as good a shot at the title as anyone,” said Gray. “That’s a true fact, I don’t care who you are. The better the car runs, the better it makes the driver look. It doesn’t matter how good of a driver you are, if your car is bad, it can make you look pretty stupid.”

Gray is sticking to his plan to semi-retire at the end of 2013, and he joked with members of the media that his decision was made when he purchased a new boat, intent on upping his bass fishing expertise.

When asked if he was upping the ante on getting a championship in his so-called title season, Wendland took the microphone at the press conference, intent to make a point known.

“There’s a whole different meaning why we are here this year,” Wendland said. “We are here in recognition of Johnny’s father who has given the Gray family a lot of things. Johnny was instilled with values by his father. I have some of that from my father. It means a lot to this team what we are doing this year. We want to win a championship, there’s no doubt about it.”


WIL 0360LANGDON CAPS DOMINATING TOPEKA EFFORT - All weekend, Shawn Langdon was dominant at the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Topeka.

And, Langdon, who drives for the Al-Anabi Racing team managed by Alan Johnson, was at this best on his last run.

Langdon clocked a 3.750-second elapsed time at 324.20 mph to win the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park.

Langdon’s smooth run was enough to edge Tony Schumacher’s 3.781-second lap at 327.27 mph.

“The guys just did a phenomenal job this weekend,” said Langdon, who also won the pole position at 3.767 seconds. “They really made my job easy. I was just basically hanging on and trying to cut the best light I could.”

Langdon now has a 3-1 record against Schumacher in final rounds. Schumacher remains atop the season point standings at 665, while Langdon is second at 631.

“Tony is an excellent driver,” Langdon said. “I had the fastest car throughout the day and it was mine to screw up a little bit. As a driver coming from the Sportsman ranks you really want that kind of pressure on you as a driver. Alan (Johnson) really has this vision going right now. It has been a long slow process with the things he has changed on the car. Working with (crew chief) Brian (Husen), they really know we have a fast car and it is just a matter of keeping it consistent.”

Langdon was a study in consistency at Heartland Park Topeka, making seven-consecutive passes in the 3.70s and five of the last six rounds he was low ET, including both qualifying sessions Saturday.

“That’s Alan Johnson, Brian Husen and Al-Anabi Racing; they have a great team over there,” said Langdon, who is in his second season driving for Al-Anabi Racing. “Sheikh Khalid put together a phenomenal team, and I’m just very happy to be a part of it. They do not settle for second place. They want to be the best and be first all the time. I’m very lucky to be in that seat.”

Langdon ousted Pat Dakin, Steve Torrence and Spencer Massey before defeating Schumacher. Langdon’s win against Massey was his first in 12 career meetings.

Langdon beat Massey with a 3.772-second run, compared to Massey’s 3.792-second effort.

“You do not really want to change anything you do whether you have a winning record against someone or a losing record against someone,” Langdon said. “You really have to treat each opponent the same. Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it works in their favor. For the last five years, it has worked in his favor to compile an 11-0 record against me. So, it is a big weight to get off my shoulders.”


WIL 0267COUGHLIN RETUNS TO VICTORY LANE - Jeg Coughlin Jr. has had an illustrious NHRA Pro Stock career. He is a four-time world champion.

Yet, Coughlin had not won a race since Brainerd (Minn.) in 2010.

Not anymore.

Coughlin won the Kansas Nationals by beating his Mopar teammate Allen Johnson in the final round Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka.

Coughlin clocked a 6.680-second lap at 206.20 mph to edge Johnson’s 6.698-second run.

“I felt great all season long and we just have kind of had our ups and downs as far as why we haven’t been able to seal the deal and get a race win,” Coughlin said. “We tested before we came to Topeka at Tulsa just up the road and worked on some things from a chassis standpoint and worked on some things from my own package from behind the wheel. As a result we were really happy when we came out of there. We were really aggressive all four runs and I just had confidence in my team and myself.”

Coughlin’s victory march also included wins over Greg Stanfield, Rickie Jones and Vincent Nobile. When Coughlin beat Jones it gave him his 500th NHRA career Pro Stock round win.

“It almost brought a tear to my eye to see the win light come on in the second round,” Coughlin said.

Warren Johnson, Bob Glidden, Greg Anderson and Kurt Johnson are the only NHRA Pro Stock drivers with at least 500 round wins.

Coughlin now has 53 career Pro Stock wins and he is second in the season points with 647 points. Mike Edwards is atop the points at 723.

“The final round (win Sunday) takes all the cake,” Coughlin said. “It almost meets up with some of the best races I have ever won. This feels fantastic. Any day you are hoisting a Wally at the end of the day, it is what you are here for, but (Sunday) was extra special. We had not won in a couple of years and I took the 2011 season off. So to have the success we have had this year with the J&J horsepower and this whole program and to finally hoist the Wallly on Sunday is exactly what the doctor ordered.”

 

bernstein brandonSTILL AILING - The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will have an off weekend before resuming its schedule, which could be crucial for Brandon Bernstein, who has been battling trough an intense back injury over the last couple of weeks.

Bernstein lost in the first round of the NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka, Kan., to Clay Millican.

"I'm going back to the doctor and see how it's responded to the treatment we gave it last week," Bernstein said. "From there we'll determine what our next plan of attack will be.

"Hopefully with the better part of two weeks of not getting into the race car my back will get healthier. We'll follow the game plan the doctor comes up for me and hopefully I'll be feeling normal again sooner rather than later."

coughlin jeggieMILESTON ACHIEVED - With his second-round victory over Rickie Jones Sunday at the NHRA Kansas Nationals, Jeg Coughlin Jr. reached the 500 career round win plateau in Pro Stock.

"It's been a product of 15 years of dedication from a lot of great teams I have worked with," Coughlin said. "It's a testament to them from our family teams in the beginning to the Cagnazzi group, Schumacher and now with Allen Johnson."

Funny Car legend John Force, who has more than 1,000 round wins to his credit was one of the first to welcome Coughlin to the NHRA's 500 club.

"It's been well earned by him," Force said. "What he needs to do is not do what I did and run down the road and forget all about that. Take a few days and enjoy what you accomplished. Once it has been a week, you move on to the next race.

"We are all proud of him and his whole family. Enjoy this day."

The 500 round wins have helped produce 52 class wins and four championships for Coughlin, who currently drives the JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger.

"We do take trips down memory lane occasionally and this is one of those times," Coughlin said. "We've been fortunate to win a lot of great races and winning a lot of great championships. It's a testament to everyone who have been behind us all those years."

IMG 0340
McMillen by the Numbers


2 Top Fuel Cylinder Heads

Destroyed when a valve stuck in opening round action. The blower might also be a casualty, but the team will have to get it back to the shop for further inspection

- 3 Qualifying passes

Number of runs in the 3.80s during qualifying. A very consistent car for McMillen. The fourth pass was a test with new parts

- 60 Corn Dogs

The team seems to have found a new treat for their hotdog roller. Jimmy Dean would be proud of the number of breakfast pancake and sausage “corn dog” type treats they ate this weekend.

- 1 New driver for the Amalie/UNOH team.

Terry and Cori are expecting a bouncing new driver / baby boy on September 17. A succession plan that should keep Terry busy for at least the next 18 years. Baby does need a new pair of shoes... and a Top Fuel Dragster of course.
MCMILLEN PLAYS THE NUMBERS GAME IN TOPEKA - After struggling through the first few races of the season, Terry McMillen and his Amalie Oil/UNOH Top Fuel team have found some much needed consistency to their tune-up. After two solid qualifying passed in the rain shortened Atlanta race, McMillen’s Richard Hartman led team was able to put down three solid qualifying passed in Topeka. The effort landed McMillen 12th for race day in a match-up with Spencer Massey’s, Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel Dragster.

While McMillen put up a good fight for the first 330 feet, a broken valve would finish his chance for a first round upset and provided a spectacular fireball for fans. No Amalie Pro 70W was deposited on the track.

“Overall it was a good weekend,” a slightly dejected McMillen said on Sunday. “We had a pretty consistent car all weekend and we would have liked to have made  a closer race out of it, but it just didn't work out that way.”

“Topeka has been a pretty good track for us. We got the round win monkey off of our back a few years ago and now maybe we have the consistency monkey off of our back too. We looking forward to Englishtown to see what we can do there.”

“I’d also like to commend the NHRA Safety Safari. They  did a good job of getting the track ready after a night of thunderstorms. The lanes were as even as any place that we’ve been all year.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - ANOTHER SOLID DAY OF TOPEKA QUALIFYING; A WONDERFUL DAY FOR THE 15-TIME CHAMPION

TOP FUEL

langdon shawn
LANGDON WINS TOP FUEL POLE
- Tricky race tracks are hard to handle for some NHRA Top Fuel teams.

The Al-Anabi Racing team managed by Alan Johnson Racing relishes those conditions, and Shawn Langdon proved that Saturday.

Langdon clocked a 3.767 elapsed time at 322.50 mph at Heartland Park Topeka track to capture the pole at the Kansas Nationals.
This was Langdon’s third pole this season and the ninth of his career.

“Basically before we went out for the third session Alan (Johnson) and Brian Husen were talking, and they really felt confident in the track,” Langdon said. “The track surface has actually been really good this weekend. We had a lot of confidence in the tune-up in the car. The car has been running fairly well lately. We felt like (Friday night) if we had not knocked the rods out right before the finish line we might have got the No. 1 qualifying.”

Langdon also admitted he benefitted from Mother Nature Saturday.

“We were hopeful to get two runs in (Saturday) and the weather held out,” Langdon said. “We felt like the third session was the session we needed to go for it. Fortunately we had that cloud cover Saturday. If we didn’t have that cloud cover we would not have been able to go for it and fortunately everything worked in our favor.”

Despite the difficult tuning conditions, Langdon wasn’t worried because he has Johnson directing the game plan.

“That’s Alan Johnson,” Langdon said. “The guy works magic. Brian Husen is doing an excellent job being the crew chief. He is just making the right calls at the right time. I really feel the Al-Anabi car is the best car since I have been there. It is responding to a lot of the changes.”

Langdon also knew his team was unlikely to make a quicker run in the final qualifying session Saturday.

“It got a little muggy,” Langdon said. “When I backed up from the burnout I saw Alan with his hands on his hips and I knew he was in a thinking mode. He made a last minute change to the clutch and when he is doing that he feels very confident in what he is doing.”

Langdon will face Pat Dakin in the first round Sunday. 

schumacher tonyJUST MISSED IT - Tony Schumacher just missed his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series but was able to earn the No. 2 spot after Saturday's last qualifying sessions in the Kansas Nationals.

lucas morganUNDER PRESSURE - Despite a few anxious moments around the GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster pit Saturday, driver Morgan Lucas and the team qualified their car for Sunday's eliminations at the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

Lucas was on the outside looking in heading into Saturday afternoon's final qualifying session after having to pedal the car during the morning round. Lucas rose to the occasion with the pressure on and ran a 3.854 at 315.86 mph to land 14th on the eliminations ladder.

brown antron THE CHAMP STRUGGLES - Antron Brown stopped the clocks with a run of 3.883 seconds at 312.50 mph in his opening run of the day, a run he surpassed by some eight-hundredths of a second Friday.

bernstein brandonNO BACK PAIN, JUST RACIN' - Brandon Bernstein started the weekend Friday afternoon with a 3.828 pass at 324.90 mph, which was the best of that session. He ultimately improved to a 3.819 at 321.27 mph to start Sunday's eliminations out of the No. 10 spot.

massey spencerIMPROVEMENT - Spencer Massey has improved his qualifying position from a year ago when he was the 13th quickest in the field. After four sessions at Topeka, Massey's best run was a time of 3.794 seconds at 319.75 mph Saturday night.

torrence steveIN THE GROOVE - Steve Torrence took his quickest ride in five races Saturday and will start from the ninth spot with an elapsed time of 3.817 seconds at 319.60 mph on his first qualifying lap.


FUNNY CAR

force john

FORCE: OF OLD DOGS, SHARKS AND JUST COMING TO RACE - You might get away with poking an old dog once or twice, but the third time he’s likely to snap or bite. John Force provided an equivalent object lesson during the third session of qualifying.

With a No. 12 standing in the Funny Car points, a ranking unbecoming of a 15-time champion, Force stepped up in a big way to deliver a big bite in Q-3 at Topeka with a track record 4.043 at 313.22 miles per hour to claim the No. 1 qualifying position.

“There’s another session and someone could bump it,” Force cautioned. “But for now, it’s a good feeling on a weekend when I have a new grandbaby on the way. I want to show them their grandpa can still race, and I know I can.”

The run held and for Force it marked his first pole since June 2012 in Chicago.

Winning and running fast is important for Force but seeing the forest for the trees is of even more importance.

Force said the movie Soul Surfer provided the perfect opportunity to pass this lesson to daughter Courtney, who has fared much better than her famous dad.

The movie tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who lost her arm to a tiger shark attack. With the odds stacked against her, Hamilton returned to major competition.

During last weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals, the father and daughter were in the gym working out. Force was watching the movie while Courtney ran on the treadmill with her headphones on.

Eventually Courtney began to watch the movie and this afforded her father the opportunity to teach a life lesson.

“In the movie, when the girl was down on confidence she told her father she couldn’t win,” Force explained. “The father asked her, why did you come? When you were little you didn’t have dreams of winning. You never had dreams of being great. You just wanted to play the game.”

According to Force, Courtney had struggled with her race car’s recent shortcomings.

“I asked her why did she come?” Force said. “You came to race. Don’t forget that. We’re lucky to have sponsors that allow us to do that. Don’t get me wrong, I love to win, that’s why we have 17 championships. But, you come to race. You race to hear the cheer of the crowd. The winning is just the gravy.”

“Don’t ever say I didn’t come to win. We come to win but first we come to race. If you lose heart because you can’t win, then you’ll fold up and die. This sport is very humbling. It will humble you to your knees. I’ve been there.”

This season has been a humbling experience for NHRA’s winningest professional drag racer. He’s won only four rounds in seven events.

On this particular weekend, Force said a local Topeka newspaper wrote an article on why he’s had a losing season.

“They have to write what they see,” Force pointed out. “I have the option of pointing out what I am capable of but I learned long ago not to do that. It bites you in the end.”

Force didn’t have to search far in the memory banks for a lesson.

During the 1993 NHRA Sears Craftsman Nationals in Topeka, Force was the odds-on favorite to record the sport’s first four-second Funny Car run.

“Our car was running big numbers and we were getting ready to make one of those runs,” Force said. “I remember jumping up and down and Austin Coil told me we could do it. So I started to proclaim that we could do it.”

Force failed to take into account the unpredictability of drag racing and wrote off the chances of Chuck Etchells, who would go on to make the historic run.

“It was one of the dumb things I said, and on the burnout of what should have been the run, my brake caliper broke,” Force said. “I was backing up and the car was jerking. It wasn’t going anywhere and then they shut me off.”

Etchells, in the next pair, zipped to a 4.987 elapsed time.

“I can always make a statement of how we can fly,” Force said. “I can also give a statement of how we can’t. It’s been obvious we’ve struggled. But I still believe in our team. I believe in me. It’s only one run but it’s a start.”

It was just the bite the self-proclaimed old dog needed to take.

20130518 TOPEKA COMPPLUS-017SLOW DOWN TO GO FAST WORKS FOR WENDLAND, GRAY - Don Schumacher Racing crew chief Rob Wendland laughs when he compares the similarities of drag race tuning to playing golf.

“I can knock the crap out of a drive,” Wendland emphatically said. “There’s no doubt about it. I aim for 10 o’clock and it goes 12 o’clock. I’m almost a cinch to knock it 300 yards or so. Then I end up 100 yards from the green. Then I reach in my bag and I have a club which hits 115 and another 85. I’ll be darned if I can hit anything 100.”

Right now as a tuner, Wendland is capable of hitting a 300-yard drive but in his tuning bag is a proverbial club capable of 115 yards and another 85.

In Atlanta, he chose the 115-yard club and the tune-up fell a perfect 100 yards, effectively landing driver Johnny Gray in the winners circle at the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals.

Friday in Topeka, he chose the 85 yard club and fell short by being conservative.

The problem, which can be a good curse for Wendland and the Pitch Energy team, is that their car has an overabundance of horsepower.

Gray admitted following his Atlanta victory that the team had gotten off-center with their tune-up and had to back-up or in this sense, back down the horsepower. Such a move might seem counterproductive in a sport where going quicker and faster is the ultimate goal.

“We have tried really hard to run slow,” Wendland admits. “Obviously I don’t have the increments right to do that. Johnny might have said we went back to ground zero, but in my mind I was thinking 25 instead of zero. Then it runs a 4.16. Running slow took more than I anticipated.”

Gray ran a 4.137, 4.090, 4.088 and a 4.077 to win Atlanta.

In Topeka, he opened with a less-than-spectacular 4.73 and made a little move with a 4.68 to finish Friday outside of the top 12. He rebounded on Saturday with a 4.100.

Wendland admits he has a new appreciation for slowing down to go fast.

gray johnny“I thought I had a good handle on what I wanted to run yesterday and it was trying to run faster,” Wendland said, shaking his head and smiling. “Then I get conservative and it throws up past the tree. It’s finicky right now and what we need to do is make the window bigger yet still be fast.”

Wendland believes an abundance of horsepower can be construed as a curse depending on where you are racing.

“I’m not saying horsepower is our only problem but this car does make a lot of steam,” said Wendland. “When they are happy like that, it’ll drag anything with it - the clutch and everything. This particular car is taking bigger increments of power and clutch application out of the car. It’s taking big steps to slow it down.

“Look at the numbers, along with Cruz Pedregon we are one of the cars with more 4.0s to its credit. The 4.0s are great on a track when it can handle it but not so good on a track which yields a 4.12 or 4.15 best. Most of the runs we haven’t gotten down the track are in conditions not so favorable to our combination.”

In a sport where consistency wins races, this is a tough pill for Wendland to swallow.

“You want to show up at every race with the same horsepower,” said Wendland. “I haven’t quite accomplished that. It’s nice with a year-and-a-half under my belt, that I’m getting a better handle on those increments of power and clutch application. It’s making it better but I am not perfect by any means.”

Wendland credits the abundance of nitro tuning experience within the DSR camp in helping him to get a better handle, and reaching back to his golf analogy, to know when to grab an 85 or the 115.

“Mark [Oswald] and Brian [Corradi], they are good buddies and I can always count on them to give nice fresh ideas, and another set of ideas,” Wendland said. “It’s really nice to have that to bounce off of.”
Even if the question is counter-productive to what drag racing is, it’s nice to ask how to slow a fast car down.

There was no slowing Wendland and Gray in the final session as they recorded the fourth quickest run of the weekend, a 4.053, 313.37.

ron cappsSPEED DATING - Ron Capps has won three Funny Car titles in the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

A year ago, he lost in the championship round but didn't have the person he considers his Topeka lucky charm at his side.

When the driver of Don Schumacher Racing's NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T begins championship eliminations he knows it will not be a losing weekend.

It's become a Topeka tradition for his wife, Shelley Capps, to join him for a "date weekend" at the Kansas Nationals and after coming up a little short to DSR teammate Jack Beckman last year he wasn't about to be at Topeka without Shelley this year.

"It's always been that way and I've done well here so many times, and I think she's been here each of the three times we've won," said Capps, who will start eliminations Sunday in the No. 10 qualifying position and will face Tim Wilkerson in the opening round, scheduled to start at 11 a.m. (CT).

Ron and Shelley are joined by their children Taylor, 16, and Caden, 11, at NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events on the West Coast, loading their motorhome for races not too far from their home near San Diego.

"I enjoy it going to Topeka with him because we get more one-one-one time, and I get to spend more time with (crew chief Rahn Tobler) and the team," Shelley said. "When the kids are here I'm pretty busy with them and at races on the West Coast we have a lot friends and family.

"It's a nice race for us to get away. We love having the kids at races, but this is kind of like a date race for us."

They arrived in Kansas on Wednesday and met friends from Capps annual "NAPA Cruisin' with Capps" cruise for dinner in Kansas City before they headed to Topeka for the NHRA Kansas Nationals news conference. After that, they enjoyed lunch before going to see Star Trek 3 in 3D. They planned another movie for Saturday night.

"What we do day in and day out with racing makes it hard to spend so many weekends on the road by yourself," Ron said. "So it's very enjoyable when Shelley comes to Topeka with me.

"It is a date weekend. We get away, no kids, and it’s weird because we have all the time together. It's a nice weekend.

Shelley added, "It's nice when I get to spend time alone with Ron. When we're home we do things as a family.

"But I have to admit, I don't mind when he goes racing because then I get my quiet time."

 worsham delKING OF THE TOYOTAS - Del Worsham led the four-car Toyota Funny Car contingent with a fifth-place showing. He recorded a 4.065, 313.15 best.

dejoria alexis HAPPY TO GET FOUR IN - Alexis DeJoria ran a 4.119 ET at 303.3 MPH to land in the 13th spot. She races Johnny Gray on Sunday.

She was just happy to get a full complement of qualifying passes for the first time in two events.

“I’m happy that we were able to get all four rounds of qualifying in this weekend. We haven’t had a full weekend of qualifying since the Vegas race back in early April so that’s been tough, but we learned some new things this weekend and I’m happy that we’re qualified and in the show. We’ve got Johnny Gray in the first round tomorrow. This will be our third time this season squaring off against him on race day. We really need some round wins to keep us in the Top Ten. I feel confident that we can take him out and I’d love to see this Patrón Toyota Camry in the finals tomorrow. “

 

 

PRO STOCK

mike edwards

EDWARDS KEEPS PRO STOCK POLE - Mike Edwards hasn’t had the best luck this weekend at Heartland Park Topeka as he has struggled through more than his share of engine troubles.

Friday, Edwards experienced engine woes and Saturday he had transmission problems.

Through all the adversity, however, Edwards still captured the Pro Stock pole position thanks to Friday’s 6.618-second time at 208.55 mph lap.

“I was watching the weather (Saturday) go up, up and up and I was kind of grinning every time it went up,” Edwards said. “I think for the most part the track is really, really good and (Sunday) if cloud cover happens it will be even better.”

This was Edward’s seventh pole position in eight races this season and 48th of his career. Those numbers are not lost on the veteran driver from Oklahoma.

“People say qualifying No. 1 isn’t that big of deal, but it is an awesome feeling to come out here and run No. 1,” Edwards said. “That is what we try to do and everybody is trying to do that, so to come out and make it happen is an awesome feeling. The whole team has just done an awesome job the whole year going from track to track to track.”

Edwards was quick to admit the weather conditions Saturday were not ideal for Pro Stock drivers.

“The air wasn’t as good for us today with a higher water count, and that really affects the Pro Stock engines,” Edwards said.

Edwards gets Steve Kent in the opening round Sunday. Back in 2009, Edwards won the Pro Stock world championship and he was sixth last season.

hartford mattHARTFORD MAKING DREAM A REALITY - Living the dream is not a cliché for Matt Hartford. The former Sport Compact champion turned Pro Stock racer says it’s reality.

Hartford, after years of trying to make the jump from Comp eliminator and sporadic Pro Stock participation, has made a 10 to 15-race commitment to drive his Total Seal-sponsored Dodge Avenger powered by David Nickens Race Engines.

“This is a dream come true,” said Hartford. “I’ve loved Pro Stock ever since I was a kid. To be back out here running 10 to 15 races is essentially living the dream.”

Hartford, who has run the last few seasons successfully in Comp eliminator, said it was the bottom line of drag racing’s financial spreadsheet which made Pro Stock a better endeavor.

“We had a good engine program with our Comp eliminator car,” said Hartford, who raced in the A and B/Dragster classes. “The car ran a 500-inch money and when we looked at the bottom line, we were spending a lot of money to race Comp.”

Hartford won last year’s Phoenix divisional event, but when the winnings didn’t line up with the expenses, he gave Pro Stock serious consideration.

“We won the event and the prize money wasn’t enough to cover our travel expenses,” said Hartford. “And to top it all off, I live in Phoenix.”

Hartford is a two-time NHRA Sport Compact series champion and scored an American Drag Racing League Extreme Pro Stock title in 2009. This championship experience went a long way towards preparing for racing a 500-inch Pro Stock car, a vehicle he believes is much harder to drive than it appears to be.

“When you are in the stands and watching these cars run, they are pretty docile,” said Hartford. “These cars can be an animal and are anything but easy to drive. All it takes is one wrong move and you can make the day bad for you and your crew. That’s hard to deal with. I’ve struggled at times as a driver and we’ve struggled at times as a team. But I do think we are getting better and we will improve in the races to come.”

Impressively enough, Hartford admits his biggest win came during the national event in Las Vegas when he and his team scored the jackpot not on the track, but at the casino. He’ll gladly pocket the $100,000 payday. This kind of loot will make a Pro Stocker run better.

“We got pretty lucky,” Hartford admitted.

Hartford, along with [crew chief] Gary Chomiski and [team partner] Chris Ingaldson, both key figures in his team, chipped in $100 apiece.

“We said, well, what if it hits,” Hartford said. “Low and behold, it hit. It was a pretty nice split.”

Hartford is quick to point out the support he receives both in labor and finances from his partners makes this a successful venue. He also credits the leeway and sponsorship from Total Seal as a major driving force behind his success. He adds that big support also comes from Taylor Chomiski and Roger Griggs.

“I work there every day and have plenty of support from the Total Seal family,” said Hartford. “I think it’s good exposure. Without having the company behind me and allowing me the time off to race, there’s no way I could do this.”

Hartford credits Nickens for helping him to step up and challenge the frontrunners.

“David works tirelessly and puts in a lot of hours to make sure we are competitive,” said Hartford. “I don’t have the money to go out and lease motors as some of my fellow competitors do. You have teams out there spending a million dollars to lease a motor. I couldn’t go to one race if I did that. Nickens has taken care of me and I feel we have respectable power.”

Hartford knows his role in the class and has no problem accepting his place, if only to point out his support equipment.

“Look at my trailer,” Hartford said, pointing to his 42-foot trailer and dually truck sandwiched in a sea of 18-wheelers. “And that’s my daily driver that pulls it. We don’t have a budget; our budget is zero. Every week we make a decision as to how we are going to make it to the race. Without all the support around me we couldn’t do this.
 
Having a dream helps, too.  

coughlin jeggieON THE CUSP OF A MILESTONE - Jeg Coughlin Jr. squares off against No. 13 qualifier Greg Stanfield in the first round of eliminations Sunday morning. Coughlin and Stanfield both have reputations for having some of the best reaction times in the class, and Coughlin said he'll be ready for a strong test from his friend.

"You know deep down you have to be on your best behavior," Coughlin said. "Ultimately you have to stick to your game plan. I feel like I've got a pretty good game plan with the JEGS/Mopar Dodge for tomorrow and that round in particular. We'll give it a go and see how we do."

With two round wins on Sunday Coughlin will hit 500 Pro Stock round wins for his illustrious career.

"You try not to look too far ahead because when you do it can often get you into trouble," Coughlin said. "I hope that milestone happens tomorrow, and I also hope it's a milestone on the way to our first win of the season."

stanfield gregBATTLE OF THE GUNSLINGERS - One of the first-round matchups at the NHRA Kansas Nationals Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka features two veteran drivers who are among the best on the Christmas tree, and MAVTV racer Greg Stanfield is hoping he's the one who advances to the second round.

Stanfield, who qualified No. 13, will face four-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Sunday's first round.

brogdon rodger CHANGE WILL DO YOU GOOD - Rodger Brogdon had a best pass of 6.723 at 205.22 mph Saturday and will start out of the No. 15 spot. He will take on Erica Enders-Stevens, who had a best lap of 6.625 seconds at 208.30 mph to qualify second. He changed engines prior to the final session.

gray shaneMAINTAINING MOMENTUM - Shane Gray raced to a 6.661 in the opening session and built from there, improving to a 6.640 in the later session on Friday and then clocking a 6.668 that was third-quickest of the session on Saturday morning. With one final round to go before the fields were set, Gray and his team came prepared but were halted down track as the driver took caution when he felt something was possibly amiss in the engine and lifted.

Gray will meet No. 12 qualifier and teammate Rickie Jones, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, in the first round of eliminations; Gray Motorsports and Elite Performance equally share an engine program and information, with Gray competing on a full-time basis and Jones racing a limited schedule.

 

FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - A GOOD DAY OF RACING IN THE HEARTLAND

TOP FUEL
schumacher tony

Abbreviated qualifying hasn’t been an ally to Tony Schumacher for the last two events. At both Charlotte and Houston, the multi-time NHRA Top Fuel champion relied on last-minute heroics to gain a berth in the 16-car field.

The prospect of getting a full complement of qualifying runs at the NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka, Kan., was enough to whip the U.S. Army-sponsored driver back into his old form.

“It was just a great day,” Schumacher said. “It’s been two races that we have been down to two qualifying runs. And it’s so important when you are trying to win a race to have those [four] sessions.”

Schumacher thundered to a 3.769 second elapsed time at 326.08 miles per hour to edge Doug Kalitta, who posted a strong 3.770 for second.

“You go into the session pretty confident that the 3.83 will hold and by the time we ran, I’m not sure how much we had dropped,” Schumacher said. “Not only did we make a good run but did so under the pressure of getting bumped out.”

The second session was so quick that Brandon Bernstein’s 3.822-second pass which led the first session would have been only tenth quickest.

“Everyone ran well, that’s a phenomenal bump,” said Schumacher. “When you look at it, there are not many races where we have a bump like that.”

bernstein brandon NOT AGGRESSIVE ENOUGH – Brandon Bernstein jumped to the early lead with a 3.828 elapsed time. He improved in the second session but his 3.819, although quicker, plummeted to No. 9.


brown antronCHAMP STRUGGLES EARLY – Antron Brown wasn’t in the field after the first session. He rebounded in the second with a 3.803 for sixth.

kalitta dougSTRONG PERFORMANCE – Doug Kalitta made a strong run to the second position as he ran a 3.770, 324.98.

langdon shawnLANGDON THUNDERS – Shawn Langdon ran strong in the final session with a 3.77.

millican clay MILLI-CAN – Clay Millican, after smoking the tires in Q-1, rebounded with a 3.811 for the No. 7 spot.

 

FUNNY CAR

hight robert

HIGHT REKINDLES TOPEKA MAGIC - Robert Hight cannot help it. For some reason, every time the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series rolls into Heartland Park – Topeka, his AAA Ford Mustang shows lots of heart.

Friday, during the NHRA Kansas Nationals, his Mustang showed the heart of a thoroughbred Mustang as it galloped to a 4.067, 302.62 to claim the provisional No. 1 spot. If his run holds, it will be his second No. 1 effort of 2013.

“We qualified well, and for much of this season we’ve struggled in the early part of the run,” Hight said. “We definitely got it today. We were low elapsed time for both sessions. It’s been ages since we did that.”

Hight was correct. The last time he made a clean sweep of a qualifying day dated back to 2011.

“The back-halves of both runs today weren’t so good,” Hight admitted. “If we would have finished those runs out, it would have really been good.”

Hight was .025 quicker than teammate Courtney Force in the first 330 feet. She was the No. 2 qualifier with a 4.068 second elapsed time at a top speed of 312.86.

“We have definitely fixed what we have been looking for,” Hight said. “It seems almost a year. These other guys have been running the low numbers in the 330 and we just can’t be giving that away.”

gray johnnyA WEEK LATER – Johnny Gray admitted his team backed down the Pitch Energy Dodge Charger considerably in the past few weeks because, as he put it, “We got too far over center.” Gray struggled Friday in Topeka, recording a best elapsed time of 4.687 and finishing outside of the top 12.

head chadCONSISTENTLY GOOD – Rookie of the Year candidate Chad Head continued his out-of-the-box good performances. He was sixth quickest in the first session with a pass of 4.185 and in the evening session he retained the seventh spot with a 4.105 performance.

20130517 ELON-001FORCE REBOUNDS – It wasn’t a spectacular run but a lot better than his first. After aborting his first run at the hit, 15-time NHRA champion John Force rebounded with a 4.117 for No. 8.
beckman jackTHE CHAMP IS IN – Defending series and event champion Jack Beckman scored his place in Friday’s program with a 4.096, good enough for sixth.

20130517 ELON-003MISSED IT BY THAAAAT MUCH – Courtney Force missed the top by a mere .001. She ran a 4.068 elapsed time in the final session, stepping up from a 4.133.

wilkerson timA GOOD REBOUND – Tim Wilkerson admitted his first run was so bad he lifted just to end the adventure. He fared better in his second attempt with a 4.071 at 310.55 mph to claim the third spot headed into Saturday.

"We didn't have our best day in terms of things going smoothly, and I'm not sure why, but maybe all this racing in a row has my guys' heads screwed on funny,” said Wilkerson. “Just little stuff going wrong, and we even had to do an engine rebuild after the warm-up before Q1. We didn't run until after 5:00, and we got out here in the morning, but we still ended up in a thrash to get up there. It was good to leg it on down there on the second one and get a good number on the board, and if it heats up with the two afternoon runs tomorrow, we'll just see how we do."

arend jeff2AREND EXCELS EARLY – Undeterred by the plight of Tony Pedregon, whose reverser broke on the burnout, Jeff Arend jumped to the early lead in Funny Car qualifying with a 4.158. He ended the session as fifth quickest and despite stepping up with a 4.132, dropped to tenth.

tasca bobTASCA IN THE TOP 12 – Bob Tasca III was seventh quickest Friday with a 4.19 during the first session. He made a huge step in the second session with a 4.136 but still fell to the 11th spot.

 

PRO STOCK



STILL DOMINATING – Mike Edwards cannot help it. He has a fast car and even when the odds are stacked against him, he still runs fast.

Prior to the final Pro Stock session at the NHRA Kansas Nationals, Edwards and his crew noticed severe engine damage. An all-out thrash ensued, pushing the team up against the timer just to make the call for the final qualifying session.

“We had made a good first run, but upon close inspection, we noticed some serious damage,” Edwards said. “Just as we started to change engines, we got the call to come up for the final session.”

Edwards ended up making an engine change in 25 minutes, a feat he credits to his crew.

“They did a phenomenal job,” Edwards said.

The scenario was eerily similar to Houston, the only race he’s failed to score a No. 1 qualifying effort. At that race, Edwards also lost an engine in the first session and could only muster a No. 2 effort.

Just before Edwards made his final run he was bumped to second by Erica Enders-Stevens and her 6.625, 208.30 performance.

Edwards responded with a 6.618, 208.55 to reclaim his perch atop the field and a potential seventh No. 1 qualifier this season.

“We didn’t even get a chance to warm [the engine] up,” Edwards said with a smile. “We just chunked it in there and went up and made an awesome run.”
EDWARDS COMES HOME TO TOPEKA - There’s no place like home. Past NHRA Pro Stock champion Mike Edwards has heard this statement many times.

Living in Broken Arrow, Ok, 233 miles south of Topeka, at least once a year Edwards gets to race at what he considers a hometown venue on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour. With home status also comes family and friends clamoring to see their hometown hero beat up on the competition.

"That makes the Topeka stop a special place for all of us because it allows us to be surrounded by those who love and support us, which I believe takes some of the pressure away in some regard because of the comfort you have,” said Edwards. “It also adds a bit of pressure because you do not want to make the trip for not for everyone that took time away from their lives to watch you race."

More times than not Edwards delivers for the hometown folk. He has reached the final several times, capturing the title in 1999, from the No. 16 spot, and then in 2010 from the pole. He also had three straight No. 1 qualifiers from 2009 through 2011.

"I can say I have won this race from both ends of the spectrum," Edwards said. "In 1999, that was one of those race days you could do no wrong from the starting line to making the right calls on the track. It meant a lot because I did something nobody before did, and that was to win from the No. 16 position."

Having to try and win from the bubble isn’t likely in the cards this year for Edwards, who has scored the No. 1 qualifying position in six of seven events thus far this season. His one shortcoming was a No. 2 qualifying effort in Houston.

As effortless as qualifying No. 1 has been, winning has been another story. Edwards has won only twice this season, at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, NC, and last weekend at the rain-delayed Summit NHRA Southern Nationals outside of Atlanta, Ga.

Edwards has won once from the pole in Topeka, in 2010, when he used a holeshot to beat Allen Johnson. The last couple of races have seen Edwards on the receiving end of brutal starting-line reactions. Last weekend, Edwards overcame an .001 reaction against Shane Gray to win career race No. 36.

This weekend Edwards expects more of the same from the competition.

"Topeka usually comes down to who does better at the start, because the track is very consistent throughout the weekend," Edwards said. "I just need to do my job like I did in the couple years I've won, and I can add a third NHRA Pro Stock trophy to my 2013 collection."

enders ericaENDERS-STEVENS UNVEILS NEW SPONSOR IN TOPEKA - Erica Enders-Stevens unveiled a new sponsor on Friday during the NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka, Kan.

Enders-Stevens, who drives a Pro Stock Camaro for Cagnazzi Racing, hit the track Friday qualifying with Black Iguana, a brand of packaged cocktails.

‘This partnership is definitely awesome for the sport,” said Enders-Stevens. “I’m really excited and they are a Houston-based company. I’m excited to continue to piece our season together. This deal can be really awesome. The deal is for a few races now but could become a two-year deal to make it work. It’s our job to work on getting the brand out there. Hopefully we can help in increasing distribution and sales.”

Enders-Stevens likened this program to her Slammers deal from the 2006 season.

Rumors have circulated over the course of the season regarding sponsor Gaston Kirby’s involvement with the team.  Enders-Stevens says he’s still part of the equation.

“It was never the intent for him to fund this car out of his pocket,” Enders-Stevens said. “He did it because he loved us and loved the sport. It’s our job to find a traditional marketing partner that can benefit from the exposure. He’s not getting any benefit from this except the enjoyment at the track by putting his initials on the car. He doesn’t have a product to put on the car to sell. I am definitely appreciative of what he’s done. He is still heavily involved but we wanted to go the more traditional route and get a company which can truly benefit from the exposure.”

Enders-Stevens relishes her role, if only on a trial basis, of racing as a sponsored driver as opposed to an independent.

“I’m a marketing girl,” said Enders-Stevens, a Texas A&M graduate. “I enjoy that aspect of our business. Just seeing the numbers change because of the work and effort put into it first-hand. We have a great team and a great car.”

Enders said in years past she had the monetary support but not the engine program and personnel. Now she has the engine program and personnel.

gaines vGREAT EIGHT – V. Gaines settled into the No. 8 spot with a 6.658 elapsed time at 208.52. He improved from a 6.674.

PERSONNEL CHANGES – Rodger Brogdon confirmed personnel changes at Brogdon-Kent Racing prior to Topeka.

Terry Adams and Tom Lee were released.

“It just didn’t work out,” Brogdon said. 

 gray shaneLOOKING GOOD – After making great strides in the last four events, Shane Gray continued his strong momentum with a fifth quickest effort Friday with a 6.640.

jones rickieIN THE PROVISIONAL TWELVE – After qualifying a career high No. 2, Rickie Jones slipped to No. 12 after the first day of qualifying in Topeka. He anchored the provisional field with a 6.669.

kent steveNEW CAR, NOT BLUE – Steve Kent unveiled a new Jerry Haas-built Camaro ZL-1 during Friday qualifying. The unlettered machine will eventually take on the image of the below rendering. Kent missed the first day cut with a 6.717 elapsed time. With only 17 cars in Topeka, Kent is likely to make Sunday’s cut.
IMG 2065

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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