HAGAN, VENABLES STRIKE AGAIN WITH ANOTHER WIN - A Matt Hagan celebration ranks up there with the best of them when it comes to enthusiasm.
This one, though, had a pointed message.
Hagan was his usual excited self on Sunday in Englishtown after winning the NHRA Summernationals in Funny Car with a brilliant 4.112 at 308 mph run over DSR teammate Jack Beckman.
But, like he’s done all weekend in a stretch that included a No. 1 qualifier and a win, Hagan turned the attention to crew chief Dickie Venables.
“To watch Dickie doing what he’s doing, he’s just a bad man,” Hagan said. “He’s got his stuff together. Our guys are doing such a great job. I just want to go back there and hug them.”
Hagan will get ample opportunity to do so after a memorable weekend that also saw him take over the points lead in a loaded Funny Car class. But the biggest hug may go to Venables for his masterful performance on a team that still has yet to test in 2013.
With changes coming to Hagan’s team following a disappointing 2012 season – on the heels of his 2011 championship – Hagan said most of the crew didn’t know if they would have jobs this season.
But everyone has stuck together and showed tremendous resolve, with Venables, working with Hagan for the first time, leading the charge.
“To come back and be this strong, it just blows me away. It’s incredible and I have so much respect for Dickie,” Hagan said. “We’re still learning each other and figuring out different things.
“But it shows you the kind of grit he has when we can go out in the heat of the day and run those numbers. It was pretty phenomenal.”
Hagan rolled to the No. 1 spot with a pass of 4.05 at 315 mph, but that came under the lights on Friday at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
The team struggled through two sessions in the heat Saturday, but there were no such troubles on Sunday.
Hagan went 4.167 in a first-round win against Blake Alexander, setting up a marquee matchup with Johnny Gray, the back-to-back FC winner and victor in his last nine rounds. But Hagan was quicker off the line with a .056 and held Gray off with a 4.137 at 307 mph lap in a fantastic side-by-side duel.
“That’s pressure right there. You’re racing the points leader and he’s been doing great. It’s been a big battle with Johnny, Cruz and myself and it’s just a dogfight right now,” Hagan said.
“That was just a huge round. It felt like somebody handed me a ball and we got to slam-dunk it. It was just an awesome feeling and a cool deal. I’ve got lots and lots of respect for Johnny and his team. We just had to step up and I was able to help my team out and win on a holeshot.”
Hagan followed that with a win against Tim Wilkerson, setting up the matchup with Beckman, who ran 4.182 in the finals, his slowest run of eliminations.
Considering the stacked list of competitors he knocked off on Sunday, Hagan was even more thrilled with his team’s performance.
“It just seems like everybody we race out here is so competitive. It blows you away how close it is,” Hagan said. “It’s a pretty awesome deal to see how smart these guys are.”
LANGDON MAKES MOST OF TRIP TO NORTHEAST -
Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon took a bite of the Big Apple last week before feasting on National Hot Rod Association round-wins Sunday at Englishtown, N.J., in the Toyota Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
The Mira Loma, Calif., native rode the New York subways to the Bronx, watched a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, and enjoyed "things you don't see in California" last week before focusing on his Al-AnabI Racing task this past weekend.
And in Sunday's final round against teammate Khalid alBalooshi, Langdon hit a $50,000 grand slam.
The Mira Loma, Calif., native earned his second straight victory and third in the season's first nine races to grab the points lead from Tony Schumacher as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series shifts to Tennessee's Bristol Dragway for the June 14-16 Ford Thunder Valley Nationals.
Langdon joined Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) in the winners circle.
"It’s exciting. This is my first opportunity in the middle of the season to be fighting for the point lead," Langdon said after he won with a 3.853-second pass at 316.38 mph to alBalooshi's 3.869, 297.29.
"I am definitely counting every point. When we get back from qualifying, I am looking at the bonus points during qualifying. I've been that way since the sportsman days. I'm a numbers guy, so I enjoy it."
Another statistic he'll delight in is his seven consecutive round with low elapsed time, dating back to his Topeka victory.
"I didn't know that," Langdon said, surprised at the snowballing streak. "That's a testament to the team. They've done a great job and prepared the car flawlessly. The crew chiefs [his own Brian Husen and al Balooshi's Jason McCulloch] have done an excellent job giving me a great race car. It definitely gives you a lot of confidence."
Both he and alBalooshi are starting to reap the benefits of their diligence and their patience.
AlBalooshi is starting to master his learning curve, and Langdon is starting to see both teams come together after a frustrating year in which they worked with their crews and trusted Al-Anabi Racing Team Manager Alan Johnson's expertise to guide them through a period of technical and career development. And now both drivers, finalists Sunday, are starting to relax and lighten up a little.
Langdon said of alBalooshi, "He kicked me in the butt before the final and said he was going to kick my butt. Then when I got down there [to the top end of the racetrack after defeating al Balooshi], he said I got lucky. I think he has something for me the next time we race.
"Balooshi is a great guy and doing an excellent job this year," he said. "In his second year in the class, he's stepped up to the top five and I am walking out with the point lead. Hat's off to the team, and we are having fun right now.”
Langdon, the No. 8 qualifier, eliminated T.J. Zizzo, top qualifier Clay Millican, and Spencer Massey along the way. AlBalooshi beat Larry Dixon, Dom Lagana, and Tony Schumacher to set up a first-time final-round meeting with Langdon.
With his victory, Langdon took the points lead for the first time since he won the first race of the season, the Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. He leads second-place Schumacher by four points. AlBalooshi is fifth in the standings.
He said his confidence stems from "just trusting and believing in your team and yourself. Brian is making excellent calls in tuning the car. I go up to the starting line with the confidence I have the best car. It's just a matter of doing my job. That confidence just rubs off when it starts at the top."
Said Langdon, "Great calls all day long by Brian Husen. He did a great job tuning the car. Alan was making some last-minute changes when we were getting ready to pull into the pre-stage. From the first round to the final, we have made strong runs. It's something we've been doing lately. We are just riding that wave of when things are good.
"There were a couple of issues with dropping cylinders. Second round we dropped a cylinder and picked it back up. In the semis we got a little bit lucky," he said. "The run wasn’t as quick as we wanted it to be. But neither here, nor there -- we got the round-win. This was the first final with Balooshi and [me]. Great way to end it."
AlBalooshi said, "It just didn't matter how hot it was or what the track temperatures reached, because my crew chief, Jason McCullouch, just gave me the magical set-up every time we went down the racetrack. We're fifth in points now."
THE EDWARDS EXPRESS ROLLS THROUGH E-TOWN - Mike Edwards has won races and he has won championships in Pro Stock.
But never before has he experienced a ride quite like what his 2013 season has turned into.
Edwards’ magical run continued on Sunday at the NHRA Toyota Summernationals in Englishtown, putting together one of the most impressive performances in a year filled with them.
The extreme heat at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park did nothing to thwart
Edwards’ dominance, which was capped with a spectacular 6.589 at 210.21 mph blast over defending champ Allen Johnson in the finals.
“In 2009, we won the championship, but I tell you what, this is a great start. It’s the greatest start I’ve ever had since I’ve been racing,” Edwards said. “It’s been a phenomenal year.”
Edwards’ second career win at Englishtown extended his already huge points lead in Pro Stock, and it simply added to his incredible start.
Through nine races, Edwards has been the No. 1 qualifier eight times and became the first driver in the class to win three times in 2013.
Nobody could come close to matching his performance this weekend, including his terrific 6.545 at 210.73 mph qualifying time.
With heavy storms and tornadoes continuing to ravage Edwards’ native Oklahoma, the chance to perform so well in Englishtown gave him a temporary reprieve from what has been a difficult spring in the Tulsa area.
“The whole weekend was just phenomenal,” Edwards said. “We just ran well every run. We struggled a little bit second round, but we bounced back and made a nice run in the semifinals.
“Then I think we saved our best for last in the finals. It felt about as good as it gets.
The guys did a phenomenal job and you almost have to pinch yourself when you’re running like this. Hopefully we can just pick it up.”
Edwards had the quickest car in every session Sunday, which didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched him perform Friday and Saturday.
But Edwards continued to be on point in eliminations, going 6.588 at 210 mph in the first round. He went 6.613 and 6.608 to beat Roger Brogdon and Jason Line, respectively, setting up a marquee matchup with Johnson, who went 6.64 in the finals.
Edwards, though, stayed in the same lane the entire day, delivering one standout run after another.
“The track here was tricky, but we went down both lanes really well. But when you can go down the same lane four times in a row on Sunday, it’s definitely an advantage,” Edwards said. “That’s really been helping us a lot.”
Edwards has already proven he can maintain his hot streak, but he doesn’t want it to end any time soon.
Next up is Bristol, one of Edwards’ favorite tracks and the site of last year’s win against Johnson in the closest side-by-side race in Pro Stock history.
“I hope we can keep the momentum going and keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Edwards said. “Hopefully we can keep getting more of these.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE'S RAY LIKES TO SNAP STREAKS - Michael Ray likes to disrupt the status quo.
The New Braunfels, Texas-based second-generation National Hot Rod Association racer interrupted the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson team's winning streak last September at Dallas.
He struck again Sunday -- this time blemishing Hector Arana Jr.'s record -- at the Toyota Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J.
And he did so against Arana Jr.'s father, Hector Arana Sr., in the final round of this fourth bike-class race of the season.
Ray's victory meant the end of Hector Arana Jr.'s three-race victory streak. However, the young Lucas Oil Buell rider continues to lead the standings -- by 151 points ahead of Ray's teammate, Scotty Pollacheck -- as the bike class' next appearance will be June 20-23 at the Auto-Plus New England Nationals at Epping, N.H's New England Dragway.
The Sovereign-Star Racing rider won on a holeshot against Arana Sr., using an .008-second reaction time to a .043-second light for the patriarch of the three-man Arana team from Milltown, Ind. Arana Sr. That's why Ray's 6.954-second pass at 193.49 mph topped Arana's quicker 6.952-second elapsed time at 191.02 mph.
The Arana camp also was competing Sunday without valuable hand Dan Gonzalez.
The NHRA suspended him for the remainder of the event following an altercation in the Pro Stock Motorcycle pits between the Aranas and racer Matt Smith. The NHRA said in a statement it "will review the situation early next week to determine if further action will be taken."
Ray joined Top Fuel’s Shawn Langdon, Funny Car's Matt Hagan, and Pro Stock's Mike Edwards in the winners circle.
He said he took great satisfaction in bringing George and Jackie Bryce and their organization that includes crew chief Ken Johnson its first victory since 2008. He said to come to history-steeped Englishtown and "to take one of these Mello Yello Wallys back to Americus [Georgia, where the team is headquartered] and celebrate with them is a dream come true.
"And our performance is a testament to the hard work they've put in over the past 24 months, building this team [and] to how we're going to run in the summer months and continue to improve . . . when it does count for the Countdown," Ray said. "If you look at battle versus war, we've got battles to fight but we're trying to get that Mello Yello championship."
Top qualifier Steve Johnson, a Suzuki rider, said it and Ray agreed, that the Harley-Davidson team of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines surely will recover from being forced to make dramatic changes to their engine program to comply with new NHRA rules aimed at parity. Nevertheless, Ray said he "definitely" knows this is the time to bank some points before those two champion riders jump back into the scramble for points and Countdown supremacy.
"Eddie Krawiec proved that consistency wins championships," Ray said. "You've just really got to stay focused at it. The Harley team is going to come back. They don't have all those wins and all those championships (nine in the past 16 years) for being behind the eight-ball. Right now we're working towards getting that momentum swing in our way. You'll definitely see those guys stepping up later. We'll cross that bridge when we get there, but right now it's about being consistent. We'll take that one step at a time."
Ray showed last fall he wasn't intimidated by the Harley-Davidson juggernaut, and Sunday he wasn’t fazed by Arana Sr.'s reputation as an NHRA champion or Arana Jr.'s impressive streak.
"I'm a huge sport fanatic. It doesn't matter what it is, you cannot worry about what that other team -- or rider, for that matter -- is doing. You have no control over that. If we get our butt kicked by them, every weekend our time will come when it's our time," he said.
"I love beating up on Andrew and Eddie. They're multi-time champions. A young guy like myself who came up through the ranks -- I started as a sportsman in AHDRA and worked my way up . . . to be able to battle with those guys, it's awesome. I couldn't be more impressed at how well our team worked today," Ray said.
Actually, Arana Sr. is the one who handed Arana Jr. his first loss of the season, when he defeated him in the opening round. The son had an atypical reaction time of .133 seconds and watched his dad pull away en route to his first final round of the year.
"I was upset because we were not able to give him a fair race," Arana Jr. said. "I had some issues off the starting line, and I was dead late. When I was working on my clutch, the lever was way off, and I put it back together. But I just have to get on it and work harder."
Of the string of victories that made him only the third Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to win the first three races of a season, Arana Jr. said, "It was fun, and I enjoyed it. He [his father] is on a roll now, and maybe we can keep it in the team."
He had been trying to join legendary Dave Schultz as the only rider to win the first four events. He did qualify No. 2, but he struggled throughout this weekend. His primary engine -- the one he nicknamed "Gracie," after his mother - suffered damage in the final qualifying session. The usually clever college student replaced it with one to which he gave the unimaginative name "Replacement."
And that is what he got in the list of Pro Stock Motorcycle winners this season.
JANIS WINS PRO MOD - New York native Mike Janis raced to his first win in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series Sunday at the Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
Janis, from Lancaster, N.Y., powered his K100 Fuel Treatment late model Chevy Camaro to the win over defending Pro Mod world champion Troy Coughlin in the final round.
Janis covered the distance in 6.035 seconds at 240.51 mph to take his first career win in the 250-mph doorslammer category, while defending Englishtown winner Coughlin clocked a 6.060 second pass at 244.12 mph for the runner-up finish in his JEGS.com Chevy Corvette.
Janis, who was runner-up at Englishtown in 2011, advanced to his fourth career final round by outrunning Coughlin, Mike Knowles and Chip King in the first three rounds.
With the victory, Janis moves to fourth place in the series standings. Canadian Kenny Lang maintained the series points lead despite losing in the second round to King. Coughlin moved up to second in the standings with his runner-up finish.
The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series continues June 14-16 with the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.
TOP MILLICAN STAYS AT TOP FOR FIRST NO. 1 NHRA TOP FUEL START - Clay Millican, a six-time International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel champion, knew he'd have a learning curve when he came to the National Hot Rod Association 156 races ago. He just didn't know how steep it would be.
But the veteran from Drummonds, Tenn., finally mastered the curve Saturday at the Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
With a 3.792-second elapsed time at 321.27 mph on the 1,000-foot Englishtown, N.J, course in the Parts Plus Dragster, Millican will lead the Top Fuel field in Sunday's eliminations.
Action is set to begin at 11 a.m.
"I can't say that's ever been my goal, to be No. 1 qualifier. That's for the team," Millican said as he eyed his best chance to earn his first NHRA race victory. "Tomorrow we've got to do it one run at a time.
"It's not going to be easy. This Top Fuel class has become Pro Stock, he said, referring to the brutally close competition in which the winning margin often is a thousandth of a second. "Just because you're No. 1 doesn't mean you're going to win. Used to, if you were No. 1 qualifier, you could slack off a bit."
"But now," he said, referring to first-round opponent Brandon Bernstein, the No. 16 qualifier, "I'm running a guy who's ahead of me in points. I'm No. 1 qualifier, yet I run a guy who was just in a final round. Brandon struggled a little bit in qualifying, but we know that car can run."
Millican was runner-up at Gainesville, Fla., in Race No. 3 of the season.
BROWN 'STRAIGHTENS OUT' STORY OF HIS NASCAR TEST - Both Antron Brown and his boss, Don Schumacher, indicated that drag racing fans shouldn't make too much of the reigning Top Fuel champion's test session in the Rev Racing NASCAR K&N Series Toyota Camry this past week in Virginia.
Brown completed about 120 laps Tuesday at Motor Mile Speedway at Radford, Va., with guidance from stock-car driver Ryan Gifford.
"I went out there to try something different. I'm a huge fan of all types of racing," Brown said.
But he reassured, "I love NHRA, and I love what I do. This is the sport that I love.
"Toyota gave me an opportunity, and it was something I've always wanted to try. It was a lot of fun. I was just feeling out what was going on. It was something I've always wanted to try," Brown said.
Schumacher has permitted his drivers to experiment. He did so with former driver Gary Scelzi and current hires Ron Capps and his own son Tony Schumacher.
"All of these guys love to race, and it doesn't matter if it's cars, go-karts, or motorcycles," an understanding Schumacher said.
"Toyota put a program together for Antron to test a stock-car, and that's what he did. He loves trying new things, and I allowed him to do it like I've allowed Ron Capps to race on dirt tracks. And Tony has done different things."
He spoke as an enlightened employer.
"I try to keep my drivers focused on what we're doing out here in NHRA and the championships, but they have to have some times to let their hair down," Schumacher said. "You always want to work with your employees rather than make everything black or white."
Make no mistake, though -- when it comes time to buckle down and get serious about bringing home a 10th series crown for Don Schumacher Racing, the team owner doesn't want Brown or any of the other six drivers from the Brownsburg, Ind.-headquartered organization thinking about anything else but their Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car.
"Later in the season," he said decidedly, "I can tell you they will not be doing anything like that, because when you're in the hunt for the championship, you can't have any distractions like that."
He'll have no problems there with Brown.
The Matco Tools Dragster driver said, "My main focus now is right here in drag racing, and we are working on getting another NHRA Top Fuel championship."
And just to clarify that Brown's spinout and minor wall-tagging incident was nothing like his Pomona crashes in a dragster . . . Brown skidded out of shape on his last scheduled lap. He already had run 120 clean laps, but one of the crew chiefs wanted to see how he would do on old tires, to push him. Brown spun and just clipped the left-rear quarter panel and bumper of the Camry.
"I had a little bit of everything," Brown said. "I even learned about spinning out and learned about going around the track, learned about corner speed, learned about lines and being smooth. It was a lot to take in . . . but we made some really big, big strides, and it was a lot of fun."
He said he could keep pace with season circle-track racers: “When the track got hot, I was pretty much running what some of the other drivers were running. I was right in the ballpark. Just worked at getting more consistent with it where I could duplicate each lap, and run on the marks, and stuff like that."
It's no surprise he adapted quickly. That's what happened when he became the only competitor in NHRA history to move from a Pro Stock Motorcycle to a nitromethane-burning, ground-quaking Top Fuel car. He was No. 1 qualifier in his first race in a dragster. Within five years he had a series crown, something some excellent drivers take years to achieve and others never do in a career full of chances.
"I think the biggest thing is just getting into shape to drive the car," Brown said. "Not physical shape, but just driving shape, is what you would call it. The only way you get in driving shape is by driving the car."
He said his neck felt the difference, "that it was actually taxing on your neck because you have to keep up with the Gs and stuff when you’re turning and holding your neck right."
He said he and Rev Racing owner Max Siegel, who arranged the test session with Toyota, one of Brown's longtime sponsors, are going to stay in touch. Brown said he hopes the next move will be to "go do some testing in a late model car, and then actually maybe that same week we can make a race with it."
He has a race on his agenda today. He'll seek a Top Fuel trophy from Englishtown to go with the two he earned on a bike in 2002 and 2005. In Top Fuel, he has two runner-up finishes at Raceway Park (2009, 2010).
JUST LIKE HOME - Englishtown was hot. It kind of reminded Spencer Massey of home in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Massey ran a 3.816-second pass at 318 mph to claim the fifth spot during Friday night's key qualifying session, where the track was at its coolest temperature of the weekend.
"Friday night was crucial to get into the top half of the field and run the best we can because we knew today (Saturday) was going to be hot," said Massey, who won the 2011 event at Englishtown.
But Saturday, things didn't go as planned during the third qualifying session. Massey performed the routine burnout, but was unable to get his Battery Extender Powered by Schumacher dragster into reverse and was unable to make the run.
"I could feel the clutch linkage break and I had no way to get it in reverse. I feel bad for holding Bob Vandergriff up; we definitely didn't mean to do that. We'd rather this happen today than tomorrow during first round."
Massey was able to recover in the final qualifying session with a 3.935-second pass. He will race Morgan Lucas in the opening round of Sunday's eliminations.
HAGAN HOLDS TIGHT ONTO FC NO. 1 - A second day of blazing weather conditions at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park made sure not much changed at the top of Funny Car qualifying on Saturday at the NHRA’s Summernationals.
But that was just fine with Matt Hagan, as his 4.05 at 315 mph from Friday night easily held up, giving him the No. 1 qualifier for the second time in 2013.
After a first-round loss two weeks ago in Topeka, this was exactly how Hagan had hoped to bounce back.
"It's very important that we bounced back from that last race," Hagan said. "I'm just proud of my guys. We went out first round last race but it wasn't because the car didn't go down the racetrack.
"This team has just been great. I'm just so happy with them. The guys' attitudes, the morale, everyone is happy. I'm tickled to show up to the track every morning, knowing that I'm going to crawl into a car that has the opportunity to go out and go to the No. 1 spot."
Hagan will meet Blake Alexander in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.
Del Worsham and Jack Beckman remained second and third in qualifying, as warm afternoon temperatures prevented anybody from dipping into the 4.00s on Saturday.
Hagan struggled during his two passes on Saturday, but he remains confident going into eliminations.
"You definitely learn something no matter if it’s good or bad," said Hagan, who claimed his 12th No. 1 qualifier. “Obviously today we would've liked to go down the racetrack but the heat affected everybody out there a little bit. It's just not easy to back these cars down when they are trying to run so hard."
Hagan, who is third in the Funny Car standings and will be seeking his second win of 2013, again credited crew chief Dickie Venables for the work he’s done in adverse conditions this weekend.
"Dickie has been a real leader out here for us," Hagan said. "He's done a phenomenal job. This is his first time in five or six years that he's had a fair shake at running his own team with his own tune-up.
"Don (Schumacher) has let him run it out here. Dickie's done nothing but impress me. I'm just very thankful and tickled to be able to work with him. He's an individual who really, really cares about his job. He is focused and motivated; he leads by example. He drives all of our crew guys and myself to do our best."
NEFF GIVES BACK BY INVITING NYC CHILDREN TO RACETRACK - John Force's pits always are the busiest at any National Hot Rod Association race. He has more personnel than most, and fans gather 10-deep at his rope line for a glimpse of the 15-time Funny Car champion and maybe an autograph or photo.
But the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang pit included 16 children from New York City-headquartered Metro World Child, formerly Metro Ministries, and their chaperones. Pastor Bill Wilson, abandoned on a bridge by his mother when he was just a little boy, founded the global Christian outreach organization.
Wilson's Metro Christian Center in Brooklyn ministers to more than 50,000 children who attend the largest Sunday School in the world. Between 20,000 and 30,000 are in the New York borough alone. Wilson got involved with drag racing through John Force Racing crew chief John Medlen.
Mike Neff, Force's crew chief and a former Funny Car driver, became an enthusiastic convert to Wilson's program.
"John Medlen introduced me to Pastor Bill," he said. "He's just one of those guys -- you meet him and you have this connection. You never forget him. We just always kept in touch."
And Saturday, for the second straight year, Neff spearheaded a visit for a group of Metro World Child youngsters to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., for a VIP day at the Toyota Summernationals.
Castrol provided the tickets and gift bags, and the racetrack kicked in lunch for the kids. They got to tour the pits, meet all the JFR drivers and a few from Don Schumacher Racing, and watch the ground-pounding action from a tower suite.
"It's amazing the feeling we get seeing that you make somebody's day," Neff said. "Everyone has pitched in to help make it as special a day as possible for these kids."
One of them, Asia Nelson, soaked it all in and showed her delight with eyes that grew almost to the size of clutch plates. With a shy grin, she said she'd like to drive a race car someday. She said she wants to return to the track and bring her mother and two younger siblings.
Willie Connor, a quiet but clearly animated young man, was inspired right on the spot in the JFR hospitality area to compose a rap tune about drag racing. He recited and danced to his song.
However, most of the children, Metro World Child representative Cherrie Tapp said with a laugh, "are kind of shell-shocked" by the sights, sounds, and smells of the world's fastest, most extreme sport . . . what seasoned drag-racing fans call "sensory overload."
One happy girl scurried over to Top Fuel driver Brittany Force to pose for a picture with her. She leaned her head onto Force's shoulder as if they were best friends and mugged for the camera. Rashida Shaw, a mom and Metro Christian Center chaperone for this visit, beamed with excitement at how happy the children were about their unique field trip.
Tapp escorted 40-50 children from the program to this track in 2008 and coordinated with Neff last June as he hosted 11 at this race.
"We did this last year, and they really got a kick out of it," Neff said.
Neff said Wilson's "story is like none other." He added that some of the Metro World Child youth have equally touching ones.
"Some of them are in shelters - some sad stories there," Neff said. "It really grounds you and puts everything in perspective. I think a lot of us, me especially, take it for granted that we have a lot of the things that we have. You kind of take a lot of that for granted sometimes, until you're exposed to experiences and situations like this. Some of them have never been out of the city of Brooklyn."
The children might have had a wildly enjoyable time Saturday, but so did Neff.
"It's a great feeling. It feels better to give than receive, that's for sure," he said. "To see the joy that it brings them, it's a great feeling. It's just a great, great thing. It just makes their day."
Then he glanced over at the Castrol GTX Mustang he tunes for John Force, knowing it soon would be time to warm up the car and then send the boss downtrack to try to improve from eighth place in the upcoming third overall qualifying session.
Nodding his head toward the happy children but talking about Force, Neff said, "It's a lot easier to make their day than it is to make his."
And off he went, satisfied to give Saturday with both his hands and his heart.
HADDOCK ENJOYS RACING OUTSIDE OF U.S. - Terry Haddock's weekend at the NHRA's Summernationals ended prematurely as the Funny Car driver just missed the qualifying bump in Englishtown.
But Haddock's time behind the wheel could soon include a pair of races on the European circuit.
Haddock hopes to drive his Funny Car for a pair of events in Europe, with one taking place in Germany and the other in England.
"It's possible that we're going to take the Funny Car over there for two races. We're still trying to work out the logistics of it, getting the car shipped over there and everything, but we're trying," Haddock said.
Haddock, whose wealth of experience includes an IHRA Funny Car championship and extensive time driving a Top Fuel car, finished 17th in qualifying at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park on Saturday, running 4.516 at 271.57 mph.
The New Jersey native does have experience in the international drag racing scene, racing in Australia and making tuning calls for teams in England. In fact, Haddock called the shots for the Shockwave Funny Car team at last weekend's FIA European Drag Racing Championships at Santa Pod Raceway, just outside of Northampton in England.
The two-car Funny Car team qualified in the top two positions at the event, known in Europe as the FIA Main Event, and Haddock came away impressed with the facility and the fan response.
"People are friendly and love drag racing and want more of it, but it's just unfortunate there isn't more of it," Haddock said. "At Santa Pod, I looked down at the stands and it was full of people. It was incredible, so the fans are pretty cool."
That response only increased Haddock's desire to take his talents overseas for a pair of races. There are still items that have to be worked out, but Haddock seemed encouraged by the possibilities.
The trip to Santa Pod also gave him an indication of the differences between the NHRA scene in the United States and top-level drag racing in Europe.
"There are quite a few differences. Here, if you need something you can go borrow it. If you need info, the crew chiefs talk to one another and help one another. There's just not that depth of crew chiefs and information over there," Haddock said. "Everybody over there races hard and wants to win, but they don't have as many parts because importing things into the country is difficult. The other thing is you only get to race 5 or 6 times a year. Here, you get good at what you do just from repetition. A lot of the guys there just don't get to race enough."
NOT PLEASED - The best run Ron Capps and the NAPA team could produce in four qualifying sessions Friday and Saturday was a 4.155 at 300.40 mph that earned the Don Schumacher Racing team the No. 11 qualifying spot for Sunday's 16-car championship eliminations.
"Rahn [crew chief Tobler] and I talked the other morning and we just keep getting these little curveballs thrown at us. Sometimes we call them little gremlins. It's little things that happen here and there. Nothing major. Little parts go out when they shouldn't go out.
"But this is part of what makes our sport so intriguing and so tough. It's also what makes it so gratifying when you figure out how to handle those curveballs that are thrown at you. It makes for a better team as the season goes on.
"The coolest part is Tobler is rolling with the punches. He'll figure it out, and we'll keep fighting through it."
EDWARDS MAKES IT EIGHT NO. 1s WITH ETOWN - To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has followed NHRA Pro Stock this season, Mike Edwards will be the No. 1 qualifier heading into Sunday eliminations of the Toyota Summernationals in Englishtown.
Edwards claimed it for the eighth time in nine races, as his 6.545 at 211.36 mph from Friday easily held up during Saturday’s two qualifying sessions at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
Edwards had hoped for cooler conditions after a sticky Friday, but that didn’t come to pass as it stayed near 90 degrees for most of Saturday.
But that, too, is just fine for Edwards, the current points leader in Pro Stock.
"It's hot but I like it hot," Edwards said. "These conditions are not normal for Englishtown. But it makes it challenging when it's hot. We hope we have all of our pieces in order to hit the Western Swing and I think we are up to the task.
“We've been fortunate to get the top spot in eight races. I'm going to try to ride this wave as long as I can."
Edwards will face off with former Stock national champion Lee Zane in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
Shane Gray and Erica Enders-Stevens remained in second and third, respectively, while a total of seven drivers qualified in the 6.50s.
But all of them will again be chasing Edwards, who will be seeking his second-ever win at Englishtown.
It’s created quite a spotlight – and maybe some added pressure – for the talented Edwards, but it’s only made him push forward even more.
“Now, we have to get it done on race day. We’ve got to race the track, and whoever is next to us. We’ll be ready to get after it,” Edwards said.
WORDEN RELISHES A SAFER PRO STOCK CAR TODAY - After leaving the Pro Stock world in 1999, Lewis Worden took more than a decade off, returning to driving at the end of the 2012 season.
Upon returning, was one thing was immediately noticeable.
“You know what? These cars are definitely faster,” Worden said with a laugh during an interview with ESPN this weekend at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
They might be considerably faster, but Worden proved this weekend in Englishtown at the NHRA Summernationals that he’s still more than capable of holding his own.
Now driving for the Cunningham Motorsports team of Jim and Gloria Cunningham, Worden turned in a solid pass during qualifying on Friday, running a 6.641 at 207.02 mph.
That puts him 10th heading into eliminations on Sunday, which means a matchup with Vincent Nobile. Oddly enough, Worden faced Nobile at zMAX Dragway last September in eliminations, a race that marked the first time he qualified for race day since 1997.
Worden seems to have a better car this weekend than the No. 1 versus No. 16 matchup that Nobile won last year, helped in part by the adjustments the team made on Friday. After a rough start, the team made changes to the clutch and launch, turning in the 6.641 that has Worden excited for Sunday.
“The second run, we just didn’t spin the tires. We got a good hold on the track. We spun the tires the first time around, but we made some adjustments and it went right on down the second time.”
The changes to the Pro Stock car have been immense since Worden has returned to the scene, but most of them are welcome to the Missouri native.
He praised the capabilities of the 2013 Mustang, and noted the changes in the Pro Stock world have been for the better.
“To me, the cars feel more stable. We’ve got the bigger tires and the suspension modifications are a lot more high-tech. I feel like it’s a lot safer to drive,” Worden said.
Worden is also racing with a purpose this weekend.
After a serious accident, team owner Gloria Cunningham is finally able to return home from the hospital.
The accident resulted in a broken right foot and left knee, and she was placed in the John Hopkins Hospital’s shock trauma ward, enduring numerous health-related complications. But Worden marveled at her ability to not stay down, and now she’s home and on the road to recovery.
“I tell you, it’s huge. We love Gloria to death and it was a huge scare for all of us,”
Worden said. “But I tell you what, she is very strong. She is not a quitter by any means. She never gives up. She’s constantly going and going, and she will not let herself get down.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
JOHNSON ACCEPTS THIRD CAREER NO. 1 START WITH HUMOR - Steve Johnson, with his trademark self-deprecating humor, said, "It's nice to qualify No. 1 -- three times out of the 350 races or whatever I've raced.
"Some people say, 'You're not the sharpest knife in the drawer.' But you just kind of stab at something," he said.
"That's what we do when we come to the races," Johnson said. He said he and his team monitor conditions, recognize "where we run good, and apply all that -- and we fudge it."
He said if anyone looked into some fuel crew chief's log book, he'd discover all sorts of relevant technical data.
"Mine's like that game Twister: OK, right foot blue . . . OK, 20 pounds on the static . . . Spin again . . . OK, 200 pounds on the lock-up. That's where I start," he said with a laugh.
After using his 6.931-second E.T. and 192.66-mph top speed from Friday, Johnson turned about as serious as he could get and said, "The [new] rules make it a lot more competitive, from what everybody seems to think. The Harleys are still going to resurge. They've got lots of resources."
Then he said he has to tear down his engine because the sanctioning body's tech folks need to inspect it.
Said Johnson, "That's some drama I could do without. But at the end of the day, it's all good. When you come to the Toyota Summernationals at Englishtown, qualify No. 1, and have a legitimate chance to win the race, it's all good."
Johnson contended Friday when he took the Pro Stock Motorcycle class' provisional No. 1 qualifying spot that his Suzuki "always has been fast. The problem is just the loose nut behind the handle bars."
That "loose nut" -- the hilariously animated veteran racer who personifies perseverance -- looked out into the night and the empty stands long after the day was finished and fans had headed home. He pretended he couldn't hear the medias' questions above the road in the grandstands: "I'll have to pause. The crowd has gone wild! I don't know if you can still hear me! Can you hear me?!"
With a breezy, "Aww- I don't know" attitude, Johnson said, "I don't know if it'll hold up. It'd be cool as heck if it holds up."
At least for tonight, everything is "cool as heck" for Steve Johnson.
SMITH: THE SITUATION SHOULD NEVER HAVE ESCALATED - Matt Smith spoke on Saturday morning to CompetitionPlus.com regarding a fight which broke out in the Pro Stock Motorcycle pits Friday evening at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, during the Toyota NHRA Summernationals.
“If you could call it a fight,” Smith said. “I never threw a punch, but I got hit three times.”
Smith said the incident started in the shutdown area following Friday’s final qualifying session. He alleges Arana Sr. “cussed his wife and teammate out for a seat I supposedly copied” while in the shutdown area.
The incident stemmed from what Arana’s publicist described as Smith’s purchase of a seat for Angie’s bike and then a copy was made without compensation.
Smith described the purchase as a couple of inserts to go in the seats on both his bike and Angie’s. He also purchased one for John Hall.
“Angie liked it, and I put one on my bike but didn’t like the way it felt,” Smith explained. I made myself a different kind of seat. It comes up more and keeps me more up in the seat like I like. I made me one and John one because I figured he would like it better.”
Smith alleges Arana started the incident by talking to his wife the way he did. He said Hall also received the same verbal assault.
“He wasn’t a big enough man to come talk to me personally,” Smith continued. “Angie told him he needs to come talk to me. He just kept on cussing in front of everyone on the top end.”
Smith said he was at the scales when his wife conveyed the message.
“I got back and went over to the back of his pits and while standing at his ropes, I asked him to come out there. He comes back there, and I ask, ‘Hector, what’s the problem?” “He starts cussing me. He says, ‘You copied my f’ing seat. I said, ‘hold on, I didn’t copy anything. I bought two from you, I didn’t like the way it felt, so I made my own. It’s different.”
Smith said the seat must be the same design in order for it to fit on their bikes.
“I made mine different,” Smith explained. “He just kept on … ‘you f’ing copied my seat.”
Smith further explained he didn’t copy the seat and added his displeasure towards Arana’s choice of words towards his wife.
“I told him, don’t talk to her like that or we are going to have a problem,” Smith added. “He then told me he would talk to who he wanted how he wanted.”
Smith said he reasoned with Arana and said he wouldn’t talk to his wife in the same manner.
Smith said he was then “sucker punched” by an Arana crewman he described as “Dan”.
The NHRA issued a statement on Saturday morning which read, "An altercation occurred in the Pro Stock Motorcycle pit area on Friday evening. Dan Gonzalez, crew chief for Hector Arana Jr., has been suspended for the remainder of the event. NHRA will review the situation early next week to determine if further action will be taken."
Smith believes there should have never been an altercation.
“Now I am pissed because I just got hit,” Smith said. “My cousin had me by the arm because he knows I’m ready to fight. Someone grabbed my cousin. This wasn’t between the crews, it was me and Hector. We had our voices elevated, but there were no punches being thrown.”
Smith said he confronted Gonzalez. The crewman who was restraining Gonzalez released him, Smith alleges he was struck twice by Gonzalez while still being restrained by his own crewmember.
“I went off, and by this time I’ve taken three shots to the head and it didn’t hurt me,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t have happened and if he’s that big of a coward to hit me … you just don’t fight at the race track. I had words and took it up like a man with Hector. If he wants to go a different way … fine. If we want to go outside the gate somewhere, I’d be glad to meet him. But, that’s not the way it should have gone down.”
The verbal volleys have gone on for over two years now between the two teams and in one instance; the two riders were backed off of the starting line by starter Mark Lyle because of a lengthy burndown.
“Yeah, there’s been bad blood but never nothing like this,” Smith said. “We say this, say that. When you look at the Pro Stock Bike community, it’s like a family. Me and Michael Phillips have had words, but then we’ll have drinks at the end of the day. You’ll have words, but it should never escalate to a fistfight. I was a big enough man to hold my arms down and not hit anyone.”
ROUND ONE DONE - Defending Toyota NHRA Summernationals Pro Mod winner Troy Coughlin was among the drivers who earned victories in the first round of eliminations Saturday at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
Coughlin powered his JEGS.com Corvette to a performance of 6.083 seconds at 242.98 mph to defeat Harold Martin in the first round of the NHRA Pro Mod Series portion of the event.
Other first round winners included Mike Janis, Pete Farber, points leader Kenny Lang, Chip King, Rickie Smith and local favorite Mike Castellana.
Event No. 1 qualifier Danny Rowe returned to Southern California late Friday to attend his youngest daughter’s high school graduation and was eliminated when he did not take the tree in the first round.
Second round pairings for Sunday’s continuation of NHRA Pro Mod Series eliminations (approximately 2:30 p.m.) include Lang vs. King, Coughlin vs. Castellana, Farber vs. Smith and Janis gets a first round bye.
QUICK RESULTS - NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series first round results from the 44th Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the fourth of 10 events in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series:
Mike Janis, Chevy Camaro, 6.043, 233.20 def. Mike Knowles, Camaro, 6.079, 241.97; Troy Coughlin, Chevy Corvette, 6.083, 242.98 def. Harold Martin, Corvette, 8.624, 111.57; Pete Farber, Dodge Daytona, 6.069, 243.94 def. Kevin McCurdy, Camaro, broke; Kenny Lang, Corvette, 6.073, 243.55 def. Steve Matusek, Ford Mustang, DQ; Chip King, Daytona, 5.973, 246.08 def. Von Smith, Camaro, 6.070, 240.08; Rickie Smith, Camaro, 6.015, 242.23 def. Clint Satterfield, Camaro, 7.397, 139.17; Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.948, 243.72 def. Vinny Budano, Camaro, 10.051, 90.44; Danny Rowe, Camaro, no show was unopposed;
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - THE SUMMERS ARE BACK HOME IN ENGLISHTOWN
MILLICAN MAKING TEST SESSION PAY OFF - Clay Millican unbuckled from his seat in the Parts Plus Dragster at the end of the 1,000-foot course at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., Friday and declared, "What a run! I know that's No. 1 -- but I know it won't stay there."
He'll have to wait through two more qualifying sessions to see if he'll get to lead the field in eliminations Sunday at the Toyota NHRA Summernationals.
But for now it is No. 1, thanks to a 3.792-second elapsed time that blasted him to the top of the order just ahead of provisional No. 2 Khalid al Balooshi's 3.803-second run.
"It was a huge deal for me to keep the car nice and straight," Millican said of his second-session pass.
"It takes the whole team," the six-time International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel champion said. "I'm the one who gets to run my mouth, but those are the guys who did the work. My job was just don't hit nothin'."
Millican said his recent test with boss Bob Vandergriff paid off. Vandergriff had the lead after the opening session Friday.
LAGANA APPRECIATES EVERY SECOND ON RACETRACK - Rod Serling, the TV producer and playwright best known for his narration during the early 1960s, used to warn, "You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. . . . It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and summit of his knowledge. It's an area which we call . . . the Twilight Zone."
That introduced an eerie episode of science-fiction drama on TV, but for Dom Lagana, "Twilight Zone" conjures happiness, makes him almost giddy. That's the beloved name of his family's Top Fuel dragster that two generations and two brothers have drag-raced for decades. And this weekend, he's making his first passes of the season.
Lagana and older brother Bobby Lagana Jr. have helped as crew hands for several Top Fuel teams this year. And he was more than ready to roll at the Toyota Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J.'s Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. His last on-track appearance was last October before sponsorship disappeared. Longtime supporters Lucas Oil, Tom Stephens Racing, Stevarita's, and Joe Unger are helping make his season debut possible.
"We've had a long off-season and have been chomping at the bit to get out there and race," he said. "We have worked hard over the winter and spring to make sure that we are well prepared for the few NHRA races that are on our schedule this season. We want everyone on the team to enjoy themselves. We have waited a long time to race this season, so we will be soaking up every minute of the weekend, no matter what the outcome may be."
He said he knew cracking the top 12 Friday would be difficult "because everyone has been running well lately" but said his goal is to "get a good baseline for the two runs on Saturday."
Bobby Lagana said before qualifying started, "We will have to make very few mistakes and try and take our best shot at a great set-up to get our dragster in the show."
Said Dom Lagana, "Even though we haven't had our car out, there's something to be said for just being out there working and showing face at the races. It actually keeps you current on the latest and greatest things happening out there and helps us not feel so behind the eight ball when we actually do bring our car out to race."
Dad Bobby Lagana Sr. match-raced on this track and competed here for many years, and that heritage is not lost on Dom.
"Going to Englishtown is always surreal for me. I spent a lot of my childhood growing up there and watching my dad match-race on Wednesday nights and weekends against big racers such as Chuck Etchells, John Force, Shirley Muldowney, and D.A. Santucci," he said. "It's an honor and privilege to be able to race in front of all the great fans there, not to mention the hundreds of family members and friends that will come out to watch us."
What they saw was a new "Nitro Ninja" theme on the Twilight Zone Dragster, thanks to Rod Burke of BurkeDesigns. Bobby Lagana Jr. said the new look was a big hit recently -- even at a rained-out match race at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park at Martin, Mich. Fans snapped up the merchandise with the new team logo.
HAGAN THUNDERS TO THE TOP OF E-TOWN FC FIELD - A considerable temperature drop before Friday’s second qualifying session at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown made a world of difference for surging Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.
After running a 4.18 during the first qualifying session at the NHRA’s 44th annual Toyota Summernationals, Hagan made a dramatic leap in the night session, recording a 4.05 at 315.64 mph.
The track cooled by about 20 degrees to 101 from the late afternoon session and the ambient air temperature dropped from 90 to 85, making a significant difference in track conditions.
Hagan, who is seeking his second No. 1 qualifier of 2013, credited crew chief Dickie Venables for getting the car in position to make a great second run.
"Dickie is just doing a great job," said Hagan, the 2011 NHRA Funny Car world champion who is currently third in points in 2013. "I just get to hang on to a fast racecar, and there's nothing better than that."
Del Worsham and Jack Beckman both ran identical 4.074s in the night session, while
Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III both made it into the 4.00s.
But Hagan recorded the top time and speed on Friday, putting him in prime position for the rest of the weekend.
Hagan also continued to praise Venables’ work as the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car team continues to come into its own.
“It’s all about setting up on Friday and we got to make a good run,” Hagan said. “Dickie has been knocking it out of the park. He’s been giving me a car that stays lit and is easy to drive, so all I really have to think about is my reaction time. He’s been a real leader for our team.
“He hasn’t had a real fair shake for the last couple years, and he’s impressed me with how motivated he is and how much he cares for this job.”
THE RUN, REMEMBERED - For Ron Capps, this was no ordinary run.
Friday night, under the lights, during last year’s NHRA visit to Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, the driver of the NAPA Auto Parts unleashed the quickest run in 1,000-foot Funny Car history. He recorded a mark of 3.964 seconds at 320.89 mph, which remains the quickest pass ever by a Funny Car. It was the quickest run but was never backed up for the record.
"It seemed like everyone I signed an autograph for the rest of the weekend wanted me to put '3.96' behind my name. That was cool," Capps said.
Capps needed to run within one-percent to back up the record, a feat he wasn't sure he or tuners Rahn Tobler and John Collins could pull off in the warmer conditions throughout the weekend. Therefore, they didn't try.
"We were not even thinking about a record," Capps said. "We were focused on getting NAPA Auto Parts another trophy.
"That's our approach for this weekend. If the conditions are right, like they were last year at Englishtown, Rahn might load it up. But our focus is to go rounds and get the Wally (trophy)."
Capps ran strong at last year’s event until he reached the finals and a match-up with a determined Johnny Gray. Losing the race wasn't a major issue when looking at the big picture, however, as the final at Englishtown was his fourth in six races. Two races before the streak began Capps had failed to qualify at the Las Vegas event and his crew chiefs, Tim and Kim Richards, abruptly resigned.
The momentous run last year caught the attention of team owner Don Schumacher, who took the win at the 1972 running of the NHRA Summernationals. In addition to Capps, DSR teammate Spencer Massey also set a new mark for the dragsters.
"I've never had a night like that," Schumacher said. "I've had some of my teams perform extraordinarily well but never had them change Top Fuel and Funny Car marks like that on one night.
"And to do it at Englishtown just makes it more special. Englishtown is one of the renowned facilities on the circuit. As times change other facilities come to the forefront, but Englishtown carries so much history and recognition. There have been a lot of special times here."
Capps, now considered an old soul amongst today's crop of Mello Yello Drag Racing Series drivers, was glad the run came at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. The track, he said, has been unfairly maligned, alluding to criticism in the aftermath of fatal accidents here involving nitro veteran Scott Kalitta and well-respected Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Neal Parker.
"This track reminds me of the guy you run across in life, all weathered, blue collar, who has labored all of his life, wrinkled and into his retirement -- this track reminds me of that. It has been around forever," Capps said. "It's neat to give this track what we did last year. It's a legendary track on our circuit. I think it's kind of neat [for the run], because there has been a lot of bad press when bad things have happened in the past. To give it something cool like we did on that Friday night was pretty neat."
ON THE CUSP OF ANOTHER NO. 1 - Like most at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park Friday, Mike Edwards wasn’t exactly thrilled with the uncharacteristically scorching temperatures.
But he also seemed to prove that there’s no condition out there that will keep the Pro Stock driver from making a brilliant run.
Despite the heat, Edwards put together an impressive pass of 6.545 at 210.73 mph Friday, putting him well ahead of the pack through two qualifying sessions at the NHRA Summernationals in Englishtown.
“The conditions here are just not favorable like a normal Summernationals Englishtown race. But at least it’s not wet,” Edwards said.
Shane Gray’s 6.564 put him in second with two qualifying sessions remaining on Saturday.
Considerably cooler temperatures are expected and Edwards is hopeful for another strong day. That seems like a given considering his qualifying dominance in 2013, but Edwards is still seeking out improvement, mostly with his own performance behind the wheel.
“At my age, you better do something to try to get better and right now. I feel like that’s the only way we can lose is (with) the guy sitting in the seat,” Edwards said. “I can’t turn back the pages and be 30 again, but I try to do things to try and get better. I just need to be more consistent and do a better job because we sure have been running good.”
That might be an understatement, as Edwards has posted two wins and leads Allen Johnson by nearly 100 points heading into Englishtown.
“The car is running tremendously good and we’ve been running great all year. We just need to work on some other areas,” Edwards said.
FOCUSED ON RACING; THINKING ABOUT HOME - Another incredible run has Pro Stock driver Mike Edwards out in front after the first day of qualifying at the NHRA’s Summernationals at Englishtown.
But there’s no question his thoughts are with his family and friends in Oklahoma, which continue to be ravaged by tornadoes and storms in what has been a tumultuous spring.
A number of tornadoes have caused considerable damage over the last couple of weeks, and the more tornados threatened Oklahoma Friday. Edwards spent most of the day tracking the storm and checking in with family, getting frequent updates on the situation.
“We’ve been trying to focus on the job here at hand, but it’s all about home and my parents and my family,” Edwards said in an interview with ESPN after running 6.545 at 210.73 mph Friday.
“We’re trying to do the best we can, and it was just a great run.”
But as Edwards said, his mind is understandably elsewhere. The tornadoes have uprooted homes and families, causing irreparable damage across the state.
The latest storm picked up steam Friday night as Edwards continued to stay in contact as much as possible. Edwards, who lives in the Tulsa area, said his family has escaped serious damage from the storms this spring so far, but admitted it has been difficult to focus on racing.
“Once you get in and get all strapped up and ready to go, you focus on the task at hand and that’s what we do,” Edwards said. “It’s one of those things that life deals us and everybody back home is going through the same thing we are. I’m just a long ways from being where I want to be right now.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
JOHNSON FIGHTS FOR HIS 15 MINUTES OF PSM FAME - All Steve Johnson could do was laugh at the end of the first day of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying for the Toyota Summernationals.
The longtime Suzuki rider finally outdid the dominating Hector Arana Jr. and his Lucas Oil Buell and fared better Friday than either of the struggling but still strong Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines.
But even with his provisional No. 1 qualifying performance of 6.931 seconds at 192.22 mph on the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park quarter-mile, Johnson took a back seat -- to the participants in a shoving match in the pits.
Johnson, whose silly remarks and animated demeanor belie the hours and years of marketing as well as mechanical efforts to sell NHRA drag racing in general and his own team in particular, played up the irony that his moment in the spotlight was spoiled.
He's poised to lead the field for the first time since the 2010 Norwalk, Ohio, race. And he knows the value of accomplishing that, should his 6.931-second pass hold up as No. 1.
"So much notoriety comes from qualifying No. 1," he said.
Maybe it will be his tomorrow. But Friday night he had to joke about the dust-up between Hector Arana Sr. and Matt Smith.
"I love our sport -- if you don't like it, pop somebody in the mouth. I'm just glad it wasn't me!" Johnson said.
"It sells tickets!"
POP SOMEBODY IN THE MOUTH - The first day of qualifying for the Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., was hot -- and heated. Temperatures soared above 90 degrees, and tempers flared in the Pro Stock Motorcycle pits.
Steve Johnson was the bike class' provisional No. 1 qualifier, but the buzz was not as much about his feat on his trusty Suzuki as it was about the mutual mistrust that fellow racers Hector Arana Sr. and Matt Smith expressed.
The fracas started when Matt Smith visited Hector Arana Sr.'s pit and the two discussed a motorcycle seat that Arana had built for racer Angie Smith, Matt Smith's wife.
According to Arana public-relations representative Lee Montgomery, evidently Arana was upset with Matt Smith for copying his design and modifying it without compensating him.
He said the conversation escalated into shouting, and Arana told Matt Smith to calm down and to leave. He didn't, and Arana walked away but confronted Smith again and repeated his order. Smith reportedly stayed and engaged in a shouting match with an Arana crew member.
Smith and the crew member scuffled, and the two were separated without further incident. The altercation drew the attention of not only the bike teams but also the track security and NHRA officials, Montgomery said.
Johnson, partly amused and partly annoyed a bit that the feuders stole the spotlight, said, "I love our sport -- if you don't like it, pop somebody in the mouth! I'm just glad it wasn't me!"
KRAWIEC HOPES HARLEYS HIT STRIDE AT HIS HOMETOWN EVENT - The Vance & Hines team didn't panic last fall when the NHRA announced rules designed to bring parity to the class. But Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec did figure that their forced engine redesign would kill the momentum they had since October 2011. They were right. This year, after three bike class appearances, has belonged so far to Hector Arana Jr.
In the preseason, Krawiec had predicted, "I think you're going to see our stuff start coming alive about Englishtown, May or June."
Said Krawiec this week, "The reason I say Englishtown was it was a total of three months after the start of the season. That would allow us to work on our stuff for quite a bit longer than we had at the start of the year. It was running two weeks before the first race, and now it has been three months plus of running, allowing R&D (research and development) time.
"We have been working on a lot of different areas to help improve the set-up," he said. "The one thing that we haven't had much time with is on-track testing. We have tried a few times, but the weather has not worked out. That will be the next step to finding what it wants for a tune-up. As we race more we will get more tune-up info, making it better."
The Vance & Hines organization has earned nine championships in the past 16 seasons. They're used to winning. And certainly Krawiec would love to launch a "comeback" of sorts, in front of the hometown crowd.
However, what motivates him is not showing off here but simply getting the iconic-American Harley-Davidson name back at the top of the standings and in the winners circle.
"Yes, the Englishtown win was a great one for me. I have no reason to try and top anything. I race with no pressure and take it one race at a time," Krawiec said. "I'm happy with all I have accomplished and have nothing to prove to anyone.
"All I can do is ride good and be on my game like past years and wins will follow," he said. "What most people forget was it took four seasons to get to the point of the season we had last year. And now all expect us to show up with a complete new set-up and design and run the same. That is not realistic and will not happen."
Krawiec was 10th in the provisional line-up and Hines seventh Friday with two more qualifying sessions remaining Saturday.
An optimistic but realistic Krawiec said, "This season is more of an R&D year and working towards having great bikes for the Countdown (the NHRA's six-race playoff for the top-10 qualified bikes). Anything can happen as long as you're in it."
FATE PUTS ROWE NO. 1 - Danny Rowe raced to the qualifying lead Friday in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
Rowe, a two-time and defending Englishtown event winner, led the field with a top performance of 5.926 seconds at 247.57 mph in his supercharged Agave Underground Tequila ’68 Camaro. If his time stands, this would be his second No.1 qualifying position of the season and fifth of his career.
Rowe has already stated on the record, he plans to fly back home to Laguna Hills, Ca., to attend his daughter's high school graduation. He will miss all day Saturday, which includes first round of eliminations. With 15 cars in competition, if he remains No. 1 he was scheduled to receive a bye run. If Rowe is a no-show for the bye-run, his absence will constitute a loss as NHRA rules require a bye-run to stage and take a green light.
New York native Mike Castellana was second in his Al-Anabi Racing ’68 Camaro with a 5.935 at 244.03, while veteran driver Rickie Smith was third in his nitrous-powered late model IDG Chevy Camaro, posting a 5.964 at 243.11.
Series points leader Kenny Lang qualified fifth in his Summit Racing ’63 Corvette with a time of 6.042 at 241.63 while Von Smith, who is second in the points standings, qualified fourth with a time of 6.022 at 241.24 in his Dr. Moon’s Rage ’68 Camaro. Defending event winner and world champ Troy Coughlin was 10th in his JEGS.com Corvette with a 6.231 at 236.59.
Saturday’s final Pro Mod qualifying session is scheduled for 1:45 p.m., followed by the first round of eliminations at 4 p.m. Pro Mod Series eliminations will continue Sunday at approximately 2:30 p.m.
PRIORITIES - Life is all about choices.
Veteran NHRA Pro Mod racer Danny Rowe is choosing family first this weekend.
Rowe will be at the NHRA Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J., Friday for Pro Mod qualifying and then he will be leaving to attend his daughter’s graduation. Cassidy Rowe is scheduled to graduate at 11 a.m. Pacific Time Saturday from JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
“I’m going to fly back home after qualifying Friday night and go to my daughter’s graduation. If we get rained out and we get to run on Sunday, I’m going to fly back (to Englishtown). If we do not get rained out, then I’m only going to get qualifying points.”
Pro Mod qualifying is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Eastern Time Friday.
“After I make those two qualifying runs, I’m going to race to the airport and catch an 8:45 (p.m.) flight back to California,” Danny said. “I will get to California around 1:30 (Saturday morning) and I will get up and go to her graduation.”
The elder Rowe knew missing Cassidy’s graduation was not an option.
“We have grown up as a family racing and my wife and kids came to a lot of the races with me and it is always something pretty important,” Danny said. “It has always been that thing where it was part of what we do. As the kids have all grown up, my oldest is now 25 and my youngest is 17, and her graduating is kind of an end of an era for me. It is a little bit hard to deal with this because this (Cassidy) is my baby. She is the baby of the family. She was with me when I was running the West Coast Pro Mod Association and we were doing our thing as a family, and I feel an obligation to her. She stood behind me and I have an obligation to be there for her (for her graduation).”
Cassidy is going to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder for college.
Rowe is presently fifth in the Pro Mod point standings, 52 behind leader Ken Lang.
“Over the last couple of years, it has been very competitive in Pro Mod,” Rowe said. “We obviously do not want to lose a championship or get close to a championship by 20 or 40 points. So, we are going to get every point we possibly can have without it getting in the way of helping my family.”
If Rowe does qualify and the first round of Pro Mod eliminations begin at 4 p.m. Saturday as scheduled at Englishtown, Rowe’s first-round opponent will get a bye.
“It’s not easy because I have a crew, and a lot of good people who have supported me,” Rowe said about the real possibility of missing eliminations. “I have sponsors that are working with me that obviously like me to be at the race, but at the same time I’m very fortunate because my sponsors are behind me in my decision. Mike Ivey of Agave Underground has three daughters and he understands exactly what I’m going through and understands the responsibility of family and he is standing behind me on this. I’m really, really fortunate Mike (Ivey) and whole Agave Underground team is supporting me.”
Agave Underground Tequila is the primary sponsor of Rowe’s Pro Mod Camaro. - Tracy Renck
UPS AND DOWNS - One certainty about drag racing is defined by what goes up, must also come down.
Pro Modified racer Clint Satterfield wishes there was a little more time between his peak and valley.
Last month Satterfield was on top of the drag racing world when he scored his first career NHRA Pro Modified victory at the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway outside of Houston, Texas. Two weeks later, he totalled his 1968 Camaro at the Throwdown at T-Town event in Tulsa, Ok.
Satterfield will race this weekend at the NHRA Toyota Summernationals with a 1968 Pontiac Firebird from R2B2 Race Cars. He originally planned to run his Camaro, nicknamed the "Turbo Pig" through 2013, but the crash sped up the process.
Satterfield is currently third in NHRA Pro Modified points.
THE CHAMP'S MOMENTUM -Troy Coughlin won the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Pro Modified crown back in April and headed into this weekend's fourth stop on the ten-race series he's banking on history to catapult him back into the point lead.
Coughlin, a runner-up in last year's NHRA Summernationals, is fourth in the championship standings. He also won an Englishtown event in 2005 when the series was an exhibition category.
"Lots of confidence, from last year and this year," Coughlin said. "We finished the season strong and won the championship. We went to Gainesville and had a couple hiccups, but we figured out what those were and went to Charlotte and did well. We had a fast, consistent race car in Charlotte, so as we head to Englishtown it definitely builds a whole bunch of confidence in me as a driver, knowing I've got the team and the car behind me 100 percent."
Coughlin last in the final to Danny Rowe last year. This time, he might face another contender as Rowe will leave the event following Friday qualifying to attend his daughter's graduation.
“Danny is pretty strong," Coughlin said. "He's very committed as a racer and very committed as a spokesperson for the class and NHRA and very committed to trying to help this sport continue to grow. As a racer, he's got one of the better teams out here, and he's a good driver. That Sunday in Englishtown last season, our car seemed like it was starting to come around, and the team was jelling together stronger and stronger.”
Coughlin believes momentum can make the difference in a championship surge.
"I'm a believer in momentum," Coughlin said. "I'm a believer in trying to make sure you cross your T’s and dot your I’s and learn from your mistakes and capitalize on all the good. That's what we're doing right now, and hopefully, we can continue to go to be strong."
TODAY'S LEADERS - Sportsman icon Sal Biondo, from Maspeth, NY., laid claim to the Comp eliminator No. 1 qualifying position during Thursday's first session and after three sessions, no one could wrestle the top spot from the local favorite.
Biondo, racing a C/Econo Altered Cavalier, earned the No. 1 with an 8.150, -.660 under the index.
Calvin Hill (D/EA), Frank Affronti (B/EA), Tom Stalba (L/AA) and Joe Carnasciale (I/SMA) rounded out the top five.
Canadian John Armstron was the quickest against his index in Super Stock with an 8.755, -.945 under the SSA/A index with his 1969 Corvette.
Chris Holbrook was nearly .25 ahead of No. 2 qualifier Bo Kenney to lead Stock eliminator. Holbrook's Cobra Jet ran an 8.841, -1.359 under the FS/DC index.
ADRL Top Sportsman standout Glenn Butcher was tops among the Top Sportsman racers as he recorded a 6.576, 211.06.