NHRA SUPERNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TRACK PREP CONCERNS - Last year the great divide between the racers and the NHRA was the timing system. This season’s hot topic (literally) is track prep. During Saturday’s qualifying the NHRA applied traction compound from the starting line for several hundred feet out and ceased. They resumed from the finish line and several hundred feet toward the starting line and ceased. The mid-range of the track was left as is.
Many fuel teams smoked the tires at that point and a few made it to the finish line. Those who didn’t make a full pull outweighed those who did. The second-guessing ran rampant in the fuel pits as the teams wondered where the consistency they had enjoyed in years prior had gone.
Dan Olson of the NHRA had an explanation why the sanctioning body did what they did on Saturday. Olson said the track temperatures climbed as high as 136.
“We did that because it wasn’t so much over-sprayed as it had gotten soft out there,” Olson said. “If we had sprayed it any more there would have been a track problem. There was a little section that we didn’t spray on purpose because it was coming apart and coming up. The rubber was tearing loose the asphalt.”
Olson said the intent was to preserve the track. He said this was a decision that had to be made on the spot. Olson said it was done only for the final session.
“We adjust to what we have to adjust to; it’s the same thing the teams do when they tune their cars,” Olson said. “When you have a problem area, you have to fix it.”
Olson said his decision was made on his prior experience as a tuner. His previous job before joining the NHRA as the liaison for fuel racing was with Don Schumacher Racing.
“I’ve been doing this 40 years and this isn’t my first day on the job,” Olson said. “I know the way I would have wanted the track prepped and that’s what we tried to do now. In going through and talking with the crew chiefs today [Sunday], they were pleased with the temperature of the track and the results they were getting. There were a lot of good runs yesterday.
“The Pro Stock track record was set on Saturday. In the heat of the day there was a pass of 6.62 made. The Top Fuel cars ran low 4.60s and the good Funny Cars were running 4.80s. What can I say?”
During Saturday’s qualifying only two Funny Cars reached the 4.80-something zone but the Top Fuel division produced a number of 4.6-second laps and a few 4.5s. By the second session, only four could manage a 4.6. The common theme for those cars was smoke in the mid-range.
On the flipside, Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey nailed the class elapsed time track record and Greg Anderson secured the Pro Stock track record under similar conditions to what the nitro cars encountered.
“I think for the conditions we have, as a whole, the track is as good as we know how to make it,” Olson said. “Our crew is working harder on the track than they ever have to keep the bald spots covered and do the spray and everything we do.”
With Olson’s assessment of the track deterioration, one has to wonder whether this is a track surface issue or the preparation thereof.
“I think it is more of a temperature issue,” Olson said. ‘You drop the temperature 20 or 30 degrees and they have a mineshaft here. When the conditions change, you have to as well. That’s the difference in the good crew chief and those that aren’t so good.”
Jim Head has always been close to the track prep issue. His son Chad was responsible for the task prior to his defection to the Indy Racing League.
Head is one of the drivers who feel that no matter the prep, a track that exceeds 100 degrees is only going to have so much value in the big picture of quick and fast runs.
“I’m a huge believer of track temperature being the controlling issue,” Head said. “A 100-degree track will never be better than an 80-degree track. A 120-degree track will never be better than a 100-degree one. No matter what the NHRA does, we run on a thin surface of rubber.
“I hear the debate of spraying the track and I think Chicago was just the case of guys trying to run too hard. I think Saturday morning was no better than we had in Chicago. The dragsters adjusted nicely and the Funny Cars stumbled both times.
“I don’t really have any issues because I think the NHRA tries really hard. Sometimes they have a consistency problem. Dan Olson is doing the best he can to solve the track prep dilemma. No one can try harder than he is. He will get them eventually as best as he can. He can’t fix a 125-degree race track.”
Gary Scelzi questioned the track prep in Chicago and the consistency of it during his post-qualifying press conference. He even called for the NHRA to bring back Chad Head to improve what many see as a consistency dilemma. Sunday brought forth a change for Scelzi. He was convinced the NHRA made a change.
“The track was better today than it had been all weekend,” Scelzi said. “Nobody can tell me they didn’t do things differently today. They did something different.
“Kudos to the NHRA -- whatever you did -- whether you admit it or not, good job on what you did. We didn’t just get smart today.”
Olson said the prep was identical.
“The prepped the track identical to Saturday on Sunday,” Olson said. “We didn’t change anything. I think what happened is that we had never been in Chicago that late in the year and we had track temperatures different that what we were used to in racing there. Most of those guys had the typical Chicago tune-up and it was too much for that time of the year.
“Once they backed up and had a handle on the warm conditions, they were getting down the track. We did not change a thing.”
Head admits his comments might not appeal to his tuning comrades, but can’t help but think the racers should shoulder some of the blame.
“Most pedal-fests are created by pedal-fest tuners,” Head said. “I smoke the tires because I smoke the tires usually. It’s really rare when that track makes me smoke the tires. It’s a drag race; we are all trying to run 0 to 390. Some tracks won’t allow you to run 390.”
The Chicago and Englishtown scenarios produced equal results for both lanes.
“I am distraught when the media or anyone talks about differences in lanes,” Head said. “If they gave lane choice to the slower car you would see fast cars still win in the lane not of choice. The reason there is an issue in the first round is all the fast cars take one lane or the other. Fast cars usually beat slow cars.
“It offends me when people talk about race tracks they can’t get down. If I thought there was a chance during a weekend that I would get put in a lane that I couldn’t get down, I wouldn’t do this. Why would I come out here and spend my money if I thought the NHRA would put me on a surface that I couldn’t do anything with.”
It’s not a matter of how the track is prepped, according to tuner Mike Kloeber. It’s communication that is the key issue for him.
“The NHRA is going to do the best they can and there’s no set formula for what to do,” Kloeber said. “When you work on the track, it is a day-by-day, case-by-case basis. I would prefer more communication from the sanctioning body on what they are doing so that we can understand and adjust our cars accordingly. It doesn’t have to be open for debate, just tell us what they are doing so we can make the race car work with the conditions.”
Case in point, Kloeber said, knowing they declined to spray the mid-point would have been good to know on Saturday.
“We had a set up that was no going to tolerate the track not being as good as it was in the third,” Kloeber said. “The good part is we learned some boundaries. We’ll just have to pay attention to where they are or not working on the track.”
Olson said that notification of the teams is not always an option because a lot of the decisions happen on the spot and there’s just not enough time to go down the line and notify all. His decision of less glue was made on the spot.
Glue or no glue, seasoned veteran Gary Densham says the key issue is being overlooked – the tire.
“I believe the NHRA is doing a good job on the track and it could be better during the day, but if they get more aggressive at night, we stand the chance of chunking tires,” Densham said. “They are trying to make it safe for us so cars can run well on Friday night. Then we come out here on Saturdays and find out that while the tire may be safer, it is more temperature sensitive.
“Our older tire – we could come out an run a 4.75 on a 90-degree track and still come back out on a Saturday and run a 4.80 on a 110 – 120 degree track. The tire we have now is just too temperature sensitive now.”
Olson said it all comes down to track temperatures and it’s not a matter of under or over prep.
“When it’s this warm, you have no tire issues – even on Friday night,” Olson said. “We do have to be concerned with the tire issues because we don’t want to hurt anyone out here.”
WHO'S SUPERSTITIOUS? - J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), Jeff Arend (Funny Car), and Jim Yates (Pro Stock) all won their respective first round races despite qualifying in the supposedly unlucky No. 13 position and not having lane choice in the opening round of eliminations . Only Eddie Krawiec, the No. 13 qualifier in Pro Stock Motorcycle was unable to advance to the quarterfinals. Both Todd and Arend advanced to the semifinals before losing.
SNAKE PIT - Make no bones about it. The Snake loves Englishtown. You could tell because Don “The Snake” Prudhomme fired up a cigar for the press conference following his double win as a team owner during the NHRA Pro Care Rx SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
“I don’t smoke these often,” Prudhomme said to the members of the media as he fielded questions surrounding victories by Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) and Tommy Johnson, Jr. (Funny Car).
Prudhomme had two homes as a driver -- Gainesville and Englishtown. He won five times in Gainesville and six at Englishtown.
As a team owner, he’s won five times in Englishtown and thrice in Gainesville. Englishtown now has favored status as the site of his second career “double-up.”
“Englishtown and Gainesville have always been special tracks on the circuit,” Prudhomme said. “I can remember coming here when the track was first built in the '60s. So we've been coming back and forth match racing all up and down the East Coast and Englishtown was always a special track. The Napps had it, I knew the grandfather that started it, that's how far I go back. The air’s good, it's a good track to run on and it’s kind of a favorite track of mine on the circuit.”
Prudhomme got his first two-win event back in 2002 in Columbus, Ohio with Dixon and Ron Capps.
“When you do that it's always a special time when you have both cars,” Prudhomme said. “Last week Larry won and Tommy didn't. Like I've told people in the past I'm only 50-percent happy. It's good but it’s not like it is now. When one of your cars win and the other doesn't it's like having a couple of kids; one knocks the ball over the fence and the other strikes out. That's the problem with being a team owner. You always feel bad for the guys that didn't win.”
Winning this event catapulted Prudhomme’s teams into the top eight in their respective divisions. Dixon climbed into second with his second-consecutive victory and Johnson vaulted from twelfth to eighth. Still, the jury is out is Prudhomme buys into the “Countdown to the Championship” format.
“For us the new points deal has been great because we started out so bad,’ Prudhomme said. “We all want to be a part of that and we're all fighting to be in the top eight. I was shocked we were into it just goes to show how close it is. Here we are way out of it, now winning one race we're in it. I feel good about the future fighting for the championship.
“I'm not sure if I'm sold on the whole concept about the points thing, I want to see how it ends up at the end of the year. I think we all are. I think it’s interesting ... we'll have to see. In our case it helps us.”
For now, Prudhomme isn’t concerned with the details. He’ll just keep puffing on his cigar – as long as it doesn’t bother the media.
DIXON/PRUDHOMME DOUBLE UP - Larry Dixon, driver of the Sky Tel dragster owned by Don Prudhomme, drove to his second consecutive final round and third of the season at Englishtown, marking his 74th final round appearance of his 12-year career, including six straight finals at Englishtown.
"Don't ask me why but we've had a lot of success here at Englishtown," said Dixon. "It might be how outgoing the fans are, it's on the gas and you love to put on a great show for them and as long as it's hot and sweaty and all that, we seem to do well, so right on."
Dixon and his crew chief Donnie Bender did extremely well on Sunday. Dixon defeated Whit Bazemore, Doug Kalitta, and Hillary Will to reach the final round. Waiting for him was Doug Herbert, who was anxious to battle it out for the ProCare Rx NHRA SuperNationals Top Fuel title.
Dixon left the starting line first and never looked back, recording a 4.625 at 321.73 to outrun Herbert's 4.675 at 316.30 mph.
"Obviously, it's been awesome," said Dixon, "to say anything else wouldn't be right. We win last week in Chicago and low and be hold, here we go to the final and we win another one. I don't keep track of stats so it kind of shocked me that we've been in the final here five years in a row. We haven't had a really badass car in a few years, so to be able to at least go to the finals was cool. It's been awesome. That was huge for 'Snake' to get a double. When I saw Tommy win and what a tight race it was and Doug had been really good on his lights all day and I thought ‘I hope I don't screw this one up for him.’ For what Tommy went through after first round to come back and run strong, it was great. To be able to close the deal was great for him and Snake."
The victory was Dixon's second of the season and the 40th Top Fuel victory of his career, moving him into second on the all-time winner's list for the class, following only Joe Amato's 52 wins. He also joined Funny Car winner Tommy Johnson Jr. in the winner's circle to give team owner Don Prudhomme a double victory.
HERBERT BACK TO THE FINALS - Doug Herbert, who has been showing some consistency at the last several races in the Snap-on Tools dragster, advanced to his second final round in the last five races.
Herbert defeated Melanie Troxel, David Grubnic, and J.R. Todd to advance to his 23rd career final round.
"It's been way too long since I took home one of these trophies," shouted Herbert after his semifinal win. "For Snap-on Tools and Marty the One Man Party from Racebricks, and Red Line Oil, and everybody that's helping us, all I've got to say is thanks and we're trying real hard."
Asked if he would make any changes to the cars tune up before the final round, Herbert said, "Not many."
Herbert lost to Larry Dixon in a great final round but was unable to stop at the end of the run and ended his weekend in the sand at the end of the track.
TJ's HOT!- When Tommy Johnson Jr. spoke in the press box after securing his first No. 1 qualifying effort his was filled with confidence over the performance of his Skoal Racing Chevy Monte Carlo. But following his first round top-end fire after defeating Gary Densham he was doing anything but smiling.
"It spun the tires down there," explained Johnson. "and I hate to pedal at the top end, so I gave it just one quick pedal and it hooked back up, took right off and everything was fine, trucking right along until just before the lights, no warning at all … just kaboom! I saw a little fire and threw the chutes and grabbed the fire bottle but it just didn't want to die. Finally I said 'okay it’s getting a little warm, getting a little smoky, can't see, lock 'em up and get out of here.’
"The body is pretty bad but I think the rest of that stuff can be replaced," said Johnson. "The chassis and everything is fine, so a few computer cables and a new body and we'll be ready to go."
With the help of members of Mike Ashley and Bob Vandergriff 's teams and his teammates from Larry Dixon's Skytel crew, Johnson was able to fix his car in time for his second-round race against 'Fast Jack' Beckman.
Johnson was able to pull it together for the victory over Beckman with an impressive pass of 4.914 seconds at 309.84 mph, especially considering the work Johnson's team performed to get ready to race and that the run was low E.T. of the round. Johnson went on to take the victory over Jeff Arend in the semifinals with a 4.961 at 309.91 mph, advancing to his 21st career Funny Car final.
Johnson faced Tony Pedregon in the final. Pedregon reached the money round in somewhat quiet fashion with unspectacular victories over his brother Cruz Pedregon, a struggling Robert Hight, and a surprising Tony Bartone.
Pedregon left first at the flash of green but Johnson tracked him down to take the win with a mark of 4.994 at 305.84 mph to Pedregon's 5.022 at 306.33 mph.
The win was especially impressive considering the way the Skoal team rebounded from the devastating first-round fire. Everything on the car was changed except the chassis itself.
"It was such a big weekend for our team," said Johnson, "and then to be able to go out and double up with Larry, I don't know how you can get any bigger win. As bad as we've struggled all year to come out No. 1 qualifier, burn it to the ground first round, then come back second round and set low E.T. of eliminations, that was huge. That was for the guys, they earned this one today.
"I was pretty disheartened after the first round (fire) because I thought 'No. 1 qualifier, finally got this thing running and we're going to have to rebuild the thing in 75 minutes.' And that could totally screw up your whole combination and take such a good running car and throw it away. We saw what it did to Robert Hight and he hasn't run very well since. So that was so big to come back and run low E.T. of eliminations.
"I can tell you how good the guys are on this team," concluded Johnson. "We fired our car after the fire before one of the other Funny Cars did that round. That's how fast the guy's worked and how good a job they did."
The win moved Johnson up from 12th to eighth in the POWERade Countdown to the Championship, making him now a serious contender for the championship run.
BECKMAN BEAMING - This season it is more of a challenge to qualify for Funny Car than ever before, and it seems that every weekend at least one heavy hitter in the class fails to make Sunday's 16-car elimination field. Just coming into Englishtown, the top four drivers in the Countdown to the Championship failed to qualify, a truly unheard of situation. Even the driver with the Funny Car national speed record (333.66-mph) is still impresses when he qualifies for the field.
"Anymore it is newsworthy just to qualify for the race," said Beckman, driver of the Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger. "If you would have asked me in the off-season 'how do you think your chances are of qualifying?' I would have said 'are you kidding me? We'll be top half every race - there's no doubt in my mind.'
"And we have just as strong a car and just as strong a team as we did last year," Beckman said. "It's just that there's so many quality cars out here that every race you see one or two hitters not in the show. Look at Mike Ashley; he was No. 1 three races in a row, then DNQ two races in a row."
Beckman's first round match up was a great race with a somewhat resurgent Del Worsham.
"We always race the race track, always," Beckman said. "It doesn't matter who's in the other lane - we always race the race track. So we'll be monitoring the track temperature, the crew chief (Todd Okuhara) will be out there looking at it and we can make a last second timing adjustment. We take 12 different tune ups basically up in our timing box and we don't put that timing curve in until we're two pairs back. I'm sure Del's team is going to be doing to, it's a watch and look. Now being the 8 and 9 qualifiers we won't have choice of what pairing we're in, we'll take what's left over. But it's not that big of a deal because the dragsters are going to run first.
"First round will be the only round, with the possible exception of the final, where we're not going to be dealing with a real warm race track. I think we'll see some pretty good ET's first round."
Beckman defeated Worsham in the opening round but lost to eventual winner Tommy Johnson Jr. in the second round.
BARTONE LOOKING GOOD FOR THE HOME CROWD - One of the closest races of the first round, at least on paper, was Tony Bartone against Jim Head. Bartone qualified 10th with a 4.797 at 323.97 to Head's slightly quicker 4,785 at 324.83 mph, good enough for 7th.
"I don’t think the qualifying times are going to have a whole lot to do with today's performance," said Bartone, who skipped both of Saturday's qualifying sessions. "We'll have to go up there and do the best job we can and I think it's going to be important to get from point A to point B without smoking the tires. Lane choice isn't a factor at the present time. Yesterday both lanes were equally tough to get down from what I saw."
Bartone advanced to the quarterfinals in his Jim Dunn-owned and tuned Lucas Oil Funny Car for just the second time this season when he defeated Head in a very tight race. The New York native recorded a 5.051 at 262.59 mph to defeat Head's 5.078 at 252.90 mph.
"Great run for this Lucas Oil Products car, it's a tricky race track. I told Jim and Jon Dunn if we can make this thing run 4.90's we can probably go some rounds. At a thousand foot we were dead even, I think our car just lasted a little big longer then Jim Head's did. It's great to be here, thanks to all the fans and for my family's support. We're going rounds."
Bartone, who has won the race at Englishtown four times in Alcohol Funny Car, continued to make it from A to B in the second round, defeating 14-time champion John Force with a fiery 5.346 at 218.90 mph to Force's tire-smoking 5.465 at 252.90 mph. Bartone doubled his season win total with the victory and will face Tony Pedregon in his first semifinal appearance of the season.
"How about that Lucas Oil/Torco Racing Fuels Funny Car," said an excited Bartone. "Any time you can beat that green and white car over there in the other lane you know you've done your job. The car hit the tires probably 800, 900 feet and I pedaled it once, blew up, a little bit of fire going through the lights. I had my hands full shutting the car off making sure the fire was out and keeping my tootsies un-roasted. I had to ask the Safety Safari who got the win light and I kind of got a little excited when they said I did. I want to thank the great people of the sport like Forrest and Charlotte Lucas and Evan Knoll, without these people and these fine sponsors we couldn't be here doing what we love to do and we couldn't put on the show for the fans. So I'm thanking everybody and hope to see everybody here in the next round."
Unfortunately, Bartone's day ended in the semis when Tony Pedregon defeated him with a 5.028 at 306.12 mph to Bartone's 5.283 at 225.97 mph.
FORCE FIRE - It seems like John Force might finally be starting to return to his winning ways after defeating Chicago winner Gary Scelzi in a huge first round race. It was only the second round win of the season for Force, who has only lost three times in his career racing at Englishtown. Entering the race 17th in the POWERade point chase, the time is now or never for Force to make a charge at qualifying for the Countdown to the Championship.
"My hot rod better start coming back or they're going to fire me," Force said. "It's just a good time for us here at Englishtown. My guys told me I ran a five flat and I remember when that would make you sick. But right mow you feel like you just won Montreal (Force's first NHRA win). But it's a cool deal. I'm starting to feel better, it's just mental. The real truth is I got a wake-up call last week at Chicago. You're so used to being untouchable, but I got over that. You know with Scelzi, Capps and Robert (Hight) running down my throat, what's really unique is I can't even win a round. That pretty unique, even my wife says I suck. So, bottom line it just felt good to get back in the game and win a round, maybe I can go another."
Force lost to New Yorker Tony Bartone in the second round of eliminations, leaving him with just two round wins in the nine races he's competed at this year.
STILL ON TOP - Ron Capps retained his points lead, despite being ousted in the opening round by Tim Wilkerson. He is now 123 points ahead of Robert Hight, who was eliminated in the second round.
When you’re next in line behind a track clean-up, drag racing becomes difficult.
"Tommy [Johnson] had that bad fire in front of us and the longer we sat the hotter it got," said Capps, the defending event champion. "You can tell from all the elapsed times that it got very difficult after that. The right lane (Capps was in the left) was actually a little worse because it had big pit marks of concrete that had come up from half-track on, so it was a matter of negotiating. And the left lane seemed a little better, and that's why you saw most of the Fuel cars take the left lane.
"We felt comfortable enough that we were going to go down there and run a mid-4.90, but it locked the clutch up and then it started slowly spinning the tires and then it got worse. And out popped Tim Wilkerson in my side window. He spun the tires pretty good, too, just not as bad as we did.
"It's just one of those deals. We ran Tim twice before this season and we beat him, and I knew sooner or later the odds were going to run out on us.
"No matter what, we are leaving here with the points lead. Right now we're focusing on the rest of the six-race swing coming up. We wanted to repeat as a winner like we did last year, but conditions were unbelievable all weekend."
"The track was pretty tricky for everybody," said crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch. "Wilkerson fired a shot at us. He ran really good early and got away with it and it was good enough to get around us. More power to him; he did a good job.
"We ran a lot better than a lot of them did out there, but it wasn't good enough in that round. That's how it goes."
GLORY ROAD - Del Worsham and the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen team had a special guest with them on both Saturday and Sunday in Englishtown. Dick Myers, a member of the famous 1966 Texas Western basketball team, joined the Worsham group for his introduction to NHRA nitro racing. Dramatized on the big screen via the 2005 hit movie "Glory Road" the upstart Texas Western team (now known as University of Texas at El Paso) defeated national powerhouse University of Kentucky in the NCAA finals, to grab a most unlikely and still famous National Championship.
Getting past Kentucky wasn't the only challenge, as UCLA was in the midst of their unprecedented utter domination in the men's collegiate basketball ranks, winning every championship but one between 1964 and 1973. Texas Western's crown marked the only time UCLA failed to take home the hardware during that reign.
Myers went on to a successful business career, and recently retired as a Vice President for Coach Leather, one of the world's leading makers
of women's purses and accessories. He and his wife Elsie live in Morristown, NJ, and are friends with Frank Gilchrist, a long-time member of Team CSK.
KEEPING STATS – Make no bones about, Gary Scelzi is keeping score when he races John Force. Despite losing in the first round, Scelzi still holds the upper hand in the stats (12-9).
"It just wasn't a good weekend," said Scelzi, who also had his quickest qualifying time tossed out. "It started out bad and it actually got better. We qualified, even though it was 15th, and we should have been able to handle Force. But the Mopar/Oakley Dodge just went out there and got fast and smoked the tires.
"Force's five-flat wasn't really impressive, but it did win the race, and we were trying to run a low 4.90 and we just didn't do it. I don't have any excuses. Englishtown is still a track at which I haven't won and we'll end up in Norwalk next weekend and see what happens there."
Scelzi holds on to third in the Funny Car point standings.
ANDERSON WOUNDS ANOTHER BULLET - Greg Anderson drove to his 70th career final round on Sunday, but not in his usual dominating fashion. After grabbing his 58th career No. 1 qualifying spot on Saturday Anderson hurt his third motor since last week's Chicago event in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
The Summit Racing GTO lost a motor on Anderson's holeshot victory over rookie Craig Hanherson during the opening round, causing plenty of concern for the multiple Pro Stock champion.
"We dodged a bullet there," said Anderson. "I think we wounded the motor and I was just afraid to look over. Somebody looking after me today, obviously, and we'll get another shot at it. Will see if we can go back and tune this Summit Pontiac up. We'll put a new heart in her and see if we can come back strong.
That’s exactly what Anderson did, returning to defeat David Connolly and Jim Yates to earn a shot at last weekend's Pro Stock champion, Jeg Coughlin, who defeated Anderson's teammate, Jason Line in the final one week ago in Chicago.
The final was a battle of the Mail Order Parts outfits.
"I guess it's fitting," said Anderson. "If we can't have both Summit cars in the final then we might as well have one of those cats over there. It's gonna be tough, there's no question about it; he (Jeg Coughlin) drives the wheels off that thing. I'm going to have to find a way to get up on that wheel with him. But we'll see what we can do. We've got a great Summit Pontiac today. She's running good and we got lane choice, let's hope it means something."
The final was over before it began when Jeg Coughlin left too soon and suffered a red light start, handing the win to Anderson, the 49th of his career. He still drove his Pontiac through to a 6.617 at 209.52 mph to put an exclamation point on his victory. The win tied Anderson with Don Prudhomme for sixth on the all-time winner's list for all NHRA classes.
STEVENS STOUT ALL WEEKEND - Richie Stevens, the No. 2 qualifier in Pro Stock, continued to run well during eliminations at the ProCare Rx NHRA SuperNationals. Stevens defeated Warren Johnson in round one with an outstanding 6.638 at 208.33 mph and then returned to defeat powerful engine builder, Larry Morgan, with a consistent 6.650 at 207.91 mph in round two.
"We've got a good car," said Stevens, "Rick Jones gave us a good one and we tried to put it to the test. Roy Johnson and Mark Ingersol are doing a great job setting it up for me I just get to drive it."
Stevens lost lane choice to Jeg Coughlin in the semifinals as the pair battle during the hottest conditions of the day and that may have cost him the win. Coughlin took the victory with a 6.651 at 208.91 mph to Stevens respectable 6.684 at 207.40 mph.
COUGHLIN CONTINUES TO COOK - Jeg Coughlin picked up right where he left off after his victory in Chicago last weekend. Coughlin qualified the Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt third and advance to his second consecutive final round and fourth of the season with wins over Kurt Johnson, Allen Johnson (no relation) and red-hot Richie Stevens Jr.
"It feels good coming off the win in Chicago," said Coughlin. "In the heat on a pretty warm track here at Englishtown I'm real proud of our crew. They've been doing a great job. We saw the two cars in front of us get a little harry-carry but Jegs car is marching into the semis and that's definitely exciting. I want to thank all the E-town fans out here man, it's a great crowd."
The final round was over before it began when Coughlin the starting line too early and suffered a red-light foul start, handing the victory to Greg Anderson.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
TREBLE HAS THEM TREBLING - Craig Treble always seems to run well at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park and this year's race was no different. After qualifying in the top half of the field in the No. 8 spot with a 6.969 at 194.77 mph (Top Speed of the event) on his Suzuki GSXR, he drove through the field and into his 22nd career final round appearance. He defeated Chris Rivas, a red-lighting Angelle Sampey and her teammate, Antron Brown.
"I'm certainly going to try and stop that V-Rod that's all I can say," said Treble after his semifinal victory. "I can't tell you how much I enjoy coming to this race track. This is our fourth final at this track and it's always been good to me. The people out here are awesome and hey I'm just excited to be here.
"We've been doing a little bit of testing, our short times have been a little off, but we know we have some serious horsepower. We went 194.70 mph the other day, so it's there."
Treble stunned the Englishtown crowd when he outran Hines in the final round to win his 10th career NHRA national event title. Treble left first and never trailed, recording a 6.990 at 191.70 to defeat Hines' Losing 7.003 at 190.48 mph.
"We're in fifth in the points but it's still not a real comfortable cushion," said Treble after the win. "We fell back two places at the last race and moved right back up where we were before that. I'm looking at the points right here right now and I'm telling you what you better be on you’re A game the rest of the season if you want to make that cut to the Countdown."
HINES GOES TO BACK-TO-BACK FINALS- Andrew Hines made 41 test runs on his two Screamin Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod prior to last weekends Chicago event. Apparently it was just what the team needed. After a miserable start to the season, Hines is returning to the final round for the second weekend in a row after a dominating victory in Chicago last weekend.
Hines qualified in the No. 2 position with an outstanding 6.910 at 193.57 mph and mowed through the field to reach his 17th career final round with victories over Paul Gast, Geno Scali and Steve Johnson.
Unfortunately, Hines was unable to seal the deal in the final round, where he was outrun by Craig Treble wire to wire in a thrilling race.
ABOUT THAT NEW E.T. RECORD - The Pro Stock Motorcycle class has a history of extremely close, competitive racing. But to one high-profile rider it seems that the class in not 'evolving' in a nurturing way for the both the racers and the sport.
"Well, obviously the record is the new plateau for the category," said Steve Johnson, rider of the Snap-on Tools Suzuki. "I think the NHRA have a lot of safety issues with fuel. But as far as a competitive class and parity for what arguably could be one their most exciting classes to date … they've got a lot of work to do.
"There are too many different engines, and we've got 100-pound riders against 160-pound riders," Johnson said. "The class is going to have to evolve into lightweight jockeys. The team owner/rider program is going to pretty much disintegrate.
"That's the evolution of motorsports." Johnson said. "It's not Angelle's (Sampey, the E.T. record holder) fault that she's light and skinny but I just think there is a responsibility that the sanctioning body has to look at parity versus what sells tickets. Her winning races sells tickets. A 170-pound Michael Phillips winning a race doesn't sell tickets. Nothing against Michael Phillips, but that's ten percent of the entire vehicle weight on top of the motorcycle versus Angelle's, that’s underneath the motorcycle. The center of gravity has gone from the highest point to the lowest point, and when you're trying to compete with parity, there's no way to do that when you have those differences."
Johnson overcame any lack of parity on Sunday right on the starting line. He defeated Chip Ellis on a monster holeshot, running a 7.013 at 190.14 mph to take the win over Ellis' quicker 6.962 190.08 mph.
Johnson continued to remain deadly on the tree in the next round, leaving first on quarterfinal opponent Matt Smith with a .020 to.027 reaction time and advancing to second semifinal of the season with a 7.050 at 188.73 to Smith's 7.057 at 179.97 mph.
Johnson's day ended in the semifinals when he was defeated by a resurgent Andrew Hines.
ARMY STRONG - With much of the attention focused on U.S. Army Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey after her historic No. 1 qualifying national record run of 6.871-seconds, teammate Antron Brown quietly had a great weekend himself.
With Sampey losing on a foul start in the second round, Brown carried the Army flag into the semifinals after defeating Peggy Llewellyn and Karen Stoffer. It was Brown's first appearance of the semis this season and he was paired up against Craig Treble.
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
OAKLEY STAYING PUT - Squelch the rumor mill. Cease the speculation. Oakley has plans to be in the sport for at least two more years.
But even that confidence couldn’t stop team owner Don Schumacher from having a Maalox moment. For the second time this season, Schumacher has had a major sponsor sold.
Earlier this week, Luxottica agreed to buy Oakley for $2.03 billion in order to add sports sunglasses to the Italian company’s Ray-Ban and Ralph Lauren brands. This news comes just weeks after Daimler divorced Chrysler, selling 80% of the group to private investors.
“You learn in a hurry that you just deal with it,” said Schumacher. “I don’t think anything will change in the Oakley program. They are still going to deliver a high quality product. I look forward to continuing with Oakley.
“Time will tell. Everything changes down the road. At this point, you just deal with it. Everything is in place for the long term.”
Chrysler and then Oakley. If the government sells the U.S. Army, then Schumacher is in trouble.
“I don’t think that one will ever happen,” Schumacher said. “Things always change and you have to learn how to deal with change. Whether it’s sponsors, employees, or track conditions, you have to be willing to adjust to the changes.”
Because of corporate law, the deal caught everyone off guard. Schumacher was blindsided by the transaction. Even those normally “in the know” were likewise caught off guard.
Donnie Faulkner, who along with wife Holly operates the Rolling O store on the midway, said that a call from a friend was his notification.
“I got a call the day the deal was finalized, letting me know we’d been sold,” Faulkner said. “It had to be top secret. No one could know. If you did, then people could go to jail. Just ask Martha Stewart.”
Faulkner says to plan on Oakley being around for another two years.
“We’re going to be here and you can plan on the name being on the side of the car for at least two more years,” Faulkner said. “This really helps those people in the company who had the 401Ks, and in the long run it is good for all of us. Nothing will change within the company. The mindset is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Faulkner said the move would free Oakley founder Jim Jannard to concentrate on his new high tech movie camera business. He has reportedly fielded 2,500 orders in the first month of the new venture.
Will Oakley change direction? No, said Faulkner.
“Jim Jannard will remain as the chief Mad Scientist, and the management team will stay the same,” Faulkner said. “They don’t want to mess with the culture or the brand. The purchase was great because Oakley is on top of its game and not going anywhere.”
SPECTACULAR WEATHER - For years the NHRA race at Englishtown, once called the Summernationals, was considered one of the most brutal on the tour. The toll the heat and humidity took on the racers, fans, and the performance of the cars was legendary. Fast forward to 2007. With the race date changed, the conditions have improved drastically, and this year's race may be run in the best conditions ever experienced at legendary Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Saturday's weather featured clear skies, a nice breeze and temperatures in the 70-degree range.
SCHUMACHER ON TOP - US Army Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher qualified No. 1 for the fourth time this season and the 44th time in his career on Saturday at Englishtown. Schumacher thundered to a mark of 4.455 seconds at 331.94 mph during Friday's evening session. It was the afternoon pass that concerned Schumacher’s crew chief Alan Johnson the most, however.
"Alan wanted to make sure that we got down the track on that run of 4.602," Schumacher said. "Car after car spun the tires at half track. That right lane is a little tricky. We need to make sure we stay in that left lane tomorrow. We know how to get down it. I think that was a critical run to go down with the sun out. Although it'll probably be warmer tomorrow, but maintaining that left lane I think throughout the day is going to be work."
HEY! PICK UP THAT TRASH - Clay Millican, driver of the RATT "Back for More Tour" dragster, has been running quicker this season than any point in the six-time champion's career. Millican roared to a mark of 4.487 seconds, 330.39 mph Friday night to qualify in the No. 3 spot going into today's final pair of qualifying sessions. It's the third race this season that Millican's Mike Kloeber-tuned dragster has dipped into the magical 4.40-zone. He did it in Phoenix and again last week in Chicago. The Tennessee native had one word for the team's recent quick performances.
"Organization," said Millican. "We're better organized now than we ever have been. You wouldn't think keeping the trash picked up would make your car run better but it does. It's just everything; cleaner, better organized, that's the whole key to why this car is running like it is. It's crazy, but it's true."
Millican continued his quick pace during the third qualifying session, recording a 4.547 at 325.30 mph, second only to Brandon Bernstein's 4.538.
"Brandon and I are having fun but it's the crew chiefs who are absolutely unbelievable,” said Millican. 'If you think about what Tim Richards just did with Brandon's car and Mike Kloeber did with ours, that's some pretty dang good runs. I'm pretty jacked up I'll tell you that," said the excitable Tennessee native. He finished qualifying in the No. 3 position.
RATT TRIVIA - For you trivia buffs, RATT has sponsored a race car in the past. The band sponsored Dale Pulde's Buick Regal Funny Car in 1986 to promote their 'Greatest Hits' album and concert tour.
FOLEY DECIDES ON NEW JERSEY - Doug Foley was original going to return to Tulsa, Oklahoma, this weekend to complete the postponed IHRA event, but the team decided to go ahead and compete at Foley's home track here in New Jersey in his Mach Series Accelerator/Torco Fuels dragster. It's Foley's fifth race on the POWERade series tour this season and he's coming off of a semifinal appearance in Chicago.
"We ran a 4.58 last night and we figured we could step it up today," said Foley. "Then when we pulled up to the starting line we saw guys having issues so we decided to get ready for tomorrow. We see the track has been changing every once and a while on race day. So if we can go down there in this weather we'll be ready for tomorrow."
FOUR RUNS, THREE CHUTES - Last weekend's Top Fuel winner, Larry Dixon, made four solid runs during qualifying at Englishtown. Dixon ran a 4.58, 4.55, 4.62, and finished with a 4.63 to grab the No. 11 position going into eliminations.
"We made four good runs and the chutes came out three times," said Dixon after his final run. "It a great job by everybody on the team. The summer months were when we used to shine with Dick LaHaie, and obviously Donnie (Bender, crew chief) learned his craft from him. So we're trying to do what he taught us."
LUCAS STILL STRUGGLING - With only 17 Dragsters on hand at Englishtown it was probably the best opportunity for Morgan Lucas to start turning around an otherwise miserable season. Even with new crew chief Richard Hogan calling the shots, Lucas was still unable to make the field despite the soft 4.808 bump spot. Lucas was only able to muster a 4.917 and suffered his fifth DNQ in the first 10 races of the season.
"This year has been horrible," Lucas said. "Last year was a bad year because we were on fire all the time and this year we're still having problems. But we have a great team, this isn't they're fault. I'm starting to wonder if I'm just jinxed. You know what we're going to keep plugging away. We've got the rest of the year and what's the worst that could happen? We don't make the top eight? We still can win some races and have a lot of fun."
AS THE WRENCH TURNS – John Stewart admitted his confidence took a beating during the last couple of months. Released from the Morgan Lucas team earlier this year, he bounced around a few teams before finding a home within the Evan Knoll stable of race teams.
Following the Chicago event, Lucas and sponsor Knoll made wholesale changes to the two-car team by moving Melanie Troxel’s tuner Richard Hogan and a portion of the crew over to the Lucas car. That opened the door for Stewart to move over following a stint on Knoll’s personal dragster, assisting Mike Kloeber.
Stewart was living in a whirlwind, but recent successes working with Scotty Cannon and Kloeber proved encouraging. The end result was another shot at tuning. This time he’s assisted by veteran Lance Larsen.
“I was excited for the opportunity,” Stewart said. “This was a good move and I am reunited with my former crew and Melanie is a good driver. I’m happy with this.”
Troxel qualified 8th, handing Stewart a berth in the top-half during his debut.
“Lance asked me if I had butterflies going into this weekend,” Stewart said. “After working 35 years in this business, I just do the best I can. I’ve learned that you cannot show your emotions out here. Sure, I felt a bit of it out there. I just go out and do the best I can and it just usually works out.”
Stewart admitted his confidence resembled a rollercoaster since his release from the Lucas team earlier this season.
“Oh yeah,” Stewart said. “It was pretty tough early on and then I went over to Clay’s and we did well. Then I helped Scotty and he did well, and before I knew I was back feeling confident again.”
Stewart holds no punches when stating his strength is primarily in the clutch can.
“If I have a strong point, it is in reading the track and adjusting to it,” Stewart said. “In the old days, that was my forte. When the hot weather came around I licked my chops. I struggled with night back then but now I have equaled it out. The night is for qualifying but the day is for racing. You get that hot weather tune-up.”
Stewart credits time with Dick LaHaie for this trait.
“He taught me a lot in that area,” Stewart said. “I learned early that you use the Friday night to get in, but Saturday is for preparing for Sunday. That’s the day you gun for if you want to win on Sunday.”
FRIDAY FALLOUT - Cory McClenathan's engine explosion during Friday night’s qualifying run of 4.519 seconds stayed fifth quickest through Saturday's sessions. He races Doug Foley in Sunday's opening round.
A fallout of that mishap carried over to Saturday's first run.
After the Scott Griffin Motorsports Fram Top Fuel Dragster crew assembled a new motor, a fuel leak developed in the manifold and the crew needed time to track it down. By the time they did, "it was 10 minutes too late to make the run," said assistant crew chief Tony Shortall.
Shortall added that he wasn't able to find the cause of the fireworks after a postmortem on the engine. "But I think it was in the ignition," he said.
"The guys worked hard to get it back together," said McClenathan. "The fire burned everything off the car, every cable and every line. They'll go through everything (Saturday night) and we'll be ready to go Sunday morning."
TOMMY JOHNSON JR. ON A ROLL - Tommy Johnson Jr. enjoyed his best four qualifying efforts of the year en route to his first No. 1 position of the season at the ProCare Rx NHRA SuperNationals. Johnson drove his Skoal Racing Chevy Impala to the top spot with a run of 4.729 at 321.96 mph to nail down his eighth career pole position. He also enjoyed the quickest run in three of the four qualifying sessions.
"With the struggles we've had the early part of the season to gain consistency was the big thing," said Johnson after qualifying. "To have the car react to changes you make, which it wouldn't do earlier in the year, helps create consistency. To come out back the last run and put it (the set up) back, so to speak, and set low ET of the last session is a huge confidence builder going into tomorrow. To know you really do have all your problems solved and the car is back as a contender is a real confidence builder.
"We had some things that weren't responding," said Johnson, "and no matter what kind of change we made it wouldn't respond. We solved that problem and now you make a tuning change and it does exactly what you tell it. Earlier in the year we'd make changes and the car would run the same or it would go clear off in left field. They can't tune it unless it does what they tell them to. Now we've got it to respond to changes we make. It's back to the car we had in pre-season testing and at the end of last year when we were running pretty well and had a high confidence coming into the year. We've got that car back now. Now it's a good solid car we can tune."
I LOVE NEW JERSEY - John Force was full of excitement after qualifying the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang in the No. 2 position, his highest starting position of the season. "It's an exciting time," said Force. "Good time here at Englishtown, I love the place. Ol' Coil and Bernie are starting to make a little magic."
WORSHAM LAYS ONE DOWN- Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car driver Del Worsham, by his own admission, has had a miserable year so far. But things might be starting to turn around for Worsham in Englishtown. The former event winner laid down a 4.796 at 325.22 Friday night and then returned to run a remarkable 4.850 at 320.05 mph during the third qualifying session in the heat. He remained in the No. 9 position going into the final session.
"I'd probably say, based on the year we've had, that it wasn’t our quickest run but it was the best run we've made all year long," Worsham said. "The car felt great all the way down there. It's warm out and my dad (Chuck) and the entire team have worked awfully hard on this car. We needed a run like that under race-like conditions."
FRIDAY FALLOUT, PART 2 - Gary Scelzi had his strongest pass of the weekend, a 4.784-second lap at 333.49 mph, nixed by NHRA officials.
After Gary Densham in the opposing lane was disqualified when he crossed the centerline, hit the cones, and sent them flying into Scelzi's lane, triggering, according to NHRA officials, Scelzi's timing light prematurely, Scelzi's pass was disallowed. The two were near dead even at the finish line when the incident occurred, but without a backup system to check the accuracy of Scelzi's pass, Scelzi was relegated out of the field.
Scelzi's first-lap pass of 5.142/231.12 did not hold up to keep him in the top 16, and he was left with only two Saturday sessions, in the heat of the day, to get him in.
His first attempt produced a non-qualifying 5.041/284.21. Then, in his final try he powered the Mopar/Oakley Dodge straight down the quarter-mile to post a 4.925/309.13, good enough for No. 15, which he held through the completion of qualifying.
"We felt like we did our job Friday night and we would have been in the top eight, and that's what we try to do," said Scelzi, winner of the last national event in Joliet, Ill. "Unfortunately, Densham had a car-body problem and took out the lights. He felt horrible about it, and I said to him, 'Gary, It's not your fault.'
"It's just that we need to come up with a different way (to resolve these issues). Our sport is based on timing, so you would think we'd have the latest state-of-the-art stuff. I know it happened to me, but I have felt this way for a long time. Whatever. It's done.
"We're racing tomorrow. We're excited. We've got my old nemesis John Force in the first round. We're going to go up there and drive the hell out of this thing and hopefully knock him off."
As for the timing issue, "There's nothing we can do about it now. We can cry and bitch and moan all we want, but it's not going to fix the problem."
Scelzi holds the edge over Force, with a 12-8 round-win record. He also leads in final rounds: 3-1.
SATURDAY TEST SESSION – Here’s the scenario for points leader Ron Capps. You get in the field on Friday and test on Saturday.
After qualifying the Brut "Test Drive" Dodge Charger solidly in the field in No. 5 spot on Friday, Capps and crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch held a mini-test session in the final qualifying pass during the heat of the day.
Capps quickest qualifying pass of the weekend, a 4.775/319.90, came Friday night. His other passes produced a 4.971/300.46, a 4.932/305.22, and a tire-smoking 9.757/86.56 in the aforesaid "testing" round.
"We all had a talk," said Capps, who entered this event with a 140-point lead in the standings. "Ace was real conscious about wanting to try to see what the track would hold. One great thing about being in the field is having the chance to do what we did this afternoon.
"There was probably no chance anybody was going to move up to battle for the top four positions, because of the heat. But one thing we wanted to do was to find out whether at this time of day tomorrow, if we got after the car and the clutch a little bit more than usual, it would hold. It's still a newer car for us, so that's the mindset we were in.
"Having such a great first half of the year gives us this opportunity of being able to try things like that. That's what we did and it didn't make it.
"We know the car is consistent when Ace wants it to go down the track. It will be good for race day. It's nice to be able to have the luxury to try something. They say it's going to be six degrees warmer tomorrow. I always feel great about our team when race days are a bit warmer, especially having Ace as a crew chief."
Capps faces Tim Wilkerson in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday.
330 – Scott Kalitta may not have made it to the finish line every time under power, but he did so in a clean fashion. Prior to Friday’s oildown, he had logged 330 consecutive clean passes.
REDEMPTION - The No. 4 qualifying effort for Scott and the DHL team is his best in the Funny Car ranks since returning to the flopper class at the beginning of last season. Scott raced Funny Cars early in his 26-year quarter-mile, nitro career, but has spent most of his time behind the wheel of a Top Fuel dragster, where he won back-to-back NHRA world championships in 1994 and 1995
GENEROSITY - Mike Ashley gave someone a car today. The executive Vice President of Lend-America, awarded a 2007 Pontiac Solstice to Ed Roney, the winner of the Lend America Drive Away Your Dream Car sweepstakes. Roney was given the car in a ceremony at the starting line this morning.
"This is the most awesome thing that's ever happened to me," Roney said as he took a ride in his brand new car.
Roney, a resident of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, said he's not sure what he'll do with his new car.
"I haven't had a car like this in ages. I don't think I even remember how to drive a stick shift," he laughed.
The car was awarded as the grand prize in Lend America's Drive Away Your Dream Car sweepstakes, where thousands of entrants from across the country took a chance at winning the prize. The company held the sweepstakes as part of their official sponsorship of NHRA.
FIVE STRAIGHT FOR ANDERSON - Greg Anderson rebounded from a terrible outing in Chicago to qualify on the pole for the fifth straight race and seventh time in 2007. Anderson qualified on the pole last weekend in Chicago but destroyed two motors and lost in the first round for the first time all season. But Anderson came back strong in the Summit Racing Pontiac GTO during qualifying, grabbing the No. 1 spot for the 58th time in his career with a 6.592 at 210.57 mph, securing both ends of the track record.
"The car has been fantastic all year long," said Anderson. "I've had a very, very great shot every race I've been to this year to win. I certainly haven't won them all, but I've had a horse that could win them all. It's so far beyond what anyone as a driver could ask for. Some people get certain races were their strong and certain one's were there weak and they've got to make it when they're at a strong race.
"I can't say it enough times," Anderson said, "I'm a very, very lucky man. It's all because of the crew I've got surrounding me, team owner Ken Black, and the great sponsors I've got in Summit, Pontiac, and Mac Tools. I'm a lucky man.
"I struggled just a little yesterday and you want to go back and kick a stone but you're still No. 2. You think 'how spoiled are you?' I just expect perfection every time out there. It's tough not to get spoiled. It rebounded today. The conditions were good today but certainly not as good as last night. We came back and made two runs today that were fantastic. Got that pole back. Get to start in the No. 1 position again and that gives you confidence going into Sunday. I love that. I love to have the confidence to help me drive better. I've got a great hot rod. I can't complain at all."
BOTTOM FEEDER - Warren Johnson qualified for his 491st race on Saturday. Amazingly, it is only the sixth time in his career that he has started eliminations from the bottom half of the 16-car ladder. It is arguably one of the more amazing feats in all of motorsports.
MAD MAX - Max Naylor, driver of the popular Jagermeister Dodge Stratus, continues to run well this season. Despite not winning a single round of eliminations this year, the New Buffalo, Pa., resident has qualified at seven of nine races in the extremely tough Pro Stock class. Naylor recorded a respectable 6.641 at 209.04 mph on Friday, good enough to qualify in the No. 13 position with two sessions remaining on Saturday.
Naylor, who is featured on the ESPN television series 'American Dragster', was asked if having the TV crews following him around affected his routine and performance when working on the car.
"Initially some of the guys had concerns that while shooting they were going to be in the way," said Naylor, who is also the crew chief on the car. "We didn't find it to be any problem at all. I mean, it's like they're not even there."
Naylor is driving a new Rick Jones-built car in Englishtown this weekend.
"We picked up this car right before Chicago," Naylor said, "and then we tested it in Martin, Michigan, right after the Chicago race. This car is running really well, it just has some different characteristics than the other one. It's the same as the other one it just seems to run better. The 6.64 may hold up but if the weather is really good this morning I thing we're going to have to step up to stay in."
Naylor's pit area is known for having some great gatherings this season, but it's not all about partying to him.
"This is all about marketing," Naylor continued. "It's not all about racing. Racing is what we do but we market in a racing environment. In order to keep the folks at Jagermeister happy we market their product and that's the most important thing. Plus we have a lot of fun with the fans."
Naylor made a great run on his third qualifying attempt. His Dodge Stratus improved to a 6.624 at 208.71 mph to move him up two spots to the No. 9 position on the 16-car ladder. He finished qualifying in the No. 9 spot.
SECOND NOT SO BAD – Richie Stevens fell to No. 2 after posting a squirrelly 9.801/93.45 and a 6.632/208.39 under hot and sunny conditions today.
"Just too aggressive," he said of today's first run. "We were trying to go for it. We knew Greg was going to go up there and go for it so we had to go up there and do the same thing. I think we were just a little bit too aggressive. We backed it down for this last run. And that's what we're going to need to run tomorrow. A 6.63 and 6.62 should be good enough tomorrow to get around W.J.
"Not a bad weekend. No. 2 is nothing to complain about, although we would have liked to have had the No. 1 spot. It was looking good. It was the first time in a while that I had it, but that's the way it goes out here. Allen ended up No. 6, so we are both again in the top half, we're both keeping it alive, and we're both looking for a good day tomorrow.
"I'm just looking forward to going rounds tomorrow and gaining points to get myself where I need to be: in the top eight so we could make the cutoff, for that final Countdown to the Championship run."
Stevens faces Warren Johnson in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
TOWING ISSUES – When Dave Connolly dumps the clutch, it’s as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders or maybe the rear of his Torco Race Fuels Chevrolet Cobalt.
"We've got a problem," said Connolly. "There's something holding the car back . . . it's just not running right. It was like it was trying to tow the (track's starting line) tower with us."
Connolly did post a weekend best of 6.621 seconds at 208.07 mph Friday, and it held up as eighth best going into eliminations. He races Max Naylor (6.624 at 208.07 mph) in the opening round.
"Until we find the problem I can't say I'll feel at ease," Connolly said.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
FIRST IN THE 6.80's & RIGHT TO NO. 1—U.S. Army Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey made the quickest run in NHRA history during Saturday's first qualifying session. The three-time world champion recorded a mind-boggling 6.871 seconds at 194.21 mph, stunning her fellow competitors and the Englishtown fans. It was the first Pro Stock Bike run ever in the 6.80-zone and Angelle had a hard time believing what she had just accomplished.
"I can't even believe it," said Sampey. "I had to ask them five times if they were telling me the truth. Steve Tartaglia (crew chief) is the man. Let me tell you, he works his butt off along with the entire crew. I'm just so excited they did such a good job. I can't even believe it; I have to see the time slip to believe it."
Sampey had to run within one percent of the 6.871 to set the national record and earn 20 valuable POWERade points, and that's exactly what she did on her final qualifying attempt. Sampey blistered the Englishtown quarter-mile with a 6.927 at 191.38 mph to back up her 6.871 for the new national elapsed time record. All she has to do is leave the race with the record intact to earn the points.
Sampey scored her third No. 1 qualifying position of the season and the 42nd of her career. She'll face Mike Berry in round one, who helped equal the quickest Pro Stock Motorcycle field in history (Gainesville 2007) by anchoring the show with a 7.033 elapsed time.
"It's so unbelievable," exclaimed Sampey. "Steve Tartaglia is a genius. He's been working with NASA to adopt an unbelievable new product. We're going to put it on Antron's bike tomorrow and see if it will work. I just got to give a thumbs-up to our troops out there and thanks to all the fans that have been supporting us this weekend. And thanks to God for the beautiful weather he's given us. I think you're going to see a lot of bikes going really fast tomorrow."
Sampey added, "Actually, Chip Ellis came to my pits a little while ago with a chunk of weight and said 'here - you might need to borrow this.'"
COHEN UPDATE - Connie Cohen is still recovering after being released from Raritan Medical Center yesterday afternoon following a top end spill during the first round of qualifying on Friday. Cohen was taken by ambulance for observation but released soon after. A check of her bike following the incident showed no mechanical failure involved in the incident, but a stiff cross wind at the top end of the track might have contributed to the crash.
Ironically, Cohen was set to debut a new painting of her on her bike Saturday morning by artist John Guillemette. The beautiful painting was on display as Cohen recuperated in her motor home. The painting is the first in a series that Guillemette hopes to commission during the season.
"Last winter I met Connie and she approached me about doing a painting," said Guillemette. "She saw my display and gave me some good photos of her and I had wanted to start doing race bikes and NHRA race cars, so I decided to make Connie the first subject in the NHRA series."
MAKE IT A HABIT - Geico Suzuki rider Karen Stoffer goes all the way back to last year at Reading, Pa., to pinpoint the beginning of her string of six-second runs.
"I told the guys at Micky Thompson," Stoffer said. "Ever since we made a six-second run in Reading it seems to be like a habit. We keep doing it more and more and more and I kind of like it."
She's also made a habit of winning races, including victories in Gainesville and Atlanta earlier this season.
Stoffer finished qualifying in the No. 4 spot and will have lane choice over Englishtown resident, Eddie Krawiec in round one on Sunday.
THE ART OF COHEN -
Independent Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Connie Cohen will be the
recipient of a unique honor in Englishtown. Cohen will debut an "oil on
canvas" painting in her pit area on Saturday morning. The subject of
the painting will be Connie Cohen riding her Buell motorcycle, the same
bike she sold to points leader Matt Smith, for his teammate Chris Rivas
Unfortunately, Cohen suffered an accident on her first qualifying run. Her bike appeared to have a stuck throttle and she glanced off the wall in the shut down area before going into the sand and then into the net at the end of the track. She was alert and talking but transported to a nearby facility for observation.
BERRY GOOD - Pro Stock bike rider Mike Berry made a career-best run on his first qualifying attempt Friday with a 7.033 at 188.78 mph. We've been building on what we found in Chicago," said Berry, "and it looks like it's headed in the right direction. We'll do a lot more for tonight."
Berry slowed to a 7.058 at 188.65 mph on his second qualifying attempt and finished the day in the No. 13 position.
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
The beautiful weather in Chicago last weekend followed the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series tour to Englishtown for the 38th running of the annual New Jersey event. Gorgeous weather greeted the racers and fans on the opening day of professional qualifying with mild temperatures, plenty of sunshine, a stiff breeze and lots of puffy clouds filling the skies above.
ECONOMAKI PRESENTED LIFETIME NHRA MEDIA AWARD - Legendary American motorsports journalist Chris Economaki was given the Lifetime NHRA Media Award prior to the beginning of professional qualifying on Friday. Economaki, 86, was presented the award in recognition of his decades of providing superior coverage of motorsports with passion, dedication, and excellence. He is longtime editor of National Speed Sport News.
"I wouldn't miss this for the world," said Economaki. "This is my home state and it's nice to see all the people coming to the grandstands and see some action on the track. I'm sure you're going to give it to them this afternoon. They said come to Raceway Park, we have something for you, and I thought it was a reprimand. And here it is I'm getting a plaque. For that I thank you all."
SHOE SIZE ONE- It’s a scene that has become almost a regular fixture on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series tour. Tony Schumacher blasted to the No. 1 qualifying spot on Friday night with a track record elapsed time of 4.455-seconds at 331.94 mph. If the effort stands, it will be Schumacher’s fifth pole in nine races. He also has qualified in the top half of the 16-car field at every race this season.
Schumacher began the day with a stout pass of 4.578 at 318.24 mph in the U.S. Army dragster to move into the No. 3 position. But when the lights came on and the weather turned cool, Schumacher's Alan Johnson's tuned dragster really came to life.
"Alan came in here with a bit of a chip on his shoulder," Schumacher said. "I don't think he's ever won here with [Gary] Scelzi or Blaine [Johnson] and I know that's something he wants to change. You know, we have A.J. because of this place. We didn't qualify here in 2003 and that's when Dad went out and hired him. We've been on a pretty good roll since then."
WILL MEETS WITH SPONSORS - KB Racing, LLC Top Fuel dragster driver and Team Kalitta member Hillary Will spent last weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment world headquarters in Tallmadge, Ohio, for the annual Super Summit Show. Thousands of race fans and car enthusiasts were on hand for the weekend celebration of all things automotive. Summit Racing Equipment is a major associate sponsor on Hillary's 8,000-horsepower dragster.
TODD TRODS ON - J.R. Todd has had an unusual season, to say the least. The driver of the Skull Shine Dragster has won one race and appeared in three final rounds this season, all with different crew chiefs. His most recent final round appearance was in Topeka with crew chief Kevin Poynter making the tuning calls.
"I haven't had to change anything I've done in the past," Todd said. "All of that is out of my control. I just do my best to work with the crew chief. Kevin is a great fit for us now and I'm glad he's over here. Things are working out. The more runs he gets the more comfortable he gets with the tune up. He relies on me for information and I try to give him the best I can. We're both learning at the same time. He's new at the crew chief role and he's looking for some data from me and I'm still learning. It's only my second year driving Top Fuel so we're kind of learning together and it's working out. I'm looking for huge success.
REBOUNDING BUD - Brandon Bernstein failed to qualify last week for the second time this season, dropping to second in the points chase in the process. The three-time 2007 winner rebounded from his DNQ in spectacular fashion during Friday's first qualifying session, laying down a 4.538 at 328.54 to grab the provisional pole position in the red Budweiser Dragster.
TOMMY JOHNSON No. 1 ON FRIDAY- Tommy Johnson Jr. made two of his best runs of the season in the Skoal Racing Chevy Impala Funny Car to grab the provisional pole position on Friday. Johnson began the weekend with an outstanding 4.775 seconds at 315.93 mph run to grab the top spot in the first session, outrunning the next closest competitor by 12/100 of a second.
Johnson returned later in the day to claim the track elapsed time record of 4.729, 321.96, which, if it holds up will be only the third time he's qualified in the top half of the 16-car field this season.
"The last race we won was at Brainerd last season," said Johnson. "We ran well right out of the box there and continued to run well all weekend. To me, this weekend has that same feeling. We've run badly all year but we worked hard and figured out what those problems are, and at Joliet (Last weekend) it showed signs of life.
"And then we tested on Monday and saw even bigger things and I was really confident coming here that it was going to run this good. I'm not really surprised, but yet I'm definitely surprised.
"The run during the first session was the bigger emotion changer for us," continued Johnson. "To come out of the box and run 12-hundreth's better than No. 2 in the first session was big. I haven't seen that many smiles out of the crew in a long time. To come out and back it up on the next run, the guys needed that. It couldn't have come at a more opportune time. We're an hour and a half away from the corporate headquarters of US Smokeless Tobacco. Timing is everything and we couldn't have picked a better time to run great."
WHERE'S THE FAMILY? - Lucas Oil Funny Car driver Tony Bartone usually has quite a turnout of family, friends, and business associates when the native New Yorker races in Englishtown. So many guests, in fact, that he rents a suite in the tower. But this year the family of last year's No. 1 qualifier couldn't make the show.
"Unfortunately my immediate family went on a trip. This race was a week earlier last year and they had already committed to taking a cruise in the Mediterranean, so they won't be here. My mother and my brother are still here along with some of my business associates from New York Paving Company."
ASHLEY REMAINS POSITIVE - It would be almost impossible to meet a person who has a more positive outlook on life than Mike Ashley. His failure to qualify just one week after winning his first Funny Car national event is a perfect example.
"The DNQ for me was not a let down," said Ashley. "If we didn't get in the field because we couldn't run fast, that would have been a let down. But we had the fastest car during the two day sessions and we missed the night session. If you don't get in during the night session with this deal, chances are you won't get in. Look at Robert Hight - he had the same issue.
"The top four guys in points all have failed to qualify at the last two races, which is an amazing statistic," said Ashley. "It just goes to show you how tough it is. It wasn't a let down for me, it was a disappointment."
Racing at his home track in Englishtown was a fact that was definitely on Ashley's mind.
"Coming to my hometown track is exciting," Ashley said. "The main thing for me is to keep focused and to make sure that all the hoopla and all the excitement about me racing does not interfere with our game plan. Being fourth in the points, that's the big thing. I'd love to win here in front of my hometown fans but whatever God gives me I'll take and be happy. I'm just happy to be here."
TULSA OR ENGLISHTOWN? - Bob Gilbertson has been racing on both the IHRA and NHRA tours this season, but when last month's IHRA event in Tulsa was postponed and rescheduled for this weekend, the North Carolina racer was forced to make a choice. He chose Englishtown.
"We were trying to work something out," said Gilbertson, "but our sponsors, Autolite and Prestone, dictate what we do, so here we are."
Gilbertson opened qualifying with a 4.947 at 301.94 mph effort to grab the No. 6 position after the first session.
"We tried to slip it on down there," said Gilbertson. "Last time I was down here old Paul Smith made me walk all the way back because I oiled down the track. I've had enough of that over the years."
STEVENS STEALS TOP SPOT - Richie Stevens Jr. surprised everyone, including himself, at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park by devouring the Englishtown Pro Stock track record during the second qualifying session. Stevens grabbed the provisional No. 1 spot when he drove his Team Mopar Dodge Stratus to a stunning 6.598 at 209.20 mph, stealing the top spot from Greg Anderson with the quickest run of his career.
"The night session is very important, especially for the Pro Stock cars," Stevens said. "We run naturally aspirated engines with carburetors and whenever the session is the coolest it's probably going to be our best and the night session is always our best. It's hard to make it work sometimes because you only get one good night session and we kind of have to take advantage of it. Luckily we did. We ran a 6.59, which is awesome for us and it put us on top. It felt like a really good run, it was perfect from A to B. Roy Johnson, Allen's dad, has been working real hard at the shop and to get that for him feels real good and I'm proud to do it. So hopefully it will stick for tomorrow and it won't get too cool and we can hold on to it."
If he does hold on it will be Stevens’ fourth career No. 1 qualifying position.
JOHNSON ALMOST PERFECT - Allen Johnson, driver of the J&J Racing Team Mopar Stratus, was more than a little pleased with his opening 6.624 at 208.46 mph, which qualified him in the No. 2 spot.
"That was a perfect run through third and fourth gear," said Johnson. "It was a little loose down track, I don't know if there was something on the track or what. Hopefully that Mopar will stay No.1 until tonight at least."
Johnson returned to run a consistent 6.621 at 208.59 mph to finish the day in the No. 5 position.
ANDERSON BEGINS WITH TRACK RECORD RUN - Greg Anderson ruined Allen Johnson's stellar run when he recorded an outstanding pass of 6.609 at 209.62 mph to smash both ends of the Pro Stock track record and grab the provisional pole away from Johnson following the first session. He'll be the last Pro Stock car to make a qualifying run Friday night.
"Qualifying last is great," said Anderson, "it means you did something good the run before. It felt pretty good. I think we hit it pretty close on that one. We didn't think the race track would be that great right now, we thought it would be great tonight, but obviously it felt pretty good there. You could see some 6.50s tonight, it could be exciting."
COOL WEATHER FAVORS COUGHLIN - There's no much that Jeg Coughlin enjoys more than cool weather at a race track that is near sea-level.
"When the weather is agreeable, this Old Bridge racetrack can be great," said Coughlin, who turns 37 Saturday. "From what I hear, it's been real hot here for the last few weeks so I think we got lucky and got a bit of a break with these real pleasant conditions and obviously our Chevy Cobalt liked it and we were able to make a great run.
"We started off with a 6.67, which wasn't our best effort, but we were able to learn from that run and make the necessary adjustments for tonight. We all know how important it is to rise to the occasion in the Friday night session and the boys had the car ready. It's a good thing because I heard the PA and I knew we'd been bumped out of the field by the time we got up there so the pressure was on a little bit."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
HINES CONTINUES TO DOMINATE - Chicago Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Andrew Himes picked up where he left off in Englishtown, setting the track elapsed time record on his first qualifying run with a 6.932 at 190.59 mph to grab the top spot after one session.
"We've got some great weather conditions here in Englishtown," Hines said. If I could just remember how to ride like in Chicago I could run a lot quicker. I just want to thank the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines team for giving me the bike. We're on a roll right now, let's keep on steamrolling."
The cross wind was a bit of an issue for Hines.
"I was definitely fighting that thing all the way down the track," Hines said. "I have to go back and make some axle adjustments to get this thing to go right down the groove and we'll be a team to be reckoned with."
Hines returned for his second qualifying run and made the second quickest run in NHRA history with a 6.910 at 193.57 mph to nail down the provisional No. 1 position with two sessions remaining on Saturday.
"Englishtown is a great place to race because it's so close to sea level and you get great track conditions here," Hines said. "It just all depends on what Mother Nature wants to throw at you. Luckily we have some great weather this weekend. It's like a playground for everyone in Pro Stock. My team's just done an awesome job making my bike consistent. That's been the key here and in Chicago last week. All the testing we did before Chicago is the reason our team has done a one-eighty.
The team adjusted their Harley-Davidson to allow for the crosswind that affected Hines' first run.
"We looked at the video and saw which way the bike wanted to move with the wind," explained Hines. "We made the proper adjustments so it would go straight down the track and you could have taken a string and put it from the starting line to finish line and that's what it felt like. I didn't have to make a single correction. That's where those runs come from, when the rider can just get on there and go and just worry about tucking in and hitting shift points."
WELCOME BACK, SHAWN - Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Shawn Gann returned to action in Englishtown now that he's recovered from a pit bike accident earlier this season. Gann finished the first session qualified 15th with a 7.117 at 189.20 mph
"It feels great to be back, thank you," said Gann politely. "I swear I couldn't wait. I was so anxious before we ran it wasn't even funny. We just made a mild pass just to make sure I was doing well. So it looks like everything is okay."
Gann returned and improved to a 7.066 at 189.47 mph to finish his first day back in competition in the No. 15 position.
WHERE'S THE WEIGHT? - With the Pro Stock Buell's required to add 10 pounds of weight prior to the Chicago event to help equalize the competition, you have to wonder where they put it.
"We put it all in the front," said Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader, Matt Smith. "We're heavy already, so we put it all up front so we can try to get the balance of the bike a little better. Almost everybody puts the weight near the front to help the bike 60-foot better."
LLEWELLYN HOPES TO CONTINUE HER MOMENTUM - Peggy Llewellyn entered the SuperNationals fresh off of her career-best performance in Chicago, where she advanced to the semifinals and moved up to eighth in the Countdown to the Championship.
"It gives me awesome confidence," said Llewellyn. "And that's what it's going to take, going lap after lap. You gain the confidence to go up there and do my same process every time. It helps to get me comfortable on the bike and to be consistent.
"That 6.98 we ran in Chicago has been there for a while," said Llewellyn. "It's a testament to my team, they've been working with me and giving me the bike, it's just up to me to shift it right and do what I need to do. Whenever you have a bad run, even during qualifying, George (Bryce) has taught me how to exercise my mental preparation and put that run behind me and in the past. Let's do it again, that's why you get four qualifying passes. It does takes a while to get used to putting a bad run behind you but now I understand we're he's coming from and at this level of racing you have to put that stuff behind you."
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
STREAKS ON A PLANE! - Qualifying streaks are more than just a number. They also stand for teamwork, commitment, and consistency, and serve as a source of pride for any racing organization. Just ask anyone who has had his or her consecutive qualifying streaks broken recently. Funny Car driver John Force ran his total to an unthinkable 395 consecutive events, going almost 20 years before failing to make the field in Las Vegas in April. To further demonstrate how quickly things have changed this year, look to Tommy Johnson Jr., who missed the field at the next race in Houston after qualifying for 66 consecutive races. Soon to follow was the most consistent car in the class over the last two seasons, the Brut Dodge driven by point leader Ron Capps. Capps missed the cut and broke his streak at 53 races in Topeka, partly because of changes made to the car’s chassis (which the crew sights as a non-factor) and the fact that rain limited qualifying to three sessions.
Robert Hight, driver of the quickest and fastest Ford Mustang in the world, missed the first race of his career at Chicago after qualifying seventeenth for the 16-car field.
One week prior to Chicago, at Topeka, Hight experienced a nasty fire after his quarterfinal victory during eliminations. The team was never able to sort out their new car at Route 66 Raceway, and the tricky racing conditions ended Hight's qualifying' streak at 53 events.
In an even odder twist of fate, Mike Ashley failed to qualify at Chicago just six days after securing his first NHRA Funny Car national event victory in just his third career final-round appearance.
"It's been a strange year with all the big names not qualifying for different races," said Capps. "But it's kind of okay because of how the new countdown system works. Of course, we all want to win every event for our sponsors, but in order to win the championship our main concern will be to make sure we're in the top eight after 17 races.
"We've had one DNQ and we're still leading by 140 points at this time going into Englishtown,” Capps said. “John Force is 17th in points and I bet he's not worried about the championship right now. What he's looking at is No. 8 and with 20 points earned for each round win, how many rounds out he is. And he's really not that far out of being in the No. 8 spot.
"Everybody has their own goals at this point and starting with Englishtown, it's going to be six races in a row for us, and the last three are part of the grueling Western Swing.
"So a lot of things are going to happen. And, they are not going to pan out until we're done with this six-race swing. After that, there's only two races left before Indy, and they are Brainerd, Minnesota, and Reading, Pennsylvania."
The man who now holds the longest qualifying streak in Funny Car is Capps' Don Schumacher Racing teammate Gary Scelzi. Winner of two events in 2007, Scelzi is the only driver to win from the No. 1 position in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. The former four-time NHRA champion holds the current qualifying streak at 28 races.
BERNSTEIN’S ONE-NIGHT STAND - The Buffalo Chip campground near Sturgis, S.D., will be rockin' and rollin' on August 8 when the boys from Budweiser Racing – Brandon Bernstein, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Clark – take the stage during the “Bud Racing One Night Stand.”
Bernstein, Earnhardt, and Clark will be hangin' with the Buffalo Chippers, riffing about everything from riding bikes to rubbin' fenders to pullin' 5G's down the quarter-mile. Sandwiched between the lovely ladies of Hawaiian Tropic and the rockin' sounds of Velvet Revolver, the "Bud Racing One Night Stand" will be Rally Week's can't miss show.
Hosted by ESPN's Marty Smith, Bernstein, Earnhardt, and Clark will swap stories and take questions submitted by the crowd. The night revs up at 8:30 p.m. with the Hawaiian Tropic Pageant, followed by the Bud Racing boys at 9 p.m., and Velvet Revolver on stage at 10:30 p.m.
Another highlight of the evening will be the presentation of a Budweiser custom motorcycle to Bernstein. The bike, commissioned by Budweiser and built by Clark, owner of The Cycle Xchange in Matthews, N.C., will have special drag racing-type features incorporated into it, one of which is emotionally significant to Bernstein.
The TCX SS330 has a rear tire reminiscent of a drag racing slick, a 17-inch tall by 330 mm wide rear tire and a 23-inch by 130 mm front tire. The bike also sports an induction housing which resembles the supercharger intake on Bernstein's Budweiser/Lucas Oil Top Fuel car. The exhaust resembles that on a Top Fuel car as well.
The hand grips will carry the signature of Bernstein's friend, Eric Medlen, engraved on a section of tow rod. Medlen died in March as a result of injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla.
“At Gainesville Sunday night before Eric had his accident, we were looking at renderings of this bike and talking about what special features could be incorporated into it,” Bernstein said. “Eric was building his own bike, and he insisted I take a section of tow rod and incorporate it into the hand grips like he was planning to do. At the time I didn't want to ‘steal' his idea, but after we lost him, I thought there couldn't be a better tribute to him, and I knew he'd be happy to have us use his concept.”
WIERDNESS CHECK - There is little doubt the new Countdown to the Championship format is affecting the drivers’ mindset as the season progresses. It the past, failure to qualify for a race would have usually been seen as a devastating deathblow to a chance for a title. But under the new format, Top Fuel driver Brandon Bernstein seems to remain calm and confident despite experiencing his second DNQ of the season in Chicago. The Budweiser dragster is still second in the points battle going into the six-week NHRA summer torture tour beginning in Englishtown. Bernstein won three out of four national events prior to his DNQ in Chicago. But his up-tempo attitude demonstrated plenty of confidence from the youthful driver who has some dark memories of the treacherous E-town quartermile.
“I don’t know what to expect any more,” said Bernstein. “We have a terrific and very talented team and we persevere. But this year has been just plain weird. We’ve seen the longest qualifying streaks come to an end and it seems that many of the stars of the sport have found themselves on the outside looking in on race day.
“We’ve been fortunate to have won more Top Fuel events this year than any other team thus far, and we’re second in point standings, only 31 points out of the lead. This year was the first time in our career we missed a show on Sunday and then it happened again. Everyone is vulnerable it seems. Despite the lows, the highs have included winning three events and we’ve led the point standings twice this year.
“The key is to get a good baseline run in the first round Friday and then run a strong number Friday evening which is going to be the coolest session of the weekend. Now that we’re coming into the hot summer days, you probably won’t have an opportunity to better your numbers on Saturday so you have to use the Friday night run to make sure you get seeded into the top 16. You just need to use Saturday to work on your race day tune-up.
“I hope this is the year that we’re able to turn our luck around at Englishtown and drive to the finals."
Other Top Fuel drivers who have experienced at least one DNQ this season include Doug Kalitta, Whit Bazemore, David Grubnic, Morgan Lucas, Clay Millican, and Bob Vandrgriff Jr.
LOOKING FOR HIS FIRST - Defending POWERade Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher has five first round loses and only one win to his credit this season, yet the Illinois native is hardly ready to throw in the towel. Schumacher's Alan Johnson-tuned dragster has qualified No. 1 four times and the car has plenty of power to run with anyone on the tour.
Having enjoyed a weekend off following the race in Chicago, Schumacher will now “tour” the likes of Englishtown, N.J., Norwalk, Ohio, Bristol, Tenn., Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif., over the coming six weeks before the next off-weekend pops up on the schedule.
At Raceway Park, Schumacher will be attempting to place his U.S. Army dragster in victory lane for the first time since the ACDelco Gatornationals in March.
“I certainly hope we can do just that,” said the four-time champion. “But it probably won’t be an easy task given my career results at Englishtown.”
Since turning pro full-time in 1999, the Chicago native has never won at Raceway Park or even advanced to a final round.
“It clearly has not been one of my favorite tracks over the years, but a win this time around can change my opinion pretty quickly,” he added. “Of greater importance, is winning another race for our soldiers. We need to take care of our brave men and women.”
WANTED: TURNAROUND - Doug Kalitta had one of the baddest cars on the planet last season, but personnel changes and a number of other factors have made the 2007 season a struggle so far for the 29-time national event winner.
“We have our eye on eighth place right now,” Kalitta said. “We’re in 12th, but we’re only 85 points away from that all-important No. 8 spot. It is certainly within our reach. Our car has shown some big improvements in the past couple of races, so I think this swing of races will be really good for us.”
This season the NHRA instituted the Countdown to the Championship points format for all of the professional classes. At the end of the first 17 events, only the drivers in the top eight in points in their respective classes will be eligible to win the season championship.
“We’ve had some great performances at Englishtown,” Kalitta said. “The weather looks pretty good for this weekend, so hopefully we and the fans will see some more big numbers from our Mac Tools car.”
YEAH I KNOW … - “The next six races are going to tell the big story,” says top fuel driver Cory McClenathan, “not only for the fans but for the racers as well. The Countdown to Eight part of our new championship format has eight races remaining, so the next six weeks put a whole new spin on things.”
Indeed they do. Only the top eight drivers after the first 17 events remain in title contention. And that number drops to four after four more races, leaving the surviving quartet to decide things in the season’s final two races.
McClenathan and his Scott Griffin Motorsports FRAM Top Fuel team sit ninth in series points (419) after nine outings, but right now no one’s position is safe in the top eight. He is two rounds out of sixth (at 20 points per round win) and four rounds behind fifth spot as the team prepares to launch the important sextet this weekend.
“We’ve done fairly well at Raceway Park in the past and we are looking forward to getting after it,” said McClenathan, who has been runner-up there three times (1992, 1998, 2004). “We really need to win rounds. We want to get ourselves in a good qualifying spot and have lane choice on Sunday. We are counting points and the long stretch on the road makes everything a lot more interesting.
“We don’t necessarily have to win races as much as we need to be consistently winning rounds and trying to make it to at least the semifinals. Getting into the finals and winning a couple races would be that much better. Heck, I’ll take one round win compared to a first-round loss.”
IS EIGHT ENOUGH? - David Grubnic missed the 16-car field at Chicago for the first time in 78 races, dropping one spot to eighth in the NHRA's Countdown for the Championship, and it didn't sit to well with the Aussie racer.
“We’re not at all happy with eighth. We want to move up,” Grubnic said. “I think these next six races are going to be critical as far as points go. Our Zantrex-3 team needs to take advantage of these consecutive races. It is easier to build momentum when you are racing every week, so we need to get our car running its best now and just keep producing strong, consistent runs. If we can do that, we’ll win some rounds and move up in the points.”
REALIZING THE IMPORTANCE - Coming off a stellar rookie season, Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd has been able to shed the dreaded sophomore jinx so far this season with one victory in three final rounds, despite going through three different crew chiefs in the process.
“Looking at how well we ran at the end of last year,” he said, “if we can duplicate that this year, I’m sure we stand a good chance of being in the final four and maybe the last two at the end of the year.”
It was just about a year ago when Todd, then an unknown rookie, began to attract attention. After knocking off the reigning and eventual 2006 champion Tony Schumacher in the final rounds at Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., last July, the spotlight was focused on Todd.
Over the final 12 races, Todd won three times, finished second once, was a semifinalist three times, piled up enough NHRA POWERade Series points to leap from 15th to eighth and take home Rookie of the Year honors.
“We are looking forward to it,” says Todd, of Avon, Ind. “Six weeks is going to be long stretch, and I’m sure a lot of tracks will be hot and slick. It's going to be tricky, but we are up for a challenge. Hopefully, we come out on op when it’s all said and done.”
“It all depends how you start the swing,” Todd said. “When the car is running well, the morale is up and you are looking forward to going to the next event. We are 76 points – about four rounds – out of the lead and no one is running away with (the championship race). The two guys up front (Rod Fuller and Brandon Bernstein) are jockeying back and forth. There are a lot of big names not in the top eight yet. After this six-race swing, I think you are going to see who is going to make that Countdown for sure.
“If we go out and win a race, we are right back in the hunt, but to have the points lead at this time of year really doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t get you anywhere until it’s time for the Countdown cutoff. And then it’s time to focus on winning as many races as you can.”
MUST DEFEND THIS HOUSE - Funny Car points leader Ron Capps is eager to defend his 2006 Funny Car victory at this weekend's ProCare Rx NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, NJ. Capps is coming off of a runner-up finish in Chicago last weekend, rebounding nicely from a DNQ two weeks earlier in Topeka.
"It's been a strange year with all the big names not qualifying for different races," he said of DNQs by second-in-points Robert Hight, 14-time NHRA champ John Force and speed demon Mike Ashley, among others. "But it's kind of OK because of how the new Countdown works. Of course, we all want to win every event for our sponsors, but, in order to win the championship, our main concern will be to make sure we're in the top eight after 17 races.
"We've had one DNQ and we're still leading by 140 points at this time going into Englishtown. John Force is 17th in points and I bet he's not worried about the championship right now. What he's looking at is No. 8 and, with 20 points earned for each round win, how many rounds out he is. And he's really not that far out of being in the No. 8 spot.
"Everybody has their own goals at this point and, starting with Englishtown, it's going to be six races in a row for us, and the last three are part of the grueling Western Swing.
"So, a lot of things are going to happen. And, they are not going to pan out until we're done with this six-race swing. After that, there's only two races left before Indy, and they are Brainerd, Minn., and Reading, Pa."
WHOSE HOUSE IS IT? - Mike Ashley is no stranger to the quarter-mile drag strip at Old Bridge Raceway having started his drag racing career at the legendary track behind the wheel of a nitrous-powered Top Sportsman car. ,
"I've got a lot of great memories from this place, and I'm really excited to be racing here this weekend. Since our unfortunate DNQ in Chicago I couldn't wait to get back to the track. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's not if your get knocked down it's if you get up, and our team is ready to get up," Ashley said.
Ashley and his Gotham City Racing team have been on a steady and consistent march in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, winning the event held recently in Topeka, Kansas and setting numerous track speed records en route to his current No. 4 position in the points chase. Early in the season at Las Vegas, Ashley recorded the fastest speed ever in a nitro Funny Car at 334.32 mph.
"There's no doubt we've had one of the baddest hot rods out there during the past several races, and [crew chief] Brian Corradi and the guys are ready to start this next stretch of six races in a row the same way we've been running all year - consistent and fast," he said.
This weekend begins a six out of six weekend stretch of championship drag racing.
"With so many events in a row, everyone on the team will be forced to pace themselves to keep focused, but I'm confident that all of our guys are up to the challenge," he said. "We've learned that the way to win championships is to qualify well and win rounds."
Ashley is a two-time world champion in the AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge, winning back-to-back titles in 2004-2005 before making the jump to nitro in 2006.
"Because this track is so close to my home on Long Island, I'll have a lot of family, friends and employees at the race this weekend, and it'll be great to show them the exciting world of NHRA drag racing," he said.
GET IT RIGHT! HIATUS NOT RETIREMENT - Four-time NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series champion Gary Scelzi has won 35 national events in his 11-year professional career: 25 in Top Fuel and 10 in Funny Car, including the last event of his 2007 "On Hiatus Tour" (thank you Ron Kremer of the Joliet Herald) at Route 66 Raceway on June 10.
But the driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T for Don Schumacher
Racing, who earlier this year announced he would take a sabbatical from the
sport at the end of this season, has never won at Old Bridge Township Raceway in
So, this weekend's ProCare Rx SuperNationals at this venerable site is on his hit list, as he prepares for the beginning of a brutal six-race swing in the middle of his already extremely hectic schedule.
"My schedule lately is ridiculous," said Scelzi, who still holds the
Funny Car speed record at
"We ran the celebrity race, then Sunday afternoon I went to Kansas to get ready to race the Michael Ross Memorial Foundation modified race this Wednesday night and do the golf tournament with Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Ron Capps and all these guys, including Dave Marcis, the old NASCAR guy who used to wear wingtip shoes when he raced his car. It's been wide open ever since.
"Then I'll get to Englishtown this weekend. I gave that race away last year," said Scelzi, who was runner-up to his teammate and Funny Car points leader Ron Capps in 2006. "I pretty much handed it to Capps on a silver platter, being late on the line, and that one was frustrating. It's a race I hadn't won before, and we had the car to do it and I blew it.NO DOUBT ABOUT IT – You can close your eyes and sometimes you can’t tell what stop you are on the 23-race NHRA POWERade tour. When you get to Englishtown, there’s no doubt about it.
For Gary Densham, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park brings back some great memories, like being his first stop at an east coast racetrack and winning two of its prestigious events. He’s been back so many times since then he’s lost count.
“Old Bridge is one of those tracks that’s been pretty good to this old boy,” Densham said. “The track is like an old, comfortable pair of shoes. It just feels good. And if the weather is good, it can be bad fast.”
Another thing that was tough for the former school teacher from Bellflower, Calif., to understand were the differences in philosophy between the east and west coasts.
“I’ll never forget my first trip here,” Densham said. “We stopped to get sodas and chips before we got to the track and ran smack dab into the middle of two 80-year-old women having a major disagreement over the ingredients they were using to make pizza. We Californian’s are a bit more laid back than that. But I think it’s indicative of how fiercely competitive the folks are in this part of the country and something this California boy can relate to.”
TJ’S TIMING - This season's bizarre set of circumstances regarding the racing scheduled, coupled with the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship has created quite an exciting set of circumstances for the drag racers and the fans.
“I think the key to this year's Countdown to the Championship is having your performance peak at the right times," Johnson said. "With how our car ran in Joliet, I think we have the Skoal Racing Impala's performance where it needs to be to start this six in a row stretch off on the right foot.”
THE OTHER ROCKSTAR - Del Worsham may not be a rock star but he lives a parallel life to some degree. With the travel, performances, autograph sessions and traveling in a tour bus, the similarities are there. Over the next six weeks Worsham and his crew are going to get a real taste of the rock start life.
"It's going to be interesting, and we're going to have to think long and hard about how we all handle this in terms of the race cars and the people," Worsham said. "The days at the track are hard work, but now we're adding in some serious over-the-road travel in-between, pretty much back and forth across the country, without any time off. Our guys are going to have to take care of themselves, while they also take care of the car.
"I've heard that song (I Wanna Be A Rockstar by Nickelback), and it always has reminded me of being out on the road, because the only time that is too short is the time we get to actually race the car. We'll be putting in long hours at the tracks, long days and nights on the road, and then we get to actually race the car for less than a minute at each event. Rock stars have it better than us, because they get to play for a couple of hours every night."
"This is it, between Englishtown and Reading, and that's just about exactly two months," Worsham said. "It's all coming down to these eight races, and when you start racing back-to-back like this, the time just seems to fly. Before we know it, the field is going to be set for the Countdown, and we're going to put every ounce of our energy into being a part of it.
"We're in the eighth spot now, but you can still throw a blanket over everyone from seventh to 17th. Remember, that's John Force down there in 17th, but he's only six rounds behind us. That's nothing. That's less than a round a race between now and Indy. This is really going to be a very hard-fought deal. It's going to be huge, and I hope the fans get into it, because it's a going to be very exciting."
ATTENTION GRABBER - Englishtown was once known as the Summernationals, one of the most grueling races on the NHRA tour. Now that its been moved from July to June it plays a new role as the kick-off to the NHRA's tortuous 2007 six-race summer swing.
“We used the week off to get ready for the upcoming stretch of races,” said Tony Pedregon. “I think it’s going to be a good stretch for us. We’ll stay active and focused on getting this Q Power Funny Car back to the winner’s circle.”
After qualifying 12th and advancing to the quarterfinal round in Chicago, Pedregon would like nothing more than consistent performance that leads to victory.
“The new engine and clutch combination is producing more power and we are finding it not as forgiving,” said Pedregon. “It’s taken us several races to really sort through the issues and I think we have the solution. At Chicago, we obtained some of the most accurate analysis of the data that will help us improve this set up. We are looking forward to continue improving our consistency heading into Englishtown.”
KENNY B AND THE ETOWN LEGEND - Kenny Bernstein, driver of the Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Funny Car, has won more fuel races at Englishtown than any other driver in competition. Bernstein has won the event four times in Funny Car ('85,'86, '87 '89) and three times in Top Fuel ('93,'01,'02) easily making it the track where he has enjoyed the most success. Bernstein is hoping to add another victory this weekend.
“Jimmy Walsh (crew chief) and Danny DeGennaro (assistant crew chief) are making strong performance strides and we’re gaining consistency,” said Bernstein. “We are very encouraged and are optimistic about our chances at Englishtown.
“The Funny Car category is extremely competitive, so we don’t want to go too far out on a limb with predictions, but for some reason we’ve done well at Englishtown through the years. We hope there’s some of that “mojo” from our past success hanging in the air for us there.
“Additionally we are less than four rounds out of the countdown to eight, which is the first level for the new championship chase format. There are eight events, including this one, before the countdown is set so we have ample time. But every race is a full-on dogfight to earn a position in the field for starters, and then you have to battle for every round win.
“And one thing that’s most bizarre about this year is that because the fields are so tough, nobody dominates every event and from time to time last week’s winner, or the point leader doesn’t qualify. It may be the wackiest season in memory.
“We’ve had our share of early-season struggles, and we’re hopeful that we’ve paid our dues and can continue our climb up the point ladder.”
DOMINATION - KB Racing has dominated the first nine races thus far in the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Either Greg Anderson or teammate Jason Line has had a Summit Racing Equipment Pro Stock Pontiac GTO in the final round at eight of the nine events. Anderson has gone to five final rounds, winning all five; while Line has advanced to three final rounds, winning one. That’s six wins in nine races, with two runner-ups.
A three-time POWERade champ, Anderson had a rare falter at the last race and hopes to return his Summit Racing Pontiac to the winner’s circle this weekend.
Anderson will be after his third win on the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park quarter-mile. Anderson won here in 2002 (over Jeg Coughlin) and 2003 (over Darrell Alderman). In fact, KB Racing has had a driver in the winner’s circle for the last five consecutive years as Anderson’s teammate put his KB Racing LLC Summit Racing Equipment Pro Stock Pontiac GTO in the winner’s circle in 2004 (over Kurt Johnson), 2005 (over Warren Johnson), and 2006 (over Dave Connolly), becoming the only Pro Stock driver to win three consecutive races at Raceway Park.
Additionally, Anderson has earned the No. 1 qualifying position at Raceway Park twice (2003 and ’04). For the season the 46-year-old driver, who was born in Duluth, Minn., and now lives in the Charlotte, N.C. area, has collected five top spots, including the last four races in a row.
“We’ll be in good shape for Englishtown,” said Anderson. “I like the track at Englishtown, but somehow Jason has had the car to beat the last three races there. I’ve put my Summit Pontiac in the winner’s circle a couple of times there but not for a few years, so it’s my turn to have some fun this year. After the little hiccup last race I can’t wait to get back to action.”
After nine events, Anderson leads the POWERade Pro Stock standings with 836 points, which also puts him in the lead for the first segment of the Countdown to the Championship. Line is fourth with 593 points, 243 behind his teammate. Sandwiched in between Anderson and Line is Jeg Coughlin in second with 657 points (-179) and Coughlin’s teammate Dave Connolly, with 607 points (-229), in third. Rounding out the top five is Allen Johnson in fifth with 454 points, 382 off the lead.
IT’S MY PARTY - Jeg Coughlin enters this weekend's race in Englishtown fresh off of his first Pro Stock victory of the season last Sunday and he'll be hoping to continue with his winning momentum while celebrating his birthday this weekend at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
"We're certainly on a high right now," said Coughlin, who will celebrate his 37th birthday Saturday. "(Team owner) Victor Cagnazzi had a vision to put together a race team that would contend for the championship year after year and he's arrived at that point after an incredible amount of hard work and determination. Dave (Connolly, teammate) and I are just the lucky guys who get to drive the cars.
"This is Victor's home track. He's a New York guy. So we definitely want to give him a weekend to remember because I'm sure all of his friends will be on hand. Plus, we have new marketing sponsors with Cisco Systems and they're all coming down from the city to see drag racing for the first time so it'll be awesome to do well for them."
FETCH MY DOAN’S PILLS - An aching back will keep first-year Pro Stock driver Bill Windham on the sidelines this weekend.
“I’m disappointed because I was looking forward to racing at Englishtown,” Windham said, “but my back has been hurting in an area where I have had disc surgery, and my surgeon suggested I skip this race to see if the soreness goes away.”
Windham’s performances in the National Tire and Battery Chevy Cobalt have improved over the last several races as he continues to get more comfortable driving the car.
“I need to keep getting seat time, but it will have to wait,” Windham said. "I have an appointment with my surgeon on Friday and am hoping I will be ready for the race at Norwalk."
LOVE THE NIGHT TIME - Pro Stock racer Erica Enders just missed making the cut at the most recent NHRA event in Chicago, but the driver of the Enders Racing LLC Dodge Stratus has been working hard with veteran crew chief David Nickens on their summer set up, which some feel comes down to just one qualifying shot, during the evening session.
"The numbers speak for themselves," said Nickens, a former world champion with more than 30 years of drag racing experience. "Take the last race in Chicago, which is really the first race where we had much hotter temperatures when the sun was out. Only three drivers made runs in the other three qualifying sessions that would have been good enough to make the field. Everyone else got in on Friday night. That says it all."
"You only get four passes at a race so you can't afford to give any of them up, which is what we've been doing. And now that it's hot, you have to make darn sure you are 100-percent prepared for that Friday night run. I don't like it, none of us in Pro Stock do, but it's a reality and it's what we're going to be dealing with for the rest of the summer."
The car's showing promise in testing and Erica is definitely driving it better because she feels right in there," Nickens said.
"For some reason we have a lot of downforce at the top end with this car and that's cutting into our E.T.'s a little bit but we're working on that.
"We have the people, the driver, the horsepower, and the car to qualify and win rounds out here. We just need to get our stuff together and start showing everyone else that we're capable of doing this week-in and week-out. Hopefully, it starts this weekend."
REDEMPTION - Pro Stock driver Justin Humpreys will be looking just to make some 'good runs during the good sessions' this weekend at the ProCare Rx NHRA SuperNationals at Englishtown.
Humphreys will be looking to rebound from a DNQ by a mere one-thousandth of a second at last weekend's event in Chicago.
“Our goal was just to qualify for a few races, which we’ve done, and we’ve gone a few rounds, so I’d say we definitely have done better,” said the first-year Pro Stock driver from Monrovia, Maryland. “But there is more there. We need to make those good runs in the good sessions; that will make it right.”
“It’s a good track . . . and it’s close to home. It’s only about 4 1/2 hours up the road,” he said. “We are planning to stop at Atco Dragway, which is close to Raceway Park, and do a little testing Tuesday or Wednesday. The track is on our way to Englishtown.”
“At least Englishtown, Norwalk and Bristol aren’t that far from home,” added Humphreys. “We tested at Denver and think we ran pretty good there. We should be all right. Eric has been through this before, so I’m not worried.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
BRING IT ON - With Matt Smith leading the points and new teammate Chris Rivas sixth in the Countdown to the Championship, the pair is ready for summer's grueling challenge.
“Chicago was my first race with Matt and Evan,” said Rivas. “We ended up losing second round, but only because of a missed tune up. This Torco Buell is unbelievably fast and I hope to capitalize on it this weekend.”
“Matt is running a championship caliber team over here,” said Rivas. “Not only am I happy to be apart of it, but I am ready to start winning races. Matt works so hard in and out of the shop, and I want to be able to show that on the track.”
Smith has many memories of Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, some bad and some good. The race that is normally ran on Father’s Day holds a special place in Smith’s heart. Smith won his first race ever in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class last year with his father, Rickie Smith, along his side.
“Last year was one of the greatest moments in my career,” said Smith. “My dad was here along with my son, Tristan, who hardly ever gets to come to a race, so you can imagine how excited I was to win. It was also my first true win ever in NHRA, so this place will always be dear to me.”
ONE TRACK MIND - U.S. Army Pro Stock Motorcycle rider and 3-time world champion Angelle Sampey may be right near the top of the POWERade point chase in second place, but she wants more.
"We’re okay right now, but you don’t want to settle for that," said the three-time world champion. "We’re in a constant state of trying to improve. Like Antron, I want to win races. By the time the Countdown arrives (at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend), I want to be seriously in the hunt for the title."
HOMEBOY (LITERALLY) - Eddie Krawiec, the newest rider of the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley Davidson V-Twin is no stranger to Englishtown. The Pro Stock motocycle competitor worked at the facility for years.
"I'm very excited about it because I have a lot of friends, family and just great support overall at that facility," Krawiec said.
"It's my hometown and my hometown track and to be able to go there as a member of one of the top teams in drag racing just makes it even better. I've been looking forward to this all season."
Krawiec has not only spent years racing on the drag strip, but he's worked on them too. He's been the drag strip manager at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for several years. His new teammate, three-time defending NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines, is hoping to put Krawiec's track knowledge to good use when the team aims for their second consecutive win.
"I think it's going to be a benefit having Eddie with us this year because he has so much knowledge about the track," said Hines – winner of last weekend's NHRA event in Joliet, Ill. "He knows the ins and outs of the track and that should help the team prepare for a great weekend of competition."
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website