NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
HONORING THE LEGENDS - Throughout Bristol Dragway's long history,
which dates back to its opening in 1965, the greatest names in drag racing history have made their marks in Thunder Valley.
This year four remarkable men have been selected as the inaugural class of inductees into the Legends of Thunder Valley. They are NHRA founder Wally Parks, Larry Carrier, who built Bristol Dragway, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, named the best driver in the history of NHRA, and Rickie Smith, who has more Bristol wins than any other driver.
"I honestly don't think we could have a finer group of men inducted as Legends of Thunder Valley this first year," said Bristol Dragway president Jeff Byrd. "All four of these gentlemen are legends in the sport of drag racing and each of them has a special place in the history of Bristol Dragway. We're extremely proud to be honoring them in this way."
Parks is the visionary who formed the National Hot Rod Association in 1951. The 94-year-old was the first inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 from the world of drag racing. He was also inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Carrier built Bristol Dragway in 1965 and in 1971 founded the International Hot Rod Association, which ran at Bristol until 1998. His love of drag racing mirrored that of Parks and he was a lifelong fan of the sport.
Garlits' accolades are many and over a long and storied career he collected an amazing 144 national event wins and 17 world championship crowns. The Top Fuel master recorded three wins at Bristol, including the 1972 Spring Nationals, as well as the 1973 Spring and All-American Nationals.
No driver has experienced the type of success that Pro Stocker Smith did at Bristol in the 80s and 90s while running in IHRA-sanctioned events. Smith's first Bristol win came in the 1980 Summer Nationals and he went on to win eight more times, including his last win which came in the Pro Modified class.
All four inductees have special banners featuring their likeness hanging from the back of the dragway grandstands. Their names are also affixed to the top of the suites that sit atop the grandstands.
NO BURNOUT, NO PROBLEM – On two occasions, two drivers performed less than spectacular burnouts. John Force and Larry Morgan both had problems on the burnout and pulled out wins.
Force’s burnout was so bad that tuner Austin Coil turned his back.
Morgan did an old second Funny Car-style burnout across the starting line.
Not only did Force win, he also nailed down the low elapsed time with a 4.864 at over 307.65 MPH.
Morgan had a combination of two things fall into his lap. (A) He was exceptionally quick off of the line and (B) Richie Stevens proved extremely tardy out of the gate.
HERNANDEZ CONTINUES DOMINATION - Josh Hernandez regained his domination of the AMS Pro Mod Challenge presented by
Tindle Enterprises, winning his fifth race of the season at the O'Reilly NHRA
Thunder Valley Nationals. The sweltering July heat stifled the times but not the
spirits of the drivers as they all battled to try to make up ground against the
In the finals, Canadian Raymond Commisso and his R2B2 Motors-sponsored ‘68 Camaro had lane choice over Hernandez, and took the preferred right lane, hoping to gain the advantage. At the hit of the throttle, however, the race was over as Commisso struck the tires and could only watch as the Texan claimed the AMS Eagle he so desperately wanted.
"Raymond is a fierce competitor, and I was ready to take it down to the wire," Hernandez said. "I'm sure he was loaded for bear, and that he's looking to make up ground when Indy rolls around."
Top qualifier Mike Janis fought a hard battle with Jay Payne in the quarterfinals, with Defending world champion and 2006 Bristol event champ Payne taking the win light, 6.189/235.56 to 6.241/228.11.
Payne advanced to the semifinals and faced off against Commisso. Despite a lightning-quick reaction time of .022 seconds, Payne's '05 Stratus made a slight sachet to the right just off the line and the extra time was just enough to see Commisso drive away with the win: 6.162/236.96 to 6.282/233.32.
In other exciting action, Troy Coughlin's twin-turbo powered '06 GTO decided it preferred the right lane, despite the fact Coughlin started in the left-hand side of the track. In their second round match up, the bright yellow JEGS.com-sponsored entry took a hard right at about 600 feet, missing all of the timing cones and falling in line behind Scott Ray's '63 Corvette.
"We were so excited to get a round win with this car, and every time we get down the track we learn a little more," Coughlin explained. "We definitely know we don't want to do that again. We'll take the summer to work on getting more power to track early in our runs, and be ready come Indy."
After six races of the ten-race AMS Pro Mod season, Hernandez and his Howard Moon-tuned '68 Camaro have dominated the competition, winning now five events and amassing a more than 1100-point lead over Commisso, the closest competitor in the BAE Championship Cup. Hernandez has also earned 610 points in the ProCare Rx Pro Mod Clash, holding on to first place by 70 points over Doug Palmer.
I MEANT TO DO THAT – Brandon Bernstein could have panicked prior to his first round match against Brady Kalivoda, but he didn’t.
Bernstein, the third qualifier, had a front-row seat to witness the No. 1 (Tony Schumacher) and No. 2 (Whit Bazemore) qualifiers go up in smoke.
Not only did Bernstein win, he won big and became the first and only driver in the 4.50s with a 4.538 elapsed time at 323.50 MPH.
“That’s a testament to this team and I certainly didn’t expect it,” Bernstein said. “As a driver when you see the guys ahead of you smoke the tires, you get a bit nervous. You say to yourself ‘man this doesn’t look good’ but then you nail the throttle and know that Tim and Kim Richards have everything covered.”
That was the good, but it got even better when he could win through the ugly.
In the second and third round, he nailed the throttle. And he nailed it. And he nailed it again. Bernstein pedaled his way to victories over Cory McClenathan and then two-time 2007 winning Larry Dixon.
“It wasn’t pretty, but sometimes you have to get those breaks. We have gotten two breaks today, but it will go down this time.”
And it did.
PAYBACK – Rod Fuller exacted a bit of revenge on quarterfinal opponent Doug Kalitta. Last year Kalitta beat him in the finals. In fact, Kalitta also beat him in 2005.
It was that first one that got Fuller’s goat. Kalitta beat him on a holeshot.
“I owed him one here,” Fuller said. “He beat me in the first final round on a holeshot and that one hurt. When you’re a sportsman racer, that’s one way you don’t want to lose.”
LOST BUT NOW FOUND – Bob Vandergriff looked as lost as any drag racer could be headed into Sunday’s eliminations. Just as any racer who appears lost does, he pulled the publicity strings and flew in a large contingent of NASCAR dignitaries for Sunday’s race.
Vandergriff also started winning and proved that you didn’t need to be the quickest either.
“We have been as lost as last year’s Easter egg,” Vandergriff said. “Everything is a bonus at this point. The guys just bust their butts for us. For all of those that support us, this is a bonus.”
Vandergriff’s comments came after his longshot victory over Tony Schumacher. He also had the right combination for the track when it came to knocking off J.R. Todd and Rod Fuller en route to his second final round of the season.
THAT’S NOT RIGHT – Larry Dixon’s dragster fell off a bit in top end performance during his victory over Dave Grubnic in the semi-finals and found out exactly why.
“It started with eight cylinders but ended with six,” Dixon said.
THROW ME A FREAKING BONE – In case you were wondering, the body snatchers returned John Force. And he was just like the old guy the media grew to love and to quote – quite often.
What happened? Force got ticked off and in usual fashion – apologized. It must have been the spirit of Eric Medlen that got the old truck driver straightened out. This marked the first Force victory since Medlen’s death.
“It feels good because I really rode my guys hard this weekend,” Force said. “Everyone from all of our teams jumped in and made this hot rod good today. I was a jerk towards them yesterday and when we got together today for the driver’s meeting, I asked them to forgive me for being a jerk because that ain’t how a leader leads. It’s really easy to lead when you’re on top. When you’re in the trash, it is sometimes tough to find your way out.
“I think Eric reached down and slapped me upside the head and said go out there and be who you used to be. It might not win me any races, but it will make my guys love me again.”
One had to sense divine intervention when Force came to the line with a smokeless burnout in the first round. It was so ugly that Coil had to turn his back on him.
“We get a bone thrown our way every once in a while,” Force said. “It’s mass confusion up there and the glue box is extremely slippery. They need to take that tire machine up there. I heard they lost their driver and won’t be able to take it to Denver. I’ll be the first to volunteer to drive it.
Actually the spirit of Force began its comeback in the quarterfinals after beating Mike Ashley by a mere .0021. Force’s post-run interview was interrupted as Capps turned the corner and nearly took out the champ.
In an instant, the old Force was back. He was jawing and pointing the finger at Capps.
“I’m just excited about being out here,” Force said. “Naturally I’m disappointed that Ashley didn’t qualify,” said Force.
Then Force paused as Capps came up and tapped him on the rear.
Those who have known Force over the decades sensed a change coming from the depressed champion as of late. His words confirmed their intuitions.
“Rub that other cheek for a little while,” Force said.
COIL OR CHASSIS, ONE HAS TO GO – Okay, you have a choice. Gouge your right eye or left. It’s a good thing John Force put his team (and himself) through a strict analysis.
“We went from being one of the greatest teams in drag racing to hanging out in the cellar,” Force said. “We just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. After we left Pomona last year, I changed hot rods and came out swinging.”
Force said he had a communication problem. His old girl wouldn’t talk.
“This car is the most stubborn woman that I have ever met in my life,” Force said. “This car would not do anything. It would not go down the drag strip. I couldn’t even beat my own daughter. We finally just reached our breaking point.”
When you’ve reached the breaking point, a team meeting is always the best medicine.
“I asked the point blank some questions,” said Force. “Anyone change their medication? I asked. I asked if anyone was sabotaging our efforts. We went through it from one end to the other throughout the course of a month. We couldn’t fin a thing. Finally, there were two things left – the chassis or Austin Coil.
“I knew I couldn’t fire Coil because he would just write a book about me and make a lot of money. Don’t think he doesn’t tell me that either.”
The Force tradition for the race weekend – smoke on Sunday and win on Monday – in testing that is.
“The car runs perfect on Monday, that’s why we couldn’t wait to get to Indy,” Force said. “I don’t know what happened, but I know in my heart that I’ve been riding my guys awful hard lately. It’s always easy to be the good boss when you are on top. When you are on the bottom then you find out who you are.”
That’s when Force diagnosed his problem – he had been a jerk.
ALL IN THE ATTITUDE – Force said the weight was lifted with the apology. That’s something he said he’s done a lot lately.
“I’ve always believed in God, I didn’t just get religion this weekend,” Force said. “I asked Eric Medlen to forgive me. There are a lot of things, personal things, you just won’t understand until you’ve lived it. There must be a heaven and a God because I pray to Him all the time. I have prayed when my kids were sick.
“I said, ‘I know you’re up there Eric. The only thing that’s changed down here is that you went up there. Maybe you’re mad at me, but I’m sorry.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not seeing aliens or hearing voices. I am feeling better because I have gotten this off of my chest. I told my guys let’s go race. We might get beat up, but at least we felt better.”
Just like that – the veil was lifted – even in a 140-degree Funny Car.
Then Force praised what he called the “rubber machine,” a device that applies rubber to the racing surface evenly. He even offered to drag the machine to Denver when the NHRA’s tow truck broke down.
“What I really want to believe in and I am a guy that believes in miracles – although I never believed my car needed a miracle – it needed an exorcist. I was looking for a priest. I got rid of it and it went from one end to the other.
““I hated being an embarrassment to my sponsors and my team.”
Then Force took up golf, but quickly abandoned the game when he “almost knocked Wally Parks in the head with a golf ball.” But, that didn’t stop Force, an avid movie buff, from watching Bagger Vance – a story about a seasoned golfer who lost his swing.
Force cried when he watched it. He said it was a carbon copy of his life.
That’s why when he won today and proclaimed in an ESPN interview that he’d gotten his swing back, the ESPN2 guys looked puzzled.
Force had hit his hole-in-one-today.
THE FINAL HEALING MISSION – Force wasted no time returning to the starting line to embrace John Medlen.
“John Medlen has lived through the pain,” Force said. “We gained a lot of pictures this weekend. I had a man that brought over a picture that his son had taken with Eric last year. He came back with that picture and his son had been killed here a few weeks ago in a car wreck. There was a police office that gave John Medlen his badge with a picture of his son that had died 8 months ago.
“It’s amazing that there’s so much pain in this world that when people bond together, we can fix things. That’s what my team did today. There was a lot of anger at how I had pushed them. We work them until they are tired.”
The team had to work all day on July 4th when most of the others were not there.
“Our team worked from early in the morning until late at night,” Force said. “We might not make the Chase but at least we have heart. John Medlen is the one that has suffered the most. That was his son.
“I lost my Mom and dad, but you expect that to happen. You don’t expect to lose your kids. It is the toughest thing in the world, they say.”
Force was determined to get to Medlen.
“The POWERade guys told me that I couldn’t leave,” Force said. “I said, ‘Wanna bet?”
“I’m still the champion and pulled that rank. I didn’t have the trophy but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get to John. I wanted to win a race for him. In my eleven years of racing with Coil, I have won a race every year. I wondered if this would be the year that it all quit. I needed to win for Eric. I wanted to show that through it all, we would make it.”
Smiling through the pain is what does it for Force.
“Everything was painful for me, but not because I was losing,” Force said. “I understand losing. It was over losing Eric. I couldn’t get rid of that. I wanted to get rid of it. I wanted to just get that feeling out and go enjoy my days with my daughters. I wanted to just get away – qualifying or not – tell my team I love them and keep fighting.
“That’s the biggest thing we lose in this world – love. If you can find that when you’re losing - you are still happy. That’s why you go home and hug your wife and your babies because you never know what tomorrow will bring. I have become a believer in that.”
GETTING READY FOR THE FOURTH – Force says the fourth team will return and the assembly is already being addressed.
“John Medlen told me that he’s ready to bring the fourth team back,” Force said. “We are addressing it and we don’t exactly know where we are with drivers. We are talking to a few young kids and we are just happy to be here.”
BLAME IT ON CAPPS – At the end of the season if John Force wins his 15th championship, you can blame Ron Capps. You know Capps, the guy who Force has beaten the last two years for the title.
You hate to wake a sleeping dog,” Capps said. “The other day I was stuck in the airport with Ashley, Robert and old Force. It was just like the old days. I told Force to remember why he does this. Let’s have some fun again. We miss him and need him in this chase. He’s the biggest name in this sport.”
MOVING ON UP - After winning his last nine rounds of NHRA Funny Car competition, Mike Ashley's win streak was broken by a mere .002 seconds at the hands of Force.
Ashley qualified No. 4 position with a 4.850 and recorded the fastest speed of the meet for all Funny Cars at 323.74 m.p.h. In the first round of eliminations, Ashley beat fellow New Yorker Tony Bartone 4.920/314.02 to 5.013/296.76, setting up the marquis match-up against the struggling defending champion.
Without lane choice, Ashley and the Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger was relegated to the less-desirable left lane which had produced only one round win to that point in the day. As the lights turned green, Ashley delivered a blistering .022 reaction time to Force's .091, and led the race for the first 1319 feet; Force took the stripe just .002 seconds or approximately 11 inches ahead of Ashley to deny him the win.
"Now, THAT was a drag race," Ashley said. "I knew I'd have to be on top of my game in order to get past Force, and I gave it my all - but missed it by a hair.
"We really had to race the lane, and we were able to run the quickest of that round in that lane, but it just wasn't good enough this time," he said.
Ashley's quarterfinal finish propelled him solidly into third place with 690 POWERade points -- just 63 points out of second place.
"As we come into the last five races before the first cut in the Countdown, I really am confident. Our goal is to be in that top eight come Indy, and we're definitely on the road to achieving that."
In addition to moving up in points, the Gotham City Racing crew won the Full Throttle Pit Crew Challenge title for the event. Based on a points system, the program awards event payouts to the team in each class with the top-performing pit crew.
A REAL HOT HEAD - Jim Head was on fire this weekend, both literally and figuratively.
After qualifying in the seventh position, Head was still reeling from Saturday afternoon’s engine explosion and fire. He walked gingerly into the first round but slung stones like David when he knocked off Robert Hight in the first round on a holeshot.
“It wasn’t on fire and that was a plus,” said Head. “That’s a great time and any opportunity you have to beat the green team is great.”
Head went on to defeat Jack Beckman before falling to Cruz Pedregon.
And, just to think this guy could be leaving his seat for NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart. At least that is what the rumor mill is saying.
BIG BYRD – Gary Scelzi is all about giving props, even when he
beat fellow former champion Tony Pedregon in the first round of
eliminations. He was all on Bristol Dragway’s Jeff Byrd today.
“Tony Pedregon is a bad hombre, but so is Jeff Byrd,” said Scelzi. “You guys went through hell with this race track but to have that little bit of tire smoke and have this much heat says a lot. We love you.”
GEE THANKS – Colorful NHRA announcer Bob Frey knows the right words to say and the right time to deliver. For instance, prior to Tim Wilkerson’s first round match with Del Worsham, Frey exhibited restraint.
Frey said, “I’ll let him start the car and then remind you that the #1 qualifier has never won in Bristol.”
Good thing Wilkerson didn’t hear him because Worsham almost beat him. In fact, only .0175 separated the two at the finish line. Had Wilkerson have heard Frey’s stat, he would have lost.
“I had no idea that we had beat him, I was on the radio asking the guys if I got him,” said Wilkerson. “You never know. Being No. 1 means nothing on Sunday when you have a 120 degree track. Del is a good racer and we respect them more than anyone out there. We just want to work our way into that top eight and surprise someone in Indy.”
Wilkerson made a show of it by reaching the semi-finals with a victory over Gary Scelzi. But, the jinx did him in against Force in the next round.
FIRST TIME – Cruz Pedregon has history with Bristol Dragway dating back to the Thunder Valley Dragway era.
Pedregon first came to Bristol in 1983 as a crewmember for the Joe Pisano Funny Car. The driver was none other than the legendary Denny Savage.
MARKETING 101 - When you're racing for the competing brand and you're at the competitors race, what do you do? If you're Cruz Pedregon you make it a point to get your sponsor's name across.
"Advance Auto Parts is the number one auto parts," Pedregon said. "They support the racer. They support me out here. That means a lot. The fans get a one-on-one driver like myself."
For the record, event sponsor O'Reilly Auto Parts didn't have a car at the event.
SEEN IT ALL – Please excuse Del Worsham if he feels nauseas.
Worsham has seen as much misfortune in the last few weeks that a driver can. He’s still reeling from the episode in Norwalk where his Funny Car went out a hardtop and returned a convertible. This weekend, he barely made a show and teammate Jeff Arend failed to qualify.
"I've been doing this a long time, and I've seen just about every kind of problem you can run into with a race car, but I can't remember ever going through a spell like this. If it can break, or if it can cause something else to break on the race car, we've had it go wrong in the last couple of weeks. Had Friday not been so stressful and unbelievable, it would have been funny, because you can hardly put a team through what my guys went through, realistically. It was Murphy's Law at its worst. At least nobody got run over by the tow vehicle or fell off a scooter."
WHAT A DAY! - Jeg Coughlin Jr. has two trophies this season to swoon over. A two-for-five record isn’t bad in this age of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately Pro Stock division.
"Wow, what a day, and what a win,” Coughlin said. “Ole' Kenny was on his game today, killing the Christmas Tree every round, but luckily our Cagnazzi motors had the power for me to barely win that last round. And when I say barely, I mean barely, just two-thousandths of a second margin of victory is nothing. He was right there next to me at the stripe.
"There's been a Cagnazzi Racing car in the last six finals and between me and my teammate Dave Connolly and we've each won two so that tells me the entire team has been working extremely hard to make us look good. Today they gave me a flawless car. I was slow letting the clutch out a few times; that was the only issue we had. Otherwise everyone was totally on their game. They picked me up today.
"We're sneaking up on Greg in the points and it's gonna get really exciting when they reset them at the U.S. Nationals in September. KB Racing has been a picture of consistency the last four years and they have the championships to show for it. To see our team come this far along and challenge them like this is really exciting."
PSYCHIC? – Twice on Sunday, Koretsky screwed up a perfectly good red-light. That talent nearly parlayed into his first career national event victory.
How surprising was his final-round appearance? It was the second of his 25-plus year career. The first came at Indianapolis in September 2004. And this was his 199th career race.
On a day when the hot sun made the racing surface unpredictable, Koretsky wasn’t. Starting from 15th place, he was like lightning off starting-line from his first round win over Greg Anderson to his closing-round, heartbreaking loss to Jeg Coughlin.
“This was a lot of fun,” said Koretsky, who nonetheless was disappointed at not making his first trip to the winner’s circle. He had a .013-second reaction to Coughlin’s .041 and held off Coughlin virtually all the way. The winning margin was two-thousandths of a second – 6.809 at 203.22 mph to 6.839 at 201.82).
“You know what? I’m probably the happiest loser out there Sunday because any day you can get to the final round in NHRA Pro Stock racing, you’ve done your job,” said Koretsky, of Richboro, Pa. “I was driving like crazy. I had .001, .033, .006 and .013 (second) reaction times. I was on the ‘tree all day long, but we just can’t catch a break.
He began the day with the .001 reaction in upsetting Anderson (6.831 at 202.06 to 6.782 at 203.95 mph) and followed with his .033 light in defeating Larry Morgan (6.807 to a traction-troubled 10.967) and the .006 in knocking out Dave Connolly (6.827 at 202.91 to 6.805 at 203.37) to set up the decider against Coughlin.
Koretsky had words of praise for his longtime crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia and the crew of Greg Hill’s Chevy Cobalt. “Eddie and the guys gave me a competitive car to drive and I was just on my game,” he said.
“We had a different race car Sunday,” added a disappointed Guarnaccia. “We made some changes and the car’s performance came around and Kenny was hitting his shift points. It has been awhile since we’ve been in this position . . . I just wish we’d gotten the job done.”
WHO GOT THE LIGHT – Koretsky may have been tight on the lights, but it was Kurt Johnson who nailed the closest match of the day by nailing Ron Krisher at the stripe by .001.
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TRICKY SITUATION – The million-dollar question for today was how
to prepare for a 130-degree track temperature on a racing surface
shedding its green nature with each run.
For the NHRA, there was the complexity of prepping the racing surface. For the racers, it was all about finding out what combination to use.
The fact of the matter is there is no certain formula other than doing what you would normally do and hoping that it all works.
“You use a different clutch combination to go down a 130-degree track than you do with a cooler surface,” Clay Millican’s crew chief Mike Kloeber said. “You just have to adjust for what the track gives you and that’s what we do.”
Today’s air temperature was firmly entrenched in the low 90s and that vaulted the track temperature to that dreaded 130-degree range.
NHRA’s Graham Light said this kind of atmosphere leaves limited options.
“All you can do is all you can do,” Light said. “You have to use the tire machine to put rubber on the track. Whether it is a seasoned track or non-seasoned, when you get a 130-degree track it’s difficult.”
Light likened the effect of spraying a hot track such as that to bubble gum that gets gooey.
“It’s a challenge for the race teams and I don’t think anyone has been totally successful when it comes to preparing for a 130-140 track. You can take Chicago when the heat beats on it, it’s a challenge. An overcast track is very forgiving and you can go down a gravel road. When the sun comes out, it is hard on the best track in the world.”
Any advice to the tuners out there?
“Oh no, they are a lot smarter than me,” Light said.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING – Tony Schumacher says the most important assignment for his team was to get a grip on running in the heat. To Schumacher, making a good run on Saturday meant more to him than Friday’s upper deck shot.
“Getting the points for being up top is important, but running good in conditions like you’ll see on Sunday is the most important,” Schumacher said.
Schumacher said that dialogue has begun between his team and the NHRA regarding scheduling of the Top Fuel sessions.
“It’s very important that we go down the track at the same time, every time,” Schumacher said. “Let’s face it. We run 8,000-horsepower dragsters that don’t respond well to running in oily conditions. Asphalt is an oil-based material and we all run on it. The hotter it is, the tougher it is. And, we need to get down these tracks. We need the data from these conditions much more than we need when the clouds are out.”
The entertainment factor of drag racing is the most important thing said Schumacher.
“We are an entertainment venue,” said Schumacher. “We need to be going up and down the track for the fans. We also need the data for Sunday. We need to get the cars down the track instead of smoking the tires, run after run. That’s what we are trying to do.”
JUST KIDDING – Tony Schumacher admitted he was kidding when he said he pulled the parachutes early Friday night to avoid qualifying on top. He said it was a matter of self-preservation instead.
“I pulled the parachutes because I like stopping,” Schumacher said, with a chuckle. “I have been upside down a few times and that doesn’t compare to a good, rubber down – solid run. It made a move to the right and I pushed the button.”
Schumacher said if someone had taken the top spot, it wouldn‘t have hurt his feelings. He added that he might have rested easier headed into Sunday.
It is what it is.
“It took a while to regain our qualifying dominance, but once we did – we started winning from there,” Schumacher said. “I believe in God, but not the No. 1 jinx. It’s not possible. If we don’t win tomorrow, it’s not because we qualified on top – it was because we were racing on a hot and confusing race track. That’s a fact.”
Schumacher said the No. 1 jinx is only possible because of the gains made in the class.
“Back in the days of Garlits, you would see wins by a second or two,” Schumacher said. “Today, anyone can win from any position. This is stellar racing and you had better bring your ‘A’ game. Racing like this makes you want to get up every morning and play ball. It’s not about the trophy, it’s about what it takes to get it.”
YEAH, RIGHT – Stop the presses. Hot Rod Fuller is recanting the story of how he hurt his knee in Norwalk. He’s saying it was all for the challenge of obtaining a phone number instead of the infamous “I had to potty” line.
“I saw a girl and I wanted to get her phone number, that’s why I jumped the fence,” Fuller said.
If that’s true, Fuller is learning that love can hurt.
“I tore my ACL and had a partial MCL tear,” Fuller said. “I went to see a specialist and I was told there was nothing he could do until the season was over. After Pomona, everyone else knows where I will be.”
That leaves an unanswered question. Did he get the phone number?
BRINGING AWARENESS - Always determined and driven to be the best, 20-time NHRA Funny Car winner Whit Bazemore and Olympic champion Marty Nothstein have partnered to drive attention towards a bigger cause, cancer research. The avid cyclists are asking racing and cycling fans to support Larry O’Reilly in his Larry Rides America campaign.
The 60-year-old former COO of O’Reilly Auto Parts embarked on a 4,500-mile ride form Astoria, Ore. to Yorktown, Va. on April 30, 2007. His goal is to raise $250,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks. Bazemore and Nothstein each have donated $250 in support of O’Reilly and they’re asking fans to support O’Reilly in his journey.
“Larry (O’Reilly) obviously is a big supporter of our sport through O’Reilly Auto Parts sponsoring many races as well as our most prestigious race track on the tour,” Bazemore said. “This is a chance for the drag racing community to support an individual who has made huge contributions to our sport. Cycling is something that both Marty (Nothstein) and I are passionate about as well. What Larry is doing is an unbelievable challenge and something not many people would tackle. It’s something we want to get behind and support and we ask the drag racing fans to get behind this effort and support the O’Reilly’s for all they’ve done for our sport.”
Bazemore, driver of the David Powers-owned Matco Tools dragster, is an avid cyclist who rides more than 5,000 miles annually on his custom Seven bike. The veteran racer has compiled an impressive drag racing resume that includes 20 career victories and 30 poles. He is one of just 15 racers in NHRA history to have captured poles in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions. Bazemore resides in Eugene, Ore.
Nothstein retired following an 18-year cycling career after the 2006 season. He now serves as the Executive VP and Director of Racing and High Performance of the Leigh Valley Velodrome in Trexlertown, Pa. Nothstein captured Olympic gold at the Sydney games in 2000 and was a Silver medalist at the ’96 Atlanta games. He also is a three-time world champion (1994, ’96-97) with 35 national event wins. He resides in Orefield, Pa. and is the driver of the Texas Roadhouse Top Alcohol Funny Car.
“This is special for me as a cyclist and drag racer,” Nothstein said. “We want to bring awareness to Larry’s (O’Reilly) ride since O’Reilly Auto Parts is such a great supporter of the sport of drag racing. We’re doing this to not only raise awareness for cancer, but to alert the drag racing community of Larry’s efforts. This is a huge feat for any cyclist; Larry is doing this unsupported without a car or van following him and he’s not taking days off. He’s doing it the right way and deserves the support of both the drag racing and cycling communities ”
TESTING – When you lay down a spectacular one on Friday, you get to play on Saturday.
Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert’s best pass of the weekend came in the evening, with a 4.61 second pass at 318 mph.
“We used Saturday’s qualifying session to make some changes and try some new things,” said Herbert. “Some of them worked, and some of them didn’t. The important thing is we learned from both passes, and we’ll be ready for round one on Sunday.
“We are close to home, so going rounds tomorrow in front of all our friends and family will be great. Another one of the reasons we love coming to Bristol is because we won here every year from 1992 through 1997, and we want to get that streak going again. We’re ready to start packing the trophies over the mountains and back home to North Carolina.”
Herbert will face Cory McClenathen in the opening round of eliminations.
LOOSE NUT - The little things will get you every time and that’s what Tim Wilkerson found out during today’s final session. The first-time low qualifier was shut off with an oil leak as he pulled forward to stage.
“I really wanted that last run for the data,” Wilkerson said.
As Wilkerson described it, a “stupid valve cover nut was loose” is what did him in.
“It was a simple, simple mistake and it proves we are human,” said Wilkerson. “It was hard to be angry when I deserved to be shut off. Rick [Stewart] did some conniptions and I saw him out of the corner of my eye.”
Stewart’s tirade rivaled that of the ill-fated Schumacher saga in Pomona last fall. This time he was more dramatic.
“I figured that I had better shut off before he really got mad at me,” Wilkerson said. “I didn’t see it leaking and my guys didn’t until it puddle up.”
Capps was on the bubble for a little while on Saturday.
“That was just my luck, qualify low and get Ron Capps,” Wilkerson said. “Del is no pushover … I guess it’s tough no matter which way you go.”
WHO’S NEXT? – Jeff Arend came into Bristol as the only driver remaining that was perfect in 2007 Funny Car qualifying. A dismal Friday effort continued into Saturday where it only got worse for him.
Arend dinged the Checker-Shucks-Kragen flopper during the third session when the car drifted right and made contact with the retaining wall. As fate would have it, his final attempt was to be alongside of Ashley Force, the driver next in line with the longest continuous qualifying streak.
Fate snagged two birds with one stone. Force’s Mustang wouldn’t start and Arend’s monster sputtered to an early shut-off.
“It was running along well until about half-track when some kind of fluid started coming into the car,” Arend said. “I shut off a little early and I really don’t know that would have made a difference. I guess all good things must come to an end. We have a good enough team to win some races and start a new streak next week.”
When Arend resumes in Denver, he’ll be chasing his boss Del Worsham who now holds the mark at nine. As fate would have it, Worsham was next in line behind Arend. He was paired alongside Kenny Bernstein, the next in line behind Worsham.
Bernstein DNQ’d, only one week after reaching the finals in Norwalk.
NOT CONFIDENT – Del Worsham got in the field on the bump spot and gave every indication that it was a dodging the bullet affair. When asked whether or not he had the car to beat tomorrow, Worsham was straightforward.
“I believed we did at one time,” Worsham said, as he pointed out a problem with the number seven cylinder. “If we get it all together and it runs like we know it can – like at Norwalk and Englishtown – we do have the car. This is a tough sport with a lot of tough competitors and I feel bad for Bernstein.”
If Bernstein had made it into the field, it would have pushed out Worsham.
Worsham is still reeling from chassis damage suffered at the last race and has worked much of the weekend breaking in a new car.
“It’s not all back together yet,” Worsham said. “When we were in Norwalk, the car felt like it was coming around and when that happened, it was if we had to start all over again.”
LACK OF CONFIDENCE, PT. 2 – I think I am too stupid to race at this race track is what it appears. – Jim Head after being asked by Alan Reinhart if he’s got what it takes to run a 4.88 on Sunday.
That comment came after Head spun the tires at the 1,000-foot mark causing the blown burst panel.
OH #$%^! – Ron Capps was a tad bit different on Saturday afternoon following Friday night’s near crash with Jim Head. He slipped a few words out over the radio last evening.
“I probably said a few cuss words that I shouldn’t have,” Capps said. “I was a nervous wreck and went over and apologized to Jim last night after it happened. “The car made a hard move and I didn’t want to give up the run.
“You get out there and you end up fighting the car. Everybody has been going to the right and all of a sudden, it wanted to pull to the center-line. It has been one of my hardest weekends driving. My guys have been behind me to keep me up in my spirits.”
THE SECRET WEAPON – Mike Ashley admitted he had some new parts on his Torco Funny car following his third qualifying session. He just wouldn’t say what. His only comment was that the car will eventually be stupid fast.
In case you didn’t get the memo, Ashley has already run stupid fast this weekend.
“We have some new parts on the car this weekend,” Ashley said. “We are testing and breaking them in. I promise you once we get everything ironed out, you will see steady gains from this car.”
We couldn’t help but notice that new billet supercharger sticking through that Dodge Charger body.
MARKETING 101 - Just talking to Jack Beckman wouldn’t give the POWERade marketing department that warm, fuzzy feeling. This promotional snafu came after a 20-minute wait in the staging lanes.
“As soon as that motor starts, your sweat glands stop and your heart rate goes down,” said Beckman.
TAKE THAT! - Jeg Coughlin found himself on the outside looking in headed into his first run on Saturday. By the evening, he thumbed his nose at the competition.
"What a thrill," Coughlin said. "I don't know that any of us expected it to be quicker today because it was certainly hotter out there, but the track has improved quite a bit, especially down at the other end, and my guys put together a perfect racecar for me. I was able to make a nice, straight run and that combination translated to a great time.
"We're in a fight right now with our two cars and the two cars from KB Racing, and once again the four of us are right there stacked up at the top of the qualifying sheet. Its great competition and I think it's safe to say they're pushing us and we're pushing them, which makes it fun when we can out-qualify them at a race here or there."
Coughlin is followed on the ladder by Greg Anderson (6.782), the only person ahead of him in the current points standings, his Cagnazzi racing teammate Dave Connolly (6.782), and reigning series champion Jason Line (6.789).
With three final-round showings and a pair of semifinal finishes in the last five events, Coughlin has established himself as the hottest driver in the Pro Stock class. He hopes to keep that streak alive Sunday when eliminations begin at noon. Coughlin's first-round opponent will be final qualifier V. Gaines, who qualified 16th overall with a 6.818 at 201.88 mph. Coughlin beat Gaines in their only race this year.
"There isn't an easy side of the ladder any more, as you can see by my first round opponent,' Coughlin said. "V.'s been running the wheels off his car this year and he's a very worthy opponent. They all are. If you can make the field, you can win the race.
"I'm extremely confident in our JEGS.com crew. They really proved something to me today and I think we have adequate data for tomorrow's runs. Hopefully, we can keep the heat on Greg and Jason and keep our two Cagnazzi cars right in the mix."
Coughlin finished the day with the quickest run of the final session. He posted a 6.786 at 203.83 mph under the most extreme conditions of the weekend.
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BRISTOL BOOK FORTHCOMING – Bristol Dragway’s storied his history has been captured in the pages of a new book compiled by one of the Tri-Cities area’s finest photojournalists.
David McGee has followed drag-racing on the hallowed grounds of Thunder Valley since its inception in the mid-sixties. He worked for many years with the Bristol Herald-Courier as a reporter and photographer before moving on to serve for four years as editor of the IHRA’s Drag Review publication.
In that time, McGee grew even closer to the aura Bristol Dragway presented. Two decades later, he’s invoking memories for many, including himself.
“It took about a year-and-a-half to make it all happen,” McGee said. “The most difficult part about it all was narrowing down which images to use. We were limited in terms of page count.”
McGee’s Bristol Dragway features 200 pictures from the initial construction of the facility until today’s modern look. Narrowing down to that amount proved the toughest task. McGee says he sorted through 20,000 images before settling on the current content for the 128-page book.
“Quite honestly, we could have done a magazine that was three times the size,” McGee said.
With only 200 making the final cut, another 19,800 remain unpublished. Thoughts of a sequel come to mind, although McGee would prefer to see how this one fares on the marketplace first.
“There could be one,” McGee said. “We’ll see how this one goes.”
The book will be available later this month in all Bristol stores as well as on Amazon.com, Books-a-Million.com and Barnes and Noble.com. The book is published by Arcadia Publishers in Charleston, SC.
SOLD OUT – Bristol Dragway officials confirmed that for the first time in the history of the track, all seats, as well as all standing room only tickets, were sold. Since the track is a publicly traded company, the exact numbers were not available.
FORGETTABLE PRECEDENT – If you think the management of Bristol Dragway had a tough time back in May with the postponement of the event, roll back the time machine to 1971 when, in the middle of a national event, an exhibition jet car removed the asphalt in chunks with the rap of the afterburner.
What can you expect from a car called the “Super Cyclops?”
Track owner Larry Carrier knew the car was a big draw when it reeled off the sport’s first five-second run with a 5.96 elapsed time at over 280 miles per hour. It was the encore that caused everything to go all to hell.
The powerful J-79-powered (the same as the Bob Motz Kenworth) blew large chunks of the asphalt through the ground floor windows of the control tower.
Race over? Not hardly if you know Carrier.
The starting line was cleaned up and the starting line was moved forward by 66-feet and racing resumed.
That may seem ludicrous in today’s drag racing world, but for that era it was par for the course said Don Schumacher. He should know. Not only did he have a front-row seat for the cascading asphalt, Schumacher also worked his way to the winner’s circle.
“We didn’t have a track man like Lanny Miglizzi back then, nor did we have the kind of tires we have today,” said Schumacher. “We didn’t have the blowers nor did we have the horsepower we have today. It made for unique racing more than a big issue.”
Today’s tuners would suffer cardiac arrest on the spot.
“It was really no big deal to us,” Schumacher said. “We’d adjust this and adjust that because that is just what we did. Remember we match raced every week and we found a way to adjust to every situation we encountered. Remember, we used to race on old airstrips back then. We just did what we had to do, even on that weekend.
Starting line woes delayed the O’Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals from May until July.
PRO MODIFIED QUALIFYING - Leading the pack after two qualifying sessions in AMS Pro Modified Challenge competition was Mike Janis and his ’06 Cobalt. Grabbing the No. 1 spot by just one thousandth of a second, Janis ran a 6.141/233.56 and edged Canadian Raymond Commisso and his 6.142/235.72. Also in the 6.14-range were Tony Pontieri at 6.145/235.64 and Englishtown-winner Tim Tindle at 6.148/233.64.
Defending event champion Jay Payne hurt a motor while taking the provisional No. 6 spot on the strength of his first qualifying pass of 6.178/233.96. Payne stayed consistent despite the thrash during rounds, delivering a Valvoline-smoking 6.185/233.56 on his second run.
Points-leader Josh Hernandez sits in the provisional No. 5 spot with Doug Palmer and Scott Ray rounding out the top-half of the field.
ROUND AND ROUND HE GOES - Tony Schumacher may be straight-line drag racing, but he’s proving his Army Dragster can round the corners. Low elapsed time in consecutive sessions might be a clear signal the Sarge is back.
“The one thing about our car is when it turns the corner, it can win from anywhere,” Schumacher said. “At the beginning of last year, we couldn’t win from the number one spot. By the end of the year, we were doing it quite often. I am happy to be here.”
Sandbagging? Nope. Schumacher just prefers to stay away from the No.1 jinx. Sometimes a man can’t avoid destiny.
“I had the parachutes out because I didn’t really want to be No. 1. I told Alan that I had the parachutes out early because I wanted it to look good. It moved a little over to the wall and I hit it to be safe.”
“I knew it would be a good run. I knew it was important to run faster when everyone was slowing down during the day. When that happened, Alan wanted to step on it. I knew it was going to either haul butt or smoke the tires.
SHOE ON THE OTHER FOOT – So many times, a team publicist spins yarns about their drivers during the course of a weekend. For a brief moment a publicist got to see racing from the other side of the fence.
Scott “Woody” Woodruff, public relations manager for Jeg’s Mail Order, get his big break when Cory McClenathan passed on the pre-qualifying warm-up in favor of the talented wordsmith.
Woodruff was taken aback by the experience.
“It went beyond being cool,” said a wide-eyed Woodruff. “That was awesome and there’s no way to explain the power you have behind you. I don’t know that I can get this smile off of my face. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.”
THE REAL FEEL GOOD STORY – Tim Wilkerson admitted a great number of his Funny Car comrades applauded his return to the pits following his provisional No. 1 effort.
Wilkerson pointed out many of them helped him get there.
“The pits are usually excited when an independent guy does well,” Wilkerson said. “There are a lot of people in the nitro ranks that give us a lot of help. Don Schumacher is one of them. He’s been letting me use his blower dyno and I’ve learned a lot now. He’ll probably lock the door now when he sees me coming. I hope not.”
Wilkerson was like many teams that missed the track in the opening shot, but made up for it the second time.
“We went up there with all of the intentions of running a mid-to-high 4.90, but the track got hold of our car and explained to us that we were dumber than we thought,” Wilkerson said. “After that, we came back and tuned for the night session. I really thought it would run a 4.800 but I staged a bit deep. I beat us out of a hundredth or two.”
Today’s heat and a new track proved the great equalizer for Wilkerson and the bigger teams.
“Whenever you see these conditions, you don’t ever tune the thing up enough and that is the problem. You think you have enough and you find out. I was guilty in the first run. In the second run, I went back and told my crew that we weren’t going out there with our tail between our legs. It’s gonna smoke the tires or go faster. It went faster but we were way safer. At least I know we’ll be prepared for Sunday.”
GET AWAY – The second session produced a scary moment as Ron Capps crossed the centerline and barely missing hitting Jim Head.
Capps’ one-off red, white and Brut flopped made an abrupt right and came within a foot of making contact with Head. Head saw Capps’ plight and drifted to the right just enough to avoid Capps.
Head never lifted.
GET OFF THE BUMP – Nothing inspires a vault off of the bump spot more than a Friday evening session.
Mike Ashley smoked the tires after 1000 feet on his first qualifying run and sat precariously on the bump with his Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger R/T. Unfazed, Ashley thundered to the provisional No. 4 position with a 4.850/323.74 - running the fastest speed of all Funny Cars.
"I've said it again and again - the Friday night session is critical, and Brian [Corradi] really nailed the tune-up that time," Ashley said.
"The first round, we were a little too aggressive and smoked the tires because we didn't know what the track would hold. After we took a look at the data we got from that first run, the guys got after it and really did a great job.
"Actually, the track is in really good condition, considering that just days ago there wasn't any rubber on it at all. I have to hand it to the staff at Bristol Dragway and the NHRA Safety Safari, they have done a great job getting things put together," Ashley said.
"This track is one of the best on the tour and I've always loved racing here. Tomorrow, we'll work on our race-day tune up and get ready for Sunday," he said.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS – On Thursday, Jason Line had a chance to play golf and chose to pass. He wanted to work on his engine.
Line’s decision paid huge dividends on Friday.
If his 6.789 elapse time holds, Line will earn his second #1 qualifier of the season.
“Hopefully we can learn a little something we’ll be able to apply to Denver,” Line said. “It’s hard to say because every weekend out here is a chess match. It’s not even every week – it’s every run. I’m just going to enjoy the moment for now and be happy I’m here.”
“The first run we struggled with the combination. It was much better on the second run.
BLOWED IT UP REAL GOOD – It’s rare when you see a Pro Stocker grenade an engine but Dave Connolly put on a clinic during the first qualifying session. That’s why the Pro Stock gunslinger had a huge smile on his face when the Victor Cagnazzi team fired the replacement bullet for the second qualifying session.
“I haven’t done that in a while,” Connolly said. “It’s usually not a good sign when you leave wristpins sitting on the track. It’s been a long time since we hurt an engine like that and we don’t make a habit of it. But, we got it done and did it despite being 90-degrees and muggier than hell.”
The engine kicked the rods out and the subsequent ejection knocked the starter off of the engine.
“Dad did the same thing last week in Norwalk,” Connolly said in reference to his dad who races various sportsman divisions. “I couldn’t let him get one up on me. But, this one was bad and the guys back at the shop have their work cut out for them.”
Connolly had no indication of the disaster that transpired when the car reached the one-two shift.
“I thought the car had dead-headed because it happened so quickly,” Connolly said. “I knew I needed to pull to the side after that happened.”
Connolly said the team won’t know what happened until they disassemble the engine.
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT? – When you have a corrected altitude of 4,000-feet above sea level and a semi-green track, you can’t expect much. Announcer Alan Reinhart aggressively predicted a 6.76. Fellow microphone man Bob Frey predicted quicker.
Jim Yates emerged as the quickest with a 6.807 elapsed time.
GOOD CALL – Reinhart and Frey missed it. But Yates was dead on.
Well, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins had the right stuff. His son Jamie added to the effort with the chassis tune-up.
“Bill [Jenkins] has been working on the engine stuff and I think he’s found some stuff,” Yates said. “Jamie has done some things with the car and set it up a little different than we are used to running it because the air is truly slow here. The car made an aggressive run and put the number up.
“It all comes down to horsepower and that’s what it is all about and I don’t think anyone knows any more about that than Bill Jenkins.”
Denver may be next weekend, but for virtually every Pro Stock team, it was in the first session.
“This is the worst air that we’ve been in all year,” Yates said. “This was even worse than Las Vegas and we have always considered that event to be our junior version of Denver. It’s neat that it run that good up here. Running high horsepower at sea level doesn’t always compute to running quickly here.”
One thing working in Yates favor was familiarity.
“I think this is one of the first three tracks I ever raced at dating back to the old Motorcraft days Thunderbird days,” Yates said. “They have repaved this place and did everything, but it is still Thunder Valley. Some things never change.”
Yates admitted his first impression of the track didn’t jibe with reality.“We were prepared for the track to be all slick and virgin,” Yates said. “It was none of that. Each time we walked the track, it improved. We threw at it everything we felt it would take. That’s why we hit it so hard to begin with.”
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JUST A LITTLE MORE – Maybe the reprieve for the balance of the Top Fuel class is over. Last Sunday Tony Schumacher captured his second victory of the season at Summit Motorsports Park after he beat points leader Rod Fuller in the finals.
The defending class champion’s last win was at the ACDelco Gatornationals in March.
“It was definitely a long time coming,” Schumacher said. “Up to last weekend, we were just not getting down the track with any consistency. Fortunately, we found the magic again.”
The Chicago native had to fight his way from the 14th starting spot to claim his 37th career win. It marked his worst starting spot of the year to date.
“I guess a lot of people assumed that our bad qualifying performance would carry over to race day,” he said. “Thankfully, I have Alan Johnson (his crew chief) in my corner. I knew he would get a handle on the car. Once we got by Brandon (Bernstein) in the first round, I felt confident we could win the race.”
Now, Schumacher will turn his attention to the 12th race of the season, which is the official halfway point.
“Of greater importance is the fact that we only have six races to go before the cut-off for the Countdown to the Championship,” he said. “We have to stay firmly entrenched in the top eight over these next few weeks. We certainly want to qualify for the Countdown for our soldiers. Obviously, that’s the path we have to take if we’re going to get our fourth consecutive title.”
Schumacher currently holds fifth-place in the standings, but he is just 33 points out of the No. 2 spot.
“We’re in the middle of a tough stretch of races right now,” he said. “After the Bristol event, we’re off on the Western Swing (Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif.). By the time we’re done with this six-race tour, we’ll know who the heavy hitters are.”
Bristol Dragway has been a fairly pleasant stop for Schumacher since the NHRA began visiting in 2001. In six events, he has a win (2004) as well as final round and semifinal round advancements to his credit. He also set the track record for elapsed time in ’04 – 4.477-seconds.
IN A JEG’S STATE OF MIND – Cory McClenathan’s season has taken many twists and turns. This weekend brings a welcomed one.
McClenathan is wearing JEGS and Prestone yellow and black instead of his usual FRAM orange and black livery and the same goes for the dragster in this once-a-year promotion.
The last time McClenathan and JEGS/Prestone teamed up – at Columbus, Ohio, last year – he was runner-up. “We are excited to be able to fly JEGS colors,” said McClenathan. “All of us hope we can go all the way to winner’s circle this year. The new colors worked out really well for us then.
A LITTLE LESS DRAMA – McClenathan will settle for a more mundane performance Sunday than what fans recall of his horrific qualifying accident here last year.
McClenathan did a little more than bend up his dragster last year. He effectively turned it into a pretzel.
“We are looking forward to going back to the track to see if we can go some rounds on Sunday,” said McClenathan, who suffered plenty of bumps and bruises in the finish-line crash. “After last year, we are coming to Bristol disguised in yellow instead of our FRAM orange, and hope to do well.
A FOURTH IN JULY – Brandon Bernstein knows his numbers. A fourth will pave the way for a third.
Bernstein and his team won in Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Topeka and have led the Top Fuel point standings twice this year.
“Tim (Richards, crew chief) really has had a handle on consistency,” said Bernstein. “And that’s what it takes to win rounds and races. We won in Bristol in our rookie year in 2003, and we hope to have another good showing this year.”
“This year’s Top Fuel field is tough,” said Bernstein. “A few years back it used to be two or three cars battling for the lead. Right now at least the top half of the field is capable of winning races.
“It’s a nail-biter every round on Sunday, but by the same token, if you’re fortunate enough to win, your team has certainly put forth a lot of effort to get to victory circle and deserves the victory. There’s no walk in the park.
“Tim has incredible final round stats. We’re 15 and five in 20 career final round appearances. The track record shows that Tim gets better with every round we go and when we get to the finals, he just seems to understand what the race car wants and how much the racetrack can handle.”
SATURDAY OR SUNDAY – Clay Millican learns something new about drag racing with each race weekend. However, the one lesson he’s always known, gives him the largest fits.
You qualify on Saturday to better your chances on Sunday. Millican has the Saturday part down to a science. He just needs Sunday to cooperate.
“There are round wins just around the corner,” Millican predicted. “We have a fantastic car. If we were racing in qualifying we’d be in good shape. I’ m real proud of the way the car is running right now. We’ve done this before -- our racing mojo will return.”
Millican’s hope of being one of the top eight drivers gaining entry into NHRA ’s Countdown to Four portion of the 2007 championship chase are dimming. This is the 12th of 17 races that determine those eight competitors and Millican is 14th with 385 points.
He’ll need that mojo, plus multiple wins – and he’s still looking for his first NHRA victory – to accomplish the feat. He needs a stretch run like Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense to accomplish the mission. Is it a long shot? Yes. Is it doable? Maybe.
The team has potential, a solid owner, savvy crew chief and one of the top drivers in the sport. None of the RATT-Mobile crew is ready to concede anything.
Millican has been to three finals in his 71-race NHRA career and believes more victories will follow as soon as he claims that initial one.
CALLING IN THE CHIPS - Doug Kalitta hopes that previous Bristol success will work in conjunction with recent success for a great payday.
“Bristol has been really good to us,” Kalitta said. “It is definitely one of my favorite races on the tour, but not just because we’ve had some success there. The track and the whole facility are really great and we always have big crowds there.
“We’re coming off of our best finish (semifinals) of the season in Norwalk last week, so our Mac Tools team is anxious to get back out on the track and try to build some momentum and get in the top eight (points).”
This season the NHRA instituted a new Countdown to the Championship points system. Only the top eight in POWERade points after the first 17 national events will be allowed to vie for the season championship. Doug is currently in 12th place in points, but is only 53 points away from the No. 8 spot.
Kalitta also holds the track record for speed at Bristol Dragway, 331.53 mph (2006).
NO STOP SIGNS, NO SPEED LIMITS (HOPEFULLY) – J.R. Todd isn’t counting points, but he knows the margin for error to qualify for a Countdown to the Championship berth.
“As long as we get out of the first round every race, it should be alright,” he said. “The way the points (NHRA’s new Countdown to the Championship) are allows for hiccups here and there anyhow, but we are running out of races.”
Todd, a two-time winner and three-time finalist in the first 11 Countdown races, does sit third, but his grip is tenuous. A quarterfinal finish Sunday at Norwalk, Ohio, finds the Indiana with 677 points in a taught scramble for the top four berths. The margin between second and fifth is a mere 33 points.
Todd’s team has gone through a series of transformations that, to its credit, haven’t extinguished goals of securing a top four position when the Countdown to Eight part of the title chase ends after 17 races.
Kevin Poynter is the team’s third crew chief, following Jimmy Walsh and Johnny West. Walsh was with the team through Todd’s 2006 Rookie of the Year season and the first two 2007 races, ad tuned Todd to the season-opening win at Pomona, Calif. West was in charge when Todd won at Houston. Poynter already has a runner-up finish (at Topeka, Kan.) on his list.
“We need to get our act together during qualifying,” Todd said after the dragster lost traction and smoked the tires three times in its four qualifying runs at Norwalk.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS – Last year at this time, Melanie Troxel could do no wrong.
Troxel established an unbelievable NHRA record-setting pace of five consecutive final-round appearances, celebrating two wins along the way. Also, to add to that momentum, she grabbed the No. 1 qualifier with an elapsed time of 4.539 seconds at a speed of 324.59 mph at Bristol to set herself up for a great Sunday. Unfortunately, she departed the scenic Tennessee track in the quarterfinals, seeing red after a false start ending her strong streak.
This year she feels Bristol Dragway owes her.
"That was a red light start last year and it broke our string of final rounds," said Troxel. "It was a little disappointing there, but we ran well. I'm hoping we have some good data that we can take there and get a head start from that. This time it will be a different part of the year from where we ran last year. I'm thinking the weather forecast is calling for some cool evening weather. That will give us a nice advantage and hopefully we can build from there.
"I don't know if there is a reason, tuning-wise, that we haven't done well there. The track is beautiful and I love going up there. The fans and especially the Bristol Dragway staff have been great to us. I just hope we get the performance to go along with that."
BATTING PRACTICE - Troxel tested on Monday in Norwalk with teammate Morgan Lucas. The plan is to balance the Morgan Lucas Racing program by generating as close to identical information from each car, which will yield twice as much feedback from every pass.
"We feel we're going in the right direction even though we don't see the immediate results in our round wins," said Troxel, who is No. 8 in the Countdown to the Championship. "We raced the No. 1 qualifier last Sunday and it was a very close race. If we can get a little bit ahead of the game with some Monday testing, I think we'll have a great race car for Bristol."
NO MORE KRYPTONITE - Off to the absolute worst start of his career, John Force will need a super-human performance if he hopes to turn his season around and put himself and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford back in the race for the 2007 championship.
Entering this week's seventh annual Thunder Valley Nationals, the 58-year-old icon is 15th in driver points, 466 behind pacesetting Ron Capps and 368 down to son-in-law and Ford teammate Robert Hight. He even trails daughter Ashley, a Funny Car rookie.
Not since 1982 has he been as far behind in points as he was at the start of the current eight races-in-nine weeks endurance contest. That's the year he finished 20th in points because he raced in only three of 12 events. That's the bad news. The good news is that this year the 14-time NHRA Funny Car Champion, winner of a record 122 tour events, doesn't have to catch either Capps or Hight.
In the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship format, the points earned in the season's first 17 races only serve to set the lineup for a six-race shootout to determine the winner of the $500,000 POWERade bonus.
That means that Force's real target this week isn't Capps, who's ahead by the equivalent of 24 racing rounds, but Jack Beckman, the driver who currently occupies the eighth and final transfer position in the Countdown. Beckman leads Force by a far more manageable 120 points.
"I don't know how we got this bad," Force said. "Robert and Ashley are doing good. They're up in the Countdown. We're trying to get there, but it's been tough. I still step on the pedal the same way. I haven't forgotten how to drive and I haven't forgotten how to win. We'll turn it around. I promise you that."
NOTHING LIKE THE FIRST TIME - In his first appearance at Bruton Smith’s re-configured Bristol Dragway, John Force was both the figurative and literal personification of Superman, the DC Comics superhero.
Driving a Superman version of his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang and wearing a red-and-blue, not-yet-sullied firesuit prominently emblazoned with Superman's "S," Force dominated at 1999's inaugural Winston Showdown.
After qualifying No. 1, he drove his Castrol-backed Ford Funny Car past five Top Fuel dragsters in a handicapped competition for which he earned the biggest single event payday of his career: $210,000.
However, since the NHRA POWERade Series debuted at Bristol Dragway in 2001, Force's "super powers" have been largely non-existent.
Oh, he did win the O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals in 2004 and, yes, he was the Funny Car runner-up a year ago, but in the other four races, he couldn't even manage a winning record (3-4).
For some, winning one of six starts at any venue would be considered spectacular, but not when you are drag racing's biggest winner, a driver who has won 25 per cent not of all the races he has started, but all the races for which he has tried to qualify in a 30-year NHRA career (122 of 486).
READY TO WIN AGAIN – Mike Ashley has two ways to look at winning this weekend in Bristol. He can envision it as a momentum continuance from Norwalk. Or, he can rewind his memories, to his first career victory as a Pro Modified racer in 1990.
Last weekend, Ashley defeated veteran racer Kenny Bernstein in the finals at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, and moved up two positions into fourth place in POWERade championship points. Ashley's first event win was June 1 at Heartland Park in Topeka, Kan., and then he failed to qualify at the next two events.
"We really needed that win," said Ashley, a mortgage banker from New York. "We had struggled the previous two races, but we never questioned ourselves. In fact, we maintained our confidence even in the face of adversity. This proves that perseverance pays off and we definitely have what it takes to win.
"Brian [Corradi, crew chief] and the guys have worked really hard, and it paid off last weekend. Our focus now is to keep doing what works and maintain our position in the top eight as we get into the Countdown to the Championship."
Ashley battled from the No. 8 qualifying position in Norwalk, dispatching John Force Racing standout Robert Hight along with veterans Jim Head and Tony Pedregon to get the finals where he faced Bernstein.
"Racing Kenny Bernstein in the finals was really an honor - he's a legend and a true racing professional," Ashley said.
THERE’S GOT TO BE AN EASIER WAY - Del Worsham has earned his share of TV time over the years, and most of it has been based on great performances, emotional victories, and masterful driving efforts. Of course, there have also been a few spectacular moments in the popular driver's career, when his Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Funny Car ended up doing things he never wanted and, after another one of those weekends in Norwalk, Worsham is not just anxious to race again, but is focused and intent upon putting those trials behind him. He'll have his chance this weekend, as stop No. 3 on the current six-race swing takes place at Thunder Valley, in Bristol, Tenn.
By the end of his Norwalk weekend, Worsham had left parts, pieces, a chassis, and one shredded Funny Car body on the ground. He also left northern Ohio with a first-round loss, which only added to the frustration of a weekend gone awry. The good news, however, came in the form of some forensic study, when he and his team found the likely culprit for their recent misfortunes.
"We sifted through everything, and analyzed all the parts and pieces, and it looks like we've probably found the source of the explosions," Worsham said. "Knocking the blower off the car can usually be traced to something in the valve train, because all of those valves have to open and close exactly right, and if they don't you have a big boom on your hands and the pressure usually goes upward, through the manifold. It's one thing to have a problem out here every now and then, because every team in the sport can relate to banging the blower and detonating motors, but to see a problem come back regularly, over a long period of time, well that's a different deal. That's something that we've been trying to pin down, so hopefully we've done that.
"The most frustrating part of this whole ordeal has been the fact the car really wants to run great. Whether you look back to Pomona last year, with the trip into the sand trap, or the first few races of this season, we've been on some monster runs over the last few months, but too many of them have ended with broken parts and mangled motors. If we have this thing ironed out, we're probably ready to go on a tear, because we're making good power and we have a good tune-up. Heck, we actually bumped our way into the field, in Norwalk, on the run where we blew the body off the car. We were on the best lap of the day, for anyone in the class."
YEP, SHE’S A LOOKER – It’s a tough chore to prove you belong behind the wheel of a nitro Funny Car. But, that’s exactly what Ashley Force is proving with each race.
Ashley has the opportunity to achieve something no other female has done in the history of the NHRA Funny car division – reach the final round. Remember, Shirley Muldowney reached a Funny Car final in Bristol, but that was under IHRA sanction.
Ashley has the clout to be the first, considering that she is coming off her best personal qualifying effort and the best ever for a woman in the Funny Car division (No. 2 behind teammate Robert Hight at last week's Summit Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio).
Moreover, when she drove her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang into the semifinals at Atlanta, Ga., and Madison, Ill., she became just the second woman in drag racing history and the first in 22 years to reach the semis in a category widely considered the last bastion of male dominance.
Even if she doesn't win this Sunday, however, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton already has proven that she belongs.
She's beaten her dad in the first father-daughter match in professional sport, become the winningest female driver in Funny Car history, and firmly established herself as the front-runner in the race for the Auto Club's 2007 Road to the Future Award that annually identifies the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year.
PROCK ROCKET OR DUD? - Jimmy Prock is determined to make Robert Hight’s current Mustang run as quickly as the one he crashed in Topeka. That’s easier said than done. A DNQ and second-half qualifier later, Prock still doesn’t have a firm grip and reliving that domination.
But, that’s not for lack of effort. Prock has changed everything on this new car.
Gone is the engine/clutch combination that last February delivered the two quickest quarter miles in Funny Car history – 4.644 seconds at Pomona, Calif., and 4.634 seconds at Phoenix, Ariz. In its place is one that may not strike quite as much fear in the hearts of the opposition, but one that ultimately may provide the consistency necessary for Prock and Hight to realize their goal of a POWERade championship.
Before committing his monster to the scrap heap, Prock changed everything on it in a futile attempt to make it perform as he envisioned. He raised the fuel volume, lowered the fuel volume and swapped out virtually every part and piece in the drivetrain and ignition. Nothing helped. So, beginning this week at Bristol Dragway and continuing through the end of August, he and Hight will change direction.
"We're going to test and try different things and, but the time we go to Indy (for the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the first event in the six-race Countdown), hopefully we’ll have a combination that we can race with like we did at the end of last year," Hight said. "Whatever it takes, that's what we're going to do." Although he went to the finals in four of the season's first five races, winning twice, and even though he presently is second in POWERade points, Hight said that the tune-up in the blue-and-white Ford never lived up to his or Prock's expectations.
The problem, according to Hight, was that the engine might run on all eight cylinders or it might not. It might leave the starting line with 7,000 horses, but it rarely reached the finish line in the same condition, suffering from "dropped cylinders," a malady best described as a "miss" in the engine.
"When it ran 4.63," said the 2005 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, "it had a cylinder out at 800 feet. We just couldn't race with what we had. I'm not trying to be negative, but that's the way it is. We were way over center on the tune-up (and it got to the point where) it was not going (down the track) more than it was going."
The situation came to a head last week at Norwalk, Ohio. Although Hight qualified No. 1 for the 19th time in his brief career, the seven-time tour winner may have been the unhappiest track record holder in history.
"It put two cylinders out and burnt one down track (on a 4.713 second run that set the track record)," he said. "(On the run before that), it tried to drop three cylinders at once. If we could ever get it to run to the finish line like its supposed to, and run 325 or 330 like it did last year, it'd run consistent 4.60s. But Jimmy has tried everything."
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT – Kenny Bernstein has raced in Bristol a time or two, or three, four … eh … you get the picture.
Bernstein, who began participating as an owner/driver in drag racing in the early 1970s on a more part-time basis, remembers Bristol as one of the jewels of the drag racing circuit.
“It had an aura about it,” said Bernstein. “With the drag strip cut between two mountains, the powerful cackle of the nitro cars reverberates and bounces off the mountain and sounds like thunder. Many years ago we’d race late at night when it was so foggy you could barely see in front of you.
“We did pretty well at Bristol through the years before the track was rebuilt and became a part of the NHRA national event series in 2001. Early in our career we went to the final round five times, four in Funny Car and once in Top Fuel.
“The Funny Car category is pretty spectacular this season and I think fans and competitors alike are biting their fingernails in the final Saturday qualifying session. At each event this season, it’s been a battle of drivers being knocked out of the field, battling their way back into the field, only to be bumped out again. It’s great for the fans, but the drivers and crew chiefs are on edge and they have to be on the top of their game.
“We’ll see if the ghosts of our past performance are still lingering at Bristol and will favor us with a good showing at the new Bristol Dragway.”
ROLLING, ROLLING, ROLLING – In the movie Days of Thunder, stock car racer Cole Trickle had problems coming out of the pit area, and that almost cost him a lap in the final moments of the race. With the advice of fictional crewchief Harry Hyde, Trickle was instructed to forget the blunder and keep the throttle wide open.
Hyde’s theory was Trickle would catch the pack and be at full speed once the green flag dropped.
If you look at how things are going for Allen Johnson, he’s hitting his stride just as the green flag drops.
Johnson, pilot of the Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus R/T, has been qualifying in the top half of the Pro Stock field and going rounds on a consistent basis. His strong outings have placed him in the fifth spot in the NHRA Pro Stock standings and on his opponents’ radar as a driver to watch. The Greeneville, Tenn., native would like nothing better than to break through for his first 2007 win at his home track of Bristol Dragway.
“This week is a huge week, of course,” Johnson said. “We’re in stride right now, so maybe we can go down there and get that first win of the year there at our home track. I’ll have a lot of friends and family around. Maybe we can get that win next week.”
The Bristol Dragway track might be a challenge, but Johnson is confident in the abilities of his J&J Racing team, led by crew chief Mark Ingersoll and Johnson’s father, engine builder and co-owner, Roy Johnson.
“The track down there is going to be green and marginal,” said Johnson. “Again, that plays into our hands, because we’ve got some of the best people. We should come out swinging."
HOPPING MAD – Greg Anderson wasn’t just angry after his first round DQ in Norwalk, he was hopping mad. It might not be wise to be on his side of the ladder come Sunday’s eliminations. Or, not to get ahead of the game, during qualifying for that matter.
Anderson is appears ready to teach a lesson.
“We’ve got a lot of making up to do. We’ve got to redeem ourselves,” said Anderson who took the No. 1 position and won here in 2004. “Last weekend at Norwalk (Ohio), we had an uncharacteristic weekend for the KB Racing team when I made a judgment error on the starting lights. I’m disappointed that I didn’t know the rules better than I did but that’s behind us now. We need to make some ground up at Bristol Dragway and show everybody that last weekend was just a fluke and show everybody what we’re really made of.”
Without rehashing last weekend’s miscue, Anderson was timed out after he didn’t enter the staging beams in the required seven seconds once the two pre-stage lights and one of the two staged lights were on.
“That’s what it was and now our entire focus is on Bristol and the winner’s circle,” concluded Anderson.
Since the season began 11 races ago, Anderson has gone to six final rounds, winning all six. He leads the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock standings with 992 points, which also puts the Minnesota native, who now lives in the Charlotte N.C. area, in the lead for the first segment – Countdown to Eight – of the Countdown to the Championship.
I LIKE IT, BUT … - You can complete that sentence for Dave Connolly by simply handing him a trophy this weekend.
Connolly, in his fourth full Pro Stock season, arrives in third place in NHRA POWERade Series points, fresh from scoring an impressive hometown victory Sunday at Norwalk, Ohio. It’s a quantum leap from a year ago when he wasn’t in the top 10.
“Bristol is a gorgeous track and it is great for the fans,” said the Elyria, Ohio, native. “The view you get from the top of the track is like watching Hot Wheels cars go down the track. I’ve had my ups and downs there. I was No. 1 qualifier two years ago and didn’t qualify last year so I got a good view of the race from the top of the track. That race was a turning point for our team and the last DNQ we had.”
Norwalk is the track where Connolly made his first quarter-mile runs. His win Sunday was his second of the year in his third final round. It pushed his career mark to 11 wins in 23 rounds. He won at St. Louis in May. “I’d never done much at St. Louis before either. Hopefully we’ll have the same results here as St. Louis,” he said.
“We definitely feel better going into Bristol with a win under our belt,” added Connolly, driver of Evan Knoll’s Torco Racing Fuels/Seelye Wright Automotive Group Chevy Cobalt. “It was a great win for our Victor Cagnazzi (Racing) team. It was a good win for my crew chief, Tommy Utt, who has given me a great car for several months now and we just took advantage of it.
“I have all the confidence in Tommy. He’s always been a great crew chief on race day and makes smart calls and he definitely knows how to win a race.”
Six of Connolly’s 11 victories have been with Utt in the last 28 races. With six races remaining in NHRA’s new Countdown to Eight portion of its new championship formula, Connolly is keeping his goals simple.
NUMBERS DON’T LIE - The best Pro Stock driver over the last eight races hasn't been POWERade points leader Greg Anderson. Instead, the steadiest hand in the Pro Stock stable has been none other than three-time series champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., who has accumulated a class-leading 686 points since the Houston race in late March, compared to Anderson's 681 points earned over that same time frame.
"That's an impressive statistic," the 37-year-old Coughlin said. "It's a great trend and obviously it's one we'd love to continue moving forward, particularly once the Countdown to the Championship playoff deal begins in September in Indy.
"Our JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt has been very, very consistent, and even though I have earned a few more points than Greg over the last eight races, I feel as though we could have earned even more. I think we left a few rounds and wins on the table, to be perfectly honest. But we're still incredibly happy with our position in the class."
In the last eight races, Coughlin has raced to the semifinals or further seven times. His one early exit, a quarterfinal result in Atlanta, remains his first and only holeshot loss as a professional.
"The confidence I have in my racecar goes up and up every week," Coughlin said. "Any time you're completing runs and making good, strong passes every time out, you just feel invincible behind the wheel. It picks you up. It picks us all up. Rich (Saulino) feels better tuning the engine, Roy (Simmons) feels better making the clutch calls, and everyone just does a better job. Success breeds success."
Entering this event, Coughlin trails Anderson by 167 points in the POWERade standings. Under the new Countdown to the Championship format, the top eight racers in each professional category will battle for this year's world titles beginning in Indianapolis. The field will be reduced to four racers after the Richmond, Va., event.
GO WITH THE UNKNOWN – Sometimes you have to close your eyes and swing. That’s the best game plan for Warren Johnson who is struggling after starting the season strong.
“Our last few races have really brought out the drag in drag racing, but we’re not about to let it get us down,” said Johnson. “Certainly, it would be easy to look at what we’ve done of late and get frustrated by it, but being frustrated fixes nothing. If anything, this experience has made us even more motivated. We’re just going to work and fix things.
“With so little time between races, we can’t really make any major changes to our GM Performance Parts GTO, but, fortunately, we not that far off. For example, last weekend, we were near the top of the page during Saturday’s qualifying sessions, but didn’t move up because it was so much hotter than the day before. Then on Sunday, we had the wheelie bars a little too high, so it shook the tires, which really didn’t matter because I was a couple of thousandths too quick on the tree. These are the little things that add up.
"On a positive note, they can also be easily fixed. So, even though we will be bringing the same ugly girl to the dance again this weekend, I think we have a few things up our sleeve that may just make her a little more attractive this time out.”
Under normal circumstances, Johnson could look forward to racing on a familiar track on which he has experienced success, having participated in each of the six previous NHRA national event visits to Bristol Dragway, winning twice, as well as scoring six wins in IHRA competition during the '70s and '80s. However, the first 700 feet of concrete will be completely new and untested prior to this weekend, creating an unknown quantity for all involved.
"Although we’ve been successful on numerous occasions in the past at Bristol, this time we are facing a complete unknown,” said Johnson. “Since they didn’t even start putting rubber down until a few days ago, we’ll have no idea until we get there as to what kind of set-up we’ll need to get down it. Fortunately, between myself, (son) Kurt and Terry (crew chief Adams), we have a lot of experience on all sorts of tracks, so together I’m confident we’ll come up with a solid game plan.
“Besides, Bristol Dragway is one of Bruton Smith’s tracks, so we know Jeff Byrd (president of Bristol Dragway) and his staff will do everything possible to give us a good track to race on. In the meantime, we have to do whatever’s necessary to get pointed back in the right direction. I guess you could say that lately, we’ve only been circling the target, so now it’s time to hit the bulls eye.”
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