NHRA SUMMIT NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
BUDGET, WHAT BUDGET? – When SREMP completed its $6 million expansion project it was $2 million over the original budget. No one miscalculated on costs.
It’s the Bader way. You pay attention to detail and then take it to the next level.
For instance, 1.2 million feet of paving for the professional pits was not enough. It needed 40,000 linear feet of concrete curbing.
The landscaping was incomplete. The Baders brought in more trees.
When a truck left noticeable tire marks on the asphalt, it was resealed.
These were just a few additional improvements to the expansion which included eight new luxury suites with overstuffed leather furniture (each with its own bar), new lighting and sound system, new scoreboards, and expanded race control and office space.
Did we mention the largest press center on the tour?
You’d think they would rest on their laurels. But, this is the Bader family we are talking about.
“”We’re already looking at improvements for next year,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “We want to continue to have a fan-friendly and family-friendly facility. Our goal is for the fan experience to be perfect from the time they come in to the time they leave.”
I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM – The one thing that becomes an instant conversation piece for those discussing SREMP and its attributes is the ice cream.
The Bader family made it fashionable to offer a pound of ice cream for $1.
This weekend, 24,994 pounds of ice cream were served.
LUCKY 13 – Warren Johnson qualified 13th at Norwalk and his post-qualifying press release announced his intentions of creating Triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13). He needed to do something. After all, his first round opponent was Dave Connolly.
But for Don Prudhomme’s, the fear of the 13th qualifiers is firmly entrenched in their minds.
In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta knocked off back-to-back winner Larry Dixon in the first round of eliminations. Cruz Pedregon ended Tommy Johnson, Jr’s winning streak at one.
Premonition - Saturday’s final qualifying session gave Tony Schumacher an indication of how things were going to go on Sunday.
“When you’re strapped into the car for that final qualifying run and you’re 14th with the four people ahead of you capable of knocking you out or moving you around, it gets your attention,” Schumacher said. “It’s pretty tough. When you go out and smoke the tires like we did, it is a perfect example of some of the car out there who have been lucky.
“All four of those guys ran slower than our qualifying position and I snickered. I knew as long as we didn’t run No.1 that we’d be fine on Sunday.”
Then Schumacher went out there and did it. He won as an underdog on paper. However, if you know Schumacher’s crewchief Alan Johnson and the reputation that precedes him, you are aware that he’ll spank you from anywhere.
“When I raced against Alan, I can’t tell you how many times he would be in this same spot and clobber you,” Schumacher said. “That’s exactly what he did today. We weren’t low elapsed time but we were close. It just kept getting better.”
Then there was the smile. When Johnson gives the smile, you hold on.
“When he does that, you know you’re going to run real fast,” Johnson said.
SECRET FAN – Tony Schumacher stole a championship from Doug Kalitta last year in Pomona in a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Today, Schumacher was a Kalitta fan.
“I’m not a Doug Kalitta fan, but when you lose your father like he did, that’s hard,” Schumacher said. “We are a family here.”
Schumacher presented Kalitta with his trophy.
“I was hoping that he would beat us in the finals,” Schumacher said. “That’s the way it should have been. You can’t predict those kinds of things. But it is there in the back of your mind. I was a Connie Kalitta fan growing up, almost as much as I was a fan of my father.”
POTTY BREAK – Well, he did have to go. And when you have to go, you have to do, well, you know. Hot Rod Fuller has found a way to hurt himself outside of playing volleyball. Just jumping a fence to use the porta-pot can have painful ramifications.
“I jumped the fence to get to the bathroom quicker and when I came down, I heard a big pop in my knee,” Fuller said. “I couldn’t walk from that point.”
Fuller had his crew sit him in the car prior to his win over David Grubnic.
‘I can drive, it’s just going to be difficult,” Fuller said. “I’ll just have to tough it out.”
Fuller reaggrivated the same knee he injured in Hawaii weeks ago playing volleyball.
OUT OF THE GATE - In his second career final-round match versus Tony Schumacher, Fuller used a huge holeshot to get the jump at the start, but his all-white dragster lost traction and slowed to a run of 7.087 at 114.49, while the Alan Johnson-tuned rail raced to low E.T. of the day, 4.537 seconds, to earn the victory. It is Fuller’s second runner-up finish this season. He now leads second-place racer Larry Dixon by 98 points.
“To set the track record and get to the final round at the first race at Norwalk is really good,” Fuller said. “A lot of people say we mess up in the final round, but we’re just really aggressive. It was a good weekend for our team. We set the track record, qualified No. 1, extended our points lead and went to another final round. We have a lot of confidence.”
HILLARY’S PREDICAMENT – Hillary Will’s crew made a judgment call prior to her race with Whit Bazemore. The crew noticed a bubble on the tire prior to the burnout and made the decision early to forfeit the run.
Will did her burnout and staged … albeit a deep stage. The light went green and she remained on the line before shutting off.
Bazemore, unaware of what happened, appeared regretful that he couldn’t wait longer.
“In Funny Car, we would have waited longer on her,” Bazemore said. “Because of the weight and the tank in the front of the dragster, we couldn’t wait any longer.”
“We found a bubble on one of the rear tires on Hillary’s car,” said team owner Ken Black. “We did the burnout but had no intention of sending her down the track. In a deal like this you can only hope the opponent fouls. Safety of drivers is the prime concern. I’m glad the problem was found before a small item developed into something that could have had tragic results. The NHRA was built on safety and no one associated with KB Racing or any other team would put a driver in a situation that is unsafe.”
KNOW YOUR ROLE – “Some days, I think I am a crew chief and I only need to look at the scars on my body and I realize I’m not.” – Whit Bazemore
IT ALL STARTED HERE – When Rookie of the Year titlist J.R. Todd takes inventory of his storied one-year career, he cannot forget the launching point. Norwalk is where he first drove a Top Fuel car. It only took three runs to obtain his license.
It has taken seven years to come down from the high. He’s still not certain if he’s fully grounded.
“I was nervous as heck,” Todd said. “I made three runs. After that third run, I was ready to make as many full pulls as I could. The next week I was able to compete in my first week. It all started in Norwalk for me. I have a lot of history dating back to my days running in junior dragster. Having Paul Romine and Shirley Muldowney watching over me was pretty amazing.”
Then Todd got the ultimate approval a week later when Muldowney gave him a set of slicks.
“I made my first qualifying run alongside of her and she whipped me pretty bad,” Todd said. “She set the mile per hour record on that run. She is definitely an icon of this sport and I look up to her.”
Can it get any better for Todd? He still looks on in amazement.
“How can you dream something this amazing?” Todd asked. “I was 18 years old and once I drove a Top Fueler for the first time, I knew it was all I wanted to do. Reality set in when the funding went away. I was out of the driver’s seat for about six years. I stuck after it and I knew one day that I would drive again. Then this deal came along with Dexter Tuttle.”
Todd is a realist but has a penchant for being a dreamer. Rolling through the gates Thursday was enough to open the floodgate of memories.
“When I licensed, we were parked on the east side of the track,” Todd said. “It awesome to see the changes they have made to this place since then. This place just gets better and better with each visit.
“Pulling into here the first time, I didn’t know what to think. I don’t think I slept any that night before. The more runs you make the more comfortable you get. Those pterodactyls from the first time are now butterflies.”
ROY HILL IS IN THE HOUSE – You know him as the drill instructing drag racing teacher. He never met a student that he didn’t enjoy yelling at. But that was then and this is now.
The kindler and gentler Roy Hill is in the house. He’s in Doug Herbert’s house.
Herbert has had a tough run of things in 2007, and with that said brought in Hill as an extra set of eyes. Those eyes aren’t on the car. They are on the driver.
“It’s like a golfer going out and golfing for a month or two,” Hill said. “and things aren’t going so well. He goes out and gets his professional to help him smooth him up on his swing. Doug is a great driver. I am just out here to help smooth him up some. We had some great runs in E-town and I am here this weekend and will be next weekend in Bristol.”
Herbert is pleased with the Hill factor thus far.
"We're happy to have Roy here,” said Herbert. “He lives close, and flew up with us on Thursday. I have been going to Roy for reaction time training for over ten years, and when he is here, he always finds a way to help out."
Hill said that only a small amount of fine-tuning should continue working wonders for Herbert.
“We’ll just get him on his game plan and turn him loose. He’ll be just fine. Doug is no different than any other racer, including me, sometimes we goof up and we have to go to someone to talk and get things worked out. Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at the things you may be doing wrong.”
Hill and Herbert have worked together off and on for the last five years.
“A couple of years ago, we had him on a roll and really doing well,” said Hill. “The last few years, he’s had some tough situations to deal with. He called me last week and we went to Englishtown and we had some good luck.”
Hill can’t seem to escape the reputation of being on top of the emotional tires many times in the early part of his career as an instructor. He’ll softly argue that he’s a changed man.
“I’ve learned to relax a little over the years,” Hill said. “I felt when a person came through my school that I had to deliver a license to them. I am more conservative now. Now if someone gives me the tools, I work with them. But it is up to them to get their license. I have calmed down a lot.”
What was his secret? Gaining the opportunity to work with kids was enough to right his own personal ship.
“It has made all of the difference in the world,” Hill said. “I love working with them. You have to be easy with them. Safety is my first priority. Sometimes I do raise my voice, but that’s only if they are making real bad mistakes that could hurt them. I’m just not the same person that I used to be.”
Does he treat Herbert like a junior dragster driver?
“I have the last few weeks,” Hill said with his trademark smile.
NO MORE MEMOS - Note to all racers. Don’t believe every memo that your butt sends to your brain. At least that’s the advice Clay Millican can offer.
“The car made a little shake,” Millican said regarding his first-round run today. “Wanting to win so badly, I tried to help it by pedaling it, but as it turned out, the car didn’t need any help. It would’ve made it through the area where it was shaking according to the computer graphs. We made a run Friday and the tires shook a little at the same place and I didn’t pedal it. My butt told me to pedal it Sunday but my mind didn’t answer.
“We have a fantastic car now. It has been running well. We just need our racing mojo to return.”
NOW THAT IS CLOSE – Top Fuel racing can’t get any closer than it did in the first round. In two of the eight first round matches both drivers ran identical elapsed times down to the thousandth.
Rod Fuller stopped Melanie Troxel by a 4.664 to 4.666 margin. A few pairs later, Tony Schumacher’s 4.581 defeated Brandon Bernstein’s 4.587.
Think that’s odd for Bernstein? He did the same thing in qualifying against Larry Dixon and they ran identical numbers down to the thousandth of a second.
FEAST OR FAMINE – Mike Ashley knows a thing or two about meetings considering his day job is a mortgage banker. He knows how to utilize them as a means of conveying positive energy.
“I talked with the team after we won Topeka and told them we weren’t winners just because we won that race,” Ashley said. “We were winners before that race. By the same token, we were not losers. We were just struggling. Coming into this weekend, I wanted them in a confident mindset. I told them to pretend we were coming out of Topeka.”
And, they did. Ashley went smokeless in all four rounds, producing the quickest in three.
“We found some gremlins and immediately our car came back,” Ashley said.
Ashley failed to make the cut in Chicago despite being the quickest in the first and third sessions. A broken clutch finger locked him out of the crucial Friday evening session where most of the teams made their finest runs.
Then, in front of his home town at Englishtown, Ashley admittedly flopped.
17 YEARS AGO – 17-years ago Mike Ashley was in the midst of a four-way championship battle as an IHRA Pro Modified racer headed into Norwalk. He’s worlds apart from that rambunctious doorslammer racer now.
“I’ve learned a lot over those last 17 years,” Ashley said. “Life taught me a lot of lessons. I wish I had this 17 years of experience back then.”
The lessons have been life-transforming.
“I remember in 1990 that I pulled in the track and I had just signed a new sponsor,” Ashley said. “I was in the lead in the points and went out there and couldn’t do a thing. I couldn’t get down the track and finally with my sponsor on the starting line, I qualified 13th. I went out first round.”
Wounds invoke memories.
“I pulled in here and that memory presented itself,” Ashley said. “That is why it was so important for us to come into this weekend with the right mindset.”
ONE THING YOU RARELY HEAR AMONG FC FINALISTS – Leave it to Mike Ashley to say what usually isn’t said.
“I went over to Kenny Bernstein and I told him, “besides the fact we are the only two Jewish Funny Car racers to meet in the finals, I want you to know that I appreciate being able to race you, and it is an honor,” Ashley said.
REMEMBER, THEY ARE THE FUTURE – Mike Ashley broke out of a two-race qualifying slump by making it into the field. His first round victory over Jim Head signaled the official end of his funk since the Topeka victory.
But, his shortcomings weren’t what fueled his drive the most. Not giving his son a reason to brag on the flight home is what mattered most.
Justin Ashley was the top qualifier in the drag racing simulator for the POWERade Fan Nationals at the time of Mike’s triumph. The second-generation Ashley, also a junior dragster racer, was a two-time winner during the 2006 season.
Mike won for the first time in Topeka.
“I don’t want to sit on that plane ride home if he wins and I get sent packing,” Ashley said. “That will be tough.”
This time dad gets the last laugh. Justin went out first round.
KNOCK THE BIGGEST ONE OUT FIRST – There’s a first time for everything, and while you may have envisioned that Kenny Bernstein has done it all – he did something new today. At least he did something for the first time since returning to Funny Car this season.
Bernstein won on a holeshot when he took out point leader Ron Capps. For Bernstein, it was nothing more than payback.
“I didn’t sleep a wink all night thinking about you, Capps,” Bernstein said after his first round victory.
Capps didn’t rest any easier.
"Racing a guy like Kenny Bernstein, who is one of the best out here, makes for a long Saturday night thinking about what you've got to do first round,” said Capps. “I'm always confident that I'll have a great car on Sunday, and once again the guys put a flawless run together and I wasn't on my game. Kenny said we're even, because we got him on a holeshot in Vegas. I knew he was going to be tough. He's one of the toughest.”
With the victory, Bernstein leapfrogged John Force to move into the 14th spot in the championship points.
Too Much Information – Jack Beckman got his first Force trophy today. A win over John Force, that is.
“You would like to think it doesn’t matter … an opponent is an opponent,” Beckman said. “But, it does. John Force is the lord of all Funny Car drivers.
“I’m so excited that I may have wet myself.”
TOLIVER’S EXTRA EYES - Rick Cassell, a veteran tuner, joined the ROCKSTAR Energy Drink team as assistant crew chief, Jerry Toliver announced.
“Rick adds another set of eyes and new ideas to our team,” said Toliver. “He is going to help Dale in several different areas, including the computer data area.”
Cassell, of Thiensville, Wis., has worked with several different race teams over the past 17 years. “Having the opportunity to work with Dale was one reason I joined this team,” Cassell said. “You can’t get a much better teacher.”
Sometimes the pieces to the puzzle fall into place. That’s exactly what happened for Dave Connolly this weekend.
Growing up some 20 miles from SREMP, Connolly wanted this win in a bad way. He had a number of his family in attendance and it provided the perfect opportunity for the Pro Stock gunslinger to showcase his crewchief Tommy Utt’s talents.
“It was a tough win all the way around and well deserved for Tommy,” said Connolly. “He’s given me a great race car for months now and we finally took advantage of it. At the last few races we always seemed to have electrical problems but we always seemed to get them fixed before first round.
“Winning here definitely means a lot to me. I had cousins, grand parents, a lot of friends and family come out to watch me. That was probably the biggest winner’s circle picture I’ve had taken. I think they had to get the wide-angle lens out for it.
“I don’t think I missed a week not coming to this track from the time I was 10 until I was 17, so to come back and go out and perform like we did and win the race is just icing on the cake. It was a picture-perfect weekend.”
With the win, Connolly solidified his hold on third place in NHRA POWERade Series points. He has 775, three rounds (60 points) behind Coughlin with 12 of 17 races in the Countdown to Eight portion of the championship chase.
ANDERSON UPSET – Greg Anderson was upset in the first round, and he also lost.
Erica Enders gained a first-round win light at Anderson’s expense when he was timed out on the starting line. Immediately thereafter a serious discussion broke out between Anderson’s car owner Ken Black and NHRA Chief Starter Rick Stewart. Anderson’s wife Kim chimed in as well.
The cause of their ire was their driver’s disqualification after Enders lit both the pre-stage and stage bulbs as Anderson eased into the beams. He was rolling in to activate the second bulb when Enders got the green and the multi-time champ went red.
A second heated discussion, this one between NHRA Senior Vice President, Racing Operations Graham Light and Anderson, ensued, but no reprieve was forthcoming, bringing one of the worst weekends of Anderson’s racing career to a disappointing end. The top-runner from North Carolina earned No. 1 qualifier honors at Norwalk, but he only made it to the finish line under power one time all weekend.
“We all know as racers when a driver lights both bulbs that we are to turn off the auto timer,” Anderson said. “That eliminates the standard seven seconds so you don’t have to rush in. There is too much that has got to happen to get in that quick.
“We all light one light at a time and then you get the timer. There would be no reason for the timer if we didn’t light one light at a time. The timer should be disallowed. They’re trying to tell me that no matter what you have seven seconds. That’s BS. They have made that up and we know that is not the rule. What can I do about it? Absolutely nothing. They [NHRA] think it’s funny.
“No other racer out here thinks the timer is on when both bulbs are lit before you light your first one. The purpose of the timer is for a fair deal. It is not fair when both bulbs are lit before a driver gets his first. There’s a major time difference then.
“I got screwed and it’s that simple. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Enders said she aspires to beat Greg Anderson every time but this time there’s no conspiracy theory. It was just a matter of timing in the staging process and she misjudged Anderson’s intentions when she lit the second bulb.
“On race day my team and I meet to discuss a starting-line plan and I have been encouraged to speed up my staging process since I started racing Pro Stock,” Enders said. “I was a little slower at getting ready. On that run, I put the pre-stage light on and I waited. When I looked over and saw his car moving forward, I went in and staged. You have to be on your ‘A’ game when you race Greg or Jason Line, or half the guys out here for that matter.
“I got ready and went in. I had my head together and waited for him to turn his bulb on. I was going to tree his ass … hopefully. I was going to try and win the race. When you are a tenth of a second behind those guys, you have to do everything you can on the starting line as far as reaction time goes. I was just prepared and ready for them.”
More times than not, when controversy erupts on the starting line, an exchange ensues between drivers on the top end. Not this time.
“I knew that Greg and Ken Black were both angry,” Enders said. “Greg got out of his car at the finish line and he was talking. He did his interview and I could hear what he was saying. I decided it would be in my best interests to stay next to my car. Greg was not rude to me and even gave me a hug. He told me that he was not mad at me but just didn’t understand what the ruling should have been. They are a classy group of guys and people we look up to and respect.”
Anderson told Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com that he held no animosity towards Enders.
“I’m not mad at her,” Anderson said. “I’m sure it was an accident and not done on purpose. You can do whatever you want to do up there but every racer knows the auto timer is off when that happens. There’s nothing wrong with what she did. We just know that when that happens the timer is off because you need that extra time”
The timer remains on per a statement issued by the NHRA Competition department. The official word is that once a third light is illuminated, the time out count of seven seconds begins before the system triggers the tree.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
DOUBLE DIGIT BOOGIE - “Finally!”
That’s all Andrew Hines could muster when discussing the merits of his latest victory; the one win he needed to vault his personal record into the double digit mark. Hines monumental tenth career victory came at the expense of Matt Smith.
“It was a great weekend and our bike responded to the changes we made to it,” Hines said. “The bike ran real well all weekend except for once when we had a minor glitch in the fourth qualifier where I had to do some riding.”
Hines made four consecutive six-second passes.
“I was confident but not too confident because that Torco bike had been to the finals already this season,” Hines said. “Matt is leading the points because he has been the most consistent. We are only 100 points back. If we keep going at this rate, I feel we can catch him. We have come back from further out.”
CLASH OF THE TITANS – That’s pretty much how Hines summed up the final round between the Harley-Davidson and Buell teams.
“Our team has gotten over the hump after a terrible start to the season,” Hines said. “Matt has got a great bike over there. To come back and run three finals in a row is just a testament to how good my team can be when we are up against the wall.”
Hines noted that all three major brands were capable of making killer runs at any given time.
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THE NOT SO DIRTY DOZEN?
- Twelve bracket racers from the former Norwalk Raceway Park were
branded with the nickname “The Dirty Dozen” and banned from the
facility for life and from the IHRA indefinitely. Those dozen bracket
racers were alleged to have performance-enhancing devices that would
enable them to accurately monitor elapsed time during bracket races.
This happened almost a decade ago, but those involved are proving that
time heals all wounds.
The switch of sanctioning bodies has brought about a pardon for their alleged crimes. Crimes one of those accused still says never happened.
Dave Connolly wants to set the record straight as one of those who was accused but never proven guilty. The Pro Stock hitter has moved well beyond those days and admittedly struggles to remember the controversial scenario. All he knows is that a lot of finger pointing took place and plenty of allegations were leveled, even though little or no evidence was ever brought to the table. To Connolly, it was nothing more than a witch hunt.
“There were accusations, and a lot of them, but nothing was ever found on our cars,” said Connolly. “I think that whole deal was a way of getting rid of a few select guys and a lot of people got punished for no real reason. I think there were a lot of guys in that situation that were branded guilty by association.”
Connolly has maintained his innocence fpr the past seven years. The allegations included a race-fixing scheme.
“You know everything happens for a reason,” Connolly said. “In my case I moved on to bigger and better things. It never slowed down my racing career.”
Still Connolly has regrets.
“I wish none of it would have happened. It’s not the kind of exposure I wanted to ever get. It happened and I had to learn to live with it. I never stopped racing and I’m hooked up with a great team. I can live with that.”
Bill Bader Jr. says his team has moved on, although he’s never wavered in his decision to ban those racers.
“It was a long time ago and those guys were racing in different types of cars,” Bader said. “It was in different types of cars, a different format, in a different time and different place. To the NHRA’s credit, they approached me about the situation and took into consideration my feelings.
“I don’t feel that I have the right after all of this time to impede someone or detour their pursuit of a championship. I just didn’t feel it was fair. The NHRA was kind of enough to consider my feelings and we arrived at a conclusion.
“At the time I made the decision and based on the information that I had before me, I stand behind my decision.” Bader said. “I feel that was the absolute right way to handle it. A lot of people were involved in this. I did have conversations with some of them recently and I visited with a lot of them during our Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event. I think we have all have moved on. I would like to see the industry follow suit.”
Some just can’t seem to let go, however. Earlier this week, the Nitromater.com message board generated a four-page thread on the racers returning to Norwalk.
“You still have your keyboard racers who want to sit there and dredge up old stuff like that, but in all reality this whole deal happened seven years ago and if they have to bring that up after all of these years then I feel bad for them,” Connolly said.
OFFICIALLY OFFICIAL - Pontiac-GMC announced today that it will return in 2008 as Official Car and Official Truck of the NHRA. It will mark the 13th consecutive season that Pontiac has served as the Official Car of the series and the 19th year for GMC as Official Truck.
"The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues to be an outstanding forum to showcase the quality and performance of the automobile designed for action," said Jim Bunnell, divisional general manager, Buick-Pontiac-GMC. "Pontiac is proud to return as the Official Car of the NHRA, and we look forward to continuing our growing relationship with the nation's premier drag racing series and its fans for years to come.
"GMC's 19 year affiliation with NHRA is its longest-running promotional platform ever. For a celebrated brand known for Professional Grade trucks, and its association with the legendary Safety Safari, GMC is a perfect fit as the Official Truck of the National Hot Rod Association."
Since becoming the Official Car of NHRA in 1996, championships and national records have become a common theme for Pontiac on the 23-event NHRA POWERade tour. In 2006, the Detroit-based automobile manufacturer tallied 12 national-event victories, 27 final-round appearances, 19 No. 1 qualifying awards, and a combined 34 new track elapsed-time and top-speed records set by five different competitors driving a GTO (Jason Line, Greg Anderson, Mike Edwards, Jim Yates and Warren Johnson). Three drivers in GTOs placed in the top five of the POWERade points standings with a total of five Pontiac drivers finishing in the top 10. Pontiac proudly claimed its fourth straight Pro Stock driver's title (its ninth NHRA Pro Stock title since 1996) with the crowning of Jason Line as the 2006 champion.
SCARY MOMENT – Competition eliminator racer Bob Butner walked away from a violent crash during today’s first round of eliminations.
Butner was observed by the medical staff on hand and released.
Butner’s Cobalt drove dangerously close to the retaining wall for much of the quarter-mile before rolling in the lights and erupting into flames. The car slid on its roof to a stop in the shutdown area.
WHOLE LOTTA FIVES – There are some odd fetishes one can have in life, but for Hot Rod Fuller it’s the good ole number five that gets it done for him. This weekend’s top qualifying effort was his third of the season and fifth of his career.
“Five is my lucky number,” Fuller said. “I’m number five, five was my number in both football and soccer and I’m 5-foot-5.”
Fuller’s quickest pass of qualifying came Friday evening under the lights on the storied Norwalk quarter-mile when he powered his all-white David Powers-owned rail to a performance of 4.533 seconds at 323.50 mph. It set a track E.T. record and was his third pole of the season and fifth of his brief Top Fuel career.
Fuller races Melanie Troxel tomorrow.
TESTING – There’s a certain criteria a team must follow if they wish to test on Saturdays of national events. If you’ve qualified no lower than fourth all season long and you’re the provisional low qualifier as Fuller was, you rest assured you’ll get the green light to experiment.
Fuller ran today with the new Bill Miller injector that has been on teammate Whit Bazemore’s dragster throughout the season.
“We are just trying to get the cars a little more synchronized,” said Rob Flynn, crew chief. “We have watched other cars run them and it appeared to produce good results. Our combination has been so good that we didn’t want to mess with it too much.”
KNOW YOUR ROLE – There’s nothing like experience when it comes to navigating a race track. Clay Millican has more than any other Top Fuel driver when it comes to SREMP. Case in point, his 4.55 in the final session that upstaged low qualifier Fuller.
"The 4.55 was surprising," said Millican. "Right before we started the car Mike leaned in and said,'You know how to navigate the right lane. You've won in both of them. Put it in the groove where it's supposed to be, and I'm not telling you anything else.' I watched the Big Bud car (Brandon Bernstein) and the orange car (Larry Dixon) go down and each run 4.58. And when I didn't see Hot Rod (Fuller, who was running next to Millican) as I was going down through there, I thought 'wow.' That was a heck of a run.
"The car has qualified well at the last four races and maybe we can go some rounds here."
ALL OR NOTHING, ESPECIALLY NOTHING – Whit Bazemore can’t help but smile when jogging his Norwalk memory bank.
Bazemore made his debut as a Nitro Funny Car driver here in 1989 with partner Gary Evans. They were quite the talk of the pits with a refrigerator white Pontiac Firebird and the trailer they borrowed from Don Stroud, of Pensacola, Florida.
Imagine how the talk increased when Bazemore qualified for final eliminations.
“We didn’t hurt any parts because we didn’t have any parts to hurt,” Bazemore said. “We had two pushrods and some spare rod bolts and that was it. I don’t even think we had a spare rod. It was lean and mean.”
That debut led to increased confidence and Bazemore returned the following year with sponsorship from Loctite Permatex. This time Bazemore reached the second round.
Bazemore won $5,000 for his efforts and with his $2,500 in sponsorship gambled with the idea of running the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis the following week.
How did that work out for Bazemore? Not too good, if you ask him.
“We thought we were rich but you know what they say about a fool and his money,” Bazemore said. “We burned the car to the ground and had a lot of debt after that.”
AH, WHAT COULD BE – Bazemore returned to Norwalk for many match races following that monumental semifinal finish. His Norwalk experience predated his driving debut.
Bazemore was at the inaugural IHRA World Nationals in 1981 as a photographer for the RJ Reynolds Tobacco company.
“It’s amazing what they have done with the place,” Bazemore said. “It has been transformed. When I came here the first time it was little Norwalk. There was nothing here. It was tiny.
“When you look at it now, it just shows you the potential that a track like Maple Grove has if they took care of the place.”
SOME FRUSTATION, LOTS OF ANXIETY – Those are the two prevalent emotions running through Morgan Lucas’ mind right now. Those levels only increased with his third consecutive DNQ.
But, Lucas is a realist and understands that wholesale changes to a team can take a little bit of time to develop. Two weeks ago, Lucas replaced his crew with the team formerly wrenching teammate Melanie Troxel.
“I’m just really anxious to watch it all work,” Lucas said. “We made all of these changes before the six-race swing and we knew what to expect. We knew we were going to struggle but we will make it through it.
“What we did is not an overnight fix. We are just trying to make it all work.”
LOOK MA, ONE HAND! - Breaking in a new car has its costs and for Robert Hight, that includes a DNQ and a #14 qualifying position.
“Boy it’s tough,” Hight said after his fourth #1 of the season. “It’s still not the same.”
Hight is scratching his head since burning his #1 car to the ground after bouncing off the walls in Topeka.
“It’s funny, when I first got my license, I would make a run in John’s car and then jump on the scooter and ride to the line, where I would jump in Gary Densham’s car,” said Hight. “I couldn’t tell the difference in the two. Now after I have made as many runs as I have, you can tell every little difference.”
Hight had a firsthand experience during the final session. He learned how to drive one-handed.
“I left the starting line and I usually go to the wheel once I release the brake,” Hight said. “I missed the steering wheel. That’s just one of the little nuances. I did learn that I can drive a Funny Car one-handed for 400 feet.”
NOTHING WRONG AT ALL – Search as he may, point leader Ron Capps just can’t find a single dislike of SREMP.
"Every track has its nuances," said Capps, "but there's not a whole lot to complain about here in Norwalk. The fireworks show Friday night was unbelievable. After we got done running, I crawled up in the grandstands at the finish line, and watched about $40,000 worth of fireworks that they set off. It was one of the most unbelievable Friday night sessions I have ever seen as a spectator. That was fun.
"Obviously, we made a good run Friday night and that was key. That pretty much set the field. With the exception of a couple of people, nobody really moved (up in the field). So, it was good to get down the last run in the heat, in the afternoon. But, right now it's hard to get excited because of our Mopar/Oakley teammate Gary Scelzi (who failed to qualify). We've been through that, so I'll try to cheer those guys up a little bit.
"But, I guarantee, the Mopar/Oakley guys will be over helping our Brut guys tomorrow. That's just the way it is here.
"It's going to be a dogfight on Sunday. Conditions are going to be warm again. The track is tricky, but it's got good grip and I think even with the heat on it this place has shown that it can hold some pretty decent runs. So, we'll just get up in the morning, get the blood flowing and see what we can do."
Capps meets Kenny Bernstein in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
THERE SHE BLOWS – Del Worsham had an explosive outburst in the office today but not by design.
After wounding his Funny Car last evening, Worsham brought out a new car today and in today’s first session the ugliness got uglier. Worsham’s exploded the supercharger in the lights and reduced his Impala from a hardtop to a convertible.
Powering off the line in session one, Worsham's CSK Impala SS was on a monster lap, running right down the middle of the track with all eight cylinders lit. Then, about 250-feet before the finish line, with absolutely no warning or indication of what was to come, a malfunction of some sort lifted the supercharger off Worsham's car, which then cracked the carbon fiber hood. At 300 mph, that crack appears to have allowed air to invade, and within a split second the beautiful red Chevy was reduced to confetti, as pieces flew in all directions.
When Worsham finally got his car to a stop, he knew three things. 1) He had just bumped Gary Scelzi out of the field, 2) He was now sitting in the 16th spot himself, with a 4.873, and 3) Only the nose of his car's body was still attached to the chassis.
After such a pair of cataclysmic explosions, the team immediately elected to spend the rest of the day inspecting and dissecting their car, and that decision meant they could only wait to see if Scott Kalitta, Jerry Toliver, or Scelzi would bump them back out, adding salt to an already angry wound. In the end, Worsham dodged all three bullets, and will enter the race from the No. 16 spot.
"Last night we just had your classic deal where it threw all the rods out, but today it was just hauling down there, running great, and there was just zero indication that anything bad was going to happen," Worsham said. "Next thing I knew, there was a big explosion, daylight was all I saw, and then I pulled the fire bottles and with all that wind hitting me it forced all the fire retardant right onto my visor, so I couldn't see anything either.
"There was never a debate about running the last session. We need to get our car right more than we needed to be up there trying to be heroes. If one of those guys could knock us out, well then so be it. I hate to sound like that, but there are more important things for us right now, and the top thing on the list is to fix the car and make sure we don't do that again. You know what's really bizarre, though, is the fact the motor came back from this run looking brand new. The blower was hanging off of it, but the pistons looked like we just put them in. It's really strange, but the way things have gone for us over the last year, strange is the new normal."
SCIENCE EXPERIMENT – So much for those fan polls. Jeff Arend was voted the driver amongst a handful of perfect qualifiers remaining in the Funny Car division to be the next DNQ. That was three races and five drivers ago.
Let the record reflect that with Gary Scelzi’s DNQ, Arend is the last man standing. Not only that, Arend has the longest running qualifying streak at 12. Rookie Ashley Force is now second at 11.
Just imagine, John Force led the division headed into 2007 at 395 consecutive starts.
THE CONSOLATION PRIZE - Gary Scelzi joins an elite club of other championship-caliber and winning drivers who have not qualified this year at one time or another: Mike Ashley, Jack Beckman, Kenny Bernstein, Ron Capps, John Force, Robert Hight, Tommy Johnson Jr., Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon, and Del Worsham, among others.
"You just can't get this tight of a field and have that one shot Friday night. I'm not making excuses. It's just that we broke a clutch lever in the Friday night run and that cost us.
"It went 4.93 in the first run today, which was the fifth quickest run of that session.
"In this last try, we had to go 4.85 or .86 to get in and it just didn't happen. ESPN's Gary Gerould asked me, 'how can you put this into perspective of how bad this field is?' You know, it is what it is, but after Friday when we had all those kids here from Team Braveheart who have heart problems, it's pretty easy to deal with not qualifying right now.
"Life's not bad. I'm still Ok, the team's still OK, I still love (crew chief) Mike Neff, and I'm sure Mopar and Oakley are going to understand what happened. It happens every damned week.
"We'll go to Bristol and try to not let those things happen, get qualified and go win us another race.
"This track is a good track. It's a little bumpy, but, you know what, a lot of people here spent a lot of money. It's been a few years since I've been here for a match race and I think it's going to be a hit. I think it's way better than Columbus was and it's going to be a great venue for NHRA."
"This track is a good track. It's a little bumpy, but, you know what, a lot of people here spent a lot of money. It's been a few years since I've been here for a match race and I think it's going to be a hit. I think it's way better than Columbus was and it's going to be a great venue for NHRA."
PERFECT IMPERFECTION - Greg Anderson said it. The tape doesn’t lie.
“We expect perfection,” Anderson said. “When we don’t get it, there is something wrong.”
Nevermind the fact that Anderson nailed down his 59th career top qualifying position and eighth this year, the points leader only sees one rocket run on Friday and three consecutive duds.
“One thing that you would kind of like to do during qualifying is to find out how far you can go in both directions, under and over,” said Anderson. “Usually you don’t have the guts to go far enough to find the edge on both sides. We did it today, by accident I guess, but we did it. It may end up being a good thing because we definitely know where the boundary is and sometimes you go into Sunday not knowing how far you can go -- where the boundary is. We definitely established one on both sides today. We should have learned from that. It may have been the best thing that ever happened to us. We’ll find out tomorrow.”
In the first session today, the third overall, Anderson hazed the tires, recovered, then smoked the big Goodyears and coasted to the finish line. In the final session, with the wheels up in the air, Anderson’s Summit Racing Pontiac veered toward the wall forcing him to shutdown, again coasting to the finish line.
CHA-CHING - K&N Engineering, Inc., will sponsor the K&N Horsepower Challenge, a lucrative bonus event for Pro Stock competitors. The event will move from Joliet to Norwalk in 2008.
The K&N Horsepower Challenge is a special race-within-a-race bonus program for the top Pro Stock drivers in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. The $76,000 K&N Horsepower Challenge will move venues in 2008 and will be conducted at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. The race features a special elimination pairing with the eight quickest Pro Stock drivers who have accumulated the most points in qualifying during the 23-race Challenge series.
Drivers will begin earning 2008 K&N Horsepower Challenge points beginning at this weekend’s event in Norwalk and will continue to accumulate points through the race prior to next year’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
The winner of the K&N Horsepower Challenge will earn $50,000, and the runner-up will earn $10,000. The two semifinalists will earn $3,000 each, while the four first-round finishers will receive $2,500 each.
“K&N has developed racing filters for every form of racing in the world,” said Steve Williams, vice president, K&N Engineering. “We have been working very hard to create new technology for the NHRA Pro Stock category. Now that we have both a new intake scoop and filter combination available for the world’s fastest hot rods, we decided to put up the money to see who is really the fastest. We are very excited to have this event take place at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, as it is an awesome facility and should produce world record performances. The entire K&N family is excited and proud to be working with NHRA, Bill Bader and the entire Pro Stock community to make the ’08 K&N Horsepower Challenge something very special.”
The K&N Horsepower Challenge features an overall purse of $145,000. In addition to the $76,000 K&N Horsepower Challenge, K&N also will award $69,000 in qualifying bonuses to quick Pro Stock qualifiers throughout the K&N Horsepower Challenge series. Low qualifiers earn $3,000 at each of the 23 events in the Challenge series.
“This is absolutely one of the key attractions for our Pro Stock community, an event that the drivers and fans look forward to with great anticipation,” said Gary Darcy, NHRA senior vice president of sales and marketing. “With K&N’s support of this competitive bonus program, we’re guaranteed many more thrilling side-by-side races in the future. The K&N Horsepower Challenge definitely adds drama and intrigue to the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals and provides an opportunity for the eight top drivers to showcase their talents in the competitive world of Pro Stock racing.”
In Chicago, Kurt Johnson claimed his fourth title in the prestigious race-within-a-race. Past winners of the K&N Horsepower Challenge include Greg Anderson, Dave Connolly, Jeg Coughlin, Warren Johnson, Darrell Alderman, Larry Morgan, Jim Yates, Bruce Allen and Bob Glidden.
NOT DONE YET – When you can’t race Pro Stock, you can always return to your roots. That’s what’s working for former Competition eliminator world champion turned Pro Stock racer Rodger Brogdon.
Brogdon was in Norwalk racing within the Competition eliminator division, but he may have his eyes on the prize again.
“I’m just out here visiting with a few of the guys and seeing what programs are available next year,” Brogdon said. “I have talked to GM about returning with them next year and they made it clear they would welcome me back.”
Brogdon has said that he is working towards a late-season return and it will be in a GM entry. He has narrowed his engine supplier to two choices but remains tight-lipped.
LIVING IT UP (FRIDAY NIGHT) – Justin Humphreys may be a rookie in Pro Stock, but he didn’t need seasoned veteran’s experience to understand that Friday night’s run makes all the difference in the world.
"We finally got Friday night right," said Humphreys. He credited engine builder Richard Maskin with "making killer horsepower. Our car is running better and we are happy with the way things are going. The car has run good in the last two races and we hit a home run Saturday. If we can make four more runs like our last one, we could be trouble (for the rest of the line-up).
The weekend started right when the rookie driver from Monrovia, Md., ran well in the Friday night session -- his 6.676-second time at 206.57 mph -- the 11th quickest. His 6.678-second effort Saturday afternoon, however, was more impressive because it came in the hottest part of the day and was the quickest run in that session. It definitely gives crew chief Eric Luzinski a solid tune-up base for eliminations.
This marks Humphreys' fourth start this year and is his highest qualifying position. He races Jason Line (6th, 6.667 at 207.18 mph) in the first round.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
BIG DIFFERENCE – You wouldn’t believe how much of a difference ten pounds will make to a Pro Stock Motorcycle but Matt Smith does.
Smith nailed seventh career top qualifying effort and third of the season today. This personal triumph comes just days after his Buell combination was granted a five pound reprieve and the competition was given a five pound increase. Five plus five equals ten, right?
Five weeks ago, a full ten pound adjustment to the Buell combination following total dominance by Smith in St. Louis.
“The ten pounds hurt us,” Smith said. “We tested two days before Chicago with the ten pounds and without. That was three hundredths and that’s a bunch to give up out here when you’re racing against Angelle and the Harleys.”
SATURDAY - KABOOM!
Del Worsham grenaded his CSK Impala during Saturday's opening session. Worsham was uninjured, but the Impala body was a total loss. (Guy Van Sycle photo)
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SHELL GAME? – A month ago, the NHRA’s technical department added ten pounds to the minimum weight for Buell Pro Stock Motorcycle teams. In successive races, the Harley-Davidson and Suzuki teams rewrote the performance standards. The Buell teams fell behind.
The NHRA made an adjustment earlier this week to restore parity. Instead of removing the extra ten pounds from the Buells, the NHRA gave back five pounds and nailed the Harley-Davidsons and Suzukis for a five pound increase.
Wouldn’t it have been easier to remove the 10-pound adjustment to the Buell teams to achieve the unified minimum weight? That’s the question pondered by many in the class.
“I think they know they made a mistake,” said Matt Smith, the rider cited for the Buell weight adjustment following his record-setting performance in St. Louis. “They’ll probably never admit it. It hurt us for a couple of races and luckily we have this new Countdown to the Championship. Each race is not as critical as it used to be.”
Many of the riders Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com questioned pointed out the elapsed time advantages came in the early part of the track, an area normally not equated to horsepower gains. First-half gains are usually attributed to clutch superiority. At least that’s how Chip Ellis sees it.
“Matt was making his gains in the first 300 feet of the race track and that equates to clutch gains, not horsepower,” Ellis said. “He didn’t really run any quicker in the back-half [eighth-mile to quarter-mile] than any of the other Buells. He didn’t have any more horsepower than any one else, he just had his tune-up figured out.”
That is why Smith feels the latest rule amendment still isn’t enough. Based on the back-half figures from Chicago and Englishtown, Smith wouldn’t have a problem with the Harley-Davidson and Suzuki brand carrying an extra five pounds.
“It’s the NHRA’s call, but at least we’re a little closer than we used to be,” Smith said.
Smith confirms his early gains are a direct result of automobile drag racing technology. The son of legendary doorslammer Rickie Smith has borrowed clutch technology from his dad and a bit of engine know-how from noted mountain motor specialist Sonny Leonard.
“I think having the car stuff incorporated is going to make us a force to be reckoned with,” Smith said. “We have a lot of new parts being built. We haven’t shown anything so far compared to what we have for the future. Sonny Leonard has some parts for us that are going to make a difference. We also have a chassis dyno, thanks to Evan Knoll.”
Having the auto technology available could make the Buell combination a future target for more rule amendments. Smith isn’t scared of new “Matt Smith” rules.
“I just want to win and that’s what it is all about,” Smith said. “If the NHRA will look at the back-half numbers, then they will see the true horsepower values. You can forget about the sixty-footers, that’s all about tuners and riders.”
Smith says the practice of Pro Stock Motorcycle borrowing from their four-wheel counterparts is nothing new. In his days aboard a Suzuki, he implemented technology provided by Reher-Morrison.
Andrew Hines declined to comment on the recent weight minimum adjustments. He and his team, as well as the Team Army camp, were the target of many accusations of lobbying for the initial Buell weight adjustment. Those allegations led Hines to respond directly on the Nitromater.com message board.
“It never sets well with you when people talk about you behind your back,” Hines said. “We are just out here trying to race and not trying to get the rules changed. We want to have fun and most of all we want everyone to like us. We don’t want to make enemies out here. We just want to have fun and race.”
Hines should know the sting felt by the Buell riders, because he admits the Harley-Davidson teams have made their fair share of adjustments at the hands of rule-makers.
“We had our fair share of those changes back in the early days,” Hines said. “It’s just part of the game and they have to find parity somehow. There are different ways of doing it. You just never know how.”
The NHRA’s Don Taylor admitted the recent wave of weight adjustments were intended to create a universal learning curve. When asked if they were a part of limiting performance, he downplayed the validity of a rumor suggesting a memo had been issued declaring a performance-limiting edict.
“I think right now that our class is the most difficult to create parity,” said Steve Johnson, Suzuki rider and president of PRO2, the voice of the Pro Stock Motorcycle division. “I think it is going to be difficult to maintain it race after race after race. I told all of the members when the NHRA put the ten pounds on the Buells to just step back and take a breath because I know it’s frustrating.
“This is the furthest thing from being politically correct that I can say but the NHRA is still trying to put their hands around how to manage our class to a top level. We are a sophisticated class. We are our own class. They are trying to create parity amongst four different engine brands with weight breaks. The NHRA’s hands are full and this scenario is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The NHRA’s titanic decision become unavoidable after Sampey’s record-setting 6.871 during Englishtown qualifying.
“When they saw Angelle run that 6.87, they knew they had to do something,” Ellis said. “I don’t know if adding ten pounds to us was the right thing to do. I think maybe they should have played it out to see what happened. It is what it is and we’ll just do the best we can with it. We are all back equal again.”
PINCH AWAY – Rod Fuller is living a dream that even a pinch can’t wake him from. The resourceful Fuller and team owner David Powers nailed the provisional pole with a 4.533 elapsed time at 323.50 MPH.
“I’m amazed it held,” Fuller said. “It dropped a couple of cylinders and shut off early. I thought it would be fifth or sixth. I’m surprised a lot of the other cars had trouble getting down the track, but sometimes you see a good run early in the order and they tune it up and the track won’t hold it. I guess that’s all it would take. They said that’s a new track record, so that’s cool. I think we can run even better tomorrow, but so can a lot of other cars.”
One can’t help but notice Fuller is in a plain white car. No sponsor -- just a determined car owner and his talented driver.
“Everyone keeps looking for this fairy tale to end, but it’s not,” Fuller said. “I think we are a great team and things are going our way. David Powers is providing everything we need to keep on racing without a sponsor.”
Fuller has experienced it all, except for racing in Norwalk. That lives in a category by itself.
“This place is different. Something distracted me on the starting line and I don’t what it was. That was the first time I’ve been distracted like that in a long time. I’m glad it was today and not Sunday.
“For some reason, the feel of this place left me excited to come in here. My blood was pumping. I felt like I was coming to the U.S. Nationals. The people were excited and I think this is one of the coolest places I have ever raced at. The fireworks show was unbelievable. To me this is one of the greatest drag races I’ve been to so far.”
YEAH, YEAH, YEAH – Some legends are worth honoring.
For Team Kalitta, they are honoring the one man who could go toe-to-toe with Conrad Kalitta in an argument.
Doug Kalitta Sr., father of Top Fuel racer Doug and brother of the legendary Connie, succumbed to cancer earlier this week. Senior worked as a parts washer on the team until the illness prevented his participation.
Thanks to the thoughtfulness of team publicist Todd Myers, the team has abandoned their traditional MAC Tools uniforms in lieu of a t-shirt bearing the likeness of “Senior.”
“Senior was one of the most vibrant souls to ever walk the Earth,” Myers said. “His storytelling was legendary in the pits. He had a story about everything.”
Myers said this is the ultimate “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” shirt. The shirts have the stylized image of Senior with his ever-constant smile and his trademark of resting his eyeglasses on his forehead.
“He would always say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’ so we included that in the design,” Myers said.
In honor of Senior, one more time from the staff of Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
RODFATHER RULES! – Luigi Novelli ran many laps at SREMP when it ran under IHRA sanction. He also made them with a ponytail stuffed inside of his helmet. A career best brought out the shears.
Last year in Chicago, Novelli vowed to cut his ponytail if he ran a 4.5-second run. He made good on his promise today with a 4.598 elapsed time at 322.65 miles per hour.
The 64-year old Novelli’s last run of the day almost pre-empted the cutting when he flamed the engine on his dragster.
“I wanted to be spectacular but not that much,” Novelli said. “I wanted to cut it off. Not burn it off.”
CLEAN-SHAVEN AGAIN – Whit Bazemore fans can relax. Their clean-shaven driver is back.
Last weekend, the rear door of the David Powers Motorsports transporter was the target of vandals who adorned Bazemore’s image with a magic marker beard, sideburns and even a black eye. Come to think of it, he looked a lot like that Captain Morgan character.
“I think my rebel image was kind of appealing,” Bazemore said. “I think it was kind of funny and they did a pretty good job. I might have to see if I can do something with a pirate image.”
Bazemore didn’t find out about the vandalism until the middle part of the week.
“I had a sponsor tell me about the whole deal,” Bazemore said. “We got a good laugh out of the whole deal.”
DON’T CELEBRATE YET – Robert Hight went to the top of the Friday qualifying list, but don’t expect a celebration yet.
“It’s not fixed. We’re qualified but we’re still dropping cylinders,” Hight said. “It put two cylinders out down track on that run which is why the speed was down. It looks like we’re going to end up in the top eight (in the Countdown), so for the next seven races, we’re going to test and try to come up with a combination that we can race with starting at Indy. Win rounds and be fast and whatever it takes, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to make big changes tomorrow because we can’t race with what we have. We’re tired of dropping cylinders and knocking the belts off. We’re going to make big changes tomorrow because two years ago here, we ran 4.75 at 327 mph (during a match race appearance). That’s what we’re going to go back to is that combination."
YOU GOTTA BE %$#@^^&*% ME – Gary Scelzi will believe most everything, but a pound of ice cream for a dollar is unfathomable.
“That’s a deal for ten bucks,” Scelzi said. “I told [tuner] Mike Neff that if I start eating that I might need one of those extension belts like they give you on the airplanes. I don’t think we can pull any more weight out of this thing either. I might have to get after some of it.”
Scelzi is serious about his food. Last weekend, he missed a flight in search of a hot dog.
“I might have missed the whole weekend if I was after ice cream,” Scelzi said. “Ice cream is the real deal. It trumps everything.”
DALE EMERY RECOVERING – Former “Blue Max” wrench Fred Miller confirmed that former teammate Dale Emery suffered a heart attack on Monday morning with a severe prognosis for the future. Yesterday, Miller confirmed, Emery did a medical 180-degree turn and went from requiring a heart transplant to a drastic improvement. Miller said in all likelihood Emery will undergo bypass surgery soon.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS – Del Worsham has learned the hard way in the past just how crucial the Friday evening session can be. Come hell or high water, don’t lift unless you have to.
"We just got a little over-center on the first lap, trying to run a 4.80 on a 4.85 race track," Worsham said. "I wasn't too worried about it, and I figured we had a solid 4.77 or 4.78 in it for the night session. It was really running pretty well for the front half of the track, and I remember now that it made an odd little noise at just about the 660 timer. Any other time, I might have lifted but this was the night session and I thought the run was too important, so I kept my foot down. At about 900 feet or so, it just went poof and quit, then it started banging and clanging and it sounded like everything in the motor was coming apart.
"We got it back here to the pit, and we're trying to find out why it did that. It basically leveled the motor, and it hurt the chassis, so we're swapping out the cars and we'll run the other one from here on. It's going to be a long night, but it's what we have to do. The good news is that it's not supposed to be 95 or 100 degrees tomorrow, because if the weather was normal here right now and it got that hot, we'd be in a world of hurt. It's supposed to be in the mid-70s, so if we go A to B, we can get in the field."
FIRE AND ICE – For Greg Anderson the first day of qualifying at the NHRA Summit Nationals was a feast or famine experience. In the first session, he went to the top spot. In the second, he went nowhere.
Anderson’s 6.654 elapsed time and 207.59 mph pulled double-duty as the #1 qualifying position and both ends of the track record. During the evening session, though, Anderson staged, but stalled at the starting line and failed to make a pass.
"Something happened in the ignition and the engine didn't want to rev up," said Anderson. "We have to get the MSD guys over and figure out what's wrong. Darn it, the air was good and we felt like we could go faster, but by judging what the other car did, maybe we saved face.
"The first run just shows you how good it was. The rest of the field came back in better conditions and weren't able to get around it. That was a heck of a stout run and makes you think, 'I sure would've like to have had a shot at it tonight.' At the same time, maybe we saved wear and tear on the engine for one run, we've had a few issues with that lately so maybe we're better off."
Anderson is coming off a recent win last week at the NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J., where he nailed down his sixth Pro Stock victory of 2007. Coming into this event, Anderson has 58 career No. 1 qualifying awards and ranks fifth on the NHRA all time list.
"Tomorrow, we'll be first up, it should be cool in the morning, so maybe this will work out for the better," said Anderson. "We'll see. The conditions will be better, the barometer is going up and we're going to have a high pressure system move in. I'm telling you, tomorrow morning it will be good, and it won't hurt running early in the session. We're disappointed we missed the run but maybe there's a bright side to it after all."
NEW GROUND – Ron Krisher had originally planned to debut his Cagnazzi Racing engine program in Bristol. He got a head start this weekend. Prior to Friday’s opening session, Krisher made some 330-foot test runs.
“We were going to learn only so much from the 330 hits but the biggest thing was finding where we were at with the clutch,” Krisher said. “The ratios are all different but it will all feel the same to the 330, where you feel difference is on the top end in fourth and fifth gear.”
Krisher can’t help but get excited with the potential this program has to offer.
“I am very excited,” Krisher said. “We have a great contract and we’re working with great people. We have a lot of great ideas whenever we get the opportunity to test, but it’s going to come after the Western Swing when we get a chance to test things. Testing will be a big part of the picture here.”
COLLEGE ANTICS - Locals classify a visit to this facility as "The Norwalk Experience." It's something Jeg Coughlin Jr. felt many times in the past when he was in college at nearby Ashland University.
"We'd sneak up here on the weekends all the time," he said. "It's 30 minutes to Ashland and we would come up here whenever there was a big event going on. The place looks better now than it ever has. We've known the Bader family (track owners) for many, many years and I knew they'd put their best foot forward for their first NHRA race. They've done a lot of improvements so the place is like new but at the same time it has the heritage of a 30-year-old track."
NOTHING LIKE THE EXPERIENCE – Coughlin drew from past testing experience for a place to start at Norwalk.
"It's been three years since we've even been down this particular track," Coughlin said. "We tested here back in 2004, but that was our last time through town. The NHRA does a great job of prepping all these tracks to make them very similar but there are little nuances you have to learn.
"We ran a 6.69 in Q1, and that was sixth best of the session. We came back out in Q2 and managed to improve to a 6.673 at 206.67 mph, but we dropped back to ninth. That tells me we missed the tune-up just a tad. Our recent history tells us we should be quicker and if we were just a hundredth of a second quicker we'd be in third place or so. That's the way this class is these days.
"The good news is that we're in, and that it should be really good again tomorrow morning so we'll try our best to move up then."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
BAA-BAA BLACK SHEEP? – With the revamped SREMP, the professional pits were relocated to the newly paved east side of the facility. Well -- almost all of them.
Three out of the four NHRA POWERade professional categories were on the side formerly reserved for sportsman racers in the IHRA days. The Pro Stock Motorcycles were the only professional division on the west side.
According to PRO2 leader Steve Johnson, that was by design.
“We were asked back in Chicago to participate in a meeting,” Johnson said. “There were numerous officials there and they had lots of blueprints of the facility. They laid out the plans for new track.
“When we looked at the best place to brand our bikes to the Ohio fans, the best place for us to be was where the fans traveled in and out of the gate after parking their cars. The other choice we had was to be parked three-quarters of a mile away from the starting line, on the asphalt and next to a retention pond with the possibility of mosquitoes. We could have either been on the asphalt and dealt with the mosquitoes, three-quarters away and only get the fans who know we are there and want to comes see us. Or – we could market our brands to the fans twice a day or possibly four times a day if they tailgate. It was a no-brainer.”
Johnson added that a ten-degree temperature difference between the grass and asphalt proved another factor as well.
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THURSDAY AFTERNOON NOTEBOOK
By the same token, if we’re following “procedure” we should also be referring to the event as the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
That’s in the ideal world. In the real world it’s going to take years, and maybe even decades before anyone consistently refers to the facility or the event by its full and complete proper name. Until then everyone’s going to continue to reference the track as simply “Norwalk.” When someone talks about the race they’re probably going to call it the “Summit Nationals,” or maybe something even more simplified, like the “Summit race.”
This is anything but an isolated problem. It’s somewhat universal. Management would like us to refer to the Mac Tools NHRA U.S. Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis, but for all eternity those of us who live and breathe drag racing will continue to just refer to it as “Indy.” In reality it’s the AC Delco NHRA Gatorationals at Gainesville Raceway, but to us it’s always going to be either “Gsainesville,” or maybe “the Gators.”
SREMP is NOT the same Norwalk Raceway Park IHRA fans and competitors have been seeing at the IHRA World Nationals in August of recent years. While the track was already a damn fine facility even then, it’s become nothing short of a supertrack during the ensuing months. As track manager Bill Bader, Jr. put it, the Bader’s family’s investment in track improvements in the last year exceeds $6 million dollars. By anyone’s standards, that’s a ton of money, but it was money well spent.
For those of you familiar with the track, the first major change you’ll notice is that the pros are now on the east side of the facility, all of them parked on a new sea of asphalt that stretches the length of the quarter mile. The sportsman are now exclusively on the west side, where conditions are also much improved.
One thing that’s unique to SREMP (at least as far as we know) are the new digital scoreboards – that have readouts on both sides! That means racers pitted beyond the end of the quarter mile racing surface – and there are many at SREMP because of the property configuration – can now see what’s going on on the track without having to constantly have their collective ears pressed to a PA speaker or car’s FM radio. That’s also going to eliminate a lot of those “What’d he run?” questions. Bill Bader, Sr. apparently gets the credit for coming up with that idea.
The employees at SREMP are also somewhat unique – most of them actually seem to enjoy being at work. Track clean-up – and by that we don’t mean the racing surface, we mean the grounds, the grandstands, the bathrooms and even the concession areas – are constantly, and we mean constantly being patrolled by uniformed workers who pounce on a hot dog wrapper as if it were a poisonous snake that must be instantly removed from sight.
Even early Thursday the line at a “buck-a-pound” ice cream stand was long, but nobody seemed overanxious. Seventeen-year-olds Katie Nichols and her buddy, Hershel Wireman, were among those manning the booth. “It gets real busy on weekends like this,” she told us with a big grin. When we asked her if the ice cream was any good we got that “Are-you-from-Mars” look that only teenage heartbreakers are capable of delivering with a smile. And Katie got back to digging out more Moose Tracks ice cream (Torco's CompetitionPlus.com is not responsible for SREMP’s ice cream flavor names!).
Dana Bisbee, who handles electronics for NHRA, is also a first-timer at Norwalk (oops, we meant SREMP), and had this to say: This is a very nice track. Everything seems to be well taken care of. They’ve got a great maintenance program going on here. The staff all seem to be very professional. The place seems to me to b e very much on a level of a Las Vegas or someplace like that.”
“What started out as a $4 million dollar advancement quickly grew into something where we’ve spent right around $6 million in actual dollars. It was actually six-point-something. The main things people (who have been here before) will notice are the new scoreboards, all the new paving, and maybe some of them will notice our tower expansion. We’ve got elevator access to the top of the tower now, so that should make things easier for the race control people.
“We’ve also got brand new Musco Sports Lighting for the pit areas, and new luxury suites that are more along the lines of what you’d see in a major stick and ball facility.
“Our pre-sale (tickets) are completely out of control. I’ve never seen it higher, and that’s not promoter hype. They’re out of control. I think we’re in pretty elite territory with races that have been established for a long time, but I think realistically, based on what I project our walk-up (ticket sales) to be, that we’ll have a very huge crowd. I think this will be the largest inaugural race in NHRA history. I also believe our hardcore IHRA people are going to come out and support this race. How could you walk around this place and not be impressed with what you see here? Based on the huge pre-sale we’ve had I believe our fans are going to support this race in a big way.”
For a different perspective we sought out John Di Bartolomeo, the editor of Drag Racing Action Magazine who also happens to be a Super Comp competitor. In his view, “The changes that (Bader) made here are unbelievable. As much as I like Las Vegas, and Vegas is probably the top notch facility because of where it’s at and the atmosphere that surrounds the place, this place is a close second.”
Don Graham is another local Ohio racer who also happens, in his business life, to sponsor the season-opener at SREMP. The 59-year-old began racing at NRP in the 60s, and has seen the facility go from “stones and a strip of pavement to what they’ve got here now. It’s phenomenal. The weekend program here usually has three or four hundred cars.”
We certainly can’t predict the outcome of the first national event at SREMP, but we can state without hesitation that even at the conclusion of its first day c competition everything about this track is light years ahead of at least a handful of other facilities on the NHRA POWERade circuit. - Jon Asher
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK -
ALL BEGAN HERE - JR Todd became a Top Fuel Racer in Norwalk. He perfected it elsewhere.
Norwalk Raceway Park used to be a regular stop for Todd during his formative years in drag racing.
He made his Top Fuel debut here at 18, driving Bruce Litton’s Top Fuel dragster, and then worked on Litton’s crew for two years while Litton pursued IHRA championships. Last year, Todd came back and was low qualifier for the IHRA event, but the car broke in the first round.
Since then, Todd, 25, went on to capture 2006 NHRA Rookie of the Year honors, winning three times while climbing from obscurity to recognition as one of the sport’s brightest young stars. He returns for the inaugural Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, Friday through Sunday, at remodeled and renamed Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
And this time, the driver of the Skull Shine/Torco Racing Fuels Top Fuel dragster arrives as a bona-fide contender for NHRA POWERade Series championship honors.
Thus far in 2007, Todd has had as many final round appearances as crew chiefs (three). He has two victories (Pomona, Calif., and Houston) and is among a quartet of Top Fuel drivers to have separated themselves from the rest of the pack after 10 of 23 races in the new Countdown to the Championship format.
KNOW THE PLACE - You can always come home.
Clay Millican is quite familiar with the track formerly known as Norwalk Raceway Park. This is his first season running the full NHRA POWERade Series schedule, but his earlier racing roots in IHRA produced legendary results – a record-smashing 50 career victories and six consecutive series championships (2001-2006).
“Norwalk may be new to NHRA, but it’s not new to me,” said the driver of Evan Knoll’s Ratt – Back for More 2007 Tour dragster. “I actually had an opportunity to race Cory McClenathan, one of NHRA’s regulars, in the finals there in 2005 (and Millican won).
“NHRA drivers are going to be in for a new experience, known as the Norwalk experience. I can’t wait for everybody to show up and see what the Bader family has to offer because they do a fantastic job (of running the track.) I’m very much looking forward to going to that race. It’s going to be awesome.
“I’ve won there three times and I’ve lost some heartbreakers there, but I can’t wait to go to Norwalk. I love that place.”
This is a good time for Millican, crew chief Mike Kloeber and the crew to be visiting, too. Kloeber has been fine-tuning a finicky tune-up and getting good results. The Ratt Mobile qualified third at the last two races with 4.4-second elapsed times. Each time, however, Millican has been bumped from eliminations in the first round.
“We are excited because the car is running well and going down the track in hot weather,” Millican said. “It’s just a matter of time before we start winning rounds."
DEFENDING CHAMPION - Technically, Hillary Will is the defending champion for the Norwalk event.
“We proved last year that we know how to win at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park because we won the IHRA World Nationals. It would be extra special for our KB Racing team to come away with another victory there. Since we are only a two hour drive away from Norwalk, we feel this is our home track.
“A lot of the members of my team are bringing their families. It would be awesome to win four rounds on Sunday in front of them and be able to include everyone in the winner's circle celebrations."
The strong showing at last weekend’s event in Englishtown, N.J., brought Will to within 51 points of eighth position in the first segment of the season-long Countdown to the Championship. Another strong showing at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals could continue to move up Will and her crew up in the NHRA POWERade point standing to their goal of a top eight finish after the first 17 races that comprise the Countdown to Eight.
“We are ready to have some fun at Norwalk and win some rounds,” said the 26-year-old driver, who now calls Ypsilanti, Mich., where the Kalitta Motorsports shop is located, home. “Going to the semifinals last weekend was just what our team needed to kick off the upcoming six races in six weeks swing. In addition, we qualified well and we took out the POWERade point leader, so our team is confident and upbeat going into Norwalk.
RENAISSANCE MAN - It's a renaissance of action occurring at Morgan Lucas Racing. The addition of famed tuner, Richard Hogan to his Top Fuel program is showing signs of steady progress and at this weekend's inaugural Summit Racing Equipment Nationals he'll get his opportunity to display that development.
"We have all the right components in place and we'll get this figured out," said an unwavering Lucas. "As time goes on, our new team will determine our best plans and with someone of Richard's talents, it's more of a 'when' rather than 'if.' In many ways, we're very fortunate to have a great crew, but this sport can be very humbling."
This being NHRA' s inaugural appearance at the Summit Motorsports Park, the Lucas Oil team considers itself on even ground with the other competitive teams feeling everyone is learning the ins and outs of this Ohio quarter-mile at the same time.
"It's our first time racing there, so we really don't know what to expect," said Lucas, curiously. "We're hoping to find some great grip in the hot weather and make our Lucas Oil dragster go down the track. All we need to cure our situation is to have some consistent elapsed times over the weekend. Once we get that accomplished, then we can move on concentrating more on winning some rounds."
CAN'T GET A GRIP - Things just aren't going as planned for Tony Schumacher.
Schumacher, who has won the last three world championships, is still trying to establish some consistency 10 races into 2007.
“That’s for certain,” said the Chicago native. “We haven’t had a real good weekend, overall, since we won the race in Gainesville (Fla.) back in March.”
Last Sunday at the ProCare RX SuperNationals, Schumacher posted his sixth first round loss. That’s the same number of first round losses that he totaled in ’06.
“It’s hard to believe,” he added. “But, with all of the adversity that we’ve had, we’re still very much in the hunt for another title. In the end, that’s what counts the most. Like our soldiers, we’re not quitters. We’re going to keep plugging away until things turn around.”
Schumacher presently holds fifth-place in the standings. The top eight in points qualify for the NHRA’s new Countdown to the Championship which begins at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis over Labor Day weekend.
“Our goal is to be in the line up come Indy and then we can go out and play,” he said.
Bernstein has racked up three victories and one runner-up finish. They were hard-fought victories and the team enjoyed celebrating in winner’s circle. They have even taken two turns at leading the coveted Top Fuel point standings.
“This has been a season of such extremes,” said Bernstein. “Jubilation for victories, but we also experienced a painful loss of our friend Eric Medlen who succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident in Gainesville, Fla. in March. The loss of a friend is one of the most difficult experiences for anyone. He was like a brother to me, and he forged such bonds with so many people that his loss will be felt for a long time.
“And competition this year has been strange. Maybe I don’t have a lot of years of experience, but dad and I talked, and even he doesn’t remember a season where the previous week’s race winners and past champions are on the outside looking in at the conclusion of Saturday’s qualifying as has happened so often this season.
“You just don’t know what to expect this year. Now we’re going to throw in hot, tricky tracks and the crew chiefs will have to figure out new tune-ups to keep from losing traction.
“We’re fortunate that our crew chief, Tim Richards, and assistant crew chief, Kim Richards, have a lot of experience, not to mention a lot of talent.
“We’re comfortably seeded in the countdown to eight for now, but we need to maintain that position for the next seven races to make the playoffs.
“We need to go some rounds in Norwalk to keep accruing those valuable points.”
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT - Del Worsham has driven the Norwalk quarter-mile many times but never earned a single POWERade point by doing so.
This new stop on the NHRA tour comes at just the right time for Worsham, who has been anxious to get back into his fast-running Impala SS since a fluke mechanical problem ended his day in round one, this past Sunday in Englishtown. After proving he had one of the best cars on the property throughout qualifying, Worsham was extremely frustrated to see his race end so early, and he can't wait to get back on the track in Norwalk.
"I've always enjoyed running there. We've done the mid-summer match race there for many years, so we're familiar with the track and how hard you can run on it. Now that they've joined the NHRA POWERade tour, it will be great to see everything they've done there and it will be awesome to race there for real.
"We have a little bit of an advantage in that we've run here so often for the match race, but John Force's team and a few others have always done the match race too, so it's not that big a deal. Plus, you never know what a track is really going to give you until you get on it. Tracks can change from hour to hour and day to day, so it's pretty hard to say 'We ran here last year, so we're all set to go.' All you can do is get there, check it out, and make your best calls. Of course, we do already know our way from the hotel to the track, so I guess we have that going for us."
LIKE IT THERE, BUT ... - Gary Scelzi has experience in Norwalk, but ... it's gonna be hot.
"We had a match race there with John Force a couple of years ago, on the Fourth
of July, so we've been there," said Scelzi, winner of two national events this
season, both times from pole position. "The track is really good, with all the
improvements they've done. I'm sure it's going to be pretty incredible. I know
they have spent millions on it, and Bill Bader is a hell of a promoter. I think
were going to get a whole new group of fans and people who are IHRA fans who
maybe never made the trek to Columbus (site of former NHRA national events in
"So, I'm looking forward to it. I know it's going to be hot and miserable, and I think because of what we learned about the Mopar/Oakley Dodge's tune-up over the Englishtown weekend, even though it wasn't that hot there, we're going to be OK. We'll go to Norwalk and maybe we can scratch that one right off the first time we go there."
Before this season, of his 35 national-event victories, there were only two sites at which Scelzi had never won: Gainesville, Fla., and Englishtown, N.J. With the addition of Norwalk to the NHRA schedule, he now has three.
Scelzi is third in the Funny Car point standings. He and teammate Ron Capps have won five of the 10 national events so far for DSR. The Fresno native is on a "hiatus tour," as he has said he would step down from NHRA competition at the end of this year. "I'm not retiring," he explained. "I'm just taking a sabbatical to spend more time with my family and my family business."
He also holds the longest active consecutive qualifying streak at 28! His win in Chicago tied him with Don Garlits for 13th on the all-time NHRA POWERade wins list (all categories) - and 10th in Funny Car, which placed him next to Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, and Mike Dunn as the only drivers with double-digit wins in both nitro categories.
STILL IN THE CLUB - Funny Car's version of "Survivor" still carries on, but it's down to two drivers -- Jeff Arend and Gary Scelzi.
Arend's record for being able to get in the field remained unblemished in Englishtown, and for a while it looked as though he might come out of New Jersey as the only survivor in the Funny Car "No DNQ Club." Gary Scelzi is the only other FC driver to make every show in 2007, and he needed a dramatic final-session charge to bump his way into the E-town field. Arend is now 10-for-10 on the season.
"Gary is a great driver and he has one of the best teams in the sport behind him, but once again it goes to show you that the DNQ thing can bite anyone and it almost got him there," Arend said. "We weren't completely comfortable going into Sunday in the 13th spot, but that's exactly where we ended up and we were happy to be in the show.
"You know, we pride ourselves on our consistency here, and we've been more focused on that than on big hero runs. We've qualified all over the board so far, as high as 3rd and as low as the 13th spot, but usually we're right in the middle of the pack. I'd rather be in the middle and racing on Sunday, than go from No. 1 one week, to out of the show the next. After we started the season with a No. 3 spot in Pomona, we qualified 7th, 8th, or 9th at the next seven races in a row, so I think that shows we have a pretty strong car, and a very good team."
BEEN HERE DONE IT - Mike Ashley's last time at Norwalk was in 1990 in the midst of a three way battle for the inaugural IHRA Pro Modified world championship.
Now a driver of the Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, Ashley plans to crekindle that magic..
Winner of one event so far this year in nitro Funny Car, Ashley currently sits in the No. 6 position in Countdown to the Championship points, just seven races before the playoffs begin. Keenly aware that every round-win counts, Ashley is focused on building positive momentum as he hits the second of six races in a row this weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
"We're in the beginning of the marathon, now, and it's important to stay focused and make every run count," Ashley said. "The Gotham City Racing crew all know that every job is critical, and they are all professionals - I have every confidence in them that we'll make the show and build on our points position."
"It's exciting to go into Norwalk where we've never had a race, because I'm big on tradition and of course I'd like to start one of my own," he said. "I understand that the weather is going to be warm - which is really good for us, because Brian [Corradi, crew chief] has a great hot-weather tune-up. We've got a lot of power in the Torco Dodge, and I really feel good about this weekend.
"They guys found something in our clutch that had been pestering them and causing us some problems, and they feel confident that we've got things figured out, so, all of us are anxious to get back on the track and get back in the game."
FAST BREAKING - After a four-year hiatus, former Pro Stock competitor and NBA three-time All-Star Larry Nance will return to competition behind the wheel of the Larry Nance Racing/Hotcards.com Chevy Cobalt at this weekend' in front of his hometown fans in Norwalk, Ohio.
Nance will be squeezing his 6-foot-10 frame into his Jerry Haas-built Cobalt that will feature livery from his former team, 2006-'07 Eastern division champions and NBA finalists Cleveland Cavaliers. Considered by many as one of the greatest power forwards and shot blockers to ever play the game, the Cavs retired Nance's No. 22 jersey on Jan. 30, 1995 in honor of seven outstanding seasons with the team.
"I knew I would be racing in Norwalk," Nance said, "and because they had such a great season and since I am a Cavalier for life, I wanted to honor them and race a car right here in front of our fans in recognition of the Cavs and the season they had. I think people will like it and will enjoy seeing it go down the track. It was an awesome year for the Cavs and their fans, I loved it."
Nance remains an extremely popular sports figure in the Cleveland area. Last weekend he was the co-Grand Marshal of the Champ Car Cleveland Grand Prix, where he had a full display featuring his race car and a basketball court. Nance signed an estimated 5,000 autographs during the event in his effort to introduce new fans to drag racing and also try and secure financial backing to compete full-time on the NHRA POWERade tour.
"Obviously, I would love to qualify and go rounds on Sunday," Nance said. "But I would really enjoy inviting some sponsors from the local area out to see what it's all about and what I do so they can understand what I've been talking about over the last couple of years. I want them to see first hand all of the opportunities and possibilities that they have at an NHRA national event. My main goal is to secure sponsorship to run the full 2008 season.
"I love how competitive the Pro Stock class is. I'm proud of Tommy Hammonds too, because he's an ex-NBA player and he's really put a good program together and he's doing well. And that's my ultimate goal, to put a good program together and be able to compete with these guys."
CONTINUATION IN ORDER - Last
weekend at Englishtown, N.J., the KB Racing team continued their
domination in the Pro Stock class. Of the season's first 10 races,
either Greg Anderson or his teammate, Jason Line, has had a Summit
Racing Equipment Pro Stock Pontiac GTO in the final round at nine of
the 10 events.
The three-time NHRA POWERade champion Anderson has gone to six final rounds, winning all six; while Line, the reigning NHRA POWERade champion, has advanced to three final rounds, winning one. That’s seven wins with two runner-ups in 10 races.
There are reasons that Anderson is eager to get to Norwalk.
"We are looking forward to going to Norwalk," said Anderson, whose primary marketing partner, Summit Racing Equipment, is headquartered in Tallmadge, Ohio. "What could be better than for the two Summit Racing Pontiacs to be racing at the Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. Because this race will be also sponsored by Summit Racing Equipment, it has jumped to one of the three most important races on the schedule for KB Racing. The other two are Las Vegas and Atlanta, also sponsored by Summit. I've been fortunate to win both of those this year and would like to make it three-for-three at Norwalk.
"We like to win and it is especially gratifying when you win in front of your sponsors and their employees. With the home office for Summit Racing Equipment being about an hour from the track in Norwalk, you can bet that we will see more Summit related people than at any race this year. I can't think of a better group of people that I would like to join us in the winner's circle, so we'll be going all out to win. It will be a special race. I know that they're looking forward to the race and us being there.
"The Bader Family has put a ton of money into making the facility first class and it should be a great, great place -- a neat place. We, as a team, need to shine and do well there. Being a new track on the circuit, there will be many challenges. We need to turn those challenges into opportunities. I would like to be the first time winner at the first Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park."
While this is the inaugural race at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, Anderson has been very successful at National Trail Raceway in Columbus, Ohio. The 46-year-old driver, who was born in Duluth, Minn., and now lives in the Charlotte, N.C. area, had four consecutive wins from 2002 through 2005 at the “other” Ohio track, which is no longer on the NHRA national event circuit.
After 10 events, Anderson leads the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock standings with 954 points, which also puts him in the lead for the first segment – Countdown to Eight – of the Countdown to the Championship. Teammate Line is fourth with 628 points, 326 behind his teammate. Sandwiched in between Anderson and Line is Jeg Coughlin in second with 753 points (-201) and Coughlin’s teammate Dave Connolly, with 660 points (-294), in third. Rounding out the top five is Allen Johnson in fifth with 508 points, 446 off the lead.
BICENTENIAL CELEBRATION - Jeg Coughlin Jr. -- enters his landmark 200th race this weekend as the NHRA tour sweeps into Norwalk, Ohio. The three-time world champion is coming off back-to-back final-round appearances in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt with a win and a runner-up finish to his credit in the last three weeks. No one is running stronger.
"It's exciting to be coming home with such a great racecar under me," said Coughlin, who hails from Delaware, Ohio, just 90 miles south of Norwalk. "Racing in Ohio will always be special to me because this is where it all started for our family. Our home track is National Trail, but Norwalk is a close second, our 1A if you will, and I'd imagine we've been down this racetrack more than anyone else in Pro Stock because we often test here. It's a great facility and it's neat they get to host an NHRA race now.
"The Bader family loves drag racing as much as we do and they go above and beyond the call of duty to make their facility and their events top-notch. I expect we'll have a great weekend this time through and hopefully for many years to come."
A 48-time national event winner, Coughlin arrives at this special point in his professional career with enviable statistics. His 35 Pro Stock wins and 21 runner-up results in the 199 races he's previously entered translates to one final-round showing per 3.5 races, with victories coming every 5.6 events. His 323-152 race day record yields a winning ratio of 68 percent, the fourth-best ever among racers in all four professional categories.
"I had no idea of those numbers until they were brought to my attention this week," Coughlin said. "I've been lucky enough to have raced some awesome cars, including the one (team owner) Victor Cagnazzi has me in right now. Of course, there has been an army of talented people behind me all these years, none better than the group at Cagnazzi Racing. It's very humbling, really, to hear those stats."
COMBING THE CAR - If you're missing a finetooth comb, Greg Hill and Kenny Koretsky have it. They're examining their Chevrolet Cobalt with it.
Crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia and his cohorts don’t have log books with vital data on track and atmospheric conditions yet for Norwalk. They’ll all be learning at the same time.
After missing just one start in their first 10 NHRA POWERade Series events, Koretsky, Guarnaccia and Hill want to make sure they do a quick performance turnaround in time for the beginning of qualifying tomorrow at Norwalk.
Hill labeled the time spent in New Jersey a “lost weekend. The good thing is we learned from it,” he said. “We made some mistakes. We made some chassis changes before our qualifying runs, but we found out those didn’t work. We hurt a motor and missed the tune-up on the replacement engine and then the weather and track got hotter and, as it turned out, we had absolutely the wrong setup in the car.”
Optimism is high because the car had been running consistently good elapsed times. Competition for starting positions has been intense all year and Guarnaccia and Koretsky believe they will return to the top 16 this weekend.
“Eddie spent all of Sunday going over the entire car,” said Koretsky, “changing the suspension and putting everything back where it was when we were qualifying well. I was very disappointed we didn’t qualify because Raceway Park is one of my hometown tracks and it hurt that I wasn’t racing on Sunday. But we will be back, ready to go after some round wins at Norwalk.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
I DID STAY IN A HOLIDAY EXPRESS, THOUGH - Andrew Hines has experienced racing in Norwalk. Unfortunatley, it was not on a motorcycle.
"I've actually been there once, when I helped Craig Treble do some testing there a few years ago," Hines, 24, said. "I even made a few passes down the track in my truck. That's the first place I ever drag raced my truck. It looked like a great facility and a fun place to race when I was there and now they've made a lot of upgrades and improvements, so I'm anxious to get there and try to become the first NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle winner.
"More than anything, I'm excited about competing for the inaugural victory at a new track," Hines said. "We don't get that opportunity very often and I think it would be great to be the first NHRA winner there. It's not going to be easy. Our team has been working so hard just to be in the position to compete on Sundays. The competition is real tough and everything has be just about perfect to win these days."
SOMETHING TO PROVE - Some things don't shake off so easilly, such as the sting of an early exit when you're the favorite.
Angelle Sampey is attempting to rebound from a second round loss.
When she arrives at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, Sampey would like nothing better than to pick up right where she left off in New Jersey.
Despite posting a disappointing red light foul in a second round loss, the three-time world champion feels she may now have the motorcycle to beat each and every race.
In qualifying last Saturday, she set the national record for elapsed time with a blistering 6.871-second pass.
“Right now, I definitely have one, fast U.S. Army Suzuki,” she offered. “I just have to do a better job at the starting line and we’ll be fine. I have to stop beating myself.”
ROCKSTAR? - Alert the media, Norwalk has a rockstar headed to town. Since his stint as a professional surfer didn't work out, maybe Steve Johnson might make a good rocker. Or, maybe he ought to stick to riding motorcycles.
Johnson has a gig this weekend in Norwalk.
Formerly known as Norwalk Raceway Park before adopting the Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park moniker, the track that was once considered “a nice little track” has grown over the years into what’s now widely considered to be a “super track.” This weekend’s race is the facility’s first major event under NHRA sanction, and as such all of motorsports will be closely awaiting the outcome.
“This will be our first appearance at SREMP,” Johnson said as he hastily packed a bag before heading to the airport. “I’ve talked to a lot of the racers, and everyone’s in the same mode: Winning the first-ever NHRA national event at a track like this one is going to be huge, and darn it, I want us to be the first team to do it!
“This is also the first time that the NHRA POWERade Series will be making a direct impact on the Detroit market, which is not that far from Norwalk. We’re also going to be racing closer to Cleveland than ever before, so I’m hoping we get a lot of new fans out to see us compete for the first time.
“After the race, if I can possibly manage it, I’m not leaving Cleveland until I take the full tour of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. It’s something I’ve always wanted to see, and I won’t have a better opportunity before next year at this time.”
WORKING, WORKING, WORKING - Matt Smith is working the angles. He's also working on his bike too.
“We definitely had our work cut out for us this past week,” said Smith, the current points leader. “We didn’t go home, but we have been working on the motors in Virginia. I think we are going to be just fine in Norwalk. It is going to be a challenge for us all in that most NHRA drivers have never raced there, but it will be interesting none-the-less.”
Smith lost in the second round last weekend due to a broken lash cap. That was only the second time he had not been to the finals this year.
“We had some issues in New Jersey with the motors,” said Rivas. “But everybody has those problems every now and then; sometimes you just can’t prevent those things. Matt has been working real hard over the last few days getting things back to normal and I can’t wait to run in Norwalk. With Evan Knoll backing me and Brian Olson supplying an incredible paint job on my bike, the sky is the limit at this point.”
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