NHRA MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS - TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK

Written by Susan Wade.

MONDAY - TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK


Hot streak cooled -- Brandon Bernstein cooled down the sizzling Hillary Will in the first round with a 4.514-second run at a track-record 332.67-mph speed. Will had advanced to the final round in the previous race, at Memphis, and in between that race and this one, she won the International Hot Rod Association event at Norwalk, Ohio. She had been the provisional No. 1 qualifier the first day at Norwalk.

Will's KB Racing LLC/Kalitta Motorsports Dragster was consistent throughout qualifying. "We went down the track five out of five times, and if you count back a race, that's nine out of nine times," she said. But her "Monday Factor" didn't help this time. At both Memphis and Norwalk, rain had pushed the later-round action back to Monday. Although no one was in the stands last Monday at Norwalk, Will did earn her career-first victory there.

Technically the victory for Bernstein was an upset, for Will qualified seventh and Bernstein 10th.


It's a boy! -- Just after Larry Dixon qualified No. 2 in the Top Fuel lineup for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Sunday, he became a daddy for the third time. Wife Allison gave birth at 9:30 p.m. to 8-pound, 10-ounce Darien Lukas Dixon. He joins brother Donovan, 5, and sister Alanna, who will turn 4 years old Sept. 23.

"I trust everything to fate and believed that everything would work out great, and it has," Dixon said. "Everyone is in great shape, I couldn't ask for any more, except maybe another Wally trophy today."

Dixon started on that path, as Doug Foley left the line too early in the first round, but Brandon Bernstein eliminated him in the quarterfinals.

In the sixth meeting of the brewery-sponsored dragsters this year, both drivers had nearly identical reaction times (Dixon was four-thousandths of a second quicker). But Dixon's Miller Lite/Raybestos car smoked the tires immediately instantly, while Bernstein cruised into the semifinals with a 4.551-second blast.

"We just smoked the tires," crew chief Donnie Bender said. "We found a mechanical glitch on the race car, and that made it too aggressive."
 
Dixon, an Avon, Indiana, resident, won this race last year for the third time and dedicated the victory to his father, former Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon Sr.


Fuller does it again -- No. 5 qualifier Melanie Troxel can't seem to beat Rod Fuller's jinx on her. She has lost to him in each of her three meetings this season. That includes the Phoenix race, in which heat beat her in the final round and spoiled her chance to share the winners circle with her husband, Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr.

The frustration continued Monday, although the case could be made that the rev limiter on her Don Schumacher-owned Torco/Skull Shine Dragster is just as troublesome to her as Fuller is.

After breezing past first-round opponent Alan Bradshaw with a 4.527-second pass at 326.71 mph, she met Fuller in the quarterfinals. She led him at the 1,000-foot mark on the O'Reilly Raceway Park quarter-mile, but her car encountered a slight wiggle while losing traction. She ended up with a 4.613/306.46 clocking, not enough to catch Fuller's 4.578/324.20.

"We were ahead of Rod, then out somewhere around 1,000 feet, it smoked the tires and got on the rev-limiter and started eating up the motor," Troxel said. "The car was running really well. We knew the second round would be in the middle of the day and probably on the worst track conditions we would see.

"We were concerned early in the run about not overpowering the race track, and we made it through that very well. It caught us completely off-guard," she said. "We didn't expect to have a problem like that. So we'll look at the computer to figure out why that happened. It's not where we expected to have a problem on the trace track.

"You can lose a race and never see the other driver. But when you go all the way down and don't see him, then you get a good feeling thinking you have it. It wasn't until past 1,000 feet that he pulled around a little bit. It's very frustrating, because we had a good race car."

She's fourth in the standings. She had a chance to close the margin between herself and leader Doug Kalitta after he lost in the opening round. She'll take a 140-point deficit to Reading in two weeks when the Powerade Drag Racing Series resumes.

"This was a big opportunity for everyone behind Doug. We did make up a little ground," Troxel said, "but we missed an opportunity to step up and make up some major ground ."
Troxel is now 140 points behind No. 1 Kalitta.


'I'll match you and lower you' -- Eventual finalist Brandon Bernstein posted a 4.514-second elapsed time in winning his first-round race. As impressive as that was, Cory McClenathan was next up and ran a 4.519. Rod Fuller, in the next pairing, topped them all with a 4.508-second E.T.


Howdy, neighbor! -- Winner Tony Schumacher said his bus (motorhome) has been parked beside that of Doug Kalitta at this race. They're the top two Top Fuel drivers. Kalitta still leads, although he lost a first-round stunner to last-chance qualifier David Baca on a holeshot. The Mac Tools Dragster driver, who carried special-edition Foose Design artwork celebrating his association with Chip Foose, leads Schumacher by 54 points.

Kalitta, respected as one of the class' best "leavers," one of the best at cutting an advantageous light, has won seven times this year on holeshots, found himself on the losing end of one for the first time all season. Baca left the starting line .029 of a second sooner than Kalitta, giving his slower run of 4.542 seconds at 316.52 mph the victory over Kalitta's 4.517/323.12 lap.

Schumacher said he and Kalitta walked outside their respective buses Monday morning and shook hand and wished each other good luck. "Neither one of us had a clue how it would turn out. I picked up 80-some points on him, after I lost a lot to him at Memphis." 


Boom -- Dave Grubnic's day ended in the second round -- in a ball of flame in the Kalitta Motorsports' StriVectin Dragster. A mechanical malfunction that the team later learned had started on the burnout lit an invisible fuse inside the race car's 8,000-horsepower engine. It eventually ignited into a huge fireball at the finish line. Grubnic, who was uninjured, lost that round to Tony Schumacher.

 

Baaaaad day -- Andrew Cowin, who won an IHRA race earlier this summer and had visions of returning to the final round here for the first time since 1999, was disappointed early. He didn't even get to make his first-round pass. He had to shut down his Scott Griffin Motorsports/Serta Dragster after it had had trouble with the reverser on the burnout.

Cowin and wife Jenny hung out, though, and supported his close friends, Andy and Mark Carrier, and their FRAM Boost Dragster driver, Cory McClenathan. Cowin was runner-up to McClenathan this spring in an IHRA event at Rockingham (North Carolina) Dragway.


Consistent Cory -- Cory McClenathan's Carrier Boyz Racing/FRAM Boost Dragster was consistent, even though the 1996 and 1999 winner didn't make it past the semifinals Monday.
 
Crew chief Wes Cerny and assistant crew chief Tony Shortall coaxed eight elapsed times in differing weather conditions ranging from 4.519 seconds to a 4.627.

"We had eight really good runs during the weekend and we went some rounds on race day," said McClenathan, "and I'm really happy with the good job Wes and Tony have been doing. It's great to have a consistent car again and I think the other drivers know we have a car that can win a race."
 
McClenathan beat Doug Herbert (4.519 seconds at 327.35 mph to 4.604 at 324.12) and David Baca (4.606 at 316.45 to 8.173 at 87.65) before losing a slim decision to Brandon Bernstein (4.524 at 332.51 to 4.588 at 323.04).

Against Bernstein, he came within two-thousandths of a second of winning. He had a sizeable jump on the eventual runner-up -- .047-second to .109 -- but couldn't hold off the Budweiser/Lucas Oil Dragster.

"We're all tired because this race takes a lot out of you, but we are already looking forward to going to Reading," McClenathan said.
 

Could've been better -- J.R. Todd said he could have had a better showing in the first round against eventual winner Tony Schumacher had something not gone awry in his Dexter Tuttle-owned Torco/Skull Shine Dragster. Todd had a respectable 4.606-second elapsed time at 317.57 mph. But Schumacher countered with a 4.486-second run at more than 330 mph to sideline Todd for the second time in their four meetings this season.

"I don't think we could've run better than a 4.48 at 330 mph, but we should have run quicker. There was something going away in the car," the rookie, who beat Schumacher in final rounds at Denver an Sonoma, said. "Every time we tune it up, the car slows down. This is the last of our eight straight races, so now we'll have a chance to go through everything and see if we can find any problems."

The team will returns to action at Reading.

But Todd had a successful weekend in other ways. He showed off his bowling skills and helped raise $10,000 for Racers For Christ in his inaugural bowling tournament fundraiser. He rolled a 247 game, the highest of the event.

"I'd like to thank all the people who came to the tournament and helped us with their contributions," Todd said. "We all had fun. Even though I bowled well, our team finished second from last. We got the bowling tournament off to a good start, and we're looking forward to seeing how much we can raise next year."

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY - TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK


Manning wowed -- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning got a close look Sunday afternoon at what happens to the senses when a 7,000-8,000-horsepower dragster launches for a quarter-mile pass. And he could use only one small word to describe the huge sensory-overload experience: "Wow!"

Manning was the guest of Forrest and Charlotte Lucas, owners of Morgan Lucas Racing and the Lucas Oil Dragster that carries a paint scheme honoring the National Football League team's new stadium. Lucas Oil has purchased naming rights to the structure that's under construction. The Colts will play their home games at Lucas Oil Stadium, starting in 2008, and the football team this past week announced its intention to bid for the 2011 Super Bowl.

"I thought it was pretty cool," Manning said after standing on the track behind several pairs of cars as they performed burnouts and launched their runs. He said he didn't develop an urge to try drag racing, like former Houston Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini did in the mid-1980s with his Top Fuel dragster, "The Quarterback Sneak."

"I don't think so, but it was awesome to see and all I can say is 'Wow!' " Manning said. "I appreciate being invited by Forrest and Charlotte Lucas to the race, and I'm looking forward to building a positive relationship with them and Lucas Oil."


Scary situation -- Scott Weis had to gain about four-hundredths of a second to make the 16-car field, and he had one last shot in which to try. He was 18th with a best elapsed time of 4.623 seconds -- with unqualified David Baca between him and bump-spot driver J.R. Todd and his 4.597. But something went terribly wrong, and rather than being lucky and jumping into the field in a last-ditch effort, the team was lucky no one was seriously injured when the engine exploded.

As the car sat just behind the water box, Weis waiting for his turn to stage the Barrett Enterprises Dragster, a loud pop came from the rear of the car. The crew was trying to start the car when the accident happened. Raw fuel had leaked into a cylinder, and evidently no one tried to back the engine down. The blast blew the valve covers off the left side of the car. In drag racing parlance, the engine "hydrauliced."

It knocked one crew member to the pavement and slightly injured another. One lay there for about a minute, then he stood up, walked around, then stomped and paced, angry about the fact Weis was unable to make the pass.

The injured crew members were identified as Steve Prince, the bottom-end specialist, and Frank Mazzarrelli, the cylinder-head builder. Both were checked and released at the track by NHRA emergency services officials. 

Baca came along in the next pairing and made a 4.581-second pass to get in the Labor Day classic. (Motel6 Vision)


J.R. means "Just Right?"
-- J.R. Todd has had plenty of excitement in his life since mid-July, winning at Denver and Sonoma, qualifying No. 1 at last weekend's IHRA showcase race at Norwalk, Ohio, and flirting with the top 10 in his rookie NHRA season.

But he had more drama than he bargained for Sunday. It all turned out fine for the Lawrenceburg, Indiana, native and resident of nearby Avon -- despite the fact that clutch problems kept him on the bump spot entering the final day of qualifying.

In the final session, David Baca, making a last-ditch qualifying effort, bumped Todd from the field. Todd regained his No. 16 spot with a 4.585-second run at 321.65 mph to make it the quickest field in drag-racing history.

"It's extremely nerve-wracking," Todd said afterward. "It wasn't the prettiest [pass]. It wasn't the straightest." But it put the homegrown Hoosier in the lineup for the first time as a driver. He has worked at this race, for Funny Car drivers Bob Gilbertson and Frankie Pedregon.

While Todd could celebrate, the driver in the other lane was dejected. Joe Hartley, of Portland, Oregon, was competing with Todd for that final berth. He smoked the tires on his dragster and watched Todd go past him and bump him from the field.

 
Tony vs. J.R. again -- Some of the first-round match-ups are just as juicy as the ones in the later rounds. And No. 1 qualifier Tony Schumacher has one coming up against J.R. Todd, the 16th and final qualifier.

Todd beat the U.S. Army Dragster dominator in the final rounds at Denver and Sonoma. In between, Schumacher beat him and his Torco/Skull Shine Dragster in the semifinals at Seattle.

Schumacher said he isn't worried. "I never have problems with J.R. early [in the early rounds]. I have problems with J.R. in finals," he said.

Besides, he said, racing a driver the caliber of Todd "makes me step up and focus. I'm a much better driver against a good car."
 

Going home early -- Missing the cut were Joe Hartley, Bob Vandergriff Jr., Scott Weis, Clay Millican , Bruce Litton, Scott Palmer, Tim Gibson, and Luigi Novelli.


Indianapolis Rookies -- Making the field or the first time was Doug Foley, who's in contention for the IHRA Top Fuel championship (15 points behind five-time champion Millican). Foley, of Sewell, New Jersey, is a drag-racing driving instructor.

Also new to the Top Fuel field here is Alan Bradshaw, the Texas chiropractor who's in his rookie season.

Stats -- Six of the 16 in this year's Top Fuel field have either won and/or been runner-up at Indianapolis: Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon, Doug Kalitta, Cory McClenathan, Doug Herbert, and Andrew Cowin.

Two former Top Fuel winners -- Jim Head and Gary Scelzi -- are competing in this year's Funny Car field. 

One driver, David Baca, is trying to complete a family goal. His father, Dennis, won the U.S. Nationals Top Fuel title in 1977, beating Richard Tharp.

  

Keep pulling handle -- Clay Millican received some advice from Kenny Koretsky, the Pro Stock driver who's majority owner of his Top Fuel team: "If you keep pulling the handle of a slot machine enough times, sooner or later it will pay off. The key is to hit it before going bankrupt."

It hasn't been his lucky year in International Hot Rod Association action. He has won a race and leads the standings by a mere 15 points over Doug Foley. But that's a sub-par performance for the Drummonds, Tennessee, native.

This just wasn't Millican's lucky weekend, either. He missed the 4.585 cut Sunday and took only his second DNQ of the year (the first was in March at Gainesville, Florida) and just the sixth of his NHRA career.

And it happened in a weekend when he had plenty of motivation -- or is that Motorvation? Motorvation Automotive Performance Products was sponsoring him for this race.

"I'm disappointed we weren't able to make enough good runs for Mark Pickens and the people from Motorvation Automotive Performance Products," Millican said.

"We haven't been running well most of the year," he said, "but we will work our way out of it. These up-and-down cycles happen. It's like a pendulum. I hope we're at the bottom of it and that we get on the upswing soon. Mike [crew chief Kloeber] is working hard to turn things around. We just need to find a combination that will give us consistent performances."
 
Millican's best run was 4.633 seconds at 319.07 mph that was 20th overall.

Koretsky didn't make his field, either.

 

 

SATURDAY - TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK  

Need to do better (?) -- Tony Schumacher said his 4.475-second elapsed time on Saturday evening -- the one that put him back at the top of the order after Larry Dixon swiped it in a prior run in the session -- was great but not satisfying enough for his U.S. Army Dragster team.

"This track is outstanding, and that run was great. It was better than everybody else's and all that, but I guarantee you that Alan's back there [in the Don Schumacher Racing pit], scratching his head [trying to figure out how to make the car run quicker]."

Schumacher is seeking his ninth No. 1 qualifier award this season. He said crew chief Alan Johnson is determined to break the top-qualifier jinx that has dogged not only the U.S. Army team but every other quick qualifier this season.

He had two special pieces of "cargo" on board with him Saturday. He always carries a photo of Army Sergeant Keith (Matt) Maupin, who was captured in the War on Terror April 9, 2004, and remains the Army's only soldier missing in action. Schumacher also drove with the identification tag of a soldier, an Army sniper, who lost his lower leg in an explosion of a homemade bomb [an IED, or improvised explosive device, in military parlance].

"He's cool as can be," Schumacher said of the injured soldier. 

The one that got away -- Doug Kalitta had some trouble in trying to regain his tentative No. 1 status in Saturday's final qualifying run. The front of his Chip Foose-themed Mac Tools Dragster hiked up about halfway down the O'Reilly Raceway Park quarter-mile and slammed down hard. He closed the day in third place, as Larry Dixon wowed the crowd with a 4.492-second elapsed time that looked for awhile to vault him maybe to his first No. 1 position this year and the first since the Seattle race in July 2005. 

Schumacher trumps Kalitta -- He seized the No. 1 spot from Doug Kalitta -- the only driver he's chasing in the standings -- by two-thousandths of a second in Saturday's opening session. His 4.495-second pass in the U.S. Army Dragster at 328.62 mph topped Kalitta's 4.497/322.65.

Some of his success comes from what his Alan Johnson-led crew figured out during testing last week at O'Reilly Raceway Park.

"We were testing to set a [national] record, not to win the race. Alan said we need to get a tune-up for the record," Schumacher said, alluding to the 20 points a driver earns by setting the national elapsed-time mark. He said Johnson was trying to see what [the track] wouldn't take and that is what he did every time. He was trying to smoke the tires. Watching the car go out and run [4.]53, yeah, we know it can do that. But what won't it take? We wanted to see what can we do with different parts on it and make it smoke the tires, and he got the handle on that during some of the runs. But he also got it to run a [4.]46 with the rods out."

Schumacher led the dragster contingent in the two-day test session with a 4.468-seconds E.T. at 327.66 mph a week ago this past Wednesday, but earlier that day he posted a top speed of 330.07 mph. That was the first unofficial 330-mph run at ORP. He had set the track speed record last year at 329.18 mph, but Cory McClenathan wiped that out Friday night with a 329.34-mph clocking.

Schumacher was 11th after the first day of qualifying with a 4.591-second pass. He said before that run he asked assistant crew chief Jason McCulloch, 'What do you think the car's going to run?' Crew chief Johnson didn't hesitate -- he said, "I'm sure glad I'm not driving it."

So he obviously wasn't able to get the maximum from the U.S. Army Dragster. Whatever went wrong Friday was corrected, as he improved 10 places.


Pep talk -- In speaking to a group of U.S. Army recruits who within an hour or so would take their oath of entrance to the service, Schumacher looked back on this 10th anniversary of his Top Fuel debut. And he assured them that he understood their apprehension, for he experienced something similar when he first slipped into the cockpit of a Top Fuel dragster.
 
Schumacher had raced an '86 Trans Am that went 16 seconds in the quarter-mile when he was 15 years old, then had a 10-second Chevelle followed by an 8-second Super Comp dragster. But he said nothing really prepared him for the dynamics of a Top Fuel launch, run and finish or what it feels like to travel the length of more than four football fields in less than five seconds.

"There was no longer a learning curve. You were going 100 [mph] in less than a couple of feet, whether you like it or not," he said. "There's no way to practice that. . . . My eyes were wide open, and I thought, 'What the heck -- ?!' The crew chief leaned over. He couldn't hear, apparently. He leaned over, and I could read his lips: 'Good luck!' You know what? I thought, 'Where's Mama?!' But there was no help."

He said he learned fast that he had to trust the crew who prepared the car. And he assured them that they would discover the same thing about their fellow soldiers as they go through basic training.

Helping Schumacher thank and motivate the young recruits Saturday was former Cincinnati Bengals star and NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.


Improving -- While Tony Schumacher improved 10 places in Saturday's first session, Dave Grubnic broke into the field and gained 11 spots in the Connie Kalitta-owned Stri-Vectin Dragster. He was 22nd in the order Friday and 11th after a 4.565-second run at 324.59 mph. Bruce Litton, whose business is located directly across the road from the main entrance to the race track in Clermont, was bumped from the field Saturday afternoon. 


Back Home Again In Indiana -- Morgan Lucas isn't the top qualifier in his class. But if heart is any measure, he should be No. 1 with the racing fans in Indianapolis after this weekend.

Lucas spent his early childhood in the Southern Indiana town of Corydon, where his parents' Lucas Oil production plant is located. Earlier this year, the family announced it had purchased naming rights to the new downtown Indianapolis stadium that will be home to the NFL's Colts, beginning in 2008.

He recently moved to the Brownsburg-Avon area, and his race shop is located in Top Fuel driver/landlord Larry Dixon's building in the team-headquarters enclave known unofficially as "Nitro Alley."

This weekend, Lucas' dragster carries a special "Lucas Oil Stadium" paint scheme.

"We decided on this paint scheme because my whole family is from this beautiful state. The city of Indianapolis is not given enough credit as one of the great cities in the nation. It's community-minded and people-oriented. It’s a good place to be," the 22-year-old driver said. "We want to express to the city and people of the state that we actually care and we're giving something back in trying to promote this team and promote what we've done with it to show we want to be part of this for a long time."

Lucas said his family's relationship with the Colts "is just as good as our relationship as we developed with the NHRA and drag racing. There is a lot of focus and things that can benefit drag racing from the Colts and many things from the Colts that can benefit drag racing. We're going a different avenue and our intent is solely good in marketing our company. In a way, it can actually activate our sponsorship with drag racing a little more and vice versa with the Colts to show that we are a prominent oil company and we're serious about our business. Bottom line: we're here to sell Lucas Oil. We're serious players, and we want people to understand that."

He said he has attended the U.S. Nationals since 1995 with his father. "Then I started racing and I haven't miss a year since, so I've been coming here for a decade straight," he said. "I love this track. I only live five miles from the front door, so I'm excited about that. I get to go home and sleep in my own bed at night. I'm just wrapped up into racing here, because this is the biggest race of the year. If anyone is going to be remembered for winning a particular race during the year, it's going to be this one."

With his longshot-at-best status in the championship chase, Lucas -- who's No. 8 in the order at this point -- said, "I think our focus is on next year, but the main fact is we still want to win races. We want to go rounds and finish as high as we can in the points. We believe a top-five finishing position is not out of the question. However, that means we have to go rounds and maybe even win a few races along the way. We look forward to things happening for us in the future to spice it up. Right now, you have to look at it as one thing - besides the top 10 we have nothing to lose. We need to go out there and do the best we can and take the pressure of the championship off our backs so we can do our jobs of racing a Top Fuel dragster. Let's go and make this car run as best we can and win. That's our thing."


Need divine Sunday -- David Baca, who earned his Top Fuel license during testing here in 2002 and the following year earned the No. 1 qualifying honor at the U.S. Nationals, remains unqualified, six-thousandths slower than J.R. Todd's 4.598-second bump time.
 
Still looking to make the grid of 16 are Scott Weis, Clay Millican, Bruce Litton, Bob Vandergriff Jr., Scott Palmer, Tim Gibson, and Luigi Novelli.


She did what? -- Hillary Will, the No. 7 qualifier so far, was associated with helping save hundreds of Australian women $35 each this past Thursday. Western Sydney International Dragway had a special "Ladies Free" promotion at the first night of its ACDelco East Coast Nationals, and as part of the promotional material the track mentioned Will's career-first victory at the IHRA Skull Shine World Nationals this past Monday at Norwalk, Ohio.

"Hillary Will has a great sense of timing, too. Drag Racing is very proud about the number of lady racers we have in our sport," the press release said. "Will joined some legends of the sport of 500kmh Top Fuel racing in the USA just last weekend." The WSID folks marveled at the fact that Will ran a 4.624-second elapsed time at 314.75 mph -- "That's more than 506 kmh!"

When Will won at Norwalk, she became the third woman to win an IHRA Top Fuel race, following Shirley Muldowney and Rhonda Hartman-Smith. The previous time a woman had won an IHRA event was when Muldowney beat Luigi Novelli in the final at the 1998 Parts Pro Summer Nationals in Morocco, Indiana.

Rachelle Splatt became Australia's "Queen of Speed" when she became the first woman in the world to run 300 mph.


Heady stuff -- Melanie Troxel struggled to remove her new Impact helmet following her final Saturday run that left her fourth heading into Sunday's final day of qualifying. "I might have to work on my exit strategy. That wasn't too smooth," the Torco/Skull Shine Dragster driver joked.

 

 

FRIDAY - TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK

Second Powers dragster; Matco bolts DSR -- Valvoline announced Friday afternoon that it was renewing its sponsorship of the David Powers team and driver Rod Fuller. But Powers said in a statement Friday night that he would field a second dragster in 2007 with primary sponsorship from Matco Tools.

He said Matco also plans to provide "major associate" sponsorship for Fuller's car.
 
Powers did not name a driver or provide any details of the second team, other than news that Lee Beard "will oversee tuning of the new Matco Tools entry."

At the same time, Don Schumacher announced that Matco Tools, one of his major sponsors since 2001, won't return to the team as a major sponsor next year.

Matco Tools earned three NHRA championships as a DSR sponsor, two with Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel and one with Gary Scelzi in Funny Car. Matco Tools also has been the primary sponsor of the Funny Car that Whit Bazemore drove to two series runner-up finishes. Bazemore has won 13 events in the Matco Tools flagship car.

"It's possible that Matco Tools may return with DSR in 2007 as an associate sponsor, but that remains to be determined," Schumacher said.

Recent rumors have had Funny Car driver Whit Bazemore switching from the Don Schumacher Racing stable to join Powers' organization. But Bazemore said Friday morning, "I don't know anything about that. I just know I answer my telephone."

Schumacher's announcement included a statement that Bazemore's status with DSR for 2007 is unclear at this stage. "I will not run that car without a sponsor," the series' largest multi-car team owner said. "So the first thing I need to do is find a new sponsor."

Bazemore's association with Matco dates back to his driving days for owner Chuck Etchells in 2000, when the tool company was an associate sponsor along with Kendall Oil. In 2001, Bazemore and Matco joined DSR and debuted the Iron Eagles, first a Dodge Stratus, and earlier this year the Dodge Charger.

John Torok, Matco Manager of Motorsports Marketing, said, "Our loyal distributors have wanted and deserved a full-blown presence in NHRA's most high-profile racing division. It's a great platform for them and their customers to see the Matco Tools Top Fuel car square off against its tool-branded competitors."

Schumacher said, "I respect the fact that Matco Tools conveyed this information to me today at the U.S. Nationals. This will give me an opportunity to work aggressively through the rest of this 2006 season to replace them as a primary sponsor. We've had a long, rewarding relationship with Matco Tools since 2001, and I wish them continued success with their future motorsports programs. Matco Tools will continue as the tool of choice in the DSR camp for the time being."


Playing fast and Foose
-- Provisional top qualifier Doug Kalitta said after recording the only 4.4-second pass of the evening that "we were just happy to get down our lane. It was good to get in the show solid.

Kalitta, paired with closest challenger Tony Schumacher, said he was surprised that Schumacher hadn't clocked a quicker run and started his weekend 11th in the order. "They obviously had some kind of a snafu over there," the points leader said.

Schumacher didn't provide much of a clue about why his U.S. Army Dragster had taken him to a 4.591-second elapsed time at 304.12 mph when he was expecting much more from it. "We'll have to take a good look at the data, but I'm sure something wasn't totally right with that run," he said ."I'm pretty sure [crew chief] Alan Johnson had other numbers in mind. We'll take another swing at it tomorrow."

Kalitta's Mac Tools Dragster is sporting a new and exclusive Chip Foose-designed paint scheme. Foose, world-renowned custom auto builder and TV celebrity, is grand marshal of the event. Kalitta won in Chicago and twice last year when driving special-themed cars.

"We love running the special paint schemes, especially ones for Chip Foose," Kalitta said. "We always seem to have good luck with them. Indy is certainly a race that every driver wants to win, so maybe our special scheme there this year will give us a bit of luck and will guide us to our first win there. This is a place that Connie [his uncle and team owner Connie Kalitta] has won at, but I haven't managed to win here."

Kalitta, who won back-to-back events at Bristol-Atlanta and then Topeka-Chicago, is hoping to do it again this weekend. He won the previous race, at Memphis.

His five victories this year ties the career-high mark he set last year for victories in a season.


Top speed -- Cory McClenathan rewrote the O'Reilly Raceway Park speed record with a 329.34-mph effort in his Carrier Boyz//FRAM Boost Dragster. His 4.524-second elapsed time, though, could net only a provisional fourth place. No. 3 Rod Fuller topped him by one-thousandth of a second, and No. 2 Melanie Troxel -- despite a run she said "felt strange" and "didn't feel right" -- was three-thousandths of a second better.

Tony Schumacher owned the previous speed mark at O'Reilly Raceway Park with a 329.18 mph. The U.S. Army Dragster driver still owns the E.T. record at 4.459 from last year. 

'Good start' for Dixon -- Larry Dixon, the defending U.S. Nationals winner, said his 4.546-second elapsed time at 328.22 mph that put him in sixth place was "a good start for our team."

Team owner Don Prudhomme gave Miller Lite Dragster crew chief Donnie Bender a satisfied nod on the starting line following the run.

Dixon added, "We ran a 4.57 to finish Indy testing last Wednesday and our goal coming in here was to improve upon that tonight, and we did that."

He's seeking a fourth Indianapolis victory after winning in 1995, 2001, and last year. He qualified sixth at the U.S. Nationals last year with a 4.510-second E.T.

Not any easier here -- Clay Millican, the five-time and reigning International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel champion, didn't get any relief from his unusually tough season there by getting a change of scenery. In IHRA competition, he leads No. 2 Doug Foley by a mere 15 points and has won just one event all year. He and his Kenny Koretsky/Werner Enterprises/Nitro Fish Dragster will enter Saturday's qualifying 19th on the list for a 16-car field. (Although this has no effect on the IHRA championship race, Foley is 15th after Friday's session.)

"We now realize how important every single run is," Millican said. "Every run, including qualifying, as well as the NHRA races we do are important for us because I get to drive the car, Mike [crew chief Kloeber] gets to tune it, the team gets to work on it. Every part on the car is important. We had a simple bug in the car when we lost to Foley at Norwalk. We stayed at the track Sunday night well past midnight to find it.

"People have gone out, found the sponsorship dollars and moved their level of performance up. I think it's wonderful how well everyone is running [in IHRA]. I also think it's great the NHRA cars are coming over and mixing it up, because for years that's what I did to their program."

But the always optimistic driver from Drummonds, Tennessee, said, "You can only do this sport one run at a time.

"All this good racing is great for the fans," he said. "If we don’t keep people excited, I'll be back driving a forklift again," Millican said, referring to his pre-racing job.


Thank you, Big Daddy -- The engine on Bob Vandergriff Jr.'s UPS Dragster let go at about 1,000-foot down the left lane, resulting in a ball of fire.

"Every time that happens," announcer Bob Frey said, "a driver is required to get out of the car, get on his knees, and bow to Don Garlits for putting these engines behind the drivers."


Reunion makes difference? -- Double your Dupuys, double your performance? That's Bob Vandergriff Jr.'s thinking.

He hinted that he has a secret weapon as he pursues his first event victory: the reunion of brothers Jim and Wayne Dupuy on the crew of his UPS Dragster. Jim Dupuy is the crew chief. Wayne Dupuy is a veteran crew chief who most recently worked with Doug Herbert but quit suddenly, within hours of the end of the Denver race in July.

"We have done well here in past years and I hope putting the Dupuys back together again can help us get the UPS Dragster into the winners circle. We are running very consistently now, and we think we have found a way to improve on our recent performance."

He's 13th in the standings.


Still out -- Unqualified after their first chances are Bob Vandergriff Jr., Scott Weis, Clay Millican, Scott Palmer, David Baca, David Grubnic, Tim Gibson, and Luigi Novelli. Bruce Litton is on the bump spot overnight with a 4.708.

 

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