Keep up with this weekend's NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals by reading our behind-the-scenes event notebook. We bring you the stories behind the numbers and win-lights throughout the course of the weekend. Tune in daily for the latest news from the pits.  




SEVEN MORE - Seven more drivers – Bob Vandergriff Jr. in Top Fuel, Mike Ashley, Jack Beckman, Tony Pedregon, Gary Scelzi, and John Force in Funny Car, and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle -- locked up spots in the Countdown to Four as the result of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd Int'l Raceway.

With just the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals next weekend in Reading, Pa., left in the first segment of the Countdown to the Championship, two spots remain open in the Top Fuel field, one in Funny Car, three in Pro Stock, and a whopping five in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Whit Bazemore and David Grubnic hold down the two vulnerable spots in Top Fuel while Jim Head is the eighth to nab in Funny Car. Kurt Johnson, Warren Johnson, and Larry Morgan currently hold down spots 6-8 in Pro Stock and are still vulnerable while the Pro Stock Motorcycle field remains wide open after the three clinched drivers.


THE PRINCE REIGNS - Brandon Bernstein beat Larry Dixon for his fifth win of the season -- a career high -- and the 17th of his career. He improved his head-to-head mark over Dixon to 14-5 overall, including a 2-0 record in final rounds. Dixon falls to 2-2 on the year and 40-35 in career final rounds.

"That's a great team over there and they were running 4.50s all day just like us so we knew the final would be a tough race," said Bernstein, who also won this race last year. "It's wonderful to see the Budweiser car running so consistently because Indy will be here before you know it and we really want to be as close to perfect as possible when the Countdown starts.

"It was tough watching Dad lose right in front of us. I could see the big screen and I saw how close he was at the finish line. I know he wanted that one really bad and for as much jubilation as we're feeling on our side of the pit we're bummed out for them. I really wanted to get done with our race and give him a hug because I could see he was down. It'll happen one of these days, hopefully for both of us at the same time."

RACER OR FAN? – When Rod Fuller lost to Clay Millican in the first round, he found himself a Cory McClenathan fan. McClenathan matched up against Tony Schumacher.

“I’m lucky,” Fuller said. “I never cheer against anyone, but as a competitor, you want to go into the Countdown No. 1, so when (Tony) Schumacher went out, that made it more comfortable on us. We were excited our teammate won a round. It was just a tough weekend for us. We weren’t qualified well. We really were in test-mode this weekend and we needed to do that to learn some stuff. You always need to try and stay ahead and learn new things. We don’t have the luxury of testing like most teams. We don’t hardly ever drop cylinders and it dropped a cylinder at the hit of the throttle and (Clay) Millican made a good solid run and it wasn’t our day.”

WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE – Melanie Troxel did her championship hopes a world of good with a semifinal finish. She is now two points away from being in the top eight.

Her two round wins today marked her first semifinal appearance since her major win in St. Louis back in May.  She clipped the clocks at the finish line, posting a time of 4.567 seconds at 327.90 mph to Dixon’s winning E.T. of 4.557 seconds at 327.90 mph.  The margin of victory was .036 thousandths of a second.

“We made an enormous change with this team in the past couple of weeks,” said Troxel.  “It’s hard to say what exactly happened when we were in Martin (Mi.) last weekend, but I feel the team’s attitude has changed for the good.  We’ve built up a lot of confidence and decided we know what this car wants and we’re not going to tiptoe around it anymore.  We’re going to go out there and run it.  I think we’ve put together 11 good passes down the track in a row now.  Not only did we go the rounds, but also more importantly, we have a car that can go to the next race, finish off the job, and get us into the Countdown.  We’re excited to be out there racing and can’t wait to get to Reading. 

Troxel has been dialed into her car all weekend.

“Absolutely, you have so much extra confidence as a driver, but you also know you have a good car,” said Troxel.  “You don’t have to worry about if I’m going to have to pedal the car or if am I going to have to do something else on the run.  I can go up and focus on my one job, which on the starting line is to focus on cutting a light.  What the car does down the track when you have that confidence, well, you can worry about that when it happens.  It’s been a big morale boost for everyone on the team and me.”

Troxel knows that with one race left it is go time.

“That’s it,” she said.  “Our destiny is in our own hands here.  Consistently, I think over the past four events, we’ve out-qualified the people we need to gain some ground on, which has helped put us in position to be able to narrow it down to only two points. 

“We have a great car right now and I can’t think of a better way for this to have come about.  You need to be running well when you hit Indy and we need to be on top of it to get into the top eight, but we  also have some great momentum at this point with only one race remaining.  If we can just get there, I feel we have a car that has a chance at the championship.” 

FUN AGAIN – Morgan Lucas has had enough bad fortune this season to know when things are fun.

Lucas reached the semifinals today and it marked the first time since April that the 23-year old driver had turned on the win light.

“We’re just having fun,” said Lucas.  “When you’re not in the points and your teammate is, you’re trying to do everything you can to help her out.  I want the best for Melanie and her team over there.  I want to see her win the POWERade championship and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get her there.  It would be a nice thing for everybody.

“This weekend has been a big turning point for us.  We talked about that before the race to find out what we need to do t be a contender.  We ran our best of what we thought we could at that point and dropped a hole (cylinder) right at the finish line.  That might have slowed us down a little bit, but it did knock us down a couple of mile per hour.  Overall, I’m very happy.  The car shows a lot of progress and I’m proud of our team, Melanie’s team, and our whole group as an organization.  We’ll keep going and hopefully that will make this a good deal for us. 


FORCE FEEL – You just had to know that once John Force got on a roll, he’d be tough to stop. Now Force has won three times since the second weekend of July.

Remember, just five weekends ago Force was in jeopardy of not making the playoffs.

Force beat Kenny Bernstein in a battle of drag-racing icons to move all the way up to fourth place in the POWERade Funny Car standings. The last time the two raced was in 1989 and the last time they met in a final was at the 1988 Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif.

The victory was the 125th of Force’s career and it came in his 199th final round appearance.  The No. 2 qualifier beat Gary Densham, Jeff Arend, teammate Robert Hight, and finally Bernstein. 

“It nosed over in the lights and I thought he got me,” Force said. ”I thought he had me.  I was on the radio but I couldn’t get anybody to answer.  Bottom line, a win’s a win.  (Bernstein) is showing everybody that age isn’t that big a factor in this game, which is good for me ‘cause I’ve got contracts with most of my sponsors that run for four or five more years.  So I’m not going anywhere.  I’m four years younger than him and that means that if he can continue stepping on the gas like he is, so can I.

“In the championship, we’ll just have to see what happens now that we’re in the Countdown,” Force said, “but just to leave (Brainerd) with a win for Eric Medlen means everything to me and to this team.”

THE JINX CONTINUES – Mike Ashley had one of those good news/bad news sort of days. The bad news for him is the No. 1 qualifier jinx bit him today against Gary Scelzi. The good news is that he’s guaranteed a place in the playoffs.

Ashley maintained third place in POWERade Championship points, moved up to second place from fifth  in the SKOAL Showdown, and his team was awarded the Full Throttle Pit Crew Championship Award for their consistent efforts in qualifying as well.

After earning his fifth NHRA No.1 qualifying award with a blistering 4.781/327.51, Ashley ran his slowest pass all weekend against Scelzi, 4.903/305.42 to 4.841/317.19, and said parts attrition caused the sub-par performance.

"It's bittersweet, really," explained the 42-year-old driver of the Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger R/T. "Going out first round against Gary Scelzi is disappointing, but if you look at the big picture, we're really in an amazing place.

"It was a $2 part that broke and cost us the round. At 60-feet, a stud on the manifold broke, and then another and another, till the 1000-foot mark where we had absolutely no blower boost at all.  It's one of those things that happens, but, you never want it to happen in eliminations. Plus, we were having brake problems, and I couldn't hold the car in the lights, which is why Gary left so much quicker than I.

It is the second year in a row that Ashley has set top speed at this event, last year running 326.32 mph and this year 327.51 mph.

ANOTHER CLINCHER - "Fast" Jack Beckman clinched his playoff spot today.

After qualifying No. 5, he defeated his teammate and class points leader Ron Capps in the opening round of eliminations, posting the third quickest E.T. of that round, then fell to Kenny Bernstein in the quarterfinals on a holeshot after recording the second-quickest pass of that round.

With Tommy Johnson's loss in the quarterfinals to Beckman's other DSR teammate Gary Scelzi, Beckman clinched a spot in the top eight for the Countdown to the Championship.

Beckman lost to Bernstein by .0435 of a second, despite registering a quicker pass of 4.786/321.88 to Bernstein's 4.826/320.81. The difference was in the reaction times: a respectable .118 for Beckman, a stellar .035 for Bernstein.

"History will show it as a holeshot win," explained Beckman. "I call it a holeshot loss. Bernstein is phenomenal. He does a little deal with the clutch when he stages, a little different than any other driver. I had an average light. I wanted to have lane choice (in the next round), so we were shallow staging, which will slow down your light, speed up your elapsed time, and it did all that. And I got beat on a holeshot."

On Saturday, Beckman hurt his right ankle, requiring a doctor's attention and some medication, but he's confident it did not affect his performance in the car. "If you think it has an effect it has an effect," he said. "You don't think about it. And it's not feeling that bad right now. I won't be doing any jumping jacks between now and Reading. I'll put ice on it occasionally. But, I don't think that was a factor, because my lights were about the same as normal shallow-staged qualifying lights."

How did it happen?

"I was actually stepping out of the transporter and just felt a pop right on the top front of my foot. I have no idea what happened. So, the NHRA's medic came over and wrapped it tight. I will get X-rays next week just to make sure nothing's broken. But, you know what; win lights always make it feel better."

Despite barn-burning performances over the last month, Beckman’s still amazed at clinching his spot today.

"Five races ago, if you'd have asked if we would be content to clinch a spot in the Countdown, I'd have said, 'drag racers are never satisfied,'" Beckman said. "You want to win every round at every race you go to and it's always a disappointment to lose. But that's because we've got such a 'bad' hot rod right now. And I think the fact that crew chiefs Todd (Okuhara) and Phil (Shuler) are tuning both the MTS and Mopar/Oakley cars is going to actually not only be a bonus to Scelzi's car, but it will help our car, because I think we're getting more data per race now.

NOT HOW YOU START – Gary Scelzi’s weekend may have started off on a sour note, but by Sunday everything was just fine. Scelzi reached the semifinals despite qualifying on the bump spot.

Scelzi fell to seventh in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings, but clinched his spot after he defeated Tommy Johnson Jr.  in the second round. One race remains to solidify the top eight for the Countdown before the next phase kicks in at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.

"I'm telling you, there was a lot of drama here,” Scelzi said. “My God. Honestly, I tried to prepare myself for the worst, and that would have been not qualifying, and then it almost happened.

"Todd and Phil changed this car from front bumper to rear bumper and everything in between and put it exactly like Beckman's car. And there were a lot of differences, which I was surprised at. The hard parts are the same, but they're doing some things differently. And they really had to do that, so the cars would be similar. I can't say enough about them."

This weekend provided the vote of confidence that Scelzi needed.

"We had a hell of a race car, we had a hell of a race, and I'm really excited about going to Reading and the rest of the year,” Scelzi said. “I think we can really do some damage. We clinched the spot in the Countdown and I was really worried about that with all the changes we're making. It very easily could have gone the other way.

"It turned out a lot better than I thought it would. Everybody seems to be getting along and the transition may not be as bad."

STILL ABOARD – Though his long-term participation is questionable, Mike Neff worked with DSR in an advisory role this weekend.

"I can't say enough about Mike Neff coming over here every round and giving his advice," said Scelzi, "and telling Todd what he thought and Todd and Phil taking his advice. It was great. I wish we could have done this before.

"And even before the semis, Mike (nicknamed Zippy) came in here and he pumped his fist to me. I miss him beating on the hood because Todd just sets the barrel valve and walks off. Zippy even gave me an extra pump for the Bernstein deal. It didn't work.

"Bernstein has just been incredible on the tree. And I went in thin and we just got beat.

STILL THE ONE – When the ball bounces your way time and time again, you know destiny is on your side. Losing in the first round today didn’t hurt Ron Capps’ chances one iota.

Capps retains a 75-point edge over Robert Hight in the standings, and, despite previous reports, he, crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch and the Brut "Test Drive" Dodge Charger R/T team continue to test parts and pieces on race weekend in anticipation of having to perform their best when the next phase to the Countdown kicks in on Labor Day weekend.

"We were trying to run 4.80 flat to a mid to high 4.70,” said Capps. “Ace wasn't being shy. It's not too often the Brut Dodge doesn't get to the finish line with the 'chutes out, and that run was surprising. But we knew that's what Ace wanted to try. We were really getting after it.

"Yes, we are still testing. We kind of went back to what Ace has always done on race day in his approach, but we still have some parts in the car that we're trying to learn from and we think if we can corral them and find out what makes these parts work well it will benefit us down the road.

"It may not be until next year these parts may benefit us, but we need to find out in case we have to run them in the Countdown. It's a work in progress, for sure.

"The Brut guys are 100 percent behind everything we do and every call that Ace makes. I've got to focus on my driving more than ever right now because it's more important now when we're trying things. I just can't let Ace down. As a team, it's very tough, because we feel sorry for our fans that we're testing some things and we're giving up a few rounds here and there. I guarantee, it's going to pay off in the long run."



GRABBING THE GOLD -- Jeg Coughlin, Jr. grabbed his place in drag racing history with a 50th career national event win. Only ten other drivers have reached the prestigious milestone in the 56-year history of organized drag racing.

Coughlin took out POWERade points leader Greg Anderson in the final round to record the win, his third of the season. Just as he had all day, Coughlin left first on his opponent and managed to drive away for the win with a 6.667 at 205.94 mph to Anderson's 6.669 at 207.24 mph.

"This was big," Coughlin said. "To get our 50th win against the competition we run these days is special. Today's a great example of how tough it is; I had Allen Johnson, who's fourth in the points, Jason Line who's fifth, the big cowboy, six-time champion Warren Johnson, and then the best driver in the class over the last four years in Greg Anderson.

"Getting to 50 wins was one of my goals when I returned to Pro Stock. It's special to think that only 10 other people have achieved that mark in 50-plus years of drag racing. Fortunately, I've had a great hot rod with [team owner] Victor Cagnazzi and his entire team of technicians and mechanics and they've given me a car capable of winning races."

The 37-year-old Coughlin collected his 50 national event wins in five different classes. He now has 37 Pro Stock wins to go with 13 Sportsman victories in four different classes. He's won seven times in Super Stock, four times in Super Gas, and one time each in Competition Eliminator and Top Dragster.

"I remember winning Indy in 1992 [in Super Gas] and standing in the winner's circle with [NHRA founder] Wally Parks," Coughlin said. "That was my second win and now I look back and see how far we've come as a sport. It's just phenomenal the vision Wally had and how it's grown."

HANGING ON Larry Morgan came into Brainerd with his championship chances hanging by a thread. Today’s semifinal finish strengthened that thread.

“I’ll tell you, we really worked hard to get where we are at this race,” said Morgan.  “It’s just too bad we didn’t get the Lucas Oil Pro Stock car in the finals.  We were close and were only a hundredth away, but that’s drag racing.  We’re just so happy to have the Lucas’ supporting us.  Let me tell you something, they are the greatest people there are.  I’ve had many good sponsors, but they are the best.” 

With that great effort of reaching the semis, Morgan has further secured his position in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship and has now accumulated a total 734 points, but so far hasn’t locked him in a position with only one race left in the regular season before the playoffs begin.

“We're still hanging in there,” Morgan said.  “It looks like the other two guys (V Gaines and Richie Stevens) will have to either win the race and I wouldn’t qualify for them to get in.  We just have to perform, that is why we’re here.  I am not going to worry about it and whatever happens; happens.  We’re sure are pumped to have our Lucas Oil car in the Countdown for now.”



HAWGS OF A FEATHER - Three-time and reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Andrew Hines got bragging rights over teammate Eddie Krawiec with his wire-to-wire job here. Hines left with a .034 to Krawiec's .091-second start and just rode away for his 11th career victory, winning with a 7.009 at 188.20 mph to Krawiec's 7.077 at 183.94 mph. Both men ride identical Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rods.

"It's always a great deal when you can run your teammate in the final," Hines said. "It doesn't matter who wins or loses because the team has already accomplished its goal. It's so tough to get one bike to the final round these days, let alone to get both of them there. It was a great day for the entire Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines team."

Moving up to second place with his win, Hines was the only rider to clinch a spot in the Countdown to the Championship this weekend, leaving five open spaces. Krawiec's second final-round appearance in as many races has lifted him from 12th to eighth place in the POWERade points.

NEEDED TO GET ONE – Matt Smith said going into this weekend that his goal for the weekend was to get teammate Chris Rivas into the Countdown to the Championship. Sitting in the ninth position, a little over one round out of the top-eight, Smith and Rivas knew that was going to be a tough task.

The two faced a monumental battle as the Team Torco operation squared off against both U.S. Army bikes in the first round. Both fared successfully with Smith beating Antron Brown and Rivas eliminating Angelle Sampey.

In an odd twist of fate the teammates raced another two bike team but this time lost to Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec.

Smith cut a good light and had a great surge at half track, but would end up just a little short as he would lose the round to Hines. Rivas would end up leaving on Krawiec second round, but would lose the round due to the bike not being able to go into high gear.

“It is tough out there,” said Rivas. “We are doing all we can to get in the top-eight.  We will have one more shot at it next weekend, so hopefully we will be able to get it done.  Matt and Evan have done all they can, it is just real tight field out there.  Everyone is good.  Everyone is running fast, and I can’t wait to get back at it in Reading.”

TOUGH WEEKEND FOR JOHNSON – Steve Johnson is going to need more than a rabbit’s foot if he hopes to make it in the 2007 NHRA playoffs.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Johnson said.  “We have only one more chance to qualify for the Countdown, and that’s next weekend at the Toyo Tires Nationals in Reading, (PA), but in order for us to make it we’re going to have to be very lucky, and the people ahead of us in the standings are going to have to have the kind of weekend we had here in Brainerd.

“After the first qualifying session I thought our Snap-on Tools Suzuki was one of the best motorcycles on the grounds. After the fourth session, when we ended up 12th among the qualifiers, I could tell that the gremlins that have been ‘infecting’ our operation for the last few races were back.”





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0732-02167.jpgAN ARMY ON ONE – In case you haven’t figured it out, you can’t count Tony Schumacher out. During today’s third qualifying session the defending world champion gave an excellent example why.

Schumacher nailed his 42nd No. 1 qualifying position in 237 races with a 4.548-second quarter-mile tour at 328.54 mph run. That performance vaulted him from 11th to 1st.

"We got a bit lucky in the sense that we had some cloud cover move over to cool the track down some," said the defending NHRA POWERade world champion. "But, we're certainly not going to complain at all. Now, we have to concentrate on racing."

Schumacher will take on 16th-place qualifier, Cory McClenathan, in the first round of eliminations starting at 11 a.m. CT.

Schumacher came into this weekend with two straight wins and three victories in his last five events.

"Our intent is to remain successful both here in Brainerd and at Reading (Pa.) next weekend," he added. "We want to be operating like an efficient machine by the time the Countdown to the Championship begins in Indianapolis."



SOMETHING SPECIAL – Drag racing is a forward thinking sport, but Hilary Will can’t help but live in the past when she comes to Brainerd. A win tomorrow would be special for Will.

“A win at BIR would be special,” said Will.  “This is where Ken Black, team owner of KB Racing, and Kalitta Motorsports hired me.  I cam here as an aspiring driver and now I have the best job in the world.  It will be even better if we win Top Fuel and get a spot in the top eight in points..  I’m confident going into tomorrow’s eliminations as we improved each session throughout qualifying.” 

TESTING, TESTING – Rod Fuller was the quickest in Friday qualifying with a 4.607 elapsed time. Despite improving slightly, Fuller’s stock fell to the seventh position in a quick third session. His final attempt yielded tire smoke.

“We were trying some stuff this weekend,” Fuller said. “We learned a lot of stuff. We missed the one run we need to run good at, on Saturday morning. Then we pushed it too hard on the last run and just overpowered the track. That showed 0732-01674.jpghow awesome Brandon Bernstein’s 4.55 was on that last run. We’re ready for race day. I have a lot of confidence in my race team. I want to earn enough points to seal the No. 1 spot up this weekend.”

BOTH THE SAME – When the boss speaks you had best listen.

Forrest Lucas told his crew chiefs Richard Hogan and John Stewart that he wanted the dragsters driven by Melanie Troxel and Morgan Lucas to be identically prepared. It took a little while, but this weekend he finally received his wish.

Lucas, driver of the Lucas Oil dragster, recorded an elapsed time of 4.602 seconds, 327.19 mph and his Troxel ran an almost identical time of 4.590 seconds, 330.88 mph to hold down the No. 5 and No. 6 positions, respectively. 

“I’m having a ball racing two dependable race cars this weekend,” said Lucas, who also races on the NHRA Lucas Oil drag racing series campaigning for its championship.  “Our 0732-02422.jpgTop Fuel program has been basically flawless this weekend under some conditions that have been hard to contend with.  It’s the crew chiefs that have put their heads together to come out with a combination that works on both of our cars.”

Troxel saved her best qualifying pass of the race of the weekend on her last run recording ‘Top Speed of the Meet” of 330.88.

OOOH RAH! – Troxel’s Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA dragster crew won the Full Throttle NHRA Pit Crew championship at the Lucas Oil Nationals with their great consistency and will collect $3,000 in Sunday’s pre-race ceremonies.


0732-01101.jpgLEAVING NOTHING ON THE TABLE – Mike Ashley wants a spot in the playoffs and he’s doing everything to ensure it comes to fruition.

His 4.781 at 327.51 mph in today’s first session of qualifing came after several racers had passed his Friday night mark of 4.833. Unfazed, he cruised down the strip in his Torco Dodge Charger R/T to collect his second straight low qualifier award.

"Being the quickest and fastest of every session is pretty impressive," Ashley said. "The last few races we've been sidetracked a bit trying different things. We decided to go back to what got us to the dance in the first place and just make absolutely sure we get down the track every run. 

"You want to try and be at a certain level of consistency going into the Countdown and I think we're there. We went back and examined the entire season and we're doing all the things that worked for us and eliminating the mistakes. We're really pleased with where we're at right now but I look at the sheet and I got Gary Scelzi in Round 1. Nothing is going to come easy."

A CAREER VALIDATED - It’s amazing what a drag racer will deem an honor. For Mike Ashley, just getting on John Force’s radar screen early in his career would have been quite the feather in the cap.

Force qualified second to Ashley and when asked about the Torco Race Fuel-sponsored driver’s performance this season, he responded, “You know that Mike Ashley is quickly becoming a pain in my butt.”

Ashley when informed of that statement, smiled.

“It’s an honor to be a pain in John Force’s butt,” Ashley said. “I think my career is complete now.”

0732-02073.jpgBENEFITS OF SHARING – When you share your crew chiefs, it can have its advantages. Jack Beckman’s crew chief duo of Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler are not only tuning their regular driver but also Gary Scelzi while Mike Neff has been reassigned to an advisory role.

"The cool thing about what's happening," he said, referring to the re-assignment of DSR crew chiefs, "now that Todd (Okuhara) and Phil (Shuler) are overseeing the Mopar/Oakley car that Gary Scelzi drives and the MTS car, is Gary's car had a problem with the fuel control valve. So, we'd already run two good runs (before the final), so we took a known good valve off of our car, put it on their car, got them in the show, put our backup on our car, and it ran exactly the same. So now we know how to address that kind of problem, and we have backups for both things.

"Todd and Phil are sharing tuning duties on both cars, but Phil is basically managing the MTS team right now, so it's really his first chance to kind of stand in the limelight, and I think so far we're looking good. So, hopefully getting into the winner's circle tomorrow will be fun."

0732-02699.jpgKNEW WHAT TO EXPECT – Gary Scelzi knew this weekend’s event would be a challenge. He ended the day on the bump spot.

In his qualifying attempt, with a bright sun baking the track, by the time his pair came to the starting lights, he'd been bumped from the field. A last-ditch effort resulted in a 4.905/317.64 pass that moved him back into the 16th position.

"I knew this could happen," said four-time NHRA world champion Scelzi, "that we could get in trouble and possibly not qualify. Todd and Phil switched everything over on this car that's humanly possible and there was one part on here that wasn't right that we thought was right and didn't find out until after the run, which is pretty unfair for Todd and Phil. I'm sorry it happened, but it did.

"Todd and Phil are very intelligent men and I can tell right I'm going to enjoy working with them for the rest of the year. I definitely miss Mike (Neff, former crew chief who is moving to John Force Racing to drive in 2008), but Mike's moving on and so are we."

Scelzi faces No. 1 qualifier Mike Ashley in first round of eliminations on Sunday.

0732-01055.jpgPLAYING LIKE A ROCKSTAR – Nobody can work a room like Jerry Toliver. Today he ended up in the top half of the field with a 4.843, 317.19 lap.

"I'm pretty excited," said Toliver.  "The gremlins we've had in the car are gone and we finally showed what kind of race car we have."

Toliver races Tommy Johnson (No. 9, 4.863 at 313.44) in the first round.

"We might have done better on that run," added Toliver, "if we hadn't been the first pair down the track. Dale (Armstrong, crew chief) pushed the tune-up as hard as he could to see what we could get away on our last run (when the tires lost traction early in the run). I think we have a pretty good handle on the tune-up for Sunday."

0732-02454.jpgUNCHARTED TERRITORY – Qualifying outside of the top half of the field is something that point leader Ron Capps is unaccustomed to. For only the second time this season he’s on that side of the ladder in the 12th position.

"With the clouds that came in early today, obviously conditions got really good, and then the sun came out," said Capps, who has already clinched a spot in the Countdown. "And to run the .87 our last session was a darned good run, the third quickest in the session.

"It seems like we're fighting an uphill battle a little bit. Ace is a little bit baffled as to why the car is not reacting to his changes, but we're sneaking up on it. We're used to qualifying a little better than this and we wanted to have lane choice first round, but the good thing is at this track lanes are pretty even, so it's not that big an issue here.

"Right now we're just trying to get these next two races out of the way and focus on Indy (the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend, when the Countdown begins for the top eight). It makes it tough. We want to run good tomorrow; we want to run good in Reading.

"It's going to be an interesting day tomorrow. It's probably going to be hot, but the rain's out of the way, so we're looking for a good day."

Capps faces his teammate Jack Beckman in opening round of eliminations on Sunday.


0732-01971.jpgLAYING IT ON THE LINE – Defending world champion Jason Line ended the day as the top qualifier but clearly he wanted more.

“I’m not going to say that last run was a great run, it was just a better run,” said Line, after qualifying was over.  “It’s great to qualify No. 1 but I think that there is a lot of room for improvement by not just us but a lot of cars.  Again, like I said yesterday, we not smart enough to touch the engine, so we are working on the car to make things better. We’re struggling a little bit with the race track. The changes we made paid off somewhat that last run.  Actually, I think that was a pretty good run.  I think the left side (lane) will be lane of choice.  Lane choice will definitely be somewhat of an advantage tomorrow.  The cooler weather that is predicted for Sunday will help too.  It will help me too.

“After the weekend is over I’ll head up to my parents in Wright (Minn.) and spend a day with them. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating a win.”

Line began his racing career at Brainerd International Raceway and last year marked his first career visit to the final round here. He finished runner-up to Dave Connolly.

In tomorrow’s first round of eliminations, Line, who clinched a spot in the second segment of eliminations last race, will square off against Justin Humphreys, who qualified No. 16 with a pass of 6.789 seconds at 203.98 mph.

JUST THE FACTS MAN – Team owner Ken Black spent much of the day dispelling rumors published on another e-zine suggesting that Line would not return for 2008 and his replacement would be Humphreys.

Black and operations manager Greg Anderson released a statement today saying that is inaccurate.

Line said the following in answer to the question on whether he’ll be back next season: “Unless somebody knows something I don’t, I plan to be racing with KB Racing for a long time.”

BREAKING POINT – Greg Anderson still has a full head of hair but that might not be the case by the end of the season if things don’t change. Today Anderson ended qualifying as the seventh.

“Actually, we haven’t pinpointed what the main problem is,” said Anderson following qualifying.  “We’re not making real clean run with my Summit Pontiac, especially compared to Jason.  The engine seems to be lacking performance in the heat and I Haven’t drove as well as I should and I haven’t shifted well.  It’s been a combination of all three things.  We’ve been off in all three areas.  You can’t be off in any one of those things and expect to qualify in the top three.  There no sense in pointing fingers, we just need to fix it for tomorrow. 

“Jason’s car made a nice run in that final session.  That just goes to show you that we can do it.  It can be had out there (on the track).  We’ve just got to figure out what we’re doing right with one car and wrong with the other.  That’s all it comes down to.  That’s a whole lot better that having both of them not running well.  You should be able to learn from the one that is running well.  We’ll just see how sharp we are overnight and see if we can get it figured out for tomorrow.  I’ve got all the confidence in this crew and I know I’ll do a better job of driving during eliminations.”

BETTER FIND ANOTHER EXAMPLE – In explaining the value of the legends, Bob Glidden and Bill Jenkins, Bob Frey tried to explain just how monumental their legends were.

“It’s like having Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron together on the starting line,” Frey said.

In case you’re not up to date on major league baseball, Bonds broke Aaron’s longstanding home run record. Aaron has declined to acknowledge Bonds achievement.

0732-02506.jpgSATURDAY, MUCH BETTER – Kurt Johnson couldn’t do anything right on Friday. Saturday was much better. He went from unqualified to the fifth spot.

“Our goal coming into Brainerd was to do whatever we needed to lock ourselves into the Countdown, so this morning’s run was huge.  The last thing we wanted was to go into Reading off a DNQ, so we’re certainly pleased to get our ACDelco Cobalt a spot in the top half of the field.  That took a huge load off our shoulders.

“After making two bad runs on Friday, we did pretty good today, but there’s always room for improvement.  Our car is really fast to the 300 foot mark, but some reason seems to fall off a bit after that.  We just came from Sonoma where the engine was running well and it was fine on the dyno back at the shop, so we don’t think it’s an engine problem.  However, it’s just not running as well as it should in the back half, so tonight we’ll work on straightening that out.

“Ironically enough, coming into this race, we had some concerns with our performance in the first 300 feet, and we fixed that.   Now we just have to figure out the rest of the run.  Fortunately, our time was good enough to earn lane choice for the first round, which is vital in this category.  Throughout the weekend, the left lane has been between one and two hundredths quicker, so it will be nice to choose our lane in the morning.  We’re pleased to have run as well as we did today, but that’s only the start.  We’re looking to have a long day tomorrow.”



0732-01010.jpgMISSION IMPOSSIBLE – Team owner George Bryce couldn’t help it. He had to look back at the scoreboard for a second time. It was the same.

In 3,220 feet of air and an air temperature of 80 degrees, Chip Ellis drove the G-Squared Buell to a track record 6.990 elapsed time at 191.08 miles per hour. Ellis was already first, but this run put an exclamation point beside.

“We tried a little something this morning,” Ellis said. “We wanted to see if it would work going into tomorrow. The bike ran the front-half really good. It worked really well.”








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UH OH - A controversy is brewing that could come to a head during this weekend’s NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Last week Cory McClenathan announced that he was leaving Scott Griffin Motorsports and forming his own team with an operation leased from Don Schumacher Racing. McClenathan also brought backing from FRAM/Autolite, as well as sponsorship from key associates carried over from the Carrier Boyz Racing days.

0732-01975.jpgTorco’s CompetitionPlus.com has learned through sources that Griffin was unhappy with McClenathan’s move, considering that when he purchased the Carrier Boyz operation it was with key sponsor and driver contracts in place at least through 2008. McClenathan balked at that, citing that he could not be sold as an asset. Soon afterwards he set the wheels in motion to leave Griffin and go out on his own.

Griffin’s rig pulled through the gates of Brainerd International Raceway Thursday, and while there is no problem with that, already parked in the pits is a refrigerator-white race rig emblazoned with the DSR logo. The rig, and the equipment contained therein, is the basis of McClenathan’s new operation. 

Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com has learned that Steve Torrence is scheduled to drive Griffin’s dragster this weekend, although an official announcement has yet to be made. The team never made a run on Friday but is expected to on Saturday.

Meanwhile, McClenathan is in the field at 15th after two sessions.

Griffin was contacted for a comment, but the team owner declined on the advice of legal counsel.

McClenathan said that he wished the situation could have been handled in a more cordial manner, but Griffin’s actions have forced him into a not-so-amicable situation.

"I was trying to do things amicably by helping Scott wherever I could,” McClenathan said. “Obviously that hasn’t worked out too well. In this situation, I have Fram’s back, not Scott Griffin’s. I am going to take care of my sponsors. They come first.

“Scott Griffin has not done me any justice in any way shape or form in this. I am looking out for Fram.”

McClenathan said it was a key meeting between Fram management, himself, and Griffin that influenced his decision to branch out on his own, bringing with him the sponsors of the team. 

0732-01895.jpg“When Scott first took ownership, they had a meeting and they decided – with me in the room – they would keep going for the rest of the season and give Scott a chance to make up for things that had happened in the past,” McClenathan said. “The bills were piling up from vendors and this is such a small community that you can’t do those kinds of things.

“I, in the same realm, gave Scott a chance. Just like them, I felt Scott was the part owner with Mark and Andy Carrier. When it came down to it, the paperwork that we finally received said that Scott bought the team back in January and not May 1.”

McClenathan said he witnessed three different dates of purchase on the contract.

“There has been a lot of uncertainty and mistrust,” McClenathan said. “People were just not above the board on this whole deal. That created mistrust with people out here, including me.

“I was all willing to give a second chance in May to run the team and make sure the sponsors were happy. When it came down to it, things were not getting done as they should. I was getting calls from vendors and as a driver, that’s not conducive for me to go out and do my job. There have been times in the past where I was promised $75K to drive Scott’s car on the IHRA side and then got bumped out by Scott Weis. Then the thing never happened. There have been too many things I’ve let go under the bridge. 

“I let the money go and even though it was a verbal commitment, accountable in a court of law. I never asked for it or do anything about it. I never did anything about it.”

McClenathan said that Fram was through when they got to Sonoma.

“Scott basically gave Fram the ultimatum to let him know if things were going to happen long term,” McClenathan said. “The folks at Fram in the meeting, we were all there, said that they couldn’t commit long term. They told him they had a lot of offers and they could help him make it through the season or he could park the operation and sell the stuff while it still had value.

“Scott admitted that he didn’t have the money to run the car the way it needed to be run – in championship form – with the good parts and pieces. He was not able to give the committal should any safety issue come up and we know how I am about safety. If it doesn’t have the good pieces and parts, I am not going to drive it. That’s just the way it is for me. We’ve all seen what can happen i.e. Bristol last year.

“Being in the sport as long as I have, I watched Scott given the chance to go ahead and he chose not to go any farther with it. Fram decided to go in a different direction. Scott’s biggest issue was will I have a job. They had some offers from other teams and some directions they could have gone that I would have had a job. 

“Thank God that Fram chose the way to go that kept me with a job. That’s the story of why I left. Plus, they tried to sell me as an asset and I am not an asset. Slavery was abolished a long time ago. I’m not a racehorse or any animal. I’m not a part of a race car. I am a human being.

“I think at the time of the sale, my contract became null and void. I have to look out for FRAM, GMC, Prestone, Autolite, Lucas Oil, Jeg’s.com, Mac Tools, Bendix and Cleavite,” McClenathan said. “Those are the people I am looking out for, including myself.” 

HARKER BACK – Just one race after a scary Top Alcohol Dragster blowover, Kate Harker was back racing this weekend in a dragster formerly driven by Morgan Lucas.

Harker showed no ill effects from the crash as she qualified 5th with a 5.514 elapsed time at 259.96 mph.



0732-01150.jpgSHARK BIT – This shark might nibble on the first pass, but you can always count on a firm bit the next swim-by.

Rod Fuller continued his torrid pace in Top Fuel qualifying by driving his unsponsored “Great White” dragster to the top of provisional qualifying with a blistering run of 4.607 seconds at 324.83 mph.

“I made a mistake on the first run,” Fuller said. “They had the car setup light to get down the track and it felt funny like it was spinning the tires, so I lifted. It was running smooth and should have ran a high 4.60. It was my responsibility. I was hard on myself after that run. I came back to the pit and apologized to my guys. We’re all behind each other.  

“On the night run, it felt great. At the end of the track the guys gave me thumbs up and I knew it was good. I’m surprised it held because there were a lot of good cars behind us. It’s cool to give back to the team. This just continues our dream season.” 

If the time holds on Saturday, it will be Fuller’s fourth pole of the 2007 season (Atlanta, St. Louis and Norwalk) and sixth of his career. 

RAMPING UP - Tony Schumacher has risen to second-place in the standings behind leader, Rod Fuller. 

“We’ve won three out of the last five races, so we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” he said. “We’re in the Countdown, so the pressure is off in that area. But, we still need to sort everything out prior to the U.S. Nationals when it will start counting for real.” 

Part of that sort out process will begin in Brainerd when the U.S. Army team finally unloads last year’s record-setting car. 

“We’re planning on bringing out the car from the Pomona (Calif.) race last November,” he offered. “We want to see how it reacts in these next two races and during Indy testing before deciding which car to start the Countdown with.” 

No matter the car, Schumacher can’t wait to challenge for an unprecedented fourth straight crown. 

“We have to do it for all of our soldiers,” he said. “Without question, they deserve another world championship.” 

Schumacher is currently 11th in the provisional field with a 4.688 elapsed time at 313.66 mph. 

0732-02240.jpgBACK FOR THE FIRST TIME – BIR made a good first impression on Clay Millican as he drove the Evan Knoll-owned Ratt “Back for More” dragster to the 4th spot in provisional qualifying. 

The driver from Drummonds, Tenn., recently put Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., on his “been there” list and added Brainerd, Minn., today.  

“We are very happy with the way the car ran last weekend and we want it to continue doing that at Brainerd,” Millican said. “This is another place I know zero about, but it is fun to visit new places and learn about new tracks. I have heard a lot about the track and the campers. It sounds interesting. 

“Our goal is to go down the track consistently and win some rounds. We’ve qualified well at a lot of races this year but haven’t been able to put together round wins.”

The RATT Mobile qualified second once and third four times yet the veteran driver has struggled, winning just three rounds. 

“We ran well last weekend in weather conditions similar to what we are likely to see at Brainerd,” added Millican. “I hope that helps. All I can say is bring it on.”

Millican made a solid run of 4.634 seconds at 319.98 mph on a hot BIR racing surface to claim the No. 4 provisional starting spot with two more runs on tap Saturday.  The RATT Mobile showed promise in the first session before smoking the tires, forcing Millican to get out of the throttle. He coasted through in 5.865 at 149.81 mph.

AT LEAST IT STARTED – Cory McClenathan knew this weekend wasn’t going to be an easy one.   

McClenathan’s new team -- announced 10 days ago -- "shows promise, but we hurt motors on each run," McClenathan said.  "We had the quickest 60-foot time and all our (incremental computer) numbers were good early in the runs. We did have two oil downs, which is not the way I envisioned it, but the car was trying to run good.  We are lucky to be in the show right now. 

"Keith (Adams, new team crew chief) and Tony Shortall (assistant crew chief) did a good job for our first time out.  Now we need to work on the tune-up in the middle (of the run) and down track.  The track was hot -- 135 degrees -- and that hurt us, too."

McClenathan has two more qualifying attempts Saturday to improve his 15th position. 

SECOND RUN CRITICAL – Whit Bazemore smoked the tires in the opening session, but didn’t make the same mistake the second time around. 

“We knew the night run would be very critical after the high temperatures during the day,” Bazemore said. “We ran a 4.62 and that put us near the front of the pack. Our teammates did a good job and these two David Powers cars are one and three. We’re really excited. We didn’t expect to hang on near the front because the guys in the back ran on a cooler race track, but they weren’t able to capitalize on it. We’re very happy.”



0732-01101.jpgIN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS – Sometimes racing comes secondary. It did for Mike Ashley this weekend on his day job – the mortgage banking industry. 

"It was really a difficult week in the mortgage industry that saw some of the largest players in the industry fail and the federal government jump in to try to balance the playing field. Our company, Lend America, is positioned well to turn the catastrophe into opportunity, just like our team is well positioned heading into the Countdown to the Championship," the 42-year-old Ashley said.
"It was great, coming up here to Brainerd to race. And with the support of Torco and Evan, along with an incredible car tuned by Brian Corradi, everyone on the Gotham City team will have a well deserved good night sleep heading into qualifying tomorrow," he said.
If Ashley holds onto the top spot, it will be his sixth of the year, including the past two races he has attended, the NHRA event in Sonoma, Calif., and the IHRA event in Martin, Mich. It will also help assure his spot in the 'playoffs' where the top eight drivers will compete in the POWERade Championship race.
"I'm extremely confident about the business as well as the racing, and I am really looking forward to the rest of this weekend. When you work so hard on things, it gives you a great feeling inside when it all comes together," he said.

ONE TRACK MIND – Mike Ashley entered this weekend’s event with a clearly defined objective. He wants a spot in the playoffs and ranked third in the points, he’s in prime position to pull it off. 

"At the beginning of the season we had a team meeting and we talked about the determination it would take to win a championship. We had compelling reasons -- we wanted to win - and we have stayed focused on that goal," Ashley said. 

"Over the past several weeks, we have gone through some really incredibly strenuous and trying times - testing our stamina and motivation, but I have to say that this team has passed the test, and as far as I'm concerned, I give my guys an A-plus. 

"I am so proud of Brian [Corradi, crew chief] and all of these guys. They are the very best." 

Ashley drove to the top spot on Friday with a 4.833 elapsed time. 

"It's definitely hot out there but I feel like we have a really good hot weather tune-up," Ashley said. "When we're not trying new things or breaking in new parts, our car is very consistent." 

BRING SON TO WORK DAY – Gary Scelzi brought his 10-year-old son Dominic to the races for a long-overdue "bonding experience."  

Dominic has been competing in a Restricted 600cc Mini-Sprint on Plaza Park Raceway's oval in Visalia, Calif., this season, while his car-owner and full-time cheering squad dad has been battling it out on the nation's premier quarter-miles.

"I'm taking Dominic with me on this trip, without his mother (Julie) or his little brother Giovanni," says Scelzi, who stands sixth in Funny Car points as the next phase of the Countdown to the Championship begins for the top eight after the next two events. "This could be one of the last trips to Brainerd for me, and Dominic starts school soon. Also, it's my birthday on Saturday.  

"We haven't done this kind of trip together since I was testing a Funny Car for Schumacher about three or four years ago in Indy when Dominic and I were the only ones in the family who went. We had such a great time and we haven't been able to do it again. 

"Giovanni is a little bit young, being 5 years old, but Dominic now can help me pack the parachutes and we can get him to maybe help wash some parts and to start to learn what's going on.  

"There's always that chance that I may not be back at Brainerd again. So, I think it's going to be a great time for us to bond together, have Dad cook in the motor home, have to get up at a certain time to catch airplanes and all those things. I'm sure we're going to tire him out, but I'm really looking forward to spending the time with my son one on one." 

LOOKING POSITIVE – Scelzi is barely in the field with an off-pace 5.247 elapsed time. The four-time NHRA champion said prior to the weekend that he was taking the weekend with a positive outlook. 

"Obviously we've had a major change at Schumacher Racing. I won't call it a shake-up, it's just a change," Scelzi says. "I'm going to miss Mike Neff beating on the hood of my car, but I'm also going to go into this race and I'm going to show Todd and Phil why this team won a championship (Funny Car in 2005), and I think everybody on this team is going to give it their all and then some. 

"We're in the middle of this Countdown and I don't want to lose any momentum. I think if we go in there with good, positive attitudes and a strong work ethic, that I know we have, good things are going to come from it. 

"I think the only way you can approach something like this is in a positive way and that's the way I'm going to look at it." 

YOU MEAN THERE’S A RACE? – Jack Beckman came for the race, but he’s likely to get sucked into the “zoo.” In case you’ve been out of touch with the drag racing legends, the “zoo” is the campground area in Brainerd. It’s not the ideal setting for those of the straight-laced nature. 

"The interesting thing is that sometimes at the tracks we go to, the star is the scenery, like a Bristol (Tenn.). Sometimes the star is the track itself, like Chicago (fast, smooth track at Route 66 Raceway), sometimes it's the community, like at Infineon Raceway, which is in Sonoma and close to Napa. With Brainerd it's 'the Zoo.' It's what they do in the campground area that gives that race a completely different flavor.  

"I swear there are people in Minnesota who live all year for those four days when they can come out and set up camp at the race track. And they're incredible fans. They're all super-nice, well-behaved people, but they just go crazy with their barbecues and campouts. And they'll give their buses an NHRA theme and they've got banners up for their favorite drivers. It's a really exciting race to be a part of, not just for the racing action. 

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS – This weekend should produce a few teams clinching playoff berths. There should also be a few clinging on for dear life with the cut-off rapidly approaching. 

If Del Worsham wants to earn a spot in the playoffs, he’s got to leapfrog Jim Head. Today Worsham out-qualified him by six spots. At this point, Worsham trails Head by 85 points with only two races left in the first-half of the season. 

"If you want to know what all of us think of the Countdown, just sit in the tuning room with us while we all count points," Worsham said. "Our math isn't all that good, but we finally got the official sheet and we saw we had landed No. 5, while Jim is 11th. I can tell you without much doubt that we've never been this caught up in POWERade points at Brainerd, so the Countdown has obviously added a whole new phase to all of this.” 

Worsham will have to wait until tomorrow to see if Mother Nature is a fan of his team. 

"A lot can happen tomorrow, but if it's as hot as today, I bet most of what you'll see happen will go on in the mid-4.90 range,” Worsham said. “The bump spot is still a 5.24, and there are actually two guys down there with 5.24's, so there will be some action on the ladder, I think, no matter how hot it gets. If it's as brutal as it was during today's two runs, it will be tough to run better than 4.95. Not impossible, mind you, because we saw Mike Ashley run 4.88 when it was just absolutely scorching during today's first run. 

"All we can do is our best, and the car is rewarding us right now with some nice solid passes, just like in Sonoma. It's a confidence boost for all the guys on this team when we put the car together and take it up there expecting it to go to the other end under power, rather than just hoping it will."


0732-01044.jpgTESTING THE LINE – Many teams are using the final stops before the next round of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship to test new parts and pieces for crunch time. 

Defending World Champion Jason Line said that’s exactly what he’s doing. 

"Both Greg [Anderson, teammate] and I are already in the Countdown to the Championship field so we're using these final two races before the first cutoff to test some things so we can be at full speed when the next phase starts," Line said. "I know I'm going to be working on my driving quite a bit. We're still looking for wins also." 

HOT STUFF - It was hot today in Brainerd but not as hot as Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 

"It's hard to be upset with our effort today," he said. "We made a good opening pass and found a way to improve in the evening, which is always important. It still looks as though we left some on the table so we'll work to improve in tomorrow morning's first session. Hopefully it won't be too hot by then. 

"The car was just heavy feeling when I let the clutch out. I'll go have a look and make sure I wasn't dragging a boat anchor down the track because that's about what it feels like when you have a slow start at the hit. I'm sure the guys will get it figured out." 

For all intents and purposes, Coughlin is strictly racing for his fourth Brainerd trophy this weekend, which would be the 50th national event win of his career.  

0732-01627.jpgMAD DOG IS BACK - Operating on the theory that three solid Pro Stock minds are better than two, Justin Humphreys has added Bob Glidden, one of the category’s greatest performers, to his RaceRedi Motorsports/Knoll-Gas Energy Pontiac GTO team. 

Glidden -- who amassed 85 Pro Stock wins, won 10 world championships, and was chosen number 4 in NHRA’s Top 50 drivers from its first 50 years -- joined the team during Monday and Tuesday testing sessions in Michigan. 

“I’m excited,” said Humphreys, in his first season of Pro Stock competition. “Bob worked with Richard [Maskin, the team’s veteran engine builder] and Eric [Luzinski, crew chief] during testing, and things went well. They were making little changes here and there to the engine, chassis, and tune-ups. ” 

Humphreys and his new lineup will make their POWERade Series debut Friday when the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals gets under way at Brainerd Int'l Raceway. It marks the driver’s first appearance at the racing facility northwest of the Twin Cities. But this stop is nothing new for Glidden, Maskin, and Luzinksi. 

“Eric is the crew chief, Richard builds the engines, and Bob will be overseeing everything from the driver to the car to the engine tune-up,” Humphreys said. “We had two smart minds, and now we added a third. There’s a lot of history there between the three of them. I definitely think this is for the better.” 

FIRST GRADE – The educational process always starts with the first grade. For Warren Johnson, it started in Brainerd.

Having been born in nearby Virginia, this race serves as a yearly homecoming for Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson, with the GM Performance Parts Pontiac GTO racer having participated in all 25 previous editions. However, his first Minnesota drag racing experience came well before that, setting the stage for the Hall of Fame career that was to follow. 

“My first contact with drag racing came in the early 60’s at Minnesota Dragways, first as a spectator and a couple years later as a participant,” said Johnson. “I had a ’57 Chevy with a 327 in it with two four-barrel carburetors that I would drive down to the track to compete in. Back then, the tracks were basically a strip of asphalt in the middle of a field, so Minnesota Dragways was way ahead of its time with a concrete starting line similar to what we use today, as well as paved areas for both the racers and the fans.  

“In fact, when I started racing there in 1965, they had a rudimentary version of the starting line Christmas tree, which was actually two traffic signals suspended over each lane on a cable. The level of participation was tremendous, with car counts regularly exceeding 500 cars, including five or six Top Fuel Cars. I was also fortunate to have Twin Cities Dragway within 10-12 miles of my house, where I also raced on a regular basis. At the time, I believe it was the oldest operating track in the United States, having opened in 1949.  

“Brainerd didn’t come on the drag racing scene until a few years later, around 1969 or 1970, and I won a few races they had scheduled up there prior to getting a national event, mostly in the street eliminator category. They traditionally had few events throughout the course of the year which were always well attended by both competitors and spectators.  

“Those were the tracks and cars on which I cut my racing teeth, learning how to tune and drive well before I ever went to a national event. My first actual organized race was a Division 5 points meet, where I was the runner-up to the legendary Lutz and Lundberg team, who at the time were the A Gas national record holders. Looking at where we have gone since then, I guess you could say that my Minnesota education has served me well.”



The recent bridge collapse tragedy in Minnesota touch the heart of many around the world. It had a profound effect on Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Steve Johnson.

When the NHRA POWERade Series travels the nation we’re all very interested to see how much publicity the series and the competitors generate,” he said from his race shop in Alabama. “But, as anxious as all of us are with producing positive results for our sponsors and the series, when you see something like the news that came out of Minneapolis last week about the bridge collapse on I-35, it puts everything into sharper focus, into a different perspective.

“When that news broke it stunned everyone on our race team. Our first thoughts were, Have we lost anyone we know? Anyone who’s part of the drag racing family? But, we quickly realized that this was about much more than drag racing. Reading the newspaper stories, and watching the coverage on television, you couldn’t help but notice how all of Minnesota had suddenly become one big family, and we realized that a whole state had become the same kind of close-knit family that all of us in drag racing feel we’re a part of.  

“Everyone knows that we’re in the fight of our lives to be among the top eight points earners when the U.S. Nationals begins in Indianapolis over Labor Day weekend. That will mean we’re going to be contenders for the first POWERade championship contested under the new Countdown points system, and we’re really excited about that.  

“But, as much as we’re going to concentrate on making the Countdown – we have just two races left in which to qualify, but we’re right in the thick of things right now – we’re going in to the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd with the people of Minnesota on our minds. We’re dedicating our efforts in their names because of the courage and class they’ve consistently shown since this tragedy took place.  

“It may sound kind of corny, but we’re going to try and win one for Minnesota!”  

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN - While Matt Smith has been red-hot all year long, especially with his recent winning streak over the last two races, his Torco teammate Chris Rivas has been striving to stay in the crucial top-eight. Last time out in Sonoma, Rivas was bumped out of the top-eight for the first time this year; and now has only two races before the cutoff in order to gain back the ground that he has lost. 

"We have been running well all season," said Smith. "We have however struggled somewhat with Chris's bike, because we haven't been able to push it much since we only had one motor. We now have a second motor for his bike so our goal right now is to get Chris back in the top-eight. We will do whatever it takes from here on out." 

"I am excited and anxious about these next two races," said Rivas. "We now have the equipment to be able to push the limit somewhat and hopefully that will be enough to get us back up in the top-eight. It is crunch time and I am more than ready to get the ball rolling. Evan and Matt have given me what I need and it's time to get it done." 

ROLLING THUNDER – Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec joined hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts for the 67th annual Sturgis, S.D., Rally. The drag racers participated in a number of activities including a Harley-Davidson sponsored ride, before taking a quick plane ride to Brainerd, Minn., on Thursday. Qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway starts Friday. 

While Hines has made the Sturgis-Brainerd shuffle three times before, this is Krawiec's first visit to both venues. The New Jersey native joined the Screamin' Eagle team prior to this season and has anxiously conquered plenty of "firsts" throughout the season.

"This is another new thing for me but I have to admit I've been looking forward to going to Sturgis and Brainerd for the first time for a while now," Krawiec said. "I've come to realize that the Harley-Davidson crowd is incredibly diverse and they really are the most loyal group I've ever come across. I can't wait to hang out with them at the biggest rally before going to Brainerd. 

"I've heard so much about Brainerd and how people camp out for days just to get in the campground for the race. Everyone has said that the Brainerd crowd not only knows racing but they also know how to make the event even more fun. 




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