NHRA TOYO TIRES NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
FINAL NOTEBOOK - FINALLY! IT’S OVER!
FINAL PIECES OF THE PUZZLE - From out of virtually nowhere, Doug Herbert completed a most improbable Cinderella run today – one that actually took four days because of incessant rains in Reading – to secure the last of the 32 playoff berths in the NHRA POWERade Series’ Countdown to the Championship.
The driver of the Snap-On Tools dragster, who’d not won in 65 races, dating back to Chicago 2 in 2004, needed to win in the final round to bump Dave Grubnic from the Countdown. Herbert did exactly that by beating none other than points-leader Rod Fuller in the Toyo Tires final with the best pass of the weekend, a 4.562-second blast.
SURPRISE! – Never has eighth place meant so much to a drag racer.
Doug Herbert was just as surprised as anyone when he gained the final berth in the Top Fuel playoffs. His victory vaulted him into the championship hunt.
Coming into this final regular season race in the No. 11 position, 53 points outside the top eight, Herbert and the Snap-on Tools team knew it would take nothing less than winning the event to bump David Grubnic from the No. 8 position.
"Wow, nothing like a little drama, huh?" Herbert said. "I was ready for this race. It was the biggest round of my life and I didn't want to have any regrets. I was ready, the Snap-on Tools team was ready, and we went out there and got it done. Everyone did a great job and there were no mistakes made. Most of my guys have never won so it's definitely a huge boost for all of us. The mood is sky-high over here.
"The Countdown to the Championship was designed to bring extra excitement to the sport and it's definitely done that. Grubnic is my buddy and I hated that it knocked him out but he already called me to say congratulations. Now if we can get our act together we can make a real run at the championship. There is no team as fired up as this one, I promise you that."
When John Force fouled,
Pedregon scored his second win of the season (
"It was certainly worth the wait for us," Pedregon said. "Mentally, I'm spent. We had to get up to race so many times only to have it start raining again. It stresses you out. The other thing was the track was totally different after all that rain so Dickie (Venables, tuner) and the guys did an excellent job of reading it today. To run a 4.78 right off in the semis probably helped us win the race because John had to look at that number and try to do something."
HEY WAIT FOR ME – John Force was in a big hurry to get to Indy for the test session.
After all, he was the only one from Team Force left in
Force fouled by .036 of a second, squandering a solid 4.792 second quarter mile that easily would have covered Tony Pedregon’s troubled 5.061 at just 151..99.
Despite that result, Force will be the No. 3 seed in the Countdown
and will roll into next week’s 53rd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at
"On Monday, when we got the first two rounds in, I felt like it was our day," Worsham said. "We came in No. 1, we had a great deal of momentum, and we were totally dialed-in to what the track could handle and what it wanted. I really felt like we could go out there and outrun everyone, and that the car would go right down the track all day long.
"Two days later, it was like all that stuff was ancient history. Qualifying at the top seemed like something from another race altogether, actually. And we came out here today, basically, as four teams taking an educated guess at what was really a new track. You couldn't rely much on the data from rounds one and two, because it was a different day and the traction was different. Heck, on Monday I was way more worried about some bald spots at the starting line, thinking they might be the biggest hurdle to get by. Today, it was kind of like unloading the car at some strange new place and rolling the dice. Our momentum was really gone, and we didn't find a way to get it back."
EXCLAMATION POINT! – Dave Connolly drove his point home, albeit three days later.
Connolly had a
near-perfect .005 reaction time in the final round and never looked back,
driving his Torco Racing Fuels/Seelye Wright Automotive Chevy Cobalt past Kurt
Johnson's ACDelco Chevy Cobalt for his fourth win of the season and the 13th of
his career. Connolly had an elapsed time
of 6.643 seconds at 207.43 mph to Johnson's 6.857 e.t. at 206.80 mph. The win moved him past his teammate Jeg
Coughlin Jr. into second place in Pro Stock points as the series now moves to
the four-race segment of the Countdown to the Championship starting with the
U.S. Nationals at
"It was well worth
the wait," Connolly said. "I
don't know what it is about these rain delays, but we always seem to do
good. I've never won a race on a
Wednesday before, but it was needed.
Tommy (Utt, team crew chief) said going into this weekend - make it this
week - that he wanted to gain some momentum going into
KJ’S DAY –
Kurt Johnson almost landed a second win of the season since
"With the overcast skies and cool temperatures, there was tremendous traction today, giving us very little room between making it down the track and shaking the tires," Johnson said. "We got away with it in the semis by being a little conservative and slipping the clutch, with our ACDelco Cobalt making a nice, smooth run. For the final, however, we felt it needed some more tire speed, so we barely touched it trying to make it better, and it went crazy. Looking at the data afterward, if we had left it alone, it probably would have been even worse. We should have been able to run a 6.58 or 6.59 on that run, but it was out of control by the 30-foot mark, locking the tires in and shaking. There wasn't much I could do after that.
"Still, there are a lot of positives that we can take away from this weekend. Our run in the semifinals corrected out to be one of the best we've made all year and shows tremendous potential. We're also heading into Indy and the first race of the Countdown to Four on a high note. All the way around I'm sure there are a lot of people who would gladly trade places. We're pretty pleased with the month we spent in Reading this weekend, but it's time to take everything we learned here and move on."
DOUBLE JEOPARDY – Greg Anderson lost in more ways than one to Kurt
Johnson in the semis.
At the light,
“After two days of waiting, his (Kurt Johnson’s) team’s guess was better than ours,” said
“In addition to losing here, we lost two much needed days to test at Indy. Indy is big for all drivers and we needed the time to get our Summit Pontiac at its peak performance there. It’s two days lost in this year’s schedule that we’ll never get back. No sense looking back though, we’ll now concentrate all our focus on Indy.”
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MOTHER NATURE’S INTERVENTION – With rain having returned to Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., the eight drivers who are in a high-stakes game of musical chairs for the final four playoff berths in the NHRA POWERade Series’ Countdown to the Championship will have to agonize just a little bit longer before learning their fates.
Before the rain started, the table had been set for a dramatic conclusion to the first Countdown to the Championship regular season. Eight drivers remained alive for the final four playoff berths with the scenarios outlined below …
TF: Doug Herbert has advanced to the final against Rod Fuller – if Herbert wins the race he would pass Dave Grubnic and get in the Countdown.
FC: Del Worsham is into the semfinals – if he wins the race, he would pass Jim Head and get into the Countdown.
PS: V Gaines is into the semifinals – if he advances into the finals, he would pass Larry Morgan and get into the Countdown.
PSM: Chris Rivas is into the semifinals – if he advances to the finals, he would pass Craig Treble and get into the Countdown.
If Rod Fuller were a horse, team owner David Powers might have shot him already. Yep, it’s the knee again and he re-aggravated it again exiting the car.
“I can’t catch a break with this thing,” Fuller said after stopping Morgan Lucas in the semifinals. “It will get better. We’ll win this race and give it our all at the U.S. Nationals.”
STILL HANGING ON – It may be a thread, but it’s better than nothing.
After coming into the final race of the regular season in the No. 11 position, 53 points outside the top eight, Doug Herbert prepares himself for the final round of the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals knowing this is more than a final round. Winning this race puts Herbert into the No. 8 position in points, and allows him to race with seven other drivers for the right to be crowned champion.
“The team has been doing great,” said Herbert, “and I have lots of confidence in my driving. Now we need to finish this. I just can’t believe we have to wait another day to race. I’m ready to go right now in the rain.
“This round tomorrow may be the biggest round of my life, and I’m going to dig way down and give it everything I have. We need a win, and we need it now.”
NOT THIS TIME – Doug Foley raced Clay Millican on a Monday for the second time in as many years. Today’s match didn’t work out well for Millican as he lost to Foley. But lost year, it was Foley that had the bad fortunes.
Foley wished the only thing he did was lose a race. He not only lost a race, but also a dragster and the ability to race for the rest of the season.
Foley got into a pedaling match during an IHRA event in Cayuga, Ontario, Canada, and lost control of his dragster. He crashed into the wall, ignited the car and rolled several times before screeching to a halt in the shutdown area.
Today’s race against Millican brought forth an eerie feeling of déjà vu when the car skated around.
“We’ve got this car really aggressive out there and it moved around on me,” Foley said. “I’m learning as a driver to keep that under control. This time is a lot better than the last result of when I ran him on a Monday morning. I ended up hitting the wall, so you can understand why I am considerably happier this time.”
This marked the third time in 2007 that Foley has reached the semi-finals.
MONDAY MORNING CARNAGE – Tim Wilkerson singled during Monday’s second round of eliminations when Robert Hight was a no-show.
Hight reportedly broke the frame rail while shaking the tires in his first-round match.
OH MY ACHING HEAD – Jim Head has earned the right to call in a mulligan, but unfortunately drag racing doesn’t offer them. Battling for his eighth-place seeding, Head apparently had Tony Pedregon covered in their first round match until something in his steering broke.
Head’s momentum carried him over the centerline where he took out the 1000-foot foam blocks. The impact took a chunk out of his Toyota body and the steering challenged Funny Car drifted right into the retaining wall.
The car skidded to a stop just shy of the sandtrap.
IT’S CALLED THE TEAM CONCEPT – Jeff Arend knows his role and didn’t see the need to reaffirm it with his boss. His role on the two-car CSK Auto Parts team was to put the car that had the best chance of winning a berth in the playoffs into the next round.
Arend was eliminated from contention prior to the event but teammate Del Worsham had a realistic mathematical shot when Jim Head was eliminated in the first round.
Arend and their crew decided that Worsham needed to have the best chance to go the distance. That’s why he waited a full two seconds to leave the starting line at the green light.
"Personally, I think we'd have to be the dumbest people in the world to let one Checker, Schuck's, Kragen car, that has absolutely no
chance of making the post-season, take out the one that still has a chance," Arend said. "We are one big team here, all representing CSK
and all of our great sponsors, so we made the decision on our side of the pit. Del never asked, never even brought it up, but Marc Denner,
Chris Cunningham, and I talked about what we thought was the best thing to do, for the team and for our sponsors.
"We had an aggressive tune-up in the car, one we thought would give us a chance to beat Del if Jim Head locked the thing up, but when we saw him cross the center line, we went into our team mode. We weren't going to go out there and just mysteriously smoke the tires, or shut off early, or any of those moves that may fool some people, so I just did a big long burnout, to have some fun, and then when the lights flashed, I just let Del go. It was his lap to win, and his 4.828 was pretty huge. It was the quickest run of today's first session, by a
long way. I did launch the car once he was gone, so that we could get some data out of the run, and it actually shook pretty hard. I doubt
we would have been able to even be close to him, because I would've had to pedal the car out of all that shake."
The fact Arend and Worsham were paired in round one was both a matter of good performance and good fortune. Worsham qualified number one, although he and Jack Beckman had identical E.T.s of 4.800 seconds. Worsham got the nod on the basis of speed. Arend landed lucky 16th after qualifying ended, although he also matched another driver exactly in the E.T. department (Scott Kalitta) with a 4.904. Arend got in the show, and Kalitta was bounced, on the basis of speed. The No. 1 versus 16 match-up got people talking immediately.
"Like I said, if the lap meant something to Del and this team, we were not going to go out there and try to fool anybody," Arend said. "We
just thought it was more up-front and honest to do what was right for our team, and our whole organization, right there in plain sight. Some people may not agree with it, but it was our decision and we
stand by it."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
NOT ME, MAN – Some riders who didn’t make the playoffs might be in test mode for 2008 during the remainder of the season. Steve Johnson isn’t one of them.
Johnson is racing to win every race.
“I’m pretty sure some of the motorcycle racers who also missed the Countdown will be in testing mode for the remaining five races we have this season, but we won’t be in that group,” Johnson said. “It’s our intention to attack each and every race just as aggressively as we tried to attack this one. That’s how you win, and that’s what we’re determined to do. If we just happen to ruin someone else’s championship run along the way, so much the better, because no matter what, winning is what this is all about.”
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DECISION MADE EARLY – Morgan Lucas had a tough decision to make today. He could act as a team manager and go after the team that has the best chance to make it into the countdown. Or, as a driver, he could go out and race straight-up to the finish line and continue the salvation of a troubled season.
Lucas chose the latter.
“I talked to everyone on both teams and no one wanted to make the decision,” Lucas said. “We just raced it. They had the better car and the lane choice. We raced and made it as legitimate as possible. I talked to John Stewart and Melanie, too, and they both wanted to race it out. I wanted the same thing. That was how they wanted to do it and that’s how we did it.”
Lucas left on Troxel and beat her to the finish line, effectively ending her championship hopes in 2007.
MINOR LEAGUE TRAINING – While challenging for a position in the NHRA’s 2008 playoffs, Doug Foley is going to expand his sportsman drag racing school.
Foley, who beat Tony Schumacher in the first round today, confirmed that he will begin licensing drivers in an A/Fuel Dragster.
“So many racers have graduated through our sportsman school that want to further their driving experience,” Foley said. “They want to know what is next. I’ve decided that next year we’re going to step up. We’re going to let people experience the fast runs and put the dragster on the high side and go 250 mph.
“We’ve been offered some full-time partnerships, so you could see the car full time on the 2008 tour.”
IS THAT REALLY SAFE? – Race officials got a full round of Top Fuel in the books and were three pairs into Funny Car when the rains began to fall. Ron Capps and Kenny Bernstein staged as the raindrops fell.
“I needed a set of windshield wipers on the car as I staged,” Capps said. “But, I knew if it was raining in my lane, it had to be raining in his. I tried to push that aside. The car went out and went hard to the right.”
SCHUMACHER CLARIFIES – Don Schumacher has been in this sport long enough to know that what is said isn’t always interpreted as intended. Case in point, when Schumacher said he hopes Force doesn’t hurt Neff; he explained that he his comments were intended as a means of concern for a longtime employee and friend.
“I care about Mike Neff,’ Schumacher said. “He has been an employee, a friend and a member of a family. I have a genuine and caring feeling for Mike Neff.
“If people take that as being someway reflected on the Force operation, and their terrible tragedy that took the life of Eric Medlen, then I apologize for anyone that could put those together. There’s no correlation into that at all.
“I care about Mike Neff and as much as anything Mike has been promised an opportunity there. Don’t hurt him by that opportunity not happening. There are lots of things out there but you can’t put anything together with these comments.
“For someone to take them that way, I apologize for that.”
THE AUDITONS – Schumacher said Leah Pruett will be the only driver auditioning for the soon-to-be-vacated Gary Scelzi next weekend in Indy.
“Our focus is on attempting to win this championship and everything we do here at the end of the year is critical to these teams being successful,” Schumacher said. “It is going to be tough to put people in these cars who need to learn. That’s not going to be my focus at all.
“There are certainly other people I am interested in. This is the only step I am taking at this time. There are a lot of great people and drivers out here and people coming up from other classes.”
Schumacher said there is not an established criterion for the driver auditions.
“I wish I had that information to pass on,” Schumacher said. “There’s all kinds of factors, their drive and what experiences they’ve had. The personality and whether they are a character … if they can be a character and if they can be assertive with the press and news media. There are so many factors. Just like John Force does – you act with your feelings.”
Schumacher said he has also considered team members from other classes such as Richie Stevens, Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown.
THE TRIBUTE CAR – John Force is prepared to honor Eric Medlen in Indy.
“Eric was the leader of my next generation of drivers,” said Force. “We wanted to race in the largest race of the year and let people know that Eric is still strong in our hearts.”
Force will run a Ford Mustang body bearing the same Castrol Syntec paint scheme campaigned by Medlen.
FIRST WEEKEND ON THE JOB – Mike Neff officially joined John Force Racing this weekend.
“It has been both fun and interesting,” Neff said. “It’s different for me and I’m just trying to fit in and see how they work their program. I’m excited and it is something new and different. I’m enjoying it.”
Neff admitted that he brought his notepad along and taking notes seems to be the ideal thing to do.
“I’m just writing down the things we need to do and getting stuff together,” Neff said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to blend in and do this. It’s an honor for me to follow Eric Medlen. There was only one Eric Medlen. To be chosen to take that spot is a big honor.”
Neff said he had a vision of how things ran at JFR before he joined, and he’s already learned a lot in just a short time.
“This is a tight-knit group,” Neff said. “They all work well together. This is a tight group and real positive. It is a lot of fun to be around them. They are the smartest guys out here and I feel real fortunate to have the opportunity to work with them.”
One has to admit that Neff had a high level of intelligence before joining Force. Neff said he’s learned a lot already.
“These guys are smart,” Neff said. “I couldn’t even put a dent in the knowledge bank these guys have. I guess I’ll be learning forever.”
HEAD ON 24 RACES – Jim Head has heard the rumors of a 24-race schedule in 2008 and that doesn’t particularly make him happy. Head said the NHRA could do a better job of announcing the schedule in advance so teams could prepare financially for the extra burden.
“They announce the schedule in September at the U.S. Nationals after every contract in the pits has been signed,” Head said. “It’s crazy. They know the schedule now and I’m sure a few of my esteemed competitors do too. But I don’t and the vast majority of the teams don’t either.”
Rumors suggest a third Pomona event, but two venues that appear to be gaining steam are a return to Columbus, Ohio, and Epping, NH.
“We don’t need another race,” Head said. “There’s not enough money to run a 23-race schedule – well, maybe three teams. The rest of the teams are dying -- all of them to different degrees. You die as a function of the number of races you run.
“I only ran 16-races last year. I am dying big this year because I’ve run every one of them. If they cut this thing back to 15 races, I could afford to race again.”
Head is once again questioning his existence in the sport – as an independent, no doubt.
“At what point does the quality of your life go completely in the toilet?” Head asked. “It’s like what am I doing? I like to race with anyone out there. But, I have to spend more money out of my pocket to do this. That’s okay. I’m not asking for sympathy. But, stop it.
“You want three Pomona events? Oh there’s a great move. Every frigging team out here is based in Indy. Let’s just run out to Pomona for a race. Oh yeah … that’s right. We’ll put it on the way to another event. Yeah, right.
Head said his detractors will find fault in his rant because he ran a match race in Norwalk last month. It was one day. I turned down Norwalk initially, but I got screwed up at the last minute with Seattle. Then I went to Sonoma and went up and down the track five times. I had already committed to Norwalk, so I went.
“I’m not trying to justify running Norwalk. I should have taken the weekend off. People ask if I am going to go to the Indy test session. Indy test session? We are worn out. There’s not a team out there that isn’t worn out. I don’t care what your funds are. Your teams are worn out.”
BURNED OUT? – Is Head ratcheting up the efforts to step aside from the driver’s seat?
“I definitely want a driver, but they are going to have to bring some money with them,” Head said. “This is unrelated to any feelings I may have towards the NHRA now. The quality of my life and those of my crew are based on the number of outings we have this year.
“I want to drive. I am really tempted to put a sign on the side of my car that says, ‘Driver wanted, Bring money.’
“I believe I would take a Martian if he could hit the gas on time.”
Top Fuel driver Morgan Lucas has said in the past that he’d love to try a Funny Car sometime. Head did admit he’s had a brief discussion with Lucas about the potential. Both Head and Lucas agree the conversion was very brief.
“I love the rumors that say he’s coming over,” Head said. “We have talked very briefly. I would love to team up with Morgan’s existing team with a two-car Funny Car team and get serious about this thing. From a two-car standpoint, we could gain a lot and learn a lot. He has great people over there like Richard Hogan.”
Head said he and Hogan think exactly alike.
“It would be very easy for me to work with Richard on a two-car team,” Head said. “I haven’t told Morgan that officially but I like the idea. I hope the rumor gets legs.”
“We’re just trying to finish this year off strong,” Lucas said. “I really can’t devote a lot of attention to that idea right now. I don’t know.”
Then Lucas smiled.
FIX THE PLACE UP, PLEASE? – Every conversation today comes back to the 24-race schedule for Head.
Head knows the New England market is one that NHRA’s management covets, but his suggestion is they take car of the markets they already gave. Head said there are some tracks who reinvest in the product and others just take and take.
Head said Maple Grove is a taker.
“Last year my pan man was in the grass,” Head said. “This year, I am in the top eight – so whoa. What kind of crap is that? We should all have better. You can’t get through the crowds. You’re honking the horn at them. I had one man tell me yesterday to ‘blow it up my you know what.
“I almost got out of the car and darn near clocked him. It’s bull. It’s not my fault. It’s the facility. They won’t spend a dime on the place. They are takers and I am so tired of takers. Give something back to the place. Why do we need to worry about New England? How about Philadelphia? What is wrong with taking care of this market first? This almost running over people every time I got out is getting old.”
SABBATICAL OFF? – From the moment Gary Scelzi said it, he wanted to reel it back in. Not so in the world of drag racing news and rumors.
Scelzi effectively hinted on Saturday’s ESPN2 show that he could return in 2008. Is the sabbatical off?
“No it isn’t off, but I have had some interesting offers,” Scelzi said. “I have been offered everything from people offering part ownership to flying me to the races from California. Then Don Schumacher has made offers to keep me here another year so we can train someone new.
“I would say the chances of me coming back stand at 10%. I probably shouldn’t have said anything on television but there is a chance. The logistics play a big role. That part has not been worked out yet.”
So who’s courting Scelzi?
“I can tell you they’re big and it’s not John Force,” Scelzi said. “Everybody keeps thinking I am going to John Force Racing. I am not going anywhere. The ultimate thing for me would be to stay here.”
Scelzi says that people take for granted that he has a job to return home to back in Fresno.
“That’s no bull#$%^,” Scelzi said. “I need to get back involved and I can’t do it with the hectic schedule I am running now. At least in running 12 races, I can’t get to the races on Friday and home on Sunday night in order to be at work on Monday morning.”
Why the change of heart for Scelzi?
“It’s not a change of heart,” Scelzi said. “This has been the plan all along. People read this all different ways and I don’t know how. I made the statements that our company went from 65 to 265 people. I need to go back to work.
“People then determined that I was going to leave to spend more time with my sons. A lot of people don’t know that I own a company with my brothers. Logistics have always been the problem and the travel time. When I am home, yes I am going to spend more time with my family. I am going to enjoy that. I am very dedicated to my family.
“With that said, some recent developments have come forward that could accommodate that. I didn’t ask for any of this to happen. I am prepared to quit drag racing. That’s my plan until I can get the business in order.”
IT HAS BEEN FUN – You can add Jeff Arend’s name to the list of drivers who haven’t a clue what their fate is for 2008. He’s currently discussing his options with Del Worsham as to what his role will be after this season is over.
“I really don’t know what I am doing,” Arend said. “I hope things work out and I can be with the Worshams in 2008. The decision should be made officially in the next few weeks.”
Arend is just grateful for the opportunity that has been presented to him this season.
‘I’m not going to worry about it,” Arend said. “I’m just going to move forward and do things like I have always done. I always wanted to run a full season and if it goes beyond there, it will be great.”
STEVENS OKAY FOR ‘08 – For as many years as Richie Stevens has run Pro Stock, he’s carried backing with Valspar. Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com confirmed with a member of the Valspar marketing team that unless something changes drastically, his company will not return to drag racing next season.
“Valspar is still considering a few options so there hasn’t really been an official decision,” Schumacher said. “I believe that is going to take place. They are constantly reviewing the program and the costs. The door is not completely closed as far as we both are concerned. I don’t anticipate that changing any of my program.”
Schumacher said he has a long-term contract to field a Pro Stock operation.
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - – Big Military Happenings, More Clinching, To Dive or not to dive and Another Wounded Warrior
SPECIAL FORCES – In a commemorative program hosted by GM Racing and the National Hot Rod Association on Saturday, a group of 19 retired veterans from the Army Special Forces Association, Randall Shughart Chapter 64, based in nearby Carlisle, Pa., took center stage at the 23rd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Throughout the year, SFA
Randall Shughart Chapter 64 members visit
For the past two years,
members from SFA Chapter 64 have served as the advance team and on-site
organizers for "Operation Support Our Wounded," a postseason visit
with American troops in
"These Special Forces
personnel from Chapter 64 bravely served their country while on active duty,
and continue to serve with their dedicated support of our troops who are in
harm's way today. They are to be commended for their service to
During heroic service to their country which took each of them to the far corners of the globe in times of conflict, the 19 Special Forces veterans saluted during Saturday's ceremony served a total of 371 years on active duty, were engaged in combat for 411 months and made a total of 5,158 parachute jumps. Their long list of awards and decorations include: three Army Commendation Medals, four Army Commendation Medals with "V" device for valor in combat, 12 Air Medals, nine Meritorious Service Medals, 17 Purple Hearts, four Bronze Stars, 11 Bronze Star Medals with "V" device for valor in combat, five Silver Stars, six Legions of Merit and three Distinguished Service Medals.
The retired veterans started their honorary day in the pit area of Top Fuel driver Melanie Troxel and team sponsor Evan Knoll, owner/president of Torco Racing Fuels. Over the course of this year's 23-event POWERade tour, multi-car team owner and sponsor Knoll has paid tribute to military war veterans by displaying a special paint scheme dedicated to POWs and MIAs on Troxel's dragster. The SFA group, along with Knoll and Troxel, were joined by Cory McClenathan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jim Yates, and Warren Johnson for autographs and photos.
Following more pictures
and autographs, the SFA Chapter 64 members were then shuttled down to the
starting line for a special presentation by GM Racing and NHRA in front of the
Maple Grove Raceway tower just prior to the start of round three of
professional qualifying. After the presentation, the Green Berets rode in
Pontiac G6 convertibles on a parade lap down the
Additional guests joining
the Chapter members on Saturday included Mark Phillips, vice president,
communications of the USO. The USO is a non-profit organization whose sole
function is to promote the welfare and boost morale of American troops, and for
the past two years, they have provided airline tickets for the NHRA contingent
of drivers who have visited the combat-wounded troops in
NOTHING BUT INSPIRATION - Don Schumacher Racing, Maple Grove
Raceway, and Ransome Caterpillar welcomed eight special guests into the
Schumacher Hospitality Area today at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals. The eight
guests were kids with Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) in a special program
coordinated by Team Braveheart, a 501(C)3 charity based in
Team Braveheart Executive Director and Founder Jennifer Lafler coordinated the event with families of the eight children and DSR drivers Tony Schumacher, Gary Scelzi, Jack Beckman, Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown were in attendance to visit with the group. The drivers spoke with the kids about life challenges, signed autographs, and posed for pictures with their families.
Dr. Michael McBride of Childrens’
Team Braveheart was founded to bring children and families affected by CHD together with each other in a fun-filled environment. Don Schumacher Racing has provided its facilities, personnel and lunch for Team Braveheart events in
SIX MORE TODAY - Whit Bazemore, Bob Vandergriff, Kurt Johnson, Chip Ellis, and Karen
Stoffer finished qualifying by securing positions in the Countdown to the
Championship, the new playoff-style format to decide the 2007 POWERade Drag
Racing Series champions.
The next phase of the Countdown -- the Countdown to Four -- begins Aug. 29 at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The final seven open slots will be filled during Sunday's elimination racing at Maple Grove Raceway.
TAG TEAMING – Teammates will race one another in Sunday’s first round of eliminations. One has no countdown ramifications and the other does.
Rod Fuller remained atop the Top Fuel field with his Friday night posting of 4.521 seconds at 327.19 mph.
Bazemore clinched his berth in the playoffs by qualifying today but earlier in the day there was speculation if Fuller, first to clinch a spot in the eight-car program, would lay down to enable Bazemore an automatic berth in the playoffs.
"I'm here to race," Fuller said, when asked about racing his teammate in Round 1. "We're teammates but we both have sponsors to answer to. We're trying to get Caterpillar on full-time and they're excited to be with us this race and he's got all the Matco people pulling for him.
"We're all on one team but there's a lot of pride between the two sides. Those guys want to beat us and we want to beat them when we have to race each other. You want to be the king of the pit, so to speak. Otherwise we'll do whatever we can to help them, and vice versa."
Fuller raced his David Powers-owned Ransome CAT dragster to his fourth pole of the season and sixth career No. 1 qualifying award.
The other pairing is between Melanie Troxel and Morgan Lucas.
Troxel trails David Grubnic by only three points headed into Sunday. If she beats Lucas in the first round, she is paired opposite of the winner of the Grubnic and Rit Pustari match.
Lucas has never faced a scenario like this with so much to be determined and has reserved until Sunday to make his decision of how to handle the situation..
“I have never been in this position before,” said steady-minded Lucas. “I’ve always enjoyed being a team player and I feel we have a good opportunity to help our teammate. We have raced Grubnic a couple of times this year and we didn’t beat them, otherwise, we wouldn’t be in this situation.
“It puts you in a crazy, awkward position. I think right now, this is fate. It’s going to be a big resolution and not trying to sound selfish, a big decision is being placed on my shoulders. I’ll know more by tomorrow, about what we’re going to do. Melanie’s car has been running very good, so you can’t take that away. It’s like a rock and really big hard place.”
PINCH HITTER – Rit Pustari came to the drag races as a spectator and instead got the driving opportunity of a lifetime.
With Brandon Bernstein
battling a kidney stone for much of Friday, Pustari was offered the opportunity
to drive the car this weekend. Pustari was down from
"I only planned to be here for one day but I guess I can adjust my schedule," Pustari said. "There are only 16 cars here, including this one, so if I should be able to qualify at the very least. I'm glad to help out and thrilled to get the chance to drive this thing."
Team owner Kenny Bernstein said the team is contractually obligated to run a car this weekend.
"We have an obligation to Budweiser and our
other sponsors to field this race car," said team owner Kenny Bernstein.
JUNGLE PAM FLIES AGAIN – During today’s first qualifying session, Whit Bazemore had a familiar icon of Seventies drag racing guiding his dragster back from the burnout.
“Jungle” Pam Hardy, whose exploits as back-up specialist, made her a legend in this region and within the national drag racing media.
IM STILL STANDING – Del Worsham’s chances of the playoffs may be slim but he’s hanging on with a death grip.
Worsham held on to yesterday's provisional pole to claim his first
No. 1 qualifier of the season. In last night's evening session Worsham
had an elapsed time of 4.800 seconds at 323.97 mph and held on in today's two
rounds of qualifying for the fourth No. 1 qualifier of his career.
Ironically, he will also face a teammate in Jeff Arend in tomorrow's first
round as he pursues the eighth and final spot for the next segment of the
Countdown to the Championship.
"Coming into the weekend, I'm not going to say I totally lost hope on making the Countdown," Worsham said, "but I just kind of put it out of my mind since we've been worrying about it for months and it's been driving me crazy. Enough is enough. But after the No. 1 qualifier yesterday, I started looking again like maybe there's something here. It's going to take a miraculous day and everything's got to be perfect (for us to move into eighth in the standings). We can only control what we do, but I'm excited. We just have to win the race, it's just that simple.
"The car is solid. It's mechanically good and it doesn't hurt parts anymore. It's making nice runs and we're competitive again. That's exciting to me. I'm sure for the rest of the season it's going to be exciting because we have a good race car and we get to race again. We only have four No. 1 qualifiers ever and I've been driving 17 years almost to the date. To have 21 wins and (just) four No. 1 qualifiers, that's pretty crazy, but that's how our career has gone."
NEW CAR YAHOOS – There nothing like a new car to lift your spirits. For Ron Capps, the spirits of his team were so uplifted that a No. 4 qualifying spot was the result.
"It's great," Capps said. "It's just amazing how
much difference a car can make. It's a new car and after we talked to (chassis
designer) Murf McKinney last week, Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) made a change.
"Ace made a great call. As soon as we lost first round in Brainerd, we pulled this car down from the upstairs level of the hauler. We have another one on the way to the shop. In the first pass Friday it went right down the track, and it was back to driving the way that I was used to before
"I'm just so happy to have a hot rod back. And it's perfect timing. Because obviously going into to Indy we want to be peaking," he said of the next phase of the new Countdown to the Championship beginning at the U.S. Nationals in
"We've tested a lot of things, and I've told the fans that, and they've been very patient. But, it's time to get back to business. It's race time again, it really is. With one race left you have to go into Indy with a very, very big head of steam. It feels so good, I can't tell you.
"The .83 first pass Saturday was a great run. And it really feels like we have the old Brut car back. We're going back to Indy with the Brut Revolution blue colors on the car, and everything feels really good right now."
COUNTING POINTS – He might have clinched a spot in the playoffs but Jack Beckman is still counting points.
"With Mike Ashley not qualifying, John Force and I each moved up a slot in the points. So, Force is third, we're fourth. We've got Force first round. If we beat him, we'll be third in points and then our goal is to hold on to it.
"It's a simple math deal: win the race and leave third in points, with a ton of momentum. And we had the most consistent car in qualifying. I think tomorrow the air is going to be pretty similar to today (70s, low humidity). We're in awesome shape."
THE FAMILY TREE IS BEHIND THEE – Beckman will have plenty of kinfolks to show off for tomorrow.
"I've got 15 cousins out here today from
"So, I've got a lot of added incentive. It's the last race before they seal the Countdown. And even though we're locked in, you want to make a statement. It would be a good psychological boost for crew chiefs Phil Shuler, Todd Okuhara, and all the MTS Dodge guys to leave here with that win."
RECORD – Team owner Don Schumacher
today clarified some of the recent media buzz that 19-year-old Alcohol Altered
and Nostalgia drag racer Leah Pruett, of Redlands, Calif., will test and/or
drive a Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car in the future, including at next week's
two-day NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series test session at O'Reilly Raceway Park
outside of Indianapolis, Ind.
"Leah's got the desire, the drive and the determination to do it," said Schumacher, "and I'm looking to have her just make a couple of short little squirts, as we call them - 200- to 300-ft. passes at Indy during the test session - if we have time.
"The Indy test session is important to the whole DSR team for us to concentrate on trying to win championships and stay in the Countdown. So, that's our number-one goal. And, if we have some time, which I believe we'll have, depending on the weather, we'll put Leah in one of the Funny Cars just to see how she can handle it, and go from there.
"I really haven't made a determination for a driver for next year (to replace Gary Scelzi, who'll be taking a hiatus from the sport). We're getting closer to starting to think about that harder and who's going to be the person, and why. But there's been no determination at this point."
ON THE TOP
- Two-time defending event champion Greg
Anderson got an impressive start to a Pro Stock win here at Maple Grove Raceway
for the third year in a row by holding on to the No. 1 qualifying spot for
"Like I said yesterday, I thought things were going to get better today, but I had no idea how good it was going to get,"
"That's what happened on the first run; we hit it on the bull's-eye. But we missed it with Jason's car twice today and he's lucky to be qualified. The bad news is instead of being (Nos.) 1 and 2 like we were last night; we're (Nos.) 1 and 16. The good news is he is 16th and not 17th. We can cry all we want, but we made our own bed and we've got to deal with it. We've got to race first round tomorrow and one of us is going on. I hope it's me and he hopes it's him, but it should be great. We'll have his car fixed for tomorrow, I'm sure of that. It won't be a one-sided affair."
NO MORE SHOOTING IN THE DARK – Tom Hammonds finally got his dyno and even though the team missed the cut today, they have learned a lot that will help in the future.
“This is something that is going to help us down the road,” crew chief Jerry Eckman said. “We didn’t have any numbers and we really didn’t know where we were. Now we have the numbers, so any improvements we can make will be good.”
Team manager Harry Turner said the greatest attribute of the dyno is not to determine horsepower but to know when an engine is ready to come out of the lineup.
“We really weren’t that far off from what we
thought we had,” said Turner. “The problem that we had is that we couldn’t tell
when the engine was deteriorating.
That’s one of the reasons that we missed the show in
Turner said the team normally carries three engines, but will instead hold one back at the shop for Jimmy Oliver to test on the dyno.
“When that one gets better than the one we are using, we’ll cycle it out and bring the other one in,” Turner said. “Now we have a development tool we can use to determine whether or not we are losing power.”
Last time they were out was 5 races and by having the dyno we know we need to come in sooner to refresh and engine.
ANOTHER UNDER THE WEATHER – Brandon Bernstein wasn’t the only driver battling health issues this weekend.
Less than 14 hours after making a middle-of-the-night run to the emergency room, Jeg Coughlin Jr. shook off the ill effects of a severe sinusitis to successfully qualify Friday evening.
By Saturday, Coughlin was feeling better.
"It feels like my body is running on three flat tires," Coughlin said. "I'm low on power. I guess that 50th national event win was hard on us. I'm just very run down and trying to rest as much as possible. This thing just needs to run its course. You can't take too much medication because you have to be alert in the car so I guess we're suffering a little more than necessary. It has to be done."
A full night's sleep also helped Coughlin improve his overall
health as the 37-year-old from
"Another day of antibiotics and plenty of rest sure helped," Coughlin said. "I went into the hospital in the middle of the night Thursday and they gave me a shot to facilitate the healing process. I think that helped as well. I feel a bunch better."
Coughlin will open eliminations against Kurt Johnson, who qualified 13th with a 6.609 at 209.79 mph. The two men have faced each other four times this year with Jeg holding a 3-1 record.
JUST WHAT HE NEEDED – Mike Edwards has been absent for the last four events because he said he couldn’t qualify. Today he got in the show as the 14th qualifier.
“We have been struggling in the engine department,” Edwards said. “We weren’t competitive, so what was the sense in going to the races if you can’t qualify? I just didn’t see the need in wasting the effort and the money it takes. I want to feel that I have a halfway chance. I am glad to be back out there.”
Edwards has spent his off-time testing at Tulsa International Raceway, but the extreme temperatures gripping much of the country in the last month have limited his efforts. Lately, he has limited his testing to the early morning hours.
“We’ve made a little headway, but we’re not sure if that is what it takes to qualify,” Edwards said. “We’re just going to keep working at it.”
Edwards conceded prior to his sabbatical from the tour that his chances of making the Countdown to the Championship were slim to none. He’s in preparation mode now, working towards a more prosperous 2008.
“We just get a chance to go out there and evaluate what we have for 2008,” Edwards said. “That’s all we can do. The points aren’t a factor in this. We are just trying to get competitive again. We are so far behind now that we’re going in a new direction to see if things we are trying will be better for us in the long run.”
Edwards isn’t certain where things went wrong, but he has an idea.
“We just got into a bad situation with a ring package,” Edwards said. “We just got going in the wrong direction. We feel we are headed in the right direction now, though.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
EVERYTHING WAS RIGHT – Angelle Sampey was the only Pro Stock Motorcycle rider in the six-second zone on Friday. Saturday didn’t afford her the same opportunity.
Five riders went into the six-second zone on Saturday and one bumped Sampey, the provisional low qualifier, down to second. Chip Ellis laid down a 6.906 elapsed time during the third session to take over the lead.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Sampey returned for the final session and went straight to the top.
“I was very determined to go out and get the top spot in the last session,” Sampey said. “I know I did a poor job riding in the first session today, so I felt I owed it to the team and crewchief Steve Tartaglia to go out there and get it back. I hope I can carry over the momentum into tomorrow. I want to make amends for my mistakes in Brainerd.”
Today banner performance marked back-to-back
Sampey has 44 career pole positions.
Today’s breakthrough was much better than her Friday performance which almost ejected her from the bike in the shutdown area.
“They must have done something to the track since last night because I didn’t feel the bump today,” Sampey said.
Following Friday evening’s run, Sampey opened her hand to pull in the clutch and when the bike hit a bump in the left lane it knocked her hand off the handlebar.
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – Bernstein under the weather, Burkart happy to be racing, Edwards back in the game and bringing out the new bikes …
TRACK COMING AROUND – Many feared the worst when word leaked out that the NHRA’s track prep crew had decided to grind the entire racing surface just days before the event was to begin. An NHRA official said following the completion of preparation that the track had made it better than ever.
The skeptics had their opinion. They were wrong.
Don’t think for a moment the racers didn’t take notice of the NHRA’s accomplishment.
“You have to take your hat off to Dan Olson and the crews at the NHRA for what they did with this track,” Robert Hight said following his opening 4.91 elapsed time, good enough for No. 2 early. “They have worked their butts off for us and the fans out there. We appreciate it.”
“Robert is right on with his comments,” Ron Capps, who ran within .001 alongside Hight. “We have watched those guys work around the clock for the last two days making this track right. They’ve come under a lot of scrutiny. This time they deserve the credit.”
Pro Stock provisional low qualifier Greg Anderson heaped praise in his Friday qualifying press conference.
“No one can say anything about this track,” Anderson said. “Both lanes are identical. That should make for some great racing tomorrow.”
CAT CAN DO – Rod Fuller led both sessions of qualifying on the first day at Maple Grove Raceway.
Fuller nailed the top spot with a 4.521 at 327.19. He has five career poles and three this season. Last season, Fuller qualified third at Maple Grove Raceway with a 4.518-second elapsed time.
“It was a great day,” Fuller said. “I don’t think it will hold tomorrow, but you never know with Mother Nature. They’re calling for cooler temperatures and there’s a lot left in the car. We lost a blower belt at 4.3 seconds; it was going to run 330 mph at like 4.51. It was a great day for our team. It’s always good to shine with CAT on the car.
“We’ve really been in test mode at the last three races, but now we’re back in race mode. We’ve got a combination that works and we’re going into the Countdown with that. We’re back to what we know works. It responded to the changes. I’m just proud of Rob Flynn and my guys.”
BERNSTEIN AILING – Brandon Bernstein didn’t run today because of kidney stones. At approximately 10:30 a.m., he was transported to the hospital complaining of severe pain.
Bernstein was admitted to the Emergency Room and diagnostic tests confirmed a small kidney stone. The attending urologist suggested the stone would pass with fluids and rest.
“We’re taking a ‘wait and see’ approach,” said Kenny Bernstein. “If the stone is expelled today or tonight, there’s a chance that Brandon might be able to drive tomorrow. At this particular time, we have opted not to do any type of surgical procedure which would mean he would have to undergo general anesthesia, which would stay in his system rendering him unable to drive this weekend.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed. If the stone has not passed by tomorrow morning, we will explore the option of the surgical procedure to retrieve the stone. Tomorrow morning, we will also announce whether or not we will put another driver in the car.
“Brandon really wants to drive this weekend, so we have chosen to give him the opportunity to pass the stone by forcing liquids through him intravenously. It will ultimately be Brandon’s decision, along with medical staff, of whether he feels up to driving.
“Fortunately we are seeded in the countdown to eight so our status is protected.”
A quick check through the pits Friday revealed the only available licensed Top Fuel driver at Maple Grove Raceway was Mike Dunn.
POINT – COUNTER POINT – Melanie Troxel started the day just two points behind David Grubnic.
In her second session attempt, she went all the way to the top with a 4.601 elapsed time. At that point, she gained 11 points on Grubnic.
The lead lasted until the next pair when Grubnic took over the top spot with a 4.545.
Currently Grubnic is third and Troxel is eight. He’s officially extended his lead to 7 points now.
NUMBERS GAME – Del Worsham said the numbers work against him in gaining a playoff berth in this final event. However, it was the numbers working in his favor that elevated him to provisional top qualifier status.
Worsham and Jack Beckman recorded elapsed times down to the thousandth with speed serving as the tie breaker. He was 1 MPH faster.
"I think (it might be
a little too late)," Worsham said. "You just don't know. This
Countdown can benefit a lot of people, and it can really, really harm some.
Right around Englishtown (N.J.) the car turned around. It made some nice runs at
Englishtown and we had a blower pulley come off there. Then we went to Norwalk
and had the body blow off there. We were making great runs but not winning
anything. Parts are breaking, things are happening, and we're losing some great
"Finally in Sonoma it started coming around a little bit and we put up a pretty good race there. We got to Brainerd and again, we ended up with Tim Wilkerson who ran another great run in the first round and took us out. I'm not going to say it's too little, too late now, but it doesn't look real good. It would take a miracle, but we've had miracles before. Every run I'm going to run like it's the final round right now and see how it turns out."
Worsham began laying it on the line every run in early July.
“Right around Norwalk, I saw the desperation and what it was going to take,” Worsham said. “From that point on, we ran the car as hard as we could every run. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.”
Worsham is currently in 10th place in the standings with one race to go, 84 points out of the eighth and final spot to qualify for the next segment of the Countdown to the Championship. If Worsham can hang on to the pole position it will be the California native's first No. 1 qualifier since Las Vegas 2 2004.
CAN I GET A BREAK? – Just to think, Worsham almost didn’t make it in time for his first qualifying session today. Worsham flew in with Top Fuel team owner Dexter Tuttle on a private jet.
According to Worsham, the flight was an hour longer than anticipated and they got caught in traffic. Worsham didn’t even get to warm his car today.
“It was originally a great plan to leave early on Friday morning,” Worsham said. “But what we didn’t account for was a late start and a longer flight. We got stuck in traffic. We got here in just a nick of time.”
The problems were complimented with good fortunes for Worsham.
“I lost my I-PHONE but then I found my shades that had been gone for three weeks,” Worsham said. “I got here at 3:45 – found my I-PHONE and now I’m having a beer and low qualifier. Man, is that a turnaround or what?”
PLAYOFF WATCH – Worsham has to win the event and hope for either a Jim Head DNQ or first round loss. The same has to happen for Tommy Johnson, Jr. ranked No. 9 in the points.
Head is currently No. 7 while Johnson has yet to make a full pull down the strip. Adding insult to injury, he exploded the supercharger on the second qualifying attempt igniting the body and establishing a new Maple Grove Raceway altitude record.
GLAD TO BE BACK – One would have been hard-pressed to find a greater smile than Phil Burkart had on his face Friday in Reading. Why the huge smile? He is driving a Funny Car.
“I’m not sure how many races we are planning to run this year,” Burkart said. “We’re developing this KIA sponsorship for now. We are just pushing this deal to the corporate level. How many more races we run will depend on their reaction to the program is. Many of them have never attended a drag race in person.”
Burkart is aggressive in marketing his name in the Funny Car world. He said he threw his hat into the ring for the two leading 2008 vacancies – John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing.
“I threw it in for both of them,” Burkart said. “It only takes one call to make me ready to go. With this silly season, you know how things happen. Until I get that phone call, I am marketing myself. The good thing is with the experience I don’t have to prove what I can do.
“I’m just waiting on that phone call that says bring your fire suit, we’re ready to go.”
Burkart said he’d talked with Force and Schumacher but both deals are still in the air. He admitted that he’d had extensive talks with Force before the appointment of Mike Neff.
“That was disheartening, but John and I talked last week and I understand where he’s coming from,” Burkart said. “I understand what the goal is.”
Burkart said he’s only spoken periodically with Schumacher to let him know a high level of interest is there.
“One call can change my life,” Burkart said. “In the meantime, I’m not waiting around anymore. Waiting has never been my forte. That’s why I am going out and pursuing sponsorship deals. I’m not sitting back and waiting for things to come to me.”
FAULKNER FUNNY CAR – The pathway to Funny Car has become colorful lately. If you thought going from crew chief to driver was an interesting route, try sunglass salesman to flopper pilot.
Donnie Faulkner, proprietor of the Rolling O Store on the Manufacturer’s Midway, says he’s ready for the challenge. He said he has inspiration and confidence on his side.
Reportedly, Faulkner has progressed into the latter stages with at least one major team who is interested in offering a 12-race gig. He’s declined to identify the team at this time.
“I didn’t really know I wanted to drive a Funny Car until my son died,” Faulkner said. “Then I figured if I was ever going to do I had better do it now that the opportunity presented itself. The availability of sponsorship and a ride is what is driving me.
“I know there will be a lot of naysayers and a lot of people will tell you a novice can’t do it. But look at Mike Neff. He’s going into one of the best rides out there. He never drove a car.
“I’ve never failed at anything I’ve done in my life and I don’t intend to start. I told Jim [Jannard, Oakley founder] that it would be a great story if a guy who started out selling t-shirts for Scotty Cannon ended up driving a Funny Car.”
Faulkner said that Oakley liaison and TorchWear founder Paul LeSage will be instrumental in making this dream come true for him.
“People will doubt me in this,” Faulkner said. “You just have to have the confidence to make it work. I won’t be intimidated because it comes down to a confidence thing. I remember people telling me that I couldn’t make it with the Rolling O store.”
Faulkner is already psyching himself for the challenge.
“I have to treat driving a Funny Car like I do selling sunglasses. I have to do the best I can every day. The opportunity is there so I have to grab the bull by the horns and make it work. I’m going to make it happen and remember you read it here.”
Faulkner said he’s prepared for the long haul associated with preparing for the challenge. He’s already scheduled a Super Comp driving school session with the Cummings Brothers out of Louisiana as a precursor to a Paul Smith Drag Racing School visit.
Faulkner said a few starting line launches are scheduled after the national event in Richmond.
With a crew chief headed into a driver’s role for 2008, does Faulkner’s ascension from sunglass peddler to flopper pilot make him a candidate for the role of drag racing’s “Waterboy” portrayed by Adam Sandler? In that movie, a seeming unlikely water boy made the transition to linebacker on a college football team.
“Let me make a few passes and then I’ll answer the question,” Faulkner said.
IT WOULD BE NICE, BUT … - Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd is an avid internet surfer and he said he’s seen his name mentioned in conjunction with the two major Funny Car rides open for 2007. Todd once drove a Funny Car in a test session, and while he says it would be a neat challenge, he’s content where he’s at driving a dragster.
“I’d like to get a Funny Car one day, but I’m plenty happy where I am,” Todd said. “Things are pretty good where I am at. We have a car in the championship and we’ll be testing our hot rod in Indy. I have to be focused on the challenge for me because Indy is huge for us.”
Just the same, Todd doesn’t mind being rumor fodder.
“People are going to talk anyway,” Todd said. “You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet or on television.”
GOOD TRACK, BAD HUMIDITY – Nothing motivates a Pro Stocker like its infatuation with Mother Nature. Today was so-so. Tomorrow promises to be a quick and fast experience.
Low qualifier Greg Anderson can’t wait.
“The only problem we have today is that we have a little bit of humidity,” Anderson said. “That takes power out of these engines. We’re not making a lot of power out here yet but I think that’s going to change out here tomorrow. I think when you see it cool down tomorrow then you will see these Pro Stockers fly tomorrow. Today could be a warm up for what you will see tomorrow.”
Anderson is lucky the schedule changed. Last year’s race on this weekend was in Memphis. Today’s temperature was 106-degrees.
“When we learned that we were going to move this race up, my first thoughts was the performance records were going to be tough to beat,” Anderson said. “It looks like it is going to cool down and you will see some great ETs.”
G-6 SUMMIT – Greg Anderson has promised not to cry when the GTO is taken out of commission at the end of the season. If history repeats itself with Pontiac car switches, Anderson has the reason in the world to smile.
Anderson said his recent struggles in no way should be attributed to the GTO.
“We have really been working hard to get our set up to back where it was in the early part of the season,” Anderson said. “The car was really happy and made fast consistent runs. We are out of time and it’s time to stop screwing up and get on our game before the Countdown starts.
“I knew that I didn’t have an issue with the Pontiac GTO. It was the stuff I was working with. It looks like we have gotten it back. The car was the best sixty-footer in both sessions today. I have to say I have enjoyed the Pontiac GTO and I hate to see it go.”
The GTO’s successor will be the G6 GXP scheduled to debut for the 2008 season.
“If I can go back through the years where they converted from the Firebird to the Grand Am and then to the GTO, it has been a step forward,” Anderson said. “I have no reason to believe this won’t be a better car this time around. Pontiac does a great job and without them I wouldn’t have won my championships.”
Anderson said the bodies are currently in the molding process and should be completed soon. The first race car construction should begin within the next month and testing should kick off at the end of the season.
GIVE US A CLUE – Warren Johnson made some changes to his Pontiac GTO and was not shy in cluing in the fans at Maple Grove Raceway as to where.
“It’s from the front bumper to the rear bumper in the roof and rocker panels,” Johnson told top-end reporter Alan Reinhart.
Reinhart asked Johnson to be a little more specific. Johnson narrowed it down.
“It’s in the car,” Johnson said.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
NO STYLE POINTS – Angelle Sampey ran wicked fast on Friday evening, but her dismount almost stole the show.
Sampey, seeded No. 3 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle playoffs currently, charged to a 6.987, 190.35 package and almost crashed in the shutdown area.
According to Sampey, when she opened her hand to pull in the clutch her hand was jarred from the handlebar as the bike hit the infamous left lane dip. Sampey said her greegree is what saved her.
In Cajun lingo, a greegree is a good luck trinket that protects from evilness.
“It was a real rodeo ride down there,” Sampey said. “Right when I opened my hand, I hit the bump and it threw my hand up. It threw my hand back. I thought for sure I was coming off the bike.”
Sampey was uninjured in the brouhaha (southern term for something big happening) but said she was a little sore in her shoulder.
“Besides that, we are doing better,” Sampey said. “As a team, I think we are back on track. We just have to keep our fingers crossed on Sunday.”
Sampey was in a zone all day as the only rider in the six-second zone with back-to-back 6.98s .001 apart. If her time holds, this will be her second consecutive Reading pole and fourth overall.
SCRATCHING HIS HEAD – Matt Smith scratched his head as he looked over the bike piloted by his teammate Chris Rivas. Smith is solidly in the playoffs but Rivas isn’t. Smith wants him in but Rivas’ bike just isn’t cooperating.
“I’m just trying to figure out what is wrong with this thing,” Smith said. “I have a sneaking suspicion that it is something electrical. We’ve fixed all the wiring and everything. We’ve even put a new bullet in there.”
Smith said his bike is running a plethora of test parts this weekend, while Rivas is straddling a bike prepared very similar to the combination he ran in St. Louis.
“We’re in the countdown, so we are testing on my bike,” Smith said. “The combination we have in the bike is close to what we had in St. Louis. The conditions were just perfect for what we had in St. Louis. We might never see conditions that perfect again.”
THE NEW PIECE – Chip Ellis spent much of the day working on a bike that had no paint or decals. In fact, upon further inspection the bike was missing a few key parts and was basically unused.
King is working on a new bike that he suspects will see action in the second phase of the playoffs.
“This is actually a bike we have been working on for about eight or nine months,” Ellis said. “But, with the schedule we’ve had, it keeps up pretty busy and not a lot of time to work on these things. We’ve been working on this bike a little at a time.”
Ellis said he plans to test the bike next week.
“If it’s good, we will run it at Memphis,” Ellis said.
Ellis said he doesn’t see many teams bringing out new bikes until next year. This is the eighth bike that he and crew member Ken Johnson have assembled together.
“We’ve been working on this bike for much of the year,” Ellis said. “We’ve taken our time because the bike we’ve run this year has been so good. Only time will tell.
“Every bike we’ve built has gone 7.0 in the first run and I don’t really see this one being any different. It’s a good set-up already. All you have to do is finish putting it together, pop the clutch once and its ready to go.”
Ellis said the new bike is geometrically the same save for the relocation of a few items.
THE OLD PACKAGE – Ellis may be prepping a new bike but for Antron Brown, it’s an old bike that he hopes will right his woes for the season. Brown is 68 points out of the playoffs with five available spots. He’s 11th in the points.
In fact, the bike Brown rides this weekend is Sampey’s former record-holder.
“We did everything we could do with the new bike,” Brown said. “We’re thinking it might be an aero package because it is slowing down on the back end. The motor checks out fine – the chassis dyno says it’s fine – the engine dyno said the motor has plenty of power – but we just can’t get it all to work out.”
Brown said the team had no other choice but to return to a proven piece.
“We tried to make it work,” Brown said. “But, we never felt this would be a problem. It was a problem and one we learned the hard way this year. There’s no reason why that bike shouldn’t have run better.”
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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK – FORCE-NEFF-SCHUMACHER SOAP OPERA CONTINUES, WHAT A DIFFERENCE A MONTH MAKES AND JOCKEYING FOR POINTS
TO NEFF OR NOT TO NEFF - The Mike Neff – Don Schumacher – John Force Racing Scenario has all the makings of a good soap opera. Sources indicate the arrangement between Neff and Schumacher, with the veteran tuner now serving in an advisory role, may not make it beyond this weekend’s event.
Schumacher had revised Neff’s status from that of crew chief on Gary Scelzi’s Dodge Charger to an advisory role prior to last weekend’s event at Brainerd, Minnesota. This precautionary move was reportedly made to ensure that co-crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler could adequately handle the added responsibilities of tuning for both Scelzi and his teammate Jack Beckman.
A semifinal finish by Scelzi and several strong runs by both cars put the writing on the wall for Neff.
“I really need to talk to Don to see what we are going to do from this point on,” Neff said. “Don has been really good to me throughout this whole thing. There’s no animosity between us. I just don’t see it working through the season.”
Contrary to rumors that suggested that Neff wasn’t allowed within the inner-workings of the car in Brainerd, the tuner said that he had an active role during the weekend but was clearly secondary to Okuhara and Shuler.
“I was around and talking to the guys, but I’m not going to take credit for their success,” Neff said. “They did a great job. I was around to throw in my two cents worth.
“This was just Don’s way to try his plan for next year. He wanted to let those guys try and see how it all worked.”
Neff isn’t sure when he’ll get to make his first laps in the Force car. He’s speculating that it will be within the next month or so. Neff said no one should be surprised about the talk of parting ways officially at this point.
“This is no real secret,” Neff said. “Don and I talked prior to Brainerd and we agreed that we’d talk about it after the race. We decided to handle it on a race-to-race basis.
“I’m ready to go and get started at Force Racing. The sooner I can go will be the better for me. Todd and Phil have everything covered over there. Me getting out of there and Don not having to pay me would be the best for him. It would be good for him and good for me and we could leave on good terms.”
Will Reading be Neff’s final working gig with DSR?
“It’s hard to say,” Neff said. “I think we are getting close to going our separate ways at some point. I wish Gary and the team and everybody the best of luck. They are my buddies and I want to see them do well.”
RUBBER REDUX - An unimpeachable source has confirmed to Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com that the NHRA has worked around the clock to prepare the Maple Grove Raceway surface and the work appears to have attained the desired results.
Reportedly the NHRA ground the racing surface because it wasn’t to their satisfaction with this weekend’s event being the final race before the Countdown to the Championship is scheduled to begin. Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com was told the NHRA felt they needed more surface area than was currently present.
The NHRA reportedly had crews on stand-by in case the initial track prep didn’t take. By Wednesday afternoon, the track prep crews were applying rubber through their rubber-application machine.
NOBLE GESTURE - NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster racer Aaron Olivarez will be showing his support for the six miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah, his home state, during this weekend’s event.
Olivarez's dragster will be adorned with two white ribbons, and donations from Utah-based fans and companies will be made to the Crandall Canyon Family Support organization with each pass he makes down the Maple Grove Raceway quarter-mile. Fans can stop by the Olivarez pit during the event and pledge their support.
BREATHING ROOM – One of the great things about the new playoff format is that a solidly ranked driver can take a breather and not lose ground on the competition. That is, in the last race to cut down to eight qualifiers.
Once you get down to the eight at Indy. It’s on with no breathing room.
Coming off his fifth win of the season in Brainerd, Brandon Bernstein knows he will have one last race to take a deep breath and gather his thoughts.
Bernstein clinched his berth last month following Sonoma.
“When we solidified a starting spot in the countdown to eight, it was nice to have two races to take a breather,” said the second-generation driver. “I wouldn’t say ‘relax’ is the operative word here. Make no mistake. Our team will be putting every effort into this race. This year has been very competitive, but at least we won’t have to be in the vicious dogfight for the final positions in the countdown to eight. The monkey is off our back for the moment, but the stress will start again in Indy.
“Tim (Richards, crew chief), Kim, and the team are deep in talent,” said Bernstein. “Even so, we’re racing at Maple Grove Raceway at a different time of year, and it’s likely to be much warmer. Tim has a lot of experience and can adapt to new conditions, but the meticulous records kept by all of the crew chiefs from track to track may only afford a limited amount of information. The teams will probably have to tweak previous tune-ups to negotiate the track for the August race versus our former September date. And that puts more pressure for the teams to get a good run in Friday night when the air will be coolest.
“The Brainerd win raised our personal best number of victories in a season to five and we are fortunate to have won more events than any other Top Fuel team this season. Tim, Kim, and the team have our Budweiser/Lucas Oil car running strong and we have a lot of momentum coming into Reading.”
Bernstein has also won events this year in Las Vegas, Atlanta, Bristol, Tenn., and Topeka. He finished runner-up at the season opening event in Pomona, Calif. and Seattle in July. He led the Top Fuel point standings twice and has never been out of the top eight this season.
COUNTING POINTS – Melanie Troxel was once solidly in the top eight in points but some bad fortunes since her St. Louis victory have seen her drop to ninth in the rankings. Now she sits two points shy of a playoff berth.
A solid campaign of top-half qualifying efforts and a recent semifinal finish in Brainerd has her back in contention. For her, the campaign has been highlighted with strong qualifying. To her disappointment, winning rounds hasn’t been part of the equation.
“That's definitely one of the things we've had going for us in the past half dozen races - we're qualifying well,” said Troxel. “Unfortunately, we weren't going rounds on Sunday. And that's where you're going to make up the majority of the ground.
“So it's great. It's definitely narrowed up that gap for us, being able to qualify well. But really for us, I mean you go out every weekend, you want to qualify in the top half of the field. That's important. And it can help you out on Sunday.
“But in reality, you know, one round will wipe out whatever you've done in qualifying probably for the last five events. So, you know, it's going to be more important to go rounds on Sunday. And our destiny is in our own hands in this situation.
“We can go out. And if we run well on Sunday, we've got a great chance. And I think, more importantly for me, you know, we've qualified well for the last four or five races but hadn't gone any rounds on Sunday. And I quite honestly didn't have a ton of confidence that we could go rounds on Sunday.”
SMELLS LIKE A SPOILER – Cory McClenathan knows his chances of earning his way into the playoffs rank slim to none, so he’s kicking off the proverbial ‘Plan B’ this weekend. He wants to spoil someone’s day. If he can’t be in there, he’s going to take a few with him.
“It comes down to our FRAM dragster winning the race or going to the finals and having the two drivers ahead of us and a couple behind us have bad weekends before we have a good chance of getting in,” said McClenathan. “But it’s not in my mind set to make the top eight, especially with the changes we’ve gone through in the last two weeks.
“We’d like to be in the points deal, but realistically, what we are shooting for is to run as good as we can and go testing at Indianapolis (O’Reilly Raceway Park) next week so we can get ready for the last six races, including the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indy (Aug. 31-Sept. 3), and begin preparing for the 2008 season.”
McClenathan, a resident of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., is four wins shy of reaching an impressive 400 round wins. He has 29 victories, including one at Maple Grove in 1997. He also has four second-place finishes in POWERade Series standings and he’s placed in the top 10 in every season he’s run a full schedule.
There is, however, one thing the veteran driver has in mind as the season winds down. “I’m looking to play the role of spoiler over the final six races,” McClenathan said. “We want to be ready anytime we race any of them. It’s all part of finding a competitive tune-up so we can run with them next year.”
EXPECTATION OF THE FANS – David Grubnic said he’s confident the new playoff format has raised the level of fan awareness at this point in the season as opposed to previous years.
“I think that was the initial goal of the Countdown - to lift the excitement and to get the fans behind it and everything,” Grubnic said. “And as I said before, without being premature, it looks like at this stage it is and it's definitely…well, from a personal standpoint, it's made it exciting for me.
“Even though Melanie, she's tied with me as far as I'm concerned, I definitely have not discounted Cory, Doug Herbert, or both my teammates. Now I know for a fact that both my teammates are going into Reading to try and get in. That's their job. That's their goal.
“And it is conceivable that Melanie and I could both lose first round and Cory could have a good day and go to the final, and then, boom, all of a sudden he's in or Doug Herbert or whatever.
“It's even exciting from that ‑‑
anything can happen in this sport. I've seen it, and I'm worried about all of
them, to be quite honest with you. It's definitely exciting for me.”
WENT FAST LAST TIME – Mike Ashley ran wicked fast in Reading last year. But a lot has changed since then.
No, Ashley hasn’t. He still runs wicked fast. It’s just the conditions that he will likely face have changed. The race is being run a month earlier this year, deep in the hottest months of summer.
A year ago, Ashley recorded his personal best elapsed time of 4.694.
Ashley has been on a tear this season in the Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger R/T, winning two events, earning five No. 1 qualifying spots, and setting six track speed records including recording the fastest speed ever in a nitro Funny Car. Ashley holds the Funny Car speed record for Maple Grove at 330.96 mph, which he also set last year.
"It would be great to run a time lower than the 4.69 we ran last year, but that's not entirely our goal for the weekend," Ashley said. "What we really want to do is keep our spot in the Countdown heading into the next part of the playoffs. There are so many quality cars right behind us; we really have to be on our game to hold on to our position.
One of Ashley’s positive attributes is his key personnel are familiar with the nuances of Maple Grove.
"Brian Corradi [crew chief] and Mark Oswald definitely know this track, so I'm sure we'll be in good shape. Brian tuned us to that incredible number last year, and I know Mark has raced here many times before, so between them, we definitely have an advantage.
"Now is the time for us to really get our game ready for the next part of the Countdown, and I think you'll see a really serious, competitive side of all of the racers this weekend. For some, it's sink or swim. For us, it's get ready and go. This is great drag racing," Ashley said.
LOBBYING FOR VOTES – NHRA Funny Car rookie Ashley Force has reached the fourth round in AOL's hottest athletes poll. After destroying golfers Anna Rawson and Paula Creamer and snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler in the first three rounds, Force now has a high-horsepower semifinal clash with the IRL's Danica Patrick.
BREAKING IT IN – If you’re going to break in a new chassis, it’s best to do it at an event that has no bearing on your championship aspirations whatsoever.
"We've got a whole lot of stuff going on," says Ron Capps, who has held a lead as high as 154 points this year since taking over the top spot at the fourth race. "Leading the points for the Countdown for as long as we have, we've been able to test some things. And to hold on to the points lead while we're testing is very hard to do. You expect to be able to lose a lot of ground in points testing and we still seem to be hanging on.
"But we came to a conclusion in Brainerd that the car we brought out in Topeka as a new car has just not been right. We've been testing a lot of other things and Ace kind of went back a few times to his normal setup and the car just wouldn't react. The car just didn't seem to drive the same from my vantage point. Ace and Ronnie Thompson (assistant crew chief) would make huge changes they would never have made before and the car would not react.
"So, after we lost first round in Brainerd we decided we would pull out our back-up car and we'll start running it in Reading. That's part of being on a great team. Were going to put a brand-new car together, we're going to unload it in Reading and that car should go right down the track first pass in qualifying.
"I've always bragged about my Brut crew, and there's not a whole lot of crews out there who could put a car together like that and make the first run and have the confidence. But, here's the problem. We've been testing a lot of things. If we find out that the chassis just wasn't the same as what we expected, it kind of throws a question mark at all our testing. Ace may have to put all those testing results into another folder and file them away for another time."
OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM – Del Worsham only wishes he could be like Capps and solidly retain a seeding for the playoffs.
Worsham heard all the "what ifs" and formulations prior to Brainerd. He knew, by heart, all of the scenarios through which he could make a serious charge at Jim Head for the 8th and final spot in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. He did all he could in Minnesota, qualifying in front of Head and running a fine lap in round one. When Tim Wilkerson, however, outran him in that opening stanza, Worsham crossed a theoretical threshold, and he put the Countdown out of his mind.
Worsham can still, mathematically, pull off the miracle, but what had looked like a tall mountain to climb when in Brainerd, now looks like Everest on a bad day. The plot boils down to the fact Worsham would not only have to win this weekend's event, he would also need Head to cooperate by losing in round one, and even that wouldn't do it if Worsham couldn't find a way to pick up at least four additional points via qualifying. With all that in mind, the owner/tuner/driver of the red CSK Impala has shifted his mental gears to focus on much smaller pictures.
"It's too big of a combination of difficult things to even think about," he said. "We could do everything right, and totally dominate the race, and Jim could even go out in the first round, but if we didn't manage to qualify near the top while he's near the bottom, we'd still finish behind him. You can't go into any race with visions like that, so we're just focusing on representing Checker, Schuck's, Kragen, and Murray's as well as we can, on every lap we run. It will work out however it works out.
"And, if we do leave Reading outside the playoffs, we're still going to head to Indy with the intention of winning there. We'll head to every race planning to qualify high and win every round, because that's all we really care about. And you know, as much as we all want to be a part of the Countdown, it's not the end of the world if we're not. If we pull off a miracle, that would be awesome, but if we don't, we'll move on and try to win every round we can. We can still finish with what I'd consider 'a good season' if we just keep running well, and we'll actually be earning points for the 2008 Skoal Showdown when we qualify at Indy, so there's one slate that will be washed clean within a few weeks.”
STILL HOPING – Kenny Bernstein comes to Reading off a runner-up finish at Brainerd, Minn., and is 115 points out of the single Funny Car position available in the countdown to eight.
“We started this team from the nuts and bolts up this season,” said Bernstein. “It was quite an undertaking. We got off to a slow start, which cost us some time and points. At the third race of the season we hired a new crew chief and assistant crew chief and we went to the semifinals.
“This is perhaps the most competitive season in the Funny Car category in NHRA history. Our team has the talent to go rounds, which we’ve proven. From time to time we’ve had some mechanical gremlins to chase, which has slowed down our progress, but every person on our team is pulling his weight and putting in 100 percent effort. There’s no lack of funding and no lack of effort here.
“If we don’t make the Countdown to Eight, sure, we’ll be disappointed, but it doesn’t mean we can’t win an event between now and the end of the year. We’re close, and we can sure play the spoiler.”
Bernstein also finished runner-up at the inaugural NHRA race at Norwalk, Ohio, July 1, and has had strong qualifying efforts, including a No. 2 starting berth in Seattle July 22.
STILL SMILING OVER 50 – Jeg Coughlin, Jr. can’t help it. There’s just something about 50 national event victories that gives a man a permanent smile.
Becoming just the 11th competitor in 57 years of NHRA Championship Drag Racing to win that many events, Coughlin has done something he rarely does -- stop and enjoy the moment.
"I had some old racing friends stop by earlier this week and we got to talking about all the wins along the way," Coughlin said from his Delaware, Ohio, home. "We went down in the trophy room and started going one-by-one through all the Wallys and it really stirred up some awesome memories for me.
"I vividly remember standing on the stage at the U.S. Nationals, the granddaddy of them all, in 1992 after winning the Super Gas trophy for my second career win. Wally Parks himself presented me with the trophy. It was so special to me. I remember that first Pro Stock win in 1997 in Houston; the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming.
"I know I'm guilty of being too focused on the next race and not really enjoying the moment but I definitely savored this one. We had a great team dinner in Brainerd and I got to thank all the guys on the team. To me, that's the thing that gets overlooked -- all the hard work and countless hours the team puts in to make the driver look good. If anything, this 50th win should be dedicated to all the people that helped me get it done."
Now on to the business at hand: Coughlin enters Maple Grove Raceway for the 17th race of the 2007 season with a stranglehold on second place in the Countdown to the Championship. He knows the points will be reset for the top-eight racers after the event as the second phase of the Countdown, entitled the Countdown to Four, begins in Indy. He'll start the four-race Countdown to Four just 10 points behind Greg Anderson.
"We can really just let it all hang out this weekend and try to get No. 51," Coughlin said. "The main thing I want to do is enjoy myself and continue this high we're on at the moment. It's important to hit the ground running in Indy.”
Coughlin has collected two of his 50 trophies at Maple Grove Raceway. He won the Super Gas title there in 1996 and the Pro Stock trophy in 1999.
A NEED, NOT A WANT - Richie Stevens Jr. knows crunch time is at hand. That’s why he has turned anxiety into a focused approach.
“I’m just going to treat it like any other race and just go there and try to win it, just like our goal is for every other race,” said Stevens, who took part in test sessions at Chicago in both his and Johnson’s Dodge Stratus R/Ts earlier this week. Johnson’s J&J Racing team tunes Stevens’ car, with power plants supplied by Roy Johnson [Allen Johnson’s father].
Stevens trails Larry Morgan by 56 markers for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Stevens must reel off some round wins this weekend, and also hope Morgan falters, if he is to continue on in the Countdown battle. A top spot in qualifying is a key to advancing rounds.
“I need to try and qualify as high as possible to gain every point I can to get into the Countdown deal," Stevens said. "The No. 1, 2, or 3 qualifying spot would be ideal, so we could get somebody in the bottom half who we could maybe outrun. We’ll just try to go rounds on Sunday. We’re going to probably have to make it all the way to the finals to out do Larry. It’s down to the last one, and the pressure’s up. We just have to go there, and try not to think about it, and just do the best we can, and hopefully the outcome will be good for us.”
GIVE ME A BREAK – Dave Connolly has had his fill of mediocrity lately.
If a mediocre race had to happen, Connolly is relieved it was last week at Brainerd, Minn. There are seven very important ones in the offing and he wants to be at his best.
Connolly’s off event likely cost him a chance to move up to second place as NHRA’s Countdown to Eight climaxes at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., this weekend. He trailed Victor Cagnazzi teammate Jeg Coughlin by five points before going to Brainerd, where Evan Knoll’s Torco Racing Fuels Pro Stock Chevy Cobalt shook the tires in the opening round, bouncing Connolly out of competition. Coughlin’s race win restored his lead to 62 points.
“With Jeggie winning the race and us going out early, I think that will leave us solid in third place,” said Connolly, who has finished third twice (2004, 2006) and fifth once (2005) in his still-young career. The native of Elyria, Ohio, has 1,135 points and holds a 73-point advantage over Allen Johnson.
When the scores are tallied Sunday evening, the leading eight take their title chances to another level. Points are reset, with Greg Anderson, the points pacesetter (1,346), getting 2010, Coughlin 2020, Connolly 2030, and up in increments of 10 through the remaining five drivers. The Countdown to Four officially begins at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Aug. 31-Sept. 3, at Indianapolis.
“We need to get our car back running up and down the track consistently and get our little mishaps out of the way,” Connolly said. “I’m ready to race. We want to have momentum going into Indy. We want to get back where we want to be. We fell off the pace. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the track was too good. The car shook at Seattle and we got through it, but we didn’t at Brainerd.
“The good news is that Tommy (Utt, team crew chief) found the problem and now we have to fix it.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
LEAN ON ME – Matt Smith sits atop the point standings headed into Reading. Maintaining the point lead is not Smith’s primary objective. Getting teammate Chris Rivas into the show is his game plan this weekend.
Going into this weekend’s event, Rivas sits 36 points out of the oh-so-crucial top-eight.
“We are still focused right now on Chris,” said Smith. “Even though he is in the 10th position anything can happen at Reading this weekend. We just need to make good, consistent runs and hopefully it will all play out.”
“I’m hoping for the best,” said Rivas. “Like Matt said, anything can happen. Hopefully we can qualify well and go some rounds on Sunday, and maybe sneak our way into the Countdown. That’s what we are hoping for anyway.”
Smith and Rivas both suffered second round losses last weekend in Brainerd after taking out the Army team first round, but eventually losing to the Harley team second round. Both, Smith and Rivas however, are looking to go much further this weekend at Maple Grove.
BACK AGAINST WALL – Steve Johnson knows he can’t back up one inch more because his back is already against the wall.
This weekend will represent Johnson’s final opportunity to earn a berth. Johnson is currently ninth, 25 big points out of the eighth and final spot.
“I was nervous as early as Tuesday of this week,” Johnson admitted. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much pressure as a competitor. This is absolutely a make it or break it weekend for our team. Even though we’ll keep racing no matter what happens at Maple Grove, and there will still be opportunities to win, our goal continues to be the POWERade championship, but we’ve got to make the Countdown in order to be eligible for that.”
Sitting those 25 points ahead of Johnson is Eddie Krawiec, who defeated Johnson in the first round last weekend at the Lucas Oil Nationals. As formidable a challenge as it’s going to be to overtake Krawiec, Johnson knows it can be done.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is out-qualify him,” Johnson says. “The NHRA awards eight points for the No. 1 qualifier, 7 for No. 2 and so-on down through No. 4. After that it changes a bit, but the point is that if we can go into eliminations from, let’s say, the No. 3 position, we’d get six points for that. If Eddie were to be near the back of the pack he might earn just one point, meaning that when eliminations begins we would’ve already made up five points.
“There’s one ‘problem’ with this, and that’s the fact that we haven’t qualified as high as third all year, so we’re going to have to do this the hard way, by winning more rounds of eliminations than he does.
“Our points system ‘pays’ 20 points for first round loser, 40 for second round, 60 for semifinal round, 80 to the runner-up and 100 to the winner. In order to get into eighth place that means we’ll have to go two rounds further than Krawiec, and that won’t be easy. In other words, if he goes out in the first round and we make it to the semifinals we’ll have picked up 40 points on him, and that could be enough.”
NEED A BERTH TOO – Angelle Sampey already is guaranteed a spot in the Countdown, but her teammate Antron Brown remains 68 points removed from the eighth position in the standings.
A first round loss at Brainerd International Raceway last Sunday clearly did not help Brown in his pursuit of a Countdown slot.
“That was a killer right there,” said the New Jersey native. “We were really hoping to make up some ground in Brainerd so we wouldn’t have our backs against the wall this weekend. Now, we’ll just have to come out firing on all cylinders when we arrive at Maple Grove.”
Brown will likely have to gain the maximum number of points available, while getting some help from other racers, to gain entry into the top eight.“It’s going to be what it’s going to be,” he added. “We’re going to give our usual 150 percent effort, while hoping that we can make it into the show. We’re not quitting, I can assure you of that. Our soldiers don’t ever quit, so why should we?”
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