NHRA POWERade Drag Racing returned to Virginia last year with a race that shattered Pro performance barriers, especially in Pro Stock; Jason Line set the national record that helped him capture the world championship.




Kalitta wins first race of 2007; Connolly wins fifth in a row, enters Countdown to 1 as No. 1 seed in Pro Stock

tf-winnerDSA_5495.jpgFour-time POWERade Series champion Gary Scelzi punctuated a dramatic final Sunday in the Countdown to 4, the first round of the NHRA Playoffs, with a huge victory at the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park to claim one of the four berths in the two-race championship.

Scelzi jumped from sixth to second place with the win over teammate Ron Capps in the Funny Car final and he was joined in the winner's circle by Top Fuel's Doug Kalitta and Pro Stock's Dave Donnolly, who swept his way through the first round of the NHRA Playoffs with four straight wins to earn the No. 1 seed in Pro Stock's Countdown to 1.

"Things are just clicking for us right now," said Connolly, who has won five straight races overall. "It was nice to sweep the first leg of the Countdown but we have two races left (in Las Vegas and Pomona) so that's what we're concentrating on. This team will be ready. We tested for two days before this race and we have a long testing schedule to complete before we head to Vegas. The work is definitely not done."

Connolly's incredible winning streak in Pro Stock has now reached five races, which ties him for the second longest run in class history behind Bob Glidden's nine-in-a-row back in 1978-'79. Greg Anderson also won five straight in 2004, as did Ronnie Sox in '70-'71.

Capps secured the fourth and final berth in Funny Car with his semifinal win over Tim Wilkerson; Tony Pedregon and Robert Hight, first and third, respectively, will be the other two finalists in the Funny Car Countdown to 1.  The hard-luck loser in Funny Car was Jack Beckman, who would have clinched a berth with either a Scelzi or Capps loss in the semifinals, but when both won his championship hopes were dashed.

The drama in Top Fuel played out in the first round when fourth-place Brandon Bernstein ousted fifth-place Bob Vandergriff to cement his position in Top Fuel's final four; the other three finalists in Top Fuel, in 1-2-3 order, are Larry Dixon, Rod Fuller and Tony Schumacher.

ps-winnerDSA_5446.jpgIn Pro Stock, Greg Anderson will be the No. 2 seed and the Pro Stock final four was filled out by No. 3 Jeg Coughlin, who drove his way in with a first-round win Sunday, and Allen Johnson, who clinched the fourth and final Pro Stock berth when his teammate eliminated fifth-place Kurt Johnson in the second round.

The top four drivers who remain alive in the Countdown to the Championship will have their points reset in 10-point increments, from 3,030 to 3,000, before heading to Las Vegas (Oct. 26-28) and Pomona (Nov. 1-4) for the two-race championship, the Countdown to 1, that will determine the 2007 POWERade Series world championships.

The Funny Car final was, for all intents and purposes, the first roud of the Countdown to 1 since both drivers had just clinched their positions and they were tied in points. The winner of the race would pass Robert Hight and emerge with 3,020 points after the reset and the loser would end up with 3,000.

Scelzi was second off the starting line by a hundredth but he soon zoomed by a tire-smoking Capps to take the win with a 4.956 at 306.60 mph in his Mopar/Oakley Charger to Capps' resigned 5.935 at 207.11 mph in his Brut Dodge.

"It was a great day," Scelzi said. "[Crew chief Todd] Okuhara made all the right calls. He's just incredible. [Former tuner] Mike Neff got us here and I don't ever want to forget that. Mike and I are very close and I hope I can help him learn how to drive a Funny Car. He means a lot to me, and then Okuhara has slipped right into that role. I've had three awesome tuners in my career -- Alan Johnson, Mike Neff, and Todd Okuhara -- and each one I love dearly.

"Before the final I told Todd, 'you know, we're in the Countdown deal already but it would be even better if we were second in the points.' The only way to do that was to win so I told him to hop it up. I said, 'put some more in there, you coward.' He started laughing and jumped in the box. Let me tell you, that thing was aggressive. That was probably the worst job of driving ever but we got the win light."

nfc-winnerDSA_5472.jpgScelzi improved to 4-0 in final rounds this year and 37-21 for his career. Capps drops to 3-4 on the season and 25-27 overall.

Doug Kalitta won his first Top Fuel race in more than a year by beating Melanie Troxel, extending his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one win to 10. He is fourth on that list now that is headed by John Force's streak of 21 consecutive seasons with a win. Kurt Johnson is next with 13, Angelle Sampey's is third with wins in 12 straight seasons and Whit Bazemore -- who hasn't won yet this season -- has won in 10 straight seasons.

After finishing 2006 on the losing end of the closest points race in history, Kalitta has endured the worst Top Fuel season of his career in '07. Some of that pain was erased Sunday when he broke through for his first victory in more than a year (Memphis, 2006), which came when he outran Troxel by three-hundredths of a second, 4.647 at 316.08 mph against Troxel's 4.649 at 316.45 mph.

"I was starting to wonder if we'd keep our streak alive," Kalitta said. "We've had a pretty tough year but we have Jon-O [Oberhofer] tuning the car now and he's doing a great job. The guys are all working hard, and Dick LaHaie has been helping. Of course, Connie [Kalitta, uncle] is there. It's been a struggle but we're getting through it."

Connolly's fifth straight win one was over early as he pasted Vieri Gaines at the starting line by .046 seconds and roared away for his 17th career win with a 6.671 at 206.95 mph in his Torco/Seelye Wright Chevrolet Cobalt. Gaines carded a 6.679 at 206.92 mph in his Kendall Dodge.




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Sunday's final results from the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorprorts Park. The race is the 21st of 23 in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series:


Top Fuel -- Doug Kalitta, 4.647 seconds, 316.08 mph def. Melanie Troxel, 4.649 seconds, 316.45 mph.


Funny Car -- Gary Scelzi, Dodge Charger, 4.956, 306.60 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 5.935, 207.11.



Pro Stock -- Dave Connolly, Chevy Cobalt, 6.671, 206.95 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Stratus, 6.679, 206.92.



Super Stock -- Grant Lewis, Pontiac Grand Am, 9.197, 144.77 def. Russ Linke, Chevy Corvette, 10.217, 126.67.


Stock Eliminator -- Dan Fletcher, Chevy Camaro, 10.725, 115.31 def. Jeff Strickland, Camaro, 11.357, 113.30.


Super Comp -- Edmond Richardson Jr., Dragster, 8.903, 171.64 def. Chris DePascale, Dragster, 8.923, 158.58.


Super Gas -- Mike Ruff, Chevy Camaro, 9.927, 157.28 def. Tom Seemann, Chevy Beretta, 9.932, 161.11.

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Schumacher, Dixon, Fuller, and Tony Pedregon all clinch berths in Countdown to 1



On the strength of his 45th career No. 1 qualifier Saturday at the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals, Tony Schumacher joined three other drivers in clinching their berths in theschumacherDSB_5044.jpg Countdown to 1, the two-race championship that marks the end of the NHRA Playoffs.

The Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals is the fourth and final race in the first round of the NHRA Playoffs, which will halve the field of eligible championship contenders from eight to four. There remains one spot open in the Countdown to 1 in Top Fuel, three in Funny Car and two in Pro Stock and those final berths will be set at the conclusion of Sunday's race, which begins at 11 a.m. ET.

The other drivers to clinch Saturday were Larry Dixon and Rod Fuller in Top Fuel and Tony Pedregon in Funny Car.

The fourth and final berth in Top Fuel will be the subject of a monster first round matchup Sunday between Brandon Bernstein's fourth-place Budweiser team and Bob Vandergriff's fifth-place UPS team. Bernstein enters the race with a 27-point cushion meaning Vandergriff would have to beat him and win another round (each round win is worth 20 points) to move past Bernstein and secure the fourth and final playoff berth.

"It's pretty exciting for our team," said Vandergriff, who qualified 15th with a 4.645 to Bernstein's 4.549. "I wish we could have qualified better but we're here and our destiny is in our hands now. You couldn't ask for more." Bernstein is 6-0 lifetime versus Vandergriff.johnsonDSB_5467.jpg

Also in play in Top Fuel is Whit Bazemore's Matco Tools teasm. Excluding national records, if Vandergriff beats Bernstein and loses in the second round, the door would be open for Bazemore to bump both Bernstein and Vandergriff by winning the race, but before that happens all eyes will be on the Bernstein-Vandergriff matchup.

"If you could write the script, you would put Vandergriff and Bernstein together in Round 1," Schumacher said. "That's going to be huge. Those two guys need to go to bed early and do their push-ups because this is a round that could define their careers. Me? I'm gonna go smoke a cigar."

Rounding out the top qualifiers Saturday were Funny Car's Tommy Johnson Jr. and Pro Stock's Jeg Coughlin, the latter of whom effectively put another round between himself and his nearest pursuer (fifth-place Jason Line) in the fight to make the fourth and final berth in the Pro Stock Countdown to 1.coughlinDSB_5277.jpg

In the race to make the Funny Car Countdown to 1, Ron Capps and Gary Scelzi have moved into a tie for the fourth and final berth (Scelzi owns the tiebreaker). As the 15th qualifier with a 4.901, Capps has the toughest first-round draw as he'll face No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight (4.790) in the opening round. Scelzi qualified eighth with a 4.849 and will race non-Countdown racer Del Worsham in Round 1.

Seven points out of fourth place, Mike Ashley qualified third with a 4.797. Currently third in the points, "Fast Jack" Beckman is fifth here with a 4.835.

Intent on holding onto his top-four ranking so he can advance to the final stage of the Countdown, Coughlin did all he could do in qualifying with a Round 2 blast of 6.645 at 207.27 mph in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt, the quickest and fastest run of the weekend in the class.

"We'll take every point we can get at this point," Coughlin said. "It's time to slit their throats and lock up one of these spots. We have to go rounds because any of the guys behind us could cause trouble if we don't take care of business. We need to come in here tomorrow and race smart, race aggressive, and turn on some win lights."

The monster match-up of Sunday's opening round in Pro Stock will feature No. 3 points earner Allen Johnson against sixth-place Kurt Johnson. A.J. qualified sixth with a 6.659 in his Mopar Dodge Stratus, while K.J. earned the 11th spot on the grid with a 6.681 in his ACDelco Chevy Cobalt.

Other Countdown to 1 hopefuls include Larry Morgan (eighth with a 6.663) and Jason Line (10th with a 6.671).


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First-round pairings for professional eliminations Sunday for the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorprorts Park, the 21st of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.


Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 4.524 seconds, 321.27 mph vs. 16. Morgan Lucas, 4.646, 307.51; 2. Brandon Bernstein, 4.549, 323.50 vs. 15. Bob Vandergriff, 4.645, 316.08; 3. Larry Dixon, 4.570, 317.42 vs. 14. Clay Millican, 4.634, 314.83; 4. Whit Bazemore, 4.574, 321.42 vs. 13. Melanie Troxel, 4.633, 323.58; 5. J.R. Todd, 4.577, 317.64 vs. 12. Cory McClenathan, 4.629, 321.96; 6. David Grubnic, 4.587, 317.64 vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 4.619, 318.24; 7. Rod Fuller, 4.591, 321.50 vs. 10. Doug Foley, 4.605, 316.30; 8. Doug Herbert, 4.591, 316.01 vs. 9. Hillary Will, 4.601, 308.50.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Mcmillen, 4.732, 259.36; 18. Bobby Lagana Jr., 4.853, 289.26.


Funny Car -- 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.790, 312.06 vs. 16. Cruz Pedregon, Impala, 4.902, 296.96; 2. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.790, 307.58 vs. 15. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.901, 314.61; 3. Mike Ashley, Charger, 4.797, 315.19 vs. 14. Tim Wilkerson, Impala, 4.890, 302.08; 4. Kenny Bernstein, Charger, 4.818, 316.23 vs. 13. Tony Bartone, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.865, 315.71; 5. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.835, 309.98 vs. 12. Jeff Arend, Impala, 4.862, 316.08; 6. Tony Pedregon, Impala, 4.837, 312.86 vs. 11. Scott Kalitta, Toyota Solara, 4.862, 315.93; 7. Gary Densham, Impala, 4.838, 309.13 vs. 10. Jerry Toliver, Solara, 4.859, 305.70; 8. Gary Scelzi, Charger, 4.849, 319.22 vs. 9. Del Worsham, Impala, 4.858, 311.41.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Head, 4.929, 307.86; 18. Bob Gilbertson, 4.980, 298.27.


Pro Stock -- 1. Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Cobalt, 6.645, 207.27 vs. 16. Tommy Brown, Cobalt, 6.699, 205.16; 2. Dave Connolly, Cobalt, 6.645, 207.24 vs. 15. Ron Krisher, Cobalt, 6.697, 206.07; 3. Richie Stevens, Dodge Stratus, 6.646, 207.15 vs. 14. Kenny Koretsky, Cobalt, 6.692, 205.69; 4. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GTO, 6.652, 207.11 vs. 13. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.692, 205.91; 5. Justin Humphreys, GTO, 6.656, 206.89 vs. 12. Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.681, 205.82; 6. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.659, 206.73 vs. 11. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.681, 206.61; 7. Max Naylor, Stratus, 6.660, 205.60 vs. 10. Jason Line, GTO, 6.671, 207.15; 8. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.663, 206.57 vs. 9. V. Gaines, Stratus, 6.668, 206.20.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Tom Hammonds, 6.700, 205.51; 18. Jim Yates, 6.707, 204.94; 19. Warren Johnson, 6.708, 206.39; 20. Craig Hankinson, 6.713, 204.66; 21. Dave Northrop, 6.713, 203.61; 22. Bob Benza, 6.748, 204.70; 23. Adam Flamholc, 6.771, 203.86; 24. Jim Cunningham, 6.843, 200.41.



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Brandon Bernstein, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Dave Connolly hold provisional No. 1 qualifying positions

BGW_3472.jpgFourth-place Brandon Bernstein's fight to hold onto one of the four spots in the inaugural Countdown to 1 got off to a great start Friday night as the second-generation Top Fuel pro earned the provisional low qualifier position at the second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals.

The son of legend Kenny Bernstein blistered Virginia Motorsports Park with a 4.549 at 321.58 mph to outrun the four drivers looking to replace him in the final leg of the first round of the NHRA Playoffs. Tommy Johnson Jr. leads Funny Car with a solid 4.790 at 312.06, while scorching-hot Pro Stock points leader Dave Connolly showed the way in the factory hot rod class with a steady 6.649 at 207.24 mph.

"That was big," Bernstein said. "To qualify in the top half and get those extra points gives us a little bit of a cushion. But it's still going to come down to a round-by-round deal on Sunday. We just have to go rounds on Sunday and hope we go more than [Bob Vandergriff] goes and even Whit [Bazemore] and the others. They're all right back there."

DSB_4986.jpgThe most notable of those drivers behind Bernstein's Budweiser team is of course Bob Vandergriff's UPS team, which entered the weekend needing to make up just 21 points. Hoping to make up two points in qualifying to get within a round going into Sunday, Vandergriff will now have to turn his attention to just getting into the field after breaking in his only qualifying pass on Sunday. He'll enter Saturday's final qualifying sessions outside the field.

Whit Bazemore, who needs Bernstein to bow out early Sunday for him to have a chance at making the Countdown to 1 field, is second after Friday's lone qualifying session with a 4.574 at 321.42 mph in his Matco Tools rail. A lengthy rainstorm canceled the second session outright.

J.R. Todd, who is also chasing Bernstein, is third with a 4.592 at 317.64 mph in his Torco dragster, followed by points leader Larry Dixon, who is fourth with a 4.600 in his SkyTel dragster. Another Countdown racer, Doug Herbert, is next in fifth place in his Snap-on Tools car with a 4.606.

Johnson isn't a part of the Countdown but that didn't stop him from putting his Skoal Impala R/T on the provisional Funny Car pole with a 4.790 at 312.06 mph. Johnson's speed was the difference as John Force Racing pro Robert Hight also posted a 4.790, but he ended up second in his Ford after topping out at 307.58 mph.

DSB_4962.jpg"We sent our car in when Murf (McKinney, chassis builder) and all the engineers decided what needed to be fixed," Johnson said. "Our car was the first one to leave Murf's with all of the updates. They actually ended up making a lot of the jigs off of our car for everybody else's car. It wasn't a performance secret, so you want to share the safety stuff with everybody. We were more than happy to help everybody out."

The three drivers fighting to replace John Force in the Countdown to 1 field -- Mike Ashley, Ron Capps, and Gary Scelzi had mixed results Friday. Ashley was fifth in his Torco Dodge with a 4.905. Capps was all the way down in 12th with a coasting 8.727, while Scelzi finds himself outside the top 16 with a best of 11.762.

Considering he's won the last four races in a row, it surprised no one that Connolly has the quickest car in Pro Stock as his 6.649 at 207.24 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt got the job done Friday night.

"The run we've been on is kind of incredible," Connolly said. "Sometimes you just get those vibes you're going to have a good weekend. I got that feeling last week and we actually made some gains in testing. You can go out there and test for months and months at a time and just never really find anything, but we actually felt like we made some progress with our Chevy Cobalt and it showed on that run."

Connolly's teammate at Cagnazzi Racing, fourth-place points earner Jeg Coughlin, is second on the grid with a 6.661 at 207.27 mph. The other players in the Countdown to 1 chase showed well with Larry Morgan earning fifth place with a 6.674, Allen Johnson taking sixth with a 6.677, Kurt Johnson grabbing eighth with a 6.689, Jason Line ninth with a 6.704, and Warren Johnson claiming 12th with a 6.708.


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Results Friday after the first of three rounds of qualifying for the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park, 21st of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.

Top Fuel -- 1. Brandon Bernstein, 4.549 seconds, 321.58 mph; 2. Whit Bazemore, 4.574, 321.42; 3. J.R. Todd, 4.592, 317.64; 4. Larry Dixon, 4.600, 313.80; 5. Doug Herbert, 4.606, 316.01; 6. Doug Kalitta, 4.629, 318.24; 7. Doug Foley, 4.697, 264.49; 8. Cory McClenathan, 4.802, 321.96; 9. Rod Fuller, 4.858, 317.05; 10. Terry Mcmillen, 6.775, 123.05; 11. Clay Millican, 7.587, 97.13; 12. Morgan Lucas, 9.019, 102.22; 13. Tony Schumacher, 9.639, 79.31; 14. Bobby Lagana Jr., 9.702, 76.77; 15. David Grubnic, 10.173, 87.27; 16. Melanie Troxel, 10.721, 80.02. Not Qualified: 17. Bob Vandergriff, 17.507, 30.81.

Funny Car -- 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.790, 312.06; 2. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.790, 307.58; 3. Del Worsham, Impala, 4.858, 311.20; 4. Tony Bartone, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.877, 303.78; 5. Mike Ashley, Dodge Charger, 4.905, 258.42; 6. Bob Gilbertson, Dodge Stratus, 4.980, 298.27; 7. Tony Pedregon, Impala, 5.008, 245.45; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Impala, 5.011, 264.70; 9. Jerry Toliver, Toyota Solara, 5.018, 253.66; 10. Scott Kalitta, Solara, 5.174, 212.59; 11. Gary Densham, Impala, 8.521, 108.77; 12. Ron Capps, Charger, 8.727, 92.93; 13. Tim Wilkerson, Impala, 8.742, 90.69; 14. Jeff Arend, Impala, 10.133, 84.54; 15. Jim Head, Solara, 10.955, 66.36; 16. Jack Beckman, Charger, 10.973, 75.74. Not Qualified: 17. Gary Scelzi, 11.762, 75.39; 18. Kenny Bernstein, 11.972, 72.50.

Pro Stock -- 1. Dave Connolly, Chevy Cobalt, 6.649, 207.24; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Cobalt, 6.661, 207.27; 3. Richie Stevens, Dodge Stratus, 6.673, 206.54; 4. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GTO, 6.674, 207.11; 5. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.674, 206.57; 6. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.677, 206.29; 7. Justin Humphreys, GTO, 6.681, 206.54; 8. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.689, 206.45; 9. Jason Line, GTO, 6.704, 207.15; 10. Kenny Koretsky, Cobalt, 6.705, 205.01; 11. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.707, 204.26; 12. Warren Johnson, GTO, 6.708, 206.13; 13. Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.725, 205.57; 14. Jim Yates, GTO, 6.725, 204.94; 15. Ron Krisher, Cobalt, 6.729, 205.19; 16. Bob Benza, Cobalt, 6.748, 204.54. Not Qualified: 17. Craig Hankinson, 6.750, 203.49; 18. Max Naylor, 6.771, 203.98; 19. Tom Hammonds, 6.775, 199.29; 20. Adam Flamholc, 6.790, 203.61; 21. Jim Cunningham, 6.857, 199.85; 22. V. Gaines, 7.134, 194.24; 23. Tommy Brown, 7.493, 127.78; 24. Dave Northrop, 24.587, 29.48.


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