NHRA FALL NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
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SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - INCREDIBLE DAY MARRED BY TRAGEDY
It didn’t matter how much attention a positive achievement commanded, in the end a negative outshined it.
John Force and Kenny Bernstein were involved in a two-car crash during the second round of Funny Car eliminations at the NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas, Texas.
Bernstein was uninjured in the crash. Force, with multiple injuries to his extremities, was alert and speaking with medical personnel before transport via helicopter to Baylor University Medical Center for observation.
NHRA EMS official Dwight Shewchuk said that Force was alert and conscious but none of his injuries appeared life threatening.
Doctors diagnosed his injuries as a broken left ankle and severe abrasion on his right knee. Force's left wrist also was dislocated and broken and he sustained some severe abrasions and slight fractures on a number of fingers on his right hand.
Surgeons will begin cleaning a number of his injuries tonight and possibly setting his fractures if the swelling is at an acceptable level.
“From the time we got there until we got him in the helicopter, he was conscious,” Shewchuk said. “He does have some serious injuries to his hand and his legs. Those will require extensive work up and treatment. Nothing appears life-threatening at this time. Those are significant injuries and they are going to take him to Baylor Hospital in Dallas where he will be further evaluated and treated.”
Bernstein addressed the media following the incident.
“I just pray that John is okay,” Bernstein said, “I know he is hurt. Right now I hope he gets 100-percent recovery. That’s what means more than anything right now to me, to Sheryl and to my team. That’s what we are praying for right now. I know he was talking to me and he
was worried whether he hurt me or not – but that’s John. He’ll be okay because he’s a strong willed man and he will be fine.”
Bernstein then gave his account of the incident.
“I left the starting line and felt like it was a good leave. The car was running fine down through there and it got close to the center-line about halfway down there. The car started moving over and I keep turning and correcting as hard as I could and it just kept sticking over there next to that center-line. It got down near the finish line and I said ‘Man, I think this thing is going to catch a [timing] cone’.”
Bernstein’s run was disqualified when his car collected the final timing foam block.
I guess I did catch it with the rear tires from what I understand. I just couldn’t get it to come back. It got right down to the finish line. I lifted the throttle and hit the parachutes at the same time – that’s my procedure. As soon as I hit the parachutes, out of the corner of my eye, I saw John’s black car coming towards me. It was coming over and it just hit me. Then we just wadded up together for a second or two and then all I could see is nothing because there were bodies coming apart and coming up in front of you, taking your eyesight away. I remember seeing my body up there and going through it. I remember seeing his body up there and going through parts of it.
“Then, when I came out of that, and you have to realize that took milliseconds, when I came out of it I saw John’s car going towards the wall. It hit the wall really, really hard. Then I was a little out of control at that time. Obviously … it was at the point where it was teetering on whether to turn over or not turn over, going left or going right. It never did go over.
“Right when I got ready to stop, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something again. It was the chassis and the engine – the front half of the car passed me on the right side. It passed me on the right side and went all the way to the end of the track.
“I looked up and tried to figure out what I was seeing because I couldn’t see John. I was trying to get to him. In fact, I was letting my car roll to get up there to see if I could help him. But, he wasn’t even there. That’s why I ended up way down the track. I thought he was still in that car.
“When I got out, I saw all the commotion back up the track. Without looking at a film, that’s all I can tell you.”
Bernstein said he felt like something happened to Force’s car prior to their accident, but couldn’t say for sure.
“I guarantee you that something happened to his car because John Force isn’t going to run over anybody,” Bernstein said. “None of us are going to run over anybody unless something causes it. If something takes place that causes a driver to do what he does. You don’t drive a race car to run in the other lane.
“Something had to happen. I certainly think something happened to his race car, I certainly do; absolutely. I would say something happened to that car by all means. For him to come across and collect me, something had to happen.”
Outside of the fact his car catching the timing cone, Bernstein said he didn’t think he crossed the center-line.
“I don’t feel like I did and I didn’t feel like I did,” Bernstein said. “I will have to look at the film, but I don’t think I ever went across with the entire car. I know I was close to the center but I don’t think I ever went over the center with the entire car. [Crew chief] Jimmy Walsh went down there and the rear tire caught the cone.
“I was under total control when I reached up for the parachute and got off the throttle. I just figured I had given the race away because I caught that cone. I just couldn’t get it back. I never had a thought that I was in his lane.
“I saw him coming at me. I saw the front of his car pointed at me – not a 90-degree but certainly a 45. When you can see it, he’s got to be pretty far across on you.
Bernstein said he briefly talked to Force.
“I came back when I figured it all out. He was on the stretcher and asking if he hit anybody. I kept telling him it was okay. I told him, ‘John, its Bernstein. I’m okay.’
“He asked me again if I was okay and I said, ‘John, I’m okay.’
“John was a little delirious at that point in time because he kept asking if he hit me and hurt me in the ambulance. I don’t know how much he will remember of what I told him on that. On my side, I am physically fine.”
Bernstein admitted he had a mild headache, but not for Force’s safety contributions that it could have been worse.
“The only thing I had was a little bit of a headache when the car first stopped,” Bernstein said. “That was from bouncing the head back and forth in the roll cage. I want to give John and his team credit because I had a small headache and it could have been worse. My head went violent from this way (right to left) to that way.”
Bernstein said he never hit the wall and once he drove through the body carnage, while remaining straight, he confirmed that he saw Force strike the wall.
“I was in the middle of the race track and not on the right side like he was against the wall,” Bernstein said. “You can see on my car where he came across and bent the chassis. He caught from the left front tire forward. After about halfway through the chassis is where it looks like it was bent. That’s probably where he collected us.”
The accident is under review by both NHRA officials and the teams involved.
In true Force fashion, he climbed into the top four in the point standings with that round victory.
BACK FOR MORE - O’Reilly Auto Parts has agreed to a multi-year extension to be the title rights sponsor of the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex through 2010. O’Reilly Auto Parts is the only title rights sponsor the event has had this decade, stretching back to 1999, the first year of the sponsorship.
"O'Reilly Auto Parts is extremely excited to have the opportunity to continue our long-term association with NHRA and the Texas Motorplex,” said Ron Byerly, vice president of advertising and marketing for O'Reilly Auto Parts. "Our relationship with NHRA has grown significantly over the years and we welcome the opportunity to continue to enable our customers to experience the excitement of NHRA POWERade Drag Racing.”
Next year’s O’Reilly Fall Nationals is scheduled for September 18-21, 2008.
THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM – Larry Dixon admitted that his chances of winning the Top Fuel title in Dallas were slim to none.
“After qualifying, I was just hoping to get past the first round,” Dixon said. “I didn’t know what our chances were because we didn’t make any runs down the track during the day. The only time we went down the track was in the night session.”
Dixon said crew chief Donnie Bender and assistant tuner Todd Smith burned the midnight oil on Saturday trying to diagnose the problem.
“Whether he’s lying to me or not, Donnie told me that he’s found the problem,” Dixon said. “They told me to be ready for it. We had some trouble during the day but the people we raced seemed to have more than us.”
Dixon claimed the point lead with today’s triumph.
"That’s just a fringe benefit of the win,” Dixon said. “I’m looking at the spread to fifth place. To me, that’s the only thing that matters at this point. It doesn’t matter what place you are in just as long as you are in the top four headed into Vegas.”
LEAP-FROGGING - Today’s Texas Motorplex victory for Dixon represented his first since 2001. Ironically, he was third in the points headed into the event and many of the opening headlines were focused on the drivers ahead of him – Tony Schumacher and Rod Fuller.
“They can have all the headlines and the spotlights,” Dixon said. “Every race you go to, you try to win. The guys had a great set up on the car. We stayed in the left lane all day and that was nice.”
THE SAFETY FACTOR – Dixon didn’t see John Force’s horrific crash until moments before he ran the final round.
“I heard it happened and I was back in the pits,” Dixon said. “I didn’t see it until they played it [on the Motel 6 Vision Jumbotron] before the final round. I am glad that he’s alive and from that point you can fix anything. I think a lot of credit has to go to the Safety Safari, the rules package and the way these cars are built. It says a lot when you can survive an accident like that.”
Dixon said the fact Force is still alive and expected to make a full recovery says a lot about the safety drag racing demands.
“When I get in my car, I feel like I can run over a nuclear bomb and I’ll be fine,” Dixon said. “I feel safe in my car and I depend on that. I tell people that I would much rather crash at 330 MPH than in my rental car at 55 MPH. I feel safer. I have my Hahn’s device, fire safety suit and everything. You are protected.”
AN UGLY, BUT PRETTY DAY – Clay Millican’s second round victory over Brandon Bernstein had ugly written all over it. At one point, Millican almost spun out Evan Knoll’s RATT Back for More Dragster during the course of the run.
“I made a mistake from the get go. I meant to stage shallow. Because I was staged deep, it made me careful. The car left good and I thought everything was fine at that point. The car got loose at that point. I pedaled the car and it got loose. I pedaled it again and that turned the car sideways.
Millican said it was his old IHRA Top Fuel days that carried him through the victory. It was one piece of advice rendered by longtime dragster driver Jack Ostander that did the trick.
Millican was on the verge of an undefeated season ten races into the IHRA tour during the 2003 season. He only needed five more rounds when Ostrander beat him during an event in Maryland.
“Jack Ostrander said long time ago you have to give up to win,” Millican remembered.
“I let the car calm down and I got back after it. Those old veterans will always steer you right. I got a breather and just drove it from that point.”
Millican pulled off a semi-final finish on a brand new dragster with limited test runs.
“Today was just fantastic,” Millican said. “For as many things as we have done to this team this weekend and in the last month, add in the new parts and pieces we have put in coming in here with only two short test squirt, I can’t help but brag on my team. They are incredible. What we did this weekend isn’t supposed to happen.”
PRICEY GIFT – NHRA.com senior editor Rob Geiger presented Whit Bazemore an autographed copy of his new book on Darrell Russell. How did Bazemore show his gratitude?
Bazemore said he gave it away. But, it was to a good cause.
“It was a personal dedication to me and I wanted to autograph it and donate to D.R.A.W.,” Bazemore said. “When I found out how much money it made for them, it just made my day that someone would be so generous and support D.R.A.W. in that way. It shows you what the racing community is made of.”
Bazemore’s book fetched a healthy $1500 during the annual Texas Motorplex D.R.A.W. Auction.
Bazemore said he didn’t know who successfully bid on the book, but he’d like to say thank you.
“Supporting D.R.A.W. like that is tremendous,” said Bazemore. “Now I guess I will have to go buy it at Barnes & Noble and pay my $24.95.”
ROOKIE SEASON – Bazemore was mathematically eliminated from championship contention during today’s semi-finals. He can finish no lower than eighth in the championship chase.
“This season has been both challenging and difficult,” Bazemore said. “We haven’t had the results we had hoped for this year. This is a tremendous team effort and everyone is working hard for the same goal. We knew we were going to have to fight down to the wire.
“It was sudden death for us today. We needed to win every round left in this portion of the playoffs. At the same time, we needed to watch every one else in it. We needed a few people to have a bad day for us to get in there.
Bazemore is in the first of a three-year deal with David Powers Motorsports and Matco Tools.
“We are chalking this first season up to a learning experience,” Bazemore said. “We’ll look at the next two and be more aggressive.”
UPSETS ABOUND – Half of the top eight qualifiers were eliminated in the first round of eliminations.
THE BATTLE – Rod Fuller and Tony Schumacher had a score to settle in the first round of eliminations.
Fuller stopped Schumacher for the first time in 2007 with his victory.
“It’s a compliment to those guys, they’ve been the best and we wanted to go up against the best,” Fuller said. “I mean no disrespect to them. We’ve had a great team all season long and led the points. We want our lead back.”
Fuller failed to beat Dixon in the second round and that proved detrimental to his plans.
“It was a frustrating day,” Fuller said. “It was great to take out Tony but we lost our points lead as quickly as we earned it. This makes things a little dicey heading into Richmond in a few weeks. We need to be good because we could lose our place in the Countdown to One.”
CORY MAC FIRST ROUND – Cory McClenathan was .07 late coming out of the gate in the first round against Melanie Troxel and still won. He ran a 4.571 ET at 328.06 when Troxel smoked the tires at half-track.
“Something took my concentration off of the line and by the time I focused, she was well down the track. My guys did a great job with this car and I was able to pedal it and make up the ground.”
WHAT A DAY – Tony Pedregon had every reason in the world to celebrate today. He had just won his third race of the season and second at the Texas Motorplex since 1999.
Pedregon defeated his brother Cruz in an all-Pedregon final round.
Pedregon admitted it was tough celebrating after witnessing his former employer John Force suffer a devastating crash in the second round of eliminations.
“Coming into this weekend, I felt like we had a missed opportunity in Memphis,” Pedregon said. “We came in here with pressure and I knew the clock was ticking. We didn’t really qualify as well as we would have liked. It really worked out for the best because I looked at the pairings and I felt like we had a great opportunity to make a move today.”
Pedregon didn’t make a move; he made a quantum leap from third to the lead with this victory.
“I knew a lot had to happen to make it all fall in place,” Pedregon said. “It’s hard to ask the competition to cooperate but things just fell into place.”
FRONT ROW SEAT – Pedregon said he had a front row seat to Force and Kenny Bernstein’s second round accident.
“I had just beaten Tommy Johnson, Jr. and felt we had a good race coming with Force in the semis. I was looking at the monitor and watched it happen. I have to admit it threw me back to childhood when my father used to tell me and Cruz about the wrecks and the cars getting cut in half.”
Pedregon said he ran over to the accident scene to offer assistance.
“I jumped over the fence and ran to offer some kind of help. There was no cockpit. That really scared me. All I wanted to know was that he was okay. Broken bones heal. I wasn’t concerned with anything else other than whether or not he was talking and if he was swearing … well, that was even better.”
BLOCKING IT OUT – Pedregon admitted watching the accident created a severe psychological obstacle for him.
“[Crew chief] Dickie [Venables] and I talked and I knew what I had to do to get myself mentally back in the game,” Pedregon said. “Dickie really capitalized in that semi-final round.”
Pedregon said the inconsistency of the car is sending a message.
“I’m thinking it’s time for a chassis change,” Pedregon said. “I’ve never had so many consecutive runs where we make a good one and I’m fighting it. Then I drop a cylinder and it gets out of the groove and stops. I don’t know if it is this race track or this car, but we are going to take a hard look going into the next race – not that we can afford to do that.”
BROTHERLY LOVE – When Cruz Pedregon won his first round match against Gary Scelzi, it was pointed out that he had assisted his brother’s championship aspirations.
“Forget Tony, this is about all of those people that have helped my team,” Cruz said after his victory. “Tony has been carrying me. We are equal and have similar budgets and under the same umbrella.”
It wasn’t long before Cruz entered the PC [politically correct] zone.
“That’s Rahn Tobler and Dickie Venables – two best friends. That’s what happens when you bring the right people on board. You know I’ve had guys, who uh … uh … let’s just say I’m glad to have Rahn Tobler.”
THE JINX CONTINUES – The last time Tim Wilkerson qualified on the top spot, he reached the semi-finals. Today he didn’t make it out of the second round.
“A lot of top qualifiers aren’t making it far these days,” Wilkerson said. “This has been a tough year and maybe things are turning around for us.
THANK HEAVEN FOR LITTLE GIRLS – Nevermind the fact that John Force had beaten Tony Bartone soundly in the first round. He was most proud when daughter Ashley took out Ron Capps in the first round.
“You don’t want to get wound up but Austin Coil is on his game,” Force said. “Ashley is the one I’m most proud of. God gives you little girls so they can do damage to the little boys when you need them. Robert and I need lots of help.”
FALLING STOCK - Capps dropped to fifth from third in the Countdown to Four point standings after the loss to Ashley Force.
Capps said by the eighth-mile, his usually potent Funny Car wasn’t what it should have been.
"We just didn't run in the middle as hard as we wanted it to," said Capps. "These fuel cars, especially here at this track when the weather gets good and the track condition gets better, with no sun on it, have to run hard in the middle. For whatever reason we didn't do that.
"And Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) is trying to figure out why it didn't run harder in the middle clutch-wise. We're going to stay and test tomorrow. We think we may have found the problem, which could have been the reason it hasn't run good the last few races.”
Capps changed chassis earlier in the season.
"We thought it was a case of just getting used to this new chassis. We struggled in qualifying, that's a fact," added Capps, who was No. 12 qualifier. "And Ashley and Guido (Dean Antonelli, Ashley Force's crew chief) went down the track every run.”
Capps said he went into the race under the gun.
"We were sort of an underdog not having lane choice going into today, but I still expected to win,” Capps said. “I knew Ace was getting after it in the middle of the track, more than we had, and it still didn't respond.
"I saw the whole back of her car at half track. She pulled around me and, in these Dodges, when you see somebody out of the window and you see the back of their car, and that means they're way out in front.”
With Tony Pedregon's second-round victory over Tommy Johnson Jr., Beckman fell to third place in the Countdown to Four point standings.
"It's frustrating," said Beckman, who is fresh off a runner-up finish in Memphis last Sunday, which had earned him second place in the standings. "We're still leaving in the top four. I guess there's a silver lining to it, but it's frustrating. We had an opportunity to make some big moves in the points here (with No. 1 in points Robert Hight not qualifying) and to have all three Schumacher cars lose early was upsetting. With our Valvoline/MTS Dodge, it wasn't one of those runs we said, ‘OK I see what we missed on that tune-up.’ It was going along just fine and then just ripped the tires loose out there.
"We sat on the starting line for a rain delay. I don't think it had anything to do with that, but that's just one where you want to bang your head on the wall.
"The upside is we're still going into Richmond in the top four. It's going to be a real tough deal for all three of the Schumacher cars. We have to perform at Richmond now."
WINNING MACHINE – Dave Connolly may not prefer housework chores, but he has taken a liking to sweeping.
The driver of Evan Knoll’s Torco Pro Stocker claimed his fourth victory in a row and seventh of the 2007 season. Today’s victory raises his personal number to 16 with another final round victory over Greg Anderson.
"We were actually ready to do battle in our Chevy Cobalt,” Connolly said. “Greg was having some problems over in the other lane and I don't know exactly what it was but he was leaking fluid. Either way, the whole team did an excellent job getting us through the first three rounds. They did their part - we were low for the round in the first two sessions and even in the semifinals we had to outrun Jason (Line) because he strapped it on us. The driver was a little off his game today - I'm a little under the weather and I didn't leave on anybody all day.
Connolly said today’s success is easily traceable.
“It's all due to the great team we have that Victor (Cagnazzi) has put together, Tommy Utt, all the guys, they're the ones that got me up there in the finals and everything was solid on my car,” Connolly said. “The Man upstairs is looking out for us right now. Things are clicking for us. When things are going your way, it's good and we're going to ride this wave for as long as we can. Drag racing is definitely a humbling sport and you never know when it's going to change. Greg's (Anderson) not happy about this at all because he had a good car all weekend. It wasn't the way we wanted to win but we'll take it. I don't think Evan Knoll and Latrell Preston care how we got the win as long as the scoreboard light was blinking on our side.”
Connolly said this season has been a dream come true.
"This year all together has been remarkable,” Connolly said. “I've never won back-to-back races before let alone four in a row, and seven is a personal best for me in one season. But you know, two weeks in Richmond is our sponsor's race and we want to go out with a big bang there and maybe sweep this section of the Countdown. After that, it's game on again. With the Countdown to the Championship everything gets changed over again and the spread between Greg and myself will only be 10 points again. Our goal now is to keep my teammate Jeg Coughlin in the Countdown but we have to do our homework, get his Chevy Cobalt running a little bit better and we're try to do our job and win our sponsor's race in Richmond.”
SPRUNG A LEAK - During the final round burnout, Anderson’s Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTO developed an oil leak and was shut down. Meanwhile, Connolly had a free ride to the win light. Connolly covered the Texas Motorplex quarter-mile in a slow 8.553-second pass.
“It developed an oil leak apparently,” said Anderson, following the disappointing loss. “We’ll have to go back to the pit area and find the source.
“I said before you can’t make a mistake in the Countdown. When you do you’re going to lose, especially against a guy that has a hot hand like (Dave) Connolly. The only saving grace of this mistake is that we’ve already clinched a position in the final segment that runs for the championship. We’ll wipe the slate clean when we get to Vegas and start over. In those final two races of the Countdown you can’t make a mistake or it’s over.”
CLINCHED – With their final round appearances, both Connolly and Anderson clinched into the Countdown to One.
MUCH BETTER – Ron Krisher said things got pretty tough earlier in the season and had him questioning his direction. He made a change over to an engine lease program with Victor Cagnazzi and life has been great.
The only problem for Krisher is that he’s lacking for experience when the conditions are very good.
“We have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing now,” Krisher said. “The thing is we know what to do with the Cagnazzi engines until we get in the good air. We don’t have any runs in these kinds of conditions to mix gear ratios with motor power and we suffer with that.”
Krisher said his team shines when the corrected altitude hovers into the 2,500 through 3,000 foot air range.
“When we get that large of a change in the middle of a race, it throws us for a loop,” said Krisher.
Krisher said he has a test session planned between now and Richmond. He’s hoping that Mother Nature will show favor.
“We know what to do with the car, it is the ratios that get us,” Krisher said. “We’ve only got four runs in the car with this motor in air that’s 1,500 or better.
“We’ll fix it, but we just need some runs in that kind of a situation.”
Krisher said his team handles everything on the car except for the engine and tuning.
“We don’t get any information,” Krisher said. “We have to work our way through it. We’re good at that. If we could only stop getting 1,500-foot air only twice and get four runs in those conditions then we’d get the experience we need.”
HOOSIER DADDY – Max Naylor has performed incredible since changing his Dodge Stratus over to Hoosier Tires. Reportedly, at least six more drivers are said to be testing them out.
V. Gaines got a set today.
“We’re like a lot of the other teams out there in that we want to test on them to see how they compare,” Gaines said. “We want to put some laps on them and see what kinds of gear ratios they want.”
THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW - Three-time world Jeg Coughlin Jr. had a good run going until he dropped out of the narrow groove at the Texas Motorplex.
"I had to push in the clutch and surrender the run," the 50-time NHRA national event winner said. "I didn't have a choice. The car was going right and it's not like you can just muscle the car back over. If you do that here you end up on the roof. I had the wheel cocked pretty good but it wouldn't respond. Once I got out of the groove it was over."
onboard computer data shows Coughlin would have run a 6.670 had he been able to carry it through the finish line. It would have been his best elapsed time of the weekend and would have easily beaten Morgan's 6.727.
"That's drag racing," Coughlin said. "We never really got in sync this weekend but at least we were able to stay in the mix a little bit. We've got a weekend off and we're going to spend a lot of time at Valdosta, Ga., testing the wheels off this JEGS.com Chevy. We're getting down to the wire and we have a championship to try and win. There is every reason to go-for-broke at this point."
Coughlin entered this event third in the points. This is the second to last race before the next cutoff in the playoffs trims the field down to just four drivers eligible to win the 2007 title. It appears Coughlin will stay in the top four barring a miracle run by either Jason Line or Morgan.
"It's important to stay in the top four because it's always better to be ahead than behind in the points," Coughlin said. "Especially with just one race to go in the Countdown to Four. But the reality is that the next race is going to be a big ol' dogfight among five of us trying to lock up those final two spots. We'll need to be running strong if we want to move on."
PRO STOCK MOTOCYCLE
PERFECTLY SCRIPTED – Peggy Llewellyn admitted today was a usual race day for her when she started. It’s been said, it’s not how you start the race but how you finish that counts.
Today Llewellyn started as a championship hopeful. She ended as a contender.
Llewellyn validated her first final round appearance with a victory. Her success today qualified her for the Countdown to One phase of the playoffs.
“I just started off the day the same as always,” Llewellyn said. “George [Bryce] always came over to me and telling me to work on my process. He always tells me to do what I can do in my lane. That’s been it.”
“Even when I’d go to the semi-finals and do stuff here and there like not shift the bike … and I remained calm. You try not to be nervous. I know what it is like to go up there trying not to lose sight. You don’t rounds when you do that. I’m working on that.”
Llewellyn said her triumph seemed like insurmountable odds when she started.
“I thought about taking it round by round and then getting to the semi-finals – a little bit of doubt started creeping into my mind. I know what I have been doing when I get to the semi-finals. Then after that I was fine. I got nervous again and I started thinking about the process all over again.”
Llewellyn said the team kept her in the dark much of the day when it came to the point scenarios.
“They didn’t mention anything and I kept asking them,” Llewellyn said. “I guess they didn’t want me to know. That was a good one.”
Just to think, today’s victory came on a Buell and Llewellyn began this season on a Suzuki.
“I couldn’t have scripted any better,” Llewellyn said. “A year ago I was at my real estate office and do as well as we had. We had tested a Suzuki prior to the gators and then we switched over to the V-Twin and I had to learn to ride all over again. This is amazing. I have told everyone that I see to pinch me because I must be dreaming.”
THE FANTASTIC FOUR – Andrew Hines clinched his berth on Saturday. He was joined today in the final phase of the championship battle by Matt Smith and Chip Ellis.
Llewellyn had to win to claim the fourth seeding. Her victory bumped out Indy winner Craig Treble.
UNWANTED TRIVIA - Coming into Sunday’s action, Angelle Sampey knew that she had to go three rounds further than Chip Ellis to grab fourth-place in the standings, which was the last qualified position for the Countdown to One.
After beating Craig Treble to start the day, the three-time world champion then failed to slide by defending world champion Andrew Hines in round two.
“I feel horrible right now,” said Sampey. “It will be hard to accept the fact that we will not be in the title hunt the rest of the way. But, we’ll certainly keep at it the next two races with the hope we can win both.”
With her elimination from the Countdown to One, Sampey can’t finish any higher than fifth in the standings. She hasn’t finished outside the top three in points since 1997, her second season on tour.
“I’m sorry to hear that bit of trivia,” she added. “Next year, we’ll definitely have to rebound in grand style.”
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
WHEN DETERMINATION MEETS FAITH - Lynn Nickerson said being able to fill his role
as announcer this weekend was the equivalent of a drag racer crashing and coming
back to win the next race.
Nickerson said in a sense, he had crashed. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2004 and last year it returned in his renal gland and kidneys. This weekend’s event was the first for Nickerson since fending off cancer for the second time in three years.
“You go through things for a reason and I believe that God would never put more on us than we can handle,” Nickerson said. “He’s got something else for me to do.”
“I spent a lot of time in chemotherapy, made trips to the doctor and did time in the hospital,” Nickerson said. “The one thing that made it possible to survive was my love for the sport and the love returned back to me from the racing community.”
Nickerson said the outpouring of the drag racing community was unbelievable and that his cancer is now in remission.
“You wouldn’t believe all of the emails and calls I received,” Nickerson
said. “My phone always stayed so congested to the point, I couldn’t receive any
voicemails. I couldn’t answer them quick enough.”
Nickerson said last January and February were the toughest.
“I was down then,” Nickerson said. “I was honored that people thought of me and there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think about coming back.”
Nickerson said the physical strain of the illness leveled him and he admitted that he felt like giving up at times.
“The treatments aren’t easy to begin with and the mental stuff really
hammers on you hard,” Nickerson said. “We all know we aren’t going to live
forever, but we don’t know what is going to take our life. The cancer just
Nickerson said he always related cancer to those who smoked.
“There are so many forms of cancer out there that everybody needs to go and get checked whether it’s prostate, brain or lung cancer. There are so many kinds out there.”
Nickerson said his cancer began with symptoms of indigestion.
“I thought it was just something I ate,” Nickerson said. “The doctor sent me to get an upper GI. I was scoped and they found the cancer.”
Nickerson said Shelly Howard, who was killed in a testing accident in 2005, was an angel to him during his initial bout with cancer.
“I miss her a lot,” Nickerson said. “When she found out I was sick, she sought me out. She told me that she had heard about my problems with cancer and if they weren’t taking care of me in Dallas-Fort Worth, then I should come to Tulsa.”
Nickerson traveled to Tulsa where he stayed in the
hospital for two weeks.
“I spent almost three weeks at her house recuperating,” Nickerson said. “She was an incredibly caring person. She was supposed to have gone to Las Vegas to run an event but stayed home long enough to make sure I went through surgery and was okay. She was like the mom I didn’t have.”
Nickerson said just attending this weekend’s event was like winning an NHRA national event. It was a goal that he had set for himself when he got sick for the second time.
“My goal from day one was to be able to come back and announce,” Nickerson said. “The best therapy I could have gotten is being able to see the cars run this weekend.”
Nickerson said his battle with cancer has enabled him to have the courage to profess his Christian faith openly.
“I was never a religious person to start with and while I was raised in a home where my mother went to church, I went as a teenager but never committed myself,” Nickerson said. “In 1999, I met with an RFC chaplain and started to see a place for it in my life. This latest episode really opened my eyes that there’s a higher power.
“You turn your life over to him and just believe in the fact that you can make it. It’s all about the belief in God that will carry you through it. To be able to come back from this twice helps me to pass on my feeling and support of others. It allows me to effectively say that if you put your problems in God’s hands, he will carry you. That’s why I am still here.”
THE CHAMPION CROWNED - Josh Hernandez clinched the 2007 World Championship of the AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge presented by Tindle Enterprises, Inc. today. In a ceremony held prior to the first round of Pro Mod eliminations at the O'Reilly Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex, Hernandez was handed a $25,000 check along with the coveted BAE Championship Cup by BAE founder Brad Anderson.
"This is just over the top," Hernandez said. "We've had an incredible season so far, and to win this for this amazing team -- it's really all about them. Dave Wood, Tommy Lipar, Howard Moon - all of these guys. This is an amazing team, and they have worked so hard all year to earn this, they really deserve it.
"It feels great to get this award in front of such an amazing Texas-sized NHRA crowd, along with all my family and friends. I couldn't have done it without the fans and my family behind me," Hernandez said.
In just three years of Pro Mod racing, Hernandez has ascended to the top after winning the Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 and placing third last year in the BAE Championship battle. A Conroe, Texas resident, Hernandez was joined by his wife, two sons and his parents when he received the award.
He set the World ET Record at Gainesville this year at 5.912 en route to his first event win of the season, and followed up with wins at Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis and Bristol, Tenn. for a total of five wins out of six final round appearances in seven races. He holds the AMS Pro Mod record for Most Career Event Wins at 11 and is tied with Mike Ashley for the most final round appearances at 13.
SECOND HELPING – J.R. Todd used his two qualifying attempts on Saturday to prepare for race day. His 4.541 elapsed time from Friday stood long enough to reward him with his second pole position of the season and his career.
“I’m sure tomorrow is going to be a lot like today with the sun beating down the track,” Todd said. “We went down the track both times fairly decent on both runs and that’s something to be happy with.
come into a race like this, the Friday night session is so important,” Todd
said. “That’s when you are going to see the big times and speeds. Today, what
you get is just like what you see on race day.”
Todd said Brandon Bernstein’s 4.59 elapsed time will be tough to beat tomorrow.
“Brandon’s run was strong today and we’re going to have to deal with that
tomorrow,” Todd said. “I think tomorrow if we go low 4.60s and high 4.50s, that
we should be fine.”
HERBERT DNQ – Doug Herbert, whose heroics in Reading earned him the final seeding in the Top Fuel Countdown to the Championship, was the only driver in the class to DNQ.
SUNDAY’S CLASH OF THE TITANS – Tony Schumacher and Rod Fuller have a chance to settle a score during Sunday’s first round of eliminations. The one and two point earners meet for the first time since the Countdown reset the points headed into Indianapolis.
Schumacher carries a 15-point edge into his confrontation with Fuller, who held the point lead for much of the season before Schumacher took it over in Indianapolis. The two have met twice in 2007 with Schumacher winning both.
“These are the kind of first round races you can’t wait to wake up for on Sunday,” said Schumacher, who is the defending world champion. “As a result, I probably won’t sleep very much tonight. I can tell you that my U.S. Army team will be pumped up tomorrow.”
Schumacher’s 13th-place effort at the Texas Motorplex marks his worst qualifying performance since his 14th-place standing at Norwalk, Ohio in early July. On race day, he went on to beat Fuller in the finals.
“I always talk about suck-it-up moments in this sport,” Schumacher said. “Hopefully, this will be one to put on our list.”
“We feel comfortable going into eliminations,” Fuller said. “Sunday is like
going into a final round. If you’re a fan, you can’t ask for more than to watch
the two top guys go after it. It’s like Indy, we can race someone in the
Countdown at each round and I like to being able to control our own destiny.”
STELLAR DAY – Tim Wilkerson wasn’t spectacular in Saturday qualifying but he didn’t need to be. The Springfield, Illinois driver remained atop the field for the second day to claim his second top qualifying effort of the season and tenth of his career.
Wilkerson spent much of his day chasing mechanical problems.
“Both runs today, we lost a blower belt,” Wilkerson said. “Even when I went a 4.91, we lost one. I don’t know if we are doing something wrong or if we have a pulley or alignment issue. We need to check that out because we have a good car.”
Wilkerson said his incremental times on the last run predicted a 4.88 elapsed time.
"I’m pretty optimistic and if the weather stays like
this, we have a good chance of going the distance and winning the race,”
Wilkerson said. “That’s what we need to do and that’s why we are here.”
REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY – Wilkerson took notice of John Force’s frustration when one of his three cars failed to make the show.
“I was at the end when ESPN2 was interviewing [John] Force and he was pretty upset,” Wilkerson said. “He has the best cars in the class and one didn’t qualify. That’s the issue. It’s hard to make a fast car slow.
“I truly believe that was all they were running into this weekend. Everyone knows [Hight crew chief] Jimmy Prock is out there to be No. 1 and he does a great job of that 99% of that time.”
Wilkerson said it’s obvious he’s on the other end of the aggressive spectrum most of the times when compared to the higher financed teams like Force’s. He said being conservative can sometimes be as detrimental as overly aggressive.
“We run more conservative than most of the teams,” Wilkerson said. “We got caught in that little trick bag last week in Memphis. We did that on the Friday night run because we felt the track was good, but not great. We thought we ought to get our butts in the show and not try and be aggressive. That hurt me because I lost a hole when I hit the gas. I came here and told the guys that wasn’t happening. I’ll smoke the tires before that will happen.”
Wilkerson has DNQ’d four times since his previous low
qualifying effort in Bristol. In Bristol, Wilkerson reached the semi-finals
during final eliminations.
HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD – Jack Beckman, who has won twice in 2007, is licking his chops in anticipation of Sunday’s eliminations.
“It's like they let us write our own script,” Beckman
said. “We do control our destiny to a large extent. We have Tony Pedregon (No. 5
in points) first round tomorrow. By no means a walk-over. It's going to be a
tough race. If we can get past him that's huge, because now we actually start
blocking for ourselves.”
With Robert Hight’s failure to make the 16-car field, Beckman has a chance to do something he’s sought after since Pomona.
"We actually have a chance to leave in first and that's pretty exciting,” Beckman said. “We're not going to get ahead of ourselves, but I would have never bet that Robert Hight was not going to qualify again this year." This is Hight's second DNQ in 2007.
"It just goes to show how incredibly wide open this whole Countdown deal is," added Beckman.
unbelievably competitive here, but it's going to be fun tomorrow. I can't wait.
This is our last chance and our best chance to stick the Valvoline
THE NEFF WATCH - Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com has confirmed that Mike Neff will test at Virginia Motorsports Park as he prepares for his Funny Car debut as a driver. He will also put the highly-anticipated Ford nitromethane engine through its initial paces during the test.
This news comes directly from John Force, who had originally planned to begin testing in Memphis. Delays pushed the initial test session back until this week. Force said he doesn’t handle the day to day human resources responsibilities but is certain that a crew is already in place for the Richmond test.
“My team does the hiring and firing,”
Force said. “We have some people that we don’t get until next year. We’ll go
into Richmond and test. I have no doubt that Mike Neff will fall right in place.
Force said he has equal anticipation of making runs with the new Ford nitromethane engine.
FORD NITRO ENGINE NEARING COMPLETION - “We are going to run the Ford engine and unveil it at SEMA,” Force revealed. “We haven’t tested it yet but we know ahead of time that it is going to require testing. It is going to take some time to develop. We’re happy and so is Ford. The proof is in the pudding.”
“I don’t have a dragster yet, so we’re going to run
it in the Funny Car.”
Force said the Ford engine will start off in the Funny Car in testing before evolving into the Top Fuel dragster teams planned for daughters Brittany and Courtney.
“I have to have something in the Funny Cars that represents Ford,” Force said.
This new engine is reportedly based on the TFX design prevalent in today’s nitro community. Current NHRA rules disallow the production of new block designs outside of those already manufactured by Brad Anderson and Alan Johnson’s TFX.
Force said he didn’t know what the differences were between the Ford engine once proposed by Pat Austin and the new Ford design.
“We know the Austin family and they are brilliant people,” Force said. “I don’t have any information on what their combination was. This is an NHRA spec motor and we have to follow within the rules. That’s what we are doing – abiding within the rules.”
Force said that he’s excited that Neff will make the initial runs with the new combination. He said the physical driving part in Richmond for Neff will be a formality.
“Mike has already driven this race car many times in his head,” Force said. “He already knows the swing of things. He works well with the sponsors; already signs autographs and knows the drill.”
“He stood on
the starting line for many years and let me tell you something, you don’t
realize just how much you learn doing that. You can feel the driver. Yeah, you
have to be in the car but he’s been in one before. He’ll do well.”
THE NIGHT BEFORE – Robert Hight said it was tough sleeping on Friday night after missing the field after two sessions. That might not change tonight.
Hight tried his best to put a positive spin on today’s DNQ performance.
“We’re not going to get down from this. We’re going to work hard. We’re here for AAA of Texas (and) their name’s still gonna be out there tomorrow on these other two Ford Mustangs of John and Ashley (Force). Hopefully, they can take out some of those guys in the Top 4, get John into the Top 4 and maybe I’ll leave here in the Top 4. But, you know what? We’re gonna go to Richmond (for the Oct. 7 TORCO Racing Fuels Nationals) and try to do everything we can to win that race.”
Hight said this weekend isn’t the end of the world for his team, but faring well here this weekend would have taken a lot of pressure off his shoulders heading in Richmond.
“You never know what the next
race is going to be like and that’s why our goal is to win this weekend,” Hight
said, before failing to qualify. “I don’t want to go into Richmond on the
flip-side of that.”
MAN WITH THE PLAN – Ron Capps had a foolproof plan headed into the next-to-last stop on the second phase of the Countdown to the Championship.
"Before this weekend I sat down with the Brut Dodge guys and we were joking. I said, let’s do something different. Let's approach this weekend as if we didn't make the Countdown. And let's show up as if we have nothing to lose and try to win this race, and not worry about the Countdown.
"It did help me; it helped clear my head a little bit from counting
these points. And now that qualifying is over, you're back to looking at who's
doing what, and Robert is not in, and that is not what we expected.
"The first thing you look at is who's matched up - who are in the Countdown and could be racing each other. And it turns out that the guy right in front of us in points (teammate Jack Beckman) and the guy behind us in fifth in points are matched up first round. That's a good thing and a bad thing. It's a good thing because it's our teammate and we want him to win it. That means also that somebody else that is around us in points won't go past that round.
"And you get right back to start counting the points. It's a product of the
Countdown and it's exciting."
SILENCE IS GOLDEN – Jerry Toliver shouldn’t have opened his mouth last weekend in Memphis.
"I need to retract something I said last week," Toliver said, "about getting the Funny Car qualifying figured out. I never should've said it because we almost paid the price this week. But we did qualify and we get to race Sunday."
Toliver is 16th headed into Sunday.
HAPPY, HAPPY, JOY, JOY – It’s hard to say which was happier after today’s qualifying, the driver or the car. Greg Anderson equaled his Friday effort during Saturday’s final session with a 6.668 elapsed time.
"That last run really helped to build our confidence," said Anderson. "That was a good one. That's a run we haven't seen for a long time out of this team. I knew we could do it but we haven't been showing it lately. That's what it's going to take right there to get around that cat that's leading this deal right now, Dave Connolly, and it's going to take four of them tomorrow. It's not going to be easy but we're going to have to find a way to do it. I'm very happy with that run, very pleased with it, still have to do some work with Jason's car, and we won't be celebrating tonight. We have a lot of work to do, but the good thing is, we need to learn from that one car. We know w hat we can do with my car so we have to do it with Jason's car. We have to make the right changes to have a good one-two punch. I need somebody to help me in this chase, maybe knock off Dave Connolly if they can, but nobody's been able to do it including me."
For Anderson, it was his 62nd career raceday pole, his third straight at the NHRA Fall Nationals and his fourth overall at this event (2003, 2005-07) Anderson has won this race twice (2003, 2005) and is currently in second place in the POWERade Pro Stock standings.
"We have a happy hot rod so far
this weekend," said Anderson. "We have to hope we don't have a big swing in
weather or track conditions because it seems that this Pontiac GTO likes it just
as it is. There's a long way to go though. You have four tough rounds if you
hope to race Dave Connolly in the finals and we know what he's been doing
lately. I can't worry about him now. I have to find a way to get to that final
round and that's four tough rounds ahead of me. I'm very happy; I need to win
one for the guys at Summit and Pontiac. It's been awhile and I owe it to them.
My GTO's flying right now. I feel great, I have confidence but it's tough
beating the confidence Dave (Connolly) has right now.
"It's been a long time since we made a run like we did in that final session," said Anderson. "Those are the runs that really get your blood flowing, get your confidence up, and that's what we need. Dave has made quite a few of those runs lately and he has that confidence. Maybe that will be just what we need. Hopefully we can continue on to tomorrow. My GTO hasn't been happier in long, long time. It feels great to drive. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I need a win. I need a win bad and I think I have a hot rod that can do it."
Thus far in 2007, through 19 races, Anderson has put the Summit Racing
Equipment Pontiac in the winner’s circle seven times in ten final rounds and has
advanced to the final round in four of the last five races.
Anderson has won twice at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, near Dallas. In 2003 he won over Jeg Coughlin and 2005 over teammate Jason Line. He has earned the No. 1 spot for the last three consecutive years (2005-2007) and now has four No. 1s at the Motorplex. The other came in 2003.
REBOUND – Jeg Coughlin rebounded on Saturday after a less-than-spectacular Friday. He was unqualified after the first two sessions.
"I can breathe," team owner Victor Cagnazzi said after Coughlin's impressive 6.699 at 206.13 mph placed his yellow and black car ninth in the 16-car field. "What a relief."
Coughlin was in serious jeopardy of losing his top-three position if he failed to qualify.
"The pressure was on but that's when this JEGS.com team always seems
to shine," Coughlin said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't sweating it out a
little before we made that pass but I can also tell you that I have supreme
confidence in my team."
GETTING ACCLIMATED – Richie Stevens was prepared for the warm conditions Saturday presented.
"We went and tested the other day on a hot track at North Star Dragway in Denton, Texas, just 30 miles north of Dallas," said Stevens. "That's what we needed and we got a good setup for it. The Team Mopar/Valspar Dodge seems to be working a lot better. The clutch graphs look good every run in low gear and that's where we had most of the problems this year.
"North Star Raceway is a nice place. The people
are really nice and treated us good and we learned a lot the other day. It looks
like it carried over and it's definitely helped Mark out with the setup of the
cars and it's showing on the track."
PRO STOCK MOTOCYCLE
EASY RIDER – Chip Ellis did a great impersonation of a robot during the second day of qualifying – a terminator robot.
“The guys had my bike making good power, the track was hooking real good and that made it easy for me just to ride on down through there,” Ellis said.
Ellis said he wants to take Sunday’s eliminations one round at a time.
“Winning the race is important for us but I don’t know of anyone that’s ever won out here without winning first round,” Ellis said. “That’s my attitude. I’m not going out there just to let it happen. I’m going out there to have fun – chill out and ride like I normally do. I’ll let the media talk all about that points stuff, I just want to ride.
“I wanted to qualify number one, go out there and
ride the best I can. That will take care of win-lights alone.”
Ellis heaped praise on his team for their performance today.
“That guy is
doing an awesome job on the fuel and we are getting an awesome clutch program
from George Bryce. It’s a complete team effort from George Smith, George Bryce,
Ken Johnson, my Dad and the whole team. It’s up to them to make the horsepower
and it’s up to me to ride it to the finish line.”
CLINCHED – Andrew Hines became the first to clinch a position in the final phase of the Countdown to the Championship.
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - LIVING IT UP (FRIDAY NIGHT), TODD’S TOP GUN, GOT WILK?
Never has a Friday night qualifying session meant so much.
With the new Countdown to the Championship format in place, miss the combination this weekend and your chances for a title could be out the window.
This weekend’s event represents the next to last point earning opportunity for drivers in Top Fuel through Pro Stock car as eight drivers in each division vie for the four spots eligible to continue to contend for their respective titles. Pro Stock Motorcycle ends on Sunday.
John Force won’t admit it if asked, but Friday night, was weighing heavy on his mind.
Friday’s night session meant everything to him. It had the potential to send him into Richmond as a 14-time champion or a driver with the opportunity for an unprecedented 15th title.
“I don’t think any run makes or breaks a season, but we have to get in the show,” Force said. “If we don’t, then we can’t run for the countdown. It will be too late to catch up when we get to Richmond. We have to make our move here. We’re going to go out there and lay down a number.”
Force got in the field and placed an exclamation point by his name. His 4.801 elapsed time at 321.35 MPH lap landed him in third in the session. That’s a run capable of remaining untouched during Saturday’s hotter conditions.
Force said he didn’t turn up the wick. He said he just went up there with what he felt the track would take.
“We do what we have to do based on the numbers we have,” said Force. “If you want to jack it up mentally, then you are not running it the way you need to. We don’t make last ditch efforts and this is not the Hail Mary of football in drag racing. We always take her out there and try to go from A to B, and if we don’t there’s always tomorrow.”
Force said not making a good run during Friday’s advantageous night session would have been a setback but not the end of the world.
“What bothers me is not having Eric Medlen here,” Force said. “That bothers me. Otherwise life is good. You have to earn the right to be in the Countdown and if I don’t then I don’t. I’m sure trying. I just ask the good Lord to make my hot rod and my daughter’s and Robert Hight to do the same.”
Force wasn’t the only one banking on a strong Friday night.
Mike Ashley wanted to get in strong on Saturday because he planned to sit out Saturday’s activities in observance of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Ashley, who DNQ’d in Memphis, ended up in the reasonably safe 10th seeding.
Funny Car has proven the toughest of the Countdown divisions for qualifying. Three of the four cars outside of the top four have failed to qualify once.
Tony Pedregon is the only one in the group with an unblemished qualifying record.
Robert Hight, the current point leader, is unqualified after the first day.
TELLING IT LIKE IT IS – J.R. Todd can’t help it, it was a trait instilled in his younger years. He just has to tell it like it is.
Friday’s 4.541 elapsed time was enough to put him atop the field following the first round qualifying program for the second time this season.
“It should have happened a while back but we just had a lot of stupid stuff going on,” Todd said. “We finally found the problems in Memphis testing.”
If Todd hopes to have a remote chance of competing for the 2007 championship, the time is now to move forward.
“This is the race,” Todd said. “Last week was the race but we failed to capitalize. It is what it is and our work is cut out for us.”
Todd said the recent run of inconsistency has been tough on crew chief Kevin Poynter.
“He’s been down in the dumps, along with the crew lately because of the bad things going on,” Todd said. “When you go out there and make a run like we did tonight. That’s a morale booster.”
NOT SURE YET – Todd said he’s still not sure of his plans for 2008.
“As far as I know I plan to be racing and not pan-handling,” Todd said. “I’m hoping to have some answers after Richmond. I have some meetings there. I’m tired of the sleepless nights.”
Morgan Lucas’ name keeps surfacing as a potential employer.
“That’s one of my good friends and it would be fun to race with him,” Todd said. “I will say that he’s one of my top options out there.”
NOT IN THE AIR TONIGHT – Tony Schumacher has become so accustomed to running quick during the Friday evening session that it’s become expected of his dragsters. This night the unexpected occurred.
“That’s definitely not characteristic of this car in the nighttime,” he said. “Typically, we put up some stout numbers. For some reason, the car just moved out of the groove and the tires went up. It’s disappointing, but at least we’re in the show and we can now concentrate on a race day set up tomorrow.”
Schumacher’s worst starting spot of the year thus far came at Norwalk, Ohio nine races ago. He came out of the 14th hole and went on to win the event.
“You can win from anywhere in the order,” he said. “That’s been proven time and time again. I’m not worried at all. I have the best team in the business.”
ON THE OUTSIDE – Doug Herbert is the only Countdown to the Championship driver unqualified heading into Saturday’s qualifying.
NOT HAPPY WITH STATUS QUO – Bob Vandergriff said he’s happy his UPS-sponsored team made the first cut in the playoffs. But, he said he wouldn’t mind more.
“I think it is a great accomplishment for our team just to be here and now that we are, we need to capitalize on it,” Vandergriff said. “We have two races left and we need to do that. We stumbled a little bit. Indy we ran well and were victimized by a bad lane. I think we had a great car there. We have a good car this weekend.
Vandergriff is currently three rounds out of the top four. That is a deficit he said that can be overcome.
“We can’t let anyone get four rounds out on us,” Vandergriff said. “If we make it to the final round then we won’t have to worry about someone bumping us out. It’s the same thing in Richmond. We have to control our destiny.”
MORALE BOOSTER – There’s something about winning that can change the outlook of a team. Melanie Troxel and her Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA team are still on Cloud Nine after winning Memphis last weekend.
“It’s easy to say when you have one good weekend that it should turn your year around,” said Troxel, who is fresh off her victory in Memphis last weekend. “I can honestly say, I see a change in the crew chiefs, showing an entirely different attitude and you can see that enthusiasm in the crew as well. I’m the same way and the whole crew is coming together and we’re getting a lot more confident. The performance is a result of that positive thinking. There’s so much to this and it has to do with the chemistry of the team – not whether you like each other, but having that right attitude to go out and win and make it happen when it all comes together.
“We’ve known for a while that we were coming around as a team. We’re on a roll right now and definitely improving. We’re very happy with the way the car is running and as a driver, it’s incredibly easy to drive, which makes it nice. We’ve been down the track on both passes and one of those was in the heat (4.589 seconds). To me, that’s a very impressive pass. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow, again in the heat and that’s a big deal, so we can be ready for race day.”
LESSON LEARNED – Morgan Lucas has learned a valuable lesson this season. No one is above having a disastrous season.
“This year has been lesson that anyone with any budget can have a year like we did. I thought we had a bad year last year. But I have learned what a bad year is. We were hurting parts on every run and blowing the heads off of the car. Now I have come to realize what a bad year really is. The people who are true friends have really showed themselves this year. It has been an up and down year, but now it is a little more fun. We are just going to keep our heads in it and try to win a race this year.”
“Maybe this will be good for next year since they are giving us 90% back and a couple of other things. We are going to get geared up for that. This winter we plan to test as much as possible.”
Lucas isn’t a player in this season’s playoffs but that doesn’t diminish his respect of the new format.
“You’re in Hot Rod’s position and you lead the points all year long and you get that lead taken away from you and I can feel that being a heart breaker. You have to look at the other people that got a chance to get in there like Herbert; he’s only a few rounds out of the top four. That’s cool to see the guys who didn’t shine when they should have and shining when they have to. The playoff format we have now will be good for the future of the sport.”
Next year will be Lucas’ first time racing under the 90% nitromethane rule. His first race as a Top Fuel driver was during the initial implementation of the 85% limit.
“I think those that figure the 90% are going to see a definite cost decrease,” Lucas said. “I think in the beginning we will stick with 85% and work our way. We will use the 90% as a tuning tool.”
Lucas said he isn’t sure the nitro is where the NHRA needed to make the adjustment. He said there’s a list of places that need revamping.
“I think that NHRA needs to work on making these tires better,” said Lucas. “If they want good side-by-side competitive racing, that’s what they need to do. The Friday night qualifying is something we need to look at. They might even need some personnel changes up top. I just know this sport has a lot of potential. I think when you keep looking away from a problem; you are letting it turn into an infection. Realistically, I think the 90% is going to add another variable. It will bring consistency to some and to others it will create more breakage.
“When it gets to the point you are paying $5,000 an oildown, it will make you consider whether you want to do this or not if you are an underfunded team.”
GOT WILK? – Nobody gets the best of the high-financed teams better than the low-buck racer from Springfield, Illinois.
That’s exactly what Tim Wilkerson did during Friday’s evening session. With his 4.787 elapsed time he’s in prime position to gain his 10th career No. 1 qualifying spot and second this season. He earned low qualifying honors earlier this summer in July at Bristol (Tenn.).
"After last weekend with our classic drama," said Wilkerson, "we were down to the last run and I wasn't in the show - we had an electrical problem we couldn't find. We had it in Indy too. We got to Memphis with the same performance we had in Indy and it was driving me crazy. I think we figured out what was wrong because obviously the LRS Chevy Impala is running right again. It was good the first run today too. It just got down there and spun the tire a little bit and put a hole out.
"We're trying our best. We really have nothing to lose. We're trying to learn how to run our car better and if we can ruin somebody's day, more power to us."
Wilkerson is not in the chase, so the points are meaningless. But, the money means everything.
“There’s no pressure on points but we need the money for qualifying,” said Wilkerson. “This is how the crew gets paid.”
Wilkerson said his team is learning to make the most of the opportunities afforded them.
“We like to think we know what we are doing from time to time,” Wilkerson said. “The situations and conditions change and get me from time to time. I just don’t have enough savvy to do that. If the conditions stay the same all weekend and I get on my horse and hit it, we can do well.
“This is way too hard work to get beat in the first round.”
HONORING THE MAN – There are two things the impressionable youth in Dallas, Texas, were taught to hold in high reverence during the 1970s – the Dallas Cowboys and Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max.
Thursday evening, former Blue Max wrench “Waterbed” Fred Miller organized a get-together at Campisi’s Restaurant in Dallas to honor a driver that was a pioneer in the marketing of the Funny car class.
“This gathering started out as a small deal and quickly got big because people started inviting others,” Miller said.
Miller said the roll call quickly turned into a “whos who” of drag racing legends with Harry Schmidt, Don Prudhomme, Dale Emery, Ed McCulloch, Ed Pink and Paul Candies.
“There were guys there that I hadn’t seen in 25 years,” said Miller. “We had about 50 people with us and it turned out fun.”
Miller said he still relives the glory days of racing with Beadle. He’s still amazed at what the former three-time Funny Car champion pioneered.
“Between Raymond and Harry Schmidt, their Blue Max theme turned into an almost cult following,” Miller said. “They started something that has carried on in drag racing. The people around back then understood it but the people today don’t. We do a lot of the stuff the drag racing teams do today over thirty years ago. It was a good time to be there and run against Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen and Jungle Jim Liberman.”
Nothing brings out the legends of drag racing more than a reunion.
“They started coming out of the woodwork when they heard what was going on,” Miller said. “It was all good guys that raced back in those days and paid their dues. It was fun. You only go around once and we are at that age, we don’t know who might make it back for next year.
“My son asked me if we were going to get rowdy and I answered that most of us will probably be in bed by 9 PM.”
Miller said the gathering did the usually unemotional Beadle a world of good.
“It’s hard to get him excited. He and I had talked over the last few weeks. He was excited and it’s hard to tell if he was excited, but you could tell with this.”
NOT IN – Robert Hight is the only Funny Car driver in the playoffs unqualified headed into Sunday’s final qualifying session.
PREPARING – Kenny Bernstein is sixth after the first day of qualifying. In the grand scheme of things, Bernstein’s provisional has no bearing on this year’s championship race, but it does for 2007.
Bernstein’s not racing for points this weekend, at least not this season’s. The former multi-time champion is working towards becoming a better point gatherer in 2008.
“I guess in essence you are preparing for next year’s championship,” Bernstein said. “We are still trying to do two things. We want to win races this year and getting ready for next year with all areas that are necessary.
“The bottom line is giving Jimmy Walsh more runs that we possibly can give him to learn more on his end what a Funny Car is asking for. That’s what we are really doing.”
Bernstein said with each race that Walsh gets a better understanding of his Funny Car.
“It’s nice to have Jimmy over here because he works hard,” Bernstein said. “He’s learning this Funny car thing quick for the time he’s been able to do it. We are a pretty decent team and at times, we can really be good. I enjoy having him around because he is a sweetheart of a person. He’s a hard working and has the ability to figure it out. We just have to give him the time and runs to be able to do that.
NOT HAPPENING – Bernstein said he’s heard the rumors of an expansion or a possible part-time schedule. He’s committed to a full effort in 2008.
“At this time, we have no desire to add a second car to this stable. The J.R. Todd thing was simply that he asked me if I was interested if it were him. I said yes because I will listen to anything. There’s not another team coming from this direction that I can speak of at this time. I don’t even have anything on the horizon.”
ONCE UPON A TIME – Once upon a time, Greg Anderson ruled the Pro Stock with an iron fist. Those were the good old days.
“Right now, they are racing mistake free and that’s what we are going to have to do if we hope to win this championship,” Anderson said. “I do want to win it and obviously they do to. But you can’t rule out the rest of the competition out here. There are a couple out there that can run strong and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of them step up and run with Dave or myself.
“It’s not just a race between Dave and me. It is still wide open. It really doesn’t matter who we match up against, we have to be perfect from this point on.”
The competition is what inspires Anderson.
“This is a lot of fun and it gets the blood to flowing,” Anderson said. “When it really gets tough out there and those stakes get high, that’s when we function at our best. That’s a good thing. Obviously something clicks in and you always pull out a little better than you thought you could.
“I’m having a ball. This Pontiac GTO is fantastic and that’s what it is going to take to get around that Chevrolet of Dave’s”
GUNNING FOR THE TOP, AGAIN – Point leader Dave Connolly made the most of the night run, coming in with a 6.668-second time at 205.72 mph and Anderson followed with a the same e.t., 6.668 seconds, but his speed of 206.92 mph gave him the provisional No. 1 top spot. Two more qualifying runs are slated Saturday.
"We made nice looking runs," said Connolly, driver of Evan Knoll's Torco Racing Fuels Chevy Cobalt for Victor Cagnazzi Racing. He'd run 6.730 seconds in the opening run. Elapsed times dropped dramatically with the cooler night temperatures.
"Weather conditions will be the same Saturday (hot and humid) and we should be able to stay in the top few cars."
NO SUGARCOATING - Jeg Coughlin, Jr. is the only driver in the top eight unqualified.
"It doesn't look good right now, let's not sugarcoat anything," Coughlin said. "Certainly it would be better to be at the top of the sheets in a comfortable position but that's not reality. What's encouraging to me is that as bad as it looks on the surface, what's right under the sheets is really, really good.
"Saturday's first session will be critical for us. It probably won't be as good as tonight's session was but it should still be good enough for us to get in the show. We've got a lot of work to do but this team is made up of champions and they will rise to the occasion; I'm certain of that."
Coughlin entered this weekend's race third in the points. He needs to be in the top four after the next national event in Richmond, Va., to advance to the final round of the 2007 playoffs, the Countdown to One, which will be a two-race sprint to the finish that will decide the champion.
"We've been our own worst enemy," Coughlin said. "There's an onboard computer that follows 50 different channels of information and there are probably five critical ones that we tune the cars with. It tells you what it's not happy about and then you go min there and fix it. We're very close to where we need to be.
"Today's runs were lost in the first 3-400 feet and that's normally where we're our strongest. I guess that's why I'm not too stressed out because we know how to fix this car. We know what it wants. I've been in higher-stress deals than this. We'll be fine."
GREMLINS 101 – Greg Stanfield said it became apparent after his third DNQ in 2007 that drastic changes were needed.
The crew went over their Pontiac from one end to the other and later discovered a wiring problem as the culprit for inconsistency.
“We had some really bad wiring problems,” Team owner Bart Price said. “The wires were touching through the frame rails. Now we have to go back to square one where the wiring was shorting out all of the time and it was making our car act totally different than it is now.
“We have different ratios, different transmissions and stuff to run different in the car. We just have to learn to rerun the car.”
Stanfield said that chasing a problem in a race car can test the resolve of even the most seasoned veteran.
“These things can drive you crazy,” Stanfield said. “You immediately start thinking it is the engine or it’s something else. We eventually narrowed down the source of the problem.”
Price said he felt the electrical problem has been an ongoing issue since the car was built.
“It was periodical,” Price said. “It wasn’t happening all of the time. I really think now that it got progressively worse as the season moved on. We really fought the problem for the last eight races.”
Price said the car has been rewired since Memphis. The game plan has been revised.
“That’s forcing us to go to a different ratio package,” Price said. “It’s totally different from the way we ran it last year to this year.”
Stanfield opened the season with a runner-up to Greg Anderson in Pomona back in February. It has been a struggle ever since.
“It will kill your confidence,” Stanfield said. “You start second-guessing yourself as to whether you are good enough to do this. I felt really good when we started the season, even though I knew it was going to be long and the teams we were up against with their large budgets and extra manpower. When we have time off then we can get our stuff together and get things prepared right. It just doesn’t last long.”
KORETSKY’S RETURN – Kenny Koretsky returned to racing in 2006 following his horrific crash with Bruce Allen in 2005, but the Texas Motorplex wasn’t on his limited schedule.
The memory of the qualifying accident was just too much for Koretsky.
“I’ve tried to blank everything out of my mind,” Koretsky said. “I thought about it a few times and questioned why I was out here and doing this. I felt like I had to do this and I knew I needed to return full time.
“On these Friday night sessions, and in particular tonight, if it doesn’t feel right, I won’t run.”
Koretsky said he isn’t sure that he’s got something similar to Post Traumatic Syndrome, but he still suffers from flashbacks of the accident.
“I think there’s something going on,” Koretsky said. “I keep wondering why myself and Bruce Allen escaped without any more problems than we did. There’s no question that I believe someone was looking for us.”
“Everyone that knows me, knows that I’ve always enjoyed life,” Koretsky said. “Now I have taken that to the next level. I understand now that anything can happen. It puts things in perspective. I think I am safer today driving in the race car than I am traveling down I-95. These cars are safe. Rick Jones, Jerry Haas and Jerry Bickel all build great race cars.
“It’s a matter of keeping all of the right safety equipment on. As long as the sport stays committed to safety, I will continue to do this.”
YEAH, MAN – Nothing warms the heart of a driver and crew chief more than an errant race car straightened out.
There were smiles around after each of Justin Humphreys' two Friday qualifying runs in the opening round of the O'Reilly Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex.
While the first run of 6.741 seconds was a relief, his best effort -- in good conditions -- was 6.692 at 205.94 mph and left the RaceRedi Motorsports/Knoll-Gas Energy Pontiac fifth going into Saturday's final two qualifying runs.
"That was just what we needed," said Humphreys. "We had that good first run and we were able to step it up on the last one."
Team consultant Bob Glidden worked on different parts of the car Sunday after not qualifying at Memphis last week and they tested Monday. "We finally have that car going straight down the track," Glidden said.
PRO STOCK MOTOCYCLE
ENTERTAINING – Andrew Hines had an interesting ride all the way to the top of the qualifying list.
“I was hanging off the side of the bike,” said Hines. “In third gear I gave it a hard move and kept it in the left tire groove. It probably scrubbed off 2-3 hundredths. It is going pretty good for us at this time of the year. We always do well at the end of the season. We just have a problem at Pomona.”
Credit a tuning decision for the determining factor from also ran to top qualifier.
”We made a big tuning call between the first and second sessions,” Hines said. “It woke the bike up. Matt and my dad had different ideas and they met in the middle.”
This weekend presents the final opportunity for the Pro Stock Motorcycles to earn points before the final phase starting in Las Vegas.
”The points are going to be crucial going into Vegas,” said Hines. “We’ve got to get it done. We are making the right calls right now.”
IT’S BEEN A WHILE – This season marks Steve Johnson’s 20th year in organized professional drag racing. Johnson started as a curious teenager and that has yielded a successful career.
“I raced all kinds of bikes in my early years from street to dirt bikes,” Johnson said. “When you’re 15 ½ in California, you can get a motorcycle rider’s license. You race on the street and cars pull out in front of you and then you get sent to the drag strip, you see Terry Vance and from that point on – you are hook, line and sinker.”
How bad did Johnson have it?
“I put my first bike in a crate and flew it to Englishtown,” Johnson said. “I had it flow air freight and raced out of a crate. Everybody else had Chaparral trailers. I had a lot of extension cords and Snap-on Tools back then.
“And, I had a lot of heart.”
Johnson exceeded his 200th start at the beginning of the season.
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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - HONORING THE PRINCIPLES
Priorities are a vital concept in life and NHRA POWERade Funny Car driver Mike Ashley isn’t afraid to keep his in check.
In the midst of a tight Countdown to the Championship battle and coming off of a disappointing DNQ in Memphis, the Torco Race Fuels-sponsored Ashley has chosen to stick to his principles this weekend.
Ashley will not race on Saturday in observance of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. He will spend Saturday in prayer at a local Temple.
"Racing is not the only thing in life, and definitely
not the most important in the big picture. I take what I do on the racetrack
very seriously, but I take life even more seriously." Ashley said.
Ashley said maintaining his priorities are what make him the person he is today.
"I have to live what I say I believe, and for me, my faith in God and being an example and leader in my family takes priority,” said Ashley. “I know Evan [Knoll, owner of Torco Racing Fuels and Ashley's title sponsor] and my other sponsors understand, the team is with me, and I'm confident we'll perform well so it won't be an issue," he said.
Ashley's crew chief,
Brian Corradi, said he supports Ashley completely.
"I definitely admire his commitment to what he believes," Corradi said. "Mike has really helped me; personally, with the way I think and approach life, and his not racing on Saturday is just another example that he lives what he preaches.
"It makes our job on Friday that much more important, getting the car qualified and staying in the hunt for the top four, but, I'm with Mike - we can get it done on Friday," he said.
Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish faith, also known as the Day of Atonement, is always celebrated on the tenth day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the lunar calendar Jews have been following for more than 5700 years. The date is dictated in the Torah, Leviticus 23:27, which states: "... the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self denial...."
Traditionally, self-denial includes strict fasting and
prayer, and many take advantage of Yom Kippur to offer forgiveness or to seek
forgiveness for sins against another person. For Ashley, if self-denial means a
POWERade Championship, so be it, but the three time-event winner plans to make
it a non-issue.
Ashley said he is hoping to avoid putting any more pressure on his team, but knows the big picture for his actions.
"We're not going to force anything at all - we're just going to keep on our game plan and continue to run hard all the time," Ashley said.
Ashley was runner-up at Dallas last year in his first-ever Funny Car final appearance, going down in a well-fought battle to Robert Hight. Ashley was the Friday night provisional No. 1 qualifier last year with a 4.799/314.53 that he recorded in the night session, ending up qualified No. 3, and is confident his Torco Dodge will make the show this year with similar results.
After failing to qualify last week in Memphis, Ashley dropped from a comfortable second place in the points to sixth - two spots out of the top four who will advance to the who will advance to the Countdown to One POWERade Championship. Ashley’s decision to honor his religion forces his team to assure his qualifying position this weekend in just two attempts on Friday, Sept. 21.
Four Funny Car drivers - Ashley, Tony Pedregon, Ron Capps and Gary Scelzi - are separated by just twelve points, and are all less than two round-wins out of second place held currently by Memphis runner-up Jack Beckman, with each of the five men competing for three of the top four who will advance towards the championship. Even points leader Robert Hight, who is only 89 points ahead of Ashley, is statistically within reach given the right circumstances. Each round win is worth 20 points, and, with only two events remaining before the next round begins, every point is critical for those who hope to compete for the crown. To not qualify for this event or to be eliminated early would mean almost certain elimination from championship contention.
Ashley joins a star-studded list of Jewish athletes who refused to compete on Shabbat Shabbaton - the High Holy Day, including baseball Hall of Famer, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax and Detroit Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg, and more recently Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green and possibly even the front-runner for this year's MLB Rookie of the Year, Milwaukee Brewers' slugging third baseman Ryan Braun. Braun has yet to announce his decision as to whether he will play this Saturday. It's a conflict between a profession and a personal faith, but for Ashley, it's a simple decision.
”We’ve got an incredible hot rod, the statistics and numbers prove it,” Ashley said. “In testing on Monday, we found the problem with our car, and why we didn't qualify in Memphis. DNQ problem solved, and we're moving on. There's no reason why we can't go out there in Dallas and be number one qualifier Friday night, just like last year.
"Sure, there are Championship implications, but the life implications
override that. I believe that if you do the right thing, no matter what the
cost, you'll be rewarded. This is the right thing for me, for us, and I know
we'll be rewarded," he said.
STILL LEADING – Losing
in the first round at Memphis didn’t have a detrimental effect on Tony
Schumacher. “We were fortunate,” he said shaking his head. “The other
guys in the top four went out early, which helped tremendously. They say
sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
Schumacher is one of three Top Fuel drivers in drag racing history to win at the Texas Motorplex three times.
“We’ve done pretty well there,” he added. “Hopefully, that trend will continue. Frankly, we want to retain that number one spot in the standings. We want to be able to go to Richmond next month not having the weight of the world on our shoulders.”
Schumacher leads Rod Fuller by 19
points, Larry Dixon by 33 points and Brandon Bernstein by 47 points.
CLOSE CALL – All that separated Rod Fuller from calling himself defending champion this weekend was Brandon Bernstein.
Fuller qualified his Valvoline dragster fourth at Texas Motorplex with a run of 4.554 at 324.28 mph. He drove to a runner-up finish before falling to Bernstein in the final round. Fuller recorded top speed of the event at 329.42 mph.
“I’m excited to go back to Dallas. Last year we were in the finals and had a strong race car. The two years we’ve raced there, I’ve been in the semifinals and finals. We’ve had a strong car and seem to do really well there. There are only two more races for the Countdown to Four and I look forward to going to a great track and a track we’ve done well at in the past. Our goal is to get our points lead back and get into the Countdown to Four. “
Fuller has history at the Texas
Motorplex. Before a Top fuel dragster became part of his life, he drove to
runner-up finishes at Texas Motorplex in Super Comp in 1998 and Super Gas in
Fuller has advanced to at least the semifinals at 13 of 19 races this year.
ANOTHER COOL CAT – PROMOTION - Fuller will pilot a yellow-and-black HOLT CAT dragster this weekend. This is the eighth time that David Powers Motorsports and a Caterpillar dealer group have joined to back Fuller’s car this season.
The relationship between David Powers Motorsports and the CAT dealer groups is a program to increase technician recruiting. Caterpillar dealers are experiencing a shortage of technicians and NHRA drag racing offers a technician-rich recruiting environment to find qualified candidates with experienced mechanical backgrounds. HOLT CAT is the largest Caterpillar dealer in the nation and operates 22 locations throughout Texas from the Red River to the Rio Grande.
“I’m excited to have HOLT CAT on the car at Dallas,” Fuller said. “We seem to get to at least the semis when we have a CAT dealer on our dragster and that’s definitely the goal this weekend. We’ve been to the semis and finals at the Motorplex the last two years, so now it’s time for us to get into the winner’s circle. It’s going to be warm and our Caterpillar dragster runs well in the heat, so we’re excited to get the points lead back and lock in a spot in the Countdown.”
the 20th race on the 2007 NHRA schedule ranked second in the Countdown to the
Championship standings. The five-time NHRA winner has two wins (Phoenix and
Denver) in five final round appearances this season. He also has earned four
poles this year. Having led the standings for most of the 2007 season, Fuller
trails Tony Schumacher by 19 points in the Countdown to Four. Fuller, who drove
to a runner-up finish at Texas Motorplex last Sept., is a three-time finalist at
the Dallas race.
HUNGRY LIKE THE ‘ZILLA – Just getting into the playoffs wasn’t enough for Doug Herbert.
Herbert earned that berth with a monumental victory in Reading, Pa., He has already moved to the No. 7 position, only 60 points outside the No. 4 position. With three races remaining until the eight-driver field is narrowed to the top four.
“We are in a good position to move up in points,” said Herbert. “We have three races left to move up three more spots into the top four. We moved from eleventh to eighth in one race, and have already moved up to No. 7.”
Herbert said his objectives are clearly defined this weekend.
“We know exactly what we need to do,” said Herbert. “We need to qualify ahead of the other drivers trying to get into the top four, and we need to win. Wow! If only it were as easy to do as it is to say. We can do it, though.
“The Snap-on Tools dragster has been consistently making it down the track, and we were one of the few teams to do that at the last race. We have been working on keeping it running under full power the length of the track, and I think we have it figured out.
“We won the race here in Memphis back in ’99, and would like to do it again. Once in winner’s circle this season isn’t enough for us. We’re hungry to do it again, and hungry to win the championship.”
DIFFERENT BREED – Clay Millican plans to debut a new dragster this weekend and he’s hoping for a solid performance out of the gate.
“We have the consistency, now we need to find some ET (elapsed time),” Millican said. “I’d bet that the car we have been using could run between 4.60 and 4.64 seconds with track temperatures as high as 140 degrees. It is that consistent.”
Millican’s car will look exactly like the previous RATT Back for More dragster but he’s hoping for an increase in performance but that pace may not be measurable until next summer.
"We tested the car Monday after the race in Memphis (and) it ran,” reported Millican. “It ran a little quicker than the other car early in the run. I was happy with the way it was driving, so Johnny decided to run it at the Motorplex.”
The early incremental numbers are the ones West wants to improve. “We did pick up the early numbers in the first round Sunday and in testing Monday, and that is a step in the right direction,” added Millican.
This will be Millican’s first Texas Motorplex outing since the 2005 season.
HANGING BY A THREAD - J.R. Todd has the odds stacked against him when it comes to winning the 2007 Top Fuel championship.
Such a doom and gloom forecast doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm in the least.
“This is a very important race for us,” said Todd, “probably more important than last week’s (at Memphis) because we are a little farther back in points now.”
Todd is seventh among the eight who moved into the second phase of the Countdown. He has 2,092 points, four rounds away from the coveted fourth berth held by his good friend Brandon Bernstein at 2,169. Todd rebounded at Memphis with a quarterfinal finish after not qualifying Indianapolis.
“We found some problem areas Monday and fixed them,” continued Todd, “and that should make the car go to the finish line without hurting itself. But we have our work cut out for us. We need to go a lot of rounds on Sunday.”
At the same, he wouldn’t mind if the drivers in front of him are upset in the early rounds. Tony Schumacher is the current leader at 2,216, followed by Rod Fuller, 2,197; and Larry Dixon, 2,183.
"If we can go to Dallas and Richmond (Oct. 7) and run strong, it could be the medicine we need.”
Todd has two wins (at Pomona, Calif., and Houston) in three final rounds this year. He won three times last season and was chosen Rookie of the Year.
THAT DARNED SARGE – Three times Morgan Lucas has raced at the Texas Motorplex.
Three times Schumacher has eliminated him.
That’s a situation Lucas wants to rectify.
"I knew Schumacher went on a championship roll the last couple of years, but didn't realize he took us out every time I've raced there," said Lucas. "I think we have a car capable of winning and it's not just one car we need to beat, we've got 15 other hungry drivers to contend with including my teammate. That's an interesting stat, but I can't let that get in my mind. We just have to win rounds, period!"
MOMENTUM – Nothing sets a ball of momentum rolling more than a national event victory.
Melanie Troxel’s Memphis triumph was a tremendous boost the team could have used earlier in the season.
"I think we're on a little bit of a roll right now," said a smiling Troxel. "I'm looking forward to the next event in Dallas and continuing the path that we're on. If you look back at the last four events, we've been to the semis twice and won an event. Everything is going great right now and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't carry on and run really well this weekend.
"I think it was great for
the entire team and it's definitely a big confidence boost that is going to help
everyone on the team. It's amazing when you're on a roll how easy good
performances seem to come to you. Obviously, John Stewart and Lance Larsen have
made huge strides in the accomplishments of the car since Brainerd. I think
they're feeling really good about the setup they have going. We knew it was just
a matter time before we won again.
"Personally, I was really happy with my performance last Sunday and it's nice as a driver to get some positive momentum going. I was not only happy with my reaction times, but anytime you can win a pedal-fest like the one we had against Bernstein in the semi-finals, it's good from a driver's point of view to have both come together with the car and driver racing as one. I think that's going to make for a tough combination for the rest of the year."
THE MEMORIES - The Texas Motorplex was the site of Troxel's first final round appearance. It was against Cory McClenathan in 2000, but since then has collected four wins out of 14 final rounds and won earlier this year in St. Louis.
"It was my first year in Top Fuel where I reached my first final round in Dallas," said Troxel. "The track has been good to me. It's a place I'm very familiar with and have been here racing at the Motorplex for many years."
In addition, another personal record Troxel is looking forward to improving is her qualifying time from two years ago, where she put down an incredible 4.458 elapsed time in Friday night qualifying.
"I think the team is in a place where we're capable of running some great numbers," she said. "The biggest factor is going to be the weather. If we can get some cool weather to roll into here on Friday, everything should be in place to possibly reset my low e.t."
A LOT OF HELP - Two months ago, Scott Palmer Racing was on a roll. After putting up a personal best ET of 4.58 at Chicago in June, the team followed that up with a 4.57 at Norwalk, Ohio. Thanks to David Powers Motorsports crew chiefs Rob Flynn and Lee Beard, the team had their Top Fuel dragster running consistently enough to start making their own judgment calls, and start improving quarter-mile times to a more competitive level.
Bill Miller pitched in and found the major problem that plagued the team for the majority of last season, which helped to facilitate the comeback the team has enjoyed this year.
The combination of not racing and major sponsor letdowns has inspired Palmer’s associate sponsors to pool their resources to the point it enables the team to race this weekend.
Palmer said Superlifts of Aurora, Mo., a manufacturer of automotive lifts, jacks and accessories, and race trailer lifts led the charge. Company owner Keith Goolsby provided the final additional funding to guarantee that the team would make it to the Dallas event.
"We were really disappointed to not get back out there after the car had been running so good at every race we'd been to this year," Palmer said. "It was hard not to, but this year we decided that if we're going to run a national event, we're going do it right. We're going to be prepared. We're going to be professional. That will give us every opportunity to be as competitive as possible. And that's exactly what we have done. That's not to say we haven't been busy though."
KEEPING BUSY ON THE SIDE - In the two months the team hasn't been running the Top Fuel car, Scott Palmer Racing has been having a great time Pro Mod racing at local tracks. Palmer has won two Pro Mod races this year, one at Woods Brothers Raceway in Sallisaw, Okla., in his '63 Corvette Pro Mod, and the other at the Super Chevy Event in Indianapolis in the Barklage Racing GTO Pro Mod.
"As fun as Pro Mod racing is, nothing can beat running the fuel car," Palmer said. "I know that everyone on the team is ready to start smelling the nitro again, so we are all really excited to head to Dallas and lay down some good runs like we were making before. Our entire team wants to say a big thanks to each and every company, team and person that stands behind this racing organization. We couldn't do it without you."
OF COURSE HE LIKES IT – No wonder Robert Hight loves racing at the Texas Motorplex. Winning always seems to gravitate his way.
"I love racing at the Motorplex," Hight said, "especially because of the success John Force Racing has had there. We won there when I was working on John's Funny Car (1998, 1999 and two times in 2000) and I won last season in the Auto Club Ford (in the process becoming the first to break the 300 mph barrier at the track). The all-concrete racing surface is something all the other tracks should look at."
Hight ended talk of a sophomore jinx when he won the first race of a 2006 season in which he finished second only to Force. Now he's poised to become the third different JFR driver in five years to win the $500,000 championship.
"Now that we're in the Countdown, you have to think about how you want to race," said the only Funny Car driver to have led the standings each of the last three seasons. "This stretch run is where you have to race smart to get into the final four so you can race for the Championship.
"You have to be consistent and go rounds, but I think we have a car that can repeat. My crew chief, Jimmy Prock, has been running a new combination the last two races and he says we've just scratched the surface on what we can do with it. That's real exciting for me and for this team."
LUCK IS ON HIS SIDE - It took more than luck for Gary Scelzi to earn his third season victory last weekend which vaulted him from No. 7 into the No. 4 slot in the Countdown to Four playoffs, and he knows it.
It took a solid performance from all the parties involved: Scelzi, the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T crew, and crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler. A repeat performance at the Motorplex this weekend would certainly help solidify their place in the points.
"Any time you win a national event, you can't wait to get to the next race," said Scelzi, who has four national event titles to his credit at the Texas Motorplex. In fact, he is tied with the most Top Fuel wins there, at three, with Cory McClenathan and Tony Schumacher. "And I've been excited about going to the next race. With all the changes Todd's made on the car it's shown a lot of promise.
"We haven't always had the luck that we've needed, but we seem to have gotten that in Memphis, and we're hoping it's going to carry over to Dallas."
Scelzi has no nitro Funny Car wins in Dallas, but was victorious in Alcohol Funny Car there in 1992.
HIS FORMER KINGDOM - Kenny Bernstein began his professional racing career as a young adult in and around the Dallas area piloting a number of locally-owned fuel dragsters and Funny Cars. In 1979, he funded his own team and in 1980 he began his first of 30 years of sponsorship association with Budweiser, the longest current racer-sponsor affiliation in all of autosports.
“Last year we were fortunate to be inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame,” continued Bernstein. “It was a fantastic evening, and I invited some special friends to share our table at the gala. We were joined by some of the car owners who had enough faith in us early on to allow us to drive their race cars. It was a time to reflect on where we began and the good fortune we’ve enjoyed for almost three decades now.
“This same group will likely come out this weekend and spend some time with us.”
Bernstein won at the Texas Motorplex in the Funny Car category in 1986 and again in 2003 driving his Top Fuel dragster. In 1987 he won a Funny Car All-Star event at the Texas facility.
“It would be fantastic to win in Dallas this year right where our racing roots catapulted us into the great career we’ve enjoyed.”
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY - It is now officially one year since Jack Beckman competed in his first race in a Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing. It was at the Texas Motorplex in 2006 when Beckman stepped into the Funny Car formerly driven by Whit Bazemore and finished the last five races of the year with DSR.
Beckman qualified fifth in Ennis then and lost the first round to Tommy Johnson Jr. That was a baby step when you consider that Beckman went on to qualify No. 1 once, set both top-speed and elapsed-time national records, reach two final rounds and win once before the season was over.
"I made my debut last year in Dallas," he said. "This actually now marks a complete year in nitro Funny Car for me. When I look back, we have four wins including the Skoal Showdown. We're sitting second in the Countdown right now, and we're first in the Full Throttle points. It just has been absolutely stunning.
THE HEAT IS ON – When a situation is at its worst, John Force is at his best.
"This team is the best when the pressure's on," Force said, "but we're pushing it right now. We don't need to win rounds any more; we need to win races. That's our focus this week, to come into the Motorplex and win the race."
Force has done that seven times in his career, most recently in 2005. However, in this, the most bizarre season in his 30-year career, it's difficult to know what to expect either from the driver or his 8,000 horsepower Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford.
Although he has won three races this season, as many as anyone else in the category, Force won just two rounds in the season's first 11 events, has failed to qualify for two races and has been guilty of a pair of foul starts.
Consistency, which once was the team's hallmark, has been non-existent. That said, no one is counting the 125-time tour winner out.
In 13th place at mid-season, Force fought his way into the Countdown by going to the finals five times in six events. That enabled him to scratch and claw his way all the way up to third place.
"Our goal is to hurt some feelings this week," Force said. "We stayed and tested last week after Memphis (the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals). Now we've just got to go out and do our jobs for Castrol and Ford and the Auto Club."
MEMORY MAKER - Force has enjoyed some of his finest career moments at the Motorplex where in 1998 he became the first Funny Car driver to cover the standard distance in fewer than 4.80 seconds (4.787 seconds).
Although he lost to Ron Capps in the first round a year ago, he has put a Castrol GTX Funny Car in the final round in 10 of his last 15 appearances in the Fall Nationals, winning in 1993, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2005.
Ron Capps is two points ahead of his teammate Gary Scelzi in fourth, and just nine markers ahead of No. 5 Tony Pedregon. It's a precarious position, and this weekend's O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex is a crucial point of the season, as only two races remain to determine the final four.
"It's been the same way the last couple of years, as to how important Dallas has been in the points chase," said Capps, who is seeking his first Funny Car championship after three bridesmaid seasons in his career. "I know two years ago, and even last year, Dallas became a pivotal part of the season and it is again this year. After Memphis on Sunday, everything got so bunched up in the points.
"There's so many guys in the running to lock up one of the top-four spots right now," added Capps, who has driven the Brut Revolution Dodge Charger R/T to three victories this season and had led the points through 14 of the first 17 events.
"Going into Dallas we're very lucky to have all three Don Schumacher Racing cars in the top four at the moment, and that's why Dallas is so crucial.
CRUNCHING THE NAMES - Capps has it figured out.
"You don't want to go to Richmond, Va. (the last race of the Countdown to Four) two weeks after Dallas and have to have a great weekend just to make the top four. You really need to go in there with a little bit of breathing room. That's why I think I can echo the eight Funny Car drivers that Dallas is really important.
"You see John Force back in seventh, and he needs to have a big weekend. And Gary Scelzi, who is only two points behind us, needs to have a great weekend. And we need to have a great weekend.
"It's a tough scenario, because the Countdown has kind of changed everybody's mentality. Yeah, we have three Funny Cars at Don Schumacher Racing, but when we roll into the starting line we're not teammates. You have to go up there and race because it could be the difference between us being in and not being in the Countdown to One.
Capps' other successes at the Texas Motorplex include No. 1 qualifying efforts in 2005 and 1997(2).
LEADING THE POINTS, CONNOLLY STYLE – Much of Dave Connolly’s driving career has been the stuff that legends are built on. The Torco race Fuels-sponsored driver has taken that to a new level recently.
Connolly has been quite spectacular of late, reeling off three consecutive, and impressive, victories to wrest the No. 1 position from three-time champion Greg Anderson, who led from the first race. The latter two triumphs have come against Anderson in the new Countdown to Four segment, thereby providing Connolly with a 2,291-2,258 advantage over Anderson as they prepare for the 22nd O’Reilly Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, near Dallas.
This is the third of four races before the top four drivers move on to the deciding two events and the other four accept their parting gifts of places five through eight when the final tallies are counted after the Auto Club Finals, Nov. 4, at Pomona, Calif.
NOT AN EASY TASK – Even Connolly knows the next few races are going to be tougher than ever.
“The Countdown is cutthroat,” he said. “Every race is so important. We came into the first two races (of this segment) knowing that, and to win the first two and be locked into a slot in the finals already is incredible. You couldn’t ask for a better time to get hot. I’m thankful I get to share this with the people on our team, crew chief Tommy Utt, his son John, Keith Graham and Craig Campton. They are like family to me. It’s awesome.
“Tommy is like a second dad to me. He is getting his chance to shine because Victor is giving him all the right parts and pieces to work with and Evan is giving us the funding to do this. These Pro Stock cars are a little finicky, and Tommy is doing a great job of nitpicking at what we’ve established. I’m just a small ingredient and I’m thankful they let me ride in the cockpit.”
Connolly was second after the first 17 races, 172 points behind Anderson after winning at Reading, Pa. But he trailed by just 10, 2,070-2,060, after the points were adjusted going into Indianapolis.
“I’m excited about racing at Dallas,” continued Connolly. “I won my second race there (September 2004). We must take every driver seriously. It will be challenging, but we are excited about it.”
TWO HORSE RACE - At this juncture, Connolly and Anderson have accelerated away from their six rivals and Connolly is hunkered down, preparing for what may play out as a two-man title showdown. The two drivers have won 13 of the 19 2007 races to date, Connolly taking a career-high six in seven final rounds. He has 15 wins in 27 career final rounds in 101 Pro Stock races.
“When you have a good car and all the confidence in the world in the crew, obviously it is gives the driver confidence,” said Connolly. “I feel comfortable in the seat and it shows in the on-track performances. I think our team is very good under pressure and I think we showed it in the last couple of races. It’s going to be exciting for the fans and everyone else. Every round win means a lot.”
THE MAN IN THE MIRROR – Greg Anderson said when it comes time to lay blame for his current nail-biting situation – the first place he plans to look is in the mirror.
“A lot of our pressures we create ourselves because we continue to try to out do the year before and stay ahead of the competition. This year there’s additional pressures due to the caliber of the competition and especially from the new format. You have to be at the top of your game all throughout the year. This segment (of the Countdown) is especially nerve racking and I can only imagine what the final two races are going to be like. One slip now and you may wave goodbye to that POWERade trophy.”
At the Texas Motorplex, the all-concrete quarter-mile in Ennis, Texas, near Dallas, he has won twice – in 2003 (over Jeg Coughlin) and 2005 (over teammate Jason Line).
THE SCENE OF THE HORROR – Kenny Koretsky said he occasionally thinks about the accident that could have taken not only his life but that of Bruce Allen.
The scene was two years ago when Allen’s car drifted out of the groove and swerved in front of Koretsky. The accident sent both drivers to the hospital with serious injuries.
Allen hasn’t drag raced since.
“There’s not a race goes by that at least 15 to 20 people stop to tell me they saw the accident on TV and are happy to see me back racing . . . it’s pretty emotional. Right now I’m just focusing on going out and qualifying the car so I can do my thing on race day.”
He will be making his first competitive appearance at the track since 2005, driving Greg Hill’s Indicom Electric/Nitro Fish Pro Stock Chevy Cobalt in this weekend’s O’Reilly Fall Nationals.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
GETTING READY - Matt Smith and his Torco Race Fuels crew spent this past Monday testing at Memphis. Working with his Buell throughout the day, Smith improved drastically on his setup and is ready to take on the Dallas drag strip this weekend.
“We ran great,” said Smith. “We changed a few things in order to make the bike 60 foot better and it definitely worked out for us. We ran incredible numbers down low. We hope we finally got the bike back running like it was at the beginning of the year.”
QUICK DRAW – Steve Johnson tied his personal best in rider Reaction Times in Memphis, with a 0.001 – which matched his previous best, set against the late David Schultz in the finale at Virginia Motorsports Park in 1995. He also matched his career-best elapsed time with a run of 6.982 seconds in the second round of eliminations, but can he and the team improve on those efforts?
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Johnson admits. “We suffered a major engine failure in the final round, so we’re going to have to bounce back from that. We have plenty of engines, so that’s not the problem. The ‘problem’ is that none has thus far matched the power of the one that failed In a field that’s split by maybe a tenth of a second, we need every bit of horsepower we can muster.”
MOVIN ON UP - Johnson moved into ninth place in the NHRA POWERade Top 10 standings in Memphis, and hopes to solidify that position in Texas. “Being in the Top 10 is extremely important to us,” Johnson said, “but our goal continues to be winning races. We have three more opportunities to do that, including this coming weekend.
“Racing is a tough, unforgiving world. You can be on top of the world one minute, and at the bottom of the barrel the next. A month from now we’re the only ones who might remember how well we ran in Memphis, so the idea is to give everyone a reason to remember us a little longer. We can do that by running hard and winning rounds at the Motorplex.”
CRUNCH TIME – Angelle Sampey heads to the Texas Motorplex holding fifth-place in the standings, 40 points removed from Chip Ellis in fourth-place, which will be the final qualified position for the Countdown to One.
“It’s going to be a challenge, that’s for certain,” said the Louisiana native. “To get into the final four, we’ll probably have to out-qualify Chip and, perhaps, even win the race, while getting some help from others. We’re just going to go out and give it our usual 100 percent and then hope for the best. I would love to be able to give our soldiers a world championship in our final season with the U.S. Army.”
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK – The Pro Stock Motorcycles have limited experience in racing the Texas Motorplex.
“No bikes have run here before,” said Rivas. “So things should be pretty even heading in there and I think Matt is real good at figuring out a setup. I mean, look at what he did at Denver. I am ready to go some rounds and win a race.
Hopefully this weekend we can get it done and keep Matt in the top-four as well.”
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