NHRA O'REILLY FALLNATIONALS - Same Day Coverage
Keep up with this weekend's action from the Texas Motorplex as the NHRA Fallnationals races through the weekend.
SUNDAY FINAL - BERNSTEIN, HIGHT AND STEVENS EARN VICTORIES AT O'REILLY FALLNATIONALS
Brandon Bernstein and Robert Hight moved into their respective championship chases Sunday with convincing wins at the O'Reilly Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas.
Both men started and finished the day third in the points, but not before gaining some serious ground on the category leaders at the 19th of 23 races in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Bernstein is now just 40 points out of the Top Fuel lead, while Hight closed to within 93 of Funny Car's top spot.
In Pro Stock, Richie Stevens scored his first victory in more than five years. Bernstein's fourth victory of the season and 12th of his career came at the expense of Rod Fuller, while Hight pulled away from first-time finalist Mike Ashley at half-track to earn his third win of the year and fifth overall.
Bernstein's nearly silent pursuit of headline grabbers Tony Schumacher and Doug Kalitta has featured three final-round showings in the last four races, including his win here and his runner-up finish at the last event in Indy. The final round was over early in the run when Fuller's Valvoline dragster lost traction and Bernstein's Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster powered to a 4.612 at 323.19.
"It seems like the pressure has been squarely on Doug and Tony," said Dallas native Bernstein, a graduate of Texas A&M. "I know no one in the media has asked me about it. But within the team I kept telling the guys we just needed to stay consistent and keep plugging away. Now I think everyone knows what we already knew; we have a race car that can win the championship."
Mac Tools dragster driver Kalitta's lead in the POWERade standings continued to erode as he went out one round before second-place racer Schumacher, who was the event's top qualifier in the U.S. Army dragster. Kalitta now leads Schumacher by 33 points.
For the first time since the Brainerd event more than a year ago, a top qualifier in Funny Car managed to convert a fast hot rod into a race win as Hight beat Ashley with a 4.796 at 322.73 mph in his Auto Club Ford Mustang to Ashley's tire-hazing 6.024 at 159.08 mph in his Torco Racing Fuels Dodge Charger.
"I feel like we don't have a choice, we have to win every round left," Hight said of his championship aspirations. "I can't begin to describe the feeling you get when [crew chief] Jimmy Prock pounds on your hood just before you run and you just know that you have the best car on the property. Jimmy is a very confident guy and it filters down to the team."
The much anticipated first-round race between points leader Ron Capps and 13-time champ John Force, who is second in the standings, was a thrill with Capps upsetting the higher qualified Force. But Capps didn't capitalize much on the victory, losing in the next round to Ashley. His lead over Force increased from 19 to 37.
Stevens' race with Edwards was a classic Pro Stock contest with both men leaving with nearly identical reaction times and staying locked together most of the way down the track. Stevens finally inched away at the end and won with a 6.693 at 204.60 mph in his Team Mopar Dodge Stratus to
Edwards' 6.718 at 206.39 mph in his Young Life Pontiac GTO.
"I can barely talk," said Stevens of his fifth career victory. "It's been a long time since I've won. I forgot what I'm supposed to do."
The two men battling for the 2006 Pro Stock title, teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson, fizzled in Texas with top qualifier Anderson losing on a holeshot to Dave Northrop in the first round and No. 2 qualifier Line losing on a holeshot to Edwards in the quarterfinals. With the
extra round, Line extended his lead to 78 over Anderson.
The NHRA POWERade Series continues with the rain-delayed Toyo Tires Nationals, Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
KABOOM - Eric Medlen's first round blower pop
Castrol Syntec driver Eric Medlen was on the hot seat in the first round when he popped the blower in his first round loss to Tony Bartone. (Motel6 Vision/ESPN2)
Part of the Puzzle – Brandon Bernstein raced to his fourth victory of the season in the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster, defeating Rod Fuller’s Valvoline dragster in the final. For Dallas-native Bernstein, a graduate of Texas A&M, it was his first victory at the Texas Motorplex. It was his 12th career victory.
Bernstein says winning this weekend is just part of the overall puzzle.
“I think we are just trying to go rounds and go after that POWERade championship,” Bernstein said. “That’s the main focus.”
This championship has turned into a legitimate three-car championship race amongst Kalitta, Schumacher (-33) and Bernstein (-40). Early favorite Melanie Troxel is a distant fourth.
“It has definitely bunched up now,” Bernstein said. “There are some awfully heavy-hitters in the field that can do damage now. We’ve seen that. It’s going to be a race down to the wire.”
Bernstein says you just have to go with the flow to maintain your status.
“I don’t know that you have to maintain confidence so much as you just try to ride the wave,” Bernstein said.
Pleading the Fifth - A runner-up finish in Dallas lifted Valvoline-sponsored racer "Hot Rod" Fuller to the elite top-five in the POWERade Top Fuel rankings. Fuller beat Bob Vandergriff, David Baca and three-time defending champ Tony Schumacher en route to his seventh career final before falling to red-hot Brandon Bernstein.
"It's hard to be anything but happy with our performance this weekend," said Fuller, who has collected wins in Phoenix and Englishtown, N.J., this season. "It's always a little painful to race all the way to the final and then lose, but today was Brandon's day and he got the win.
"Last year we made it into the top 10 even though we only raced in 15 events. This year our goal from the start was to get into the top five so we're there. Now the key will be staying there, which I don't think will be very tough if we stay running like we have.
"When you run against the top cars you have to have no fear," Fuller said. "Lee Beard tuned to what he thought the track would hold but the tune-up was too hot. Brandon got down that right lane and posted a 4.61, which we could have beaten, but like I said, it wasn't our day today."
Rookie Battle – For the 5th time in 2006, rookie of the year candidates J.R. Todd and Hillary Will met in eliminations. Todd extended his performance advantage to four victories by running a 4.570, 319.60 for the win.
Todd, when asked about his obvious dominance in the battle of the rookie stars, shunned the significance of the head-to-head battles between the favorites. His higher objective is to gain a spot in the top ten of Top Fuel point earners.
“I look at Hillary as just another driver trying to knock me out of the show,” Todd said. “We’re battling for the rookie of the year, sure, but we are trying to gain points and round wins. That’s what means the most now.”
To Late to throw it – Top Fuel DNQ casualty Cory McClenathan was relegated to color commentary for Sunday’s eliminations. Announcer Bob Frey asked McClenathan, “Did you throw your helmet after failing to qualify?”
“No, because when I left the top end, I was the 11th qualifier,” McClenathan said. “By the time I got back to the pits, I was 15th. Then I got bumped out and I had already packed my equipment away.”
It’s Over! – Tony Schumacher got over it in Indy and Robert Hight shook the bug at Dallas. The “bug” is the pesky 25-race jinx that has plagued the Funny car low qualifiers dating back to Brainerd last year when Eric Medlen won from the top spot.
With the victory Hight extended his winning streak to eight consecutive rounds of competition. Hight admitted that the two best Funny Cars on the grounds of the Texas Motorplex met in the final round. He and fellow finalist Mike Ashley traded round-by-round low elapsed time honors throughout the day.
“There’s no doubt the best two cars met in the final and [crewchief] Jimmy [Prock] confirmed it before we ran,” Hight said. “As you can see, we ran a 4.79 in the final. We knew they would be bringing it in the finals. We couldn’t see playing the odds and going for an .85. They had an awesome car for the first two rounds and it wasn’t until the semifinals that I had a better run than him. We lucked out and got lane choice in the final and that was a big thing for us.
“We knew he’d had problems with the right lane. We knew we’d have to step up and it’s apparent that Mike is doing a great job of driving. That’s pretty cool…two rookies out there.
“Mike Ashley got his first round win against me and as much as I needed to get some round wins, I couldn’t let him get his first final round win against me too. He’s going to win a lot of them, trust me.”
Up in Smoke - The monster match-up between point leader Ron Capps and former champion John Force went up in smoke.
Those on the starting line watched Capps breeze to a 4.874, 309.06 as Force smoked the tires and aborted the race. Capps had no idea he had won until the camera crews walked over to him. Apparently the top end lights were not working and Capps called out track owner Billy Meyer on the issue.
“The win light is not working down there Billy…fix the gXX dXXX win light down there,” Capps said. “I almost had a heart attack because everyone was standing around and then someone came over and told me I won. [The tension is so high that] I want to get in the rental car and leave now. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Capps didn’t have to wait long, as Mike Ashley stopped him in the next round enabling him to gain only two extra rounds on Force.
Swinging for the fence – Mike Ashley went to the top of the qualifying list on Friday but spent both opportunities on Saturday swinging for the home run shot. Neither of his qualifying attempts resulted in an upper deck shot, and as a result he dropped to third in the qualifying order.
Ashley connected in the first round for that elusive quickest elapsed time.
“Last night was important but today ranks even higher,” Ashley said. “It has my stomach all wound up but when you have a crewchief like Brian Corradi – he settles it better than Pepto Bismol. They say it has to be the shoes when someone performs really well, but in my case it has to be the fuels on the side of the car – Torco.”
Ashley proved his run to be no fluke in the next round by establishing the quickest run again and knocking off point leader Ron Capps.
A Non-John Force to be reckoned with – Mike Ashley warned the press corps after Friday’s qualifying press conference that his Knoll Gas – Torco Race Fuels team was going to be a force to be reckoned with. Sunday his words proved prophetic.
The two-time Pro Modified champion, in his first full season as an NHRA POWERade Funny Car driver, drove his Brian Corradi-tuned machine to his first career final round before losing a tough match against top qualifier Robert Hight. Ironically, it was Hight whom Ashley beat for his first career round victory in Las Vegas last season.
“This was the battle the Funny Car fans deserved,” Ashley said. “We were on a collision course all weekend. We led qualifying and he bumped us down. It would have been fitting for us to repay the favor in the finals. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to but this was a great weekend for our team.
“We put up a fight and in the end we proved a lot of things to a lot of people and that is that we are serious about success and winning. We will do what it takes to win and that’s the attitude you have to have in this class. This class will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t give it every ounce of dedication you’ve got.
“We’re not finished yet. We’ve just scratched the surface of what we have to offer. Stay tuned - there’s more to this show.”
Cut Tires – On two occasions, Ron Capps ended runs with cut tires.
"I tell you, I cut a tire pretty good down there," he said of the second
round. "It's like the third time this weekend that we've run over something. It's cut the front tire as well as the rear tire. There is obviously stuff being left on the track. It's not the reason we lost, but it definitely made it an issue.
"The car did a big wiggle down there before the finish line and cut the
tires pretty bad, the front and the rear."
Be Careful What You Ask For – Tim Wilkerson made a determined effort to gain a berth in Sunday’s final eliminations. He landed in the field at the 14th position. As any racer would say, Wilkerson pointed out that he could have run quicker – but he also had his limits.
"I'm aiming to run a low 80 and if somebody can go faster than that, they can have it."
As fate would have it, his opponent was Mike Ashley who drove for low elapsed time of the round with a 4.771, 323.97.
Give Me A Break – Gary Scelzi hopes the spell breaks soon and he can nail down a victory in his championship-defense season.
"Just can't win the close ones," said the four-time NHRA world champion (three in Top Fuel). "I had a good light, Tommy had just a shade better one. Just one of those things.
"My lights are getting better in qualifying, everything's getting better,
we're just missing it," Scelzi added. "It spun the tire pretty hard down
there. What do you do? Load up and go to Reading and hope it doesn't rain.
"I've been down this road before, too, in Top Fuel, and sooner or later
it'll change. I just wish it would hurry up. It gets frustrating and it rips
your heart out, because everybody is trying their best, including myself, and it's just not getting it done. But, it'll change."
Scelzi remains seventh in the Funny Car points rankings, with four races remaining in the season.
Long time - no see – It took nearly a half-decade, but Richie Stevens found his way back to the winner’s circle.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to back to there,” Stevens said. “We had two shots at it last year but fell short. We’ve had a rocky season this year pretty much with three different crew chiefs and three different crews. We finally got it all together and in one place.
Roy and Allen Johnson did a great job, as did the crew.”
He did it – Let the record reflect that at 5 PM, September 24, Don Schumacher smiled for the first time this season as a result of success earned by his Pro Stock team.
Schumacher made the decision earlier in the month to join forces with Team Mopar teammate Allen Johnson and the results were enough to make the beleaguered team owner happy.
“It certainly has turned my Pro Stock operation around,” Schumacher said. “There’s a lot of work left to be done on both our car and Alan Johnson’s. It’s a good deal and we’ve certainly worked hard to get it to this point.”
Schumacher and Johnson intended to debut their joint effort in Reading but rain delays enabled them time for two test sessions in preparation for the Dallas debut.
With the immediate success of this venture, Stevens couldn’t help but wonder why Schumacher and Johnson didn’t take this route earlier.
“It makes you wonder,” Stevens admitted. “We started out with Bob Glidden doing our engines and Bob is a helluva engine builder but Don didn’t feel like he was doing things the right way. He brought in David Nickens and felt the same way. He’s got Roy and Allen Johnson now and we tested very well. I’m surprised that mark Ingersoll adapted to the car and everything so immediately. We made four good runs in a row and that won it for us.”
Carlson sighting – Former Team Mopar driver Shaun Carlson was busy working with the new Johnson and Schumacher team. His primary job was an advisor.
“Shaun has been a big supporter of mine since he came aboard with the team,” Stevens said. “It’s good to have him here. Mopar is behind him and me as well. Maybe one day we will team up again in the future.”
Double vision – Fate can sometimes be a nasty force to be reckoned with. For the Johnson, Schumacher and Stevens alliance it made its presence known in the first round of eliminations.
Stevens’s road to the final came at the expense of new teammate and engine builder Johnson in the first round.
“In qualifying, we felt we had things set up right but Jason [Line] ended up coming down the line and that pushed us down in the eight and nine spots. That’s the way it is. You really don’t want to run them, especially when you are running their power, but we did it heads up and I came out on the winning side.”
Hungry Little Critter – Greg Anderson pointed out on Saturday evening that he had a strong horse to ride into final eliminations. Unfortunately for him, he rode that stallion into a river with a piranha fish…er…Nitrofish.Anderson fell victim to the same low qualifier curse that had plagued the nitro ranks as No.16 seeded Dave Northrop sent him packing with a .047 holeshot and a .0036 margin of victory.
“I don’t know what happened, but I do know that we missed an opportunity,” said Anderson following his first round loss to Northrop. “I felt good today. The Summit Racing Pontiac was obviously great. I had all the confidence in the world with the car. I knew the car was going to run well. All I had to do was be solid and concentrate on that light. Somehow my concentration was broken. I don’t know when or how. I didn’t think I missed the light but the timing slip says otherwise. So I did, and now I’ve got to take the consequences.
“Dave Northrop in the other lane did a good job. My hat is off to him. He won the race and he deserves it. I’ve got to come back and do better next time. We’re still in the running to win our fourth POWERade championship.”
Howard’s misfortune – Dave Howard got hit with a double-whammy after laying down a tremendous run in a losing effort. For exactly two minutes, he held low elapsed time for the first round but that only came after losing on a holeshot. His run ended up the fifth quickest of the first round and third amongst the first round runner-ups.
SATURDAY QUALIFYING - SCHUMACHER, HIGHT AND ANDERSON EARN TOP QUALIFYING SPOTS AT O'REILLY FALL NATIONALS
ENNIS, Texas -- Three-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher raced to
his 10th No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday at the
O'Reilly Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec at the Texas
A cooling afternoon rain shower made Saturday's two qualifying sessions
much better than Friday's pair, with most teams improving, most
noticeably in the final session. Aside from Schumacher's No. 1 effort of
4.520 seconds at 321.12 mph in his U.S. Army dragster, Robert Hight
posted a Funny Car-leading 4.742 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang and Greg
Anderson recorded a 6.696 in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO to set the
pace in Pro Stock.
Schumacher earned one point on NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Top Fuel
leader Doug Kalitta, who qualified second with a 4.535 in his Mac Tools
"I'm sure he wanted to be No. 1 as much as we did," Schumacher said. "I
saw him down there and he told me 'Good job.' That's a great car over
there. We're going to battle down to the end. Doug's a great driver and
I have a ton of respect for him. He'll get up in the morning and be over
this little disappointment and be ready to race."
Hight will get his eighth chance of the season to become the first low
qualifier in Funny Car to win a race. Friday leader Mike Ashley slipped
to third with a 4.799 at 314.53 mph in his Torco Racing Fuels Dodge
"I didn't know if it would hold because there were some good cars behind
us but it did so we're happy," Hight said. "I'm still on cloud nine from
winning Indy so the ride continues here. Jimmy (Prock, crew chief) has
so much confidence in his tune-up and once he makes a decision he's
committed to it."
The monster match-up of the season is slated for Sunday's 11 a.m.
opening round as Funny Car points leader Ron Capps will face
second-place qualifier John Force. Capps, who leads Force by 17 points
in the season standings, qualified 11th with a 4.865 in his Brut Charger
to Force's 4.825 in his Castrol GTX Mustang.
The final Pro Stock session featured a lot of movement in the 16-car
order. Anderson was able to improve for the fourth consecutive session,
posting a 6.696 at 205.60 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO to lead
the class into eliminations for the fifth straight race and the 11th
time this season.
"We need every scrap and every point we can get," said Anderson, whose
qualifying effort earned him one point on teammate and current points
leader Jason Line. "Great job by the guys back in the shop. All their
long hours are really paying off and they've given Jason and me a pair
of great horses to ride."
First-round pairings for professional eliminations
Sunday at the 21st annual O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals presented by
Castrol Syntec at Texas Motorplex, the 19th of 23 events in the $50
million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in
qualifying, which ended Saturday.
Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 4.520 seconds, 325.22 mph vs. 16. Joe
Hartley, 4.703, 297.61; 2. Doug Kalitta, 4.535, 324.59 vs. 15. Andrew
Cowin, 4.686, 318.92; 3. J.R. Todd, 4.541, 322.50 vs. 14. Hillary Will,
4.668, 317.57; 4. Rod Fuller, 4.554, 324.28 vs. 13. Bob Vandergriff,
4.658, 314.68; 5. David Baca, 4.610, 322.27 vs. 12. Melanie Troxel,
4.657, 319.52; 6. David Grubnic, 4.611, 322.11 vs. 11. Alan Bradshaw,
4.645, 319.60; 7. Brandon Bernstein, 4.617, 329.26 vs. 10. Doug Herbert,
4.641, 306.88; 8. Morgan Lucas, 4.637, 297.35 vs. 9. Troy Buff, 4.641,
Funny Car -- 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.742, 324.75 vs. 16. Del
Worsham, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.934, 308.71; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., Monte
Carlo, 4.778, 324.90 vs. 15. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.895,
313.58; 3. Mike Ashley, Dodge Stratus, 4.799, 314.53 vs. 14. Tim
Wilkerson, Monte Carlo, 4.893, 312.13; 4. Tony Pedregon, Monte Carlo,
4.812, 321.96 vs. 13. Phil Burkart, Monte Carlo, 4.891, 311.49; 5. Eric
Medlen, Mustang, 4.822, 318.39 vs. 12. Tony Bartone, Monte Carlo,
4.873, 313.00; 6. John Force, Mustang, 4.825, 317.72 vs. 11. Ron Capps,
Charger, 4.865, 317.27; 7. Scott Kalitta, Toyota Solara, 4.837, 311.99
vs. 10. Gary Scelzi, Charger, 4.856, 321.04; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Monte
Carlo, 4.850, 313.37 vs. 9. Jim Head, Stratus, 4.855, 312.71.
Pro Stock -- 1. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GTO, 6.696, 205.60 vs. 16. Dave
Northrop, Dodge Stratus, 6.762, 204.17; 2. Jason Line, GTO, 6.713,
205.07 vs. 15. V. Gaines, Stratus, 6.750, 205.16; 3. Greg Stanfield,
GTO, 6.722, 205.54 vs. 14. Tom Martino, GTO, 6.745, 204.11; 4. Tommy
Lee, Chevy Cobalt, 6.722, 204.98 vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.742,
204.57; 5. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.724, 204.91 vs. 12. Dave Howard,
Cobalt, 6.739, 205.16; 6. Steve Schmidt, Cobalt, 6.726, 205.29 vs. 11.
Dave Connolly, Cobalt, 6.737, 204.76; 7. Jim Yates, GTO, 6.726, 204.54
vs. 10. Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.730, 205.63; 8. Allen Johnson, Stratus,
6.728, 204.39 vs. 9. Richie Stevens, Stratus, 6.728, 203.77.
The rumor mill spins – One of the popular rumors blanketing the Texas Motorplex surrounded Melanie Troxel and her plans for 2007 and beyond. Scuttlebutt suggests her sponsor Evan Knoll will withdraw his program from DSR and possibly head in a new direction. While no one close to the issue will discuss anything at this point in time, Troxel has tuned out the rumors.
“We get caught up in that as a team and we try to ignore all of it,” Troxel said. “It’s really something that we’re not that involved in. It’s stuff that other people are involved with and it’s our guess as to whether any of it is true. It would be a big mistake for us to get caught up in that while we still have a chance at winning this championship. These opportunities don’t come around that often.
“At this point, we are just trying to focus on the shot at the championship that we have. It’s kind of a long shot and if we get a few lucky breaks, we can make it happen. Other than that I think everything is up in the air. I haven’t heard from Don Schumacher or anyone else. As far as I am concerned, I haven’t heard anything definite.
“We are going to focus on what we have happening now and what happens next year happens next year."
First time for everything - Morgan Lucas will enter Sunday’s eliminations from the No. 8 starting position facilitating his 50th professional start of his career. He will be racing Troy Buff in his first round of eliminations. This pair has never raced professionally which will make the match up rather interesting and it will be the 24th different driver, the 22-year old Lucas has raced in NHRA National event competition since he began in August of 2004.
“It’s the first time in my Top Fuel career that I’m going to race somebody that I actually signed their license,” said Lucas with a smile. “I signed Troy’s NHRA license earlier this year in Chicago. He’s a great guy and he certainly taught me a lot about driving an alcohol car when I first started. Troy’s a clean racer and tomorrow is going to be a fun drag race. We will go up as buddies, but we’ll race as adversaries. I’m glad to see him get the opportunity to be part of a good team with good people.”
The debut of a new Brad Hadman dragster chassis gave the Lucas Oil crew headed by veteran co-crew chiefs; John Stewart and Ronnie Thompson, some difficulties in the beginning, but through their knowledge and experience plowed ahead and came up with a solution to run a 4.637 elapsed time along with a speed of 297.35 mph.
“I was so nervous going into that last session,” a relieved Lucas said. “I’ve been fortunate to always qualify for every race and just the thought of not qualifying is something I don’t want to think about. When that day does happen, I know I won’t want to do it then. We have a new car going into the weekend and it’s different from our previous one. It’s a stressful deal to figure what it wants and I know that I haven’t smiled much today mainly due to getting our Top Fuel car to up to par. We made the race and we didn’t run well, we ran very well. I’m proud of our guys and they kept their heads in it and got it down the track.”
Agent Orange –BME Engineering driver Alan Bradshaw has a new look and it could potentially land him a role in a science fiction movie. Bradshaw has orange eyes.
Bradshaw is wearing a set of special Nike contacts with the objective of improving his reaction times. He pointed out that other drivers such as Melanie Troxel and Brandon Bernstein are using them as well.
“I wanted to do it to gain back my starting-line advantage,” Bradshaw said. “It’s just a lot easier to go this route than having to fumble with sunglasses inside of your helmet.”
Close Call – Brandon Bernstein successfully extended his qualifying streak to 73 by making the show in the final session. The former rookie of the year has qualified for every event he’s entered.
Don't Screw This Up - While J.R. Todd was sitting in the staging lanes awaiting his final qualifying run Saturday night at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas, he heard he had been bumped from the starting Top Fuel line-up for Sunday's final eliminations.
No Luck at all - Too many mechanical problems and racing conditions that changed rapidly Saturday afternoon at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas combined to deal Cory McClenathan and the Carrier Boys Racing Top Fuel team an unkind blow.
McClenathan said he ran what and the crew felt was a "comfortable" elapsed time of 4.704 seconds at 320.12 mph that put them 11th at the time. But five more drivers ran quicker and McClenathan wound up 17th and out of the program for the first time in two years.
And he only missed the field by one-thousandth of a second. Joe Hartley ran 4.703 seconds.
"We really thought that time would stay in," said a disappointed McClenathan. "All we wanted to do was go from A to B and get a run that Wes could tune up for eliminations. We were fighting to stay in but the weather got cooler and the other cars ran quicker.
"I feel horrible for our sponsors and everybody on this team who has worked so hard. We had mechanical problems on our first three runs -- including a broken rocker arm on our first run (Saturday). We were on a good pass when that happened and the blower belt came off.
"This is a bitter pill to swallow, but we'll tough it out and get ready to go racing again next week at Reading (Pa., site of the rain-delayed Toyo Tires Nationals, Sept. 29-Oct. 1).
The ironic part of it all is that it was J.R. Todd (see note above) who bumped him out.
Swinging for the fence - To know Robert Hight's crewchief Jimmy Prock is to know that he will swing for the fence.
Setting the stage - As the season winds down, no Ron Capps and John Force match has meant more this season than tomorrow's will. Force qualified #6 and Capps got in at 11th.
"Before that last run we were in the show pretty good," said Capps. "We
just felt very comfortable, that we needed to see what the track was going
tohold. We know conditions tomorrow are going to be pretty good from what
theweather predictors say.
"As Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) said on the radio before the run, 'No guts, no glory,' and we were taking a shot at it."This time of the year, the way the season has been going (back and forthwith Force for the championship), the way the end of the year last year ended up for us (finishing second by eight points, but ahead of Force inthird at the final event) to be racing Force first round here in Dallas isepic.
"As a fan of the sport, I'd want to get my ticket for the front row and if I'm at home I definitely want to get in early. It's just everything you wantas a fan. As a driver we're both going to be going nuts tonight, but this is what it's all about. This is going to be a lot of fun."
Capps' win-loss record against Force is 15-37. Force has lost the last four meetings. This is their sixth match-up in 2006 and Capps is 4-1 going intoeliminations. Three of the last four meetings were in the final round.
Hey, this is different – Jack Beckman admits he still has a lot to learn in his quest to become a front-running Funny Car driver. He’s quickly learning that driving 320 miles per hour in a Top Fuel Dragster can be less demanding than a 314 mph blast in a clutch dust-filled Funny Car cockpit.
Beckman knew there would be a difference between the two but never imagined the nuances would be as different as day and night.
“They both haul,” Beckman said. “They have the same motor but a different tune-up program. With the wheelbase of the Funny Car you can’t get after it as quickly as you can a Dragster. The Funny Car picks up more on the back half because of the aerodynamics.
“They are both impressive but anything that moves that hard from 200 to 900-foot is amazing. In the Dodge Charger I am driving you feel as if you’re sitting in the trunk and you have half of the window taped up.”
Every run down the track in the Matco Tools Funny Car presents a unique experience for Beckman.
“You know the interested thing is when I ran a sportsman car, I would strap myself in and I had a thin firesuit. The cockpit is a bit larger with the sportsman car. When you strap in the Funny Car, it is like you have a huge cocoon around you. When you’re in there it is almost like an insulated feeling. You feel really protected and you tend to not think about the things that can go wrong. You just have to do the same thing every time the same way.”
Beckman qualified No. 15, clocking in with a solid 4.895-second pass at313.58 mph.
The Old One – Two – Greg Anderson scored his 51st career pole position by edging out teammate Jason Line. It is the sixth time that Anderson and teammate Jason Line have qualified one-two this season. Anderson has four of the top efforts, and Line has two. It is also the 15th time in 19 races that either Anderson (11) or Line (4) have been No. 1 this season.
Anderson is in a heated three-way battle for the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championship with Line, who qualified No. 2 and currently leads the point standings, and third place Dave Connolly. Last night after qualifying, Anderson talked about the intensity of the chase, especially the battle with his teammate.
"It's been a different type of season for me," Anderson said. "It's been a grind. But we're still in the game and right now the cars are the best they've been all season. So are the drivers. I want a fourth championship really bad and I know Jason wants his first. They (the other drivers) have smelled the blood in the water and pushed their way past us. We need to answer back."
And Anderson, the 2004 Speed Channel driver of the year, has answered back, feeling that he is at the peak of his game as he sets sight on his fourth consecutive championship.
This No. 1 is Anderson’s 51st of his career. The Minnesota-born driver, who now lives in North Carolina, has done well at the Motorplex. Anderson has gone to two previous final rounds on the all-concrete track at the Motorplex, winning both. He won over Jeg Coughlin in 2003 and over his teammate Jason Line last year.
“We need every point and every scrap we can find,” said Anderson. “There’s a whole lot out there we can pick up tomorrow. We have a great tune-up and every run we’ve gotten better. The car has just been a dream to drive. The crew here and back home have given us two horses that can get the job done if we do our job. That’s all we can ask for. We just have to do our jobs.
Line pointed out that it’s all about staying ahead of the field that counts.
“Both Greg and I did what was necessary to maintain our opportunity to have a chance to win the POWERade Pro Stock championship,” said Line. “We ran good times on Friday in the heat, then turned right around and run stout numbers on Saturday after the temperatures cooled some. Now it will be up to us to drive these Summit Pontiacs tomorrow like we want to win.”
Coming into the O’Reilly Fall Nationals, Line leads the Pro Stock point standing by 59 points over Anderson, who holds the second position, and by 135 points over third place Dave Connolly. Kurt Johnson is in fourth, 296 points back and Allen Johnson (no relation to Kurt) rounds out the top five, 314 points behind first.
No Mopar for Krisher - Ron Krisher had considered going to a Mopar for 2007 but the thought of being tarred and feathered in his hometown just didn’t set well with the veteran Pro Stock racer.
Krisher would have been in a rather uncomfortable predicament had he opted to travel the Mopar route.
“I live where they build the Cobalts,” Krisher, of Warren, Ohio, said. “People get a down-home feeling back at home about this car. The survival of the whole community depends on the Cobalt and it wouldn’t be good to come out with a Dodge. I don’t think that would go over well with a Dodge - especially with some of the local government functions that I get involved in. You have to watch out for your bread and butter.”
Cobalts are big business in Warren.
“It’s a small farming community,” Krisher adds.
Krisher admits that he’s discussed the Mopar route with Larry Morgan and about a engine leasing program.
“Larry would love for me to go with a Mopar but I think I’ll stick with my Chevrolet,” Krisher said. “There are a lot of issues involved here other than just switching cars.
“I do a lot of business with Chrysler as far as cable is concerned and that’s important to me. My hometown community is pretty important to me too. We have a lot of people in the community that work in the Cobalt plant and anything I can do to help the situation I will do.”
Task at hand focus for Yates - On Monday through Thursday Jim Yates is running wide open, ramping up for his new Pro Stock program with NFL football star Duce Staley. Friday though Sunday brings forth another level altogether.
“We have to be focused at the races because it is so tough to qualify out here for these events,” Yates said. “There cannot be any distractions or you won’t be here on Sunday.”
Yates became involved with Staley’s Catch 22 Motorsports program through mutual friend Billy Gibson. Staley has long been involved in IHRA programs and likewise owned a successful outlaw Pro Modified entry.
“Duce was looking to get into NHRA Pro Stock because there’s more of an opportunity for television time,” Yates said. “He was looking to gain media awareness and find a veteran driver to work with Billy. I think we were a natural choice.”
In football terms, one might immediately draw the conclusion that Yates is the veteran quarterback and Gibson is the rookie assigned to learn the ropes from him.
“The good thing about this sport is that you can race two quarterbacks at one time,” Yates said. “I consider us more like two running backs, one runs one way and the other runs the opposite way. The idea of having a two-car team regardless of class is to gain more data. Those are the teams that are winning.”
Tough Time for Prices – Bart and Donna Price are faced with the extreme challenge of keeping their Greg Stanfield-driven Pro Stocker in the field for 23-races a season. Nothing could have prepared them for the challenge they faced in the last two weeks when Donna experienced heart problems and was sent into surgery twice.
Donna’s defibrillator lead shorted out and that sent them to the hospital for repair. During the surgical procedure, the unit is actually fastened to the heart. Once the surgeons were convinced they had it working properly again, it failed. She was rushed into emergency surgery where a new defibrillator was installed. Her resolve was challenged with two heart surgeries in as many days.
Donna is recovering well and Bart admits she’s back to her normal.
“She plans to be in Vegas,” Bart said. “I know she’s feeling a lot better because her plan today was to get her nails done.”
Babysitting at the Drags – Lisa Edwards had a tough but gratifying task of keeping tabs on 150 youth visitors from the Young Life program in the Dallas – Fort Worth area on Thursday. Edwards’ husband Mike drives a car that has donated primary sponsorship space to the Christian-based organization that focuses on assisting at-risk urban youth.
“It was an awesome night,” Edwards said. “We had a bit of weather but the Lord helped us out. The kids were excited about seeing the Young Life car.”
Normally the Edwards’ hosts their program in the team’s pit area, but the limited space quickly forced them to shift their gathering to the nearby Racer’s For Christ tent.
“The sport has been great to the program,” Edwards said. “There are a lot of socially and economic challenged kids who get to attend the Young Life camps because of those donations.”
RAIN DELAYS SATURDAY QUALIFYING
A heavy thunderstorm rolled through the Ennis, Texas area bringing qualifying to a halt just as little past the noon hour. The rain has ceased as of 1:08 and track drying procedures have begun.
Two pairs of Pro Stockers made runs before the rains fell.
UPDATE: 2:26 PM, CST - Pro Stock qualifying has resumed.
FRIDAY QUALIFYING - ASHLEY, KALITTA AND ANDERSON LEAD QUALIFYING AT O'REILLY NHRA FALLNATIONALS
New Yorker Mike Ashley raced to the qualifying lead in Funny Car Friday at the O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec. Ashley posted a 4.799 at 314.53 mph in his Torco Racing Fuels Dodge Stratus at the all-concrete Texas Motorplex to lead his category and join Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta and reigning Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson as leaders after the first day of qualifying.
A heavily-accented mortgage broker from Long Island, Ashley posted a
4.799 at 314.53 mph in his Dodge Stratus to overshadow the championship
battle between Ron Capps and John Force. Capps' Dodge has him fifth
after a 4.865, while Force's Ford carried him to 11th with a 4.983. It
is the first time Ashley has led the 7,000 horsepower category since
moving from Pro Modified to Funny Car last year at the U.S. Nationals.
"I think we've been underrated the last four races," Ashley said. "I'm a
former champion. This is not the first time I've been No. 1 qualifier. This shouldn't be a surprise. We've got all the pieces here; a great sponsor in Torco Fuels, the resources of Don Schumacher Racing, and a proven crew chief in Brian Corradi. The weak link has been me, but this is my one-year anniversary driving these cars and I've learned a lot."
Needing to rebound from a costly first-round exit at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Kalitta powered his Mac Tools dragster to the best Top Fuel pass of the day, posting a 4.535 at 324.59 mph on the scoreboard. Kalitta was low qualifier here in 2004 and won the event in 2002. Tony Schumacher, currently second in points, is third in the starting order with a 4.630 at 318.32 in his U.S. Army dragster.
"The car's running strong, certainly good enough to run with anybody that's up there with us in the points," Kalitta said. "We've got to do our jobs and I can't be losing on holeshots. Going out early can really put a beating on anybody's points. You can see how it can go either way
Defending event champion Anderson and teammate and points leader Jason
Line were the last two Pro Stock drivers down the racetrack and they
quickly moved to first and second on the provisional ladder in their
Summit Racing Pontiac GTOs. Anderson's 6.782 at 203.83 mph was slightly
quicker than Line's 6.788 at 203.03 mph, giving him the No. 1 position.
"It's been a different type of season for me," Anderson said. "It's been a grind. But we're still in the game and right now the cars are the best they've been all season. So are the drivers. I want a fourth championship really bad and I know Jason wants his first. They've smelled the blood in the water and pushed their way past us. We need to answer back."
Qualifying continues Saturday at noon and 3 p.m. for Sunday's 11 a.m.
Friday's qualifying results for the 21st annual O'ReillyNHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec at Texas Motorplex, 19th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.
Top Fuel -- 1. Doug Kalitta, 4.535 seconds, 324.59 mph; 2. Rod Fuller,
4.571, 324.28; 3.Tony Schumacher, 4.630, 324.98; 4. David Grubnic,
4.639, 319.37; 5. David Baca, 4.661, 309.63; 6. Joe Hartley, 4.703,
297.61; 7. Larry Dixon, 4.704, 318.84; 8. Troy Buff, 4.710, 319.90; 9.
Andrew Cowin, 4.720, 314.68; 10. J.R. Todd, 4.729, 296.76; 11. Alan
Bradshaw, 4.732, 315.19; 12. Melanie Troxel, 4.762, 314.97; 13. Bill
Ancona, 4.793, 271.30; 14. Brandon Bernstein, 4.864, 254.18; 15. Scott
Palmer, 4.876, 263.00; 16. Cory McClenathan, 4.913, 304.74.
Funny Car -- 1. Mike Ashley, Dodge Stratus, 4.799, 314.53; 2. Eric
Medlen, Ford Mustang, 4.822, 318.39; 3. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.849,
314.39; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.857, 312.86; 5. Ron
Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.865, 317.27; 6. Tony Pedregon, Monte Carlo,
4.871, 314.53; 7. Jim Head, Stratus, 4.893, 312.71; 8. Cruz Pedregon,
Monte Carlo, 4.911, 313.37; 9. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.933, 307.02; 10.
Scott Kalitta, Toyota Solara, 4.954, 295.34; 11. John Force, Mustang,
4.983, 295.98; 12. Gary Densham, Monte Carlo, 4.989, 310.55; 13. Tony
Bartone, Monte Carlo, 5.079, 287.78; 14. Todd Simpson, Chevy Camaro,
5.254, 288.52; 15. Phil Burkart, Monte Carlo, 5.480, 200.44; 16. Del
Worsham, Monte Carlo, 5.518, 230.37.
Pro Stock -- 1. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GTO, 6.782, 203.83; 2. Jason
Line, GTO, 6.788, 203.19; 3. Larry Morgan, Dodge Stratus, 6.791, 202.82;
4. Dave Howard, Chevy Cobalt, 6.792, 203.49; 5. Steve Schmidt, Cobalt,
6.795, 203.92; 6. Richie Stevens, Stratus, 6.798, 202.55; 7. Kurt
Johnson, Cobalt, 6.799, 203.40; 8. Ron Krisher, Cobalt, 6.803, 202.64;
9. Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.805, 203.22; 10. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.805,
203.00; 11. Tom Martino, GTO, 6.805, 202.91; 12. Allen Johnson, Stratus,
6.805, 202.88; 13. Tommy Lee, Cobalt, 6.806, 203.19; 14. Dave Connolly,
Cobalt, 6.808, 202.61; 15. Erica Enders, Stratus, 6.810, 202.55; 16.
Dave Northrop, Stratus, 6.814, 202.27.
Inspired – Doug Kalitta had plenty of time to think about his early departure at the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Friday night that shortcoming was a distant memory.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect after the first session today, but the car responded well,” Kalitta explained. “Rahn Tobler had the tune-up and the crew made it happen. Our car is running with everyone that is in the front. We just have to stay cool and go out there and do our deal. You can’t get beat on a holeshot.”
When asked whether he was on the offensive at this point in the season or the defensive, Kalitta was non-committal.
“It’s hard to say,” Kalitta responded. “You just try to do your normal deal and be the best you can every time. Going down the stretch will be fun. Hopefully I can clinch it before the season is over but there is a lot of racing left.”
Something went wrong - Cory McClenathan was frustrated Friday after his first two qualifying runs.
Seeing Clearly - Mike Ashley was probably more proud of his bracelet adorning his right arm more than he was recording Friday evening’s provisional pole position. Ashley drove his KNOLL GAS – Torco Race Fuels flopper to a 4.799 at 314.43 to claim the top spot after two sessions.
He read it aloud for the room full of reporters, “Lend-America – Finish Strong 2006.”
Ashley, a mortgage banker and executive Vice President of Lend-America, was speaking to sixty of his loan officers instructing them to open up their vision. He instructed them to each wear one of the bracelets and to open their personal vision because they can achieve whatever they establish as their goal.
“I told them our plan was to finish the year strong and for us to come out here and do this well, it just blows me away,” Ashley said. “This is just great.”
Did Ashley deem tonight’s success a surprise?
“I think this team has been underrated for the last few races,” Ashley said. “I really feel that we have our program together. I’m a past world champion and this is not my first #1 qualifier, I know what it takes to build a championship team. We have the core ingredients to do just that. We’ve got top notch equipment with DSR and a talent pool that runs deep.”
Ashley immediately cast the lion’s share of praise on his crewchief Brian Corradi.
“The guy is unbelievable,” Ashley said. “He used to tune Frank Pedregon and did a very good job.”
Ashley made his NHRA POWERade Funny Car debut last year in Indianapolis. This season marks his first full campaign but he’s gained enough experience to learn the tendencies of the upper echelon drivers.
“You make a run like that and when all of the big boys are behind you, if they smell blood…and I’m talking Force, Capps, Hight and all of them…they go straight for the jugular. That’s the bottom line. It’s almost like a one session qualifying effort, if you don’t get in on Friday night, you could have a problem on Saturday. We were coming out to swing for the fences or we were not going to swing.”
“The only weak link in this chain is me,” Ashley admitted. “I think we are really starting to get our act together as a team. I have worked a bit with Frank Hawley lately and it has helped me to get my act together.
“I think this is a team that can win. If I am a betting guy, I’m not betting against us. I am not surprised that this team put this kind of a number up early.”
Not Happy - One Funny Car driver not having a good day in the office was Del Worsham. Worsham was unqualified after the first day.
"This car is driving me crazy, and we're probably driving ourselves crazy,
too," Worsham said. "It will do exactly what you want on one lap, like it
did in Indy during the final session, and then it will just go off and go
overboard, like it did tonight. Speaking of going overboard, there's an old
sports saying when things are going bad, something like 'I don't think we
could hit water if we fell out of a boat,' and that's about where we are
"On the first pass today, there just wasn't much track out there, and basically nobody made a full lap. Medlen was No. 1 because he got the farthest, but even he didn't keep it stuck through the lights. Tonight, we all knew it was going to be better, and we knew you'd need to be aggressive to be in the top half, but you'd think we went ape and tried to run a 4.69 there, the way the car smoked the tires. We were shooting for a mid to low 4.80, I'll tell you that, but there was
plenty of track out there to hold what we were trying to run. I'm not a happy guy right now, and I'm not alone around here."
Anderson’s KB Racing LLC teammate Jason Line is qualified second at the end of today’s two run. He ran a best elapsed time today of 6.788 seconds at a speed of 203.03 mph.
"My hat's off to the guys,” said Anderson following today’s two sessions. “They're doing a heck of a job with both cars, and they're giving Jason and me everything we could ask for to make this stretch run and give ourselves a shot. That's a tribute to the crew guys over there and to the engine guys back at the shop.
“I'm just lucky to be piloting that car. I'm happy, I'm lucky, and Jason's happy and he's lucky. We're two lucky guys out there and we're having fun out there, we're getting to play and knock heads with each other, and that's a lot of fun."
Anderson has done well at the Motorplex. He has been No. 1 qualifier twice (2003 and 2005) and has gone to two final rounds, winning both. He won over Jeg Coughlin in 2003 and over his teammate Jason Line last year.
Additionally, Anderson holds the Texas Motorplex track records for elapsed time (6.647 seconds) and speed (207.40 mph).
In the NHRA POWERade point battle Anderson, who holds the second position in the Pro Stock point standings, is trailing Line, who leads the point standing, by 59 points. Anderson knows that he still has five races to make up the difference.
Blame it on the rian - Rain can be the worst thing for a driver when they've got momentume on their side.
“I would’ve preferred to have raced in Reading (Pa.) this past weekend, but Mother Nature had other ideas,” said the defending NHRA Top Fuel world champion. “When you put together a stretch of races like we have the last few months, you don’t want any break in the action.”
Over the last seven races, the U.S. Army team captured three events and advanced to three other final rounds, while moving from eighth-place in the standings to second.
Schumacher will now have to tackle three straight races, while trying to further close the gap on leader, Doug Kalitta, in the order.
“With this weekend’s race, the make-up race in Reading, Pa. and then the race in Richmond, we’ll definitely have a better idea on where we stand as far as the world championship goes,” offered the Chicago native. “At the moment, we’re less than three rounds behind Kalitta (54 points), so we have to keep chipping away these next three weeks.”
Fortunately for Schumacher, the Texas Motorplex offers a good starting point among the trio of venues coming up on the schedule.
“We’ve won there three times in my career and the last two years, in particular,” he said. “It’s a nice facility with an all-concrete racing surface. There’s usually some good, exciting racing down there.”
As the 2006 NHRA season winds down, Schumacher is intent on winning his third consecutive world title. Only one other Top Fuel driver – Joe Amato – accomplished that feat in NHRA history.
“I’m not really thinking of the record book to be honest,” he said. “The biggest thing is to deliver another championship to our soldiers. They won’t accept defeat in their jobs, so we shouldn’t either. They’re great role models for us.”
New Digger, Old Record - Morgan Lucas has a new dragster which his Lucas Oil team will unveil for the O’Reilly Fall Nationals this weekend. However, for this new car’s first competitive appearance, the Indiana-based crew will also employ an innovative new strategy in the Lone Star state.
“We had been anticipating the debut of our new car last week in Reading. However, with the rain all that was postponed until this weekend in Dallas. This race should be interesting with the all-concrete surface and the power we can release on it. There’s not a transition point on the track, so it’s full throttle all the way.”
With the rainout in Reading, Lucas now shifts his attention to the Texas Motorplex, where he hopes to qualify for what will be his 50th professional start. Reaching this mark will have taken just over two years after his initial start with Joe Amato Racing at the Lucas Oil Nationals on August 15, 2004.
“I hope to keep the record going,” said Lucas. “We have a good team and as long as we can go from A to B, we’ll be all right. That’s the hardest part - getting it to go down the racetrack. The new car has great concepts built in it, and I think it should easily win a race if we give it what it wants. We just have to read the data feedback after the initial runs and learn from it.”
Twice this season Lucas has won in his NHRA Lucas Oil Sportsman Series A-Fuel dragster and he wants to add another 2006 victory to his impressive list. This is the second time in Lucas’ career that he has done double-duty driving at Dallas (2004). When questioned about keeping everything balanced with such a hectic racing schedule, Lucas is quick to point out, “It’s not a concern. After all, we made it to the semi-finals with both cars before and hey, two cars gives me twice as much chance to win.”
Lucas has a semifinal, a quarterfinal round finish in his two previous Dallas Top Fuel races, with his highest qualified position being the No. 6 slot with a pass of 4.509 seconds in 2005. His fastest speed was in last year’s first round when he flew through the clocks with an acceleration of 323.04 mph.
All Grown Up - J.R. Todd is one of two frontrunners for the coveted NHRA rookie of the year honor and the only thing he can think of is getting back into action after a three week delay caused by rain.
Todd returns to the Texas Motorplex for the first time at the controls of the Dexter Tuttle-owned Skull Shine Car Care Products nitromethane-fueled dragster. Todd has experience racing on the only all-concrete quarter-mile race track on the NHRA POWERade Series tour, albeit coming when he drove Jr. Dragsters.
“I raced here in the nationals when I was driving a Jr. Dragster,” said Todd, who is seeking his third 2006 victory in the O’Reilly Fall Nationals. “I’m looking forward to this weekend. Hopefully we got all the bugs worked out of our tune-up during our time at the shop. We should be in good shape because we didn’t race at all last weekend at Reading (Pa., site of the postponed – until Sept. 29-Oct. 1 – Toyo Tires Nationals).”
Todd and the team now face a run of three straight races – the Skull Shine Nationals is scheduled Oct. 6-8 at Richmond, Va. – an obstacle he doesn’t mind, especially after completion of an eight races in a row stint prior to Reading. “It’s bad enough we had one weekend off,” he joked, “but now we’ve gone two weeks without a race.
“One thing three races in a row do is keep you fresh in the car.”
Todd upset the field in Denver to get his first NHRA Top Fuel victory (July 16) and came back two weeks later to win again at Sonoma, Calif., defeating Tony Schumacher in each of his title rounds.
Despite missing four races earlier in the year (before Evan Knoll brought Skull Shine sponsorship to the team), Todd has an opportunity to finish in the top 10. He is 105 points behind the No. 10 driver (710-815) with five races and 20 eliminations rounds remaining.
“We can make up some ground if we can win some rounds and get to the semifinals and finals,” said Todd. The mission begins Friday, and it still is possible.
He Loves The Place - When Top Fuel driver "Hot Rod" Fuller was a budding sportsman racer in his hometown of Rogers, Ark., he used to tell his parents little, white lies just to get a chance to race at the Texas Motorplex, the site of this weekend's 21st annual O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals. Although he enjoyed the challenge of the sport's only all-concrete quarter-mile, it was another local attraction that had him telling fibs.
"That song about the girls in Texas being prettier is true," Fuller said. "From the first time I went to Ennis, I have always been blown away by those good-looking Texas girls. Oh yeah, I like the racetrack also."
Fuller returns to the Lone Star State with an 8,000-horsepower hot rod that's fully capable of getting all the girl's to pay attention. His Valvoline/David Powers Homes dragster has been running very strong all year and two recent No. 1 qualifying efforts have the entire team thinking about a big finish to the 2006 season.
"Last week's rainout means we have three races in a row now," Fuller said. "I'd love to get a winning streak going this weekend and just ride it all the way to Pomona.
"Winning at the Motorplex would be special. They have that area with the bricks where all the former winners have their names inscribed and I've always wanted to be a part of that. Aside from the pretty girls, this track has always been one of my favorites. It's very fast and also a little treacherous so it's a challenge to do well here. You have to be prepared every pass and never let up. It's places like Dallas where this team shines."
Just a little magic - Andrew Cowin was the low qualifier in Dallas during the 2002 season when he drove for Darrell Gwynn.
This year Cowin hopes to recapture some of that magic at Texas Motorplex. He will be driving the same car this season as he did when he captured the pole in 2002, only he will be driving for Scott Griffin Motorsports. Griffin bought equipment from Gwynn when he decided to field a Top Fuel team last December, and the chassis Cowin drove to the top of the qualifying sheet in Dallas in ’02 was included.
“It is going to feel like old times,” Cowin said. “I have a lot of history in this car, and a lot of success. Dallas is such a great race and the track is absolutely unbelievable. It can handle pretty much any tune-up you throw at it, so I’m sure (Crew Chief) Lance (Larsen) is going to give me plenty of power this weekend.”
It has been quite a year for Cowin and Griffin in their first season driving under the Serta Mattresses banner. Not only did the team capture its first national event victory, winning the IHRA Suzuki Motor City Nationals in Milan, Mich., it also qualified for the quickest field in NHRA history at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
“We expected to do well this season,” Griffin said. “We knew what kind of driver we had with Andrew, and with Keith and Lance teaming up to tune the car the results pretty much speak for themselves. Whenever we go to a race now we aren’t going just to field a competitive car, we’re trying to win races. And we know we have the capability to do just that. We’re heading into Dallas with the same mindset we have taken to all the races. We want to be the No. 1 qualifier and win the race.”
We're Okay Now - The Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde personality of Eric Medlen's Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang has made it the most dangerous Funny Car on the grounds this week for both the driver and for those against whom he is competing in the 21st annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex.
"When you line up against us," Medlen said, "you never know what you're gonna get, at least that's how it's been most of the season. You don't know whether we're gonna be fast or whether my dad (crew chief John Medlen) is gonna be furious. It's been that kind of year."
Indeed, it's been a roller coaster-ride-of-a-season for the 33-year-old Medlen who rolls into Texas in fifth place in the NHRA POWERade driver standings, his hopes of winning a championship all but mathematically over.
He's started from the No. 1 position twice this season and was No. 3 qualifier for the Skoal Showdown, a Funny Car bonus race involving the top eight qualifiers over a 23-race span.
Two months ago, he earned his fifth tour victory by winning the FRAM/Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calif. He's beaten his boss, 13-time series champion John Force. He's beaten current points leader Ron Capps. In fact, he's beaten almost everyone including the man he replaced at the wheel of the Syntec Ford, Tony Pedregon.
The only problem is that he hasn't beaten any of them with enough regularity to emerge as a legitimate contender for the $400,000 championship.
"It's been really frustrating because we know we have a car that can win," Medlen said. "It's just been getting everybody on the same page. We've had a big turnover (in personnel) and every time you get a new guy, there's a training period.
"Have some mistakes been made on the maintenance side? Sure, but there's been some mistakes made in the cockpit, too. We win as a team, but we also lose as a team. You just try to learn from what happens and do better the next time."
The upshot is that Medlen has ridden out more than his fair share of fires due to mechanical failures. In fact, over the last 19 races, he twice has sailed off the end of the track and into the sandpit, which serves as the last line of defense for race cars decelerating from speeds near 330 miles per hour.
Nevertheless, he tries to take it all in stride.
"If the thing catches on fire, you don't want to have an oildown (the drag racing term for a parts failure that results in a major track cleanup)," he said, "but then again, it is race day and the only way to win is to keep your foot on the gas. There's a lot of things going through your mind, but the biggest thing is just to win."
That'll be the focus this week for the man who once aspired to a career in professional rodeo.
"What've we got to lose?," he asked. "What you hope is that we catch Capps or Tony (whose one position ahead of Medlen) in the first or second round and take them out. That'd help us, but it also would help John and Robert (Hight, driver of the third of the JFR Mustangs and winner of the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.).
"We race three cars, but we're still one team. So if John or Robert wins the championship, well, we win, too. That's the great thing about being at John Force Racing."
Medlen, who worked for eight years on Force's Castrol
GTX Fords, attributes that
all-for-one, one-for-all philosophy for the team's 17-year dominance of the Funny Car division, a dominance that has included 14 series championships and 165 NHRA tour victories. Force or Hight could add a 15th title by season's end, which would be just fine with the man who likely will play a role in the final outcome.
Just Love It - Cruz Pedregon loves Dallas because it is where he first tasted success.
"Dallas is really a special track to me, and the place where I had my most famous drag race - the final round in 1992 where I ran against John Force. Fans still talk about that run," Pedregon said. "The championship was on the line. We had won four in a row coming into that race, which at that time was the second-to-last on the schedule - there was no Las Vegas race back then. I really needed to win that round to give us a good opportunity to win the championship in Pomona. It was a real high-stakes final round for all of the marbles. The race had a little bit of everything, and a lot of drama. John and I both left the line and smoked the tires. He hit the wall, and we were both on and off of the throttle several times. It was a great way to close the show...a spectacular race. We won that final round, which helped me clinch the championship, so I'll always remember the Motorplex for that race."
A New Start? - The annual NHRA POWERade tour stop in Dallas for the O’Reilly NHRA Fallnationals usually coincides with the key Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Knoll Gas - Torco Funny Car driver Mike Ashley utilizes these moments as both a time to show reverence to his strong personal beliefs and to draw inspiration for the tasks at hand. Case in point, during a tight championship battle, Ashley once sat out a day of qualifying in observance of Yom Kippur.
This weekend marks Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year. One important similarity between the Jewish New Year and the American one: Many Americans use the New Year as a time to plan a better life, making "resolutions." Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the New Year.
For Ashley, he plans to use this weekend as a launching pad to build on momentum he’s gained since July when he took over as the driver on Evan Knoll’s new Funny Car team. Ashley and his talented crewchief Brian Corradi have had three weeks to prepare for the moment.
"Time away from the track enables you to run more scenarios through your mind and create scenarios and how to deal with them," Ashley said. "We have reviewed every race since Denver, categorized them and studied them. We have looked at past experience racing at Dallas and have a solid game plan heading into the weekend."
That's the mental preparation. Ashley's racecar is another story.
"Any time Brian has the opportunity to go over the car in extreme detail is great for us," Ashley said. "That's exactly what he's been able to do in the past week. He always studies every aspect of the car, but the extra time has enabled us to study the car even further and enhance every performance aspect."
Better Late Than Never - Jack Beckman, who was announced last week as the new driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, will have to wait for this weekend's O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex to make his debut with Don Schumacher Racing after the Reading, Pa., event was re-scheduled to Sept. 29-Oct. 1 because of rain.
The 40-year-old North Hills, Calif., resident who serves as an instructor at Frank Hawley's NHRA Championship Drag Racing School, sees the delay as just another day in the life of a professional racer.
"You'd absolutely burn yourself out in drag racing if you let the highs get that high and the lows get that low," says Beckman, who has competed in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Top Fuel class, and recently earned his Funny Car license. "It is such a sport of patience because you're not only up there at the whim of Mother Nature but track conditions, schedules and other things as well. You just kind of take everything as it comes to you.
"It was certainly not what I envisioned," he says of his delayed debut. "In my mind's eye I was picturing how nice it was going to be once we put the car in the show and tried to get it to the final, and we got out there and didn't do anything but sit through the rain.
"But, it also gave me an opportunity to spend a little more time with the Matco Tools crew and with the other teammates on Don Schumacher Racing."
As for this opportunity to drive for DSR, "I would imagine, like with anything this big that you've worked for this long, that there is probably still a mild state of shock," says Beckman. "I've been going to the races since I was 7 and this is what I've always wanted to do. And the majority of my adult life I've been pursuing and trying to do this. Then to be picked up by Don Schumacher Racing to drive one of the best cars out there right now, I'm not sure that it's completely sunk in.
"I don't know that it's going to sink in until I go out there for the driver intros Sunday morning after we've qualified. And even then it might not fully sink in. So, I guess I'm taking it in stride. And the fact that I work a full-time job at least gives me that diversion. I'm not sitting home eight hours a day, twiddling my thumbs jumping up and down at the opportunity to do this."
Excitement aside, Beckman is clearly well-grounded. "I'm doing my best to temper my enthusiasm," he says, "because the reality is, when I get out there - and the Matco Tools guys have already had success - I want to make sure I do everything in my power to get the car down the track, to get the ET that they put in the car. I recognize that, even though for Jack Beckman this may be the coolest thing to ever happen in my life, I still have a very big obligation to Don Schumacher Racing and all the guys on the Matco Tools Dodge team."
Last year in Ennis, Beckman drove a Top Fuel dragster to No. 11 in qualifying, then lost first round to Doug Herbert.
Don't Retire Me Yet - John Force's performance this season, which has included six Skoal Showdown No. 1 qualifier awards, two wins and five runner-up finishes has brought a temporary halt to questions about his retirement plans.
It's a question that has caused Force as much consternation as the demands of Driving Force, the real-life TV show in which he appears with wife Laurie and racing daughters Ashley, Brittany and Courtney.
"It's not like NASCAR," Force has said. "You don't have to drive for three hours. I always said if I was in NASCAR, they'd have to put in some rest stops. But in drag racing, you just have to focus for five seconds. As long as I've got my health and as long as I've got my vision, I can do this. It's what I love."
Sitting Out - Kenny Koretsky will not be driving his blue Nitro Fish/ISC Racers Tape Dodge Stratus in this weekend’s O’Reilly Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas. But the team owner will be there, watching Dave Northrop, who is sitting in for him.
“Physically, I feel fine, but I’m just not ready to get behind the wheel at that track,” said Koretsky, who was injured here in a spectacular qualifying accident with Bruce Allen last Oct. 7. “I am looking forward to going to Dallas. I have a lot of friends there. I want to concentrate on watching Dave drive and I’m hoping we run good.”
Koretsky had planned to compete at Reading, Pa., near his Richboro, Pa., home, but rain postponed the event.
For Northrop, the decision means he’ll be concentrating on driving the blue Nitro Fish Dodge instead of the red Dodge that has been his primary car during a season in which he planned to run about 10 races with Koretsky.
A former Competition Eliminator driver, Northrop has worked with crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia, testing and driving both cars.
The Professor Knows - Throughout his stellar career, GM Performance Parts GTO racer Warren Johnson has raced on virtually every type of racing surface. From his early days at Minnesota Dragways to the state-of-the-art facilities on today’s POWERade Drag Racing Series circuit, WJ has adapted to them all, winning at virtually every track on which he has set foot.
“Over the years I have raced on just about every type of surface, including an occasional unplanned excursion on grass, as well as a few other tracks that might make some of today’s drivers reconsider their career choice,” kidded Johnson. “I’ve seen it all and done it all, with about the only thing I haven’t raced on is mud.
“For the most part, the NHRA tracks have been among the best available overall, as well as select stops on the IHRA circuit, including Rockingham (Dragway) Norwalk (Raceway Park), and Darlington, which were pretty good when I first started out. To say the least, it’s been a rather remarkable experience, which has served me well over the years, helping to adapt to whatever is thrown our way.”
Among the many tracks on Johnson’s resume is the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, TX, site of this weekend’s O’Reilly Fall Nationals. With its trademark racing surface made entirely of concrete, it is capable of handling all the horsepower the “factory hot rods” can dish out. With five wins and eleven final round appearances in his previous visits, Johnson leads all Pro Stock competitors in success on the Ennis quarter-mile, making him uniquely qualified to comment on what it takes to win there. As “The Professor” explains, the car must be properly set up and the driver must be on his game to take advantage of what the track will give.
“The Texas Motorplex is a rather unique track, not only in that it is concrete all the way to the finish line, but that it also has a notoriously narrow groove,” detailed Johnson. “With the high amount of traction that is normally available on the starting line, if you make a straight clean run, it is as good as it gets.
“However, if for some reason you get out of the groove, it is notoriously slippery, because very few cars get out there and put down rubber. An extreme example of what can happen is last year’s dramatic accident between Bruce Allen and Kenny Koretsky when Bruce got out of the groove. The bottom line is that it’s a pretty decent racetrack, but you had better mind your P’s and Q’s, because if you have a car that wanders, you could be in trouble. This is one track that can be very fast as well as very dangerous.”
New Digs - Indy was a big race for Pro Stock driver Erica Enders, and not for what she did on the racetrack. It was at this year's event when the 22-year-old from Houston realized a lifelong dream and took ownership of her own race team. Three weeks later, Enders Racing arrives at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas for the O'Reilly Fall Nationals with a brand-new corporate sponsor and a boatload of potential.
"The highlight of my career up to this point was making my Pro Stock debut," the star of the Disney Channel Movie Right On Track said. "But I have to tell you, owning my own team with my dad was always in the back of my mind. Now, thanks to the great folks at Revive USA, pops, and Stan Holt at Lupe Tortilla Restaurants, I feel we’ve made that big move. I know a lot of people have come before me, but for us, this is special.
"It takes a lot of money, time, patience, and perseverance to race in the Pro Stock class. We’ve got a great, proven engine builder in David Nickens, a great crew, and a fresh start. We’re ready to bash into the field this weekend and let all our fans know we’re back and ready to race again. Their support has been awesome."
Currently ranked 13th in POWERade points, Enders is looking to fight her way back into the top 10 over the remaining five events of the 2006 season.
"We know it won’t be easy with 26 other cars that are entered this weekend but I have a feeling there'll be a few surprised people after we show them what we’ve got," Enders said. "The plan is to finish the year strong and it all starts right now."
He's still gunning - There wasn’t much decided in Dave Connolly’s quest to overhaul NHRA Pro Stock point leaders Jason Line and Greg Anderson last weekend due to a washout at Reading, Pa. So Connolly and the Skull Gear Chevy Cobalt team will resume competition at the Texas Motorplex.
“It was disappointing that we didn’t get to race at Reading, but there’s not much we can do about that,” said Connolly, who is third in POWERade Series points with 1,166. “We won’t have to do much to the car. I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.
“You never know what to expect when we go to Dallas. If it’s hot, the track isn’t very good, but if it’s cool, it will be fast. We’d obviously prefer cooler weather, but we’ll see what happens. We’d like to put good runs together there.”
Line is the series leader with 1,301 points and Anderson is second at 1,242.
Fired Up - All it took was for Greg Anderson to win Indy to get him fired up and ready to win again.
“The recent win at Indy reignited my fire and my intensity to win the POWERade championship this year,” said Anderson. “The postponement at Maple Grove (Reading) did nothing to make me lose my focus. We’ll just concentrate on Dallas this weekend and then return to Reading the week after.”
Anderson has done well at the Motorplex. The Minnesota-born driver, who now works out of the KB Racing LLC shop in the heart of NASCAR country – Mooresville, N.C. – has been No. 1 qualifier twice (2003 and 2005) and has gone to two final rounds, winning both. He won over Jeg Coughlin in 2003 and over his teammate Jason Line last year.
Additionally, Anderson holds the Texas Motorplex track records for elapsed time (6.647 seconds) and speed (207.40 mph).
In the NHRA POWERade point battle Anderson, who holds the second position in the Pro Stock point standings, is trailing Line, who leads the point standing, by 59 points. Anderson knows that he still has five races to make up the difference.
When talking about the focus and intensity of Anderson’s pursuit of his fourth championship it is worth repeating some of his comments as he was heading to the postponed event of last weekend at Reading: “You’re darn right, I would like to have that fourth championship in a row because it’s such a short list of drivers that have done that. I guess I shouldn’t worry about records like that, but it sure would be nice to have that distinction. It would give me a better feeling going into the off-season. After such an accomplishment, it makes you want to go back to the shop and work harder for next year. Success drives me,” said Anderson.