NHRA TOYO TIRES NATIONALS
The 22nd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway were rained out and are rescheduled for Sept. 29, 30 and Oct. 1. Pro sessions will be held at 1 and 4 p.m. on Sept. 29, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sept. 30, and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Oct. 1.
SUNDAY FINAL - ROOKIE JR TODD WINS HIS THIRD POWERADE SERIES EVENT
Other winners at Toyo Tires Nationals include Burkart, Anderson and Stoffer
Rookie J.R. Todd put himself in the driver's seat for the Auto Club Road to the Future award Sunday with his third Top Fuel victory of the year. Todd, who earlier this season became the first African-American to win an NHRA POWERade Series event in Top Fuel, used a career-best pass of 4.494 seconds to power past Melanie Troxel and take the trophy of the $1.5 million Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
In Funny Car, Phil Burkart scored an unlikely win over red-hot Robert Hight to win for the first time in 53 races. Three-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson won his 42nd title, while Karen Stoffer was victorious in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
There was movement at the top in the POWERade Series point standings as 13-time champ John Force inched past Ron Capps in Funny Car and Antron Brown regained the points lead over Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle; Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) maintained narrow points leads with three events remaining.
By advancing one round further than Schumacher, Kalitta was able to extend his lead over Schumacher from 33 to 52 points. Brandon Bernstein is 10 points back in third.
In just 16 professional starts, Todd has pushed his final-round record to a perfect 3-0 with a string of career-best passes. After out-running Cory McClenathan in Round 1, he lowered his personal best time to 4.502 against Tony Schumacher and then posted a career-best top speed of 327.82 mph versus Dave Grubnic. Still, he saved his best for last, dipping into the 4.4s for the first time to extinguish Troxel with a 4.494 at 324.12 mph.
"I never thought I'd be standing here with three wins and people talking about Rookie of the Year," Todd said. "We were only going to run part-time this year but [sponsor] Evan Knoll stepped up his involvement and said straight out he wanted to beat Tony Schumacher. I was like, well who doesn't, but he's given us what it takes to do it."
Burkart ran a gauntlet of superstars on the day, beating former points leader Ron Capps, reigning series champion Gary Scelzi, new points leader John Force, and Hight, who had won the last two national events. The final was a thriller with both Burkart and Hight losing traction before they left the launch pad. The pedalfest was on from there and Burkart managed to reel his machine in first, winning with a dubious 7.528 at 203.92 mph in his Halvoline/Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
"We sure didn't back into this win," Burkart said. "We start out beating the points leader in Ron Capps, then we get the world champ, then I race the John Force, the best guy ever, and take him out in front of all my friends and family, I just don't think it gets any better than this."
Force started the day 37 points behind Capps but ended up one ahead thanks to his semifinal run and Capps' first-round loss. Hight has crept to within 35 of the points lead.
Pro Stock's potential national record was passed from Anderson to Greg Stanfield to Jason Line and back to Anderson before finally settling in Line's hands. For that, the championship leader gains 20 bonus points. But Anderson did get the win over a red-lighting Greg Stanfield in the finale to gain a hard-fought 22 points in the standings. He now trails his Summit Racing Pontiac teammate by 56 points.
"How tough is Pro Stock?" Anderson asked. "If I didn't win the race I wouldn't have gained a nickel on Jason. Both of our cars are so good and it's just exciting that our biggest competition comes from within our team. I need to be perfect for the rest of the year if I want to win my fourth title. It's back and forth with me and Jason and I hope we stay friends through this. I think we will but it's gonna be a fight."
After Angelle Sampey set a national elapsed time record on her U.S. Army Suzuki during qualifying, it seemed likely that the winner's circle would have a female touch, but not many people would have thought Stoffer would be the one hoisting the trophy. Nevertheless, that's exactly what happened as the Geico Motorcycle Suzuki rider powered past everyone, including Sampey herself, to collect her third career win and first since last year's Houston event.
"I think that door falling on my head knocked some sense into me because I've been driving great all season," Stoffer said, referring to an accident at the end of last year when her race transporter's rear lift door collapsed on her. "What a great weekend for us. The only thing we didn't do was set the E.T. record."
Obviously racing without the burden of team orders, Andrew Hines, who led Antron Brown by eight points coming into this event, lost to Harley teammate GT Tonglet in the opening round on a huge .027- to .131-second holeshot. Tonglet, who is 13th in the points, lost to Scali in the next session.
Hines' loss allowed Brown, who raced to the semifinals, to take the lead for the third time this year. Brown now leads Hines by 27 points and Sampey by 64.
Nice to be back - Melanie Troxel led the early Top Fuel point chase and after a stumble, feels good to be back competitive again.
It's nice to be back in the hunt of an event. We've struggled, seen performance come and go, but I really feel like we made a big step towardhaving a competitive race car for the remaining three races," Troxel said. "I don't know if it's realistic for us to have any expectations of achampionship, but we could still go out, have fun, win some races, and see if we can move up a place or two in the points.
"It was nice to get back in the rhythm on making some runs on Sunday. It's been a while since we've done that, and almost forgot how to do it a little bit. We had a very consistent car. That gives a driver a lot of confidence. We ran good today, we didn't luck into anything. We went down the trackevery pass."
Can't Seem to Get Away - Watching the rookie battles between J.R. Todd and Hillary Will conjures memories of the monumental 2003 competition between Brandon Bernstein and David Baca. Ultimately, Bernstein took the Auto Club's version, while Baca was named the People's Choice Rookie of the Year by Torco's Competition Plus Magazine. In their professional racing careers, the two men have squared off eight times. Not surprisingly, they've each won four of those head-to-head meetings.
This weekend's latest installment evened the score at 4-all after the most crowd-pleasing pedalfest of the season. By Baca's count, each driver got on and off the throttle a half dozen times as they struggled to gain traction. The difference was Bernstein's rail finally hooked up a fraction of a second before Baca's did, giving him the victory.
"Every race we have with him is so exciting," said Baca, who recorded his best reaction time of the year when he left the starting line in .020 seconds, well ahead of Bernstein. "We were both a little too aggressive with our tune-ups and we got in trouble early. I did everything I could to get it to hook up. I pedaled the car six, seven, eight times, I grabbed a big ol' handful of brake, I turned sideways both ways, I almost hit the wall twice.
"The thing is I could se him right next to me and he was in trouble also so I just kept racing. He gathered it up just before I did and that was the difference. It was a great race."
Nothing Like a Rebound - Larry Dixon has raced in 263 professional Top Fuel events throughout his career. At the wheel of the Miller Lite dragster, Dixon has earned 417 round wins en route to 38 career victories in 71 final round appearances.No question about it, the Don Prudhomme-owned team has a history of winning. In all that time – more than a decade of competitive performances – Dixon has failed to qualify just six times.
Each of those times, he has come back to the next race qualified well. Each of those times, however, he has suffered a first round loss the next time out.
This weekend was no different. The team posted a DNQ last weekend in Dallas and bounced back to qualify sixth. Sunday, however, wasn't as solid as history repeated itself once more. The car smoked the tires early and didn't recover in a first round matchup against Melanie Troxel.
"The important thing is that we came back, ran a good number to get qualified and got Dallas out of our heads," Dixon said. "The car shook at the starting line and I got back in it and it just smoked the tires again. Our team has shown some good performance numbers in the last few races and I'm just excited because I think we can break out and get in the win column anytime now."
Sandwiched - The menu for today is a Ron Capps sandwich. One point ahead of him is John Force and 34 behind is Team Force driver Robert Hight. Not a fan of being stuck in the middle, Capps pulled for Johnson early when he got beat in the first round.
"Hey, it's been up and down like this for a while," said Capps of the one-point margin between him and Force. "The fans are getting every bit ofan emotional roller-coaster ride as spectators that we're getting as driversand crew members, owners and crew chiefs. Nobody can capitalize. The Matco Tools guys did a great job going up there and almost beating Force (in the opening round, when teammate Jack Beckman lost to Force on a holeshot).
"We had destiny in our own hands for this race and we just didn't do it. We're just going to focus on Richmond. I have a feeling its going to be'deja vu' from last year."
Almost Got It - Jack Beckman will have to wait another time to get his first round win. The former Top Fuel racer turned Funny Car driver suffered a holeshot loss to John Force in the opening round of eliminations.
Beckman logged the quicker elapsed time of 4.783 seconds at 315.05 mph to No. 9 qualifier Force's slower but winning 4.793/313.44 in a match-up he lost by a mere 10 feet. Reaction times made the difference, as Beckman left the starting line at .109 of a second (.000 is perfect) to Force's .078, leaving .0222 (of a second) as the margin of victory.
"You talk about opportunity. It was an opportunity to help Ron, and with him losing first round, John had the chance to take back the lead " said Beckman. Force did take over the lead by winning the second round over Tommy Johnson Jr. after Capps lost the first round to Phil Burkart Jr.
"It was also an opportunity for this Matco Tools Iron Eagle team and the1500 Matco Tools distributors who root for us each weekend. No matter how John Force is running, when you beat him it's good because he's the benchmark for this Funny Car class. We were so damned close to beating him.
"The bottom line is I lost on a holeshot. I had a quicker ET, and John beat me," said the 2003 NHRA Super Comp champion.
"To be that close to beating John Force, and not get the win light, stings alittle bit. I have to be honest. I didn't go up there thinking, Gosh, if we could give John a good race we would really feel good about it."
Mixed Emotions - Mike Ashley recorded his personal quickest and fastest lap in a Funny Car this weekend at the TOYO Tires NHRA nationals in Reading, Pa. He set a Maple Grove Raceway speed record, and qualified No.2 - his highest NHRA position ever. And, on top of all of that - his son, Justin, won the Powerade Nationals for the second time this year. The only disappointment was a first round loss to Del Worsham.
"I'm so excited for Justin, and to run so well as to set a record - in the big picture it was a great weekend," Ashley said.
"Of course, I'm not happy about going out in the first round - it's the second time in the past six races, and both times to Del," he said.
After running a stellar 4.694 in qualifying to earn the number two spot, Ashley was favored against the No. 15 qualified Worsham. At the line, Ashley's reaction time in his Dodge Charger was .090 compared with Worsham's .113 - more than 2-hundredths - a sizable lead, but just off the line, the Dodge Charger struggled to get traction, giving Worsham more than enough time to take the line. At the stripe, Ashley delivered a 5.671 to Worsham's quicker 4.834.
Ashley has yet to beat Worsham this year in their five first-round meetings.
"Every time I go to the line, I really race myself - not the other driver, so to say that Del gets in my head is not true. If you look at the numbers, I had him off the line, but the tires couldn't stay connected to the track with all of our horsepower until about 200 feet, and by then he was gone."
For the second time this year, 11-year-old Justin Ashley won the Powerade Fan Nationals - a competition where fans compete in life-size Funny Car simulators to win the event title and an all-expense-paid trip to compete in the Finals at Pomona. Justin also won the Fan Nationals title in Denver at the Mopar Mile High NHRA Nationals.
Said the proud father, "Justin really has what it takes to be a great driver: quick reactions and a full grasp of how to handle the car. Mindy [Ashley's wife] and I are so proud of him. He's just a great kid.
"Overall, if you look at the big picture, this was an incredible weekend for us. We had the top position after Friday - my personal best, a speed record-breaking run, and after the one run on Saturday, we were only second by one-thousandth. I'd say that's not bad. Especially considering at the beginning of the season, we were just trying to get into the field," he said.
Ashley set the Maple Grove Raceway Funny Car speed record when he went 330.96 m.p.h. in his first qualifying pass for the weekend, breaking the 327.82 record set by John Force in October of 2004.
"I've said it all along - this is an incredible team. Brian Corradi as definitely proven over and over again that he knows how to get down the track blazing quick, and I know we are headed to the winner's circle.
Three-timer - Anderson victory marked his third win of 2006 in six final rounds and the 42nd of his career in 63 final rounds. Today marked his second consecutive win in three final rounds. He defeated Jim Yates in the event last year.
En route to the final round this season Anderson turned back Max Naylor, Kurt Johnson and Mike Edwards.
In the opening round, minutes after his teammate Jason Line had lower the NHRA national record to 6.619 seconds, Anderson went one better – one thousandths of a second that is – when he reset the Pro Stock elapsed time standard by running a 6.618-second pass at 208.62 mph in defeating Max Naylor. Naylor recorded a pass of 6.683 seconds at 206.70 mph.
With the win in the first round, Anderson has now competed in 400 rounds of eliminations.
“It seems like I say this with every win, but I really needed that win,” said Anderson following his victory over Greg Stanfield in the final round of the NHRA Toyo Tires Nationals. “This point battle is going to go down to the last race and I need to continue to try to get every point that is available. If I didn’t win this today it would have meant I didn’t gain a point on Jason. That’s how tight this chase is.
“The Summit Pontiacs continued to show that they are the best out here. Jason and I must continue to separate ourselves from the rest of the field and then fight it out among ourselves to see who comes out on top. I’ve already said that I want this fourth straight championship real bad. I’ve got to be perfect if I’m going to win it all.”
This win pulls Anderson to within 56 points of his teammate Line. Line, who collected 20 extra points for establishing a new elapsed time record (6.609 seconds), leads the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock point standings with 1453 points. Anderson is second with 1397 points. Dave Connolly continues to hold on to third but loses ground to both Line and Anderson. Connolly leaves Maple Grove with 1270 points, 183 points behind Line and 127 behind Anderson.
Although it has no bonus points attached to it, Anderson did reset the national speed record at 208.91 mph.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Darned Rain - Two weeks ago Steve Johnson arrived at Maple Grove Raceway where they hoped to run the kind of elapsed times and speeds that would put them in the top half of the field after qualifying. Ah, but Mother Nature had other ideas, and after two solid days of rain the event had to be postponed until this weekend.
“You know, nobody ‘wins’ in a rainout situation,” Johnson said following the first round of eliminations on Sunday afternoon. “Even though the grandstands were packed with fans all three days this time around there’s just something about the atmosphere of a rainout that’s just somehow different. I can’t explain it in any other way. It’s just different.
“I’m extremely proud of my team, and that begins with crew chief Mark Peiser. Everyone worked incredibly hard this weekend, and it paid off with a career best elapsed time for both Mark and myself, and while that’s certainly something to be pleased about, I certainly can’t say the same thing about what happened in the first round.
“Mark and I have taken a very close look at the video replays of my redlight start, and it appears that I simply staged too shallowly. That means I didn’t move into the second and final staging beam fully enough. I just got too much of a run at the lights, so when I let the clutch out the bike moved quicker than I anticipated it would, and that was that.
“When we’re running as good as we are right now it means we’re going to have to slightly alter our whole approach to racing. When our Snap-on Tools Suzuki reacted a little slower, as it did in the past, I could really ‘push’ the starting line lights. I can’t do that now. I’m going to have to stage with more care than ever before, and I just wish I’d’ve realized that before the first round”
SATURDAY QUALIFYING -SCHUMACHER, JOHNSON, STANFIELD AND SAMPEY TOP QUALIFIERS IN READING
Schumacher's run, the fourth quickest in history, placed him on a record low qualifier podium next to Funny Car's Tommy Johnson Jr., Pro Stock'sGreg Stanfield, and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey. The fourth round of professional qualifying was lost to rain.
There are three pending national records on the sheets. Stanfield stole away the elapsed time mark in Pro Stock from Greg Anderson with his 6.621 in the third round. Anderson still has designs on the national speed record after his 208.91 mph clocking. Sampey's 6.939 could be the national E.T. record in her class. Records aren't official until the endof the event.
Schumacher and points leader Doug Kalitta thrilled the fans with a side-by-side finish to qualifying that would ultimately award thequicker car a first-round bye. They both posted their best passes of the weekend with Schumacher's 4.440 at 327.27 mph in the U.S. Army dragster getting the job done against Kalitta's 4.488 at 321.88 mph in the Macrail.
"It got a little outside the groove down there at the top end and spun the tires just enough to cost us the national record," Schumacher said,referring to the 4.437-second national mark. "Because we have that single in the first round tomorrow I'm guessing Alan [Johnson, crew chief] will take one more shot at it. To me it's 40 points on the line because it's 20 for the record and 20 less someone else could get."
Just as it was one week ago in Dallas, someone edged Friday leader Mike Ashley off the Funny Car pole. This time it was veteran Johnson, whozipped to a 4.693 at 327.27 mph in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Ashley had to settle for second place by just one thousandths of a second in his Dodge Charger.
"We're still fighting for positions," Johnson said. "Our goal now is tofinish in the top five. We're just a few points behind fifth. The only disappointment is that the new points system isn't in effect right now.They way we're running lately we'd be in pretty good shape. I can't waitfor next year."
Championship contenders Ron Capps and John Force finished fifth and ninth, respectively. Capps' Brut Revolution Dodge Charger R/T posted a4.717, while Force's Ford went 4.761. They could meet in the semifinals.
Currently 10th in the points, Stanfield has already proclaimed that he'd rather win the race then set a record. Summit Racing pro Anderson,meanwhile, really needs the 20 bonus points that go with an E.T. record.
"He was pretty crushed down there at the end of the track," Stanfield said of Anderson. "We were just fortunate they didn't hit on it that session. The truth is there are four or five of us that could bestanding here as the No. 1 qualifier. We're just the lucky ones."
Mike Edwards and the Young Life GTO crew are next with a 6.632, while points leader Jason Line is fourth with a 6.633.Sampey is one day closer to the Pro Stock Motorcycle national elapsedtime record and the 20 bonus points it awards. Her 6.939 at 191.10 mph on her Suzuki has already been backed up to make it official. Now it just needs to survive race day.
"I think [points leader] Andrew Hines and that team will be doing everything they can to get that record tomorrow," said Sampey, who is 97points behind Hines in the standings. "They really need it more thananyone to get some breathing room and this is the best place to do it. I know they'll go for it."Hines already has the back-up mark for a record with his 6.950 at 192.28mph, which slotted his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod second on the grid.Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. ET.
First-round pairings for professional eliminations Sunday for the 22nd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple GroveRaceway, the 20th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade DragRacing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday.
Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 4.440 seconds, 331.85 mph vs. Bye; 2. Doug Kalitta, 4.488,330.39 vs. 15. Luigi Novelli, 4.837, 285.95; 3. Rod Fuller, 4.518,328.78 vs. 14. Doug Herbert, 4.701, 291.82; 4. Brandon Bernstein, 4.528, 329.50 vs. 13. David Baca, 4.674, 312.28; 5. David Grubnic,4.533, 326.95 vs. 12. Morgan Lucas, 4.662, 299.26; 6. Larry Dixon,4.541, 328.54 vs. 11. Melanie Troxel, 4.566, 327.74; 7. Bob Vandergriff, 4.547, 323.50 vs.10. Hillary Will, 4.560, 322.88; 8. J.R. Todd, 4.549, 328.06 vs. 9.Cory McClenathan, 4.550, 317.64.
Funny Car -- 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.693, 327.27 vs. 16. Jim Head, Dodge Stratus, 4.854, 308.99; 2. Mike Ashley,Dodge Charger, 4.694, 330.96 vs. 15. Del Worsham, Monte Carlo, 4.843,321.19; 3. Eric Medlen, Ford Mustang, 4.705, 325.69 vs. 14. Scott Kalitta, Toyota Solara, 4.840, 320.97; 4. Gary Scelzi, Charger, 4.709,328.62 vs. 13. Gary Densham, Monte Carlo, 4.829, 321.50; 5. Ron Capps,Charger, 4.717, 323.97 vs. 12. Phil Burkart, Monte Carlo, 4.794,
324.44; 6. Tony Pedregon, Monte Carlo, 4.723, 321.12 vs. 11. Cruz Pedregon, Monte Carlo, 4.792, 308.99; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.739,325.69 vs. 10. Tim Wilkerson, Monte Carlo, 4.777, 319.98; 8. JackBeckman, Charger, 4.756, 325.45 vs. 9. John Force, Mustang, 4.761, 323.58.
Pro Stock -- 1. Greg Stanfield, Pontiac GTO, 6.621, 208.04 vs. 16. Dave Northrop, Dodge Stratus, 6.664, 206.57; 2. Greg Anderson, GTO,6.626, 208.91 vs. 15. Max Naylor, Stratus, 6.662, 206.89; 3. MikeEdwards, GTO, 6.632, 208.36 vs. 14. Warren Johnson, GTO, 6.659, 206.83; 4. Jason Line, GTO, 6.633, 208.14 vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.653,207.40; 5. Tommy Lee, Chevy Cobalt, 6.634, 207.62 vs. 12. DaveConnolly, Cobalt, 6.651, 207.66; 6. Tom Martino, GTO, 6.637, 208.07 vs. 11. Dave Howard, Cobalt, 6.649, 207.43; 7. Richie Stevens, Stratus,6.640, 207.40 vs. 10. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.649, 207.66; 8. AllenJohnson, Stratus, 6.645, 207.72 vs. 9. Jim Yates, GTO, 6.648, 206.95.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 1. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.939, 191.10 vs. 16. Tom Bradford, Buell, 7.050, 189.52; 2. Andrew Hines,Harley-Davidson, 6.950, 193.16 vs. 15. GT Tonglet, Harley-Davidson,7.049, 189.07; 3. Shawn Gann, Suzuki, 6.952, 190.65 vs. 14. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 7.049, 193.18; 4. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.970, 193.10vs. 13. Chip Ellis, Buell, 7.047, 187.81; 5. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.975,190.78 vs. 12. Paul Gast, Suzuki, 7.046, 186.82; 6. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.001, 188.73 vs. 11. Antron Brown, Suzuki, 7.025, 191.05; 7.Geno Scali, Suzuki, 7.009, 192.00 vs. 10. Matt Guidera, Buell, 7.011,187.83; 8. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.009, 191.05 vs. 9. Ryan Schnitz,Buell, 7.011, 189.04.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
Bye The Way - Tony Schumacher swiped the number one starting spot despite having only one final qualifying pass due to rain showers, Schumacher kept the pole in Top Fuel.
After jetting to the top of the order on Friday, Schumacher came back with a track record pass of 4.440-seconds at 327.27 mph to further solidify his standing.
"Believe it or not, we were a little disappointed with that run since we wanted to set the national record for elapsed time (which is already Schumacher's at 4.437-seconds)," he offered. "We could use those extra 20 points right now. We'll just have to try it again on Sunday."
Schumacher can actually approach the first round of eliminations with a clear mind since he will have a bye into the second round given that only 15 Top Fuel cars qualified for the race.
"That's pretty big right there," he added. "We'll get 20 points and then if we're able to get that record, that's another 20 points. We just need to keep banking as many points as we can with each race. Hopefully, at the end, we'll end up with the world title."
With his 11th pole of the season, Schumacher tied the single season Top Fuel pole mark that he set last year.
J.R. and Steve-O – An interested bystander in the Dexter Tuttle Top Fuel Dragster pits today was Steve Torrence, the Kilgore, Texas-based former Top Alcohol Dragster champion who will officially become J.R. Todd’s teammate at next weekend’s Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals in Richmond, Virginia.
Torrence is taking a realistic approach to his debut behind the wheel of a Top Fuel car, saying “I’m not going to set my hopes too high,” he said. Hopefully I’ll just go out and do my job.”
“I’m looking forward to having Steve-O as my teammate,” said Todd, who has two victories to his credit in this his rookie season. “It’s a big plus for us. It’s another car we can get information from. We can help each other out driving and beat up on all those big guys out there. Who knows – we might be looking at the 2006 and 2007 rookies of the year right here. That’s our hope.”
Just Once - Tommy Johnson, Jr. needed just one pass to claim the top qualifying position for the seventh time in his career. Johnson was qualified in the 11th position but was confident crew chief Mike Green had a game plan that would send him up the qualifying ladder.
The game plan worked. Johnson rode to the No. 1 spot in Funny Car with a track record 4.693-second pass at 327.27 mph. The fourth round of qualifying was canceled due to rain, but Johnson didn't mind at all. It's the second time this season that Johnson will lead the Funny Car field going into eliminations.
"I was nervous all day waiting out the rain because I knew our car could run this well," Johnson said. "I was just hoping we would get the opportunity to move up the ladder. We were qualified but we all felt like we needed to do better. Mike Green did a great job tuning the car for the specific conditions and now we have a good baseline for tomorrow's elimination rounds. That just gives me more confidence as a driver."
Johnson earned the 1999 win at Maple Grove Raceway but has not been back in the final round since. That could all change tomorrow – if the team can walk the fine line between aggressive and consistent numbers.
"The weather conditions and the track conditions will allow us to be aggressive with our tuneup," Johnson said. "But everyone will be quick, so we have to make sure we don't come out overly aggressive and make any mistakes. It's going to take four quick, mistake-free runs tomorrow to walk away with the trophy."
Last Minute Heartbreaks – For the second race in a row, Mike Ashley went into the final session on top but got knocked off on the last run.
Ashley's stellar 4.694/330.96 in the first round of qualifying on Friday was only bettered by Tommy Johnson Jr.'s 4.693/327.27 in the rain-shortened qualifying today.
Ashley's mph of 330.96 did set the track record at Maple Grove, previously held by John Force at 327.82, while Johnson Jr. took the ET honors with his 4.693 second pass.
"You can't complain about number two - that's for sure," Ashley said. "We can only do our best, and to be qualified so high in a field like this, it's awesome.
"What you're seeing is a program with a vision - a vision to be a championship-caliber team. The missing ingredient was always time - and as time passes you're starting to see the team starting to jell, I'm starting to feel more comfortable in the car, Brian Corradi [crew chief] is doing a great job, and we have the incredible support of Torco Race Fuels," he said.
Marathon Man - After Friday's last round of qualifying, Ashley quickly boarded a plane and headed back to New York for a critical meeting for mortgage bank Lend America, where he is Vice President.
"The meeting was very successful and I was able to rest well at home and be back here by 10:30 this morning, ready to race. I also got to bring my family with me, and that always gives me a huge boost, so I'm definitely ready and focused to race tomorrow," he said.
"What we have is a team that has the makings to win a couple of races yet this year, and compete for the championship next year, but for now, my eyes are on that Wally and tomorrow," he said.
Dramatic Scelzi - Gary Scelzi was buoyed by the results of his first pass down the Maple Grove Raceway dragstrip while qualifying for the rescheduled Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals in the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car.
It wasn't a perfect run, but his 4.733-second elapsed time at 312.71 mph was good for No. 2 at the time, which set him up for a stronger pass in the second round, a 4.709/328.62, garnering him No. 4. He then slowed to a 4.743/292.27 in the third and final session -- due to intermittent rain drops delaying today's schedule -- when the car caught on fire at the finish line. No serious damage to car or driver was incurred.
"Another good 4.7 (-second) run," he said. "It was probably going to be a 4.69 or something, probably not much better than that. But, with no warning, it broke an intake valve and started on fire and then the fire kind of went down and I saw the orange in the firewall, in the little windows that we have, and it kept burning and burning. I thought, You know, I'd better not take a chance of burning this body up on this thing. There was no fire in the cockpit at all. This Charger body seals really good and I like this body; it's our only light one. And I got her stopped, no problem. When I got the body up at the end and when the Safety Safari guys got down there, it was still spraying, and no fire whatsoever.
"Good new, bad news, yeah, but the slowest it's run was a .74 and that was it, and it blew up pretty early (this last run). We're in good shape for tomorrow. We can run .60s if we have to. We'll try to go out there and run low .70s and try to win a race."
Scelzi faces Gary Densham in the opening round of Sunday's eliminations at Maple Grove Raceway.
Call the Police - Greg Stanfield stole away the elapsed time mark in Pro Stock from Greg Anderson with his provisional national record pass of 6.621 in the final qualifying session today. Anderson still has designs on the national speed record after his 208.91 mph clocking, however. Records aren't official until the end
of the event.
Currently 10th in the points, Stanfield has already proclaimed that he'd rather win the race then set a record. Summit Racing pro Anderson, meanwhile, really needs the 20 bonus points that go with an E.T. record.
"He was pretty crushed down there at the end of the track," Stanfield said of Anderson. "We were just fortunate they didn't hit on it that session. The truth is there are four or five of us that could be standing here as the No. 1 qualifier. We're just the lucky ones."
Mike Edwards and the Young Life GTO crew are next with a 6.632, while points leader Jason Line is fourth with a 6.633.
Never Say Never - Dave Northrop took a wild ride Friday night when Kenny Koretsky's blue Nitro Fish Dodge Stratus did a slow roll over and was effectively knocked from the Toyo Tires Nationals on a cold, damp evening at Maple Grove Raceway.
But the team, under the guidance of crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia, prepared the team's red Nitro Fish Dodge -- and the one with which the Perkaskie, Pa., driver is most familiar -- for Saturday's qualifying. After a long night of preparation, Northrop drove the red Dodge to a 6668-second, 207.77-mph run and solidified his hold on the 16th starting position for Sunday's race.
"It was nice to get that out of the way," said Northrop, who is in his first season of NHRA Pro Stock racing. "It felt good to be back in the car that I've driven more this year. Eddie (Guarnaccia, team crew chief) and the guys worked hard to get the car together after our Friday night incident. I've made a lot more runs in the red Dodge and I'm confident going into Sunday's eliminations."
Northrop races surprise low qualifier Greg Stanfield (6.621 seconds at 208.24 mph) in the opening round, weather permitting.
Just His Luck - Greg Anderson tied the national record in the opening session and then reset the record in the second session yesterday when he covered the Maple Grove Raceway quarter-mile in 6.626 seconds. Stanfield lowered that mark to 6.621 seconds in nailing down his first No. 1 of 2006.
Anderson still has the track and national speed record (208.91 mph) from yesterday but there are no points associated with a national speed record. You only receive 20 bonus points for a national elapsed time record and you must be the driver who leaves the event with the record. So Anderson still has tomorrow to reset the record at this event.
“Wouldn’t you know it, the sun is shining now,” said Anderson as he talked following the third qualifying session. “My only thought is that it was another missed opportunity to get both the top spot and the record. I knew right away as I left the starting line that I had lost my chance to reset the record for that run because it shook the tires real bad. I had hoped that we’d get another chance to go after it today but, even though it is beautiful now, NHRA thought it was best to call it for now.
“We do have tomorrow and the conditions should be good enough to give me another chance to go after it [the record]. But the bottom line now is that we need to concentrate on winning this thing and the points that come with it.”
With qualifying over, Line leads the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock point standing by 76 points over Anderson, who holds the second position, and by 143 points over third place Connolly entering eliminations tomorrow.
In the opening round tomorrow, Anderson will face Max Naylor, who qualified No. 15 with a run of 6.662 seconds at 206.83 mph.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Still Hanging On - Angelle Sampey's provisional national record setting pass of 6.939-seconds on Friday held up through a third round of qualifying on Saturday. As a result, she pocketed her second pole of the year and the 39th of her career.
The Louisiana resident will take on 16th-place qualifier, Tom Bradford, in the opening round of eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. EDT.
"Being as far behind as we were going into this weekend (in third-place, 98 points out of first), I felt I pretty much needed to run the table and get the 138 points that goes along with that," she said. "Obviously, that would go a long way in getting me back into serious contention for the championship."
FRIDAY QUALIFYING - THREE PROVISIONAL NATIONAL RECORDS SET AS QUALIFYING OPENS AT MAPLE GROVE RACEWAY
Defending NHRA world champion Greg Anderson ran the quickest and fastest Pro Stock pass of all time Friday -- a 6.626 at 208.91 mph -- as qualifying for the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals began at Maple Grove Raceway. Another three-time champion, Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey, also posted a potential national record with a 6.939 on her Suzuki.
The nitro categories are led for the second week in a row by Don Schumacher Racing teammates Tony Schumacher and Mike Ashley. Schumacher coaxed a 4.471 at 331.85 mph out of his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster, while Ashley ran the quickest and fastest pass in track history to lead Funny Car with a 4.694 at 330.96 mph in his Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger. Potential national records become official at the conclusion of the race.
"The way I look at it, I need the record bad," said Anderson, who trails Jason Line by 78 points. "It's a 40-point swing in my mind because the record is going down this weekend, it's just a matter of who's gonna get it."
Twelve of the 16 racers that make up the quickest field in class history posted career-best elapsed times to make the field. The record bump is Dave Northrop's 6.664 at 206.57 mph in his Nitro Fish Wear Dodge Stratus R/T.
The Mickey Thompson 6-Second Pro Stock Bike Club filled its last three positions as Sampey, Shawn Gann, and Karen Stoffer earned slots six through eight Friday afternoon. Sampey jumped in first with a 6.938 inthe first round, which she later backed up for a national record with a 6.977. In the second round, Shawn Gann (6.952) and Stoffer (6.970) made the cut.
"As soon as I left I knew it was going to be good," Sampey said of her run. "It went nice and straight and I knew it was quick. I started jumping around down there, high-fiving everyone, yelling, 'I'm in theclub I'm in the club.' "
Schumacher is also chasing every point he can get as the fight to defend his title continues."We're down to four races,"
Schumacher said. "Every single pass we make gets bigger and bigger. Every qualifying run, every point you can get,
keeping lane choice on Sunday, all those things are huge right now. We're not in the points lead. We've made up a lot of the 336 points wewere behind but we're still chasing."
The man Schumacher is chasing in the standings, Doug Kalitta, isn't letting up here, carding a second-best 4.496 at 328.94 mph. For the second Friday night in a row, Ashley has the quickest Funny Car on the property. This time the Dodge driver used his quickest and fastest pass ever, which set both ends of the Maple Grove record for the class.
"I've been working hard on my driving with Frank Hawley and this team, as I said a week ago, is top notch. All of this recent success is just amatter of things finally coming together for us."
Results Friday after qualifying for the 22nd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, 20th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.
Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 4.471 seconds, 331.85 mph; 2.
Doug Kalitta, 4.496, 330.39; 3. Rod Fuller, 4.518, 328.78; 4. David
Grubnic, 4.533, 326.95; 5. Larry Dixon, 4.541, 328.54; 6.
Brandon Bernstein, 4.542, 329.50; 7. Cory McClenathan, 4.550, 317.64; 8.
J.R. Todd, 4.554, 328.06; 9. Hillary Will, 4.560, 322.19; 10. Melanie
Troxel, 4.566, 327.74; 11. Morgan Lucas, 4.662, 299.26; 12. Doug
Herbert, 4.701, 291.82; 13. Luigi Novelli, 4.837, 285.95; 14. David
Baca, 8.228, 89.33; 15. Bob Vandergriff, 9.810, 79.83.
Funny Car -- 1. Mike Ashley, Dodge Charger, 4.694, 330.96; 2.
Gary Scelzi, Charger, 4.709, 328.62; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.717,
323.97; 4. Tony Pedregon, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.723, 321.12; 5. Robert
Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.739, 325.69; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.756,
325.45; 7. Eric Medlen, Mustang, 4.768, 322.34; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Monte
Carlo, 4.792, 308.99; 9. Phil Burkart, Monte Carlo, 4.794, 324.44; 10.
John Force, Mustang, 4.796, 323.58; 11. Tommy Johnson Jr., Monte Carlo,
4.821, 283.13; 12. Gary Densham, Monte Carlo, 4.829, 321.50; 13. Scott
Kalitta, Toyota Solara, 4.840, 320.97; 14. Del Worsham, Monte Carlo,
4.843, 321.19; 15. Jim Head, Dodge Stratus, 4.854, 308.00; 16. Tony
Bartone, Monte Carlo, 5.060, 292.96.
Pro Stock -- 1. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GTO, 6.626, 208.91; 2.
Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.632, 208.20; 3. Tommy Lee, Chevy Cobalt, 6.634,
207.62; 4. Tom Martino, GTO, 6.637, 208.07; 5. Richie Stevens, Dodge
Stratus, 6.640, 207.11; 6. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.647, 207.53; 7. Jim
Yates, GTO, 6.648, 206.95; 8. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.649, 207.85; 9.
Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.649, 207.66; 10.
Dave Howard, Cobalt, 6.649, 207.37; 11. Dave Connolly, Cobalt, 6.651,
207.30; 12. Jason Line, GTO, 6.652, 207.66; 13. Larry Morgan, Stratus,
6.653, 207.40; 14. Warren Johnson, GTO, 6.659, 206.83; 15. Max Naylor,
Stratus, 6.662, 206.83; 16. Dave Northrop, Stratus, 6.664, 206.57.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 1. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.939,
191.10; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.952, 193.16; 3. Shawn Gann,
Suzuki, 6.952, 190.65; 4. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.970, 193.10; 5. Matt
Smith, Buell, 6.975, 190.78; 6. Geno Scali, Suzuki, 7.009, 192.00; 7.
Matt Guidera, Buell, 7.011, 187.83; 8. Ryan Schnitz, Buell, 7.024,
189.04; 9. Antron Brown, Suzuki, 7.025, 191.05; 10. Steve Johnson,
Suzuki, 7.040, 188.73; 11. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.042, 191.05; 12. Chip
Ellis, Buell, 7.047, 187.81; 13. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 7.049,
193.18; 14. GT Tonglet, Harley-Davidson, 7.049, 189.07; 15. Tom
Bradford, Buell, 7.090, 189.34; 16. Paul Gast, Suzuki, 7.110, 186.82.
Back on track – Larry Dixon didn’t particularly enjoy missing the cut in Dallas and immediately made strides to get off on the
right foot in Reading.
"We had some problems at the last race (DNQ in Dallas) and Donnie and Todd Smith were able to put all that behind us and set the car up to run a 4.55 or 4.58," Dixon said. "The car did exactly what they wanted it to do and we recorded a 4.557. The preparation between events paid off."
The 38-time NHRA winner has two runner-up finishes at Maple Grove
Raceway (2005, 1995) to his credit and will be looking to make a third
career final round appearance here on Sunday.
"Tomorrow we are going to try to pick up the pace," Dixon said. "We're
going to have cool weather all weekend and the run we put up on the
board in the last session wasn't exactly what we were looking for. We
were aiming for the 4.49 to 4.52 range, but the car drove through the
clutch a little bit. There is still plenty of room on the table for us
to improve which is good because I think if you want to win on Sunday, you're going to have to run in the high 4.40s or a 4.50 flat. That's what we're going to work on tomorrow."
Back on Track, Pt. 2 – Cory McClenathan joined Dixon on the list of DNQ’s from Dallas who gained a provisional berth in Reading by posting an elapsed time of 4.550 seconds at 317.69 mph, to grab seventh place.
"The car was trying to run real good and was on a good pass at half-track, but the motor started going sour and we slowed down some," said McClenathan. "We were happy that we were able to come out and get a good time and rebound from last week's race.
"Wes (Cerny, crew chief) and Tony (Shortall, assistant crew chief) did a good job getting the car down the track. They believe we will pick up the pace Saturday and run in the low 4.50s. They will make the necessary changes and get things figured out. We're looking forward to another fast track tomorrow."
Better Listen Up - Things just keep getting better for Mike Ashley.
The Knoll Gas – Torco Race Fuels-sponsored established a personal-best and
track record 4.694, 330.96. Ashley has contended for the last three months his
team is a contender.
"This is serious," Ashley said. "I think last week, people saw first-hand exactly what I have been saying all along - this team is for real. And this backs it up, for sure."
"This is a team effort, and Brian Corradi [crew chief] and the guys are like a Swiss watch - perfection in motion," he said.
Ashley smashed John Force's two-year-old Maple Grove record by more than . 03 seconds in elapsed time, and just over 3 m.p.h. in speed. The old record was 4.728/327.82, set in October 2004, and Ashley's numbers were 4.694/330.96.
Ashley's numbers were also only .029 seconds shy of the NHRA national record of 4.665/333.58, also set by John Force and within reaching distance this weekend.
"Because we had made such a stellar run in the first round, and because the national record was so close, we decided as a team to swing for the fence and try to break Force's record in our second run," Ashley said.
On the second qualifying pass of the day, Corradi and crew attempted to run a 4.66 or better, but, according to Ashley, the track couldn't hold the tires and he had to click it off and abort the run.
"We had to try it, and we're still going for it tomorrow. It's definitely do-able, and I could really use the points to help us break into the top-ten by the end of the season," Ashley said.
Setting a national record earns a driver 20 points and with Ashley’s Dallas runner-up, he’s currently 156 points out of the top ten, sitting with 631 points for the season so far. Including this event, there are only four events left to make up the difference.
Busy, Busy Man - Not to be slowed down off the track, after the Funny Car session Ashley headed straight to the airport to fly back to New York for a critical business meeting. As Executive Vice President of Lend America, he juggles his racing career with managing the day-to-day operations of the more than 200- strong mortgage bank. Lend America is the Official Mortgage Source for NHRA.
"I tried so hard to get out of this meeting, but I couldn't. It was just too important. I'm not worried, though - my focus is laser- sharp, and I am ready to go racing and win. I'll definitely be back in plenty of time to go for it again tomorrow.
"With such an incredible sponsor like Evan Knoll and Torco behind me and with that Brian Corradi-tuned Dodge Charger all around me, we are definitely going to finish the season strong.
"I'm definitely excited and ready for tomorrow," he said.
Whatever it takes - Del Worsham went 1-for-2 at Maple Grove on Friday, suffering parts breakage
on his first pass, and then coming back with a steady 4.843 on his second
attempt. Though not as stout as many of the big runs posted here on a
cool and partly cloudy Friday, Worsham made the pass with the singular desire
of getting his red Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Monte Carlo to the other end under
"We had to do that, because too many bad things have been happening lately," Worsham said. "We needed to put a solid lap on the board, and we needed to feel like we could control the car and make it do what we wanted it to do. It's good data, and it gives us a great starting point for Saturday. If the weather cooperates, we'll build off this run to do better and better tomorrow. It's a step-by-step
deal right now, and that was a good 'Step 1' for us."
'Oh, 'chute!' -- Kurt Johnson's ACDelco Chevy Cobalt suffered substantial damage Friday evening when his parachutes failed and his brakes didn't work, either. But the Sugar Hill, Georgia, driver was uninjured, and his Pro Stock competitors have volunteered to help him get back on the track Saturday.
Johnson certainly is eager to improve on the 6.649-second, 207.66-mph run that left him in eighth place. One thing's for certain: his plans took a dramatic detour. "We thought we were going to have a smooth weekend, but we have some work to do now,” he said.
His parachutes didn't deploy fully. Then, when using the brakes proved to be ineffective because of the high speed and bumps in the shutdown area, Johnson was forced to use emergency maneuvers to bring his car to a halt. He ended up in the gravel pit, going through the safety nets and collecting a television camera before finally stopping.
He quickly reassembled the pieces and had the car weighed, making his run official. The move ensured that he could race if he can repair the damage.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened," Johnson said. "I know the 'chutes didn’t fully deploy, and when I got on the brakes they started to lock up. After that, it just started bouncing and I was along for the ride. I was going through everything I could to get stopped, but it wasn’t working.
“I saw I was going to hit the rock pile, so I let off the brakes to make sure I hit it as squarely as possible," he said. "As fast as we were going, it skipped over the top, and I saw I was quickly running out of room, so I cranked the wheel to get it turned so it would bury the rear end and stop. I didn’t think it would go over, and fortunately it didn’t.
“The big thing was getting the car weighed to make sure the run counted," Johnson said. "Of course, with all the rocks we collected, weight was not an issue. I’m all right, and we can fix the [car]. We’ve already had offers of help from some of our competitors, which means a lot. It might take some time, but we’re going to do whatever we need to come back and do it again."
The cream rises – Three-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson has been chasing teammate Jason Line all season long in an attempt to secure an historic fourth-straight title, and all evidence now points to the fact that he’s making his stretch run at just the right time.
Anderson drove his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO to a national-record elapsed time and speed of 6.626 seconds at 208.91 mph during the first day of qualifying. Anderson's record-setting performance was part a blistering afternoon of time trials that saw the quickest field in NHRA history established in Pro Stock.
"These were optimal conditions to be running in, but tomorrow morning could be even faster yet," said Anderson. "Regardless of who ends up leaving here with it this weekend, the national record is going down, and the way I look at it, I need it bad to stay in this championship chase. There are several cars that could still end up taking it away from me before this race is completed. Not only is the record a matter of pride, but with the 20-point bonus in play, it certainly means a lot more right now. We're in a brutal championship chase, and with only four races left, every point is going to matter from now until the end of the year."
Turning his world upside-down – It was one year ago last weekend that Kenny Koretsky was involved in what was arguably the scariest Pro Stock crash in the history of the class. He and Bruce Allen collided violently at Texas Motorplex in Dallas in a spectacular wreck that sidelined Korestsky until just last month, and put Allen out of racing indefinitely.
Today at Maple Grove Raceway, Koretsky stood at the starting line and watched as another one of his Pro Stock machines was involved in a major accident, this time with Dave Northrop behind the wheel.
Northrop was uninjured in the incident, but the car was substantially damaged.
“The car got out of the groove at about half track, and he tried to put it back in the groove which is hard to do and the car crashed on its roof,” said Koretsky. “Thank God Dave wasn’t injured.
“The good news is that we have a good crew here – the Nitro Fish Dodge crew – and we do carry a spare race car,” said Koretsky. “We have some good help here and we’ll get this deal done tonight. Davie is qualified sixteenth right now, and I think he can run a little faster – it’s going to be fast tomorrow morning…we’ll do a good job and get the red Nitro Fish car ready for tomorrow…hopefully we can keep Dave Northrop qualified.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
More accolades for Angelle – Angelle Sampey’s superlative Pro Stock Motorcycle career was further enhanced today when the U.S. Army-sponsored rider set the provisional elapsed time national record during the first day of qualifying.
Sampey, who is a six-time winner at Maple Grove Raceway, blistered the quarter-mile with a 6.939-second pass at 191.10 mph in the initial qualifying session, before backing that number up with a 6.977-second run at 189.47 mph.
The multi-time class champion came into the weekend 98 markers out of the championship points lead, She is currently in third place behind her teammate Antron brown, and leader Andrew Hines
”I don’t know what it is about Maple Grove, but we get along just fine,” Sampey said. “I really felt confident that we could get into the six-second club in that first pass. In fact, right before I ran, I even text-messaged a friend that I would do it. Not only did it happen, but we broke the elapsed time record. What more can you ask for?
Should Sampey’s mark hold up through the weekend, she will gain 20 bonus points for an official record.
”Right now, we can use every point that we can grab,” she said.
SATURDAY - Rain showers wash out 22nd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals
The 22nd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at
Maple Grove Raceway were rained out and are rescheduled for Sept. 29, 30 and
Oct. 1. Pro sessions will be held at 1 and 4 p.m. on Sept. 29, 11 a.m. and 2
p.m. on Sept. 30, and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Oct. 1.
"The rain is scheduled to last until 3 p.m. today and the parking lots would not dry out in time for Sunday racing," said Graham Light, sr. vice president, racing operations.
FRIDAY - Rain Showers Wash Out First Two Rounds of
22nd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals
(9-15-2006) - Friday's two professional qualifying sessions at the 22nd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway were rained out and will not be made up.
That leaves Saturday's two rounds, scheduled for 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., as the only opportunities for racers to make the field of this all-important $1.5 million race, the 19th of 23 on the POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Former POWERade Series champions Tony Schumacher, Tony Pedregon, Greg Anderson, and Angelle Sampey are the defending champions of this event.
THURSDAY EVENT PREVIEW - Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals
(9-14-2006) - About this time last year, Funny Car contender Ron Capps was starting to feel nauseous.
As the season progressed and his odds of winning the Powerade Drag Racing Series championship increased, Capps literally was getting sick to his stomach at the top end of the track following critical runs.
But this time around, the driver of the Brut Revolution Dodge Charger said he's enjoying his back-and-forth battle with 13-time champion John Force. Much of that is because he left the U.S. Nationals Labor Day weekend with a 19-point lead. Just the same, Capps said he is "very relaxed and the team is very relaxed" as the tour heads to the Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
"It's going to be tough. I'm excited, but I'm very eager. We had a great last half of the season last year," Capps said of his new approach to the championship chase. (Getting sick did him no good in 2005, as he finished second, eight points behind teammate Gary Scelzi.) "I really feel comfortable with the way the team is right now and that we're going to finish as strong as we did last year. If we can do that, then if we get beat, so be it.
"But somebody is going to have to be pretty good to beat us, I think, in the end here," he said. "And you have to have that kind of confidence with five races left if you're going to try to win a POWERade championship."
Capps has won five times this season, most among Funny Car drivers. But Force demonstrated with his self-deprecating tirade at Indianapolis just how much he wants to regain the lead he finally took from Capps at Memphis in the race before Indianapolis.
Force berated himself at Indianapolis for his first-round red-light disqualification and said he had forgotten how to race. But he refreshed his memory, no doubt, during the nearly two-week layoff. Once again, that spells plenty of excitement for the class -- which has had other news during the respite, with top-10 driver Whit Bazemore's exit from Don Schumacher Racing in favor of Jack Beckman and the return of Jeff Arend.
In the Top Fuel ranks, Doug Kalitta knows how Force feels. The Mac Tools Dragster driver didn't lose his points lead, but he had his share of problems in Indianapolis, losing in the first round for only the fourth time this year and for the first time since the Columbus race in May. And he saw closest rival Tony Schumacher win an emotional fifth U.S. Nationals victory and a third in a row.
“That’s drag racing for you,” Kalitta, who has a 54-point advantage, said. “Sometimes you’re on top of the world and the next moment you think you’re as low as you can go. This sport is very humbling. We’ll move on. Now, the most important thing on our minds is winning as many rounds as possible in the remaining races. Rahn (Tobler, crew chief) and the guys have given me a great race car to drive all year, and I’m sure that will continue in the races we have left beginning this weekend in Reading.”
He's looking for his first victory at Reading since 2002. Back-to-back triumphs at Bristol and Atlanta, then at Topeka and Chicago helped him tie his personal best of five victories in a season.
Greg Anderson's fifth U.S. Nationals has given him momentum as he pursues teammate and points leader Jason Line, who has a 59-point edge. Dave Connolly is 135 points off the pace. And Kurt Johnson is in fourth, 296 points back, with Allen Johnson rounding out the top five, 314 points out of first.
Line might draw some comfort from the sanctioning body's latest statistics. According to the Media Department, 83 percent of drivers in the four professional classes who have led after the U.S. Nationals go on to win their respective championships. In Pro Stock, only seven times in the last 32 years did the leader after Indianapolis not win the title. The last time was in 1990.
Line, who's pursuing his first championship, shrugged that
"These statistics are just that – statistics – so they don't make me any more comfortable," he said. "I believe their statistics. Numbers don't lie, but it's a new year, a different group of people, and the competition level has changed since last year and especially since 1990. I think history does tend to repeat itself, but in this case that remains to be seen.
"I think I have a one-in-three chance of winning the POWERade championship. I would like to say that I'm comfortable about winning, but I'm not. There are two reasons I feel that way – Greg Anderson and Dave Connolly. Does that mean I'm going to roll over and play dead? Certainly not. I feel I have as good a chance as they do.
"Competition is tough and there are a lot of variables. Greg is the only one of us three that has proved he can win the championship. For anyone of us to win, it will take perfect driving through these final five races to get the job done," Line said. "“Let me end the debate by saying that I'm going to win, and if I don’t, there is always next year. Come to think of it, it will be easier next year. You just have to hang close and win the last two races.
"Seriously," he said, "it's pretty cool that it has come down to the last five races. The countdown is on. It will make it exciting for the fans and with two Summit Racing Pontiacs in the hunt, it's good for the whole KB Racing team.”
Line set the Maple Grove Raceway elapsed-time track record at 6.669 seconds in October 2004. He won here that year, defeating Anderson, and was top qualifier here last year.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle has its own excitement, with U.S. Army Suzuki riders Antron Brown and Angelle Sampey gunning for leader Andrew Hines. Brown is just eight points behind, and Sampey, a three-time winner this season and a three-time series champion, is 90 points behind Brown.
Sampey and Funny Car legend Force share the distinction of the most victories at Reading, with six. "This weekend, I'd like to be the one to break that deadlock," she said. "I really have to win this race if I want to stay in the championship hunt. Being 98 points behind (Andrew) Hines with just three races remaining in our season, there's absolutely no room for error."
Brown is challenging for his first crown, and he said, "If I want that trophy at the end of the year, I have to avoid the kind of mistakes I've been making of late - like red light fouls and hole shot losses. It's real obvious to everyone that I have the equipment to win this thing. You have to take your hat off to crew chief Steve Tartaglia and the entire U.S. Army team. They have been working their butts off all year long. Now, it's up to me to make sure I don't let them down."
The track always is a factor at Reading -- for better or worse.
"I'm excited about going to Reading," Capps said. "You hear every driver talk about the fact it's one of the most harrowing tracks for a Funny Car driver because the conditions are absolutely like Disneyland for the crew chiefs: good conditions and great air for the engines to run. The track also has one of the narrowest grooves. It's about as narrow as a car is wide. It's hard enough to keep the Funny Cars in the groove as it is, but at Reading you have to be almost spot on every run. And it's a very demanding race track for a driver."