NHRA SUMMERNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - A BATTLE WEARIED VETERAN TAKES THE PODIUM; AN EIGHTH FEMALE TOP FUEL WINNER IS CROWNED
FORCE’S VOICE OF REASON – Still healing from a devastating crash in Dallas, John Force thought about quitting. Then a voice of reason spoke up. Longtime crew chief Austin Coil told Force quitting simply wasn't an option.
With a victory Sunday in Topeka, Force realized winning is just as therapeutic as physical training. And, more rewarding not just for himself but for his entire organization.
“It’s huge for me mentally,” Force said of the win.
“Coil and I even argued, maybe we should put (Phil) Burkart back in the car I said and let the guys win some races and prove the car and maybe that’ll give me time to heal more,” Force explained.
“Coil held me to a verbal contract we had. He said ‘you always told me Force that if we go down, we go down together. If I suck, you’re staying with me and if you suck, I’m staying with you.’ So he said there ain’t nobody else driving this car but you unless you just ain’t got the strength to get back in it.”
So Force stuck it out. He stayed in the car and felt the pain of doubting his ability to get the car back to victory lane.
“You watch these kids work around the clock (on the race car) and you think it just ain’t fair,” he said. “If you can’t deliver as a driver, it’s not fair to them (to stay in the seat) just cause I own it.”
This victory marked the first for Force since the Dallas accident which nearly crippled him. He returned to the winner’s circle a lengthy 252 days later.
HOW HE DID IT - Force defeated Tim Wilkerson to climb into third in the Funny car point standings and lay claim to his ninth win at Heartland Park. He trails only Wilkerson and daughter Ashley in the championship standings.
The last victory for Force was Aug. 12, 2007 when he prevailed in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn.
This road to the winner’s circle was anything but a cakewalk for the gingerly-walking Force. He beat his daughter, Ashley, in round one before dispatching former teammate Gary Densham and long-time rival Ron Capps to reach his 202nd career final. In the money round, he left first (.062 to .091 for Wilkerson) and never looked back.
“At the end of the day, winning is what it’s all about,” Force said. “I know every driver says that, but when you’ve won like me, you begin to take it for granted. And then I got slapped (when he crashed) and I don’t take it for granted no more. I told Ashley today, ‘I’m gonna go after you baby.’”
Force becomes the third different JFR driver to win this year, following son-in-law Robert Hight, who won at Pomona, Calif., and Ashley, who beat him in the final round at Atlanta, Ga.
“Maybe we’re just lucky here,” Force said of his success at HPT, a track on which he’s raced in 14 finals and won nine times, “but Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) were on their game. We swapped motors after the warmup (before the final). We fired it up, it backfired. Fired it up again, it backfired. We changed the mags. The cam was wrong in it. The timers were all screwed up.
“I couldn’t do anything about that so I told them to go to work and I was gonna go to Eric. Eric Medlen always gets my heart right. He’s always with me. I know I’m beginning to sound like an ol’ preacher, but you been through my stuff, you get religion.”
FORCE THROWING IN THE TOWEL – Nothing says collectible like a sweat-soaked, champagne doused hand towel belonging to John Force. Continuing a tradition that began with daughter Ashley’s Atlanta victory, John Force Racing and new team sponsor Old Spice will give a lucky fan the chance to win the one-of-a-kind piece.
Directly after the 20th annual Summer Nationals on Sunday, Force handed over his Old Spice Victory Towel to a charity auction, with 100 percent of proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House. The charity auction will run for one week starting on June 2nd at 9 a.m. ET. Fans can visit www.oldspice.com or www.JohnForceRacing.com to get more information and place a bid for the autographed towel on eBay.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S AN EIGHT - Hillary Will’s Topeka victory over Larry Dixon made her the eighth female to win
Top Fuel at an NHRA national event. Her triumph also represented the third time in the last four events that a female has visited the nitro winner’s circle.
Will’s KB Racing, LLC team, led by crew chief Jim Oberhofer and co-crew chief Troy Fasching, last trip to the finals was in Memphis in 2006. The event in Topeka was the 55th NHRA national event of Will’s career.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now,” Will, a 28-year old native of Fortuna, Calif., said. “I have dreamed of this day for so long, and it’s finally here. My KB Racing, LLC team is awesome. They’ve given me such a great race car all year long, and I can’t thank them and my team owners Ken Black and Kenny Black enough for everything that they have done for me and this wonderful opportunity.
“We knew we had everything to win, and today everything went our way. Thank you to all of our sponsors and everyone who has supported us and stuck with us. Now that we have gotten a win, I’m sure it’s just going to make us hungrier for more.
“This is definitely the year of the woman racer. It’s an honor for me to be mentioned with all of the great women who have raced and won.
En route to the landmark win and the second final of her three-year Top Fuel career Will defeated Doug Herbert in round one, Morgan Lucas in the quarterfinals, and Cory McClenathan in the semifinals.
With her victory, Will moves up to 4th in POWERade championship points standings. It’s the highest points placement for Will in her career.
Will and the KB Racing, LLC team have now won 13 rounds of eliminations so far in 2008, four more rounds than they won in all of the 23 events last season.
FAST RUNNER, QUICK LEARNER - At the first two events of this
season’s 24-event NHRA national event schedule, Will set the track
record for speed, for either gender, at both of the quarter-miles at
Phoenix Int’l Raceway (334.32 mph) and at the Auto Club Raceway at
Pomona (Calif.) (334.56 mph). Will’s speedy blast in California
established her as the fastest woman ever in drag racing. She and the
KB Racing, LLC team were also the fastest of the racing weekend (tie)
at the third event in Gainesville, Fla., with a 330.63-mph lap. They
were again the fastest team of the fifth event in Las Vegas, 331.85 mph.
A former standout in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, Will moved up to the quickest and fastest NHRA professional class, Top Fuel, in 2006 behind the wheel of a newly formed team owned by Las Vegas businessman Ken Black and managed by Kalitta Motorsports, the multi-car team founded and owned by drag racing icon Connie “the Bounty Hunter” Kalitta. She won her first Top Fuel event trophy in Norwalk (IHRA) in her rookie season and made her first NHRA final-round appearance in Memphis. She finished the season in tenth place in Top Fuel championship points in ‘06.
A PRECEDENT - Will’s Kalitta Motorsports teammate Dave Grubnic, driver of the DHL Top Fuel dragster, also got his first NHRA event win in Topeka in 2005.
A TENTH – When Larry Dixon defeated Antron Brown to reach the Top Fuel final round, he represented the tenth No. 1 qualifier in the history of the event to reach the money run.
KRISHER TO TENTH - Ron Krisher returned to the NHRA Pro Stock winner's circle for the first time in five years by defeating Larry Morgan in the final round of the 20th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. It was Krisher's second victory at this event and it moved the Warren, Ohio resident from 10th place to eighth in the POWERade points standings.
"If I ever came out here with the thought I'd never win again then I'd quit," Krisher said. "We've won this one, and we're going to win some more this year, you wait and see."
Krisher entered raceday with his Valvoline Chevy Cobalt qualified in the No. 2 position. He defeated Todd Hoerner in round one with the quickest elapsed time of the day at 6.732 seconds, Rickie Jones in round two with a 6.745-second run at 204.01 mph, and Kurt Johnson in the semifinals with a 6.750 e.t. at 203.83 mph. In the championship heat, Krisher's Chevrolet took the win light with a 6.758-second run at 204.70 mph. Morgan's Dodge had a slight, but brief advantage off the starting line, but lost traction almost immediately and coasted to a 12.144 second run at 62.96 mph.
"We won here at Topeka a long time ago (2001) and we have a lot of respect for this racetrack," Krisher said. "I think we know a lot about how to race it. We have a good crew chief (Tommy Utt), good people, good sponsors, Valvoline, Chevrolet - you can't beat them. They've been with me a long time through this long drought and I can't say enough about how much I appreciate them for staying with me through the drought. But we're over it.
"Nobody beat us out there today - we took every round. It had a lot to do with Tommy Utt and a whole bunch of guys who make up this team. A lot of people don't understand, but they have to get this car ready to go in 45 minutes every time and there can't be any mistakes. They don't make any. The race car was awesome today, although we were a little hot in the last run. We weren't as hot as Larry (Morgan) was, though. We had our worst 60-foot of the day but it was four hundredths better than Larry. Tommy Utt - you can't out judge him. He'll get you down the racetrack.”
It was the sixth career victory for Krisher and the 14th time that he has competed in a final round. His previous win came at St. Louis in June of 2003 and his last final-round appearance came last July at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver. It was also Chevrolet's 151st all-time win in the NHRA Pro Stock category.
"Larry Morgan is a good friend of mine, and I'd like to knock him in the head for double-bulbing me out there," Krisher joked. "We've been friends a long time and he's certainly been a big help to me and my racing career, and I wish him the best.
"We're watching the points and we're sneaking up on it. We have two races left to get into the Pro Stock Shootout and we're focused on the Countdown cut as well."
CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT - Dave Connolly’s streak of successive Pro Stock final rounds at Heartland Park ended unexpectedly at three on a hot Sunday afternoon. Suffice to say it wasn’t when the Charter Communications/LifeLock Chevy Cobalt driver and team wanted to exit.
The purple Cobalt lurched immediately to the right when Connolly mashed the throttle and he simply shut it off when the car straightened out. By then, Larry Morgan was well on his way to the round win in 6.772 seconds at 203.22 mph. Connolly coasted through in 14.645 seconds at 56.77 mph.
“It was my fault,” said a disgusted Tommy Utt, the team crew chief. “I was too stupid to put Dave in the other lane. We had been having problems with that (left) lane all weekend.”
“We just made a bad run,” added a dejected Connolly.
“I guess it could have been worse,” concluded Utt.
After finishing No. 1 with four consistently good qualifying runs – enough to claim the $1500 Full Throttle Award for the crew – Connolly came from behind to defeat Justin Humphreys in the opening round, 6.737 seconds at 204.32 to 6.769 at 203.03 mph. Humphreys had a .008 reaction time to a .029, “but I left close enough to him to get the win light,” said Connolly.
Connolly had two consecutive 2008 final-round appearances coming to Topeka. He did climb two notches in the standings, leaving in 12th place with 304 points. He trails No. 11 Humphreys by 23 points going into the Route 66 Nationals, June 6-8, at Joliet Ill.
CONFIDENCE AND A GAME PLAN PAYS DIVIDENDS - Ron Capps advanced to his third semifinal round [losing to John Force] of 2008 and moved into a tie for sixth place (with Tony Pedregon) in the Funny Car point standings.
"It was a great weekend,” said Capps. “Almost a fantastic weekend. I really felt comfortable in the NAPA Dodge. The car's performance breeds confidence, especially in a driver. Any driver will tell you that out here.
"Obviously, I haven't had a whole lot of confidence this year and Ace introduced me to a friend of his earlier in the season who is a sports psychologist and who works with a lot of athletes, and he's really helped me. But there's nothing that will help a driver more than the car running good, and that's what has made me the most comfortable.
"Ace has worked so hard with all the obstacles that have been thrown at our category to get the performance around. I feel so great about this new car, especially this new 'safer' car (which is mandatory for all Funny Car competitors by the upcoming Denver event July 11).
"The NAPA guys are the ones that you don’t hear a lot about, although I brag about them, but the way they put this car together every time for Ace so he can depend on going up there and making his choices on his tune-up is awesome. You have to give props to these guys on this team. Time and time again, they do a superb job.
"All that thrown together has really made me a lot more confident. It's exciting. We had a great weekend and I'm going to Eldora Speedway on Wednesday night to race the Prelude to the Dream with Tony Stewart and all the NASCAR drivers. There's nothing better than going there with a little bit of confidence.
"Ace will look at the data on the computer and figure out what happened. But the good thing is he's made minute changes to this car run to run and it's reacted to what he's telling it. And that is the best thing in the world.
"We learned a long time ago that leading the points going into Indy doesn't do you any good. You just need to be one of the top 10 and right now we're climbing the ladder and getting more solid into the top 10, which is where we need to be for the Countdown to the Championship (which begins following the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend)."
CORY ON THE MOVE - Cory McClenathan’s semi-final finish in Topeka moved him up to fifth in the POWERade point standings at the halfway point to the Countdown to the Championship. He defeated Bob Vandergriff Jr., and Tony Schumacher before losing to Hillary Will.
"We came into race day prepared to take it one round at a time," said McClenathan. "After we won the first round we had to face our teammate Tony Schumacher and that's the last thing we want to see here at DSR. When we go up against the U.S. Army car it's a very friendly rivalry. Tony had us off the starting line (.030 to .069 reaction time - .000 is perfect). He had a great reaction time and I had just a so-so light, and he had half a car length lead. His car went up in smoke and I went around him and ran a 4.66, which gave us lane choice for the semis.
"We got behind here in the pits prior to the semifinals," McClenathan explained of having to deal with clutch problems. "We had a couple of things go wrong, but we win and lose as a team. Our motor was hot going up to the starting line and we were very late getting up there. I was already in the car when we left the pits. The car made a little bit of extra power and it was too aggressive and we smoked the tires. I kind of knew it might be coming, but even pedaling it didn't help it and Hillary went right on down the track and ran a 4.80.
"We felt the FRAM dragster would have run much better than a 4.80, but it's one of those things where we felt we kind of threw that one away. This was our race to win and we lost it. That put Hillary ahead of us in points and we only moved up one spot. We'll have to wait and try to do it again in Chicago. We've done some good testing there and I feel like Tony and I have two very good cars going into Chicago next weekend. I'm looking forward to that."
STILL SORE - Less than 24 hours after his Pro Stock Pontiac crashed hard into one of Heartland Park Topeka’s concrete guard walls, Kenny Koretsky was in his Nitro Fish/Indicom Electric Pontiac pit area, patiently answering the most asked question of passing fans and fellow drivers – “How are you feeling.”
“I’m still sore in my lower back, left leg and elbow,” he commented. “I’ll know more after I get home (to Richboro, Pa.) and get checked out by my doctor. I am thankful I as wearing the HANS device because that definitely prevented injuries to my neck and head. I really got a jolt when I hit.”
The car was already loaded into the transporter and is now on its way to builder Jerry Bickel’s shop near St. Louis.
“I don’t think I’ll be ready to go again next weekend at Chicago (Route 66 Nationals, June 6-8), and neither will the car.”
Koretsky’s crash came in his third qualifying run Saturday. The car moved to the center line before making a sudden left-hand turn into the wall. It bounced off, turned on its side and flopped on its top, sliding across and smacking the right guard wall before stopping, still on its top, with Koretsky hanging upside down.
Crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia went through the wreckage Saturday and said, “Bickel will evaluate the car to see what options we have. The car didn’t look too bad to me, but we didn’t measure it to see if it’s out of alignment or anything. It really took a hard hit.
“We are sending the motor to (engine builder) Sonny (Leonard) so he can go through it and we can see what’s up (for us) in the next couple of races.”
Koretsky would like to have the car ready for the Lucas Oil SuperNationals, June 20-22, in Englishtown, N.J., because it is one of two tracks the Richboro, Pa., resident calls home. The other is Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
HOT ROD, I HOPE WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANY MORE - Rod Fuller had all kinds of successes at Heartland Park Topeka as a sportsman driver, but Top Fuel has been a different story. He lost in the first round of eliminations after qualifying as high as third during the NHRA Summernationals.
He was quicker out of the gate against Morgan Lucas but a dropped cylinder did him in.
Fuller, a three-time winner in the Super Comp and Super Gas categories at the Topeka track, has yet to win a round of Top Fuel competition in four tries at Heartland Park. It remains the only track where he has not won a round of racing. Fuller has a round record of 10-8 this season and has 96 career round wins. He made his 70th consecutive Top Fuel start this weekend, the second longest qualifying streak in Top Fuel (Tony Schumacher).
“It was a tough weekend,” Fuller said. “I did well at this place in sportsmen, but for some reason haven’t found the right ingredient to win in Top Fuel. It’s a long season and we’re not down. We’re going to Chicago, a place we’ve done fairly well at, with our heads up. We’re really excited about Chicago because I know we’ll have the biggest cheering section with all the folks from Caterpillar rooting us on.”
“The motor dropped the No. 1 cylinder, which is rare for us,” crew chief Rob Flynn said. “Both of our David Powers cars were experimenting this weekend. With the new rules not allowing testing, we have to try things to keep up with our competitors. It was an inopportune time to drop a hole. We’ll keep moving forward and go to Chicago and shake it off.”
BENEFITS PACKAGE – There aren’t many times when a hole shot loss will lead to a positive result. Bob Tasca III’s hole shot loss in the second round of the NHRA Summer Nationals in Topeka enabled him to gather enough points on the day to move into the top 10 in championship points.
“As a driver, losing on a hole shot is the worst thing that you can to for your team,” said Tasca. “The guys gave me a car that could win and I got beat. It happens. It wasn’t a terrible light, but it wasn’t good enough. With the margins of victory that we’re dealing with, there’s no room for error.”
Tasca’s second round loss came against Gary Scelzi, who had a .081-second reaction time to Tasca’s .100.
“We had a great qualifying weekend and moved into the top 10 in points, which is ultimately where you need to be to run for this championship,” said Tasca. “We continue to move on down the road. You can’t dwell on the loss. You can’t look back; you’ve got to look forward. You always wish that you could have it back. You just don’t want to lose on a hole shot. You don’t ever want to lose, but as a driver, that’s the worse way to lose.”
Despite the earlier than expected exit from the race, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane/Custom Accessories Shelby Mustang team was able to achieve some team firsts for the weekend. They earned their first No. 2 qualifying position, and for the first time, won the Full Throttle NHRA Pit Crew Challenge for the weekend, which awards a payout to the team in each class with the top-performing pit crew for the weekend.
“I’m really proud of my guys and how hard they are working,” said Tasca. “It’s exciting for them that they were able to win the Full Throttle award for the weekend. They gave me a consistent car every time down the track this weekend, so it’s great for me to see them get rewarded.”
AT LEAST HE QUALIFIED - Even a first round loss produces less of a sting than a DNQ outing. Jack Beckman’s first round Topeka loss didn't dampen his enthusiasm, confidence and expectations. All those emotions were soaring following a weekend of solid performances.
Beckman's loss to Bristol, Tenn., winner Melanie Troxel was close, just .0304-of-a-second short, as Troxel took the win light with a 4.940-second pass at 297.81 mph to Beckman's losing 4.976-second run and a faster speed of 303.03 mph.
The California native had moved into 10th after qualifying 12th, but is now back in No. 11 in a tight battle among all the Funny Car competitors to make it into the top 10 when the Countdown to the Championship begins following the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend. He’s just 11 points out of the top 10.
"I think fifth or 15th is where all the excitement is going to be from here to Indy in the points deal," said Beckman. "Like (crew chief) Johnny West said, we made a couple of changes to the Valvoline/MTS Dodge and we're going to start picking away at it and what we need to do is go down the race track every run to get data. And the truth of the matter is that Melanie was on a monster run and had problems and slowed down. We just needed her to have problems about 200 ft. earlier on that run.
"You know, we made four good runs out of five trips down the race track this weekend. It's always frustrating if you lose. I'd rather run like crap and win than run good and lose.
"The positive spin to put on it, though, is that Tommy (DeLago, co-crew chief) and Johnny (West) are looking at the computer data and hopefully they'll find areas in the run where we can make the car fast and still keep it safe down there and not smoke the tires, and hopefully we'll have a little better car come Chicago and a little bit better car come the next race."
NOT THE SARGE’S DAY - Tony Schumacher is rarely able to say he can’t get a handle on a track. In Topeka, the rarity reared its ugly head.
Schumacher, who qualified seventh, got out on his Don Schumacher Racing teammate at the start with an impressive .030-second reaction time, but then his tires began to lose traction just past the 60-foot mark and McClenathan zoomed past him.
“I guess we just couldn’t get a handle on the race track,” said the defending NHRA POWERade world champion. “The track surface was exceptionally hot today and when that happens you’re really walking a fine line to get the car to the finish line in a clean way. You have to give Cory and his team all the credit. They did what they had to do.”
Schumacher’s day actually started in similar fashion when he smoked the tires against Alan Bradshaw in the opening round. But, unlike McClenathan, Bradshaw also had traction issues and Schumacher was able to recover to get the round win.
“We were pretty fortunate against Bradshaw,” he said. “When I launched, the rear end of the car hit the wheelie bar fairly hard and that broke the tires loose. But, I was able to settle the car down enough to get past him.”
With his quarterfinal loss to McClenathan, Schumacher remained winless at Heartland Park.
“I just don’t know what it is about this place,” he said. “We love coming here, but we just can’t get to the money round. We’ll just chalk this weekend up to experience and move on to Joliet (Ill.).”
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK – TEAMS REACT TO TESTING MORATORIUM, KORETSKY WALKS AWAY FROM CRASH
TEAMS REACT TO TESTING MORATORIUM –
Friday’s announcement of a moratorium on all nitro testing at NHRA national event facilities came as an acknowledgment by the NHRA of a situation they’ve largely avoided commenting on – an impending crisis facing their official supplier.
The traditional P.R.O. test session the week before the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis has also been canceled.
The NHRA’s decision to limit testing will not completely stop teams from testing but will force them to travel to such venues as Valdosta, Georgia or Martin, Michigan to get in those laps. Most of the team owners CompetitionPlus.com spoke to regarding the issue said they’re not up in arms about the situation.
"Other than the fact we probably would've run here if we could have, it's not really going to have a big impact on us,” said Del Worsham, whose CSK-sponsored team missed the cut in Topeka. “With all the racing we have coming up this summer, we hadn't planned to test until the pre-Indy session anyway. We had a bad couple of days here, and it would be nice to just go make a lap to be sure we had it all sorted out, because we weren't that far off here, but instead we'll just pack up and go to Chicago.
“I'm a little sad they canceled the Indy session, because that was always a key test session for us, but at least this is a level playing field. We can't test, but no one else can either, so we're all in this together. Basically, it's like spilled milk right now. The situation is what it is, so there's no use crying about it. We just deal with it."
John Force has utilized many of the post-event test sessions over the years and he said he understands the decision and will abide by it.
“Basically they (the NHRA) made the rules because there is no nitro,” Force said. “We don’t know for sure how much there is going to be and I don’t make the rules. If Graham Light says we don’t test I just tell my people. If you look at the economy diesel fuel is going up, gasoline is going up and nitromethane is going up. This isn’t the NHRA; they don’t handle the nitro. Whatever rules they hand me is what I’ll abide by.”
Don Schumacher has been a big part of the nitro controversy for the past month. He understands the NHRA’s stance but can’t help but feeling it’s one they shouldn’t have to take.
“I know the NHRA is trying to conserve nitro because of the concerns they have as far as supply,” stated Schumacher. “I wish they would make business decisions that allowed the teams to do what they needed to do in order to perform in this difficult environment; that need to test and go out and take care of their sponsors.
“I think there are other things the NHRA could decide to do but that’s my personal opinion. They are doing the thing they think is the best for the sport to hopefully have enough nitromethane through the season.”
The real issue for many of the teams CompetitionPlus.com spoke with is the combination of the new Goodyear tire and a new chassis mandatory by the Denver event in July.
“It’s not just the new tires coming in,” Schumacher said. “Come Denver, there will be a new mandated chassis for the Funny Cars and I don’t believe all of the teams have transitioned over to the new chassis. With the new tires, it will be doubly tough. Teams are just going to have to deal with that.”
Schumacher declined to say whether or not he will test at alternate facilities but did say the IHRA national events have become an option.
“We haven’t decided as to what we want to do yet and we are putting out calls to some track owners,” Schumacher said. “We could very well end up in Budds Creek, Md., at that IHRA event because of the need to go out and develop some things. There are so many things you need to test and it’s a lot better to test them in a test session than come to a national event and be uncertain of what will happen.”
Schumacher has enough nitromethane to supply the test sessions, but the NHRA has taken a hard line stance they don’t want team owners or racers distributing the fuel. The NHRA has clearly drawn a line in the sand they have no interest in working with Schumacher outside of brokering a deal between him and VP.
“I have a substantial amount of nitromethane at my facility now but I have to say that business considerations may cause me to divert that product elsewhere,” Schumacher said. “You can only sit on this product for so long before you start to look at what is best for you on a financial basis. As I’ve told NHRA and the teams, I did not get into the nitro business to sell nitro to VP. That isn’t an option for me. We’ll just see what transpires in the next few weeks. Hopefully there will be a positive move on NHRA’s behalf to get another distributor; that makes sense being able to supply the sport.”
HEADED INTO SUNDAY -
UPPING THE ANTE - Dave Connolly continued to run well at Heartland Park Topeka Saturday, earning the No. 1 starting position for Sunday’s O’Reilly Summer Nationals, just his sixth since moving into NHRA Pro Stock competition in mid-2003.
Connolly drove the Charter Communications/LifeLock Chevy to its best quarter-mile run of 6.720 seconds at 204.51 mph in the day’s first session, supplanting Cagnazzi Racing teammate Ron Krisher’s 6.723. Krisher finished second. Connolly’s 6.755-second effort in second session when conditions weren’t as desirable was third-quickest.
“Topeka has always been a good track for us,” Connolly said. “We’ve been in the finals here in the last three years (winning in 2006). We know we have a good car; it’s the best it’s been since we brought it out (three races ago). It keeps responding to the changes we are making. It was an incredible day for Cagnazzi Racing to finish (qualifying) first and second.
“It should be an exciting day for Pro Stock Sunday. The track has been good for all four sessions and there’s not a major difference in the lanes so it should make for some tight racing.”
His first low qualifier award came in 2004 at Memphis and his second was at Bristol in 2005. He added three more last year (Seattle, Las Vegas 2 and Pomona 2).
KORETSKY UNINJURED - Veteran NHRA Pro Stock driver Kenny Koretsky walked away from a violent accident during qualifying Saturday at Heartland Park Topeka when his car hit the left guard wall and then slid across the track on its top before banging into the right wall.
“I hit the wall really hard,” said Koretsky. “My lower back and left leg hurt right now, but I feel okay. I am upset that our new Pontiac GXP wrecked like this. It was just a freak thing. I got out towards the centerline and tried to push the clutch in and before I knew it the thing just went haywire.
“I’m a little more upset about the whole thing myself. I probably should have shut it off a little earlier. The car started shaking so quickly . . . and then I didn’t know what was going on; it was happening so fast. When it flipped over I was hanging in there like a monkey and that wasn’t good because I’m claustrophobic.
Koretsky, 50, was attempting to get into the starting lineup on that run.
I’ve crashed before, but this was the first time it was my fault,” he concluded.
BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN – Jeg Coughlin Jr. struggled in qualifying but his efforts were enough to erase the DNQ memories from Bristol. He’ll start 13th in Sunday’s eliminations.
"I hope all the bad luck we've had is over with," Coughlin said. "We came in here with extremely high hopes after testing the car back in North Carolina. The guys had given me the latest and greatest motor out of the engine shop and it sure was flying in Q1.
"Unfortunately, it went away unexpectedly in Q2 and that was the night session when everyone had their best passes for the most part. We had a back-up piece that was a twin to the new motor that we put in there but it hurt itself during the burnout in this morning's round so I shut her off. Luckily, we were able to fix it and she ran real strong there in the final session, although it was too hot to move up the ladder.
"I feel very relieved to be in the field after all we've been through."
Coughlin draws Greg Stanfield (6.732) in the first round of eliminations, scheduled to begin around noon Sunday. The two men haven't raced each other this year. In 2007, they raced four times with Coughlin posting a perfect 4-0 record against Stanfield.
BREAKING THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE -
NUMBER SEVEN – Top Fuel racer Tony Schumacher recorded a couple of solid runs on Saturday to claim the seventh qualifying position.
“It was pretty hot today, so we just needed to make sure we got a good race day set up under us,” said the Chicago-area resident. “I’d say it was mission accomplished for the U.S. Army team.”
Schumacher put up the second quickest pass in the third qualifying session before nailing the quickest quarter-mile trip in qualifying session number four.
“It was a challenging track to get down given the sun and temperature,” he added. “The weather should be about the same on Sunday, so we’re as prepared as we’re going to get.”
For the second straight race, Schumacher will take on 10th-place qualifier, Alan Bradshaw, in the opening round of eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. CT.
At Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway two weeks ago, Schumacher slid by Bradshaw in round one after the latter fouled out. Schumacher parlayed that round win into a race victory.
“Alan’s been getting down the track with regularity, so we better be ready for another fight,” said the five-time world champion. “As always, focus will be critical if we’re going to claim another event win.”
Schumacher, who came into the weekend holding a 131-point lead over Antron Brown in the Top Fuel standings, is seeking his first career victory at Heartland Park.
“I would be so pumped up if we could finally win here in Topeka,” he said.
FATHER KNOWS BEST?
WJ'S SPEEDING TICKET
HUMPHREYS SUCCEEDS - Justin Humphreys bucked the odds Saturday by qualifying Allen Johnson's Mopar Dodge 16th in Pro Stock.
Humphreys had not driven the car until Friday's first qualifying run. His 6.761-second, 203.68-mph run that night held up through Saturday's two sessions. He races No. 1 qualifier Dave Connolly (6.720 at 204.51 mph) in the opening round.
"We made four runs in the car and got down the track on each one," said a smiling Humphreys. "We are starting to figure out the setup. Everything -- the whole package -- in the Pontiac is different from the Dodge's.
"We went from a Pontiac (his RaceRedi Motorsports GXP) to a Dodge in the last four days and qualified. We picked up the car 48 hours before our first qualifying run (Friday). We have two good crews working on the car -- Allen's and ours -- and we are looking forward to Sunday.
Humphreys had almost identical runs of 6.770 and 6.772 seconds Saturday.
NOT A BANNER WEEKEND -
BEST EVER FOR TASCA - For Bob Tasca III, making consistent qualifying runs down the quarter-mile has been a goal for the entire season. After doing that four times at Heartland Park in Topeka, the rookie driver earned the No. 2 qualifying position in Funny Car.
"We had one of the, if not the most consistent qualifying car of the weekend,” said Tasca. “I’m just thrilled with Chris [Cunningham, crew chief] and the guys that are just working so hard on this team. People don’t realize how many things they do in between rounds, and everything has to be perfect for our car to run how it ran here this weekend.”
The driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane/Custom Accessories Shelby Mustang’s previous best qualifying position was third, which he earned at Las Vegas earlier in the year.
“What can I say, we’re going into Sunday No. 2, and that’s the highest spot we’ve been,” said the rookie driver. “We made four solid runs down the track in the heat. I’m reacting really well off the line; I’m very comfortable in the car. As a driver, I can really feel myself making a lot of progress behind the wheel. And this is a tricky track. At the Top End of the track, the car wants to move around. There’s not a lot of rubber down out there and it causes the cars to want to drive to the centerline and get loose at the Top End.”
For the second time this season, Tasca will face Tony Pedregon in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. The round will mark the second time this season and in Tasca’s career that he will compete against his best friend in the first round of competition.
"To run Tony Pedregon tomorrow is just really exciting for me,” said Tasca.
“The truth is that there is no easy draw out here. But the team that we are going to run against tomorrow is us, and at the end of the day, you race yourself every single time down the track. As long as you race the track that you’re on and you put your best tune-up in the car and the driver does his job, you just give yourself a chance. In this sport, with the margins of victory measured in the hundreds of thousandths, you do need a little luck to go your way. I think we’re due for a little and we’re excited for tomorrow.”
RUNNING STRONG -
STRUGGLING INTO SUNDAY -
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – Nitro shortage hits home and Dave Connolly’s determination continues …
NITRO RESTRICTIONS – NHRA nitro racers were notified by the sanctioning body management their testing will be limited to
Sources within the NHRA are also considering abbreviating qualifying down to three sessions depending on how serious the situation gets.
CompetitionPlus.com was told the current nitro supply belonging to VP Race Fuels could last through the Norwalk national event and another shipment en route could extend the availability through Indy. A planned shipment after that could overcome the China shutdown and enable the official supplier to fulfill their obligation through the season.
Reportedly the NHRA and VP Race Fuels have worked relentlessly seeking a new supply of nitromethane and have discovered a bountiful supply in England. There’s a hitch, though. The product is owned by Dow Chemical and they’ve forbidden the product to be sold in racing applications.
The NHRA has talked to Dow, VP Race Fuels and Don Schumacher joining together to ensure a supply of nitromethane but no suitable agreement between the parties could be achieved.
The NHRA, while not stating the issue publicly, is adamant that no racer or team owner will be allowed to distribute nitromethane now or in the future.
To combat the impending shortage, the sanctioning body has encouraged its teams to conserve their nitro supply and asked they consider warming up before runs on methanol.
Because of this supply and demand issue, the price of nitro is expected to reach all-time highs in the weeks to come.
SNAKE BIT -
DETERMINED DAVE – NHRA Pro Stock driver Dave Connolly is driving like a man on a mission after sitting out the first fiveevents of the 2008 season.
The Pro Stock front-runner grabbed the provisional No. 1 berth for Sunday's O'Reilly Summer Nationals with a 6.730-second time at 204.20 mph.
"We're still trying to figure out the car and we are getting closer and closer," said Connolly, 25, who has two final-round appearances and one victory (at Bristol, Tenn., May 18) in his three previous races this year. "We stayed at Bristol and tested for two days and then went to Farmington drag strip near our shop in Charlotte and did more testing. And our Chevy Cobalt keeps getting better and better."
Connolly has experienced a lot of success at Heartland Park Topeka in recent years, driving his Cagnazzi Racing Chevrolet to a runner-up in 2005, a win in 2006, and a runner-up at last years Summer Nationals. With 10 races remain on the docket before the Countdown to One's final 10 spots are set at Indianapolis, the Charter Communications Chevrolet driver currently sits in 14th place in the standings with 244 points, just 83 points outside the top 10.
"Getting in the top 10 is certainly something that is on our minds," Connolly said. "We're trying to do the job at hand and let the points come to us. Even though we did miss five races, the new Countdown to the Championship format is working in our favor and it would be great to be able to slide into the top 10 and make a run at the Championship. I'm just happy to be back racing again, but obviously, you want the big trophy at the end of the day. If we can keep going rounds and put this Charter Communications car in the top 10, we know that at the last six races that we have a shot at it."
DOG EAT DOG - Tony Bartone drove the Canidae All Natural Pet Foods Chevrolet to the top spot in Funny Car with a 4.881 second run at 301.81 mph. It would be Bartone's first race day pole since Englishtown (N.J.) in 2006.
"Jim (Dunn) told me his game plan was to run 4.87," Bartone said. "It ran 4.88 and his game plan was right on the money. We knocked the burst panels out of it at the end of the track at the finish line; so be it, it was No. 1 qualifier - a good lap. We have a strong race car, but what we're lacking at this point is consistency, and if we could build some of that with the car we could go rounds and maybe one day win one of these events.
"Without a doubt, Funny Car, everyone knows, officials, drivers, spectators, is very competitive, with a lot of great teams. A lot of cars show up for an event and on any given weekend some top team doesn't qualify. It's been said before, but really, to qualify for one of these events is a feat in itself to be proud of. It's tough out there. There's no easy field - it's as competitive as I've ever seen it."
WEIGHT WATCHERS – The first session of Top Fuel qualifying taught Hot Rod Fuller a valuable lesson. One cannot be lighter in the cockpit without compensating somewhere else on the race car.
Fuller had his first qualifying attempt thrown out after coming up light in the post-run weight check. Nothing was done illegally to the car but the driver forgot to account for the 10 pounds he lost since the Bristol event.
“I’ve let my crew down in Bristol and then I did it here in the first session,” Fuller admitted. “I’ve been on this weight loss kick and I thought I’d lost only a few pounds but I looked at the scales and I’m down nine pounds. I guess I better start eating M&Ms instead of grapes. That’s an easy fix.”
NO DEFENSE FOR MIKE ASHLEY – A last minute decision put the defending NHRA Summernationals Funny Car champion on a private plane headed back to tend to business demands.
“I’m kinda bummed about not being able to race in Topeka,” Ashley said. “Business comes first and I have been working on some large projects.”
Ashley made the trip to Topeka but immediately notified Frank Hawley that he could be driving this weekend. An opportunity came together at the last minute – business related and the New York mortgage banker from Long Island returned home.
“We made the decision that whoever drives the car first, drives for the whole weekend,” Ashley added. “I know the team is in capable hands. They’ll defend my title for me.”
Ashley plans to race in Chicago next week during the NHRA Torco Route 66 Nationals.
KJ FARES OKAY - Kurt Johnson continued his string of strong performances during the first day of qualifying. After opening with the sixth-quickest time in the afternoon session, Johnson picked up the pace on his second attempt, covering the quarter-mile in 6.731-seconds with a top speed of 204.42 mph, placing him in the second position midway through the qualifying procedure.
“We were off a little bit on the first run, which had us scratching our heads a little. Fortunately, we had all the information to look at, and everyone on the ACDelco Cobalt crew did a great job, making the right calls, which helped us lay down that 6.731-second pass tonight.
“Sitting in the second spot on Friday night, we’re pretty pleased. I’ve looked at the forecast for tomorrow, and I believe things look promising. We’re really going to get after it, seeing what we can do to grab the top spot.”
Humphreys came away the 11th quickest run of 6.761 seconds at 203.68 mph in the first day of qualifying.
"We can't complain," the Monrovia, Md., driver said. "This was a whole new deal for us. Everything is different in the Mopar cars, but we'll keep working on it. We'll get it done with all the good people we have working on the car. It was good to see the car going down the track."
With no opportunity to test the car prior to the race, Humphreys got down the track in 6.819 seconds and was 13th after one lap
STRONG RUNNING -
REBOUNDING - Reigning POWERade champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. missed qualifying in Bristol. While drag racing doesn’t offer do-overs, the 24-race NHRA POWERade schedule does provide the opportunity to rebound.
Coughlin went to the top spot in the first session with a 6.765, 203.52 and though he improved with a 6.756 in the evening session, he finished the day No. 8.
"The guys have been very determined since the last race in Bristol to get this JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt where it needs to be," the four-time world champion said. "The car responded very well right out of the box, which is so important to a good weekend. When you start with a big number it really puts you ahead of the curve and allows the crew to fine-tune from there. You don't have that sense that you're chasing it.
"Joe Hornick and the guys in the engine department promised me this motor would be a screamer and they were right. We struggled with matching it to the set-up in Tennessee but obviously they found what it wanted here. I'm pumped up."
GETTING WARMER – Coughlin’s Chevrolet Cobalt prefers the warm weather conditions Topeka provided on Friday. Temperatures soared at the racetrack Friday, reaching into the 90s at times. It's the first time all year that crew chiefs have had to deal with intense heat and the slippery race surface it induces.
"It appears summer is here," Coughlin said. "Which actually suits us just fine, to be honest. We went to six finals last summer and won three of those races so I think our guys know what it takes to shine when the heat is on. I wouldn't expect anything less from them this year.
"I personally like the summertime because we generally run a big chunk of races in the summer months so you really get into a rhythm. Plus, my son Jeggie is out of school so he can come to more races with me. He's always good luck for us."
NEW THREADS FOR T-PED -
MORE NEW PEDREGON THREADS -
HE’S GOT THAT LOVING FEELING – Gary Scelzi was so inspired by his strong run on Friday evening that he promised his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car a romantic evening.
“My crew has deserved a lot better than what this car has been giving us,” Scelzi said. “I’ve gonna take the car back to the pits and show it some love. I’m gonna give it a massage and I might even buy it dinner tonight and romance it.”
HE DOES HAVE A POINT – Scelzi has a special guest in World of Outlaws racer Danny Lasoskie. He explained the two are working on a sponsorship package for a WoO team for the future.
WITCHITA NATIVE RUNS STRONG -
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