OF DONUT GREASE, COWBOY HATS, EMOTIONAL MEMORIES: TORRENCE WINS VIRGINIA TOP FUEL RACE - Despite conditions being “hotter’n donut grease,” Steve Torrence’s Top Fuel career came full circle Sunday with his Virginia NHRA Nationals victory.

The Texan earned his career 20th Wally trophy in his 200th race since debuting at this very track in 2006, driving Dexter Tuttle’s dragster.

Along with this fourth victory of the season for the Capco Contractors Dragster team and first at Virginia Motorsports Park, it marked the start of a team tradition: wearing authentic Resistol-brand cowboy hats.   

“This is one of the best racetracks I’ve ever been down. This thing’s like glass. You go out through there, it’s so smooth. It’s too bad it was sweltering while we were here racing, because I think you could have seen some really good numbers,” Torrence said.

“I enjoyed coming back here. This was my 200th race, but this is where every bit of it started back in 2006. It was an eerie feeling, coming out underneath the tower. Really, I hadn’t gotten nervous in a long time driving one of these things. I came out and all those emotions came back, looking up there and seeing those same grandstands. I had put this place out of mind and forgot about it. You couldn’t have scripted it any better,” he said.   

About a month or two ago, the Brownsburg, Ind.-based team came down to Kilgore, Texas, to visit Torrence for a week. And, he said, “they all decided they wanted to be bull riders.” Torrence took them over to Tyler, Texas, to visit his buddy, professional bull rider Robson Palermo. Said Torrence, “They changed their minds real quick after the first guy rode. They said, ‘Nah, this is a terrible idea. But we do need cowboy hats.’”

Torrence called the folks at the famous cowboy-hat company Resistol. “The lady there was so gracious to send us cowboy hats,” he said. She asked in what shape he wanted the company to form the hats. He told her, “You just shape ‘em, because these guys don’t know that they even have a shape. They’d want a round dome and a flat [brim], like they’re in the 1880s.” Instead of distributing the hats among the crew members, they decided to keep them boxed up until they recorded their next victory.

So when Torrence defeated Doug Kalitta with a 3.812-second elapsed time at 322.96 mph to the Mac Tools Dragster driver’s 3.844, 309.56, on the 1,000-foot course at North Dinwiddie, Va., just south of Richmond, they broke out their new hats. And they whooped it up in the winners circle, which they shared with Courtney Force (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and L.E. Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

His victory margin was .0146 seconds, or about seven feet (about one-fourth of the length of a dragster). But his lead in the standings expanded from 25 points to 108 over No. 2 Clay Millican.

Torrence began the weekend trying desperately to hold off Millican and protect his 130-point edge over No. 3 Leah Pritchett. He had his eye on No. 4 Tony Schumacher, the top qualifier this weekend who was trying to make up a 134-point deficit. His challengers all were gone by the second round. But Doug Kalitta lurked behind them, in fifth place, 142 points out. And even though Torrence knows the points are reset when the Countdown begins after Labor Day, naturally he wants to dominate as much as possible.

He didn’t do anything terribly notable in qualifying (partly because a promising 3.7-second pass was shut off on a judgment call by the crew Friday night). He bounced from eighth in the order to 13th to sixth.

“We didn’t qualify as high as we want to,” Torrence said, “but at the end of the day we were in the right spot to win the race. So I was proud of [the team]. They went out there and threw down an .81 in the final, just did their job all day long.”

With the quickest time in each elimination round, Torrence advanced by defeating associate Scott Palmer, hole-shotting Terry McMillen, and taking advantage of Antron Brown’s red-light foul.

Torrence also won at Phoenix and at the four-wide events at Las Vegas and Charlotte.

He said that previous experience at this facility gave him no advantage. Back then, he said, “We ran the big tires on the back, and we had parachutes. That’s about the only thing that relates to what we’re doing today.”

No. 4 qualifier Kalitta, making his 94th final round, did so past Dan Mercier, Pritchett, and teammate Richie Crampton (against whom he already was 5-1 in this season’s first seven races).

The Pomona winner was seeking his second victory of the year and 45th overall and 99th for his team-owner uncle Connie Kalitta. Heading into this event, three of his eight round-losses this year had come to Torrence.

Kalitta, the Top Fuel winner here in 2007, said afterward, “It was a great weekend for the Mac Tools team. We almost picked up that second win of the season. This track was great all weekend, and I cannot thank the Franklin family enough. I am excited to get to Bristol and see if we can get the win there."

The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series moves down the road to Bristol, Tenn., this coming weekend. Susan Wade

COURTNEY TOPS DAD IN VIRGINIA FINAL FOR FOURTH TITLE IN TEN MELLO YELLO EVENTS - The last time Courtney Force celebrated in the winner’s circle at Virginia Motorsports Park it was on the coattails of her father, John Force, who won the title of the 1995 Virginia is for Lovers NHRA Nationals.

It was the weekend of her seventh birthday.

But when they faced each other Sunday for the Virginia NHRA Nationals title, it was Courtney who got to blow out the candles.

“All I wanted for my birthday was to come out to a race with just my dad and I, and it was this racetrack and we got to celebrate in the winner’s circle. That’s when I was wearing that ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ t-shirt and I’m excited to wear it in the winner’s circle today for my win here.

“I’m really excited. But Dad was talking about (me) dancing in a bar, well that’s because he took me to the bar after the race, after he won, and I was playing ‘Ace of Base’ on repeat on the jukebox and was dancing next to the jukebox. So that’s the real story, I don’t know what he told you guys.”

That day in 1995 was the first of four Virginia titles for the elder Force, and he nearly got his fifth but his daughter and the Advance Auto Parts Camaro with crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Dan Hood made certain the star of this year’s return to Virginia for the first time since 2009 would be their driver.

“I’m really excited that we had a great side-by-side race,” she said of racing her dad. But for Brian Corradi and Dan Hood tuning that thing down there all weekend long, it’s been real consistent.”

Courtney won a close race over her dad to post her fourth Mello Yello event title in 10 events this year and won the Wally Trophy from the No. 1 qualifying position. The last time a Funny Car driver accomplished that feat was 16 years ago when John did it.

She finished second in championship points last year with seven poles but did not win a title.

Courtney posted a time of 4.039 seconds at 321.96 mph to edge John’s 4.076 (307.65) in the final round. She eliminated Jeff Diehl, Jim Campbell and J.R. Todd en route to the 27th final round of her career.

Other Mello Yello event winners at Virginia were Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Tanner Gray in Pro Stock and LE Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle. The Mello Yello Series races next weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway in Virginia for the 11th race of the season and third straight in June.

The combination of Courtney winning the 12th title of her career and the other four drivers in the top-five losing in the opening round allowed her to extend her points lead to 173 points over Don Schumacher Racing’s Jack Beckman, who was among those upset in the first round.

“It’s just the beginning of the season,” she said. “We just have to maintain our focus. I mean, so much goes to my team and the job that they have done. They have been incredible. I’m trying to keep up with them and perform well as a driver.

“We’re in the points lead right now, we’ve stretched it a little bit further with the win today. So right now it feels amazing, it’s great, but we really do have to keep it up all season long if we want to end up on top at the end.”

John has been much maligned for not having been to a final round in a two-car race since April of 2017 when he won the 148th title of his career. A few in the sport have questioned if a 69-year-old can still win races.

The haters shut up Sunday when Force showed the persistence and intestinal fortitude that took the California native from growing up in a small trailer to driving a truck to becoming the most famous drag racer in history.

His Peak Camaro showed the consistency crew chiefs Jon Schaffer and Ronnie Thompson have been working toward. He qualified seventh and posted times of 4.141, 4.096 and 4.077 on an ever-changing racing surface to get to the final. Adding sweet icing to the day was when his 0.047 of a second reaction time the second round was one of the day’s best in Funny Car.

He moved up two spots to eighth in points.

“I have a real fast hot rod now,” Force said after the 250th final round of his career. “I have struggled but my boys with the Peak team are ready for the fight. We are running good today and we were ready for that final round against Courtney and that Advance Auto Parts team.”

“Any time you can win that is a good day. My team is coming around. I am really proud of this Peak team led by Jon Schaffer and Ronnie Thompson. We moved up to eighth in the points.

“I have been spending time with my team all day and they give me energy. We are battling and I am still in the fight.” Jeff Wolf

GRAY LIGHTS IT UP IN FINAL AT VIRGINIA FOR SECOND MELLO YELLO TITLE OF ’18 - Tanner Gray had been beating himself up for not getting the edge at the starting line that has been his trademark.

The 18-year-old got his mojo back at the right time Sunday evening when he used his best reaction time of the day to defeat rival Erica Enders at Virginia Motorsports Park for his second Mello Yello Pro Stock event title in 10 events this year.

Other event winners Sunday were Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Courtney Force in Funny Car and LE Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

The Mello Yello Series races next weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, for the 11th race of the season and third straight in June.

Gray moved around Enders to take the third spot in the Mello Yello standings. Pole winner and points leader Greg Anderson, who lost in the second round, holds a 17-point lead over Vincent Nobile, 27 over Gray and 34 over Enders.

Gray’s 0.007 second reaction in the final just edged Enders’ 0.013 but his Gray Motorsports Camaro’s run of 6.595 seconds at 208.81 mph also outran her 6.628 (208.46).

“Going up there against her, you definitely have to be good on the tree,” he said. “It just makes for a good race no matter what the circumstances are because both of us can be struggling like we were today and then go up there against each other and be .007 and .013.

“It makes for good racing. Like I said out there, you’ve got to respect her; she’s a two-time champ and has accomplished a lot more than I have. You know, it’s a lot of fun getting to race her.”

And he prepared after an 0.038 light in the second round and 0.047 in the semifinals.

“I just went back (to the trailer) and sat down, pulled out the practice tree and dusted it off and took a few hits at that and just kind of tried to get a little bit more confidence back I guess you could say. I just needed to go up there and do it. It’s funny, like once you get in a slump like one bad light and then you start thinking about it too much and then you’re .040 again and then you’re all spun out. So you’ve got to learn to, I guess, let it go. You’ve just got to trust the process and trust what you’ve done when you’re not at the racetrack and you know in yourself you can go up there and be .00 when you need.”
Gray, who qualified fifth, defeated Kenny Delco, Nobile and Drew Skillman to advance to the final. Jeff Wolf

TONGLET ATONES FOR NOT CLOSING CHICAGO BIKE DEAL A WEEK EARLIER - It grated on Pro Stock Motorcycle racer L.E. Tonglet that, in his words, he “rode terrible in the final round” last weekend at Chicago against winner Matt Smith.

He knew he could do better and promised his team he would make up for that.

And he did Sunday, winning the Virginia NHRA Nationals with a 6.841-second pass at 196.76 mph over Andrew Hines’ 6.848, 196.22 on the quarter-mile at North Dinwiddie, Va., just south of Richmond.

“This just shows that least season wasn’t a fluke. We’re here to win every race we go to,” the Nitro Fish Suzuki rider said. “We had a bad Countdown run last year, and we’re going to do a lot better than that in the Countdown this year. We’ve got five or six fast motors, and we’re swapping them and getting data on all of them so that the last six races we’re not going to have a hiccup like we did last year.”

Tonglet joined Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) in the winners circle Sunday.

“The bike’s just flying, and it’s fun to ride right now.”

Team owner and fellow rider Jerry Savoie said earlier in the weekend that he didn’t think his operation was making the same kind of horsepower as the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team or the Aranas’ Lucas Oil Buell team or Smith’s Victory bike. He said those racers can make small mistakes and that wouldn’t hurt their overall execution but that his White Alligator Racing team had to have perfection in all phases of performance.

Tonglet agreed and indicated that came around as the race progressed Sunday.   

“Judging by each qualifying round and up until the semis, we felt like we were doing fair and that was pretty much it. Then Tim [crew chief Kulungian] decided to try something. He went for it, and he said it’s either going to run fast or it’s going to slow down a lot. It picked up in the semis and that’s just a huge confidence-booster – not only for this race but for the next races, showing we can run with ‘em,” Tonglet said. “But I say we’ve got to be absolutely perfect and you’ve got to have the tune-up dead-on to be able to run with those guys.”     

He was keeping up with them Sunday, all right, eliminating John Hall, Eddie Krawiec, and Hector Arana Jr., all tough competitors.

Tonglet, a firefighter from Metairie, La., registered his seventh victory for White Alligator Racing, his 17th overall, and his first of the season. That ended a seven-race winless streak that dated back to last fall at St. Louis.

The 2010 series champion and rookie of the year is third in the standings, behind the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod tandem of Hines and Krawiec, as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series action will resume this coming weekend at Bristol, Tenn.

No. 2 starter Hines, runner-up at Gainesville and Charlotte earlier this year, is winless in three final rounds. He’s the class’ all-time victories leader and had hoped to earn his 49th. His most recent victory was November 2017, at Pomona, Calif.

Hines advanced Sunday with victories against Hector Arana, Scotty Pollacheck, and Matt Smith before recording his 36th runner-up finish in 84 final rounds.

Top qualifier Arana Jr., who left Virginia with a semifinal finish, set low E.T. and top speed of the meet at 6.795, 199.14 on the Lucas Oil Buell. Susan Wade


JUST FOR FUN – Del Worsham can’t help himself. He said he was relegating himself to the sidelines until he could secure proper funding to continue. He’s at Virginia Motorsports Park this weekend. So did he find a marketing partner in the past week or so?


The two-time Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champion said he’s racing this weekend because “I miss it.”

Worsham fields the Top Fuel dragster that Bill Litton drives, and this week, John Smith is driving the second Worsham Family-owned Funny Car that John Lawson drove last week at Chicago.

“I’m already at the races. I come to every race with Bill Litton, anyway, so I’m already here. So The opportunity’s here, as long as everything is the way I think it should be and we’re going to have fun and the weather’s good, I’m the defending champion of this race, I thought it would be kind of fun to come out and maybe make a couple runs and see where we stand,” Worsham, who made his first appearance in the Carrillo Toyota Camry of the weekend early Saturday and registered a 4.113-second, 312-mph pass, said.

He said, “You know, Virginia’s a cool track. I won this race in 2009, my last win in the Al-Anabi Funny Car. “My car’s been with us and every week I’m out there, and I just told my dad – and I could tell my dad wanted to run it. So we decided we’ll come out and give it a couple runs and see where we are. It’s no harm, no foul, hopefully. I always have some funding, you know. So I can make it work - just for fun.

“Yeah, you know what, I’m doing it mostly just for myself and my team,” Worsham said. The guys want to race, we’ve been out here, we’ve been working hard, we’ve been putting in a lot of time, and that’s kind of our baby over there. [So I decided to] come out and hopefully have some fun, make some good runs, see where we are, keep my driving skills brushed up a little bit. I plan on running Sonoma, Seattle, Brainerd, and Indy, so it won’t be just like jumping in the seat after not driving for four to six months. We’ll see. Just for fun.”

KA-BOOM! – Cruz Pedregon clocked a 4.15-second elapsed time at 280 mph as the engine of his Snap-on Toyota Camry blew up approaching the finish line. The blast completely shattered the body, sending pieces of it flying in all directions. After he exited the car on his own, Pedregon said he had “no warning. It’s just part of Funny Car racing now. They just don’t like certain things. And it didn’t like that.”


MILLICAN GOING FOR TRIPLE CROWN, TOO – It would be like Secretariat drawing the outside post at Belmont Park.

Clay Millican, hoping this weekend like the Thoroughbred phenom Justify to earn the Triple Crown, has won his past two races but will start eliminations Sunday from the bottom half of the ladder (12th). That’ll be the first time since the Las Vegas four-wide race and only the second time this year that he’ll give up lane choice for the opening round. He’ll have a tough opponent in No. 5 starter Leah Pritchett, whom he denied back-to-back victories after her Atlanta triumph.

But Millican is seeking his third straight victory, curiously during the same weekend as horse-racing’s Triple Crown climax.

“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy,” he said. “I’ve done three in row on the IHRA side. Obviously never got anywhere close to that over here, but we’ve got the right group of people in place. There’s no reason we can’t do it, and we’re planning on doing it. I feel good about it. The car, the people, it’s all good.”

Less than one year ago, everybody was asking Millican, “When are you going to get your first win over here in the NHRA?’ Then after his Father’s Day classic victory at Bristol, people changed the question to “When are you going to get your second one?”

Maybe now they’ll stop asking when the next victory will come. So Millican has that burden off his shoulders.

“Oh yeah, just getting the first one out of the way kind of took care of all those problems of asking when, which is something you can’t answer. Right now, these last two for me they’ve been a lot of fun because the emotion of getting that first one out of the way was awesome and now it’s fun for the people that make it happen,” Millican said. “The people that have supported me all these years, we’re now kind of giving back to them. And that’s so much fun to do, knowing that we can win at any given time, and other people know that too because we really earned these last two. The car’s performance has been spectacular.

“I guess really the last year or so, we’ve had so many No. 1 qualifiers and now we’re converting them. Grubby [crew chief Dave Grubnic] kept saying we’re a one-hit wonder. But now we’re no longer a one-hit wonder. It’s not just the one big booming qualifying run. The car’s starting to do it over and over again during eliminations, and that’s how we’ve gone eight win lights in a row.”

He said it’s gratifying watching Grubnic come into his own as a tuner.

“Right now, he’s the best in the business,” Millican said. “Can’t argue that the last two races. You know, Don Prudhomme always said, ‘You’re only as good as your last time slip.’ Well our last time slip was a win. So right now, he’s the best there is.”

He can thank wife Donna for that.

“It didn’t take much twisting our arm to hire him four years ago, five years ago, whatever it’s been now. It was Donna’s idea,” Millican said. “She’s like, ‘That’s who we need to get,’ and she was right.”

He said her hunch came from “just seeing him operate the Rapisarda car in Indy after having been gone for over a year from drag racing. And to come out at Indy and give them their career-best run with a car that he basically had never seen, she knew right away that this guy can do it, and she was right. She kind of stays in the background and she prefers it that way, but she’s done this as long as I have – so she knows.”

As for his Triple Crown connection to the racehorse Justify, Millican said, “I have no clue how to bet on anything, to be honest with you. I think it’d be interesting if they started allowing betting on drag racing. That’d be fun.”

NO PANICKING FOR WILKERSON – Despite two disappointments in qualifying Friday and a wonky run early Saturday that left him 18th in the order and unqualified with one final chance to make the field, Tim Wilkerson said he isn’t ready to “throw up the tragedy flag.” The season is nearly half-over –it will be after the Norwalk, Ohio, race in two weeks – and the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang owner-racer knows if he doesn’t start improving he won’t be earning an 11th straight Countdown to the Championship berth.

Wilkerson, who runs under the Team Summit banner, entered this event ranked 13th in the standings, has advanced past the second round only once in the first nine races this year. And that happened five races ago. So he’s due for an outstanding weekend. He’s just 43 points behind 10th-place John Force.

“We sure don't want to end up at Indy having to pull off a miracle,” he said, referring to the Countdown cutoff race, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. “But there are four or five other cars – John Force included – that are in the same boat. We aren't going to throw up the tragedy flag, because nothing positive happens when you're freaking out. We have a good car, and we're going to do what we normally do: focus and go round by round. You do that, and the round-wins will come."

He said, "It really means a lot to us that we've done so well over the last 10 years, especially with the level of competition out there. It doesn't get any better than it is right now. Those cars are tough. I've spent the last five years being able to keep up with the best in the country, but now I have to figure out how to make my race car as consistent as those best cars. I'm very proud that we've consistently been in the top 10, and I like that people know racing me isn't an easy draw."  

HARD WORK, FOCUS SAVOIE’S SECRET – One five-word sentence seems to be the motto of White Alligator Racing: “Tim’s worked hard all winter.” Tim is crew chief Tim Kulungian, and not a Pro Stock Motorcycle race goes by without team owner and racer Jerry Savoie and/or teammate L.E. Tonglet saying that.

“Everybody here works hard. We’re all working diligently,” Kulungian said. “But it takes a lot more than hard work to put a winning program together. It starts with people you have servicing the motorcycle, technicians, a driver being able to keep his composure,  toughness, and somebody making decisions that make sense and are able to produce predictability. Everything has to come together in order to make something work. You can have the fastest motorcycle on the grounds, but if the people who service the motorcycle aren’t doing their job properly, they have enough responsibility to eliminate. We’ve had mistakes that keep us from making runs.”   

Said Savoie, “We don’t have the power to run with Matt Smith or the Harleys [Harley-Davidson riders Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec] or the Hectors [the father-son Arana duo]. But we have the total package to where if the tuner [is prepared] and the motorcycle is prepared properly, and the team does his job and the rider does his job, we can outrun them, but we have to be prefect. They make mistakes and still can win. We have to have the total, perfect package to outrun ‘em. The theory is you have to be better than them.”

For Kulungian, it’s not a matter of putting pressure on himself. “I don’t think we look at it as fear or pressure,” he said. “We just know what we have to do. We know what our job is. It’s just come here and do our jobs.”

That lack of drama is what makes Tonglet a good fit on Savoie’s team. Savoie said he has known Gary Tonglet, L.E.’s father and drag-racing mentor, for about 45 years and was glad to be reunited with him following the Gatornationals in March.

“We’ll be good this year,” Savoie said. He said the team “fell off midseason last year” but that Kulungian worked during the winter with Krawiec – who preps the engines out of Vance & Hines – and together they identified some of the troubles. “We seem to have straightened it all out,” Savoie said. “We did pretty good last weekend. I went .001 red first round [against Jim Underdahl]. I never thought in a million years that we could red-light.” He said he had been struggling with his clutch set-up but that Blake Gann had built him a new clutch two races ago. “Things are coming around,” he said. “We won Charlotte, and L.E. went to the {Chicago] finals. You’ve got Matt Smith making a lot of power, and look at Hector Jr. How many times is he going to go 200? Unless we get a tailwind, I don’t know if anybody else can do it this year. Junior’s got a lot of power, and he figured things out. And you have the Harleys, amongst the Underdalhs and Scotty Pollacheck. There’s a lot of fast bikes. You’ve got to be on your toes and do your job all the way to the very end on race day. Sometimes it all comes together.”

SANFORD STARTS FOURTH AT WILLOWBANK – Californian Ashley Sanford, racing for leading Australian Top Fuel team Rapisarda Autosport International, qualified fourth at the Willowbank Winternationals, near Brisbane. Teammate Damien Harris thrilled the near-capacity crowd when he smashed the Australian record for 1,000 feet with a 3.78-second, 325-mph pass to claim the pole position. Sanford is making her swansong appearance this season with RAI and will face off against Rachelle Splatt in the first round of eliminations. – John Doig


FUNNY CAR BONUS POINTS DERBY – Kalitta Motorsports’ JR Todd is second only to Courtney Force in amassing Funny Car qualifying bonus points. The Toyota driver has padded his points with bonuses at nine of 10 races this season. Force has scored qualifying bonus points at all 10, including in each of her four sessions at this event.


BETTER FATE – After a crummy opening day of qualifying, Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger driver Tommy Johnson Jr. fared decently in the Funny Car lineup at No. 10. He’ll meet John Force, who qualified seventh.

Johnson was on the bump spot when he made his final qualifying pass. It was a 4.083-second elapsed time at 314.83 mph, which made him No. 9 for awhile. Shawn Langdon came along in the next pairing and knocked Johnson down to 10th place. It was an improvement from Friday for Johnson, whose timing system malfunctioned in his first pass and throttle safety switch went off during the burnout in Q2.


BIKE DNQS – Angelle Sampey took her second straight DNQ Saturday in Pro Stock Motorcycle competition. Suzuki rider Kelly Clontz grabbed the 16th and final spot with a 6.969-second clocking at 193.10 mph. Joining Sampey on the sideline Sunday will be Ryan Oehler, Karen Stoffer, Ron Tornow, and Andie Rawlings.   



HAPPY BIRTHDAY. NOW GET TO WORK – D’Andre Redfern, Funny Car owner-driver Bob Tasca’s clutch assistant and cousin of Top Fuel racer Antron Brown, celebrated his 24th birthday Saturday. (Redfern is the grandson of Brown’s Uncle Andre.) After he blows out the candles on his cake, Redfern will have to start focusing on Tasca’s first-round match-up against JR Todd. Brown, No. 10 starter in the dragster class, will line up against No. 7 Mike Salinas.

SELLOUT ANNOUNCED – NHRA and Virginia Motorsports Park officials announced a sellout crowd – the fifth this year – for Saturday qualifications for the Virginia NHRA Nationals.

“To be able to host all these dedicated NHRA fans and sell out the facility during our first event shows the growth and popularity of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing,” said Tommy Franklin, who owns the track with wife Judy.

“The staff at Virginia Motorsports Park has worked nonstop to get the facility prepared for the event, and we are thrilled with the results.”

Numerous facility upgrades include a completely new racing surface.


ARANA JR. QUICKEST IN BIKES – Flirting with yet another 200-mph pass, Hector Arana Jr. broke both the elapsed-time and speed records Friday in leading the Pro Stock Motorcycle class at 6.795 second and 199.14 mph in the opening day of qualifying at the Virginia NHRA Nationals south of Richmond. He was the provisional low-qualifier in both sessions.

“The bike’s really consistent right now,” the Lucas Oil Buell said. “We made a change for the last run, and it liked the changes. So we’re headed in the right direction. We might be able to improve even a little bit more, depending on what the weather does for us tomorrow.”


ANDERSON IN COMMAND IN PRO STOCK – Greg Anderson shaved five-thousandths of a second from his Pro Stock-best first qualifying run to take command on the first day of action at Virginia Motorsports Park with a 6.571-second elapsed time. He also was fastest in both sessions in the Summit / KB Racing Chevy Camaro, first at 210.34 mph, then at 210.67. “It’s a cool-feeling racetrack. It’s a Pro Stock-style racetrack, in my opinion,” he said.



RAY ROCKS – South Carolina’s Jeremy Ray overtook early leader Danny Rowe in the second qualifying session Friday to earn the provisional No. 1 qualifying position in the E3/J&A Service Pro Modified Series. He’s atop the order overnight, with two Saturday qualifying sessions remaining, with a 5.804-second elapsed time at 248.11 mph.

Ray edged Rowe by five-thousandths of a second in a field that so far is separated by .109 of a second. Shane Molinari is holding down the bump spot for the moment at 5.913 seconds.

As usual, the still-unqualified Pro Modified group is a virtual Who’s Who of the class: Tommy Mauney, Richie Stevens, Todd Tutterow, Clint Satterfield, Chip King, Chuck Little, Brandon Snider, Doug Winters, Eric Latino, Pete Farber, and Steven Whiteley.

“It’s hot today. I made a lot of laps at this track, running eighth-mile. It worked out today. I didn’t get in high gear first round. Finally got it to shift [and] made a good run, a solid run. Hopefully it sticks,” Ray, driver of the supercharged split-window ’63 Corvette “Carolina Kingpin,” said. “It feels good to come here and qualify at all five events so far. It has been a tough feat. This is the first year I’ve ever run a quarter-mile. To come here and run with these guys and do this for a living [is amazing]. It’s just me and my mom and dad and my wife and kids. I tune it, drive it, own it, the whole deal. It makes it more satisfying to do it yourself.”

DIET SECRET – Terry McMillen has been to two final rounds in the past four races

“We’re doing something right,” the Amalie Oil Dragster owner-driver told Kat Simons of Richmond radio station Mix 98.1. “Crew chief Rob Wendland and the guys are giving us a good hot rod, and all I have to do is drive it in a straight line.”

And then his sense of humor showed up. “Here’s the story,” he told her. “Anybody who knows me knows I’m an older guy, I’m heavy-set. The real cool part about it is when I leave the starting line, in the first 60 feet, the car’s somewhere between 104-106 miles an hour. That’s in the first 60 feet. Now, that’s pretty incredible in itself. But what’s better than that is I’ve created the most awesome diet program. When you hit the gas, every wrinkle, every ounce of fat, is still on the starting line as you’re going forward.”

But he was serious when he said in his pre-race remarks that he “missed a great opportunity to make a move up the ladder in Chicago” with his first-round loss. “We just had some fuel-system issues that we thought we had figured out on Sunday, but it just didn’t work out in our favor. We’re ready to get back out there and continue the success we’ve had so far this season.”

Heading into VMP, where he raced many times in IHRA competition, McMillen has nine round-wins, already the second-best for an entire season. He won 14 rounds in 2017, including his first victory, at Las Vegas in the fall. He’s also been to three final rounds through the first nine races this season.

“I’m glad we’re back racing in Virginia,” he said. “I’ve raced here a lot over the years in my Alcohol Funny Car. One of my first Top Fuel NHRA races was here in Richmond. The fans are great, the track is great, and we’re looking for a great finish in Richmond.”

He told Simons he heard a week or more ago that “the track is very, very smooth – and if that’s the case, it should be very, very fast. I believe some records could fall real easy.”

Tony Schumacher set the track speed record at 327.51 mph, but McMillen had his shining moment, seizing the provisional No. 3 qualifying position.

KALITTA TAKES AIM – Mac Tools Dragster driver Doug Kalitta is one of only two current Top Fuel racers with a victory at this Richmond track. He was the 2007 winner, beating Melanie Troxel in the final. (That year, the class included Whit Bazemore, Brandon Bernstein, Larry Dixon, Hot Rod Fuller, Dave Grubnic, Doug Herbert, Morgan Lucas, Cory McClenathan, Bob Vandergriff, and Hillary Will.) Tony Schumacher also has a victory here, the year after Kalitta, in 2008.

But Kalitta isn’t looking backward. He’s looking forward – to a possible 50th No. 1 qualifying position, to a possible second victory this season (or at least a third final-round berth), and to a possible 45th overall victory that would tie him with Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Eddie Krawiec for 15th on the NHRA’s all-time list.

“I am ready to get to Richmond,” Kalitta said even before leaving his Michigan home base, citing “a new surface and fans that are excited for us to get there.” He said, “My Mac Tools team is ready, and we are looking for a win this weekend.”

The Pomona winner is coming off a semifinal finish at Chicago. He also advanced to the final quads at the four-wide races at Las Vegas and Charlotte.

Kalitta is fourth in the order with two more qualifying sessions scheduled for Saturday.

BALANCING ACT – Steadily improving Top Fuel driver Scott Palmer expects only to get better, with relevant data, more experience, and the expertise of newly acquired tuner Jason McCulloch. But he can’t help himself – Palmer always wants to balance his focus on winning with flat-out having fun.

"We learned a lot in Chicago about running in the heat, and the forecast for this weekend looks pretty much the same as what we just experienced. So we are going to try to apply this new knowledge," Palmer said. "I love [this] track, and the fans there are awesome. The last time we raced Virginia, we turned on the win light against my buddy Spencer Massey so, you know, I have good memories of [the] place."

But the Cat Spot Litter/Marck Dragster owner-driver said, "Under orders from the boss, our No. 1 goal every weekend is to have fun," he said. "You know, 10 years ago, everybody whacked the throttle [during warm-ups in the pits]. Funny Cars always did big, long burnouts, and the fans loved all that stuff. For whatever reason, all that has kind of tapered off. Nobody does it anymore, except for us. We're the outlaws in Top Fuel right now. We still whack the throttle. We still invite people into the pit at night to have a look around. We still enjoy ourselves.

"We've got a bunch of good guys here racing together, because it's fun. We are just down-to-earth people, the opposite of the big corporate teams,” Palmer said. “CatSpot is a great company, and Tommy Thompson is a down-home, normal person that is not only our sponsor but a great friend. He wants to keep it real. He wants us to stay grounded and do our own thing. So that's exactly what we do, and the fans really dig it."

He said, "I'm a regular guy, a fan, just like everyone who comes through the gates and walks through the pits. I did that for years, and if I wasn't lucky enough to be driving this CatSpot Organic Cat Litter Top Fuel Dragster, I'd be right there with them again. I absolutely love this sport."

FIGHTING FOR INDEPENDENTS – Steve Torrence has led the Top Fuel standings after 18 of the past 23 races, dating back to last season. He’s still atop the order, but Clay Millican has won the past two events to move into second place and trim Torrence’s advantage to a mere 25 points. That translates to a 95-point loss in two races for Torrence, who has won 11 times in the past 28 chances.

“You need somebody pushing you, and Clay’s definitely giving us a shove,” the Capco Contractors Dragster driver said of Millican.

That’s good news and bad news for Torrence. The unpleasant news, of course, is that his lead is dwindling. But the welcome news for Torrence is that Millican and his Stringer Performance team are, like Torrence’s family operation, independent. And part of Torrence’s motivation is to show mega-team Don Schumacher Racing, Kalitta Motorsports and John Force Racing that they doesn’t rule the roost.

Of Millican, Torrence said, “Those guys are definitely contenders, and it’s pretty awesome that ours are the two teams that are leading the points right here, halfway to the Countdown. It’s tough out here, but beating the mega-teams, that’s what motivates me and these Capco boys. To be racing the best in the business and to have success, that’s a rush. Yeah, there’s a big sense of accomplishment when you come away with a win against DSR or Force or Kalitta because they’ve set the bar so high. But they’re not the only cars out here that can win anymore. We’ve shown that. Clay’s shown that. Terry McMillen has. It’s going to be a battle to the final day, just like last year – and I say may the best independent win.”  

Can Torrence claim any advantage because he has experience here at Virginia Motorsports Park, which hasn’t hosted an NHRA event since 2009? “That’s ancient history,” he said. “The last time I raced here (2006), they were running the quarter-mile.  We ran the big tires on the back, and we had parachutes. That’s about the only thing that relates to what we’re doing today. The advantage I do have is [crew chief] Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana, and this Capco crew. They’re the best at adapting to whatever gets thrown at them. You drive better when you go up there knowing you’ve got a bad-ass race car. And I go up there every round knowing we’re bad-ass.”

READY TO ‘START MAKING SOME NOISE’ – Tony Schumacher’s dragster is sponsored by the U.S. Army, and that has a special meaning for him as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to Virginia Motorsports Park for the first time since 2009. “It brings us back to that historic part of the country where the U.S. Army had a lot going on 150, 200 years ago, and it’s just down the road from our nation’s capital. We’ve won here before,” Schumacher said, “and it would be a great time and place to put it all together and get another one.”

His nine-race performance so far has been a mixed bag. He has had a share of the points lead and hasn’t been any worse than fourth place (and that was just for one race). He has two runner-up finishes. But he has four first-round exits, including a tire-smoking one last week. He said he’s ready to rebound: “Sitting up in the [engineering] lounge after that first-round run, it was incredibly uplifting, if you can believe that, to have Mike [crew chief Neff] show me exactly why what happened to us happened. Sometimes you smoke the tires or something else goes wrong and you don’t have a clear picture of why until much farther down the road. We got over that one at Chicago right away. This U.S. Army race car remains bad to the bone, and we are ready to go out and start making some noise during this summer stretch of races.”

He’s leading the Top Fuel field after two qualifying sessions.    

PRITCHETT LOOKING AHEAD – Atlanta Top Fuel winner Leah Pritchett, who has reached two final-round appearances in the past three races to improve to third in the standings, said she’s laying the foundation to an unrelenting run at the series championship.

“Obviously, we want to see more wins, but that win in Atlanta did a lot for us besides getting some extra cool hardware,” six-time overall winner Pritchett said. “That win really boosted our morale, but we need just more than that one. If we’re making our case towards a strong [championship surge], you can’t do that without a strong middle of the season. We’ve got the framework and foundation. Now we just have to kick it in gear.”

She got off to a strong start last season but couldn’t sustain it and ended up a completely respectable fifth in the final standings. But she wants more.

And she has more races in a row, for sure. This is the second of four in as many weeks. The string began at Chicago and will continue at Bristol, Tenn., and Norwalk, Ohio.

“I really like being in the groove of that and I love being in the rhythm of races,” Pritchett said. “As you get towards the end of it, it can get tiresome for the crews, but I do look forward to this four-race swing. You have to prepare a little differently for it, too, and this time I feel like I prepared myself better, whether it’s a proper workout regimen or eating right. That’s why I’m looking forward to this four-race swing, hoping this is the time where that mental training will kick into gear.”

She said she isn’t concerned that this new venue for her will derail her momentum.

“I think it’s going to go well,” Pritchett said before qualifying began. “We’ll have an even playing field for everyone, not having good track data there. I hear it’s supposed to be fast, and this team, we can go back to some of our ways where we know how to lay down some numbers. We’ve struggled with that this year, getting that power back, and now that we’ve found it in the heat, I’m looking forward to applying it. We’re not going to let coming up just short in the final last week at Chicago stop us at all. Our heads are not hanging low at all. We’ll stay grounded and [keep] our heads down and working hard as always. Hopefully on this (Richmond-Bristol) swing we’ll be raising another Wally.

“Sometimes when you’re winning you get used to that. The more we do well, the more appreciative and in the moment I get. It’s been a long time,” she said.

CRAMPTON UPBEAT – Gainesville winner Richie Crampton is trying to keep his Countdown-eligible status in the standings, after sliding down in the order from No. 6 to No 10. Five of his seven first-round defeats have come in the past five races, but the cheerful DHL Dragster driver for Kalitta Motorsports focused on the positives coming into this first trip to Richmond. He said, “It is looking like a good weekend. The race car is responding, and the team are doing a great job, as always.”


STRIKING SIMILARITY – At this time last year, on her way to the Top Fuel championship, Brittany Force had one victory and was sixth in the standings, 281 points off the pace. Today she’s in almost the exact situation, with one victory and in sixth place. The only difference is she’s 241 points out of the lead. She’s seeking her first victory here, but her John Force Racing team has fared well here. Dad John Force has won at Richmond four times, and the late Eric Medlen won the last of his six trophies here in 2006. A children’s playground in his honor was established here following his 2007 passing. Through the Norwalk, Ohio, race – the last in a string of four – Brittany Force will carry the Advance Auto Parts paint scheme that matches that of her younger sister Courtney’s Funny Car. “We have matching Advance Auto Parts race cars, so we are hoping to get matching wins for the first time,” she said.  


MERCIER . . .  AH, MAIS OUI – Quebec native Dan Mercier, who competes mainly in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, is back in the 10,000-horsepower, nitro-burning version this weekend for only the second time ever. He bought a complete car from Terry McMillen, and he has tuning direction this weekend from veteran Lance Larsen, who has focused this season on helping launch Richard Townsend’s nitro Funny Car career.

“They asked me to come and kind of like oversee things, as far as the mechanical part, and teach the guys how to do it. Obviously it’s Rob Wendland’s tune-up,” Larsen said, referring to McMillen’s crew chief, “so he’s going to be very involved in making a run. I’m just kind of here to be the old grey-headed guy that oversees everything, without grey hair of course.”

Larsen said he has been involved in races here at Virginia Motorsports Park since it opened, and he said it “was a very premium race track at the time. We really loved coming here.” And that familiarity, he figured, couldn’t hurt Mercier, who doesn’t plan to step up right away to a fulltime Top Fuel schedule.

“He’s still going to concentrate on the A/Fueler because he has a passion for it. He’ll run one more race, in Epping, this year and then three would probably be all right for next year. Who’s to say if he ran early he wouldn’t pick up one more some place? Maple Grove is fairly close. He’s going to take it slow and easy. He’s got infrastructure to build on this side. I mean, the A/Fuel program’s up and running, so he hasn’t lost interest in that. This is just a bucket-list thing.”

Larsen said he met Mercier “a long time ago, and he was very sweet. He’s a very nice guy, very nice guy.” Larsen had his own G7 Summit, of sorts, recently in Quebec: “I was up there for four or five days last week, same thing, trying to teach them how to work on [the dragster] and help them set up the pit area.”

Guiding Townsend’s Funny Car operation still is Larsen’s primary focus. “Hopefully, one of these days I’ll get one single one to work on all year and I won’t be so confused where I wake up every morning,” he quipped. “It’s OK. It keeps me out here, keeps me current, but when you pick one to fall in love with and nurture, it really is more satisfying.”

Townsend is not here this weekend, and cancelled his plans to race at next week’s Bristol event “because we bought a new trailer and we just don’t have time to put everything together.” He said Townsend will run at Sonoma, Seattle, and “for sure the last three races of the season, maybe even pick up one more some place.”

Mercier grabbed the tentative No. 7 qualifying position in the opening session Friday.

OFF TO GREAT START – Dom Lagana, driving a second CatSpot Organic Cat Litter Dragster for Scott Palmer Racing, said before taking to the track Friday that he would “keep to our own plan and try and get an A-to-B run to start the weekend and build from there.” He had to improve only four spots to be at the top of the order after his first qualifying try.

"It's only our second race out this year, and we've got the new car again. I'm excited,” Lagana said. “Any weekend you can come out and go racing is a good one, you know?"

Lagana debuted a Morgan Lucas Racing-built chassis at Charlotte earlier this year, showing plenty of promise with the car. He won his first-round quad but bowed out after finishing third in his Round 2 quartet. With more data available from Palmer and his new crew chief, Jason McCulloch, Lagana is hoping to build on his Charlotte performance.

"It would be nice to lay a couple good low-.80 or high-.70 runs down if the track will take it," Lagana said. His first pass was at four seconds flat at 287.05 mph.

"We made some good progress with the new car in Charlotte. We made one run that would've been in the high-.70s, so we'll build off of that and see what the weather conditions do. Of course, it'd be good to get out there on Sunday to take out a couple guys for Scott for the points. We'll see what we can do."

Lagana is eighth so far and Palmer ninth – a situation they hope to correct Saturday so they don’t meet each other in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

NOT READY – Bill Litton, who’s driving the Worsham family-owned dragster, was the only Top Fuel racer on the entry list not to attempt a run in the first session Friday.


NEW TOOL BOXES, NEW OUTLOOK – Cruz Pedregon is jazzed. "With my new team, we've now qualified in the top five in four of the last five events and in the top half of the field in six consecutive races. We're ready to take on the track in Dinwiddie … looking for good numbers and to going rounds in the Snap-on Toyota."

Crew Chief Aaron Brooks said, "The hard work we've put in over the past 18 months is paying off, and we're getting more consistent with our runs. We got a handle on what the car can do in both cool and hot temps in the same weekend, and we've got some good night-tuning under our belts for the season, so we're ready for a competitive weekend of racing ahead."

Pedregon has something special in his pit that he said he wants fans to stop by and see.

“We hope all the fans will be excited to come out to the track when the NHRA heads back into town this week. And I'm really hoping they'll stop by our pit to check out the new candy apple red Snap-on tool boxes we designed for use at the track. They were delivered recently, and we tried them out last week for the first time. They're made by Snap-on in Algona, Iowa, and we're ready to show them off to the Virginia Motorsports Park fans."


REDEMPTION THE GOAL – Las Vegas and Houston king JR Todd still has a winning race-day record (11-7), but losing on a holeshot to Bob Tasca in the first round last week at Chicago still bugs him. Sunday he was especially hard on himself, saying he was “disappointed in myself. There is no excuse for that” and that “I feel bad for letting [the team] down.”

Todd is determined to erase the memory. “We have a really good DHL Toyota right now, and I am anxious to redeem myself from last Sunday.” Todd qualified here, in Top Fuel, from 2006-2008.



INFINITE HOPES – Despite making it only as far as Round 2 last Sunday at Chicago, No. 2-ranked Funny Car driver Jack Beckman is energized.  "Transitioning to our new car at Chicago didn’t quite give us the results that we wanted, but we found something in the bellhousing that we feel like is going to give us as quick a car as we’ve had all year. The guys were really excited to get back to the shop, replenish the trailers, and then head straight out to Richmond, a track we haven’t raced at for almost 10 years. It’s going to be exciting: we’ve got a new car, a new track, and a fresh new outlook." The Infinite Hero Dodge Charger driver was the 2008 runner-up at Richmond and top qualifier the following year.


MAYBE A VICTORY THIS TIME? – Ron Capps was runner-up here in both 2000 and 2007, but he’s hoping to score that victory – which would be his 59th in all – in the NHRA’s return to Virginia for the first time since 2009. "There are a few tracks I haven’t won at, and Richmond is one of them. I never got to win there before, and I’ve won at pretty much every other track over all these years. To get to go back there and have that opportunity is fun. We always enjoy going to that area of the country, and you can tell the owners that bought that place, what they’ve done in a short amount of time, it’s going to be fun.” He said he’s happy “to see a whole bunch of fresh faces that we haven’t seen for almost a decade as far as fans. They’ve missed us being in that area. I’m so happy NHRA is going back. I’d love for nothing more than to park that NAPA Dodge right in the winner’s circle. This summer is going to be fun, and it starts with going to Richmond and just unloading and doing what we’re used to doing."


HE WORKS HARD FOR HIS MONEY – Robert Hight earned his first Funny Car victory of the season last Sunday at Chicago. But 13-year-old daughter Autumn beat him to it. She won a Jr. Dragster race at Southern California’s Barona Drag Strip the week before that. And yes, he has taken plenty of ribbing about it. “Trust me, I’ve heard it a lot already that she won before Dad did this year,” Hight said. “I’ll be honest, as excited as I was about winning my first race of the season, I was maybe even a little more excited for her.”

Hight said it’s getting trickier both to tune and to drive the Auto Club of Southern California Chevy Camaro.  

“When you win one of these races, you definitely earned it. There is a lot of pride in winning, especially with so many competitive cars out there right now. You saw a lot of first round upsets in Chicago and you’re probably going to see more this week.”

Crew chief Jimmy Prock and his assistant, Chris Cunningham, have been trying – like every other crew chief –   to adjust to the NHRA’s newest track-preparation style. It’s designed to slow the cars. So now, drivers, in general, have less available traction, and that forces both crew chiefs and drivers to make adjustments. Hight set the 1,000-foot national record for elapsed time, 3.793 seconds, last August at Brainerd, Minn., and the national speed record, 339.87 mph, last July at Sonoma, Calif.

“Now, as a driver, you have to keep the car right in the middle of the groove,” Hight said. “You have to do more driving, which I like. The other side, though, is that when you have crew chiefs like mine, who want to swing for the fences and have low E.T. every round, the new track prep is an issue. It has been a big learning curve for us, but I think at Chicago we may have turned a corner.”

His winning weekend didn’t start so fabulously. In four qualifying passes, he never ran fast enough to need to deploy the braking parachutes. “Qualifying obviously didn’t go that well,” Hight said of his No. 12 start at Chicago, “but when you have a team like this behind you, you never lose faith. I always believe in them. I know we’ll face some of the same challenges this week at Richmond with the summer heat and the different way the NHRA is prepping the track. But I have confidence that Jimmy, Chris, and the rest of my guys will give me an Auto Club Camaro that can win, no matter the conditions and no matter where we start.”

STILL PUZZLED – Matt Hagan said he has had some momentum from starting No. 1 at Chicago last week, “but we are still trying to figure out this track prep and find out why we’re pulling the tires loose. We’re making slow and steady progress, but we’re running out of races. We need to start winning some more of them. We’re capable of it.”


BACK FROM BOOMER – Bob Tasca will use two Saturday qualifying sessions to try to improve from the provisional 11 spot in the Funny Car class. But he’s grateful to be No. 11, after his car detonated about 700-800 feet into his first run. He said his Tasca Parts Ford Mustang had “seen better days” but that he had “another car and other stuff in the trailer” and would “be back soon.”


FORCE, LANGDON REBOUND – John Force clipped the last two timing cones in his first Friday run and ruined the E.Ts for both himself and Global Electronic Technology Camry driver Shawn Langdon. In a solo pass on Q2, Force made a straight pass that on one hand was uneventful, safety-wise, but definitely was significant because it vaulted him toward the top of the order at 4.068 seconds, 316.97 mph that left him a tentative sixth.

Before the action started, Langdon said he’s “looking for big things” this weekend. That first chance wasn’t what he had in mind, but he responded with 4.080, 315.78 that was good enough for No. 8 overnight. Langdon’s only other experience here was in 2009, when he lost in the opening round to current teammate Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel competition.

Courtney Force set both ends of the track record at 3.983 seconds at 323.35 mph.


SWEET FOR ELITE – Elite Performance-powered drivers have won five of the past six races: Vincent Nobile at Las Vegas and Atlanta, Matt Hartford at Houston, Erica Enders at Charlotte, and Jeg Coughlin at Chicago. Deric Kramer’s Topeka victory, which came with engine from KB Racing, prevented a sweep. KB also scored a victory, at Pomona, with Bo Butner and has logged has four runner-up finishes, as well. Tanner Gray has a victory (at Gainesville) and a runner-up performance (at Atlanta). The other triumph so far this year belongs to Chris McGaha, at Phoenix.


CONFIDENT COUGHLIN WANTS MORE – Jeg Coughlin is competing in both Pro Stock and Super Comp this weekend, and he pulled into Virginia Motorsports Park feeling like a world-beater . . . because he was at Chicago last week in his family-sponsored JEGS Route 66 Nationals. In breaking a 74-race winless run, the 77-time winner (59 in Pro Stock) dominated race day in his JEGS.com Elite Performance Chevy Camaro, posting the lowest elapsed time of every Pro Stock elimination round. And he said he has “absolutely no reason to stop now.”

Coughlin said, "When you run through race day like we did in Chicago with the best car in every round, you become a believer in the fact you should be able to do that time and again. Our goal now is to repeat and get this JEGS/Elite Chevy to be as consistent as possible so we can have a lot more days that end in the winners circle. If the guys continue to give me a stout race car and I do my job behind the wheel, it should happen more and more."

He said that triumph at Route 66 Raceway “felt like the culmination of this wave of momentum we've been building for a couple months now, with much-improved qualifying positions and better runs on race day. We finally turned that final corner at the JEGS Route 66 Nationals and got that long-awaited win. I can tell you, no matter how many times you've won, it's always nice to get another one. And having gone the longest spell of my driving career without a win in Pro Stock, it certainly felt great to bust that streak."

Coughlin won the Pro Stock trophy here in 2000.

Once again, this weekend is a family affair, with brother Troy Coughlin making his to the Pro Mod class, his niece Paige Coughlin (Troy’s daughter) racing in Super Comp, and his nephew Troy Coughlin Jr. also competing in two categories, Super Comp and Super Gas.  

"I'm pumped up to race with Paige, T.J., and brother Troy again as he returns to Pro Mod following his brief retirement," the five-time Pro Stock champion said. "It's so much fun to have him back and to race again with his kids like we have several times already this year. Who knows? With me racing in Super Comp, too, we may get a chance to line 'em up and go head-to-head."  

CLASS PARITY BUOYS SKILLMAN – Pro Stock racer Drew Skillman won four events last season, but he’s winless, bogged down in seventh place, right now. And that’s not OK for the Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevy Camaro driver. But he isn’t terribly worried.

“It’s time for us to get our stuff together,” Skillman said. “I know darn well we’re too good not to win. This team has some of the best guys in the country and these guys have all worked together for years. If you look at our car at the beginning of the season, it was fantastic and the driver did not do his job. We had a car that could have won several races and we just didn’t do it. But we typically get hot this time of year, so I expect us to get on track.”  

The class has had eight different winners in the first nine Pro Stock races of this season. He’d like to earn victory No. 8 to keep the parity going. He has come close, notching three semifinal finishes.

“I’ll tell you right now, there’s going to be 12-13 different winners. I guarantee it,” Skillman said. “There’s too many good people with too much good power and any of them could win any weekend. If you’re not fast and consistent, you’re not going to do anything. There’s no lucky rounds out there. You see people losing with great reaction times, so you better have it together. You already have to start thinking about [Countdown to the Championship] positioning.”

GAYDOSH WANTS TO MAKE MOST OF TIME – Pro Stock racer John Gaydosh has attainable goals, but he’s running out of time.

One aim is to have a productive weekend here at Virginia Motorsports Park, where he has raced in many Pontiac and Top Sportsman events: “I’ve got a lot of laps down this racetrack. I like this racetrack. I like the set-up, so I’m real comfortable here. So it should be a really good weekend for us. We got some real good power for this weekend, and we’ve got a real good set-up on the car. We’re real excited about making a difference this weekend - should be our break-out weekend, hopefully.

“We had a really great week last year in Norwalk [Ohio]. I want to try to beat that this year. So that was a good weekend, I think we can have a better weekend here,” he said.

Gaydosh, from Baltimore, plans to compete at Bristol and Norwalk in the next two weeks, then at Epping. After that, he will sit out until Labor Day, returning for the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. He said he plans to close his season at Reading’s Maple Grove Raceway.

That, he said, “will be our last race. I don’t have the funding. If we don’t have the funding for next year, I won’t be back.”

He said, “I’m struggling to be out here right now. If it weren’t for Chris McGaha and [his father] Lester [McGaha], I would not be here. I wouldn’t be out here. I can’t thank Chris and Lester enough for what they do for me for me to be out here. It’s a great family. I mean, out of all the people that I’ve dealt with out here in Pro Stock, that is the best family I’ve ever dealt with, talked to, are kind and courteous and really good people. They are. They are true-to-heart, honest people. You know, you don’t find many people that are true to heart, you know, especially out here in this business. That’s a true-to-heart family.”

CHAMP BACK . . . WITH FAMILY – Three-time and reigning Pro Mod champion Troy Coughlin, who retired at the end of last season, was a provisional 14th Friday after his first day back from retirement. He missed the first four races of the 12-event series he won in 2012, 2015, and 2017.

"The allure of the class was just too big to ignore," he said, happy to be back in a a twin-turbo JEGS.com 1967 Ford Mustang. "I've been coming to the races to watch and help my kids race and, of course, I've been up there watching the Pro Mod cars when they run. I realized I was already missing the competition and the camaraderie among the racers. [crew chief] Steve Petty and the guys are still behind me 100 percent. Eric Dillard and everyone at Pro Line are involved. Aside from the car, all the same pieces are in place and we haven't been out long enough that I'm worried about my driving. We've won three titles and 12 races in the last decade, so we pretty much know what to expect.”

His 17-year-old daughter Paige Coughlin, a recent high school graduate, is continuing her inaugural season in Super Comp.

"I really want to start going rounds at every race," Paige said. "Justin Beaver and Tony Collier give me a perfect race car every weekend, and the best way I can say thank-you to them is by having some success on the track. Super Comp is a very tough class and everyone I race seems to have a ton of experience so I'm soaking up everything I can trying to get better each race. I'm also very excited to watch my dad race again. He's the reason I drag race."

Troy Coughlin Jr. is joining sister Paige and Uncle Jeg in Super Comp and is competing, too, in the Super Gas class.  "I always love racing in Richmond," Troy Jr. said. "For one, the fans are awesome, and it's a great facility as well. Plus, my dad is back in Pro Mod and he's my hero. So I'm super-excited to share the pits with him again.

"What gets me fired up whenever I race in the super classes is the fact you can win if you're truly up to the challenge of ultimate focus on what's going on with the wind, the air, and the track. It's all about focus and instincts."  

LEGENDS VISIT – The NHRA Legends Tour continues with featured guests Joe Amato, Jim and Allison Lee, and Jim Yates.




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