THE NHRA FINALS AS REPORTED BY ASHER
One of drag racing's most seasoned journalists provides an inside view of the final event of the 2010 Full Throttle tour.
Jon Asher provides the stories in the pits and expert insight to one of drag racing's most exciting events.
Asher provides a daily recap of all four days.
SUNDAY: THREE LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE SUNDAY -- WOW!
The Finals Lived Up To The Billing With Jaw-Dropping Action
What a race! What a race! This is the part where we should say, We told ya so, but why belabor the obvious? This was one of those events where you had to watch every race of every round just to keep up. This was also one of those races where emotions ran the gamut from the highest of highs to the deepest depression possible. After the fiasco that was the Las Vegas Nationals, the Auto Club Finals was like being in another world. Every competitor gave it his all. Every tuner dug deep into his bag of tricks to pull out a victory. It was a race in which age very much played a part, as youngsters tried to unseat established stars – and sometimes succeeded. It was a race in which a cagy veteran, the sport’s most popular driver, came from seemingly out of nowhere to win again. It was a race that had, well, everything a fan of the sport could ask for.
With Greg Anderson having clinched a very deserved Pro Stock championship Saturday, three pro titles were up for grabs today, and the least exciting of them was in Top Fuel. Now, we know what you‘re thinking – how could Top Fuel not be exciting? Okay, we’ll acknowledge that the racing was terrific, but there was little tension about the title. It was Larry Dixon’s to lose, and he didn’t. End of story. But not quite. Tony Schumacher and tuner Mike Green also gave it their all, but the odds were heavily stacked against them. Dixon had enough of a cushion that he would have had to lose in the first round, and Schumacher would have not only had to go to the final and win it, he’d have to rotate the earth and set an elapsed time record during the spin. Green said it best when asked about their chances. “Ideally, their car won’t start.”
As Schumacher said on Sunday morning, “(Dixon’s) gotta get beat in the first round. That’s all there is to it. They’ve got a helluva team over there. They’ve done a helluva job all year. They’re not doing that well now, but there are only six races in the Countdown. We messed up. At a couple of races all we had to do was slide (the car) down through there (to win) and we didn’t get it done. What probably hurts the most is that we’re really running good right now. We’ve got a great car now, but it’s the end of the season. It’s all good, though. All good”
Schumacher pounded Dom Lagana in the first round, but a little more than 3.854 seconds later Dixon conquered Mike Strasburg, and the championship chase was over.
Jason McCulloch, Dixon’s crew chief (yes, yes, we know it’s Alan Johnson’s car, but McCulloch is the tuner of record), said, “We came here to win the race. If we can do that everything else will take care of itself.” Well, they didn’t win the race. That first round win was enough.
As Dixon put it at the finish line, “The is the biggest reception I’ve ever gotten for a first round win.” He had little time to enjoy it. Round two was coming. He would win that round, but then lose to former Super Comp racer Shawn Langdon in the next, going down on a holeshot to a quicker Reaction Time. We mentioned Langdon’s Super Comp background purposely, because those guys (and girls) cut lights like a surgeon wielding a very sharp scalpel.
Remember when we said, earlier in the weekend, how everyone but the championship contenders was being ignored? Well, guess what. We’re as guilty as the next person, because we haven’t mentioned Antron Brown’s name until now. He’s your event winner. Before he got to Langdon he downed Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher and Morgan Lucas. His was not the easy half of the bracket, but then again, there was no easy half.
We saw something on Sunday that we’ve seen before, but never really thought about – until now. Of the four pro category champions, only John Force was able to double up with an event victory. We didn’t spoil anything by telling you Force won, did we? We thought not. But to our point. The three champions who lost, Dixon, Anderson and young L.E. Tonglet, were probably so emotionally overwhelmed by having won those titles that they had nothing left to give in the rounds that followed their title-clinching efforts. They’d dug so deep, and worked so hard, that even if their vehicles had optimum tune-ups it wasn’t going to matter. When you win the big one there’s bound to be an emotional letdown, and even if you try to keep the adrenalin flowing, it’s a difficult thing to do. After your body’s been flooded with the stuff, when it wears off it’s like the crash that follows a dozen cups of coffee in two hours. Try as you will, there’s no way around the crash that follows when the caffeine wears off.
Force. Okay, you want the story. He is the story, of course, but how it all came down is worth paying attention to. He literally owes this, his fifteenthchampionship, to Bob Tasca III, who took out Matt Hagan in the first round. That sounds oh-so-simple, but there’s more. Rumor has it – and we honestly doubt the veracity of this one – that Tasca may have received tuning assistance from the Force camp. Crew chief Chris Cunningham may be considered “young,” but he’s very good. He probably didn’t need the help.
But, did Tasca hang Hagan out to dry on the starting line? Did he come close to hitting the seven second automatic redlight timer during staging? That appeared to be very likely, but that’s all conjecture. All we know for sure is that Tasca got the win light, and Hagan’s championships hopes were dashed. He climbed from his broken Dodge and walked steadily away, leaving the media behind. “I’ve got nothin’ to say,” he said over his shoulder to ESPN’s Gary Gerould. He walked a hundred yards or so from the gathered photographers and TV cameras, and slumped down next to a parked trailer. He was devastated by the loss, later telling us, “This isn’t like NASCAR, where you get out of the car and have some time to get yourself together. Here the cameras and microphones are right in your face the second you climb out. I just didn’t want to say something that I’d regret for the rest of my life.” Now, that’s a smart young man.
Strapped in his car when Hagan lost, Force keyed the mic on his radio and said to his guys, “Be calm, be calm. Focus, focus, focus. Believe…” Now that’s a smart older man!
Hagan said before the racing began, “We’re gonna try and keep it simple. If we lose we’ll just start drinkin’ earlier, and drink later.” Not to worry, this guy truly has his head on straight. He has championships ahead of him. You can bank on it.
Just as Dixon had to win his first round race for the title, Force had to win his second against Bob Bode for his. As his daughter, Ashley, prayed for his victory at the finish line, he got the job done, clinching that 15th crown. “It’s special to me when you can fight a kid like Hagan, who treats you with so much respect,” Force said as the fireworks went off behind him. “I know this hurts him right now, but he’s got his whole life ahead of him. My time’s runnin’ out. I’ve only got five years left (on a new contract with Castrol). I sucked for three years. They shoulda fired me! I don’t even want to race the rest of the day. I’m done.” But then, as only the Master can, he got himself together and thumped everyone (Jeff Arend in the finale) to win it all.
Let’s face it, there’s never been another like him, and we’re unlikely to ever see anyone surpass his on-track record or his outrageous comments. As a senior NHRA official had said earlier in the day about Force, “He could do a stand-up comedy act. He’s that good.” Yes, he is.
But, while Force did keep it together, Greg Anderson didn’t – and we find no fault with that, none at all. It’s a grind winning a championship, as Anderson well knows. In his (at least temporarily) last outing in Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin put a twelve light on Anderson in the first round and then coupled it with a 6.587 to down the champ’s quicker 6.579 (with a twenty-one light). Was Anderson bummed? How bummed can you be when you’re going to get a diamond-encrusted ring and a quarter of a million dollars (to say nothing of bonuses he may have coming from his sponsors)?
It would have been nice to see Jeggie win in his swansong, but a once-viable Rookie of the Year candidate, Shane Gray (no offense toward Gray, but if L.E. Tonglet’s stretch run doesn’t earn him that honor there’s no justice in the world). Anyway, Gray had a killer 0.010 Reaction Time against Coughlin, and he had the numbers too – 6.566 to 6.568. As we said – wow!
If you thought the first rounds of Funny Car and Pro Stock were stunners, there was plenty of carryover into Pro Stock Motorcycle. Andrew Hines had to win to keep his chances alive – and he didn’t. He bulbed against Steve Johnson, who later admitted, “I couldn’t believe he did that.” Neither could anyone else. Tonglet came up in the next pair and put a stout 6.874 on Matt Guidera and the chase was on. One more round win would do it. Clearly, the gods must have set this one up, because there was Steve Johnson in the other lane. Would Tonglet bulb as Hines had? Uh, no. All he did was couple a double-oh-seven light with a 6.860, and not only was Johnson’s weekend over, Tonglet was the champion. And wouldn’t ya know it, just as they brought him down the return road for the celebration a Comp car turned turtle at the top end. The Kid just can’t catch a break! His race day ended with a thin, but still deadly, 0.001 redlight in the semis.
There was no doubt about the finale. Low qualifier Eddie Krawiec exceeded his qualifying number with an even quicker 6.811 second destruction of a redlighting Hector Arana. Top money says both of these guys are wondering where their performances were when they needed them the most – earlier in the Countdown.
The Finals was Southern California at its best, the kind of clear skies and moderate temperatures that make easterners want to move to the Golden State. The crowd on Sunday was good. Not fantastic, but good. And they were enthusiastic, never more so then after Force clinched the title. We think there’ll come a time when they react to Matt Hagan the same way. Hagan will never be the madman that Force can sometimes be, but he brings a surprising maturity to a sometimes violent endeavor. Girls swoon when he walks by. Kids gravitate to him, maybe because of his substantial size, with a smile to match. He’s a star on the horizon.
Diehard older fans continue to find fault with the Countdown. They are wrong. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do – increase drag racing’s media coverage while adding much needed excitement to the Finals. Remember, previous Auto Club Finals in which the championships had long since been decided were nothing short of boring. Only a race title was at stake, not a season championship. No wonder they called ‘em the finals – just the last race of the year.
And everyone needs to face something else. We are never going back to full quarter mile racing for Top Fuel and Funny Car. It’s a dead issue. The teams have saved a ton of money on parts with the shorter track, but don’t worry, they’ll soon figure out how to blow stuff up at 800 feet instead of 1200. Embrace 1,000 foot racing, because the tuners and team owners like it. And the drivers? Few of them will even discuss going back to the quarter mile. And ya know what? Thousand foot racing is pretty darn exciting. Did it matter that Force won in 1000 feet rather than 1320? Do you think he cared? Do you think his fans cared? All they cared about was that he won.
We haven’t a clue what 2011 will bring. We only know one thing. Drag racing continues to be the most viscerally exciting automotive endeavor on the planet. And the Winternationals are right around the corner. Bring. It. On!
SATURDAY: SUNDAY'LL BE INTERESTING
The Full Throttle Season’s Going To End On A High Note
Here’s a shocker: Qualifying didn’t count on Saturday. Now, after you’ve stopped shouting, “W-h-a-a-a-t?,” and before you call your friends, let us explain. Of course qualifying runs counted today, but for our championship contenders, where they fell on the list didn’t matter. Nope. Only one thing counted, and that was the bonus points for being among the quickest three in each of the two sessions. The points chases are that close that this year, more than at any time we can recall since the Countdown to 1 program began, a two or three point swig during qualifying could determine who wins the NHRA Full Throttle championships.
Take, for but one example, crew chief Tommy DeLago, about his approach to Friday’s action with the Matt Hagan-driven Diehard Dodge: He got too conservative, and the car’s performance fell off. “Every time I’ve backed up we’ve lost. I’m not going to do that again,” he said. He didn’t. Hagan knocked out a 4.136 in Saturday’s first session, earning a pair of bonus points in the process. That was big. In the second session he picked up another two, and that might have been even more important, because John Force led the session with a 4.077 to rack up three markers. At this juncture Hagan appears to be more than two rounds ahead, and that will be big – BIG – on Sunday. Oh, by the way, Force ran that 4.077 against Hagan, and one wonders if that “win” might rattle the young driver, or at least have him thinking about it.
Jack Beckman was the quickest in the morning session, but at this point he knows he’s an after-thought for the championship. “I can still win it,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “All that has to happen is Hagan and Force each have to be ‘fined’ 100 points.” Uh, Jack? That isn’t going to happen, and you know it. You’ll have to fight for the title next season.
The Force juggernaught remains atop the list – Ashley, her dad and then Hight – with Hagan nipping at their heels, at least in the figurative sense. Part-timer Gary Densham made the cut, while touring pro Tim Wilkerson did not. After a body-destroying incident on Thursday Wilkerson was forced to pull out the Summit Racing Equipment-liveried Mustang shell he ran in Las Vegas, and then had it hastily re-lettered to reflect his Levi, Ray & Shoup sponsorship. But looks don’t count, and elapsed times do, and a 4.574 was just too slow. Jim Head occupied the bump with a 4.352.
Greg Anderson received his championship trophy on Saturday afternoon, and he deserved it. He not only had the best car coming down the stretch, he drove like a man possessed. From an emotional standpoint Anderson is really helping everyone around him live the dream. He won in Las Vegas, the first time his car owner, Ken Black, had been physically able to attend a race all season. Here in Pomona Black is again present, and was clearly excited by his driver’s championship.
Mike Edwards, who will finish second in the points, summed up his Countdown run succinctly. “We just didn’t perform,” he said – and no one was arguing with him.
Elapsed times with the number fifty-five in them dominated the qualifying list through the third session Saturday morning, and fifty-fives dominated again in the afternoon. V. Gaines, who has never been a Number 1 qualifier, got aced out of this one when Allen Johnson’s Dodge matched his elapsed time to the thousandth – but was less than one mile an hour faster, and that was all he needed for the top spot.
Bob Glidden was back at the track on Saturday, and has assured us he’ll drive again. He was unable to compete in Jim Cunningham’s Mustang after his finish line collapse due to a deep gash on the back of his head and a broken rib he suffered in the fall. The Cinderella ending would have been replacement driver and chassis builder Jerry Haas going on to win the race, but he failed to make the field, as did the Mustangs of Larry Morgan and Erica Enders. Ford may be NHRA’s official car, but none will be competing on Sunday.
Remember our interview with Jeg Coughlin, Jr. from last week (THREE MINUTES WITH JEG COUGHLIN JR)? Coughlin made it official on Saturday, saying he’ll step away from a full time Pro Stock campaign in 2011. We know how this sounds, but after the announcement was made we’ll wager there were a dozen drivers out in the pits saying, “Good!” It’s not personal. It’s business. Coughlin is a great driver in an excellent car, and his absence really does open the door for some others to maybe win some races in his absence.
There may be what appears to be a long time between the Auto Club Finals and the Winternationals, but between now and then there’s going to be a sort of shake-up in Pro Stock. We’re hearing that some name drivers are having sponsorship problems, while others may be contemplating a change to another class. Stay tuned, and we’ll give you as much as we can about this next week.
As hard as they tried neither Andrew Hines or L.E. Tonglet earned a single bonus point during Saturday qualifying. The kid needed ‘em, and badly, because as things now stand he’s going into eliminations just about two full rounds behind Mr. Hines, and that does not bode well for his title hopes.
Eddie Krawiec just blistered the clocks on his two-wheeler with a 6.847 at a mind-bending 197-plus miler per hour. Full Throttle champion (until Sunday afternoon) Hector Arana was no slouch either, with a 6.851. Where were these performances when these guys needed ‘em the most? Who knows, but we’ll bet they’re wondering too.
Drag racing is an incredibly fickle endeavor. This year’s champion is quickly forgotten as a newcomer steps forward to take his place. It has to be emotionally hard on these racers. First comes the obviously difficult task of trying to repeat, but there’s more to it than that. You may not realize it, but a championship means a year’s worth of extra publicity. It means more personal appearances, more being asked by the NHRA to help with their media efforts and suddenly – literally overnight – someone else is getting those “can you make this appearance for us” phone calls. It has to be depressing, and sometimes a competitor never recovers from being displaced. Others – that Force guy comes to mind – just come back all the stronger – and we absolutely, positively aren’t counting Force out just yet!
Top Fuel, or as they’re sometimes referred to, the horizontal oil derricks, certainly oiled the track aplenty on Saturday. That was at one end of the spectrum. At the other were drivers like Larry Dixon, who copped two bonus points in the first session, and was then surpassed by rival Tony Schumacher in the final session, who earned the maximum of three with a 3.794. Yes, that did put the Army car up top, with Dixon right behind him. This has all the makings of a monster race on Sunday, and we know we said that about Las Vegas. Trust us, this is gonna be something special.
Now, what’s the ideal scenario for a great story? Las Vegas finalist Dom Lagana, who hung onto the bump spot with a 3.939, upsets Schumacher in the first round and goes to another final round. But an equally riveting story would have Schumacher and Dixon racing each other in the finale – but if that happens Dixon will be your champion, because he’s going into eliminations with what amounts to a two-round points cushion.
The Las Vegas race was spiced up by its international flavor, but none of the “foreigners” made the cut at Pomona. Mark Mariani from Austrlia was 21st, Stig Neergaard from Holland was 23rd, Joran Persaker of Sweden was 24th, and Lex Joon of the Netherlands was 25th. At some point a Top Fuel racer from across the water is going to win a major NHRA Full Throttle series race, and that will not only be big news, it will help our sport really grow into an international activity.
What will Sunday bring? It should be one of the best races of the 2010 season – but we won’t know that until after it’s over. We’ve been to too many races where qualifying was great and the racing lousy to be foolish enough to predict that this one will be great. Only time will tell. But, when you mix the greatest racers on earth with enthusiastic fans, with championships on the line, how could it be anything but great?
FRIDAY: HALFWAY THROUGH THE FINALS
Things Got Pretty Interesting Friday, Meaning Saturday’ll Be Plenty GoodA strange atmosphere is permeating the AAA Finals. Teams, drivers, tuners and owners are being pulled in many different directions, all at once. It’s that time of year, the time termed “the silly season” in other forms of motorsports as drivers swap rides and new sponsorships are announced. Drag racing has never had a real “silly season” because our sport seems to be somewhat more stable than others. This isn’t an endeavor where you’re going to see a top driver lured from one team to another, although it does happen from time to time.
No, what’s going on out here in Pomona on a Friday afternoon is a lot of people talking about little more than rumors. Sure, we know Cory Mac is losing his gig at Don Schumacher Racing, and we can speculate until the cows come home that his replacement will be Spencer Massey – but where will Cory end up? Did we witness Bob Glidden’s last run in a Pro Stock car on Thursday? Glidden didn’t drive Jim Cunningham’s car today after reportedly collapsing due to an excess of potassium in his system yesterday. Chassis builder Jerry Haas climbed behind the wheel for the session – but will he be the full time driver next season? Will Hall of Famer Ed “The Ace” McCulloch really retire at the end of the year after having been supplanted on the Ron Capps-driven NAPA Dodge by John Medlen? All of these questions – and a whole lot more – will be answered in the days following the race.
Why is there so much, well, gossiping going on in the pits? Because for a lot of teams the season is clearly over. Our championship contenders have been whittled down to a precious few, and everyone else is being largely ignored by the fans and media. This wasn’t one of the better Friday crowds we’ve seen at Pomona, but when you factor in the economy and the very real need to keep one’s job, it’s understandable.
But, even though the stands weren’t packed, when the contenders came up to run you could see people edging forward in their seats, straining for a better view. It was that kind of day.
L.E. Tonglet’s 12 second run on Thursday earned him the dubious honor of starting off Friday’s lone pro session. He needed a good run, and badly. Andrew Hines had opened up the points chase by two markers yesterday, and Tonglet could ill afford to fall further behind. A solid 6.943 vaulted him from last all the way up to the sixth spot, but Hines earned another bonus point by being the third quickest in the session (6.874), and at this point every single point seems somehow a lot bigger than that. If Tonglet can’t keep Hines within two rounds points-wise, he’s in trouble – not that Hines wouldn’t also be a deserving champion.
On Thursday Greg Anderson and Jason Line were flying. They landed Friday afternoon. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but not by much. The high flyer was V. Gaines, who opened the session with a stunning 6.551. One trackside observer noted, “That was pretty good. Just wait until the big guys come up.” Kinda like one of our predictions – wrong! Nobody topped Gaines’s time, and he motored right to the top of the charts. Allen Johnson was right behind Gaines with a fifty-five-three, and then came Vinnie Deceglie in the Mountain View Tire Dodge with a fifty-six-four. That put two Dodges in front of Line and Anderson, prompting another observer to suggest, “These must be those Mopar-friendly clocks from Denver!” Don’t worry, we ain’t touchin’ that one.
Mike Green is a realist. He knows the odds on his taking Tony Schumacher to another title are rapidly becoming far too long. He’s also concerned about NHRA’s new oildown policy, and it’s not the money. It’s the loss of a run that comes with the oil and fine. “We can’t afford to lose a single run,” he said. “I know (drag racing’s) got a problem, but our car hasn’t oiled the track once this year. If we make one mistake and we lose what might be our best run in qualifying, this deal is over. Unless we start running quicker than Dixon, we aren’t going to make it.”
Someone must have been listening. Dixon may remain atop the list, but his car went silent at half track against Schumacher as they closed out the session, while the Army car clipped the timers at 3.855 seconds. That earned him two bonus points, and he’ll need every one he can get if he’s to close the gap by Sunday afternoon.
Oil? There was a lot of it, far too much. The solution? Maybe it’s time to tack another 25 lbs. or so on the fuelers and mandate dry sump lubrication systems. We’re just sayin’, but clearly, some major changes have to be made or drag racing’s casual fans – the ones we need the most – will stop coming out. Hard core fans understand. They don’t like the long delays, but they understand. First-timers do not, and you can hardly blame them.
When you’re considering this sport you have to take a step back and really think about things. You, me, we don’t amount to much in the overall scheme of things, because we’re coming out to see the big cars run no matter what. But, there are only so many of us, and our sport will not grow and progress without attracting casual fans who we hope will become hard core. They won’t do that if they have to wait 20 minutes between runs while the track is cleaned. Look for some major rule changes between now and the Winternationals, because this is a problem that must be solved.
One thing that you may see next year is a tightening of the entry lists. Senior NHRA officials may decide that if you’re not a proven competitor able to make numerous runs without exploding in a spray of oil, your entry could be declined. Those who are turned away won’t like it, but let’s check the “balance.” If a “leaker” is turned away and the show is 45 minutes quicker because of that car’s absence, the fans are going to be happier, and frankly, no one’s going to miss the leaker anyway. Just trust us on that one.
The overseas Top Fuel contingent had their hands full on Friday. None of them (including Aussie Dave Grubnic, who now lives full time in the United States) have yet made the field, but there’s always Saturday. And two attempts! Even if none of them makes the show they will have benefitted from the tuning advice they’ve received while racing here. It should make them harder runners when they get back home.
John Force knows a thing or two about psyching out an opponent. Matt Hagan was doing a set up interview with ESPN on Friday morning when Force walked into the temporary studio, said something unintelligible and outrageous, then stepped across and kissed Hagan! Afterwards Hagan said, “What was that all about?” in wonderment, but did Force get under his skin, just a little bit? It’s hard to tell because Hagan is mature beyond his years. But that was in the morning. In the afternoon it was one, two, three as Force’s team took over the top three positions, Ashley first (4.076), Robert Hight second (4.080) and the boss third (4.085). Hagan, by the way, spun the tires and shut off. But what does this tell us? It tells us that the points chase is far from over and that Saturday will be critically important for JFR. Sunday will be even more critical – but you already knew that.
Two potential home run hitters have yet to make the field; Ron Capps and Tim Wilkerson. But, every one of the top 12 are full time touring pros, and when they start counting the full field of 16 on Saturday things might change considerably. It’s extremely unlikely, but certainly not out of the realm of reality, to suggest that no second rate cars will be racing on Sunday.
Two down and two to go. Depending on oildowns, Saturday could be a very long day. But we suspect that a team here and there may decide discretion is the better part of valor, and load up for home. It’s also possible that NHRA may “suggest” to a couple of other teams that they might be better off, well, not trying another run.
The atmospheric conditions have been favorable thus far, and the predictions for Saturday and Sunday are very good. That could result in some excellent racing. What we want to see is perfect racing, and to us that means quick times, fast speeds and no oildown delays. Stay tuned and we’ll have the complete story for you at the end of the day.
THURSDAY: AND THEN THERE WERE THREE
Three Days of Racing Remain As A Dynamic Season Comes To A CloseWe said it repeatedly in our Las Vegas coverage: Man, is Pomona gonna be good. With one day down, and three to come, we stand by that prediction. It was a helluva start to what’s destined to be an exceptional weekend. Of course, we say that now, but who knows what might happen between now and Sunday. Heck, who knows what might happen between now and Saturday!
Thursday featured classic Southern California weather, with clear skies mild temperatures and, oh yeah, enough wind to blow over 60-foot trees along Arrow Highway outside the Fairplex. Luckily, there didn’t appear to be any damage to the facility, but in SoCal you just never know. You can never forget that this is an incredibly active earthquake area, and while residents always prefer to take the blasé stance on the subject, out of towners often get spooked if a heavy truck goes by. But, when the fuel cars are on the line the ground is already shaking, so a 4.5 could come rumblin’ through and it’s doubtful that anyone would even pay attention.
We saw a championship won on Thursday. Oh, there was no official ceremony, no parade down the return road, no presentation of a ceremonial check, but we saw it nonetheless. When Greg Anderson stopped the timers in his Summit Pontiac in 6.563 seconds he virtually clinched the title. All he’ll have to do to make it official is light the staging lights in the first round on Sunday, and the title’s his. No matter what might take place in Pro Stock between now and then, Mike Edwards will not be a repeat champion.
Speaking of Edwards, one is forced to wonder what goes on in the NHRA Tech Department. After having run the same car for more than three years the inspectors suddenly decided the car was a quarter inch too narrow at the rear wheel wells. Since we can cite chapter and verse on any number of NHRA tech situations where faulty measuring by individuals and even faulty measuring equipment having been in use, we’ll chalk this one up to the same kind of human and/or technical error. Why? Well, a three-year-old (or possibly even older) race car just doesn’t suddenly get thinner! Someone made an error, and we’re betting it wasn’t Mike Edwards Racing.
How angry were the Edwards people? One senior adviser to the team said, “Let’s just load this thing up and go home. This is ridiculous.” Edwards agreed, saying, just before he manned the hammer to pound out the wheel wells an eighth inch on each side, “Yeah, I’m thinkin’ about it.”
Like Beckman, Force-Hood and Cory Mac in their respective classes, Greg Stanfield is still alive in Pro Stock, but he’d need more than a miracle to become the champion – and we’re not sure what comes above “miracle” on the list of unlikely scenarios.
Alas, Pontiac is no more, and this will be particularly felt in Pro Stock, where no less than a dozen of the 20 entries were wheeling GXP models. It’s likely that chassis builders will be very busy during our abbreviated off-season because most racers prefer to run cars that are at least still being built by Detroit, even if GM isn’t an active player right now. And speaking of that, we’re hearing from some good sources that the General will make a return to NHRA drag racing in 2011. We’ll have details for you as quickly as we can assemble them.
Another note or two on Pro Stock, if you don’t mind. From Jason Line’s 6.561 to Johnny Gray’s 6.638 in 12th, this is already a tight field, and this after just one run. The conditions are exceptional. At least, they were on Thursday day. Tomorrow it could be snowing, for all we know, but if things stay as they are right now, this could be one of the best fields ever assembled.
undoubtedly means that Gary Densham is anything but safe in the 12th spot with a 6.311. If the track and weather hold, the times are going to drop like real estate values both Friday and Saturday. Sports fans, remember that you read it here first (and certainly don’t forget what we’ve said about our inability to predict anything more substantial than the rising and setting of the sun. All bets are off on anything else.).
Jack Beckman and Ms. Force-Hood remain alive statistically, but neither earned a single bonus point on Thursday. Even if one of them were to earn every possible qualifying bonus point it won’t be enough to change the outcome. No, this is a two-horse race between Hagan and the senior Force. Everyone else is just a bit part player in their production.
Remember what we said about those “other” racers? Paul Lee racked up a 4.167, which has at least temporarily put Jim Dunn’s Chevrolet in the third spot behind Hagan and Jack Beckman (4.144). Lee has not been a player this season, but the way things are going we’re not going to count him out for the big prize on Sunday afternoon. A national event victory for the Dunn team would make the coming off-season a lot more comfortable, as would the fifty grand winner’s purse.
If the Top Fuel final round on Sunday is as good as the first session pairing of Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher was Thursday it will prove out everything we’ve predicted about this race being something special. Their runs on the first day certainly were, with Dixon churning out a flawless 3.813 as Schumacher trailed with a 3.840. That puts the points margin at 86 in Dixon’s favor, and while Schumacher and even Cory McClenathan are still mathematically alive, we don’t see there being much change in the order by the end of the race. And here comes another warning about how inaccurate we might be in our predictions!
So, what did we learn on Thursday? Not much, really, because we already knew that the best runners would probably dominate the early qualifying, and with the lone exception of young Mr. Tonglet, that’s how it’s worked out after one day. A day. Twenty-four hours. Sometimes they seem to last eons, and others fly by like an eye blink. Short or long, there are only three of ‘em left in the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle series season.
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