2023 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - SPORTSMAN NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - THE BIG GO IS THE BIG GONE AFTER SIX GRUELING DAYS OF INTENSE COMPETITION
BO KNOWS INDY - There was a time when past NHRA Pro Stock champion Bo Butner would have mounted a golf cart to race if it meant winning the NHRA U.S. Nationals once. That was how desperate the decorated veteran was to win drag racing's most prestigious event. Then he won it.
Monday, he won it again. There's a saying which suggests after you win one, the second and third flow easily.
"Absolutely not," said Butner, who survived seven rounds to win his second title. "I went, and I was driving just as good when I brought this car out last week in Bowling Green and got busted first round. So, dude, it's so tough. And these Super classes, all these classes are tough, but the competition's awesome, and what they put in to come here and do that, it's an amazing sport."
Usually, a driver can learn something from a previous win that is applicable. In this case, on the box of relativity, Butner checked a big, fat N/A.
"It's the same car, but different combination, "So I showed up at Bowling Green with zero runs in it and had about four runs in it, so we got it sorted out here."
Aside from the Indy prestige, the victory was the 30th national event win of Bo's career.
"I should be excited about that number, but I'm 49 – that's not even one a year," joked Bo. "But 30 is a great number, and just to be able to come out and do this so much, I've been blessed."
Butner's win was the second of the weekend for the Bo Butner Racing team; Bo's wife, Randi Lyn, won FSS/L class in Super Stock on Saturday, driving the team's Cobra Jet Mustang.
In the Super Gas final, George Meyer left with a .002 reaction time to Butner's .021, and it was a bit dodgy for a few seconds until the Jim Butner Auto Group (JBA)-branded 'Vette crossed the finish line ahead of Meyer, 9.948 to 9.987, to set the win light flashing.
"I am very, very happy – but you know me, in the back of my mind, I'm still upset about first round in the Pro Stock car," Butner admitted. "I'm very fortunate to do something like this. I do not know what it is about this car – it's just such a good combination, but we actually changed the combination, and it still won. To redo the car and for it to come out and be as good as it was before, I'm very happy. This car had won a lot before I ever sat in it, but a good car is a good car.
"It helps to have great people behind you, like Randi Lyn, Gage Green was helping us out here, and of course Summit Racing, Mickey Thompson, and Johnson's Horsepowered Garage. Hopefully, there are more wins coming."
MAKING HISTORY - Gil Kirk knows he has a place in drag racing history even if he never wins another.
Kirk, the driving force behind the Rod Shop brand, had six wins as an owner/sponsor going into Monday's Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Though the brand has been dormant for a while, on Monday, Kirk and his driver, Greg Stanfield, provided an object lesson that the Rod Shop team is still about winning and doing so on the grand stage of drag racing.
Stanfield drove Kirk's new Camaro to the inaugural title of the Factory X division, stopping Ford Standout Chris Holbrook in the final round.
"It's very exciting," a reenergized Kirk said. "I mean, that was our seventh win at Indy, and it's our 45th; Greg got our 45th. We're trying to get to 50 with that Factory X car, and it was really exciting. A beautiful bunch of people had a great time here. It's an exciting class, and we have a long way to go."
Kirk, who has fielded cars with such drag racing royalty as Butch Leal, Tommy Ivo, Don Carlton, Bob Riffle, Larry Morgan, and more, gravitated to the final driver on his long roster to drive his Factory X Camaro.
Kirk knew his last driver could still deliver, and he did.
"It's huge, especially for Gil Kirk, Rick Kirk with the Rod Shop," Stanfield said, clenching the historic NHRA Wally. "Everybody that's put their effort in getting this project together, all the guys at Jerry Haas Race Cars, all of our guys, big thanks to Ross Wilson helping me out with the car. And it's pretty cool."
Stanfield made the most of his debut by qualifying No. 1 with a 7.236 elapsed time. He then went on to record the top speed of the event in the first round, running 191.95 to take out James Cowan in the semi-finals. In the final round, Stanfield uncorked a 7.254, 191.73 to stop Holbrook, who drifted out of the groove and pedaled, running an 8.047, 173.09.
Stanfield, though, showed reasonable consistency with a new combination.
" It's just going to take us a little bit to figure out what the car wants," Stanfield explained. "We struggled big time starting out here, so our main goal was just to try to run down the racetrack. So, it worked out.
This being a new class, obviously, the rules package is challenging, so dealing with a big torque monster engine and a little it's going to take a little bit. But we're going to figure it out."
For Kirk, just getting the new class off of the ground is a big start.
"These cars are beautiful, and they're fast, and the guys that are in here know how to make them fast, but they've just got to get enough cars out here and get working on them to get to the place," Kirk said. "Our car's got a lot left in it."
Monday's final sportsman results from the 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. The race is the 15th of 21 in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - BIG MONEY UP FOR GRABS AS INDY MOVES INTO THIRD DAY
CHA-CHING - Iconic wrestler Ric Flair regularly proclaimed, "To be the man, you must beat the man." To be the man, Comp racer Don Thomas said he regularly raced the man. On Friday, on the biggest stage of them all, the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals, Thomas pocketed the largest single-day payout in Competition Eliminator history, winning $30,000 from the Rooftec Cash Clash, a race within a race for those in the top 16 points earners in the Division 4 Competition Eliminator Bonus.
Of all the people to beat, he stopped fellow Texas Chase Williams, a driver he admits always brings out the best of him.
"When Chase and I race each other, it's always great, we bring out the best in each other," Thomas said. "There's a select few guys, Clarke Smiley, Chase Williams... when we race one another, we are on our game. I know I will always get his best, which makes it fun."
Thomas made his way to the finals by starting with a heads-up, C/Econo Dragster battle, where he stopped Greg Kamplain. He then took out the truck of Rick Brown before getting around Tyler Chomiski.
Williams got off on the right track with sportsman drag racing icon Jeff Taylor fouled and then took out the Econo Altered of Sean Dodd. He took out Brad Plourd in a costly win.
Interestingly, when Williams suffered engine damage before the final round, Thomas was the first to help him.
"They surely could have gotten that done without me," Thomas admitted. "I thought maybe I could help them get ready a little quicker. Unfortunately, I have more than my share of [broken valve] experience. I've fished a lifter back in the hole quite a few times. He would have done it for me."
Additionally, thanks to a special Calcutta-style auction, Thomas pocketed an additional $17,500, making his total take home over $47,000.
IT'S ME AGAIN - Steve Comella emerged victorious in the 2023 Dodge Hemi Challenge as part of the 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. This is the third year in a row the talented driver has won the coveted Dodge Hemi Challenge, the longest continuous specialty race in NHRA history. As he celebrated in the winner's circle, Comella was awarded a prize of $15,000 and a one-of-a-kind, custom-made trophy created by Tom Patsis of Cold Hard Art.
“When the car is killer like this, it’s a little extra pressure to not screw it up,” said Comella, just moments after exiting his car to receive his check and trophy. “I just spent the day listening to the car and doing what it asked. That’s kind of the trick. It’s tough to come down here and talk when you get out of the car, and you’re kind of in this zone. And then you have to get out of your car and try to be intelligent. I don’t really know what to think at the moment.”
In a field of 14 skilled competitors, Comella began race day from the pole position thanks to a solid qualifying pass of 8.313 seconds at 161.07 mph. On his way to victory, Comella advanced to the semifinals thanks to two bye runs as his first-round competitor, James Hensler, did not make it to the line. His next bye-run was expected on the bracket. He then had to defeat Gary Wolkwitz in the semifinals before facing James Daniels in the final round.
When both drivers approached the starting line, the tension was palpable as each racer focused on the tree, trying to tune out how much was on the line. Ultimately, it was Comella who crossed the finish line first with a pass of 8.331 at 161.56.
All three of Comella’s Dodge Hemi Challenge wins have been made in his deep red 1968 Dodge Barracuda.
“We’ve always been Hemi racers,” said Comella. “My dad has an original Dart that he bought new in 1968. So we’ve been doing this our entire lives.”
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - IT'S CLASS RACING DAY AS QUALIFYING WINDS DOWN
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM - When the Rooftec D4 Competition Eliminator Bonus concluded the double points race at the
Texas Motorplex in May, it established sixteen drivers to compete in the first-of-its-kind specialty race for Competition Eliminator. Friday’s Rooftec Competition Eliminator Cash Clash will offer a $50,000 purse as a reward for those drivers who have competed in the unique program based in the NHRA’s Southcentral division.
As those drivers came together on Thursday evening for a special chip draw for seeding, there was also a Calcutta-style auction where drivers and crews could bet on their drivers to win to increase the potential for earnings further. The auction raised more than $30,000.
Past NHRA champion Craig Bourgeois entered the event as the No. 1 seeded entry and understands he established himself as the man to beat.
“From my perspective, I’m not sure I have enough car to win it all,” said Bourgeois, who enters Saturday’s final eliminations as the 26th qualifier. “I may, I may not. If a little bit of luck goes my way, I got a good chance. But I can definitely tell you, whoever beats me is going to know I was here.”
In the words of the old song by the Hombres from the 1960s, the driver of the slingshot rail intends to “let it all hang out.” With no Comp Index Control or personal index adjustment, Bourgeois intends to hold nothing back.
“You cannot hurt yourself personally on this deal, which is great, so I’m just going to go for it,” Bourgeois said. “The Rooftec Cash Clash, which is a lot of money, I’m going to try my best, and they’re going to get my best, and if it’s good enough, fine. If it’s not, shake the hand of the guy that beats me and say, ‘Congratulations.” Move on. That’s all I can do.
Interestingly, Rodger Brogdon, whose Rooftec business is responsible for rejuvenating Competition Eliminator, enters the event as the second quickest.
Brogdon is a serious contender to win his own money.
“It has nothing to do with my own money,” Brogdon admitted. “I just want to win. Drag racers are stupid; we’d be out here doing this for no money, and sometimes, we get taken advantage of because people in other places know that. But it wouldn’t be bad to do; it’d be one less check I got to write. I just leave it in the bank for next year.”
Jeff Taylor, who enters the event as third and fetched the most money in the Calcutta auction at $6000, is prepared to let his legend go to work on Friday.
“I got chill bumps running all over me just talking about it,” Taylor said. “It’s awesome; hats off to Roger and NHRA and you guys for covering it and giving us this opportunity to showcase how hard everybody here, these 16 cars, how hard everybody works, and the amount of money they spend and the efforts. And I think it’s just awesome, and I’m just honored to be a part of it.”
Not only are there 63 entries representing all seven NHRA divisions, but this season, in five of the six NHRA Division 4 events, there have been full 32-car fields with a bump spot at five of the six races. In addition to the Rooftec Cash Clash, there will be an $11,500 winner’s bonus added to the pot.
The Rooftec D4 Bonus has had such a profound effect that even racers life Taylor, who rarely ran Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events, haven’t missed one this season.
“I wouldn’t go to a points meet,” Taylor admitted. ‘Okay. I wouldn’t chase the championship. I wouldn’t chase the points meets. It costs too much money. But when you put up $225,000, as you can see, it brings out everybody, and it brings out only the best who’s going to come because it costs a lot of money to do it. And it’s a big deal to step up and do that.’
THREE GENERATIONS OF BIG GO SUCCESS - Aydan Patterson, a third-generation drag racer from Kansas, earned his first U.S. Nationals Wally today in Super Stock class competition. Patterson’s father, Todd, and grandfather, Allan, both have class victories from the Big Go. Todd also has a U.S. Nationals Competition Eliminator victory, which he earned in 1993.
Aydan won the FSS/F class trophy today in his 2014 COPO Camaro.
“This is my second national event in a row to win Class,” said Aydan. “There were three cars in my class. I’m running a 430-rated 427 going up against other COPOs, and I ran a DragPak in the final. Doug Duell he’s a really tough competitor. We kind of expected him to have a really great run. Nonetheless, we are thrilled to be holding the class Wally.
“It’s just really cool. My dad and grandpa have won class here multiple times, and my dad won in Comp. My grandpa has stories from Indy back in the day that would probably make most people want to run out of the room. It means a lot to us, especially as a family, to get to come out and do this together. The family aspect of racing is really important, just to come out here and enjoy the time together. Because that’s where it all started for us.”
When Aydan crossed the finish line and saw the iconic flashing lights turn on in his lane to indicate his win, it was surreal. “It was a big relief because going into that final, we were kind of on edge about what Duell’s car was going to do. And then I just felt super, super happy that we were able to come out on top. It’s hard to explain that feeling of just relief pulling off the track because it felt like, ‘That’s the first task down.’ And now we’ve got to go try to get the big Wally with 128 cars going after it. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going, and we can come out on top with that one as well.”
In drag racing, the mental game is a big part of what goes down on the track. Aydan says that there’s something about the atmosphere here at the U.S. Nationals that impacted his focus in a positive way.
“My focus has definitely been different,” said Aydan. “Indy has a weird way of bringing out the best in a lot of competitors. I feel like I’ve been locked in and focused - especially on the tree.”
Overall, Aydan says that getting any Wally at the U.S. Nationals means a lot to him.
“This one just means a little bit more. If you’re going to spend a week coming out here, it’s great to be able to feel like you performed worth a damn.”
In the process of winning his class trophy, Aydan broke into the 8-second range for the first time with a run of 8.994 seconds at 147.18 mph, which he made in the first round of eliminations today.
“Oh man, that was really awesome,” recalls Aydan. “We got to call the guys back at the Patterson-Elite shop and my car owner, Gary Booker. He’s been battling some back issues and wasn’t able to join us this week. It was just a really awesome feeling. I never would have expected that this car could run .120 under the index into the eights. That’s just a really awesome accomplishment. It definitely would not have been possible without all of the guys at our shop or without the support of everyone involved, especially Gary. I appreciate all that they’ve done to get us here.”
A SUPER FAST BRACKET RACE - Mike Morehead has been bracket racing for decades - four, to be exact. The Bryant, Arkansas, resident started bracket racing in 1983. He’s ready to race in his fourth U.S. Nationals this week. The Top Sportsman driver still loves a solid bracket race, and he thinks he’s found the right combination in his Jerry Bickel Pro Mod style car with an 800-inch Sonny’s Hemi under the hood.
“We’ve got this car running pretty good,” said Morehead. “We runnered up at the Norwalk national event and at the Topeka divisional, so I think we’ve got a decent shot this weekend.”
In a category steeped in consistency, Morehead’s years of experience work to his advantage as he competes in the Top Sportsman category. That knowledge also comes in handy as he helps his daughter, Jenna, with her Super Comp dragster.
“My background is in bracket racing,” said Morehead. “And Top Sportsman is really just a super fast bracket race. I started bracket racing back in ‘83, and the other stuff just doesn’t appeal to me as much. I like being able to race the way I’m used to, but it’s just a lot faster.”
As all bracket racers know, consistency is key. So Morehead doesn’t do anything different to prepare for the Big Go than he does for any other race.
“We’re pretty confident in the way we do things, so we try not to change it up too much when we come to the U.S. Nationals. We check the cars over and do full maintenance, but we do that before every race.”
When it comes to determining the dial-in for his Elite-powered machine, Morehead relies on the weather.
“We rely on the weather a lot and dial the car based on that,” said Morehead. This car follows the weather station pretty well, which is good. We keep a close eye on that. Back in the day, we didn’t use the weather stations and stuff. You could kind of race out of your back pocket, but you also finished the race on the same day you started it. So, you were able to get more of a feel for what the car was going to do. In Top Sportsman, you run qualifiers one day, then the rest of eliminations over the course of a few days. So you really have to rely more on the weather station and use that information to dial in correctly.”
While Morehead may not do anything special or different to prepare for Indy, the significance of this iconic event is certainly not lost on him.
“Indy is just a different race,” said Morehead. “Just knowing the history here, it would be an honor to win it. My traveling partner, Dane Ward, got a runner-up here last year in Top Dragster. That was really exciting. We would like to cap this one off with a win, especially because it’s such a long race.”
A REJUVINATED NICKENS - If David Nickens has learned something over the years, coming to the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis is the place to be over the Labor Day weekend. Nickens has seen it all as a Modified eliminator racer, then Comp, and eventually as a Pro Stock team owner.
Nickens has settled into a new normal he enjoys immensely: fielding a Competition Eliminator entry driven by Jeff Taylor.
This weekend’s 60-plus entries mark the most he’s seen at Indianapolis in decades.
Nickens believes there’s largely been a rebirth of the class because of the Rooftec Competition Eliminator Bonus, responsible for a $ 50,000-to-win Cash Clash on Friday.
Nickens’, whose teams in the past have run in $50,000 shootouts in Pro Stock, understands the magnitude of the large purse Competition Eliminator gets to run for.
“We’re excited about it,” Nickens said. “I couldn’t wait to get here. We’ve worked really hard to get our car competitive, and hopefully, we’ll have a shot at winning that.
“I’ve always loved Comp. I thought the sportsman racers were the best part of racing, honestly, and nothing against Pro Stock. But I’m a sportsman guy at heart, and we’re glad to be over here running this weekend. I’d rather be here than I would over in the Pro Stock pits.”
HOPE AFTER HEARTBREAK - Competition Eliminator driver John Clegg experienced a crash that took his 1988 Pontiac out of commission yesterday during qualifying. But the Clegg family’s U.S. Nationals experience isn’t done yet.
“When things like this happen, we always try to find the blessing within it,” said John’s son, J.B. “When you think about where this happened on the track, it was between the 60-foot mark and the 330-foot mark. So he didn’t have that much speed built up yet. It could have been much worse if it had happened further down the track.”
In terms of what happened, J.B. says that a part of the anti-roll system broke, and it pierced the right rear tire. The important thing is, thanks to the copious safety features in these complex machines, John is just fine. And the family still has plenty to celebrate this weekend.
The Super Stock Pontiac that J.B. is driving this weekend has a pretty incredible story behind it. The Clegg family brought it here to Indy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of John winning class in this very car at the U.S. Nationals in 1973. They even brought the original trophy with them and have photos commemorating that win.
John purchased the Formula Firebird 155 Super Duty four-speed brand new in 1973. He wanted the lightest-weight super-duty he could get. He ordered the car from the dealership and did not know at the time that only 25 of these cars were made. And his was the only one in red. So, it is an absolute one-of-a-kind.
“We’ve had so much fun with this car over the years,” said J.B. “It was Dad’s car for a lot of years. Then we retired it, and it sat for about 15 years. In 2017, we started rebuilding it and making it my car. Before that, I was driving a ‘74 Firebird. We’ve always been a Pontiac family. It’s just who we are.”
J.B. has driven this gorgeous Firebird as fast as 9.57 seconds at 142 mph, making it the fastest, all-original, naturally-aspirated Pontiac with the correct engine and the correct four-speed transmission in existence.
ELVIS IS IN THE BUILDING - Four-time Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series world champion Jeff Taylor is a formidable competitor in the Competition Eliminator category. In fact, he’s currently No. 3 in the ultra-competitive Rooftec D4 Comp Eliminator Bonus Fund, and he will be competing in the Comp Cash Clash this weekend at the U.S. Nationals. What you can’t see from the track is that Taylor is rocking one of the coolest custom helmets out there today.
Designed by Eric Reyes, this intricate helmet is expressive and eye-catching. All of the details are hand-painted. Each paint color lends way to the next, from bright yellow to an ombre gold, then a fiery orange to metallic red, each color separated by fine hand-painted lines to create incredible dimension. Taylor’s last name is painted on the front above the visor with a rich gold leaf. A carbon fiber effect wraps around the middle of the helmet, where his four world championships are noted. On the back of the helmet, there’s a silhouette of Elvis that includes the “King’s” name in gold leafing.
The helmet was a complete surprise for Taylor. His wife, Patty, was so sly in getting it painted that Taylor didn’t even realize his helmet had gone missing.
“My wife, Patty, wanted to get this helmet painted as a surprise for me for Christmas,” said Taylor. “Eric and Jimmy DeFrank are really good friends. So, between Patty and Jimmy, they talked Eric into painting it. I didn’t know anything about it until it showed up at the shop. The paint scheme was all Eric. Patty told him just to have at it, and it turned out great.”
Elvis’s place of honor on the back of the helmet has a special significance for Taylor. It is a tribute to his late brother, Charlie, who used to race with him.
“Elvis got us to all of the races,” said Taylor. “My brother was like an over-the-top Elvis fan. So, the Elvis part is for my brother, just remembering him and those special moments with him.”
The detailed design was so gorgeous that when Taylor first received the helmet, he didn’t want to wear it for fear of scratching it. Reyes quickly set him straight.
“I told him it was too nice to wear,” recalls Taylor. “He told me that I had better wear it because it doesn’t honor him and the time he put into it if I don’t wear it. So, the first time I wore it was in Las Vegas when I won my 50th national event. That was pretty cool.”
WEDNESDAY NOTEBOOK - THE BIG GO IS OFFICIALLY UNDERWAY
WEDNESDAY'S LEADERS - The first day of the 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals is in the book. Robert Bailey (Competition Eliminator), Steve Comella (Hemi Shootout), Ernie Neal (Super Stock) and Paul Wong (Stock) set the pace for Wednesday's qualifying.
Bailey jumped out early amongst the 63 entries on hand for the Competition Eliminator division as he drove his A/Econo Dragster to the top spot with a 6.576 elapsed time, -0.634 under the index. Defending event champion Doug Engels was second quickest with a -.611 under, 7.389 performance against the D/Dragster Automatic standard. Jim Greenheck was third with a 7.649, -.601.
Comella was the top runner in the first session of the Dodge Hemi Challenge, stopping the timers with an 8.353 elapsed time. James Daniels was second with an 8.449 while Anthony Rhodes' 8.560 put him in third.
Neal's Super Stock/P Automatic 1996 Caprice picked up where he left off in last year's qualifying, leading the first two sessions with a -.1.64 under performance with an 11.010 elapsed time. Dan Jacobs' GT/K Cavalier was second quickest with a 9.380 elapsed time, -1.370 under. John Fogle was third with a -1.343 under the GT/IA standard with a 9.370. There were 139 entries making qualifying runs on the first day.
And a truck shall lead them. There are not many times a pickup truck will outrun a Mustang, but it happened in the Q-2 session when Wong's T/Stock Automatic Chevrolet C-10 ran a 12.525 elapsed time, -1.875 under his 14.40 index. Robin Lawrence's stick-shifted Factory Stock/G Mustang, who led the first session, was second best with a -1.504 under the index with a 9.846 elapsed time. Marty Buth's N/Stock Automatic 1985 Mustang was third quickest with a -1.480, 11.520. There are 139 entries in competition.
Qualifying resumes on Thursday with class eliminations for Super Stock and Stock, starting at 8 AM.
CLEGG CRASHES - Longtime Pontiac racer John Clegg put his CC/Altered centrifugal supercharged entry into the wall when an apparent suspension failure caused him to lose control. Save for some lower back soreness, Clegg emerged from the incident uninjured.
"It was just a hard hit," Clegg said.
NHRA's tech department took possession of the car following the crash to investigate a possible cause.
"Something broke," Clegg said. "I mean, the first thing that, to me, happened was something broke, and then it all just started coming out from under the car. I was just along for the ride at that point. Nothing I could do. I knew it was going to be bad, and it tore up pretty good."
Clegg believes the car is probably fixable.
"NHRA is going to do a bunch of inspections on it, and we're going to try to figure out what happened, but some kind of failure somewhere," Clegg said. "It's just something on the right side because the car dropped down, and then you can just see all the pieces coming up from under it. We don't know; the tire's blown out, but the wheels are intact. It wasn't a wheel. It was something like four-link or something. I don't know."
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT - As Terry Earwood surveys the landscape of Indianapolis Raceway Park, he knows where all the landmarks are.
"I was standing over here about ten years ago in a certain spot, and we were doing a police car deal," Earwood said, pointing to different parts of the historic facility. "We were showing off the new cop cars for Ford. People would come up to our little tent, and we would discuss who we were. And I said, 'Matter of fact, I'm standing right here, and if you look over your shoulder there at that tire wall, I've been upside down in my road race car there."
He continued, eloquently describing the memories.
"Come back 30 feet to the right; I caught my Hemi Cuda convertible on fire right there." I said, "Now behind me, the starting line, I won the US Nationals right there. But more importantly, if you look down at that concrete block building, I peed on the wall with Charlie Daniels."
Yes, The Devil Went Down To Georgia Charlie Daniels and the 1973 NHRA U.S. Nationals Super Stock champion shared a urination.
Earwood was back at Indianapolis 50 years after his storied victory while driving the Steve Bagwell entry, driving a Super Stock/A Hemi car sponsored by Barnett Performance and the Denswood Agency. He was No. 113 after one session on Wednesday.
"Somebody asked the other day if I had a favorite drag strip," Earwood shared. "I got favorite road courses for sure. It just reminded me Indy is my favorite drag strip in the world."
Earwood made his first-ever drag racing pass at Indianapolis in 1970. He was a true novice and climbed behind the wheel of Bill Tanner's Pro Stocker and qualified in a 78-car field.
"It's been good to me ever since, Earwood said. We road raced here with Paul Rossi and those guys."
It didn't take Earwood long to realize IRP on a drag race weekend isn't the same as a road race weekend.
"I'm able to make a sandwich," Earwood smiled as he prepared his meal. "Yeah. And road racing, in four hours, you can't make a sandwich. And actually, I've never been hungry in the car until they do like a stupid red flag or something. And then they stop you, and you go, 'Oh man, A, I got to a pee, and B, I need a sandwich."
"But they won't let you do either one. But at least drag racing, we've got a little time to think about the next eight seconds of terror."
Earwood has had a little time to think about what it would mean to win Indianapolis on the 50th anniversary of arguably his greatest drag racing win. Just how awesome would it be for lightning to strike again?
"That is so far removed from reality," Earwood said. "Back when I raced with Bagwell and all the guys, I never went to a race going, 'We're going to win this."
"I didn't want to be disappointed. We went there to do the best we could. And however many rounds we go, then boy, that's been a good day." We raced with that sort of laid-back philosophy, and we won a lot of races. And so, I've never been disappointed much. But, oh, it would be bizarre. It would be bizarre to win it after 50 years. Come on. But there are too many good guys out there and too many guys that deserve it more than me since I've had it once."
BOGAN PULLING DOUBLE-DUTY - Monty Bogan Jr. is competing at the U.S. Nationals in Super Stock, where he’s currently leading the national points standings, and Comp Eliminator, because Bogan, like many other Comp racers here this weekend, has his eye on the Rooftec Comp Eliminator Cash Clash.
“We’ve had a really good season so far,” said Bogan. “With two national event wins and two divisional wins. Now it’s time to try to get it done here in Indy. The ‘Big Go’ is what it’s all about. Hopefully, we can make some good runs and have fun.”
Bogan operates ‘92 Camaros in both Super Stock and Comp Eliminator, with very different set-ups under the hood. The Boiling Springs, S.C. resident plans to continue ramping up his racing program as summer gives way to fall.
“We’re going to do a lot of racing in October and November,” he said. “It’s always too hot in the summer.”
This is only the third time for Bogan to compete at the U.S. Nationals. His main motivation for coming to the U.S. Nationals was to compete in the Rooftec Division 4 Comp Eliminator Bonus Fund, and he says it’s always better to bring two cars, likely an easy decision since his Super Stock entry is leading the points.
“You’ve always got to bring another car when you come,” said Bogan. “We’ve got to have two cars. We don’t like sitting around. The plan is to be really busy by the time Monday rolls around. We don’t want to be able to even sit down.”
And while it may seem that a lot is on the line for the talented driver, he’s quick to note that the most important thing on their to-do list here at the Big Go is to have fun.
“Indy is just different,” said Bogan. “Look at all of the cars here. There are 150 cars just trying to get in. You see everybody from all over the country. It’s not like other events where you may only see people from a certain area. This is a chance to see all of the best cars in the world and compete against them. We’ve got some friends here with us, and we’re just ready to have a great time.”
BO LOVES HIM SOME SPORTSMAN - On Friday, Bo Butner will be a Camping World Drag Racing Series competitor in the Pro Stock division. But starting Wednesday, he's sold out as one of the 111 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Super Gas racers. The 9.90 division had three time trial runs on Wednesday before they head into final eliminations on Thursday.
Butner is the defending Super Gas champion, winning his first Indy title last year. He considers himself always in sportsman mode, so the transition from sportsman to professional is always the more challenging proposition.
"I hit the tree in the Pro Stock car, and I'm always looking at the reaction time," Butner said. "It's easier to adjust my reaction times in the sportsman car. Pro Stock is tougher."
Though he races in arguably two of the toughest divisions in NHRA competition, Butner still isn't content.
"I wish I could race one in every sportsman class and then run the Pro Stocker, so I'm better off to be busy," Butner admitted.
Last year's triumph was one to scratch off the bucket list.
"So many years I've come here and got runner up or semi or did well but never finished it," Butner explained. "I don't care if it's on a golf cart or a scooter; to win Indy is great."
Butner's next bucket list item is something he considers well beyond a dream. The thought of doubling up as a pro and sportsman gives even him goosebumps.
"You set milestones to where you're good," Butner said. "That probably might top it off, especially here at Indy. So yeah, I think I could say I had a great career then. There's a couple of tracks I haven't won at. But no, to win Indy in anything is great, but to double up is unheard of."
THE WILL TO SUCCEED - Donnie Hardman’s lime green Super Comp dragster is hard to miss. It has an inspiring message on the side, “Overcome the Obstacles,” and a touching memorial on the top, dedicated to his son, Zackery Michael Hardman, who passed away in 2018 at just 19 years old. Hardman believes in overcoming obstacles, and his son’s passing has inspired him to do just that.
“We’ve been through a good share of obstacles,” said Hardman. “I finally got the opportunity to compete at the U.S. Nationals. This is a bucket list dream come true for me. How many people get the opportunity to actually compete at the U.S. Nationals? I’m having a blast.”
Hardman has already demonstrated the importance of the message that is emblazoned along the side of his dragster.
“We’re getting the car dialed in, and I cut a way better light on my second pass. So, we’ve already been overcoming obstacles here today. It’s a good thing. We’re giving it all we’ve got and are going to do the best we can.”
HE’S A SOAP DEALER - The Hudson family is thrilled to be competing at the U.S. Nationals for the first time. The Texas-based Competition Eliminator team has been instrumental in executing the Rooftec Comp Eliminator Bonus Fund. Ashton Hudson pilots his H/Altered Automatic Ford, but the mark he and his family have made on the sport, specifically in the Comp Eliminator category, goes far beyond his performance on the track. Ashton, along with his wife Mignon and daughters Ella and Bliss, works tirelessly to coordinate big projects to incentivize competitors in Comp Eliminator. Their efforts seem to be paying off. There are 63 Comp cars on site this year.
Not only does this family stay busy operating their Comp car and organizing all of the variables that go into coordinating the Rooftec Comp Bonus Fund, but they also have an artisan soap company and are introducing a new product geared specifically for racers. Double O Green is a powerful hand cleaner.
“Double O Green is a handmade natural soap product that’s a powerful hand cleaner,” said Ashton. “I make the liquid soap and mix it with bentonite clay and French green clay. And I use jojoba beads to add grittiness to the formula. It’s excellent at removing dirt, grime, grease, and fuel. It leaves your hands feeling soft after use. It’s a great shop product for anyone that has a shop or garage.”
The Hudsons have a hand-washing station in front of their trailer where folks can try out the product firsthand (pun intended). Between their soap sales and the increasing interest in the Comp Eliminator Bonus Fund, it’s easy to assume that drag racing may get lost in the shuffle. But that assumption would be wrong. The Hudsons are enjoying every moment of their first U.S. Nationals experience, but make no mistake, they are here to win.
“We haven’t had a great season so far,” said Ashton. “At the beginning of the year, we made up to 15 runs and couldn’t record a single run because we just couldn’t get down the track. So, we switched back to our H/Altered combination, which is a better index for us. And we spent several weekends going out to test. So by the time we got the Division 4 points meet in Noble, Okla., the car was running really good. But I ended up red-lighting in the first round. Then when we got to Dallas, we played the ladder so well that we got Rodger Brogdon in the first round. I cut a good light, but he would go .62 under to get around me. So we’ve taken the summer off and completely rebuilt the engine. This will be only the second pass on this engine. We are so excited to be here, and we’re ready to give it our all.”
NO STOPPING HIM - It’s a sight you never want to see, much less experience—Austin Alvey, standing beside his Super Stocker, with his engine on a hoist. The young driver experienced engine problems during his first pass this morning and is now waiting, somewhat patiently, for his father to bring him a spare engine from Kentucky.
“I was going down the track, and I heard a clanking sound,” recalls Alvey. “There was a bad vibration, so I just shut the car off. It turns out the camshaft broke, and we kicked a rod out of it, too.”
There were no signs of trouble when Alvey pulled up to the line. But about 800 feet down the track, he knew that something was seriously wrong.
“I pre-staged and looked at the oil pressure. It was at about 40 pounds, so I thought we were good to go. I was rolling on down through there, and then this happened. I knew, just from the sound it made, that it wasn’t good.”
But these are the stories that make history at the U.S. Nationals. Alvey knows he’s fortunate to have another engine that he can place in the car so his dreams of pursuing victory at the Big Go can continue.
“This is my fourth or fifth year racing here, but I’ve been coming to the U.S. Nationals since I was a kid. This is the race everybody waits for all year long. It’s the big one, the one that everyone wants to win.”
Perhaps this new engine will be a turning point for Alvey. He’s hopeful that it will be.
“The rest of the season has been going just about the same way, unfortunately. It’s been pretty terrible so far this year. We’ve done good at a few races, but for the most part, we’ve been struggling a little bit. It’s just breaking stuff. I feel like I’ve been driving well, but just not getting it done. It’s tough out here.”
WILD WHEELIE - Barry Parker experienced a bit of a wild ride in his bright green Stock Eliminator ride this afternoon. He didn’t make it to the track in time to make the first Stock qualifying pass, and he knew he would only have one chance to qualify. When he left the line, the wheels hooked up hard, sending him down the track with the wheels so high in the air there was a collective gasp from the spectating crowd.
“We were busy up until last night in Bowling Green,” said Parker. “We were changing converters because we had been testing there all day long, and we just couldn’t get the car to cooperate. We loosened the suspension up a lot at Bowling Green because it wasn’t leaving. I didn’t change it for here, but apparently, it had been the converter all along, not the suspension.”
It’s pretty common to see cars in the Stock Eliminator category lift the wheels when they launch. Still, Parker’s car appeared to remain suspended almost vertically for quite a while as he continued down the track.
“I knew I had to take my foot out and put it back in as quickly as possible,” said Parker. “I didn’t want to abort the run because I didn’t get to make the other qualifying session. I didn’t want to waste a qualifying run. It came down hard.”
In fact, his 1970 Camaro came down so hard the fan came off the radiator. And he’ll certainly be examining his front shocks closely. But he still managed to make a 10.40-second run.
“We ran a 10.02 here last year,” said Parker. “And this is a better car than we had last year, so we’ll see what happens.”