2019 NHRA CAROLINA NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE DEFEATS KALITTA IN EPIC CHAMPIONSHIP SHOWDOWN AT CHARLOTTE - Steve Torrence has immeasurable respect for veteran Top Fuel racer Doug Kalitta.
He appreciates all that he has done for the sport and looks up to the highly decorated racer as an icon in the sport.
But at the end of the day, he still wants to beat him.
Coming into this weekend’s NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals riding a six-race drought - an eternity for the winningest Top Fuel driver over the past three years - and sitting second in the Countdown to the Championship standings behind Kalitta, Torrence had the opportunity of a lifetime to return to the top of the heap. And he took full advantage.
Torrence defeated Kalitta in a thriller Monday at the rain-delayed race at zMAX Dragway, jumping out to a sizable lead thanks to a .031 reaction time and cruising to his ninth win of the season with a 3.772-second pass at 323.19 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster. Kalitta went up in smoke just past the halfway point in a 4.090 at 274.27 mph effort.
“Doug Kalitta is a legend. I have a whole lot of respect for him and I look up to him as a driver. He is always there. He is always consistent,” Torrence said. “When you go up against that guy and to have the backstory of coming in behind him in points, making up some points in qualifying, and then coming all the way down to the final round between No. 1 and No. 2 in points, it is easy to look over to your left or right and say, ‘that is Doug Kalitta’ and let it get to you.
“A few years ago I probably would have went up there and choked. I probably would have went up there and let that really affect me and get in my head. But with the success that we have had, you build confidence in yourself. You trust in your team and the good Lord and just do the best that you can.
“I knew that we had a car that could run with them. If I did my job, we could be right there with him on the tree. I just had to block out who that guy is. Whether it is Doug Kalitta or Tony Schumacher or Antron Brown, you can’t let who is in the other lane influence you. That is what I was able to do today.”
With the win, Torrence’s ninth of the season and 36th of his career, Torrence retakes the championship lead by 30 points over Kalitta with three races remaining. Torrence was assisted by a solid weekend in qualifying, earning his first No. 1 qualifier since Denver. 2017 Top Fuel champion Brittany Force is third, 92 points back. Leah Pritchett and Mike Salinas round out the top five.
“It is a peripheral view (of the points). You know what you have to do. You need to go rounds. You need to win races,” Torrence said. “We lost first round in Reading, went to the final in St. Louis, went to the final here and were finally able to pull off a win. I think we need to win two more races to be pretty solid in having an opportunity to win this championship again.”
Torrence won his first race since Denver in July with a march through the Top Fuel ladder and wins over Lex Joon, Clay Millican and Top Fuel newcomer Justin Ashley before meeting Kalitta in the final. Overall it was a rather uneventful day for the defending champion as all three of his opponents ran into issues - a no-show for Joon and tire-smoking runs for Millican and Ashley.
Kalitta meanwhile had wins over Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force to reach his fifth final of the season.
With the win, Torrence now has won four-straight at zMAX Dragway and five of the last six races at the Charlotte-area track.
“I just like this racetrack. Some places the crew chiefs and the guys have a real good handle on the tuneup and this just seems to be one of them,” Torrence said. “Fortunately, it is one of the Countdown races. It plays into our wheelhouse and I’m happy and fortunate that it is here.”
With three races remaining in the Countdown and back-to-back final round visits, Torrence is confident that his team is returning to championship form and looks forward to a trip to his home state next weekend in the only back-to-back portion of the postseason.
“I am looking forward to going to Dallas next weekend. It is home and it is a good time to have the momentum going back-to-back,” Torrence said. “We were able to go 6-0 in the Countdown last year, but you have to approach every race like you’ve never won one. You can’t let your mental focus get distracted by your success because you are only as good as the last run you make.” Larry Crum
THE MILESTONES KEEP FLOWING FOR HIGHT WITH CHARLOTTE WIN - The milestones keep coming for Robert Hight, quicker than he can keep track of them. The day after the NTK NHRA Carolinas Nationals was scheduled to run final eliminations, Hight picked up his 51st national event victory and 500th round win in one fell swoop.
Hight knocked off No. 1 qualifier Jack Beckman to take home the rain-delayed title. This was the culmination of a day that started off tough and got tougher as it went along.
“It doesn’t get any tougher than what I faced today,” Hight said. “You look at [Mike] McIntire first round ran a 3.97. He actually had the quickest run in the right lane for Funny Car first round. So if we had just slipped up a little, he would have got us first round and we would have been out of there. That team, it was pretty cool to see those guys at the other end. They were pretty excited.
“But then when you start getting with Tim Wilkerson, Matt Hagan and Beckman, boy, that’s a long day. It’s hard work, but the Auto Club Chevy team really pulled together, did a good job. We’ve changed some things over the last few races. We’ve kind of been struggling, but we went down the track every run here this weekend so, hats off, great job to Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham and all the Auto Club guys.”
Hight extended his championship point lead at the halfway mark of the Countdown, and it’s exactly where he wants to be. Monday’s win is the sixth this season.
“We can control our own destiny,” Hight said. “When you’re chasing somebody, you can’t control what they do. I want to be here, and I want to be here in a month from now. That’s the goal. But this was a good weekend for us. We got the points lead back last weekend in St. Louis, but to come out here and extend it, that’s what we have to keep doing every race. I’ve never won six races in my life, but right now I feel that I’m going to have to win eight to be the champ. So we’re up for it.”
There’s still a lot of season left, Hight cautions, too much to lift off the throttle. He’s not worried as long as his championship-winning team keeps forging ahead like they are.
“You know anything can happen with points and a half and the Funny Car class they’re so tight I mean top to bottom, it’s very, very close,” Hight said. “So anybody can win on any given weekend, and we just got to stay focused and work hard, and I know the whole team, this is all they want. We didn’t get it done last year. Went down to the last day and that’s all they want. They don’t even want to go home. They just want to stay on the road and get this race car prepared perfectly.”
Many of those crewmembers from the 2009 championship season are among those who want to stay on the road.
“You have to surround yourself with good people and continuity,” Hight said. “Torrence’s team, they stay together, that’s why they win all the races. There’s not a lot of turnover, and everybody works well together. I always joke that if any of my guys get thrown in jail, I’m gonna have to bail them all out at once because they’re going to be into it together.” Bobby Bennett
KRAMER THROWS HIS HAT IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP RING WITH CHARLOTTE WIN - For a man who hadn't run a full NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock schedule, Deric Kramer appears to be making the most of a shortened schedule.
Kramer was a day later, but not a dollar short as he picked up his second Pro Stock win of the season, capturing the rain-delayed NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals Pro Stock title.
Kramer, starting from the No. 10 qualifying position, stopped Matt Hartford in the final, another driver running a full schedule for the first time.
"There was a lot of the 'just don't screw up, make them win' mentality around our pits," said Kramer, a former Comp Eliminator racer, who runs with engines prepared by KB Racing. "We weren't super fast or stellar but forced them to have to beat us. I got to the 1320 first, and that was all she wrote."
Kramer opened with a victory over veteran Kenny Delco and scored a major victory in defeating Jeg Coughlin Jr. He drove past an upset-minded Aaron Stanfield to reach the final round.
"Ultimately, when you have a few races like we had headed into this weekend, and you can get a win like we did today, it means you still have a chance to win this championship," Kramer explained. "Last race, it was disheartening with a fluke error like I had. I tried today just to go out there and erase that from my mind. I wanted to rebound with a performance like we had today. Today was exactly what I wanted to achieve.
Starting from the No. 10 seed, Kramer believes his success today says a lot about Pro Stock.
"There's about 12 cars out here which can win at any time," Kramer explained. "You have to be perfect any time you go to the starting line. If you're not, you're going home like I have in the last handful of races. I was lucky enough this time to take home the win."
Kramer entered the weekend 122 points out of the lead and understood wholly Charlotte was a make or break weekend for his championship aspirations.
"I knew with another bad showing we'd be fighting for the No. 7 spot," Kramer admitted. "No one wants to battle it out for seventh particularly. Probably the most gratifying part is that I won from the bottom half of the ladder. That doesn't happen a lot, but it is possible. That's one more achievement checked off my list."
The victory vaulted Kramer into the fifth spot in the championship points, just 88 points behind leader Erica Enders. Hartford was able to move into third with his semi-final defeat of Enders.Bobby Bennett
HINES RETURNS TO FORM, EXTENDS CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD AT CAROLINA NATS - Andrew Hines hasn’t been great as of late.
He hasn’t been bad either.
He has, by his own lofty standards, been floating somewhere in between as he chases down a sixth career Pro Stock Motorcycle championship.
But on Monday, Hines felt his team finally turned a corner as the veteran racer returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since Sonoma in July with a big win over Karen Stoffer.
“My motorcycle ran significantly better in the final today and it is really nice to see the win light come on,” Hines said. “We haven’t had a dry spell, it has just been that these last four races those White Alligator bikes have really turned that switch. Our guys deserve it. They work hard. We are not coming here and dominating these races. We find a way to pick away at the tuneup all weekend long and for us to record low e.t. and top speed in the final round, that is what we love.”
In a battle of the top two riders in the Countdown to the Championship standings, Hines blasted Stoffer on the tree and rode his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson FXDR to a holeshot win at the rain-delayed NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals with a 6.805-second pass at 199.37 mph.
Stoffer, aboard her Big St. Charles/Skillman Auto Suzuki, crossed the stripe with a quicker 6.804 at 199.20 mph in her second-straight final.
“I really like seeing the win light come on, but I really enjoy crushing them. When we go out there and have three or four hundredths on them, that is what I enjoy because it is a reflection of how good our team is running,” Hines said. “We were in that position in the middle of the season. We were running pretty good where we had that advantage going into the final round. But with the way Karen’s bike has been running, she had four hundredths on me going into the final round. Karen waxed us in St. Louis and got her first win in a few years and we didn’t want that to happen again.
“I had my hand rolled back on the clutch lever trying to get everything I could. It is nice to earn them as a rider on a holeshot. I am not too proud of a 41 light in the final, but we still turned the win light on.”
With the win, Hines extends his lead in the Countdown to the Championship to 57 points over Stoffer. Hines’ Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec is third, 115 points back. Jerry Savoie and Hector Arana Jr. round out the top five.
Hines now has back-to-back finals after losing in the second round to open the Countdown.
“We were sitting around during that rainstorm yesterday talking about this Pro Stock Motorcycle class and how stacked it is right now,” Hines said. “If you look at the top 10 in qualifying order, any one of those people can be No. 1 at any given time. These races right now are hard fought, hard earned.”
Hines collected his eighth trophy of the season and the 56th of his career with wins over Michael Ray, Scotty Pollacheck and Hector Arana Jr.
After almost giving it away in the opening round thanks to a second guess of the track, Hines survived a perfect light by Pollacheck in round two in a close race - a 6.815 to a 6.855 - before watching Arana light the red bulb to advance Hines to his 11th final of the season.
“It was a tough day. The first run off the trailer we smoked the tire which was just a bad call on my part using the same batch of tires that smoked the tire in Chicago. That put me behind on tuning on my side of the team,” Hines said. “Luckily, having Angelle (Sampey) and Eddie (Krawiec) we got a lot of data coming back after every single qualifying session.
“We were picking at it and charging through eliminations today. This morning we came up and were studying the track and of course we made all of the wrong calls. Michael Ray, I’ve ran him the last couple of races and you never know what he is going to do on the starting line playing blocker for Matt Smith. We got by him and then had another Matt Smith bike in the next round with Scotty Pollacheck. Obviously Matt can put down some big speed with those bodies and the horsepower that he has.
“Then in the semis Hector is always tough, but I got a gimmie on that one. I saw that red bulb come on and I tried to think of what I could do to really focus on the motorcycle and get us ready for the final.”
Hines was especially proud of his win on Monday following a team reset following the team’s loss in St. Louis. Watching many of the other teams make up significant ground, Hines threw everything in the trash and started anew heading into this weekend’s race.
“Those White Alligator Suzukis have been fast these last few races and we have been trying to figure out where they are picking it up versus where we are losing it,” Hines said. “It just seemed like our motorcycle was untunable. When we would make the changes in the laptop we wouldn’t see the results on the racetrack.
“So we started brainstorming back at the shop with my brother, dad, and everybody on the team just trying to figure out what we can do different. We took that entire setup that had won all of those races earlier in the year and threw it out the window, parked those parts on the shelf, and said ‘hey, let’s try something new.’”
Hines continued his dominance at the Charlotte-area track as he takes a sizable points lead into the final three races of the season beginning next weekend in Dallas.
“When I first came here I almost hated it. It took me, like, four years to get out of the first round. Then I won a few races and it was like a love/hate relationship,” Hines said. “Since 2013, it has really turned the tables and I’ve been able to win a lot. Whatever it is, I can’t pinpoint it, we just seem to find a way to get up here with a yellow hat.” Larry Crum
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK – FIREWORKS START EARLY AS CHAMPIONSHIP PICTURE GETS CLEARER
PERFECT TIME TO PEAK - Now that is the Erica Enders we are used to.
For the first time since her back-to-back championship-winning seasons in 2014 and 2015, Enders is a real threat to return to the top of the Pro Stock mountain. After proving competitive throughout much of this season, Enders has found her groove when it matters most with a win and now three-straight No. 1 qualifier awards as she earned the pole position Saturday at the 12th annual NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Enders was quickest in three of the four qualifying sessions and second quickest in the other leading to her third top qualifier award of the year - all coming in the last month.
“If we can continue the run that we were on from St. Louis last weekend, I would be really thrilled,” Enders said. “I have a great hot rod underneath me, and if I can just do my driving job, there is no reason why we can’t win.”
Enders drove her Melling Performance / Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to the top of the charts with a 6.506-second pass at 211.86 mph from Q2 on Friday night, maintaining that time on Saturday to earn her 22nd career pole position.
“In that Friday night session, Jeg (Coughlin) went to the pole right in front of us. He is my teammate, and Rick (Jones) came on the radio and said, ‘if you do your job, we are going right back to the top,’” Enders said. “When you hear that confidence from (the team) it definitely helps me. It reminds me of our good run in 2014 and 2015. I feel like we are back in championship form. We just have to execute.”
Enders’ Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin qualified second with a 6.524 at 210.37 mph, and Jason Line qualified third with a 6.534 at 211.53 mph. Matt Hartford (6.546) and Alex Laughlin (6.548) rounded out the top five. Laughlin was the only driver to unseat Enders during a qualifying session, out-pacing the eventual pole sitter in Q3 Saturday afternoon.
Coming off of her first win of the season, Enders entered the weekend second in the Countdown to the Championship standings, just a handful of points behind Line. With additional bonus points coming as a result of a dominant weekend in qualifying, Enders has cut that gap even more and will look to try to overtake the Pro Stock points lead on Sunday with three races to go.
That is a far stretch from where she and her team were earlier this year with a rollercoaster season leading to plenty of doubts entering the Countdown to the Championship.
“At the beginning of the year, we definitely had some serious struggles and then, during midsummer, a lot of parts failures. I began to doubt that we would have an opportunity to be in this position this deep into the Countdown,” Enders said. “But here we are, and it is our job to capitalize on it. My crew chiefs are really confident. They are way more confident than me, and that helps my confidence in turn. So I am thankful for that.”
Now, coming off of a run of strong qualifying sessions and a win, Enders is as confident as ever in what this team can do entering Sunday and the final three races of the Countdown.
“You’ve got to believe it to be it,” Enders said. “It is like the David and Goliath story. You can have things stacked against you, the other teams can definitely run with us and drive with me, so we just have to believe it and go out and execute. That is my plan.”
Enders will face Cristian Cuadra in round one on Sunday. - Larry Crum
WOW! - Well, that was unexpected.
Steve Johnson, who is certainly no stranger to success in the NHRA with a long and storied career in the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks, pulled a bit of a stunner on Saturday when he unseated the most consistent rider on the property with the quickest pass of his entire career aboard his Slick 50 Suzuki.
Johnson raced to a 6.786-second pass at 196.70 mph in the heat Saturday afternoon at zMAX Dragway, earning his first No. 1 qualifier since Englishtown in 2013 at the 12th annual NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Johnson, who was sixth on the ladder entering the session, blasted to the top spot with a straight, fast run right down Broadway. After his previous two runs failed to impress, his career-best pass on Saturday caught the field by surprise as he bested previous top qualifier Jerry Savoie by a thousandth of a second.
Savoie qualified second with a 6.787 at 198.73 mph on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki, while current points leader Andrew Hines fell in line in third with a 6.814 at 198.79 mph. Eddie Krawiec (6.818) and Karen Stoffer (6.819) rounded out the top five.
Adding to the odd afternoon, Johnson missed the fourth and final qualifying session on Saturday when he left early to attend a wedding in Maryland. Johnson plans to return to Charlotte immediately following the event to prepare for final eliminations.
Johnson’s stunning pass earned him his fifth career pole position. He will face Andie Rawlings in round one on Sunday, seeking his first win since the Gainesville in 2014.
CONFIDENCE - Steve Torrence, the Top Fuel points leader and the defending winner of the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals, maintained his No. 1 qualifying spot in his quest for a remarkable fourth consecutive Wally at the Bellagio of drag strips. Unable to improve on his 3.711-second, 325.53-mph pass from Friday night, Torrence narrowly held off a charge from Leah Pritchett in the fourth round of qualifying that fell 0.003 seconds shy of the all-important top seed.
“When you have confidence in your team and your car, it makes you a better driver,” Torrence said. “We’ll be ready and know that there are going to be some quick and fast times (on Sunday). The track will take whatever you throw at it, so we have to be out here ready for war.
“We have had a lot of success here. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a double-edged sword because you could say, ‘Well, we’ve won a lot here, so now we have to keep that streak going,’ but that’s not how we look at it. There are 16 drivers out here competing to win, and it’s not easy.”
NEARLY DISASTROUS - Pro Stock racer Chris McGaha learned a long time ago not to take anything for granted in drag racing, even his safety at the end of a 200 mile per hour run.
McGaha and fellow Pro Stock racer Alan Prusienski nearly became a carbon copy of the infamous 2005 incident where Bruce Allen turned in front of Kenny Koretsky, causing a hideous collision. Fortunately, McGaha was able to avoid the out of control Prusienski, who exited the car under his own power but was transported to a local hospital.
“That’s not what you expect in the shutdown area when you already have the chutes out, somebody comes flying around you and come in front of you and hit the wall,” McGaha admitted. “Yeah, that was definitely interesting.”
McGaha found himself in disbelief that he was witnessing what was happening in front of him.
“I just went into, ‘okay, I got to get out of the way,’ mode,” McGaha admitted. “Then I was kind of anticipating he was going to ricochet off the wall. So I thought the best move for me is to stop, and I probably should have started to stop even sooner because I had to drive through a minefield of parts.”
The only damage to McGaha’s Camaro was four tires, and his team has yet to find anything else.
McGaha admits afterward he had visions of the Koretsky-Allen crash applied to this incident. In that incident, Koretsky drove through Allen’s car as it was turned up on its side.
“When I watched it on TV, yes, I saw how close it came to being the same thing,” McGaha admitted. “At the time and sitting in the car, I didn’t realize it was quite that way. But after I watched it on TV, that’s the first thing I thought of.”
WELCOME TO THE SHOW - It only took Justin Ashley 24 years to beat his father’s best mark in a dragster. And he did it one run.
The second-generation drag racer ran a 3.83 elapsed time behind the wheel of the Davis Motorsports, Strutmasters.com dragster to secure a berth in the final qualified field during the first day.
“I am just happy we were able to make it down the track and get in the field,” Ashley said. “That was a good and solid pass to go from A-to-B.”
Was his first run in competition what he expected?
“It was everything I expected,” Ashley admitted. “We wanted to go down the track on the first pass and run a mid-to-low-3.80. I envisioned us taking one step at a time, but making a strong statement the first time.”
Headed into zMax Dragway, Ashley had taken advantage of test sessions in Bakersfield, Norwalk, and Indianapolis to get the Don Schumacher Racing-built dragster dialed in.
While Ashley might have been calm and collected after the initial hit, the night before he was a rookie.
“For a first time in Top Fuel racer there’s the normal butterflies,” Ashley said. “I wouldn’t call it anything crazy, over-the-top nerves or anxiety or anything like that. I just try and do my best to kind of keep things simple and not overthink it.”
Just because he didn’t overthink it, didn’t mean it wasn’t on his mind.
“I think I got no sleep Thursday night,” Ashley admitted. “There was quite a bit of tossing and turning. I don’t think I need any sleep this weekend, and I think somehow I’ll be I’ll find a way to be energized.”
Ashley qualified No. 12 and will face Mike Salinas in Sunday’s first round.
THE FORCE CHALLENGE - Sixteen-time Funny Car champion John Force is always up for a good challenge, even if it means describing in 500 words or less why he wouldn’t make a good NASCAR driver.
Force, with his iconic smile, let it rip in response.
“Well, I would [be good] because I know how to make a right and a left turn when I’m on fire, and they only go around corners when vision’s perfect,” Force said. “We still got to drive them. Well, I don’t know I might have been able to do that. I would struggle like Indy car and NASCAR guys.”
It’s the entourage and accessories which would be the most challenging.
“I got one golf cart, and it’s really complicated, having two jets and three helicopters and stuff like that and all the people that walk you around and wipe your brow for you,” Force explained. “I don’t know if I could handle that. I love them guys. But no, this is what I do. Drag racing is what do.
“I outran the cops when I was a kid; we don’t do that anymore. We don’t drink and text on the road. Auto Club, we swear by it, but that’s how I grew up - street racing. I was here before any of you were born. And you can tell by my memory loss. Okay, next question.”
MOM IS FAIR GAME - Usually, when you have two equally competitive drivers under the same roof, it's a recipe for disaster.
Not as far as J.R. Todd and Shawn Langdon are concerned.
But, from time to time, there may be bouts of the desire to one-up the other.
Case in point, the two had their Funny Cars at a Wix Filters function and performed a side-by-side warm-up.
"We got to warm it up side by side with Shawn's team and whack the throttle back and forth," Todd explained. "I think between the two of us it was close to a dozen throttle whacks so that was pretty cool. Finally John [Oberhofer] said that was enough because I think we would still be there whacking the throttle if they let us.
"You're happy because it's a win-win for Kalitta, but you're not happy when you get beat in the final round. You go that far you want to leave with the trophy, but it was good for both our teams. We moved up in the points. [Shawn] made up a lot of ground also to kind of put him in title contention as well. So it was good. That team was well overdue for a success like that. But, like I said, you want to win though, you don't want to go out there and lose especially to your teammate."
There's no smack-talk, because as Todd sees it, "We're so busy on race day, especially with live TV that I barely have time to get a drink of water let alone go over to his pit and talk smack. I'm not big on talking smack because when it backfires you just look like an idiot at that point."
The dynamic between the two is it's hard to get amped up to rip the throat out of someone you really like and respect. Someone else? Game on.
"It's not like you have a lot of anger towards your teammate like you might have some other guy that did you wrong on the starting line and stuff like that," Todd explained. "But I usually just try to get pumped up for everybody that I race against me. It doesn't matter if it's your teammate, your Mom or John Force. You got to treat them all the same and go up there and trying to rip their head off. But racing Shawn, you know that he's the best leaver in the sport so you're going to have to be on your game and he got me by a few thousandths on the starting line. So he's probably going to have some smack talk about that. I'm sure."
"Absolutely, for a trophy," Todd said.
STILL CENTRIFUGAL TESTING - For three races now, the NHRA tech department has been gathering data on the centrifugal supercharger as a possible fourth power adder in the Pro Modified division.
On Friday and Saturday, racers John Strickland and Lester Johnson made laps with respectable results.
“John ended up running within four numbers of the leaders each round,” Kevin Rivenbark explained. “In the last run John went a 5.791, and earlier went a 5.77. There’s a lot of potential, just need to get in more runs.”
Rivenbark said he believes working in the centrifugal supercharger into a challenging three power adder class will not be as difficult as some might think.
“Just a matter of working in the transmission, converter, and the rear gear,” Rivenbark said.
NO. 2 - Robert Hight locked in the No. 2 qualifying position after his 3.878-second pass at 334.07 mph Friday night.
In his first pass Saturday, Hight thundered to a 3.900-second pass at 332.10 mph to be quickest of the session, pick up three bonus points and hold onto the No. 2 spot. He continued to impress in the final qualifying round with a 3.913 pass at 330.96 and maintained his positioning.
The two-time Funny Car world champion will face Mike McIntire Jr. in the first round on race day.
“Being the No. 2 qualifier, that’s not a bad place to be,” Hight said. “We picked up some of those important bonus points, and we’re ready to go some rounds tomorrow. Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham, they had this Auto Club Chevy running consistent, so I’m excited to see what happens tomorrow.
“Not sure the weather is going to be on our side, but in those cooler conditions, I think we’ll be able to put some competitive numbers up and hopefully go some rounds and earn that Wally. It’s been a while since this Auto Club Chevy has been to the winner’s circle.”
REACHING THE SUMMIT - Jason Line and the silver Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro took over the points lead at the first of six NHRA Countdown to the Championship events, and on Sunday at the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals, Line’s main mission will be to win the race and keep his advantage.
The longtime KB Racing driver and owner of three Pro Stock world titles will present a united front with teammate Greg Anderson, driver of the red Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, and Bo Butner, their KB Racing-powered partner and driver of the Jim Butner Auto Group Chevy Camaro, both battling to bring the trophy home for the team.
Line is also the defending event champion. Last season, he earned the 50th national event win of his career here.
“I’m pretty happy with my Summit Racing Chevy Camaro right now,” said Line, who claimed four bonus points as one of the quickest cars at zMAX Dragway and will start from the No. 3 position with a best time of 6.534-second at 211.53. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I wouldn’t trade my car with anybody. It’s good, and I’m excited to race for the trophy. Hopefully, the weather will hold out, but I think we’re going to have a good day. This is always a fun race for us, and it’s especially good this weekend to have our team owners, Ken and Judy Black, here. To see them smiling is always a good feeling, and hopefully, we’re all smiling on Sunday.”
Four-time Pro Stock champion Anderson qualified in the No. 6 spot and will race Aaron Stanfield in round one. 93-time national event winner Anderson is elevated by the fact that the KB Racing team, which is housed in nearby Mooresville, knows the racing facility very well.
“It’s all about tomorrow now,” said Anderson, who continues to battle a somewhat temperamental car, but one that seems to come around in bursts. “We’ll have a completely different weather day on Sunday, by the look of it, but we know this racetrack and all the weather and changing conditions we see out here. We have the data, so it’s time to go home, put our heads together, and come up with a race-winning setup. Tomorrow, we just need to go out there and do our job. [Stanfield] is hungry, but the bottom line is no matter who you line up against, it’s going to be like a final round match-up. You better bring your A-game – or you’re going home early.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – THINGS ARE STATUS QUO FOR CHARLOTTE IN THE FALL
BACK ON TRACK - Steve Torrence knows his way around zMAX Dragway.
Torrence, who has won four of the last five races at the track located just outside of Charlotte, N.C. and three straight, was once again the class of the Top Fuel field as he raced to the provisional top spot Friday at the 12th annual NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Torrence was quickest in both sessions on Friday to pick up a handful of valuable bonus points as he is currently locked in a slugfest with Doug Kalitta for the top spot in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship with three races remaining.
But Torrence was quick to point out that, despite a strong start to the weekend at zMAX Dragway, he is still not counting those points.
“It is way too early to worry about points right now. If you even remotely start looking at them, you can allow it to get in your head, and you don’t want that for this race or the next three,” said Torrence, who came into this race second in the Countdown standings, just two points behind Kalitta. “As a team and as a driver, we do the best that we can to just concentrate on the task at hand. We needed to come out here, and we needed to qualify well, and we had two good runs today. Tomorrow we will work on our Sunday tuneup and try to be the best possible on Sunday.
“Ultimately, you need to go out and try to win all of them and let the points count themselves. No matter how much we worry about it, it is going to be whatever it is going to be. We just need to maintain our consistency.”
That consistency helped Torrence be quickest in each session on Friday, capped off with a chart-topping 3.711-second pass at 325.53 mph in the Capco Contractors dragster to lead the field into Saturday.
Richie Crampton was second on day one in Charlotte with a 3.742 at 328.06 mph, and Antron Brown was third with a 3.758 at 328.94 mph. Billy Torrence (3.765) and Doug Kalitta (3.777) rounded out the top five.
Notably absent from the top half of the charts on Friday were several strong teams as several drivers struggled with the tricky track.
“These conditions were very conducive to David Grubnic and Brittany (Force) going out there and rotating the earth. You don’t wish bad on anybody, but I was glad to see that we were able to go out and run really well,” Torrence said. “This is a great track, but it is tricky on the starting line compared to some of the places that we go. It gets going fast on its own, so if you have too much early, you don’t have control of it later. Still, it was relatively surprising to see not that many cars go down.
“I know if you look at our run from Q1, it was safe. I knew that we had the car tuned up a lot more for this run, so I felt confident that if it stuck, we could go quicker than that.”
If Torrence’s time holds on Saturday, it will be his fourth No. 1 qualifier of the season and first since Denver in July. He is also seeking his first win since that same race as his span of six races without a win is currently his longest such streak since early 2017.
But after a stumble in Reading to start the Countdown to the Championship, Torrence says that he has his team back on track and focused beginning this weekend.
“We stumbled at Reading because we had a little bit of a lax attitude going in,” Torrence said. “We had been trying some things during the Western Swing and didn’t have the success that we wanted at Indy, so when we got to Reading, maybe we had relaxed a little too much.
“We redirected our focus, and everybody got back on the same page. We went back to the drawing board and got us back to what got us to that point. We just have to stay focused on going rounds, going laps, and getting every point possible. The rest will take care of itself.” - Larry Crum
HE’S ALL ABOUT THE WALLY - To Jack Beckman, there is nothing that compares to earning a trophy.
You can keep all of the hats. You can - for the most part - throw out the points. Heck, even a national record or two, doesn’t quite get Beckman’s blood pumping.
But a trophy? That is where it is at.
So when Beckman finally snapped a year-long winless streak with his first win of the season a few weeks ago in Reading, Pa., it lifted a massive weight and released the floodgates for Beckman and his team.
And on Friday, Beckman continued to flex that muscle at the third race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship, pacing the field heading into day two at the 12th annual NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
“It was the first win of the year for us, and that was a big deal. To get that far and come up empty-handed five times gets frustrating,” Beckman said. “You want to get that monkey off your back early in the year and establish a tempo. I always told people that I want to race for trophies the first 18 races, and I’ll take six runner-ups in the Countdown, except we didn’t get any trophies the first 18 races. Getting that win at Maple Grove was huge, not only for points, just to hold the trophy at the end of the day on Sunday.”
Beckman rebounded from a swing and a miss on his first hit at the track on Friday with a chart-topping 3.873-second pass at 334.07 mph in the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger Hellcat Funny Car in the evening session, just holding off Robert Hight. Hight tucked in just behind the Don Schumacher Racing driver with a 3.878 at 334.07 mph.
Ron Capps qualified third on Friday with a 3.882 at 330.55 mph, while John Force (3.890) and Matt Hagan (3.906) rounded out the top five.
“You can keep all of the green hats. I would trade ten green hats for one yellow hat. To me, that is a crew chief award. You know what it means? I didn’t screw up the tuneup. I rode a fast horse that somebody else prepped,” Beckman said. “But now that there are those small points, the green hat means you get extra points, so it is all-important. But for me, it is all about the trophies. That chunk of wood and metal means the world to me.”
Beckman entered this weekend third in the Funny Car championship standings, locked in a massive grouping of eight drivers within 100 points of the current leader. He fell from the top spot in the standings following a disappointing first-round exit at the previous race in St. Louis.
“If you are going to stumble, I am sure glad we did it in St. Louis and got it out of the way. A stumble in the Countdown can spell disaster,” Beckman said. “We only found ourselves 24 points out of the lead, so what could have been devastating turned out to hopefully be a bump in the road for us.
“We have to qualify good. You’ve got to come out of the box, set your power level, and get your car to the finish line. It would be great to be in the top three to get the bonus points, but the idea is to get down the track so you can run really good in Q2, which typically is the best track conditions which seeds you for Sunday. We did that today. Now we have to try to get three points every time we roll out there.”
If Beckman’s time holds on Saturday, he will earn his second No. 1 qualifier of the year, but more importantly, important bonus points as he chases down the John Force Racing drivers in front of him. - Larry Crum
HE’S A GATOR WITH NINE LIVES - Lucky, fortunate, and blessed are just a few words that come to mind when Jerry Savoie reflects on his life experiences. They all came to mind earlier this week when Savoie had a mishap on his gator farm when a barbed wire came loose, striking him in the face.
“I shot a piece of barbed wire with the staple gun, and the wire broke and cut the side of my face,” Savoie said.
Luckily for him, the laceration didn’t require stitches.
It’s the kind of good fortunes Savoie has become accustomed to throughout his life.
“I got nine lives,” Savoie admitted. “I don’t know how many I got left.”
When you get hit by a train and survive, and follow the experience with a plane crash, you start to wonder how many times you can tempt fate.
The train collision happened when Savoie was in the trucking business. A safety arm malfunction put him up close and personal with a diesel locomotive.
“I was sitting at a red light at some train tracks, and the light turned green, and the cars and everybody in front of me started advancing forward,” Savoie said. “The arms didn’t come down, and I didn’t look down the track because the lights weren’t blinking. I pulled on the track, and I heard the horn, and I looked to the left, and he was about 80-feet from me. He hit me and dragged me in reverse about 375-feet I think it was.”
Not a scratch on him.
“Not a scratch on me, but the guys in the engine, I had to look up there to tell him I was okay, and I didn’t see anybody,” Savoie recalled. “They were all laid out because the truck was loaded with river sand, and it was like hitting a brick wall. It put them on the floor. So I came out pretty good.”
The train encounter was just a warm-up for the next escapade, crashing a homemade airplane.
“The ultralight crash, I was actually being stupid and made a hard left-hand bank and it had very little fuel in it and the suction was on the right side of the tank, and it just stalled out,” Savoie explained. “I stayed in a marsh until I think 1 AM until somebody came and found me, but I was okay.”
Savoie fell 75 feet, with no broken bones or any cosmetic injuries.
Savoie was showing no ill-effects of the barbed wire as he rode his way to the top spot Friday evening, stopping the timers at 6.801 seconds at 196.85 for the top spot Friday evening at the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway.
The topic came up about the NHRA’s decision to allow the Suzuki four-valve head in 2020.
“It's great. Now guys like me can finally eat instead of starving,” Savoie said.
When a member of the media presented the idea of racing Top Fuel Harley where riders can weigh considerably more and remain competitive, Savoie was much more conservative.
“Nah, those things are too dangerous,” Savoie said.
THE CHAMP STILL DIGGING - John Force entered the weekend just 13 points shy of the points lead.
With four races left in the season, a seventeenth Funny Car title isn’t out of reach for Force.
“It’s exciting to drive a car that’s this good,” Force said. “I have to give credit to my crew chiefs, Brian Corradi and Danny Hood, Tim Fabrisi, and all these young kids. They’ve given me one of the best cars out here.
“We left St. Louis second in the points standings behind Robert, and we’ll see what we got, see what happens.”
At zMAX Dragway, a track on which he won the inaugural Four-Wide Nationals in 2010 and the fall event in 2016, has finished runner-up three times, twice at the spring event and once in the fall, and was the No. 1 qualifier at the spring race in 2011. At last year’s Carolina Nationals Force started race day from the No. 8 position and took his PEAK Chevy to the semifinals.
“We’re going to fight the fight this weekend,” Force said. “I’ve won here a couple of times, so I’d like to get PEAK and all our sponsors back in the winner’s circle.
“We’re halfway in the Countdown so this race and everyone after is going to be important. They’re all important.”
BO KNOWS SUPER GAS WELL - Past Pro Stock champion Bo Butner loves the challenge of drag racing; so much so, in the week leading into the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, he purchased a complete Super Gas operation.
Months later, the decision to purchase a Super Gas car is essential to Butner, as he is in contention for the series championship.
“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” Butner explained. “I actually had it pointed to me last week to lose a very close race first round, as I have no races to make up. They take your best five and your best three nationals and so I’ve got one more claim to do in Vegas. I got Dallas, Vegas, Vegas, Pomona, so I need to pretty much win one, and we’re right there in the race. So it’s cool. I’ve got four races left.”
Being in the running for a title is clearly something Butner never envisioned in the early going.
“I win Sonoma. I go to Seattle and lose second round, go to Brainerd get to the final. I go to my first points meet in Bowling Green with Randi, and she said, ‘We’re going to chase the world.”
“I said, ‘I tell you what, if I can make it to the final here, I’ll do it.”
“Of course, I made it to the final. So we’ve had some good luck with it. Go to another points meet and get in the semis. She’s actually running for the world championship; I’m just driving the car. That’s what we’re telling everybody because we love our sportsmen stuff. But no, I would have no clue and tell you, “I never ran Super Gas in my life until that first race.”
“It’d be cool.”
HIGHT IS SECOND - Robert Hight drove to the provisional No. 2 qualifying spot Friday night.
The points leader and regular-season champion, Hight, opened the first day of qualifying with a clean 3.945-second pass at 327.51 mph to be third quickest of the group and pick up one bonus point. In the night session, with headers ablaze, Hight continued the momentum powering his way to a solid 3.878-second pass at 334.07 mph to end the day in the No. 2 spot.
“We ran good today,” Hight said. “Had a .94 in Q1 and I knew coming into the night session we’d put up a competitive number, and we did, ran a .87, and this Auto Club Chevy is now second. I’m hoping we can get in two solid passes tomorrow and gather some good information for race day.
“You know, every pass really counts from here on out. We’re in the Countdown, and you have to put on your best effort out there. I’m proud of my guys for all their hard work, and we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”
OUTSIDE OF HIS ELEMENT - If you’ve got a racecar, you might as well race it. At that’s how Matt Smith sees it.
Smith, whose forte is winning championships while on two-wheels, is racing Super Comp this weekend with a dragster he’s farmed out over the last year or so.
“It’s different,” Smith. It’s fun. I’ve owned it for two years, and I’ve only raced in Darlington with it. A little money race down there when I first got it but been letting, and Sadie [Glenn] drive it the last year and a half, and I just decided I wanted to do it.”
Ever the competitor, Smith was able to secure a bit of folding money to whet his appetite for sportsman drag racing.
“I did win a little bit of money, but not the big money. I wanted to win the $50,000 race, but I did it down to four cars on Wednesday, and then I lost first round the rest of the time,” Smith explained. “It’s just tough. That’s a tough deal. Those sportsman racers are pretty tough. That’s how they make a living, some of the guys. That’s a different deal. I just got to get used to the blocks.”
On Friday, Smith was too quick, but a respectable pass has him confident for Saturday’s first round.
“I went up there today the second run I went 8.888, so I’m right there with where we need to be for the 8.90 class,” Smith said. “I just got to take some delay out. I got too much delay in the box for the pro tree, and I was .50 both times. So we’ll get it right for tomorrow morning, and hopefully, I’ll win the first round.”
CHAMPIONSHIP WATCH - There are several scenarios where Stevie “Fast” Jackson can clinch his first NHRA Pro Modified title, but for the driver of the Bahrain1 Racing Camaro, only one will work for him. A third win this season would seal the deal.
Jackson has had an incredible season winning twice and advancing to six final rounds as he leads Todd Tutterow and defending world champ Mike Janis by 156 and 167 points.
“My goal is just to crush everybody, and the championship will take care of itself,” said Jackson, who has seven wins and 13 final rounds in just 35 NHRA Pro Mod races. “There’s about 40 different scenarios, but I feel more pressure just wanting to win this race. We’ve struggled at this race, so it’s one I really want to win. Every race is nerve-wracking because I want to win. There’s no more or less pressure because of the championship.”
Jackson’s wins came in Houston and Topeka, where he produced the quickest run in Pro Mod history (5.643-seconds) and an impressive display of consistency in a variety of conditions. For that, Jackson praised a team led by tuner Billy Stocklin.
“The car and the people on this team are in a better place than we’ve ever been,” Jackson said. “Everyone has been doing a great job, and we’re in sync as a team. St. Louis was a great race for us, and we beat (Janis) and (Tutterow). That’s what you like, trying to take out those guys yourself. But we’ve still got work to do. We’re not done yet; I don’t care how big of a points lead we have.”
For Jackson, it would be fitting if he could clinch the title in Charlotte where in 2018, he was the runner-up at the four-wide race and then crashed.
“The beginning of this run started here when we crashed in 2018,” Jackson said. “We had to take some steps back and learn some stuff. After that adversity, we got really serious about trying to win this championship, and we haven’t stopped swinging. It’s been a lot of work, but this is the most successful year we’ve had. Everybody is good at winning, but you find out who you are when you’re losing and trenched in misery. You have to go through that to appreciate winning.”