2019 NHRA FALLNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
BILLY TORRENCE KEEPS RISING IN TOP FUEL AS CLASS HAS TONS OF SURPRISES AT DALLAS - Billy Torrence might have broken Jordan Vandergriff’s heart for a few minutes Sunday with his Top Fuel victory in the NHRA AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.
But he might be breaking the spirit – or at least maybe breaking the habits – of fulltime racers who always struggle through 18 regular-season races and sometimes don’t make the Countdown to the Championship.
Torrence denied rookie Vandergriff his first victory in only his 10th race by overcoming his massively-slow 0.319-second reaction time at the starting line and running down the traction-troubled first-time finalist.
In a showdown between the class’ two most intriguing part-time racers, Torrence won with a 3.775-second elapsed time at 319.67 mph in the Capco Contractors Dragster. On the 1,000-foot course at Ennis, Texas, south of Dallas. Vandergriff, driving the D-A Lubricants Dragster, responded with a 4.299, 246.03.
Steve Torrence – Billy Torrence’s son, reigning champion, and points leader – lost in a first-round stunner. It was his second Round 1 exit in four Countdown races. But he’s still at the top of the standings.
As the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series moves to Las Vegas for the Oct. 31-Nov. 3 Dodge Nationals, Steve Torrence has a 33-point edge over No. 2-ranked Doug Kalitta – who also lost Sunday in the opening round of eliminations and 46 points over No. 3 Brittany Force, Dallas’ top qualifier. Steve Torrence has led the standings after 49 of the past 58 races.
The elder Torrence’s fourth victory of the season in six final-round appearances is particularly remarkable, considering he has raced in only 14 of the 22 events completed so far this season – only 10 of the first 18 that determine the Countdown field. His is a strategy that is sure to cause other nitro-class racers in the future to enter enough selected races to qualify for the 10-car Countdown to the Championship field in an effort to mitigate the escalating costs of drag racing.
“I don’t know what they may do. We’ve had a stellar season . . . and it’s difficult to achieve that. It’s just a tough go. But there may be some guys that are out there that this would influence, seeing the success we’ve had. A few guys sitting on the couch may say, ‘Hey, that old guy can do that – I think I can come out and race.’ And I do hope it has a positive effect and continue to grow the sport. We race so many races, and it’s so grueling. I don’t make all of ’em. We’re a family race team. And Steve has to be at work Monday morning at six o’clock, no matter what. It’s just tough. So it may very well enlighten some people to get out here and do what we’ve done.”
Billy Torrence improved from sixth place to fourth and is just 71 points out of the lead. So he has a legitimate chance to earn the championship.
“Well, we’re just going to go out there and hopefully do a little better job than we did this weekend on the one hit (I did pretty good the rest of the time),” he said modestly. “We’ll go out there and race and be a support team for Steve and he for me. And we’ll just do the best job we can. That’s what we’ll be doing.”
Torrence explained his mistake at the starting line that almost gave Vandergriff the victory he was hoping would sway voters for the Auto Club of Southern California-sponsored top-rookie award.
“It was a very unusual deal,” Torrence said. “I was going to deep stage to get a little better light, and it threw my concentration off. I was sitting there long enough to see the other guy leave (but) we caught him pretty quick. He got in trouble about 300 feet (and) even though we didn’t have the best driver in the final, we did have the best car.”
“It looks like it’s going to come down to the Finals,” Steve Torrence said after losing to Shawn Reed. “No excuses. We had a little mechanical issue [in the first round], but it went out and ran 3.73 and got we just got beat. Dad ran 3.73 in the same round and won [against Terry McMillen].
“We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot when they pull up beside us,” the younger Torrence said, “and we wouldn’t want it any other way. We know we’ve got a good hot rod going to Las Vegas. So we’ll just buckle up and get after it again.”
Steve Torrence’s intensity is well-known, and his dad indicated isn’t so sure winning a championship would bring lots of benefits and satisfaction and joy to him. He didn’t seem to look forward to a scenario in which he aces out his son and robs him of a second straight title.
“Oh, my Lord . . .” Dad said, imagining the prospect. “Steve always is a little better than I am at the tree, because he’s about 25 years younger. And he’s a little better driver. They seem to have a little performance advantage on me. I’ve been able to beat him a couple of times with treachery and that kind of deal. He’s difficult to deal with. I probably couldn’t beat Steve often.”
He said winning the championship might result in dire consequences.
“I would probably have to move from my home,” he said.
Alluding to the fact that his wife – a/k/a Mama Kay – owns and manages the race team, Torrence said, “You know how these moms are with these sons. That’d go bad.”
So far it’s all going really well. Tomorrow morning the family will pile in Billy’s pick-up truck and head over to El Charro Mexican restaurant at Tyler, Texas, around 11:15. It’s where they always go for the lunch the day after a victory.
The restaurant knows to expect them, especially lately. The Torrence tandem has won 25 of the past 46 races, throughout 2018 and 2019.
“That’s a testimony to the great team Kay has put together. These guys are dedicated. It’s humbling to be part of it,” Billy Torrence said.
So Steve will pick up the tab. Then they’ll go back to laying pipe and working until the longhorns come home. And the back-and-forth banter will continue until they go to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Billy once again has to worry about whether he’ll be too good for his own good and have to look for an apartment when he goes back home to Kilgore. Susan Wade
MATT HAGAN PUTS HIMSELF IN FUNNY CAR TITLE MIX WITH DALLAS WIN - Don’t sleep on NHRA Mello Yello Series nitro Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.
The two-time world champion put himself squarely in the 2019 world championship mix by winning the FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex Sunday near Dallas.
Hagan clocked a 3.909-second elapsed time at 327.59 mph to edge Bob Tasca III’s 3.928-second lap at 323.12 mph in the finals.
“We had a great race car,” Hagan said. “Qualifying was a little tough, we couldn’t get down the right lane. We were really trying to keep lane choice all day and Dickie (Venables, Hagan’s crew chief) ran really well and we were able to stay in that left lane all day. There’s a pretty bad bump out there kind of where our clutch comes in and just upsets our car for some reason. To be able to turn on four wins lights was huge. Epping (N.H.) was the last time we did it (July 7). I was really wanting to dig deep. Bob is a great driver and I knew he would be pushing pretty hard. I left on him last race and then did again this weekend, so I’m sure he’s going to be gunning for me on the tree next time.”
Hagan, who won NHRA nitro Funny Car world titles in 2011 and 2014, captured his 32nd career win and third this season. He also had victories in Phoenix, Ariz., and Epping, N.H. This was his third win in Dallas as he also collected Wallys at the Texas Motorplex in 2010 and 2016.
“I’m just glad things turned out the way they did,” Hagan said. “I’ve always done well here and we’re just trying to keep the momentum going.”
More importantly, Hagan moved up three spots in the season points standings to fourth place. He’s 112 points behind leader Robert Hight.
There are two races left in the Countdown to the Championship – Las Vegas (Oct. 31-Nov. 3) and at the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 14-17). In Pomona, the points-and-a-half system will be in play allowing drivers to make up more ground.
“I don’t know about the championship stuff, we can hope and dream, but we have to go out there and just keep doing our job, and control what we can control and let the rest fall into place,” Hagan said. “We just have to keep doing what we are doing. There’s not a race you take lightly. To put it in perspective, each one of these races cost our sponsors about $150,000. That’s someone’s small or large home somewhere. I don’t take any of it lightly. You have to do well to be on TV and get exposure and you have to do all the things behind the scenes as well to make it work. I don’t take any race lightly whether it is in the Countdown or the regular season.”
Hagan’s victory parade consisted of wins over Blake Alexander, reigning world champ J.R. Todd, points leader Robert Hight and then Tasca III. Hagan’s Funny Car was like a bracket car – running 3.90s all day in a variety of track conditions.
“Once Dickie (Venables) starts building confidence, he becomes deadly,” Hagan said. “When he gets his feet underneath him and the parts and pieces are working how they are supposed to he’s as deadly as anybody out here. I would put him up against anybody. That builds confidence in me and builds confidence in our team. He told me in the semis, after the run that he finally got it. I was like we waited to the finals to finally get it. You could definitely see his confidence.”
Knocking out Hight wasn’t lost on Hagan.
“Hight always has a good car and he knocked himself off when he went red,” Hagan said. “It’s a long tree. I was going, ‘Go, go go.’ It’s just discipline up there. Your foot says go and the light says no. That’s drag racing. Hight has a great car over there. I used to work side-by-side with Jimmy (Prock, Hight’s crew chief) and they have a great combo and are a tough car to get around. At the end of the day, when it is your day, it is your day and today was our day. I’m going to stay focused on what we are doing. We are going to come out and make the best of it.”
Hagan was driving the Western Technical College/MOPAR CAP Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody for Don Schumacher Racing this weekend. He has 32 round wins this season.
“What’s really cool is we have a new sponsor in Western Tech and what’s really cool is we have three or four guys off their race team who have been through their deal,” Hagan said. “To see that come full circle, it was a pretty special weekend. The points and the standings and all that kind of stuff, it is what it is. We have to just digging and keep working. We have a lot of major sponsors to impress and to keep going and sign them back up and keep going in this NHRA drag racing. I love this sport and it has been part of my life for 10 years.” Tracy Renck
GREG ANDERSON GETS MUCH-NEEDED PRO STOCK VICTORY IN DALLAS - Greg Anderson is not giving up the Pro Stock world championship fight.
Anderson, who struggled in qualifying, bounced back with a victory Sunday at the NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex Friday near Dallas Sunday.
Anderson clocked a 6.609-second elapsed time in 209.75 mph to edge Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s 6.610-second lap at 207.56 mph.
“Jeg and I have had so many titanic clashes that mean so much with so much on the line and I knew it would be close,” Anderson said. “My car made a better run (than his) and it was a total team effort. Sometimes the driver gets the job done, sometimes the car gets the job done and we had both today and that’s what it takes to win a national event in Pro Stock right now. You have to have perfection every time out there.”
Anderson arrived in town eighth in the points in the NHRA Mello Yello Series moved up to seventh place – 99 points behind leader Erica Enders. Anderson has won four NHRA Pro Stock world championships 2003-05 and 2010.
This was Anderson’s 94th career NHRA national event victory. He is second on NHRA’s all-time Pro Stock victory list, behind only Warren Johnson’s 97 wins.
Anderson qualified No. 10 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro at 6.568 seconds for Ken Black, but mowed down his teammate Jason Line, points leader Erica Enders, Deric Kramer and then Coughlin.
“I will start with first round and my matchup with my teammate Jason Line,” Anderson said. “He certainly had what we consider the best Hot Rod of the KB fleet for the last half dozen races and we think has the best chance to find a championship this year. It’s almost a no-win situation. If I lose again it is depressing because I keep losing in the first round in the Countdown and if I win, I knock his chances of a winning a championship seriously in the butt. You have to race and every time we race, we lock horns. We go 100 percent and whoever wins, wins. Luckily, I got the w,in.
Erica Enders you just have to be perfect against her. She does a great job of driving the race car. She’s had the fastest Hot Rod for the last several weeks. She’s the favorite right now and to knock her out was absolutely huge. That saved a lot of guys' bacon who are in the points championship. I made a lot of friends with that one, outside the Elite camp. Deric Kramer had a great, great race car and there’s no margin for error there either. Thank my lucky stars I came up with another (win). The car made a great run.”
This was Anderson’s third win of the season. He also claimed victories in Denver and Sonoma, Calif. He was coming off a first-round, holeshot loss to Aaron Stanfield Oct. 14 at the last race in Charlotte, N.C.
“After Charlotte, I was a realist, and I was 150 points back and my car was not performing anywhere near like Jason's, or Erica's or Jegs'. The list goes on and on. I don’t quit. I don’t ever give up. I keep trying and I keep digging and we made a lot of changes this week to give it one last shot and we hit on it. All of sudden, my red Summit Chevy is fast just like our other team cars are and it has a chance. I knew coming into (Sunday) I had a race car that has a chance to go for the title. Now, it is just a question of if I can drive the car well enough. The good Lord put his hand on my shoulder today and he let that clutch go at the right time every time.”
There are two races left in the Countdown to the Championship – Las Vegas (Oct. 31-Nov. 3) and at the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 14-17). In Pomona, the points-and-a-half system will be in play allowing drivers to make up more ground.
“(The competition-level) is not just intense, but it is so deep, there are so many of them,” Anderson said. “There are legitimately 10 cars any race in the Countdown that can contend for the title. The class has never been that deep on talent. I have no idea who is going to win this thing. I can’t tell you who is the favorite and who is going to win this thing because everybody right now can beat everybody else and that’s different than it has been in years past.” Tracy Renck
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE WINNER SAVOIE: THIS ONE’S FOR YOU, NEIL ARABIE! - Neil Arabie would have been proud.
Oh, he would be wanting to hear all about how his buddy Jerry Savoie won the NHRA’s AAA Texas FallNationals Pro Stock Motorcycle trophy Sunday near Dallas.
And he’d love all the juicy details.
First, he’d tease Jerry for cutting an awful .140 light on the Christmas tree.
And Jerry would tell him, “I had a .140 light. Good thing Jianna didn’t put down a good one, because I could have been in big trouble. But I knew going in I wanted to take it easy.”
Then Neil would love the story about how Jerry wound up running his own teammate, Karen Stoffer. He’d get a kick out of hearing what his buddy might have gone through, hating to beat the No. 2-ranked racer in the class and spoil her high hopes for a first championship. But he would appreciate Jerry’s honesty and the way he didn’t manipulate the system by taking a dive.
He’d be reassured when he heard Jerry’s explanation: “Yeah, well, you always think that your partner can maybe help you. But we don't race like that. I know she was No. 2. If I was No. 2, I wouldn't expect her to give it to me. And you know, fans say certain things that they believe what they want to believe in their own minds, but the bottom line is we race and I want a championship just as bad as anybody else. So whoever gets in my way I'm going to do what I can to beat them.”
Neil would guffaw about that. And then he’d pull his chair in a little closer to hear how Jerry beat the Harley-Davidsons. Those are the badasses of the class, and Jerry knocked them off, one by one.
But Jerry wouldn’t brag. He would quietly say he “absolutely” thinks he has a chance to catch points leader and Pro Stock Motorcycle dominator Andrew Hines in the course of the next two races, at Las Vegas in two weeks and at Pomona, Calif., two weeks after that.
Jerry would tell Neil, “Those guys are struggling. If you look at the times they ran today, they’re struggling. And I feel for them. But we're not the ones to help them – even though they do build our engines. They do build our engines, and it's great that these people are building your engines and you can actually outrun them. So they'll find it in Pomona – because they always do. So it's going to be a fight to the finish. We run good in Vegas. We've always run good in Vegas. I've been in the finals a few times. I've won Vegas, and it's just great. It's the atmosphere. It kind of calms your nerves. I don't gamble so it's a good race.”
Oh, but Neil would say, “You beat two Harley-Davidsons on your White Alligator Suzuki! You beat Eddie Karawiec, and he was making his 10th final round and overdue for a victory. You showed ’em all, showed everybody a Suzuki can keep up with the Street Rods. And you were in your fifth final in a row at Texas Motorplex.”
Jerry would say simply, “It was a great day. We knew we had a good bike coming in. Last two races we had a good bike and some misfortunes and didn't win. But we said if we hold our composure and come out here this weekend that we can win this thing. It's funny how if you look back on all the notes and all the tracks and all the races that everybody wins. Andrew in Charlotte, he’s pretty much unstoppable. We get in there once in a while and get one from him, but for the most part, tracks favor certain riders. And we've been blessed over here. I don't know if it's because I feel at home. I had my motorhome here. I get a better night's sleep. A lot of that has to do with it. But for the most part it's a great place and today was a great day.”
It was nearly perfect, although this conversation never could have happened. The facts are there. But Neil Arabie isn’t. He lost his fight against cancer. And Jerry Savoie dedicated his victory to Neil Arabie.
In an emotional moment at the top end of the racetrack after his .004 reaction time led to a winning 6.881-second elapsed time at 195.90 mph (against Krawiec’s 6.901, 195.62), Savoie explained:
“A friend of mine, Neil Arabie, has been fighting cancer for about five or six years. He was always commenting where we would race and when and whatnot and go get him. He's a friend of the family. We were all raised together pretty much and he was a great guy. Self-employed, had his own business and he lost his fight about two weeks ago. Great guy. And I'm going to order an extra trophy and bring it to his family. He loved drag racing, and he was always watching and so I know he's watching today.”
After all, Neil Arabie knew Savoie beat Krawiec in 2015, lost to him in 2016 and 2017, and beat him Sunday.
“To me this win gives you more hope. I mean, we were struggling and we knew Andrew had to go out and it kind of gives you that window of opportunity where you could win a championship again. We have a good motorcycle, and it means a lot,” Savoie said.
“A couple people called after one of the interviews and talking about am I sick. They ask my brother if I'm OK, because I'm always talking like ‘Hey, you never know when it’s your last one.’ When you're 60 years old and you're thinking about retiring, you never know when it's going to be your last race. You never know. So every win for me is heartfelt,” he said. “Last year, I won one race. So when's the next win going to come? We went through Gainesville. We went to Atlanta. I went to the finals in Atlanta. It's like you keep coming up short. So when's it going to be? I'm not going to be out here forever. So I want my last one to be special. So this might be it.”
And the eyes of Texas were upon him. And so, he’s pretty sure, were the eyes of Neil Arabie. Susan Wade
VANDERGRIFF GAINING KNOWLEDGE, CONFIDENCE; DRIVERS ALREADY CALCULATING POINTS AND HALF; HIGHT EYES THIRD STRAIGHT DALLAS VICTORY
VANDERGRIFF SETTLING INTO HIS OWN NORMAL – Rookie Top Fueler Jordan Vandergriff said “the biggest thing about my season, tell you the truth” – meaning the hardest thing – is not racing every event on the schedule. He understands why his team isn’t a fulltime team. He knows the business side. But he’s like every other racer – he got a taste of competing in a race car and can’t get enough. Still, his situation comes with its own quirks.
“It's a lot harder to find the routine that it is for most people out here, because they're out here every race. So when I get here, it's almost like I have to remember it all again try to get my routine down,” Vandergriff said. “Like these guys were just in Charlotte last weekend and on Monday. They ran on Monday. So it's been four or five days since they ran. So they're already in the thick of things. They come in. They hop in. Me, it's been three or four weeks since I ran. So for me, it's like I got to remember what it feels like - I got to remember all the steps. Like even doing the warm-up this morning before Q1, I sat in the car. I was going through the procedures in my head, just making sure I got it down. I did OK, but it is a struggle. It's not preferred. Obviously, I’d like to be out here more. That takes money. That takes time and people. So hopefully next year it'll be different.”
He knows that he’s building up experience, even if in smaller increments than others are.
“By the end of year, it's going to be 12 [races]. I think this is 10 or 11 and then Pomona hopefully will be 12. It's better than nothing, and that's a good point, because I know that I'd rather be out here part-time than not at all. So I'll take what I can get. I'm happy to be here. I'm happy every time I show up. It's hard watching on NHRA.tv. But it is what it is for me right now, and it's my rookie year,” he said. I have a lot of years left. So if my first year is like this, hopefully in the future it's not, so I'll take it. I definitely am happy with where I'm at.”
Vandergriff has been nominated for the Auto Club of Southern California’s Road to the Future Award that recognizes the sport’s top professional across all four classes. Joining him on the prestigious list are brothers Fernando Cuadra and Cristian Cuadra (Pro Stock); Cameron Ferré, Lex Joon, and Austin Prock (Top Fuel); and Joanna Salinas (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
His pitch for votes went like this: “We won a lot of rounds (eight in nine appearances). We've been to some semifinals (three), and I'm pretty good on the tree (.0637 average in 50 runs).”
He playfully compared himself to on-track rival Austin Prock: “Don't let that kid fool you. He's pretty good, but I'm pretty good, too, if you look at the numbers.”
Actually, Vandergriff is No. 5 in Top Fuel in the latest Power Rankings from National Dragster. That’s a comparison based on a handful of pertinent criteria.
But Vandergriff had more ammo to fire: “I think we have a good chance to win a couple races to the end of the year still. We could win Dallas, and we can win Pomona. If I come out of it with two wins, I don't think you can not give it to me. And he's not going to win. So it'll be good. It'll be good. That's my case. I got to beat him.”
So far, Prock is 2-0 against Vandergriff. And Vandergriff is fully aware that Prock is far more familiar to members of the voting panel than he is. He gets it that Prock is the strong favorite, despite his own stout showing in fewer chances to perform.
“I know. Yeah, and it's fine. I understand where I'm at right now,” he said. “So if we were to face each other, I know what I have to do. You got to remember, I have to go out there and beat guys like Steve Torrence and guys like Doug Kalitta who are in the thick of it. They’re like [ranked] one and two, so they're not going to take it easy on anybody. So I got to be more scared of those guys. But it's fun when I'm racing against Doug Kalitta – like, when I made my debut and I beat him in the second round, that was when I really took a step back. When I won the first round against Brittany [Force], I didn't really think anything of it and then when I won the second round against Doug, I got back [to the pits] and I was changing [clothes] and I sat there for a second and I was like, “I really just beat Doug Kalitta.” That's crazy. It's wild.”
He clarified that he said that not because he didn’t respect Force but because they’re more the same age and Kalitta is somebody he grew up watching and admired as a youngster.
“It was my first round of competition, so it was just like I went out there and I was like, ‘Oh, I won. I won first round.’ It didn't matter who I was against if I won. I was happy I won. And then the second round I was like, ‘Wait, I just won the second round and it was Doug Kalitta.’ Then it started hitting me bigger. It started sinking in. I will always remember that day, that's for sure.”
By midseason, he said he still is receiving sound advice – and reassuring advice – from his uncle Bob Vandergriff, the team owner.
“He’s just been more of like the steadying influence. Every run, if something different happens, I'll go straight to him and tell him exactly what I felt. And he'll just be like, ‘Yep, that'll happen’ or ‘You got to do this’, stuff like that. For instance, one time the car washed out. At the hit it washed out and I got out of it. All of a sudden, I was looking at the wall. He said, ‘Nah, it'll do that. Just stick with it.’ So a few races down the road it washed out again, and I just turned the wheel and I turned it back in and I got down the track. The first thing was I got out and got back to the pit I go, ‘Hey, it washed out again. I stayed in.’ And he said, ‘That’s exactly what you got to do.’”
Now all he has to do is go out and win. His next test will come Sunday in Round 1 Clay Millican.
POINTS-AND-HALF FORMAT ON DRIVERS’ MINDS – This AAA Texas FallNationals is awarding points per usual. Same for the Dodge Nationals in two weeks at Las Vegas. But after Top Fuel’s Steve Torrence and Funny Car’s Robert Hight won this past Monday in rain-delayed finals at Charlotte, their minds turned to the points-and-a-half system that will be in play in next month’s season finale at Pomona, Calif.
With three Countdown to the Championship races remaining completion, Torrence’s and Hight’s attention skipped to the NHRA Finals. Each knew the manipulated points system could mess up his strategy and concentration. And so did all the other racers. For some it’ll be a problem. For others, it’ll be an epic opportunity.
Torrence said his focus on points was “peripheral,” that “you have to keep up. You know what you have to do. You have to go rounds. You have to win races.” And the Capco Dragster driver said, “That points-and-a-half deal at Pomona is definitely a cog in the wheel. It’s going to make everybody go there with a little anxiety.
Hight said, “Anything can happen with points and a half. The Funny Car class is so tight from top to bottom. Anybody can win.”
Both said they figured they would need to win two of the three remaining events to secure the championship. It would be the second straight for Torrence and third overall for Hight, who stormed from 10th place to earn his first title in 2009 and added a second in 2017.
“I think we need to win two more races to be pretty solid and have an opportunity to win this championship again,” Torrence, who openly dislikes the Countdown and points-scheming system, said. We’ll just do the best that we can do. 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’re only as good as your last run.”
Hight, buoyed by the fact his Charlotte victory in the Auto Club Chevy Camaro was his career-best sixth this season, said, “I’ve never won six races [in a single season] in my life – this is the most I’ve ever won. But I feel that I’m going to have to win eight to be the champ. We’re up for it.
He said of his seasoned team, “The whole team, this is 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. We didn’t get it done last year, went down to the final day.” Some members of his team have been with him since his 2009 championship, want to atone for allowing JR Todd to capture his first title last November.
Torrence, for whom the Dallas race – at the Texas Motorplex at Ennis, south of Dallas – is a “home-track” affair, said, “It’s a good time to have the momentum.”
Doug Kalitta isn’t conceding anything. Kalitta led the standings by just two points heading into the Charlotte race. But he lost to Kalitta in the final at Charlotte and gave Torrence the personal edge in the rubber match of their 33 head-to-head meetings. So Kalitta found himself 30 points behind the Kilgore, Texas, native at the start of this event.
However, four-time series runner-up Kalitta isn’t fazed by it. He, too, indicated he’s thinking about the points-and-a-half opportunity that could be Torrence’s liability.
“That was a big final round,” the Michigan-based driver said of the zMAX Dragway final. “We knew we had to be aggressive, and we just overshot it a little. I am very happy with how this Mac Tools Dragster ran today and has been running the last four races. Three final rounds and a semifinal over four races is pretty good. There are three races left, and we are only back 30 points. That would be one round in Pomona with double points.”
For Hight, the objective is to do what he did Monday at Charlotte – extend the points lead he regained at St. Louis. “That’s what we’ve got to keep doing at every race,” he said.
Hight started the Charlotte race with a 13-point advantage over No. 2 John Force and a 24-point cushion over Jack Beckman, who left the starting line too early against Hight in the final round Monday (in his first red light in a final in more than a decade). And Ron Capps was fourth, 44 points off the pace. Following his triumph at Charlotte, Hight has a 44-point lead over Beckman – and Beckman is second in points. So Hight is increasing the gap.
Force is third, Capps remains fourth, and Bob Tasca III gained a position to round out the top five in the Funny Car category.
“I’m not where I want to be in points. I’m in third and I was in second,” Force, who qualified first Friday, said. “I lost a few points, but I’m 79 from the lead and there’s points and a half at Pomona next month.” So everyone, not just the leaders, is trying to figure how to use the points-and-a-half bonus, either to get what they want or to stay out of trouble.
Certainly, Torrence and Hight aren’t overlooking the Dallas and Las Vegas races, by any means. But not everyone is looking ahead to Pomona and the points and a half. Leah Pritchett wanted – in her words – her “vengeance” here, and she is getting some measure of it with a strong qualifying performance. And in Funny Car, Beckman said he’s coming after Hight at Dallas: “That final-round loss is bitterly disappointing. As a driver, you have to keep your head in that zone where you perform your best, and I just lapsed in the final round. I’m not sure how that race would have unfolded had we both been green, but we can’t afford to give those away. We gained points on every car this weekend except the one we most needed to gain points on, and that was due to a driver error. So, I’m going to shake it off. I’ve got four days to get my head straight. I’m going to come back in Dallas, and there’s going to be a lot of big smiles on this team, because we’re going to put this thing in the winners circle there.”
GATOR DONE! – Terry McMillen is seeking his first victory since the 2018 U.S. Nationals or at the least his first final round since this race a year ago. And in a personalized twist on the phrase popular in NASCAR country, Amalie Oil ExtermiGator Dragster said he’s ready this weekend to “GatorDone!”
And he has a shot at it as much as any of his Countdown-qualified colleagues, especially now that crew chief Rob Wendland has a better idea of what the car has been doing and how to adapt to the NHRA’s track prep that changed mid-summer.
“We were forced into doing some things because we know next year some of the things that we're implementing are going to be rules that we’ve kind of held off on. One is putting the MSP grid on. I wanted to learn it before we got into next year, and I did that. It's kind of been a little bit of a headache, but I can also see where maybe it's a little better, as far as keeping the timing and stuff right,” Wendland said.
“But there's other things in the bellhousing I'm doing that I've been wanting to do. You can't get it too far away from what you know. You have to try things, because you’ll get stuck in this hole that you can't climb out of. If you do climb out, you might fall off the edge. You don't know what's up there. So you got to stick with the interior that you know,” he said. “That part of it is not good on a tuner, because you don't want to get out of that circle.”
Even if he had an ideal budget and plenty of parts and other resources, and even if he could afford to swing for the fences on every run, he has to deal with track conditions. It sets back a program at least a little when the track-prep formula or method changes.
“The track prep changed. Come Sonoma, track prep changed. They slowed the sprayer down, and it caught me off-guard a couple times and I showed up to a gunfight with a butter knife,” Wendland said. “I shook this car so hard in Sonoma and Seattle that it threw the coupler out of it. So that disconnects the engine from the rear end. It tried throwing the motor out of the damn frame rails the whole nine yards and it’s because I didn't have enough stuff. That's all there was, because track prep changed. With that being said, we don't have a full-time guy out there reading the track and all this stuff. I run up five minutes before we run, go out there and try and make a decision to what I see. So that kind of caught us off guard a little bit. So we had to catch up with that. Come Indy we made it down track every run basically”
It didn’t help him.
“It didn’t,” Wendland said.
“It qualified good. When we ran Steve [Torrence], it went down the track fast. He ran faster. It's just like oh…kay. It’s one thing about making it down the track all the time but another thing about qualifying good. That's a lot of it, because it seems like if you can get past first round, your chances go way up. Like a hundred percent. Would you rather run a car that runs half a tenth faster than you or half a tenth slower in general?”
BOOM – Cory McClenathan had a major engine explosion in his Liquid MPG Dragster at about the 300-foot mark on the 1,000-foot course in the third overall (first Saturday) session. That cost him a chance to break into the field, making him the lone unqualified entrant. He was unable to return for his final qualifying chance. So he took the failure to qualify. He’ll race at Las Vegas and Pomona, then he has said he’ll retire from driving.
WILKERSON HOPES TO GAIN SOME GROUND – Tim Wilkerson got off to a No. 13 start Friday and stayed there through the third overall session. He had been hoping to get a little bit of help from quasi-teammate Blake Alexander, as Alexander’s crew chief is Daniel Wilkerson, Tim’s son. But that didn’t happen too much. Alexander’s car backfired on the burnout in the first qualifying session Friday, and the crew pushed the car off the track. Then the Pronto-sponsored part-time participant had an engine explosion in the first Saturday session.
Alexander called the Saturday incident and the clean-up down-time “unfortunate” and apologized to the fans for “slowing down the program.” He said he would keep plugging away and hoped to return for the final session and secure a spot in the field. He had started the day in 11th place.
Tim Wilkerson – the owner, tuner, and driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang – wasn’t in trouble without a computer screen full of performance data. Coming into the event, he said, “I was pretty happy leaving Charlotte, because our car is performing well. Knock on wood, it seems to be running OK now, and that helps my confidence level. I feel like we're back on track with our race car.
Wilkerson knows how Alexander feels. He said, "I just want to give a heads-up to all of our LRS fans out there: After we blew up one of our LRS 40 Years Funny Car bodies in St. Louis and then had some trouble and ran into a timing block in Charlotte, we're down to just one with the cool LRS 40 Years graphics on the black paint. We're going to work real hard not to let anything happen to it, and we should have another backup coming soon. But we're down to just one spare right now, and it's the old body with blue paint."
He said his son and Alexander are “doing their own thing and doing well” with their Pronto Mustang. “They're going to be an asset, not a distraction. And with any luck, hopefully we can share some data. We're pretty excited about that, too," he said.
Cheering on Wilkerson this weekend is Midland, Texas, resident Chad Green, the Pro Mod racer who was hospitalized at Indianapolis in September for injuries incurred in a wall-banging qualifying accident at the U.S. Nationals.
“I’m doing really good, and I’ve got a long way to go to recover,” Green said. “I’m back at the track and I feel like I’m back among friends.”
IT’S OCTOBLER AGAIN – NAPA Dodge Charger driver Ron Capps rather likes the term “OcTobler” – his tribute to crew chief Rahn Tobler and Tobler’s tendency to tune the Funny Car to dominating performances during this month. And maybe if he says “OcTobler” enough, that’ll happen. It was working pretty well Friday, for Capps was fourth in the provisional qualifying order behind John Force, Robert Hight, and JR Todd.
“We have these back-to-back races, and there are times when that’s good: when your car is running well and you have a ton of momentum. And there are times when you need a break. And, right now, this Countdown to the Championship atmosphere doesn’t allow you to take a break. But the good news is every season our NAPA Auto Parts team seems to be in the hunt and vying for the championship. We’re definitely still in it. In Charlotte, we made up some ground on John Force, who is right in front of us in points. Unfortunately, our car dropped a cylinder right at the hit of the throttle in the semis, so that ended our day, but the NAPA AutoCare team is addressing it this week. We’ve got such a great race car [at] Texas Motorplex, which is what I consider one of the original ‘supertracks.’ The Motorplex has an all-concrete surface, and the weather’s good. Once again, we’re ready to dominate this ‘OcTobler’ and see if we can make up some ground on our opponents that are in front of us.”
That amounts to Force, Beckman, and finally Hight, as Capps seeks to register his 65th victory. His only Dallas victory, in 1998, happened at the discontinued spring event. However, he has been a three-time runner-up (2011, 2016-2017).
STATS? WHO CARES? – Neither NHRA Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence nor closest rival Doug Kalitta probably should put a lot of stock into the class’ statistics for the Countdown to the Championship. After all, the saying is that “People use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost – more for support than illumination.” Just the same, the numbers tell an thought-provoking story.
In the previous 11 Countdowns, seven of the “regular-season winners” have finished as the champion.
That’s an encouraging thought for Torrence, who stumbled to third place after the Countdown opener at Reading, Pa. He lost to his own father, Billy Torrence, in the final round at St. Louis but defeated Kalitta at Charlotte to regain the lead.
That 7-in-11 statistic is not an especially reassuring one for Kalitta. Surely when he left Indianapolis, he figured his toughest task would be to stop Torrence, winner of all six Countdown events last season and impressive winner of nine races in 13 final rounds this year. Kalitta also has the unpleasant distinction as the driver to fall the farthest from his No. 1 seeding to the final standings. In 2014, he entered the Countdown as the top driver and finished the season as No. 5. But he has four second-place finishes in final standings, proving he knows how to put up a noble fight. Ditto for Tony Pedregon in Funny Car before he won two titles.
Several active drag-racing champions representing a combined 46 crowns have finished No. 2 on multiple occasions: Greg Anderson (Pro Stock, six times), Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) five times, Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) four times, and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) three times. Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Funny Car’s Jack Beckman, John Force, Matt Hagan, and Robert Hight all have finished as No. 2 twice.
Consider that in Top Fuel, the class’ two most successful drivers – eight-time champion Tony Schumacher and three-timer Larry Dixon – were No. 2 several times: Schumacher on five occasions and Dixon four times.
So which statistical narrative will Kalitta or Torrence follow? Maybe neither will fall into either category.
The one noticeable statistic in this year’s Countdown is that in the first two playoff races, the Top Fuel winners were the Nos. 9- and 10-ranked drivers: Richie Crampton at Reading and Billy Torrence at St. Louis. In Funny Car, the winners were No. 4 Jack Beckman, who hadn’t won a race all season, and No. 10 Shawn Langdon.
Billy Torrence could become the first to win the Top Fuel championship and not attend all the races. He skipped eight of the first 18. But he won two of the 10 “regular-season” races he entered and was runner-up at two more. So that’s a whole new statistical category that could factor into future Countdowns.
Brittany Force, the current No. 3 ranked driver and Friday’s provisional No. 1 qualifier here, won her 2017 Top Fuel championship from the No. 6 position at the start of the chase. That’s the farthest back any driver in her category has come to win a title in the Countdown era.
In the other three pro classes, the numbers are all over the map. Only John Force and Ron Capps have won Funny Car championships as the No. 1 seed, and Matt Hagan has come from as far down the list as six (2011) and seventh (2014) to score titles.
In Pro Stock, five times in 11 years has the top-ranked racer become the champion – but the top driver from the “regular season” has earned the championship in each of the past four years.
The prospects are dimmer statistically for Pro Stock Motorcycle racers. Only three times has the top seed claimed the title (Krawiec twice, in 2011-12, and Hines in 2014).
So at this point, with Countdown Race No. 4 scheduled to be settled Sunday, statistics favor no one.
FORCE SETS MORE GOALS – It’s no secret 151-time Funny Car winner John Force has been wavering back and forth about his future, but he said, “Someday I’ve got to go out that door, but before I do, I’d like to win at the Motorplex and maybe win another championship. He has an excellent chance of doing both. He has qualified No. 1 here, and he had only 79 points to make up to pass current leader Robert Hight in the standings.
Winning here at Dallas – or downstate, at Houston Raceway Park, for that matter – is something Force hasn’t done since he recovered from his 2007 accident at Texas Motorplex. He has reached several milestones, including his first two championships in the Countdown Era, his 150th and 151st victories, and conquered the showcase Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for a fifth time. He has been inducted into both the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
But he hasn’t won here since then. He advanced to the final round in both 2010 and 2013, though.
The 70-year-old team owner and driver wants to revive the era when he ruled here. From 1990 until 2007, Force took a car to the final round 13 times, winning seven times compiling a 59-14 record here. That helped secure him induction into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame at Texas Motor Speedway.
YOUNG McGAHA CLOSER TO TURNING PRO – Mason McGaha has one more race to go after this one before he gets to test his Harlow Sammons Camaro.
“I don’t have my license in Pro Stock yet – key word ‘yet,’” the 17-year-old from Odessa, Texas, said. “We are planning on staying after the Vegas national event and testing my car on Monday. If all goes as planned, I should have my license before Pomona and compete at all the races next season while finishing my senior year of high school.”
The young McGaha, whose dad Chris is a current Pro Stock owner-driver (and Countdown contender) and granddad Lester McGaha has a successful drag-racing history, began his career in a Jr. Dragster.
“I’ve raced a couple of times at my home track but nothing in the NHRA,” he said.
Mason McGaha, who will turn 18 Dec. 27, does warm up his father’s car in their pit at national events. He said he’s “learning the clutch so I can work on my own clutch next season.”
COUGHLIN IN ELITE COMPANY – Jeg Coughlin came to Ennis, Texas, as the No. 6-ranked Pro Stock racer. And with five Pro Stock crowns, the lite Motorsports driver, he’s used to being in the mix and emerging on top. And he’s in trophy-grabbing mode right now.
"With three races to go in the championship chase, we're trying to be as aggressive as possible all the way around,” Coughlin said after claiming the provisional No. 1 starting spot Friday. “My crew chief, Rickie Jones, cooked up a real fast combination for the first session, and the car felt really strong. He reviewed that data and made a few adjustments to get us even quicker, and everything worked out."
He maintained his status through both qualifying sessions to record his second straight top spot in Pro Stock at Texas Motorplex. He’ll meet Richie Stevens in the opening rounds of eliminations Sunday.
Coming into the weekend, he said, “We're five rounds out of the points lead with just 12 rounds left in the season. So we need some things to fall our way to be there in the end. In our case, we're looking to be aggressive from Thursday when we arrive until Sunday when we leave. We want to win four rounds on Sunday. And if we're going to pull this off, then we can't make any mistakes. I have come back from bigger deficits in my career, so it is doable. It's actually going to be a fun challenge for both me and my team."
As an aside, Coughlin is competing with his teammates. Two-time class champion Erica Enders leads the class, Matt Hartford is third, and is just ahead of another teammate, Alex Laughlin, who is seventh overall.
"It's fun to have multiple cars from the Elite Motorsports camp very much involved in the championship hunt. Alex and myself are chasing Matt and of course Erica up there in the points lead. It’s going to be an exciting finish to the season, regardless of the outcome."
Enders will go against Laughlin in the first round Sunday, a match-up as intriguing as the one between multi-time champions and KB/Summit teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line.
Jeg Jr. won the Dallas race in 2002 and was runner-up at this event in 2000, 2003, 2008, and 2018. He led the field last year.
VALUABLE LESSON, FOR FREE – If some of the newer racers in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class picked up on the hints Andrew Hines was giving after his victory at Charlotte – his eighth in 10 finals this season – they might have discovered one reason for his success aboard the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod.
“We’re not coming here dominating these races,” Hines said. “We’re just finding a way to pick at this tune-up all weekend long.
“We look at a lot of different aspects. You start dissecting and trying to find those thousandths [of a second] that you need, what you think you missed . . . piece together every qualifying session and say, ‘What can we pick up at the top of third gear? at the bottom of fourth gear? in the middle of fifth gear?’ You start piecing it all together, and it pays dividends on Sunday.”
Hines will take on Hector Arana Jr. in a first-round match that could shake up the standings.
MOTORPLEX OWNER MEYER HONORED – Among the 2020 inductees into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame announced this week by “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and the Hall of Fame selection committee is Texas Funny Car driver and racetrack developer Billy Meyer who, in his career on the NHRA pro tour, appeared in 22 final rounds and hoisted the trophy 12 times and his IHRA career appeared in 13 final rounds and won 8 trophies. Meyer will share the podium at the March induction ceremonies in Gainesville, Fla., with fellow legends Lee Beard, Roy Hill, Larry Minor and Don Enriquez.
“This is quite an honor for me and everyone that supported me throughout my racing career, especially my wife Deborah,” said Meyer. “I fell in love with drag racing as a teenager and never looked back. Winning Indy (1982) was a career highlight and we chased the NHRA championship a lot of years (finishing second in 1980, 1982 and 1984). Winning the IHRA championship (1980) and working with Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds was also equally as thrilling. When I got out of the seat, I turned my attention to the Texas Motorplex wanting to assist in taking the sport to the next level. I have given a lot of my life to drag racing and I am honored to be recognized by the International Hall of Fame.”
Meyer’s legacy is defined as a driver, a drag strip innovator and one-time sanctioning body owner and president. The Texas native began his racing career at the age of nine in go-karts before switching to drag racing as a teenager. He remains the youngest person to earn a Funny Car license at the age of 16. Still in his teens, he left home in 1972 six weeks after high-school graduation, to pursue a full-time racing career and that fall won the sport’s most prestigious independent Funny Car race, the 1972 Manufacturers Funny Car Championship at Orange County International Raceway in Irvine, Ca.
Two years later, after winning at Bristol, he dominated at Indianapolis where he claimed the No. 1 qualifying position at the U.S. Nationals and had the quickest time in every round leading up to the final where his Mustang inexplicably slowed from a quarter mile best of 6.197 seconds, quick time of the event, to 6.467 in a loss to the most dominant Funny Car racer of that era.
He finally won his first NHRA race three years later after a two year hiatus to pursue the land speed record at age 23, when he beat Jim Dunn in the final round of the 1977 Fall Nationals at Seattle, Wash. He won the last tour event in which he competed, beating Ed McCulloch at the 1987 Winston Finals at Pomona, Calif., before retiring at 33 to spend more time with family and devote more time to his diverse business interests.
· In 112 NHRA races, Meyer went to the finals 22 times
· Earned 12 NHRA National Event victories, winning 55% of his final rounds
· Finished in the top 10 of the Winston Series Championship in 10 of the 11 seasons in which he pursued the championship; finishing second three times and third twice.
· Partnered with Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds in the Budweiser Rocket Car which was the first land vehicle to break the sound barrier, Oct. 1979, traveling 739.666 mph at Edwards Air Force Base
· Won the 1980 IHRA Winston Funny Car Championship
· Won eight IHRA Funny Car races
· Was his own crew chief for all but the last 6 months of his career
· Won the NHRA Winston Finals, prior to his retirement
· Was the first Funny Car owner to win races with two different drivers in a single season (winning in his own car and with the late Tripp Shumake driving a second car)
· In 1986, constructed the first super track, Texas Motorplex, all concrete racetrack; stadium-like facility, with enhanced spectator and sponsor amenities
· Won the Car Craft Magazine Person of the Year award in 1987
· Won the Racers for Christ person of the year award in 1988
· Authored the Boy Scouts of America Automotive Mechanics Merit badge in 1991
· Was selected to be one of the top 50 drivers of all time in 1998
· 2017 Drag Racing Edge Magazine’s Peak Performer honoree
· Continues to own and manage the Texas Motorplex along with aviation, technology, and real estate businesses - Written By Elon Werner
LEE SUBJECT OF WebMD.COM DOCUMENTARY, LAUGHLIN TO COMPLETE ‘DOUBLE’ WEEKEND, STEVENS BACK ON TRACK, TODD STILL BATTLING HIGHT BUT JUST GLAD TO BE RACING,
FROM THE HEART – Funny Car veteran Paul Lee has two crews this weekend at the AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, south of Dallas. He has the one he usually works with for his McLeod Dodge Charger and a film crew from WebMD.com, which is spotlighting the Orange, Calif., businessman in a documentary.
“They found out that I was a heart-attack survivor and not just a heart attack survivor. They saw my story online somewhere and contacted NHRA, and [National Dragster editor] Phil Burgess gave them my contact information. They contacted me and asked me if I'd be interested in being in a documentary about heart-attack survival and life after a heart attack,” Lee said.
“A lot of people apparently get depressed after a heart attack and they feel like their life is over. I never felt that way after my heart attack. All I wanted to do is get back in good condition and live my life,” he said. “Honestly, I didn't think about racing. I mean, I was lucky to be alive. I had a massive heart attack. I didn't have just a little heart attack. I had what's called a Widowmaker heart attack. That's one that less than 10 percent of people survive. And I happened to survive it. Racing was not even anywhere in my mind. I was just lucky to be here, live the rest of my life.
“After about a year and a half of hard rehab, my doctor, a good cardiologist I have, he said he noticed after one of the stress tests, ‘You know, your heart is actually getting better, because I don't see it increase this much that often.” He was measuring the injection fraction, and when I first had my heart attack, it was under 30. It was like 28, which is a high risk for another heart attack. But through the rehab it got up to like 35, and a healthy heart is like 70 percent. So I'll never be 100 percent, but what he said after some tests and some things that we did was ‘You might be well enough to do this [drag racing] again.’ So I said, ‘Well, if I can do it, I'm going to do it.’”
Lee said a “heart rehab” consists of “exercise, lots of exercise . . . a lot of cardiovascular exercise and life cycle, lifting light weights. Just being active and eating healthy is another part of it – which I've always done, anyway, so I didn't have any problem with that part. I just had to lay off the salt. I was big on salt. It doesn't help when you have a heart attack. Salt retains water, and then that's bad for your heart. So just eating healthy foods, exercising, staying healthy, which I have always done anyway. I just happen to have hereditary heart disease.”
His heart attack came without warning.
“I had no idea. I didn't feel sick. I didn't feel bad before my heart attack. I just came home from the PRI show. The next day I had a heart attack, back in 2016. I had a good time at the show and didn’t think about anything. I was there, exercising in my exercise room in my house, and I was on my Life Cycle – and I work out hard – and I came downstairs and I felt pains in my chest. I thought it maybe was just heartburn. But within 30 seconds, I knew it was more than heartburn, because the pain just got worse and worse. And within about a minute to a minute and a half, I was basically on the ground with chest pain. I mean, literally what I found out was I had complete heart failure.”
A friend happened to be at his house and called 9-1-1. He said, “I think I'm having a heart attack.” So he wasn’t alone, and he said, “The other lucky part was EMT center is right across the street from where I live, and they were in my house in four minutes and saved my life. So I was so lucky. They had me in the hospital and emergency room getting stents in my heart within 30 minutes. So my heart was stopped for about half an hour. My body was shutting down. I lost vision. All of my organs were shutting down. So I'm very lucky.”
Lee said he was conscious through the ordeal: “Even though I couldn't see, I could hear everything that was going on around me. My brain was completely 100 percent, but my body was shutting down. I could hear the doctors talking to me. I could hear the EMTs talking to me, even though I couldn't respond to them. I could hear them talking. Apparently that's what happens when you die. Your organs are shutting down, but your brain is like the last thing that shuts down, really.”
Publish date for the documentary has not been announced.
LAUGHLIN HEADED HERE AFTER RACING IN GEORGIA FRIDAY – Alex Laughlin loves a challenge – and he gave himself a daunting one this weekend. His task, after completing the rain-delayed NTK Carolina Nationals at Charlotte Monday – has been racing this weekend in both the No Mercy independent drag radial race at South Georgia Motorsports Park with the Speed Society Corvette and the NHRA Texas AAA FallNationals in the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.
He war-gamed the idea, deciding to “play it by ear” and booking multiple flights for various scenarios. “I've got flights booked from every local airport around here, a couple a day,m actually. So what my plan is right now is to finish qualifying [at Valdosta, Ga.] and run eliminations . . . and I'm going to skip qualifying for one day in Dallas for sure and then fly back and forth and race on Sunday.” But weather concerns accelerated “No Mercy” eliminations. Laughlin lost Friday night in the third round to Timmy Meissner, of Powder Springs, Ga. So the Granbury, Texas, native will fly into Dallas and remain here to use his two Saturday qualifying chances at Texas Motorplex.
He said, “Everything is so different from the Pro Stock car to the Pro Mod to this Radial car, whether I leave already on the two-step with the turbo car. This thing [the Drag Radial car], I've got to roll in, stage, hit the trans brake, hit the gas, everything is totally different. So I have to get in the car and just kind of re-learn exactly what I'm what I'm trying to do here.
Within two weeks, Laughlin has run three different wildly opposite combinations from a turbo to a supercharger to an EFI car. He said it “definitely is” hard to stay focused when he is jumping back and forth.
“The biggest thing is, the cars are all similar in their own way, but they're all very different,” Laughlin said. “So I sit in the same spot, obviously, look through a windshield, as opposed to like in 2017, when I drove a dragster and Pro Stock. Those things are so different, but I think that actually helped, because they were so different, where these things, the steering wheel is in the same spot, seat is in the same spot. It's got doors on it. And so I definitely have to look around switch panels. Like I said, how you stage it, everything is so different. So I have to just kind of get re-acclimated from car to car.”
He said it takes a sound business plan to put together a competitive race-car program.
“It’s so hard. A lot of it, honestly, is about who you know. But these days it isn't so much about being a race car driver or a good driver. It’s business, and that's exactly what we do within. That's how we treat it. Our race team is a functioning business, and we do a lot of deals with all these other companies. We put business-to-business type deals together,” Laughlin said.
“Some of them, they actually just write a check. But at the end of the day those checks are super-hard to come by, so you have to get creative,” he said. “And so that's what I've been really trying to do over the last several years. I've been trying to get ‘sponsored.’ I've been driving for 15 years now, and only the last five years has it actually started to become fruitful. So the biggest thing is you just got to act right and get creative and be smart about it.”
STEVENS DISCUSSES PRO STOCK OPPORTUNITIES – Richie Stevens Jr. is competing in NHRA’s Mello Yello Series Pro Stock class for the first time in more than two years this weekend at NHRA’s FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, near Dallas.
Stevens is driving the TopCoat Dodge Dart that was driven by Jeremy Martorella last weekend at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., and owned by Alan Prusiensky.
“As of right now this is just a one-race deal,” Stevens said. “Alan called me the night of (Oct. 13) and he had his mishap in Charlotte, and he was down to one car and he said he was trying to entertain the new sponsors this weekend the TopCoat company. He injured (his back) in Charlotte and he wasn’t cleared to drive. He asked me if I wanted to drive for him and it didn’t take much for me to say yes. It had been a little while since I had driven, and I was excited to do this.”
Prusiensky was injured when he wrecked Oct. 11 during the second session of qualifying in Charlotte. The Dodge Dart Prusiensky was driving crossed the centerline then hit the wall and rolled before coming to a rest.
The last time Stevens Jr. drove a Pro Stock car in an NHRA national event was in April of 2017 when he filled in for Deric Kramer at the SpringNationals in Houston. Stevens Jr., was substituting for Kramer, who was competing in a fencing tournament.
“Q1 (in Dallas) was test one,” Stevens Jr. said. “Everything should come back to me relatively quickly. It’s actually ironic that I have driven this car before. I drove this (Dodge Dart) when Jeg (Coughlin) first got it and it was brand-new, and I tested for him in it. Then, I drove this car when (Deric) Kramer had it. I have driven this car before, just under two different paint jobs. Alan also said he had one of Deric’s old seats, the custom seats and I have used those a couple of times and I fit no problem. I hope I can give them some good runs, and good laps so he can build some data. Alan said depending on how his recovery goes, this could roll over to Las Vegas (Oct. 31-Nov. 3). It just depends how he’s looking once that time comes. If he’s able to drive, I totally understand. I’m just glad to fill in.”
Stevens Jr., a six-time NHRA national event winner in Pro Stock, has simple expectations for this weekend.
“First and foremost, I just want to go out there and do my job,” he said. “I want to get the rust off and go out there and make some runs for Alan and his program. I’m going in with an open mind. Obviously, I’m not competing for points, and I want to have a good weekend and entertain his sponsors and have a good time. Maybe we can throw a monkey wrench into the thing on Sunday with the Countdown and go a round or two. You never know what happens on Sunday. I have seen some crazy things happen.”
Prior to this weekend, Stevens Jr., competed in Pro Mod back in January for Al-Anabi Racing and Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al-Thani in Qatar. Stevens Jr. has not driven in any Pro Mod races this season.
“It’s been nice to kind of just be normal again and work at the shop and have my weekends to do what I want,” Stevens Jr. “I’m just hanging out and whenever they get all five cars back together, which obviously will be next year, we will see what happens next year.” - Written By Tracy Renck
‘IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING!’ – Terry McMillen is like the late Gilda Radner’s “Saturday Night Live” character Rosannadanna: If it isn’t one thing it’s another for the Amalie Oil Dragster owner-driver.
At St. Louis, two events ago, he picked up his first round-win since the early-July race at Epping, N.H. However, offsetting that was trouble in the pits. The team’s generator went kaput, which not only interrupted power but also damaged the air compressor. The crew scrambled to get him back to the starting line for the fourth and final qualifying session. He was rewarded with an outstanding 3.727-second elapsed time – but it left him in the bottom half of the ladder, at No. 9.
“It’s hard to believe that Top Fuel has come to this,” McMillen said. “You go out and run a 3.72 in qualifying and don’t have lane choice.” Happy news this week came from McMillen’s camp: “I have not one complaint about the Charlotte event,” he said. “[Crew chief] Rob Wendland and the AMALIE Motor Oil Xtermigator team gave me a great car. We’ve been in test mode, since we aren’t running for the Countdown, and I think it is exactly what the team needed. We lost first round to Clay Millican. He ran a 3.75 to our 3.76 [at Charlotte]. Can’t be upset about that.”
Wendland said, “The whole year it was like, if I was there, Terry wasn't. If Terry was there, I wasn't. It was like .009, .004 [margins of loss], all this crap. But you know what it really comes down to? It comes down to your qualifying spot, and that all comes back on me. I'm not that aggressive of a tuner, because when you are, it usually costs you money to do that. I want to be here for a long time, and so does Terry. And so we look at the overall picture.
“Not getting in the Countdown, No. 1, was very hurtful. But it was exactly how we ran. So it's on me. It's not Terry, it’s me. I need to do a better job of what I'm doing to make sure that doesn't happen, and like I said, we had a lot of first-round losses. Last year was a totally different year, and the car ran good, though,” the crew chief said.
With no Countdown implications to complicate the strategy, Wendland said, “So maybe the pressure is off a little bit, but the pressure is on, though, because I need to get this thing consistent and fast. So I think we found some things, and I think it's really helping.”
It looks like it is. McMillen was No. 1 in the first session Friday, although he slid down to 12th overnight.
INTRIGUING STAT – Kalitta Motorsports publicists noted that “not since 2013 have three different Top Fuel racers and three different Funny Car racers won the first three races of the Countdown.”
In Top Fuel, it has been Richie Crampton (Reading), Billy Torrence (St. Louis), and Steve Torrence (Charlotte).
In Funny Car, the winners have been Jack Beckman (Reading), Shawn Langdon (St. Louis), and Robert Hight (Charlotte).
In 2013, it was Morgan Lucas (Charlotte), Doug Kalitta (Dallas) and Antron Brown (St. Louis) in Top Fuel and Robert Hight (Charlotte), Cruz Pedregon (Dallas), and John Force (St. Louis) in Funny Car.
CRAMPTON STILL FORGING AHEAD – Reading winner Richie Crampton is mired in eighth place after a strong Countdown opening. But the Kalitta Motorsports driver said, “We are not out of the championship countdown by any means, but we do need to make a move” this weekend. He said, “We had a tough first round against Doug [Kalitta] in St. Louis, and in Charlotte we just missed it in the first round. This DHL Kalitta Air dragster has been running really well in qualifying, so I am not worried at all.”
Crampton won here at Texas Motorplex in 2015. He emphasized the quality of his opponents: “You look at the level of the Top Fuel teams in the Countdown this year and even previous years. This is one of the toughest eras in the sport’s history. If you get a win this year, you will most likely have had to race easily three championship-caliber teams. There are no easy round wins. You can’t take one single round off, and I am eager for the challenge, starting this weekend. That Q2 run will be critical, I think. It will be cooler weather, and I could easily see the top half of the field being set on that run. The good news is that is when my DHL team steps up. Those conditions are perfect for [crew chief/team owner] Connie Kalitta to show his talent.” Crampton said, “I won this race a few years ago, and I would love to do it again. I honestly think we can go some rounds at the Motorplex, and if a few people in front of us stumble, we will be right in the middle of the Mello Yello championship battle over the final two races.”
BATTLING SORCERY - Leah Pritchett, the Brainerd winner and Phoenix runner-up is 125 points off the lead in fourth place. Since her August victory, she has, in order, lost in the first round, exited in the second round, reached the semifinals, and most recently smoked the tires immediately in her showdown with the then-points leader. That Charlotte result this past Monday, she said, “is something we have never seen before. Something systematically went wrong in the first 20 feet of the run, and it basically had no chance. It shook, and I pedaled it, trying to catch it. We are dedicated to getting our race car consistent, and we have an issue that we haven’t solved.”
But she expressed faith in her Todd Okuhara-/Neal Strausbaugh-led crew. “We’ve done a good job of taking the data we’ve learned in qualifying and applying it to eliminations.” Moreover, she said, “I guarantee you there is some vengeance to be had in Dallas.” Then as this weekend approached, Pritchett said that “come Friday, we will test our theory of what clutch-wear sorcery has been biting us in this Countdown, and I can’t wait for us to conquer that and continue this chase. Points continue to be tight, and we will continue to keep our heads down to the grindstone with the plan to move up.” She started her weekend with the tentative No. 5 qualifying spot, then improved to No. 2 behind leader Brittany Force in her night run.
CALLAWAY IMPRESSIVE – Lee Callaway, the 22-year veteran racer from Baytown, Texas, made his Top Fuel debut Friday under the watchful eye of Scott Palmer (who isn’t running this weekend and said, “It’s weird being on the other side of the deal”). Callaway clocked a 3.808-second elapsed time at 312.28 mph in his maiden run. That left him ninth in the 16-car order.
KINSLEY BEGINS WITH A BANG – Part-time Top Fueler Kebin Kinsley is back in Roger Hennen’s dragster after keeping busy racing at Fuel Altered races and Funny Car Chaos events as well competing in Top Fuel Hydro boat. And the resident of Arlington, Texas, told Competition Plus’ Tracy Renck before action began at the Motorplex, “We were supposed to go to five (races) this season. Roger started another business and our crew chief (David Kirkland) has been busy and we had to repair a bunch of stuff after Houston, so things have not worked out until Dallas, and we have to come to our home track. We have a bunch of new parts, and I’m excited to be racing again. When I get back in the car, it’s going to be like Christmas Day again.”
If that’s the case, Kinsley’s early Friday experience would be like a kid breaking his toys from Santa the first time he took them out of the box. His 4.340-second, 184.65-mph performance put him 15th out of 16 in the order, but it ended in a massive fireball toward the end of the 1,000-foot course. He later said, “It feels like a mule kicked me in the back.”
He returned in the night session and moved off the bump spot with a 3.813 elapsed time, his quickest pass of the year, and left the provisional anchor spot to Cory McClenathan (4.223 seconds).
TODD STILL BATTLING HIGHT BUT JUST GLAD TO BE RACING – JR Todd won in style at Texas Motorplex in September 2008, ending Tony Schumacher’s still-standing Top Fuel record of consecutive round-wins at 31. But that triumph was memorable for another, but not-as-pleasant, reason. For almost five years, Todd wondered if that victory would be the last he ever would earn.
Shortly afterward, he found himself in the same, sadly familiar situation that had stalled his career before. And this time, Todd didn’t have another fulltime driving job for nearly five years.
As Todd revisits Ennis, Texas, he does so as the reigning Funny Car champion – and hoping to improve on his No. 6 position in the Countdown to the Championship standings. He’s 144 points behind leader Robert Hight, the racer with whom he went toe to toe down the stretch last year. Moreover, he advanced to the semifinals or finals at eight of the past nine Countdown races, dating back to last September. In that span, he has advanced to six final rounds – six of the past nine in the playoffs.
But this race didn’t go Todd’s way in 2018. Hight rebounded from his crash in his final-round victory at St. Louis and scored his second consecutive triumph on the tour – with a broken collarbone.
“That battle we had last year, that’s the hardest thing I’ve been through in my racing career. I was pretty stressed. After he crashed and then had surgery for a broken collarbone and came back and won [at Dallas last fall], that proves how much of a badass he is. I have the most respect for him.”
Todd simply is happy to be in the seat of a nitro-burning car, no matter how stressful it might become or no matter how one particular driver might wear him out. He had been on the outside of the sport, looking in too many times.
At age 18, he got his first stunning setback when team owner Bruce Litton’s shop caught fire and Litton had to abandon his second dragster as he returned to competition. Todd signed on with Dexter Tuttle’s operation in 2006 and earned his first professional victory, but by 2007, sponsorship had vanished. Morgan Lucas Racing picked up Todd. And despite that achievement at Dallas, Todd found himself once again without money to race by the close of 2009. He even went overseas, to Doha, Qatar, to race, but what sounded promising turned out like the other prospects.
Todd sat out 2010 and 2011, and Bob Vandergriff Racing hired him in 2012 to compete at selected races. Three years into that assignment, Todd said he realized that his momentum had stalled. Vandergriff had budgeted a small stipend for Todd because, Todd, said, “he basically was doing me a favor.”
Todd said the “most races we ever hit in a season was six, just because he couldn’t come up with the funding to run that team fulltime. There was talk of him getting out of the car and putting me in it. But you can’t wait around for something like that to happen. I ran through all the money I had saved up, which wasn’t a lot.” And he knew he couldn’t afford to attend races and not have a revenue stream.
He said it also caused “a lot of sleepless nights,” because “it had been so long since I’d won, and you don’t know if you’re ever going to get that opportunity again. Everywhere I’ve been up until [that] point in my career, it seems like we never really had the stability with the teams that I felt like ‘I’m going to be here a while.’ It was always sponsorship issues and that’s the tough thing about our sport: if you don’t come from deep pockets or are able to bring some sponsorship to the table, it can be hard to get a ride out here.”
Before Todd landed the ride in the Kalitta Motorsports dragster and then in the DHL Toyota Camry, he said, “It was like, ‘Man, I’m going to have to find a way to make some income but still keep my face out here.’ I always told myself I’d try to find a way to work [in the sport], whether it’s with a safety-equipment manufacturer, something like that. That way I could stay out here and stay visible with all the teams and let them know I’m still wanting to drive.”
Then Connie Kalitta called Todd out of the blue in April 2014 and summoned him to Las Vegas to replace Dave Grubnic. Todd had been shopping for a used car and was with his parents at dinner, engrossed in March Madness basketball on the restaurant TV. Todd grabbed the first flight from Indianapolis to Las Vegas and showed up that Saturday to qualify the Optima Batteries Dragster. “Luckily for me,” he said, “I got hired here just because the owner thought I could get the job done.”
For now, Todd focused on moving up from sixth place in the Funny Car standings. He came to Texas a single point behind Bob Tasca III, who traded places with him at the previous event, last weekend at Charlotte. But he’s 144 points off leader Robert Hight’s pace.
And he’s hoping he can prove that again at Dallas.
“We have a great team at Kalitta Motorsports, but we couldn’t do it without the support we get from DHL and Toyota. DHL gives us the sponsorship and support to go out and contend for a championship, while Toyota helps us so much on the technical side. We’re not out here just to make runs and have a good-looking DHL Toyota Camry. We need to pay them back with wins and championship trophies and get them the exposure they deserve,” Todd said.
“Our championship trophy was on display at the Toyota headquarters [at Plano]. It would be really special to win down in Ennis this weekend in Toyota’s backyard with all the executives who will be on hand. It’s great to be able to represent them on a scale like that and for them to show off what we did means a lot to me personally as a driver and for us as a team.”
GETTING THAT CHAMPIONSHIP FEELING – With one victory and final-round appearances at three of the past five races – as well as No. 1 starts at each of the first three Countdown events – Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders has had a resurgence. And she said, “This Countdown feels like 2014 and 2015 to me.”
Those, of course, were the years she earned her series crowns.
The driver of the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro and proud Texan from Houston is right where she wants to be, in terms of racing and geography.
“It’s really exciting,” the 24-time winner said. “I would have never guessed we would be in this position with the start we had, so I’m very pleased with where we’re at. My goal going into Charlotte was to leave with the points lead. And the second part of that goal is to never give it back.
“We’re back in championship form, so it’s big to have that mindset where you don’t back off or don’t let your guard down. It’s all mental, and that’s the most challenging aspect of all it,” Enders said. “The biggest thing is stay positive, keep our focus, and not let any distractions in. This is our championship to lose. But there’s a lot of racing left and a lot of heavy competition out there. So we’ll see what happens and do the best we can.”
Texas Motorplex has been kind to the Texas A&M alum, she said, remembering her Pro Stock victory here in 2015 and her successes at Ennis during her sportsman career. She said she and her team will “do our best to keep” the points lead. She expressed faith in her crew chiefs, Rick Jones and Mark Ingersoll as they try to hold off No. 2 Jason Line, who trails by 38 points, and Elite Motorsports teammate Matt Hartford, who’s 39 points behind her in third. Hartford is the Seattle winner and a six-time finalist this year.
Enders said, “I think we just do what we do and don’t take our eyes off the goal. We have to keep our heads down and capitalize on every point that we can, try to accumulate all the qualifying points we can, and qualify in the top half again, and then just go rounds.” Just? All that makes a pretty daunting list, but she said, “I feel like my crew chiefs have confidence and as far as my mindset goes, we’re racing to win. We’re going out there and trying to do what we do best. Our goal is to leave with another cowboy hat and belt buckle.”
MULTI-TALENTED BUTNER QUIET LATELY BUT THREAT STILL – Bo Butner took the Pro Stock class by storm at the start of this season, winning four of the first five races. He hasn’t won since (not since the Richmond race in mid-May). But he has had three more semifinal finishes, and he led the standings until the Countdown began. He still has the class’ best eliminations record at 26-11. He’s ranked fourth, definitely in the championship mix at only 67 points away from regaining the lead that belongs to Erica Enders right now.
Butner has national-event wins in six different classes: Pro Stock, Competition Eliminator (in which he was the 2006 champion), Super Stock, Stock, Super Street, and Super Gas. And he’ll be multi-tasking this weekend, competing in Pro Stock and in the sportsman-level Super Gas class.
He won’t run this weekend in the final SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown category with his Cobra Jet Mustang. He has been runner-up twice and has set top speed of the meet three times in that category. He has committed to racing the full Factory Stock Showdown schedule in 2020.
"It's been a great year racing the full schedule of the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown, and we've learned a lot – but we've still got more to learn,” Butner said. “Of course, you always do, but we want to come out prepared for 2020, and that's what we're focused on right now. We won't be racing the Cobra Jet in the Showdown this weekend, but we're excited for 2020. My buddy Drew [Skillman] is going to win the championship this year, and we're happy for him. They've had a great season, and it's been a lot of fun racing against them. We want to say congratulations to the Skillmans and all the great competitors in this class. It's just so much fun, and it's so competitive. We can't wait to do it all over again next year."
He said he had been looking forward to racing in the Super Gas mix this weekend: “I always say I enjoy racing more than one category at an event, and I think I do better that way. We still have a good shot in Super Gas. We skipped racing this car in Charlotte so that we could finish the year with four races in a row. We'll take the Super Gas car to Vegas, the Vegas divisional, then finish the year in Pomona. I'm looking forward to that. I always have a good time with the sportsman racing, but I have to do my job. I have to do really good at all of them, but especially the points meet. It should be fun."
Butner won the Super Gas trophy, in his first race in the class, this June at Sonoma and was runner-up at Brainerd. He also was runner-up in Super Gas at the divisional event at Bowling Green, Ky.
As for his Pro Stock chances, Butner said, “We had a bad day in Charlotte, but it was a good race, and we don't have anything to complain about. The other teams have found something, and I don't know what, but they're ready. We have to be ready, too. I look for Dallas to be a good race for us. We got some bad luck out of the way in Charlotte, and now we're starting with a clean slate."
MR. PERFECT? – Four-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson, who’s eighth in the standings, is looking for something few in the sporting world ever achieve: perfection. But the KB/Summit headliner said he left Charlotte this Monday knowing that he and his team “did not see the results that we could have and should have.” That, he said, was why he was so eager to arrive here at Ennis, Texas, a mere three days later.
“We have a chance to get back on course, and we'll gladly take that opportunity and make the most of it. This racetrack has been great for us,” Anderson a four-time Texas Motorplex winner in five finals here, said. “I think we have a very good weekend ahead of us. We just have to keep our heads on straight and make the most of every single run down the racetrack, both in terms of the driver and the car. We have to be perfect."
Only Warren Johnson, with five Dallas victories, has been more successful in Pro Stock at this venue than Anderson, a 93-time overall winner. Since 2015, Anderson has owned both ends of the track performance records (6.457-second elapsed time, 214.59-mph speed).
Anderson began racing his own Pro Stock Car in 1998, at Columbus, Ohio, after serving as Johnson’s crew member and then crew chief. So he has partnered with Las Vegas team owner Ken Black for about two decades, and with crew chief Rob Downing they have forged a team that includes three-time champion Jason Line and 2017 champ Bo Butner and several associate drivers. Anderson is third on the NHRA pro-driver list for No. 1 qualifying positions with 103.
Anderson won at Dallas in 2003, 2005 and back-to-back in 2009-2010.
HINES FEELS HEAT FROM STOFFER – No. 2-ranked Karen Stoffer is looking to close a 57-point gap between herself and leader Andrew Hines now that the two have split a pair of final-round decisions in the most recent Countdown races.
Alluding to the fact that Jerry Savoie won at Indianapolis and Reading and Stoffer claimed the St. Louis trophy, Hines said he and his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team “haven’t had a dry spell. These last four races (the most recent of which he won, at Charlotte), those White Alligator Racing bikes have really turned that switch and figured out how to drop their sandbags off, I guess.”
And Stoffer, with her strengthened performance, has disrupted Hines’ plans.
He said he enjoys beating his rivals by big margins, and he lost to Stoffer in the St. Louis final and had to use a holeshot to defeat her at Charlotte.
“I like seeing the win light come on,” Hines said, “but I really enjoy crushing ’em,” he said. “When we can go out there and have three- or four-hundredths on ’em, that’s what I enjoy. It’s a reflection of how our team’s doing. We were in that position in the middle of the season. We were running pretty good, where we had two- or three-hundredths on people going into the final round. But the way Karen’s bike has been running, she had four-hundredths on me going into the final round. She waxed us in St. Louis, and we didn’t want that to happen again.”
His Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec is 58 points behind Stoffer, in third place in the standings, and White Alligator Racing team owner Jerry Savoie is ranked fourth, 27 points in back of Krawiec. Hector Arana Jr. rounds out the top five of 10 title-eligible bike racers, a mere three points from Savoie.
“If you look at the top 10 in the qualifying order,” Hines said, “any one of those people could be No. 1 at any given time. These races are hard-fought and [victories] hard-earned. We’ve had a great motorcycle all season long, winning seven of the first nine events.”
Yet he said he “figured we were behind the eight-ball for some reason. The White Alligator Racing Suzukis have been fast the last few races.” He said he and his brain trust have been analyzing the horsepower, “trying to figure out where they’re picking it up versus where we’re losing it.”
He had come to the conclusion, he said, that “it seems like our motorcycle was ‘untuneable.’ We could make the changes on the laptop [but] we wouldn’t see the results on the racetrack.” So they brainstormed at the shop about what they could do differently, and they found the answer that was right for them, evidently: “We took the entire set-up that had won all those races earlier in the year and threw it out the window, parked those parts on the shelf, and said, ‘Hey, let’s try this something new.’” Even though it meant, in his words, entering the Charlotte race “blind,” they gave it a whirl. And it worked.
SMITH STILL DANGEROUS – Matt Smith, the three-time and reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, leads the class in No. 1 qualifying positions (four), low elapsed times of the race (six) and top speeds of the meet (11). And he’s No. 1 after two Friday qualifying sessions here. But Andrew Hines has what counts more: the points lead, most victories (eight), most final rounds (10), and a 40-5 record this season as he seeks his 57th victory.
Even so, Hines is looking over his shoulder at Smith, who also has wife and teammate Angie Smith in his arsenal, as well as non-Countdown colleagues Scotty Pollacheck and Michael Ray.
Hines said, “Matt can put down some big speed with those bodies and the horsepower that he has.”
He said Ray, of nearby New Braunfels, Texas, “is trying to play blocker for Matt Smith, pick up some money for him, and take out some people for some points.”
He has faced Ray in the first round at each of the previous three Countdown races and defeated him each time, but Ray isn’t a duck on the pond, by any means. Ray keeps Hines on his toes. “You never know what he’s going to do on the starting line.”
So although it looks like the hot rivalry is between Hines and Karen Stoffer – and it is – he knows No. 6-seeded Smith could cause some concern in these final three races (especially with points and half factoring in at Pomona).