2021 NHRA SPRINGNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
NHRA - HOUSTON SUNDAY NOTEBOOK
STEVE TORRENCE FINALLY CONQUERS HOUSTON TO BECOME YEAR’S FIRST THREE-TIME PRO WINNER - At Houston Raceway Park, Steve Torrence was like a Timex watch: He took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’.
But Monday afternoon at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals it was Torrence’s time.
In a rain-postponed completion of this fifth event on Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule, the Capco Contractors Dragster driver defeated Doug Kalitta in a traction-troubled Top Fuel final round for both.
Torrence became the season’s first three-time winner in any pro class with his 4.001-second elapsed time at 260.06 mph on the 1,000-foot course at Baytown, Texas, to Kalitta’s 5.706, 168.26 in the Mobil 1/TRD Dragster.
Torrence had lost on a holeshot to Kalitta at Houston in the 2016 final. The next year, he lost to Leah Pruett in the final. And last year, he barely lost to Tony Schumacher. But this time Kalitta couldn’t deny Torrence his 43rd victory and his 34th in the past 82 he has entered.
“You never want to think you’re jinxed or anything,” Torrence said, “but I was beginning to wonder if I was wearing win repellent or something. It’s nice to finally get a win here. We’ve always run well. I mean, we’ve qualified No. 1 here more than anywhere else (four times, including this weekend), but we’ve lost some really close finals – and at least one of them was on me.
“We’ve been trying to get the monkey off our back in Houston. We’ll check it off the list, for certain,” he said.
The Top Fuel points leader has a slim 20-17 lead over Kalitta in all and is 7-3 against him in final rounds. Torrence had met Kalitta in the Las Vegas four-wide event and beat him in the final quad. Advantage Mr. Torrence – 2-0.
But it wasn’t one of the more thrilling races either one of them had run.
“Today, running .71, .70-flat . . . I don’t know what they did for the final,” Torrence said of the track- prep crew, “but it just wasn’t there again. But we got lucky. Maybe you make your own luck. When you run that hard, the other guy knows that they’ve got to either step up or not make it. Maybe we made a little bit of luck there. They smoked the tires at the hit or pretty soon after, and then we went out and 400 feet and knocked ’em off. Pedaled it a couple times and never did get it to hook back up – and knocked the belt off right before the lights.
“So just a crazy final round,” he said.
He said his first-round victory, against a super-slow-starting fellow Texan Mitch King, “was tough.” Then he received bye run in the field that was shy of the usual 16 cars. But he described the aggravation of having a bye run and having an erratic Christmas Tree: “There was a malfunction or something with the Christmas Tree. I’m thinking that it’s not going to even come on. Then it works. The car ran good.” But he said that glitch “kind of messes with the driver – you’re sittin’, sittin’, sittin’ . . . and the light finally comes on.”
Next he had to face Clay Millican, and Torrence said that side-by-side featured “the two best cars on the property” this weekend. “That was a close race. That just was tough,” he said. “We were together on the tree. We go .70 and he’s .76. There’s no room for error in there at all.”
So it was no wonder that he told his crew before the final, “I am wore out.”
He said, “It’s not that we did anything. It’s the same amount of days, I guess, but you just sit around and wait on the rain and you think you’re going to go, then you don’t. It’s just up and down. It does take a toll on you mentally. Sometimes experience helps you overcome that.” Patience, he said, “just comes with time and experience of having to g from complete focus to being able to relax then back in the zone. I’ve got a lot of laps in one of these things. It just comes with the territory.”
Kalitta had to wait until Monday morning to catch up with the rest of the class in making his first-round pass, but he faced a lineup of champions and mowed through them – before running up against the current and three-timer Torrence. Kalitta eliminated Brittany Force, Antron Brown, and Shawn Langdon to advance to his 107th final round.
When the Camping World Drag Racing Series resumes June 11-13 at Epping, N.H. with the TascaParts.com New England Nationals presented by Bandero Premium Tequila, Kalitta will arrive as the No. 5-ranked Top Fuel racer. He improved two places in the standings. That puts four Toyota drivers in the top five in the standings. Brown is second, Langdon third, and fifth.
Kalitta was going Monday for his 50th victory, his first since last fall’s St. Louis race, and his fourth at Baytown. He needs three more victories to tie Joe Amato and Brown for third on the class’ all-time victories list.
“We have had some good wins at Houston. “The track is really fast, and when you are down at sea level you can really make some big power,” Kalitta said.
“We had this Mobil 1/TRD car this weekend, and were hoping to get it to the winners circle, but we ended up second. It was a good day overall. I’m really proud of the entire effort,” Kalitta said. “We definitely had the tough side of the ladder, what we saw today. Just disappointing. But my guys are super-hungry to get another win, and we’ll just go to the next one.
“It’s good to be back in the top five in points. We’re definitely a better team,” he said. “We’re trying our hardest, and we’re learning and trying to figure this thing out. We’ve got a couple of weekends off before Epping. It’s an interesting place to run. They’ve got some great fans up there. We’ll just go up there and see what we can do, bu we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”
So how does Torrence deal with so much success? Does he start at this point to change his approach? He says no.
“You keep the same mindset,” he said. “You know, we’ve actually been trying a lot of stuff. He car’s not exactly how we want it to be. There’s a couple of areas that we’re– not saying we’re struggling . . . but it’s not doing exactly what we want it to do. Maybe that’s what bit us in the final. I don’t know. But I don’t think that we’ve ever approached the Countdown with a strategy of trying to take it easy in the middle [of the season] or get a hot start and take it easy, then finish strong. We just go out and try to win every round of every race and let the points and everything handle themselves.”
That strategy appears to be working just fine for Torrence. Susan Wade
HOUSTON FUNNY CAR WINNER HIGHT RETURNS TO WINNERS CIRCLE FOR FIRST TIME SINCE SEPT. 2019 - Thanks to the financial complications of COVID, Robert Hight had to sit out of competition from the February 2020 race at Phoenix until the delayed first event of this year in March at Gainesville, Fla.
All he had won since the September 2019 race at Charlotte was a AAA promotional fan-popularity contest through the Internet over NASCAR’s Joey Logano – cool for him, but not the rush of winning four rounds of NHRA drag racing and holding another Wally trophy.
It all flooded back for him Monday in the rain-delayed Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park as he beat Ron Capps in the final round.
Hight won handily with a 3.916-second elapsed time at a 327.19-mph speed in his Auto Club Chevy Camaro on the 1,000-foot course at Baytown, Texas. Capps lost traction at about 330 feet and was no threat with a clocking of 4.684 seconds and 179.25 mph in the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger Hellcat.
That kept Don Schumacher Racing, which had swept 14 Funny Car victories from Oct. 2019 until Nov. 2020, including all 11 last season – winless so far this season. (It didn’t help that Capps had to race his DSR colleague Matt Hagan in the quarterfinal round.)
“When you sit out a year, without racing – and we didn't get to come back to Houston, one of our favorite places to race – there's a lot of time to sit and think. And you wonder are you ever going to get another one?” Hight, the president of John Force Racing, said.
His boss confessed that he had worn out Hight all throughout 2020, leaning on him to help figure out financial solutions to get the team back on the racetrack, asking him to double- and triple-check documents, and working hard every single day of the week – unless they were at the same Jr. Dragster event to watch Hight’s daughter and Force’s granddaughter Autumn compete.
Hight said, “The competition level has never been tougher: a lot of good drivers, a lot of good cars. So it's just one of those things. Your mind starts playing tricks. It's like, ‘Am I ever going to get back to what I love doing?’ and that's racing and winning races.”
So the feeling was sweet when he saw, he felt, he experienced the answer was yes. And Hight has a “sweet tooth” for winning – he’s craving more victories.
“To hear those guys on the radio that we won and I saw the win light down there . . . It just brings me back to my first win here in 2005, which was my first. I was in the left lane and got my first win, and I remember how excited I was to hear the crew chief telling me that we won. But now I'm sitting down there all by myself and it's like, ‘OK. I've got to do an interview now, and I'm new at this. I'm not very good. And the celebration is going on back at the starting line,” Hight said.
“So it's a great day, and a lot of hard work goes into these. And this time of year is where you're learning – but you want to get back to the winners circle. So I can't wait for the next one now,” he said.
He’ll get his chance June 11-13 at Epping, N.H., at the next Camping World Drag Racing Series event, the TascaParts.com New England Nationals presented by Bandero Premium Tequila.
For now, he can enjoy the taste of his 52nd victory that keeps him behind only boss John Force (152) and Capps (65) on the Funny Car’s all-time winners list.
Just hearing Hight describe the final round (after eliminating Bobby Bode, Cruz Pedregon, and Bob Tasca) was proof of his joy.
“I'm racing Ron Capps. That’s the guy that I'm chasing to try to be No. 2 all-time in wins, and you can't let him win that. You've got to get it,” he said. “They're a good team. He's a great driver. I love racing Ron. There’s never, ever any games. It’s almost like a race to stage. We both lit the lights at the same time, which I normally hate. I like it when one goes in before the other. Because when you both go in, it kind of throws you off a little. I didn’t see him the whole way. In a Funny Car, if you can see the other guy, you're getting your butt kicked. Didn't see it and you lift down there and that win light comes on, there's not a feeling like it. It's amazing. I had a good light. He did, too.”
Hight said, “Texas is big for us. AAA Texas is who we represent and to get a win in front of my sponsors, that's who pays all the bills here. I want to thank them all for sticking with us through all these crazy times and hope to have really good times in the future.
“This was really truly a team effort,” he said. “John's team, the Peak team, they really helped us in Charlotte. We tested on Monday. I went to the final in Gainesville. We were running good. Go to Las Vegas running good, and it just shows you how finicky these cars are. We go to the next two races and we can’t even get down the track.
“So things change, and we were trying some things. It worked at Gainesville and Las Vegas, but they did not work at Atlanta and Charlotte. So we had to kind of regroup with the help of the Peak team, because they were the class of the field. They won Charlotte and came here and it really paid off. Honestly, I was nervous,” Hight said.” We made the first qualifying run and then didn't get No. 2 in because it rained. Some of the Funny Car guys did. We didn't, so we're going into race day a little on the green side with a new combination.
“But with team effort and everybody working together, it paid off,” he said. “It was a little slow first round, but [crew chiefs] Jimmy Prock, Chris Cunningham, they just kept picking it up a little, every run, little every run, and we finally got to where we needed to be the last two rounds. We had a really great race car.”
Force, driver of the PEAK / BlueDEF PLATINUM Chevy Camaro, said, “Couldn’t get the win in the PEAK Chevrolet. Charlotte was a great weekend and not so good here for us. But Robert Hight made up the difference by putting Brittany [Top Fuel driver Force] and I both in the winners circle with him and all our sponsors. That’s what it’s all about.”
Capps defeated Paul Lee, Hagan, and Tim Wilkerson to reach the final but missed his chance to win for the first time since the Gatornationals last September.
But Capps wasn’t pitying himself.
Instead he said, “I feel so bad for the Angel family [Houston Raceway Park owners] and everyone who put the effort into putting this race on in the backyard of Pennzoil. We really wanted to show off, and it was close. The car is much better than the results we’ve shown, and it’s just been weird stuff.
“I knew the momentum was coming. We have a great race car, and we’re going to have a lot of long days, and it’s just really fun right now with the NAPA team. We lost lane choice in the finals but not by much. We had been in the left lane all day. Guido [crew chief] liked that left lane, and we felt comfortable over there. It’s a little bumpier in the right lane, and we weren’t sure we could push it. We knew Robert Hight’s team would go up there and go 3.90 or .91, which is what they ended up running,” Capps said.
“Overall, a great weekend for the NAPA AutoCare crew. My team put a great car together for Guido and [co-tuner] John Medlen. We had a great time with our NAPA guests, and we’re looking forward to the many races coming on.”
Capps and Hight are tied for fourth place in the standings, just 107 points behind leader Bob Tasca III. JR Todd is second and Force third. Susan Wade
HARTFORD TEAM SPOT-ON TOGETHER TO CAPTURE HOUSTON PRO STOCK VICTORY - For Matt Hartford and his team, it could have been easy to get distracted during this weekend’s Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals at Baytown, Texas.
They could have concentrated on and complained about the rainstorms that forced cancellation midweek of Friday’s qualifying at Houston Raceway Park, constantly threatened Saturday’s lone day of Pro Stock qualifying, and washed out Sunday’s racing altogether in their class.
They could have kept an eye on the KB Racing team that has won twice with Greg Anderson, most recently with rookie Dallas Glenn, and winner-waiting-to-happen Kyle Koretsky.
They could have stewed about Elite Motorsports’ hometown hero Erica Enders shining on her favorite stage and getting her second victory of the year.
But they didn’t.
Instead, they focused on what they needed to Monday, and it paid off with Hartford’s second victory here, his fourth overall, and his first since last October up Interstate 45 at Ennis, Texas.
The Total Seal Chevy Camaro driver (and Total Seal owner) shook, rattled, and rolled to a 7.660-second, 145.11-mph quarter-mile victory, spoiling Deric Kramer’s shot at his first win this season and his fifth in all in the American Ethanol Camaro.
Kramer posted a 13.981 elapsed time in the final after buzzing past Bruno Massel, Anderson, and Koretsky.
Both experienced tire shake, Kramer immediately on the launch and Hartford after that. Hartford pedaled the throttle and got the car hooked back up.
It was only their second meeting in competition since Hartford lost to Kramer in the 2019 fall Charlotte race. He also lost to Kramer this April in the opening round of the four-wide race at Las Vegas.
But Hartford didn’t mention payback. He simply spoke about teamwork.
“It comes down to I’ve got my crew chief back, my partner on the race team back with me this weekend. My wife wasn’t here this weekend, but we had a lot of symmetry back on our team from days of past. We really gelled together today. On a Monday, you really want to win in front of a crowd, but you still go up there every single lap. You got to be your best to have a good car, and we had a really good combination today. For whatever reason, I drove halfway decent,” Hartford said.
“[Tuner] Eddie Guarnaccia made incredible calls on the car today, and Adam [Bastion] and Kris [Ingaldson] were just flawless on everything they were doing as far as turning the car around in between runs,” he said.
“They put it in my hands and said, ‘Go out there and kick some ass.’ At the end of the day the win lights turned on for us,” Hartford said.
He kicked out some strong opponents: Kenny Delco, Enders, and Aaron Stanfield on his way to the finals. And with the victory, Hartford boosted his race-day performance percentage to above .500, at 6-4.
He shook off the rain delays and didn’t fret about what uncontrollable weather situation might arise.
“I think it’s more exhausting standing around doing nothing all day and wondering what’s going to happen instead of just going four rounds and then doing all the physical work and the mental work,” Hartford said.
Quick turnarounds can be challenging for Pro Stock teams, and Hartford said, “The quick turnarounds are definitely always tough, but when you got a small team like ourselves, you got to know exactly what you're going to do the moment that you roll back into the pits. You just have to go through your same routine and everybody does their same job. And that way you make no mistakes – and don't get me wrong, there were a couple things today that when we were hurrying, we made a couple mistakes. But we caught them before we went to the line, and that’s what a team does. Everybody gels together and then make sure when you get to the starting line that you're ready to go.”
It isn’t unusual for Top Fuel and Funny Car teams to begin taking apart their cars at the top end of the track, long before they arrive at their pits. Hartford’s team doesn’t do that, but they exercise the same sense of urgency with their cars that their counterparts do with Pro Stock’s longer, louder cousins.
“The first thing we do is come back here [to the pit] immediately and get the car up in the air. And I'm immediately looking at the engine, Eddie’s looking at the data and Adam and [Kris and David] are getting the clutch and the transmission out, torn apart,” Hartford said. “We're doing all of our quick visual once overs on everything, but we can't start that until we roll back into the pits.
“So, everybody does exactly the same thing every time, and it's a routine. It doesn't matter what team you're on, everybody has their own routine, but our goal first and foremost, [is to] make sure the motor is OK. If the motor is OK, then we move onto verifying everything else.”
Both Hartford and Kramer rose in the standings. Hartford climbed from ninth place to sixth, and Kramer improved two spots, from fourth to second, as the Camping World Drag Racing Series heads north to Epping, N.H., for the June 11-13 TascaParts.com New England Nationals presented by Bandero Premium Tequila.
Hartford said, “We've had a really good car all season, and the first four races we had some really dumb gremlins biting us race after race after race of things that we thought we had under control. And then they reared their heads again.
“We’ve known that we've been a much better car than what we’ve shown through the first four races. And this weekend, everything actually worked as it’s supposed to. Didn’t have any electrical issues in the car, no mechanical issues on the car. And we could just go up there and concentrate on driving,” he said. “Put those two together and you have a chance at winning. Doesn’t mean you’re going to, but you’ve got a chance.”
And he maximized his chance Monday. Susan Wade
NHRA - HOUSTON SUNDAY NOTEBOOK
RAIN HALTS NHRA ELIMINATIONS AT HOUSTON, ACTION SET TO RESUME MONDAY
Persistent rain at Baytown, Texas, has forced the NHRA to postpone the remainder of Sunday’s Mopar Express Lane Nationals at Houston Raceway Park until Monday.
The scheduled restart of the fifth race on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour is 10 a.m. Monday.
Rain interrupted eliminations just before the final pairing in the Top Fuel class, as Doug Kalitta and Brittany Force were set to make their passes.
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), and Dallas Glenn (Pro Stock) lead their fields.
Top Fuel winners Sunday were Shawn Langdon (over Josh Hart), Clay Millican (over Artie Allen), Billy Torrence (over Mike Salinas), Antron Brown (over Lee Callaway), Justin Ashley (over Leah Pruett), and Steve Torrence (over Mitch King).
Fans may direct ticketing questions to Houston Raceway Park. A Sunday rain credit will be redeemable for the 2022 event.
NHRA – HOUSTON SATURDAY NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE AIMS FOR FIRST HOUSTON WIN, HART’S FOCUS MAKING ROOKIE SEASON SMOOTHER, YOUNG BODE MARKS ANNIVERSARY, REDEMPTION-MINDED – BUT NO. 2-RANKED – ENDERS SEEKS TURNAROUND, DSR LOOKING TO GET IN FUNNY CAR WIN COLUMN
STEVE TORRENCE HAS DONE IT ALL IN TOP FUEL - ALMOST - Although he has a resume that would be the envy of nearly everyone who ever has raced in the class, the native Texan from Kilgore never has won at Baytown.
With his No. 1 qualifying performance early Saturday for the NHRA Mopar Express Lane Spring Nationals before a nasty wave of thunderstorms shut down action at Houston Raceway Park, the Capco Contractors Dragster driver is one step closer.
He set the bar in what turned out to be the lone qualifying session in the Lone Star State with a 3.727-second elapsed time at 326.48 mph on the 1,000-foot course.
That was enough to keep super-motivated Leah Pruett at bay. She took the No. 2 starting berth in her Pennzoil Dragster, clocking a 3.733-second pass and 312.86-mph speed.
“We sat there for 15 or so minutes, 20 minutes,” Torrence said, referring to the brief rain delay during qualifying. “You see Leah go out there and go a .73. And you’re hoping you can go out there and go that quick or a little quicker.”
While he might have felt the tenseness of the moment, he knew crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana had it covered.
“Richard and Bobby, they make all the calls. I have no clue what’s going on. They tell me to just sit in there and drive it. So I stepped on the gas,” Torrence said.
“The thing went out there, and it rattled a little bit,” he said. “And I’m thinking, ‘It’s not going to make it! It’s not going to make it!’ And it kind of washed out and it clears up and goes. I looked up as I go through [the timing lights at the finish line] and see a .72 and I’m like, ‘Oh, man, that was close!’”
Particularly in situations like Saturday, with poor weather conditions imminent, Torrence said, “You’ve got to make every lap count. So when you go out there with the possibility of only getting one run and knowing in the back of your mind, watching the weather, you got to go A to B.
“So we really went out there and tried to make it count, see what we could get away with,” he said. “We had it loaded for bear to go back up there, but it didn’t present an opportunity. So I think that at the end of the day, sometimes – we were fortunate to be quick. But you’ve got to race smart to go out there and set yourself with a good position.”
Antron Brown, who’s finding his groove early this year, will start third in Sunday eliminations, after posting a 3.749-second run at 325.22 mph. Following Brown were Mike Salinas (3.755, 326.32) and Clay Millican (3.777, 302.89). Those top five were the only racers to score three-second elapsed times Saturday.
Every Top Fuel entrant earned a spot on the ladder, for the field is two short of a full 16-car field.
Torrence has flirted with winning, all right. In six of his previous nine appearances here, Torrence and his Capco Contractors Dragster have performed well. He has been No. 1 qualifier three times. And he reached the finals on as many occasions, first losing to Doug Kalitta on a hole shot in 2016 (3.810 seconds to Kalitta’s slightly slower 3.813), then finishing runner-up to Leah Pruett (3.789 to her 3.781) the next season. Last year, when the Spring Nationals took place in late October, eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher returned from the sidelines and in the final edged Torrence by two-thousandth of a second.
“We know we have a car that can win here. We just have to get the job done,” Torrence said.
He didn’t necessarily express that he felt pressure because he’s racing in front of friends and family and Capco employees. But they motivate him to break that Houston “jinx.”
He said the Capco employees are the ones “who make it possible for us to do what we love. Taya Kyle and the folks at the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation usually have a presence, too. You really want to do well for all of them, so that just adds to the frustration, I think.”
Curiously, Torrence has lost to eight different opponents at Houston: twice to Morgan Lucas, Antron Brown, and Leah Pruett and once each to Spencer Massey, Khalid alBalooshi, Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta, and Tony Schumacher.
Torrence, the three-time and reigning champion, has won 33 of the past 81 Top Fuel races he has run (along with major races, the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, and the other event in his home state, at Texas Motorplex at Ennis). And he has reached the final at three of four events this season. Last Sunday at Charlotte, he completed a sweep of the Camping World Drag Racing Series’ two four-wide spectacles and became Top Fuel’s first two-time winner this season. - Susan Wade
HART KEEPING NOSE TO GRINDSTONE – Top Fuel owner-driver Josh Hart said he’s “very blessed” to have won his first-ever race in the class in March, qualified fourth at the past two events, reached the quarterfinals at Atlanta, advanced to the final quad at Charlotte, and pulled into Houston Raceway Park this weekend ranked fifth in the standings.
“I think that everybody deserves an award that even shows up to these events. That’s like a story by itself,” Hart said.
It brings back memories of independent Tim Wilkerson’s 2003 U.S. Nationals Funny Car victory. He said that day, “God should let everybody out here win once in a while. It's just so hard."
Even 10 years later, Wilkerson was telling his young crew members, “Be happy for the other team when they win. You can be pissed off that we got beat, like I am — that’s fine. But if we run a fair-and-square race and they win, those guys worked just as hard as you did. I believe that’s 100-percent true. If I had won the championship that year , that was going to be part of my speech — that everybody out here deserves this spot . . . because they do. Every crew member out here puts their heart and soul into these cars.”
“So true,” Hart said with a laugh. But he knows he can't expect something for nothing.
“When you’re truly attempting to reach your goals, it’s like you send a telegram to Murphy’s Law, asking for anything to go wrong that can go wrong [for your opponents]. But you’ve got to be willing to battle it if you’re going to reach your goals,” he said.
The idea of two four-wide races tossed in among the first four events of the year presumably would prevent a rookie from finding a rhythm.
But Hart said, “Actually, you know, it didn’t bother me too much. I really took my time in staging, especially in qualifying. I didn’t worry about my lights in qualifying. I just sat there and paid very close attention, studying everything. When it was time to go into competition, I felt I was ready.
“The team gave me a really consistent car, which has kind of been our standard operating procedure. They’re a bunch of magicians. Our Technet team, they’re truly magicians,” Hart said. “They’re the real people behind the car. The driver hits the gas and holds on for four seconds. [Crew chief] Ron Douglas is the man, the brains of the operation.”
So you make sure you have a comfortable seat. I’ve just got to do my job on the lights. In qualifying, I didn’t pay too much attention to that. I just kind of studied everybody’s staging procedures, then I did my own thing and in competition I was ready to rock,” he said.
After “an incident inside the car” that he said “got me distracted” in the Charlotte final round, Hart said, “We’re starting to get our performance where it needs to be. We need to keep the driver focused.”
Aside from the Charlotte final and a bit of a snoozer in a winning first round at Atlanta, Hart has recorded respectable reaction times on race day. At Gainesville, in understandably new circumstances, his qualifying lights were ones to forget about. But his lights improved dramatically during race day, and he cut a .026-second one on his winning pass. At Atlanta, he registered the best reaction time of the weekend (.053 seconds) but lost to a lower-launching Brittany Force. He started race day at Charlotte with .058 and .021 clockings at the Christmas Tree.
“I’m very focused. I feel like whether I’m in the business back home or in the race car, [the task at hand] is all I think about, which makes me decent at my job,” Hart said. “But in the last final pass, not everything was OK inside the cockpit, and it showed in my reaction time [.143, among his worst this year]. It was just a fluke incident that took place and it got me off my game. I could have had a perfect light and I still wouldn’t have won the race. But it was just one of those things” that he said involved “a lot of factors.” He said, “It’s like the stars have to align.”
Hart said that as a team owner, he “absolutely” wrestles with the tug-o-war that he ultimately is responsible for the team’s performance and yet he can’t control all those elements that go into a result.
“What are you going to do? Go into the mirror and yell at yourself?” he said. “It’s a lot of weight on your shoulders. If you want to wear the crown, you’ve got to muscle through it if you want to be the best at what you’re doing.”
Hart said, “I’ve never had a different path. I’ve always worked for myself and kind of had to learn the hard way. I’ve had the rug yanked out from underneath me before. So just stay humble and kind and stay out of the politics and do your job. It’s very challenging.”
His departure from Bob Vandergriff Racing, he said, is “a prime example. We thought we had a solid arrangement. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors, but my wife is super-super-supportive, and she said, ‘Hey, we never planned on owning a team, but you know what? We’re going to own a team.’ We decided to make lemonade out of lemons, basically.”
But Hart’s path has been set, and he said he has no desire to drive for another team owner: “No way. Not a chance, because it’s just easier to control your own schedule and your own everything.”
He and wife Brittanie started their business, Burnyzz, taking the name as a mash-up of drag-racing lingo “burnouts,” the marketing-trendy “zz,” and the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s” that came on the TV as they were tossing around name ideas for their company.
“Brittanie and I started that with very little money and built it up to what it is today,” Hart said. “It’s anything you can dream automotive.”
And it’s then some. He laughed at the notion it’s an “automotive theme park” but said that’s “pretty close” to the truth, with its city-block footprint and its full-service offerings – and even a working diner.
“If you stop into Burnyzz, you can buy a car, finance a car, insure a car, anything from a ’63 split-window Corvette to a ’71 Hemi Cuda. You can restore cars or build whatever you’re after. If you want a ’63 split-window with a brand-new LS7 powertrain, we can build you something like that, too.” He said Burnyzz also offers customization and candy paint jobs. Moreover, he said, “We’ve got a full detail shop with ceramic coating and window tint and all that good stuff. So literally, anything automotive, we can do it all in one stop instead of subcontracting any aspect of the job.”
That might sound like an overwhelming enterprise to many, but for Hart, it’s all in his wheelhouse. “I had only ever really done everything about cars. I wasn’t really sure about anything else. So I just decided to do something that involves cars,” he said. “I didn’t envision it to be what it is today. It’s a monster now. Very blessed.”
Like his business, this racing season can be anything Hart can dream when it comes to performance.
This rookie campaign, Hart said, “was planned to be a growing year. We had a big absorption, as far as taking over the operations from Vandergriff and trying to get it off the grounds and replacing what needed to be replaced and trying to get the program up to par. We just thought we would do a select few races . . . originally 10-12 . . . and then we’d go from there.”
He hasn’t changed his plan entirely, just tweaked it a bit. He already was planning to come to Houston and then enter the June 24-27 Norwalk, Ohio, race. Now he’s eyeing events at Topeka, St. Louis, and/or Bristol, Tenn.
Ocala, Fla.-based Buy Metal Buildings Direct (www.flmetalbuildings.com) and Modern Muscle Cars have joined Hart’s racing operation. “They seem excited, which means maybe we can add a couple more races,” Hart said.
But for now, Hart is keeping his goals simple and immediate: “We have a great team and a great car. We’ll try to have another good showing. Hopefully, we can turn up the heat a little bit and get this thing in the low 70’s, high 60’s.”
CALL HIM ‘SPONGE BOBBY’ – Funny Car racer Bobby Bode surprised even himself last October 24, when he debuted here as an Arizona State University freshman majoring in business administration.
At the time, so many aspects of his life were new experiences: late-night math exams via computer, for example, not to mention trying to juggle his need to study and his desire to concentrate on his racing career.
“It’s pretty hard,” he said of trying to hit the books after hitting the throttle of an 11,000-horsepower Funny Car. (Take that, campus cruisers at Tempe!)
“I came back on Sunday night. Between then and now,” Bode said on the eve of his second race, at Las Vegas, “it was hard to work on my homework, because I just kept watching replays of the race and everything.”
Once he got back to campus, he said, “Now that I’m back and thinking about everything that happened, it still feels like ‘Wow, I really did that!’ I took a lot of pictures with a lot of young kids. It's cool, because when I was that young, I would do the same thing with Tony Schumacher and John Force with a used part and then they’d it and I’d get a picture with them. So it's pretty cool to be where they were.”
As for his debut performance last fall, he said, “I was in total shock that I qualified seventh, because my dad [Bob Bode] hasn't even qualified that good in years. So for my first time, I was pretty ecstatic about that,” he said.
He said his father told him, “Dang. I haven't qualified that high in forever, and then you just come out in your first race and do it.” And then dad teased fellow Funny Car owner-driver Tim Wilkerson, who collaborates on the tune-up decisions for the teenager, “How come you couldn't have given me that race car?”
The Bode family bought the Ford Mustang from him about two years ago, and Wilkerson has helped them a lot since then.
Bobby Bode said, “He's brought me a long way from the tuning aspect of this for, like, the past two years. So I've learned a lot the past couple years from him.
“Well, honestly, from two years ago when I got the car from Tim, Tim wanted me to learn how to do it and he never really showed my dad how to do it,” he said. “So my dad, he still helps sometimes, but most of the stuff he doesn't really understand because I'm always doing it. But once in awhile he'll help whenever he knows something.”
He said Wilkerson is “more of a car chief for the mechanical aspect of it.”
Wilkerson said, “They’re a good group of kids, and I just wanted to see them perform better. If we can keep them from being on fire and still have fun, that’s all we’re trying to do.
“Even when Bob Sr. was driving, I told him that Bob Jr. was going to be the guy to talk to. I’m not talking to anybody else, just to Bobby – and if he tells you guys to stand on your left foot and wiggle your arm when you torque the head, then that’s what you’re going to do. I’m being facetious,” Wilkerson said, “but that’s the way I put it. Just do it how we want to do it and see how it works out.
“He makes some moves and does stuff wrong and he comes and gets me and I’m like, ‘Where the hell did you figure out what you wanted to do?’ He says, ‘Well, I looked at this and I thought if I did that . . .’ He did exactly what you told him and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I didn’t like that.’ We’ve had some runs last year where we thought, ‘That should have worked.’ Would-a, could-a, should-a’s don’t work with race cars,” the veteran Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang racer said.
“They’ll be all right. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t need to be as hard as people make it,” Wilkerson said. “The quality of your parts and just staying inside a little tune-up box, you can run good most of the time and not get yourself in trouble.”
Bobby Bode is grateful for the advice. He said, “Tim helps us so much, compared to other people that are in the same situation. I think that he helps us a lot more because me and my dad have a similar relationship like he and Dan [Wilkerson] had growing up. It's so similar to him, and he knows how to work with us because he's done it before. He's so helpful. We would not be where we were today without his help.”
He said Wilkerson constantly makes him think about what he is doing and shows him how to think through a problem.
“All the time. He doesn't do actual brain teasers, but when we're working on something and we’re kind of confused . . . for example, if we should torque something to a higher or lower number . . . then he gives us an example of what the difference would be and then most of them are pretty funny. I hear all the jokes he tells us, and I laugh at almost every joke. He just makes everything easier to understand,” Bode said. “He'd be a great teacher. I mean, compared to a lot of my college professors, I think he’d be way up there.”
Bobby Bode says his dad isn’t jealous of the working relationship he has with Wilkerson.
“I don't think he thinks about it like that. I think he's more thinking, ‘I’m so glad Tim's helping us,’ because I've talked to him a couple times about how ‘Tim always tells me more stuff about the tune-up and everything’ and then he says, ‘That's good. Tim's going to help us out a lot.’ So I think he thinks about it being more beneficial the way we’re doing it where Tim helps me than if he was involved.” Besides, he said he and his dad “argue all the time about the race car, like, ‘It should be this way’ – ‘No, it should be this way.’
“I try to explain why it should be my way, and then if he still doesn't like it he just says, ‘I'm paying the bills, so we're going to do it my way.’ Every once in a while, he'll just shut my ideas down. Most of the time we compromise right after a lot of arguing back and forth. So that's good.”
Through all the dynamics, Bobby Bode is soaking it all up. He knows he can benefit from advice, even though dad Bob and mom Alice have been bringing him to the drag races since he was two months old and later collected autographs of the pros (“I had a binder, and I'd have all the hero cards in it and all that”). It’s really hard to describe to someone unless you do it. You can't put it into words because there's nothing like it. It's just so hard to describe.
And he certainly would like to have a bunch of memories like his dad made in August 2010, at Brainerd, Minn.
“I definitely remember the weekend when my dad won in 2010. I was eight. I remember sitting in the stands for the final and everyone was cheering and stuff. So that was pretty cool,” he said.
“It was funny, because before their round, I got a blue snow cone, and I was eating it during the final And then I saw that he won. I was cheering. In the winner's circle picture, I had blue lips from the snow cone. The picture was on National Dragster, on the cover. I had blue lips in it. So that's probably the biggest memory that stands out to me from when I was younger.”
The Deer Park, Ill., native probably won’t have blue lips in the first winners-circle picture of his own. But he’s not concerned about that right now. He’s just looking for his first round-win.
Last year, in his debut, he exited in the first round against Blake Alexander, despite a quicker reaction time (a respectable .064 seconds). He missed the cut at the Finals at Las Vegas in his next outing. He has had just two appearances this season. At the Gatornationals, he lost to Robert Hight in the opening round, and he tried his hand at the four-wides at Las Vegas and fell just short of advancing from his quad as Ron Capps and Bob Tasca moved on.
By all accounts, Bode is progressing well, especially as the Funny Car class’ youngest Funny Car competitor. He began at age 18 years and six months.
“We were trying to get my license when I was still 17, earlier this year, but then COVID kind of screwed everything up,” he said. “I am thankful that I got to race” in 2020, “because in June or July, when I first started the licensing, I thought I might not be able to do it till . The second Indy race, that's when I started. I finished it in St. Louis at the national event there. It was the day that [Top Fuel racer] Krista Baldwin got her license, too.
And if anyone happened to wonder who was Bobby Bode’s back-up girl a year ago at Houston . . . She’s one of Del Worsham’s twin daughters, Kate.
“I grew up with Del Worsham’s daughters [Kate and Maddie]. Kate, she was actually my backup girl this weekend. I was meaning to thank her in my [top-end] interview so people know who she was, but I blanked in the moment. She was actually really good at it. It was her first time ever [as a so-called back-up girl]. She said she was nervous, and then my mom was giving her tips and stuff. She did really good for her first time. They used to race Juniors when they were probably 15 or 16 but then both of them stopped because they were more involved in clubs and stuff at school like sports and stuff. So they wanted to focus on that but they still go to most of the races. She's been going to a lot of races lately. They're really good people.”
Bode said he has found more drag-racing fans among his peers at college than he did at home in suburban Chicago. “I was kind of surprised,” he said, “because back home in Chicago at my high school and stuff, people weren't huge fans of it. But then I came down here [to Arizona] and everyone said, ‘You drag race?’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, I went to those all the time in California back home.’ So I was kind of surprised that a lot more people out here knew about it.”
He gets the usual questions from curious students. “They're like, ‘300 miles per hour. What does that feel like?’ I just say, “It's just crazy. You can't put it into words,’” he said. “The car just never stops accelerating. It feels fast, but in the moment when you're doing it, your brain slows everything down.”
Bode said, “I got my Super Comp license, too, but I never raced in competition with that. I just went to Frank Hawley’s School, too, and then got my license there. I made some passes in his Top Alcohol car, but pretty much I went from Juniors to Funny Car.”
And it appears he has that Mustang Funny Car to himself, now that his father and Funny Car racer Paul Lee signed off on his license.
“I think Dad officially retired, because he said once I got my license that he was going to just stop and he'd be OK with it,” Bode said. “So I think that unless some event comes up here where I can't make a race, I think I’ll be driving at every race from now on. We're just going to keep doing it like we've always done it: probably eight to 10, races depending on the location, how far they are, and all that. If we get more funding, we try to hit more races.”
Bobby Bode said he’d like to ease into running the Ar-bee Transparent Products company his late grandfather started and that his dad runs: “If it works out, I'd like to. But if not, if he sells it or something happens, then I’d like to make my own business, just like he did, and grow it and all that. You have to be super-organized.”
He said he likely will stay in the manufacturing sector “because I have a lot of knowledge about that because I've been around my dad's business since I was young. I actually worked there and got a paycheck. I started working there when I was 14, in the summers. And then weekends, we would always work on the race car. The race car work never got me a paycheck.”
The younger Bode had learned perhaps the biggest lesson he ever will need to have drilled into his psyche. That’s because he has heard his dad say repeatedly, “The business is what makes the money. The race car is what spends the money.”
NEW MENTALITY – Houston hometown favorite Erica Enders, the four-time and current Pro Stock champion, is seeking a boost to her season, despite winning the Las Vegas four-wide event and ranking no worse than second in the standings.
“It has not been the start we were hoping for, and we’re working hard to get our act together, myself included,” the perfectionistic Enders said. “I’ve lost on two holeshots this year (when her elapsed time was quicker than the winner’s), and that shouldn’t have happened. Every round matters, and you’ve got to fight every time out there. I haven’t shown that on reaction time, and we haven’t shown that on performance.
“I’m thankful for my team’s positive attitude, and we’re heading in the right direction after Monday’s test session. We were all mad about losing in Charlotte, and I know I’m going to race with a different mentality,” she said.
She’ll try to prevent leader Greg Anderson from stretching his 106-point advantage.
One thing she and keen rival Anderson have in common is they’re both trying to hold off young challengers Mason McGaha, Deric Kramer, 2020 race winner Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr., surprise rookie Charlotte winner Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, and Matt Hartford – as well as their fellow veteran racers.
DALLAS DOES HOUSTON – The Camping World Drag Racing Series is in Houston, but this weekend, the Pro Stock buzz is about Dallas – Dallas Glenn, that is. The winning rookie in a young quartet of first-victory hopefuls at Charlotte hasn’t had much time to savor what he called a “super-emotional” moment at zMAX Dragway. He and his KB Racing team, for which he also serves as Kyle Koretsky’s car chief when he isn’t behind the wheel, had to rush to Houston in the tour’s first back-to-back appearances of the year.
Glenn told National Dragster, “To be honest, I don't even think it's hit me yet. I'm just trying to enjoy everything I can. I've never experienced it on this side. It's super emotional. This is a whole new perspective for me. These cars are so much fun, but they're hard to drive. The results just came a little sooner than we were expecting."
In defeating Mason McGaha by an eyelash, along with Troy Coughlin Jr. and Fernando Cuadra Jr., last weekend, Glenn gave his organization a sweep of all four completed Pro Stock races. Greg Anderson captured the other three.
Glenn got an endorsement from one of the three he beat. Troy Coughlin Jr., who came .010 of a second short at the finish line, said, "Dallas is a good person, a very hard worker, and someone who came up through the Sportsman ranks like me. So I was happy for him. At the same time, watching him celebrate gave me some extra energy to win one for the JEGS.com Elite Motorsports race team.”
The driving experience has given Glenn a broader perspective about the class – and it has been a positive one. He said, "I think Pro Stock is extremely healthy. Pretty much half the field is under the age of 35. There's a lot of young guns driving right now, and it's absolutely tough out there. Anybody in the top 16 can win a race. Anything can happen right now. You know you're going to have to be good on the tree."
Glenn got to test himself against his own tuning Saturday. In the opening qualifying session, he ran alongside Koretsky, and together they put on an entertaining show for the fans with a thrilling side-by-side effort. Glenn took the top spot with his 6.549-second pass at 210.01 mph, and Koretsky was only slightly slower with a 6.552, 208.68.
LOTS RIDING ON BROWN’S EFFORTS HERE – Antron Brown is second to close buddy Steve Torrence in the standings, just 76 points behind him. And the recent Atlanta winner is a genuine threat. The Matco Tools/Toyota/Sirius XM Dragster driver has finished in the semifinals or better at the past six events, including last November’s Finals.
This past week, Brown made it official that he will separate from Don Schumacher Racing by the start of the 2022 season to operate as an independent owner-driver.
When he claims his next victory, Brown will have 53 victories, breaking his tie with drag-racing legend Joe Amato for the No. 3 spot on the all-time Top Fuel list. Brown’s Top Fuel history began here at Houston Raceway Park in 2008, when he won for the first time in just his fourth race. Since that victory, no driver has won more Top Fuel races than Brown.
In addition to his race-win total, Brown earned his 750th overall career round-win last weekend at Charlotte. With that, he became only the sixth driver in NHRA history to reach that level. He won her also in 2014, so he’ll be going for his third Houston victory Sunday. Brown has been runner-up here on four other occasions (2010, 2012, 2019 in Top Fuel and 2004 in Pro Stock Motorcycle). A No. 1 qualifying position here would give him a total of 50 (including 11 in the bike class).
This weekend he’s driving a special Matco “Tools for the Cause” paint scheme to benefit the Fisher House Foundation. Matco will donate 15 percent of net sales of “Tools for the Cause” items to the Fisher House Foundation through the end of 2021. For nearly 30 years, the Fisher House program has provided “a home away from home” for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and V.A. medical centers. These homes offer free, temporary lodging to military and veterans’ families, allowing them to be close to their loved ones during a medical crisis. Fisher House Foundation has served more than 413,000 families at its 91 Fisher House facilities since its inception in 1990. That represents more than 10 million days of lodging and more than $525 million in savings to those families.
Brown said, “I always look forward to [racing at] Houston Raceway Park. I remember when Matco had its first race there, the Matco Tools Supernationals. My crew chief, Brian Corradi, won that first race with Dean Skuza [in the Funny Car class]. The track has a really good, old-school NHRA drag racing feel. We love seeing all of the people from Houston and Louisiana who come out and show us all of the support. Houston is also Matco Tools-deep country, so I look forward to carrying on and keeping our good momentum going this weekend.”
He was third-quickest in qualifying Saturday.
HE’S BACK – Justin Ashley, driver of the Smart Sanitizer Dragster powered by Strutmasters.com, said, “Having back-to-back weekends at the racetrack is a key ingredient to success.” And he’s hoping his data from and memory of his visit here last year will pay off with his first 2021 triumph and his second overall.
“[Crew chief] Mike Green has done an amazing job since taking over the program,” Ashley said of his offseason coup in landing the championship tuner. “Our Davis Motorsports team is outstanding, and having two straight race weekends to work together will only put us in a better position moving forward.”
Ever the diplomat, he said, “Prior to the first four-wide race in Las Vegas [in April], I spent a lot of time studying, because I had never experienced the event. In Charlotte, I was a lot more comfortable with two additional race cars on the starting line. It is a very fun race, and it keeps you on your toes as a driver. I like the challenge, and I am looking forward to more four-wide races. I am also very excited to get to Houston and resume the standard style of racing.”
Just as this weekend has been rain-soaked, last year’s race here moved from its traditional May date to the middle of October, posing new weather-related conditions for the young driver who parlayed his developing skills into an Indianapolis victory and rookie-of-the-year honors. That rescheduled date gave Ashley yet another new weather environment, and Ashley regarded it as more of a lesson than an obstacle. He shook off any curveballs and qualified No. 9 in their first appearance. Although he didn’t make it out of the first round, Ashley gained valuable seat time at a new facility. With this different version of a Houston curveball, Ashley said, driver focus will be a key factor.
“We understand the weather may throw another variable into the weekend, but we are focused solely on controlling everything we can to the best of our ability,” said Ashley, who had to wait over a month to win his first race following a rain delay at the Summernationals. “We do have some experience winning rounds after a delay,” he said. “I am excited to show off this new look [for the car].”
KING THE KINGMAKER – Back in the cockpit at an NHRA national event for the first time since 2008, Galveston resident Mitch King didn’t get far down the track in his Top Fuel dragster in his first run because of tire shake.
But he’s no slouch (and he can make a mean sundae or milkshake, too, at his La King’s Confectionery old-fashioned candy emporium and ice cream shoppe on The Strand at Galveston). It was here in April 2008 that King put a young hot shoe from Fort Worth in his dragster and let him earn his IHRA license just after this NHRA Spring Nationals was completed.
That young man went on to win his first IHRA start at San Antonio less than a week later. Within 20 days, the kid had his second Ironman trophy, thanks to King’s help loaning him the car and hooking him up with Paul and John Smith to tune it. That racer is Spencer Massey, who at the end of that season switched to NHRA competition and had his share of outstanding performances and seasons.
MISSING – Two of the three pro event winners here from last October – Top Fuel’s Tony Schumacher, who lives near Austin, and Funny Car’s Tommy Johnson Jr. – aren’t racing this season.
Pro Stocker Aaron Stanfield is the lone returnee from the 2020 Baytown winners circle – and he has a bounty on his head. Like Top Fuel’s Leah Pruett, Stanfield will have double duty, also racing in the Factory Stock Showdown category. And class sponsor Constant Aviation is introducing its bounty program. A “bounty” is placed on the head of the previous event winner. Stanfield won at Gainesville, so he’ll be hunted by the rest of the field. If a competitor is able to beat Stanfield this weekend, he/she will receive a $1,000 prize. But if Stanfield wins, the bounty rises to $2,000. He started the weekend in the class in the third qualifying position.
IT ALL STARTED HERE - All three John Force Racing drivers and all five Don Schumacher Racing drivers have won at Houston Raceway Park at least once in their careers. And four of them earned their first Wally trophies here.
When Robert Hight switched from a John Force crew member to a driver, he scored his first of 51 victories here in 2005. He has three Funny Car titles to his credit now.
Antron Brown had 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle Wallys when he moved to a Top Fuel dragster in 2008, and he won here in only his fourth nitro race. Today he’s a three-time champion, tied at 52 for third place on the all-time Top Fuel’s victories list with five-timer Joe Amato.
Matt Hagan won his first Funny Car Wally trophy at Houston Raceway Park’s 2010 event en route to his three Funny Car championships and 36 total victories. He’s tied with Cruz Pedregon as the fifth-most-successful racer in the class’ history.
“It’s where I got my first NHRA Funny Car win, so it will always have a special place in my heart,” Hagan said. “Houston always brings a great crowd, it’s a great facility, and it’s a Pennzoil racetrack. There’s nothing better than going to your partner’s event at a partner’s track, and we want to put on a great show. I have a great race car underneath me, and it’s handling well and responding to the changes we’re making to it.”
Mark Pawuk competes in the Factory Stock Showdown Series, but he started his Pro Stock victory march here in Houston at the 1992 race.
Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, and JR Todd all have won with Toyota support in Baytown. Actually, nine different Toyota drivers have combined to win 10 previous SpringNationals, including last year’s victory by Tony Schumacher. Toyota Top Fuel drivers have claimed seven total victories, and in the Funny Car division, Camry drivers have won three times.
DE JORIA STILL SHOWING STRONG – Alexis De Joria blasted down the 1,000-foot Houston Raceway Park course early Saturday almost quicker than she could say “ROKiT Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota Camry Funny Car.”
But Bob Tasca II, who had been 12th after his first attempt, leaped past her into first place just before the day’s activities were rained out. Although she didn’t get a chance to try to take back her lead, she said, “We had a really good run in the first round with a 3.912. At that point, we really didn’t think we were going to be able to get the second run in. It would have been nice to get another shot at it, but we’ve got a really good ROKiT Camry. We’re happy with qualifying second, and we’re looking forward to eliminations tomorrow.”
She will start Sunday’s runoffs against Todd Simpson, who was the odd man out in the Funny Car class here last fall.
Austin resident De Joria is near her adopted home, still basking in her final-round appearance feat at Charlotte less than a week ago. She has qualified in the top three at four of the season’s first five races and in the top five at nine of the past 10.
“This ROKiT Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota Camry Funny Car was a dream to drive in Charlotte,” she said. “We went right to the top of the field on Friday night, and only one car ran quicker in qualifying. We knew we had a quick hot rod, and we showed it on Sunday with two more quick runs to get to that last quad. On the final run, I am not sure what happened, but it was mixing up cylinders all the way down the track and we let one get away from us. We tested on Monday, and I am ready to get after it in Houston.”
She said she thinks crew chiefs Nicky Boninfante and Del Worsham “turned a corner in Charlotte, and Del and Nicky will keep fine-tuning the car. My team is awesome, and I just have to do my job behind the wheel. I have a lot of confidence that we are going to see a lot of win lights this season. It would be great to get a streak started this weekend in Houston. I like the fact we are getting right back at it after a strong showing last weekend in Charlotte.”
TODD, WORSHAM SHARE DISTINCTION – Current DHL Toyota Camry driver JR Todd and Del Worsham, his predecessor in the recognizable yellow Funny Car at Kalitta Motorsports, are the only two drivers ever to win at Houston Raceway Park in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.
Todd took the Top Fuel victory in 2007 and said years later, “Houston will always be special for me. It was the first race after [close friend] Eric Medlen's accident, and I was fortunate enough to win.” Then Todd made some history in 2018, winning in the Funny Car final.
Worsham, who’s co-owner of DC Motorsports along with Funny Car driver Alexis De Joria and is her co-crew chief with Nicky Boninfante, did it first. Worsham won the Top Fuel trophy here for Alan Johnson Racing in 2011, after winning twice in a Funny Car (in 2001 with his family-operated team and in 2008 for Kalitta Motorsports).
“It’s pretty cool to have won there in both classes. It always blows my mind to hear stats about ‘only you and so-and-so have ever done this.’ I’m just fortunate to have a great team behind me and lucky to be driving this DHL Toyota Camry,” Todd said.
Todd has put the DHL Toyota Camry in the winners circle once this year, at the first race of this Camping World Drag Racing Series season, at Gainesville, Fla. He was runner-up this past weekend at Charlotte to push his race-day record to 10-3.
“We’ve won at Houston in the past, and anytime you get back to a track where you’ve had success, you look forward to going there,” he said. “We have some executives from Mobil 1 and Toyota here, so it’s a great time to show off in front of your sponsors. We have a really good hot rod. We’re right in the thick of it, second in points. We just need to keep racking up points in Houston.”
LEADER OF THE PEAK, ER, PACK – PEAK / BlueDEF PLATINUM Chevy Camaro owner-driver John Force owns the Houston Raceway Park record for victories among all pro racers, with seven. And he has some wild stories from his years racing at this venue. But among the ones he enjoys repeating is the time he earned the 100th victory of his storied hardscrabble to home-run career at Houston Raceway Park. Now he’s going after Victory No. 153. Force has led the field 10 times, most recently in 2019.
What’s more, his son-in-law crew chief Danny Hood helped Courtney Force to a 3.851-second run in 2017 to set Houston Raceway Park’s elapsed-time record.
“Houston has treated John Force Racing well,” the team boss said. “I’ve had some wins there. So has Robert Hight in that Auto Club Chevy and Brittany [Force] with Monster Energy [in Top Fuel.” That gives the John Force Racing organization 16 professional victories here. That total matches the most at any single event for the team. “I’ve got something good going with this PEAK / BlueDEF team and we’re going to keep it going. Take care of business during qualifying and set us up right for race day to go rounds and hopefully get in that winners circle again,” he said.
Force is fresh off his victory at Charlotte last week in the second and final four-wide event of the season. What might be lost is that he has had a string of promising performances this year, even in just four races.
In the season-starting Gatornationals, Force had a quarterfinal finish at the hands of teammate Hight. At Las Vegas, in four-wide format, he was second in qualifying – Hight. Force made his 257th final-round appearance and finished runner-up to Bob Tasca III. And at Charlotte, at the most recent event, Force earned his 161st top-qualifying berth and claimed his NHRA record-extending 152nd national-event victory.
LOVES HOUSTON – Robert Hight is ninth in the Funny Car standings with his Auto Club Chevy Camaro. But he isn’t at all concerned. He has come from father back to earn one of his three championships.
Still, he’s eager to move up the leaderboard, considering he reached the final at the season’s first race, at Gainesville, Fla. At Las Vegas, he was quickest in each qualifying round and improved with low elapsed time of the meet in the first round. He has dropped in the first round at the past two races, but after a day of testing at zMAX Dragway, crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham said they believe they have fixed their problem.
And it appears they’re right – Hight was second only to Alexis De Joria in the early Saturday qualifying session.
“We knew there was an issue, and we just needed the time to figure it out. Once Jimmy and Chris identified what they thought it was, we didn’t waste any time working to fix it,” Hight said. “These AAA guys worked hard on Monday, and we’re happy.” He said he was going into this weekend “knowing we’re going to be making solid runs and doing what we know how to do, and that’s win races.”
He won here in 2005, just four races into his rookie season and again in 2014 and 2019. He has led the field twice (2005, 2018), and he has advanced to final round in his past three visits here.
“I always love racing in Houston. It’s a great facility, the Angel family have always put on great events. This AAA Texas team has had success here. It’s where I got my first win as a driver and we’ve been able to go rounds and qualify well,” Hight said. “We’ll have this Chevy running well and we’ll be able to repeat some of that success this weekend and move up in the points.”
OOOPS – Cruz Pedregon knows drag racing can be a wild roller-coaster ride, full of sudden peaks and valleys. And he experienced that this week. The Snap-on Tools Dodge driver was walking just a little taller all week long after recording a perfect reaction time (.000 seconds) during eliminations at Charlotte. But he came back down to Earth a bit early Saturday, as he caught the guardwall just before the finish line and had his run disqualified, with impending rainstorms threatening to wipe out a second and final session.
Overall, though, he said he feels good about the car and his driving, especially after achieving the elusive perfect reaction time that's the goal of any drag racer.
“I’m very happy with where we are right now and the way the Snap-on Dodge is running. After a little bit of a slow start early in the season, I think we're now getting to where we should be. I've said it was going to be four or five races before we would really start to come together, and here we are going into the fifth race,” Pedregon said. “JC [crew chief John Collins] says he's been pecking away at the things that weren't working and finding what does. I'm feeling good about the car and driving it well, so we're ready.”
This is the site of his first Funny Car victory, in his 1992 rookie – and championship - season.
Moreover, the Snap-on team has more round-wins this year than it did in the abbreviated 2020 NHRA season. Pedregon is hoping to reach his 78th final-round appearance Sunday.
FORCE STARTING TO FEEL COMFORTABLE – Brittany Force is hitting her stride. And the driver of the Monster Energy / Flav-R-Pac Dragster has said she loves back-to-back events.
“It’s been a good start to the season for this team. We’re just four races in and getting back in the groove of things after a whole season away,” she said.
She’s third in the Top Fuel standings.
“This is the same team I had in 2019 and every single one of them returned. They stood by John Force Racing, and I think that speaks highly of their character. It shows how loyal they are and their commitment to John Force Racing. Our hard work is paying off, but we want more. We’re looking for wins and ultimately to go after that championship.”
Force has won her last two starts in Houston, in 2018 and 2019, making it the only stop on the tour at which she has won more than once. The 2018 victory was one of the biggest of her career, because it was her first since she crashed in a major way at Pomona, at the Winternationals, to start that season. Force set both ends of the current track records at 3.661 seconds and 332.18 mph April 12, 2019. Her 10-4 record here is her best at any venue.
“We’ve had some luck over the years in Houston. We won back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. I’m ready to go. These back-to-back races keep me as a driver, my crew chiefs, and my whole team on our game. We made a lot of improvement in Charlotte, and we’re looking to capitalize this weekend with a win,” Force said.
RODGER THAT – Houston roofing expert Rodger Brogdon is back at an NHRA national event for the first time since the Norwalk, Ohio, race in late June 2019. He competed at seven events that season. So far this season he has entered three divisional races. He’s planning to make the most of his weekend – not only is he scheduled to run in the Pro Stock class, but he’ll be going for a Wally in the Comp Eliminator class, as well, in his RBR Machine/RoofTec-branded cars.