FORCE SHAKES ROUGH COUNTDOWN START, REBOUNDS TO MAKE HUGE TOP FUEL STATEMENT - Brittany Force turned a bleak beginning to her Countdown into a promising prospect for her second NHRA Top Fuel championship Sunday with her victory at the Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

After four straight second-round defeats, the Flav-R-Pac / Monster Energy Dragster driver rebounded to regain the points lead. 

She used her No. 1 qualifying position for a bye run, then beat key challenger Antron Brown, eight-time champ Tony Schumacher, and another top-five contender, Mike Salinas, to take a seven-point advantage over displaced leader Justin Ashley. 

Force’s .034-second reaction time enabled her to score a holeshot victory in the final over Salinas, with a 3.705-second elapsed time at 332.34 mph that topped Salinas’ quicker 3.702 seconds at 324.90 mph. 

Salinas improved to third place, 66 points back, as the Camping World Drag Racing Series moves to Pomona, Calif., for the Nov. 11-13 Finals at Auto Club Raceway. 

“It shows you that Pomona is going to be exciting,” Force said. “I knew it would come down to Pomona, and it's going to be just a thrill for everybody. Going into it, we feel good. We're leaving in the best position that we can. We dominated this weekend. We did great. We struggled the entire Countdown and we started to make ground last weekend, and I screwed up. And so coming in this weekend, we really turned it around. We've had solid runs, picked up a ton of bonus points during qualifying, got that No. 1 qualifier [and] bonus points there, and we wanted to win today. We chased it down, and we got it done.” 

She said the poor results from Reading, Charlotte, St. Louis, and Dallas weighed on her. 

“I'll tell you, it's a fight to leave on a mark like that and to feel like you’ve let your team down. My guys, every single one of them, David Grubnic, Mack Savage, every single one of those Flav-R-Pac guys, they're such hard workers. They put everything in that car. And then to feel like I held them back when we're in the hunt for the championship, there's no worse feeling,” she said. 

“So it's about going home and putting in the hours, putting in the time. I’m practicing everywhere I can to be better when I get out here. And staying positive, really putting it behind you, stop thinking about it and moving forward is the biggest key for me, and we were able to accomplish that. Again, I was a little off today, but I found it in the final round,” Force said. 

The victory, she said, “is huge. It's giving it back to my guys for all the times they've carried me. So it's a thank-you to them. Again, I give it up to every single one of my guys. They're incredible. There’s no one else I'd rather be going into the hunt for this championship with than those guys. 

“It gives us a lot of confidence. This is our career best season: five wins, and it's been a little while since we've been in that winners circle. And, I mean, we didn't come close in the Countdown, so today was a big turnaround for our team to get us back to the number one qualifier points, move us up and end up in that winner circle.” 

Ashley lost to Clay Millican in the opening round, but Force said she paid no attention to that race two pairings behind her. 

“Honestly, I don't look at what's going on. I don't care what anybody else is doing. I only care about what our team can do, what I can do as a driver, because I can't control what the other guy in the lane next to me is doing. I actually didn’t know that he went out until we were back [at the hauler],” Force said. “My focus is once I’m in that car, once I’m in the staging lane, once I’m at the starting line, it’s only that. I don’t look around me, because it’s another distraction, and you don’t need distractions when you’re trying to cut a light and turn a win light on.” 

Millican apologized to Ashley for upsetting his plan to open a bigger lead on the field, then said, “I know Justin is in a fight for the championship, but I’ve got to turn win lights on. That’s what Parts Plus sends me money for. Justin will be fine. He ain’t out of this.” 

Ashley said, “Of course, you’re disappointed” with a damaging first-round exit. “I’m happy for a guy like Clay My Phillips Connect team has been working so hard. We knew coming into the Countdown that it wasn’t going to be easy. This is the emotional roller coaster we talk about. I said we’re not going to ride those waves. No matter what happens the rest of the day, we’re going to be in it come Pomona. We’ll regroup and be back in Pomona, ready to rock.” 

Brown, Force’s second-round casualty, knew he was in for a monumental match-up, once again, with her. He called the Round 2 race “rough” and said, “Brittany was a juggernaut all weekend in qualifying, and we were just a tad too aggressive. Our Matco Dragster was trucking early, but the track just wouldn’t hold it. It’s tough.” Alluding to the points-and-a-half format that will be in place at the Finals, now-fourth-ranked Brown said, “We’ve still got a shot going into Pomona in two weeks, and that’s all you can ask for.” He’s 78 points behind Force. 

Her John Force Racing teammate, Austin Prock, took out reigning class champion Steve Torrence in the second round. That put a significant dent in his hopes for a fifth consecutive crown, but he’s still in contention in fifth place with an 87-point gap to fill. 

Torrence said, “The door was open, but we just couldn’t get through it,” taking a realistic view at his hopes for a repeat championship. “If we just had to catch Brittany or Justin, that would be one thing, but there are two other drivers ahead of us now. We’ll just go to Pomona and try to end it strong and build some momentum.  I’m really proud of these Capco Boys.  We had some issues this year, but we kept our heads up, and we’re ending the season with a strong car. It’s definitely not how we drew it up. 

“This can be a very humbling sport,” Torrence said.  “We struggled early. But credit Justin and Brittany and AB [Brown] and Mike [Salinas] – in fact, credit everybody in Top Fuel.  There are no more easy outs in this class. And when you’re the champ, you get everybody’s best. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it should be.” 

Force said he’s ready for the final right now. 

“I wish we honestly went right into Pomona. If it were up to me, that's how we would do it because it's just this gut-ache that you carry, the what ifs, and just thinking of every scenario, I honestly I don't know how other drivers are. I can't go home and relax and enjoy the weekend. I'm just counting down the days until we get to Pomona,” she said. Susan Wade

MATT HAGAN KEEPS HIS TITLE HOPES ALIVE WITH VEGAS VICTORY - Matt Hagan’s quest for a fourth NHRA nitro Funny Car world championship is alive and well.

Hagan kept his hopes alive by winning the Nevada Nationals Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In the finals, Hagan clocked a 3.878-second elapsed time at 330.23 mph to defeat points leader Robert Hight, who slowed to 6.157 seconds after smoking the tires.

Hagan, who is in his first season driving for Tony Stewart Racing, is now third in the points standings – 63 points behind Hight and two points behind reigning world champ Ron Capps.

“Obviously I think anything's possible,” Hagan said. “Dickie Venables and those guys are making some real power with this Dodge Power Broker car. And it's running strong. They put a great Hot Rod underneath me. It's cool though, come out here on Sunday and win on two holeshots today and give my team that little extra bump of what we needed to keep going in those rounds. It is hard to get those holeshot wins like that sometimes. But it's just one of those things where sometimes you got to be a little lucky and sometimes you got to be a little good and you never can count Dickie out. Even last year, the year before we won and last year Alexis (DeJoria) spoiled our deal, but we took (Ron) Capps out second round and just needed to get around Alexis.
“It's one of those things where it's always to the end, it's always to the last race, you just never know how it's going to happen. I think that's so exciting for us as drivers and crew chiefs and sponsors and exciting for the fans. So, I think we put on a great show for these fans out here. It was amazing to do a burnout and see everybody just packed in here. NHRA is doing a good job of promoting and filling up the grandstands. These are big stands here to fill up. And like I said out there, it is really cool when you have a bunch of people behind your pit rooting you on in the finals. I was like, ‘Damn, people actually like me.’ But it's just awesome, just to be able to drive a car like that.”

This was Hagan’s 43rd career national event win and fourth of the season but first since the New England Nationals on June 5 in Epping, N.H.

“Tony Stewart, he came out here and he's always got so many balls in the air, man, you know what? And it's just like he decided he was going to have his debut here in competition,” Hagan said Stewart who advanced to the finals in the Top Alcohol Dragster class before losing in the finals. “He's got so much going on and it was just so good to see that dude smile. He just had one of those grins from ear to ear pretty much all weekend. You could just tell that he just really enjoyed himself and to go to the final like that, that's pretty impressive. Who comes out here their first time ever, really, I think he's only tested in that car twice, and then go to a final. The guy is about competition and about winning and whatever it takes to put trophies on the shelf.
“That's what that guy's all about. I don't think it's so much the paychecks as it is, it's the trophies that he wants. It's just one of those things where I was glad, we had a good solid weekend. He had a solid weekend and Leah as well. They're working, they're building, they're trying new things and working towards next year. I think we have a good unit here. We just have to keep digging and working hard. And Robert's a tough customer, man. I walked over to him late yesterday in qualifying and I said, ‘I don't know how this stuff ends up man, but I tip your cap to you, dude. Anybody that wins eight or nine races in a Fuel Funny car, you've done something." And I said, ‘I got a lot of respect for you, man.’

Hagan sees similarities between he and Stewart especially behind the wheel.

“He's the type of driver that I am,” Hagan said. “There are no games up there, it's just stage your car and let's race these things and I have a lot of respect for that. So, we're going to go out of here swinging, man. We're going to give it all we've got. We've had two good races here from Dallas, going to the final and then win this one. We actually have a new combo that we're working with that they threw it in there last night for the last run. And I was like, ‘Damn, I don't want to be a crew chief right now, decide whether we stick with our combo that we've had all season or go with this new combo.’ And they're were like, ‘No, we're going to the new combo.’ So, to come out first round and still try to figure out everything that's changed and these things, you change one thing, you change six things. So, there's just so much that those guys had to overcome today to turn four win lights on. So, super proud of them and I'm excited about what we found and how the car is running and what we're doing.”

On Sunday, Hagan defeated Steven Densham, Chad Green, Bob Tasca III and Hight. The final race of the season is Nov. 10-13 in Pomona, Calif.

“Well, I don't know what it is about these later races, man, but we just always do well in Pomona as well,” Hagan said. “I think Dallas, I went to five finals or six finals now or whatever it is. But those are Dickie Venables type of conditions. We get the cooler weather, the tighter tracks where you make big power and lay it down. And I think obviously in my wish list, I think I would like to go work on some hot weather tune up next year. We got a racetrack right there beside of us, Indy, and it's greasy and it's nasty and it's 110 degrees.

“I would love to go out here and find a tune-up where we could go from 3.95 to 4.05, just maybe go down a dirt road. And so, I think when we do well, when it's cool in the beginning of the season and do well at the end of the season, we just got to make that point where during the middle of the season, we're running well too. And it seems like it always kind of bites us a little bit at the Western swing. So, I think there's some stuff that we as a team can work on and do better. Robert (Hight) seemed to have just been steady all year long. They've found that hot weather combo along with the cool weather combo.”

Hagan knows his TSR team needs to keep rolling into and through Pomona and he was thrilled with how things unfolded Sunday.

“Well, our guys are jazzed right now,” Hagan said. “Obviously coming off this win, that kind of carries through itself, but the fans are really where it's at, man. That's really what I think as a sport as a whole that we have to focus on not just drivers, but just everybody, crew chiefs. I think we need to have more autograph sessions we need to have more fan interaction and that's the selling point of what we do. That's what makes us different from so many other motorsports. That's the same reason that Dodge is going to be in drag racing and probably not in NASCAR. Because the interaction and engagement and having Tony over here and him saying that he's had more fun over here than he is had in anything that's got fenders on it.

“It's pretty incredible. So, I think that for us, for me anyway, it gets me up. When you have a bunch of people back there who are rooting you on, you don't want to disappoint them, man. You don't want to come back to the pit, and they're all gone and being like, ‘Well, that wasn't good.’ But it's great when they're back behind your pit after you won and they're celebrating with you, and they care about you. Just as a driver, as a guy that's been in a sport that who can remember when I couldn't give an autograph away and nobody wanted one, I was like, ‘Please take one. People are watching, just take one.’ So, you remember that side of it. So, when people are lined up to get your autograph it's pretty cool.”

With a world championship at stake in Pomona, Hagan is confident in Venables.

“I just think Dickie's going to go out there and run as hard as he can,” Hagan said. “I think that's most crew chiefs MO, not so much to kind of play games or stage this or do that. It's just show up, run as hard as you can and see where the cards fall. And like I said, if it wasn't for this Countdown, he (Hight) would probably 300 points ahead of everybody. So, you give respect to where it's due. Those guys have done an amazing job all year long. And I think we just got to go out there with the same attitude we've had the last two races of, we don't have anything to lose. We have to throw down and we have to scoop up as many points as we can, and we have to be aggressive.

“I think sometimes when you're in that points lead/chase and you're real close, sometimes you're a little too conservative. And you hold it too close to your chest, and that mentality is tough to come off sometimes. I've been there, I've been like, ‘Man, don't smoke the tires. We got to go down the racetrack.’ But now when you get in that mindset of, we ain't got nothing to lose, and you can see what the car's capable of and you go out there and you run those low numbers, and we went 82 the other night. And won that 15 grand. It's like, we can do this, we just have to swing hard every lap. But there's such a mix with it as far as even when you're swinging hard, and maybe the track's too good and eats up a lot of clutch, and there's just so many variables that you know have to get right. So, God bless those crew chiefs, man, because you couldn't double my pay and ask me to be a crew chief.”

Hagan’s day almost ended in the first round against Densham, which he discussed in his winner’s interview.

“That's called just lucky,” Hagan said. “It could have been all over within a blink of an eye. And you go up there first round and I wouldn't say you're super aggressive. Or even on a tree, you're trying to cut a good light, leave on time, keep it in the groove, but it shows you how important that you have to go after every run. It put a cylinder out early. And like I said, we're working with a new combination and it's one of those things where the car cutoff and I was like, ‘That ain't good.’

“Then, I could hear him beside me and then we were just coasting. And then you're like, ‘Oh my God, I thought he beat me because I'm slowing down and he's coming so fast." And I was looking at the stripe and I was like, ‘Well, we just lost this one. This is pretty sad.’ But then my win light came on over there and I think it was a couple thou or something like that, and so you're just like, ‘That was a lucky one.’ Sometimes you just have to be lucky than good. And trying that new combination, the motor wasn't happy. It just was one of those things where we just still had some learning to do. And thank God we were able to get through that round and it didn't bite us, but we could definitely not be holding a trophy today because of the first round.”

Then, Hagan just went with the flow.

“So, I guess I'll go buy a lottery ticket today too,” he said. “So, we'll just see how it rolls. That's drag racing, man. It's so humbling, so you can do it all right and have a great light and all this other stuff and then something happens and it's not your day, you go home. But today was our day when we got that round win, and we were able to progress and get into the final and beat Robert. And like I said, I would like to see Robert earlier rounds than in the finals, but that's a good car over there. It's a tough customer and we just got to keep doing work.” Tracy Renck


Erica Enders’ drive for a fifth NHRA Pro Stock world championship was complete when she won the Nevada Nationals on Sunday, the second to last race in the 2022 season.

Enders, who won world titles in 2014-15 and 2019-20, came into this weekend with a 165-point lead over her Elite Motorsports teammate Aaron Stanfield.
She then clinched the world championship when she beat Kyle Koretsky in the semifinals and then made the day even more memorable by beating Troy Coughlin Jr. in the final round.

In the finals, Enders clocked a 6.64-second time at 206.86 mph to defeat Coughlin’s 6.668-second lap at 206.48 mph at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

“It has been a dream come true,” Enders said. “We set out like we do every year and that is go win as many races as you can and win the world championships. In the fashion in which we lost the championship last year Greg (Anderson) had a dominant car, and it came down to the wire in Pomona. We have sported the No. 2 all year but coming in that lit that fire under our butt. The guys in the engine shop, my guys in the race car shop and then myself behind the wheel, we wanted to be the champs again. That’s the mentality we had, and it was a dogfight.

“We have one more left and I’m proud of them because it is easy to get lazy and go through the motions. You got to get up and you have to be hungry, and fight tooth-and-nail every single week.” 

With five world championships, Enders is tied for third on Pro Stock’s all-time list with Greg Anderson and Jeg Coughlin. The late Bob Glidden (10) and Warren Johnson (6) are No. 1 and No. 2 on the list.

“I was telling Brittany (Force) in the truck on the way here I just felt different (Sunday),” Enders said. “I’m not sure it was nerves, and we had a big lead and we supposed. To lock it up, that side of it so different. (Sunday) I felt different on the inside, I drove differently, it was really weird until we finally got that monkey off our back. Then the finals were kind of a more peaceful do your own thing deal. When Aaron (Stanfield) out-ran us both sessions on Friday we got one back on Saturday and he got the next one. With those baby points it went to a two-round spread that I would have to go past him to clinch here. I knew we had our work cut out for us and going to that No. 1 spot put me having the winner between Greg Anderson and Dallas Glenn in the second round. That’s a pretty stout match-up. I knew the ladder looked tough and we just needed to go to work. I’m super thankful my guys gave a really trick Hot Rod this weekend.”

This was Enders’ 43rd career national event and a personal-best 10th of the season in 18 races.

“As a kid with big dreams, it makes me want to pinch myself,” said Enders about having five world championships. “Not just I, we have worked really hard to get here. We have sacrificed a lot and a lot of stuff on the road, in our business, financially and most importantly personally. It is nice to see glimmers of hope that the sacrifices have paid off. To put our name next to the likes of Jeg Coughlin, Greg Anderson, up on the list with Warren Johnson, these guys are legends. People who I bought their T-shirt when I was a little kid. It is really neat to join those guys.” 

The 2022 NHRA season concludes at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 10-13.

Enders improved her season elimination-round record to 52-8. She has been to 12 final rounds. This was Enders’ 10th career in Las Vegas and all coming since 2014.

On Sunday, Enders beat Kenny Delco, Dallas Glenn, Koretsky and Coughlin Jr.

“The Dallas Glenn race neither of us was good on the tree and I guarantee you he’s not proud of his reaction time just like I’m not,” Enders said. “We dug deep the next round, and I was back in the 20s in the semifinals and finals (with reaction time). It is hard to put everything out of your mind and make your stomach and your nerves calm and get your head right and think positive, going up there I was just able to go through the motions. When you hit the starter button somehow all that disappears. I thank God for that piece. 

“It was a tough day. It was really challenging mentally and physically. It was very abnormal for me. I’m glad we parked it in the winner’s circle.”
Enders is now the sixth winningest driver in Pro Stock history trailing Greg Anderson (100); Warren Johnson (97); Bob Glidden (85); Jeg Coughlin Jr. (65) and Jason Line (51). 

“On the way back to the pit (after the semifinals), I service the engine on my car, so I got back, and I saw (team owner) Richard (Freeman) already had the valve covers off and he was changing valve springs. I was like ‘Where are we at?’ I picked up the notebook and tried to jump right in order and get back in the groove of things. You go from celebrating and being so very excited to secure our fifth world championship and then you have to go back to work and get your mind right. 

“I went up and talked to my crew chiefs before that final round and they said they were going after it and you need to go after it as well. Let’s continue to stomp their throats. Every single time I race TJ he rises to the occasion. I think the last time we ran each other he was 11 on the tree. I knew he was going to go for it, and I needed to as well. We had a great drag race. We were both 20 (reaction times) and ran a couple hundredths apart at the finish line. For all the people who make it possible for me, they are here this weekend because SEMA is this week. All the guys who write us checks or give us parts are here and it is super meaningful to be able to celebrate not just our fifth world championship but this victory in the winner’s circle with them. With 40-something odd wins, I think we moved up on the list passing Kurt Johnson who was frickin awesome and my buddy AJ. It is just unbelievable honestly. I’m really thankful and I’m a blessed girl.”

Enders’ momentum started rolling on Saturday when she qualified No. 1 with a 6.579-second time at 208.75 mph.

“I know I got really pissed off in Gainesville when we set the world record and then I lost first round on a holeshot,” Enders said. “It was embarrassing. I let my entire team down. I’m not sure I have ever been 70 something and I was there. I knew I had to go to work. From there out, I’m pretty proud of the performance we have had. I’m not double 00 all the time like I used to be, but I don’t have to be. I’m not going to change the way I race. Through the summer, we really felt like we had something special that we had discovered something in the engine department that we were proud of, and we were going to keep moving forward. The scoreboard shows we have a couple hundredths on these guys right now you never count them out because Greg Anderson and that entire KB team are fierce competitors. They are always right there with us.

“In the Countdown, being able to win the first couple of races, starting off Reading, Pa., we had never really done that. In the summer I thought we were doing better, and, in the Countdown, we really stomped on it. I’m proud of the performance for sure.” Tracy Renck





Three years ago, John Medlen was leaving home for another drag race, happily ready to tune a Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing. 

His wife, Martha, made a pivotal observation: “We’ve been dragging that suitcase around for 35 years. How much longer do you want to do that?” 

The longtime NHRA drag-racing tuner for the sport’s top teams and elite, champion drivers said, “Well, I've been gone from you, half the days of the year for 35 years. So when you say enough is enough, I'll park that suitcase. I'll move anywhere you want to move. I'll do anything you want to do, because you deserve to spend part of our lives together doing what you want to do. So when you say enough is enough . . .” 

And time – and racing – went on. 

Then this September, after Medlen helped guide Funny Car’s Ron Capps to his long-awaited first U.S. Nationals victory, the crew chief and his wife spent some quiet time at their cabin in the Appalachian Mountains of Northern Georgia, soaking in the silence and fresh air, a seeming universe away, literally and figuratively, from the nitro-laced, noise-polluted atmosphere of the Camping World Drag Racing Series. Up on Little Cherry Log Mountain, on peaceful Misty Mountain Lane, they could trade the world’s chaos for a view of natural splendor. “Probably not one car down there in two months. You can see 100 miles in either direction,” John Medlen said. 

Eventually, they had to re-enter the rat race, from tranquil Ellijay, Ga., to the bustling workshop at Brownsburg, Ind., preparing for Countdown to the Championship battle. And this time, as they did, Martha Medlen asked her husband, “You know what time it is?” Easy question: “2:30,” he replied. She said, “No. It’s time to park it.” She meant the well-traveled suitcase. 

“I said, ‘Why is it now?’” John Medlen wondered. And her answer was “Well, I was going to wait for the end of the year to tell you, but you said it's only fair to tell the owners now so they can find somebody and give them a chance to shuffle it the end of the year, not to be left out.” 

And “so,” he said, “I came back out and I told Ron [Capps] and a lot of the [crew] guys, ‘I'm going to be at the cabin at the end of the year.’ And they said, ‘OK.’ 

“So the quest is to find peace there because of quietness. I like being around people to an extent,” John Medlen said.” So that's what she picked. That's what she wanted to do. And I told her, ‘Anywhere you want to go, whatever you want to do, you get to pick. Just point. OK, so she’s picking, and I'm going.” 

Capps broke the news to the drag-racing community when he won the Texas FallNationals, near Dallas, two weeks ago. It raised eyebrows then, but Medlen said, “It’s no closely guarded secret or anything. I’ve been out here 36 years.” 

And those 36 years have brought triumph and tragedy, happiness and heartache: championships with both John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing. For Medlen, that includes the joy of working with son Eric, who became one of the sport’s most beloved Funny Car drivers – and the unfathomable sorrow of losing him in 2007, as the result of a testing accident. From that grief grew The Eric Medlen Project, dedicated to driver protection and safety solutions. 

But now it’s time to step aside from the complex jumble that is elite drag racing. And Medlen said, “It's actually joyful for me, because it kind of takes the burden. I kept getting more and more burden that I would leave half the days of the year. My daughter got engaged, so it’s just her there now. That's not right. And she works, so she can't really travel to the races. We got married because we wanted to be together. Just so happened that this is what I do for a living.” Now, he said, “she gets to pick, and she picked it and I'm going.” 

He isn’t abandoning the world he has helped shape through the years, not entirely. 

“I'm going to do some consulting work. I'll dabble in it. Maybe six races a year or four races a year. It just depends,” Medlen said. “She gets to pick. That's only fair. That was my agreement, and I keep my word.” 

But “if need be,” he said, he’ll continue to help with The Eric Medlen Project. 

“One of the things we need to do more with that project is get those things that we have discovered implemented, mandatory implemented. So that's a quest,” Medlen said. “That will keep going. There will always be a need for safety and implementation and new safety things.” 

But he gained satisfaction from the progress the initiative has made. 

“It's migrated so much better than it was that the safety in that driver's seat is exponentially better than it ever has been,” Medlen said. “There's some little things that can help. The tire was the biggest thing. The change in how they construct the tire and then just the roll cage and all the padding and everything. It's a package that's so much better. I feel comfortable now that we've done pretty much everything humanly possible that we know of to protect the driver in his office.” 

He said, “What you can't fix is that what you don't know exists. So if we have another component failure or another incident, then we have another can of worms to look at. But right now, knock on wood, it’s all been very good. We've had very few invasive things happen for the driver, and so we got to make sure we keep it there, make sure that we don't say, ‘Well, nothing's really happened’ so you kind of mitigate the importance of that. We got to keep the level of importance of driver safety at the very top of the page, and we have. Everybody has.” 

WEEKEND A FACT-FINDING MISSION – It’s not about winning – yet. 

However, Tony Stewart has been winning in his NHRA and Top Alcohol Dragster debut this weekend at the Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

In qualifying, he scored an enviable No. 2 starting position, even though he never had raced with a driver in the opposite lane until his second run Friday. Then he defeated his first two elimination-round opponents in the McPhillips Racing Mobil 1-branded nitro-injected dragster. 

Winning was simply a bonus for the IndyCar / NASCAR / USAC / SRX champion who first immersed himself in learning what drag racing is about then established his own two-car nitro team, then this weekend took baby steps toward a driving career. Despite his initial successes Friday and Saturday, he considered himself as an apprentice still as he faced Sunday’s third round of eliminations.   

“We said going into this weekend that the primary goal was to get experience,” Stewart said. “It wasn't to focus on performance. It was about learning procedures and learning how to do them correctly and just get the experience of the weekend. So far, we're happy with that experience. 

“So I've been happy. We've had some small curveballs. I've never had tire shake before, and so we went through that. We've had a mistake on the line, small mistakes that nobody even noticed. Rich Sr. didn't even notice it last [Friday] night. He was waving me forward and didn't even notice the car went backwards first. It was such a small move. But it's details that I pay attention to. Leah and Matt have instilled to me to pay attention to all those details. And, you know, all those details are super-critical, and all the time the cadence of everything is super-important. So I've focused on procedure more than anything and just trying to not make those mistakes . . . but if I do make a mistake of not freaking out and getting out of time and getting out of the cadence. And I feel like that's a good thing if I can recover from those and still do the run correctly.” 

So far so good. 

He won the first elimination round of his career, defeating James Stevens by .029 of a second, or about 11 feet (5.293 seconds, 271.95 mph to 5.342, 270.27). That earned him a Round 2 match-up against Taylor Vetter, who ousted points leader Joey Severance in her opening round.   

“It was pretty cool. I knew he left on me, but the McPhillips team, these guys are used to running up front in this class. I saw his nose, so I knew I was in trouble,” Stewart said of Stevens and their pairing. “But that’s what this McPhillips team is capable of, having a car that can come out the back end of this thing and get the light on. 

“This is a tight field. I found out after Q3 that this is tied for the tightest field. It’s a tough field to be part of, but glad to get our first [round-] win.  Mobil 1 and Advance Auto Parts and CarQuest, all our partners that we have on our sprint-car teams and NASCAR teams want to join in this experience with us. And we get to do it again.” 

He did, and the result was another victory. Stewart clocked a 5.278-second elapsed time at 275.22 mph to Vetter’s 5.333, 277.03.   

He said his takeaway from his first two days officially as a drag racer was “just how supportive everybody’s been . . . guys from the pro pits on down . . . the support from the alcohol division, the drivers and crews, how much they welcomed me today. Just an awesome feeling. It’s nice to get through two rounds today and get to race on Sunday with the pros now. Pretty big deal for me.” 

Following his first-round victory, Stewart said, “It was really good to get a solid first run in. Obviously, that's been key to this point of the weekend. Last night [Friday night] it got really cool. The track changed a bunch, and it actually caught a bunch of people off guard, so we shook [the tires] in the second round. A lot of guys shook or spun the tires in the second round, and then this morning it wasn't as good at the beginning on the hit as what they were looking for, but midrange and top end of the run, it ran comparable to what it did yesterday.” 

As for his late-Friday run, he said feeling tire shake and having to cut off the engine early was “just one more experience that when you haven't driven a car like this that you have to go through those at some point, and it was good. You want to make it down in every qualifying round, but if there was a positive to not making it down last night, it was an experience that I needed to go through and understand and feel.” 

Already, he said, he’s relatively comfortable with staging procedures: “I guess being here for the last two years and being around Matt and Leah [his drivers, Funny Car’s Hagan and Top Fuel’s Pruett] and everybody, you understand the cadence of what the staging procedures are like. So being able to watch at least gave me a heads-up before you go and jump off the deep end head- first and have to do it for the first time. So everything has been in small increments.” 

He knows it will take him awhile to find a rhythm. 

“So first run, I was on a solo. It kind of worked out really good, in all honesty. I mean, when I tested with this team and when I've tested with Leah's team, nobody's standing in front of me where I can see them as I'm staging and lining up and you wouldn't think that'd be a big deal,” he said. “But all the cars I’ve ever driven in my life, there's nobody in front of you like that. If they are, they’re in the wrong spot. They're standing in the wrong area. So just to see people in the staging lane and standing beside the track when we made our first run, it was good to get used to that and get acclimated. Last night's run and then this morning's qualifying run to line up with somebody, it wasn't near as dramatic as I thought it was going to be, because you can't see them anyway. All you can see is the lights.” 

Can Stewart see himself continuing to compete? How about stepping up to the pro ranks? 

“I haven't even thought that far, honestly,” Stewart said. “This weekend was about just going through the experience. And truly, after the weekend's over, we'll sit back and say, ‘Hey, is this something that we want to pursue and want to try to do more of?’ Yesterday [Friday] was kind of weird. I mean, the way the schedule laid out, it worked out really well. We had a round early in the day, and then the two nitro rounds were in the middle of the day, and then we ran our second round in the evening. Where today [Saturday], now I've made a run, we're getting ready to go up for Leah and Matt's first run today and then I'll run my first round of eliminations. Then they run Q4, and then if I get through E1, then I get to go again at 5:30. So the schedule is way different. Can't just show up as a driver and not be a team owner still, too. I still have my responsibilities as an owner, as well. So the reason I say that is after the weekend, we'll sit there and go, ‘Was that overwhelming? Was it too much? Do I just need to stay in my lane and be an owner? Or does this seem like something that's feasible?’ And honestly, I'm going to rely on Rich McPhillips, Senior and Junior, and see what their comfort level is. 

“There's been a lot of moments where I've been a little nervous because when you're not familiar and you're not in sync with it, you should be nervous. If you're not, you probably shouldn't be doing it,” he said. “But Pops [Richie McPhillips Sr.] has a way just in normal conversation – his demeanor is so calm that just talking to him, and you don't have to talk about what's making you nervous, just have a conversation with him, you just kind of relax, and you kind of know when you're working with people that you click with.” 

Stewart had said this weekend could determine whether he falls in love with drag racing. The courtship has just begun, but what he knows for sure is that “yeah, I want to have a second date. 

“We got to get through the rest of this weekend, obviously,” he said Saturday before making his first elimination round. “We've made it through three rounds of qualifying. Now you shift gears into race mode, and you're not worried about shallow staging and trying to get a run at the beams. It's literally about cutting good lights now. I hope I make it the first round, and I hope I don't see anybody. I hope every time I run down through there, I don't see anybody in my peripheral vision. So just the experience so far, we knew at the bare minimum we were going to get four runs in, and we're three runs into the four right now, and hopefully we'll have some luck. And if I can keep doing my job . . . my lights have been consistent.” From the driver's standpoint, at least I'm consistent right now and not all over the board.” That, he said, gave him some confidence as he headed into his Round 1 match with Stevens.

IN THE SHOW - Paul Lee got off to a good start in Friday's qualifying strong with a 3.94 in Friday's opening session. He returned in the evening with a 3.933 and the improvement
put him in the No. 9 spot headed into Sunday. He will face Alexis DeJoria in the first round.



FLYING HIGH – Following the Nevada Nationals Tony Stewart Racing’s Leah Pruett will stay in Las Vegas for a unique opportunity to take a flight with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The demonstration squadron is based at Nellis Air Force Base, which happens to be located across Las Vegas Boulevard from The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

Pruett said, “I often get asked what it feels like to drive a Top Fuel dragster and whether we pass out from the G-forces. I always hit them back with an explanation of our sudden G-swings compared to the sustained G-forces that the Thunderbirds pilots experience. 

“I look forward to not only experiencing the physical rush of the ride, but being in the presence of the Air Force servicemen and women while learning about their skills and how they’re used to keep America safe. I’m extremely appreciative of this opportunity, as it’s one I’m getting ready to cherish for my entire life.” 

And as predicted, Pruett said she’s “doing everything that’s recommended to prevent getting sick up there.” She said she also is preparing to see “how long I can sustain eight to nine G-forces before experiencing tunnel vision.” 

Drag-racing fans already used to loud noises often are treated here to “the sound of freedom,” as U.S. Air Force pilots attached to Nellis AFB conduct their sorties during the spring and fall Camping World Drag Racing Series events. 

SECOND BUT DANGEROUS – Aaron Stanfield, Friday’s early Pro Stock leader, has won three times in seven final rounds during this year’s 17 completed races – an enviable performance record. But like everyone else in the class, he’s chasing Elite teammate Erica Enders and with this race and one more remaining in the season. And he said a championship is a “long shot.” 

As he took a major first step Friday toward his fifth No. 1 start this year, Stanfield acknowledged that Enders can clinch her fifth Pro Stock championship Sunday if she advances in eliminations one round farther than he does. 

That remains for Sunday’s eliminations to determine, but once again, Enders upstaged Stanfield. She closed qualifying Saturday with a 6.579-second elapsed time, edging Stanfield by one-thousandth of a second to take her sixth No. 1 starting position of the season. His best speed was 208.36 mph, and in one more case of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” she topped that, too, with her 208.75. 

However, he said, “I think it would be better to push it to the last race. So that's going to definitely be the goal is to at least make it to the last race before she clinches it. But I'm just focused on doing the best I can do and just let it fall how they fall.” 

He’s a realist regarding what would be his first Pro Stock title, but he said, “I think if I can just continue to be consistent, we can be dangerous.” He said he’s “feeling a little bit better” about his reaction times, although he said that’s what messed him up in the previous race, at Dallas, in the semifinal round.

As for his head-to-head battles with teammate Enders, Stanfield said, “Between qualifying and race day, we've raced each other a lot or run beside each other a lot. She always normally brings the best out in everybody, and sometimes that can push mistakes. But she definitely brings the best out in me. I mean, I know what I need to do whenever I pull up beside her.” 

Enders enjoys a 165-point lead over Stanfield, but a third Elite driver, Troy Coughlin Jr., is fourth in the standings, 212 points off the pace. KB Racing headliner and reigning champion Greg Anderson is all that’s keep Elite from sweeping the top three places. He’s third, 195 points behind Enders. 

Stanfield said, “I still want to win, so I would say it's pretty much the same for me because we're showing up to win. I like to think that there's no pressure, but in some situations there are. I just need to focused and go up there and do my job, and I know I can do it. We just got to stay consistent. However it happens, I think our goal is to try to have a one, two, three finish.” 

“I'm thankful for the season we've had across three different categories, and my dad is included in that,” the Factory Stock Showdown racer said. “We've had a tremendous year, really. So I'm thankful for what we've accomplished but definitely not satisfied with it.” 

CAN’T HAVE STUPID – Unless Joey Gladstone or a handful of other Pro Stock Motorcycle racers can stop him, points leader and current champion Matt Smith is poised to earn a second straight and sixth overall title. 

But Smith said, “For us to win this championship, we have to have no parts failures and nothing stupid happen. And every little bonus point we can get, it's just money in the bank. So hopefully we can get to that 60 point over Joey by Q4 and that'll put us a next round up. 

“So we have to keep doing our job, what we're doing and go A to B and try not to have anything stupid happen and we should be fine. But there's always that possibility of something stupid happening,” he said, “and you just can't have that happen out here.” 

And in securing the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot Friday night, Smith said, “Yeah, it's a good start. We messed up first round, Q1. It just blew the tire. The track wasn't as good as I thought it was, so we detuned a little bit and come back second run and went to the top. So, all in all, I've got a great team behind me.”

He knows his competitors have the same. 

“Yeah, it's tough out here,” Smith said. “There's a lot of good bikes out here. You've got Angelle running good. You got Steve Johnson running good. My wife's running good. Joey's running good.” 

Smith said he’s pleased the Pro Stock Motorcycle class continues to run full fields and then some. “We’ve got 20 on the property. It’s great for our class. Our class is healthy. We have to do our job with keeping bike counts and keeping quality bikes out here,” he said. “And I'm proud of everybody that's out here right now.” 

INGWERSEN HELPS GADSON BRANDT TEAM SPREAD MESSAGE – The Military Suicide Awareness / Anderson Toyota Pro Stock Motorcycle, which debuted at the previous race, at Dallas, is back on the track this weekend – but this time, Marc Ingwersen is carrying the logos of Mission 22 and Stop Suicide Awareness (as well as Anderson Toyota). 

Richard Gadson, headliner for Gadson Brandt Racing, is expecting his first child this weekend and isn’t here to compete, so Ingwersen is taking up the mission with his SinCityHarley. 

Robert Brandt, team partner at Gadson Brandt Racing, said, “Richard is expecting his first child any day now has stayed home to be there for that moment. We are super-excited to be able to put our mission and sponsor logos on Marc Ingwersen's SinCityHarley here at the Nevada Nationals. We at Gadson Brandt Racing are really appreciative of Marc displaying our Military Suicide Awareness logos and to fulfill our Anderson Toyota deal. Huge thanks. We hope to be able to run Pomona if all is well at home for Richard.” 

Ingwersen said, "I was more than happy to help with the Military Suicide Awareness mission Robert and Richard have put together. Representing Anderson Toyota, Mission22 and Stop Soldier Suicide for them at this race is special to us." 

The Military Suicide Awareness team made its Camping World Drag Racing debut at the Texas FallNationals just two weekends ago with Gadson riding. They qualified No. 13 out of 20 bikes and had a first-round finish Sunday at Ennis, Texas. 

HEARTBREAKER - Though Krista Baldwin ran a personal best 3.864, 319.90 which took her up to No. 12, an onslught of fast runs bumped her out of the show. 



Ron Lewis photo

What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. 

What happened Friday here at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the Nevada Nationals spread all over the motorsports world – at least news of Tony Stewart’s first-ever competitive passes in drag racing. 

And to no one’s amazement, the multi-time, multi-series motorsports champion blasted Friday to the provisional No. 2 qualifying position in the 16-car Top Alcohol Dragster order. 

His 5.219-second, 276.52-mph solo blast down The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway quarter-mile was just .021 of a second off early leader Kim Parker’s 5.198-second elapsed time but faster than Parker’s speed (272.34 mph). (No. 10 Taylor Vetter was fastest in the class, at 276.83 mph.) 

After his first run that counts in an event, Stewart said he felt “relief” and said, “Now it’s just like testing all over again. The first run with a lot of people around, there were a lot of distractions in the staging lanes and stuff. To go up and do a nice, solid run, happy with that. That was a really good lap.” 

Before he made his Session 2 pass in the McPhillips Racing entry with Mobil 1 support, Stewart said he “had to shift gears a little bit, put my work clothes back on, and get to watch Matt and Leah run.” He was referring to Funny Car’s Matt Hagan and Top Fuel-driving wife Leah. “It’s good to get a break and have some time outside the car for a minute,” he said. 

In his Friday evening showing, Stewart for the first time had another driver in the opposite lane. And this time he wasn’t the first one out. He was in the final pairing, along with Parker, from Graham, Wash. 

His second run was anti-climactic. He shut off the engine early in the pass and settled for a 10.974 at 68.69 mph. Parker smoked the tires immediately after the launch. Stewart remained second in the line-up overnight. 

Stewart and the rest of the class will have one more qualifying pass Saturday morning. The first two rounds of Top Alcohol Dragster eliminations will follow in the afternoon. 


CONCEDING NOTHING – If Steve Torrence has to yield the Top Fuel championship he has had a grip on for the past four years, he won’t be going down without a fight. And he isn’t talking like he’s preparing to concede anything. 

“We’ve dug ourselves a hole,” the Capco Contractors Dragster driver said following his first-round loss at Texas two weeks ago that dropped him from second place to fourth. “But I know these Capco Boys and what they can do. The climb may be tough, but that makes the reward even sweeter.” 

Shawn Langdon defeated Torrence by .021 of a second, handing Torrence just his third Round 1 defeat in his past 32 Countdown starts. The previous time that happened – also at Dallas – was in 2019, against another Shawn, Shawn Reed . . . and again by an eyelash-thin margin, .0034 seconds, or about 19 inches. But in 2019, Torrence went on to earn his second straight title. So he’s hoping he can repeat that part of his history. 

If he can shave leader Justin Ashley’s 96-point lead down to something manageable, Torrence can hope to take advantage of a stage-managed points format that has threatened his supremacy since 2017. 

When he lost that round at the Texas FallNationals to Langdon, a result he called “disheartening,” Torrence said he would continue with his routine. But he said he planned to “get our head out of our butt” and said, “That Pomona race is points-and-a-half, so we’ll see if we can benefit from that welfare points system.”    

In 14 fall Las Vegas race starts, Torrence has won three times in his six final-round appearances. That includes last year’s triumph. Overall, he has won five times at this venue. 

Torrence is trying to become only the fourth pro driver to win as many as five consecutive championships, following Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden, Funny Car’s John Force, and Top Fuel’s Tony Schumacher. Already he’s the only driver to have won both the Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Fuel championships.

STRIVING FOR PERFECTION = FRUSTRATION – It has been 20 years since Angelle Sampey recorded the most recent of her three Pro Stock Motorcycle championships. But the desire to earn another still burns inside her as much as it did when she began her racing career 26 years ago. 

“I think I've shown that I'm trying so hard. I'm trying too hard,” she said, “and there aren't words to describe what it would mean to me [to secure Title No. 4]. It's what I want to do before I'm done racing for good, and I have to figure out a way to just stop thinking about that and just enjoy my time out here, enjoy every run on the track. And I try to talk myself into that every time you [reporters] interview me. Every time I post anything on social media, I'm reminding myself of how lucky I am to be the rider of this Vance & Hines Mission Suzuki and just enjoy the ride and stop worrying about everything. But it's just hard when you want it as bad as I do. 

“I haven't lost the passion for winning for 26 years. It's only grown. I mean, I thought for sure by now it would be no big deal. If I win, I win. If I don't, I don't. Oh well, I still get to go home happy and healthy with a beautiful family, but I want to win it even more today than I did 26 years ago.” 

Setting an example of working hard to achieve a goal would be one noble reason. But perhaps the biggest motivation would be inspiring daughters Ava Jane and Maya by showing that Mommy still is one of the best in the world at her chosen craft. 

“The first win as a mom was the biggest win for me. If I could win a championship with both my daughters watching, that would be amazing,” Sampey said. “I'm not going to give up, by the way. No matter how many times I fall, I'm picking myself up and I'm going to keep going.” 

Most probably don’t realize just how difficult it is to win a race, let alone a series championship. The amount of variables in every run down the racetrack is astounding, and the finality of a mistake so harsh. 

“That's the hardest thing about what we do,” Sampey said. “It's not a football game, where you have hours to come back, or a NASCAR race where you have hours and laps to come back. We have hundredths of a second and one little, teeny-tiny mistake. If I miss the shift . . . if I'm off by one tenth of a second, a little late on the button, or a little too soon on the button . . . or the bike gets out of the groove a tiny bit and I don't pull it back right away . . . or even at the finish line, if there's a crosswind and you don't have the bike completely straight up and down and you're leaning it just a tiny bit [and] it scrubs some speed off. There's so many things that happen so fast that you can do to mess this up. 

“I have never made a perfect run,” she said. “I will never make a perfect run. And if anybody in this sport says they've made a perfect run, they don't know what they're talking about. It's impossible. But we keep striving for it. 

“And the thing that hurts me so bad when I make these mistakes is that I feel like I'm letting everyone down, especially my team who work so hard to do what they do. Andrew [Hines, the six-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion] is amazing. All the guys back at the shop are amazing. He's tuning this motorcycle. He sacrificed his ride this year to be my crew chief 100 percent. And I'm not giving him what he deserves. I'm not giving all of Vance & Hines and Mission and Suzuki what they deserve. So, I'm going to keep working. I only have [two] more races to prove myself this year, but hopefully they'll have me back next year and I'm going to fight just as hard,” Sampey said. 

AMERICAN MOBILITY PROJECT IN SPOTLIGHT – Tony Schumacher, harkening back to his 19-year association with the U.S. Army and at the same time reviving the family’s “giving car” legacy, is flying the banner of the American Mobility Project Dragster this weekend for the Maynard Family Racing/Don Schumacher Racing team.  

“I spent nearly two decades representing the U.S. Army,” Schumacher said. “I met so many wonderful people through that partnership at all different stages of their military careers – new recruits, people at home in between deployments, veterans – so, I’m very aware of the challenges that are associated with someone becoming disabled. And regardless of whether that person is a veteran or civilian, the need remains the same. What American Mobility Project is doing is so important and so necessary. Of course, anything we can do to help support our nation’s heroes and their families I’m all about, and I like how this organization also reaches beyond that and aims to help anyone in need of mobility assistance.” 

The foundation spearheaded by retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Gary Linfoot Gary and wife Mari Linfoot – along with along with former NFL executive Bob Hyde – American Mobility Project provides mobility and adaptive equipment and resources to those living with disabilities. And it’s near to the hearts of Joe and Cathi Maynard. 

“We sponsor a couple of major charities. A Soldiers Child and American Mobility Project are our two big ones. They’re both 501(c)(3)s. They both support military people with disabilities, and A Soldier’s Child supports kids who have lost their parents,” Joe Maynard said. “Everything we do supports either a child, a veteran, or a homeless [person] or some combination thereof. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, we won’t donate.” 

Schumacher recalled with pride the moment when the DSR-Infinite Hero Foundation relationship was able to help Linfoot, who was paralyzed below the waist in a helicopter crash in his 21st deployment with the 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment, get fitted with an exoskeleton. At the time, Linfoot was pictured on the rear door of Jack Beckman’s race hauler when Beckman campaigned the Infinite Hero Foundation Funny Car. 

“For him to be able to stand for the national anthem for the first time [at the 2015 Bristol, Tenn., race],” Schumacher said, was a memorable moment. “It was a pleasure to be part of that,” he said.  “Now they have their own foundation , and we’re supporting that. I keep meeting people I like more and more. This s the greatest sport. We’ve got the greatest people.” 

As for Gary Linfoot, Schumacher said he was “one of the baddest dudes in the country” as an Army attack helicopter pilot for 13 years and said, “This is a man who served our country.” Linfoot went on to begin work in 2010 as a civilian military contractor, providing flight instruction to special operations aviators in a flight simulator. 

Schumacher will drive at the season finale next month at Pomona, Calif., with livery highlighting A Soldier’s Child. Both schemes are funded independently – no cost of operating the race car is associated with either nonprofit organization.

“The goal is simple – to get more people to donate to these causes,” Joe Maynard said. “The more eyeballs and awareness we can bring to these two organizations, the more money that will end up being raised. 

“Don Schumacher Racing has a long history of fielding ‘giving cars,’ and that was something we wanted to continue as we took on primary ownership of this team,” Maynard said. “We’re pleased to be able to shine a big spotlight on Gary’s and Mari’s organization this weekend in Las Vegas. The American Mobility Project fulfills such a big need for those living with paralysis, including many of our nation’s veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country. AMP’s mission is stronger than pretty much anything out there that isn’t related to a commercial venture.” 

Fans wishing to support the Maynard Family Racing team’s efforts in raising funds for American Mobility Project can donate by visiting americanmobilityproject.org online. Those attending this weekend’s event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway are encouraged to stop by the Fatheadz Trackside Store, where select items benefitting AMP will be available for purchase. Merchandise is available for purchase online via the Maynard Family Racing e-store. 

The Maynards met when both were active-duty Army personnel, Joe as an engineer Sergeant and Cathi as an M.P. 

“We’ve been involved with the NHRA community for many years, but this is the first time we will be showcasing our own organization to the drag-racing community in such a large and impactful way,” Mari Linfoot said. “We’ve seen firsthand how beneficial ‘giving cars’ can be, and we’re so grateful to Joe and Cathi Maynard that there will be an American Mobility Project car on the track this weekend in Las Vegas. The Maynards have been involved with our organization since the beginning. They attended our inaugural fundraising event in Clarksville, Tenn., which is how we met, and have been active with AMP ever since. They gave us a jump-start early on to be able to change lives all throughout the country. The passion they have for American Mobility Project is evident, and using Tony Schumacher’s race car to banner our cause this weekend is just another example of that.”

The Maynards and Linfoots live in Clarksville, Tenn. 

THROWING UP WITH THROWING DOWN – No. 2-seeded Funny Car title contender Ron Capps said “it didn’t help” Friday that points leader Robert Hight outscored him 6-1 in qualifying bonus points. 

“We’re losing these little qualifying points,” Capps said, “We lost some in Dallas and we went on to win the race. The big picture I’m not worried about. This is fun, man. Oh my god – it’s throwing up in the mornings, everything you can imagine. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

He said, “There are going to be a lot of teams stepping up who don’t want all the attention going to us.” 

STOP, ALREADY – Predictable phrases such as four-ace hand, Lady Luck, and rolling the dice, and words such as jackpot, odds, bet, and gamble are yawners in Las Vegas previews and press releases. But so are some of the trite, unimaginative remarks from drivers as the Countdown to the Championship is supposed to be generating excitement with this race and the Nov. 11-13 Finals at Pomona, Calif. So here’s our Top 10 List of What Not To Bother Saying Anymore When You’re In A Title Hunt:

1. “I want to get as many points as I can.”

2. “I need to do my job.”

3. “We want to finish the season strong.”

4. “My crew has worked so hard.”

5. “I have the hardest-working crew.”

6. “I have confidence.”

7. “I’m going to stay focused.”

8. “It’s a dogfight.”

9. “We’re going to take it one round at a time.”

10. “We’ll see what happens.”

A totally random and unscientific poll of spectators at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway came up with a fantasy list of things they might rather like to hear racers say. Here are some of the entertaining but inappropriate lines we’re likely never to hear from drivers (and probably for sound reason):

1. “I hope I don’t screw up and look like an idiot.”

2. “I know I’m better than these other drivers.”

3. “I wish what I was really thinking wouldn’t cost me my sponsor.”

4. “That was a d--- move.”

5. “Girls do it better.”

6. “I’m not taking it one round at a time. The two yahoos I’ll probably race in the first two rounds are ducks on a pond. I’ll start getting serious in the semifinals.”

7. “I wish my opponent would fall off the face of the Earth.”

8. Ace McCulloch was right – it’s getting so you can’t hit a guy any more.”

9. “I’m only as good as my last E.T., and that sucked.”

10. “I’m taking you down, chump.”