2020 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - SPORTSMAN NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - THAT'S A WRAP
Sportsman final round results from the Denso NHRA U.S. Natiuonals at Lucas Oil Raceway outside of Indianapolis.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - MEYER SHINES IN HER FAREWELL INDY
SAYING GOODBYE - Top Alcohol Dragster standout Megan Meyer was confident in her decision. The second-generation drag racer, who secured the 2019 NHRA series championship, knew now was the right time to step away from the sport for what she considers an even more significant opportunity.
"I'm getting married in October and we want to start a family as soon as possible after that," Meyer explained. "With the fact that I'm a female, I can't drive and be pregnant at the same time. So something's got to give. I'm very satisfied with how my career has been. I've been doing this for five full years and pretty much reached every milestone that I've wanted to reach. So for me, it's a good time to step away."
No, Meyer doesn't lament the fact she never made her way into Top Fuel.
"I have no interest in Top Fuel," Meyer admitted. "For me, at one point I did want to, because every young racer, that's the top, they want to go there. But as soon as I did my first year in Top Alcohol, I realized that this is the only racing I want to do.
"Just the time commitment, the politics and all this stuff that goes on behind the scenes in Top Fuel. That's just not for me. That's not my personality. I don't want to be a part of it. So we'll save that for someone else, but not for me."
This weekend will be Meyer's final NHRA U.S. Nationals, and after taking out Joey Severance in the first round, fired a shot hired around the A/Fuel Dragster world. Meyer stopped recently crowned Jegs AllStar champion Jackie Fricke and did so by recording a new national record 5.097, 278.81.
Regardless of how dominant the season may turn out to be in the coming weeks, she's secure in her decision. Thanks to the pandemic, Meyer was able to experience a life without racing.
"Just because we've had so much time off this year," Meyer said. "I've been planning everything that I'm doing next year with that time off. And so I feel like I'm in a really good place business-wise and with my personal life that I'm ready to take that step. It was an emotional day when I announced it on Monday, but I've gotten so much good support and a lot of great messages from fans and all that. They're sad, but they're also happy at the same time. So that helps."
Meyer revealed the decision was made earlier in the year, and planned to announce at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. The U.S. Nationals provided the largest stage of the revised season.
"We figured this would be the best time to do it," Meyer admitted. "I'm really bummed out that we're not going to be able to go to Charlotte because I love that track. And I would have loved to do my announcement there with NGK Spark Plugs and everybody there.
"I'm racing next weekend for my last regional, which is in Iowa and then that will be bittersweet, because I just won there a couple years ago and me and my dad just have really good memories there. So it will be bittersweet going there for the last time."
Her dad and driving force, Randy Meyer, she said knew the day was coming.
"Ever since we got engaged last year, he knew that it was going to be a matter of time before I had to step away so we could focus on our family," Meyer said. "Thankfully with the fact that we have rental drivers, it will be easy to replace me. So hopefully, we're still figuring out who that next driver is going to be. We have high standards for that, especially with NGK Spark Plugs, they have high standards. So we just got to find the right person to fit those needs."
She won't be entirely out of racing.
"I do plan on doing a couple of bracket races next year with my sister's Super Comp car," Meyer revealed. "And I'm really excited to get back to that because I've done that my entire life before I moved on to Top Alcohol. So I'm really excited to get back to bracket racing, but I don't know how much I will miss Alcohol and NHRA until ... I'll let you know next year."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - BIG DAY, BIG SHOW, BIG GO
KING OF THE ELEPHANTS - It's a good thing Stephen Yantus didn't put much stake into the odds.
Fact is, with 18 consecutive round wins from Dodge Mopar Hemi Shootout icon Jimmy Daniels headed into the 2020 event, the odds were pretty much against the Charleston, SC-based Yantus. For Yantus, Friday's race-within-a-race at the Denso NHRA U.S. Nationals was only his third time racing the event in four years.
Yantus created his own odds as he stopped an upset-minded Steve Commela in the finals of the prestigious event. His consistent barrage of 8.4-second elapsed times was enough to seal the deal, his first ever, with an 8.410, 158.28.
"I really can't even describe it," Yantus said Friday evening in the winner's circle. "We've been chasing this thing since we started this deal four years ago. We kept on plugging away, kept on chugging and my team, my entire group, my owner of the car. Charlie Wescott at Militia Racing Products, he built me the baddest ass bullet on the face of the planet, man.
"I mean, that thing ran 8.40s all day, and we were the only car in the 8.40s. I owe everything to my whole crew and all of them. I got the pilot this bad car. Man, I'm just grateful, just that we got done through here."
Yantus made his intentions known at the onset when he beat Daniel to the top of the qualifying leaderboard with an 8.477 second elapsed time at 158.50 miles per hour. How much of a statement did Yantus make? He was .074 seconds quicker than the No. 2 Daniel.
The event took a twist when Joe Teuton took out Daniel by beating him on both ends of the track. In the same opening round, Yantus delivered the smackdown on a bye run with an 8.412, which was a tenth quicker than the second quickest winner.
This would be Yantus' modus operandi all day long as he ran 8.452 (Russ Campbell), and 8.413 (Bucky Hess) to reach the finals against Comella.
On the other side of the ladder, Comella, who scored the last spot in the 15-car field, was the recipient of three consecutive red-lights (Jim Pancake, Gary Wolkwitz and Steve Kent) to reach the final round.
Yantus admits his best approach was to concentrate on his own race instead of what fortunes were falling Comella's way.
"We're all drag racers, and they say sometimes you got to get lucky, rather than be good. And I got a lot of luck, and the car hung itself out every time. We never slacked off, and we had it on kill all day. It went .49, .45, back-to-back 41s. Man, it's just a dream come true."
Even Yantus, with tears welling up, had to admit the emotion of the moment had gotten the best of him.
"I just we've been chasing this for a long time and along with our families, it's real emotional," Yantus said. "And man, I can't thank everybody enough for making this happen."
YOU AGAIN? - For the third time in the last six seasons, the team from NHRA's West Central Division (Division 5) captured the overall points title at the 36th JEGS Allstars event, held this year at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The victorious team, which shared a $20,000 bonus from JEGS Mail Order, got wins from Trevor Larson (Super Comp), Kris Thies (Super Street), and Allen Firestone (Top Sportsman), to help accumulate 1,300 points, outscoring the competition from the Division 4 team by 300 points. Division 2 tallied 800 points to finish third.
The alcohol title was clinched by the Eastern Region after Jackie Fricke drove to the Top Alcohol Dragster title and Dan Pomponio earned a runner-up finish in Top Alcohol Funny Car.
Larson, who has the distinction of being the only driver to double-up at the JEGS Allstars race, defeated Division 4 racer Christopher Dodd in what was easily the most memorable final round of the day. On the starting line, Dodd was perfect with a .000 reaction time but his advantage was almost nil since Larson had an equally-competitive .001 light. Larson won with an 8.909 run after Dodd broke out with an 8.873.
Thies chipped in with three round wins of his own in Super Street after topping Division 2 racer Kevin MacNicol in a double-breakout final, 10.877 to 10.874. Thies was also stellar on the starting line with two near-perfect reaction times in his three round wins.
Firestone, who already has two divisional victories this year, added the JEGS Allstars title when he slipped past defending JEGS Allstars champion Kynon Dinkel in the Top Sportsman final. Firestone also turned in an impressive performance with a 6.561 on his 6.56 dial-in.
The Division 4 team made a strong run at what would have been a record ninth overall championship with strong performances by Comp winner Craig Bourgeois, and Stock star Slate Cummings. Bourgeois, a past national champion in his front-engine Nostalgia Dragster, won after reigning world champion Frank Aragona Jr. red-lighted in the final.
Cummings continued his run of exceptional performances at the JEGS Allstars race with his fifth title. Cummings won in Stock Eliminator after his opponent, Division 5 racer Tyler Wudarczyk, encountered a problem on the starting line and received a foul start.
After just missing out on the Super Stock world championship last year, Division 7 racer Kyle Rizzoli visited the winner's circle in Indy by beating Division 2's Mike Crutchfield in the final. Rizzoli drove his Jim Whiteley-owned Camaro to a 9.47 on his 9.45 prediction for the win after Crutchfield broke out.
The Super Gas title went to reigning world champ Jeremy Mason of the Division 3 team. Mason got the win light when opponent Vernon Rowland red-lighted. Rowland was one of several drivers to qualify for the Allstars in two classes, racing in Super Comp and Super Gas.
Cody Webber picked up the Top Dragster victory over Division 5 racer Victoria Johnson on the strength of a .006 light and a 6.38 on his 6.36 dial. Johnson, a past winner of the Mile-High Nationals in Denver, broke out with a 6.56 on her 6.59 dial.
Fricke drove to the Top Alcohol Dragster title by beating Randy Meyer Racing teammates Rachel Meyer and Julie Nataas on the way to the final, where she finished the job with a 5.299 to 5.406 win in a battle against Josh Hart, her East Region teammate. Representing the North Central Region, Ray Drew won his second consecutive JEGS Allstars crown when he stopped Dan Pomponio, 5.500 to 5.591.
Each of the JEGS Allstars winners have earned the right to return next year as a blocker for their respective teams. In addition, any driver who goes on to win the Denso Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals title on Sunday will earn a double-up bonus from JEGS Mail Order.
FRIDAY'S LEADERS - Shawn Cowie stepped up big in Friday's second and final qualifying session to secure the title of quickest sportsman racer on the grounds at Lucas Oil Raceway, as he took the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Alcohol Dragster away from Thursday's top runner Megan Meyer.
Joining Cowie atop the leaderboard was Sean Bellemeur (Funny Car), Travis Gusto (Top Alcohol Funny Car), and Scott Libersher (Factory Stock Showdown) as many of the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series categories moved into final eliminations.
The supercharged alcohol cars set the pace for the final session of qualifying, taking two of the first three spot. Cowie's 5.179 elapsed time at 280.54 miles per hour provided a comfortable cushion atop the qualifying list and put him ahead of Matthew Cummings, who was second with a 5.206, 276.86. Meyer dropped to fourth with a 5.231, 275.51.
Bellemeur remained the class of the Funny Cars with a 5.491, 267.32 performance, finishing just ahead of Chris Marshall who made a big move in the final session with a 5.500, 266.58. Doug Gordon was third with a 5.507, 268.30.
Comp Eliminator shuffled in a big way as Frank Affronti's Thursday -.731 provisional #1 took an index hit and fell to No. 33. G/Altered racer Travis Gusso found his way into the top spot with a "conservative" -.686 (8.294) run in his G/Altered Cobalt. Sean was second with an 8.019, -0.681 in his G/Altered Cobalt. Defending series champion Frank Aragona was third.
The Factory Stock Showdown cars got one session in, and it was Scott Libersher taking his Illinois-based 2020 Camaro to the top spot with a 7.973, 173.27 173.27. Dan Condon came up .001 short as he ended up second. Aaron Stanfield was third with a 7.998 172.30. Lindsey Weelock is on the bubble with an 8.449.
LIFE DECISIONS - Josh Hart Fearless Racing is back racing this weekend at the prestigious Denso Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in Brownsburg, Indiana. In order for him to compete, he had to make a change to their crew members.
Hart had to substitute a crew member, who was put in a difficult position by Delta Airlines. Due to their restriction, this particular crew member was not able to travel with the rest of the crew.
“One of our guys, the guy, who runs the clutch program, he lives in Massachusetts,” Hart said. “His full-time job is working for Delta Airlines. He’s a 30-year mechanic. Long story short, they basically told him since they had been shut down for four months, if he would have left, as far as his department goes, he would have lost his job. Being that they had just gotten back to work, getting time off was a problem. Then, they said if he had come back, they wanted him to do a 14-day quarantine. That just did not work. I don’t want to talk bad about Delta, but, honestly, it’s pretty crazy.
“We know he’s not going to be able to attend the U.S. Nationals so we made plans without him being there. We’ve made arrangements to substitute him out for somebody else. Hopefully, soon, we can get things back to normal and he can join us once again without having the risk of losing his job.”
The Technet sponsored Top Alcohol Dragster driver was planning on competing at the Divisional event at the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals presented by Pennzoil in August. However, due to quarantine and travel restrictions, he had to withdraw to the August 8-9 event.
Hart returned to a place that’s special to him this weekend. The Ocala, Florida native has had a lot of success at the track.
“This really hurt our points [missing the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals presented by Pennzoil],” Hart said. “Come hell or high water, we’ll be at the Indy race and we’ll shine there. I’ve had a lot of success there. We won the Divisional and National event two years in a row and it’s one of my favorite tracks.”
In the JEGS All-Star Top Alcohol Dragster finale, Hart lost to fellow Division 1 competitor Jackie Fricke. The New Jersey native won the $7,000 prize after Hart experienced a broken harmonic balancer.
Now, with the JEGS event over, Hart will turn to attempting to win the prestigious U.S. Nationals for the third time.
“I don’t like to admit it, but it’s tough starting and stopping,” Hart said. “It’s definitely true. Jackie [Fricke] and Duane [Shields] have been competing in at least six events each regionally and we’ve only ran three. It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow.
“We’re going to have to go out of region to make up these races either way. We have to start making up these races in order to compete for the championship.” - Anthony Caruso III
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK -
LEADERS OF THE PACKS - Megan Meyer, competing in her final NHRA U.S. Nationals before stepping away, made the most of the opportunity by driving her way to the provisional No. 1 qualifying position in the Top Alcohol Dragster division. Joining Meyer atop their respective leaderboards were Sean Bellemeur (Top Alcohol Funny Car), and Frank Affronti (Comp).
Meyer announced earlier in the week she'd be stepping away from drag racing to concentrate on starting a family wasted little time in letting the competition know what they'd be missing, as he thundered down the Lucas Oil Raceway quarter-mile en route to a 5.231 elapsed time at 275.51 miles per hour.
Slipping into second was Josh Hart with a 5.239 elapsed time 271.73 miles per hour, just ahead of Shawn Cowie's 5.273.
Bellemeur, of Placentia, Ca., continued his fevered pace in the Funny Cars by taking the provisional pole position with a 5.491 elapsed time at 267.32 miles per hour. Chris Marshall was second (5.500), and Brian Hough was third (5.551).
Frank Affronti's E/Altered Automatic Cobalt jumped to the front of the 39-car field with a 7.419 elapsed time, -0.731 under the 8.15 index. Slipping into second was the CC/Altered Turbocharged entry of Bruno Massel, with a 7.180, -0.650 performance. Frank Aragona's J/A Automatic '32 Bantam was third.
There are 14 cars competing in this weekend's Dodge Hemi Shootout. 1 Stephen Yantus, in his Charleston, SC-based '68 Barracuda leads the pack with an 8.477-second pass at 158.50 miles per hour. Defending event champion Jimmy Daniel sits second with an 8.578, 155.94 while Bucky Hess with third with an 8.592, 156.64.
Other No. 1 seeds include Ernie Neal II (Super Stock), Marty Buth (Stock), Afton Swanson (Top Dragster) and Lester Johnson (Top Sportsman).
THE NEW NORM - Traditionally, Thursday and Friday hosted sportsman class eliminations at the NHRA U.S. Nationals. However, with a global pandemic rearranging life in general, the Big Go had to do some rearranging itself.
Instead of the regular laddered-style competition, NHRA officials opted for a Chicago-style format to determine class winners. Chicago Style is where competitors run a predetermined number of runs, and then the quickest two come back for the final round. In this case, competitors in Stock and Super Stock will run two sessions and race the third and final for the class (not eliminator) crown.
The importance of class eliminations at NHRA’s most prestigious venue since its inception was not lost on the NHRA when trying to work around a season full of adjustments.
Class eliminations at the U.S. Nationals is part of this race’s history, and it was important that involvement continued,” said NHRA’s Ned Walliser. “Stock and Super Stock racers plan all year long to be a part of class eliminations at the U.S. Nationals, and that is something we needed to provide to our racers.”
Walliser added the Chicago Style format was the best option considering the number of racers in competition and days allotted to race.
Super Stock racer Mike Crutchfield looked at this year’s temporary normal a bit diplomatically but added the revised format isn’t for everyone.
“This is better than nothing but there’s a whole lot of people that stayed home because of it, I can tell you that,” Crutchfield said. “This is the one chance a year that people have to shine and to show their stuff. And, this is not it. “The fastest car doesn’t always win the race and to select the two fastest cars to run last off is not really the way to do it because the fastest two guys, they win sometimes, but a whole lot of times they don’t.”
IT’S HERE! - For a car which makes minimal sound, the 1400-horsepower all-Electric Mustang Cobra Jet made a significant bang in the drag racing world on Thursday at the NHRA U.S. Nationals.
Mello Yello Series Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III and FoxSports coverage analyst Tony Pedregon prepared for a battle of traditional versus the future with the former driving the electric version.
Prior to Friday's head-to-head competition, the electric car had run as quick in the quarter-mile as 8.27 seconds at 168 miles per hour.
“Since revealing the car, we’ve continued to fine-tune it and now know we’re just scratching the surface of what we may be able to achieve with this much electric horsepower in a drag racing setting,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports.
Ford Performance collaborated with Cascadia Motion to power the Cobra Jet 1400. With four PN-250-DZR inverters coupled to a pair of DS-250-115s, giving four motors total and spinning at up to 10,000 revolutions per minute. These motor-inverter packages run at 800 volts and up to 700 amps, with a maximum output of 350kW per motor.
To manage such a potent propulsion package, AEM-EV and Ford Performance jointly developed an advanced data and control system that features a control algorithm unique to the Cobra Jet 1400. The sheer amount of power has also required a different approach with chassis tuning strategies, which MLe, Ford’s build and integration collaborator for the project, has delivered with input from Ford Performance’s longtime Cobra Jet build collaborators at Watson.
“It’s been a great but challenging project for all of us at Ford Performance,” said Rushbrook. “The opportunities to learn with the Mustang Cobra Jet 1400, as well as the Mustang Mach-E 1400 we recently introduced, gives us great insight into what may be possible in high-performance all-electric vehicles for Ford going forward. We are very interested in continuing to work with NHRA to determine how electrification can be part of the sport and to show off the Cobra Jet 1400 at max power in due course as regulations develop.”
Tasca considers himself of those classified as a traditionalist. He’s now a traditionalist willing to see the other side of the performance fence.
“I think what people need to get over, me included ... and I’ve already kind of switched the switch, because I’ve driven these cars before. I’m a performance enthusiast,” Tasca explained. “That’s what I am, and I love performance, I love acceleration, and if I can get more performance out of an electric vehicle that is absolutely a joy to drive, fun to drive, lower cost of racing, so many benefits that come with electrification, and then see what Ford can do with it at the highest level.”
Just how pumped is Tasca? He’s already made his first call-out.
“I called out Elon Musk there,” Tasca revealed. “He didn’t respond back, but I told him to bring his fastest Tesla and let’s race here at the U.S.onals. I mean, what Ford can do with this technology is amazing.
“I’ve driven that vehicle. It’s just so fun to drive and the performance and the instant torque. So I guess to some extent, I’ll always have a piston in my heart, but I want to get in something that’s fun to drive and fast, and these electric cars are certainly at the top of the page right now.”
HEARING HIMSELF THINK - Funny Car racer Bob Tasca III remembers the time he first raced a purpose-built, doorslammer drag car. It was 1996, and the third-generation Ford icon was an aspiring drag racer hoping to get his NHRA competition license.
Tasca was behind the wheel of a Ford Probe Pro Stocker at Roy Hill’s Drag Racing school. Thursday at Lucas Oil Raceway Park Tasca returned to the doorslammer world albeit behind the wheel of a car, which at wide-open throttle, doesn’t create as many decibels as his school instructor barking out criticism.
Tasca is racing the Cobra Jet 1400, an all-electric version of the popular Factory Stock Showdown vehicle.
“I definitely had some visions of Roy when I pulled up to the start line in that car,” Tasca said with a smile. “Doorslammer racing is where I started from; it’s where a lot of racers start from. It’s great to go back to my roots and get in a doorslammer and have that Mustang logo on the front of the car and see what we can do.”
Doorslammer racing might be his roots, but doorslammer racing in a car which measures horsepower in voltage isn’t. When Tasca says he loves the electric Cobra Jet, he’s not toeing the company line.
“I think there’s a lot of traditionalists out there and I’m always going to have a piston in my heart, but the bottom line is when you get in some of these electric cars and how fun they are to drive, I mean you can’t make that up,” Tasca said. “It puts a smile on your face, and for me, it puts an even bigger smile when you drive by those gas stations, and you don’t have to pull in and put gas in your car anymore.
“It’s coming. It’s not tomorrow morning. This going to be a long cycle, but at the end of the day, I think there’s that old famous line that Henry Ford said, ‘If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,”
“He came out with the car and he came out with the gas engine, and I think that that holds true to today. I think a lot of people would want faster cars and more fun to drive. With electrification, we can do that very efficiently, very cost-effectively as the technology unfolds. It’s going to be fun to show all the Ford fans and race fans this weekend just how fast we can go in an electric car.”
GUESS WHO’S BACK? - Sometimes life is darkest before the dawn. Just ask iconic sportsman drag racer Anthony Bertozzi who found himself on the sidelines for most of the 2019 seasons with a non-racing leg injury.
“Essentially a piece of tile broke and sliced my leg to the bone,” Bertozzi said, grimacing.
Then the grimace turned to a smile when the subject changed to 2020. Before the coronavirus hit, Bertozzi was doing pretty good.
“I won at Baby Gators,” Bertozzi said. “Then I went to the finals in two classes at the Gators and got my ass kicked in both of them. But hey. I was in the finals.”
As Bertozzi figured, if all he had to do was cut his leg to get hot behind the wheel, “I’d cut it every week down to the bone if I can turn the win light on.”
Then the pandemic hit, and Bertozzi had to cool his jets.
“I came back just to have a good time,” Bertozzi admitted.
Bertozzi added to his Gainesville success with a win at the Jegs Sportsnationals in Columbus, Ohio.
“Racing never stopped being fun for me,” Bertozzi said. “I guess I don’t have the drive I used to as far as going to races like I used to. If the track was open, I was there. I still love the national events. I love the Big Money bracket races. But am I going to get up and next weekend and go race locally for 1500? Hell no.”
STILL LOVING INDY - Pro Stock icon Herb McCandless has seen a lot of racing at the NHRA U.S. Nationals. He’s also seen a lot of changes.
“I remember when everybody had a pickup truck and a trailer, we had to clear out at 5:00 in the afternoon and go to a motel and then get back up at 5:00 in the morning to get back out here to get our parking place,” McCandless recalled. “It was a whole different world back then. But we had so much fun, and we loved what we did. And it’s just grown and grown and grown. And the cars are so sophisticated now with all the magic they’ve got on them. The only computer we had was the seat of our pants.”
McCandless won the NHRA U.S. Nationals Pro Stock crown in 1970, his only win at the Big Go. These days McCandless has found his calling in serving as color commentator for the traditional Dodge Hemi Shootout, a staple in NHRA’s Friday program at the Big Go.
“I love it. I’ve been doing it for 15 years or more,” McCandless said. “I did and been here every year since then, and just really enjoy it. It’s just one of the highlights of the year for me. I love it.”
While McCandless loves his role, back in the day he figured he’d race forever.
“I didn’t think I’d ever quit,” McCandless admitted. “I mean, I just thought it would go on forever, but it didn’t. I had my business and all that. And I’ve been going to the drag races for 61 years. I’m 77 years old, and I started when I was 16. I really haven’t slowed down that much. Work every day. A gentleman told me, he said, ‘Herb, the day you quit working is the day you start dying.”
“So I’m not interested in participating in that.”
DOING HIS HOMEWORK - Tony Pedregon is not afraid to do his homework when it comes to undertaking an assignment. The two-time NHRA Funny Car champion turned FOX color commentator listened to every word Jeff Lane explained to him when it came to the inner workings of the Factory Stock/AA Cobra Jet he was about to drive down the quarter-mile at Lucas Oil Raceway Park.
Even though Pedrgon has a fuel Funny Car license, he went through the process of completing the cross-over requirements to license for a special match race he’s scheduled to participate in on Friday against Bob Tasca III, who is driving an all-electric version of the Cobra Jet.
Pedregon drove Bo Butner’s Super Gas Corvette at Beech Bend Raceway in Kentucky, to complete the task.
“My approach, it’s always been the same,” Pedregon said. “It just reminded me that race cars are fast and they’re dangerous. I’ve always told people that that speed and acceleration is all relative. If you’re on a go-kart that’ll do 70 miles an hour, it’s pretty scary because you’re one inch off the ground. You’ve got no roll cage.
“In a funny car, which is the complete opposite extreme, you have this false sense of security. 330 is 330, either way you slice it. And at some point, you become a passenger, but the more car control that you have the better.”
Simply put, Pedregon respects race cars, regardless of whether they burn nitro or not.
“My approach to licensing was this car requires a lot of respect,” Pedregon said. “Mentally, I was trying to prepare myself a few days before. I was texting Bo asking him for what his routine was, because I knew a lot of the starting line procedures in one of these cars are so much different than what we’ve conditioned ourselves to do.”
Because the Cobra Jet Pedregon running is in competition this weekend, he is not afforded a time slip making the special match race a true no-time race. As many traditionalists see it, Pedregon cannot lose with a gas-powered car against an electric car.
“That’s the pressure right there,” Pedregon said. “I’ve always had a respect for a lot of the sportsman racers, in particular the ones that do it as a profession. And I’ve always kept an eye. A lot of the names sound so familiar because their careers were right there with mine since I was racing.
“I would say that there’s a little bit more respect for the ones that go from car to car, the drivers like Bo Butner, Shawn Langdon and Leah that run a nitro car, and then they get into sportsman car because mentally, really, you have to make a lot of adjustments. And if you do it a lot, you should get good at it. But to do it, we’re right in the middle of competition. It’s just one of those things that you can appreciate a little bit more once you’ve done it.
“I always, when I started doing the analysis on the show, I really wanted to get in a Pro Stock car, so I can speak to that class a little more. Should have. I still think about it. I even thought about getting on a Pro Stock Motorcycle, which yeah, to me that kind of cinched it for the Pro Stock car. I said, ‘I have no business getting on one of those things just to see what it’s like.”
“And again, that’s just the respect that I have for those machines.”
NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS - On the outside, it might look like David Rampy’s return to compete in this weekend’s NHRA U.S. Nationals might look like a measure of second-guessing a decision to retire.
Let the record reflect, Rampy is happily retired from the grind of chasing a series championship, something he’d done since the mid-1980s until retired at the end of 2019.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the JEGS AllStar deal,” Rampy said with his trademark southern drawl and accompanying smile. “I said if I was leading the points and had the opportunity to come here that I was going. So that’s why I’m here.”
Rampy’s storied career ended with 100 NHRA national event victories with five of those coming at the U.S. Nationals. He also won five series championships, but the one trophy which has eluded him has been a Jegs All-Star.
With 100 career national event wins, including five at the U.S. Nationals, and a combined five world champions spread over three classes, Rampy is a bona fide NHRA Sportsman racing legend.
Rampy cherishes his time drag racing where he won series championships in both NHRA and IHRA competition. He admits he knew it was time to move on when he did.
“It has not been hard at all staying retired,” Rampy said. “I’m telling you. I know a lot of people think I may be just saying that, but it’s not. I have really enjoyed being at home, not having a schedule to live by and it’s been nice now. I miss the people, I do, and miss Barry and us working together. But as far as everything else, I’m good with it. And especially with what’s going on this year.”
Just because he’s retired from the big league circuit doesn’t mean Rampy hasn’t dabbled in the local rec league of drag racing back in Piedmont, Alabama.
“I raced the last five weekends, I’ve raced four weekends at home. bracket racing,” Rampy said. “Me and my son Chase, we go together a lot and then last two weeks he’s had something going on so I stole the truck and I raced it the last two weeks. So we’ve been enjoying the bracket racing. I’m back to the old days, load up on Saturday afternoon and go to the race track, run, come back home, put it up and then go to the house. I’m liking that.”
Rampy got fired up after the locals taught him a lesson or two the first couple of times, then he went to the finals in the last two weeks before headed to Indy.
“It’s been a lot of fun to go back over there,” Rampy said. “I really enjoy it. I can say it’s just so low key and all the guys are pretty good guys and we all kind of hang out together. We got a group of guys from Piedmont there they go racing and we all park together, and it’s really been enjoyable.
“Some people can’t go back to their roots because their pride is too much. But for me, I’m humble enough that it doesn’t bother me at all. I enjoy it.”
BUCKET LIST BEAUTY - Jimmy Denham admits it was love at first sight.
The boxy curves of what some might call a big-boned beauty was all it took to grab the eye of the Collinsville, Oklahoma-based drag racer.
The beauty was nothing more than a lumbering Super Stock/M Automatic 1965 Chevy Impala. When the machine was put up for sale a couple of years ago, Denham wasted little time making her his race car. “It belonged to The Hefler Boys out of Texas,” Denham said. “And their dad raced it for years and years in Stock Eliminator, a lot of bracket racing. They posted it up for sale, and it was just something I had to have, so I contacted them saying meet me somewhere and make the deal.” The history of the car, Denham admits, was the key selling point. “Those guys are great racers, great competitors,” Denham said. “The car’s been around a long time, won a lot of races, so once I saw it was for sale, I had to have it.” Denham qualified for the final round of the Super Stock/M Automatic class finals, and even though he fouled in the final round, it really didn’t matter to him. “I’m just glad to be here,” Denham admitted. “It’s the first time I’ve been to U.S. Nationals. It’s a bucket list deal. I’ve never been over compete in something like this ever before. So, I’m just happy to be here. I’m not really a Class racer as far as trying to run for that class. And as long as I get to make the show and make the race, I’ll be ecstatic.” Denham qualified for the field, landing in the No. 113 spot with an 11.260, -0.590 under the index.