STRAIGHT AHEAD by Jeff Wolf

11-19-06-jeffwolf_2.jpgThis past weekend was the second NHRA national event I wasn’t looking forward to attending.

The first was in April because I knew Eric Medlen wouldn’t be there. The death of Medlen a few weeks before in a testing crash still rattles me each time I see the John Force Racing pit area whether at a national event or when the teams were testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago testing.

The anxiety was compounded when the team was here getting Robert Hight tuned up for the Countdown and Force was still hospitalized in Dallas. It was even worse knowing the team was wrestling with a seemingly unreliable chassis.

There were more anxious moments each time one of Force’s four Funny Cars went down the track this weekend in the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas. Yes, John Force Racing fielded cars for Hight, Ashley Force, veteran Phil Burkart in Force’s car and Mike Neff, who competed in his first NHRA Funny Car race as a driver

wolf_column.jpgThis past weekend was the second NHRA national event I wasn’t looking forward to attending.

The first was in April because I knew Eric Medlen wouldn’t be there. The death of Medlen a few weeks before in a testing crash still rattles me each time I see the John Force Racing pit area whether at a national event or when the teams were testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago testing.

The anxiety was compounded when the team was here getting Robert Hight tuned up for the Countdown and Force was still hospitalized in Dallas. It was even worse knowing the team was wrestling with a seemingly unreliable chassis.

There were more anxious moments each time one of Force’s four Funny Cars went down the track this weekend in the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas. Yes, John Force Racing fielded cars for Hight, Ashley Force, veteran Phil Burkart in Force’s car and Mike Neff, who competed in his first NHRA Funny Car race as a driver.

Force and his crew chiefs decided by a majority vote to run the full contingent of cars and evaluate each chassis after each run.

I questioned the decision to run all four and in hindsight Force was right and I was being overly cautious.

All four qualified. Burkart and Neff advanced to the second round Ashley became the first woman to advance to Funny Car championship round in NHRA.

The team certainly was the fan’s favorite and rose to their feet each time to cheer for John. The biggest reaction came when Ashley won in the semifinals. With John gingerly perched on tailgate of a pick-up truck with wife Laurie the crowd rose as if doing the wave as the truck slowly went down the return road.

On Monday, the team focused on getting Hight ready for this weekend’s finale in Pomona, Calif.

But when three of the four finalist in the Countdown to the Championship lost in the first round and Pedregon beat Force for the title and it all but ended the Countdown drama for Funny Cars.

All in all it was a great weekend with what I’ve been told were record crowds for NHRA at Las Vegas.

We still missed Eric. 

 


a d v e r t i s e m e n t



Click to visit our sponsor's website 

 


COUNTDOWN IS OK

I have railed against the Countdown since it was announced, initially calling it the Clowndown.

Well, the format actually added drama this weekend. I won’t say I like it, but I’ve become more accepted.

It still needs some major changes, and isn’t going away.

Maybe it’s just being old and curmudgety, but I like that NHRA was one of last in sports to have a season-long championship without any bells and whistles.

Over the weekend it been argued in support of the Countdown that in other major sports from the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to the NFL, Major League Baseball, NHL and NBA the best team can get knocked off by the worse team in their respective fields.

A few things, though, should be changed with the 2008 Countdown.

-  Call it the Countdown to the Championship from start to finish. Stages don’t need to be named Countdown to Four and Countdown to One. Too much confusion.

- Have the last round when champions will be crowned for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcyle moved to October’s event in Las Vegas.

This weekend in Pomona the focus of media will be on the premier categories of Funny Car and Top Fuel. The Pro stock categories will be lost, but if they were determined in Las Vegas it would force media to play up those champions.

 - When the Countdown begins the “regular” season points leaders should get more when points are reset. 

 


a d v e r t i s e m e n t



Click to visit our sponsor's website



WELCOME NAPA


Don Schumacher Racing announced Saturday morning that NAPA Auto Parts will be the primary sponsor for Ron Capps’ Funny Car beginning with next year’s opener in Pomona, Ca.

For those overdosing on testosterone, don’t fret: Brut will remain as a major associated sponsor with the DSR conglomerate. So yes, the Brut girls should continue to grace pit road for years to come.

The best news for drag racing is that NAPA, which produces the best commercials in racing for NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip, plans to activate its sponsorship by bringing 300-400 NAPA customers and employees to each NHRA event and more importantly for the sport, produce commercials using Capps and the Funny Car.

“If you don’t plan to activate your sponsorship by doing these things you’re wasting your money,” said Larry Samuelson, president of Automotive Parts Group-NAPA.

Hey POWERade, did you hear that?

POWERade, title sponsor for NHRA’s pro tour, does a great job with its fan experience and interactive activities for spectators at the events but does little at retailers or on TV to attract newcomers to the sport.

 


a d v e r t i s e m e n t



Click to visit our sponsor's website


 

NO WHIT

Baca was in the seat previously occupied by Whit Bazemore, who David Powers recently fired.

I missed Whit. Not just for his intensity in a race car but for his candor and passion for the sport.

Someone needs to hire him.  
ACADEMY AWARDS

Winners for best actors in a supporting role over the weekend were, envelopes please:

A tie between the Matco Tools Top Fuel team of David Powers Motorsports and Cruz Pedregon’s team in Funny Car.

David Baca, driving for Powers, smoke the tires before halftrack when he was paired with teammate Rod Fuller in the second round.

Pedregon faced brother Tony Pedregon in the semifinals of Funny Car and smoked the tires in about the same spot.

The results were not suprise: Fuller and Tony are in the Countown while Baca and Cruz aren’t.

Were drag-race diving an Olympic sport Baca and Cruz would have receieved “10s” across the board. 

 


 

a d v e r t i s e m e n t



Click to visit our sponsor's website



GREAT MOMENTS NO MORE


Many of the greatest chapters in Southern Nevada drag racing history can be collected and submitted to the historical society. It's unlikely they'll ever be duplicated.

In all but one year since the fall Las Vegas event was added in 2001, fans have been able to celebrate when pro drivers have clinched championships before heading to Pomona for the finale.

Here are some of those special moments:

2006 - Jason Line, a third-year Pro Stock driver, earns his first championship. It stopped teammate Greg Anderson’s run of three in a row. It was extra special because team owner Ken Black lives in Las Vegas.

2005 - Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel clinches his third straight championship on opening day of the event.

2004 - Schumacher locks up his second title.

2003 - That Sunday will be remembered for Tony Pedregon stopping teammate and boss John Force’s run as No. 1 in Funny Car.

Force had won the previous 10 championships, but added to the drama and emotion was that Pedregon had decided to leave Force’s operation to form his own team.

2002 - Three of four pro championships were decided - Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).



a d v e r t i s e m e n t



Click to visit our sponsor's website

 


 

HULK-A-MISTAKE

As a longtime Hulk Hogan fan – really – it hurts to body slam the Hulkster, who was recruited by event sponsor ACDelco to be Sunday’s grand marshal.

This couldn’t be a worse time for Hulk, the father of an admitted law-breaker when he drives on the street.

Nick Bollea, 17, is being investigated for an alleged illegal street race crash on a four-lane highway near the downtown area of Clearwater, Fla., on Aug. 26. Bollea, who was driving, suffered minor injuries but his passenger was hurt severely.

Hogan has been quoted as saying his son wasn’t racing, but he clearly was running at high speeds and many witnesses told police it was a street race.

Regardless, Hogan should have addressed the crowd on Sunday with a statement – even a brief one – that encouraged all to only race or drive at high speeds on a race track.

The popular wrestler’s appearance on the starting line was nearly as deplorable as when infamous boxer Mike Tyson, escorted by NHRA officials, grabbed his crotch and flipped off the crowd after he was booed during the April 2000 event at the speedway.


GREAT RELIEF

Jimmy Johnson, a native of the San Diego area, will donate what he wins Sunday in the NASCAR Nextel Cup race to the American Red Cross to support relief efforts for the California Wildfire Relief Fund.

That will be about $400,000 if he wins, which is only $100,000 less than this year’s champions in Top Fuel and Funny Car will earn.

Kudos to California Speedway in Fontana for pledging at least $250,000 to aid relief efforts for the wildfires.

Heading into Saturday’s action at Las Vegas there’s been no word from NHRA or the speedway how much it intends to contribute.


a d v e r t i s e m e n t



Click to visit our sponsor's website


 


ATTENTION IN THE PITS

As an old fart, I thought announcing at NHRA national events would never be the same after Steve Evans died and Dave McClelland was deemed to be too old.

Then along comes Bob Frey. Well, no one will replace Evans and McClelland, but Frey is in their league.

Frey’s voice is great; he’s a drag racing historian with a wonderful memory.

He’s also a funny guy, not to mention his boyish good-looks and the body of a Kenyan marathon runner.

And he has more hair than me.

Now I can’t imagine attending a pro tour event and not hearing Frey’s voice.


RUSSELL BOOK

I thought while I was at the races I’d stop by an NHRA souvenir tent to check out Rob Geiger’s new book, “Darrell Russell: Broad Smiles, Quarter-Miles.”

Unfortunately, it isn’t sold there. No ads apparently are allowed to promote it in National Dragster, which is supposed to be for NHRA members.

The apparent NHRA boycott about any reference to the book is fallout from the recently settled lawsuit by Julie Russell, Darrell’s wife.

The book is available at Jegs.com for $24.95. All proceeds, according to Geiger, will go to the Drag Racing Association of Women.

Many in the sport resent she filed a lawsuit, and I understand that position.

It would be appropriate if a portion of the settlement she received was directed to DRAW, at least to match what that wonderful organization and others contributed to help the Russell family after Darrell’s death in a racing crash three years ago.

Jeff Wolf reports on motor sports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His stories and columns can be found at ReviewJournal.com
 

 

{loadposition feedback}
https://www.holley.com/holleydays/?utm_source=competitionplus.com&utm_medium=Banner%20Ad&utm_campaign=Holley%20Days&utm_term=Holley%20Days&utm_content=400x500