AAA AUTO CLUB FINALS - Event Notebook
Facing the challenge - Dan Olson has never been one to turn away from a drag racing challenge. A quiet man, he’s not the best known tuner in the business but he could be one of the more conciliatory members of a very volatile fraternity.
Chosen by NHRA to succeed Ray Alley as technical director for the Top Fuel and Funny Car nitro categories, the Fresno, Calif. native is looking forward to bringing the two classes added competitiveness without inflicting additional costs. “I am excited to work with the entire racing community to find solutions and new approaches to the complex issues” of NHRA POWERade racing, he said.
Olson was “looking for a new challenge at this stage of my life,” and is keenly happy to be returning home to the Pacific time zone when he takes over his post on December 1st. “I’ve been working in Indy and think I’ve been home perhaps 45-50 days this past year.” His son has taken over the family business, Olson said.
“We are excited to have someone with Dan’s knowledge and experience working at NHRA,” said Graham Light, senior VP of racing operations. “Dan is a tremendous asset and will help us provide long-term solutions to advance our sport.”
What do some of his peers think of the appointment?
Rahn Tobler “knew the appointment was coming and I’ll form an opinion when I see what he does and doesn’t do.”
Chuck Worsham called the appointment “good news. We need someone who knows our cars and has common sense,” attributes Worsham thinks Olson possesses. “I just hope they give him enough power to do the job.”
Don “Snake” Prudhomme is looking forward to working with Olson. “The items he’s concerned about are right on. Our costs are out of hand and sponsors are far and few between. These classes,” Snake said, “are becoming a place where only the wealthy can take part; if we don’t make changes we’ll never survive. Dan’s a businessman and he understands the problems facing our classes. As long as he keeps the dialogue going we’ll be okay because Dan’s a neutral guy. I think he’ll be good for the job.”
Jimmy Prock: “I think it’s a good hire and he’s a good choice for the job.”
Lee Beard: “We need somebody who’s knowledgeable about these cars and engines, someone who understands our engine management systems and fuel systems,” Beard said. “We’ve got to keep our classes properly policed and look to future rules. I worked with Dan at Schumacher Racing and he’s easy to work with. It’s hard to clean up somebody else’s mess but that’s what he has to do.”
Red Light District - The first round of eliminations on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona drag strip yielded a fair share of red lights and shook up at least one category of racing. Top Fueler Mike Strasburg left the line .007 seconds before Brandon Bernstein, the sole offender in that category.
Mike Ashley floored it .075 seconds too soon, crossed the center line and walled his Funny Car while falling to Tony Pedregon in the final class match-up; Greg Stanfield (.010 against Dave Connolly), Bob Panella Jr (.020 against Greg Anderson) and Tom Martino (.019 against Mike Edwards) were all guilty of too-rapid acceleration in Pro Stock.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, championship heir apparent Andrew Hines gave Antron Brown another shot at the title when he went for the throttle .019 seconds before Rick Stewart threw the switch against Tom Bradford. Ryan Schnitz, matched up against Brown in the first round also powered on too early (.007) to give Brown another shot and Chip Ellis fouled out against GT Tonglet when he left .017 seconds too soon.
Leave it to the P/S motorcycles to provide the fouls in Round No. 2, as two of four races were decided by fouls. Geno Scali left .022 seconds early to give Tom Bradford a semi-final appearance, while Shawn Gann handed the round to Matt Guidera when he fouled out with a .017 start.
Bracket buster? - Following this weekend’s season finale on the NHRA POWERade tour, Jeg Coughlin is heading back to his roots during the 25th anniversary Moroso 5-Day E.T. bracket championships at West Palm Beach, Fla. The former overall points champion considers this five-day flog “one of the most highly anticipated bracket races of the year,” Coughlin said.
The silver anniversary contest begins with a $25,000 to win race, followed by four additional $10,000 to win contests. Drivers accrue points at each event and by the end of the week the driver with the most points is the overall titleholder, claiming an added $5000 bonus. “I have a lot of great memories for past Moroso 5-Day races and hopefully we can make a few more this year.
Although Coughlin has placed his emphasis on the Pro Stock category, he realizes he’s got five full days to get the rust out and, as a former overall points winner, Coughlin is eligible to compete in the JEGS Race of Champions on November 15th. That exclusive event is open only to those elite drivers who have won either the overall points battle or an individual event over the past 24 years of the Moroso 5-Day bracket races, competing for a $5000 prize.
“The JEGS Race of Champions is one those special events that everyone wants to win,” Coughlin said. “I know I certainly wouldn't mind having that trophy on my mantle. Since the race is open only to former champions and veterans (chosen by a panel), I expect the competition to be as tough as anything I've faced this year.”
No forced emotions - John Force took his 14th POWERade title on his home track, the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona this afternoon, getting emotional and hugging a forlorn Ron Capps after beating the Carlsbad, Calif. bridesmaid in a straightforward bout. Capps struggled with a wildly vacillating Brut Dodge Charger throughout the run while Force took control at the line and never let go to recover the title and the $400 grand that goes with it.
An overcome Force called both Capps and son-in-law Robert Hight champions, but didn’t give either one of ‘em the trophy, after all. “They’re both champions to me,” he said breathlessly.
“When we win all these championships, we do it as a team. I’m getting old and emotional,” Force said, nearly wiping tears from his well-worn uniform.
And the verdict is . . . -- NHRA announced Sunday morning before driver introductions that it fined Tony Schumacher $20,000 for ignoring chief starter Rick Stewart's shut-down order during Saturday night's qualifying.
"We consider this a very serious infraction, as all racers and teams are required to strictly follow the commands of the chief starter and other officials on the starting line," Graham Light, senior vice-president of racing operations, said in a prepared statement.
Schumacher dodged a bullet, escaping a tougher punishment presumably because he and his U.S. Army Dragster were providing a suspenseful finish to the Top Fuel title chase.
Light said, "We want today's focus to be on crowning three NHRA Powerade Series champions after their season-long efforts. We look forward to an exciting race day."
Schumacher said of the officials, "They want safety. They don't want to decide a championship by that."
And he said he will stick to his principles: "I'm not going to lose my job shutting off and having Alan walk over and kick my butt. Ain't going to happen. That's the least thing I’m worried about now. I just won a championship. I still will not shut the car off unless my crew chief tells me to. Whatever the deal is, that's not my thing.
"The fact is I looked at my crew chief. It was a mess-up. He [crew chief Alan Johnson] didn't see him [starter Rick Stewart]," Schumacher said
'Built for big moments' -- After Tony Schumacher pulled off his stunning comeback to upset Doug Kalitta's championship bid in the final five seconds of the season to tie Joe Amato for three straight Top Fuel titles, he used the word "perfect" a few times.
"That was a perfect day," he said. Considering all the situations and parts that could have gone wrong to ruin his last-ditch effort, he said, "It was just perfect timing, perfect situation, perfect outcome. Awesome.
"That team is amazing. Period," he said of his U.S. Army Dragster crew members. "They're built for big moments like that."
Sympathy -- Doug Kalitta sat silent on his golf cart at the top end of the track, watching the final-round results. And even Tony Schumacher, who had a gracious moment with the man whose goal he stole after exiting the car, couldn't help sympathize with the Mac Tools Dragster.
"I felt so bad. I love the guy. Of all the people to battle with, if I couldn't win it, I'd pray for him to win it. He's so deserving."
They were standing by the car during qualifying early in the weekend. And Schumacher said he told Kalitta, "We're probably won't be able to talk all weekend. It'll be too intense. But you guys are true champions. But we're probably going to have to part ways because it's going to get too sticky. "
Schumacher teammate Melanie Troxel, who won here at the season opener and led the standings for the first half of the season, was instrumental in Schumacher's triumph. She defeated Kalitta in the semifinals.
"He had a great light (.058 seconds against a perfect .000) and Melanie strapped a .20 (.026) on him," Schumacher said. "He lives by the sword and died by it. To go out there and win like eight times on a holeshot -- phenomenal driver. Man, unbelievable. Weird day."
Schumacher said, "I took my son and went to church. My wife and his wife, and my kid and his kid were sitting there watching the race together. We said a prayer before the run. Unfortunately somebody has to lose. They are a championship team. He's a great driver with a good family. But this sport comes down to being the baddest in the world and being able to pull off miracles."
How'd it feel? -- Schumacher described his thrilling final-round ride. "I was the one guy who missed the race. My heart was pounding. I could hear it beating over the car [noise]," he said, adding that the dragster "was haulin' butt. It was over 200 [mph] at half-track. Everything was trying to move on my helmet."
Thanks, Melanie -- Tony Schumacher acknowledged that teammate Melanie Troxel played a key role in this championship that he said was his favorite among the four he has earned.
"I can't tell you how great of a job she did driving today," he said. "There's a very good chance I'm sitting here holding the Powerade trophy because of what she did. That's a fact. Can't sugar-coat that. She went out and kicked his butt and did a great job. "
Army stays on march through Round 1 -- "Alan Johnson knows how to make a race car go down the track, " Tony Schumacher said after winning his first-round match-up against David Baca with a 4.489-second elapsed time at 328.38 mph. He said of his crew, "Very seldom do they make mistakes. We always do a little better with extra pressure. And we had some there.
"We need everything to go right," he said. "Miracles don't come from being ahead. They come from being behind." The U.S. Army Dragster driver praised Doug Kalitta (who beat Alan Bradshaw in the opening round with a 4.482 E.T. at 331.77 mph) and said, "He has made it fun for me to be out here racing."
Me first! -- In the opening round of eliminations, Doug Kalitta ran in the seventh of eight pairings and Schumacher ran last. The order was reversed in the second round.
"I like running first," Schumacher said, adding that he would feel "helpless" if he were to have to sit and watch Kalitta go ahead of him.
Then he spoke to the fans on the P.A. system. He told them, "Enjoy yourselves. This doesn't happen every year."
Upping the ante -- When Doug Kalitta eliminated notorious giant-killer J.R. Todd in the second round, he not only took the relentless rookie out of the mix but also raised the bar for Schumacher. It forced Schumacher to win the race and set the national record in order to win the championship.
Kalitta then lost on a holeshot in the semifinals to Melanie Troxel, setting herself up for a meeting of teammates in the final round.
"I don't buy into the whole holeshot thing," Troxel said, recognizing all the elements that go into winning a round. Just the same, it made Kalitta stew for another 75 minutes, waiting for Troxel perhaps to do the same to Schumacher as she had done to him.
Schumacher and Troxel met in the finals of this race in 2005, when Schumacher won to cap his championship season. This time, the title was on the line. If he were to win his third straight title and fourth overall, Schumacher had to win the race and set the national elapsed time in doing so. So Schumacher faced the possibility of losing the race and the title or winning the race and still losing the championship because he didn't lower the 4.437-second mark he established last September at Joliet, Illinois.
"You can be assured we're going to go for a 4.43 with a 6 (4.436-second E.T.) or better," Schumacher said after eliminating Brandon Bernstein in the Budweiser/Lucas Oil Dragster.
Now you know -- Doug Kalitta reverted in Saturday night's final qualifying session to the Mac Tools Dragster that he drove for the first third of the season. It carried him to a 4.452-second elapsed time at 328.22 mph that enabled him to grab the top qualifying spot from closest rival Tony Schumacher. After that run, Kalitta wondered aloud why that car, which took him to back-to-back victories at Bristol and Atlanta, was retired.
Crew chief Rahn Tobler said Sunday that the original 2006 edition had been taken from the rotation simply to get some passes on the other car. It was damaged -- 'kinked," according to Kalitta -- in Saturday morning's run.
To Bryan -- John Force dedicated his Funny Car triumph Sunday to Bryan Brewster, a U.S. Army sergeant killed May 5 in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The young soldier is the son of longtime motorsports writer Louis Brewster, sports editor of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, California, and the San Bernardino Sun.
"I was even praying to your son, Louis," Force told Louis Brewster, his friend for years. "I have a trophy for him, and I think you deserve that.
"The ups and downs of this sport are tough, and things that happen sometimes make it tough to stay in the fight. But I do it for my guys, I think just like a kid in the military does it for his guys," Force said. "I meant that, Louie. I have your boy a trophy for this race here. I thought about it when that took place that if there was anything I could do for you and him . . . I'd like to honor this race to your son.
"Quite a kid. I knew him," Force said of Sgt. Brewster. "I didn't know him very well. But he come to the races. Got him a shirt and hats. Then he got a bunch of shirts and hats and sent me a picture on an Army tank with all his buddies, wearing John Force shirts that said 'Go win.' And then we lost him.
"I've never felt that pain. But it broke my heart," Force said, "because we love you so much. I sat here tonight and thought if I can pull this out, I'd like to give you the trophy from Pomona, because this old man ain't getting younger. I might not get another one."
Challenging legends -- "I'm honored to race against Ron Capps," he said, referring to the man he took the points lead from and beat in the second round after a down-to-the-last-minute battle. Capps finished third in the Funny Car standings.
"The kid worked hard," the 14-time champion said.
Then Force once again turned philosophical.
"I've heard two things in my life, by two legends" he said. "Richard Petty was one, and I never question a legend. Richard Petty believed women should stay in the kitchen. I never agreed with that. My children [youngest three daughters] are coming down this road. They love this sport. And it's because of the Melanie Troxels and the Hilary Wills and the Shirley Muldowneys. Women earned that right. And they've done it well.
That was one legend.
"The other was Vince Lombardi, and I have three pictures of him in my museum. And he said in every book that winning is everything. But I believe if a man fights as hard as you and he doesn't win, I believe he's still won. I'm not trying to sugar-coat this. I believe Ron Capps won. That's in my heart. This is no bullshit from an old man that gets sentimental.
"I watched that kid's pain. I watched him puke. What he went through, I've went through it, guys. I lived it. I've lived it, because it’s a gut-ache that tears you right down to the wire," Force said. "I know [Doug] Kalitta's sick. I just don't agree with Vince Lombardi that winning's everything."
Force included teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight -- the No. 2 finisher whom he beat in the semifinals -- as those he considers champions. "In my heart today he won the championship. I believe that Ron Capps wonthis championship. The only difference is that they give me the trophy and the check," he said. "Capps fought this thing right down to the wire and I love the kid to death. And he was hurt down there. But I've got a job to do, and that job is to win. If I don't, my sponsors will take my money and give it to somebody who wants to win -- like Capps."
Force said he didn't want to go on and on. "I know if I say stupid things and it goes in the paper, it'll make it worse for him. So that ain't what I'm trying to do. I just want to give respect to people I care about, people who work hard and dedicate their lives."
Force said, "I ain't got nothing to jump up and down about because I'm the champ. I was already the champ. . . . In about 60 days we'll all be standing there with no points. And Capps will look at me say, 'I'm going to kick your butt. And it starts all over again."
How about that? -- Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Charger driver Jack Beckman earned a dubious distinction Sunday in finishing as Funny Car event runner-up to John Force. He set the national elapsed-time record -- the quickest run in class history at 4.662 seconds (at a speed of 329.99 mph) -- and lost the race.
Force denied Beckman, the Las Vegas winner two weeks ago, a second straight victory with a holeshot. Force recorded a 4.697-second E.T. at 319.75 mph in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
It was an especially stunning move -- a precursor to Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher's national-record-setting blast minutes later -- because this race was only the fifth for Beckman. It was just the 17th nitro-class race for the drag-racing driving-school instructor who ran a limited season in the Top Fuel ranks in 2005.
Beckman already had used a 332.75-mph pass in his first-round defeat of Scott Kalitta to secure the national speed record. It backed up the 333.66 mph the Don Schumacher Racing employee recorded Saturday evening.
"I've never been so disappointed to be the quickest and fastest Funny Car driver in history," Beckman said. "But at the end of the day you really want that win light.
"That Matco Tools Dodge was an animal," he said. "It launched good. It just stuck me back in the seat, and I'm thinking, 'He ain't gonna hang with this deal,' " Beckman said of final-round opponent Force. "And then that thing made such a hard move to the right and was pretty close to the wall, and I was pretty close to aborting the run. But it was still truckin', and it never even thought about spinning the tire hard down there at the top end. I thought we were going to win."
He said, "It will go down in history as a holeshot loss. John is a master. When he needs it he'll let the car roll way into the start line. The guys told me to stage as shallow as I could to get more roll out, which will slow your reaction time. If you watch the video you'll see the butterflies open at the same time, which means we punched the pedal at the same time, but where you stage the car has a dramatic effect on reaction time of the car."
Sharing the love -- Following his Round 1 victory over Jim Head in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, John Force couldn't help but talk about his chief rivals in this championship hunt.
"I'm going to get emotional here," Force, at the time one round-win away from clinching his unprecedented 14th series title, said. "You know how much I love [Ron] Capps and how much I lover Robert [Hight]. Then he referred to those two drivers' last-ditch efforts to knock him aside to claim a first championship: "You've got to throw a Hail Mary. But I've seen Hail Marys before, so I'm going to keep my mouth shut."
In addressing the crowd near the starting line in a special ceremony after Capps' Hail Mary failed, Force said, "You can win a lot of championships and give credit to your [team and sponsors]. What's really amazing -- maybe I'm getting old and emotional -- the fans are the one who give you heart."
But once again, he gave kudos to Capps, who joined him in a losing battle last year against Gary Scelzi.
"The kid that's fought me for years, made me sweat, is Ron Capps," Force said. "In my heart, Ron Capps, you're the champion. Heart makes you young. In our heart, it's about beating the competition. I really mean it from my heart. Ron Capps and Robert Hight, they're champions. That's how I feel."
Dynamics of a rivalry -- First John Force and Ron Capps had a head-to-head race down the quarter-mile in the second round. Then they had a heart-to-heart talk.
With fireworks and a big, fake check as a backdrop, Force hoisted his Powerade Drag Racing Series trophy and posed for photographers. Then he did something that made his moment complete.
He took Capps aside for a private conversation. With Force's arm slung around his shoulder, a solemn Capps nodded his head repeatedly as Force did all the talking.
It is the fourth overall and second consecutive time Capps has finished second in the standings.
"I feel like I got punched up in the stomach," Capps said of the result of his head-to-head Round 2 battle with Force.
"Tomorrow morning it'll feel better," Capps said. "To have the points like we did and let it go, I don't know . . . We won a lot of races . . . " He indicated that with crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch's health (the drag-racing pioneer has undergone cancer surgery and treatment), he wasn't sure how many more times this combo would make strong runs at the championship.
Scelzi's car: one last tantrum -- Gary Scelzi, who surrendered his Reigning Funny Car Champion title to John Force as Sunday's eliminations unfolded, had a theory about why his Don Schumacher-owned Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger ran hot and cold this season and finally couldn't carry him to a Round 1 victory Sunday morning against Tommy Johnson Jr.
"Like I've been saying all along, the thing either smokes the tires or hauls ass," he said, "and now it's not hauling ass."
It wasn't cooperating in Sunday morning warm-ups.
"We went to start the car this morning, and our ignition is screwed up and it's been screwed up since Vegas, but we keep changing things," Scelzi said. "It goes one run, it does everything right, and then the next run it doesn't. Well, this morning it just wasn't doing anything right, so we changed every single thing on it and when we re-fired it everything looked good again. But we were afraid it was going to have too much power. How do you pull it back when you're not sure how much power it's off? And it just went out there and it got fast and it got faster until it smoked the tires.
"It's like we've been saying, we're going to have to make a major change. We tried to milk this combination all year long and it's not forgiving. It's not working right," he said.
He said crew chief Mike Neff will take a step back and "figure out what we need to do for next year, because right now we really don't know."
He was pragmatic about the course of the season. "You can almost say it's a fitting end to the way the year's gone all the way," Scelzi said. "We looked really good in Denver [where he earned his only 2006 victory]. We looked good in Englishtown for a while [where he was runner-up to Ron Capps]. I looked good. I looked bad. We just never got on the same page all year long.
"I guess I shouldn't bitch," he said, "because I've had a great career, period," the four-time NHRA series champion (with three in Top Fuel and one in Funny Car), said. "This is one of the worst years I've ever had, and I still finished seventh and won a race. When you look at it like that, in the big picture, I'm healthy, my family's healthy, everything is good, and I have a job next year. In the big picture, there's not a lot to bitch about. But it's just frustrating when you've won as much as this team has, and you know that it's capable of a lot more than we showed. Now we just need to go fix it."
Scelzi ended the season seventh in the standings.
Yea! It's over! -- Del Worsham's crazy weekend -- and season -- came to a quick end Sunday. After overcoming more than his quota of close defeats, missing the starting grid by mere thousandths of a second, the Checker Schuck's Kragen Funny Car driver saw a glimmer of hope with the early No. 1 qualifying spot. Then he endured a violent wreck that destroyed his Chevy Monte Carlo, yet he hung onto the top position -- until Jack Beckman came along and ran the fastest pass in class history while Worsham sat out to rest his lacerated legs. Sunday morning, Gary Densham edged him out in the Racebricks Monte Carlo, 6.345 to 6.366.
Said Densham, "Del and I have been involved this year in the closest races out here, and we've both had our share of bad luck. I'm just happy to see him out here racing."
So was John Force. After clinching his 14th championship as a driver and 15th as a car owner, he indicated that he was scared when he saw Worsham "go end over end" during qualifying. Force said he said, "My God, the kid's going to the moon."
Chuck Worsham -- Del's father, crew chief, and team owner -- said Sunday that the driver also suffered upper leg bruises. He said the team used a back-up car, not the one Mike Ashley used in their short alignment earlier this year, because the seat is lower and they can add more padding.
Close don’t count – Roy Johnson wasn’t happy to end the 2006 season in the semi-finals against Greg Anderson and thought that son Allen might have had a chance to do better. Unfortunately, the Mopar Dodge Stratus was better off the line than three-time champ Anderson, but lost traction at the 60-foot mark and never had a chance after that.
The self-deprecating Johnson still was “proud of the year we’ve had. The driver did a good job so I guess we’ll keep him next season. The engine today was a little bit weak and we let the boy down some.” Allen Johnson finished the year in sixth place.
Anderson’s revenge - Greg Anderson started his 2006 season with a win on Auto Club Raceway at Pomona’s quarter mile and ended it the same way. What happened between February and November, though, caused the Summit Racing GTO to lose traction, to teammate and tuner Jason Line, who earned the team its fourth title as he captured his first big trophy.
After a dominant 2005 where he took his third straight POWERade Pro Stock championship, leading from Seattle onward, Anderson earned only four victories. Still he led the standings until the Western swing before ceding to Line.
Winning the finale was a relief. “It feels great! Jason’s been Goliath this year and he’s swatted me around like a dog. It’s obvious he enjoys using me up but I got lucky today.”
The fastest two cars all weekend Anderson and Line are at home on the Pomona dragstrip. “We love this track. It’s great. The first 20-30 feet are a little suspect but after that it’s great. The air’s been great and this place fits our program. I honestly feel like a proud papa with Jason’s success but really, I still hate to give up the title. Even to him.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle
Winning the war – Craig Treble ended his 124th race on the podium after beating Tom Bradford in the Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona tonight. It was the ninth victory of Treble’s career and first of the season.
Treble, the 41-year-old Indiana native currently living in Hensley, Ark. worked his way to the finals on his Suzuki by beating Karen Stoffer with a .005 reaction time in the first round, took out championship aspirant Antron Brown in the next match-up with the same R/T, did it again against Matt Smith and defeated Bradford despite his competitor’s hole shot.
Treble is one of the older competitors in his class but still feels “I’m riding okay. I do a bit of bracket racing to keep in shape. Harry [Lartigue] and I have been together for two and a half years now and we all know it takes chemistry to make these things happen and it’s all coming together now.”
Of his “heartbreaking 2006 season that saw Treble come into the finale 12th in points, he remarked, “We’ve been so close so many times that we’ve got sore jaws from getting sucker-punched.” After watching Bradford’s performance in the semis, Treble knew he had to squeeze the clutch and maybe not get as close as he had the preceding rounds.
“This win really cleaned up this miserable year.”
Another Hines triple - Andrew Hines, 23, notched his hat trick of titles in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category of NHRA POWERade competition while standing on the sidelines of Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. After fouling in the first round of eliminations, the 23-year-old watched Craig Treble vanquish Antron Brown at the line, pulling his second straight .005 departure from the Christmas Tree to post a 7.036 second victory over Brown.
Noticeably shaken by his accomplishment – matching brother Matt and Angelle Sampey as three-in-a-row titleholders – Hines said, “My bike is an awesome machine right now. If we improve a little bit for 2007 we hope to turn some heads.
“This has been the toughest year I’ve had and winning this [title] makes it that much better.” Hines didn’t take the championship lead until the penultimate race at Las Vegas, coming in 27 points behind Brown and leaving 37 points ahead. “It’s a great feeling to get three out of the way and I’m kind of overcome with emotion. The second title backed up the first one but it makes it that much better to three-peat.
“This is not the way I wanted to win,” after red-lighting in the first round. “The team is really ecstatic right now,” Hines said. Talking about his foul, Hines said that sometimes “the trees seem longer than other times. My hand just wanted to go,” a wee bit too soon.”
Brother Matt was 25 when he secured his first POWERade championship but Andrew’s father Byron told him, “If you want to go, go now,” as Hines began his own Pro Stock Motorcycle career on a part-time basis in 2002.
Just like Funny Car titleholder John Force, Hines is a local product, born in Villa Park, Calif. who grew up in the Southland. He now lives and works in Indianapolis, home of the Vance & Hines shops. Married since April to Tanya, a Northwest Airlines flight attendant who was unable to attend the Auto Club Finals. “I flew out here really cheap,” Andrew deadpanned.
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - No Shutting Off Schumacher; Worsham Returns and Chasing Hines
Weather report - Sunny Southern California turned into extremely
cloudy So Cal this afternoon, just in time for the nitro class to make
its third runs. The wind came up as well, with temps dropping from the
mid 70s to mid 60s, changing strategy for those drivers trying to get
into the final show of the year.
LA-area forecasts have called for the possibility of weak showers this evening and, with the POWERade classes running about 3/4-hour late, there could be some concerns.
Sage Snake - Don Prudhomme knows the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona as well as anyone and calls this circuit his home track. After watching an extended number of cars rumble into the gravel pit at the end of the quarter mile on Saturday afternoon, Snake commented, “This track was too short in 1965!”
Damn the shutoff sign -- All Top Fuel contender Tony Schumacher has been strategizing about for the last two or three weeks is setting the national elapsed-time record and earning 20 critical points in his quest to overtake points leader Doug Kalitta for his fourth series championship.
Schumacher's day was going according to script. In Saturday's first session, he turned a 4.458-second pass at 328.46 mph in the U.S. Army Dragster. That would serve as his back-up run, should he improve the 4.437-second elapsed time that gave him the national record last September at Joliet.
But something went wrong after he performed the burnout in the fourth overall and final qualifying session. It turned out, crew chief Alan Johnson said, to be a sparkplug O-ring that was slightly out of its groove.
Official starter Rick Stewart spotted some fluid leaking onto the right lane from the Army car, and he and Rick Shreck, assistant director of Top Fuel and Funny Car racing (Ray Alley's replacement), clearly ordered the team to shut off the car.
The Schumacher's team ignored the order. Schumacher ran, and his plans went up in smoke immediately. He lost traction at the first hit of the throttle. So his 4.458 E.T. that had put him at the head of the list the previous two days had to serve as his best.
NHRA officials are reviewing the incident and a prepared statement indicated that they are considering punitive action against the team.
Meanwhile, Doug Kalitta, in the left lane, sailed straight down the quarter-mile and swiped the No. 1 position from Schumacher with a 4.452-second pass. So Schumacher had no record and no 14th No. 1 qualifier award for the year.
"We'll get focused," Schumacher promised.
As for the team's disobedience, all Schumacher said was "I looked at the crew chiefs."
Schumacher said, "We still need a record. We still have a car that can do it." He said of Kalitta, "They're good to race against. We'll see who's the champ tomorrow."
At the top end of the track, Kalitta said, "It was an awesome run for us. [Crew chief]] Rahn Tobler just put [the Mac Tools Dragster] back to the way it was before. It was good to put it to the top of the heap."
Kalitta didn't reveal whether his strategy includes putting Schumacher away with the national record. Instead he said, "I'll just be happy going rounds tomorrow."
The Army team's side of the story -- Tony Schumacher said he saw the shut-off order from starter Rick Stewart. Crew chief Alan Johnson said he didn't. But Schumacher said he's the driver, not the boss, and that he listens solely to his crew chief.
That's their story and they're sticking to it.
"I don't want anyone to think I didn't see him," the U.S. Army Dragster driver said afterward. "I clearly saw him. It's not my job as a driver to shut the car off. "
Said Johnson, "Don't misunderstand. I don't think there was a person on the crew who didn't think that it was going to smoke the tires. It wasn't an issue of 'Is it going to make it?' No. Everyone knew it was going to smoke the tires."
He said he went ahead and staged the car because "there are a lot of things we learn just from him hitting the throttle in the first two-tenths of second, whether we smoke the tires. That, coupled with the build-up to this whole thing. You've got these two cars going up there. The fans came to see that. The ones who were left there, that's the reason they were there, just to watch that. If we were to shut one of the cars off and have the other guy make a single, it would have been so anticlimactic. There was no safety factor involved."
"Alan Johnson is the safest, and I'll trust him with my life," Schumacher said. "That is it."
Johnson said he simply didn't see the shutoff gesture. "Had I seen Rick Stewart tell me to shut it off, I would have shut it off," Johnson said. "Rick Shreck was right next to me, and he never gave me the signal. He may have given it to Tony, but he never gave it to me."
Schumacher said a driver always takes his final orders from his crew chief. "They understand the car better.
They built the car. It's their responsibility. It was cloudy, dark, cool -- we were going to go fast. It was unfortunate."
Johnson said no one from NHRA had spoken with him regarding its deliberation about the situation and possible punishment. That raised the question of whether the sanctioning body would rule on a situation without hearing "testimony" from the involved party. NHRA spokesman Anthony Vestal said the organization would not make a final determination Saturday night.
'New' car no problem -- Doug Kalitta's 4.452-second blast at 328.22 mph came in a back-up version of the Mac Tools Dragster that replaced the one that was damaged in Saturday's opening session. It was the car he drove for the first third of the season.
"Rahn said if it feels good, just run it through. If it goes out and does anything stupid, shut it off," Kalitta said.
"I was making sure we had enough weight on the front end. That's the one variable you kind of wonder about. I was real happy with the guys that they put that thing together and it went out and made that run like that. It was pretty impressive to have a group of guys like that. Rahn and my whole team, I just can't say enough about them. They've really got my car running strong. Rahn's a real solid guy. I'm honored to have him as crew chief of my car.
"Fresh out of the box, it ran just like it ran before," he said of the "new" ride. Going into tomorrow we'll have more confidence in what we've got."
However, Kalitta said, "I'm sure it'll be nerve-wracking, especially the first round. I've just been trying to make sure this year is just keep it fun."
Kalitta said of the controversial actions surrounding Schumacher's car in the opposite lane, "I was sitting there wondering what was going on. I was hoping they weren't telling me to go in, that I hadn't been paying attention."
He said he wasn't sure exactly what happened with his own Mac Tools car earlier in the day. "For whatever reason, it decided to kink the frame by the fuel tank," he said.
How sweet it is -- Doug Kalitta's son Mitch and daughter Avery joined their dad in the press room for his post-run interview. Someone asked if they're enjoying themselves. Said Dad, "Everywhere they go, people give them a piece of candy." Imagine how sugared-up they could be if he wins the championship Sunday.
Bruised and broken - Del Worsham was back at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona by eight this morning, ready to defend his provisional pole slot in Saturday’s two qualifying sessions. Although Worsham suffered a broken tail bone, there’s nothing doctors can do to help the healing.
His Chuck Worsham-led Team CSK added a bit of padding for Del’s seat and sent him out this morning with a repaired Chevy Monte Carlo body shell on a former Mike Ashley chassis, which Ashley used when he and Worsham were teammates. Worsham’s rear wing, destroyed in yesterday’s wreck, was replaced by a spare from teammate Phil Burkart’s Havoline special edition car.
Worsham needed a few stitches to close the right shin wound he suffered during his dual roll-overs yesterday evening in qualifying, where Worsham retained the top spot based on his Thursday 4.712-second pass.
Worsham completed 900 feet of his run in the early afternoon, but Team CSK decided to sit him down for the final round of qualifying later in the afternoon. Del was happy with his physical condition after the run, but with the swap out of so many mechanical parts, the team decided to make preparations for eliminations on Sunday.
“I’m feeling pretty good, really, but we thrashed all night to get this car together and this body fixed and we have a lot of work to do,” Worsham explained. “We wanted to get out there and see how the car ran and how I felt. I think we aced it on both accounts.
“Needless to say, we broke a lot of stuff yesterday and we blew it up on Thursday too, so our parts are a little beat up and everything needs to be serviced and carefully looked over.” Worsham isn’t used to driving this particular car, so “we need to tweak the way I sit in it and how the steering works. I’d love to run and I think we’re on the edge of our first run in the 4.60s, but this is the smarter way to go about this.”
Too-jacked jack? - Fast Jack Beckman nailed the top Funny Car run of the weekend during the third qualifying session but his 4.705-second (328.78 mph) pass was disallowed due to “fuel” issues. Beckman didn’t pass the fuel inspection – his reading was just above the allowable 85 percent nitromethane, not even a one percent increment.
Beckman said he's "pretty philosophical about things like that. I can't throw my helmet. I'd have to buy another one. I can't throw tools. Matco would be mad at me."
His best way to atone for it was to go out in his next chance and set a track-record 4.671-second elapsed time at 333.66 mph that marked the class' fastest speed and third-quickest.
Beckman said, however, that crew chief Todd Okuhara was not as accepting. "Todd Okuhara is one of the most laid-back guys I've ever met. When you see a Hawaiian who's pissed off, you know he's going for the throat," he said. "After we got that fuel-check issue, I watched him on the computer. He was shaking his head. He said, 'You'd better hold on. This thing's either going to go deep into the 60s or it's not going anywhere on the next run. I think he wanted to make a statement. And my God, did he made a statement."
Said Beckman, "I'm still new into this thing. The crew is doing such a good job they're making me look better than I am. When you step into a car that was driven by Whit Bazemore, everybody's going to look at you with scrutiny. At least I think I'm starting to catch up to the car. Maybe another 30-40 laps, then another 100 after that and I'll be more proficient. It's still a sharp learning curve."
Still, Beckman said it helped that he is so familiar with the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, where he teaches drag-racing apprentices for Frank Hawley's school. "There's a big comfort level at Pomona," he said. "It's home for me."
Just Cruisin’ – Ron Capps has plenty of plans for the immediate off-season, starting with Thanksgiving Day. Capps is the Grand Marshal for the Brut Sun Bowl Parade in El Paso, Texas on Thanksgiving morning, and he’s hoping for a quick getaway so that he can visit friends like Tony “Smoke” Stewart during the Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix at Irwindale Speedway. “Outside of the Chili Bowl at Tulsa, that has got to be one of my most favorite races,” Capps exclaimed.
Then he’s set for the Brut Cruise, a seven-day Mexican adventure that begins on December 2nd and is, according to Capps, totally sold out. The Brut Cruise will visit such vacation hot spots as Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.
Wanting more -- The consensus is that Jack Beckman is a friendly, positive, inspirational, all-around Good Guy. But when it comes to winning a race, he's just as greedy as his competitors. He said running the 4.671-second pass that set a track record and was the third-quickest in Funny Car history at a 333.66-mph speed that was the fastest ever was nice but he wanted more.
Said Beckman, "Running in the 4.60s, that's a barrier. Fastest speed . . . Those are nice 'icing' things. But I want the cake Sunday."
The winner of the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals said, "We want another win this weekend."
Besides, he sort of promised new wife Jenna, whom he married this past week. They haven't the time now to go on a honeynoon, and they haven't had time to plan for one once the season is over. So she said all she had asked for was "another trip to the winners circle."
Matco Monster? -- Jack Beckman indicated that his record-setting Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Charger almost had a mind of its own, showing him how to take it down the quarter-mile.
"The thing was a monster but it's been a monster all week. That car has been a bracket car for the last two races," he said.
It was a monster in the ugly-glitch sense of the word, too.
"It broke one of the hinges on the roof hatch," Beckman said, describing the run. "The roof hatch was flying up at 1,000 foot. I thought somebody turned on the interior lights. I thought Force radioed God and asked him to slow our car down or something."
Others also excited -- When Jack Beckman made the fastest run in Funny Car history and the third-quickest ever with his 4.671-second pass at 333.66 mph, track announcer Bob Frey said, "You know who likes that as much as Jack Beckman? Jimmy Prock and Robert Hight. They know there are some good numbers left in that race track." Hight followed with a 4.672-second elapsed time at 328.94 mph.
John Force, who was in the opposite lane and ran a 4.677 to earn the No. 3 spot as he tried to ice his 14th championship, said, "I'm pretty excited right now to see Beckman run. He's like a 12-year-old on Christmas."
Mais, oui -- Jack Beckman said John Force used to be his favorite Funny Car driver. Who's his favorite now? "Moi," he said.
Motorvation - Richie Stevens is hoping “Ol’ Reliable”, the engine Roy Johnson put in his Mopar-sponsored machine last night will do a better job of getting the Las Vegas victor down the track in two sessions today. Stevens qualified 14th Friday while Allen Johnson held down the No. 3 spot – in a 24-car field – leading up to tomorrow’s final eliminations.
“We had to give Richie a new short block last night because the engine he had just didn’t perform to my expectations,” Roy Johnson said. He’s hoping Saturday’s cooler weather will help both drivers put their Stratus racers solid in the field. Stevens improved to 14th in the third session at 6.720/205.76, but was knocked out of the field in the final pass, going from victor to vanquished in two races.
Climbing to the summit - KB Racing’s Summit Racing duo, 2006 champ Jason Line and three-time titleholder Greg Anderson, respectively, lead a fast field of door-slammers in Sunday eliminations. This achievement marked the seventh time this season the Summit duo have placed first and second, and Line’s top pass was a track record ET of 6.663 seconds at a tidy 207.59 mph.
“Greg’s run in the right lane was pretty sporty,” Line said at the top end after earning his 11th No. 1 slot. “I didn’t do a very good job of driving or I think my run would have been better. It was the best conditions of the weekend,” as expected. Line will square off against No. 16 Jim Yates.
Anderson, who has clinched second place in the standings is “continuing to get this new Rick Jones-built Pontiac dialed in,” he said. “We are getting closer each time down the track and that last past was the best with this new car.”
In-N-Out -The Auto Club Finals Pro Stock field is as notable for who’s missing on the 16-car grid. The Professor, Warren Johnson failed to qualify (he was 21st of 25 and struggled all weekend), as did Richie Stevens Jr, as noted above. Larry Morgan could only manage the 19th quickest speed and Max Naylor, in competition for rookie honors had the 20th best lap. Captain Chaos will miss the season finale, as Kenny Koretsky failed to get a capable speed, slotting in at 22nd.
Bubble time for this year’s finale was Yates’ 6.714-second run. Tony Rizzo was the slowest driver at 6.781 seconds.
Hard ending to hard season -- Richie Stevens, who won the previous race, at Las Vegas, had been bumped from the field just before he was to make his final qualifying attempt. He needed to have a 6.715-second elapsed time to get his Team Mopar Dodge Stratus back into the lineup, but he missed the cut by two-thousandths of a second with his 6.717. It was a tough ending to the year for Stevens, who weathered more changes than any other Pro Stock driver.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Soldering up - Antron Brown needed a boost of confidence in morning qualifying and his US Army Suzuki team did all they could to make sure the championship contender has what he needs to put the kibosh on Andrew Hines’ title aspirations. “We just haven’t had it at the top end this weekend but we’re working on it,” one crewmember said.
Brown will have to work some magic to catch the V-Rod of Hines, as he never improved from his first, Thursday run at 7.106 seconds/184.70mph. That time relegates Brown to the tenth position, where he’ll square off against Ryan Schnitz’ Muzzy-tuned Buell. “We know it’s a steep hill to climb but we remain confident,” Brown stated. “I have every confidence this team will give me a Suzuki capable of accomplishing this mission.”
Brotherly battle - For youthful bragging rights, Andrew Hines would beat brother Matt if they tie for three-in-a-row POWERade titles on Sunday. Matt was 27 when he took his third championship while brother Andrew is only 23. “I started later than he did so it’s really not fair to compare,” Andrew said. “I just want the win tomorrow.” The Screaming Eagles team installed a new engine after Andrew “hurt the motor in the third qualifying run; this new one is a rocket ship,” he said.
LODRS ready for 2007 -- Divisional races at Bradenton, Florida, and Baytown, Texas, Feb. 16-18 will kick off the 2007 edition of the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
In addition to the 44-race schedule of divisional events are four specialty events spread out throughout the season. Jeg's will sponsor the first three: the April 20-22 Jegs.com NHRA Cajun Sportsnationals at Belle Rose, Louisiana; the June 9 Jeg's All-Stars at Joliet, Illinois; and the Jeg's Northern Sportsnationals at Columbus, Ohio. The NHRA Pacific Sportsnationals will be Oct. 5-7 at Fontana, California.
The series has expanded to two new markets. The North Central Division has added Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, and the newest West Central Division venue is Cordova Dragway Park in Illinois.
"We're very proud to be involved with NHRA. We've tried to work in conjunction with them rather than going and doing our own thing," Charlotte Lucas said.
Lucas said she and husband Forrest Lucas, who own sponsor Lucas Oil, said. "We enjoy the divisional races. That's where we're going to get the next generation of pros."
2007 NHRA LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES SCHEDULE
May 4-6 Virginia Motorsports Park Petersburg, Va.
May 25-27 Maple Grove Raceway Reading, Pa.
June 15-17 Atco Raceway Atco, N.J.
July 6-8 Lebanon Valley Dragway West Lebanon, N.Y.
Sept. 7-9 Old Bridge Township Raceway Park Englishtown, N.J.
Feb. 16-18 Bradenton Motorsports Park Bradenton, Fla.
Feb. 23-25 Gainesville Raceway Gainesville, Fla.
March 9-11 Orlando Speed World Dragway * Orlando, Fla.
April 13-15 South Georgia Motorsports Park Cecil, Ga.
Sept. 28-30 Atlanta Dragway Commerce, Ga.
Oct. 19-21 Silver Dollar Raceway Reynolds, Ga.
NORTH CENTRAL DIVISION
April 13-15 O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis Indianapolis
May 18-20 Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park Norwalk, Ohio
June 15-17 Route 66 Raceway Joliet, Ill.
June 23-24 Mid-Michigan Motorplex * Stanton, Mich.
July 13-15 Gateway International Raceway Madison, Ill.
July 27-29 National Trail Raceway Columbus, Ohio
Aug. 24-26 Beech Bend Raceway Park Bowling Green, Ky.
SOUTH CENTRAL DIVISION
Feb. 16-18 Houston Raceway Park Baytown, Texas
March 2-4 No Problem Raceway Belle Rose, La.
March 23-25 Memphis Motorsports Park Memphis, Tenn.
April 13-15 Texas Motorplex Ennis, Texas
May 18-20 Cherokee County Motorsports Park Rusk, Texas
Sept. 7-9 Red River Raceway Gilliam, La.
Oct. 12-14 Thunder Valley Raceway Park Noble, Okla.
WEST CENTRAL DIVISION
April 27-29 SRCA Dragstrip Great Bend, Kan.
May 25-27 Brainerd International Raceway Brainerd, Minn.
June 15-17 Bandimere Speedway Morrison, Colo.
Aug. 3-4 Cordova Raceway Park Cordova, Ill.
Aug. 24- 25 Heartland Park Topeka Topeka, Kan.
Sept. 7-9 Tri-State Raceway Earlville, Iowa
May 11-13 Firebird Raceway * Boise, Idaho
May 25-27 Mission Raceway Mission, B.C.
June 15-17 Pacific Raceways Kent, Wash.
June 29-30 Champion Raceway Eagle Point, Ore.
July 6-8 Woodburn Dragstrip Woodburn, Ore.
Aug. 17-19 Yellowstone Dragstrip Acton, Mont.
March 2-4 Firebird International Raceway Chandler, Ariz.
March 9-11 Southwestern International Raceway Tucson, Ariz.
April 20-22 The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Las Vegas
May 4-6 Auto Club Dragway at California Speedway Fontana, Calif.
June 1-3 Top Gun Raceway Fallon, Nev.
Aug. 3-5 Infineon Raceway Sonoma, Calif.
Sept. 8-9 Auto Club Famoso Raceway Bakersfield, Calif.
NHRA LUCAS OIL SERIES SPECIAL EVENTS
April 20-22 Jegs.com NHRA Cajun SPORTSnationals * Belle Rose, La.
June 9 Jeg’s Allstars Joliet, Ill.
Sept. 28-30 Jeg’s NHRA Northern SPORTSnationals * Columbus, Ohio
Oct. 5-7 NHRA Pacific SPORTSnationals * Fontana, Calif.
* Top Alcohol classes not contested
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - Schumacher still gunning, Worsham crashes and How can the Army stop Hines?
National Records - Auto Club Raceway at Pomona holds plenty of
allure, but the birthplace of NHRA drag racing isn’t the place for
national records, particularly in the POWERAde November finale.
The last time a Top Fuel record was set here occurred in 2003 (Doug Kalitta), while John Force broke a national barrier in 1994. You’d have to go all the way back to Bob Glidden’s heyday in 1984 for the last time a Pro Stock record fell and Matt Hines performed the feat in 1997.
Hey, I’m Flying! - Five POWERAde competitors are going flying - and jumping - above March Air Force Base in Perris, Calif. on Tuesday with the US Army Golden Knights. They’ll be parachuting out of an Army plane above the high desert – each with a professional chutist leaping tandem.
US Army-sponsored competitors Antron Brown, Angelle Sampey and Tony Schumacher are being joined by newly crowned Pro Stock champ Jason Line and three-time titleholder Greg Anderson. Line, who admits he’s scared of heights, has little more than three days to conquer those fears. He said his stomach is already rumbling over the thought of the jump.
Planning for best but . . . -- Tony Schumacher is trying to win his fourth series championship. However, he is braced for Kalitta to claim his first.
"I hate to say this," Schumacher said, "but it may be that I'm supposed to lose by one point so that a million kids across the country can see some driver get out of the car and keep his composure and they can understand how to lose gracefully. But I'm hoping -- I'm hoping -- that I'll get out of that car jumping up and down and shake their hands and be a machine and win the deal and have the biggest comeback ever. Not sure how it’s supposed to turn out. But most of the time, it's out of our hands."
Ice in his veins -- Asked if he's vocal about trying to set the record just to rattle leader Doug Kalitta, closest rival and provisional No. 1 qualifier Tony Schumacher, said, "Have you ever talked to him? He's as cold as ice. And he's a great driver. I didn’t have to call him on the phone . . . I didn't have to do a radio show or TV show to tell him we're going for the record. I will guarantee you he could have done the exact same interview for me. He knows that."
Schumacher said he recognizes that 20 points for a national record is something Kalitta could use to his advantage, as well. "We can't be foolish enough to think we could go out and set a record and he'll not step on the gas, too."
"They're a great team," Schumacher said of the Mac Tools team. "And they also need to forget about what I'm going to do and get 93 or 94 points. It doesn't matter what I do. He's going to be your champ if he can pull it out. If he goes out in the first round, now we have a job to do. It is fun, isn't it?"
Said Schumacher of his U.S. Army Dragster team, "Right now we're in a position to step up and set a miracle. Our team, no questions asked, is known for pulling off miracles."
Countdown sounding like great idea -- Most drivers, at least privately, were unhappy with the NHRA's announced new championship showdown format. But Tony Schumacher, the three-time champion who's making a late-season surge in a bid for No. 4, said the "Countdown to the Championship" sounds pretty palatable now.
"We'd be in the lead," he said. "Doug Kalitta has done everything in his power to get a 45-point lead. How would you like to go over there and tell him to just give it to me? That's what's going to happen next year, which is cool. I'd like to start it now. Game on."
Still, Schumacher said, "If we don't pull it off, we've won five races. People would kill to do that."
What a comeback -- Tony Schumacher continued Friday to marvel at the comeback his crew chief, Alan Johnson, and his team have enabled him to make.
"We have no business even being here," he said. "The biggest comeback ever was 197 points. We've come back almost 300 already. Unless you've been in this position, it's hard to understand it. But I've got 34 beautiful trophies sitting on my shelf that we earned in different ways. Thirty-five would be wonderful, but the way we got these last five has been the best: coming from nothing, for being down and nobody getting fired and no pointing fingers, that means you're part of something a lot bigger than those shiny trophies on the shelf. It just means that it was harder to get to. "
Schumacher alluded to the exchange of words with the Kalitta camp about remarks that he made about competition and help from teammates. "Last year, when everybody was ragging on me for saying Kalitta's car . . . I don't even know what all was said . . . I said, 'You're not getting the point.' Running your teammate and you win the race is not the same as beating me in the finals. That's the point, earning it the hard way. One time this year I smoked the tires and so did the other guy. That was J.R Todd in Seattle. Every other time I smoked the tires, they didn't. After having that much bad luck . . . We have made people step up like nobody's business."
Movin' on up -- Rod Fuller improved from fourth to second Friday in the Top Fuel order in the David Powers-owned Valvoline Dragster.
The three-time NHRA Top Fuel winner posted a 4.509-second pass at 323.89 mph.
"The run felt really good, but the sun was in my eyes and I clicked it off about 15 feet before the finish line," Fuller said. "It probably would have run about 4.501. That 4.50 puts us in a good position for Saturday. Now, we can really try and run a 4.40."
Fuller qualified second once this season, at Seattle.
Consistent -- Morgan Lucas is nothing this week if not consistent. In Thursday's first session, he clocked a 4.567-second run at 324.75 mph in the Lucas Oil Dragster. In Fridays lone chance, he covered the quarter-mile in 4.579 seconds at 312.86 mph. He's 11th with two Saturday sessions to go.
"Now it's our goal to get in the top half of the field," Lucas said. "It's really close numbers and my crew chiefs are doing an excellent job of getting the car down the race track. On our last run, the engine was little lean in the middle and we're hoping to improve in our two sessions tomorrow. It's an easy fix.”
On a Mission - Doug Kalitta is on a mission. Seeking his first POWERAde championship against Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, who has come from 336 points behind to lag by a scant 45 points, Kalitta and crew chief Rahn Tobler are hoping Saturday’s expected cooler temperatures can give them an advantage.
While Schumacher has been telling everyone – including himself – that the goal is to take a national record and win the race, Kalitta’s got the same ambitions. After all, he was the last driver to set a national speed mark at this track back in 2003. “We’re just trying to get down the track and we stepped on it a bit too hard today,” he said after smoking the tires. “I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we need to do tomorrow, when conditions should be better. I’m going for the record.”
Back in the Mac Tools trailer, Tobler and Kalitta were trying to find the tie-breaker in the rule book. They should have talked to Schumacher, who knows he’s a goner if the two end up tied for the point total. Kalitta’s greater number of rounds run would make him the victor should it come to that.
Sore but bummed - It’s great to be fastest qualifier after two rounds but Del Worsham would probably prefer to have his car’s – and his own body - in one piece. After an explosion about three-quarters through his run, Worsham’s Chevy Monte Carlo body broke apart, his chute failed to open and he was off to the kitty litter, performing an end-over-end not once, but twice.
Worsham climbed from his car in one piece following his 4.712-second run at 309.56 mph ride and walked to the emergency services vehicle. Although there were no visible injuries to the Chino Hills, Calif. driver, the NHRA’s emergency services officials took the safe route and sent the provisional top dog to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, just to be sure.
Worsham was complaining of a sore tail bone when he arrived at the hospital and, upon further evaluation it was discovered he had some minor cuts in the shin area. While x-rays haven’t been completed at this writing, Worsham did have some comments about his wild ride:
“I’m sore, but I’m more bummed than hurt, I think,” he said. “It just blew up down here and there was no way to get my hand to the parachute lever, so I was pretty much along for the ride.
“The body had buckled so much that I really couldn’t se anything, so I didn’t even know where I was or where I was headed,” Worsham continued. “When it hit the sand, it dug in, I guess, and that’s when it vaulted up in the air. I knew I was in the air because it got totally quiet – for what seemed like a long time.
“When it came down, it hit hard and at that point I was just trying to keep my arms in tight so nothing would be flailing around. I was mostly worried about getting my arms broken, so I kept them in tight.
“When it finally stopped tumbling, I just got out and walked away from it, already mad about what had happened. Here we are,” he said, “still the No. 1 qualifier and we’re running great and this has to happen! My tail bone is sore, so we’re just going to take it easy and see how I feel. Right now, I’m just really bummed out about all of this and I just want to go home. Hopefully the x-rays will be okay and we’ll see how I feel. I know the team is already preparing the back-up car, so we’ll just have to see.”
Bob Wilber, Worsham's PR rep added this perspective, "He was covered with sand. His helmet looked like a buried relic from 200 years ago!"
Sir Lance a lot of help -- Helping Cruz Pedregon this weekend is Lance Larsen, crew chief for currently driverless Scott Griffin Motorsports. Ron Douglas, Pedregon's crew chief and Larsen's longtime friend, invited Larsen to come and help with engine work. Turns out it was a great move on Douglas' part. Minutes after Larsen expressed his skill with rebuilding engines, Pedregon had another engine explosion. Pedregon was unhurt but is 14th on the 16-car grid with two Saturday sessions remaining.
On his own - Mike Ashley said he will return to the familiar role of team owner/driver and field his own nitro Funny Car team in 2007 with primary sponsorship from Torco Racing Fuels, Inc. and Evan Knoll's group of successful companies. The two-time Pro Modified world champion from Long Island, New York, will conclude his program with Don Schumacher Racing at the end of this weekend's race.
From hero to zero (so far) -- Among those still unqualified for the field are Richie Stevens, winner of the previous race, at Las Vegas; two-time champion Jim Yates, and six-time series titlist Warren Johnson. Joining them in the No. 17 or Worse Club are Max Naylor, Tommy Lee, Ben Watson, Kenny Koretsky, Tony Rizzo, and Jose Maldonado.
Mission: top half -- Kurt Johnson and his ACDelco Chev Cobalt are in the top half of the Pro Stock field at No. 7 and he'll build on what he thought had been "a perfect pass" Friday so he can stay there for Sunday's eliminations.
He had a 6.709-second run with a top speed of 206.16 mph that he described as "straight as an arrow." Said Johnson, "I got out at the top end thinking it had made a perfect run, and even though it picked up a bit, the numbers just didn't match up. For some reason, it ran decent to the eighth-mile, but just didn't want to run the back half. I know we took some gas away from it, which looked like it slowed it down a bit, but we have to get the whole picture. We’ll take some time to decipher the data, and see what we need to do to fix it.
"It's important that we make the right call for tomorrow morning's session, because the conditions will be the best that they will be throughout qualifying. It's going to be fast, and I figure we’ll have to run a 6.68 just to stay in the top half of the field. We need to make sure to do that so we can keep lane choice for Sunday."
Staying put - Richard Saulino has been part of the Cagnazzi Racing team for 25 years and he’s not going anywhere soon. And happy about it. “These guys really understand what the word ‘team’ means,” he said.
“We’ve got three cars now and that allows us to try different things. We were a bit too aggressive with Tommy Lee’s car yesterday but we learned a lot and we’ll be back today. Lee was just outside the sweet 16 in 17th after Thursday time trials and fell to 21st on Friday in a hotly competitive field. They’ll get a brace of chances to improve on Saturday.
Walk the Line? New Pro Stock champ Jason Line spanked the 25-car field this afternoon and relegated teammate Greg Anderson to second place in Friday qualifying. Line doesn’t expect to be on top after Saturday’s two tries, though, believing his teammate has a stronger car.
“It’s gonna be tough to beat him, but my job this weekend is simply to have fun. My friends and family are all here and yeah, I want to win this race,” Line admitted. “So it’s business as usual here. I might be a bit more aggressive tomorrow but this is no vacation for me.”
Asked when he’s taking time off between the end of this season and beginning of next, Line just shrugged and responded, “Christmas.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle
How do you stop him? - The US Army Suzuki team is trying to figure out what it can do to stop Andrew Hines from taking a third straight championship. According to Steve Tartaglia, “We’re just scratching our heads here and trying to come up with better ways to get down this track.” With Antron Brown sitting second in points and eighth in initial qualifying, “Just wish us luck. I don’t think we’ll have anything more for them today,” despite Angelle Sampey’s third-place Thursday result. “Ever since Denver, those guys have been on fire.”
Hines was quickest again today in qualifying and is looking to keep hitting the 7.020 mark in the next two sessions Saturday to finalize the field. The primary aim in qualifying is to top the Full Throttle crew standings with his Screaming Eagles crew. “We’ve been experimenting with a few parts today,” Hines said, “and I expect we’ll go the same direction tomorrow.”
The point leader went with a new tire today after deciding the rubber he used Thursday was pretty much done. “It’ll be nice and scrubbed in for the Saturday morning session when we expect it to be a lot cooler. I don’t think there’s much chance for a record [with these warm temperatures]; it would be nice but I just want to be consistent. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Tartaglia voiced his approval of the new leading edge disk on the front wheel of the P/S Motorcycle, which came into effect at Sonoma, acknowledging there have been fewer discrepancies at the top end than before. But he, too, feels NHRA needs to equalize the two-wheelers better at the Christmas tree.
Changing the start line lights is a priority for nearly everyone in the Pro Stock Motorcycle paddock. After five of eight fouls in the first round alone on The Strip at Las Vegas, riders and teams are posturing for a .350 or even .320 light for the 2007 season, instead of the current .370 mark.
Welcome to our home - G2 Motorsports is entertaining its supporters this weekend, setting up a DRAG Specialties hospitality area for distributors of the company’s motorcycle goodies. With so many supporters on hand for the Auto Club Finals this weekend, co-owner George Bryce said, “It’s our last race of the season and we’re gonna try really hard to do well. We’ve won lots of times and set records here. This track’s always good to us.”
Winning the finale might be a bit more of a chore than Bryce and co-owner George Smith originally envisioned. While Chip Ellis holds down fifth qualifying slot following Friday afternoon qualifying, Matt Smith is on the outside looking in for the 21-bike class, currently in 18th position. The G2 Motorsports team performed an engine swap after Friday qualifying and expect Smith to be right where he needs to be coming tomorrow’s two sessions.
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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - SCHUMACHER GUNNING FOR RECORD, WORSHAM HAPPY TO BE ON TOP AND ANDERSON GUNNING FOR 2007 TITLE
No Records? - Incredibly, the NHRA’s home track has yielded no
national records in the past few years. Can records be broken on a
weekend that promises clear skies, temperatures in the mid 70s and
Clearly Defined Goals - Tony Schumacher cut Doug Kalitta's lead to 45 points with his victory at Las Vegas. And that gave him the exact number he has to earn this weekend to clinch his fourth series championship and third straight. And don't think he and his Alan Johnson-led U.S. Army team aren't analyzing every scenario and counting every point.
So even though Schumacher captured the early qualifying lead in the three-day process, he said he wouldn't be home free simply by retaining that top position. He knows where he has to be in relationship to Kalitta and the Mac Tools Dragster.
For Schumacher to get within two rounds of Kalitta after qualifying is over, he would have to qualify No. 1 and Kalitta would have qualify ninth or lower. If Kalitta qualifies eighth or better, Schumacher would need to go three rounds better during eliminations or two rounds more than Kalitta AND set the national record.
Schumacher had the best elapsed time Thursday with a 4.490-second pass at 328.54 mph.
"Our goal on that run was to do a back-up run," Schumacher said. "We had good early numbers but were extremely weak in the middle. We could use a lot more in the middle. The tracks fine. It's going to get better as the weekend goes on.
"We need possibly tomorrow, if it's cooler, we need to go out there and run a (4.)46 or (4.4)5. Our goal Saturday -- we're going to be running in the latest conditions. That's when we're going to go for a record,"
he said. "Alan Johnson's smart enough to look at the track and go as quick as he can go every time.
"It was great, No. 1. But we missed it," Schumacher said. "Extremely weak in the middle. That's good -- that tells us there's a lot more track out there than we thought. That's what it’s all about -- 41 points, 49 points, 53 . . . It doesn't matter wherever you are. It's still three rounds. We've got to get inside that 39-point range. We've come so far, and we can't even tie. If we tie Doug Kalitta, he wins.
"This [would be] our 14th qualifier. All these points . . that’s why we're No. 2 in points. That's why we're where we're at. However, if we tie, Doug wins, because he has more rounds," Schumacher said. "How about that for a finale? It comes down to a tie -- well, let's not let it happen. What a comeback it's been."
In Las Vegas, within minutes of winning the ACDelco Nationals, Schumacher knew what this season finale meant.
"We picked up 44 points today," he said that Sunday. "If we went to Pomona and did the exact same thing, we'd lose by one."
He said the victory was "the best win light I've ever seen, because we needed that. I was just hoping to God we could pull it off. It would've been such a cool deal. Taking out Kalitta would've essentially been an 80-point deal. He didn't get the 20. We did get the 20. We had a chance to run for 20 in the final and a record. We did everything except the record.
"Those are certain moments that are so good and so important and for whatever reason, it's unbroken," he said. "That's the way it goes.
"We tried for the record several times late in this season but couldn't get those critical 20 points. Little things were catching us, man. At Reading, we missed it by 4 or 5 thousandths. [At Las Vegas] we missed it by 9 thousandths. It's kind if the way our year has been.
"It's out of our hands. God's will, man," Schumacher said Thursday evening.
One more to go - And then there was one, only one event left in the 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series to determine this season’s Top Fuel dragster world champion. Doug Kalitta, driver of the 8,000-horsepower, bright red Mac Tools flagship Top Fueler enters this season’s final drag racing stanza, the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, this weekend, Nov. 9-12, at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona with a slim 45-point lead over second place holder and reigning Top Fuel world champ Tony Schumacher.
“There’s no doubt that this is all we’re really thinking about right now,” Kalitta said. “Our Mac Tools team has worked hard for many years to get to this point, and now we just need to seal the deal. Rahn (Tobler, crew chief) and my guys always give me the best race car they possibly can, and I’m confident that will continue in Pomona. As a driver, I need to keep my focus and do my job. It’s really that simple. No matter what happens, I’m sure we’ll give our best effort, and that’s really all we can do.
“From the fans’ perspective, this has to be great. Both nitro (Funny Car) championships decided at the Finals is really exciting for our sport. I’m just glad we’re part of it.”
Kalitta is currently qualified fifth after one session.
In the hunt - Though Brandon Bernstein concedes that his dreams of obtaining his first NHRA POWERade championship are very remote, he and his Budweiser/Lucas Oil team will still be battling for second place in point standings at the Automobile Club of Southern California Finals.
Bernstein comes into the final race of the season 100 points behind the Top Fuel leader and 55 points out of second place.
“It would appear that barring something really strange happening, we will finish in the top three,” Bernstein said. “We’ve won four events and finished runner-up three times so we definitely celebrated success this season. What hurt us were the first three races of the season when we suffered very weird mechanical problems and the Western Swing where despite strong performance in qualifying, we didn’t do well on race day. But then we won Brainerd, Minn., we were runner-up in Indy, and by the time we won in Dallas we had emerged as a player. That was really exciting! I wish we had been able to gain a few more points after Dallas to stay in the bunkers for the championship battle, but we can still fight for second.
“We had our opportunities. We capitalized on some of them. One thing I know for sure is that the fans got to see some great racing this season.
“And I want to thank Tim (Richards, crew chief), Kim (Richards) and the team for all their hard work this year. It’s hard to complain about a top-three finish, four wins and three runner-ups. But Tim will be working through the winter to find a way to gain more ground for next season.”
Bernstein is currently qualified second only .03 behind Schumacher.
Sixth is Fine - When you've had a rollercoaster season like Cory McClenathan has you quickly sperate the good from the bad.
"I'm happy with that . . . and the engine broke a lifter at the finish line," said McClenathan. "The good news is we made it down the track. Wes (Cerny, crew chief) and Tony (Shortall, assistant crew chief) have been trying new parts as we get ready for next year. We are looking forward to Friday's run. We should be able to run better."
"We were conservative on the tune-up because it was our first run and it worked," added Shortall. "It was a good way to open qualifying."
McClenathan ran a fine 4.561 seconds at an impressive 331.85 mph.
Champions Tonight - It's not how you start the race but how you finish it that counts, at least that's the optomistic outlook Del Worsham is taking after Thursday's provisional top qualifying effort.
"Well, it may be the 23rd race of a 23-race season, but we finally got the car to do what we've been aiming for with this new tune-up," Worsham said. "We've been working on this new approach since the beginning of September, and it has shown us that it wants to run fast but we've had some fluke stuff happen that cost us a few good runs. This time, I knew it was running hard but when it blew up down there I thought 'Here we go again,' because I was afraid another good run got away. Instead, an amazing run got away but we still got a very good one out of it. I don't even want to play the game of what it could've run, but let's just say it would've been much quicker than 4.71 if it had lived to the finish line.
"As it is, we get to spend at least one night as number one, and we'll just try to build on this for a couple of more days. There are plenty of teams here who can knock us back, but we'll see if we can't get it to run a little farther without hurting itself down there, and maybe we'll step up a little too. The real goal is to win some rounds on Sunday, but it's nice to know we're solidly in and probably solidly in the top half. That could help us on Sunday."
Credit the Bowling - Del Worsham’s team put a two-lane bowling alley in its Orange, Calif., shop recently –just like a drag strip – and Del was up until 3 Thursday morning testing it out. Worsham then went out and set his best run of the season in Thursday qualifying. “We just feel great!” he exclaimed. “That was the quickest run of my life and I’m almost
It’s been a long, tough season for Worsham, but he expects, after starting to plan for 2007 just after the Indy test in August that he’ll be in the top five and maybe win a few next time around. “At Indy we suffered a lot of broken parts (including a blower drive), but it all came together today.”Worsham was the first Skoal Showdown F/C contestant to sweep one year and fail to qualify the next time round.
Anybody but Capps - “All I want to do is keep it away from Capps,” said John Force, who claims he doesn’t care if he’s holding a 14th national trophy at the end of the season or if it belongs to son-in-law Robert Hight. As long as the championship stays in the family, Force will be cool with that. After gaining his first national victory at Auto Club Raceway in 1978, Force has been solid. In fact, the last time he failed to qualify for a points contest was at this track back in 1987, a run of 391 races.
“I’ve won six times here and I’ve got history at this track. I just want to qualify in the top half.” Force is trying really hard not to let his head overpower his right foot. “John is in the zone for the Christmas tree,” Hight said. “If I try too hard it gets bad,” Force replied. “I live right on the edge of exploding.”
Hight has been running best of the three Force entries over the past few races because tuner Jimmy Prock has no fear. To catch Force and Capps, Hight has to sweep the field and hope his competition falters. Robert has got a lot of responsibility this weekend, because Hight is racing on his sponsor’s track (Auto Club Raceway at Pomona), in an Auto Club car and entertaining associates throughout the weekend.
At least he knows there’s a spare body available, should he need one as he did at the Winternationals. His third body is on display in the Top Eliminator Club now; Hight hopes it stays there.“We’ll just do our best and whatever happens, we’ll look back on a great 2006 season. I’m really not ready for it to be over. There’s no room for error here – I have to win to take the title.”
Force is currently qualified third while Capps is fifth. Hight is on the bubble after one session.
Turnaround - Mike Ashley’s 4.762 elapsed time represented the quickest he’s ever run at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. His speed of 328.38 stood as the fastest for the day amongst the fuel coupes.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Ashley said of his run that momentarily held the top spot. “This is a determined team that is dedicated to winning. I think this run is a testament to the hard work and effort this crew puts towards winning. We have a long way to go before qualifying is complete but this is a great start.”
The last time Ashley was in Pomona, he failed to make the 16-car field back in February.
Like Father, Like Son - Ashley and his 11-year-old son Justin are both dreaming of glory at this weekend's 42nd annual Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. Mike wants to score his first win in his Torco Race Fuels Funny Car, while Justin will be fighting it out for NHRA POWERade Fan Nationals championship in the state-of-the-art Funny Car simulators back in the pits.
"I'm as excited to see my son perform as I am about our chances with this Funny Car," Mike said. "We both have great opportunities before us and that intrigues me. We’re still looking for that national event win and it’s coming. I get more and more excited with each outing."
While the elder Ashley may be in hot pursuit of that elusive first victory, Justin will be looking for his third win of the year. He won the POWERade Fan Nationals in Denver and Reading this season to become the only multiple-time champ of the year.
"You really don’t think about winning and losing when you are playing the game, you just concentrate on doing the best you can," said Justin, who waxed his two-time Pro Mod champ father in the simulators. "I would love for me and dad to both make it to the winner’s circle this weekend. That would be perfect."
Busy Weeks - In the past two weeks Jack Beckman has been in a whirlwind. He claimed his first NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car title in only his fourth Funny Car race on Oct. 31 in Las Vegas, then married his longtime girlfriend Jenna Lucy on Tuesday at the Wally Parks Motorsports Museum at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.
Now, the driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Charger R/T looks to this weekend's Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the same track at which he works as an instructor for Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School, and where he is also a two-time (1998 and 2003 Winternationals) Super Comp winner.
"My first two national-event wins came here," says Beckman. "I work here full time, and I just got married here on Tuesday. I've got a bunch of friends that haven't been to the races in 15-plus years coming out, and we're coming off a win.
"You wanna talk about someone having momentum and luck on their side? I feel pretty good heading into this weekend.
"It's been phenomenal. I can't begin to describe how cool it all is. It's making everything worthwhile - all the trials and tribulations of trying to get into a Nitro Funny Car.
"Everything on this Don Schumacher Racing team is first class. The Matco Tools crew guys have given me possibly the best Funny Car out here. I want to do it (win) again. The reality is, we have as good of a shot as any race car here this weekend of winning. There's no reason we won't be partying with the Matco Tools distributors and customers again in the winner's circle come this Sunday."
Beckman is seventh after the first day with a 4.805.
Ready to Play Spoiler Role - Last year Gary Scelzi was the champion. This year he intends to spoil the weekend for the three drivers in the hunt.
"I always love coming to Pomona," says the driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, a Fresno, Calif., native, "because it's only four hours away from home, and what we learned on Monday testing after the Las Vegas race, with my teammate Ron Capps driving my car, I think, is going to be a big benefit to us at Pomona. The race track is outstanding, I've had a lot of success here over my career, and we think we can cause a lot of problems for the points leaders (John Force, Capps and Robert Hight). While they're out fighting for the championship, we think we can come in and spoil everybody's day. That's what we're hoping to do."
No, the four-time NHRA world champion is not being mean-spirited, just extremely motivated. After winning three events in 2005 to take the championship down to the wire at the final Pomona event that year, he's struggled to win only once in 2006, and stands seventh in Funny Car points.
"We've been pretty quiet for most of the year, except for (winning in) Denver," he says. "And our Mopar/Oakley Dodge hasn't been that consistent, but we feel that the changes that we made in Monday testing at Vegas are going to make our car run really well on a good race track. And that's what we like to see."
As for his difficult season finally coming to an end: "I'm glad it's over," he adds. "It's been a long, frustrating year for all of us. Hopefully Pomona will show that the changes we made finally at the end of the year are going to make our car consistent again, and then we're going to have something to build on with January testing and we'll come right back to Pomona (for the 2007 season opener) in fighting trim. That will be a good thing."
Scelzi's Pomona record includes three Top Fuel wins (Pomona 1 in 1997, Pomona 1 and 2 in 2000), but no Funny Car victories. He's qualified No. 1 four times at Pomona Raceway: three times in Top Fuel, and once in Funny Car, in last year's Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA finals.
Pontiac prevails -- Pontiac already had in hand its 10th NHRA Manufacturer's Cup and its 39th since 1964 by the time the tour arrived at Pomona. GM brother Chevrolet will finish in second place and Dodge in third.
In the previous 22 races, Pontiac GTO drivers have earned 11 national-event victories and 18 No. 1 qualifying awards and have made 25 final-round appearances. Five different GTO drivers -- Jason Line, Greg Anderson, Mike Edwards, Jim Yates, and Warren Johnson (who have 12 series championships among them) -- have reset a 32 track elapsed-time and speed records.
GM claimed its 24th consecutive Cup, sharing among its Pontiac, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile brands. With 15, Chevrolet has won the most (1966-69, 1973-81, 1983, 2002). Oldsmobile's 14 came in 1971, 1972, and 1984-1995. Pontiac has won 10 times (1996-2001, 2003-06).
#1 Ponti Act - Greg Anderson is already working on getting his title back from teammate Jason Line.
"We're not under any illusion that we were that much quicker than the rest of the field, we just did a better job that session and it's another feather in the cap for our two crew chiefs -- Rob Downing and Jeff Perley, and the great team behind me," Anderson said. "That's why we're going to finish first and second in the championship this year.
"We're having fun this weekend. The pressure's off and we can come and have fun -- you don't get that many opportunities to do that. Jason and I are locked into our spots, we can try and qualify one and two, maybe win the race, and go out with a bang. So far we're right on schedule."
Memories - A year after driving to his only Pro Stock Mopar national event victory, Jeg Coughlin Jr., is settling into his role as the "milkman." he's qualified ninth after the first day.
“Not a bad start,” said Coughlin, who beat Tom Martino in the final of this event 12 months ago. “We came out a little hot down low and spun the tires at the hit (of the throttle). I think all the crew chiefs looked at the conditions and stepped up their tune-ups. The problem was the track isn’t quite ready to hold us yet.
“The track should come in a lot better as the weekend goes along and more rubber gets put down. The nitro cars should give us some good rubber and that will help. I’d imagine the track will be much, much better as early as tomorrow.”
Running out of Victor Cagnazzi’s camp, Coughlin says his group will benefit from the knowledge gained by all three team cars. Currently, Coughlin’s teammate Tommy Lee is 18th with a 6.753 at 206.26 mph, while Cagnazzi Racing engine customer Dave Connolly is third overall with a 6.701 at 206.35 mph.
“You can easily see the benefits of running three cars,” Coughlin said. “We already have three runs to tune from after just one session. It’s a big advantage. Plus, let’s face it, Victor has some of the best and brightest minds in the sport on this crew.
“I figured the low number would be 6.65 that round. Greg [Anderson] put up a 6.67, which was a pretty good poke, but like the rest of us, he left a lot on the table. We’ll see how the conditions are tomorrow but I’d expect improvements across the board.”
Coughlin also hopes to benefit from an impromptu test session earlier this week in Fontana, Calif.
“We’re definitely here to win this race but we’re also trying to set the table for a championship run next year,” Coughlin said. “The goal is to make this car as efficient as possible. The three races we’ve run here at the end of the year have been fantastic. It will be even better if we leave here with a Wally.”
Still Breaking it In - Kurt Johnson found his way into the field on Thursday with a motor that may not be running at its full potential. KJ had a 6.719, 206.23.
“That’s not a bad start, although I actually expected it to be a little faster at the finish line. We haven’t had a chance to dyno this engine, so we may not be completely up to speed with it, but to make it from A to B with no tire shake, just as smooth as can be and perfectly straight makes everyone on this ACDelco Cobalt crew pretty happy. I think it’s an improvement over Vegas, and gives us something we can tune on from here.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Championship Mode - Andrew Hines just can't seem to find his groove in Pomona but that shortcoming may be history after today.
"I don't have the best history here, but I think that's starting to turn around," Hines said. "We qualified well here and went to the final round here last year, but that will only take you so far a year later. Now we have to stay focused on the current conditions and what it will take to get this V-Rod down the track in the best time possible."
Hines is in the middle of a championship chase. He had a 37-point lead over second place rider Antron Brown going into the final race of the season.
"We are focused on earning that No. 1 qualifying position," Hines
said. "We are going to do whatever we can to make all the right calls
to keep it because every point counts and it's too close to not fight
for every point. "
Hines landed on the provisional pole with a 7.020,191.00 that could enable him to earn eight points for the top qualifying award while Brown would take three for his current No. 8 position.
A Detune Is In Order - Hines said the team had to tone down the tuneup that helped win the event in Las Vegas two weeks ago.
"The Vegas setup was a little more violent than the track could handle here," Hines said. "I have an amazing team working on this V-Rod and they made the right calls to lay down a great first pass.
"We are solidly in the show now and that means we can focus on improving our setup and prepare for Sunday's final eliminations. If the weather gets better, we might even see a few 6.90s out of this category. It's going to be a very competitive weekend."
Hines said he has worked on his mental approach to racing more than anything else lately.
"All I am doing is focusing on racing," Hines said. "Terry Vance has really helped me learn how to be a more focused racer and person. I think that has helped us stay in the chase for a championship. Our entire team is working for one goal and that's to defend our title."
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