2017 NHRA MIDWEST NATS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE BARGES TO EIGHTH TOP FUEL VICTORY, PADS COUNTDOWN LEAD - In a showdown between the top two ranked Top Fuel Countdown contenders at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals, Steve Torrence nosed Doug Kalitta by 81-ten-thousandths of a second.
With that, the NHRA’s David continued to knock out the Goliaths of the sport.
And after pocketing his eighth victory of the year, Torrence said, “All the glory goes to God. This has been a storybook season, and without His hand involved, we wouldn’t be doing anything. The Good Lord has blessed us. The Good Lord’s going to look after us, and if it’s in the cards for us to be the champ, we’ll be the champ. If it’s not, we won’t. But we’re going to do everything we possibly can. If it’s going to happen, can’t nobody beat us, anyway.”
On the 1,000-foot course at Gateway Motorsports Park at Madison, Ill., near St. Louis, the Capco Contractors Dragster driver ran a 3.684-second elapsed time at 329.34 mph to get to the finish line about four feet ahead of Kalitta and his Mac Tools Dragster (3.698 331.28).
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series action heads south to Torrence’s backyard for the AAA Texas FallNationals, at Ennis, Texas, near Dallas. The tour will take a weekend off before resuming with the Oct. 12-15 stop at the Texas Motorplex, the fourth of six playoff races.
Torrence, a Kilgore, Texas, native, said he’ll be pursuing every point, because he said he thinks “this thing could come down to one or two points at the end of the season . . . with points and a half at Pomona.”
Kalitta said he’ll “keep doing what we’re doing.” Kalitta entered this race second in the standings, 22 points behind Torrence, and takes a 42-point deficit to Dallas.
Torrence dismissed Shawn Langdon and Don Schumacher Racing championship hopefuls Leah Pritchett and Antron Brown to advance to his 11th final-round appearance this season. And defeating Pritchett and Brown, who have had stellar seasons, as well, buoyed his confidence.
At the top end of the track after the semifinal round, he quipped, “Ol’ Don Schumacher, he’s been dodging me. He won’t even talk to me. So now he’ll probably walk all the way around the track so he won’t have to see me.” (Later he said Schumacher shook his hand but didn’t say anything in the sportsmanlike gesture.)
“I enjoy racing those DSR cars. It’s fun to beat them,” the 16-time winner said. “They’re the bar. That’s the racing factory. It’s hard to beat those guys. So when you do, you’ve got to be jacked up about it. It’s like David and Goliath.”
He said racing Pritchett, with whom he has had friendly trash-talking banter all season long, was a pivotal battle: “Taking her out there probably took her out of the championship chase. But us going out against her might have revived her chances and shot ours.”
Brown, he acknowledged, is a three-time and the reigning champion. And Kalitta he called “a great driver” who has “been there a lot” in the thick of championship wars.
“You’ve got to wade through these guys at some point in time,” Torrence said.
And Sunday was one of those days. He recognized that it won’t be the last. “We’ve got three more of these things,” he said.
“It’s tough,” Torrence said. “We’ve got Dom out here helping us,”
He’s referring to Dom Lagana, who, when he isn’t racing his own Nitro Ninja Dragster, is a crew member for the Capco Contractors operation. Lagana served as blocker Sunday and in Round 2 took out Clay Millican, the No. 1 qualifier, owner of the fresh national elapsed-time record, and No. 5 Countdown racer.
But, Torrence indicated, he didn’t want to get into a mind set of expecting help from others or bad circumstances to befall his rivals.
“We got here by doing what we do all year long, and that’s doing it ourselves,” he said after sharing the winners circle with Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and L.E. Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Kalitta, who won the Countdown opener at Charlotte to take the points lead but lost it last weekend to Torrence, was seeking his second victory of the season, second in three events, and 44th total. He was making his fifth final-round appearance of the year, having knocked off Scott Palmer (despite a massive engine explosion), Reading winner Brittany Force, and Lagana.
After the race, Kalitta said, “I’ll get him [Torrence]. It’s just a matter of time. We let that one get by us. We should have gotten by Stevie.”
Stevie . . . Steve-o . . . Points leader . . . St. Louis winner . . . Eight-time winner this year . . . Whatever anyone calls him, Torrence won’t stop until somebody calls him Champ. Susan Wade
CAPPS CLOSES GAP ON COMPETITION, TAKES EIGHTH WIN OF SEASON AT GATEWAY - It is officially Oct-Tobler in the NHRA.
After watching the competition slowly inch ahead over the past few months - namely the drivers and crew chiefs across the aisle at John Force Racing - Ron Capps and crew chief Rahn Tobler have closed the gap both in qualifying and on race day. Case-in-point, Sunday afternoon in St. Louis.
Capps hung right with national record holder Robert Hight over the first two days in qualifying at Gateway Motorsports Park and then took full advantage when both Hight and JFR teammate Courtney Force fell out early, earning his eighth win of the season and second in a row Sunday at the sixth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.
“It wasn’t just today. We left Reading with a lot of confidence. It was hot there, the conditions that we like, but then we saw Robert’s article that said when it is cool conditions, nobody is in their league - which is true here lately - but we wanted to close the gap,” Capps said. “On Friday we had good conditions and we went 85 and Robert went 84. We were right there with him. Then it cooled off Friday night and we went 84 and he went 83. I really feel like (Rahn) Tobler has worked on that part of the tuneup. Last year we said a semifinal average finish was going to win a championship and we did that going to Pomona. But I think this year is going to be even tougher.
“It is going to take more than a semifinal average finish. So it was big for Tobler to show he can run in the cool conditions. The season-ending race is points and a half and it is going to be cool with stout conditions. We know that going in so we have to be able to run with those guys there and we are starting to show that we can.”
Capps defeated upstart Jonnie Lindberg in the final, powering around the young racer with a 3.879-second pass at 331.53 mph in the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to earn his 58th career victory and fourth at Gateway. Lindberg had a 3.904 at 326.87 mph in the runner-up effort.
What made the matchup even more fascinating is that Lindberg is not part of the 10-driver Countdown to the Championship, creating a nothing-to-lose situation for the team.
“Back in Charlotte I said several times - the toughest cars in the Countdown every year are the cars that didn’t make the Countdown and we saw that today with the Lindburg and Alexis (DeJoria) cars,” Capps said. “Those are two great cars that should be in it and they have nothing to lose. They are the ones that are going to decide championships. It happens every year.
“They are the ones to be worried about because we are trying to race smart and they don’t have to worry about that. They are testing for next year. I knew in the final they were going to go up there and swing for the fence. Typically Jim Head is not known for always being consistent, he likes to tinker and try things and Tobler said not to count them out. We were expecting them to run what they ran, maybe better. Lindberg is a natural. He drives his own cars, tunes his own cars. He is a very talented kid and a lot of fun to race against.”
Capps added a close win against John Force in the semifinals, along with round wins over Jack Beckman and Jim Campbell to reach his third final in the last four races and 11th total final of the year. Lindberg had wins over Hight, DeJoria and Tim Wilkerson.
Meanwhile, the cars closest to Capps in the Funny Car championship, Robert Hight and Courtney Force, fell out in the third and second rounds respectively.
“It is tough because I almost don’t want to know (when drivers lose). In Reading I didn’t want to know what they did in front of us because I didn’t want that to affect me. Your heart rate goes up because you are like, here is our chance,” Capps said. “It is a product of the Countdown. Not only are you watching what you are doing, but you are grandstanding and looking to see what these other people are doing. Sometimes it will bite you in the butt, but you try not to worry about it.
“We definitely knew when he went out. We knew when Courtney went out. People may say not to worry about points, but I don’t know anybody out here that doesn’t worry about every little point. We definitely were and that is what you have to do.”
Capps leaves St. Louis with a 46-point cushion over Hight and a 108-point lead over Force. But it was the efforts shown by his crew chief - and a few kind words - that has Capps most excited entering the final three races of the season.
“(Tobler) is the best racer. He is fun to race with. I love his old school mentality and he gave me the biggest compliment this weekend,” Capps said. “After one of our runs I told him he was doing a great job. I told him, even though we didn’t have lane choice, we had a great run. He said to me, ‘no, you are driving like a champion.’ That floored me. You don’t hear those old school guys give out compliments. If they don’t say anything, that is a compliment. To get one out of him, to me, was huge.” Larry Crum
ANDERSON RETURNS TO WINNING WAYS, TAKES OVER POINTS LEAD FOLLOWING ST. LOUIS VICTORY - There is nothing more dangerous than a driver with nothing to lose.
And that is exactly the man Greg Anderson has become during this year’s Countdown to the Championship.
Despite all the stress, all the pressure associated with a championship run, Anderson admits that he is as calm as ever, even having a little bit of fun in the midst of all the chaos. And that new, relaxed attitude paid off in a big way on Sunday.
Anderson bested teammate Jason Line to earn his third victory of the year and snap a streak of three-straight runner-up finishes all while taking over the Pro Stock points lead at the sixth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Anderson drove the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.571-second elapsed time at 210.73 mph to earn the win, his 20th in 36 career meetings with Line. Line, meanwhile, had a 6.545 at 211.26 mph in the runner-up effort.
“I needed a breakthrough bad. It’s been three final rounds in a row and it is as hard as ever to win out here,” said Anderson, who earned his 89th career victory on Sunday. “My racecar worked great all weekend, but I had a little bit of an issue with my engine. It was a little bit off speed-wise, so even though the car was working great, I was getting passed by as we went down the track by my two teammates. I knew it was going to take a stroke of luck to win it even though I had a great car because I didn’t have the total package. And, thankfully, everything just fell into place.
“I left the starting line and I didn’t think I got the light that I needed to win and I was scared so I refused to look over all the way down the track. When I got to the finish line and that light came on I was almost shocked. I really didn’t expect to get around Jason. He had a great car all weekend and he had a .005 light in the semifinal so I knew it was going to take somebody looking over me to get the win and it happened.
“When I stage this racecar you have to act like you are having fun. Act like you are making a qualifying run. I was very calm today. I didn’t have any killer lights, but my car was good enough and I had good enough lights when I had to. We ran the right guys at the right time and I was fortunate today.”
It was a wild day throughout the Pro Stock category in St. Louis as two of the top five cars in points lost in round one while all three KB Racing cars made it through to the semifinals. Anderson survived the chaos against Brian Self, Larry Morgan and Dave River, while Line had wins over Bo Butner, Deric Kramer and Alan Prusiensky.
Tanner Gray, who was third in the championship entering the weekend, fell in round one to Kramer, while Drew Skillman - fifth in the Countdown - lost to Self.
“My two teammates are tough guys to get around because they are every bit as fast as me. But those two Gray cars, they’ve got fast racecars and they cut killer lights as well. It just so happens today that Tanner was too good as he was two-thousandths red,” Anderson said. “It’s a tough game. And for us it was a break that we didn’t expect to get. Now I’ve got to come up behind him and not screw up. We ended up capitalizing as much as you can capitalize on his misfortune, but that exact same thing could reverse and happen to us at the next race.
“You can’t go up there and be safe. If you do, you are done. You might as well go load your car in the trailer. You have to go up there for blood every time and hopefully you don’t go over the line.”
With the win and subsequent struggles of those around him, Anderson has taken over the points lead by three points over Butner. Line has jumped up to third, while Gray and Skillman round out the top five.
“Three runner-ups and a win, that’s not bad. I’ve been telling everybody that you need to peak at the right time, you need to peak going into the playoffs and obviously I have,” Anderson said. “I guess that is all you can ask. It’s been great for me and it’s going to take finishes like that the rest of the way out to have a chance to win this thing. There are so many cars that can win it with all these races decided by thousandths of a second. It is crazy, but that is what I love. That is what is great about NHRA Pro Stock racing. We haven’t had a bad day and that is what it is going to take the rest of the way. I’m in it and that is all you can ask for.
“We are all deadlocked right now. Now we wipe the slate clean and start over for these next three races.” Larry Crum
TONGLET FLEXES HIS PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE MUSCLES AGAIN - L.E. Tonglet, the runaway NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle leader throughout the summer, took a back seat to Eddie Krawiec once the Countdown began and lost to the Vance & Hines team last weekend at Reading, Pa.
But he returned the favor Sunday at Gateway Motorsports Park, at Madison, Ill., beating Krawiec’s teammate, Andrew Hines, in the final round of the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals. In earning his sixth victory of the season, he cooled down the hot Harley-Davidson duo and reasserted himself into the championship scramble.
Tonlget’s margin of victory was only about 23 inches (0.0065 of a second), but the significance was huge. Krawiec – his quarterfinal victim – retained his lead, but Tonglet sliced it from 71 points to 16 at the halfway point of the six-race playoffs.
That definitely puts more pressure on Krawiec as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series action shifts to the Texas Motorplex after an idle weekend. Countdown Race No. 4 is the Oct. 12-15 AAA Texas FallNationals, at Ennis, Texas, just south of Dallas.
But Sunday [the trip to the St. Louis area] was a day of revival for the Metairie, La., racer.
He used a .029-second reaction time on the Nitro Fish Suzuki to win with his 6.792-second quarter-mile elapsed time at 197.91 mph against Hines’ quicker and faster 6.790, 197.94. Hines cut a .037-second light.
That left Hines winless in three trips to the final round, as Tonglet denied him his first victory since the 2016 U.S. Nationals. Hines beat Andie Rawlings, Karen Stoffer, and Scotty Pollacheck in earlier rounds, and that helped boost him from fifth place to third. Hines entered the race 120 points out of first place, and he leaves St. Louis with only a 72-point deficit.
Tonglet reached his eighth final round this season by eliminating Joey Gladstone, Krawiec, and Matt Smith. But it was that Round 2 triumph that meant as much as winning his 16th Wally.
“Facing off against Eddie in Round 2 was a huge match-up. We felt like that was the make-or-break of the Countdown,” Tonglet said. “We came out on top, and we’re back in it. I was fired up against Eddie. This was make-or-break for us. We felt if we lost this race then out championship hunt was over.” Tonglet responded by recording a nearly perfect .001-second reaction time.
After Tonglet stood on the podium with Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), he gave credit to White Alligator Racing crew chief Tim Kulungian.
“I’m just a monkey pushing a button. I’m just sitting on a very fast motorcycle,” Tonglet said. “I make mistakes, and I made two of them today. Tim’s been tuning the bike, and it’s flyin’. I was able to make a couple of mistakes and still get the wins. I didn’t make any in the final, though, I don’t think.”
He was just 20 years old when he won the 2010 championship, and he said seven years has made a difference in his judgment.
“That was a way different kid,” he said of his younger self. “I didn’t know what the pressure was. Now, seven years later, I know what Andrew [Hines] was feeling and what Eddie and all of them are feeling with the pressure.”
As the final-round win light came on for Tonlget, one of his crew members shouted, “Get you some of that!”
MILLICAN SPENDS AFTERMATH OF RECORD-SETTING DAY SCUFFING TIRES, WURTZEL RESILIENT IN MAKING TOP FUEL STRIDES, BUSY LINDBERG WANTS TO BE BUSIER, HARLEYS HOTTEST, FARBER UPSETS NO. 1 CASTELLANA IN FIRST ROUND OF PRO MOD, CROWDS HUGE AGAIN, FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN EXPANDS
MILLICAN UNTOUCHABLE AT NO. 1 - National elapsed-time record-holder Clay Millican said he and his Parts Plus/Great Clips/UNOH Dragster team “felt pretty certain” Saturday that “we were going to stay No. 1 [thanks to Friday’s stunning 3.631-second pass]. Conditions weren’t there to run that kind of number again.”
He said because he “tore up some tires” in laying down that quickest-ever pass in drag-racing history on the 1,000-foot Gateway Motorsports Park course, he had to break in the ones he would be using in Sunday’s eliminations. So that was his task Saturday, to scuff up tires in preparation for his first-round meeting with No. 16 qualifier Kyle Wurtzel. Consequently, he treated the impressive crowd to some impressive burnouts.
Millican called every round, every race “critical” and said, “Where we are in points [No. 6, 88 points off Steve Torrence’s pace], we need to make a move. We wouldn’t have our feelings hurt if the top kind of came back to us, kind of like what happened in the first Countdown race.”
This is Millican’s fifth top qualifying position of the season, third in the past four races, and 10th of his career.
He said Friday night’s feat triggered more than 100 text messages to his phone, Millican said, including one from reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps.
Millican said he’s going for every single point he can scrounge up. He still is going for victories and the championship. But in the end, he said, “I’m happy to put a helmet on.”
WURTZEL REBOUNDS FROM INDIANAPOLIS DISAPPOINTMENT – The last time NHRA fans saw Kyle Wurtzel was in the fourth of five qualifying sessions at the U.S. Nationals the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. The hard-working independent racer from Warsaw, Ind., north of Indianapolis, who’s hoping to make the most of a limited schedule impressed with a .001 reaction time. However, not more than 330 feet later, he had gone not from hero to zero but more like elated to deflated in the blink of an eye. His engine let go with a fiery bang, and he was charged with his first oildown of the year and only his second in the four years he has competed in Top Fuel.
He was unable to return for the final qualifying session and missed the cut.
And that is not the thoughtful Kyle Wurtzel the NHRA Tech personnel know, not the Kyle Wurtzel who runs a clean program and never takes unnecessary risks with his strong but rationed equipment, not the Kyle Wurtzel who tries to handle every phase of his growing Top Fuel venture in a professional manner.
But he overcame that and qualified for this weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals, his fourth and final planned event this year. He has made the field at all the races he has entered, except Indianapolis. He still has yet to meet his goals of running in the 3.70-second range and winning an elimination round. But he’s digging away at it, with Bruce Litton’s longtime crew chief, Mike Wolfarth, tuning the car and help from such notables in the pits as Ron Douglas and Bobby and Dom Lagana.
Wurtzel, a former nitro nostalgia Funny Car racer and wealth-management consultant in his 9-to-5 job, said he’s seeing progress in his racing performance, even with new fuel and clutch systems.
“The fuel system was a big change for us. We started with it in Bristol. We’ve just been tickling it and making it happy along the way. It’s been a pretty good little car, so I can’t pick on it,” he said.
Wurtzel said he thought he had turned the corner last season: “We were good last year. We had a lot of close races where we were just losing by a couple if hundredths first round. Last year, I’d say, three of the four races we went to we only lost by a couple hundredths. For us to be able to do that is huge. We have a tenth of the budget of those guys we’re running against.”
He said, “I run the car right. I buy new rods, new pistons, new cranks. Everything that’s in it is good stuff. That was always the most important thing to me. Everything we’re going to have is going to be good. But we can afford only so much. The equipment’s nice.”
Running part-time is Wurtzel’s choice, but he said, “I wouldn’t mind trying to find a little more money to run maybe a few more races and be able to step on the car a little bit harder at the races we’re already running at, to be harder on parts and be able to replace those parts.”
He likened his approach to that of the Hartman family, who ran competitively but more conservatively.
“We know we can’t be running a low-.70 or a mid-.70, but we know we can get there,” Wurtzel said. “We can run those high .70s and be competitive and keep them [his rivals] on their game . . . if they miss it, we’ll go by them. They all make mistakes, and they all have bad days.
“I say I’m ‘realistic competitive.’ I don’t believe I’m going to win. I believe I can qualify. I know [winning] could happen but [right now] it shouldn’t happen. But that’s why we’re here – we don’t race it on paper . . . we race it on the track. You’re not going to see me get out of the car [when he loses a round] and chuck the helmet over the fence. We’re here to have fun and enjoy it.
“I always tell the [tour] regulars, ‘I’m not here to mess your deal up. I don’t want to be in your way.’ I have respect for them. They’re out there, chasing the points, and I don’t want something silly that I do to mess that up. I just try to be respectful.”
Q3 REPORT – No one could touch Clay Millican’s 3.631-second pass on the 1,00-foot course from Friday qualifying that is the quickest ever in NHRA history. But Tony Schumacher moved up to the No. 2 position with a 3.680-second run the U.S. Army Dragster. Schumacher nicked Doug Kalitta by one-thousandths of a second and slid the Mac Tools Dragster drive down to third place. However, Kalitta had his measure of glory – he reset the track speed record at 331.85 mph. Needing their final chances to jump into the field were Ashley Sanford, who was making her first laps in the Rapisarda Autosport International entry in just her second race overall; Chicago-area natives Luigi Novelli and Chris Karamesines; and Rob Passey, who was making his first appearance of the weekend and blew up at the starting line in a giant fireball to oil the track. Terry Haddock also oiled the track in that session.
PRITCHETT REMINDS EVERYONE SHE’S CONTENDING – Papa John’s Pizza Dragster driver Leah Pritchett wedged herself between Tony Schumacher and top qualifier Clay Millican late Saturday to take the No. 2 spot in the Top Fuel order.
Her last three runs were in the 3.6-second range, and she saved her best – a 3.670-second elapsed time and 329.10-mph speed – for last.
"In qualifying, you can have your own victories, and we've had a strong presence on the track this weekend in very good conditions," Pritchett said. "The strength we've showed gives us confidence that we can run in warm conditions. Our qualifying effort gives us some momentum going into Sunday.
"We want to end this season the way we started it," she said Pritchett. She began the season by winning the first two races (at Pomona, Calif., and Chandler, Ariz.) and has added two more (at Houston and Brainerd, Minn.). But she’s seventh in the standings. The three Don Schumacher Racing dragsters – including those of Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown – are on the same side of the 16-car eliminations bracket. That means at best only two can advance to the semifinals.
IMAGINE LINDBERG’S IMPACT IF HE RAN FULL-TIME – Five-time Pro Stock winner Tanner Gray probably would have to fall off the face of the Earth not to be presented the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award this November for being the NHRA’s top rookie performer. But fellow pro rookie Jonnie Lindberg, the two-time and current Top Alcohol Funny Car champion, has been no slouch in the Funny Car class.
Team owner Jim Head opted out of the first two races this year (at Pomona, Calif., and Chandler, Ariz.), as well as the mid-season Topeka and Epping, N.H., events. Lindberg said he figures he would have clinched the 10th and final spot in the Countdown line-up.
Despite his four-race absence, Lindberg has made a favorable impression, particularly with final-round appearances and runner-up finishes in his debut, at Gainesville, Fla., and Las Vegas. Those actually were his second and third final-round showings, for he drove Jay Payne’s Top Alcohol Funny Car – in a substitute stint – to the final at the Winternationals.
Lindberg happens to tune that car, and at selected races he also tunes his own entry that brother Johan drives. Lindberg tuned Payne to a runner-up finish at Houston and a victory at Seattle and tuned his brother to victories at Charlotte and Brainerd, Minn., and the No. 1 qualifying position at Indianapolis. As if that weren’t enough, he flies overseas occasionally to tune the Pro Modified cars for both Åke Persson, the reigning FIA European champion, and Jan Ericsson, the three-time European Pro Stock titlist who has switched classes.
“My brother drives my car just for fun, really,” Lindberg said. “I don’t know if we’re going to do more races – maybe one or two more this year. So we haven’t been really serious with my own car. That’s why I help Payne a lot.”
He said he hasn’t decided when Johan will drive his car next. “Maybe we’ll take it out to the West Coast and do Pomona. Maybe. It’s a long trip, but we like it out there, California. I hung out there a lot when I first moved here,” the Swede said, confirming that money and time are the determining factors. “I’m really busy with my schedule right now, and my brother just got married,” he said. Johan and Philippa, a/k/a Coco, tied the knot Aug. 11, and they just bought a house. “So he has a lot going on in Sweden. There’s a lot of work back home. He works with my dad in the construction business. They do excavating, foundations, landscaping, things like that. I’m the black sheep of the family, racing full-time,” Lindberg said.
That he would like to enter all 24 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events and challenge for the championship is about the only area in which he isn’t cut from the same cloth as Head.
Head said he knows his decision to limit his team’s schedule is detrimental to Lindberg’s career and that he feels bad bout that – but he isn’t going to change his opinion that the Countdown isn’t a big deal to him.
“We need funding. I’m the lowest-buck team out here – by a factor! – that runs as good as I do,” Head said. “I’m proud of it on one hand, but it gets old. And missing races helps a lot financially. Hopefully, with his European connections, maybe we’ll get some Euros headed our way. We don’t seem to be able to get any [U.S.] dollars headed my way in this country.
He said he has, at least for a fleeting moment, recognized how dangerous his Head Inc. Toyota team would be with fulltime funding: “Well, I think I’d be better. I’m sure I’d be better. And it wouldn’t be as much work. We need funding for crew, parts, and everything else. I’m not complaining. I’m happy to be here. And that’s why I’m not here as much as he’d like to be, for sure.”
Top Fuel’s Bill Miller is another team owner whose main desire is not to race for a championship. But Miller and Head have different agendas from one another. “He sells parts to racers. There’s nobody on the grounds here that I do business with, I promise you that. If I had a company that sold parts to racers, it wouldn’t bother me nearly as much to be self-sponsored. If Head Inc. was in the aftermarket automotive business, that’d be great. But it isn’t,” Head said.
“I got my buddy, Art Whipple, on the back wing now,” he said of his exposure for Fresno, Calif.-based Whipple Superchargers. “He’s a good friend and makes great parts. Hopefully we can help him sell some superchargers.”
Lindberg said he’s hoping to help Head establish some marketing partnerships so they can compete fulltime.
“I’m not very good with it,” Lindberg said about marketing. “I’m not John Force, you know. I can’t talk like him and find sponsors like him. But all the sponsors I have on my [alcohol] car I brought in. I do my best and try to find sponsorship for next season for Jim Head, and hopefully we’ll find a big sponsor. Right now, for next season, to find a good sponsor, a good partner, and try to run all 24 races next year, that’s the goal.
“I’m not shy,” he said. “To find a good sponsor, it’s all about contacts. Timing is important, too, just like [in] drag racing. I’ve been talking around a lot, and I have a proposal I’m sending out. Hopefully I can find something. I guess I’m a little unique, because I’m the only European pro racer out there now. I can represent a Swedish company that wants to grow in the U.S. I speak Swedish and English.” And the multitasking Lindberg speaks success.
THIRD-SESSION HIGHLIGHTS – In the third overall session and first Saturday, Drew Skillman put the squeeze on the KB/Summit Racing duo of tentative leader Greg Anderson and No. 2 Jason Line. Only one-hundredths of a second separated third-place Skillman from Anderson, and Line had a mere five-thousandths-of-a-second cushion over Skillman. Meanwhile Jeg Coughlin’s struggles continued. He remained 16th with one last shot at improving on the grid.
In the fourth qualifying session, Bo Butner jumped into the mix at the top of the order to give the KB/Summit trio the top three places. Anderson leads with his 6.507-second elapsed time. With Butner’s appearance toward the top, now the first four Pro Stock qualifiers are separated by one-hundredth of a second. Anderson leads at 6.507. Butner is next at 6.510. Line follows at 6.512, and Skillman clocked in at 6.517.
“These cars are so dependent on atmospheric conditions, and when you get cooler temperatures like that . . . We’ve got a huge high-pressure system and low humidity. All three of those ingredients just make these Pro Stock cars fly,” Anderson said. “It’s a ball to drive ‘em in conditions like this. We do it to go fast, and those are conditions you can go fast in.”
He said, “So many cars in this class can win right now that it comes down to thousandths. I’m No. 1 qualifier by three-thousandths of a second, but that’s as good as a mile right now.”
McGAHA IN TOP HALF ONCE AGAIN – No. 5 starter Chris McGaha has earned a spot in the top half of the field at 15 of the 16 races he has entered this season. The Harlow Sammons Camaro driver will line up in Round 1 Sunday against No. 12 Jeg Coughlin, who gained four positions in the order in the last session Saturday. That match-up will mark the fifth time in his past seven races that McGaha has faced an Elite Motorsports driver.
"We've got a tough competitor in Chris McGaha for first round," Coughlin said. "He's run really well here lately at the races he's attended. But I think we can run with him or even out-run him if we polish up afew things. The first round will be a small step, and as the day goes on we will hack away at it. The Elite group is very competitive, and there certainly is no quit in this pit. We'll give it hell tomorrow and see what happens. There's nothing to lose, so we'll throw everything we have at the track and try to cause a little havoc."
He said, "We'll be more aggressive tomorrow, I promise you. The first three sessions we had trouble, and I didn't make it down the track. We had a final chance in Q4, so we changed the car up quite a bit, set-up-wise, and made a respectable pass, a 6.57 that moved us up in the pack a little bit. We were not aggressive at all in Q4, because we needed to get the car down the damn racetrack. Now that mission is accomplished, so we can reset and start planning for a better race day.
"I feel great behind the wheel," Coughlin said. "We've had our hands full here in St. Louis so far, but game day is always the fun day. Anything can happen, and we've seen lots of upsets and crazy results throughout the year with so many different winners."
TIME TO SEAL DEAL AT ST. LOUIS – Allen Johnson, the No. 10 qualifier, will face close buddy Erica Enders, the No. 7 starter, in the first round of eliminations Sunday. She beat him in the 2012 final round in the most recent of his three final-round appearances here. But the Marathon Petroleum/J&J Dodge owner-driver still recalls that first one. “I remember racing Jim Yates in the finals in 1999, and I got real close to the center line and got loose. And I remember thinking I should’ve won that one,” Johnson said. “I’ve been to the finals three times at Gateway Motorsports Park without winning, and I think it’s about time we changed that.” Johnson also advanced to the final in 2003 but lost to Ron Krisher. This likely will be Johnson’s last opportunity to do so, for he has announced his retirement from Pro Stock racing, effective at the end of this season.
Sunday’s first round will be the first time Enders and Johnson have faced each other this season, and she said, "I'm looking forward to tomorrow. With just four Sundays left in the Countdown, we've got a lot of work to do to see if we can move up in the points. Part of that is knocking off the drivers ahead of us in the points. So I say line 'em up and let's go. We've worked our way to the top of the mountain twice before, so we know what it takes. The plan is to keep chasing it until it's over."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
HARLEYS HOTTEST – Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod racers Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec surprised no one Saturday, securing the top two places in the lineup for Sunday’s eliminations. But Krawiec threw a challenge at Hines toward the end of qualifying. He took the lead for a few minutes, topping Friday provisional low qualifier Hines’ efforts with a 6.783-second pass. But Hines rebounded with 6.781-second elapsed time to regain the top spot.
He’ll lead the field for eliminations Sunday for the second time this year and 40th in his career. The Harley-Davidsons were the only bike to crank out 6.78-second runs so far this weekend.
Hines will face Andie Rawlings in the opening round, and Krawiec will race David Hope.
Hines said he’s looking for consistency Sunday but said his bike is dialed in better than it has been at any other point in the season. He also said he’s encouraged by his best 60-foot times of the year this weekend. As a tuner with strict attention to detail, he expressed his personal aggravation that the motorcycle is, by his description, “off on speed.”
ARANA TO USE ‘BEST EDUCATED GUESS’ – Hector Arana Jr., who’s third in the Countdown standings, ended up a mid-packer in qualifying, and he’s not thrilled about that. But he said he’s shaking that off and going for the Wally tomorrow.
“We haven't had the best qualifying session this weekend, but we hope to turn things up a notch overnight and run for the trophy tomorrow," Arana said. "You almost feel like you have to get to the finals to make up ground. The two guys in front of us aren't making any mistakes, so you need to go further than them on race day."
Arana trails only Eddie Krawiec and L.E. Tonglet in the standings. Arana’s eight-place qualifying performance isn’t nearly as outstanding as Krawiec’s second, but No. 2-ranked Tonglet isn’t much farther up the ladder at seventh. Arana said he’s telling himself that he can make the biggest strides during eliminations.
He’ll get a chance to try his new mindset against No. 9 qualifier Karen Stoffer. They have raced four times this year, and Arana has won all four time.
"We've been struggling with leaving the starting line, and we don't know exactly why," Arana said. "I can't say that I'm happy. I'm riding the bike the same. There's an issue with either tires or wheelie bar set-up. We haven't changed it, but this is a different tire than we ran earlier in the year. We have a few runs on it now, but it seems to not be as consistent. I wish we had one more qualifying round. There's one more thing we would like to try before race day, but we don't have an extra session. So all we can do is go back and study all of our graphs, look at everything, and put together our best educated guess for tomorrow.
"I have full confidence in my team and myself to make a good call. That's all we can do,” he said. “At this point, we have to rely pretty heavily on our experience. And that's OK, because between me, my dad, and Jim Yates, we've seen a lot of stuff.”
SELLOUT CROWD AGAIN – Although motorsports truly can boast no such thing as a “sellout crowd,” the attendance numbers for the NHRA this year, and especially lately, arguably have made the NHRA’s growth outshine that of both IndyCar and NASCAR. As the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Anthony Schoettle declared in its August 21-27 issue, “The National Hot Rod Association is experiencing significant increases in every metric that matters – and doing so at a time that many sports, including motorsports, are struggling to hold onto fans. He quoted Dave Moroknek, of sports licensing firm MainGate, Inc., as saying, “The NHRA has really bucked the motorsports trend in a big way. They’re on a great trajectory.”
If selling all reserved seating is the yardstick for “sell-outs,” then the NHRA hit the mark Saturday for the fifth time since May. Gateway Motorsports Park officials announced Saturday that all reserved seats for this event have sold out. Last Saturday’s program at the Dodge NHRA Nationals reported the same at Maple Grove Raceway, near Reading, Pa. The Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta had a sellout crowd Saturday, May 6, and the NHRA New England Nationals at Epping, N.H., followed suit on both Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4.
“Today was the perfect combination of great weather, incredible track conditions, the highest-horsepower cars on the planet, and a loyal motorsports fan base in the St Louis region,” Chris Blair, Gateway Motorsports Park’s executive vice-president and general manager, said Saturday. “We’ve been blessed to have three amazing Saturdays during the 2017 racing season, as our crown jewel events of NASCAR, INDYCAR, and NHRA all had spectacular crowds. St. Louis is not only a great sports town, it’s a great racing town. Our momentum keeps building as we look forward to an even better 2018 and beyond.”
Blair said, “Track owner and CEO Curtis Francois took a tremendous risk when he rescued this venue five years ago and it’s amazing to see how not only the local community but also the racing community have rallied around his vision.”
Maple Grove Raceway President Mike Lewis said the turnout last weekend was “a great indication of the surging popularity of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing. We appreciate every fan, every racer, every employee and all the sponsors who support Maple Grove Raceway. Maple Grove Raceway fans may be the most loyal in motorsports and deserve this weekend’s [unseasonably beautiful] weather.”
FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN GROWS – The 2018 School of Automotive Machinists & Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown will expand to include the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn., and the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Ennis, Texas, near Dallas. That brings the total of series races to seven, NHRA officials announced Saturday.
The category will return to the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals (Gainesville, Fla.), NHRA Four-Wide Nationals (Charlotte), Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals (Norwalk, Ohio), Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals (Indianapolis), and the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals (St. Louis). Drivers will compete again for a year-end NHRA Wally based on the best six of seven events.
An expanded field of 16 cars tops the list of changes for next year’s program, as the SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown will be contested as its own eliminator.
Josh Peterson, NHRA vice-president of racing administration, said, “It is only fitting that in the seventh year of the program we will see the SAM Tech NHRA Factory Showdown grow to seven events. The competition within the category continues to increase each year, and to win an event can be one of the highlights during the course of the season for a Factory Stock competitor.”
Brian Massingill, director of student motorsports for the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology, said, “The drivers, manufacturers, and fans loved the five-race schedule. Going to seven races in 2018 will allow the class to continue to grow, and a 16-car field is going to bring in even more fans and racers. We are thrilled to be part of such an exciting category.”
TOP FUEL’S MILLICAN QUICKEST EVER IN NHRA HISTORY, HIGHT INKS NATIONAL FUNNY CAR RECORDS, SCHUMACHER HAS FAITH, ‘CHUTE-LESS PEDREGON LANDS IN SAND, BACK TO THE FUTURE FOR ENDERS, ANDERSON TOPS IN PRO STOCK, HINES STARTLED ON LAST RUN OF DAY BUT HANGS ONTO BIKE AND PROVISIONAL NO. 1 SPOT, TEAMS GO PINK
YES, MILLICAN CAN BE GREEDY – No. 6-ranked Clay Millican, by nature, isn’t a selfish sort. But when it comes to racing his Parts Plus/Great Clips/UNOH Dragster – especially in team owner Doug Stringer’s backyard – he’s greedy fellow. “All we’re thinking about is those points. We want every bonus point. We want every qualifying point. And we want four win lights on Sunday,” Millican said.
“The way our car’s running right now, it seems to not matter if it’s hot or cold. We’ve got one of the best race cars in the business right now,” Millican said.
He proved that in the first qualifying session, grabbing the tentative No. 1 spot in the lineup with a track-record 3.707-second elapsed time at 327.90 mph. That lowered Steve Torrence’s two-year-old mark of 3.718 by .011 of a second.
However, he saved the best for last Friday.
Millican ensured the No. 1 – at least the provisional No. 1 – spot by recording the quickest elapsed time in the history of the NHRA: a 3.631-second pass at 330.39 mph. That eclipsed the 3.640 that Leah Pritchett ran in August at Brainerd, Minn. That gives Millican three of the top five quickest E.T.s ever and four of the top eight.
SCHUMACHER: PAY ATTENTION TO HISTORY – Tony Schumacher knows he needs one of those comebacks he has mounted before in the playoffs. But he knows, too, that he has a team that is capable of doing that.
“Anyone who’s ever been in the Countdown or paid attention to the Countdown over the years is fully aware that the U.S. Army team has come back by far more than anyone else,” he said. “A lot of people are already pointing at some of the teams ahead of us right now as the likely championship contenders, and in a lot of ways we certainly can’t blame anyone for feeling that way. But I also feel like, ‘Let them say whatever they want. Let them put their house payment on it. It’s easy to talk smack when you’ve got nothing on the line. Trust me, there are a lot of good cars out there; there are a lot of people who can win this thing. Go ahead and throw the pressure on them. Let them think they’ve got a chance. They’ve never dealt with this kind of pressure at the end of the season. I believe it’s going to go down the final race of the year like it has so many times. There are just too many cars in this thing, and I feel privileged and honored to be driving one of them."
Schumacher said, “I want to show that we can come back after being a little off for the last year or two. We’ve got to explode. We’ve got to get some good breaks. The U.S. Army car is a great car, and the U.S. Army team has made history for a lot of years in this series, and we’ve just got to make the right decisions and win and show that we can come from behind. We’ve done it so many times before. We know how to do it. We never want to forget how to do it.”
“Confidence is always a good thing. It’s great to be in the Countdown, knowing you have a great car and a confident team. The fact is, we are much better under pressure. I point that out to our guys all the time. We’re racing a less-than-four-second race where you can win and lose by inches. It’s very, very intense – very intense,” he said. “We have to deal with it each and every run. It’s something that takes a special group,” he said. “When you’re going out and performing well and you know you’ve got this tune-up capable of winning a championship, it’s so nice to be able to put that to use.”
He repeated his standard joke: “I like to joke and say I’m a gifted driver. People laugh because it sounds cocky. Then I clarify it. I don’t mean I’m better than anybody. I mean it’s a gift to be able to drive the U.S. Army race car. But the biggest gift of all is to have those nine guys with the Army on the side of the car, but be presented with this monster moment where you have to win. That’s a gift. Anyone who’s ever heard my speech knows I don’t want that moment with my five high school friends working on my race car, because they’re completely incapable of it. Those nine U.S. Army team members who work on my car, they’re great at it. They look forward to that moment. They remember that racing itself is about the love of the game and it’s about the love of the moment, getting through, getting over big humps and hurdles. It’s what has made our team so darn successful.”
HIGHT AIMS TO PLEASE SPONSOR, JFR, SELF – Robert Hight has a lot on his mind this weekend. He’s driving the AAA Missouri Camaro at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals. He wants to make up his eight-point deficit to leader Ron Capps. He has said repeatedly that it has been way too long since he won a championship (eight years, 2009). And he wants to make sure he doesn’t let down crew chief Jimmy Prock, co-crew chief Chris Cunningham, and the entire John Force Racing team.
How could he? He came off the trailer and blew the field away with a 3.845-second elapsed time at 338.60-mph speed – both national records. (Ron Capps was closest, seven-thousandths of a second slower at 3.852 seconds. In speed, No. 4 John Force was next-best with a 335.32-mph clocking.)
Then he won a game of “Anything he can do, I can do better” with boss and best friend John Force. Force stormed back in the second session Friday and topped Hight’s Q1 run with a 3.832-second E.T. at a not-nearly-as-fast 333.91 mph. But Hight wasn’t conceding anything. He one-upped Force in the next pairing with a 1,000-foot blast of 3.830 seconds to regain the tentative No. 1 position.
“It’s fun, but it’s more fun to sit back and watch my team work. They’re trying to make a record run.,” he said. “We were pushing it tonight to run better than .83 and try to run 340 mph. Conditions were out there.”
Hight said, “It’s a lot of pressure, because you’ve got a great race car, and you don’t want to screw it up. You’ve got to go up there and make perfect runs. You want to win a championship? That’s what you’ve got to do. We are all up to the task.
“It’s pretty cool when Jimmy Prock can up there and tell you within a hundredth or two what the thing’s going to run. That’s not easy to do especially when you’re trying to run that hard. If you’re being conservative, that’s one thing to go up there and be consistent. But to do it and be quick – it’s an art.”
So far Hight has three victories, five No. 1 starts, and the national record for both elapsed time (3.793 seconds) and speed (339.87 mph) – all during the past eight races.
ASK HIM. ASK MR. BIG BUCKS – Juan Mota has gone AWOL . . . and just in time. Cruz Pedregon, a/k/a mysterious crew chief Juan Mota in seasons past, clearly placed the responsibility Friday for his Snap-on Toyota rumbling into the sand without parachutes on new crew chief Aaron Brooks.
The owner-driver said, “You’d have to ask the crew chief” why the parachutes failed to deploy at the end of his 3.978-second, 323.27-mph pass. “I just know we made a good run, ran 3.97. We changed our clutch. That’s a question for my crew chief. I’m just the driver, remember? You guys [media] are always talking about that. So go ask the guy who knows, who gets paid the big bucks. I don’t know. I just have lost a lot of parachutes, and it’s ridiculous. I don’t know how many more cars we have to put into the sand, but he’s the guy to ask.”
Pedregon said he hasn’t had as many malfunctioning parachutes in this whole career as he had had lately.
Brooks said he wasn’t aware Pedregon had blasted into the sand. He said he had turned his back after seeing the elapsed time and speed on the scoreboard and later assumed the commotion at the top end of the track was because Tim Wilkerson, who had run in the opposite lane, must have gone into the sand. Brooks also said the last time the team used that particular body, the car also ended up in the sand.
Pedregon wasn’t alone Friday, though. Jonnie Lindberg took Jim Head’s misbehaving Toyota into the sand in the second session – ironically, perhaps, running next to Pedregon.
BUMPED HIS HEAD? – Springfield, Ill., native Timhad even Wilkerson, who considers both the Chicago event and this one as his home race, said before the gates at Gateway opened this morning that with the cooler temperatures finally arriving this fall, “I bet it'll be hero time.”
Of course, the Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang driver wants to be the superstar, particularly in front of longtime sponsor Dick Levi and his associates who are on hand in force this weekend. But that might not be as easy as wishing it to be so.
"We're going to have to figure out how to make our car run like it did at the beginning of the year in Phoenix. I really haven't got that back since I lost it, and that's kind of irritating me,” Wilkerson said. “I've only run a handful of 80s [3.8-second passes] since I did it every darn run in Phoenix. It looked like I knew what I was doing there, but somewhere along the way, I bumped my head and lost that. I'm just going to have to go back and see if I can find the dent where I bumped my head and fix it. Hopefully, I can get the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford operating like it did before. It's coming around, but making it run a lot of 90s and making it run a lot of 80s is a different story. The rest of those boys out there on the big teams have it figured out, and I don't – but I've been doing a lot of homework.”
The ninth-seeded Countdown driver, who owns/tunes/drives his car, said, "When we started this Countdown deal, I said that I didn't want to be the victim of my own circumstances. Last weekend we did a pretty good job with that, going down the track five out of six runs. That's a good feeling, and we traditionally do well [here] – but it's going to be a different St. Louis [race]. It's not going to be hot like it was last weekend in Reading. It's going to be cold at night and in the 70s during the day.”
It was a bit toasty for Wilkerson in his second effort Friday. His car caught fire about the time had shut it off.
WANTS TO CONVERT – Like Top Fuel-driving sister Brittany, Courtney Force has improved from sixth to third in two Countdown races. Unlike her older sister, though, Courtney Force has not capitalized on her two final-round appearances in the playoffs. But the Advance Auto Parts Camaro certainly hopes to build on her back-to-back runner-up finishes this weekend.
“We’ve come close so many times this season, and we haven’t been able to get the job done, but hopefully we can make it happen this weekend,” she said. “This is a race we’ve won at in the past , and it definitely can turn things around if we can get a win in the middle of the Countdown.
She hasn’t won a race this year – hasn’t won in 39 events, not since her Houston triumph last season. But she said of her current trajectory, “As long as we can keep our car running consistently, I’ll be happy. We’ve got to keep pushing, because there are a lot of teams coming up behind us in the points. If we want to pass the guys ahead of us, we’ve got to push this car and this team to be our best at these last few races. This is the time we’ve got to make it count if we want to get that championship.”
Incidentally, Courtney Force has won before at each of the sites of the remaining races.
ANDERSON SLIDES BUTNER OUT OF FIRST – Bo Butner, No. 1 qualifier and winner at Reading less than a week ago, stormed to the top of the order in the first session Friday, but ended up No. 4 overnight as fellow KB/Summit racer Greg Anderson moved into the lead. Anderson drove his Camaro to a 6.525-second, 211.03-mph clocking.
“It was a s good a racetrack as you’ll ever, ever get. And when you get conditions like that, you just need to throw everything you can at it. We did, and it stuck. When you get a great racetrack like that, everybody can make a good run,” Anderson said.
Anderson is on a mission this weekend. "I guess getting to the last three finals in a row is great, points-wise, but it's frustrating to not get the job done,” he said. “I've been fortunate to win a lot in my career, and when you go through a period of time where you can't seem to make that win light come on in the final round, you start to doubt yourself and wonder if you'll ever win again. Man, they're hard to win, but you have to keep trying. Three runner-ups in a row – I'd like to beat my head against the wall, but you can't do that. You have to race tough and keep going, and we're racing as tough as we possibly can."
As for Butner, who’s from “next door” at Floyds Knobs, Ind., he’s still hopeful: "Last week at Maple Grove, I felt complete. We qualified No. 1 and we won the race. We were low [elapsed time] most of the rounds, and we just had a good race day. I can't see our Chevy Camaro changing a lot, and I'm very happy about that. St. Louis is a race that I've been to a bunch, especially at the division level, and I was runner-up here last year in Pro Stock. I really enjoy racing at this track, and I have a lot of good memories from racing here. It's a cool area, and it's close to home. It'll be a fun race with family and cooler weather. Hopefully we'll have a lot of Pro Stock fans excited about how great the class is right now."
CAN GATEWAY DELIVER AGAIN? – This is where two-time champion Erica Enders’ Pro Stock quest began.
"Back in 2004 at St. Louis, we announced that I would be racing Pro Stock," the Melling Performance /Elite Motorsports Camaro driver said. "It was a moment I'll never forget. Finally getting to that point in my career was so huge. To go from a kid in the garage with my dad, handing him wrenches, to racing Juniors, to running a bunch of different sportsman cars and then finally turning pro, it was a dream come true.
"It's never been easy,” Enders, who’s stuck in sixth place in the current standings, said. “And we had plenty of struggles along the way. But we persevered and reached the top of the sport in 2014 and 2015. Now our focus is on getting back to the top of the mountain, and we won't give up until we do."
She has some reason for optimism.
"We're feeling like we're on a bit of an uptick after posting two good runs Sunday in Reading (Pa.) and then you add in the fact we're [at] St. Louis, one of my all-time favorite tracks, and I can sense a little excitement in the pit," Enders said. "We're being realistic about where we are and what we need to do, and we're still fighting hard. We've had a great string of successes at Gateway. We won there in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013. Then we earned the pole in 2014. We went back to the finals in 2015 and finished as runner-up, so yeah, it's a great track for us."
She said, "We have tested and tested these cars and we keep finding little things that make us better. The tire change really threw us a curve, but we can't complain, because everyone is dealing with the same components. I say it all the time – and I've never meant it more – but there is no other team, no other group of people, I would rather be with in this journey. Hopefully I can reward my guys with a trophy or two before we're done this year."
With two more qualifying chances, she hopes to move up from her current No. 6 place.
NEEDS TO GET IN GEAR – Jeg Coughlin Jr. said he’s getting “ a good dose of pressure” this weekend at this racetrack where he has earned two victories in both Pro Stock (2002, 2009) and Super Stock (1997, 2003), and one in Top Dragster (2010). “Everyone is scrapping for every round-win,” he said, “and the battle for the championship is very heated at the moment."
If eight-place Coughlin is to get that sixth Gateway Motorsports Park victory and his first since the 2014 Englishtown race, he’s going to have to make a significant move on leader Bo Butner, who is ahead in the Countdown standings by 191 points.
"This is Race 3 of our playoffs and given what's happened in the first two races, we probably need to win to end up on top," Coughlin said. "People may say that's impossible, but it's not. We've seen numerous teams come alive, myself and this team included, and go on long runs, so we know it's not just a dream.
“We're focused on qualifying better than we have, getting into eliminations in a good spot, and then winning some rounds," he said.
Coughlin has led the field three times this season but not since the June event at Bristol. Since then he has started eliminations in the top half of the field four times but has been in the bottom half of the ladder, without first-round lane choice, five times. His so-so ledger this year reflects in this .500 winning percentage (20-20).
"I know the group at Elite Motorsports has all the pieces in place for myself or one of my teammates to get hot,” he said. “And frankly, it had better start this weekend if we truly want to make a charge, because the guys up front aren't going to give anything away.”
He continued to struggle Friday and has two chances Saturday to get out of the No. 16 spot on the grid.
GRAY NOT CONCERNED ABOUT BEING NO. 3 – Five-time winner Tanner Gray said he isn’t worried his class-best victories showing doesn’t have him any higher than third place right now.
The Valvoline Camaro driver, who’s just 42 points behind leader Bo Butner, said, “I am not worried about being in third. We are right where we want to be. We are one point out of second place and a little over two rounds out of first. We still have four races left and there is the possibility of a lot of movement in the countdown. My guys have the experience that we need to secure a championship and I am confident in their experience.
“Our car has been running great all season. We are more confident now than at the beginning of the season that our Gray Motorsports power has what it takes to get it done,” the rookie said, sounding wise beyond his 18 years. “Winning the championship is our main focus, and we can only get there one round-win at a time.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
HINES, SAVOIE TOP TWO – Andrew Hines and Jerry Savoie were Nos. 1-2 in the first qualifying session and remained that way through the second. But the day wasn’t easy for Hines, especially at the end of his second pass.
“Not sure if the track prep wasn’t 100 percent down there, but I’m going straight down the track and got to 1,000 feet and the next thing I know I’m staring at the wall right at the finish line,” Hines said. “It should have been going 185 miles an hour past the 1,000-foot cones, and the rear tire was going about 205. It was bouncing off the limiter at 11,000 rpm – something that isn’t comforting, by any means. That was not what we were looking for to cap off our No. 1 effort in the first session [a 6.802-second, 196.19-mph performance].”
He said teammate Eddie Krawiec’s Harley-Davidson also was experiencing trouble at that segment of the quarter-mile course.
“I hung with it,” Hines said. “We’ll regroup for tomorrow. To stay low, we’re going to have to run [6.]78 to battle with these guys tomorrow. But our Harleys are more than capable of it.”
Hines is seeking his 40th top-qualifier.
ARANA READY TO POUNCE – While most of the Pro Stock Motorcycle attention has centered on L.E. Tonglet and Eddie Krawiec, the two who have traded the points lead this season, third-ranked Hector Arana Jr. is lurking and eager to leapfrog one or both this weekend. He’s 18 points behind No. 2 Tonglet and 89 behind Krawiec – and he’s looking for a way to do more than just maintain the status quo.
“We actually need to find a way to step it up a little bit and out-run the two riders ahead of us,” he said.
Arana, who lives in East Northport, N.Y., but spent his formative years in Corydon, Ind., said, "St. Louis is close to my Indiana home. So I've got my friends from Indiana, my sister, and my mother all coming out to support us.”
He was able to stop at the family race shop at Corydon for a day or two and look over his bike and equipment “to make sure we're totally prepared for the race.” Even before the action began with Friday qualifying, Arana Jr. said he is expecting to have a “really fast bike.”
He has two semifinal finishes in as many Countdown events on his Lucas Oil Buell. He won this race in 2015 and was top qualifier in 2012.
"We've had a fast bike all year and we've done well in St. Louis, so I'm very optimistic," he said. By race day, he said, this will be another closely contested playoff round: "You're seeing a lot of rounds won or lost by thousandths of a second. It's always that way in this class, but it seems even more extreme now with so much on the line every round.”
He said he isn’t preparing any differently, though. "Everything we do to prepare has stayed the same. I'm just trying to focus more on the tree and being a better rider. My guys are doing an excellent job making the bike fast, so I just have to return the favor and do my job.”
KRAWIEC CAUTIOUS – Eddie Krawiec, winner of the first two Pro Stock Motorcycle events in this Countdown, would appear to be in the class’ catbird seat. But he’s not thinking that way.
“I’m just staying focused, just want to go one round at a time, and do my job on the starting line,” Krawiec said. “I have a good motorcycle under me. I’m kind of priding myself in my riding that I’ve done the first two Countdown races. That’s what you need to do. There’s too many good motorcycles out here to slack off. If I want to win a championship, I have to do my job and, first things first, that’s on the starting line. I’ve got a great crew behind me, I’ve got a great motorcycle under me and I’m very confident. I think that’s the combination for going rounds.”
He said, “It’s kind of surreal right now. I don’t want it to stop. We want to win every race in the Countdown. That’s our goal. We want to win every single race. We’re racers. There’s no better time to hit your stride than when you’re rolling into the Countdown. The way Pomona is this year, being a point and a half race, you better have a 140-point lead rolling into Pomona if you think you’re going to have a cushion.”
BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
THINK PINK - Breast Cancer Awareness month, October, kicks off this weekend, and Snap-on Toyota owner-driver Cruz Pedregon is supporting The Pink Fund®. The non-profit organization provides short-term financial assistance to cancer patients to cover non-medical living expenses. This is the third year of Snap-on’s partnership with the charity that Molly McDonald established following her own diagnosis. Snap-on again is making an initial $50,000 contribution to the organization, along with additional donations through participating franchisee sales promotions. Through October, Pedregon’s car will sport a special paint scheme, and he and his crew will wear shirts spotlighting The Pink Fund.
“Everyday living expenses just create additional stress during treatment [for breast cancer patients]. The Pink Fund has proven itself a powerfully effective organization in reducing this financial burden, and Snap-on is proud to support it and the families it serves," Yvette Morrison, vice-president of marketing for Snap-on Tools Group said. “The Snap-on Funny Car, with its Pink Fund wrap, will be visible to a significant audience of racing fans. And having The Pink Fund founder Molly McDonald in Cruz's pit to interact with fans whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer creates a greater awareness of The Pink Fund resources available to them.”
Snap-on will have a photo booth in Pedregon’s pit Saturday and give away pink socks to hospitality guests in advance of its upcoming "Pink Sock Day" social media campaign that starts Oct. 27.
PRETTY CHARITABLE IN PINK – The JEGS Foundation for Cancer Research raises funding and brings awareness to fighting all forms of cancer every day of the year. But this October, the entire fleet of JEGS-branded race cars will be a distinctive pink to draw awareness of breast cancer to a national audience.
Six-time world champion drag racer Jeg Coughlin Jr., three-time world champion drag racer Troy Coughlin, two-time Division 3 drag racing champion Mike Coughlin, Division 3 drag racing champion Troy Coughlin Jr., rookie sportsman drag racer Paige Coughlin, NASCAR Truck Series rookie Cody Coughlin and Jr. Dragster racer Clay Coughlin all will driving pink cars for the month.
"We've had several members of our extended family affected by cancer, including breast cancer, so this is obviously something that's near and dear to our hearts," Mike Coughlin, Top Dragster competitor and one of four Coughlin brothers who own and operate the mail-order parts giant headquartered at Delaware, Ohio. "We always do our best to win races and get on TV to promote the JEGS brand and all the other wonderful companies that support us, but October all that takes a back seat to raising awareness for cancer research. What's really cool is all our associate sponsors get fully behind the 'Go Pink' themes and help us promote this wonderful cause."
Jeg Jr.'s JEGS.com/Elite Performance Camaro, Troy's twin-turbo JEGS.com Corvette C7 and Mike's JEGS.com Top Dragster were unveiled Tuesday on the front lawn of The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at Columbus, Ohio.
NOT AFRAID TO WEAR PINK – Many “real men” tune 10,000-horsepower race cars, but Jim Oberhofer, vice-president of operations at Kalitta Motorsports, has been nominated as a representative for the Real Men Wear Pink Campaign of Detroit. The American Cancer Society founded the Real Men Wear Pink campaign to get men more involved in the fight against breast cancer. As a participant, Oberhofer is tasked with the goal of raising a minimum of $2,500 for the American Cancer Society to go towards research, prevention, and other methods of support for those who are battling breast cancer. He has committed to wearing some form of pink throughout October, breast cancer awareness month.
"I'm honored to have been nominated to be one of the 25 great men chosen as part of the Real Men Wear Pink Campaign of Detroit," Oberhofer, who lost wife Tammy to cancer. "I hope that through all of the great channels we have in NHRA drag racing, we can raise enough money to meet our goals and help in the fight against breast cancer and other forms of cancer."
To follow Oberhofer’s fundraising journey throughout the month, check out his fan page, Jim Oberhofer on Facebook, and follow @kalittajimo on Twitter and Instagram.