TORRENCE CONTINUES HIS CHARGE TO WIN TOP FUEL CHAMPIONSHIP - A year ago, Steve Torrence had the opportunity win his first career coveted NHRA Top Fuel world championship, but he let it slip through his grasp.

Torrence has been on a mission to take care of unfinished business and that mission is going full steam ahead.

Torrence, who pilots his Capco Contractors family-owned dragster, won his class-best ninth race when he took home the title Sunday at the Carolina Nationals in Charlotte.

Torrence clocked a 3.703-second lap at 329.67 mph to edge Brittany Force’s 3.708-second run at 329.26 mph in the finals.

“The final round against Brittany, when you have Alan Johnson on your side, that guy has a golden horseshoe, he really does,” Torrence said. “He goes up there and pulls stuff off that nobody can do, and nobody thought he could do, and he does it time and time again and you can’t take them lightly. In the final, I knew they would be right there with us if not outrun us. But, I felt confident I could leave on Brittany just because I had been on my game. That’s what it is going to take. You don’t win a championship by default. You go up there and do your job when the crunch time is on. (Sunday) was the biggest race of the season for us. We needed to capitalize and gain points and gain rounds. With Clay (Millican) going out we did what you needed to do.”

On Sunday, Torrence mowed down Chris Karamesines, Leah Pritchett, Tony Schumacher and Force.

“We dodged a bullet the first round,” Torrence said. “It goes out and rattled the tires and somewhat I pedaled it and it stayed hooked up. Usually, I start smoking the tires and going sideways. Leah was a big round, that team is fighting. I think Tony got a little bit aggravated with me I might have let him sit there a little long and he came over and told me about it. I did also remind that’s he’s done that to me before too and sometimes that pill doesn’t taste as good when you have to take it yourself. It is racing. Like I said, you go up there to win.”

This was Torrence’s 25th career Top Fuel national event win and more importantly it helped him extend his points lead to 169 points over second-place Clay Millican.

“I just looked at the points and saw what they were,” Torrence said. “It has been truly unbelievable and nothing less than just a miracle for us to be able to go out and accomplish what we have done. I brought everybody together (Saturday) and just had a team meeting and said ‘Guys, don’t let this moment pass us by. Look at what we have accomplished as a team. Look at what we are doing. It is truly remarkable what we have done. We are a family run, family-owned, family-sponsored race team and everyone of those guys are family to me.”

Torrence has won all four races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship – Reading, Pa., St. Louis, Dallas and Charlotte, which is 16 round wins in a row.

There are two races left in the season – Las Vegas (Oct. 25-27) and Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 8-11). There are 321 points up for grabs in the final two events.

“Last year, we weren’t able to cap it off and be champions, but I think we proved that we could,” Torrence said. “To come out and have the intensity and focus that Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana (his crew chiefs) and every one of those guys have given to win rounds and not make mistakes, I just sit back in awe. I did my job (Sunday) and they saved me a couple of times through this deal, but it is a team. It takes the whole village to make this machine work. I couldn’t be prouder of what these guys are doing. I’m sitting up there getting all the glory, but they are pushing me to the front and it is pretty special to be a part of.” Tracy Renck


It has been a long three weeks for Funny Car veteran Ron Capps as the 2016 world champion saw his championship aspirations seemingly go up in smoke with back-to-back first round exits, mostly of his own making.

But on Sunday, Capps shed the weight of those poor outings with one of his best overall weekends of the entire season, placing the NAPA Auto Parts NIGHTVISION Lamps Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car in the winner’s circle for the third time in 2018 at the 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

“We couldn’t get here fast enough. Going back to St. Louis when we lost in a holeshot first round, it left me sick to my stomach. When that happens I go home and I don’t sleep well, I’m up in the middle of the night. My wife will look over and I’m not in bed and its three in the morning and I’m going frame-by-frame watching that run trying to over-analyze everything. It’s not fun,” Capps said. “Because I live it, I breathe it, I could not wait to get to the next race. We had a really good car at that race and had a chance to make up a lot of ground and I didn’t. I probably aged a year that week. Then we get to Dallas and just got outran by Force.

“When we left Dallas we shook hands, did a little hug like we always do when we leave each and every track, and (Rahn Tobler) said, ‘lets just go win the last three.’ We decided we weren’t going to be shy and we weren’t shy today.”

Capps defeated J.R.Todd in Sunday’s Funny Car final, overcoming a small starting line deficit to take the win. Capps ran a 3.890-second pass at 331.20 mph in earning his 61st career win and third of the season. Todd, in his sixth final of 2018, lost traction early in his run and limped across the stripe with a 4.311 at 214.96 mph.

In picking up the win, Capps jumped three spots in the Countdown to the Championship up to third, but it was his chart-topping passes during eliminations that crew chief Rahn Tobler produced that left Capps most energized following Sunday’s win.

“We had a few great sessions today. We got a little aggressive in Q3 on Saturday trying to push it, but I am glad that we did because it really told (Tobler) a lot about what the car wanted to do in that temperature even though we lost the pole to Tommy Johnson,” Capps said. “Today he really showed me a lot. Two runs over 330 mph in the middle of the day was big for Rahn Tobler. We always talk about race day and adverse conditions, but to throw down those speeds and those E.T.s when we needed it, that was very cool.”

Those runs included a 3.889-second pass at 332.43 mph in round two against current points leader Robert Hight and the 3.890 at 331.20 mph in the final.

Capps added wins over Tim Wilkerson in the semifinals and Dale Creasy Jr. in round one to advance to his sixth final of the year.

Todd had wins over John Force, Cruz Pedregon and Jonnie Lindberg.

“The interesting part of having a great NAPA car is that we always have a target on our back. We have people that are going to pull up and take shots like Cruz did in St. Louis and you know that,” Capps said. “You just have to be up for anything and I am just so glad we came here and did what we talked about doing. Those races might have cost us a championship, but we are going to go down fighting. We have a lot of business left to take care of. I can’t wait to celebrate with the guys and get to the next race.”

While Sunday’s race was certainly a game-changer in the Funny Car category, with Hight losing for the first time in three weeks, and others were able to close the gap, it wasn’t exactly a statement win for Capps. He admits that he doesn’t like to make declarations and likes to let his car and team do the talking for him.

“I don’t feel like we need to make statements. Teams know we are going to be tough,” Capps said. “Rahn and I, we race good together. It is good to get that handshake from Robert Hight and J.R. after both of those runs because I know the admiration I have for them and I know how good they are and I get up to race them as I do everyone else.

“I think we said it enough with the win and the momentum. Tobler has the tuneup now for the cool conditions. He doesn’t care about the green hats, he only cares about the yellow hats and that is what we are going after. Now that he can run both conditions well, that gives me a lot of confidence.”

Capps will try to close the gap even more in two weeks at the Toyota NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, the penultimate race of the 2018 season. Larry Crum

LINE CAPTURES 50th CAREER NHRA WALLY WITH PRO STOCK WIN - This has been a frustrating season for three-time Pro Stock world champion Jason Line.

The driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro entered the Carolina Nationals this weekend seventh in the point standings and winless on the season.

Line broke out of his slump by beating the red-hot Tanner Gray in the final round Sunday in Charlotte.

Line clocked a 6.531-second lap at 211.89 mph to edge Gray’s 6.534-second run at 211.43 mph.

Line cut a .020 light, while Gray was .044 on the tree.

“I was just trying to be calm and cut the best light that I was capable of cutting,” Line said. “When I left, I said 'well I got it as good as I can get it.' I’ll be honest, when I looked over in high gear and didn’t see him I was pleasantly surprised for sure. I thought maybe he shook. Nonetheless, it was a great run and our team did a great job on our race car today. I was fortunate enough to do a good enough job with my left foot to get it done.”

This was Line’s 50th career NHRA Pro Stock Wally – 48th in Pro Stock to go along with the two he has in Stock.

Gray had won eight of the 12 races he had against Line prior to Sunday and this was their first meeting in a final round. Line remains seventh in the points – eight behind his teammate Greg Anderson, who is sixth.

Line has now won at least one national event in 15 consecutive years, which is an NHRA record.

“Obviously, streaks are cool, but nobody really cares about streaks in the end,” Line said. “Certainly, Summit and Ken (Black, the team owner) are not paying me to keep the streak alive, they are paying me to win races and do a good job and I haven’t done a good job this year. It has been a struggle for sure.

I guess the good part of that is when you do finally win you appreciate it for sure. It’s tough we have a lot of cars and a lot of things to take care of and I need to figure out how to do a better job of balancing all that and still be able to drive good. This year has not been a good example of how to do it, but we are getting off to a good finish.”

There are two races left in the NHRA season – Las Vegas (Oct. 25-28) and Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 8-11).

Gray has won a class-high seven races this season.

“(Alan) Reinhart (NHRA announcer) made a deal with me and I was dumb enough to accept the deal that if I didn’t win a race this year he would get a shop tour,” Line said. “I made it this far (in this race), I figured I might as well finish the job. The last thing we wanted is to have him in our shop.”

During his victory parade Sunday, Line beat Bo Butner, Jeg Coughlin, Drew Skillman and Gray.

“I was wondering if I was going to shake or Bo was going to shake in the first round,” said Line, who won Pro Stock world titles in 2006, 2011, and 2016. “I was trying to figure out who was going to do it. Fortunately, neither one of us did and we had a very good race. Bo has struggled this year as well and we both did a good job on the starting line and we had a good race and I was fortunate to come on the right side of it. I think I owe him a few anyway.” Tracy Renck

ROLLER-COASTER COUNTDOWN CONTINUES IN PSM, MATT SMITH COLLECTS WIN AND POINTS LEAD IN CHARLOTTE - What a Countdown it has been for the riders of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.

Entering this weekend’s showdown in Charlotte, there have been three different races, three different winners and three different points leaders. But on Sunday, Matt Smith brought a little stability back to the class.

Smith won for the second time in the Countdown to the Championship and the third time this year on Sunday, retaking the points lead and earning a little bit of a cushion in the process at the 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

“It is pretty big deal if you look at the Pro Stock Motorcycle points this season,” said Smith, who took a 41-point lead with two races remaining this season. “The past three races have seen first round upsets. It happened to me last race. I went up there and raced scared at Dallas trying to maintain the points lead and didn’t do my job. So I figured I would come here and do my job.”

And that he did.

Smith defeated Chip Ellis on Sunday to earn his 21st career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory, riding his Elite Motorsports Denso Auto Parts EBR bike to a 6.830-second pass at 196.64 mph in the win. Ellis, meanwhile, lit the red bulb by -.077 to finish in the runner-up position.

“The right lane, for some reason, with the wind this weekend you would get down to 1,000 feet and it would take you hard to the wall. In the finals, I decided the only way we were going to win was if I get in the right tire groove pointed at the centerline and drive into that and it worked,” Smith said. “We went straight down the track and put up our best time of the day. I thought when I went by the tree I saw red, but it took me a second to hit my first three shifts because they come pretty quick and I looked at the scoreboards and saw mine flashing. I almost shut it off, but I thought I needed to see what it will do.

“All-in-all the bike worked great. We didn’t have the fastest bike today by any means, but I did my job on the tree all day long and left on every person. We had some problems, hurt a motor after first round, but we swapped it out and didn’t even get to crank it up before second round. We just went up there blind, started it, and won the round. It was a real testament to my crew getting it done today.”

Smith added wins over Angelle Sampey, Scotty Pollacheck and Karen Stoffer to reach his fourth final of the year. Ellis had wins over Jerry Savoie, Angie Smith and Joey Gladstone.

But it was the action earlier in the day that had the biggest impact in the championship.

During a Countdown that has seen three-straight points leaders lose in the first round and subsequently lose the top spot, that trend continued on Sunday when points leader L.E. Tonglet was eliminated in round one by Angelle Sampey. Sampey then did it again in round two, eliminating second-place Eddie Krawiec to clear the path for Smith to retake the championship lead with two to go.

“(Sampey) is a tough racer. She’s a three-time world champ and that team is getting better and better every weekend. And what she did was big for us,” Smith said. “You don’t want to think about points, but they are there. It is in your mind, but you don’t want that to mess you up. But she helped us out tremendously. I might just send her a Christmas card.”

Smith exits Charlotte with a narrow lead over Tonglet, with Krawiec, Savoie and Andrew Hines not far behind. But right now, all Smith is focused on is getting down the track cleanly and not messing up what has already been a dream season for this team.

“I made the comment before the Countdown started that we had the best bike coming into the Countdown. I don’t know exactly what is wrong with it right now, it is not running like it should, but we are getting win lights and we are maintaining what we are doing,” Smith said. “I said if we can win three races in the Countdown I think we can win this championship. We just can’t have another first round loss.

“The dream has been alive since we started this Countdown. I’ve had full faith in my program and the way they are racing right now. Every race just keeps getting tougher and tougher and we keep flip-flopping the points lead and somebody has to step up and take control of this. I wish I was in the position that Steve Torrence is in, but I’m not. We are not one of those teams that has a big sponsor, but we are going to do everything we can to make this dream come true again.” Larry Crum


SEEING THE SILVER LINING - While 2018 has been a good year at the track for Tommy Johnson Jr., for his family it hasn’t been the best of times as his mother has been fighting an illness.

However, she is doing better this weekend and is feeling well enough to make it out to zMAX Dragway to watch her son compete at the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Charlotte, N.C.

In fact, she might be a bit more concerned with Tommy’s health after the 50-year-old driver of the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T had his hand chewed to pieces by fire ants on Thursday.

“I actually went to my mom’s and helped pull some weeds and got bit by a bunch of fire ants,” explained Johnson. Asked if the attack was affecting his driving performance, Johnson reassuringly stated “No, [it’s] just annoying.

“I’m done pulling weeds at my mom’s house now.”

For Johnson, racing in Charlotte is always a positive experience as he gets to spend it with his family.

“My family actually lives here now. My dad moved here so it’s nice to be able to come and I don’t get to see him very much because we’re traveling all the time so it’s nice that there’s a race where they live, and I can go visit him.

“[My parents] go to six races or so a year. They haven’t been able to make as many this year. My mom has been sick, so they’ve only made three this year maybe.

“She’s doing better. One of her goals was to actually be well enough to come to this race, and she’s here this weekend. So that’s a good sign, we got Mom out again.”

Johnson will be hoping for a solid result in front of his family this weekend. He needs it too, as he rolled into zMAX Dragway already 136 points back of NHRA Funny Car points leader Robert Hight.

“First two races of the countdown, you hope to get off to a good start,” said Johnson. “The next two you have to continue that to have a shot in the last two. So far, the first three we’ve done exactly what we need to do. Would I have rather won them all and been out in the front? Yeah.

“A second round and two semis, it’s not ideal, but it isn’t bad.”

While Johnson hasn’t given up on the championship yet, it won’t be his without a fight. And unfortunately for Johnson, fighting the likes of Hight, J.R. Todd, and Tim Wilkerson will probably be tougher than fighting off an army of fire ants.

Johnson made the most of his recent momentum when he bumped Ron Capps out of the No. 1 position in Funny Car during the Q-4 session with a 3.873-second, 329.10-mph run. The pass gives the veteran consecutive No. 1 qualifier honors for the first time in his career.

“We’ve got a really good race car right now, and the guys are doing such a great job,” Johnson said. “This is pretty special. My mom has been in the hospital a lot over the summer, and this is the first time I’ve been able to come and see her. She’s here at the track this weekend, so it’s pretty special to have her out here. I’m proud of (being fastest), but (my family) is way more proud of this than I am.”

POTENT IN PINK - Brittany Force made it a clean sweep of No. 1 qualifier honors this year at zMAX Dragway on Saturday after the defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel champion roared to the top in qualifying for the NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by WIX Filters.

Force’s 3.7-second, 330.72-mile-per-hour pass in the final round of qualifying bested Steve Torrence’s Friday run by a scant .004 seconds. For a driver looking to establish momentum for next season, nothing was better than an 11,000-horsepower Saturday-afternoon drive at the Bellagio of drag strips.

“Our team has been perfect this weekend,” Force said. “I’m really hoping we’re going to turn a corner. We made four consistent runs. I’ve got to thank my entire team. They’ve been working so hard. I’d like to get us back in the winner’s circle. … A win (on Sunday) would be huge. There’s three races left, and every driver wants to end the season on a good note. We want to move up that ladder as much as we can. We always seem to do well in cool conditions. This is what every driver and team wants. Stealing that top spot is very big for our team.”

NO SECOND LIKE THE LAST SECOND - Drew Skillman saved his best for last, knocking Friday's top-runner Erica Enders from the No. 1 qualifier spot with a 6.509-second, 211.30-mph pass.

“We knew we were limited on time in this deal,” Skillman said. “That takes a little of the pressure off. We’re trying our best to finish this year off well. This is a great start for race day. … This race track is great when it’s cool. It’s definitely loose when it’s hot, but it’s set up to break records when the weather’s like it is now.”


EDDIE CRUISES TO NO. 1 - Friday's provisional leader Pro Stock Motorcycle Eddie Krawiec maintained the No. 1 spot thanks to his 6.806-second, 197.87-mph run on Friday.

“I had a good motorcycle coming into the race,” Krawiec said. “We made some good runs on Friday. We made what I think are all of the changes in the right direction. It wasn’t as clean as I wanted today, but we were fortunate enough to hang onto the spot. There’s going to be some great racing tomorrow. It’s definitely a game changer for the Countdown. Whoever can go the most rounds is going to be in a good position going forward. I think we’ve got a handle on my bike after the fourth session.”



HORSEPOWER IS HORSEPOWER - As NASCAR racer Clint Bowyer sees it, racers are race fans.

"It’s just plain and simple, that’s the way it is," Bowyer said. "It doesn’t matter if I’m at a motocross race or a drag race, or a NASCAR race, a dirt race, a late model race, a sprint car race, I don’t care. I’m in, and I love it. You just can’t get enough of it. I guess you have to be a racer to be able to feel that and be that way."

Bowyer spent the better part of Friday afternoon at zMax Dragway as a guest of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force through their mutual Peak sponsorship.

As long as Bowyer can remember his life has been associated with horsepower, and particularly in the one motorsport where horsepower is in abundance - drag racing.

"I grew up in Kansas. Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas was built when I was a little kid," Bowyer said. "I will literally never forget being my son’s age and going there with my dad. A lot of my dad’s friends were in the diesel engine business and had diesel truck shops around town in Emporia, and they all had drag cars."

While most impressionable youth of his era were most infatuated with nitro legends John Force and Joe Amato, not Bowyer, he was a fan of local sportsman legend Gary Stinnett.

"I really loved drag racing," Bowyer recalled. "That’s all I knew and then all of a sudden you get a NASCAR ride, and you get a chance to race for Richard Childress and become a NASCAR driver. The next thing you know you’re talking to somebody and you come across Ron Capps, then the next thing you know you’re somewhere, and you’re eating dinner with Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, and you’re like “holy crap, what is going on?” These are all guys when I was a little kid that were just bigger than life to me, and they still are."

In September of 2008, Bowyer was able to scratch his drag racing itch with a special closed test session with fellow NASCAR racer Kenny Wallace as they did burnouts in a pair of Victor Cagnazzi Pro Stock Chevrolet Cobalts.

Bowyer admits the experience behind the wheel of drag racing's equivalent to a Cup car was a bit frightening.

"We were both so scared to do it, and I think for me, I had watched it a lot versus him, I don’t think he’d ever been to it before," Bowyer admitted. "But to be able to get in that car and feel that thing. And we just did a burnout and was able to do a couple of launches because the track was literally brand new, the four-wide track here at zMax was brand new, and it wasn’t even rubbered all the way down yet. I had the bug, and I wanted to go more. It was really, really cool."

The experience left Bowyer with an even larger appreciation of what drag racing, particularly with Pro Stock entails.  He's also keen on nitro racing as well.

"Man I’m telling you, it’s just so cool what they do and what the physical aspect of this racing is. It blows my mind that these racers are able to stay in the saddle as long as they do like a John Force or a Tim Wilkerson, just any of these guys that continue to do this because that’s a toll. That’s like strapping yourself to a slingshot and letting it rip. Ten thousand horsepower is pretty amazing."

Bowyer admits he's got a passion for fast cars, especially his 1969 Camaro that he'd like to someday take for a spin down the zMax Dragway quarter-mile.

"Just because you go in circles doesn’t mean you don’t want to go straight fast," Bowyer said with a smile. RELATED STORY


KABOOM - Lex Joon had a tough day on Saturday with back-to-back engine explosions which prevented him from making the 16-car field.


BLAST FROM THE PAST DELIVERS - Roy Hill, who finished runner-up in Pro Stock the first time professional drag racing came to Charlotte, was a force to be reckoned with in Sportsman qualifying. Hill took No. 1 qualifying honors in both Super Stock and Stock.


THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF PRO STOCK - Pro Stock is not going away in 2019, and it may or may not have some significant changes, but regardless the landscape will be different with departures and new entries.

At least this is how Richard Freeman, the growing voice of Pro Stock sees it.

"I don’t really know if I’m the voice of Pro Stock," Freeman said with a smile. "I think there’s several of us out there like KB and myself and the Gray’s program. If I am the one that gets chosen, that gets to be the spokesperson that’s fine with me."

Regardless of who he speaks for, Freeman admits he can't help but take notice of the new look the class will take on in 2019.

"I think it’s going to be good," Freeman said. "I always try to look at the positive side of everything. People leaving, that’s happened for years. People leave and people come back; new people come in."

Freeman considers himself a big picture person, and if race fans focus outside of Pro Stock, they'll notice the entire landscape of motorsports will be different in the seasons to come.

"I think as a sport across the board; I think we have an inherent issue," Freeman explained. "I don’t know what the fix is but motorsports, in general, has just changed. It costs a lot of money to do it, and the sanctioning bodies are trying to find themselves as we’re trying to find ourselves. It’s expensive to do. We’ve just got to find a way to get more money, do more B to B stuff with people who want to get into our sport for sponsorship. There’s just a lot of things, and it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be fixed overnight."

While many suggest drag racing and Pro Stock in particular needs a new identity, Freeman doesn't believe the factory hot rods need to move away from the role of providing the tightest competition in professional drag racing.

"Pro Stock is the last naturally aspirated class professionally out there," Freeman said. "One of the reasons people don’t do it is because it’s very difficult. Everybody says they need to make the Factory Stock car a Pro Stock.

"What do you think that’s going to be? Look at it now. We’ve already seen it dwindle. Any time you have a heads-up class, it’s going to get out of control. So no, I don’t think Pro Stock needs a new identity. I actually think that we’re on the upswing, not the downswing."

At the NHRA Carolina Nationals, there were only 14 Pro Stockers in competition, and one of those will likely be unable to make the call Sunday for the first round.

Freeman thinks many put too much emphasis on the days when 40 entries used to be at every NHRA Pro Stock event.

"One hundred percent I do," Freeman said. "If you look at our class, the competition is fierce. Anybody, there’s about 12 or 13 cars, when they show up they can qualify number one or 13th and racing shows that. We’ve had several different winners. My car has been in some of those. It’s just not easy; it’s very, very difficult."

The days of racers making a living at purely professional drag racing, as Freeman sees it, has become nearly impossible these days

"It has changed, and there’s a lot of things that have changed it," Freeman said. "Back in the day, you could race … there weren’t 24 national events, and so people raced in different series. You had AHRA, IHRA, NHRA, match racing and so people actually made a living racing. Well, you can’t make a living at racing. It’s a conversation we have all the time. It’s just a different era, and we’re going to have to find our way through it."

IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR - The 2018 season has not only been a turning point for NHRA Top Fuel driver Mike Salinas, but also for two of his four daughters who are working their way up towards the NHRA pro divisions.

For Jianna, Pro Stock Motorcycle is the goal, whereas 26-year-old Jasmine aims to soon follow her father’s footsteps into Top Fuel.

“What [Jasmine]’s going to do is work with Arthur Gallant next year [in A/Fuel],” explained Mike, who comes into Charlotte eighth in the NHRA Top Fuel standings. “After that we already have a car in Brownsburg that we’re building for her. We’ll have a brand new Top Fuel car for her. In 2019 and 2020 she’ll come out with a brand new Top Fuel team.”

With Jasmine quickly working her way up the ranks toward Top Fuel and Jianna making her way up toward Pro Stock Motorcycle, Mike has made sure to surround them both with good people. Not only should this help them out, but it will help him focus on his own 2019 NHRA Top Fuel campaign.

“Jianna will go with Karen Stoffer,” explained Mike. “They’re good people, good family. So they’re going to work with Vance & Hines and Karen Stoffer with her program. She’ll come out full time next year in Pro Stock. [Jasmine] will come out in A-Fuel next year. So Art is going to run his deal under our deal so that should be pretty easy because we’re just managing them. Art will take care of that team, Stoffer’s will take care of that team, Alan will take care of this team. It will be a little bit difficult when Jasmine moves into Top Fuel. That’s when it will change.”

“I’m hoping to go full time next year so I’ll try and come out to 16 races,” added Jasmine. “This year I just did a lot of focusing on testing and licensing. Next year I want to go out and actually start winning and being competitive. I don’t want to come out just being the throw away car that everyone is excited to race. I want to be the person that everybody is afraid of racing from day one.”

Jasmine and Jianna will both be testing at zMAX Dragway on Monday. Jasmine will run with Arthur Gallant starting at Las Vegas where Jianna intends to get her Pro Stock Motorcycle license.

As for Mike himself, his partnership with Alan Johnson has helped propel him to multiple strong performances in 2018, and the 57-year-old Scrappers Racing driver has set lofty goals for himself in 2019.

“We’ve signed up with Alan Johnson for another year. We’re just getting ready. This was our test year and now we understand how to go racing. We’re already gearing up for next year.

“[Our goals are to] win every race of course,” Mike added, laughing. “I think it’ll be good. We’ve got to be realistic but I think we have a good team and monkey see, monkey do with Torrence they way they ran, everybody is trying to do what they do. He started with Alan, so we’re pretty much mimicking what they’re doing and they’ve done great. I expect them to win the championship this year at the rate they are going. They don’t make mistakes but it took them 11 years to get here. I need to do it in a quarter of the time.” – Samuel Reiman

BRINGING OUT HIS BEST - Pressure motivates Jeggie Coughlin, and he's got plenty of it in contending for his sixth world title in the class.

Coughlin entered the weekend ranked third in Pro Stock, trailing points leader Tanner Gray by 90 points after Gray has won back-to-back races, including topping him in the final round last weekend in Dallas.

“The key here is we still have an opportunity to win the championship,” said Coughlin, who has 61 career wins. “With the way we've been running the first three races of the Countdown to the Championship, we certainly plan to continue down the same path. The JEGS.com Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro has been very fast and consistent, as witnessed by our qualifying performances, and if not for a few little hardships on race day, we'd be even closer to the top.”

Coughlin has been the No. 1 qualifier at the past two playoff races, improving his performance at each of the first three races.

“Since '07, the first year the NHRA instituted a playoff, it's just been so fun,” Coughlin said. “Winning that first title of the playoff era is still the single most exciting day of my career. Round 1 was so intense. We were the last pairing, and I was watching how the various scenarios played out in front of us. By the time I got up there, I knew exactly what we needed to do to win it all. The Countdown was designed to infuse a lot of excitement into the final portion of the season, and it's worked tremendously well. There's a lot of emotion in every round of all six races, and it's been wonderful for the drivers and the fans.”

HE JUST LOVES IT - Dom Lagana's first love was and remains drag racing. He was born into a drag racing family, and he feels most at home when he's at the drag strip. As long as there's nitro in the air and grease under his nails, Lagana has a smile on his face.
"I know how lucky I am to do what I do," Lagana said. "No matter if it's Billy's car or mine, I'm still working hard trying to get the most out of every run.
"It's worked out really well because we don't race a full-time schedule with our family car and Billy doesn't race a full-time schedule with the second CAPCO car, so I make our schedules line up. Either way, I'm having fun and I know I'm where I belong."
Billy Torrence is the father of Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence, and CAPCO is the Torrence family's oilfield business. Due to business obligations, Billy only competes at a select number of national events with Lagana serving as a vital member of his crew. When Billy has to miss a race, Lagana pulls his family car out and races himself.
"That's why you never really see us entered at the same event," Lagana said. "I feel like my No. 1 job is working on Billy's car, and I really enjoy racing with Billy and Steve and helping out on both of the CAPCO cars. Plus, I've learned a lot working over there. On top of it all, Billy is a racer's racer. He loves it so much. He wants to win, for sure, but he also makes sure we all have a good time.
"When our car is out, I'm still wrenching on it, so I stay very involved either way. There's a good group of guys working on both cars. There are actually three full-time guys that work on Billy's car and stay with Billy's car even when he's not racing, but most of the fly in guys come and help me on my car, too. We're all close, and that helps a lot. "
BACK IN THE DAY WITH MILLICAN - Top Fuel fan-favorite Clay Millican has a past.

Long before he became a working man's champion from the small hamlet of Drummonds, Tennessee, located outside of Memphis, he was a sportsman drag racer when he wasn't busy working a forklift at the Kroger warehouse.

"I love my sportsman racing and still very much to this day I keep up with what is going on," Millican said. "I’m an avid listener to the Luke and Jed podcast. I don’t miss an episode of it. I may not listen to it the day it comes out, but I’ll listen to it. Do my dangdest to keep up with kind of what’s happening with the points.

"Just to give you a good example, I am so excited that David Rampey is at 99 wins. Can’t wait for him to get the next one. I thought he was going to get it last week because he made two finals and it’s unusual that he loses two finals."

Millican cannot relate to losing sportsman finals. Twice he reached the finals in IHRA Modified competition and emerged victorious including the one where he arrived at the track with no engine in his dragster.

"Truth is, I was a horrible bracket racer just for the simple fact that I had zero trouble with the tree, hitting the tree was not a problem. My problem was I loved going fast, and I never could leave my car alone," Millican admitted. "When I found a spot that was consistent with whatever car I had at the time, I was never happy with how fast I went, and so I continually tried to make my car go faster which is a bad idea as a bracket racer.

"Modified kind of fit me good because then it became a weight per cubic inch deal, so I was able to make the car try to go fast with the restrictions of weight per cubic inch."

NO PREP AT YOUR OWN PERIL - It was becoming an impressive sight to see in 2017, as fans tuned it race after race to see how much faster Matt Hagan and his fellow Funny Car competitors could go as they reset the records at NHRA events.

However, due to the new track prep rules in 2018, those records are currently a thing of the past, and Matt Hagan is concerned that that could harm NHRA’s race crowds in the near future.

“A bull rider doesn’t get on a bull and say, ‘Man I hope he doesn’t buck hard,’” noted Hagan on Friday.

“Unfortunately with this track prep we’ll never have records set again. It breaks my heart just because for our fans and for me as a driver knowing that the records that are there will stand until they go back to a different combination on the track prep. So it’s kind of tough when you see fans, and they’re like, ‘Man, the weather’s good and it’s cool, and it’s cloudy.’ And they go out there, and they’re like, ‘You going to set a record?’ and you’re like, ’Nah, brother, it will never happen.’ So it’s a little disheartening, you know what I mean because I think our sport is built on going fast and breaking records and obtaining and doing things that are not meant to be done. That’s what drag racing is. Like how fast can you go, and that’s what our sport is built on.

“The last 10 years I’ve seen our sport grow into something that we used to barely get fans out there, and now we’re selling out the crowds on Saturdays and stuff like that. Now we’re messing with it, and unfortunately it’s going to take a full year for NHRA to see the devastation or the good or the bad of whatever we’re doing because when we put on a poor show on Friday or Saturday, those people were playing with their extra cash, and those people are not going to pay to come back next year.

“But it takes a full year to see that because it’s not instant. Right now they’re selling out the crowds because of what they experienced from last year, from going out here and watching cars go side by side and breaking records. If we put on a poor show for them this year, they’re not going to come back the next.” - Samuel Reiman

NEEDED, A CHANGE OF FORTUNES - Doug Kalitta has had flashes of excellence this year. However, that's about the extent of his season.

Things haven’t gone to plan during the first three playoff races, but he's not ready to throw in the towel yet. A championship may not factor into that, but Kalitta has his sights on a top-five finish in Top Fuel.

Kalitta is the defending winner of the fall race here, something he would like to replicate to help end his year strong.

“Our focus is on making some improvements to win a few more races before this season wraps up,” Kalitta said. “We’ve been pretty consistent over the last few events, but we still aren’t at the level we need to be. I’ve got a great team behind me, and I feel confident that we will end this year on a strong note.

After a final-round finish at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to close out the regular season, Kalitta hasn’t been able to find that same rhythm, posting just one round win through the first three races in the Countdown to the Championship. It’s put Kalitta 299 points behind points leader Steve Torrence, who has won the first three playoff races, meaning a championship is out of the equation. But Kalitta is just 52 points back of fifth and 75 points out of fourth, giving him plenty of motivation to race well over the final three races.

“Winning another event would be huge to close out this season,” said Kalitta, who has one win and five finals appearances in 2018. “We haven’t started out the Countdown the way we had hoped, but being able to build up some momentum and get to the winner’s circle again would be a big boost for us. I have an excellent team, and they have stuck together all season long. It’s really impressive to see the work they have put in, and I know it is a championship-caliber bunch.”

FIRST, AND ONLY FIRST - With NHRA Pro Stock points leader Tanner Gray on a rampage right now, ‘first’ is the only thing on Vincent Nobile’s mind right now.

First at zMAX Dragway, which he has never achieved, is what Nobile needs to finish first in the NHRA Pro Stock standings, which he likewise has never achieved.

“I’ve had pretty good luck here,” said Nobile on Saturday at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C. “Never got to seal the deal but I’m hoping this is the year.

“If we win the race that means we went further than [Tanner Gray], so that’s all we can do is do our best.”

Nobile entered Charlotte 89 points back of Gray, and he’s aware that he is going to have to bring his game to have a shot of making up that gap.

“[Tanner Gray]’s a great driver. When I go up and race him, you know you have to be on time. You know you have to be your best. He has a fast car, and he drives well. Besides all that, he’s a good racer, and you just have to try your best to beat him.

“I can’t control what he does or any other team for that matter. We’ve just got to go out there and race this purple car and turn on the win lights.

“We’re not going to think about coming in second. We’re trying to think about coming in first.” - Samuel Reiman

CHASING HIS DREAM - In just his second year of Funny Car competition, J.R. Todd has picked up four yellow hats during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, one of which came at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

While on paper this sounds impressive, Todd isn’t surprised as his DHL Toyota Camry team proved it could win the title just three years ago with Del Worsham behind the wheel.

“These guys won a championship in 2015, so I knew that we would be good enough to win races and at some point contend for a championship. And here we are,” reasoned Todd. “You come this far, and you have a shot at it, you have to win a championship because it seems like opportunities like this don’t come around very often. So when they do you’ve got to make the best of it, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Todd got off to a solid start this weekend with good qualifying passes at zMAX Dragway as he aims to close his 50-point deficit to points leader Robert Hight. With just Las Vegas and Pomona remaining after this weekend, Todd is feeling confident about his chances.

“These guys have won both of those races before in the past, and I’ve had some success at both races as well in Top Fuel.”

If Todd and his Kalitta Motorsports team are able to bring home the trophy at the end of the year, Todd would find himself halfway toward achieving a dream.

“One day I guess before it’s all said and done, I’d like to be able to do what Del Worsham did and win a championship in both classes.”

However, Todd adds that his switch back to dragsters is not coming anytime soon. He’s simply enjoying Funny Car too much, even if he did have to overcome a learning curve at first.

“I’m not looking back on it or regret the decision at all. Last year was kind of a learning curve for me being in Funny Car. It took some time to get a handle on it, get comfortable and now it’s everything I could ask for and more.

“Seeing Shawn [Langdon] and what he’s going through, I went through all that last year, so it’s cool to be able to share information with each other on how to make each other better.

“I don’t think you can put any number of races or runs on the comfort. It just comes different with each car and each driver depending on how many runs you can make it down the track.”

With many round wins in 2018, Todd has had plenty of chances to make it down the track. And maybe one day, he’ll pick up more round wins in a Top Fuel dragster again. - Samuel Reiman


THE WAY HE'S DOING IT - Steve Torrence has been relentless in his bid to secure the 2018 NHRA Top Fuel championship, going as far as winning every single round of competition in the Countdown to the Championship thus far.

Torrence's approach isn't rocket science; it's a matter of good old keeping his eye on the prize.

"We are not really worried about what anyone else is doing," Torrence said. "We know we need to qualify and then go round after round. We have to gain those rounds. It's crunch time. It will go down to the last three events. We need to be consistent, maintain and execute. It's gonna fall how it's gonna fall, the good Lord knows the plan. Who knows where it's going to be."

Clay Millican, who in the Countdown to the Championship has reached the semifinals twice and went to the final round last weekend in Dallas, has the best mathematical chance to surpass Torrence.  The level of respect for Millican, Torrence believes, makes it hard to cheer against the one driver who presents the most formidable challenge to his championship run.

"It's up to me and Clay to determine where it's going to fall," Torrence said. "I'll be honest, I want to win, but if he wins, I will be happy for him. There's just some people I don't like out here. Clay ain't one of them. He's a good buddy of mine. It's pretty fun to be racing him, and going toe to toe."

"That sucker is like a little 'ole raccoon; you can't get him to go away. Then he said to me this was going to be like a heavyweight battle to the end. I said, 'Clay, obviously you haven't looked at us. I'm a little thick, but there ain't nothing on you. Maybe it's gonna be a midget fight 'til the end. We are going to have a good time."

Torrence says Millican's team is cut from the same cloth as his Kilgore, Texas-based team. It's as if there's an alliance of the non-mega teams making the most noise of any this year in Top Fuel.

"Clay's team, Terry's team, and my team are definitely going out there and saying, 'You don't have to be a multi-car team to be competitive or dominant, we have had some pretty dominant cars."

"I take pride in seeing we put these teams together and we're going head to head with the powerhouses and winning. I think Clay would say the same thing. For lack of a better word, it's a band of misfits over there and one over here where I am at. They might not be the best, but they have the biggest hearts. These guys work hard, day and night. When I talk to my guys, they are at the shop, even at 7:30 PM."

This dedication is the driving force behind Torrence's championship run.

"When you have a smaller, family-feel environment, people are willing to go that extra inch, extra mile to win because they feel appreciated and they are part of something bigger it's really pretty neat. It's unbelievable to be in the middle of it and see it happen. It's special. We want to win this championship for them; those guys who have put their entire lives into this."

Torrence earned the provisional top spot with the last qualifying pass of the session in his Capco Contractors dragster with a run of 3.704-seconds at 331.53 mph.

“It was really smooth early, all the way down there,” said Torrence. “I enjoy coming here, racing and I enjoyed coming back. We have done really well in the four-wide format. We are going to try to carry the momentum we have right now into race day.”

ON TAP - Qualifying continues at the NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by WIX Filters at 12:45 p.m. (ET) on Saturday.

TRAVEL INTERRUPTION - Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle on Wednesday morning, and although it was a weakened tropical storm by the time it reached the Charlotte area on Thursday, it made a mess of travel plans routed through Charlotte's Douglas Airport.

Funny Car's Courtney Force had her morning flight canceled, forcing her to catch a ride with John Force Racing crewmembers driving down from Indianapolis.

Force, who normally drives 320 miles per hour in her Advance Auto Parts Funny Car, arrived at zMax Dragway following an 11-hour freeway journey which at times slowed to one-mile-per-hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic in West Virginia.

Force spent the journey with Ronnie Thompson, and she made the most of the journey.

"He’s a lot of fun," Force said. "He was obviously my crew chief last year, and he’s been with this team for awhile, so we had a lot of fun. We reached out to the fans on Twitter and on social media to see if they had any song or game suggestions. That was kind of cool to get a lot of people’s different feedback and got to play a lot of different games that we’ve never heard of, and we had some fun with it."

What if her journey had been with her famous father John Force?

"I probably would have bailed in the first hour," she admitted. "I wouldn’t have lasted very long."

THE MIGHTY MILLICAN - Clay Millican, who is the nearest challenger to Steve Torrence in the points, is second with his run of 3.718 at 331.53 in his Parts Plus / Great Clips dragster posted during the evening session.


WEARING HIS SUNGLASSES AT NIGHT - Funny Car’s Ron Capps will look to secure his first No. 1 qualifier of the year with his run of 3.726 at 328.54 in his NAPA Auto Parts NIGHTVISION Lamps Dodge Charger R/T.

“We knew coming in that conditions were going to be great, better than great,” said Capps. “It could quite possibly be as good tomorrow in Q4. By all means, we are not going to sit on this No. 1. Everybody knew coming in this was a great race track, the conditions were going to be good, and you put it together, this is what you see.”


ERICA LEADS PRO STOCK - Erica Enders took the category lead during the second qualifying session with her pass of 6.518 at 211.69 in her Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro. Enders has one No. 1 qualifying position of the season which came at Brainerd, Minn.

“We came off a test session prior to Dallas and felt like we made some strides in the right direction,” said Enders. “We proved it in Dallas but unfortunately had a parts failure and lost second round. Coming here we had the same confidence. After the first session, Jeg (Coughlin, teammate) was No. 1, and I was No. 2. We went out, and my crew chief said on the radio if we all do our job we can go to the pole and sure enough we all did our job and went to the pole.”


L. E. Tonglet

FISHIN' FOR ANOTHER TITLE - Pro Stock Motorcycle has been a hotbed of competition for the 2018 series championship. Following last weekend's victory for L.E. Tonglet, the point lead changed for the third time in three races.

“We just have to stay calm and take it one round at a time,” Tonglet said. “The key is to go rounds, and when we show up to a race, I just want to get the semifinals. Whatever happens after that is just bonus kind of. If you keep going to the semis, you’re going to have a good shot come Pomona. We just have to stay calm and focused, and not make any mistakes.”

Matt Smith, who started the season slow and battled his way into the lead only to stumble and fall back behind Eddie Krawiec, confirmed close championship battles can sometimes make for strange bedfellows.

"I almost wanted Eddie to win against L.E. because then we would have all been close to him," Smith said Friday in a press conference at zMax Dragway.

Tonglet beat Krawiec last weekend in the semifinal round and putting him 47 points back. Smith trails Krawiec by one point.

Krawiec admits he wasn't surprised by Smith's unusual endorsement.

"That's an interesting dynamic," Krawiec said with a smile. "I want to win them all. This battle between us three, I hope it goes down to the last day in Pomona, and I hope it goes down to the final round."

Krawiec says he is looking at the battle in a big picture kind of way.  

"When this kind of championship battle happens it brings a special dynamic to the class. It's great when you win it, but boring for everybody else when you lock it up early. That shifts focus away from the class. I want everybody focused on the class.

"I want everybody to know how great of a class it is."

KRAWIEC LEADS DAY ONE - Eddie Krawiec raced to the current No. 1 position during his second qualifying attempt on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with his run of 6.806 at 197.83. He has three No. 1 qualifying positions this season and 42 on his career.

“It was a good lap and a good run for the session,” said Krawiec. “Going into tomorrow, potentially cooler weather, earlier run, things like that, it could mean that run isn’t going to stand like that as No. 1 qualifier. You look at five or six motorcycles that could definitely take the pole from me at any given time.”


GOTTA WIN - Making the switch from Top Fuel to Funny Car is no easy task, and Shawn Langdon should be commended on having made it to the Countdown in his first season in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car division.

However, one thing that has eluded the 36-year-old Indiana native in his rookie season has been a win and, with just Charlotte, Las Vegas and Pomona left on the schedule, Langdon knows he is running out of time to achieve a ‘very, very important’ task.

“If I don’t get my s*** together, I’m not going to have to worry about next year,” Langdon said on Friday at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C. “So my focus is absolutely on this year, on this race, on the last three races. I want to get a win. I feel like we have a team capable of doing that. Just for whatever reason, it hasn’t done it. We’ve made some mistakes, I’ve made some mistakes along the way. We’ve learned from them all, but yeah, it’s very, very important to us to be able to get a win before the end of the year.”

While Langdon’s eyes are currently set on taking home a Wally, at the start of the year his main goal was the make the NHRA Countdown to the Championship.

But while Langdon achieved that, the driver of the Global Electronic Technology Toyota currently sits 10th and last in the Countdown standings. Langdon makes no bones about the fact that he is still in the learning curve.

“I’m still learning every lap I go down the track,” said Langdon. “It’s been a big learning curve for me this year, but it’s been fun. I mean I enjoy the challenge. Obviously would have like to have a little more success this year but I think we’ve got a good thing going right now with the team that I have.”

It could be argued that Langdon may not have achieved quite the success this year that he would have had with another year in Top Fuel, yet the Kalitta Motorsports driver insists that he has no regrets about making the switch.

“I’m glad I made the switch. I think at the end of the day it makes me a more versatile driver. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I can hop in any car at any given time and be competitive. So the fact that I’m able to do that in a Funny Car, I’m excited about the opportunity, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’m just trying to make the best of it and hopefully, try and do a little bit better job.” - Samuel Reiman

JEGGIE IS SOLID - Jeg Coughlin Jr. who was the No 1. qualifier at the past two events is second with his run of 6.525 at 212.16


HIGHT IS SEVENTH - Current points leader Robert Hight is seventh with a run of 3.911 at 330.31 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS.


RICKIE IS STILL TRICKY - If anyone knows the perils of battling for a series championship, it's Rickie Smith, who has 11 championships to his credit dating back to 1976. The North Carolina drag racing legend is knocking on the door for his twelfth, as the NHRA Pro Modified Series winds down with only two races left including this weekend's event staged in the recognized birthplace of Pro Modified racing.

Smith has been in a funk lately, bowing from competition in back-to-back first-round losses before winning his first round of competition in nearly three months.

Luckily for the man who proudly answers to the nickname "Tricky" that point leader Mike Janis did last weekend in Dallas, opening the door for Smith to pull to within 25 points of the lead.

“All we can do is hope we can do well and give ourselves a chance going into Vegas,” said Smith, who has 14 career wins in NHRA Pro Mod. “We were running decent; we just had some stupid bad luck. The car went up there and was lazy first round at (Indy and St. Louis). Charlotte is a little over an hour from us, and I love it, but it’s been an aggravating place for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to win at a lot of racetracks, but Charlotte is not one of them. It would be nice to get one here.”

Forgive Smith if he's a bit overboard with his push to win the title.

“I’m here to try to win races and championships, and that’s why I do it,” Smith said. “I do not like to lose. I’m a sore loser, but that’s also kept me where I am today, paying attention and dedicating a lot of hard work all the time to be competitive. Until I get out of the driver’s seat, I’m always going to be this way. It’s been awfully stressful, but I’m proud to be in these positions.”

ONE MORE SHOT - Greg Anderson has come up just one spot short of being champion in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock division for the last three years running.

Already sitting in fifth position and 143 points back of championship leader Tanner Gray with three rounds remaining, things aren’t looking good for Anderson’s title chances rolling into zMAX Dragway this weekend.

However, Anderson is giving it one more run before he shifts his focus to 2019.

“I’ve got to get it done this weekend, or I’m probably done for the year,” admits the driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. “I’m looking for a big day, a big weekend. I need to make a comeback. As I said, I feel I can get it done, but if I don’t this weekend, yeah it’s probably curtains for me.”

Fortunately for Anderson, this weekend’s race in Charlotte, N.C. is a home race for him and his team, which he sees as a huge advantage.

“It helps a lot. We’ve obviously tested here a lot, we’ve spent a lot of time at this racetrack. It helps to be able to go home to your own bed at night, that’s a nice feeling. You’ve got the hometown crowd, you’ve got all your friends and family and all your co-workers here, so it’s an enjoyable weekend. That’s that intangible that all those other racers don’t get this weekend that I get. Hopefully, that’s going to help put me over the top.”

The hometown aspect could definitely give Anderson an advantage on Sunday. However, the 57-year-old isn’t afraid to point the finger at the changes in the NHRA’s track prep that his team has struggled with in 2018.

“I’m not complaining, it is what it is, and it’s the same conditions for everybody. My hat’s off to the people that have figured it out sooner than we have. Yes, there are some cars doing a better job with it than we are, but we’ve got to learn. We’ve got to figure it out because apparently it’s here to stay and it’s what they’re going to stay with for track prep.”

Anderson admits that his team might need to do some experimenting in test sessions ahead of 2019 before they’re fully up to speed with the new track prep conditions. If following race day at Charlotte Anderson’s championship chances are looking further out of reach, the last two rounds at Las Vegas and Pomona will become test sessions for his team.

“Hopefully that doesn’t happen. But yes, that’s the reality of it,” said Anderson. “We’ve got a few things sitting on a bench that we haven’t had the guts to bring out because we’re in the middle of a playoff battle.

“It’s a risk you take, but right now in the middle of the playoffs, we just don’t dare do it. It’s set aside for a test session, or like I say, if we get knocked out of the points, then every race becomes a test session.”

While more test sessions are always good to have, Anderson would much rather have a championship trophy. - Samuel Reiman

ON A GOOD ONE - Blue collar Funny Car hero Tim Wilkerson knows what it is like to be close to a championship run. He's on one this season, and headed into this weekend ranked third at the halfway point in the Countdown.

Wilkerson started the six-race run in the tenth spot and has climbed seven positions on the strength of two final-round appearances.

“I really enjoy needling these guys I’m not supposed to needle,” said Wilkerson, who has 21 career wins. “All of the fans do seem to think it’s pretty cool and we enjoy that. It’s what we come out here for. There’s so many good cars in this class, anybody could be in this position. We’ve been fortunate enough to take advantage of some of the situations that have been there the first few races. We’ve been a little more aggressive, and the team has really come around well.”

Wilkerson is 133 points out of the lead, a little over six rounds, and is focused on closing the season strong and picking up his first win since his Charlotte triumph at the four-wide spring race in 2016.

“I think (a win) would be good for the smiling faces on this team, and I would love for them to get one with the amount of effort being put in,” Wilkerson said. “We’ve been close, but I think it would be good to get a win under our belts. If we can get J.R. and Robert out early, I think we can continue to keep things shook up by the time we get to Pomona. If you look at my history, when we race one, two, three weekends in a row I tend to get more positive, more focused, whatever you want to call it. To me, I really do a lot better and seem to thrive in those situations.”

The magical run this season has given his team a bit of extra pep in their steps.

“It’s good to see the look on the face of the team,” Wilkerson said. “I’ve been spending a lot more time with each one of them, and the clutch department has really come around the last 10 races. (Richard) Hartman watches everybody else when I can’t, and he’s constantly catching the little mechanical problems. That’s really went a long way in making the whole process better, and it’s made things a lot easier for me.”

TANNER WATCH - Pro Stock points leader Tanner Gray, who has seven 2018 wins, was No. 4 after two sessions.


DON’T BLAME THE WRECK - At the start of 2018, 2017 rookie phenom Jonnie Lindberg was involved in a scary crash with John Force at the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

Lindberg was an innocent bystander in the crash and, while he was able to climb out under his own power, his car was destroyed. Yet it only took the team a couple of races to get back up to speed.

“We built that new car, and in Gainesville, we didn’t qualify because we had some issues with the new car, you know. We didn’t have time to test it,” explains Lindberg. “But after that, it was nothing wrong with the car really.

“I think it’s the track prep really… We’ve just been struggling finding the right tuneup.”

While Lindberg raced to three final appearances in 2017, the Swedish racing driver has been unable to duplicate that success in 2018, and thus was unable to even make it to the Countdown.

While this means Lindberg is in no position to contend for the championship, his intention remains to get a win and upset the Countdown contenders in the final few rounds. But before he can turn on the win light at the end of the strip, the driver of the Head Inc. Toyota knows he needs to win the race at the start of the strip first.

“Last race I lost on a holeshot first round, and that’s really hard. I’ve been working really hard and trying to improve my reaction times. You never want to lose on a holeshot because it feels like, I’m driving for Head and I don’t want to let him down, and the whole team. It’s just like you let them down because you did a bad job driving.

“I have a practice tree at home, and I go work out and just try to be healthy, eat good, drink a lot of water and just try to do my best.”

Despite his mistakes and team’s struggles, Lindberg is still enjoying his time out on the racetrack against some of the biggest stars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“We’ve been behind the 8-ball a little bit this year. Of course not the year we’ve been hoping for but it’s always fun to be out here and compete with the big boys, so I’m happy.”

Better reaction times and a better understanding of the track prep will definitely help Lindberg compete even closer with the big boys, as long as he doesn’t end up in their parachutes again. - Samuel Reiman




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