2018 NHRA FALLNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE CONTINUES COUNTDOWN TEAR IN TOP FUEL - No one has defeated Steve Torrence yet in this year’s Countdown to the Championship.
And Torrence won’t let off the gas until he claims that Top Fuel crown.
Why would he? After all, he said Sunday upon winning the NHRA AAA Texas FallNationals that he pulls to the starting line these days “knowing that you can slap the biggest guy in the bar and come out unscathed.”
Torrence took one huge step closer to his goal Sunday, defeating fellow independent racer Terry McMillen to earn his first triumph as a professional at the Texas Motorplex, south of Dallas, at Ennis.
More important for the native of nearby Kilgore, Texas, is that he extended his lead over closest challenger Clay Millican to 103 points after this third of six playoff events. If No. 2 Millican or No. 3 Tony Schumacher has any chance to derail Torrence, he needs to start making huge gains at the Carolina Nationals two weeks from now at Concord, N.C.’s zMAX Dragway.
After Torrence registered a winning 3.786-second elapsed time at 325.92 mph on the 1,000-foot course that clipped McMillen (3.826, 321.04) by .0193 of a second, or about nine feet, he saw something that melted his heart.
“I leaned in the car at the end and saw [McMillen’s five-year-old son] Cameron in there, crying, and that broke my heart,” Torrence said. “I almost wanted to give him the trophy. I said, ‘It’s OK. Your dad did an absolutely good job, and sometimes it just goes that way.’ I’m proud of Terry. And that little guy there, I hated to see him crying.”
For McMillen and his Amalie Oil Dragster, this season has been feast or famine. In 21 races, he has scattered six semifinal-or-better finishes among 13 first-round losses. He advanced Sunday past Mike Salinas (the class rookie who had his career breakthrough party at Indianapolis as top qualifier in every session) and reigning champion Brittany Force. Then he took out No. 1 qualifier and points leader Torrence’s relentless pursuer Millican to reach his fifth final-round appearance of 2018.
It still was a revival for U.S. Nationals winner McMillen after a disappointing Countdown start (first-round exits at Reading, Pa., and Madison, Ill.).
Torrence said he told McMillen that “the best thing about all of this is there were two independent cars in the final. There’s been two independent cars in the last final [Torrence and Millican]. These big, multi-car teams aren’t the powerhouses they once were. So it gives hope to other people. Some people don’t like the track prep. I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other. But I think it has leveled the playing field quite a bit.”
All the camaraderie aside, Torrence is on a mission and has the intense mindset that he will not allow anyone to get in his way. Although he loves Clay Millican personally, he said, “If we run into him on race day, we’re going to chop his head off.” Said Torrence, “It’s intense. It takes extreme focus. It takes staying in a specific mindset.”
By advancing past the semifinal round Sunday, Torrence banished the ghost of last October. A year ago at this race, when he was whipping the competition and was poised to grab his first Top Fuel championship, the Capco Dragster he so loved and proclaimed the best he ever had had violently hurled him into one guardwall then another at the end of a second-round victory. The car was trashed, and his title chances also suffered a bigger dent than he had imagined. Torrence was unhurt physically, but the accident took a toll on him as the back-up car couldn’t deliver. And he has carried those haunting memories for 357 days. Make that 355 days.
He said he stopped worrying about how that memory would affect him after the first qualifying session here Friday.
“Everybody built it up: ‘Oh, you’re coming back from the wreck and this and that.’ That was the problem on Q1,” Torrence said. “But after that, that was all out the window. We were here just to go rounds.”
The model privateer had to run three other independent teams en route to his eight victory this season. Torrence ran away from Bill Litton, whose engine let go early in Round 1. He handily dismissed Blake Alexander, whom he beat last year here before his fateful pass. Then he defeated Tony Schumacher, someone who had an 18-14 elimination advantage over him. And he had to face another strong independent racer in McMillen, a man just as desperate to keep his own dream season going.
This was Torrence’s 11th start at the Texas Motorplex, where his record was a mediocre 10-10 before this weekend, but it was his third final-round appearance.
Crew chief Richard Hogan, who’s still recovering from a heart procedure at The Cleveland Clinic not quite two weeks ago, is an inspiration, Torrence said: “I can’t say enough about that guy. I put all of my faith in him in 2011, when we started this. I think a lot of teams out here had written him off. Well, sometimes you look at people for what they CAN be. And I think that he can be a champ.”
Hogan – and a whole bunch of drag-racing competitors and fans – think the same of Torrence. Susan Wade
HIGHT MAKES IT TWO WINS IN A ROW WITH DALLAS VICTORY - Some thought Robert Hight might not even compete at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals near Dallas this weekend because of the fiery crash that sent Hight to the hospital after his final-round win in St. Louis Sept. 23.
Hight underwent surgery Sept. 26 for a left clavicle open reduction and internal fixation. He was cleared to compete in all racing activities effective Oct. 4.
“I just remember a couple of things, not getting to celebrate a win in St. Louis, that was a bummer,” Hight said. “You’re in the hospital and your team is already back at the trailer trying to figure how they are going to get all this fixed and on to the next race. I remember laying there thinking, collarbone, and they said eight weeks. I’m thinking I have the points lead and these opportunities don’t just come around.
I got back to California and Tom McKernan, the head guy from Auto Club, said he was taking me to see some doctors. The first doctor said let it heal and the next doctor at USC said you need to fix this, and you will be back in a couple of weeks. I did everything like he said and went back to him (Oct. 4) and he gave me clearance. I built an apparatus to keep the belts off my collarbone. He told me I wouldn’t have got clearance if I didn’t have something like that.”
Hight acknowledged he was nervous about racing in Dallas.
“I’m apprehensive about getting in the car the first couple of runs, you don’t know what to expect, especially a brand-new race car,” Hight said. “We had another car in the trailer Jimmy (Prock, Hight’s crew chief) didn’t really want to run, he wasn’t happy with it. We ran it earlier in the year. So, we had to start with a brand-new car and there’s always gremlins and things that come with a new car. But, this AAA team, they were flawless. They just got better all weekend as we went. I promise you, we’re going to celebrate (Sunday night). We are going to make up for the last one and what’s really cool is that it is two AAA races in a row. You’re winning in front of your sponsors.
Not only did he compete at the FallNationals – he won.
Hight, the reigning NHRA nitro Funny Car world champ, clocked a 3.955-second lap at 325.69 mph in his John Force Racing AAA Texas Chevy Camaro to defeat J.R. Todd’s 3.984 elapsed time at 319.52 mph in his Kalitta Motorsports Toyota.
“That was one of the biggest rounds I ever raced,” Hight said. “J.R. Todd is No. 2 in points, he was 30 behind me going into the final and had I lost I would be 10 ahead, which isn’t much and now we have a 50-point lead. So, it was a 40-point swing and luckily, we get to do it again next week. I’m really not sore. I know the adrenaline is pumping pretty hard. The hardest thing is getting in and out of this fire suit when it is stuck to with all this sweat and you have to contort to get out of it.”
This was Hight’s 45th career NHRA national event win and fourth this season. In addition to St. Louis and Dallas, Hight also reached Victory Lane at Chicago and Sonoma, Calif. This was Hight’s fourth career win at this race.
“Every championship I have won, I have won Dallas and I think we are on our way again,” said Hight, who won his first nitro Funny Car world championship in 2009.
Most importantly, Hight remained atop the points standings. He has a 50-point advantage over second-place Todd.
There are three races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship – Charlotte, N.C. (Oct. 12-14), Las Vegas (Oct. 25-28) and Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 8-11).
Hight’s victory parade consisted of wins over Jim Campbell, Tim Wilkerson, Bob Tasca III and Todd. Hight has now won five races out eight against Todd.
“This isn’t about me, this is a big team effort and we all respect each other,” High said. “I respect how hard they worked, they didn’t really get a weekend off and we had to build everything. That thing was totally ruined from St. Louis. I didn’t get a weekend off either because I’m on the mend and we just all respect each other. We are working as hard as we can, we are in this together. If I would have screwed up (Sunday), I know they would have forgiven me, but I held my own.”
Hight took a moment to describe how he built the device to protect his collarbone while he was in the cockpit.
“I took a piece that Simpson had built Greg Anderson when he had his heart surgery (in late January 2014),” Hight said. “I took that and measured around my chest and we got a mannequin and we put towels around it and got it to the same size and put the head and neck restraint on it and put this thing from Greg Anderson on it and built ears off it of carbon fiber to go to the head and neck restraint. Now, the belts come over that. There’s room underneath to protect my collarbone. The chutes, that is what I was what I worried about because it slams you forward when you hit the chutes, no issues. I probably couldn’t have raced without that piece. Now, it is comfortable, and I may never take it off. One of the first things I did is thank Greg Anderson for giving me a start.”
Before the six-race Countdown to the Championship, Hight said he made a prediction.
“I said going into the Countdown, I needed to win three races and not have any first-round losses,” Hight said. “So far, so good. We are halfway through, we have two wins and a semifinal (in Reading, Pa.). But, 50 points isn’t a big lead over J.R. Todd. That car is strong and running well. He has been to two finals and we have to keep pushing. Pomona is points and a half, anything can happen. We just have to keep pushing.” Tracy Renck
GRAY KEEPS ROLLING IN PRO STOCK WITH DALLAS VICTORY - Tanner Gray’s farewell tour is turning out to be a memorable one.
Gray, who confirmed this weekend he is going to leave NHRA Pro Stock to focus on stock car racing in 2019 with the DGR-Crosley team owned by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran David Gilliland and Crosley Radio CEO Bo LeMastus.
Gray will compete in the NASCAR K&N East Series full time in 2019. Gray may also compete in the Camping World Truck Series and in select ARCA Series races.
In NHRA, no driver is hotter than Gray.
Gray has won three out of the last four races, his latest coming Sunday when he was victorious at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals near Dallas.
Gray clocked a 6.622-second lap at 207.62 mph to defeat Jeg Coughlin’s 6.636-second run at 207.82 mph in the finals.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re running someone as fast as you or you know can go with you versus someone who isn’t as fast, the pressure is so big for either one of those guys,” Gray said. “That’s where you have to be able to buckle down and focus and worry about yourself and crack the tree and whatever happens, happens. That’s been my mentality and I feel like it has worked for me so far. You go up against a person like Jeg and you know you’re capable of doing it, you just have to do it. You never know what the outcome is going to be, and it makes it very interesting. I think of the guys who block that stuff out and think of all the right things they need to do rather than the wrong and they are the guys who you see rise to the top and ultimately become a champion.”
Gray, who pilots his family-owned Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevy Camaro, came into the race in the points lead and extended his lead with the win.
This was Gray’s class-high seventh win this season and the 12th of his two-year career in only 45 races.
Gray’s victories this season have come in Gainesville, Fla., Richmond, Va., Norwalk, Ohio, Seattle, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Dallas.
During Gray’s victory march Sunday, he beat Deric Kramer, Greg Anderson, Matt Hartford and Coughlin. Impressive considering Gray qualified No. 7 with a 6.614-second run.
“We have been struggling with qualifying and for whatever reason, we have been able to pull it out Sunday,” Gray said. “Some of it being luck and some of it being making good runs and beating the guy in the other lane. Lucky for sure in the semis (against Hartford, who gave Gray the win on a red-light start). I made a mistake. When I saw him take off I flinched and double-clutched it and completely ruined the run. It’s to have a group of guys around me who can take a car with no data in the semis, after they wanted to try some things, and go and do what we did (in the finals).”
There are three races left in the 2018 NHRA season at the Carolina Nationals (Oct. 12-14) in Charlotte, Las Vegas (Oct. 25-28) and Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 8-11).
“My parents were here, and I think they are going to be at the rest of the races,” Tanner said. “My little brother’s season is over. Charlotte is a home race and then Vegas and Pomona. It feels good to have them back out here, it is a lot of fun. We’re making the most of the rest of the time we have got together and having fun with it. I really and truly feel like we are going to win the championship and I think they do as well.
After I messed up in the semis the first person to come talk to me was Dave (Connolly, his crew chief) and he said 'look dude, get it out of your head, it never happened, just go up and do your thing' and that’s what we did, and it worked out.”
Gray, 19, took a moment to reflect on what has transpired the past year.
“I think I have definitely matured a lot personally,” he said. “Behind the wheel, I feel like I am able to make better decisions than I did last year. But, last year was my first year. I have been able to take all the mistakes I made last year and learn from them and grow from them. I think the biggest think that has helped me is I have matured more personally, and I have been able to keep my head on a little bit straighter than I was last year. Last year, I would kind of lose it sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I still have the same passion for winning as I had last year, I guess I’ve been able to harness it a little bit differently (than I did last year). I think that has helped a lot. The guys at Gray Motorsports also have been able to pick me up when I’m down and they able to bring back down to reality when I’m up too high. It is cool relationship that everybody has over there. As far as drag racing goes, there’s another group of guys I would rather work with.” Tracy Renck
TONGLET LEAVES DALLAS WITH VICTORY, COWBOY HAT, PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LEAD - Defeating boss Jerry Savoie in the final round Sunday at the NHRA AAA Texas FallNationals near Dallas wasn’t any big issue for Nitro Fish Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle racer L.E. Tonglet.
The White Alligator Racing team had won this third of six Countdown to the Championship races.
Tonglet had the points lead after his semifinal defeat of Eddie Krawiec after points leader Matt Smith lost against Karen Stoffer in the opening round.
The Metairie, La., firefighter has other things to think about after winning with a 6.892-second, 194.80-mph pass on the Texas Motorplex quarter-mile against Savoie’s 6.907, 193.88.
Tonglet and wife Kayla are expecting their first child, a son, Oct. 29.
And he said he isn’t even sure what next year holds for him, regardless of whether he wins his second championship.
“We don’t know yet, just with work and everything like that. Jerry says he’s going to be out at five or six races. He’s going to do a handful of them. Our program’s still up in the air. You know, it’s mainly relying on Kenny Koretsky and Nitro Fish, so we’re just going to see. Kenny doesn’t make any plans soon, he waits until the last minute, so we’re just going to talk to him after Pomona and see what he wants to do,” Tonglet said.
Always learning at the last minute what his NHRA plans will be is “frustrating a little bit,” he said, “but I’ve accomplished enough, and if we quit this year, I’d be happy with it, you know? It’s just we’ve been out here eight years, and we’ve had a lot of fun. If we come back next year, great. If we don’t, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”
He might not lose any sleep about the next race – the Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway at Concord, N.C. – either. But he will take in a 47-point edge over Krawiec and a 48-point advantage over Smith.
“We’ve got a bike that’s, I think we’re leading the points now,” Tonglet said.
“And we’re not going to look back. You know, Jerry made a big move in the points chase also. He made a big move and he should be three or four,” Tonglet said.
Savoie is fifth, 109 points off the pace and six behind No. 4 Hector Arana Jr.
“So,” Tonglet said, “we’re going to have two bikes that are going to competing for this championship down to the wire.”
He said he learned from earning the championship in his rookie year, in 2010, “just [to] stay calm and take it one round at a time. The key is to go rounds. We show up to a race and I just want to get to the semis. And whatever happens after that is just bonus, kind of. If you can go to the semis, you’re going to have a very good shot going into Pomona. We’ve just got to stay calm and focused and not make any mistakes.”
He said he was excited Sunday when he saw Smith lose.
“I ran before Matt ran, so we were coming back on the return road and we saw the other win light on in the lane. And that’s when we kind of got excited and said, ‘The door’s open. We’ve just got to capitalize on it.’ We just kept our heads straight and just kept going rounds,” Tonglet said. “You’ve got to face them one round at a time, and you need four win lights to get all the points that you can.”
Sunday afternoon he also got a black cowboy hat, a recently established tradition for NHRA pro winners at the Texas Motorplex.
“It’s pretty cool. Last time we won here in 2010, we got the hat and then Kenny Koretsky really won it, and so I gave it to him,” Tonglet said. “But he’s not getting this one. He’s not here. He’s going to have to order one if he wants one. But my dad got one, and it’s just, it’s pretty cool to have these specialty trophies, you know. Just to go with the Wally, it’s something special.”
Karen Stoffer defeated points leader Matt Smith in the first round, while Eddie Krawiec and Tonglet advanced.
Incidentally, the bike quarterfinal round was thought to be the first time that each of the four match-ups featured a male racer versus a female rider. The men dominated, winning all four pairings. (Eddie Krawiec defeated Angie Smith, Tonglet eliminated Angelle Sampey, Steve Johnson won against Kelly Clontz. Savoie benefited from Karen Stoffer’s red light.)
But any stress dissolved after the semifinal.
“We got back to the pit, and it was a lot of fun,” Tonglet said. “They came by and told us an outrageous amount of time to be back up here. It was very short. And I said, ‘Well both bikes are right here, so I know the other guy can’t go down the track without me.’ So it was just a lot of fun in the pit, trying to get them cooled off and we were having fun. But once we came up here, I didn’t even look at him and he didn’t look at me. It was just all business.”
All day long, Tonglet and his brother, GT, spent a lot of time putting motors in Savoie’s bike.
“Jerry’s bike didn’t do too good in Round 1. And then they got back, and me and GT were actually helping them swap motors. They had one guy working on my bike. That was kind of crazy. And then the next run, they did it again, so we had to change the motor again. And the motor came out of that bike in three rounds. So it was kind of crazy.”
So for Savoie simply to be in the final was a testament to how hard Tonglet worked all day.
“Absolutely. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, that’s for sure. It was a lot of work. Before the finals, I had all the fans on my bike, and I look at Jerry’s bike and they didn’t have a single fan cooling it off. So I went over to the crew guy, Rick, and GT was helping him, and I said, ‘Man, y’all don’t cool them off?’ He said, ‘No, we just swap ‘em.’”
Whatever works, whatever happens, whatever 2019 brings, it’s all fine with L.E. Tonglet. Susan Wade
NHRA DALLAS – SATURDAY NOTEBOOK
HIGHT KEEPS PUSHING DESPITE INJURY; MASSEY LOVING LIFE AS BRACKET, ALCOHOL DRAGSTER RACER; OBERHOFER KNOW-HOW BOOSTS ROAD RAGE TEAM; MORE MIX AND MATCH IN PRO STOCK; FORCE’S HOBBY IS WHAT?
HIGHT IN TOP HALF OF FIELD – Funny Car points leader Robert Hight, who started Saturday in the provisional No. 7 position for the AAA Texas FallNationals, said he was glad to be back in the seat of his AAA Texas Chevy Camaro, even though it’s a brand-new car. “We didn’t run the way we wanted to run,” he conceded late Friday. But considering he had undergone surgery just nine days before in Southern California to repair a broken collarbone, his accomplishment was remarkable.
His best pass Friday was a 4.013-second elapsed time at 318.99 mph. He broke into the three-second range early Saturday with a 3.984, 323.43 that put him fifth after three qualifying attempts. He finished time trials in sixth place, although he improved to 3.979 (at 314.83 mph).
Hight’s injury occurred two weeks ago just after he clocked the winning time at the final round of the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at St. Louis.
“First, I have to thank Tom McKernan from the Auto Club for helping me get right to one of the best doctors on the West Coast,” he said. “I was able to get in right away and get my surgery so I could get back to the track. Immediately after the surgery, I felt better. There was never any doubt I would be racing, and today was a good day. I don’t feel any more sore now than I did yesterday.”
The 44-time winner said, “It has been a long week and a half. The worst feeling was the slim chance that I could be on the outside looking in. That wouldn’t have been any fun. Until you get in the car and make runs, you don’t know how it will all work out. It is nice to get the first day over.”
Hight predicted he would improve before the field was set for Sunday’s eliminations at the Texas Motorplex: “I think you will see this AAA Texas team make some big strides. I honestly believe we will be top four by the time the dust settles.”
He was close in his prediction. But as the No. 6 starter, Hight will face No. 11 Jim Campbell in the first round of eliminations Sunday.
MASSEY FOCUSED ON BRACKET, ALCOHOL DRAGSTER RACING – Former Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey still is at the dragstrips. He still gets his nitro fix. And the Fort Worth native, who’s competing in the Top Alcohol Dragster class this weekend, said he’s having a lot more fun than he ever had as a pro.
“I have a bracket-racing program. I have a ’71 Nova that I’ve had forever, my street car that I turned into a bracket car. And I have a 2007 Super Comp dragster that I bought from Megan Meyer. Since she went to an alcohol dragster, she stopped running Super Comp. So I bought her bracket dragster. I’ve been running that and my Nova every weekend and having fun,” Massey said.
“The bracket-racing program with all the sportsman racers around the country is the best family and the best people out here in drag racing. I can go anywhere in the country every weekend and find a great bracket race to go to with great money and have fun doing it.
“Drag racing and the racing family have been my life since I was 12 years old. And being able to go back to the roots of it and bracket race has been so much fun,” he said. “Right now, doing the alcohol dragster has been so much fun, but at the same time, I tell everybody, I have more fun bracket racing. I have more fun getting in my Nova, putting the battery charger on it, making a run, coming back, going rounds, having fun and actually having a chance to make some real good cash.
“The races that I do are races that generally pay real good money. For instance, this next week, I’m going to run three $10,000 races in Huntsville [Ala.], then go to the Million Dollar Race in Montgomery, Ala., which is three $25,000 races then the Million on Saturday. Basically, that’s what I do every weekend: travel around the country, racing big-money races,” he said.
Massey did race in the NHRA events at Baytown, Texas, near Houston, for the past two years. (“At Houston this year, they took away the Top Alcohol Dragster program. So we didn’t go to the Houston national event,” he said.) And this is his third straight appearance as a sportsman racer again here at the Texas Motorplex.
This year, his plan has been to immerse himself in Division 4 competition and “stick close to Texas and Louisiana and Oklahoma.” But his class has seen a decline in Div. 4, he said, “but we still get to have fun and burn nitro.”
The million-dollar question is whether he misses the Top Fuel class.
“I miss driving it. I don’t really miss the whole program and everything that’s involved with it, all the drama and the people involved with it,” Massey said. “Trust me, there’s a lot of good people out there in this world. But there’s also at the same time a lot people who are not so good. I’d rather stay at a place and be around people who are friendly and want to enjoy racing. That’s what I’m doing now, just enjoying racing.
“Especially with the alcohol dragster class, it’s for the fun, to burn nitro. Obviously, people make money with big sponsors, but the majority of our class we have here, we have fun: we get to burn nitro, hang out with our friends. We don’t have 10 crew guys and two 18-wheelers like in Top Fuel like I’ve done for many years. But with this deal,” he said, “I can have fun with four crew guys. We can unload the car, burn nitro, go 270-280 mph, run 5.20s, and have fun. That’s what it’s really all about, because if you’re not having fun out here in racing, why in the world are you doing it? You get to the point: What are you doing? We’re here to race and smile and love life. That’s what I try to have my life be as part of racing. And you have to love life doing it.
“That’s why I’m doing what I do now – which is a lot better than what I’ve done for the last eight years. I get to actually do what I want, be around my friends and family when I want, and go racing and actually make a little cash.”
Massey has kept his skills at driving an 11,000-horsepower dragster sharp, thanks to his friendship with drag-racing veteran Pat Dakin.
“Pat Dakin, I’ve driven his car for the past three years, to keep my license current. He calls me every week. He’s a great guy. Pat has the same mindset as myself. He wants to have fun. He wants to come out here with his group of guys and run his race car and enjoy life, smelling nitro. That’s why we get along and always hang out,” Massey said. “When I first started driving Top Fuel with Mitch King, he got his license back about the same year, about two weeks before I did in Mitch King’s Top Fuel car. We have a good connection.
“The past few months, I drove his car in Martin, Mich. I went 3.80 at 325 miles an hour. We were trying to go to the quarter-mile, but the belt broke. We were trying to beat Dom’s [Dom Lagana’s] record, because he went 338 last year. We went the exact same E.T., 4.485. But I only had 305 miles an hour. But on the computer, it was running 340 miles an hour when the belt broke. If that belt would have stayed on, it would have been 342-343,” he said. “It would have been awesome. But that just shows you what kind of a car Pat has. Pat Dakin has a great team and a great car.”
Don’t be surprised if Massey, a former Don Schumacher Racing and Don Prudhomme Racing hire in the NHRA after earning an IHRA Top Fuel championship, returns in Dakin’s dragster. Or don’t be surprised if he doesn’t.
“He wants me to drive the car,” Massey said. “At the same time, I’m like, ‘No, Pat. It’s your car. You need to have fun. I’m having too much fun driving my bracket car.’ I told him maybe next year there might be a race or two I’ll drive it. At the same time, it’s not something that I’m really striving to do. I’m not saying, ‘I’ve been there, done that, and never want to do it again.’ Yeah, I can do it again one day. But right now, I don’t have the itch to do it. I’m having way too much fun living my life the way I’m doing it, driving my bracket cars, and being at the office.”
The office for Massey is at former racer Gene Snow’s 38-year-old Snow Operating Company that’s in the oil and gas extraction sector of the crude petroleum production business. It’s in the Tarrant County community of Haltom City.
“I’m helping with operations of the company,” Massey said. “Racing every weekend, I’m out of the office from Thursday on. So Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, it’s make sure everything is straight and take care of business.
“We’re building a new shop right next door, so we have a 12,000-square-foot shop that we’ve been building for the past six months. We’ll move into that in the next couple of months. It’s going to be a big operation,” he said. “We’re building a mini-museum for all of Snow’s cars. I have a car from 1988 that Snow went the first 4.99 in. The chassis is put together. I’m going to put the rear end in it and put it together as a show car. I have his Rambunctious car. I have all his firesuits. We’ll make it a drag-racing museum in North Texas. There’s not too many spots in North Texas that have a background for the NHRA and for all of drag racing. So that’s why we built it. Also, I can pull the rig in. It’s going to be a modern museum. I have a 2018-2019 alcohol dragster . . . also a ’66 Funny Car and an ’81 dragster, ’87 dragster, ’88 four-second dragster. So it’s going to be pretty cool.
“So that’s what has been taking all my time up. It’s actually nice after eight years of being on the road – actually since 2003, racing with Scott Palmer – it’s been pretty nice the last couple of years being able to have a real life, take my time, and do what I want, have a chance to make big money, and do it all on my own,” he said.
“I just race and work in the office,” he said. “It’s kind of weird – everyone else is sitting at a beach or at a lake somewhere on the holidays. And we’re sitting in the middle of Oklahoma in 110-degree weather and wondering, ‘Why are we here?’ and getting in my Nova and putting on my helmet 20 times a day. I’ll make 27-30 runs a weekend. Every weekend you might make 7-10 runs a day. We’ll run till 2 or 3 in the morning, then get up at 8 or 9 the next morning and do it all over again. It’s true racing, right there, all day long. You race all day long and do it all over again.”
And right now, Spencer Massey wouldn’t have it any other way.
JIM O GIVES KINSLEY TEAM BIG BOOST – Part-time Top Fuel racer Kebin Kinsley, of Arlington, Texas, put Roger Hennen’s Road Rage Dragster into the tentative lineup Friday night at a respectable No. 12. But he came back out Saturday and leaped to the No. 6, lowering his best time of the weekend from 3.883 seconds to 3.803 and picking up some speed, from 317.19 mph to 317.34.
Surely the boost this weekend is a reflection of the one-race addition of longtime and respected crew chief Jim Oberhofer.
“That was awesome. Thank God for Jim O! I’m ecstatic,” Kinsley declared when he climbed from his dragster at the top end of the track in the third overall session Saturday.
Team owner Hennen said he’s grateful to have the experience of Oberhofer, who grew up in the suburban Dallas area of Plano/ Richardson, for the Road Rage Dragster’s last scheduled appearance of the year. Donnie Bender, who had been working with the Hennen-Kinsley team when he could, is back at Kalitta Motorsports, helping tune for Richie Crampton’s Sealmaster Dragster.
“We might go to another one, but Jim O’s got a lot of irons in the fire,” Hennen said. “He came out to help us this weekend because Donnie moved up to helping on one of the Kalitta cars. That’s where he works most of his time when he’s not in Texas with us. We don’t want to bring another crew chief in. Probably Dave [Kirkland] will be running the car next year. And Donnie will come down and help Dave. Or Jim O said anything we needed, just give him a call and he’d help us. So it’s all looking really good.
“The Kalittas and Jim O and all these folks, they’re all our partners and friends. Mr. Kalitta is a nice man. He helps us a lot. You know, he just came down to help us out as a buddy this weekend,” he said. “His family’s from here, his mom and dad, so he come down and visit his Mom and Dad and just hanging out with them and having a good time. So it’s kind of a home deal for him, too. He grew up here in Dallas. He’s coming down here. When the big teams, those guys are all in the Countdown and a lot of pressure, there’s no pressure here. We’re just having fun.”
He said Bender had a bit of a hand in Friday night’s run: “Made a great run last night. Donnie was over and Jim O. Donnie’s still telling Jim O where he’s at on this car and those guys working together. It’s all good. We’re blessed to be out here to get to race.”
Oberhofer said, “I’m having a lot of fun with the Texas Mafia. It’s fun being home here in Texas.”
MIX AND MATCH BEGINNING TO TAKE ROOT – In the most recent offseason, the NHRA granted the Pro Stock class its wish to be able to mix and match bodies. But until the Brainerd race, which was Mark Hogan’s fourth of five appearances this year (St. Louis made five), the part-timer was the only racer who took the NHRA up on the chance.
But lately the practice has caught on more.
Two-time class champion Erica Enders pointed out that fellow Texan Alex Laughlin has joined Hogan, who isn’t here at Ennis this weekend.
“Alex Laughlin, it wasn’t at the front of anyone’s discussion, but in Brainerd, he was running Deric Kramer’s Dodge, and we put one of our Chevy engines in it. He became the first touring [fulltime] pro to run a Chevy engine in a Dodge body,” she said.
And Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman will be mixing and matching next year. Same for Alan Prusiensky, who started at St. Louis with a Dodge body and Chevy motor.
“The reason we requested that rule change was to bring the parity back,” Enders said.” Mopar, you can’t get the parts. Ford is not involved in NHRA professional drag racing anymore, in the Mello Yello Series. Their support has gone away when it left Force. Really, the only parts you can get are from GM. Richard’s building a Ford Mustang. He’s a Ford guy, but you can’t get parts. You can’t build a competitive engine.
“So to the fan, it appears that there’s a Ford Mustang racing in Pro Stock. And that’s really cool. It gets the Ford fans back involved. So you’ll have an Elite Ford with a GM block under the hood. I guess who really cares?” she said. “But at the same time, I understand the manufacturer loyalty and the fans’ craze that is attached to each of the Big Three.”
She said, “Al Prusiensky just bought a Chevy motor from us and was running it in his Dodge last weekend. So once we get his car set up better, I think you’ll start seeing better elapsed times out of him. So he’ll be more competitive. That was the reason behind the rule change, to bring the parity back and hopefully excite the manufacturers to get back involved.”
RIVER RUNS DRY – Robert River, 25-year-old son of Pro Stock journeyman Dave River, was the odd man out in the 17-car Pro Stock field by .025 of a second two weeks ago in his NHRA debut at St. Louis. He absorbed another DNQ this weekend, as well, falling .18 of a second short of recording bis first NHRA pro start. He had company Saturday with Shane Tucker, an Australian racer who lives and operates a business in Dallas.
Before he took to the Texas Motorplex track Friday, the Maquoketa, Iowa, native who followed his father and older sister Amanda in the sport, said, “Our plan is to be safe, keep the car and motor intact. You know, progressively get better through the weekend. Keep going solid A to B’s. Just do our best and have some fun out here. That’s kind of the bottom line.”
In 2009, at age 16, he got his first experience in the Pro Stock car at Cordova Raceway in Illinois. But he’ll wait for his big breakthrough. Although he won’t compete in Sunday’s runoffs, River knows he has a future in Pro Stock racing.
“I’ve certainly been around the Pro Stock game for probably eight or nine years now, working and crewing on the car. I did a lot in the shop. [Dad] and I primarily did most of the work. When he was driving, my primary role was clutch guy. So I was grinding clutches, setting them up, doing all the work on that,” River said. “They say I’m probably the most OCD out of the group, so maybe that [obsessive-compulsive disorder] has something to do with it. It can certainly be a good thing. The attention to detail, there is no margin for error in any racing, especially in these cars.”
With Tanner Gray and Drew Skillman leaving the class, Chris McGaha shortening his 2019 appearances, and Bo Butner undecided about whether he’ll return, the door is open for River to be one of the next hot, new, young guns.
“Obviously, you want to keep as many people around the sport as possible. You know, regardless of age, regardless of any of that. I’m going to stick around as long as I can. I’ll drive as big or as small as the field gets,” River said. “You know, we just want to be out here supporting the class, supporting everyone else out here. You know, that’s the bottom line. We’re out here to have fun. We want to get some clean A-to-Bs. And if we show up on Sunday, we’ll compete and see if we can do something.”
Making his debut, he said, was “real exciting. It was really something special. It’s really incredible to be out here. It’s basically the drivers I’ve grown up watching and grown up around. It’s really special. I’m glad I got to make it out in time for some of these drivers. I remember being a little kid. Mark Pawuk’s not out here anymore in Pro Stock. He’s still in Factory [Stock Showdown], but you know, being a little kid, I got his autograph, and that was real cool. Now I get to be on the other side of the ropes. Pretty cool.”
He said he’s enjoying the father-son experience, as well.
“Absolutely, yeah. That’s another special part of it. You know, a father-son deal, you can’t hardly beat it,” he said. “It’s definitely a family deal. We’ve all been around it kind of our whole lives, and now we’re kind of the top level. And we’re just trying to soak it in and enjoy it while we’re here.”
GRANDCHILDREN, OF COURSE – John Force shared the Auto Club stage in the baking Saturday afternoon sun with company president Robert Hight and teammate daughters Brittany and Courtney as fans gathered to ask questions.
The gathering wound up with an inquiry from a fan who wondered what each of the John Force Racing drivers does when not racing. Hight said he enjoyed attending Jr. Drag Racing events with daughter Autumn. Brittany Force said she has enjoyed hot yoga, which she explained as “yoga in temperatures like this.” Courtney Force allowed that she didn’t have much spare time.
And the JFR boss answered, “I tried fishing. That didn’t work. I tried hunting. That didn’t work. I tried getting drunk. My wife made me stop that. There’s only a few weeks we have off.” But he said he likes going to the Jr. Drag Racing League events, too, to watch Autumn Hight and Jacob Hood, son of his daughter Ashley Force Hood and her husband, Dan Hood (Courtney Force’s co-crew chief). “I have more fun watching them do what I’ve loved to do all my life. You really do appreciate your grandchildren. No matter how old you get or how many races you lose, they still love you.”
NHRA DALLAS – FRIDAY NOTEBOOK
HIGHT CLEARED TO RACE AFTER SURGERY, POINTS LEADER GRAY CONFIRMS HE’S LEAVING NHRA, PRO STOCK CLASS TO TAKE PERSONNEL HIT, CAPPS HOBBLING AFTER MAPLE GROVE ACCIDENT, MILLICAN RECALLS COMING TO BIG D FROM LITTLE D, HOMETOWN TRACK DOESN’T LOVE TORRENCE BACK
BATTERED HIGHT COMPETING – In his own Twitter post, St. Louis Funny Car winner Robert Hight was pictured with his left arm in a sling after he returned to Gateway Motorsports Park that Sunday night following his release from the hospital.
John Force Racing announced in a prepared statement Friday following a Competition Plus request – after Hight had driven to the tentative No. 9 position – that Hight “underwent surgery on Wednesday, September 26th for a left clavicle open reduction and internal fixation.”
The press release also stated that Hight “was seen again by George Hatch of Keck Medical Center of USC's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery on Thursday, October 4th for an examination of his left shoulder and clavicle and was released to unrestricted activities. He was cleared to compete in all racing activities, effective October 4th. Hight returned to the seat of his AAA Texas Chevy Camaro on Friday, October 5th during the first qualifying session and will continue to race the remainder of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.”
In an interview with John Kernan for “NHRA Today” that was published Tuesday, Hight’s co-crew chief, Chris Cunningham, said the two-time series champion would be ready for this weekend at the AAA Texas Fall Nationals at Ennis, south of Dallas.
“We’re just going to forge ahead. Robert’s a digger. He’s going to jump right in there and pretend it never happened. We’ll be ready,” Cunningham said after helping oversee the assembly of a brand-new car.
As for the cause of the explosion that triggered a nasty fireball and caused Hight to smash into the guardwall to his left, Cunningham told Kernan, “What we found was a piece of plastic cap in the inlet line, the suction line to the pump. And that’ll basically starve the gears on the oil pump and it’ll create foaming. Now you’re losing all the oil’s capability to carry the load. So it creates heat in the bearing, and it cannot release the heat.”
That leads to broken rods and broken intake valves. And Cunningham indicated he was stunned as he watched it unfold and said, “To make sure Robert was OK was paramount.”
Cunningham said, “I saw the kaboom first. I saw that we were going to take the win light because [final-round opponent Tim] Wilkerson was smoking the tires. But that doesn’t do anything when you’re just watching your driver go through that. Your heart sinks. And when you don’t hear anything immediately, you just sit there and you’re hoping for the best but preparing for something that could be worse. And fortunately, we got lucky.”
GRAY CONFIRMS HE’S LEAVING NHRA – Pro Stock points leader Tanner Gray was a bit reluctant to discuss what Autoweek had no problem telling readers in a Sept. 24 online news article: that he will leave the NHRA after this season and move to stock-car racing.
Gray confirmed Friday before qualifying for the AAA Texas Nationals at the Texas Motorplex that he will join the DGR-Crosley team that Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran David Gilliland and Crosley Radio CEO Bo LeMastus own.
“I’ve already said all I need to say,” he prefaced his remarks. But he opened up and said he’s “nervous . . . excited . . . I don’t know . . . It’s bittersweet. I’m going to miss this, but I’m looking forward to it.”
He indicated that he doubted he would return to drag racing but didn’t rule it out completely: “I don’t know. If everything goes to plan, then no. But never say never, right?” Not even from time to time? “Probably not, no.” He guessed that in his new venture “it’ll definitely be busy.”
Not even a championship could entice him to stay, Gray said: “Still no. That will just be a better way to go out, I guess. I don’t know.”
Although the NHRA hasn’t tipped its hand yet about what changes, if any, it has planned for next season. But he indicated that wasn’t the tipping point for him.
“I guess there is a lot of changes happening. I don’t know what,” he said. “I haven’t even looked. I don’t know. I know they’re talking about bringing Mountain Motor [Pro Stock cars] in. They’re just doing what they think is best. I guess you can’t fault them for trying new stuff. I mean, they’re trying to make it better.” Second-guessing the NHRA about possible changes, he said, is “kind of like a Monday-morning-quarterback-type thing. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. But…”
He said that was not was fueled his decision to depart drag racing.
“No. I mean, the main reason is NASCAR has more of a future for younger people,” Gray said. “There’s more racing to do over there, and I think they do a better job with marketing. I think NHRA had an opportunity with me that they never had, and they never really took advantage of it.
“They don’t market this class,” he said. “I was just sitting on my couch last night, watching reruns of the past couple races from St. Louis and everything else, and I mean, you barely see one of these things do a burnout on there. It’s just kind of ridiculous how this class gets treated when at the end of the day, it’s probably the best class out here as far as racing goes and as far as talent goes.”
Gray said, “I think all your talent’s in this class, and really and truly I think as far as talent goes in the fuel classes, there’s very little. You definitely have guys like Shawn [Langdon], Antron [Brown], and guys that have proved themselves to be better than just that. I mean Leah’s [Pritchett is] obviously good. She came from Pro Mod racing. The majority of them, I don’t think, if they got in these things, they wouldn’t be able to drive them. So it’s a shame that this class gets treated the way it does, just because it’s not going 330 miles an hour and blowing up and wrecking every run. But that’s the way they want to do it, so it is what it is.”0
PRO STOCK DEFECTIONS WILL HURT – Tanner Gray’s departure from drag racing strikes a blow for an exciting, ultra-competitive class that has been struggling for relevance through rules changes and manufacturer indifference (except for Chevrolet). But he’s not the only one leaving after this year.
Drew Skillman, whose team is affiliated with Gray Motorsports, told Competition Plus Friday that he, too, will not return to the class after these final four races.
“I’m not running Pro Stock next year,” Skillman said. “I’m going to go back to sportsman racing” and “focus a little more on business.” Skillman’s family operates several Indianapolis-area auto dealerships.
Skillman said he will race in the Stock and Super Stock classes in 2019.
“I think NHRA should have took advantage of the younger people they have in this class. Me, Alex [Laughlin], even Vincent [Nobile] is still young. Erica [Enders] is young-er,” Gray said. “Yeah, it’s a lot of talent right there, but NHRA doesn’t know what to do with it.”
Chris McGaha has said he likely will step away from the Pro Stock class but might enter a few events. Reigning champion Bo Butner said he’s weighing his options for 2019, too.
“I have not made a final decision,” Butner said. “I’ll probably talk it over with [KB Racing owners] Ken and Judy Black within the next couple weeks. I have not made any decisions. I don’t know. I’m going to become a grandpa come April of next year. Yeah. Just had my oldest daughter get married last weekend. So I’ve got a lot of stuff that I don’t want to miss out on.
“I love this, and it’s a great team,” he said, “but it’s real time-consuming. So we’ll see. Even if I’d run a partial schedule . . .or who knows? Might do the whole thing. So whatever it is, I’ll be involved. If I run Pro Stock, we’ll definitely always be a KB team and Summit. Also, I’m building a No Prep car for the No Prep team stuff. I’ll drive it. Then we have a Factory Shootout car. So I’ll still be involved in a lot of different types of racing. I just have to decide if I want the 24-race schedule or not. You never know. A lot can change in a day.”
He could repeat his championship.
“That would definitely change something, yes,” Butner said. “Our goal was one of us to get up there and get a run at it, whatever we’ve got to do to do that. I’ll still be around. I’ll never go away.”
Enders said last week that her Elite Motorsports team isn’t going anywhere: “As far as I know, myself, Jeg Coughlin, Vincent Nobile, Alex Laughlin . . . our team will remain intact. Richard [team owner Freeman] will be a fifth car at times. Matt Hartford, I’m not sure of his plans, but I would assume that he will continue to run off of us. We’re doing our part. We’re trying our best to make it happen. I wish Drew wasn’t leaving. I hope that Bo’s not leaving. But we’ll just have to see what happens in the silly season.
“Drew Skillman’s leaving, Tanner’s leaving. So that’s like three of the young guns,” Enders said. “Bo was an awesome sportsman racer. I’ll definitely be sad if they don’t race Pro Stock next year, but I think if he doesn’t, he’ll either run Pro Mod or continue to run sportsman programs. He’ll still be around. He’s a real racer. I think the world of him and Randi Lyn [fiancée Shipp]. Hopefully they stick around. Rumor has it that Fernando Cuadra and a few of his sons are going to drive next year.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle ace Matt Smith, who was the tentative No. 1 qualifier Friday night here at the Texas Motorplex, has mentioned racing in some Pro Stock events in 2019.
“I’ve heard that, too,” Enders said. “We do motors for Matt and Angie also. So it would be cool to have him come drive a car. I don’t know if he’d do a full year, whatever. But he’s definitely got a strong personality and makes interviews fun. He’d be a good addition to our class. Of course, he’s Rickie Smith’s son – Tricky Rickie, who raced Pro Stock many years ago.”
CAPPS IN KNEE BRACE AFTER READING MISHAP – Ron Capps almost saw his Funny Car season flash before his eyes – from the oddest angle, as he lay on the ground at Maple Grove Raceway, near Reading, Pa., about three weeks ago.
It turns out he has a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He’s wearing a knee brace as he drives the Don Schumacher Racing-owned NAPA Dodge Charger this weekend at the Texas Motorplex and will begin physical therapy near the close of the season. His injury will not require surgery, he said. The incident occurred at the top end of the racetrack, as an opponents’ team member accidentally struck him with a tow vehicle.
“It was the semis after we lost to JR [Todd] in Maple Grove. He and I were shaking hands after the run. They beat us, and all of a sudden I was on the ground,” Capps said. “At the time I didn’t realize it. Their tow vehicle . . . and nobody’s at fault. The kid driving their tow vehicle felt terrible, of course. I thought when it hit me, because they hit me pretty hard and it hit me right at my left knee on the outside. Still had my helmet and stuff on. so that was good, because I went to the ground. I thought it was broken for sure. Anyway, so Maple Grove down there, it’s only two roads in the grass, and of course, it had been raining, so when tow vehicles have to pull out, it was difficult to get around. And on top of that, everybody’s rushing teams from NHRA. Everybody’s just in a hurry. It was nobody’s fault.
“At first we thought it was broken. They sent the ambulance,” Capps said. “The doctors from NHRA looked at me. For sure it wasn’t broken. We put a brace, actually one of the NHRA guys had a brace, so I went right to the Philadelphia airport, flew home [to Carlsbad, Calif, near San Diego] the next morning, got x-rayed and then got an MRI. X-rays were okay, MRI showed a Grade 2 MCL tear. So they made me a brace, which I wore in St. Louis, and I still have to wear it. We’ll just see [how long]. So it didn’t tear it off the bone.”
Capps said he had some hoops to jump through for clearance to compete in NHRA races.
“The thing with NHRA now is you have to have a release signed by a doctor. I was just getting my MRI done, and I got a text from Josh Peterson at NHRA saying make sure you get a signed release from the doctor saying that you can compete in NHRA competition without any restrictions,” Capps said. “And so obviously the doctor that worked on me, Dr. Loren at CORE, and they work on a lot of athletes in the San Diego area, a lot of UFC fighters, surfers, skateboarders in that area. They’re the ones that repaired my tricep a few years ago and they reattached it. He signed that off.
“The brace worked great in St. Louis. The lucky thing is the clutch, [crew chief Rahn] Tobler and the crew made sure the clutch was something I could push in easily. The push in motion isn’t bad for pain, I’ve got to be careful not to twist it when I walk or do anything. Just unfortunate,” he said.
“No surgery. But I can start rehab right after Pomona, actually hopefully before Pomona. I thought my season was over. I mean laying on the ground there, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got such a great race car. We’re so competitive.’ We were up in the lounge with the paramedics there. It’s like I’m looking at Tobler like I can’t believe this just happened. Something out of my control. So anyway that’s kind of where it’s at. So I’ve just been kind of taking care of it. You know, I usually pack my own chutes, so some of the crew guys help me with any chores I’ve got to do outside the car. I can’t bend down with it very easily,” he said.
“But driving the car was fine. I was really surprised,” Capps said. “Taking my foot actually off the clutch made me think about it a little bit the first couple of qualifying runs, but race day had nothing to do with anything on the car, driving-wise. I actually drove great all through qualifying.
“There’s still pain there,” he said. “I’ve got to be careful twisting and turning. I don’t want to aggravate it, because I did tear it. I just don’t want to re-tear it. So this brace I have is much like you see with the football players where it’s got the carbon fiber on each side of it to keep it stable. And then I can push forward. And again, our clutches in these nitro cars are centrifugal clutch pedals. So luckily it’s nothing like a road race car would be or a Pro Stock car would be, where you really have to use the clutch a lot.”
He said he felt odd, knowing fans saw him in the airports at Philadelphia and Detroit in a wheelchair.
“The next morning I’m at the Philly airport at like 5 in the morning, the first flight out to get home to San Diego, and I had to be wheel-chaired to my gate. I saw some fans and I watched social media and was watching people post stuff about seeing me in a wheelchair. And then I ran into a couple of Steve Torrence’s crew guys at my gate, and the one guy just looked over and gave me the look like, ‘What are you doing?’ So it was strange. I connected in Detroit, saw some more fans as I was getting off in a wheelchair. And I just wanted to get home and get it checked. I couldn’t even move it that night at the hotel.
“It’s just one of those things. It’s strange,” Capps said. “You’d think after running 325 miles per hour that all the danger stuff is over with.”
He said that “with the NHRA rushing everybody as much as they were with everything that was going on and combined with that shutdown area not being as open as some race tracks, it just created a little bit of chaos down there. I’m thankful [the knee or leg] wasn’t broken, because I would definitely be out.”
COMING TO ‘BIG D’ FROM ‘LITTLE D’ – This event at the Texas Motorplex is a special one for Top Fuel racer Clay Millican, mainly because it’s “one of the first races my parents let me go to without them when I was racing Super Comp. I raced Super Gas first, but one of my parents usually would go.”
However, the high-schooler from tiny Drummonds, Tenn., had chaperones – his two sisters.
“Now, because I travel so much, this seems like a short trip to me. It’s basically eight and a half hours from home. But at that age, it was like a trip across the world because it wasn’t like we traveled that often,” Millican said. We certainly raced all the time, but it usually was within an hour or two of the house. So coming here was a huge deal, especially without my parents coming with us.
”But we came here, me and my two sisters, in a single-cab dually with a granny gear four speed, so we were like all cramped together. So it was a trip we always remember. When I think of Dallas, that’s what I think of. I mean it just is. It’s kind of like, kind of like the parents letting us become adults a little bit,” he said. “Now my one sister is three years older than me. It was the first time we had a hotel room that we got our own hotel room, all that sort of thing. It was just one of those things that always comes to mind. My sister’s older than me, but she was still a kid.”
The other sister is younger. “I’m the deprived middle child, unless you ask them. If you ask them, you know, I was the spoiled only boy. I don’t even know what I did at that race. It doesn’t matter. No clue, but I just remember that we made that trip, just me and the sisters, and it was fun,” Millican said. “It's a special spot for me.”
He promised they didn’t do anything wild and rebellious.
“No, we didn’t. I’ve always been a non-drinker. My sisters are, as well. So, nah. No funny business,” Millican said. “We still laugh and remember that I was paranoid because the first night we got here, we couldn’t park our race car in the track. So we had to leave it parked outside at the hotel, being nervous something would happen to the car. What would we do? That sort of thing. It was just a trip, like I said, one of those cool memories you have doing stuff with your sisters. We really enjoyed it. It’s just a cool memory just because we did that. They couldn’t help me drive, because they didn’t want to drive the manual shift truck. Man, it was a blast. I really just enjoyed it.”
Another time he came here to Ennis without his parents – but under far different circumstances. In October 2003, just a day before Millican was set to race here near Dallas, his mother, Martha Millican, sustained a gunshot wound to the face when an armed young man held up the family’s grocery store in Drummonds.
“When I went to see her at the hospital after she was shot, the first thing she asked was whether I had packed for the trip," he said. She was released from the hospital that Friday. At his mother's urging, Millican made a last-minute decision to come to the event. He drove his 104+ Octane dragster to a 4.588-second run at 314.57 mph to take the provisional No. 1 qualifying position that Friday night. "After I ran the 4.58, I was able to call my mom, and she listened to the last two pairs of cars run down the track to see if the number was going to hold up," he said. "I was able to give her the No. 1 qualifier [that evening].”
He wound up starting fifth here that year and didn’t earn his first No. 1 qualifying position for another 10 years, not until the 2013 Englishtown, N.J. event.
Martha Millican is still active and still has the bullet embedded in or near her sinus cavity. “She’s fine. She can’t go through the airport security very easily, but yeah, mama’s still kicking. She’s doing really well,” Millican said.
At the time of the incident at the store, Martha Millican used to tease, “You’d better watch out or I’m going to sneeze and shoot you.” Her son said she still says it: “every now and then, if we get her wound up too much.”
UNREQUITED LOVE – Steve Torrence knows the Texas Motorplex racing surface is just concrete. But it hurts his feelings that this home track that he loves doesn’t love him back nearly as much.
The Kilgore, Texas, native has logged more laps at this facility than any other, and he won here twice on his way to the 2005 Top Alcohol Dragster championship. However, this one of only four tracks on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour at which he hasn’t won since turning pro. And it was here last year that he rode out a vicious second-round accident that in essence derailed his seemingly certain title hopes. Torrence won the match-up against Richie Crampton (who, ironically, built the dragster at the Morgan Lucas Racing shop). But his tire blew as he was traveling about 300 mph, and his best car ever smashed into the guardwall and was reduced to a mangled pile of metal. He was unhurt, and his team prepared a back-up dragster for him to continue that day, but he lost in the semifinal round. Before the crash, his elimination record was 54-13. Afterward, it was 2-3.
This is another year, but he has even more drive to finish his business and win that Top Fuel championship. He allowed himself a peek back at the 2017 situation and said, “That was probably the best car I’ve ever had. I felt like if that hadn’t happened, we probably would‘ve won [this race] last year. So, yeah, we’d like to win at our hometown track. But more importantly, we’d just like to keep the momentum going in the Countdown.”
Torrence has won at the two previous races, the Countdown opener at Reading, PA., and the second of six playoff events, at St. Louis. Those victories make seven for Torrence this season. During the past two years, has won 15 events, twice as many as anyone else.
Still, he called the Texas Motorplex “a double-edged sword for us.” Torrence said, “We get to see some people we don’t see too often and get to race with some friends that I grew up with in the sportsman ranks, so that’s pretty neat, something I always look forward to. On the other hand, we’re at a point where you really need to stay focused on racing. “ Before the event opened, he said, “We’re just going to go in there, make sure we get qualified and then go one round at a time – just like we have all season. It’s the same attitude we had last year. This time, maybe we’re a little better prepared for what can happen, but it’s the same intensity, same focus. We’ve got a ‘take no prisoners’ mindset.”
Crew chief Richard Hogan officially is “off restriction” after successfully undergoing a procedure last week at The Cleveland Clinic to correct an irregular heartbeat
CORY MAC IS BACK – Cory McClenathan last raced regularly with the NHRA in 2012, when he competed at 15 races, but his last fulltime season was 2010. Along with Jack Wyatt and Tony Shortall, the veteran Top Fuel driver founded the Nitro Outlaw Drag Racing Association during the most recent off-season – and two of his organization’s dates are at the Texas Motorplex. So although the four-time Top Fuel series runner-up hasn’t been an NHRA mainstay for eight years, he does have up-to-date data on this racetrack. McClenathan didn’t make a first-session run in Dexter Tuttle’s Colorfast entry. He came out for the second session and posted a 4.18-second elapsed time to hop into the top half of the field.
MACHINE-LIKE MENTALITY . . . STILL – Tony Schumacher is the most successful Top Fuel racer at the Texas Motorplex. In fact, in 2014, he won here twice. In that 2014 championship season for the U.S. Army Dragster team, Schumacher that Saturday won the final round of the previous weekend’s rained-out Countdown opener at Concord, N.C.’s zMAX Dragway. Then he ran the table during Sunday’s elimination rounds for the most recent of his six Texas victories.
“The mindset of our U.S. Army team is the same it’s been since we started doing this 18 years ago, and that is to go out and be the best that we can be each and every time we hit the track,” Schumacher said as he seeks his first victory since No. 84 on Father’s Day at Bristol, Tenn. He has reached five final rounds this year, including the Countdown opener at Reading, Pa.
So with 500 races and 84 triumphs, Schumacher is consistent in his approach: “Be fastest in every qualifying session, win every round on Sunday, then move on to the next race and repeat.” He said, “That’s never going to change. We don’t want to compromise our desire to be the best we can be every run down the track by dreaming up scenarios that, for the most part, are out of our control, anyway. This is a momentum sport, like so many others are, and we need to swing the pendulum back in our favor and take care of business over these final four Countdown events. If we do that, the championship would take care of itself.”
Together Schumacher and his car need to establish some consistency. For example, he has qualified No. 1 three times but hasn’t parlayed that into a victory – and only once in those three events did he advance to the final. After each time he appeared in a final, he seemed to flounder for at least a couple of races, building no momentum. But he entered the Countdown seeded third and left Reading tied with Clay Millican for second place in the standings. With this race and three others remining in the playoffs, he’s definitely not counting himself out.
“If there are races left and we’re still within striking distance, then anything is possible. This team has proven that time and again over the years,” Schumacher said. “The competitiveness from top to bottom is better than it’s ever been. There are a lot of quality teams we have to do battle against week in and week out, and that’s absolutely great for the fans, for our sport. We need to develop some consistency and be machine-like and take matters into our own hands.”
He said, “I’ve had the greatest job in the world ever since I’ve been representing the U.S. Army, and we’ve been the beneficiaries of a championship formula for so many of those years. We’ve overcome some incredible deficits and were blessed to live out those moments of a lifetime – those bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded situations where a home run is the only way you’re going to win the championship. We’ve also won championships going away. Each season is different. This one is proof that the series is more competitive than ever, and winning championships during these kinds of seasons are probably the most satisfying of all. It’s a blessing to put on the U.S. Army colors, to speak to school kids on their behalf 200 times a year. And I get to drive a bad-to-the-bone racecar surrounded by nine of the best guys in the business. We have a chance to add another championship to the trophy case these last four races and that makes us excited about each and every day we get to go to the racetrack and work toward that goal.”
AW, C’MON – Terry McMillen has been around long enough to know that NHRA drag racing is no respecter of U.S. Nationals winners, especially now that the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series uses a Countdown format to determine its champions. Still, he was hoping for a better bounce from his Labor Day achievement.
“It’s just frustrating,” McMillen said after opening-round losses at the first two playoff races. “Our crew works so hard, It just comes down to clutch discs for us. Right now we can’t make two runs with the same tune-up and get the results we want.
“We’re disappointed,” eighth-ranked McMillen said. “We’re not down and out. If anyone can do it Rob [crew chief Wendland] and this team can. We’d like to finish in the top five. I’m confident that we can do it. We’ve just got to keep working hard.”
BROWN LIKES TEXAS – Deep in the heart of Texas is deep in the heart of Antron Brown. The Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota Dragster driver is a three-time winner at the Texas Motorplex, earning his first NHRA trophy in 1999 on a Pro Stock Motorcycle and following with Top Fuel victories during his championship seasons of 2012 and 2016.
“Texas Motorplex has always been a special place for me because of my first race win in Pro Stock Motorcycles back in 1999. That place always has a special place in my heart. We won there for the first time in Top Fuel, too, and we were finally able to get another one a couple of years ago. And it’s been a race that’s helped us lock down the Countdown a couple of times, too. This closes out the first half of the Countdown, so it’s another key race.,” Brown said. “Dallas is one of those tracks where it can be really good, or it can be really hot. But if it’s really hot, it’s all concrete, so it’s always a great track surface to race on.”
Brown had a breakthrough weekend in August at Seattle, recording his first victory of the season and first since the August 2017 Brainerd, Minn., event. Now he needs another breakthrough race. His Countdown began with a semifinal loss to Tony Schumacher at Reading and a second-round loss to Clay Millican at St. Louis – two of the rivals he needs to get past if he is to claim a fourth Top Fuel title in seven years.
“We need to get our minds right and just go out there and try to go rounds and try to win the race,” he said.
Brown will drive a pink Matco Tools 'Tools for the Cause' Dragster benefitting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation during October, beginning this weekend.
PINK CAMO FOR A CAUSE – Brittany Force, last year’s Top Fuel winner here, will sport an Advance Auto Parts paint scheme that will match the one on her sister’s Funny Car, and both will be observing the October tradition of Breast Cancer awareness. “It’s breast cancer awareness month, so for Dallas and Charlotte we’ll be running TrueTimber Sassy B pink camo-schemed Advance Auto Parts Top Fuel dragster, and I’m really excited about it,” she said. “I got to help design the car. It’s got some hot pink, and the great part about it is it’s going to match my sister’s car. We’ll be running matching cars for two weekends and twinning and really confusing people but all for a good cause. I’m excited to be teamed up with Advance Auto Parts and the Brakes for Breasts organization.”
TrueTimber CEO Rusty Sellars said, “It’s an honor for the TrueTimber brand and family to help drive awareness in this way.” The Force sisters’ cars will show support for charitable organizations that focus on helping survivors and those diagnosed with breast cancer. Brakes for Breasts is an organization representing more than 100 independent auto-repair shops across the country. It supports the research of a vaccine to cure breast cancer. For every brake service performed at one of the shops, customers will receive their brake pads for free and pay only for the labor. Each shop will then donate 10 percent of that brake service to The Cleveland Clinic Breast Cancer Vaccine Research Fund. Courtney Force’s Funny Car will bring awareness again to the Young Survivors Coalition (YSC), a 20-year-old organization dedicated to the critical issues unique to young women under the age of 40 who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
STAYING POSITIVE – Courtney Force indicated she isn’t going to let an early Countdown stumble drag her down.
“We’re feeling good about Dallas and I feel like we’ve got a good race car,” she said after falling in the first round at Reading, then losing in the quarterfinals at St. Louis. “We’re all still really motivated and we’ve got a shot at this championship. We’re going to fight hard to get back in it. There’s a lot of points to be gathered and we’re just coming to the halfway point. But you don’t want to fall too far behind and get left in the dust. But anything can happen. You’ve just got to keep pushing and focus on your own car. Otherwise, it can all make your head spin.”
For much of the year she had her rivals’ heads spinning with 11 top-qualifying positions, four victories in six final rounds, and a virtual year-long lock on the points lead. But, she acknowledged, “We’ve struggled for a few races.” Just as quickly, she said, “To think about how far we’ve come this year, I feel confident we’ll get it turned around. I think we all felt rejuvenated after testing. We still have a huge shot to win this championship. It’s a team effort, and we’re all in this together.”
The 2014 Dallas winner said, “You feel confident going to a track knowing you’ve won there before. We’re going to do the best job we can and see where the pieces fall, but it’s going to be a great, fast weekend.”
She is in third place, 70 points off John Force Racing teammate and 2017 champion Robert Hight’s pace. JR Todd is second, 30 points behind Hight. Force is chasing her first Funny Car championship.
ENJOYS UNDERDOG ROLE – Sixth-place Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. said, “I’m always the underdog and I kind of enjoy it. I’m confident if we do our thing we’ll be there at the end. I like that role we’re in where we can surprise some people. With these fuel cars, it seems like the car needs to be in a happy place to get on a streak. I think that’s where we’re at. Everything about our team is on the right track. We’re making the right changes, and that’s all you can ask for. We’ve got all the bases covered, and that makes you feel good.”
He had the field covered Friday, leading the 16 entrants with an elapsed time of 3.958 seconds at 323.66 mph in the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger.
Johnson is 104 points behind leader Robert Hight, who’s the 2017 race winner here and is going for a second straight title in his AAA Camaro, as well. And river said, “I’m not going to lie – it’s been getting a little harder to take the losses, because we have a good car.”
Crew chief John Collins and crew have given Johnson a car that has gone to two finals (Phoenix, Brainerd) and six semifinals.
“I think the next two races are critical,” Johnson said of the Dallas and Charlotte events. “We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We have a good car, and we’ve had good runs. We just have to keep going rounds. We just have to keep focused. It’s a good confidence-builder, knowing we have a good team that’s capable of winning. I look forward going to Charlotte, knowing we have had a lot of success there.” He was runner-up at the Charlotte playoff races in 2015 and 2016. “Heading into crunch time, it’s nice to know we’re going to three tracks where we’ve done well. We’re shooting for a championship, and we’re going to end the season at three of the best tracks for us in Charlotte, Vegas, and Pomona. We’re looking forward to that. But I’m pretty happy with the way we’ve kept ourselves in it.”
SIMPSON HAS NEW FUNNY CAR BODY – The last time Funny Car driver Todd Simpson was on the track in NHRA competition, his qualifying attempt was anything but funny. It was in July, during the Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver. He was the first that weekend to make the field, but his parachutes failed to deploy, and he wound up in the sand trap and stopped inches away from the safety net. The front end of the car’s body was damaged beyond immediate repair, so he withdrew from the race and returned home to Ponder, Texas, near Dallas and Fort Worth.
With valuable help and a Toyota body from Kalitta Motorsports, Simpson this weekend is back on the track for the first time since the Denver mishap. And he’s 15th in the order overnight.
“Kalitta got us a body and had it shipped down [from Ypsilanti, Mich., to the Metroplex area here]. It’s mounted on the car and ready to race,” Simpson said Wednesday as he set up his operation at the Texas Motorplex.
He wasn’t at all concerned that the conditions he was preparing for this week would be wildly different from the ones he encountered at Denver. “It’s still a Funny Car. You reach over there and make sure those ‘chutes come out. That’s all you’ve got to do,” he said.
Simpson said that at Denver he knew he would get the car stopped. “I never was in doubt – until I ran out of brakes. I said, ‘I got this.’ But I didn’t. It was driver error all the way.”
The wrecked Funny Car body is the Dodge Charger one he had purchased from Don Schumacher Racing and originally was Matt Hagan’s.
Simpson happens to work at his 9-to-5 job for Roger Hennen, the former racer and current owner of the Top Fuel dragster that Kebin Kinsley drives. “Roger Hennen, that’s the best guy I could ever work for,” Simpson said. “I’ve worked for him I actually don’t know how many years, 10 years or more.” But Simpson has run against Kinsley in the Top Alcohol Funny Car class in years past. “My last win was against Kebin. I think it was in 2000.”
Next weekend will find Simpson back at the Texas Motorplex, racing in the Nitro Outlaw Drag Racing Series’ second event in Ennis in its first season. But he said he doesn’t plan to run any of the NHRA’s three remaining events. “I’m going to try to regroup. I’ve got to go back to work for Roger Hennen so I can pay bills. This’ll sit,” he said, nodding to his Funny Car. “If we win, we’ll go until we lose. If we win here, we’ll go to the next one. But if we don’t win – which we’re pretty sure we’re not . . . it’s just reality – this is our last deal [for 2018].”
He said he used to be confident of winning – “I used to, on the alcohol car. I was competitive then. We’re not as competitive now. We know that.” Simpson is a three-time Div. 4 Alcohol Funny Car champion and five-time national-event winner.
Simpson has another distinction. He’s the only racer in NHRA with a crew chief brother named “Poopie.”
NICE BOOGEYMAN? – Cruz Pedregon has run through a number of Toyota Camry Funny Car bodies this season, and this weekend he’s back in the one he dubbed “El Cucuy.” The pink-highlighted new breast-cancer-awareness paint scheme caused the two-time Funny Car champion to say, "El Cucuy may mean 'The Boogeyman,' but this month it will be a frighteningly good guy when we push the Snap-on Toyota and generate exposure for The Pink Fund and its important work. Snap-on and our team support the mission of The Pink Fund to provide for non-medical living expenses – like transportation, utilities, and housing – of breast-cancer patients undergoing the fight of their lives."
Crew chief Tommy Delago, who’s trying to get Pedregon his fourth Texas Motorplex victory, said, "As a team, we're all excited about the good we'll be doing this month, to bring awareness of The Pink Fund, and starting it in Dallas at a winning track for Cruz is a great way to kick it off. We're finding our groove, and we plan to finish out the season strong."
Founder of The Pink Fund, Molly MacDonald, a breast-cancer survivor who founded the organization after her own treatment experience, will be in the pit this weekend with Pedregon. The car body will feature a Snap-on "Socket to Breast Cancer" logo in light pink with a sleek black background. "It's always fun to have Molly with us at the track. And her organization, The Pink Fund, is doing such great work to provide up to 90 days and $3,000 for the non-medical needs of breast-cancer patients. Our primary sponsor, Snap-on, is making an initial $50,000 donation, and The Pink Fund will receive additional funds generated through Snap-on sales promotions," Pedregon said. "We hope everyone watching at the track will stop by to meet Molly and have their picture taken with the car. And we hope fans watching at home on FOX will check out the organization online at www.Pinkfund.org."
COUGHLIN ANALYZES HIS CHANCES – Jeg Coughlin is fourth in the Pro Stock standings but still eligible to win yet another championship and said, "I really like the momentum we have right now. It's pretty simple. We have four races left, one of which awards points and a half, so that means there are 18 elimination rounds left worth of points. We're just over a round out of second place and about four rounds out of first so it's time to win more rounds and win races. Our recent history this year, from May to right now, proves we know how to make up ground. Everyone knows we have the car and team to do it. All we need is a little on-track luck on race day, and we'll be where we want to be."
He said, "This time of year is special for all of us, because every round is so intense, and I include the qualifying rounds in that statement. There are points on the line every session and as close as Pro Stock has been we're all fighting for anything we can get. We’ll keep trying even harder on race day to dot all the 'i's' and cross all the 't's' and see if we can earn another brick in the winner's circle.”
To draw attention to Breast Cancer Awareness, the hood of Coughlin's Camaro will display the logo of the JEGS Foundation for Cancer Research, benefitting the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at Ohio State University.
VANETTI BACK, WITH TONGLET TEAM – No. 2-ranked L.E. Tonglet has plenty of Pro Stock Motorcycle rivals who want to disrupt his pursuit of a second championship. But this weekend – and for the rest of the season – one of them will be aided and abetted by his own brother. GT Tonglet owns and tunes the bike that Loyalton, Calif., resident Anthony Vanetti will be riding.
Vanetti this weekend will be making his first appearance in NHRA bike competition in more than two years, since the 2016 U.S. Nationals.
"I can't put into words how excited I am to get the opportunity to be racing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series again," Vanetti, who has had a successful Div. 7 season, said. "It's been a long time coming to make it back, and I feel like I have some unfinished business. I'd like to thank Lucas Oil and SpillVak for their support and for believing in me, and I hope to make them proud."
MIDLAND’S GREEN JAZZED ABOUT PRO MOD – Pro Modified rookie Chad Green, of Midland, Texas, is fifth in the standings of the highly competitive class, and he said, “Something’s happening in the class, and I just feel lucky to be in this class at the right time. You can just see the popularity and the buzz about it at every race and the enthusiasm from all the fans. You can definitely see a shift, and I’m really happy to be a part of a great class.”
Green recorded his second final-round appearance of the season at the most recent race, at St. Louis, so his hopes for this race are realistic.
“We’ve got high expectations for Dallas, but even qualifying in this class is tough,” the driver of the nitrous-powered Bond-Coat, Inc. Corvette said. “So it’s really tough to make it to the finals, and to win is even tougher, but I feel like we’ve got a really strong team. We’re definitely going in a good direction and it’s awesome how well we did in St. Louis, because it looked like we didn’t have a good chance. I was pleasantly surprised and excited.
“We had some decently high expectations coming into this season, because I felt prepared and I had the right stuff and right people behind me. But we’ve far exceeded expectations,” Green said. “I took my time getting ready for this season and kept a low profile on purpose, but I felt pretty confident in my ability coming into this season. If we could stay in the top five, that would be awesome, but there’s some tough competition and we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.”
CONWAY RETURNS TO ACTION – Spring, Texas, resident Shane Conway said he figured that because the NHRA is in the state, he ought to haul his Top Alcohol Dragster to Ennis and compete in his first race in nearly three months. He sped to the top of the order at his most recent event, a Division 4 meet, with drag-racing veteran dad Tom Conway tuning for him. So this weekend, he has that memory and some fresh data from a test session last weekend at Oklahoma’s Tulsa Raceway Park to build confidence.
“Ever since Norwalk in mid-June, I've been working at my shop on another race car so we haven't had time to race," Conway said. "But we got caught up with our work, and since we're from Spring [a suburb of Houston], this seemed like a great race to get back after it.”
Conway said he plans to finish out the year at the upcoming Las Vegas race and the Pomona, Calif., season finale.
As for his recent test at Tulsa, he said, " We are super-happy with what we learned and hope it will continue running the way it was in testing."
It’s all with help from Tommy Thompson, who’s the close friend/sponsor for Scott Palmer, and his Magic Dry brand of organic multi-purpose absorbent for all kinds of liquid spills. And Conway said he’s grateful: "Big thanks to Tommy Thompson and everyone at Magic Dry for their continued support. We're not in the title hunt this year, but we can hurt some feelings and try to win some rounds down the stretch. It would be great to steal another victory also."
PRITCHETT’S HELPER A CHAMPION – Don Schumacher Racing’s double-duty driver Leah Pritchett entered this event one place out of the Factory Stock Showdown Series lead, thanks to consecutive victories at the past two races in her Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. And one of the individuals who helped lay the foundation for her success this year is Geoff Turk, who drove his own “Blackbird” Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak to victory at the Sept. 23 National Muscle Car Association (NMCA) World Street Finals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
“This season started out rough,” Turk said, “because I didn’t even know if I was going to have a season.” In late 2017 and early 2018, he assisted Mopar and Dodge engineers and DSR in on-track development of the combination that has carried Pritchett to success.
Turk said his NMCA title “is hugely special. The heavy hitters are here. It’s a high caliber of competition.” Wife Sandy, who has experienced serious health issues requiring extensive treatment, was able to attend the Indianapolis race. Dedicated to staying in Illinois, close by his wife, Turk said he doubted he would compete at all during the 2018 NMCA season. But as a last-minute entrant in March at the season-opener at Bradenton, Fla., with little time to prep his car, Turk became the first driver to break into the seven-second range with a 7.996-second elapsed time. He was runner-up at Bradenton, and added an April victory at Atlanta. Turk came from behind in the standings to dominate at Indianapolis. “It’s special in so many ways,” he said of his accomplishment, “but it’s special most of all that Sandy was able to be at the last race. She couldn’t be there at Bradenton or Atlanta, and for her to be there and be a part of what happened was by far the best.”