2018 NHRA LUCAS OIL NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - LUCAS OIL NATIONALS
BILLY TORRENCE CAPTURES FIRST CAREER TF WALLY - A Torrence won the Top Fuel title at Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) International Sunday.
It just wasn’t the Torrence most would have thought.
Billy Torrence, the father of Top Fuel standout Steve Torrence, captured his first career Top Fuel Wally by upending three-time world champion Antron Brown with a holeshot in the final round.
Torrence, who drives the Capco Contractors entry, clocked a 3.756-second elapsed time at 329.99 mph to edge Brown’s 3.751-second lap at 329.10 mph.
The difference was at the starting line. Torrence had a .037 reaction time, while Brown was .045 on the tree.
Torrence’s victory set off a wild celebration by his team.
“I didn’t realize how tired I was until I got dogpiled,” he said. “Just to come out here and race with my family, win, lose or draw that’s just a blessing to be able to do that. But, to come out here and be able to win an event and give back something to those guys who work so hard to have me a good operation when I come out. There are only three guys on that team who are full-time, the rest of those guys have day jobs and come out whenever I can.”
This was Billy Torrence’s 27th career Top Fuel start and his first since Chicago (May 31-June 3). His best Top Fuel effort – before Sunday – were three semifinal performances, the last coming in Phoenix earlier this season.
Torrence became the 106th person in NHRA history to win a Top Fuel race since 1963, Don Garlits being the first. Torrence also was the first driver since 1997 to qualify No. 1 and get his first national event win. Gary Scezli was the last driver to accomplish the feat.
Torrence’s victory parade consisted of wins over Terry Totten, Scott Palmer, Mike Salinas and then Brown, who defeated Steve Torrence in the semifinals.
“At this level, there is pressure on everyone to win for your sponsors and people who you are promoting out here,” Torrence said. “I just wanted to win because we race for fun and Antron is a tremendous racer and you have to be on your game and get after him. There are oil pipeliners all over the country who are hoopin’ and hollerin’ right now. That’s what we are and that’s a demographic of people who root that Capco Contractors from coast to coast.
The win by Billy Torrence may have surprised some, but not him.
“I do expect to win ,” Torrence said. “We have a great team put together and a great car and we have all the right parts and pieces and frankly, I’m the one who would be the first link in the equation.” Tracy Renck
BECKMAN COLLECTS EMOTIONAL VICTORY IN BRAINERD - Finally.
In what can only be described as a huge sigh of relief, Jack Beckman and his Don Schumacher Racing-backed team broke through in a big way on Sunday with their second win of the season and first since March to earn the Wally at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Beckman overcame a starting position in the bottom half of the field and a tough ladder on Sunday to reach his third final round of the year, eventually taking down his DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final.
“I feel a heck of a lot better today than I felt yesterday. I don’t think one race can make or break you, but I feel like, if nothing else, this changes everybody’s psychology on this team,” Beckman said. “I like the way that we didn’t start out phenomenally. We picked away at this thing, got a little bit better on Saturday than Friday relative to track conditions and we got significantly better each and every time down the racetrack today.
“You know you are capable of winning and yeah, we won Gainesville, but that was a long time ago. Drag racing is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ type of sport, so to put it back in the winner’s circle again just reaffirms that, here we are coming up on the Countdown, and we have a contending car.”
And what a win it was.
In a rare final round meeting between Beckman and Johnson, two teammates that not only share a team, but also a significant bond in the late Terry Chandler who backed both teams, Beckman got it done with a solid light and a tremendous pass, racing to a 3.961-second lap at 325.69 mph in the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger to collect his 28th career win.
Johnson, in his second final round of the season, recorded a 4.031 at 319.67 mph in the runner-up effort in the Make-A-Wish Dodge.
“You know, everybody is saying that we can’t lose because a Terry Chandler car is going to win the final round, except, we can lose,” Beckman said. “We are the Infinite Hero car and we want to win. I told the FS1 crew after the semis, if Make-A-Wish beats us, they earned it and they deserve it and I would be happy for them. But nobody goes into a final round saying, ‘ah hell, if we don’t win it is not a big deal.’ It is a big deal. You don’t know if your last win is your last win.
“We have struggled, it is no secret. We haven’t had the car we had early in the season. We changed chassis, we changed clutches, we faced the track prep reduction and had a tough time adapting to that. We weren’t exactly stellar Friday or Saturday. But we kept going directionally correct every run that we made and we picked away at this thing and it worked out in our favor.”
Beckman faced quite a murderers row of Funny Car heavy hitters on Sunday after struggling to a 14th place position in qualifying, surviving Courtney Force, Shawn Langdon and Matt Hagan on his way to the final.
Both Hagan and Beckman dropped cylinders in a tight round-one matchup that saw Beckman come out ahead with a 4.044 to a 4.101 before another close race in round two. In that race Langdon got the jump on his opponent, but Beckman was able to fire back with his first three-second pass of the weekend, a winning 3.980 to a 4.019.
In the semifinal, another tough out awaited in points leader Force and another great drag race saw Beckman advance on the strength of a 3.968 at 325.14 mph. Force, reaching at least the semifinals for the 11th time this year, had a 4.040 at 320.51 mph.
Johnson defeated J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson and Del Worsham to earn his second runner-up finish of the season.
“When you go first round against Hagan and (Dickie) Venables and you know what they are capable of on an overcast, smooth racetrack like Brainerd, hold on. You are going up against Hercules and Hercules with that pair and we put a run down that wasn’t a crusher, it wasn’t a backbreaker, but it was good enough. Even though we put a cylinder out early, it was still a good run and just getting that win was huge,” Beckman said. “That is when we knew we had more capability in the car. If we could get it to keep all eight cylinders lit to the finish line we’d put a more representative pass up and we did that second round. We haven’t been out of the second round in forever so we pull up next to Langdon and to get past that one was a huge hurdle as well. Then we stood on it a little more for the semis and here we are.
“The whole field was stacked up. The slowest car on the grounds was a 4.14 and if you went between a 3.99 and a 4.03 there were 10 other cars bunched in there. Yes, we qualified 14th, but we weren’t far from sixth. Trust me, nobody wants to start from 14th. It is not the greatest place because you are going to race No. 3 first round and No. 6 second round if the ladder stacks up and those are already cars that have run better than you. We did a great job of taking what we had and worked with it.”
With the win, Beckman moves up a spot to fourth in the championship standings with one race remaining before the cutoff in the Countdown to the Championship.
But, just as important, earning such an emotional win Beckman said after that this Wally was heading to a very special place as the team prepares to head to the biggest race of the year in two weeks in Indy.
“The entire crew is going to sign (the Wally) and it is going home to Doug Chandler tonight,” Beckman said. “Doug is such a modest guy, such a soft spoken guy, he would never ask for something like this. I know it is tough memories because it is so hard to think of drag racing without thinking of his wife of 40 years, but it is a good way for her to keep living on in our hearts.” Larry Crum
KRAMER EARNS SECOND CAREER WALLY AT LUCAS OIL NATS - Deric Kramer is having one heck of a season for a full-time, part-time time racer, as he likes to call his operation.
Kramer visited his third final round in a row, collecting his second win of his career Sunday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway all while watching his team climb from 10th to sixth in the championship standings over the last three races.
“I am extremely comfortable, especially in these last couple of races from Denver on and I think our performance has shown that,” Kramer said. “Starting in Denver and then that Western Swing and then finishing up in Brainerd and Indy next. Getting so many races in a row, getting chances to work on the car consecutively, getting a chance for me as a driver to improve consecutively and not waiting months in between one lap versus the next, I think we are getting our stride.”
And this time, the win came with people watching.
After Kramer’s first win, a rain-delayed event that was completed on a Monday with little fanfare, the young racer was thrilled to finally hoist a Wally with fans in the stands.
“It’s almost like I won for the first time again,” Kramer said. “The fanfare and everything has been completely different. But it has been fun.”
Kramer won in a thriller over Tanner Gray as two of the deadliest at the tree squared off for the second race in a row, with the nod this time going to Kramer. After Gray won two weeks ago in Seattle, Kramer came out on top with an .002 light combined with a solid 6.652-second pass at 207.56 mph in the American Ethanol Chevrolet Camaro. Gray, on the other hand, lit the red bulb by -.002 and limped to his second runner-up of the season.
“I know how good you have to be to win in this class. You just have to be ready every time you go to the starting line. There are no free shots,” Kramer said. “You have to be competitive and if you are not competitive on the tree, if you are not competitive on the track, then you are not going to win and you are going to go home. We are going to continue to do that and hopefully it works out for us more times than it doesn’t.”
Kramer added wins over teammate Jason Line, Alex Laughlin and Vincent Nobile on his way to fifth career final.
Kramer earned holeshot victories over Nobile and Laughlin in rounds one and two before earning a wire-to-wire win over Line in the semifinals. Gray, meanwhile, had wins over Greg Anderson, Fernando Cuadra and Dave Connolly to reach the final.
And all the while, Kramer had his father, David, cheering him on from the starting line on Sunday.
“He tries to leave me alone. He knows I go out there with the attitude of, ‘all we have to do is not screw up and we should do pretty well,’” Kramer said. “When you go out there and think too hard something ends up not in your favor, so we just go out there and try not to screw up and if you do that four times you win.”
With the win, Kramer also moves higher up the standings to sixth with one race remaining before the Countdown to the Championship, making Kramer’s team - which has missed two races this season - a real contender for the title.
“That’s great to think about, but at the end of the day, if you can just win six races in a row, I guess you win,” Kramer said with a laugh. “I am going to try to do that and if I can I think we will be happy campers.” Larry Crum
KRAWIEC WINS ALL-HARLEY FINAL AT BRAINERD - The Pro Stock Motorcycle final at NHRA’s Lucas Oil Nationals Sunday was a celebration of the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team.
Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines met in the final round with Krawiec taking the victory at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway.
Krawiec clocked a 6.897-second elapsed time at 195.14 mph to defeat Hines’ 6.903-second lap at 193.99 mph.
“This (Brainerd) was the first place for an all-Harley final since I came on board back in 2007,” Krawiec said. “To come out here and do it again was awesome. Last time (in 2007), Andrew beat me in that all-Harley final and this time I got him. It’s about building momentum right now. Everybody is looking at points and honestly, we don’t car about points right at this second, we don’t care about any of that. We know where we are, we are in a great position. As long as you have that great drive going into the Countdown, you have that upbeat spirit, and everybody is excited. I have a good motorcycle under me. I know if it is not winning it is most likely because of me.”
Krawiec’s wins Sunday came over Ryan Oehler, Mark Paquette, Hector Arana Jr., and Hines. This was Krawiec’s 47th career Wally and fourth this season. Krawiec is now 30-20 against Hines in eliminations. Krawiec improved to 14-9 against Hines in final rounds.
“It’s just great to come out and run well,” Krawiec said. “Off the truck, we made a good hit and we had a very consistent motorcycle. I was going between 91 and 88, 89 pretty much all weekend long is what you need to win races. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going or what you’re doing. You have to adapt to the changes and Andrew and Matt (Hines) were making awesome calls on my motorcycle to give me one that stayed in this incredible window. We tweaked on it for the final there. We both made our own little changes and man, my bike just liked it and ran well, and everything was good. So, I have no complaints.”
Krawiec is now 4-0 in final rounds this year and he also collected wins at Gainesville, Fla., Atlanta, and Norwalk, Ohio.
“I like that statistic,” Krawiec said. “Hopefully, I can keep adding to it and adding to the plus side. I feel very confident. I feel going into Denver and Sonoma (Calif.) I lost race wins. Competition is so great right now that if you slack off you’re going to leave the window open and the tighter you can close that window, the better off you’re going to be. Whoever is dancing on that edge of making the mistake and not making the mistake is who is going to win the championship.” Tracy Renck
SATURDAY LUCAS OIL NATIONALS NOTEBOOK
HINES FINISHES FOURTH - Andrew Hines qualified fourth and will race Karen Stoffer in eliminations.
MOMENTUM ON HIS SIDE - Five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. and the JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro team are riding a wave of momentum - and it's the perfect time of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season.
"We've got a great car," Coughlin said. "We're still riding high from our victory in Sonoma (two races ago) and it's made for a great second half of summer. We put together eight great runs there and it was a wonderful weekend at a track we really enjoy.
"We were No. 1 in Seattle (last race) and the car was strong again there but we just got nipped in Round 2 by our teammate, Vincent Nobile, who obviously has all the same gear we have. That happens at times when you have five Elite Motorsports cars in the field."
Coughlin sits fifth in the Pro Stock standings, with three victories in 2018.
"Brainerd is another track I really enjoy and one where we've had some great success," Coughlin said. "Generally, lower horsepower tracks we can attack work out well for us so we're very optimistic."
Coughlin ended qualifying as eighth quickest and will have lane choice over Greg Anderson in round one.
WIN #150 THIS WEEKEND? - If John Force is to win his 150th NHRA event before the end of his 42nd pro season, his best opportunity may come this weekend.
At no other venue has the Hall of Fame owner/driver been more successful than at BIR where he has won 11 times in 32 career appearances, where he never has failed to make the starting field and where he has won 78.3 percent of the elimination rounds in which he has been involved (76 of 97).
Coming off a final round triumph over teammate Robert Hight in last week’s independently-produced Night Under Fire at Norwalk, Ohio, the 69-year-old’s confidence is steadily growing as he battles to secure one of the 10 Funny Car starting spots in the upcoming Countdown to the Championship.
“We’ve got a young team with (crew chiefs) Jon Schaffer, Ronnie Thompson and Joe Veyette leading the way,” Force said. “These kids are learning every week and I’m learning about this Chevrolet Camaro. We struggled, but right now I think we’ve got a car that can compete – and that’s all you can ask for.”
Indeed, after spending the first eight races outside the Top 10, Force has rallied to give himself at least a chance to compete for another championship. He took the PEAK Chevy to a runner-up finish two months ago at Richmond, Va., before securing a victory in the NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Denver, Colo., that extended to 31 the number of seasons in which he has won at least one NHRA tour event.
“We’re not safe,” Force said of his bid to secure a Top 10 berth for the 34th straight season. “We’re better than we were, but there’s still a lot of work to do; still a lot of racing plus there’s extra points at Indy (one-and-a-half times as many as for any other of the first 18 events)."
LOOKING BACK - There was little Leah Pritchett did wrong last year in Brainerd. Not only did she establish a new record with a 3.640 second elapsed time, but also drove her way to victory.
“Last year was a perfect scenario of conditions, of rising to the occasion on every level from the tuners to the crew, to making sure everything was perfect," Pritchett said. "We were able to make that all come together and execute it. That’s what is so exciting. It was a sense of satisfaction, gratitude and justification when everything came together. We know what that feels like. We know what it takes to do that. You practice that every single race, trying to have that perfect execution, and we were able to do that."
Pritchett and the team had key objectives headed into Brainerd.
"Our focus is moving up in the points. On one hand, it’s extremely key to get momentum coming out of Brainerd, but then, on the other hand, you look at it as just another race. I’d like to think of this race as a practice crunch-time for hopefully what will be at the end of the season. The importance is there.”
FIGHTING THE FIGHT - Del Worsham wasn’t being coy. He wasn’t establishing a “set up” to lull his NHRA Mello Yello series competitors into a false sense of security. He was simply finding his way and trying to gain a foothold as the first half of the 2018 season unfolded. Underfunded, and without a full-time primary sponsor, he was making ends meet and doing the best he could with what he had. Until he made some key changes prior to rejoining the tour in Sonoma.
What happened then? Worsham came to the realization he wasn’t cut out to be a “back of the pack” racer. He and his father Chuck invested in new parts and Worsham changed his approach. His goal, which he considers to be a fully realistic aim, is to win a race before the season is over.
Worsham is still cautious about his aspirations, but more fired up than he’s been at any other point in 2018. His performance in Sonoma gave him more than just hope. It gave him a baseline to work from. His appearance at the annual “Night Under Fire” match race in Norwalk, this past weekend, put an exclamation point on his excitement.
“We were limping along just trying to get in the show and get by, for much of the season, and it was dragging me down,” Worsham said. “That’s not me. That’s not my dad. That’s not us as a group. We’ve won a ton of races since 1991, and I’ve won two championships. I got to a point where it had to be time to get after it and we made the investment to do that. We put a lot of new stuff on the track in Sonoma, and even though we didn’t qualify very well we still managed to get a very solid round win and were close to taking out John Force in round two. I could see the progress.
“We had never planned on competing in Seattle, so we got ready for the (Norwalk) match race and used it as a test session, trying to run as well as we could as if it was a national event. I calmed the motor down a little and it went right down the track to a 4.000 on the second run. That was low e.t. of the session, and it was exactly what I wanted to do. I’m feeling good about the car and my outlook is a lot better. We’re not here to just get by. I don’t know when we, as a group, are going to be 100 percent as good as we can be, but we’re getting better and the car is there. That’s important.”
Worsham likes his chances.
“I believe we can win a race this year, but winning four rounds on Sunday is a very difficult thing to do these days. We’re up against some of the most successful teams in the history of the sport, and at this point we’re still underdogs. That’s okay. They can outspend us but they can’t want it more than we do.”
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS - Greg Anderson and Jason Line consider Brainerd a homecoming event of sorts.
Anderson was born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota while Line grew up 50 miles away in Wright.
Winning Brainerd would mean a lot to each but not because of sentimentality.
"A win in Brainerd is really important right now, and not having to sweat it out at Indy would be a very good thing," Anderson said. "Yes, I have the points lead – but it's points and a half at Indy, and that means that you're not safe no matter what kind of lead you have. I made a mistake in Seattle, and I have to clean it up. The best thing to make up for the error I made on Sunday is to get the most points they have to give. We have a lot of positive things happening in our camp right now, we have a whole stable of cars that are running better, and we're racing better, and we're starting to rise towards the peak."
Line stands on the cusp of a racing milestone he could achieve this weekend.
"I've been saying it all season long, but I can't wait to get my 50th win," Line said. "To do it at Brainerd International Raceway, the place where I got my first win, would be super cool, especially because this is the 50th anniversary year for Summit Racing. I'm definitely hungry for it, and all the pieces are there. I just have to execute."
Line concluded qualifying as the No. 7 seed and will race Drew Skillman Sunday, while Anderson who qualified ninth races Jeggie Coughlin.
PROTECTING HIS HOUSE - Scott Palmer come into this weekend tenth in points, 11 points behind ninth-place Richie Crampton and 30 points ahead of 11th-place Mike Salinas.
"We are trying to win the race but we also have to protect our situation too," Palmer said. "The Countdown is right here. We've been counting points since the start of the year, and it's down to two races now so this is an important one.
"We need to gain some points and protect our spot. It's going to be tough. We've got an Alan Johnson-tuned car behind us (Salinas). When you've got a car like that behind you, the pressure is on. But, in the end, we just have to do our own thing.
"Unfortunately, first round in Seattle, we raced Salinas, who was low E.T. of first round and low E.T. of second round. It was his day. We went up there and did what we thought would win that round and we didn't do it. We had great run. It would have beaten two-thirds of the field."
Salinas qualified fifth while Palmer ended Saturday qualifying as ninth. They could meet in the semifinals.
"Our goal is to qualify better," Palmer said. "We had an issue on Friday night's run (in Seattle) that made us qualify 10th. If we had qualified seventh or eighth, we would have had a better draw and probably could have gone further. You make your own destiny out here. We are going to Brainerd and work on qualifying position, which will put us in a better position to win the first round. I am confident that if we win a few rounds between this race and Indy, we'll be OK.
HANGING IN THERE - The season has not gone as planned for Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Sr. as he works through a frustrating stretch with a smile on his face, having the time of his life doing what he loves.
Arana clings to a chance to earn a place in the Countdown.
“To me, I’m living the dream,” said Arana, the 2009 Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion. “This is what I always wanted and especially with the sponsor I have, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I’m having my son race with me, he’s setting records and winning races, I’m living the dream. Representing Lucas Oil at their event, it’s an honor. Of course, there’s some pressure with that, and we want to do well and we have in the past. We’ll be focused on that and hopefully we can have some more success.”
Arana has experienced a stretch of five straight first-round losses as not much has gone right as of late, a stark contrast to the success his son, Hector Arana Jr., is having in 2018. He became the first PSM rider to ever reach the 200-mph mark and also won in Denver, currently sitting fourth in points. That lets Arana Sr. know that there’s something there and it’s just a matter of finding it on his bike.
“We’ve been trying different things and it just doesn’t seem to respond,” said Arana, who has seven career wins. “We’ve made some changes and hopefully these changes put us in the right direction. But we will find it and we won’t give up. My son is going 200 mph and I can’t even get close. It’s been frustrating, but we’re working to find out why. The bike doesn’t want to respond. But I’m not a quitter. If I would have been a quitter, I would have quit drag racing a long time ago.”
FRIDAY LUCAS OIL NHRA NATONALS NOTEBOOK
BETTER THAN HE HAS TO BE - Robert Hight emerged as the preliminary No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway on Friday evening.
Hight, who set the Funny Car national elapsed time record at 3.793-seconds at Brainerd last season, earned six bonus points throughout Friday qualifying. His 3.971-second pass at 326.95 mph from the first session landed him in the No. 1 spot for the night and his 3.989-second pass at 324.83 mph was the quickest of the second session.
“To be honest with you, that 3.97 first run, I was pretty happy. I honestly thought if we screwed up tonight, that would only be fifth. For some reason nobody stepped up tonight and we actually slowed down a hundredth,” explained Hight. “On that second run (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) said it needed more power. Maybe the track was a little better than we anticipated and the changes we made, the track ate up. You have to stay ahead of the racetrack and obviously we didn’t.
“Unfortunately, if you look at the weather forecast, it’s going to be cooler on Sunday so we should be able to run better on Sunday than we have. It’s all about consistency. You have a lot more confidence with your team, with your race car going into Sunday if you’ve made four good qualifying runs. So that’s the goal tomorrow, to be out ahead of everybody but going down the track,” Hight continued. “If we get six more points tomorrow, that’s big. We need every point we can get. We want to be up to No. 2. I don’t think anybody’s going to catch Courtney (Force). One and two in the Countdown, that would be pretty stout. It ran 326 mph first run and that was even faster than the dragsters ran, then 324 the second run even though Jimmy said it was down on power. We’ve got a good combination right now to where we can tweak it, pick it up, slow it down if we need to.”
WORKING TOWARD SUCCESS - When it comes to winning a championship, Antron Brown knows the importance of getting hot at the right time.
Brown, a three-time champion, ended Friday as the provisional No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway and is shaping into a contender for his fourth Top Fuel world championship.
Brown won the most recent event in Seattle for his first win of the season and his surging Matco Tools dragster took the No. 1 position during the second qualifying session with his run of 3.789-seconds at 325.45 mph. Brown has yet to record a No. 1 qualifying position this season but has 49 in his career. Brown also secured his position in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship following the first qualifying session.
“We have been working hard for this,” said Brown. “It is no secret, we have been through our bumps and bruises but the thing about it is that is why you go through the struggles so you have days like this and what we had in Seattle.”
Brown has raced to the BIR final round the past two years in a row, finishing as the runner-up both times. When asked how he and his team planned to take it one step further and finish the day in the winner’s circle this weekend, Brown said,
“First you have to start off by qualifying well. I think our Q2 run is going to solidify us in the top-half of the field for sure. Our main goal is always to qualify in the top three so you can set your ladder up the way it needs to be.”
In addition to nabbing the provisional No. 1 seed, Brown officially clinched a playoff berth in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship on Friday. With only one race left after Brainerd to set the Countdown standings, Brown knows he and his team must take advantage of every opportunity to collect points.
“The Countdown is around the corner and that’s when recess is out. Play time is over and I’m ready to just get to it. Tomorrow we want to go out there and make some great runs and get ready for race day. We want to try and get some more qualifying points. We clinched in the Countdown today but there are still a lot of positions available where we could move up. We can definitely get into that fifth spot, and with points-and-a-half at Indy, if we do well here, it can set us up to maybe get into one of those top tier two-through-four spots and will give us some great momentum going into the Countdown.
“Our game plan is to go out there and do the best that we can and try and pull off a win,” added Brown, a five-time BIR champion. If he is able to retain his No. 1 position on Saturday, Brown will have qualified No. 1 for the 50th time in his NHRA career.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER - John Force struggled through the first qualifying session, smoking the tires to a 5.755 for the 15th spot. The sixteen-time champion improved marginally in the standings when he put down a 4.082-second pass at 321.42 mph to be No. 13.
“It was a struggle today, but we’re all in the show,” said Force, who has a record 11 wins in Brainerd. “We are still learning. We’re fine, we’re in the show and we have two more sessions tomorrow to improve and figure this PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Camaro out.”
Courtney Force, like her dad, smoked the tires on her Chevy Camaro and landed in the No. 16 spot to open qualifying with a 6.006-second pass. Force and the Advance Auto Parts team improved in the second session laying down a 4.097-second pass at 313.15 mph that puts her in the No. 14 spot with two qualifying runs left.
“We are struggling a little bit in the first day of qualifying. We had some bad tire shake in the first round, I think we were trying to push the car too hard,” said Force who has 10 No. 1 qualifiers already this season. “In Q2 we went up there and had a decent run, got down to the other end but we had a hole out so it slowed us down to run only a 4.09. So, tomorrow we’re looking for a big jump up there. We’re looking to make a big improvement in Q3 and we think that we can if the conditions are there. I’m excited to see that our teammate Robert Hight is running strong with his Auto Club car in the No. 1 spot. Hopefully we can figure out what they’ve got going on and hopefully get it working over on our end.”
CRAMPTON COMES ALIVE - A year after not competing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, Richie Crampton is thrilled to be back in the mix of racing for a top 10 spot in Top Fuel.
Crampton entered the weekend on the bubble of Top Fuel Countdown standings and has a 67-point advantage over 11th-place Mike Salinas and with an eye towards moving up in the standings heading into the NHRA’s six-race playoffs, Crampton is banking on a big weekend like the one he had in 2015.
“This year, it’s been refreshing to be back in the mix and I think we’ve got what it takes to compete with the best teams out there,” said Crampton, who has eight career Top Fuel wins. “You want to be aware of the points and where you standing, but you can’t give yourself a gut ache about it. We’ve got a good car and if you keep doing your best, the results will come. You don’t want to bring any more nerves to the starting line, and you just do what you know what you can do.”
A year after only competing in the final seven races of 2017, Crampton posted an early-season win in Gainesville, but has been trying to recreate that same magic in a loaded Top Fuel field. The team, led by team owner/crew chief Connie Kalitta and assistant crew chief Rob Flynn, has just one semifinal appearance in the past 12 races, but Crampton knows his team is capable of big things and he remains confident his team can win more races in 2018.
“It hasn’t all come together completely for us, but we’re working our way there,” Crampton said. “But when the chips are down, it’s a test of how you can handle it. We’re aware of the points and aware of everything, but you can’t get down on yourself. It’s good to have a guy like Connie in your corner. He knows how this whole thing works, and this whole group at Kalitta Motorsports is one of the best teams out here. To be a part of it, a lot of good things come with it.”
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE - Brainerd is one of the two tracks in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in which Steve Torrence has neither qualified his Capco Contractors dragster No. 1 nor raced for a Top Fuel winner’s trophy.
Torrence, the 35-year-old Texan, entered the weekend with a 161-point advantage over his nearest Top Fuel rival with just two race weekends remaining before the NHRA adjusts the point totals for the start of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.
“We feel pretty confident,” Torrence said of his bid to again get the No. 1 starting spot in the playoffs, “but that’s not our ultimate goal. It’s just a means to an end. We let the championship get away from us last year and there’s not a single person on this team who isn’t committed to closing the deal this time.”
Torrence dominated a year ago when he won a category best eight tour events plus the now defunct Traxxas Nitro Shootout.
Although he’s never won at BIR, Torrence did drive his way into the semifinals just a year ago before losing to close friend Antron Brown, the same Antron Brown to whom he lost in the semifinals two weeks ago at Seattle, Wash., in an event in which he could have all but clinched the No. 1 seed.
“I knew he wouldn’t be down for long,” Torrence said of the three-time series champion who went on to win Seattle and end a season-long victory drought. “It probably won’t be the last time we race each other. I’m sure we’ll see those guys in the Countdown.
“We’ve had a bullseye on our backs all year and I’ve got no problem with that.”
HAGAN LANDS SECOND - Matt Hagan is qualified second with his run of 3.990 at 324.51
Since debuting a new Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat body three races ago, Hagan has made steady progress, including a No. 1 qualifier at the most recent NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in Seattle.
Currently fourth in points, Hagan has been impressive at times this season in his 10,000-horsepower Mopar Express Lane Funny Car, winning back-to-back races earlier this summer in Norwalk and Epping. The goal is to regain that consistency in the new body approaching the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, putting extra importance on running well this weekend.
“We’re still learning with the new body but it’s going to be better, that’s for sure,” said Hagan, who has 29 career wins. “It’s just a matter of learning what the car wants and it’s taken a few races to get there. Brainerd has always been a fast track and there should be some fast racing. For us, it’s about understanding more with the new body and pushing a little harder. It’s coming around. Between Brainerd and then Indy, I think we’ll be good.”
Hagan has three wins in 2018 and is just 82 points back of second-place driver and teammate Ron Capps, who has three straight final round appearances. Hagan has been impressed with Capps’ recent consistency, something he hopes his team, led by standout crew chief Dickie Venables, can improve on heading into the NHRA’s six-race playoffs.
“More consistency is definitely going to be key,” said Hagan, who also has four No. 1 qualifiers in 2018. “You look at the car running the best right now and Capps has been to three straight finals and won one of them. We have to fine-tune what we have and make the best of it. We have to get in the groove and that’s something we’ll work on the next 3-4 races, and get really honed in there. We’re going to have to outrun some people, keep going down the racetrack and I have to be good on the tree. But at the end of the day, we have to be aggressive and consistent.”
Hagan has enjoyed some highlight moments in Brainerd, twice finishing as the runner-up, but a victory at the penultimate race in the NHRA regular season would go a long way in getting the team locked in for the Countdown to the Championship.
“This is the time of year when you want those opportunities to come to you,” Hagan said. “You want to race the toughest people out there, try to put them on the trailer early if you can and try to gain some points. That’s the mentality I take, jumping into the pool headfirst. You gotta be all or nothing, and you need to try to capitalize when you face those top drivers."
WELL, THE RULES ARE THE RULES - NHRA relaxed their traditional Pro Stock rules on engine /body style and this weekend two-time NHRA event winner Alex Laughlin is taking advantage of the new spirit of the rules.
Laughlin was third-quickest behind the wheel of his Chevrolet-powered with a 6.613, 207.59 during Friday's second session.
"We've spent half of the regular season battling problem after problem with my Camaro," Laughlin explained. We've changed everything from engines, transmissions, housings, shocks, etc; We even re-wired the entire car. Everything we did just seemed to set us back in another way with no real progress. Instead of continuing to throw money and time at the same things, we decided to switch it up. The last spot in the Top 10 is slipping away from me and we needed to make a big move to get in."
In the end, the Dodge was just the best option.
"The first plan wasn't just to jump into a Dodge," Laughlin explained. "We needed a different car and options are limited on our schedule. The Kramer's were generous enough to let us borrow one of their extra Haas cars for the rest of the season. This car being a Dart."
CRUZER WELCOMES NEW TUNER - Tommy DeLago was dismissed as tuner for Shawn Langdon in the days prior to the NHRA Heartland Nationals in Topeka. Friday he made his debut as Pedregon's new crew chief replacing Aaron Brooks.
Delago joined Glen Huszar at Cruz Pedregon Racing, and the two have history. The were first joined on Matt Hagan's 2011 Funny Car world championhip driven by Matt Hagan, where Delago was the first crew chief to guide a nitro-fueled Funny Car to a pass under four seconds (3.995, Charlotte 2, 2011) during the 1,000-foot era. Most recently, they tuned Alexis DeJoria to all of her five career wins, including the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in 2014.
"He's a guy who's real calm - almost forgot to pull me into the beams on the first run," Pedregon said. "It's a pleasure to work with him, and it's funny that we are a lot alike. We're a little rough around the edges; confident, and a little cocky too. We get along great. We are just taking baby steps now.
"He told me he wasn't a magician, and we didn't expect him to be. Rome wasn't built overnight."
Pedregon was No. 12 after two sessions on Friday with a 4.081 best.
TRYING TO GET HIS PLACE - Tim Wilkerson entered the event in the No. 11 position, just three points out of the top 10 with just two races to go before the Countdown to the Championship field is set.
The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals is the 486th race of Wilkerson's career as a nitro Funny Car driver
"Brainerd is a race I haven't won yet, but we usually run well here," Wilkerson said. "I've been to the finals there, and I'm optimistic. We have a better car now than we did at this time last year. It's really responding well, and it's listening. I've been saying that the train is on the track and everyone knows it, so came in here to do as well as we did in Seattle, if not better, and it's just going to continue to get better from here.
"We have a good car, and we've had some good races. We don't want to give up any more points, and we've already put our troubles of the past behind us."