BROWN BREAKS INTO WIN COLUMN, REACHES MILESTONE - Just 16 races after personnel changes that made his Matco Tools / Toyota / U.S. Army Dragster crew feel like an entirely new team this year, Antron Brown snapped a 23-race winless streak Sunday at the CatSpot NHRA Nationals at Pacific Raceways.

Brown used a 3.835-second elapsed time at 322.88 mph on the 1,000-foot suburban Seattle course to defeat Leah Pritchett in a Top Fuel showdown between two Don Schumacher Racing drivers with U.S. Army backing. Pritchett challenged with a 3.849-second, 320.13-mph effort.

It marked his fourth overall and third straight triumph at the Northwest Nationals but just his first victory of the year.

“This place has always been good to us: the energy, the vibe, the fans. We’re getting into a groove,” the three-time Top Fuel champion said.

Fans have reassured him all season long that “It’s going to be OK.” They didn’t need to tell Brown. “I know it’s going to be OK. This is drag racing,” he said with his trademark smile. “You’ve just got to stay with it and it will get better. I’m just so happy it happened at the Northwest Nationals.”

With Funny Car’s Ron Capps standing beside him on the podium, Brown closed the deal for a 71st DSR nitro-double (in which the team won both Top Fuel and Funny Car races at the same event). Pro Stock winner Tanner Gray shared the moment after clinching a spot on his class’ playoff list this weekend, along with Erica Enders, Vincent Nobile, and Jeg Coughlin.

Pritchett remains fourth in the standings and Brown sixth, 156 points behind her and 68 points behind No. 5 Doug Kalitta.

The victory was the 50th in Top Fuel for Brown, who also won 16 races in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class before making the career switch in 2008.

“Brother, it’s been so long since we won [the August 2017 race here at Pacific Raceways], I hadn’t thought about winning 50 races. That’s pretty incredible,” Brown said. “It’s a true blessing for the group of guys I’ve worked with my whole career in Top Fuel to make it a reality. It makes it feel even that much more special. [Crew chief] Mark Oswald is a championship Funny Car driver. He’s an innovator and engineer. Brad {assistant crew chief Mason] always been really sharp behind the scenes. He never really got his due. It feels so good to win with both of them. All of our guys really stepped up.”

Moreover, this 66th overall victory puts him just three away from tying Kenny Bernstein for sixth place on the NHRA’s all-time list.

“He’s one of my true heroes,” Brown said of the NHRA’s legendary King of Speed. “What makes him so special is the work ethic that man has. That’s who I always tried to emulate. He outworked people. He was talented. But when you put talent with work effort, that’s what made Kenny Bernstein who he was. He surrounded himself by the right people. He could jump in a car right now. I just saw him in Denver. He’s still in shape: lean, mean, trim, muscles popping out because he wants to live life every day to its fullest. That’s what I try to emulate out here in my own life and on the racetrack.” He said he “tries to help mold” his crew members “to have that same mind set.”

Brown recognized that “we were at the other end of the spectrum – we’re used to being on the opposite side. We struggled at the beginning of the year. We lost [Oswald’s co-crew chief] Brian Corradi [to Courtney Force’s first-place Funny Car team]. We had other guys move up, and they had to gel in new spots and positions. It was like a whole new team. Then we had normal Top Fuel issues. We changed engine combinations. We switched over to U.S. Army engine combination. [Tony Schumacher crew chiefs] Mike Neff and Phil Schuler and those guys gave us a great deal of help. The help of Mike Green coming over to give us an extra set of eyes really, really helped our whole team.

“We just kept doing it one run at a time. Our main focus was to get better every race and learn this new combination and make it work,” Brown said. “Today I couldn’t have been prouder of all my guys, how persistent they’ve been, not getting down, just getting to work.”

Brown has 398 races under his belt and is closing in on 700 round-wins (694, sixth all-time among all pro NHRA racers in all classes).

Brown who was runner-up in July to points leader and best buddy Steve Torrence at Epping, N.H., advanced past Shawn Reed (the Pro Modified class points leader in the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series with his “Top Secret” entry), U.S. Army teammate Tony Schumacher, and No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence.

Pritchett, driving the Sparkling Ice Dragster with crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Joe Barlam, was seeking her third victory in the past 10 races and second in the three-event Western Swing. But Brown denied the Atlanta and Denver winner her eighth overall victory. She reached the final past Troy Buff, Clay Millican, and Mike Salinas.

After an idle week, the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will reconvene in Brainerd, Minn., for the Lucas Oil Nationals. It will be the next-to-last event before the Countdown fields are established at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Susan Wade

CAPPS CLAIMS 60TH CAREER NATIONAL EVENT WIN WITH SEATTLE TITLE - This season there have been plenty near-miss race wins for Ron Capps.

The driver of the Pennzoil Synthetics/NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing had three runner-up finishes in 2018 and just one win at Bristol, Tenn., June 17.

Capps returned to Victory Lane Sunday at the 31st annual CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways near Seattle.

Capps clocked a 4.033-second lap at 314.90 mph to defeat Courtney Force’s 4.115-second run at 255.63 mph.

“We’ve been doing this,” said Capps, who qualified No. 9. “We talk about the five-disc (clutch) and going back and I like I was over talking about it. I don’t think people understood what it meant. With a field full of six-disc cars and for us to get back to what we did in 2016 when we won the championship to make the change and really not be happy. My crew chief Rahn Tobler just didn’t feel like the car responded to what he wanted. You have to remember we ran the six-disc in our Funny Car at DSR before any other crew chief. Fast-forward, a couple of races later qualified top three and win a race and then final round, final round, and final round. It has been fun, and he really feels good about how the car reacts to what he is doing.

On top of that, he threw a clutch disc into the pack that we four years ago was not one that he liked, and he put it aside and put back in the rotation at DSR. He put that in Saturday morning not knowing it used to be a very aggressive disc we thought. He put in and we got two points on Saturday during one of those qualifying runs. I’m sure a lot of crew chiefs would have the confidence to do. You work somebody, you don’t want to make a wrong move in the middle of qualifying. That’s just what he does and I’m in awe. It is such a great team, he and I and the entire team how we work together.”

This is Capps’ 60th career national event win – 59 in Funny Car and one in Top Fuel. The Top Fuel victory was the first of his career and it came at Seattle in 1995. With Tobler as his wrench boss since 2012, Capps has won 24 national events and the world title in 2016.

“I love down times and moments like this with him (Tobler),” Capps said. “It’s a lot of fun and I think we are going to have a lot of success the rest of the year. It’s perfect timing.”

Capps now has four career wins in Seattle – three in Funny Car 1998, 2016 and this year. He has been a four-time runner-up at Pacific Raceways 2001, 2006, 2008, and 2010.

Capps’ victory parade consisted of wins over Jonnie Linberg, Matt Hagan, Tim Wilkerson and then Courtney Force. The run against Lindberg, who drives for Jim Head, had plenty of drama before the run.

“I’m not going to say anything bad about Jim Head, but what he did was wrong,” Capps said. “I’m not sure he will ever admit he’s wrong about anything. I love the guy and I have been around him a long time but what he came and talked to me about when he talked to me about it was wrong. I have a lot of respect for Jim Head and I still do, but there’s no way he didn’t do that, I think for a reason. It was just a bizarre conversation that didn’t need to happen. I’ve been here all weekend long and to do it right before I’m getting in my car to race against his car, it was inappropriate no matter what. This is my livelihood. This is all I do. He has other stuff he does, and we talked about it and I’ve always had great conversations with him, but it was wrong for that conversation to come up right when it did in the staging lanes. My team was upset about, more than I was.

I’m an emotional guy. I race emotionally, and I compete emotionally, and I always have. I hope the fans would respect me more for saying what’s on mind rather than not and being vanilla and letting things go. It did get in my head a little bit, but I feel like I race better when I’m mad. I went up there and Tobler said let it go. Obviously, they don’t understand that when you get emotionally upset about something, I see the best lights ever and the best driving out of you. We will talk about it with Jim Head later. I’m not going to say a bad thing about the guy, it was just a very bizarre moment.”

Capps acknowledged Courtney Force’s team is the team to beat in Funny Car right now.

“They have a target on their back,” Capps said. “There’s the reason they are the points leader, obviously, and Brian Corradi and what he has done with that team and Courtney’s driving. I told her at the other end and her team, you guys bring out the best in us. That’s a big amount of respect we have for them. We are trying to make ground up on them and you can’t do that if she is next to me in the final round. You gain 20 points and we’re just shooting to be as high as we can in the regular season as far as points and they’re going to be tough.”

When Capps went up to compete against Courtney Force in the final round, his main thought was blocking John Force Racing from a West Coast Swing. John Force won Denver and Robert Hight was the champ in Sonoma, Calif., and both beat Capps in the finals.

“I’m in the water box, there is Don Schumacher, my teammate (Matt) Hagan walked up there before we fired the car up and all I was thinking they are going to try and sweep the Swing,” Capps said. “More than anything, I wanted to end that for Don because he was tired of hearing about it and reading about it, and we put a stop to that.”

During his winner’s interview, Capps took a moment to reflect from his first NHRA national win in Seattle in 1995 to No. 60 on Sunday.

“Some of you were here that day, that Tuesday I won in ’95,” Capps said. “I was (in) an unsponsored car and Pennzoil was on my fire suit, I borrowed money from my parents for that and my mom sewed it on my suit. That was a big moment. I have been here (Seattle) many times and I have won in Funny Car again, but that day was a faithful day. Don Prudhomme told me that was the day he started watching me on and off the track and the way I carried myself and the way I drove. That was a big moment in my career. That probably propelled me to the next of getting a phone call from Don “The Snake” Prudhomme which was an unbelievable moment and then getting to drive for the legendary Don Schumacher. It is neat to be full circle.” Tracy Renck

TANNER GRAY COLLECTS FOURTH PRO STOCK WIN OF THE SEASON - When Tanner Gray joined NHRA’s Pro Stock ranks last season, the rookie had ultra-high expectations.

Gray is living up to all the hype. He has competed in 40 career Pro Stock races and has nine national event wins – that means he’s won 23 percent of the races he’s entered.

Gray’s ninth win came Sunday when beat Deric Kramer in the final round at the 31st annual CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways Sunday near Seattle.

Gray was handed the win in the finals when Kramer had a red light start.

“It definitely (goes) to the team,” said Gray, when asked about the key for his nine wins in less than two seasons. “Equipment is everything out here. Drivers obviously play a part in it but look at Deric Kramer. He didn’t have equipment, basically his whole career and you’re scared to race the dude now. In the previous years, if you’re racing Deric Kramer in the final, “H*ll yeah, I have it made, but not anymore. He’s doing a fantastic job driving. He’s really stepped up and surprised me. It goes to show, when you have good equipment behind you it makes you drive better and everything else. It’s definitely the team that has got me where I’m at today. They’ve worked with me through the mistakes I have made I have a pretty good couple of driver coaches with Dave (Connelly, his crew chief) and my dad, (Shane) and my grandpa (Johnny) when here and there when he puts his advice in.”

This was Gray’s fourth win of the season – tops in the class. Gray has wins in Gainesville, Fla., Richmond, Va., and Norwalk, Ohio, this year.

Gray’s wins Sunday came against Fernando Cuadra, Jason Line, Vincent Nobile and then Kramer.

“It was a great day, and I couldn’t be happier,” Gray said.  “In the final, I got to wheel it a little bit, and play a factor of getting the car down the track. Your average Pro Stock run, you let the clutch out and for the most part it stays straight, and it is all about reaction time and stuff like that. When I get a chance to wheel it and pull some gears and have it sideways it is a lot of fun for me. Luckily, he went red and we were able to get the win. It was a tough day up on that starting line. It seemed reaction times were a little bit slower here. It felt like I was killing it, and was 30s. I was 28, 30, 31 and 22 in the final. I sped my linkage up to a place I’ve never really raced with it. It was kind of an experimental test for the final and I think it paid off. A 22 was really good out there, especially here in the final with the track getting hot. I’m pleaded with and end up getting the win.”

Gray acknowledged he didn’t realize Kramer had a red-light start until later in his run.

“Not until third gear after I had it pretty much somewhat straight,” he said. Tracy Renck



TOWNSEND PROGRESSING – For some reason, Richard Townsend has encountered trouble on the first day of qualifying. Last Friday at Sonoma, his parachutes didn’t deploy, and he clipped the wall just before stopping a few feet into the sand. He wound up with what he called “a a little tear in the front fender” of the former Cruz Pedregon-owned body.  He said, “It rubbed it pretty good on that side but not bad, very fixable.” Then the Oakdale, Calif., native came to Seattle and was prepared to make his first qualifying run Friday when starter Mike Gittings told him to shut off the car. But Townsend came back and scored the No. 13 spot in the provisional order. He’ll start eliminations from the No. 12 position, against No. 5-qualified Tim Wilkerson. It’s his fifth start in six events.

This man who laughed at being a 49-year-old Funny Car rookie, has an extensive background in nostalgia racing and is a certified welder who does his own fabrication. So despite this CatSpot Northwest Nationals being just his sixth race, he said he feels confident in his equipment, in his crew chief Lance Larsen, and in the way he is going about business.

“We’ve been very fortunate. We haven’t hurt very many parts in the car at all,” Townsend said. “Lance Larsen is doing a wonderful job on the car. We barely used three or four pistons every race. I mean, that’s how well the car is running. He’s not leaning on the car, the motor part of it, very much. It’s mostly been the clutch and learning the clutch applications and so forth is what’s making the car run better.”
He said the recently changed track-preparation formula is playing into his hand. “NHRA is trying some things with the track preparation and stuff and for me, it’s in our favor. There’s a little less grip that they’re putting up at the top, and it’s hard for the guys to run a big number. But we’re able to run with it. It gives me hope that I don’t have to have the four-and-a-half-million-dollar budget and the races that I do go to, I can be competitive. It gives you an incentive to go out there and do it. If you continually go out there and just get slapped down,” Townsend said. “Yeah, they’re fun to drive and slam on the gas but you want to be competitive. That’s why we’re all here.

“For us this year, being a startup team, brand-new to the Funny Car division, we have gotten so many pats on the back from car drivers, car owners. They are like, ‘There’s been a lot of people that came up here that were just really bad oil-leakers but you guys have been nothing but a stand-up team. Your turn-around times are good with your car.  You’re doing a good job driving it, and you guys are being successful. It’s been a long time since a team has come up here and did this.’ We haven’t even owned the car a year yet. Guys are like “Wow, you’re not messing around.’ No, we want to be a part of it, so we’re trying,” Townsend said.

He came armed with enough equipment to get him through the weekend, he said. The body that he said “got a minor bump on it at Sonoma, the one we put the beauty mark on” is back in Oakdale at the shop. The other two  which also came from Tony and Cruz Pedregon (“Ironically, all three of our bodies came out of the Pedregon stables, whether they’ve been Tony’s or Cruz’s. Yeah, we’ve got some Pedregon parts over here.”) are here in Seattle. Luckily we’re only an hour-and-a-half away from our shop. The car was all ready to go. We just went back and got another body and came straight here so it wasn’t too stressful. so we’ve got a spare body upstairs. We’ve got our other good-looking black body on the car here, so we’ve got plenty of bodies for the weekend.”

Townsend is looking to add to his one round-win. He defeated Jack Beckman at Phoenix and is hoping to break a string of three first-round losses. He hasn’t broken into the three-second elapsed-time range, but his ill-fated 4.055-second pass at Sonoma, which oddly enough earned him a best start of 12th, was .029 of second slower than his career-best E.T., 4.026 seconds, from the Houston race in April.

The Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, coming up in two weeks, is not on Townsend’s schedule. His next appearance will be at Dallas. “We scheduled to do 10 races and we missed the Bristol one, so we’re still going to do what we talked about doing,” he said. Then with a twinkle in his eyes, he said, “ But if we win this one, we might be going to Brainerd.”

The limited schedule isn’t limiting for him. He’s moving forward, he indicated. “Luckily with Lance being as experienced as he is, he’s run here before and he’s got data and notes and stuff. Sso he has a good idea of what he wants to do, and he’s starting to get a good feel for the car, too. He knows where he wants to be, and he’s still being conservative, even though we’re running the speeds that we are,” Townsend said. “He’s still on the conservative side of things. And we have to stay that way with our budget. That’s where we want to be, to be able to go to more shows and try to get our name out there. Slowly but surely we’re learning data. If we just tear up everything on the trailer, we’re not going to be here the next weekend. We’re going to have to go to work and try to make money to go to the next race.”
Blake Alexander’s success in Top Fuel (with two victories and a runner-up finish in just four appearances this season) is inspiring for Townsend. “He’s doing really good this year, too. He’s a good young man, and he’s brought a fresh face to the sport,” Townsend said. ”I look at John [69-year-old Force] and some of the guys that are still doing it, and there’s a lot of years left in it. I think we’re in a great renaissance right now and NHRA drag racing is growing. We do see new faces. We know a few new guys who would like to get cars out here for next year that we’ve raced with in the nostalgia series. It’s cool. I think there’s a new resurgence of people wanting to get involved.”

HADDOCK GETS TO FOLLOW HIS HEART – Terry Haddock is right where he truly wanted to be – driving his Funny Car. The one-time IHRA Funny Car champion started the season in his Top Fuel car but said as early as the Atlanta race in May that his heart is with the flopper. But in order not to lose ground in his Top Fuel progress, he is keeping pace with Del and Chuck Worsham, running two nitro cars with essentially one crew. That’s where Jim Maroney has come in.

“Actually, Jim has been helping as a sponsor on my car since the middle of last season,” Haddock said. “At certain races we’ll run two cars to help generate a little more cash flow. We’ll share the crew. Jim wanted to upgrade his license to Top Fuel, so we made an agreement to do that. We stayed after Norwalk and got his license done. Then we went to Epping and he brought in a guy he knew that helps on his nostalgia program. That guy does really good work. And they brought a couple more, so we actually have the most crew people that we’ve had in a long time. It’s actually neat, because he’s brought a couple of young kids – and we’ve been out here racing for a long time and a lot of young people don’t show the enthusiasm or the drive or the work ethic. And he’s brought along a couple young kids that are really a nice bunch to be around. We’re having fun. Everyone is doing a good job. Both cars are getting what they need, and we’re just trying to keep going.”

He said the Funny Car is “making a little progress” but said, “The dragster is still our primary focus. We were fortunate enough to qualify at Epping. We qualified at Denver. We struggled a little bit in Sonoma. But our main focus has been the dragster. We had an issue in Sonoma where we popped the blower on the first qualifying session on Saturday, so I just pushed it to the side and we’re going to work on the dragster.”

His Friday strategy was to let Maroney run the dragster in the first session and then Haddock would make a pass in the Funny Car in the second. Maroney was 14th overnight in Top Fuel and Haddock 16th in the Funny Car. His reason was the fact the Pacific Raceways dragstrip runs east to west. “I don’t want Jim driving into the sun. We’re still getting him used to the car, speeds, and all that stuff. He’d do fine, I’m sure. He’s taken anything we’ve thrown at him,” Haddock said, “but let’s make it easier on him.”

Haddock said he’s excited by the longtime nostalgia racer’s quick learning in the dragster: “I’m so impressed with him. He’s a good listener. He’s doing a really good job running the car. He’s the best leaver out here.”

McKailen Haddock, his young son, spontaneously recited Maroney’s reaction times, saying, “His worst is a .78 in licensing, and last week Antron had a .066 and he had a .033.”

Chimed in Dad, “It’s every time. It’s amazing. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but I’m really impressed. All of a sudden if you’ve got a car that can run low .80s which we’re really close to having, you can win races with a guy who can leave. So we’ll see what happens. I don’t know if it could ever go our way that well, but it’s neat knowing that it could.”

MARONEY NO DRAG-RACING NEWBIE – Longtime drag-racing fans will hear the name “Jim Maroney” and be familiar with at least the family name. But many don’t know the Lone Star Dragster.

“A lot of people out here think I’m a rookie. I’ve been around this my entire life,” Maroney, of Gilbert, Ariz., said. “My father ran fuel Funny Cars and Fuel Alters in the ’60s and ’70s through ’82, I think was his last time. I’ve been driving ever since I could drive. Last few years, I’m partners in the Candies and Hughes nostalgia Funny Car, the ’71 Barracuda. So I’ve been driving nostalgia Funny Cars for 30 years.

“To step in a Top Fuel car, yes, the speed is incredible. It is literally amazing,” he said. “The launch isn’t that much bigger deal than the nostalgia stuff, other than the noise and vibration. But at 300 feet, when the clutch locks up, this thing is a rocket ship. You feel the chassis bow up, the front-end is dancing and you think “Here we go. We’re going for a ride.”

It’s a ride that has gone on for just four races so far, but it’s one he thoroughly is enjoying.

“I ran Epping, and then this will be the third race on the Western Swing. So this is my fourth race. We obviously don’t have the budget that these big teams have, but if we can go out and run consistent, they have to beat me to the other end. That’s why we race them,” Maroney said.

“Terry [Haddock] owns the whole operation. I brought in my own crew to run the car. He’s helping on the Funny Car at the same time. He’s got an obsession with that Funny Car that I don’t understand. But Terry has been great,” Maroney said. “I couldn’t have done this without him. He gave me an opportunity that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. We’ll see how far it goes. This isn’t our last weekend.”

He said he doesn’t know what’s on the horizon after this race. “There’s some things we want to do. I’m from Arizona, Terry is from Texas, and so we’re probably going to do Vegas and Pomona,” he said. “I’d really like to do Indy. I’ve never done Indy myself. We’re adding buckets to the bucket list – we might as well just keep stacking buckets, because we’re having a good time.”

NO CHEATING, NHRA RULES IN PRO STOCK PROTEST – Pro Stock racer Chris McGaha invested $2,000 to file an official protest against Elite Motorsports late Friday following qualifying for the CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways, near Seattle.

It was an attempt to find out if the engines in the cars of provisional top qualifier Jeg Coughlin and No. 3 Erica Enders exceeded the cubic-inch displacement limits, set at 500. The NHRA Technical Committee ordered and observed a tear-down late Friday that Enders said kept her crew and Coughlin’s working until around midnight. lasted until around midnight. Ultimately, the sanctioning body ruled that both of the Elite Chevy engines were within legal limits.

“We passed tech,” Enders said. “We were 498.6, so an inch-and-a-half under 500. We’re smaller than the max on both cars. All of our stuff is the same. We’re not cheaters. We just work hard.”

Per the rules, Elite got to keep 90 percent of the protest fee, which totaled $1,800. McGaha, admittedly suspicious of Elite since 2015 regarding fuel, has since the Atlanta race in May footed the bill for fuel for the entire Pro Stock class. So he has provided free fuel, at about $1,000 per weekend, which benefits Elite (and all other Pro Stock teams). Elite boss Richard Freeman was enjoying the added windfall Saturday, while McGaha was defending his right to gather information.

McGaha paid for peace of mind, but he ended up also receiving a piece of mind from Freeman and star driver Enders and a calm denial by the squeaky-clean-branded Coughlin. Hours after the matter was settled legally, the sniping continued.

“You can’t buy class, and they can do what they want. They have no friends out here. It’s just a different way. That’s not the way we do things,” Freeman said Saturday. “We don’t really care what they do. It’s kind of sad. We made two really nice runs yesterday. What I would have done is said, “Hey, man, that was a nice run. Congratulations.” Instead they want to protest. But it is what it is.

“We’re not cheaters. We’ve never cheated,” Freeman said. “Have we taken rules to the extent? Yeah, that’s our job. Everybody out here does. If they say they don’t, they’re ignorant. Ain’t no big deal to us. To be honest with you, it was good for our team, because we all stayed and we had a good time. We found some things we needed to address, and we appreciate that.”

Enders took the extra attention as a badge of honor. So did Coughlin, who said after securing the top starting slot Saturday, “I guess it’s flattering.”

Said Enders, “Not a whole lot of people like us, which is fine. A.J. Foyt told me a long time ago, ‘If you have friends in racing, you suck.’ We’ve had a really rough couple of years, haven’t done much on the track. And now we’re running good again, and it’s pissing some people off. So we’ll take it as a compliment, because that’s exactly what it is. It means my guys at Elite Performance are doing their job finding horsepower. My crew chiefs are doing a good job at making these cars go down the track. Instead of them working hard and focusing on their program, they’re worried about what we’re doing, and that’s exactly what we need.”

Coughlin said after securing the Pro Stock No. 1 qualifying position that the protest “is actually quite humorous.” He said, “We’ve raced in the NHRA for 30 years, been fortunate to win a lot of rounds, win a lot of races, and win a lot of championships. But there’s still room for firsts. That was first last night, to be served an official protest from one of our competitors. It’s pretty flattering. We’re out here representing top-rate companies. The last thing we’re going to do is put ourselves in jeopardy with a rules infraction. We’ve just been working hard. The car’s been running pretty well. And we [Elite teams] have been pretty efficient on Sundays. In 10 of the last 11 races, we’ve had a car in the final.” He said Elite’s strong performance has not been sudden.  

McGaha said he his suspicions about Elite Motorsports hasn’t been sudden, either. He said he has had an eyebrow cocked toward that team since 2015. That complaint was about fuel, and with his steep payment to Sunoco at each event, it still bugs him. The Odessa, Texas, owner-driver said he also has questioned Oklahoma-headquartered Elite Motorsports about its intake manifolds. The animosity has simmered for a few years, and it resurfaced this weekend in text messaging and on the Internet.

"Richard Freeman is not happy with me, which I totally understand,” McGaha told Competition Plus Saturday morning. “He told me to keep sending the money his way and I said, 'Don't worry. You're going to reimburse me.’ He said, 'Don't count on it.’ I thought when I started doing this, at some time or another he would turn around and start protesting me. Then I will just get my money back."

What McGaha got from Freeman was a digital knuckle sandwich. He showed text messages from Freeman, one of which read, “Thanks for the cash. Go to work. Quit worrying about us. If you want to handle it like men, march your ass over here and let’s get ’er done. I love it. Keep sending money.”  

Chris McGaha

McGaha responded by saying, “They seem to be the only ones that like to resort to physical violence at times. I was told if I want to be a man, I can come down there [to the Elite pits] and we can settle it like men. That, to me, is saying, ‘You need to come down here and we can duke it out.’ Maybe not. But this guy turns around and calls me an idiot and a dumb-ass. I got it in text.”

He provided a text message from Freeman that included a picture of the protested parts, along with the message, “There you go, dumb-ass.” Another text message read, “Whatever you idiot think with the fuel money and everything else, keep it up. You’re a genius.” McGaha said, “So how do you go reason with somebody like that? Why would I even want to go face to face with him?”

Enders said, “It was confidential. They [NHRA personnel] wouldn’t tell us who did it, and Richard was like, ‘I know who did it. It was Chris McGaha.’ So he sent a text message, and they went back and forth a couple times. He sent the measurement of what came up after tech, and he sent that to Chris. He said, “We passed. Here you go.’”

She said McGaha replied, “You may have passed, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think you’re cheating until I can see your heads and your intake.” Enders said, “So Richard took a picture of our head and a picture of our intake manifold and sent it to him. We invited him. He could have come over and had supper with us, too. We don’t care. He could have helped us put it back together.” She laughed at the notion.

“It’s all fine. It is what it is. It creates drama for the class, which is what it needs,” she said. “But bottom line is we work hard. Teamwork makes the dream work. While we were here ‘til almost midnight last night, we cooked, we had a great dinner, we laughed, we had drinks, we carried on, we had a blast. We probably would have rather done that in a hotel lobby, but it’s all about being with the people you love.”

Referring to the name-calling via text messages, McGaha said, “That’s the class you’re dealing with right there. They told us they’re classy. That’s fine. I’m not trying to pick a fight with them. I wanted to know. Everybody did. And I had every right to know. I don’t have nearly the same opinion yesterday that I do today. I have to take the sanctioning body’s word on it at this point that it’s good. It didn’t look right to me. I protested, and they tore it down. It’s obviously legit.

“All we wanted to do was know. If they can’t respect that all we wanted to do was know, I don’t know what to tell ’em,” McGaha said. “If the sanctioning body isn’t going to police it and take care of it, which they have neglected quite a bit, then you have to leave it to the racers. The only thing the racers have got is a protest.”

BUFF CHANNELING VEGAS SUCCESS – Troy Buff is a humble Texan who seldom gets overexcited or puffed up about his Top Fuel racing chances. But several events ago at Las Vegas, the Bill Miller Racing driver predicted to Competition Plus that he felt lucky and thought he could win the event. Buff went to his first final round and gave Antron Brown a run for his money.

“Yeah, I almost beat Antron,” Buff said with a grin. “I beat Antron most of the race. He just beat me when it counted. He had legs, and he just outran me at the end.”

But Buff was trying to giving his confidence a boost when he said during qualifying, “In Vegas I told you, ‘We’re going to win this race’ . . . so  . . . We’re going to win this race.”

The fact is this weekend marked his first look at the new track-prep solution. “We  haven’t run with this new prep on the track or whatever they’re doing,” he said Friday before qualifying started “I’ve been watching on TV, going, ‘This is going to be interesting, because this car doesn’t go very straight usually, anyway. I hope it does. That’s what I’m hoping for, that it will go straight and win a race. That would be awesome.”

Buff qualified 12th and will race No. 6 starter Leah Pritchett in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

KALITTA SCORES BEST START – Doug Kalitta ran a 3.730-second pass in his Mac Tools Toyota Dragster to qualify second in the Top Fuel order. It’s his best qualifying effort of the season and continues a strong run that has seen him advance to the semifinals and finals in the past two events. He will open eliminations Sunday against Bill Litton.


MOST VICTORIES HERE – That distinction belongs to Funny Car’s John Force, who has eight trophies from 8. Tony Schumacher, with four in Top Fuel here, is next among active drivers. The late Bob Glidden was a six-time Seattle winner. And Top Fuel ace Joe Amato – who became the first to sweep the Western Swing here 29 years ago, in 1991 – won here five times before he retired.  

Force nearly didn’t break into the starting lineup this weekend. He ended Friday qualifying in 15th place. Cruz Pedregon and Jack Beckman cracked into the lineup in the third overall session Saturday afternoon and knocked Force out of the mix, down to 17th. Force blasted to the No. 10 spot and will meet Tommy Johnson Jr. in the opening round of eliminations.

Johnson is seventh in the standings, 12 points ahead of No. 8 Force.

“We ran good on Friday but struggled on Saturday,” Johnson said, “so we’re going to have to figure out the hot weather tune-up, because it’s going to be hot again tomorrow. The guys will look at all of the data tonight, learn from what we didn’t do today, and hopefully we’ll do it tomorrow.”

Force was emotional after making the field Saturday. “It’s like I won Indy, and all I did was qualify,” he said.

“Yesterday we broke a valve. You lose a run. That was crucial. Then, in the night session, it didn’t make it,” he said. “Start off today they staged me way to the right. It got down there and started spinning the tires. But I needed to get it in (the field). About 600 feet, it started turning ‘em. I stayed in it and then it dropped holes, which we know they’ll do, and it made a hard right turn. I was right straight and then it went dead right. I caught it. But to come back in this last session. Jon Schaffer and this team, Ronnie Thompson, Joe Veyette, everybody worked. We had all kinds of problems but these kids fixed it, gave me a race car and we’re in the show.”

TASCA, WILKERSON BATTLE FOR 10TH – Countdown watchers are keeping an eye this weekend on Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca – or Bob Tasca and Tim Wilkerson. Tasca is trying to hang onto the 10th and final spot for the six-race playoff that will start Sept. 13 at Reading, Pa.’s Maple Grove Raceway. Wilkerson, ranked 11th, is lurking 27 behind.

They were trying to gobble up an many qualifying points as they could get, and they were fourth and fifth on the tentative grid after Friday qualifying, Tasca fourth and Wilkerson fifth. That’s how they stayed through Saturday as the fields were set for runoffs Sunday. Tasca drew JR Todd as his Round 1 opponent; Wilkerson will face Richard Townsend.

BECKMAN RALLIES, FACES IMPROVING LANGDON – Jack Beckman, the Funny Car class’ No. 5-ranked driver, began Saturday qualifying actually unqualified. His Infinite Hero Dodge Charger lost traction on his first run and left him a with 7.192-second elapsed time that unfortunately for him was his best of the day. He didn’t fare any better in his second attempt Friday. Saturday, he and his trio of crew chiefs (Dean Antonelli, John Medlen, and Neal Strausbaugh) figured things out, and Beckman climbed into the field at No. 13 early in the day. He improved to 11th place and will take on Shawn Langdon, who at No. 6 is making his second-best start of the season (after qualifying fourth at Gainesville)

“I’m not going to say we squandered Friday. We made some big changes in the clutch after what happened to us in Sonoma, and they just didn’t pan out,” Beckman said. “Today we went back to our tried-and-true combination but with no data up here. So in essence we only had half the runs everyone else had. We made a soft run to get it down the track and get in the show and then (in Q4) we stepped on it and it shows with a good representative E.T. I think we have a phenomenal race day car again, and kudos to John Medlen, Guido (Antonelli) and Neal for putting their heads together and coming up with another great idea.”

Langdon said late Saturday, "The Global Electronic Technology guys have done a great job. They turned the car around. We made some great competitive runs in qualifying. I am looking forward to tomorrow. It is a pretty tight field, lot of good cars in the bottom half of the field. So it is going to be an interesting day. With only three races before the beginning of the Countdown, this is what we have prepared for."

BLINDERS, COURTESY OF THE KING – Northwest drag-racing legend Jerry “The King” Ruth has an intriguing connection to current Top Fuel contender.

“Clay was having trouble getting down through the lights when he first started driving for the IHRA. Mike Kloeber [a Vancouver, Wash., native] was his crew chief in the IHRA and then they came to the NHRA. They had won six IHRA championships in a row. They were dominating. They wouldn’t even qualify in the NHRA for about five years,” Ruth recalled.

“But when he first came down, I was watching him drive, and he was having trouble going straight down there. And you need to go right down the middle or it’s just not going to work,” he said. “If the car changes direction, it loses traction on one tire or the other. It lightens up the loading on the tire.

“So I said to him, ‘Let me see your helmet.’ I took duct tape and I duct-taped the helmet right down here, [like] blinders,” Ruth said, referring to the device that’s used with Thoroughbred horses. “I made it narrower until he had to turn his head around to see sideways – which I knew he wouldn’t do while he was driving. And they’re still like that. That was seven years ago.”

He said, “Well they have to make helmets like that now. Back then they didn’t. It was just an open-face, clear helmet. I narrowed it down to where you could barely just see. That’s called target vision. They’re drawn to the car that they’re racing. Going down through there and they see their front wheel, they start moving over toward it. Have you ever been in a motorhome [and another drivers passes the motorhome] and they almost hit the front of the motorhome? [You] think, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?!’ They’re being drawn to you. Trucks do it all the time. You look over there and all of a sudden they’re moving toward you. They’re looking at you and that draws them to you. Very dangerous and that’s what the drivers have. They’ll come together at the lights, that’s because they’re looking at each other. That’s what it’s all about.”

When reminding Millican of those days, he teased him, telling him, “You don’t suck as much anymore.”

CAMPBELL’S CREW WORKS THROUGH SORENESS – No. 14 Funny Car qualifier Jim Campbell probably is less excited about facing dominator Courtney Force than he is just to be here in Seattle with a healthy crew. Last weekend at Sonoma, the Oberto Dodge Charger team members were riding in a separate rental car from Campbell and from team owners Jim and Diane Dunn as they headed to the racetrack.

“The crew was coming in in the morning. We were all kind of following in and some lady blew the light and T-boned four of my guys,” Campbell said. “They were all kind of a little bit injured, but they were still out here working hard. They had some bumps, bruises, scrapes, bumped knees, and stuff. But just flipping a car over in itself is going to hurt. It rolled the car. Thank God everyone had their seatbelts on. You can imagine our surprise when we found out it was our crew. As I pulled around, we were coming in from different sides, Jim and Diane stopped. So my initial thought was ‘Oh, no, Jim and Diane were involved.’ But they weren’t.

“The awesome part about it is they went out there and worked really hard. We ran really good,” Campbell said. “The car is becoming more consistent. We’re excited about it. Jim has got so much knowledge up there [he said, pointing to his head]. I just wish I could just take a little chunk of it and put it in my brain. That would help out so much. I’ve been doing better as a driver. He’s been doing better as a tuner. The team has been doing better. We’re just becoming more cohesive as a group.”

Still, Campbell said, “It’s a very humbling sport. One minute you can be on top of the world, the car is running great, and the next minute you can’t get down the track. A lot of teams out here can prove that. Some of the teams you expect to do extremely well have struggled and some of the teams that are the independent teams, which, when the new track prep changed, it has leveled the playing field. So you can’t throw all the money in the world at it. It’s really become a tuner’s challenge.”

Jon Dunn will have his hands full Sunday when Campbell will square off against points leader Force, the No. 3 starter.

FORCE WATCHING CALENDAR – Current Top Fuel champion Brittany Force is watching the calendar. “We’ve got three races left,” she said. “We still have a lot to figure out on this car but I know this PEAK Monster Energy team is ready for it. I’ve got a lot of help around me.” Together this weekend, they staked her to an early top-half starting position, at No. 8, Friday. She finished qualifying at No. 8 and will meet No. 9 Richie Crampton in the first round of eliminations.  

Inconsistency has been the problem with the car, but Force said, “I always try to stay positive. We know we have a car that can compete.” But once again Friday, the same trouble arose. Her first run was a 3.785-second pass at 326.32 mph, but in her second she smoked the tires and clocked a 6.944. “That first run we went up there and it went straight down the track. That second pass we shook the tires off of it," Force said.

"The points reset in Indy, so we start over. Right now, we are looking for a win, and we would love to win in Seattle. We have never won here. It would give us some momentum going into Brainerd,” she said. “Our goal is the same as always. We’re just pushing to go rounds on race day, and we’re fighting for a win. We got our butt kicked in the second round last week, but we’ll just try to do better this week. Race wins and championships? Yes, we all want that. But in the long run, I want to be a good driver, a better driver, and talking with people like my dad, Robert [Hight], Alan [Johnson], even those I race against, can really be helpful.”

PRITCHETT WANTS REDEMPTION – Leah Pritchett, who will start her Sunday against Troy Buff, said her Sparking Ice Dragster team has “found our weak link, so to speak, from a power standpoint. We need to add more of that Mopar-power to it. We are experimenting with our blowers. We hurt our best one in Sonoma at our last race, so we’re kind of in new territory and figuring out how much steam we can put to that blower in order to get back to where we consider par. We’ve been a little bit above par, even today in qualifying on one side of the window, and I feel like we are right there, right at the window. Come Sunday, we know where we need to be. I’m excited for tomorrow. We hope to finish out this swing strong. I’d like to say it’ll be redemption from last week. It’s not 100 percent out of my mind. Sunday is a whole new race day, no matter what.”





SWEEPLESS IN SEATTLE - No one will win the Western Swing this season. Leah Pritchett lost her bid to become the sixth Top Fuel racer to do so when she fouled out in the opening round at Sonoma. John Force (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) both had hoped to win again last week and keep their hopes alive to become the first to win the Western Swing twice, but both lost in the Sonoma semifinals.

"We've had a lot of success racing at Pacific Raceways, been going there for a long time and it's been good to us,” Force said. “The whole Western Swing has been good to John Force Racing, hopefully that will continue. If one our teams can't sweep the Swing by themselves, Robert [Hight] with Auto Club, Courtney with Advance Auto Parts, Brittany with Monster and PEAK (in Top Fuel) and me with PEAK, well then the next best thing is to sweep it as a team. We've done it before."

It took three JFR Funny Cars to pull that off, but they did in 2014. Hight won at Denver, Courtney Force did so at Sonoma, and John Force completed the “team sweep” at Seattle.

(Don Schumacher Racing had a tag-team sweep in Funny Car in the only other nitro combo to “sweep” with different drivers. In 2015, Jack Beckman won the first two legs and Tommy Johnson took the Seattle trophy. Drew Skillman was using Gray Motorsports power when he won in Pro Stock at Denver and Seattle last year, sandwiching Tanner Gray’s Sonoma victory.)    

Despite no true sweeps this weekend, plenty is at stake during the Cat Spot NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways, near Seattle. And plenty of eyebrow-raising incidents marked the opening day of qualifying Friday.

Cruz Pedregon had a jarring engine explosion in the early Funny Car session and sat out the evening run. Bill Litton was surprised by uncooperative parachutes that failed to deploy in his initial Top Fuel pass, and he opted not to appear in his second opportunity.

John Force didn’t attempt a first-session Funny Car run – well, he did and he didn’t. He was set to line up against Tommy Johnson Jr. but because of a computer glitch in the tower, the Timing and Scoring folks ordered the racers to cut off their engines. That turned out to be blessing for Force, because his crew discovered that a head had broken off an exhaust valve. So the Peak Chevy Camaro team pushed Force from the starting line, and they went back to the pits. They came out for the second call, but Force lost traction early and wound up 15th in the 16-car field overnight. Johnson went on to grab the tentative No. 7 spot.

Steve Torrence was quickest and fastest in the Top Fuel class with a 3.723-second run at 331.61 mph. That speed reset his own two-year-old track record of 330.47. A 3.913-second elapsed time earned Matt Hagan the provisional No. 1 qualifying position in Funny Car action. Robert Hight was fastest on the 1,000-foot course for nitro cars. Erica Enders was fastest among the Pro Stock racers at 212.66 mph, but Jeg Coughlin covered the quarter-mile quickest at 6.501 seconds (212.16 mph).

Locked into the Countdown by the conclusion of the Sonoma event were Top Fuel racers Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher, Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta, and Leah Pritchett. That leaves just five spots left in the dragster class. Antron Brown possibly could clinch at Seattle but probably would need to win the race.

In Funny Car, berths are secure for Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Robert Hight, and Matt Hagan. So two John Force Racing and two Don Schumacher Racing drivers are in the playoffs, and six slots still are up for grabs. Jack Beckman has a chance to nail down a spot simply by qualifying.

Greg Anderson became the first driver in the Pro Stock class to clinch a Countdown spot. Tanner Gray, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin, and Vincent Nobile each have a chance to capture spots, but they would have to last for at least a couple of rounds Sunday.

Such calculations depend on possible oildown penalties, centerline penalties, plus the performances of their race-day opponents.

CHOCOLATE-AND-CRÈME RACING ROCKS – Top Fuel foes on the racetrack and best buddies away from it, Antron Brown and Steve Torrence have a loosely organized off-road racing team upon which Brown (with a push from creative Torrence car chief Bobby Lagana) bestowed the name “Chocolate-And-Crème.” In March they raced a Polaris RZR in the Mint 400 off-road classic in the desert near Primm, Nev. Torrence called it “a damn good time,” despite having steering trouble twice. Brown encountered no problems while completing the entire 117-mile first lap of the three-mile event.

They broke up the monotony of the Western Swing this Wednesday by taking advantage of being in the neighborhood of DirtFish Rally School, at scenic Snoqualmie, Wash. There they honed their car-control skills behind the wheels of the turbocharged 4-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza STIs that are decidedly different from their 10,000-horsepower dragsters. DirtFish is considered North America’s premier rally school, one stars Ken Block and Travis Pastrana have visited.

They met Jim Beaver, driver of the Polaris Star entry and host of the Down & Dirty radio show. He’s sponsored by DirtFish.

“Anton got the invitation, and naturally he was going to choose someone he has a good time with, and naturally it was Steve. It was another Chocolate-And-Crème adventure,” Natalie Jahnke, Torrence’s girlfriend, said.

“It was a standard car, and because both of them have experience with that, they did pretty well,” Jahnke said. “They said by the end of the day, they would have been put in an advanced course, whereas a regular layman had come in off the street and tried to drive one, they probably still would have been novice, or beginner.”

She said Brown and Torrence don’t have any future Chocolate-And-Crème gigs set, but “I’m sure they will do something together again. They have the ultimate ‘bromance.’ You love the people that they are when they’re together. Their energy is so infectious. They make each other better people. Both of them are very strong Christian men, so the fun they have is clean fun, family fun. No matter who they’re around, they have fun.”  

Torrence said the outing was fun and “a good change of pace from the grind of the Western Swing. We really had fun at the Mint 400 and [off-road racing] is something we both promised to do again.  This was just a chance to keep ourselves sharp.”

GETTING BACK TO NORMAL – Getting past Shawn Reed, Brittany Force, and Doug Kalitta was a tall enough order to fill for Tony Schumacher last Sunday. But it was harder than it needed to be at Sonoma, Calif., because Schumacher was in pain all day. A pinched nerve in his shoulder caused him to say he couldn’t “move my right arm. I’m twitching everywhere. My right side’s in agony.” He said immediately after finishing as runner-up to Blake Alexander, “To get to the final and cowboy through it all, I’m glad it’s done.”

But it wasn’t, exactly. When he arrived in Seattle, Schumacher still had pain that sent burning and tingling sensations down his right arm. He tried Friday to sign autographs with his left hand but said that turned out to be an “awful” idea. (Never mind that signature could be a collector’s item someday, maybe.) The pain was so bothersome that Schumacher looked out at the fans gathered in front of his pit and said, “I was sorry to tell those people, ‘I’m going to sign a little, but let’s do a lot of photos. I need to heal.’”

He shrugged off concerns about his ability to drive for another weekend with the problem. “It’s all right,” he said. “I’m good at what I do, and I can do it through a little pain, man. This is cowboy stuff, and you’ve got to do it. We’re not always feeling perfect, but you’ve got to do it anyway. I’ll get squared away. I’ve got a masseuse coming over. We’ll work it out. I got my neck adjusted. You just need time sometimes.”

He said he isn’t sure what caused the trouble, but he recited his schedule – which could wear out or invite injury. “I went to Norwalk, went on vacation skiing, then to Epping and home. I had seven days to get out of my house – I sold it. Then went to Denver and Sonoma and home. That’s a lot of stuff to jam into a short time. I’ve been moving a lot of stuff.” He allowed that maybe the stress of it all made his body vulnerable.

Even through his personal pain, Schumacher improved two places in the standings, back to No. 2, 137 points behind leader Steve Torrence. And the U.S. Army Dragster driver is feeling confident: “I can say that nobody else has any business writing any speeches yet, because this team has proven time and again that we know how to figure it out by the time it matters. That was, unfortunately, 20 points that we didn’t get in that final. We ran so well [Saturday, in qualifying at Sonoma] that we felt like nobody was going to beat us [race day]. We got a few lucky breaks, which we haven’t really had. And when you start running well and getting breaks, that’s how you win championships.

“We gutted it out last week  . . . and [we have] a great opportunity to win. Then we head back to Brainerd, where we’ve also won. This is the time of the year when you can really get yourself going. After Brainerd, it’s Indy, our biggest race and one that we’ve won more than anybody, and then it’s championship time, when we get to the races that really count,” he said. “And we know how to win when it matters. We have a good car and, most importantly, we have the confidence now. We started the year with a crew chief [Mike Neff] who came over from Funny Car and he says, ‘Look, it’s going to take a little time.’ Well, it’s been a little time, we’re sitting second in the points, and we’re running as well as anybody and better than most. We’re in a good place and we still keep making gains. We’re improving, and the most important races of the season are ahead of us.”

U-G-L-Y AND HE AIN’T GOT NO ALIBI – Steve Torrence had no excuses for his red-light start in the first round at Sonoma this past Sunday that, luckily for the Capco Contractors Dragster driver, didn’t cut into his points lead too much. “There’s no way to put lipstick on this one and make it look any better,” he said, thinking about his loss to Doug Kalitta. “When you’re racing those Kalitta boys, you know you have to squeeze every little bit of performance out of the race car and the driver. The driver just squeezed a little too hard. They say if you don’t red light every now and then, you’re not trying hard enough, but that don’t make you feel any better about it.” He said he’s looking at his chance this weekend “to redeem myself.” Torrence, who’s hoping to lead the Top Fuel field into the Countdown for the second straight year, leads Tony Schumacher by 137 points.


‘MO’ ON THE GO – Despite his day at Sonoma ending in a close semifinal defeat against Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta said he had brought momentum into this event. Kalitta had a decent lead on Schumacher, but lost by about six feet. “We were going good,” the Mac Tools Toyota Dragster driver said, “then evidently the clutch lever broke and we threw the rods out and threw the belt off not far from the finish line. It’s just one of those deals. Our Mac Tools Toyota Dragster was running well all day. We just got beat. I’m real proud of our guys. We came across something today that we’re pretty excited about in the motor. We’re carrying some good momentum into Seattle, and we’re all excited.”


OVER IT – Don Schumacher Racing’s Leah Pritchett, upset about red-lighting at Sonoma last Sunday, said she took co-crew chief Joe Barlam’s wisdom to heart. He said, “There are two ways to deal with it, and one of them is to get over it.”

And why not? “Seattle is a pretty great landmark for me,” she said. “It’s really where I integrated with DSR two years ago. I had been with them part-time and, when we hit that race in 2016, that was the very first step toward what we have today. We have gotten really good at having a lot of primary partners individually for each race, and this one’s no different. There’s a new color people haven’t seen on the track in a long time. I’ll call it fuchsia for Sparkling Ice, and this is their hometown race. I’m going to look at it exactly like Denver.

"We were in Mopar and Dodge’s country in Denver and we harnessed that energy [and won the Top Fuel trophy]. Lots of pressure but, honestly, I never felt it was the ‘P’ word. I preferred to call it energy. I’m looking forward to Seattle, Sparkling Ice’s hometown headquarters race, their one primary, and we’re looking to finish the Swing off just like we started it.”


SMART DRIVING – Bill Litton had a frightening moment Friday in the first qualifying session in the Worsham Family-owned dragster. Following his 3.970-second run that put him tentatively in 10th  place with one more run to go for the day, his parachutes failed to deploy. That was after he clocked a 307.86-mph speed. Litton lurched and bounced as he hopped on the brakes and made the turnout safely, avoiding a trip into the pea gravel at the end of the track. When he stepped from the car and got his helmet off, Litton blamed himself for the problem.

"I felt it going all the way to the rims, on the hop. Slapped at it three times and never hit it. My fault, that was scary."     

COULD HAVE MADE COUNTDOWN? – Blake Alexander, winner of the most recent Top Fuel final, isn’t here at Pacific Raceways this weekend. His next scheduled appearance is at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. With only six events under his belt this season, he has won twice in three final rounds. So naturally, the former Funny Car driver is a little bummed that he will be skipping this race and the one at Brainerd. After all, he’s 12th in the standings, only 19 behind No. 11 Mike Salinas and 86 behind No. 10 Richie Crampton. Of course, that will change during the next two races. But having a legitimate shot at a Countdown berth with just six appearances this year underscores what a phenomenal year the young Charlotte businessman is having.

GETTING BETTER – PROMISE! – In 15 races this season, Antron Brown has seven first-round losses and three quarterfinal defeats. Still, the Matco Tools/Toyota/U.S. Army Dragster driver said, “Every race, we’ve been making strides, getting better and better. I can tell you this right now, that this Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota team is there right now. They’re back. We always need a little luck to go our way, and we’ll get a couple of other things better, and then we’ll see where we can end up. Seattle’s always been a good race for us.”


NOT WASTING OPPORTUNITY – Scott Palmer said, "One of the things I'm most proud of is the improvement we're making since Tommy Thompson and CatSpot Organic Cat Litter started supporting us. Over the years I've seen a lot of teams get sponsors and go out there and run the same as they always have. Not us. We've won more rounds in the last two years with CatSpot on the car than I have in my entire career. It makes me feel good. My goal here is to become a respectable, competitive Top Fuel [competitor] that can win races, and I think we're there now.”

So it’s no surprise the No. 9-ranker Top Fuel race is keeping track of points to make sure he stays in the Countdown for a second straight year. He has to sweat out only this race, the next one (at Brainerd, Minn.), and the NHRA’s showcase U.S. Nationals, where anything can happen.

"Another big part of showing Tommy we're trying as hard as we can is making the playoffs,” Palmer said. “We came into [last] weekend in 10th by only a few points and now here we are in ninth place with a few rounds cushion. That's what we're after. If we continue to do that at the next few races, we'll be in the Countdown.

"All you ever want is a competitive car and now we have one," he said. "Me and Tommy Thompson, we have a hot rod right now, so I'll step up my driving and be ready to shine in Seattle. All this stuff looks easy on TV but it's not that easy. There's a lot of pressure involved at this level but we can take it. I enjoy the pressure; I really do. But I can also tell you that once the car starts, I don't feel any more pressure than what I put on myself. I probably put more on myself than I should. And that can be a problem, because you can try too hard and do something that hurts the run. I put pressure on myself because the car runs so well and I enjoy knowing that Tommy will see us running well."  

He said, “No matter what, we know this car is unbelievable. It goes down the racetrack when we want it to. And even when it looks like it doesn't in qualifying, it's working properly. We're just testing new stuff.”

Besides, Palmer said, “You've got to remember . . . I'm a guy who's raced in defense my whole life. Racing offensively takes a different mindset, and I'm going to figure it out. We've got a car that runs strong, and it's time for me to step up."

CRAMPTON BACK IN MIX – Richie Crampton competed in only the final seven races last season, replacing Troy Coughlin Jr. in the Kalitta Air/DHL Dragster for Kalitta Motorsports. So he wasn’t in the Countdown to the Championship lineup. This year it’s a whole different story. With a March victory at the Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., Crampton said it’s “refreshing to be back in the mix.” He’s holding onto 10th place, with a 67-point advantage over 11th-place Mike Salinas and just this event and two more remaining before the playoff fields are set.

“I think we’ve got what it takes to compete with the best teams out there,” Crampton said. “You want to be aware of the points and where you’re 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.”

Since the early victory, he has posted one semifinal appearance in the past 12 races for the team that Kalitta Motorsports owner Connie Kalitta heads, along with Rob Flynn. “It hasn’t all come together completely for us,” Crampton said, “but we’re working our way there. 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.”

He has won at Brainerd, in 2015 as one of five triumphs, and Indianapolis the year before as a rookie. So this could be his favorite time of the year. Besides, he said, “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.”

DENSHAM SAYS NO TO Y.E.S. RE-INVOLVEMENT –  The U.S. Army announced its exit from NHRA partnerships and obligations at the end of the season. With that, Tony Schumacher will lose his primary sponsorship, and so will the Youth and Education Services (Y.E.S.) Program. Veteran Funny Car driver Gary Densham, a former high-school shop teacher at Cerritos, Calif., started the career-oriented mentoring program years ago. He said he’s really sorry to see the Army’s decision but said Friday he isn’t going to make an attempt to spearhead that effort again. “I hate to see that go away. I hated to see when Auto Club dropped their portion of it. I think they ought to get back into it in some way or another,” Densham said. “It’s a good program – good for NHRA, good for the racers, good for the kids, good for whoever sponsors it.” He said no one has approached him about becoming re-involved: “The NHRA, the direction they’re going is different. Their objectives change sometimes.” Densham said he still is proud of the effort he mounted, “very much so.” In making his first appearance of the season since Las Vegas, Densham took the early No. 7 spot and settled in Friday evening at No. 12.


‘I’M KIDDING . . . OK, I’M NOT’ – Ron Capps said he was kidding, but he really wasn’t. “I joked about a month ago that we were over 300 points behind the leader and I said, ‘You watch – we’re going to make a run for it.’

The NAPA Dodge Charger driver said, “This is the time of year where we know we need to get into race form for the Countdown, and it starts with the Western Swing.”

It’ll be three years in a row if we can get the points lead going into the start of the Countdown. We made a big jump today, and we’re going to keep collecting those Mello Yello points.”

Capps is No. 2 in the standings, 165 off Courtney Force’s pace and eight points ahead of No.3 Robert Hight.


BATTLE TO END – Matt Hagan said immediately after losing to Don Schumacher Racing associate Ron Capps in Round 2 at Sonoma last weekend that he knew Capps would pass him in the standings. Capps moved up a spot, from third to second. Hagan fell two places, from No. 2 to No. 4. “But it’s going to be a battle down to the end, no matter what," Hagan vowed.



WANTS BETTER LUCK – Auto Club Chevy Camaro driver Robert Hight is hoping to score back-to-back victories – in two senses of the term. He won last Sunday at Sonoma, Calif., and he won here at Seattle last August. He also was ready after Friday’s first run to move out of the provisional No. 13 position here at Seattle – especially when his luck wasn’t all that much better at Sonoma. He had a Q1 engine explosion at Sonoma Raceway. “At about 200 feet, it just went boom,” Hight recalled. “It burned No. 1 piston to a crisp and then somehow it tried lifting the cylinder head off and cross-fired between one and three and that’s what blew the blower off.”


KEEPING IT SIMPLE – John Force said his aims are simple: "Right now, my goal is to keep my team together and just keep getting better. These crew chiefs – Jon Schaffer, Ronnie Thompson, Joe Veyette – these guys are really teaching these kids how not to make mistakes with the cars. I just got to get a little bit better myself.” He said he still is studying his car. “I’m still learning about this PEAK Coolant and Motor Coil Chevy Camaro and what it does, because it reacts crazy when it gets fast,” he said. “But I’m excited about it. I told these guys, ‘Give me a car that’ll go down the racetrack and I’ll give you some wins.’”


ANOTHER HURDLE – Bo Butner had had to overcome a health scare earlier this summer. Now the reigning champion has obstacles to overcome on the racetrack. He’s 10th in the standings. At this time last year, he was in the middle of an 11-race first-place run in his Jim Butner Auto Chevy Camaro for KB/Summit Racing. As this race opened, he and No. 6 Chris McGaha were separated by only 85 points. Butner trails No. 9 Deric Kramer by six points, No. 8 Jason Line by 35 points, and No. 7 Drew Skillman by 73 points.

As for his health, Butner said he has “felt like a million bucks” after – in his words – “I had three small strokes at the same time in different parts of my brain.” He was diagnosed during an emergency visit to a hospital on the way home to Southern Indiana from the race at Epping, N.H.

Butner described the ordeal this way on his Facebook page: “We were about 14 hours in on our 16-hour drive when I decided to stop at Cracker Barrel and get some dinner. I had drove for a long time that day without getting up and stretching my legs. Almost instantly I didn’t feel right. My right arm was numb and my face felt funny. I walked back to the restroom in our motorhome and seen a monster in the mirror! I went outside where Randi Lyn was taking our dog potty and she knew something wasn't right by my face. When I tried to speak only mumbles came out and she jumped into action calling our racetrack doctor and told him my symptoms. When he said HOSPITAL NOW we GPSed the closest hospital. Would you believe once again I was in the right place at the right time because St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Florence, Ky., was on the other side of Cracker Barrel?! God was really watching over me that day, because I never even planned on stopping there. I just decided to last minute!

“As we went into the Emergency Room and Randi told the attendant she thought I was having a stroke, they jumped into action. I was taken back and checked out immediately. They ran test after test on me and discovered I had three small strokes at the same time in different parts of my brain.

“This was in no way how I planned to finish the awesome week I had! Randi Lyn had just got her fifth national-event win and my mom and her best friend spent the week hanging out and having fun with us. I was ready to get home, sell some cars at Jim Butner Auto, and get packed up for the NHRA Western Swing ahead! It was a perfect week until God intervened and had other plans to slow me down!

“After getting everything checked out and my body and mind on the right path, I thought I needed to share my experience with everyone. I have friends that have experienced strokes and they were not as lucky as I was. I urge everyone who might feel the symptoms I felt to hurry to a hospital and get checked out. You only have so much time before the symptoms can stick forever!”

Then in sportsman racing parlance, Butner said, “Remember that STROKES SUCK! If you think you might be experiencing one, hit the tree and hurry to the hospital without worrying about breaking out!! You'll be glad you did!”

Butner got another clean bill of health following the Denver race.

‘ONE STINKIN’ THOUSANDTH’ – Denver winner Greg Anderson swept the Western Swing in 2004 and was eager to get his broom ready for the Seattle weekend. But Jeg Coughlin outran him in their Sonoma semifinal match-up, by not much more than the width of a few broom straws.

"We lost by one stinkin' thousandth [of a second]," the Pro Stock points leader said, shaking his head. He came up .0018-of-a-second short, despite clocking the fastest race-day speed at 212.43 mph. But elapsed time is what made the difference, and winner Jeg Coughlin used a better reaction time to win with a 6.548-second run that topped Anderson’s 6.554.

"My Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro was a great race car all weekend long, but Sunday has been our Achilles heel this year, and we didn't do a good job of staying fast. It's a work in progress still on Sunday, but overall, the performance of our cars is better. That's been really great. We'll keep trying, and we know we'll figure it out before the Countdown.”


McGAHA LIKES SEATTLE – AND VICE VERSA – Chris McGaha seems to perform well here. He owns the Pacific Raceways speed record, with a 213.40-mph pass in 2015, the year he won the Pro Stock final here over Jeg Coughlin Jr.  In the first Friday qualifying session, the Harlow Sammons Camaro driver from Odessa, Texas, was fastest at 211.83 mph, although that speed fell short of his mark.



SPORTSMAN CRASH – Super Stock racer Rodger Comstock, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was transported to a Seattle-area hospital for further evaluation after he was involved in a Friday accident during qualifying in the Super Stock class. Comstock’s 2016 Cobra hit the right-hand wall, then coasted across the centerline and into the left-hand wall before it came to a stop. Comstock exited the car under his own power.





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