2019 PRO WINTER WARM-UP - EVENT NOTEBOOK
THE FORCES ARE WITH US: The final day of the 2019 Winter Testing Saturday left Top Fuel pilot Brittany Force with a confidence boost.
Force, who drives the Advance Auto Parts John Force Racing dragster, clocked a 3.70-second time at 321.27 mph, which was the quickest elapsed time in Top Fuel for the day at Wild Horse Motorsports Park.
Force, who finished fifth in the points standings a year ago, is working for the first time with her new crew chief David Grubnic. Grubnic helped guide Clay Millican to a third-place finish in the points a year ago.
“Testing went well for us,” Brittany said in a press release. “It was good to get out to a race track and get to be with my new team and get to know my new car,” said Force. “We got the information we were looking for and Grubnic seemed happy with our test week. I’m looking forward to getting out to Pomona, it's the first race of the season, it’s a home race and it will be exciting to show off this new Advance Auto Parts dragster to all the fans.”
Force’s next stop will be competing at the season-opening Winternationals Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
On the Top Fuel side, reigning world champion Steve Torrence’s run of 3.689-second at 328.78 mph Thursday was the quickest lap for any car – dragster or Funny Car at the Winter Testing.
Brittany Force was second on the Top Fuel chart followed by Billy Torrence (3.731 seconds), rookie Jordan Vandergriff (3.731) and Mike Salinas (3.747).
The last day of testing was strong for JFR as the legend himself John Force had the quickest ET for nitro Funny Cars at 3.894 seconds at 331.61 mph. Force’s new team is led by crew chiefs by Brian Corradi and Dan Hood.
“I was on the phone with Courtney (Force) and she’s teaching me how to drive this car,” John said in a press release. “It’s a little different and the guys starting the car and how they do on the starting line, it’s all fun stuff. She has really helped me and I know she's missing it out here, especially her team but I'm happy she'll be at Pomona. She's helped me so I ran okay. We’ll be ready to go at Pomona.”
Force edged out Kalitta teammates Shawn Langdon (3.924) and reigning world champion J.R. Todd (3.931) who had the second and third-best elapsed Funny Cars times Saturday.
Robert Hight of the JFR stable had fastest elapsed time in the entire test session for nitro Funny Car with a 3.863-second elapsed time at 326.87 mph.
Hight drives the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car made his run on Feb. 1.
Hight’s run just edged out Todd’s 3.868-second lap at 324.36 mph also on Feb. 1. John Force’s run Saturday was the third quickest of the entire test session followed by Langdon (3.905).
“We’re feeling really good after four days of testing,” Hight said in a press release. “Jimmy and Chris (Cunningham) have this Auto Club Chevy figured out. We’re carrying over our momentum from last year,” said Hight. “We were testing some things, but Friday was a really good day for us. I’m excited to head to Pomona and get the 2019 season started.”
AUSTIN PROCK MAKES INAUGURAL TEST LAP IN TOP FUEL DRAGSTER: Austin Prock, the son of world championship NHRA crew chief Jimmy Prock, is expanding his drag racing driving options.
Prock, who finished the nitro Funny Car licensing process June 25 at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, made his first-ever lap in a Top Fuel Dragster Saturday evening (on Feb. 2) at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix.
Prock made his initial run in his brand-new John Force Racing Top Fuel Dragster arrived at Wild Horse Motorsports Park Saturday afternoon, Feb. 2.
The run ended quickly as he smoked the tires at the hit.
“I’m excited to be out at testing and get some more laps under my belt,” Prock said in a press release. “I know Force is working hard to get us a sponsor and get on us on the 2019 NHRA circuit and I’m just trying to do my part and make sure I’m ready when the time comes. It’s hectic and stressful but we’re having fun. Glad to be out here with Jon Schaffer and Ronnie Thompson and I know Force and Robert will be out here to support and make sure things run smooth too.”
Prock expects to make more test laps Sunday.
“We will hit the track hard (Feb. 3) and make a handful of laps,” Prock said. “We wanted to do Sunday (Feb. 3) and Monday (Feb. 4), but Sunday the weather looks a little iffy so if that’s the case we will do Monday and Tuesday (Feb. 5).”
Prock is no stranger to being behind the wheel of a dragster.
“I drove an A-Fuel car, and I made plenty of laps in the (nitro) Funny Car,” Prock said. “We’re just out here and we’re going to get some seat time and see how it goes. I have been a little bit nervous about it (driving a Top Fuel Dragster), but I’m not sweating it. I think I will do a great job. Talking to the crew chiefs around here (at JFR), they told me I got the hard one (Funny Car) out of the way. We will see how it goes. With the dragster you have to have way more finesse and be a lot smoother. If I can transition that over I think we will do great.”
BRITTANY FORCE TALKS MORE ABOUT TEST SESSION: Back in 2017, Brittany Force reached the pinnacle of the NHRA Mello Yello Series Racing, winning the Top Fuel world championship.
The 2018 campaign was full of ups and downs and saw Force finish fifth in the points standings in her John Force Racing dragster.
Force was at the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., getting ready for the upcoming season, which begins Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
Force arrived at the testing session with a new primary sponsor Advance Auto Parts and new crew chief in David Grubnic.
“We definitely needed to come to this test (session),” Force said. “We’ve had a whole change for this season. We have a new sponsor, we’re bringing out a new car and whole new team and a new chief, so we needed to be out here. We tested three days (Jan. 30-Feb. 1) and we made three runs (Feb. 2) and we’re hoping to be set up and ready to go into Pomona.”
In addition to all the changes within her team, Brittany also, for the first time will be racing without her sister, Courtney, who announced Jan. 24 that she was stepping away from driving duties of her nitro Funny Car.
“It’s going to be different,” Brittany said. “It’s going to be dad and me. It’s going to be our year, our tour. But, she (Courtney) will still come out to a lot of the races. Obviously, it will be a change not having her out here every single weekend.”
Brittany’s plan is to be No. 1 in Top Fuel after the 2019 season.
“We need to win more races and really have this car figured out perfectly by the time we go into the (six) Countdown races and kill it in the Countdown.” she said. “We need move up that ladder and steal the No. 1 spot again.”
A year ago, at the Winternationals, Brittany survived a scary wall-banging crash in the first-round of eliminations against Terry Haddock. Brittany returned to drive at the next event on the schedule which was at Wild Horse Motorsports Park.
“You learn from everything,” Force said. “Coming back from that wreck was one of the most challenging things in my career as a driver. I put it right up there next to that second round against Richie Crampton for the championship run. The nerves were through the roof and climbing back in your car after something like that is not easy, but I knew once I made my first run down the race track I would be fine. I had my guys around me and my team to support me and you have to just jump back into things like my dad always says.”
CRAMPTON READY FOR ANOTHER SEASON WITH KALITTA MOTORSPORTS: Last season Richie Crampton drove a Top Fuel Dragster for Kalitta Motorsports and the year didn’t go as well as he or the team would have like as he finished 11th in the points standings, missing the Countdown to the Championship by one spot.
The ever-positive Crampton has his full focus on 2019 as he gets set to begin another season driving at Kalitta Motorsports.
“It’s good man,” said Crampton in between making test laps at the 2019 Winter Testing in Chandler, Ariz., Jan. 30-Feb. 2. “It’s pretty exciting for me to get another season with this team and driving for one of the biggest legends of our sport in drag racing, which is Connie Kalitta. So, every time I get to get into a race car that he owns and tunes, it’s a good day for me. We’re starting out testing here pretty well, which is also a good sign of things to come for this season. I can’t wait to get to Pomona and start winning some races.”
The season-opening Winternationals are Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif. Crampton acknowledged he’s happy his first laps of the season aren’t coming at Pomona.
“At the test session, we were able to work on the obvious things, knocking the rust off as a driver for me, and then knocking the rust off the crew guys and getting their sequence down because let’s not forget, these crew members have to rebuild these entire cars in about 45to 50 minutes at the races,” Crampton said. “So, I’ve got one of the best teams out here. It’s a young group and a great group. We’re doing all that kind of stuff. We’re trying a couple different parts and pieces but anymore the changes we make are so minute that there’s a very small window that these cars run within to run from a 3.75 to a 3.68. It doesn’t take a lot of changes. The stuff we’re working on is pretty small. Nothing major, just kind of refining what we have and working on some consistency.”
Crampton also still has his day job of building racing cars at Morgan Lucas Racing in Indianapolis. Many of the cars Crampton helps build are that of his Top Fuel competitors.
“We’re pretty happy to have a bunch of competitive race cars out here in the field with obviously Steve Torrence winning the championship,” Crampton said. “Jordan Vandergriff’s in one of our cars now. Mike Salinas with the help of Alan Johnson is pretty exciting for us also. Scott Palmer’s got a new one on the way as well. Yeah, it’s really neat to be a part of building race cars.”
Driving a Top Fuel Dragster and building some for his competitors does give Crampton a unique and different perspective.
“I’m really lucky to drive these Bounty Hunter Kalitta cars,” Crampton said. “They drive great, they race great. We work on different stuff during the week for other teams. I don’t know that you’ll find a lot of other race car drivers in any other industry or any other racing series where a driver helps provide race cars to his opposition.”
Crampton acknowledged he has been quite fortunate since coming to the United States to pursue a career in drag racing.
“I’ve definitely been lucky for the past four or five years,” Crampton said. “Even prior to that, just moving to the U.S. from Australia and getting a job with some great teams was really what I wanted to do. And to be able to drive is truly something that I never really knew if it would happen or not. So, every year that I get to drive and every weekend that I get to come and strap into a 300-mph Top Fuel Dragster, yeah I consider myself really fortunate and try to make the most of the opportunities that have been laid out in front of me.”
Crampton has some high expectations for his team in 2019.
“I’d like to think we can contend for a championship with this DHL Toyota car,” he said. “We have everything it’s going to require to try and win. But, this is the pinnacle of drag racing in the entire world, and there’s going to be a lot of tough competition in the Top Fuel category this season. I’m going to dig deep as a driver and I know Connie and Kurt Elliott and my team are going to give me what I need, and we’ll see how the chips fall at the end of the year.”
GREG CARRILLO EFFICIENT AT TEST: Last season, Top Fuel driver Greg Carrillo competed in only three NHRA Mello Yello Series events, but still turned some heads.
Carrillo advanced to the semifinals of the Arizona Nationals last February at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler.
Carrillo plans to compete in Top Fuel again in 2019 and was at the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park on Jan. 31.
“We were going to make a few runs, but we found out all we needed to find out on our run (Jan. 31),” Carrillo said. “We ran it to 330 and shut it off and found out all we needed to know so there was no sense in making any more runs. That run (makes me happy). The car was clean, and it would have just carried out the numbers. That’s what we went there to accomplish so now we just trying to figure out what our next project is.”
Carrillo said his team doesn’t know yet when it will make its 2019 debut.
“We’re definitely not going to race at Pomona (the Winternationals) or Phoenix (Feb. 22-24),” he said. “We are working on some new components that we want to get incorporated before we go run again because we want to step to the next level. We want to keep moving our program forward, being quicker and faster like I have always done. We know what we need to do, and we are working on getting that done.”
Glenn Mikres is the crew for Carrillo.
Carrillo spent years racing in the Super Comp and Super Gas ranks winning multiple national events and NHRA division titles. He made his Top Fuel debut at the 2017 Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo.
VANDERGRIFF JR. GETS TEST RESULTS HE WANTED: NHRA Top Fuel team owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. came to the 2019 Winter Testing Jan. 30-Feb. 1 at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., with some simple goals and they were met.
“We accomplished what we wanted,” Vandergriff Jr. said. “We got Jordan (Vandergriff, Bob’s nephew) comfortable in the car and took care of his license and got him some good runs in there. We also got Shawn (Reed) in the car and got him used to what we do over here, and he did a good job, so we didn’t see it any need to press it any further. I would say mission accomplished. We didn’t make any runs (Feb. 2). We are getting it all ready for first race when come back to Phoenix (Feb. 22-24) with Jordan.”
Reed is thrilled to join BVR operation as a driver. Josh Hart also will run a limited Top Fuel schedule with team this season.
“This is all started a long time ago and I just wanted to drive a race car,” Reed said. “To be able to drive for Bob Vandergriff and coming here and meeting all these guys, I’m really looking forward to the season a bunch. I made one pass here in testing to about 670 (feet). I just wanted to get comfortable with the car and we were trying some different stuff out in the clutch and stuff. They wanted me to go launch the car and go straight and we did all that and there was no need to push it. It was definitely a different feel than what I have been used to. I’m just really looking forward to the season, these cars have a chance to win on any given Sunday. It’s going to be interesting and real fun.”
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED FOR PALMER’S TEAM: When Scott Palmer’s team arrived at the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., there was some boxes to check off.
According to Palmer, the boxes are checked.
“It’s good and we’re done,” Palmer said Saturday morning. “We accomplished what we wanted here 100 percent. It actually went better than we thought. We are mainly here because we have four new crew guys (out of eight) and we’re just making sure we’re ready for Pomona. That’s something we needed to get worked out and we had time to work out here (at the test). I feel a lot better about going to Pomona now and it’s going to be fun.”
The season-opening Winternationals are Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
Palmer also discussed the laps he made in his dragster that is backed by Tommy Thompson Motorsports and is sponsored by Magic Dry Organic Absorbent.
“Our first run it hauled a**. It ran great,” Palmer said. “We ran close to a low 70 to the eighth-mile and shut off a little before the eighth mile. That’s all we wanted. The second one the lights malfunctioned and that was a messed up run and the third one we shook the tires, but we were testing tires for Goodyear, which is a compliment. It’s awesome we have a car consistent enough and runs strong enough that we tested tires for Goodyear. All three runs were on tire test. It’s a new style carcass of a tire with an old-style compound. They said they learned something off it so that’s good.
We are mainly here because we have four new crew guys and we’re just making sure we’re ready for Pomona. We didn’t make any runs (Feb. 2). We were servicing (Feb. 2).”
FINALLY, STARTING THE SEASON - John Force has never been so happy to see an offseason draw to a close, but not for the reason one might think. It was supposed to be a time for rest for Force, whose team destroyed four cars during a mechanically plagued 2018.
"The season was pretty rough, but the offseason was worse," Force admitted, shaking his head in bewilderment. "But that’s all part of doing business. I’m really fortunate to have Robert Hight as company president. He runs so much of the race car side."
To know Force is to know he simply doesn't know how to be hands-off, however.
The offseason was a whole different kind of monster for Force, 69, as he had to deal with the departure of major sponsor Monster Energy, an unseamless transition with David Grubnic leaving the Stringer Motorsports team, what to do with Alan Johnson, and of course the biggest dilemma of them all - daughter Courtney's decision to step away from driving.
"I’m still talking to Monster," Force said. "I love them. Don’t know where it’s going to go, just they’ve got big involvement in NASCAR. But they love Brittany, she’s their female champion and they like her. So we’re working on a deal."
Monster signed up for a part-time schedule and with a clouded future for Courtney, Force began testing the waters for the sponsor to transfer from Courtney's Funny Car to Brittany's dragster.
"We had to go to work and make some changes but Advance Auto Parts worked real good with us, the Genesco Agency, of course, Matt from Advance, we looked at this," Force explained. "We had a plan back in the middle of the year, that’s why you kept seeing Brittany in a Carquest car or an Advance Auto Parts car because Monster had only bought so many races."
Then the rumors began circulating late last season that David Grubnic would join the team, which immediately put in question the future of Alan Johnson Racing and John Force.
Force decided to go a different route in tuning the Top Fuel dragster simply out of the desire to be in charge of the parts he runs. He wanted to run his own manufactured parts.
"I want to clarify, a lot of people ask me why I left Alan Johnson. Love Alan Johnson, love the family," Force said. "Alan’s one of the best tuners in the history of this sport. Won my daughter Brittany and that Monster Energy team a championship. But I make all my own parts. And he makes parts too, you know what I mean? Probably better than mine. But in the end, it only made sense to have all these machine shops.
"Him and I talked about it for years. If I did not have a machine shop building my own blocks and heads and clutches, blowers, I would go back to Alan Johnson, you know? But I had an opportunity here with Grubnic, had talked to me clear back at Indy. Of course he was talking to all the teams, seeing what was out there. But I don’t make decisions, whether people want to believe it or not, until I give a guy an idea I might be interested, but I want to race out the season."
Then with two races left in the 2018 season, the rumblings about Courtney's future began to surface.
"You know, I even asked her, ‘Well, are you pregnant?’ and oh boy, that got really heated," Force recalled. "She responded, 'First of all, if I were I wouldn’t tell you, you’d go on TV and tell everybody."
"But, she said, ‘No, I’m not pregnant.’"
"She wanted to make that clear. Her and Graham have a plan and I ain’t allowed to talk about it. It ain’t none of my business. So I focused on getting my weight down, you know to get back in fighting mode here."
Through it all, Force showed up in Phoenix a little worse for wear but all too willing to jump in the fight regardless of the role.
"I’m a survivor, you know what I’m saying?" Force asked. "I mentioned we were short some truck drivers [to Robert]. I said, ‘I’ll go to Indy and bring that other truck’ and Robert goes, ‘If the sun was shining, we wouldn’t let you in that 18 wheeler.’ He goes, ‘I’ll go before you."
As Force sees it, once a truck driver always a truck driver.
"Hell yeah, I still got my license, I love it," Force said emphatically. "Me and Kevin McCarthy, Duke, we used to truck. The only bad thing if you ran off the road or something, you had potato chips. He always kept two bags open on the dashboard. You would have potato chips everywhere. Those were the good ole’ days. So I just want to wish the kids that left, wherever they go, just to do well and I love them. And they know it."
With the off-season Force has had, he once considered changing the name of his team.
"Boy, I was going to take my name off the building and put Team Exodus on the side of it," Force admitted. "I mean, they were going out them doors so fast. But I’m truthful about stuff."
Force said he's truthful to a fault, but positive to an even greater fault.
I always said I’m not a liar, I’m a bull jiver," Force said with a smile. "I always tell the truth. But Robert said, ‘Boy, you paint a picture."
"Yeah, but you’ve got people that are going to go to work and they’ve got house payments, and it’s Christmas, and then New Years and they don’t know if they’ve got jobs? I’ve got some still don’t know if they’ve got jobs. But I always tell them I don’t know for sure where I’m going to be on this fourth car, and if anybody needs to leave."
In the meantime, Force has a fourth team sitting on ice, no pun intended, waiting for the right amount of sponsorship to go racing. Force has Austin Prock as his contingency driver for a contingency team, contingent on funding to hit the track.
"My truck’s sitting in Indy idling. Don’t shut it off," Force said. "Don’t shut it off ’til I call you and tell you to go. Duke’s got the potato chips lined up on the dashboard. We’ve got a lot of work cut out. We built two dragsters, two Funny Cars. We’re still trying to sign a deal for that car and we’ve got five deals going. Like I told him, I ain’t afraid to put money in this thing, too. My rental companies will be on the side of the car. If they’re going to invest in this, then I want them to get some advertising to help that business in California, Nevada, and up in Indy."
Force is still trying to get a grip on all he has going on, including plans to get more involved in social media, a thought which should scare his public relations team to death. Right now, the toughest challenge might be staying up to date on who's on his payroll.
"Well, you come out here and you see them and hell you get to where there’s so many you don’t even know them by name," Force said. "There’s 50 of them. I said to this one guy, ‘Hey, I’m glad you stayed with me.’ And he goes, ‘I didn’t."
"I said, ‘You left?"
"Another guy in the shop said, ‘I hate to do this to you. I love you but I’ve got to leave,’ and he walked out the door. Three hours later in the shop, he’s working on a car. I said, ‘I thought you quit.’ He goes, ‘No, they took me off your team, and they put me on another team right here in the shop."
Force said that was the moment he went in his office and jumped on the computer.
" I know the media went crazy and everybody was calling," Force recalled. "Hell, I had to go to CompetitionPlus to find out what I was doing because Robert makes decisions and you would write about it, and I wouldn’t even know it."
And for Force, sometimes what one doesn't know is always the best news.
FORCE'S MAN AND THE BOX - Brian Corradi has had his share of Funny Car personalities to tune for.
He's tuned for the colorful Dean Skuza, turned the wrenches for Frank Pedregon, and even Pro Modified champion turned U.S. Nationals winner Mike Ashley. Last season Corradi tuned Courtney Force to 11 number one qualifiers, and four victories in six final rounds.
Never has Corradi had an assignment the likes of which he's been given this season.
Corradi now has the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time); a driver with 149 career race wins, and 1311 round wins, and a whopping 16 NHRA Funny Car titles. He is tuning the legendary John Force.
Such an assignment could come with a measure of intimidation.
"He doesn’t intimidate me; I want to give him a good car because that’s what he deserves," Corradi said. "For as long as he’s been out here driving, 45 years, that would be the pressure, and the pressure’s directly on my shoulders to make sure that he runs well, and he’s safe. You know, other than that it doesn’t bother me. Him having all those championships, that’s what he deserves. He deserves to have a car that kicks ass. Now, where can I get him to kick would be another thing because he is getting a little bit older. But you know what, for a 69-year-old guy, the way he gets in and out of that car, I’m shocked."
Corradi, at least in testing, has had his driver, the most decorated in the sport, on a short leash. On runs during the first two days, Corradi hit the kill switch on Force's engine during runs where it appeared the car was dropping cylinders.
Corradi isn't shy or intimidated about taking the wheel remotely.
"Hell no. He doesn’t scare me." Corradi said with a smile.
"He clicked me off; It dropped a hole on the hit," Force added with a smile, knowing even the legendary Austin Coil didn't give him the hook.
"I said, ‘It always picks a hole up and goes.’ He goes, ‘No, Force.’ I think he thinks he’s going to hurt me. I told him, ‘It ain’t your fault if you hurt me because I do pretty good myself," Force said. "Bottom line. But he clicked it off on that run; it ran a .94. That was my first full pass. We never got past half track because he wouldn’t let me. Give these crew chiefs the power, I think they want to be drivers, and they control the driver. But he does it because he can see what’s really going on and a lot of times we don’t know that it drops a hole. But he clicked it, it ran 311, and it ran .94."
Corradi and his assistant Danny Hood, a throwback to their days with Mike Ashley, have been tough on their driver, whipping him into fighting shape. At this point in his career, Force, when being compared to fictional boxer Rocky Balboa, is the equivalent of Rocky 6.
"They want the car at a certain weight, this Peak Chevrolet, going to make it a contender," Force said. "I’m still 55 pounds overweight, because Courtney, she’s 70 pounds lighter than me. She’s 120-125, but I got it down to 192, and I’ll get it to 189. I may have to cut off my hair and shave my armpits; you know what I’m saying? But I’ll get there; I’m really close. I’ve been doing really well. So our doctors gave me a good deal to get back in the fight."
Being in the corner of drag racing's most prolific fighter, a rags to riches legend, Corradi knew what to expect when he accepted the assignment to make Force a contender for title No. 17.
"It’s just like I thought it was going to be," Corradi said. "A little bit of this, and a little bit of that and we’re going to work our way through it. It’s an honor to work for him. I just hope I can provide him with a good car,a competitive car, because since I started racing, he’s been racing. That’s why I was out here. I remember when I would come to the track I left my family at home, and I was here to beat Coil and Force, that was it.
"That is all I thought about through the years. Personally, I was motivated because they were the best and you want to beat the best."
MIKE GREEN’S BACK IN FUNNY CAR MIX: In December, world championship Top Fuel crew chief Mike Green joined Bob Tasca III Racing to serve as a co-crew chief on the car with Eric Lane.
The last time Green was the crew chief of a nitro Funny Car was in 2007 when he was the wrench boss for the Blue Skoal Racing machine driven by Tommy Johnson Jr. at Prudhomme Racing.
Until the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., Jan. 30-Feb. 2.
“It has gone pretty good,” Green said about the test session. “It’s different, but it is a great group of guys and I’m looking forward to racing with them. It has been a while since I worked on a Funny Car, but you know it is kind of all the same stuff. You just adjust them a little different. I’m catching up a little bit, but it’s going pretty well. We were trying to go out there and go a little quicker (Feb. 2) and it was going down the track OK and we just need to keep working on it.”
Tasca was upbeat about his team’s testing results.
“It has been good,” Tasca said. “We came out here to shake down the new car (the 2019 Ford Mustang), and we are very happy with the results. These conditions are a little tricky as far as tire shake and tire smoke. It’s not exactly what you see at an NHRA event. We made a couple of 3.90 passes.
Green was the crew chief of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for eight seasons and he guided Tony Schumacher to 27 event titles and world championships in 2009 and '14.
Prior to joining Don Schumacher Racing before the 2008 season, Green worked at Don Prudhomme Racing, Darrell Gwynn Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. As a crew chief, Green had led drivers to 50 wins – nine in Funny Car and 36 No. 1 qualifying positions.
WORSHAM RETURNS KALITTA MOTORSPORTS: Back in 2015, Del Worsham drove the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car to a world championship for Kalitta Motorsports.
This past offseason Worsham rejoined Kalitta Motorsports and is a co-crew chief with Nicky Boninfante on the Global Electronic Technology Toyota driven by Shawn Langdon.
“This is cool,” Worsham said about being back at Kalitta Motorsports. “I thought pretty hard about it, the opportunities that were out there and the situation I was in, myself and my dad and our team and it just seemed like if I was going to make a move, this was the best one. I kind of did a little pre-run with them last year and ran a couple of races with them. So, this is nice. We’re doing good and the team is working well and we’re making some good runs. I’m just forward to getting to Pomona. When we get to Pomona we will see where we really stand.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Series season-opening Winternationals are Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
“It started off the first day a little rough and we had to knock some rust off, but after that I would say it has gone better than I planned,” Worsham said.
The past two seasons Del Worsham has raced his own nitro Funny Car with his dad, Chuck. They competed on a limited schedule.
Del, a world championship driver in Top Fuel in 2011 and nitro Funny Car in 2015, enjoys both driving and tuning.
“I like them both, but as I get older it appears that working on the car seems to be more the direction I’m heading,” Worsham said. “I look at Shawn’s reaction times here in testing and a guy throws six reaction times together that were all within a .058 and .070. That was never me, but I just tried to make the best one when I needed it. There are younger kids out there who are very good at what they do, and this is there job and they concentrate 100 percent and they focus 100 percent on it.”
Although Del is working full-time with Kalitta Motorsports his dad will still run the family-owned Funny Cars and dragster.
“I have three Funny Cars and a dragster, and we are going to do a little running here and there,” Del said. “Not a full schedule obviously but we are going to run some races. I have some guys who want to run and it’s nice because it gives new people an opportunity to get out here and do it and it gives my dad a chance to still do a little bit of racing.”
LINDBERG READIES ANOTHER SEASON DRIVING FOR JIM HEAD: Driving a nitro Funny Car is something very few people get to do.
Johnnie Lindberg does, and he’s thrilled to do so. Lindberg once again will be piloting a nitro Funny Car in 2019 for Jim Head.
The Jim Head Racing team with Lindberg was the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., Jan. 30-Feb. 2.
“We started figuring the car out again,” Lindberg said about the test laps. “We changed a lot of stuff this offseason. For me, it’s always good to make some runs before the season starts, but it’s like riding a bike now. At the test session, we can test stuff we don’t really have the courage to do at races.”
Lindberg said he’s slated to run 16 races for Jim Head this season, debuting at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., March 14-17.
“So, we’re going to skip Pomona, Phoenix, Atlanta, Topeka, Epping, Denver, Sonoma, Seattle. Maybe Dallas. So, 16 is scheduled now, but you never know with Head. Like if we start hauling a**, he might go to more. Like the first year I raced with him, ‘17, we were planning to go to 16 and we ended up doing 20.”
Whatever the race number will be this season, Lindberg doesn’t take the opportunity he has for granted.
“I’m lucky to be able to drive for Head,” he said. “There’s not many people who can have this dream job. When I raced my alcohol car I did everything myself, I tuned it and everything. So now I’m a driver and he makes all the calls. But like it’s different, but I love it.”
Rewind back to 2017 and Lindberg isn’t the same driver.
“You know like when I started, it was a pretty good start,” he said. (Tim) Wilkerson gave me a really good car when I licensed. I ran 3.91 my first full pull with it so that was pretty cool. And, the first two races I went to, I went to the finals, so that was good beginner’s luck I guess. Now I’m a better driver. I know more what is going on when you smoke the tires and pedal it, and when it starts shaking, you catch things quicker. You get used to stuff. The more you drive the better you’re going to be.”
Lindberg said the transition from driving an alcohol Funny Car to a nitro Funny Car is a big leap.
“It’s just the raw horsepower,” Lindberg said about the nitro Funny Car. It pulls so hard from halftrack when the clutch goes one to one,” Lindberg said. “The alcohol car, it can almost be more. Like at the first one second of the alcohol car is pretty violent, 60 foot is pretty hard, vibrates and stuff. Like after that, if you make it through first gear in an alcohol car, the run is basically over. This thing (the nitro Funny Car), you never know what’s going to happen. You can smoke the tires at 800 feet and get sideways. You just need to be prepared for everything.
“If somebody straps into this car, they’re going to get a ride of their life, man. It’s not a lot of people that want to do it. I asked all my crew guys, ‘Why don’t you take it for a spin?’ and they’re like, (expletive), we’re not stupid like you. You’re crazy.”
Although Lindberg will not be racing at the Winternationals, he will be in Pomona tuning Brian Hough’s Top Alcohol Funny Car.
“We’re going to test here on Sunday and Monday (at Wild Horse Motorsports Park),” Lindberg said. “I’ll be helping him all year. I like being busy. You know, it’s great because I get to drive a nitro car and I get to tune an alcohol car so it’s the best of both worlds. I enjoy tuning cars as much as I like driving one, so it’s perfect that I get to work for Brian.”
JIANNA SALINAS MAKES TEST LAPS: The NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class will add a rookie in Jianna Salinas.
Salinas, 21, the daughter of Top Fuel driver Mike Salinas, made laps at the 2019 Winter Testing Session Jan. 30-Feb. 2 at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., to help get herself ready for a full-time season.
“I’ve been training with this bike for about a year now,” Salinas said about her Suzuki that is from the Underdahl-Stoffer team. “This bike was specifically made for me so it’s like a training bike. I think the best it can run is 7.50s. This was my last session with this bike. A week before Gainesville, I’m going out to Florida, I believe in Bradenton, and I will test on the real bike I will ride this year. Hopefully there, I will get to make some runs against Jimmy (Underdahl) and Karen (Stoffer) so I can get an understanding of what it will be like when I get to Gainesville.”
The 16-race NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle season begins at the Gatornationals March 14-17 in Gainesville.
“I’m very nervous, Gainesville is coming up fast,” Jianna said. “It will help because my sister Jasmine is coming out in the A-Fuel dragster in Gainesville also.”
According to Mike Salinas, his daughter, Jasmine, 27, will be joining him in the Top Fuel ranks in 2020.
Salinas acknowledged her latest test session was a little nerve-wracking.
“I’m having some issues with my arms right now,” she said. “I’m having some problems just keeping them down. I’m working on it right now and we want to break that habit before I get on the actual bike. It’s more of a posture thing. Posture is so important on these bikes. We’re really focusing on that right now.”
Although this is a learning process, Salinas has no regrets about choosing to race in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
“I like the freedom of a motorcycle and that you’re not caged in,” Salinas said. “There’s also a lot of women in this class (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and that also caught my eye. I thought if they can do this, I can do it and I’m the perfect size for it. I know my first year is going to be a learning year, but I still want to win. I want to go rounds. We have put in a year of training and I can’t go out and not try and compete.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - DAY THREE OF THE DRESS REHEARSAL SHINES
The second day of the 2019 Winter Testing Friday was a fruitful one for nitro Funny Car driver Robert Hight at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.
Hight, the two-time world champion driver for John Force Racing, had the fastest elapsed time with a 3.863-second elapsed time at 326.87 mph.
Hight drives the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car and his ET was the quickest in nitro Funny Car of the test session which began Thursday.
"This feels good," Hight said. "We have a few new guys on the team. They are doing a great job. Actually, we had some issues coming in here from shaking and having a fit. Finally, last night we put it all back together and made three great runs today. I'm pretty pumped. We are only planning on making a few more. We feel we are ready to go to the Winternationals."
The Winter Testing concludes Saturday for the nitro teams and the season-opening Winternationals are Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
Hight also clocked a 3.909-second time at 319.60 mph in his final pass Friday. His best run Thursday was a 3.942-second time at 314.68 mph.
Hight won world championships in 2009 and 2017 and finished second in the point standimgs in 2018. Jimmy Prock is his crew chief.
Hight’s run just edged out J.R. Todd’s 3.868-second lap at 324.36 mph Friday. Friday’s test session ended at 6 p.m. (MT).
Todd, the reigning world champion, who pilots the DHL Toyota Camry for Kalitta Motorsports had the best Funny Car run Thursday at 3.930-seconds at 305.22 mph.
Todd’s teammate, Shawn Langdon is third quickest on the two-day Funny Car grid with his 3.905-second time at 327.35 mph. on Friday. Legend John Force (3.942) and Matt Hagan (3.959) are third and fourth on the Funny Car chart with their runs from Thursday.
On the Top Fuel side, reigning world champion Steve Torrence’s run of 3.689-second at 328.78 mph Thursday remained the quickest lap for any car – dragster or Funny Car at the Winter Testing.
Mike Salinas had the quickest Top Fuel lap Friday at 3.747 seconds at 324.83 mph.
"We should have been a lot quicker today," Salinas said. "We are inching up on it; the car is coming back clean. I think we are going to have a rocket ship here."
Salinas said he's been shutting the car off 200 to 300 feet short of the finish line.
Salinas and his Scrappers Racing team have high expectations for the 2019 season after renowned multiple-time world championship crew chief Alan Johnson and world champion crew chief Brian Husen came onboard.
Salinas’ is the fourth quickest of the two-day session in Top Fuel, Steve Torrence (3.689 seconds), Billy Torrence (3.731), and rookie Jordan Vandergriff (3.78) occupy the first three spots.
BLUE COLLAR BAD-TO-THE-BONE - There's a fine line between winning and losing — a fine line between being confident and cocky.
"I think I figured that out two years ago," NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence admitted. "I’m very confident. I think that maybe some of my confidence comes off as cockiness and looking back on it I regret that because maybe some of the ways that I've acted [in the past] wasn’t a true indication of who I really am.
"I don’t have anything really to be cocky about. I mean I’ve got a really good group of guys over here that have stuck with us through thick and thin and work their tails off day in and day out. I go home and work at CAPCO, and I’ve got a great group of guys there that make all of this possible as well. I’ve said it a couple times already; it’s just humbling to be part of something like this."
Some might argue its hard to be humble when you clean sweep a Countdown to the Champion. Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning during the PRO Winter Warm-up at Wild Horse Motorsports Park, Torrence simply picked up where he left off.
Torrence thundered to the quickest run of Wednesday with a 3.72 elapsed time and returned on Thursday afternoon with a 3.689, 328.78. And just like last season, Torrence was in a different world than the competition, running nearly .05 quicker than the closest non-Torrence Racing entry.
Torrence has made running a "store-bought" Top Fuel operation look like a work of art.
"We’re not some big powerhouse that’s building our own parts," Torrence said. "I mean we buy all our parts from the shelf and put them on the race car and use them and they’re great parts. Everybody out here’s running something that is very, very similar if not the same. It probably is the exact same, and it just has a different stamp engraved on it.
"Whether it’s DSR, or DSM, or Force, or AJ. I mean, these things are so close. Nobody’s making enough difference in power to really change. It’s all about the boys that put these things together and the guys that are making the calls to tune it. At the end of the day, parts and pieces, they can all interchange. It’s the guys that are doing the work, and these guys, they just pay attention to detail — my hat’s off to them. I can’t give them enough credit where credit’s due. We went out, and we bought everything off the shelf and put it on the race car and won the championship."
There are many who believe Torrence is exactly the kind of blue-collar champion NHRA drag racing has needed for a while. He's quick to point out after the race is over on Sunday, he's back at CAPCO on Monday, working his real job at the family business.
"I’m not going to say what NHRA needs," Torrence contends. "I’m not going to say that they needed me. I have a ton of fans that support us, and our diehard Torrence Racing, Steve Torrence, CAPCO fans, and I’m thankful and grateful for each and every one of them. And then there’s a lot of people that don’t like Steve Torrence and don’t like me, and they don’t really know me, but they see something about me on T.V. or whatever. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, and that’s fine.
"I think one thing that this sport does need is personalities, people that are genuine and real and if you don’t like it … I mean if you want the cookie cutter, professional, thank my sponsors, thank my team and walk off and drink Mello Yello and all that then you’re barking up the wrong tree when you come over at this camp. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. We race with passion. We’re not corporate America, we’re good ole’ East Texas family-run race team and pipeliners, and we say what we think, and we race.
"We’re drag racers. We’re out here to win. We don’t make money drag racing. We do it because we love to do it and I think that that’s what this sport is built on is die-hard fans and people that want to work on their car in the garage and bring it out on the track on the weekends and race it and feel like they can relate to what we’re doing." - Bobby Bennett
J.R. TODD TALKS PHOENIX TEST, 2019 SEASON: Being a drag racer is what J.R. Todd always wanted to be.
Well, Todd is not just a drag racer, he’s the reigning NHRA Mello Yello Series nitro Funny Car world champion.
Todd captured the coveted world championship last November in Pomona, Calif., while driving the DHL Toyota for Kalitta Motorsports.
Less than three months later, Todd is back in the seat at the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix.
“It’s to get out here and knock the rust off for sure,” Todd said. “The whole champ thing, maybe it will hit me at Pomona (the Winternationals) when you really have to go into title defense mode. We’re just here trying to prepare things for Pomona where we can get there and hit the ground running to try and repeat what we did last year.
The only pressure I feel is whatever pressure I put on myself. I don’t let the media get to me saying that we are expected to go out there and win. We expect ourselves to go out here and win. We don’t show up just to make runs. We want to go out there and run as hard as we can and win as many races as we can. We are not going to change our mentality from last year going into this year just because we have the No. 1 on the side. We want to keep it there for as long as we can.”
The season-opening Winternationals are Feb. 7-10 in Pomona. With the first race on the horizon Todd acknowledged the test session at Wild Horse Motorsports Park is crucial.
"This (test session) is really important,” Todd said. “We have different parts and pieces that we want to try. We are not here just making runs to be making runs. We are trying some different things and so far, it has been productive, and we still have (Friday and Saturday) to try things and get our stuff right for Pomona. It also gets the guys back in a rhythm and a groove of working on this thing in between rounds and it gets me seat time to where you can be sharp and ready to go when you get to Pomona.”
Waiting out November, December and January away from driving does make Todd antsy.
“Especially when you’re living in Indianapolis where it is sub-zero temperatures and there’s snow all around you,” Todd said. “It seems like the offseason gets shorter and shorter each year, but I’m not complaining by any means. After about two weeks, I’m ready to get back at it. It was a nice break and I took a vacation what have you, but now it is time to go and I’m glad we are out here making runs and getting ready for Pomona.”
Todd’s transition to driving a Funny Car from a Top Fuel Dragster has been impressive, but he’s not taking all the credit.
“To me it just goes to show what kind of team we have here, the DHL Yellow Fellas,” Todd said. “It’s a great group of guys led by Todd (Smith) and Jon O (Oberhofer) and it is a great car. They won a championship with Del Worsham (in 2015). It took me some time getting comfortable driving the thing. You have to kind of retrain yourself moving from a dragster to a Funny Car and I still don’t have a whole lot of runs in a Funny Car. I feel like I’m learning on the fly and it’s a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say it is a smooth transition. It’s an ongoing never-ending process.”
Todd also couldn’t hide his excitement for the Winternationals.
“I’m pumped,” he said. “I feel like we have a good shot to go in there and hit the ground running. It would be nice to start the season off with a Winternatonals victory. That’s a big race to start the season off and I’m ready to get going to try and defend that title.”
After a handful of races last season, NHRA adopted a new track prep, which Todd took a moment to discuss.
“At first it was tough because I feel like it took NHRA a while to get the process consistent with the track prep and it took the crew chiefs a while to get a handle on the track prep. It was something we had not dealt with in the past, but once everybody got a hold of it, it definitely made for some good racing and hopefully we can stick with we had there from the summer on. It definitely took some getting used to and I understand why NHRA did it and it takes time for crew chiefs to adapt to things like that.”
Considering how hard full-time NHRA rides are to come by, Todd is grateful to be a driver for Kalitta Motorsports.
“It all starts at the top with Connie Kalitta,” Todd said. “He gave me a chance when I was kind of down and out and worried I was going to have to go get a day job. It’s a dream come true and as a driver this all you can ever ask for is to be in a top-notch car, like this DHL Toyota Camry. We have a lot of great sponsors behind us and Connie gives us all the pieces that we need to go out there and win races and contend for a championship and to do it in Scott’s car, who was the ultimate badass, a two-time world champ and Del winning a world championship to add your name to a list of drivers like that is pretty special.”
LANGDON READY FOR SECOND YEAR IN FUNNY CAR: Shawn Langdon knows how to race cars.
However, last year was a learning experience for Langdon – the 2013 Top Fuel world champion – made his debut behind the wheel of a nitro Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports.
With Global Electronic Technology as his primary sponsor, Langdon had a respectable season finishing 10th in the season points standings.
Langdon is now embarking on a year two as a Funny Car driver and is getting his first laps of 2019 at the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.
“It feels great to be out here,” Langdon said. “Obviously, we’re excited about the season. I’m excited just to get out of the house, sitting around. I was actually busy, but sitting around for a couple months, it is definitely good to get back out and hit the gas again.”
Langdon acknowledged his team has its ups and downs in 2018, but he believes his team is ready to turn the corner this season.
“We just (need to) keep doing what we’re doing,” Langdon said. “Just win rounds, win races, and hopefully contend for the championship. We’re working on things. It was a pretty tough process (last year). I’m still making runs and learning. Bringing Del (Worsham) on board is a huge asset for us. He was helping me with some things (Thursday), so it’s a constant learning curve. It’s a fun learning curve.”
Although Langdon was a world champion Top Fuel driver he said that didn’t mean much when he got in the cockpit of a Funny Car.
"Just everything about it, the drivability, how they steer,” Langdon said about the differences between piloting a dragster to a Funny Car. “The characteristics of it when you make a move, what it does and how it responds. It’s just 180 from a dragster. So, I kind of had to start back from square zero and just start all over again really.”
Langdon also is upbeat about the season-opening Winternationals – Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
“Obviously the first race of the year, everybody’s excited for it,” Langdon said. “You know, we live to race, so the first race of the year is kind of what gets everything kicked off and kind of everybody’s excited to have a good race, that way you can kind of set the tone for the year.”
Langdon truly appreciates being in the Kalitta Motorsports fold.
“It’s a great team,” he said. “I love being a part of it. Obviously, Connie Kalitta’s a legend of the sport and he knows how to run a race car and he knows how to run a team. He’s a successful businessman and so it translates on down into the four teams that we have here. We were able to have a great year with J.R. (Todd), last year but we’re looking to have a great year with all four cars this year, get all four cars into the top 10 and hopefully be able to get two championships.”
TASCA III HAS NEW FORD BODY:Nitro Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III arrived at the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler Jan. 31-Feb. 2 with a plan.
After having a solid 2018 campaign in NHRA’s Mello Yello Series, Tasca arrived in Chandler with his team’s newly-designed 2019 Ford Mustang body.
Tasca made his first runs with the new body Jan. 31.
“It felt great,” Tasca said, “We’re just doing some shakedown runs. We’re not just testing the body, we’re testing some clutch discs, a bunch of different things. But no, the car performed well. We made one run, one full pull on it (Jan. 31), a 4.01 at 309 (mph). Perfect. I mean, everything with the body’s perfect. So (Feb. 1), we’ll press and make some bigger runs. Initial observation is everything we wanted to do, strengthening the body and the aero stuff will take time to really understand exactly what the difference is. But no, so far, so good. Everything’s good.”
Tasca acknowledged he’s more than ready for the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello season to begin.
“Hey, listen, how can you not be?” Tasca said. “Brand new body, all my car guys came back, Mike Green joining the team with Eric (Lane). We got as talented of a program out there as anyone.”
Tasca isn’t putting a ton a weight in the test session at Wild Horse Motorsports Park, but he knows is something his team needed to do.
“You do things here that you don’t normally do at a national event you know because the car count is so low,” Tasca said. “But it’s good to get out here and get the guys back up to speed and try to learn a few things about new clutch discs, and so forth, how they act. But you get to Pomona (for the Winternationals Feb. 7-10), to some degree it’s a whole new ballgame. But I tell you one thing, I’m glad we’re here. I know a bunch of teams didn’t come, but for our program and getting people back up to speed, it’s a pretty valuable week before Pomona.”
Getting behind the wheel of a nitro Funny Car is common for Tasca, but he’s also glad to shake off some rust.
“It is just like riding a bike,” Tasca said. “It comes back fast. I’ve always told people, they say, ‘Do you ever worry you forgot how to drive?’ I said, ‘No, I just don’t want to forget how to stop.’ I’ll tell you one thing, the finish line comes up so fast that when you haven’t been in the car for a couple months, it’s unbelievable. Like that run we ran a 4.01, it felt like we ran 3.80. You know, so it takes a little while for your brain to adjust. It was a solid run for us (Jan. 31). We were getting the car to go down the track, getting through the shake zone out here which is sometimes pretty tricky. (Feb. 1) we’re going to try and make four runs today and knock on wood we get what we want out of it.”
THE NEW NORMAL -
To hear Angelle Sampey describe her initial rides aboard the Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson Street Rod Pro Stock bike, you'd think she accidentally jumped on Doug Vancil's Top Fuel Harley-Davidson.
Sampey was named a part-time third rider for the Screamin-Eagle Vance & Hines team on January 4, 2019, and will make her competition debut next month at the NHRA Gatornationals. For the past two days, she's been at Wild Horse Motorsports Park outside of Phoenix, Az., making test runs to become acclimated with what she describes as the most powerful bike she's straddled in her career which includes three NHRA championships.
"It is the difference from getting off of my Buell to getting on Doug Vancil’s Top Fuel Harley Davidson," Sampey said with a smile. "That is exactly what it feels like. I do not feel like I got off of one Pro Stock Motorcycle onto another Pro Stock Motorcycle. I got off of a Pro Stock Motorcycle onto a Top Fuel Motorcycle. It's definitely that feeling. And I know and I’m hoping that it’s going to get easier and easier, but right now it is extremely intimidating.."
Sampey has made a score of runs over the first two days of testing at the PRO Winter Warm-up, and on Friday made her first full run to the finish line with a 6.98 elapsed time at 191 miles per hour.
Sampey believes this experience has only confirmed what she has always believed to be true about this championship team.
"I’ve always known they were hard to beat," Sampey explained. "I’ve said it in several interviews; they’re the ones I want to beat because they are the best. Now it’s like I’m kind of glad I didn’t know all this while I was racing them because I would have never believed that I could beat them. At the time I thought, ‘I’m going to kick your ass, I’m going to beat you, I’m going to beat you, I’m going to beat you.’ Now I’m like, ‘Holy s***, how did I ever beat them?’ Thank God I didn’t know this before."
Sampey understands there will be an adjustment period, and she's more than willing to put in the team to refine her craft which has yielded 42 national event victories, and 413 round wins.
"I was just texting my dad," Sampey said. "He’s wanting to know how it’s going, and I told him it’s going to take several passes until I’m used to the power. It is unbelievable. I mean, the competition, the other racers, which used to be me, have no idea what this bike feels like. I knew it was going to be powerful, I knew it was going to pull harder, it is way more than I expected.
"It is intimidating as hell; it is pulling me. It feels like I’m shifting first gear four times. I’m used to first gear pulling, second gear pulling, and then third gear kind of levels off, fourth gear levels off, and fifth gear levels off. Towards the end of the track, you’re just kind of cruising. Un uh, not on this thing. This thing is pulling, pulling, pulling, pulling like it’s in first gear every run. It is unbelievable. I had no clue."
Sampey, whose husband Seth Drago is an MMA fighter, described the experience in fighting terms.
"I tried to tell Seth, and he doesn’t know about motorcycles, so I don’t know how to tell him what the difference is," Sampey explained. "So I said the only thing I can think to tell you is you’ve trained so hard for this fight, and you’re going in against the world champion fighter. He’s the best in the world. And you’re going to step in this octagon, and you think I’m ready enough to at least give him a little bit of a fight and you get in there and he overpowers you so much that you’re thinking, ‘Holy hell, I mean how much harder do I have to train?"
"That’s how I felt. I thought I was good enough. And I know I am, but I got some training to do, I’ve got some processing to get in my head quicker, I’ve got some things to remember. There are some things different about this motorcycle like the shifter goes a different way than the other one. It’s going to take a little bit of time but each run, I’ve only done three so far, I’ve gotten about 5 percent better in my mind as far as processing it and getting used to the power. But I’m expecting 10 passes before I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s start pushing on it." - - Bobby Bennett
HIGHT TALKS JFR GAMEPLAN FOR TEST SESSION: It has been a busy offseason for John Force Racing.
Courtney Force stepped away from driving her Funny Car. Then has been shuffling with crew chiefs and the possibility of running a fourth car.
Robert Hight, the president of JFR, and two-time nitro Funny Car world champ (2009 and 2017), said getting things ironed out is part of the season he, John Force and Brittany Force are testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park Jan. 31-Feb. 2.
“There’s no sense in coming here and just wasting money making test runs,” Hight said. “Basically, we rolled out of Pomona (in November) and we had a car that was competitive and made the run for the championship. The only goal here really is to come out here and try to get better with new things that we’ve worked on over the winter. We have a few new guys, so you’ve got to get them into shape. You can always roll back into Pomona with what you finished with at the end of the year. So, our goal was to come here and learn some new things and hopefully make us better.”
With Courtney stepping away does that change anything for your team.
“No, not really,” Hight said. “It’s good that Brian Corradi and Jimmy Prock are still working together in Funny Cars, and I think we’re going to be working really close with Dave Grubnic on the dragster. Our goal is to put a fourth dragster out, or a fourth car which will be a dragster.”
Hight said the plan is to have Austin Prock, Jimmy’s son, drive the second JFR dragster.
“It’s not going to happen right away probably, but it’s all about team work and everybody working together and trying to get better,” Hight said.
A year ago, Hight finished second in the points standings, something that’s fresh in his mind.
“It’s January and it’s a long season and you just hope that you’re in the running for a championship,” he said. “We didn’t get it done last year, we finished second. It came down to the last day of having a chance to win a championship. I’ll take that again this year.”
One thing Hight is thrilled about is to have Jimmy Prock as his crew chief.
“It’s amazing,” Hight said about the relationship he has with Prock. “Most of my wins have come with Jimmy Prock. I’m glad to have him back with me. That’s who I started my career with, it’s who I want to end my career with. This is a great team. We’ve been through a lot of highs and lows and honestly, looking back at it, more highs than lows.”
Hight also took a moment to offer his thoughts on NHRA’s track prep which began last season.
“I think the racing and the competition has never been closer in Funny Car,” Hight said. “I think it also, when you win one of these things now, it’s a big accomplishment. It’s not that easy to win. There’s a lot of good cars. So, you know just a lot of hard work is what it’s going to take to win, win races and win a championship. I feel with the group we have, Jimmy Prock, working with Brian Corradi, and this whole team, we’re going to be right there.”
TIM WILKERSON READIES FOR BUSY 2019: Veteran nitro Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson is at the Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.
However, Wilkerson isn’t driving his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang.
Pro Mod driver Chad Green is behind the wheel of Wilkerson’s machine in testing.
“More than anything we’re just kicking the rust off all the guys and trying to, we have a brand-new chassis so trying to make sure that thing goes straight, and everything works well. That’s about it really. Nothing exciting,” Wilkerson said.
According to Wilkerson his team is not running the new Ford Mustang body in testing and will not have it on the car at the season-opening Winternationals Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
“I’m hoping to have it (the new Ford Mustang body) it by Gainesville (Fla.) (the Gatornationals, March 14-17).”
Wilkerson is happy to have Green doing some driving for him at the test.
“He actually was introduced to me through John Force,” Wilkerson said. “John was talking to him about doing some stuff and John really couldn’t work it out, you know. So, they ended up bringing Chad over to me and Chad wanted to get a license. Somehow, I’ve been doing that a lot lately.
The last two or three years I’m the license guy. It was always (Del) Worsham before, he was always good at that, or Paul Smith. Now it’s Wilkerson. But anyhow, we’ll see. I think that Chad, he’ll do a good job someday if we ever get him in one. I think that’s his goal to have a fuel car someday. Right now, he’s enjoying Pro Mod and he comes out here and lets us knock the rust off our team and our techniques and away we go.”
Wilkerson acknowledged that not driving at the test session is something new for him.
“I do get a different perspective from it, but Richard’s (Hartman) so good at looking at the car that I really don’t need that perspective, you know what I mean?” Wilkerson said. “He sees everything that I see.”
It was recently announced that Blake Alexander will be field his own nitro Funny Car team in 2019 and Daniel Wilkerson, Tim’s son, will be his crew chief.
“That deal came together at 100 mph, and Blake’s got a completely different role now,” Tim said. “Now he’s going to be a team owner, before he was just a kid chasing money and finding rides, and he did a good job at that obviously because he had a real good ride last year over at Vandergriff. But he decided he wanted to go off on his own and be a team owner and so he’s out of the frying pan, into the fire.
“We will see how all that works out for him,” Tim said. “I’m excited for Daniel and for him because you’ve got two 30-year olds there, they’ll make their mark out here. You know it will be very difficult to have the same kind of car that he had last year but I’m proud of him. He’s working hard at it and Daniel’s going to be a good asset for him.”
Tim took a moment to discuss the arrangement he has with Alexander.
“He’s working out of our shop but we’re just tutoring, let’s put it that way,” Tim said. “For lack of better terms, we’re a teammate but we’re tutoring more than anything. We’re just trying to, we need more people in this sport. We need more young guys, and I told him that the first day I talked to him. I don’t care who you end up with or what you do, but make sure Pronto’s happy and they don’t leave the sport because we need more people in the sport.
I think that’s really my goal is to keep his sponsor happy and teach him some of the things that I’ve learned over 20 years of being a team owner that how you get along and learn how to adapt with all the vendors and make sure that your pay schedules are good, and your crew is happy. There’s a lot more to being an owner than meets the eye. Force and Schumacher and Kalitta, they make it look easy, but it’s tough. It’s hard.”
Having his son involved in the operation is something Tim is looking forward to.
“It’s real cool for me,” Tim said. “Daniel and I have a real good relationship. We always have. I think it will be a lot of fun. It will be a good prerequisite for us to maybe work together someday because that’d probably be our long-term goal is for him to drive and me just to tune. This will be a good way for us to hang out a lot together and see if we can put up with each other. Blake will be the recipient of any of that problem, but that’s what he gets for getting hooked up with the Wilkersons.”
TOP FUELER PALMER READY TO COME OUT SWINGING IN ‘19: Not long ago, Scott Palmer’s Top Fuel racing career was one of survival. He was racing limited schedule on a shoestring budget.
Those days became a thing of the past in 2017 when Tommy Thompson jumped on board on as his primary sponsor with CatSpot Litter and allowed him to run a full-time schedule.
Thompson is back on board again in 2019 and Palmer will be campaigning the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent Top Fuel Dragster. Palmer is making laps at the 2019 Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park. The test session concludes Feb. 2.
“It’s just pretty much all you ever wanted to do,” Palmer said about being a race car driver. “I mean so when you get the opportunity, you got to make it good. You’ve got to make it count here. We’re just lucky because Tommy Thompson has enabled us to do this with Magic Dry. We’re just out here doing our best. We just do the same thing we’ve always done. We’ve always worked hard, we’ve always stuck with it. We don’t have hobbies outside of this, we don’t have other things. We don’t do anything except work on race cars, trying to get to this level. So, when you get there, you’ve got to work harder. It’s actually not easier, it’s harder.”
Palmer, who finished 10th in the season points standings a year ago, has been aided with help from Steve Torrence and Billy Torrence. Steve won his first Top Fuel world championship in dominating fashion.
“It’s a combined effort,” Palmer said. “Jason McCulloch, Bobby Lagana were in the lounge (Thursday night) after they got done testing. It’s kind of a group effort. I’m in the lounge and I do the basics and they let me know if it’s right or wrong or if we change it.”
Palmer also has been knocking on the door of his first NHRA Top Fuel national event win. A year ago, he lost in the final round at Wild Horse Motorsports Park.
“Next up is details,” Palmer said. “That’s all it is. The reason Jason McCulloch came over and was in our pits last year, and we had gone to the final round with no crew chief. We’ve done a lot of things with no crew chief. But to be really honest, we’re survivors out here.
We needed to know how to win. We need someone who knows how to win, and he taught us that. So now we’re just carrying on what we learned from him. You watch the Torrences, they know how to win. So, we just pay attention. They’re teaching us how to win. We have the same parts. It’s not like the parts now. Now it’s just about putting all the pieces together. We’ve come close. We went a lot of rounds last year. All we need is four on one day.”
Being a world champ is dream of every racer, but that’s not Palmer’s focus.
“The world championship is not our goal,” Palmer said. “You become world champion if you just win races. If you go out and win rounds, we follow the Torrences lead and they just win. They know how to win. And if you just keep winning… I’m not talking races, I’m talking if you win rounds or keep winning rounds, the points will be up there.
We lost some opportunities last year, we should have been seventh in points before it ended. We just lost some really close races, and part of those were from going up to the starting line cautious. So, this year you’re going to see this car smoke the tires more. It’s not going to be the most consistent car out there because we’re going to go for it this year. And if it doesn’t do better, that’s fine, but it won’t be because we set back and tried to do the same thing we did last year.”
Palmer said he’s not going to be in the boat racing business this year.
“Well, Lucas (Oil) pulled out of the boat series so we’re not running the Top Fuel boat,” Palmer said. Actually, Todd Haas came over from the boat. He was the guy who was the crew chief on both Top Fuel boats. He’s been out here before with Cruz Pedregon and the Army car (Tony Schumacher). He’s out here with the car now helping me with all the details.”
Palmer said he’s utilizing the preseason test session at Wild Horse Motorsports Park to get his team up to speed for the season-opening Winternationals Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
“To be really honest, we’ve got three or four new crew guys and we’re here for that reason,” Palmer said. “We left Pomona last year and ran a 3.72, 3.73 back to back so that’s what we’re going to Pomona to try to do. And this is the same car. We have a brand-new car in Lucas’ shop in Indy. We could have brought it out here and ran it, but we decided to go with this one because it just ran so well. There are not really a lot of bugs to work out. So, we didn’t want to start new crew, new car, and everything. Our new car will go to Torrence’s shop and we will wire it and plumb it there in the next few races and then we’ll bring it out maybe Gainesville (Fla.) (Gatornationals, March 14-17) and test it and then start running.”
MILLICAN EYES 2019 AFTER PLENTY OF TEAM CHANGES: Last season for veteran Top Fuel driver Clay Millican was quite memorable.
The Tennessee native had his best NHRA Mello Series campaign to date, finishing third in the points standings behind Steve Torrence and Tony Schumacher.
Despite the stellar campaign, there has been plenty of change in the offseason for Millican and his team.
There’s a new ownership group, with Straightline Strategy Group, LLC (SSG), and Parts Plus continuing their sponsorship with the addition of Strutmasters.com stepping up their involvement.
What’s more crew chief David Grubnic left and is now working at John Force Racing and Mike Kloeber has replaced him. Veteran Jack Wyatt is now the team’s car chief.
Kloeber and Millican teamed up back in the day to capture six IHRA world championships.
“Very excited,” Millican said about his outlook. “You know, new colors, new people, but the same passion for this sport. I love what I get to do, very fortunate to do it. Really excited to be working with Mike Kloeber again. You know he and I have had a lot of success together and we definitely have some unfinished business which is winning an NHRA event together. We went to three consecutive final rounds together (in NHRA). We didn’t win one, but we’ve done very well together. Obviously very exciting. We’ve got Jim O (Oberhofer). over here, we’ve got Jack Wyatt. We’ve got a lot of experience. You know, Jack Wyatt. He’s a crafty veteran that certainly knows how to get down a race track.
This has been a fun test session. Trying to get everybody comfortable with what they’re doing. We’ve got some new people, we have some really experienced people working on the car itself.”
Millican realizes taking part in the Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., Jan. 31-Feb. 2 is vital for his team.
“It’s huge just for everyone to know where they need to stand, where they need to put their hands at, how to get a car turned around in the short amount of time that it takes to do this,” Millican said. “That’s not something you can do with brand new people at Pomona in between rounds.
We’re not out here at all looking to put big numbers up on the scoreboard because if you put a big number up here while yes it’s cool and makes you feel good, and I have done it out here at testing, but our goal coming here with a new group was simply to go out there and step on the gas a few times, see what the numbers are, see what the car’s telling us, but more importantly to get all the people comfortable dancing together I guess you would say. So that’s hugely important for a team that has so many new people.”
Going from the test session to the season-opening Winternationals Feb. 7-10 in Pomona is something Millican sees as beneficial.
“It’s one of those things where I say this a lot, you know driving this car’s like riding the ultimate roller coaster,” Millican said. “So, it’s the same way for the people. If you ride a roller coaster every day, then you kind of get used to what that roller coaster is like. So, by testing here and getting to ride the roller coaster, not just me but the people doing the service work and tuning the car, if you leave from one event and go right to another, you know what to expect and you know that feeling. This is really good, leaving right from here going to there. I love it.”
Although Millican was knocking on the door to win his inaugural NHRA world title last season, he’s keeping things in perspective for 2019.
“The primary goal is to go to Pomona and qualify and just start building off of that,” he said. “You always have that ultimate goal out there (winning the NHRA world championship) and that certainly is for me. Having won six IHRA championships, it’d be pretty dang cool to win an NHRA championship as well. First thought though, is go to Pomona, qualify, and then start turning them win lights on and add to my Wally collection.”
Millican has been racing for more than two decades and he wouldn’t change a thing about his choice of profession.
“This is my 21st year and it just seems normal to me now,” Millican said. “I don’t even think about it. It’s what I do, and I love what I get to do. It is definitely the ultimate job and I love it. It’s incredible (the rush). I mean that’s what pushes me to figure out how to continue to stay out here after all these years. It is still the ultimate rush. I can’t find anything that compares to it, that’s for sure. I’ve got to do a lot of really cool things in my life, and there’s nothing like stomping on that loud pedal.”
BROWN IS LONE DSR TOP FUEL DRIVER TESTING: Of the three Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel drivers – Tony Schumacher, Leah Pritchett and Antron Brown – only Brown is making laps at the Winter Testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.
And, Brown, a three-time Top Fuel world champ 2012, 2015-16 is happy to get the opportunity to do some preseason testing.
“We’re testing a brand-new car,” Brown said. “This actually, it’s a blend of different stuff that we’ve been wanting to do with chassis stuff, so it was actually, it’s something that’s just totally different than what we’re used to running.
It should be pretty good. It’s working out pretty good so far. We made one run with it (Thursday). The first two runs just had to get adapted to the track. And (Friday) we’re planning on making four runs so we’ll really see what we really think about it. But so far so good. It’s different than what we ran. Our teammates already had similar cars but then this has got some other things that’s different on it also too. So, we’re just trying to evolve and just go to the next level with that.”
Brown is optimistic the changes will lead to consistency for his team.
“You can just set your stuff up a little bit different and it responds different,” Brown said. “We’re hoping that’s going to be more advantageous to performing the way we want to on the way the tracks are now that we run out here in NHRA. You want to get something that you can get the most out of what you’ve got. Hopefully this will definitely get us closer to where we want to be.”
Besides testing new equipment, the test session also serves other purposes as well.
“Shaking out the rust, because when you haven’t drove a car for two months, you definitely want to get the cobwebs blown out and you want to get all the crew guys back in season,” Brown said. “That’s what you come testing for. You get more laps, get more data, and learn more stuff. But you grow, but you’ve got to get back in season, you know, get back in race mode. So that’s why you come out here, so you go to Pomona, you go out there with your best foot forward. You know, if you don’t make laps down the track, Pomona’s going to be like culture shock.”
The season-opening Winternationals are Feb. 7-10 in Pomona. Calif.
If the test session doesn’t go as planned or the team has some unanswered questions, Brown said Plan B is ready.
“We still have one (dragster) upstairs that’s the same stuff that we ran last year,” he said. “It’s not like so far out of the dark, it’s going to take a little bit different setup. But hopefully it will give us more of an advantage to what we want to have to be a quicker competitor and more competitive on the tracks that we race on now.
We’ll make our decision after we get done testing, but we don’t see it being any like, it’s not hurting us at all, you know what I mean? So, we just made one full run on it so far, so it’s in its infancy stage to say, ‘Alright, how good is it?’ We don’t know. It’s been good. That’s the game plan right now.”
After posting a strong finish in 2018, Brown believes his team is moving the right direction for 2019.
“Last year I know for sure that as a team we were striving to get better and better and we started hitting our stride over the Western swing, and then we had a couple other mishaps after that,” Brown said. “This year here we’re just truly working on performance to keep moving forward and forward and to be competitive and get back to that championship form that we’re used to.”
Getting ready for the grind of an NHRA Top Fuel is something Brown takes seriously.
“I start working out every year hard in November,” he said. “As soon as the race season is over, sometimes even before the race season is over I go back to my routine. So, in the offseason I can get in the best shape I can get, and this year here is some of the best shape I ever come into the season. I’m not sore, not achy. I definitely gained muscle, got my athletic quickness, my endurance back. I’m feeling really good for this year.
Last year man we had a lot of things going all kind of ways. Not with the team, but just me personally, at home like building a house, building a race shop, like my own shop at the house. Different stuff like that. I’m also doing no TV show stuff right now. It’s full focus on racing to get back to where we need to be.”