NEITHER TOP FUEL FINALIST INITIALLY KNEW WHO WON, BUT TORRENCE EARNS ANOTHER WALLY - Steve Torrence popped up from the cockpit of his bright red Capco Contractors Dragster, and he was seeing red Sunday afternoon.

He slid to the ground and marched straight for the timing tent at the top end of the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis dragstrip, determined to see his time slip and figure out why he lost the Top Fuel class’ final round of the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals, this showdown between the Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers.

But Torrence didn’t lose the race.

Instead, he took advantage of opponent Terry McMillen’s bobble at the starting line and won on a holeshot to claim his 38th overall victory and third on this fabled racetrack in 18 starts here (including five Traxxas Shootout bonus races).

Torrence clearly got the jump on the Christmas Tree with his 0.054-second reaction time against McMillen’s snoozy 0.234. But he smoked the tires on his normally domineering dragster as he bore down on the finish line. Meanwhile, McMillen was barreling down the right lane in his Amalie Oil Dragster, trying to make up for his late launch. And in one of the more outstanding side-by-side contests of the day, Torrence evidently thought McMillen ran him down. But Torrence atoned for his own mistake.

“I was dead late on the light,” McMillen said, “and we were going down there and he [Torrence] was pedaling it. He quit running – I could hear it. We had momentum, and at that point we were coming on pretty fast. We both got to the finish – I thought we won, he thought he lost, but it didn’t work out that way. It was just close down there. I haven’t seen a replay, but neither of us knew who won.”

Once Torrence realized he had triumphed with his 4.273-second, 224.17-mph performance – against McMillen’s quicker and faster 4.153-second elapsed time and 240.59-mph speed – he delivered a short speech that was a curiously blend of explanation, annoyance, and gratitude. He expressed irritation with his own driving and with the face mask he is required to wear in public as he tried to explain his initial confusion.

“It’s frustrating. I ain’t the best at pedaling one of these things, but I try to do my job. We go out there, and it knocked the tire off. And it kind of surprised me. I did the best we could do,” he said, perturbed by the mask (“I’m about to suffocate in this deal’).

But he calmed down once he had another Wally in his hands and said, “All the guys at Capco, thank you guys for supporting us. I got my head out of my butt. We’re heading home with another Wally.

“It’s a blessing to be able to come back out here and to get to do what we enjoy doing. We love to race. Everybody does. Maybe our country will overcome these obstacles and we’ll get back to normal real soon,” Torrence said. “We’re thankful, and we’re headed back to Texas.”

When he gets home to Kilgore in East Texas, the two-time and reigning Top Fuel king will absorb it all. He’ll appreciate that he ran his eliminations record here to 22-11 and joined other winners Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock), and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) at this third consecutive race at Indianapolis. It will hit him that he has been to eight final rounds at Indianapolis (including the U.S. Nationals in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017 and the Traxxas Shootout in 2012, 2013 and 2017).

Meanwhile, McMillen blamed himself for missing out on his third victory and his second at Indianapolis. But as he understood the strides he had made in earning the first No. 1 qualifying success, he began to value his progress.

“I just flat lost concentration on the starting line, and it cost us,” he said. “That final round I was the weak link. The round before that I was the one that saved it. It is a give-and-take team effort. Ultimately, the biggest positive out of today is we have a wicked good car and the driver just screwed up in the final round in the place you should never screw up. There is no one to blame but me.”

McMillen said, “This race car is just stout. Ever since we brought it out, it has been good. We have been taking it to the shop and reworking a couple things on it and making it better. Every time it goes down the track, we learn something new. You can’t complain. It is a great car. The driver just cost us.

“You have to take away that we have a great race car. We have a good team behind that car led by Rob Wendland,” he said.  

“This is the third weekend of the car being out. We built this car in-house,” McMillen said. “We took some of last year’s technology that we learned and took that and incorporated it into some new [features] and the car has responded. The car has done an amazing job going down the track, leaving well, 60-foot well. We continue to modify things, because we have another car three-quarters on the jjg, a fresh car, and after we are done making all these changes, I think the car is invincible. It is amazing what it can do. So you take that and couple it with the team that we have [and] the combination could be deadly.”

Being the top qualifier played no part in his starting line error, McMillen said: “Honestly, I tried to block that out. I didn’t want that on my mind, because you start thinking about that and you get yourself in trouble. I just ran it like a normal race day. I didn’t care who was in the other lane. We just looked at every situation and ran our race. Whether we won or lost, we were going to run on our terms. The No. 1 spot other than the prestige and finally checking that off our bucket list there was no distraction on race day.”

He said he and his crew “are immensely motivated” as they start concentrating on the U.S. Nationals, which he won in 2018 for his second career victory.   

“We had a good car two weeks ago and lost in the semifinals because we put a different blower on it.  It was down on blower boost. You look at our team and we are just going rounds and it was the quickest car two weeks ago. It was the No. 1 qualifier at Indy3. That is a statement. On race day, it wasn’t necessarily the quickest car, but it was probably the most consistent car,” McMillen, of Elkhart, Ind., said.

Torrence said, “Anytime you’re at Indy, it’s special.”

And Sunday, it indeed was special for both Torrence and McMillen, for different reasons. Torrence took home the trophy to prove it, but in a sense, both were winners. Susan Wade

RON CAPPS ENJOYS FIRST TRUE CAREER VICTORY IN INDY - Ron Capps was on top of his game Sunday.

And, by late afternoon, the driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for Don Schumacher Racing was celebrating in the winner’s circle at the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals presented by Pennzoil.

In the finals, Capps clocked a 4.110-second elapsed time at 294.63 mph to defeat Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd, who slowed to 10.318 seconds after smoking the tires off the starting line at Lucas Oil Raceway.  

This was Capps 65th career national event victory - 64 in nitro Funny Car and one in Top Fuel in 1995 in Seattle while driving Roger Primm’s dragster.

This was Capps first “true” national event victory in Indianapolis in his 560th career start. He did win in Indy in 2014, when he defeated John Force in the finals round of the rain-delayed event held two weeks earlier in Brainerd, Minn.

“Well, I've won the Big Bud Shootout (in Indy) three times,” Capps said. “I don't get that mentioned. Leave it to 2020 for me to get my first win at Indy. For a driver to say that he's won at every track on the circuit, I'm not sure how long that list is, but that tells you the talent that I've had around me since I started my career.

“The last two weeks were hard with these two races here after the break. To come back and know that we're on limited time to make a run in the points to do something. The coolest thing is I just got a message from the president of NAPA and he just texted me which means he was watching the show on Fox and that's huge. Like I said, I wish I could melt this (Wally) down and send it to all the essential NAPA Auto Parts people around the country because they were on it through all the COVID stuff and proud to represent this sponsor. But, for Dodge to jump in and win a Dodge race, Pennzoil, all that stuff.”

On Sunday, Capps beat Tim Wilkerson, Blake Alexander, Bob Tasca III and Todd. A DSR Funny Car has won the last seven completed events, dating back to October 2019, and DSR has campaigned a Funny Car in the final round for the past nine races. DSR, NHRA’s winningest team, now has 349 career victories.

“This is hallowed ground and I really started to wonder if I would ever win it,” Capps said. “I've said it before, the Gods here will decide when you're going to win this race. Some people they rattle off seven or eight wins. I just got a phone call from Ed (“The Ace”) McCulloch who is the king of Indy and one of my biggest heroes. It may not be the U.S. Nationals, but maybe we broke the yolk. This is still a place that’s got so many great memories and such great history.

“But most of all, this trophy is going to my wife, who's been coming to this racetrack with me for 20 something years. Our family, our friends, but my wife has come here and rode that emotional roller coaster of being close and not winning and on top of it her birthday is always at the Indy race and all those years she's just kind of rode along when I've been an emotional wreck after coming close and not being able to win and knowing how much it means. I just called home and she was crying, and it means so much to everybody. So, can't wait to take this home and spend the next couple weeks partying with it.”

Although Capps knocked out all-comers Sunday, he was quick to admit it wasn’t easy.

“Another thing about this track, it makes you earn it,” Capps said. “This track is not just a track you roll up there, you stab the gas and you go straight down the track. It's got little nuances that have really made it unique. You look at the Indy 500 over there and there’s things that some drivers master and you look at Daytona and there's things that some drivers have mastered there.

“You really have to know this track and we’ve worked well together, Rahn Tobler and I, through those little nuances. Both lanes have different things you have to be prepared for and they can certainly hurt you. First round it moved around on me and that was the reason it smoked the tires at the other end, but we got lucky. The final round it did the same thing. It started moving me around a little bit and it spun down there and that's the reason I ran a 4.11. Otherwise it should have run 3.99 or so again. You take a W even though when I got out, I said, ‘what did it run?’ because I knew that we were trying to run another 3.99. FOX rushed us. They were in a panic. It was live TV and we didn't get to warm the car up. And that was another thing. We got up and got strapped into it and had no time to think about anything. So, on top of one of the biggest races that we've had this year, we didn't get to do our normal warm-up and I don't know if it was good or bad, but maybe they're trying to tell us something.” Tracy Renck

JEG COUGHLIN JR. WINS FAMILY AFFAIR IN PRO STOCK FINAL AT INDY 3 - The winner in the NHRA Mello Yello Series Pro Stock class Sunday was the Coughlin family.

Jeg Coughlin Jr., winner of five Pro Stock world championships, bested his nephew, Troy Coughlin Jr., who was competing in just his second career Pro Stock event Sunday at the inaugural Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Indianapolis.

Jeg Jr. clocked a 6.680-second elapsed time at 206.92 mph in his JEGS.com Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to defeat Troy Jr., who slowed because of tire shake to 18.623-seconds in his JEGS.com Elite Motorsports Ford Mustang.

“It feels like the U.S. Nationals,” Jeg Jr. said about the win. “For what our country has been through here in the recent past and the foreseeable future, to be able to be out here doing what we love to do is just phenomenal. It feels good. Feels nice to have some fans on the property and everybody following the guidelines the state of Indiana has put before us and CDC and obviously the NHRA to, makes it exciting for us as racers to be able to compete and not only compete, but compete before at least a moderate amount of fans.

We know we got tens of thousands of fans that would like to be here with us this weekend. We appreciate them supporting us on the live FOX coverage today. We'll get this back hopefully to the standard normal and everyone can come back out and have a good time with us. But the race today, this weekend, was just phenomenal for us.”

Especially the final round.

“It felt really good behind the wheel from the time I let the clutch out yesterday in Q1, really all the way to the final in E4 here,” Jeg Jr. said. “I made my worst personal run there in the final run next to my nephew, which was…what a storybook tale for me to be able to experience. He and I have spent so much time together. It feels great to see him out here competing not only competing but competitively and obviously picking off some of our foes one at a time. To see him next to me in the final was just like running his dad Troy Sr. in a final was an all-family affair. We were all winner(s) at that point. It feels good and I look forward to getting back here, good Lord willing, in a couple of weeks for our granddaddy of them all, the U.S. Nationals.”

Troy Jr. echoed his uncle.

“It's absolutely huge for our brand of Jegs and Elite Motorsports,” said Troy Jr. about meeting his uncle in the finals. “So hopefully it sells a lot of parts tomorrow. Hopefully it's selling parts right now. It's exciting. I can't say anything else about just how awesome everyone here at Elite Motorsports is between Richard Freeman, Jake, everybody here, everybody on the engine staff, you got Kyle, you got everybody. It's incredible.

There are 28 employees here at Elite Motorsports and I mean heck we're celebrating here right now, all of them. They're incredible. They make me want to drive better, every single lap I make, they make me want to learn better, drive better and be better. So, it's just so exciting. There's nothing like it driving for family and with family. It's hard to describe. You got to be here to see it, you got to feel it.”

Troy Jr. knows his immediate trek to a Pro Stock final round isn’t the norm.

“A class like Pro Stock and the 50th anniversary of the class, it's an honor,” Troy Jr. said. “You get to race guys like Jason Line and girls like Erica Enders and it's an honor. I’ve been watching Pro Stock my whole life. My father started racing Pro Stock in 1994, and I've been coming around since I was a tyke so it's almost just normal to be here, but an absolute honor just to even be here.

“So, to make a final was absolutely surreal. Just kind of taking it all in and looking at all the couple of mistakes I've made over the weekend and some of the driving errors I've made and just going to try and correct my errors each race I go and continue the learning process and enjoy each moment.”

Jeg Jr. arrived this weekend in Indy with the points lead and will keep it after his second victory this season, his first coming at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., in February.

Jeg Jr. won his 65th career NHRA Pro Stock national event in his 451st career Pro Stock start. On Sunday, he beat Val Smeland, Alex Laughlin, Greg Anderson and Troy Jr.

In four NHRA national events – a scheduled completely sabotaged by the COVID-19 pandemic – Jeg Jr. has been in three final rounds and has a 12-2 elimination-round record. Tracy Renck

SAMPEY GETS FIRST PSM WIN SINCE 2016 WITH INDY 3 VICTORY - It took longer than she expected, but Angelle Sampey finally got a win aboard her Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson.

Sampey, a three-time world champion, who initially agreed to a four-race trial with the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team in January of 2019, was celebrating her first victory with the team Sunday at the inaugural Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals presented by Pennzoil in Indianapolis.

Sampey clocked a 6.880-second elapsed time at 197.07 mph to defeat Chris Bostick’s 6.950-second lap at 191.78 mph in the finals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“This is my 43rd win, but it feels like my first every time,” Sampey said. “The last time I won was in June of 2016 in Englishtown (N.J.) and it was my first time as a mother. Of course, that one felt like the first for real, but this one, it was the first time in Harley-Davidson, first final on a Harley-Davidson, first everything for Harley Davidson this weekend.

“I didn't even think we were going to make it. My clutch broke at the starting line. They had to take a couple minutes to fix it. Thank God for Chris Bostick and his team being so patient. They didn't have to wait for us the way they did but they waited, and we got it fixed and somehow, by the grace of God, I remained calm. I had an .001 light, that is not what I wanted. Not what I wanted by any means, but hey, it was on the green side this time.”

Sampey competed in the full 16-race season last year and had a season-best semifinal finish in Dallas in the fall and came in seventh in the points standings.

“I got the win and it took a load of pressure off, a million pounds of pressure off my shoulders because I wanted to do this so bad for Harley Davidson for giving me this opportunity and I started to believe that they didn't believe in me anymore,” Sampey said. “As a matter of fact, I said on the camera at the end of the track, ‘I bet you thought I was dead. But I'm not dead.’”

This was Sampey’s 43rd career NHRA national event win and her first since Englishtown, N.J., in 2016. Sampey’s 43 wins are the most ever for a female driver in NHRA history.

On Sunday, Sampey’s victory parade consisted of wins over Steve Johnson, reigning world champ and teammate Andrew Hines, Scotty Pollacheck and Bostick, which was full of drama because of the Harley’s clutch.

“What it mainly was, like I said, was by the grace of God,” Sampey said. “I closed my eyes and I looked up at the sky and I just ignored what was going on and I put all my trust in God and trust in my team because they're awesome.

“They remained calm, they got it fixed in no time at all, where some people may not have even known what to do. They knew exactly what to do and they got it fixed in no time. I was a little doubtful what was going to happen when I let the clutch go at the starting line, but just like they told me, ‘it's gonna work, it's gonna run, just do your thing.’ And that's exactly what happened.”

Before competing at the 2019 U.S. Nationals in Indy, the last time Chris Bostick was at Lucas Oil Raceway was in 2004 and he was competing in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.

Bostick made his NHRA debut 20 years ago at Lucas Oil Raceway in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. He competed in the class until Gainesville 2005.

“It's a really good bike,” Bostick said. “It’s a really fast motor. There's probably more in it. It's just a really hot day (Sunday). But we went a 6.95 in the heat of the day and so we were very pleased with that. That was our best pass of the entire weekend. So, for us to continue to progress and improve it was a big credit to Gary (Stoffer) and Greg (Underdahl) and them teaching and schooling me and their guidance. I've got to thank all of them.”

Bostick, 60, defeated Angie Smith, Ryan Oehler and Vance & Hines’ Eddie Krawiec before falling to Sampey in the finals.

“It was surreal,” Bostick said about his Sunday performance. “It's been so long since I've gone one round and to be able to go all the way to the finals was just unbelievable, a blessing. I'm glad that it was my friend Angelle in the other lane. She's been a role model to so many people and is just a good person inside and out. If I got to make it all the way to the final and I had to lose, I'm glad that it was her that I lost to. It was great.

“We had so much help from Greg (Underdahl) and Gary (Stoffer) and his whole crew, Karen (Stoffer) who's here and the calmness that she brought to me on the starting line just by her words of wisdom and such and I just love them all. I mean, it's great. And of course, my wife, Terry, who is here being supportive. So, it was amazing. What can you say? You're at a United States event, it's a national event and you go to the finals. So amazing.” Tracy Renck

ATLANTA RACE AXED? – One nitro-class driver shared Saturday that the NHRA might release a statement early this coming week, possibly Monday, that the Aug. 28-30 Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway is back off the revised schedule.

No NHRA spokesman has confirmed or denied the rumor.

And Kyle Wurtzel, who failed to qualify in the Top Fuel class Saturday along with debuting former drag boat racer Kim Davidson, said he doubts the NHRA will move ahead with the Atlanta event.

“No, I do not see the Atlanta race happening. I mean, I'm not buying plane tickets, let’s put it that way,” he said, giving NHRA officials the benefit of any doubt.

“The restrictions and rules that NHRA has got to follow from state to state, county to county, has to be the biggest headache in the world to try to figure out and navigate,” Wurtzel said. “At any moment in time, all that can change. So I can't imagine trying to run an organization or an event that requires spectators to work. It's got to be a nightmare.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Jerry Savoie, the 2016 champion, said, “I don't think they're [NHRA] going to make the season. I think they’re going to quit. It's not a smart business decision to go forward when you can’t make money. So, you know from the outside looking in as a racer, do I want to race? Absolutely, I would like to race every weekend. But money-wise, they can't afford to be traveling across the country like this with no fans at these races, or very few.”

Ryan Oehler, winner of the Pro Stock Motorcycle final at the first Indianapolis race in July, looked at the feasibility of fans being willing or able to abide by the NHRA’s public-health restrictions and requirements at the dragstrip. He said, “Here’s the tough thing: You’re trying to be politically correct. We're all trying to appease NHRA. You're not going to come out to one of these outdoor venue of things and wear a mask all day long.”

HOME NOT-SO-SWEET HOME – At first glance, racing at Indianapolis would seem like a great arrangement for Kyle Wurtzel. He didn’t have too far to travel from his Northern Indiana home at Warsaw. He’s a wealth management advisor, so he was able to get in more time at the office with his clients before heading to the racetrack. And he didn’t have to spend two extra days at airports. He could get more precious seat time in his Top Fuel dragster.

However, it didn’t turn out to be much of a sweet deal at all.

In the first of three races, he had a spectacular explosion early in his opening qualifying run. (“The mistake was my fault and it wasn't anybody else’s. We had to follow a game plan of idling down the track if it didn't sound right, and I did not stick to the game plan,” Wurtzel said.)

He returned for the second race but withdrew after realizing the team hadn’t solved its problems. He said it was an electrical issue and that the team was headed home to rewire the car before attending another event. The longtime crew of eight volunteers kept thrashing at it this Friday and Saturday morning before qualifying.

“We have some sort of electronic problem that we can't figure out or isolate what it is. We've rewired the whole car from Indy 2 to Indy 3,” he said, recounting his uneasiness in “just not knowing that there's a wire harness problem somewhere that we can't see.” Saturday morning at this third consecutive event at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Wurtzel said, “Now we've changed every ignition part on the car, along with wiring.”

That still didn’t reduce his concern as his two qualifying chances for the Dodge Indy Nationals lay ahead. He admitted his confidence level wasn’t at 100 percent: “I'm an optimistic guy, but I'm nervous.”

Despite having former Bruce Litton tuner Mike Wolfarth as his crew chief and Bob Vandergriff Racing’s Ron Douglas as a consultant (to “kind of point us in the right direction of finessing a few things on the car to help us run a little better, finessing a few things that we've been missing,” he said), Wurtzel wasn’t sure what to expect.

So Wurtzel remained on edge after his first Saturday pass, for he was no closer to knowing how trustworthy his dragster night be. He idled down the racetrack for a pass of 27.227 seconds. But his second and final opportunity brought a glimmer of hope – he kept the engine intact and clocked a 4.818-second elapsed time that boosted him into the field, on the bump spot. In the next pairing, Luigi Novelli bumped him out.

After a third attempt at making the cut at a home-state race, Wurtzel clearly didn’t benefit from the proximity to home.

“I just look at it as it helped to save some costs of travel and hotel rooms and that kind of thing. I don't know if there’s necessarily any kind of advantage just being at the same track over and over again, per se. I mean, weather conditions change weekend to weekend and you’ve got to adjust to all that, regardless of where you're located. It helped reduce some of the operating expenses that you always have,” he said.

And he said the price of nitro remains at an objectionally high level: “Same price as it was in Indy 1 and 2 – and that price is too high.”

No matter how many races the NHRA might slate for Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Wurtzel said, “Eventually it would be a deal-breaker. I mean, I have a normal job. My crew guys have normal jobs. You’ve got to have time to service the car and stuff, assuming we’re able to make runs. Even if they had 10 of them here I wouldn’t come to all 10. Nitro price doesn't really have everything to do with it. Just the time and energy it takes to properly service everything and be 100-percent prepared is going to be the biggest deterrent to be able to run a whole bunch of them here. If you had a regular race and the car was running the way we wanted it to run, price of nitro would force us to probably sit out a qualifying lap or two if we were back doing four qualifying shots. It’s silly. I’m not going to go to four qualifying shots, burn up $1,600 plus tax. They're going to have to do something to fix that problem.”

SAVOIE CONTEMPLATES FUTURE – Jerry Savoie, 61, had been weighing his business and Pro Stock Motorcycle racing options for some time. But it struck him at 4:30 one morning recently as he sat on his sofa, planning the day ahead, that’s he’s working harder with his alligator farm there in Cut Off, La., and making less money.

He raises the reptiles primarily for their skins and meat but says every part of the alligator is used in some fashion. Moreover, he releases 12 percent of what hatches on his farm back into the wild in an effort to preserve the species.

“I was thinking before I picked up [alligator] eggs this summer, I should have just raced, because right now I’ve got half of a crop plus a whole crop. So I got one-and-a-half crops from the last two years, and here we pick up eggs again this summer and we have no sales. I haven't made a sale since March.”

All the major brands of high fashion, his clients, he said, have halted their segment of the supply chain. He said, “I mean, just think about it, nobody’s shopping, nobody's doing anything. All the stores were closed. Most of them are still closed. So therefore, they're not making shoes, they’re not making purses, they’re not making watches. When you walk in Vegas and you see all those watches with those alligator straps, that's all coming from Louisiana [originally] and Switzerland – and if they're not selling watches there, they are not making more watches or watch straps. The tanner isn’t tanning more skins. Therefore, the farmer doesn't have any sales. It's like a big circle. At my age, with the money I got in the bank, I'm like, ‘I should just quit and take that money.’ But I don't think it's human nature to take a fully blown business and shut it down completely. I think maybe leasing it later on would have been an option.

“I should have stepped back,” Savoie said, the weight of the current health-economic-political situation written on his face. “My daddy died at 70, so it got me thinking about it the other day. Maybe I should have just stepped back some, because what's happening right now is the farm costs me a minimum of $400,000 a month to run.”

Yes, he has a helicopter and 15 airboats to search the LaFourche Parish bayous, and he has salaries to cover. But he said, “It's a lot of everything. My feed bill is $25,000 every seven days. So basically $125,000 a month. My natural gas bill is $100,000 a month. Then employees and pickup trucks. I’ve got eight pickup trucks and insurance and all my boats, four to five tractors. We’re busy. So it cost me about $400,000 a month.

“But I don’t owe anyone any money. We don't have any notes. But the alligator farm itself is one big note, because you got to keep everything running. You can’t just not feed them,” Savoie said. “I've been blessed in certain ways, but in some ways I've boxed myself in to something that is really hard to get out of to sell, because not just anybody can raise alligators.”

His race team has been just as erratic lately. In 2018, he and Steve Johnson decided to race together, then parted ways after just one race. He had talked about stepping aside last year and brought on Karen Stoffer. She finished fourth in the standings as his teammate last year, but she opted out of this season.

“I was going to try to make last year my last year, but after what happened at the end of the season and we ran so well . . .” Savoie said of his series runner-up performance. “We had some new things happening this year, and we’ve only had one race, so we haven't really been able to show what we've been working on. But I felt really confident that we could win a championship.

“I'm going to be honest with you. I don't know if I make the whole season this year, because this is a screwed-up mess,” he said. “Without fans here, it’s not fun. I mean, it's boring. It's fun to go race down the track, but you spend a whole weekend at the track doing nothing. Without the fans, there's nothing. It's not fun. You have nobody to share it with.”

Watching a baseball game drove home the point for Savoie: “I was flipping the channels the other night – and I’m not watching sports anymore. I’m done. I saw a baseball game. Then a guy hits the ball and the [fake] crowd is cheering [via an audio track] and I thought, ‘That is the biggest crock of bull----.’”

GREEN READY TO MAKE NEW MEMORIES HERE – Chad Green said he thought he had an excellent chance to capture his first-ever NHRA Pro Modified trophy at the previous race, the Lucas Oil Summernationals. But rain washed away his momentum, denying him and Jason Scruggs the chance to run for it right then and there. Both will get their chance at the Labor Day classic U.S. Nationals.

“We're working really hard to get one right now. I mean, we're close,” Green said. So yeah, unfortunately, we got cut short at the last race. We kind of feel bad about that. I felt like that was our day, but we're not worried about that now. We're about this weekend and maybe we can get one this weekend.”

It was certain early on Sunday that it wasn’t going to happen for either Green or Scruggs. Both lost in the first round, Green to Jim Whiteley and Scruggs to Clint Satterfield.

Green said the competition in this class still is brutal: “Oh, it's extremely tough. I mean, these guys are the best. There's no room for error.”

He indicated he has shaken any haunting feelings about this venue. His wild ride here last September during the U.S. Nationals resulted in back surgery.

“When it comes down to it,” Green said, “when I get in the car and get up there and get on the starting line, you don’t really think about any of that. It’s just another track, just another run. You get in your zone, and that’s all you think about.”

SCRUGGS MASTERING PRO MOD PRESSURES – Jason Scruggs once remarked, “It’s hard for me to leave [home], so when we go, we have to win.”

Scruggs grows cotton and soybeans and tends his 28,000 acres while finding time to build homes and help manage the family Farm, Lawn & Garden home-improvement store near Tupelo, Miss. He’s a busy man. But somehow he has leftover energy to race – and do it in dominating style in the short-track doorslammer world.

Now Scruggs, who exited in the first round of Pro Mod eliminations Sunday, has a chance in about three weeks to start piling up some NHRA trophies.

“Everybody's got the same idea, and only one person can win. But you got to go with that mindset or you will never do any good. So that's all I mean when I say that,” he said.

“Realistically, you're going to lose a whole lot more than you ever win. You’ve got to take every round at a time and hopefully you try to win, that's kind of what I mean when I say that,” Scruggs said. “We're trying to race little bit smarter. We make sure we go A to B because out here, the way the track changes, you just get so much data and with this COVID stuff, they’ve got us limited to two qualifiers. So that really puts the pressure on.

“We don't race a lot,” he said. “When we started NHRA racing and we decided we were just going to race when we had time to do it and don't get too caught up in it. If we don't have time to go because we're too busy at home, we might skip that race. It got to where we were running for championships at the ADRL and PDRA in the years and it got to be a second job on those. I don't want that to happen out here.

“Leslie Jones and my dad, Mitchell and Roger Henson and Ricky and all of us, we just want to have a good time together. Honestly, we have more fun if we're running good and going rounds, but at the end of the day we still need to just have fun and make it enjoyable,” he said.

“It feels good just to be back out with all this mess that has went on this year. To get back to normal, and this weekend for this time of year, the weather is beautiful. It's a little warm but this time of year, [but] you can't beat the weather. So we're just excited to be here and see if we can have a good time and go some rounds,” Scruggs said.

He acknowledged that “NHRA ProMod is probably one of the toughest classes. I know everybody says that about their class, but it's one of the toughest classes: a lot of pressure, a lot of different conditions, sometimes you run in front of the fuel cars, sometimes you run behind them, a lot of changes, a lot of daytime racing, and the caliber of competition out here is second to none. Right now, we're missing a few cars. I think if the COVID wasn’t going on, you would have five to 10 more cars out here. I know a few of the guys can't get out of Canada. But still it's a stacked field, even right now with 22 to 23 cars. So it still makes it tough to qualify and win, doesn’t matter.”

TOUGH RIVALS KEEP ARANA ON TOES – Pro Stock Motorcycle contender Hector Arana Jr. has had a lot of adjusting to do this season. He isn’t racing with his 2009 champion father on the other Lucas Oil Buell team bike. By this time in a normal season, the class would have had 10 races under its belt – this is just the second. And the 31-year-old who lives on Long Island had to overcome a mild case of coronavirus as his home area was especially hard-hit by the spread of the disease. And he’s charged up simply to be here, racing.

“It feels great. When I hit the racetrack, it's like my second home with my dad, with my good friends, Foster and Josh. They’re our crew guys, but we're also good friends. We all live in different places, so when we come to the races we get reunited again. So it’s good to be back racing and doing what we love,” Arana Jr. said.

He said the competition is “stacked”: “Everybody's fast right now, and you can't make any mistakes. You got to be on your A-game.”

Arana Jr. said, “Now I feel good. I was fortunate to have a mild case. At least I consider it mild, considering that there's many people that have lost their lives now, like our dear friend Jock [Allen, Steve Johnson’s crew chief] who was in the hospital for a while and lost his mother. So I'm very fortunate and blessed to have not had to experience that. I'm healthy now, and we're out here drag racing.

“New York was hit pretty severely, so my take on coronavirus was a little bit different than others’ in other states that didn't really get it so bad. For me, when they first mentioned drag racing, I said, ‘These guys are out of their minds.’ We're shutting down here. There's people getting sick left and right and it was very bad. So my initial thought when we were actually going to Gainesville – I was getting on a plane but I had a sweatshirt on over my hood, all covered up – I’m like, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’ Right when I went to get off the bus (because I park my car at a different location), I get the phone call that the race is cancelled. I was bummed out, because it was the first race of the year, you're pumped up, you’re excited, you’re amped for it, and working all off season. We went testing the week before, and then you start getting that adrenaline going, getting all excited, and it gets canceled on you. So that was a bummer,” Arana Jr. said.

“But in the same way, it was kind of relief, because I was nervous not knowing with everything that was going on, it's just unknown. It was nerve-wracking and so now it's kind of settled and we're out here racing,” he said.

OTHERS UPSTAGING ANDREW-EDDIE SHOW – For awhile now, it has been the Andrew and Eddie Show from the Vance & Hines Harley-Davison shop, with a huge, spicy dash of Matt Smith thrown in for excitement and entertainment. In the past 16 years, the two Harley racers have combined for nine championships. In the past 23 years, Matt Hines started the string that resulted in the team earning 13 titles.

Other champions have been crowned in the class in that 23-year span, of course. But Andrew Hines is the reigning king and he and Krawiec have claimed four of the last six. The along came “Flyin’ Ryan” Oehler, who stole the spotlight at the E3 Spark Plugs Nationals here at Indianapolis. But Krawiec said he was “not at all” surprised.

“Guys work away during the winter. Working away you get results,” Krawiec said.

“So for us, I'd say we were probably off our mark a little bit [at the season opener here in July]. I know – I was still No. 1 qualifier,” he said. “I kind of gave that away, in my opinion. My second-round loss, I was a little late on the tree, and that's racing. But I think we've been working on the performance of our motorcycles, trying to get a handle on where they were. Unfortunately, we didn't have a whole lot of testing during the off-season, so we're just kind of working away on our new combination. I'm expecting us to run really well here. I'm excited about it, honestly, and I think you're going to see some pretty quick times.”

Krawiec said, “I think all the brands are kind of equal. We're working towards that. The Suzuki stuff, unfortunately with this pandemic deal, it’s kind of slowed down the progression of getting some new stuff out here for them. But all in all, I think as long as the class continues to move forward, it's good. The last thing you want is stagnant, sitting there, no progression. So we're going to work away on that. I think as everybody continues, hopefully, it gets better racing.”

The Vance & Hines team has Angelle Sampey back this year as a third rider, and Krawiec said, “We're trying to get Angelle and her bike up to speed and everything 100 percent. I think me and Andrew are kind of in a good little window, and we're going to work on tuning all them and get them really down the track fast. I think we got three motorcycles that could be the top of the pack. We just got to make it get there.”

PEDREGON HAPPIER WITH CAR’S PROGRESS – Cruz Pedregon’s back is a little messed up, and he didn’t advance past the second round Sunday. But the tough racing veteran and two-time Funny Car champion is in a better mood these days, after a quick testing trip to suburban St. Louis.

Pedregon Racing General Manager Caleb Cox said Pro Modified team owner and racer “Stevie Fast” Jackson rented World Wide Technology Raceway at Madison, Ill., for everybody, and there were six people for Tuesday and six people for Wednesday. “We decided just to go Wednesday just to make a hit, see what it would do, see if it would respond. And it did,” Cox said. “One run, good enough, put it right back on the trailer and got back home. He said, ‘I just got to make it do it when it counts.’”

They had decided to test because, Cox said, “We came into the second race and made some changes and it didn't really respond like we wanted it to. Still ran the same numbers. So we made some wholesale changes at the shop.”

Because of the jaunt down to St. Louis, Cox said Pedregon’s mood this past week has been “amazing. He jumped out of the car at the top end. He was so excited. I wouldn’t say we’ve been struggling – it's just that the car’s not reacting to what we want. It's going down the track, we got a round win, but I want to go faster. Now that test run, everything that we changed, solidifies what we changed. We’re excited, we’ll find out Q1 make sure that it backs itself up.”

His first qualifying session Saturday wasn’t all that stellar. He was 14th heading into his final chance. The Snap-on Dodge Charger behaved just like he had hoped, and he leaped to the No. 4 starting position. Pedregon beat Jim Campbell in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

Pedregon did hurt his back moving tile at his home. Cox said he and the crew “were all wondering ‘Why are you doing that? You have all us. Give us a call real quick. We'll come over move it for you. You got to drive this thing [the race




HERE’S WHY – For those who are wondering why the NHRA chose to make the finalists from the rain-interrupted Lucas Oil Summernationals wait until the U.S. Nationals in September to complete their runs, NHRA Vice-President of Marketing and Communications Jeffrey Young has your answer.

“It was a competition decision. The U.S. Nationals provides an opportunity for both teams to have a qualifying run on both lanes. This provides the option for lane choice in the final round,” he said.

Evidently giving each of them the option of making a couple of test passes on the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis course – either during a break in the sportsman action this weekend or testing before the event – wasn’t a suitable option.

As it turned out, Top Fuel finalist T.J. Zizzo, who’ll square off against Justin Ashley for the Wally trophy from the second Indianapolis race, isn’t here this weekend.

“It was not on our schedule for 2020,” he said. “Also, some of our guys are on family vacation this week. If all of us can’t make it to the event, then none of us deserves to go.”

“We have waited 40 years for an opportunity to win an NHRA national event. What is another 40 days,” Zizzo said. “Good things come to those who wait.”

Young also confirmed that the U.S. Nationals will not award points and a half this year, as it did during recent years when a Countdown was looming.  


JOON LANDS NEW SPONSOR – The side of Lex Joon’s dragster is adorned with the iconic Hot Wheels logo, but his sponsorship deal isn’t exactly what everyone might think at first glance.

It represents the line of Hot Wheels™ Americana Series™ Premium Car Care Products, the EPIC SHINE 3 Second Detailer in particular. AmericanaPRO Detailing line features professional-premium grade, made-in-America products, including Wash and Wax, All Wheel Cleaner, Pro Tire Cleaner, Pro Tire Finish, Leather Cleaner, Leather Guard, Interior Trim Cleaner, and Trim Guard. The company has licensing rights from Mattel to use the Hot Wheels label.

Joon, the Top Fuel owner-driver who immigrated with crew chief wife Gerda from The Netherlands said, “It’s a great company that makes great Made in America products. We can’t wait to showcase them in front of NHRA drag-racing fans across the country and across the world. We’re excited to have them on board in these challenging and rough times.”

Joon, who lives and runs his race shop in Brownsburg, still has extensive ties overseas and is hoping to raise awareness for the Americana Pro product line throughout Europe. And Daniel Pikarsky, founder and president of AmericanaPRO Detailing Products, LLC, is elated with the association.

“AmericanaPRO is a company built on passion from the roots of Americana car culture and auto racing,” Pikarsky said. “Drive to retail is what this experiential brand awareness partnership is about for the Hot Wheels™ Car Care Product line as we feature EPIC SHINE™ 3 Second Detailer & Coating with Lex Joon Racing for [this race]. Lex Joon Racing shares our commitment to excellence through our mutually beneficial retail programs for our dedicated fans, consumers, retail partners and distributors.”

Gerda Joon, the owner-driver’s wife and longtime crew chief (who also manages the Advance Auto Parts store at Danville, Ind.), said, “Our early numbers are really good. As long as we now can get past the eighth-mile, we’re going to skip the 3.90s and we’ll go straight into 3.80s. We have the Three-second Epic Shine™ on our race car, so that would be really good.”

Joon had problems Saturday early in is first run and ended up with an 8.431-second elapsed time at 83.80 mph.

His career-best E.T. is 3.93 seconds from the 2009 Las Vegas race. Gerda Joon remembers it well. It was when the NHRA still had the ‘top-12 rule,’ whereby the top 12 qualifiers got to carry their Friday-best elapsed times into Saturday, while those in the provisional 13th and lower slots lost their times and had to start fresh during the final day of qualifying.

“Urs Erbacher ran a 3.933. We ran 3.9339. We were No. 13 and we just missed it,” she said.

But here this weekend, she said, “We try to keep the streak alive. You have to start somewhere.”

For the Joons, seeing T.J. Zizzo and Justin Ashley in the final of the previous race, the Lucas Oil Summernationals, was a sign of hope. She said, “I think that is the best thing ever. You can pull for the underdog. And now you’ve got a new underdog. We’ve got full fields. We’ve got to fight to qualify. It’s a dogfight, and we want to be in the show.”

Lex Joon qualified 16th and will line up Sunday in Round 1 against first-time top qualifier Terry McMillen.

MORRISON: BREATH OF FRESH AIR – Top Fuel newcomer Joe Morrison is making only his second appearance, but he’s making a big impression with his nonprofit Right2Breathe® organization (www.Right2Breathe.org), providing education and awareness about the impact the coronavirus has on the approximately 50 million Americans living with respiratory disease.

The driver of the Leverich Racing Top Fuel Dragster and CEO of Right2Breathe® is hosting a display in the Manufacturers Midway this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway.

The Flemington, N.J., resident and second-generation drag racer pulled double duty, also trying to qualify for his first race-day start in the Leverich Family-owned dragster. After Saturday’s first session, Morrison was 12th in the tentative order.

This is the fifth time in three years that the Right2Breathe® Project has been showcased at an NHRA national Event. It also has been on display at Charlotte, Epping, N.H., and twice at Reading, Pa.

The Right2Breathe® Project is a grass-roots-marketing lung-health education, awareness and screening campaign hosted at public venues ranging from automotive car shows, drag races, and trade shows to sporting events, including professional baseball, in the United States.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the free screening portion – or spirometry exams – will not be available for those attending the Dodge Indy Nationals. However, respiratory experts will be onsite to answer questions. Available will be updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and lung disease patients-specific tips provided by renown pulmonologist and Right2Breathe® board member Dr. Brian Carlin, MD.

Morrison said, “While racing a Top Fuel dragster on Sunday morning has always been my dream, helping the 50 million Americans living with respiratory diseases is our reality at Right2Breathe®. Since 2014, we’ve completed thousands of free spirometry exams, helped provide a baseline for people to be diagnosed correctly, and provided practical resources to patients and caregivers alike. But to be honest, the growth of activity we’ve experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic has been incredible.”

He was referring to the dramatic increase in participation with the group’s latest health awareness initiative, the Right2Breathe Pulmonary Chat Online Patient Support program. This online chat is a live video conference, hosted three times per month, with medical experts providing presentations and answering patient and caregiver questions about living with asthma, COPD, and other respiratory diseases.

“This virus has impacted the drag racing community, with folks like Bob Tasca, Bobby Bennett, Todd Smith, and Whit Bazemore struggling with symptoms of COVID-19 – and these guys are generally healthy dudes,” Morrison said. “COVID-19 is a real disease, but there are many people who are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms and complications than others. Those with underlying conditions sometimes need peace of mind, especially with all the conflicting information being spread through social media and general media outlets. And this is what our online chat program offers.”

He said, “The virtual presentation is 100-percent free, completely secure, and complies with all HIPAA regulations. Respiratory-disease patients, caregivers, or those that simply want to learn some facts about asthma, COPD, and IPF – or have questions about COVID-19 – can sign-up by visiting the Right2Breathe Facebook page and registering via the Events tab.”

The organization produced the following video, complete with guitar music by Morrison himself, who when he was a teenager naively wanted to pursue a career as a rock star so his earnings could support his drag-racing habit.  


ZIZZO HAS JEALOUS MISTRESS – Popular – but absent – T.J. Zizzo had two impressive performances in July here at Lucas Oil Raceway – told Competition Plus he is watching all the action this weekend via NHRA.tv. But even though he is about three or four hours away at Lincolnshire, Ill., he is close to his race car, the so-called Rust-Oleum Rocket.

“We don’t leave our semi in Indy. There is way too much work to do between weekends,” he said. “The reason we are successful is our race var consumes all of our ‘spare time’ and all our 15 team members’ ‘spare time.’ She is always pining for our attention! We need to have it in our shop with our hands all over her. She loves the attention.”

He promised he will return for the U.S. Nationals – to race in the NHRA’s marquee event and to race Justin Ashley for the trophy from the rain-delayed Lucas Oil Summernationals.

“Rust-Oleum gave us the thumbs-up to do that, even though we were not scheduled for the U.S. Nationals,” Zizzo said. “We will race more after the U.S. Nationals if there are more events. All we can do is take one week at a time.”

Missing in the Funny Car class is Californian Alex Miladinovich, who had a lively stint this season. For him, he said, “It’s always about the money!” – but he plans to come back soon to Indianapolis.

He said he “raced the last two races on the parts we planned for Las Vegas. We are restocking and planning to come to the U.S. Nationals. I need to set the team up so we’re are locked and loaded for two to three races ahead of what we are doing.

“This is a real weird year, too,” Miladinovich said. “We are taking my oldest daughter to college in two weeks, as well. Just trying to run the car and try and be a dad and husband at the same time.”

THE THREE SCHUMUSKETEERS SHINE – The Three Schumusketeers led the way in Funny Car qualifying for the first session. Tommy Johnson Jr., in the M.D. Anderson Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing, was quickest after the first session. He, Matt Hagan (Mopar Dodge Charger), and Ron Capps (NAPA Dodge Charger) were 1-2-3, in that order, and they were the only ones to coax sub-four-second elapsed times from their entries.

Johnson won at Phoenix. Hagan won the first Indianapolis event last month and will race points leader and DSR colleague Jack Beckman in the delayed final round of the second one here. And Capps is seeking his first victory at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and first since last August at Brainerd, Minn.

Johnson kept his No. 1 status – for the second time this season and 20th time overall.


BO RETIRING AGAIN, KINDA SORTA - Bo Butner made the announcement he'd be stepping away from professional drag racing once before. His decision, back in 2018, lasted about three weeks once the reality set in.

Once again, Butner said he plans to step away from professional drag racing.

"My good friend Jason Line is retiring; this is his last year. Jeggie is also not going to be a full-time deal. Well, I am also making that same decision," Butner revealed as a guest on Joe Castello's WFORadio.com. LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW

"I am probably going to expand my business. It's great, and I cannot turn it down. Ken and Judy Black have been great to me. I am not going to any other team. I might be at a race every now and then, but as it stands now. I am not going to come back to run anything fulltime.

Butner said he prefers to spend his time bracket racing and competing in various sportsman arenas.

"That's the way I came into the sport, and I always said I want to go out the way I came in," Butner said.

With this said, Butner revealed both he and Line plan to race in a high-dollar Stock Eliminator combo event next weekend at Ohio Valley Raceway.

"We are going back to our roots," Line said.

Butner didn't rule out he may return on a limited basis with occasional participation in a Pro Stock or Pro Modified event. - Bobby Bennett


JACKSON TO TAKE ON ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR – Stevie "Fast" Jackson, who is preparing to compete in the Top Alcohol Funny Car class, said, “Never stop, like never, never, never. I was up this morning at 6 a.m., and I won’t go to bed till midnight. It's wide open, hard as you can go. Running one of these things [a Pro Mod car] is tough enough. Running a bunch of them is hard.”

He said, “We run the Alcohol Funny Car at the Midwest Drag Racing Series in St. Louis next week. I haven't so far seen that thing or sat in it. So I'm excited about opening that door up.”

The Pro Mod car, he said, is going “pretty good. "Our car blazed down through there. It went a .78 at 246[mph]. Made a good run. The car that I crew chief on, Jim Whiteley’ car, went .85. Didn't run as good as what we were hoping. Put a hole out early. Khalid alBalooshi, our team car’s number one, went a .72. That's awesome. Our other team car, Jeffrey Barker didn’t get down the track. So I'd say three out of four is not bad. We're going to try to pick that nitrous car up and other than that, to have one run down the track is pretty good.”

Jackson said, “I've always loved Funny Cars and always had a passion for Funny Cars. I'm excited to get to run a D-rotor. Tuning the thing is as much of my passion as driving it, and I'm looking forward to trying to work out that combination and see how fast it'll go.”

WILKERSON GOES SOLO – Levi, Ray & Shoup owner-tuner-driver Tim Wilkerson has no second Ford Mustang in his Funny Car pit this weekend. Son Dan was his teammate when the series reconvened in Indianapolis early last month, and Chad Green drove that same Mustang the following week. Green qualified 11th at the July 18-19 Lucas Oil Summernationals but lost to eventual finalist Jack Beckman in the opening round. However, Green reached the final round in his Pro Mod entry and will face Jason Scruggs to see which will win in the NHRA Pro Mod class for the first time.

This weekend, Wilkerson is focused simply on himself – and winning. He said, "Our Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang is running really well, and we think we have a good chance of putting Ford in the winner's circle this weekend. It'd be cool to mix it up a little bit, and we're excited. We're tickled to be involved with Ford, and it would mean a lot to use to do a good job for them – especially this weekend.”


BUTLER MAKES BIKE DEBUT – Right now, Tiffany Butler is in learning mode.

She’s learning about boyfriend Terry Haddock’s nitro-class operation (with the Funny Car he drives and the Top Fuel dragster that Cameron Ferré and Todd Paton have driven.) “I'm learning that, as well. I help with what I know how to do, but I'm still learning,” she said.

Moreover, she’s making her Pro Stock Motorcycle debut this weekend. She qualified No. 15 and will meet four-time class champion Eddie Krawiec in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations.  

She said earlier Saturday, “My ultimate goal this weekend is to make three clean passes and set a personal best” as she worked with Greg Underdahl and Gary Stoffer’s operation. (“They’ve been great,” she said.)

“My dad used to race midgets,” Butler said, “so I definitely say racing was hereditary. It’s been in my blood. I've been obsessed with bikes since I was seven. My dad brought me to my first NHRA race when I was in high school, and I’ve wanted to do it ever since. I have never raced a car. It's only been bikes. I've done road course and drag racing.”

She shared on her social media account that this weekend would serve as a test session for her.

“We weren't planning on entering a race just yet but had talked about testing in Indy in the near future. When NHRA announced that the Denver and Brainerd events were postponed and a third event had been added to Indy, we decided to use this as my test session. We won't be running a race motor this weekend, so we'll be one of the slower qualifying bikes, but I'm hoping to go out there and make at least three clean, solid runs. It will be a great learning experience for me and one step closer to a dream come true.”


BOSTICK BACK AFTER 15 YEARS, CRAZY DELAYS – While Chris Bostick was preparing for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class’ March debut at Gainesville, Fla., a tornado blasted through his Mount Juliet, Tenn., area.

It didn’t cause too much damage to Bostick and his family or property.

“It did not. Our race shop is in Brooksville, Florida. George Babor is our crew chief, and so the bikes and all were there. However, we're building a brand-new 16,000-square-foot shop in the Tennessee area, and the roof has fallen off of it, but it's been put back on. So all is going to be good. So it didn't affect us.”

However, he helped out his community: “We donated money towards some people that needed water and food and things like that, that were displaced, and loaned chainsaws out and a couple things like that. So yeah, did everything that we possibly could.”

As if that weren’t distraction enough for his racing program, the coronavirus spread forced the NHRA to suspend the season. And the bikes didn’t get to hit the racetrack until July.

Bostick had been waiting for that moment for a long time.

“It’s been 15 years since I've been out here, except for Indy last year, and that was supposed to be a bucket-list thing. So my wife is a little bit upset that I decided to get back into full time, but she's adjusting,” he said. “But I'm so excited to be back at it. There's so many friends of mine that I made 20 years ago that are here, and it's really cool to reconnect with them.”

He said one never loses the bug to drag race: “You never do. It's in your blood.”

Bostick said, “Something to know about this weekend . . .  My bike that we've been working on is a bike that is a Kosman chassis, and we have made many modifications to get it to go well and it currently has the new monster four-valve in it. But we're not running it this weekend. We have yet to be able to go out and test it to be ready for a national event. However, they are testing on Monday and so that bike is in the trailer and we are going to run it Monday, hoping to get it ready for the U.S. Nationals.

“I'll be riding Jimmy Underdahl’s blue bike that he qualified seventh at Gainesville last year. So Greg and Gary have told me that it has very close to the same setup and as long as I can point it right and push a button when I'm supposed to and do all the driver things correctly, then I should be able to make a really good pass. So I'm looking forward to it. I've never made a six-second anything pass.  If I can do that today, I'll be excited as if I've won the race.”

He did. His best was a 6.987-second elapsed time, good for the 11th position on the ladder. He’ll meet Angie Smith, the No. 6 qualifier, in Sunday’s first round of runoffs.

LET’S PLAY ‘FAMILY FEUD’ – Current and two-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, the Phoenix winner in February, and father Billy Torrence, who won the first race when the season resumed here in July at Lucas Oil Raceway, have been “dueling” with each other.  And Dad – founder and CEO of the company branded on both dragsters - Capco Contractors - has defeated his son in four of their most recent match-ups.

During the past 12 months, while he has posted a 21-11 record against everyone not driving a Capco Contractors dragster, Steve Torrence is 1-4 against his own dad, losing to him in both July races here. Consequently, he’s fourth in the standings and entered this event 132 points behind leader Doug Kalitta.

And the irony of it is that Steve Torrence trained his closest rival.

“It’s really been fun, because my dad taught me how to race in Super Comp and Super Gas, and I’ve been able to teach him how to drive a Top Fuel dragster,” Steve Torrence said. “I grew up racing with my mom [Kay] and dad as a family.  That’s what we did.  So to see how well he’s done (in Top Fuel) is awesome.

“When you have a really good student, somebody that just listens when you say, ‘Do it this way,’ I don’t know why, but just do it this way,’ it’s great,” Torrence said of his teaching methods. “He takes it very seriously.  He’s always trying to improve, taking the pedal out of the car and changing the linkage, working the practice tree, anything. And we’d both rather beat the other than anyone else. That’s just our nature. We’re competitive in everything we do.”

Between them, the Torrences have 35 victories in the last three-plus seasons. And although Billy Torrence skipped six races in 2019, he finished fifth in the standings. He won twice during the Countdown, the six-race playoff series that has been suspended this year. However, he has no delusions about his status with the team, constantly saying that he races on invitation from his wife. And he never fails to emphasize that his son is the dominant one, not only on the tour but in the intrafamily rivalry.  

Steve Torrence has established himself as the series’ dominant driver, with 29 victories in his previous 70 starts. Overall, he has 37 in Top Fuel after winning the 2005 Top Alcohol Dragster class’ national championship.

Billy Torrence said, “My car is right there with Steve's” when it comes to performance, “but he's certainly the better driver. I take a lot of tutoring from all the guys, but to come out here and compete at this level, it’s always gratifying. If you can’t have fun doing this, you can’t have fun doing anything.”

Scott Smith and Melissa Noakes contributed to this report.