KALITTA TURNS UP TOP FUEL HEAT ON LEADER TORRENCE IN ST. LOUIS COLD - The final round of the Mopar Express Lane Nationals produced the match-up every NHRA Top Fuel fan wanted to see Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway in suburban St. Louis.

And in the stinging cold, Doug Kalitta heated up the chase for the championship.

He defeated points leader and reigning class king Steve Torrence to pull within two points of the Capco Contractors Dragster ace with three races remaining on the schedule.

With a trail of smoke behind his Mac Tools / Toyota Dragster, Kalitta powered to his 49th victory on the 1,000-foot course at Madison, Ill., in 3.690 seconds at 322.58 mph.

Torrence lost traction early in this rematch of the Phoenix final in February, and he was no factor with a 9.111-second elapsed time at an 82.58-mph speed.

(Kalitta had faced the Torrence tandem twice this year and lost both times – at Phoenix to Steve and, five months later, to Steve’s father, Billy, at Indianapolis when racing resumed in July. Both times he retained his points lead.)

After sharing the winners circle Sunday with Funny Car’s Tommy Johnson Jr., Kalitta said he was pleased to “get some momentum going for the last three races. This is going to do a lot for us, for sure.”

The series, which just announced earlier in the afternoon it has secured sponsorship from Camping World for the rest of this year and at least 2021, will move to Torrence’s home state of Texas for events at Ennis, south of Dallas, and Baytown, east of Houston. The 2020 finale is set for Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at Las Vegas.

Kalitta advanced to his 105th overall final round and fourth of the year easily. The throttle on opponent Tony Schumacher’s Okuma / Sandvik Coromant Dragster became stuck and the supercharger exploded. Schumacher wheeled the wounded car to the left wall and coasted downtrack. It took so long that Kalitta’s car was shut off. The Mac Tools Dragster crew members sprinted to the pits to retrieve enough fuel to top the tank, and they refired the engine. Kalitta sped to lane choice over Torrence in the final.

So what was going through Kalitta’s mind during all this curious chaos?  

He said, “At this point in the game, when we’re counting points . . . ‘Perfect! Get it off the track so I can run!’ That’s about all I was thinkin’.

“But it’s very uncommon, knock on wood. Tony and I have raced a ton of times, and we’ve never seen anything like that,” Kalitta said.

But he took that semifinal win nonetheless.

Kalitta denied Torrence his 40th victory in his fourth final-round appearance of the season, too, and 59th overall.  

A 50th victory – which would tie Antron Brown for No. 4 on the Top Fuel all-time list – isn’t at the top of his mind right now, he said.

“That championship, that’s the No. 1 prize,” Kalitta said. “We’re hoping to get a couple more wins, for sure. There’s three opportunities left. We’ll go to the next one, get two qualifying runs, and line ‘er up.

“When you’re rolling up to the staging lights, you’re obviously thinking about the win. We’re all counting points, and we’re all figuring out what we can do to get ahead. The only place you can do it is on that starting line. And obviously, you’ve got to have a great effort behind you. We’ve got Connie and he’s having a good time.” He said he likes “keeping the boss happy, turning the win light on.”

On a day full of wild crashes and explosions in several classes and that odd semifinal match-up with longtime rival Tony Schumacher, Kalitta parlayed the wind and the cold temperatures and trick track conditions to his advantage. He dismissed U.S. Nationals winner Shawn Langdon and emerging threat T.J. Zizzo, then had a solo pass into the final round.    

“The conditions were real good, and the guys really had my car running good today. Real proud of these Mac Tools guys. Toyota’s a big part of making our car run and knowing what the track’s doing. So it’s a big team effort, really,” Kalitta said.

Throughout the day, Kalitta said, he was “wondering what the delays are.” Two pairs behind him in the quarterfinals, in the lane opposite No. 1 qualifier Schumacher, Leah Pruett’s dragster launched into the air, broke in half, and slammed her back onto the track on its side in a frightening-looking crash that seemed to copycat Larry Dixon’s accident in 2015 at Gainesville, Fla. She quickly popped open her canopy and climbed out on her own. But it was one of several scary moments that included wrecks by Pro Stock’s Kenny Delco and explosions for Ron Capps and Alexis De Joria, as well as an incident for Top Dragster driver Phil Oakley. NHRA officials postponed the balance of racing in the Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Modified, and Factory Stock classes, as well as the rest of Lucas Oil Series sportsman racing.

Kalitta said he was in no danger: “I have to admit . . . these Top Fuel cars have a wing on the front and back of this thing that you can run across a slick piece of ice with, just about. I mean, it really has some downforce. Some of the cars don’t. So the conditions today were tricky for cars without a lot of downforce. Fortunately, with a Top Fuel car, with the wind, it doesn’t matter what’s going on.”

He did admit that the mid-year change from two qualifying days to one (four chances to two) has heightened the tension at events since July.  

“It’s a crapshoot. Everything about what we do here is a crapshoot, it seems like,” Kalitta said. “Two runs . . . If you hit it on the first run, everybody’s happy. Normally, my car, we can get it down the track, but two qualifying runs is a little tricky. But it is what it is. We’re up for the challenge.”

Coming here, where he already had won three previous times (2001, 2003, 2004), was like old times, Kalitta said: “I love running in St. Louis. I’m probably one of the few guys who has run over at the paved oval and over here [at the dragstrip]. I’ve been coming here for a number of years and at Granite City [Ill.]. The guys who race midgets were here the other day.  I used to race here with my midget. It’s a good racing town.”

Before he began his Top Fuel career, Kalitta raced USAC midgets and sprints and won 21 times (14 in midgets, seven in sprints). He was the USAC Midget Series rookie of the year in 1991 and USAC Sprint Car national champion in 1994.

Torrence, the two-time and reigning Top Fuel champion, was seeking his fourth victory of the year. He is is trying to join Joe Amato and Tony Schumacher as only the third Top Fuel racer to win three straight series titles. Amato did it from 1990 through 1992, and Schumacher reigned from 2004-2009.  A victory would have made Torrence just the 23rd pro driver to reach the 40-win plateau and just the sixth to accomplish that in Top Fuel. And it would have given the Torrence team four in a row at this race. Steve Torrence scored back-to-back successes for in 2017 and 2018, and Billy Torrence defeated his son here a year ago. Susan Wade

TOMMY JOHNSON JR. GETS CLUTCH FUNNY CAR WIN IN ST. LOUIS - Tommy Johnson Jr. knew his dreams of winning his first nitro Funny Car NHRA Mello Yello Series world championship were fading – fast.

He needed a win in a bad way to keep his championship hopes alive.

And, Johnson Jr. and his Don Schumacher Racing team delivered Sunday.

Johnson clocked a 3.884-second elapsed time at 326.08 mph to edge his DSR teammate Matt Hagan’s 3.886-second lap at 333.00 mph.

Johnson, who is in his final season driving the MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, is third in the points standings, just 34 points behind first-place Hagan. Fellow DSR driver Jack Beckman is second, 16 points behind Hagan.

Johnson Jr.’s run in the finals was the fastest elapsed time of the event in his class.

“Yeah, it was almost a must,” said Johnson Jr. about the win. “You’re trying to gain some points on those guys, we had a couple bad races and didn't really fall out of it, but it hurt us. So, the last couple races have been ‘must do well’ races, and you look over there and they're still going rounds.

“So, when you go face up against them, it's a must-win. You can't let them keep going rounds and you fall a round behind, round behind, round behind. It was huge to be able to take out both today and keep ourselves securely planted in it and make it a solid three-man race right now.”

Johnson Jr.’s win extended DSR’s national event win streak to 11. The wins date back to October of 2019. DSR previously set the consecutive win record in a single class at 10 races during the 2017 season with the same driver lineup of Hagan, Beckman, Johnson Jr., and Ron Capps.

“I mean it's amazing to me,” said Johnson Jr. of the streak. “It's incredible that we went that many races and won the race. It's unbelievable. But I think it's a tribute to all the hard work and even through the lockdowns and everything these guys were at the shop working and trying to make everything better not knowing when we’d race again, but they've continually worked hard to keep that advantage and it's extremely hard to make these cars run that good that long and that many runs in a row and to be able to do it for this long is just incredible.”

This was Johnson Jr.’s 21st career Funny Car win and 23rd national event win as he has two in Top Fuel – Seattle in 1993 and Memphis in 1994.

Johnson acknowledged he had some tense moments in his latest win.

“Yeah, I was a little nervous,” he said. “We were late getting up there. We had issues all day and the guys kept working hard and we made it up there. But man, I had no idea it was that close. I mean when they're that close you can't see the other guy. When I saw the time slip, I was like, ‘whoa, that was a show.’ My semifinal round and the final, both of them were just really tight races and it shows you why the three of us are at the front right now for the championship because man, there's such good cars, such good teams and the racing is so close.”

Johnson disposed of Terry Haddock, No. 1 qualifier Paul Lee, Beckman, and Hagan during his victory parade.

“We had a couple of bad races and it's teaching us some lessons that ‘you got to win.’ You got to do it. When we went up there for the semis against Jack (Beckman) I did dig a little bit. I'm like, ‘you know what, we've got to get this done and I’ve got to help them. They got to help me, and I got to help them. I got to dig.

“So, I dug a little bit and the final I thought you know, we got to win this. I'm going to do my part. We got to win it. I'm digging. I try not to ever try harder but I'm trying harder because you need to.”

Johnson Jr. is eager to get over that world championship hurdle.

“You have to come close in order to learn what it takes to win it and we've learned from mistakes and it takes a little bit of luck too,” Johnson Jr. said. “I'm not going to kid you; you think things have got to go your way. You've got to do your job when you need to do your job. You need a few things to go your way. It means a lot to be in this. It's a screwed-up year, but it doesn't matter to us. Everybody's had the same opportunity.

“So, you've got to make the most of them and it means a lot. I mean right now we don't have funding for next year and who knows if I'll be out here next year. It means a ton to me to try to finish as strong as I can because who knows what the future holds.”Tracy Renck



NO-BRAINER FOR ZIZZOS TO RACE – T.J. Zizzo has said that “going down the road in a semi with my dad truly is some of the best times I have."

This week he was more elated than ever before to be doing that – driving from Lincolnshire, Ill., down state to Madison, in suburban St. Louis, for the NHRA’s Mopar Express Lane Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway. It didn’t matter that soggy weather disrupted Saturday qualifying. It didn’t matter that it was cold. It didn’t matter that they had just had a disappointing U.S. Nationals. They were father and son – healthier father and son – on the road again, doing what they loved.

Tony Zizzo is recovering from surgery following that fourth race at Indianapolis to remove what turned out, thankfully, to be a benign brain tumor. And rest? “Fugeddabout it!” the Italian-American Top Fuel team owner would say. Last Sunday he declared, “We're going to St. Louis. I want to go. And we're going.

Son T.J. said, “And that's all we had to hear. When you hear that from your team owner and patriarch and the guy everyone looks up to around here, you go.

“He is the strongest man I know, the Rust-Oleum Rocket racer said, “Ultimately he will be well.”

T.J. Zizzo said, “We knew after the US Nationals he was going to have brain surgery. He had a tumor growing between the membrane that protects your brain from the scalp. The tumor, after seeing the MRI, had never penetrated his brain. It was just between the membrane and his scalp. But the tumor was so strong it pushed on his brain until his brain basically said '[Screw] you!' and started pushing his scalp out! He had known this for, like, eight years, but it kept on getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And finally his doctors said 'You've got to do something about this. Let's find out what's going on.' So it's been a long process. It was a big deal."

At Indianapolis, Zizzo competed in both the Denso U.S. Nationals and the finals of the rain-delayed Lucas Oil SummerNationals from July. In his first final round, he was runner-up to another first-timer, Justin Ashley, and blew up his engine in the process. On U.S. Nationals race day, Zizzo fell to Antron Brown in the opening round.

What happened at that event, he said, was “pretty simple: he left on me. We gained it all back and reeled him in. Then we smoked the tires, dropped a bunch of cylinders, and I never let off the throttle because the finish line was near. After it dropped a bunch of holes, the tires hooked back up a little bit. The engine was in a very unhappy place, and it gave up. Blew it up really good. Finally, he passed me by, and I came to a stop on fire.

“We got back to the shop, got everything apart, and realized that the explosion we had against Justin Ashley was bad, but it wasn't as bad as we expected," Zizzo said. Although they passed on the Gatornationals, they knew crew chief Mike Kern and team would have “The Rust-Olen Rocket” ready for this weekend: "We are prepared. We were prepared for St. Louis after the U.S. Nationals. All our parts, spare parts, and team are ready to go."

No one, though, is sure yet when or where the NHRA plans to go next. The organization has said it will release the 2021 schedule soon. Zizzo expressed hopes for next year.

“There are so many rumors out there. I think it will be a late start and obviously there will be one less race.  Less might be more for our sport in 2021 and beyond (??).  I hope NHRA learned something in 2020 and makes some changes.

With news of Coca-Cola’s defection as series sponsor and the NHRA’s lawsuit against the beverage titan, many wonder if the NHRA is on shaky ground.  Zizzo said, “NHRA is an entertainment company. Most entertainment companies are on shaky ground. NHRA has a great product. They do a good job putting on events. There is always room for improvement. I have faith they will make adjustments and improve.”

Car counts next year, he presumed, “will be different. The world is different. Corporations are changing and certainly are spending their money wisely. There will always be racers. Racers love what they do.  Racers live, eat and breathe drag racing, no matter what category. Racers come to events to compete and win.”

And he isn’t wringing his hands about what Zizzo Racing will do.

“I love our situation,” he said. “We have fun and enjoy competing at the highest level. As a team member just stated at our last team meeting, ‘If this was not fun and I did not like the members on this team, I would not be here. It is too much work not to have fun.’  I could not agree more! We will continue doing what we are doing today. We will come out a handful of times and kick ass. I am grateful to have marketing partners that believe in our team. Thankfully, we have relationships deeper than just drag racing.”

HOPING TO MAKE TOP 10 OR TOP 7 – Tony Schumacher ruled the Top Fuel class in his U.S. Army Dragster for more than a decade. Today he’s driving the Okuma / Sandvik Coromant / Toyota Dragster and said it “would be a super-cool deal to get into the top 10, heck, even put ourselves in the top seven.” He could make a significant move with an 85th victory. He already has two St. Louis victories, in 2006 and 2010, and three runner-up finishes (1999, 2008, 2016). This is just his fifth start this year, and he has a single round win – one of his 843.

But he grabbed the No. 1 qualifying position Saturday, his first since June 10, 2018, at Virginia Motorsports Park, near Richmond. He led the field with a 3.680-second elapsed time and reset the track speed record at 332.92 mph.

Schumacher said, “It’s been a cutthroat, shortened season of NHRA drag racing. We missed the first couple of races along the way, and then we didn’t perform at the first couple of Indy events. We have [crew chief] Mike Green back in our stable now, and he’s someone I’m used to working with. We’ve got tremendous talent on our Okuma / Sandvik Coromant / Toyota team. We still have four races to go, so we’ve definitely got a shot at breaking into the top 10.”


LEE SNAGS CAREER-FIRST TOP STARTING SPOT – Veteran Funny Car driver Paul Lee registered the first No. 1 qualifying position of his career Saturday in the Global Electronic Technology Toyota with a pass of 3.913 seconds on the World Wide Technology Raceway 1,000-foot course with a speed of 326.95 seconds. Lee, who just turned 63 years old Sept. 16, achieved the milestone in his 94th race.


RAIN ROBS PRO STOCK, BIKES OF RUNS – The Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes were left out in the cold, literally, Saturday evening. Their qualifying order was determined by points.

Like all the other contestants, they waited out a day-long series of rain delays but when the pro classes had a chance to run, Top Fuel and Funny Car took precedence and finally got in their one chance to make passes. The Pro Stock and Pro Stock Bikes were not permitted to make passes because temperatures had dipped below the line for safety. So those fields were set based on the racers’ positions in the current standings after seven races.

That left Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) in the No. 1 berths by default.

Line, who has three races after this one before he retires from driving the Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro for KB Racing and is the new points leader following the Gatornationals, is hoping to add World Wide Technology Raceway to his winning-track column. This is one of just four facilities on the current tour where Line has yet to win.

But he has his own take on this venue: "This is one of those tracks that I'll never forget, no matter what happens here this weekend. It's the only track where I've ever DNQd, so I kind of feel like that place owes me one. It's also one of the only places I haven't won, and if we could change that, I think I'd feel a little better about it."

STILL MORE WORK – Life for Steve Torrence has been, as he might put it, “pretty dadgum good” lately. He won the Gatornationals last week, driving a car that mimicked legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat 14, and then announced that he and wife Natalie are expecting a baby girl next April. But the Capco Contractors Dragster driver said, “We can’t afford to rest on our accomplishments. There’s still work to do. When you grow up in a competitive environment, you’re always ready for the next challenge.”

The two-time and current champion and points leader has a challenge, all right – one named Doug Kalitta. The Mac Tools Dragster driver is 22 points on his heels and itching for his fourth victory at this dragstrip. Make that two challenges, including Leah Pruett. She’s in third place, only 33 points out of first.

Torrence is trying to join Joe Amato and Tony Schumacher as only the third Top Fuel racer to win three consecutive series crowns. Amato did it from 1990 through 1992, and Schumacher reigned from 2004-2009.  A victory or one among the final three events scheduled after this one, Torrence would become just the 23rd pro driver to reach the 40-win plateau and just the sixth to accomplish that in Top Fuel.

Furthermore, a Torrence victory – whether by Steve or father Billy – would give the Kilgore, Texas duo four straight at this race. Steve scored back-to-back successes for in 2017 and 2018, and Billy Torrence defeated his son here a year ago.

That the two Torrences have won half of the past 74 events in the series is even more remarkable considering neither had won a pro race nine years ago when the family formed this Top Fuel team.

KALITTA READY TO GO ON TEAR – Take it from Doug Kalitta: “There isn’t anything wrong with our Mac Tools Dragster. We have had some tough match-ups and just some bad luck. I am looking forward to these last four races, because we have had have success down the stretch before. I have an amazing group of guys behind me and a ton of sponsor support from companies like Toyota, TRD, Mobil 1 and NGK Spark Plugs that really give us an edge, I believe.” And he wants his Top Fuel points lead back. He needs to lose a 22-point gap Steve Torrence has on him, all while holding off the non-apologetically aggressive Leah Pruett, who’s 11 points behind him.

Kalitta has three victories here, and he said, “We have run well here, and I know this Mac Tools Dragster will be ready.”

Before the Gatornationals, where he lost in the first round to Terry McMillen, Kalitta had commanded the No. 1 spot in the standings after each of the season’s first six races since he won the season-opening Winternationals in February at Pomona, Calif.

“We aren’t going to fall too far behind with four races left,” he said. “We made some good runs In Gainesville, and I know we have a tune-up that can win races. We had a tough weekend in Florida, but we put that race behind us,” the 48-time Top Fuel winner said. “We have had some good races at this track and we have great data. The weather [is] cooler, so that’s a big change for all the teams. Florida was one of the hottest races we competed in.

“No one is going to win the championship this weekend or at the Texas races. I think it will come down to the last race of the season again. I have a lot of confidence and we are putting all our energy into getting that Top Fuel championship for this Mac Tools and Kalitta Motorsports team.”

Kalitta is tied with Gary Scelzi in second place on the list of most Top Fuel victories at this facility just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

McMILLEN GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS– Top Fuel team owner-driver Terry McMillen accomplished a lot of business on and off the racetrack at last week’s Amalie Oil Gatornationals, his sponsor’s sponsored race. He reached the semifinal round but said his XTERMIGATORⓇ Dragster bit him for making a mistake. “We were ahead in that semifinal race against [eventual runner-up] Billy Torrence, and then it just dropped a cylinder at, like, 1.5 seconds out,” he said. “It started spinning the tires. It just didn’t work out. We put on a great show in front of our Amalie Motor Oil family. It was a successful weekend, but certainly we wanted to go to the final and give ourselves a chance to win. We had the car to get there, but we just made a mistake out there – and it didn’t like it.”

He said it was “awesome” to be there, because with the Amalie executives out at the track and our customers had a chance “to see all this sport has to offer. You see the interaction with the fans, and it helps everyone understand a little more about what our sport is all about. It is not just about race cars going down the track. We are taking care of the fans who are our potential customers for future sales. That is really important. Getting back to Gainesville where we started something and we didn’t have the chance to finish was important.”

As for the car, McMillen said he and the Rob Wendland-led crew “just have a couple bugs we still have to work out.” And that’s where World Wide Technology Raceway comes in. “The more you race the more efficient you become,” McMillen said. “It is good for the team and good for everyone You get a little more information every time.”

Saturday’s multiple rain delays made him even more eager to get in a 10th run on the clutch pack he’s using. “We’re still learning this clutch system. We are getting a better handle on it. It throws us a bone every once in a while. In Indy we went 3.72 [seconds on the 1,000-foot course] and [at Gainesville] we went 3.74. But we have to find consistency. Rob has done a marvelous job of giving us a good race car. The inconsistency of the clutch discs is something we are working through, and that is something he can’t control. We have to continue to work on that clutch package.”

Weather didn’t permit him or any other racer to discover too much about his or her car Saturday.

ANOTHER FIRST FOR ROOKIE ASHLEY – Justin Ashley said he was looking forward to arriving at St. Louis “because I have never raced there in any categories.” He probably could have done without so much rain, but he said he knew it would “be a fun experience. I remember going here as a kid [with racer dad Mike Ashley], and I used to love sitting in those wrap-around seats. I used to be in the stands at that race, and I am looking forward to being on track.  It has a stadium feel that a lot of places don’t have. St. Louis is a great facility and has really great fans.”

Ashley said it has been “really nice to get to another NHRA market. You see all the fans in attendance, [and] it really is nice to be able to engage with them. That is what separates NHRA from every other sport.”

This marks just the second time this season Ashley’s team has raced on consecutive weekends. The young team is enjoying the opportunity to stay in a racing groove, he said: “It is exciting to have back-to-back races as a young team that was really only supposed to be out here part-time this season. The back-to-back races were going to be few and far between with the original schedule. Now we will race the whole season, and what that does is it helps me as a driver get into a rhythm, and more importantly it helps the team get into a rhythm. When you are able to go back-to-back-to-back, it really means a lot in terms of working together and figuring out processes and procedures as opposed to one race a month.”

LANGDON GOES FOR UNIQUE REPEAT – Shawn Langdon – Top Fuel racer Shawn Langdon, driver of the DHL / Kalitta Air / Toyota Dragster, won this event last year (against teammate JR Todd in the final round)  – in the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car. Last year he joined Gary Scelzi to become just the second to win at World Wide Technology Raceway in both nitro classes. At Indianapolis this Labor Day weekend, Langdon recorded his first victory since switching back to the Top Fuel class this year.

“It was great to get that win last year in the Funny Car but I would definitely like to add a second Top Fuel win this season,” Langdon said. “We were gunning for that Gatornationals win, and we had a streak going since the DHL / Kalitta Air Dragster had won the previous two years. We think we have a really good shot [this weekend]. I am glad we are racing back-to-back. It helps keep you focused.”

The No. 6-seeded Funny Car racer said he “didn’t mind racing at Indy, since I live there, but it is nice to get out in front of fans in different parts of the country. The fans in Florida were really excited to get to see some racing, and I know they have a great crowd at St. Louis. The facility is really nice, and Chris Blair and his staff do a great job.” added Langdon.

DSR ALPHA MALES BATTLE – The only mystery left to solve in Funny Car, it seems, is which Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger Hellcat driver will secure the championship. Each has won at least once this season – Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, and Matt Hagan have won twice.

But Tommy Johnson Jr.’s lone victory has helped DSR extend its class winning streak to 10 races that date back to last October. If this quartet can pull off another victory here – Beckman (2) and Capps (4) have a combined six, and all have a total of eight runner-up results – they will break their streak of 10 from 2017.

Both Hagan and Johnson have been No. 1 qualifier three times during the seven completed events.

Beckman and Johnson have swapped the points lead, but right now, following the past three races, Beckman is in charge, four points ahead of Hagan, 57 ahead of Johnson, and 83 ahead of Capps. So they’re separated by 83 points – and that can scramble several times before the final four races (including this one) are finished.

Or perhaps Tim Wilkerson, who’s 121 points off the pace in fifth place, can upset all the DSR Alpha males. He qualified No. 2 and was runner-up at last weekend’s Gatornationals. For him, it would be sweet to do that here at Madison, Ill., for this is a home racetrack, just 93 miles from his house in Springfield, Ill. This weekend, Wilkerson has son Daniel competing in his second car, one that Pro Mod regular Chad Green has driven this year.

"We had a good points day on Sunday at Gainesville, and I think we're in a good position to add to that,” Tim Wilkerson, the owner-tuner-driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang said. “We've got nothing to prove. We're a one-man band with a bunch of guys just doing their best, and if we can do what we did last weekend, I think we'll be in pretty good shape."

BECKMAN TRYING TO HOLD OFF HAGAN – Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge driver Jack Beckman, who’s seeking victory No. 33, has led the standings following six of seven events, thanks also to two runner-up performances. Johnson interrupted his run at the third Indianapolis race. Beckman blamed himself for allowing Hagan to slice into his lead at Gainesville by losing to the Mopar Express Lane-sponsored driver in Round 2.

“We stumbled at Gainesville, and that was driver error. I let the car get too far out of the groove. We were pushing hard – we knew we had to. The car was probably going to run low E.T. of the meet, and I just let it get out into the loose stuff too much, and that ended our day. That was a big round. We were up against the No. 2 car in points. But we dodged a bullet. We still left there in first place.”

With Saturday’s persistent rain, Beckman in no way was close to getting his wish of four qualifying passes. But he said, “If they gave us four, we’d figure out the tune-up. At two, it’s going to be a total crapshoot, and those bonus qualifying points are going to be increasingly important from here on out.” It was even more of a challenge Saturday. But is Beckman worried? “I can’t wait!” he said.

HAGAN COULD USE FIRST ST. LOUIS WIN – Matt Hagan has been a three-time runner-up here (2012, 2014, 2015), but he wants more: “I’ve never won at St. Louis. It’s one of the few places left where I haven’t been able to win a Wally to put up on the shelf, so I would really like to take care of business this weekend.”

Rain spoiled, or at least changed, Hagan’s plans He said he was looking forward to what he called “that get-after-it kind of weather that [crew chief] Dickie Venables thrives in, where it’s pretty much ‘Put your mouthpiece in, your helmet on, and hang on.’ Our entire set-up has pretty much changed coming off of the heat in Florida. We’ve got a great race car. We qualified No. 1 in Gainesville.” He has led the field twice here, as well – in 2013 and 2015.

He said, “We’ve narrowed the points gap from 35 to four last weekend, and we’ve really been getting after it every race. Point positions have been changing back and forth these last several races. Here we are, four points out of first with four races to go, and it should be a great weekend. We’re just going to keep moving forward and focus on winning the championship.”


ROLLING ON – Wanting to keep his roll going, Ron Capps, the series’ most recent winner, has come to the right place. He has won here four times (1997, 2005, 2007, 2017). That makes him the most successful Funny Car driver at World Wide Technology Raceway, and he was 2009 runner-up and top qualifier, too.

“We’re coming off of such a great weekend in Gainesville. World Wide Technology Raceway is a track where I’ve been lucky enough to win at numerous times. We’ve got to make up some more ground in the points, and that’s what we’re focused on this weekend,” Capps said.

And this cool weather, a marked contrast from Central Florida’s conditions, is just what he expected. “We’ve seen that in the past at this track, where we’ve gone there in September or October and had very cool conditions. In the past, we’ve always had a car that seems to excel when the conditions are difficult and hot, but after last year with some of the runs we made in prime conditions, setting track records and the speed that we ran, I feel very confident going into any type of conditions. That’s why I always brag about (crew chief) Rahn Tobler. We can go from one race where it’s hot and humid into what we see this weekend and do well at both.”

JOHNSON HAS EXTRA INSPIRATION – Besides the chance to close a 57-point gap between himself and leader Jack Beckman, third-place Tommy Johnson Jr. has an extra incentive to win here this weekend. He said, “I’ve been to the final there a few times [twice – 2001, 2016] but have yet to win it. My dad won this race in 1976, and I’d love nothing more than to put my trophy alongside his.” Tommy Johnson Sr. scored his only national-event victory in 1976 at this racetrack, in the Modified Eliminator class.

“This is the first time we’ve raced back-to-back weekends in a long time. The momentum will help our team. There’s no time to get rusty,” Johnson Jr. said. He figured the “very cool conditions should be a lot better for all of the teams, and it should be a really good show for the fans.
“As far as points go, we didn’t hurt ourselves last weekend, but we didn’t help ourselves either, so we need to have a good weekend in St. Louis.”


CREASY LIVES WITHIN HIS MEANS – For the NHRA, crafting a schedule is difficult in a normal season. For Funny Car veteran Dale Creasy Jr., it’s much easier. He said he draws a circle on the map with his Beecher, Ill., home at the center and a 500-mile radius.


“I try to stay within 500 miles of that, to cut down on travel expenses,” he said. “Any race that we have to fly to, we can’t go. We just can’t afford the flights and rental cars. If we can drive there, then it’s feasible.”

The 2020 season has messed up even his simple test. Creasy said, “It has definitely been a challenge this year to decided to go racing. And if I didn’t love racing so much, I wouldn’t go. It never was about the money, because there never really was enough. But as long as I can keep the wheels turning, I’m a happy guy.”

Creasy said he told Ned Walliser, the NHRA’s vice-president of competition, that “I’m going to support him this year, just because I want to go racing. But I can’t run my car for seven-grand. It’s just impossible. Ten thousand is kind of OK, because you can pay for hotels and stuff, but $7,000? You can’t cut any more corners than we’ve already cut.

“I give ’em props for doing what they’re doing, but you can’t put on the same show you did. We’re getting paid less than when I started 25 years ago,” Creasy said.

“Our car pretty much takes care of itself, and that was including the match races. Match races were good for us, but this year they were all canceled. We pretty much survive on 3-4-5 match races a year, and NHRA racing is just because I want to go race,” he said. “It doesn’t make money. But if it doesn’t cost me to go to a race, I’m happy. We don’t run for points. It’s good to go race against the best.”