2020 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK
BECKMAN WINS SECOND U.S. NATIONALS IN FINAL HURRAH IN INFINITE HERO FUNNY CAR - Just one day after his teammate handed team boss Don Schumacher his 350th career win, Jack Beckman made that number 351 at the biggest drag race of them all.
Beckman went four masterful rounds on Sunday at the 67th annual DENSO Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals, collecting his 32nd career victory and second at the prestigious U.S. Nationals. In the process, Beckman handed Don Schumacher Racing its 351st win in NHRA competition as Beckman reveled in what could very well be his last race at famed Lucas Oil Raceway in a nitro Funny Car.
“It feels great. I don’t know if this is the last time I am going to get to race at Indy,” an emotional Beckman said. “We are not sponsored for next year and this makes it 32 trophies in a Funny Car. That is 32 more than I ever thought I would have in a Funny Car and we aren’t done yet.”
Beckman discovered last month that the Chandler family “giving car” program was coming to an end at the close of the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season. That program supports two cars in the Don Schumacher Racing stable, including Beckman’s Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car.
On Sunday, Beckman celebrated that tremendous six-year partnership with a grand victory celebration alongside his crew.
“If this is the last time I race at Indy, that Infinite Hero Dodge Charger team left nothing on the race track,” Beckman said. “That is what drag racing is all about. Doug Chandler, thank you. Terry Chandler, what a wonderful six years. We collected a whole lot of Wally trophies and a whole lot of amazing fans. I hope I can keep doing this next year, but I will revel in this one. Our team was awesome today.”
Beckman capped the celebration with a victory over two-time U.S. Nationals winner JR Todd in the Funny Car final.
Todd, looking for his third win in four years at Indy, left first, but Beckman drove around him cleanly and got the win with a 3.908-second pass at 327.35 mph. Todd crossed the stripe with a 3.960 at 324.28 mph in the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car.
The final was not without drama, however. As both cars were staging, Beckman pulled in too deep and lit both bulbs, forcing Todd to adjust on the fly. While Todd still bettered his opponent on the tree, he was not happy about the move and confronted Beckman at the top end immediately following their run.
Beckman explained that he simply made an error.
“I just screwed up,” Beckman said. “I went in and lit both bulbs. It is seven inches from pre-stage to stage, so you try to light the pre-stage and let it roll in about four inches. We are still messing around with the push brake on this car - which we just converted to this year - and I just flat screwed up. There is no other way to look at it.
“JR chose to have a tantrum about it. I think that goes to his character. I don’t know why he would have an issue with me making a mistake that could mess me up. He will have to wrestle with his demons on that one.”
With the win, Beckman extended Don Schumacher Racing’s incredible streak in fuel Funny Car to nine wins in a row dating back to the FallNationals last October. Since then, all four DSR cars have taken turns in victory lane, with Beckman tied for the class lead with Hagan with three wins each over the past 11 months.
Beckman also reached his fifth final at the U.S. Nationals since 2008, winning his other Wally from this race in 2015.
“That is an added bonus. Obviously, you want to win every race and if we keep doing that, we keep the streak alive,” Beckman said. “It just reflects the amazing team we have behind us and the great teams we have at DSR.”
Additionally, Beckman’s win on Sunday made up for a loss he suffered at the hands of Hagan one day prior. During the third round of qualifying on Saturday, Hagan and Beckman faced off in the rain-delayed finish to the Summernationals from July, with Hagan getting the better of his DSR teammate with a 3.919 to a 3.940.
On Sunday, Beckman was quick to point out that, while Hagan has won twice at Indy this year, his trophy says something special.
“Hagan won two of the Indys and he can have that all day long,” Beckman said. “I will take the one that says U.S. Nationals. Every trophy is important, but there is only one U.S. Nationals.”
Beckman faced a gauntlet on Sunday to reach his fourth final of 2020, besting Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps and Tim Wilkerson. Both Pedregon and Capps smoked the tires in the opening two rounds - held nearly three hours apart following a brief rain shower - as Beckman cruised to passes of 3.909 and 4.003 seconds. Between those rounds, Beckman said that the team was forced to adjust on the fly as a computer issue left the team scrambling.
“We didn’t get computer data in round one. While it is not the end of the world, we made a great run and we had to go old school and look at the parts - look at the spark plugs, look at the bearings,” Beckman said. “Then it didn’t run good in round two. I don’t think that was a lack of computer data, but it was not something we were happy with. We’ve got two new clutch discs in there and they are still throwing fits for us once in a while.
“But we kept pecking away at the tuneup and ended up with the best car in the final round.”
In the semifinals, which featured four former winners of this race, a delay left Beckman and Wilkerson waiting in the staging lanes for an extended period as Beckman watched the NHRA safety team scrape the lane ahead of him. That didn’t deter Beckman, as he remained in the lane and won on a holeshot - a 3.915 at 329.10 mph to Wilkerson’s 3.914 at 324.59 mph - to advance by seven thousandths at the line.
Todd, who has been to three finals and a semifinal in his last four trips to the U.S. Nationals, eliminated Blake Alexander, Dale Creasy Jr. and Matt Hagan. Despite being heavily outmatched, both Alexander and Creasy hung with Todd in the opening two rounds, but Todd used bracket-like passes of 3.916 and 3.919 to advance.
In the other semifinal, Todd chased Hagan down and advanced when Hagan’s car went silent just shy of the finish line. Todd ran a 3.946 at 327.03 mph to drive around Hagan who came just shy of three wins at Indy in four tries this season.
“I am not going to lie, that stings to go to the final round at the biggest race of the year and come up short,” Todd said. “I am really proud of my guys. Ever since we have come back from the break we have run really strong here at Indy. I didn’t drive all that great today. I was living right until the final round. I am just bummed we didn’t pull it off.”
No. 1 qualifier and points leader entering this weekend Tommy Johnson Jr. bowed out in a stunning first round upset to Dale Creasy Jr. as the journeyman driver defeated the pilot of the Riley Kids Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car with a 4.009 to Johnson’s 4.011. It was Creasy’s first round win since 2012.
Beckman retook the points lead following Sunday’s win, as his four final round visits in 2020 leads the class.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will return to action Sept. 25-27 at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.
HAGAN COLLECTS NO. 350 FOR DSR, JOHNSON JUMPS PAST CAPPS TO TAKE NO. 1 ON WILD SATURDAY IN INDY
MY TURN - For much of Saturday in Indianapolis, the talk of the pit area revolved around the Don Schumacher Racing trio of Ron Capps, Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman.
As it turns out, however, DSR has four drivers.
The chatter centered around the fact that Capps held the provisional top spot from Friday night qualifying, while Hagan and Beckman were set to do battle later in the day in the makeup final from the rain-delayed Summernationals a little over a month ago. While it looked as if Capps had a solid grip on the eventual pole position following his run under the lights on Friday, and his teammates were going to race for a trophy, DSR’s Tommy Johnson Jr. had other plans.
Johnson butted his way into the conversation Saturday evening on a quickly cooling track following a handful of delays and raced his way to his third top qualifier award of the season at the 67th annual DENSO Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals. It was also his third time topping the charts in four races held at Lucas Oil Raceway this season.
“We knew we were right there with them all,” Johnson said. “It was supposed to run that (number) or better last night, we just missed it a little bit. Luckily, we got another shot at it. The conditions got pretty good there with the delay. They dove into the clutch during the delay and I knew we were going for it.
“About 200 or 300 feet I knew we were on a run. I could tell by how hard it was planting me in the seat. I was looking for the scoreboard when I went through the lights because I knew we had a shot at it.”
With the field seemingly set entering the final session, Johnson ran a 3.878-second pass at 326.40 mph in the Riley Kids Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, just nudging Capps who lowered his own time from Friday night but slipped to second on the ladder. Capps ran a 3.881 at 327.19 mph in the NAPA Dodge.
Tim Wilkerson qualified third with a 3.906 at 326.63 mph, with Bob Tasca (3.910) and Matt Hagan (3.919) rounding out the top five.
A long delay from an earlier pairing and a few additional holdups pushed Saturday’s third and final qualifying session deeper into the evening hours, with cloud cover adding to the rapidly cooling track. While the wait was excruciating for the drivers, it played right into the success that Johnson saw moments later.
“You are sitting in the car just trying to keep cool. Even though it is cool by Indy standards, it was getting pretty steamy in there,” Johnson said. “You just hope you don’t overthink it. You get those opportunities presented to you and you make changes and hope you are going the right way and doing the right things. Driving these cars, most of it is gut instinct and sometimes you can outthink yourself.
“I was pretty confident. They didn’t make a lot of changes, but they were significant changes and they were going to take a stab at it. It turned out really well.”
And that was not the only No. 1 Johnson took from the day.
Immediately following Johnson’s chart-topping lap, his teammate Hagan defeated Beckman in the makeup final from earlier in the year, allowing Johnson to retain his points lead in the class entering Sunday.
“If Jack had won that race, he would have taken over the points lead. When Matt got out at the other end, I told him he did a perfect job,” Johnson said with a laugh. “He didn’t take the No. 1 and he beat Jack. So I am the No. 1 qualifier and I am first in points. Everybody did their job.
Johnson will face Dale Creasy Jr. in round one on Sunday.
NO. 350 - At the 1970 NHRA U.S. Nationals, DSR team owner Don Schumacher raced to his very first NHRA win.
On Saturday, he celebrated his 350th victory as a team owner on the 50th anniversary of his Indianapolis triumph.
Matt Hagan handed the legendary car owner that win, besting Jack Beckman on Saturday in the makeup race from the weather-delayed Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals at Lucas Oil Raceway, putting him and his team into the history books by giving Schumacher an unprecedented 350 nitro victories in the sport.
“It is such a huge milestone in the legacy that he has made. I just can’t say thank you enough to be a part of it,” Hagan said. “To be able to seal that 350th win for him and know that, in the history books, I am a part of that and what he has built over the years, is something special. All of the drivers, all of the crew chiefs, all of the sponsors, it all adds up.
“And that is not the end of it. There is more to come and I am really excited to be a part of that. All of the hard work and the infrastructure it takes to get here. It all comes down to my guys. They have been doing a great job putting a great racecar underneath me. And when you surround yourself with good people, good things happen.”
Hagan bested his DSR teammate during Q3 on Friday of the DENSO Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals, making up a race that was held 48 days ago at this same track. On that afternoon back in July Hagan defeated Ron Capps, J.R. Todd and Bob Tasca to reach the final, while Beckman bested Chad Green, Tim Wilkerson and Tommy Johnson Jr. before weather moved in and pushed the conclusion of the race to this weekend.
With a Wally - and qualifying positioning for Sunday’s race - on the line, Hagan powered his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye to a 3.919-second pass at 328.54 mph, his quickest pass of the weekend, to best Beckman’s 3.940 at 325.53 mph in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge.
“I really felt like that is how it was supposed to end,” Hagan said. “We had such a good race car when we went into the finals (in July) with Beckman. We had the entire field covered. Thankfully we kept lane choice, which is important here, and I knew Dickie (Venables) had something up his sleeve. When we rolled in there, right before we started to fire up, he pulled the number three stop off and I was thinking, ‘this is really going to run now.’
“Dickie had the confidence that the track would hold it and it did. We had seconds before we buttoned it up and fired and to watch my guys get to work like that showed me what type of team I have around me. Even though it was qualifying, I had a great light and the car ran well and never looked back.
“To come out here and qualify well, get our second win here this year, it has just been a dream come true. They did a fantastic job and the car stepped up and ran the numbers it needed to.”
Seeing as how it was qualifying and Saturday’s race-winning pass counted toward those numbers, Hagan placed himself fifth on the ladder going into race day. And after winning two of the three races held at Lucas Oil Raceway this year already, Hagan has a chance to do something on Sunday that has never - and may never again - happen in the history of the NHRA - winning three trophies in a nitro class at Indy in the same year.
“There is always that chance for three. I won Indy here a few years ago and I was sick and didn’t get to enjoy it. I’m not sick now and am feeling great and I want to make up for that weekend,” Hagan said. “To have a trophy already here on Saturday night and to roll in here tomorrow and have an opportunity to win another one is huge. It can only go up from here.”
TOBLER THE GREAT AND POWERFUL - Ron Capps has just about seen it all from Rahn Tobler.
He has seen last-minute tuning adjustments net big results. He has seen big swings in the pits lead to big gains on the track. But coming into this weekend, Capps witnessed something he has never seen from his legendary crew chief before - seeing into the future.
Capps is accustomed to watching Tobler get to work at the race track, analyzing temperatures, wind, details from other competitors, to form a gameplan entering each session of qualifying. But this weekend, Capps said that Tobler entered the race with everything already preset and ready to go. Did he know something that Capps did not? He just might have.
“I haven’t seen Tobler with that look before. He told me (Friday night) after the run when we sat down to decompress that he hadn’t gotten ready for a run like that in years with all of that time off. He usually will get to a track, we will sit down in the lounge and we will start going over conditions. What do we have today? What day is it? What is the air like? What is the track like? And they start putting options into the ignition box ahead of time so they can make quick changes in the staging lanes,” Capps said. “He has never put them in as early as he had this weekend. He’s never prepared as much for one run like he did for Friday.
“He had everything done that he usually does on Friday a week ago and he was ready.”
And it almost paid off.
For nearly 24 hours Capps held the provisional top spot in the Funny Car field in the NAPA Dodge with a 3.895-second pass at 330.63 mph from Friday night.
But fate would ultimately intervene as, even with a quicker run on Saturday to better his time, Capps was just edged by his teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in Q3. Johnson raced to a 3.878 to take the top spot while Capps settled for second with a 3.881.
“It was almost like he had this weekend planned out. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us in qualifying,” Capps said. “It is good to hear him talk like that. When we win a lot and we go rounds and have success at the track, he makes those calls where we can almost call it within a couple hundredths of what it is going to be based off of a run and that consistency is so awesome.”
Capps will face Jim Campbell in round one on Sunday looking for his second-straight win at Indy after winning the Dodge Nationals here a couple weeks ago.
PATERNAL INSTINCTS - Bob Bode knows all too well the ups-and-downs of life behind the wheel of a nitro machine.
He has seen the highest of highs, with his one-and-only win coming at Brainerd way back in 2010. And he has seen the lowest of lows, with incidents like what happened to him Friday night in Indianapolis.
During the first round of qualifying on Friday, Bode blew a hole in the block of his Funny Car, creating a unique set of circumstances that created a flash fire inside the cockpit. While Bode emerged uninjured, it was a spectacular sight to witness under the lights during the only night session of the season.
“We were trucking along pretty good. We had pretty good early numbers and I felt like I was doing a good job staying in the middle and it didn’t do anything different and all of a sudden it was like somebody turned the inside of the car orange. It was bright orange and, for that split second, I got nervous,” Bode said. “The good part is, it blew out within a few seconds and I didn’t have to pull the fire bottles. When we got back I saw that we had pushed a head gasket and made a big hole in the back of the block. When I lifted, the body came up just enough that it got under the firewall. It didn’t hurt and I was fine, but it was pretty spectacular from the driver's seat.”
Following a fire-soaked run at well over 230 mph, a normal person would weigh the thrill of the hunt versus the danger associated with driving such a volatile ride. But nitro drivers are anything but normal.
“Actually, those are the kinds of runs that make you want to come back and do it again,” Bode said with a laugh. “When you look at it, you think, ‘boy, that is kind of silly.’ But we are so well protected. I didn’t even feel warm with all of the safety equipment. From where I sat, it was a fun, exciting ride and that just adds to the excitement.”
So does that thrill-seeking persona change when it is not you in the car, but a loved one?
Maybe a little.
Bode’s son, Bobby Bode, is currently a handful of runs away from obtaining his nitro license and the elder Bode hopes to have his son behind the wheel of his car at a race or two later this year. Bobby has made four of the six required runs and Bob hopes to return to Indy next weekend to complete the licensing process.
Bobby, who just turned 18, has more than a dozen passes in a Frank Hawley alcohol car, and has been racing Super Comp and other classes during his young career.
Now, Bob has to work on shifting his emotions from getting up for a run himself, to preparing to watch his son travel at over 300 miles-per-hour, especially after seeing first-hand exactly what can happen in one of these cars.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit thinking about it right now. Now, when I was standing at the starting line and he was on his fourth pass a couple of weeks ago, that is the moment it hits you,” Bode said. “I look at the car and know he is in there and I am going, ‘please kid, do everything right.’ And he always has up to this point.
“That moment, though, I have to say, until the chutes come out at the other end, I am on pins and needles. The guys can’t even talk to me because I am so out of shape over it. But he has been racing since he was 8 years old and I am confident he is going to do all of the right stuff.”
ONE MORE ROUND - Anyone with a small child is familiar with the phrase, “one more.”
One more story. One more cookie. One more ride.
For Paul Lee, he is channeling his inner child this weekend at the U.S. Nationals as he looks for one more of his own when he pulls into the staging lanes on Sunday. One more round.
“That is what we are hoping for,” an excited Lee said. “That is what we are going to try to do, go one round further than the last time.”
Lee’s fascination with one more round began nearly two months ago when he lost to Blake Alexander in the first round of what would be the first of four-straight visits to Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. After bowing out in round one, Lee went two rounds the following week before falling to Bob Tasca. Two weeks after that, Lee went yet another round, reaching the first semifinal of his career before coming up shy against J.R. Todd.
On Sunday, he hopes to take it one step further - a victory.
To do that, however, the team had to bring their A game with two fewer runs this weekend compared to a traditional U.S. Nationals visit. In fact, all of the nitro teams have had to make drastic changes to their strategies with fewer qualifying opportunities each week brought about by the pandemic.
“It is tough. The crew chiefs have to be more on their game. You can take a lot of changes and swing for the fence, but at the end of the day you have to get down the track,” Lee said. “The first priority is always getting down the track. That has changed the strategy for how the crew chief decides how he wants to run the car.”
Coming off of the momentum of that semifinal run at the Dodge Nationals, Lee is excited that he will have an opportunity to run every race this year as a shortened schedule brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic will present an opportunity for the team to run the entire schedule for the first time ever.
The NHRA announced over the weekend the final five races to wrap up the NHRA Mello Drag Racing Series schedule with trips to Gainesville (Sept. 25-27), St. Louis (Oct. 2-4), Dallas (Oct. 14-18), Houston (Oct. 23-25) and Las Vegas (Oct. 30-Nov. 1).
“With those fewer races this year, we are going to do them all. We are lucky to have Global Electronic Technology and they have been a great partner. They have not hesitated one bit through this whole coronavirus shutdown. They said we are with you all the way,” Lee said. “That has really helped us. It is great just to have a schedule and we are looking forward to having a good time, racing all of the races and doing the best that we can.”
Lee qualified 12th on Saturday and will race Matt Hagan in round one.
ALL GOOD THINGS - As they say in life, all good things must come to an end.
That is exactly how Jack Beckman is treating the remainder of the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season as he learned just a few weeks ago that his time in the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing would be coming to an end at the conclusion of this season and, very well, could spell the end to his time in Funny Car.
Beckman is one of two DSR cars, alongside his teammate Tommy Johnson Jr., sponsored by Doug Chandler and his late wife Terry Chandler in the “giving cars.” The Chandlers personally funded both cars and, due to that generosity, the team was able to take on various charities as sponsors of the cars with all proceeds going to those institutions.
Since 2013, the Chandler family has been supporting NHRA and causes such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Infinite Hero Foundation and most recently the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. More than $730,000 has been raised through Chandler and DSR’s various Infinite Hero partnerships.
Now, that partnership will come to an end following the season after several successful years, and that leaves Beckman thankful, yet reflective, this weekend.
“It is likely our last year unless we find funding. Right now, it is not looking good for next year,” Beckman said. “But I am beyond grateful. They gave us six more years of employment here. They let us run strong and change the lives of some injured veterans. I could not be more proud and humbled by what we have been able to do.”
While Beckman’s future in the sport may be in question, he still has work to do this weekend and over the final five races of the year. Beckman remains in contention for the NHRA Funny Car championship and is a threat to win each and every weekend.
After struggling during his first hit at the track on Friday, Beckman has shifted his focus to data acquisition and prep for Sunday as the tries to bring home a very special U.S. Nationals victory as a thank you to the years of support from the Chandler family.
“Our goal on Saturday wasn’t qualifying, but to set the car up for the Indy 2 final and getting data for Sunday,” Beckman said. “I don’t think it is going to matter where we sit in final qualifying for the U.S. Nationals. I think it is far more important for us to have good data for race day. We get to have two race days in a row, very much like the old shootout days where you get to race on two consecutive days. But first we have to get a handle on this car and get it to the finish line under power.”
In the first of two races, Beckman fell just short against his teammate Matt Hagan as Hagan took the weather-delayed Summernationals from earlier this summer. For race two, Beckman will start seventh on the grid with a weekend-best pass of 3.940 seconds placing him in the top half of the ladder and leading to a first round matchup with Cruz Pedregon.
A UNIQUE BOND - It is often said that drag racing is a fraternity.
It is a unique brotherhood of racers, crews, and fans that is unlike any other sport on the planet.
So when one of their own is in trouble, you can expect the entire pit area to respond. And respond they have.
NHRA drag racers and fans have responded in a big way to help fellow racer Dom Lagana as he struggles in an Indianapolis hospital recovering from life-threatening injuries resulting from an auto accident that also seriously injured Top Fuel racer Richie Crampton and crew member Jake Sanders. Crampton continues to recuperate from multiple injuries, and Sanders was treated and released following the late-night crash in August.
Anywhere you go in the pits you will see fans, racers and crew members donning shirts with the “Lagana Strong” moniker in support of the Lagana family, as well as New York Yankees baseball caps like the one Dom Lagana is fond of wearing. Many of the race teams also have Lagana Strong stickers on their cars and Steve Torrence, with whom Bobby and Dom Lagana serve as crew members, is running a Nitro Ninja tribute scheme this weekend replicating the look of the Lagana family dragster.
And one of the people that knows Dom Lagana, and his older brother Bobby Lagana, as well as anyone in the pits is veteran racer Dale Creasy Jr.
Creasy and the Lagana family go way back to their time in IHRA where Creasy and Bobby Lagana spent time winning races in Funny Car and Top Fuel respectively in the former B series. In fact, Creasy and the elder Lagana won their first races with the IHRA on the same weekend with Dom helping tune his brother's car.
“Those two guys, I think they are probably two of the nicest guys you will ever meet. Even if you are racing against them, they will help you,” Creasy said. “I’ve been friends with them my entire life. I won my first race in IHRA at Grand Bend and Bobby won his first race right behind me. So we’ve had things going together for a long time.
“The outpouring of help - the shirts, the donations - it has been tremendous and they need it. They deserve the help.”
And Creasy knows all too well what it is like to need the support of the racing community. Creasy had his own brush with a serious injury in 2008 in Edmonton, Alberta, when a catastrophic parts failure in the driveline of his Funny Car severely damaged his legs as they became entangled in the wreckage. Creasy suffered broken bones in his right foot and his left leg suffered a crushed shin and a compound fracture that left him out of the sport for months recuperating.
Following the accident, the entire racing community responded and helped Creasy get back on the mend. But Creasy is quick to point out that, while he is grateful for the outpouring of support he received more than a decade ago, injured limbs can heal, but it is a more delicate road for Lagana.
“We put that big Lagana sticker on our car and I had several people ask about my injury and what I went through. I said yeah, but not like this,” Creasy said. “This is a whole different ball game. The injuries to your limbs, that is recoverable. It is the head injury that has everybody worried. Being such a nice guy, when he does come around, he is going to be mad at all of this attention. That is just Dom.”
The injury to Lagana, suffered following the third race in Indianapolis four weeks ago, left Creasy considering not even making the trip to the U.S. Nationals this weekend. But if there is one thing Dom would want, it is for racers to do what they love to do.
“I almost didn’t come here (this weekend) because it didn’t feel right. Bobby texted me and said he would want you here, so here I am,” Creasy said. “It’s not that I didn’t want to come, it is just that feeling you get when you see the car and you know he isn’t here. I just want to go out and do something good in his name.”
HISTORY IN THE MAKING - One year ago, Justin Schriefer was a part of history.
Schriefer, a part ime racer who circles the U.S. Nationals as one of the few races he makes it out to each year, made five solid passes at this race last year and was rewarded with a spot in the NHRA history books. At that race, Schriefer qualified 16th on the ladder with a 4.005-second pass at 317.94 mph, becoming the fastest 16th qualifier in NHRA history as part of the fastest qualified field in the history of the Funny Car class.
Before last year’s record-setting race, the old record bump spot for the class was 4.029 set in 2016.
“It was great to be a part of the fastest Funny Car field in NHRA history and then being the fastest 16th qualifier in NHRA history,” Schriefer said. “We pulled out of here last year with two accomplishments, and that is big for us because we are really trying hard. We are out here spending most of my hard-earned money and it nice when it pays off.
“We are still looking for bigger sponsors, but I couldn’t be out here without all of our partners. We are excited to be back out here this weekend. My team, they are pumped. We were going to go to Joliet, but that race got canceled, so we are just excited to finally go racing.”
Due to the pandemic, this is the first race of the year for Schriefer and that fact was reflected by a number of hiccups and errors on Friday and Saturday.
“Friday was our first time out this year. We had just put the power grid on the car and had an issue with the brakes in that first run with some air in the lines when we were staging,” Schriefer said. “It rolled on me and I couldn’t hold the car back and then we blew the tires off of it. That is not how you want to start the weekend. We are just trying to figure out the issues on the car right now.”
While going rounds at the U.S. Nationals is certainly on the agenda, Schriefer is just happy being back behind the wheel after several months away from the sport.
“We always make as many runs as we can during a weekend just to get data and get me more seat time,” Schriefer said. “It does make a difference, especially when you have cold runs like Friday and hot runs like Saturday. And Sunday could be something completely different, so it gives us a better average to work off of.”
Unfortunately, the team was able to get some of its issues fixed on Saturday as a little bump drama sent Schriefer home as the only Funny Car driver not to make the field. During his third and final attempt at making the field, Schriefer drifted toward the centerline and just kissed the inside line enough for NHRA to issue a DQ on a run that would have made the field. Instead Schriefer remained in 17th.
ELECTRIC AVENUE - Bob Tasca had a unique milestone this weekend.
He had an opportunity to drive both the loudest and the quietest cars on the property. And he couldn’t be happier about it.
Tasca had an opportunity to race the Cobra Jet 1400 this weekend, an all-electric version of the popular Factory Stock Showdown vehicle, before getting behind the wheel of his 10,000 horsepower nitro-driven Funny Car. It was quite a difference of worlds going from the volatile power of nitro to a smooth, quiet electric car.
“The way they have it designed, they have straight cut gears in the back of the electric engines that drive the torque converter and it sounds like a turbine engine. It is a very, very unique sound,” Tasca said. “But one of the things that really jumped out at me driving it is, every car I have ever driven with that big crankshaft and all those pistons swinging around, you get tremendous torque when you hit the throttle and body roll. Whether it is in the suspension or it is one of these nitro cars, and you feel it all the way down the track.
“This (electric) car is straight. There is no rotating mass in it and it is just real flat to drive after you get done taking off like an airplane. It is very unique and obviously quiet. I describe it as being in a slingshot. It is constant acceleration, no vibration, and so smooth. And it has just unbelievable performance.”
Ford Performance collaborated with Cascadia Motion to power the Cobra Jet 1400. With four PN-250-DZR inverters coupled to a pair of DS-250-115s, giving four motors total and spinning at up to 10,000 revolutions per minute. These motor-inverter packages run at 800 volts and up to 700 amps, with a maximum output of 350kW per motor.
It is a unique piece of machinery all the way around, and something Tasca could see as a fun alternative to traditional motors for racers looking to be on the cutting edge of technology and performance, even if there is still some work to be done to get there.
“A big part of it is battery development. The engines are bulletproof - literally. But the batteries that you need to run them right now, they are not cheap. We don’t know exactly how long they last and they are heavy. They say every five years technology doubles to some extent so it will be fascinating to see where these cars are in a few years,” Tasca said. “Is it going to wipe out every gas engine out here? No. But it is a big part of our future and it is exciting to be at the precipice of it with Ford and their engineering team.
“I know one thing, once they get that battery technology right, it will be interesting. The engines are very low maintenance. I think it could be a big affordability for a lot of teams out here to be able to race one.”
Electric cars have already made big headlines in motorsports, with an entire series popping up around the machines in the Formula E series.
So could Tasca see people getting excited about watching two nearly silent cars pulling up to the Christmas tree in a sport that makes its money from the raw power and the deafening scream of its engines?
Not exactly, but he does have some ideas on how it could make for some unique opportunities.
“What would be cool is if you could hear the drivers talking to each other pulling up to stage. What if I was talking to (John) Force and he was talking to me while we were getting ready to race and you didn’t have that sound,” Tasca said. “I think that could be different. It is not going to replace nitro Funny Cars, but I do see it being a big part of our sport and it is exciting because other series are doing it. And for us to be a part of the whole electric strategy in the future, I think it is great for our sport and our fans and racers.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - TOUGH DAY IN THE OFFICE FOR THE PLASTIC FANTASTICS
PICKING UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF - Four weeks ago Ron Capps was celebrating his first win of the season and first-ever win at Lucas Oil Raceway in Funny Car at the Dodge Nationals.
On Friday, Capps again was the toast of the town with the quickest and fastest pass of the weekend’s only night session at the 67th annual DENSO Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals.
Capps earned the provisional top spot during Friday’s lone qualifying session, putting down a blistering 3.895-second pass at 330.63 mph to best Bob Tasca who holds down the No. 2 spot with a 3.910 at 327.11 mph. If his time holds, it will be his first No. 1 qualifier of the season and first since September of last year.
It was an especially wild evening for the Funny Car class as a few mishaps in Top Fuel pushed the start of Funny Car qualifying to nearly 10 p.m. EST and was dominated by aborted runs as the track temperature plummeted from over 100 degrees at the start of the nitro sessions to less than 80 degrees by the finish. But when Capps came to the line in the next-to-last pairing of the evening, he blasted the NAPA Dodge Charger Funny Car straight to the top.
“We shouldn’t be running this late, in these cars especially. By the time it got to us the weather had changed so much,” Capps said. “Rahn (Tobler) made changes on the fly and it worked out. It was a handful, I was moving all over the place, but we got it down there. It was a great job by the NAPA guys.”
HOW DID WE GET HERE? - It has been a wild and crazy year thus far in 2020, so let us help set the stage for you.
The 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season began in early February with a trip to Pomona, California, for the traditional season opener, the 60th Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. In that race “Fast” Jack Beckman bested 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force to get his campaign off to a strong start. One week later, Beckman was again in the final of Funny Car, this time falling to teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. at the Arizona Nationals.
And then all hell broke loose.
The COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country in early March, halting the next race - the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida - before a tire could turn in the professional classes. That delay put a five-month hiatus on the season as the NHRA contemplated what to do next.
What came next was a bold and calculated restart to the season with a handful of races - three-in-a-row, to be exact - at Lucas Oil Raceway, home to this weekend’s Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals. The restart would allow the series to slowly get back up to speed, while the drivers could compete from the comfort of home as Indianapolis serves as the traditional hotspot for NHRA teams and drivers.
Of course, the biggest news from the shutdown was that John Force Racing - and its drivers Force and Robert Hight - the traditional powerhouse of Funny Car alongside Don Schumacher Racing, would call this season a loss and would not compete the rest of this year. That, of course, has set the stage for a season of domination by team DSR.
The next three races in Indy - the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, Summernationals and Dodge Nationals - netted wins for Matt Hagan and Ron Capps, with the third victory of that nitro trio to be decided this weekend following a rain-delayed finish between Beckman and Hagan.
So the score this weekend is a win apiece for each of the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car drivers of Beckman, Johnson, Hagan and Capps, with another victory going to either Beckman or Hagan this weekend. And then, of course, there is the actual U.S. Nationals to be decided on Sunday.
The points entering this weekend reflect that strong start for DSR, with Johnson leading the way with 416 points entering Friday. Beckman is second, 13 points adrift of his teammate, followed by Hagan and then Capps. The first non-DSR car is Bob Tasca in fifth, 118-points back of the leader. The remainder of the top 10 are J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, Alexis Dejoria, Cruz Pedregon and Paul Lee.
Following this weekend’s race, the NHRA announced this week that five races will wrap up the 2020 season with competitions in Florida, Illinois, Texas twice, and Las Vegas.
So there you have it, you are all caught up entering this weekend’s U.S. Nationals, the biggest drag race in the land. So sit back and enjoy as the stars of Funny Car put on a show at the race referred to by all in the industry as the Big Go.
SOMETHING MISSING - Somebody has to be the one to say it.
John Force is not here this weekend. And neither is Robert Hight. And neither is anyone else associated with the 21-time championship-winning JFR team.
That leaves the sport without its winningest driver, two multi-time winners of this race, the defending class champion and, of course, the defending Funny Car winner at the U.S. Nationals following Force’s emotional victory here one year ago.
While there will still be a winner hoisting a trophy on Sunday, there will be a bit of an asterisk as this terrible pandemic and the associated financial fallout has shelved one of drag racing’s most successful and most popular teams for 2020.
A SPECIAL VOICEMAIL - Despite all of the wins, despite the 2016 championship and the more than 750 round wins, the one - and possibly only - thing still missing from Ron Capps’ career resume in Funny Car is a trophy from the biggest drag race of them all.
Capps has collected 65 trophies in all during his decorated career, a career that has spanned more than two decades, but he has never held one at the U.S. Nationals. He has one runner-up, coming here in 2017, but a win has eluded him.
That all changed - sort of - four weeks ago when Capps collected his first career win at Lucas Oil Raceway. While it wasn’t the big one, Capps got a taste of victory in Indianapolis and is hungry to turn that faux Indy win into the real thing this weekend.
“I thought (that win) might change the way we came into this weekend, but it didn’t. When I drove in the gate this afternoon, it was like a different planet compared to what it has been around here,” Capps said. “Driving in that gate and seeing all of the cars, the alcohol Funny Cars and dragsters and sportsmen, it made the hairs stand up on my neck. I know this is the U.S. Nationals, but it just reminded me that this one is different. Those other races here were nice, but this is the big one.
“It reminded me of the day I came here as a crew guy in 1992. I came here for the first time working on an alcohol dragster and went in that same gate and was blown away.”
While a win here this weekend would certainly be a special moment, Capps admitted that it would come with an asterisk as defending race winner John Force and reigning class Robert Hight are not here. The COVID-19 pandemic forced John Force Racing to shutter for the season, leaving two of the winningest and most popular drivers missing from the field.
“I can tell you, in the Funny Car pit area, there is definitely an asterisk because Robert and Jimmy (Prock) and John aren’t here,” Capps said. “Robert and Jimmy, they have been the class car to beat over the last few years and we always get up to race them. (Rahn) Tobler, being friends with Jimmy, it brings out a little bit more. And racing Robert, you better be at your best because he is not going to make a mistake. And, of course, Force is Force.”
Still, even without the JFR team in the pits, they have still had an impact on Ron. Following his win at the Dodge Nationals last month, Capps had one particular message out of the hundreds he received following that win that truly stood out to him.
“I had 193 text messages and even more voicemails that night and the coolest one I got was from John Force. He left me a really cool voicemail which I kept where he talked to me about how emotional it was that I gave the trophy to my wife and he watched it,” Capps said.
So, at the end of the day, would his first U.S. Nationals be remembered more for the people not racing than those actually on the track?
“There are so many tough cars here. On race day a few weeks ago, I forgot they weren’t here as we were going rounds. You just get so caught up, you can’t focus on who is not here,” Capps said. “Instead, I was thinking there is (Tim) Wilkerson. There are my teammates. There are the Kalitta cars. There are so many tough cars in Funny Car and you never even think twice about it until the end of the day - wow, there is no Robert and John here.
“Still, there would definitely be a bit of an asterisk I would say.”
BIG GO SUPERFAN - There are plenty of folks who might consider themselves the biggest superfan of the world’s biggest drag race.
When you think of a superfan, you might imagine an elderly gentleman with a head of white hair and a vintage NHRA jacket, walking the pits collecting another set of autographs from the latest NHRA stars. Or perhaps you might imagine a middle-aged individual with a couple of sons and a daughter running alongside, pointing out every car and driver with a sense of reverence typically reserved for Sunday mornings in the pews.
Or maybe you might imagine a youthful, excited 39-year-old who walks the pits each year like it is his first trip to Indianapolis and talks of the place as if it were his personal playground - because it is.
Perhaps the world’s biggest U.S. Nationals superfan is none other than the driver of the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car by the name of JR Todd.
Todd, from nearby Lawrenceburg, Indiana, has been attending the Indianapolis-based race since he was a child. He has competed at the track in everything from Junior Dragster to nitro machines, and he is one of the few individuals to grow up as a fan who eventually had an opportunity to visit victory lane as a competitor.
This year marks the 28th straight year Todd has attended the U.S. Nationals - some as a fan, some as a driver - as he looks to win his third race at the track in Funny Car this weekend. He scored back-to-back U.S. Nationals victories in 2017 and 2018 and hopes to extend his feat to three times in four seasons.
“I came here for the first time when I was 10 years old. This place means a lot to me,” he said. “This is home for me. I grew up an hour and a half southeast of here and raced here as much as possible from the time I was 10 years old basically up to right now. I grew up racing here in Jr. Dragsters, then moved up to Super Comp and bracket racing.
“I’ve been to every U.S. Nationals since 1993. I’ve seen a lot happen here and watched all the legends of the sport. It’s definitely a special place. Not only because I’m from here, but the older you get, when you see those legends who still come back here for the U.S. Nationals, they show you and teach you the importance of this race and how much it really means.”
Of course, this year has been a bit different when it comes to competing at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Schedule alterations brought about by the pandemic forced the NHRA to adjust with three-straight races at the track leading up to the actual U.S. Nationals this weekend. That is three-straight weekends and dozens of passes in the same two lanes entering the race.
Has that fact impacted Todd’s approach to this weekend? Not exactly.
“These first three races definitely don’t have the same feeling as the U.S. Nationals. It’s nice that we had more cars and more fans out for the earlier races. Hopefully, we’ll have even more this weekend,” Todd said. “It gives it that prestige and makes it the crown jewel of our sport. It’s nice to run here, and the first three races have given us some notes and momentum heading into the big race. It’s just a totally different feeling come Labor Day weekend.”
Todd enters this weekend’s race sixth in points, with a runner-up finish coming here just a few weeks ago at the Dodge Nationals highlighting his season thus far.
NOT ONE, NOT TWO, BUT MAYBE THREE - Matt Hagan has an opportunity to do something this weekend that has never - and may never again - happen in the history of Funny Car.
He will have an opportunity to take home a Wally trophy from the famed Lucas Oil Raceway three times in one year.
After winning the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals back in early July - the first of three-straight races in Indianapolis - Hagan reached a second final one week later at the Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals. But that final against Jack Beckman was delayed due to weather and will be completed this weekend during the third qualifying session on Saturday.
If Hagan were to win the weather-delayed race against his teammate, and then win again on Sunday, that would be an unprecedented three Indy trophies in one season.
“It is pretty cool when you think about it like that,” Hagan said. “Honestly, we just have to take it round by round. Jack (Beckman) has a good car and it is going to be a great drag race and that is what it is going to come down to - who makes the right calls up there. We’ve both got good cars that run well. Both of our crew chiefs are really aggressive. It should be a heck of a race.”
Of course, that is not the only motivation Hagan is carrying with him this weekend. After winning his one-and-only U.S. Nationals back in 2016, the former class champion didn’t have much time to celebrate that victory as he was battling an illness that weekend.
In fact, his most lasting memory from that win was not the trophies and the cheering, it was an image that isn’t the most pleasant and he is hoping to create a new memory from this race this weekend.
“I will never forget the year I won here at the Big Go and I was so sick. I didn’t feel like partying afterward. Crossing the finish line and pulling the parachutes, I saw my win light come on and I looked up at my visor and I had snot on my visor,” Hagan recalled. “I am hoping that we get a redo so we can enjoy it a little bit more. I went back that weekend and crawled in bed and went to sleep. That is how I celebrated my last U.S. Nationals victory.”
Hagan will be sporting his popular Dodge SRT Hellcat Funny Car this weekend looking for his second win of the year.
“Our Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is qualifying really well, and it’s running really well and it has the Redeye look again this weekend and everybody’s excited about that,” Hagan said. “That whole combination and the excitement to get to go back racing again has me looking forward to this. It feels like forever, these last couple weeks not being able to be in a race car. I’m so glad to get going again.”
FEELING HOT, HOT, HOT - One of the more exciting moments - at least for the spectators - in Friday’s lone qualifying session occurred when Bob Bode and Terry Haddock produced a side-by-side run to forget.
While Haddock lost traction just past the starting line and violently wiggled from one side of his lane to the other, Bode made it nearly 600 feet before the engine let go, engulfing the inside of his Funny Car with flames for a few moments as the car nosed over.
Bode was unhurt in the incident, but described the scary incident.
“It got pretty hot. It was on a pretty good pass and I thought it was going to make, but at halftrack the whole inside turned orange,” Bode said. “I’m not sure what caused it, but it sure was an interesting ride.”
Despite the incident, Bode still found himself qualified in the top half of the field in sixth with a 4.259-second pass at 234.04 mph.
NO BUBBLE, NO PROBLEM - The past two U.S. Nationals have not exactly been the most fun for veteran Funny Car ace Tim Wilkerson.
He enjoys coming to Indy and has a love/hate relationship with the track, as evident by his one win and three final rounds, but the last two years he has not been able to actually enjoy the competition. Why? Because of the points bubble.
In 2018 and 2019, Wilkerson entered the final race of the regular season battling for the 10th and final spot in the Countdown to the Championship. That means he not only had to worry about his race - and with it any subsequent points fines from oil downs or on-track mishaps - but also worry about the cars around him. In other words, instead of going all-out, Wilkerson has had to play it safe.
But not this year.
With the cancellation of the NHRA postseason and the entire season counting towards the final tally, Wilkerson can focus solely on his race and not worry about every last point and the drivers around him.
“That is nice not having to count points and worry about issues we might have on the track,” Wilkerson said. “We are going to go out there and swing hard and see what we can get done.”
This year, Wilkerson has plenty to be excited about as his team has enjoyed one of their most successful campaigns in recent memory. Advancing to one semifinal and four-straight races with a round win to start the 2020 season, Wilkerson climbed as high as fourth in points until a first-round defeat to Ron Capps in the last trip to Indy a few weeks ago plummeted him to seventh.
Still, there is plenty of optimism in the Wilkerson camp as he tries to maneuver his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang to his first Indy final round since 2012 and first win since defeating Johnny Gray way back in 2003.
“We have been running really well this year until we got to the last Indy. It was the first time all year we got beat in the first round,” Wilkerson said. “We will see how that affects us this weekend. It will be different, there are a lot of cars running. We will see how the track gets prepared and hopefully we make some good runs.”
Adding to his optimism has been the three-straight races held at the Indianapolis-based track as Wilkerson looks to build on the data obtained from multiple runs down the track, likening it to a traditional Indianapolis 500 weekend where drivers get multiple time trials before the big race.
“The cool thing about it is that we’ve raced at Indy three times so far this year - it’s almost like they gave us time trials like they do at the Indy 500. We’ve had three weeks of time trials, and now we’re going to stop goofing around,” Wilkerson said. “We’re going out there status quo, not making any wholesale changes to what we had before, because we think we’ve got something for them. We’re going to this race to win it.”
Wilkerson got his quest for a race win off to a great start on Friday, powering his Ford Mustang Funny Car to a 3.918-second pass at 322.11 mph, good enough for third on the ladder.
LENDING A VIRTUAL HAND - The U.S. Nationals is a big race, not only for the drivers competing but for the opportunities created from such a big stage.
Since 2006, Don Schumacher Racing has raised over $716,000 for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and continued that tradition this weekend with a series of virtual fundraisers taking full advantage of the unique world brought about by the pandemic.
Throughout the week, each of the DSR drivers made themselves available for shout-outs via the app Cameo. The team also entered fans into a drawing for one of two Zoom meetings with the DSR drivers on Friday and is also conducting an online auction that runs through September 7, with all proceeds going to the hospital.
And the driver that represents that monumental effort by the team each year is Tommy Johnson Jr. who is once again sporting the special Riley Kids livery on his Dodge Charger SRT Hellccat Funny Car this weekend.
Of course, this weekend is even more special for Johnson as he enters the world’s biggest drag race leading the way in points.
“This race is always special as we are back in the Riley paint scheme and we’re looking forward to raising more money for them this weekend,” Johnson said. “We’re also looking for a little normalcy after three races at Indy as this weekend brings that special ‘U.S. Nats’ flare.”
That stretch of three races at Lucas Oil Raceway over two months proved enough of a success that Johnson hasn’t touched the car since the last event here a few weeks ago and looks forward to trying to extend his grip atop the Funny Car class with another successful showing this weekend.
“We elected not to test ahead of the U.S. Nationals this year because our car is running really, really well and we’ve had so many shots at the track already,” Johnson said. “I’m very pleased with how our car is running, and how well we’ve performed at the last couple of races here in Indy. We were No. 1 qualifier at two out of the three Indy events and were No. 2 at the other. That shows we have an excellent race car, we just need to put a good race day together.
“We have a runner-up and a semifinal finish here and would love nothing more than to get a victory at the U.S. Nationals. If you have a U.S. Nationals victory on your resume, that’s what everyone as a driver wants, and this will be a special year to do it.”
DREAM TEAM - It wasn’t that long ago Alexis DeJoria was the talk of the Funny Car world.
DeJoria burst onto the scene in 2014 with a trio of Funny Car wins highlighted by a monumental victory over John Force at the U.S. Nationals, propelling her into superstardom in the class while being tagged as the next big thing in drag racing.
And then DeJoria returned to earth.
A pair of wins were all she could muster over the next three years, before stepping away from the sport seemingly for good in 2018 to spend time with her teenage daughter Isabella.
But no matter how hard she tried, the sport would not release its grip.
DeJoria returned to the seat of a nitro-powered flopper earlier this year after two years away from the sport, storming out of the gates with a semifinal finish at the Winternationals in Pomona. While that has proven the high point of her year so far, DeJoria is pleased with the progress the team is making and is looking forward to returning to the home of one of her biggest career achievements at Lucas Oil Raceway this weekend.
“I honestly knew deep down when I made the announcement (to retire) that it was going to be sort of an open-ended retirement,” she said. “I’m beyond excited to be back out (here). I have this incredible opportunity to build a team with two of the people who were by my side when I started my nitro Funny Car career.”
And those two individuals are Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante.
Worsham is the co-car owner and co-crew chief on DeJoria’s ROCKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry, alongside fellow crew chief Boninfante. The two individuals are proven winners in the sport of drag racing and DeJoria believes that that pairing can only lead to good things as the season progresses.
“Del is my mentor and the person whose car I licensed with in the first place and Nicky was one of the first people at Kalitta (Racing) who I talked to when I made the transition from Top Alcohol Funny Car to nitro Funny Car,” DeJoria said. “Del and Nicky (are) the ‘dream team’ for me.”
In the short term, that “dream team” has struggled to race up to its own high expectations in a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s hard to get in a rhythm when you’ve only got a handful of races,” DeJoria said.
Indeed, what the team has needed since it assembled in late 2019 is just more runs down the racetrack. Normally, by Labor Day weekend, DeJoria, Worsham and Boninfante likely would have made in excess of 100 competitive runs during qualifying and eliminations.
This year, because of event cancellations and the imposition of a new format in which there are only two qualifying runs per event, DeJoria has made only 21 competitive runs in five events and reached the finish line under power only nine times.
If things fall into place this weekend, DeJoria will be looking to be only the 12th Funny Car driver to win the world’s biggest drag race more than once. Still, as long as she is racing, DeJoria is happy as she learned in a hurry during her time away from the sport - she doesn’t make a very good spectator.
“I realized that I don’t make a very good spectator,” DeJoria said. “It was really hard to watch it on TV (and) it was tough being at the starting line (as a bystander).”
The hard work by DeJoria and her team shined bright on Friday as she powered her Toyota Camry Funny Car to a 3.932-second pass at 326.48 mph good enough for fourth on the charts. If her time holds, it will be her best qualifying position of the season.
INDY FATIGUE - To many, Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis is the Taj Mahal of drag racing. It is one of the most famous tracks in all of drag racing and it is home to the biggest drag race in the world. It is the place that every driver wants to compete and, ultimately, win.
But this weekend, some drivers are suffering a little bit of Indianapolis fatigue.
Say it isn’t so.
Canceled races, postponed events, and a slew of changes to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHRA into a tough spot - sit on their laurels or make the best of a bad situation. Choosing the latter, NHRA competitors have battled through three-straight races, plus a test session, at the famed track before entering this weekend’s U.S. Nationals.
That is a lot of laps down the same two lanes.
“It feels like I have been here forever, so this weekend kind of feels like the fourth U.S. Nationals,” said James Campbell, driver of the Cattleman’s Cut Beef Jerky Dodge Charger. “It is always a thrill to be here, but this is starting to feel like our home track we run here so much. Still, this is the U.S. Nationals and I am super excited because the car has been coming around and I think we should be competitive this weekend.”
Really, the only thing that has differentiated each weekend, according to Campbell, has been the weather. And that has led to at last some variety in each weekend - that and being behind the wheel of the most volatile race machine on the planet.
“The weather has been the biggest factor from week to week here at Indy. It has actually been kind of nice this weekend so far. We’ve had a couple of weekends where it has been brutal, so that really changes the tuneup and how aggressive the crew chiefs can be,” Campbell said. “Plus, it is a Funny Car, so you never really know what you are going to get when you stomp on the throttle.”
Regardless, Campbell is simply glad to be out racing during a year in which the NHRA could have easily given up on the season given the circumstances. Instead, the series pushed ahead and Campbell commends them for the effort.
“It has been a unique year, obviously. It is something that has been unprecedented for everybody. Sure I wish we could run the full season, but I also understand that people’s health is a priority. I think we are doing the right things,” Campbell said. “It is just nice to see people out here and have people around. Are the stands full? No. But someday they will be again and we’ve got to all do our best to get through this and get back to a normal life.”
Campbell enters this weekend’s U.S. Nationals 13th in points. He has one round win coming back in Phoenix before the pandemic, and has seen one DNQ and a pair of first-round exits during the three-race stretch at Indy. But he believes that he has found a few of the gremlins plaguing the team and is hoping for a much-improved performance this weekend.
“We have worked through some clutch issues and finally came around a little bit,” he said. “Each run you learn a little bit more and I’ve got big Jim Dunn on my side. He’s got more knowledge in his pinkie than I have in my whole brain. We’ve been working at it hard, so we should go out there and see some improvement. Obviously Friday night is the night you want to go down and lay the number as the only night run of the year. The numbers are going to be laid down and we will see what happens on Saturday.”