2021 NHRA LAS VEGAS NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE REGAINS WINNING FORM, EXPANDS TOP FUEL LEAD ON FORCE - Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence received a phone call – and a scolding – from his crew last week.
“They were pissed off at me,” he said, because of his reaction times that they decided were a little on the snoozy side and what cost him victories in the past two Countdown races.
The season-long dominator had won the St. Louis final after conceding victories in the first two playoff events to his dad Billy Torrence at Reading, Pa., and to Josh Hart at Charlotte. But he couldn’t turn final-round appearances at Dallas and Bristol, Tenn., into victories that might have made him unstoppable in his pursuit of a fourth consecutive championship. Instead, he fumbled the lead, and closest challenger Brittany Force recovered it for a brief stretch.
“I haven’t been driving the greatest. It seems like I go to the final and step on my own foot, get in my own way.” The bearer of ugly tidings on the other end of the phone line told him, “You didn’t do your job” and advised him “You just do you.”
“That motivated me,” Torrence said Sunday evening after defeating Mike Salinas in the final round of the Dodge//SRT Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
That victory did far more than avenge the final-round loss to Salinas just two weeks ago at Bristol.
Yes, it made Torrence the first two-time Top Fuel winner in this Countdown.
Yes, it marked his 50th triumph as he became just the 14th racer in the sport’s 1,000-event history to reach that plateau.
Yes, it was the ninth time in 19 races this season that he has won, despite Force qualifying first and him starting second. (He has recorded 19 of his 50 victories from the No. 2 spot, twice as many as from any other starting position.)
Yes, it means he is the first since Tony Schumacher in 2008 to win at least half the races in a single season. Schumacher won 15 of 24 events 13 years ago.
Yes, this was his 42nd victory in the past five seasons – 24 more than any other pro driver in that span. (Funny Car’s Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, and Robert Hight are the next closest in total victories, with 18, 17, and 16, respectively.)
What it did was give him the momentum he so desperately needed.
“This is a pivotal moment in the championship right here,” Torrence said. “It gives us breathing room.”
As the Camping World Drag Racing Series heads next door to Southern California in two weeks for the Auto Club Finals at Pomona – Torrence’s final test before he can secure Title No. 4 – he has a 105-point advantage.
That’s a comfortable lead, but Torrence seemed anything but comfortable – especially considering that the sanctioning body will be paying out half again as many points as usual.
“Everybody is able to find everybody vulnerable at any given time,” he said. “This thing is won and lost by thousandths of a second.”
Shawn Langdon can attest to that – he dropped his opening-round Top Fuel race against Billy Torrence, Steve’s father, Sunday morning by one ten-thousandth (.0001) of a second.
Torrence expressed “complete respect for everybody that’s out here, fighting for this championship,” especially runner-up Salinas, who was making his third final-round appearance in the past four races. Salinas, he said, is “doing a great job. That’s guy has really changed the game on his driving, and he’s a definite contender. We need to capitalize on this [victory].”
No. 3-ranked Salinas and No. 4 Justin Ashley remain mathematically in the chase for their first championships, but they would need a lot of help from others – and they likely would need for Torrence to stay home at Kilgore, Texas – to have a legitimate chance.
But Torrence won’t be staying home, and they know that. And they can be assured he isn’t going to chance any strategy. His strategy is the simple one it always has been:
“We’re not going to do anything different. We’re just going to go out there and try to win the race.”
He earned the special-edition shiny-black Wally statue made just for this 1,000th race by outperforming Salinas on the 1,000-foot course with a 3.717-second elapsed time at 329.50 mph. Salinas ran a 3.737, 314.24.
Once he had time to get a good look at the and to reflect a bit on his achievement Sunday and what it might lead to, Torrence said, “This is just awesome. All the glory goes to God and to my momma [Capco Racing boss Kay Torrence]. To win the 1,000th NHRA race with these Capco boys is just unbelievable for a kid that had a dream to drive a Top Fuel car just one time.” Susan Wade
CRUZ PEDREGON STAYS IN NITRO FC CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT WITH VEGAS VICTORY - Cruz Pedregon is a two-time NHRA nitro Funny Car world champ in 1992 and 2008. He’s trying to make it three titles.
Pedregron is in position to do just that after winning the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Pedregon defeated Ron Capps out of the Don Schumacher Racing stable in the finals.
“We qualified seventh, but J.C. (John Collins, Pederson’s crew chief) I have to say I dropped a couple of races on holeshots,” Pedregon said. “I felt like we had a better car than we came here tied for fourth in points. He went back to what he always does, and I drove well today. We had a couple of breaks with three of the top five contenders dropped out in the first round. That really put pressure on us, but at the same time we were able to answer the bell. The car was steady every run.
“To be honest with you, I might be the first modern driver to not pay attention to my reaction time. I didn’t want to see reaction times, 60-foot (times) I didn’t want to see anything. My head was down and were banging them out one at a time.”
Pedregon only clocked a 4.257-second lap at 225.03 mph, but it was enough to outlast Capps, who slowed to 6.854 seconds at 80.86 mph.
“I was wondering where Capps was and you shouldn’t do that as a driver,” Pedregon said. “Before the final, J.C. came up to me and said 'let’s go up there and push it.' He’s one of those guys like Dick LaHaie, like Rahn Tobler, very steady, those guys are steady. I knew it was going to feat or famine. I actually got on the throttle a couple of times, and I was getting ready to do some crazy stuff, but I guess J.C. hit the button and turned the car off and saved me and the car.”
Capps is in the points lead, 58 in front of Matt Hagan. Pedregron sits 83 points behind Capps. The season concludes with the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 11-14.
“Any win is great,” said veteran crew chief Collins, who joined Pedregon’s team last December after years at DSR. “It is hard enough to win a round let alone a race. I’m just happy to be surrounded with a great group of guys.”
Pedregon is thrilled to be in striking distance of world title No. 3.
“After winning today we are back in it,” Pedregon said. “We had to keep our nose to the grindstone, and we did.”
This was Pedregon’s 38th career win and second this season to go along with his Norwalk victory. Pedregon beat Tony Jurado, Chris Morel, Bob Tasca III, and Capps in his victory march.
“We have a good car,” Pedregon said. “J.C. and the team have been plugging away. It is a five-disc car and I think there is only other car (that is five-disc). It is not a traditional high-power 8600 RPM. It is a Rahn Tobler tune-up when he worked with me back in the day. The car runs with everybody. It runs sometimes better than everybody. It is honor to win the 1,000th (NHRA) race. Congrats to NHRA for having all these races and keeping things going during all these tough times we have had in our country. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
In the final round, Collins acknowledged nothing was off the table for his crew.
“We were doing stuff to the car we have never done,” Collins said. “We were trying to go low ET. It was running good until we smoked the tires. It was a relief to see the win light.”
Collins worked at DSR from 2007-2020, serving as an assistant crew chief on the Funny Cars driven by Capps, Jack Beckman, and Gary Scelzi before moving over to Johnson Jr.’s Funny Car to be the crew chief.
“I expect to win every round, you can’t expect any less,” Collins said after joining Pedregon’s team last December. “I want to win every round, every race and be low qualifier every run. You have to expect the most. Whether that happens is all to be seen, but I expect that we can hit the ground running just like we did when we left DSR.”
Collins is upbeat about where CPR is at with one race to go.
“It took us a little while to get our groove, and we are excited for next year to come out of the box swinging a little harder,” Pedregon said. “We are still in the mix for the world championship. We are still there. We are still doing what we do and wherever the chips lay is what happens. We are just doing the best we can and trying to win every race we come to and qualify the best we can and try get qualifying points. Whatever happens at the end of the year happens, but it has been a pretty successful year for Cruz. We are happy and we expect to run good all the time.”
Pedregon admitted he didn’t think he would have a chance at a championship heading into Pomona.
“Pretty dim,” said Pedregon about his championship hopes entering Vegas. “Because I just didn’t feel like the breaks were coming our way. We were losing some close races and I thought it would be good if we could finish in the top five. Then, NHRA put that points and half thing in place and that’s going to keep it open-ended, which is what they wanted to create. There’s no guarantee we will finish in the top three even through we are not too far out for first.
“I think that’s a good thing for the fans because still some of their favorite drivers can go to Pomona with a shot to win the championship.” Tracy Renck
DALLAS GLENN RISES TO TOP TO GET PRO STOCK WIN AT VEGAS - Dallas Glenn is an NHRA rookie.
Yet, the way Glenn has been driving in the 2021 NHRA Camping World Series in the Pro Stock class he has looked like a savvy veteran.
That trend continued Sunday at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Glenn clocked a 6.660-second time at 204.60 mph to beat two-time reigning world champion Erica Enders’ 6.684-second lap at 203.74 mph in the finals.
This was Glenn’s third victory of the season – to go along with the wins he had in Charlotte, N.C., and Topeka, Kan.
He ousted Aaron Stanfield, who had a red-light start, Kenny Delco, Mason McGaha, who also had a red-light start, and then Enders. Glenn’s win persevered a 32-point lead for Greg Anderson, his teammate, in the points standings over Enders.
Glenn is third in the points – 109 points behind Anderson.
The final race of the season – the Auto Club Finals is in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 11-14.
“Obviously first round was going to be a memorable moment no matter what, the way the ladder was stacked,” Glenn said about his race day. “Going in, I was most anxious for that one just because Aaron has got me twice this season and he got me in a final round (in Sonoma, Calif.) and I really wanted revenge on him. When I got by Aaron I just kind of relaxed and just started clicking them off. I missed it a little bit in the semis against Mason and luckily, I think a little bit of reputation with the clutch pedal kind of helped me out today. It gave me a little bit of luck when I needed it.
“In the final, I was just trying to do everything I could and hit all my spots. I had all the faith in Rob Downing, Dave Connolly and Jason Line was here in town helping us out and I knew it was going to be good as long as I could do my job. I hit all my shifts and I knew I was good on the tree, and I was hoping the win light would come on.”
Glenn had some problems getting his Camaro started for the final round, but once it turned over Glenn responded with an .001 light and the win.
“Once the car fires up everything else just falls away,” Glenn said. “I just took an extra deep breath before it went into pre-stage and did my thing. I knew once I heard the starter go off and they reached underneath the dash and I heard the starter turn over I knew it wasn’t the starter I knew we would be fine. There’s a lot of bracket racing experience in there, I think. When I left and staged shallow, and it went green I knew it was good. It feels really good to go up there with a plan and execute it.”
There was strategy in play for race day as the Elite Motorsports Team had Troy Coughlin shut off early on three qualifying runs to make sure he faced Anderson in round one.
The plan worked as Coughlin beat No. 1 qualifier Anderson on a holeshot.
“Looking back at it now, there might be some benefit to (that type of strategy) because anytime you can get a good car out early it helps because the longer you let them run the better, they get,” Glenn said. “It changes the game and adds that little bit more pressure and fun to it.”
Glenn has a simple plan for Pomona.
“If I just go up there and do my job like I did today in Pomona I honestly don’t car about rookie of the year at that point,” Glenn said. “I just want to try to get as many race wins as I can and see if we can get a championship or least get second. The main goal at the end of the day is to get round wins and win races.”
It was brought up in the post-media conference with Glenn about Enders beating Coughlin in the semis when his car went silent at the 1,000-foot mark, which Glenn addressed best he could.
“I didn’t get to see the run, so I don’t know,” Glenn said. “I know on that run in the semis, my car was moving around. That was the windiest run I think we have had. It is possible he could have got out of the groove, but I don’t know. At the end of the day, you have to put those behind you and go up there and do everything you can to take them out. Erica has got me twice just like Aaron, so I really wanted revenge, especially since those were both in the Countdown.” Tracy Renck
STEVE JOHNSON PUTS PRESSURE ON PRO STOCK BIKE LEADER MATT SMITH WITH LAS VEGAS VICTORY - Oh, that happy-go-lucky Steve Johnson . . .
After he defeated red-lighting Karen Stoffer for his third Pro Stock Motorcycle triumph of the Camping World Drag Racing Series season Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Dodge//SRT Nationals, he received along with his special-edition black Wally trophy an oversized casino chip replica to commemorate the NHRA’s 1,000th race.
And he joked that it signified that he had passed 151-time Funny Car winner John Force: “I passed John Force?!! No? So this isn’t my 1,000th win? That’s what I’m going to tell my mom. ”
Then he gave a shout-out from the winners podium to three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon: “How about Larry Dixon being my coach?!”
The crowd loved it – loved seeing Dixon again and loved seeing Johnson get recognition for his 34 often-unrewarded years in the bike class, being a tremendous ambassador for the entire sport and all of its classes.
“And I got George Bryce at home – and Frank Hawley, the drag-racing-school instructor and former Funny Car champion,” he praised members of his so-called Advisory Committee.
Johnson gave a plug to Monster Engine Parts for its cylinder heads and industry giant Vance & Hines: “I’ve got a Monster cylinder head! People can go out and buy all these parts and come out and race. It’s another option. You can buy great, great, great, great Vance & Hines stuff. We have a Vance & Hines crank. But you can run a Monster cylinder head. You can go out and buy this stuff. People tell me I’ve got a Monster between my legs. I’m really happy!”
With that, he hustled off the stage.
So he had a vintage-John-Force-style post-race interview – in which he seemed to want to talk about anything but the fact that he is making progress in trying to recapture the lead Smith took away from him earlier this month at Dallas.
He used successively better reaction times Sunday to advance past Matt Smith Racing entrants Charles Poskey and Angie Smith, then Angelle Sampey to meet Stoffer. In the final, he cut a .007 light on the way to a winning 6.869-second elapsed time on the quarter-mile course at 195.11 mph.
Johnson is just 20 points behind leader and four-time and reigning champion Matt Smith, who lost to Stoffer in the semifinals.
He’ll have plenty of opportunity to make up those 20 points at the season finale at California’s Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in two weeks. The event is paying one-and-a-half times the traditional amount as yet another twist to manufacture drama beyond what the racers have stirred up on their own.
Sunday’s victory was Johnson’s second in the Countdown to the Championship. He opened the seven-race playoffs by beating Eddie Krawiec in the final round at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa. Susan Wade
RACING PROVIDES REMEDY FOR HURRICANE-WEARY PRO STOCK BIKE OWNER-RACER; DE JORIA ‘IN AWE’ OF HER ‘DREAM TEAM;’ HAGAN SWIPES FUNNY CAR POINTS LEAD FROM CAPPS; ELITE BRINGS BACK KB-INITIATED PRO STOCK SHENANIGANS
The mama cow was in labor, and she and her calf possibly were in danger.
Jerry Savoie just didn’t know exactly what was going on. He was hundreds of miles away from his property at Cutoff, La.
One of his employees was on the other end of the telephone line, reporting on how the situation was developing. And Savoie was dividing his attention between that mama cow and his White Alligator Racing motorcycle he was about to wrestle in NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series competition.
Savoie put his head down on the counter in the lounge of is motorhome. He had seen this play out days before.
And he was weary, anyway, from uninvited Ida, the last and most vicious of four hurricanes that barged mercilessly through La Fourche Parish in 13 months. He had driven his truck through the murky waters, saddened by the heaps of broken lumber and rubble that had been the homes of his neighbors. He had climbed his steep-pitched roof, repairing random damage, and slogged through mud and debris of his alligator farm to assess and fix as best he could the ripped off roofs from outbuildings. His airplane was battered. Wife Vonnie had jumped in to help preserve the alligator operation. “She’s the only one hatching eggs. Nobody was coming to work. We over there, trying to get the farm back online,” Savoie said.
They had no power for days. The water supply was compromised. They even had to resort to bathing outdoors. Drag-racing fans sat in the grandstands and saw him on a quick and fast motorcycle and never would have had an idea in the world what he and Vonnie and their son Gerald had been living every minute of every day for weeks before.
And then he had the mama cows – “I got the same group of cow mamas that have been having babies for about a week. I’m looking to make sure none of them’s in distress,” the 2016 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion said. Managing a finicky race bike was a piece of cake compared to keeping watch over 800 head of cattle.
The insurance claims adjuster, a woman named Karen, arrived at Savoie’s place to gauge the damage Hurricane Ida left in her wake. She found Savoie in a muddy field, trying to help deliver a calf.
“I was in there for two hours. Then she comes in there. She said her husband used to have a dairy farm,” Savoie said.
And Karen The Claims Adjuster didn’t give a second thought to messing her hair or getting her professional clothing dirty or stained. She dropped to the ground and joined Savoie in trying to deliver the calf. “She was out there in the mud with us. She was working hard. She was a sweetheart. We worked till 9:30 that night.” He and Vonnie offered her a shower, fresh clothing, and fixed her supper – likely not the scenario she imagined when she came to the farm with insurance forms and a clipboard. But that’s what truly caring neighbors do for one another when folks need help in desperate situations.
Unfortunately, the results in the field were not as comforting. Savoie somberly recalled the exercise:
“His feet were out, but his head was twisted all the way back, like this,” he said, gesturing the grotesque angle at which the calf’s head was stuck. “I couldn’t get that son of a gun out. So I ended up shooting her. I cried. I lay on her. And I said, ‘I’m so sorry, Mama,’ because I bottle-fed that mama. She was a good one. I cried: ‘I’m so sorry.’ So I shot her, and I cut her open after she was gone. And the baby’s body came out, but the head was still wrapped up. I tried to pull it and the head wouldn’t come out. There was some type of lining, and that lining was wrapped around that head, and that son of a gun would not break loose. So I took my knife and I cut the lining and the head just came right on out. The baby was dead. I tell ya, man, I about had enough . . .”
So he came out and raced at the FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex and this weekend at the Dodge//SRT Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With a twinkle back in his eye, he said, “I’ll teach all those young kids a lesson.”
Just then, Savoie’s cell phone rang again. He grabbed it anxiously and listened intently to the news from the farm.
This latest mama cow delivered her calf without a hitch.
He hung up, and a satisfied grin spread across his face. And in almost a whisper, he said, “That’s the best part of being a cattleman.”
DE JORIA’S DREAM TEAM SHAPING UP – Fresh from her season-first Funny Car victory at Bristol, Tenn., Alexis DeJoria continued her momentum, capturing the No. 1 starting position for Sunday’s eliminations.
She drove her Bandero Tequila Toyota Camry for DC Motorsports to her second straight top-qualifying berth with a 3.896-second pass at 327.03 mph.
“That was a very straight run, just on a rail. It was great,” De Joria said.
“It’s great to come here off a win. This is a track we’ve had success at before, winning here twice. I think we’re hot right now,” she said. “Everything came together for us in Bristol, and that was something we needed to do. We’re in a really good spot now. It would be nice to go out with a victory.”
Scoring back-to-back top qualifiers, she said, is “just like a dream. This is everything that we had hoped for. It’s finally coming together, getting hot toward the end of the season, the last couple race. I mean, the motivation that we had from this last race – getting the No. 1 qualifier and winning the race – really catapulted us into this Vegas race.
“I’m just proud of the guys. We made it down the track every run. Though consistency is the key, tomorrow is a new day. So you never know. But I’m just in awe right now, and I’m soaking it all up. And finally everything’s coming together for ourselves at just the right time, man. All the planets have aligned. I can’t thank Del and Nicky [crew chiefs Worsham and Boninfante] and my whole team [enough] and all the fans who support us enough. Man. We’re doing it.”
“We did have a little bit of luck on our side, but we’re not just getting lucky. This isn’t just a fly-by-night thing. We’re here to stay. We’re a competitive team. We’ve all won at some point in our careers. Nicky and Del have both won championships as crew chief and driver. So this is like the Dream team. It just feels right. It feels good. And I’m just really happy that I came back to NHRA drag racing, because this is where I belong.
On a scale of one to 10, De Joria said her confidence level is 11 – “but really, for me, it’s like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. At the end of the day, I want these wins, and I want the success to pass on to my team and to my guys, who work their asses off every day for this team – and it shows. And I want to bring more of that to them.”
DeJoria will face fellow Camry driver Jeff Diehl in the first round of eliminations Sunday morning.
John Force, in the Peak Chevy Camaro, will be seeded No. 2, and JR Todd, driver of the DHL Toyota Camry, is No. 3.
For De Joria, today’s performance is about laying a foundation for an even stronger 2022 campaign.
“All this is preparation for next year. We’re going to hit it really hard next year,” she said.
For the immediate future, the two-time Las Vegas winner said, “Vegas has been very good to me. I feel good about Vegas, and then winning at Pomona would just be icing on the cake.”
THE FUNNY CAR CLASS HAS A NEW POINTS LEADER – AT LEAST OVERNIGHT - Matt Hagan moved past Ron Capps during the final session of qualifying.
It happened just after Capps remarked that the bonus points are “huge – huge, huge, huge.”
Neither earned the No. 1 starting spot for Sunday’s eliminations, but Hagan took the No. 4 spot on the grid, worth five points, and Capps – a five-time Las Vegas winner – will start from the No. 8 position.
Hagan, in pursuit of his third consecutive Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals event trophy, said, "Finished strong in qualifying with running low of Q3 and retaking the points lead. This Direct Connection Dodge is running great, and we have a good opportunity to go some rounds tomorrow and hopefully put some more points between us and the rest of the field and pull down another trophy for DSR.
“This track is always good to us,” he said. “We’ve been to the final the last four years in a row. I’m excited to be out here. The fans have been out in full force all weekend, and I’m glad we were able to put on a great show for them. Made a good run today and a good run yesterday, and we’ll get ready for race day and see what we can do.”
Capps was a little less enthusiastic, although he’s still in a strong position.
“That last session surely mixed things up. You never want to race someone like Tim Wilkerson early in the day,” Capps said. “We were going up there in Q3 to try and improve and go after that No. 1 spot, and you can’t be upset about that. That’s what I love about ‘Guido’ (Dean Antonelli) and (John) Medlen and this NAPA AutoCare team. We were going to try and take those three points. It is what it is, and everybody in that field has a chance of winning tomorrow. We’ll do the same thing we’ve done all season long, and that’s just race with that NAPA Know How. It will be warmer racing during the day and that should make things interesting. It should be a fun day.”
Before that final session Saturday, Hagan and Capps had a little fun in their top-end interviews and later in the pits as they pretended to duke it out with team boss Don Schumacher standing by as referee.
After their Q2 runs, Capps said, “Fans are enjoying this, I’m sure. Matt and I sure are. We’ve got the best seats in the house. You feel bad about not mentioning all these other cars in the middle of it. But let me tell you, man – This is what you dream as a kid in the back yard, shooting hoops: one second to go . . . Baseball: bottom of the ninth inning.” Then he teased that “Hagan and I will do a Greco-Roman match.”
Hagan didn’t wrestle with Capps. But he said the race “is always tight. I think every championship I’ve been able to win, it has come down to the last race – semifinals, finals.
“We’ve got a great race car. I’ve got all the belief in [crew chief] Dickie Venables and my crew tat we’re going to give Capps a run for his money. He’s the points leader [Capps was at the time], and you got to respect him. He’s a good driver and a pretty good dude. We’re going to go have some fun – but we’re coming after him.”
And that’s the message Capps has for Hagan first thing Sunday morning.
ELITE OPENLY ADMITS TO MANIPULATION – When Greg Anderson and the KB Racing team tried to manipulate the Pro Stock ladder at the Finals at Pomona, Calif., in 2019, taking a shot at the Elite Performance group, Jeg Coughlin labeled it “shenanigans.”
Those were legal shenanigans, and this weekend at Las Vegas, Elite boss Richard Freeman decided to give KB a dose of its own medicine.
“Happened to us in ’19,” Freeman said, asserting that turnabout is “fair play.”
He said, “Well, I mean, we got to take every shot we can. Greg's got a great car, and the rest of these guys do, too. So take our best cars, put them at the top and see what happens.”
That 2019 scheming was to make sure that Greg Anderson could line up with Erica Enders. And Enders welcomed the challenge then, just like she doesn’t mind the gamesmanship as her team turns the tables on KB.
She said he knows her team has her back: “It's really awesome. I never had any doubt in it. But to know that they have really great race cars and are willing to go out there and shut it off . . . You know, it's not something new. Stock and Super Stock racers have manipulated the ladder for years and years and years. It's something within the last five years in Pro Stock, but they've done it to us a number of times. And I'm just staying on my game. I'm going to do my thing. I take it to the stripe every single time, and we'll see how it works out. We got to go do our best tomorrow.”
Referring to No. 1 qualifier Anderson, like her a four-time champion, Enders said, “He's got a stout race car, but I got a great team.”
The first-round pairings will include two KB-Elite match-ups one between two Elite racers, which will help KB.
Anderson will race Troy Coughlin Jr., and the points leader in the HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro said he knows exactly what Coughlin’s car is capable of: “It’s capable of running very fast, and Troy's capable of cutting a hell of a light. So I know it's going to be a heck of a challenge, but that's the way it should be.
“And honestly, I've said it forever this year: Anybody can beat anybody first round,” Anderson said. “Honestly, it doesn't matter. You can lose first round, no matter who's up there. So it should be good. It should be fun. And this is the way it honestly should be.
“That's a lot of pressure. We're not even at Pomona yet and the pressure is through the roof,” he said. “So I love it. I guess I started this deal. I'm glad to be a part of it on the other end of it this time.”
Coughlin is ready to have a good old-fashioned drag race. He said, "The world title isn't in the cards for us this year, but we continue to grow. And I love to compete, no matter what's at stake. So we're going to have fun this weekend. If we can get in there and take out some of teams fighting Erica for the championship, then we'll be really happy. And sure, a win would be awesome."
KB’s Dallas Glenn, who certainly wants to outshine Top Fuel’s Josh Hart in Rookie of the Year voting, will meet another young gun of the Pro Stock class in the first round. Glenn will race Aaron Stanfield.
Glenn said, “To get a win in the Countdown would be something special and be a major confidence- booster going into the off-season. It would be a major boost to come through and succeed at the toughest moments of the season. The added pressure of the playoffs adds another level of enjoyment to all this, so we just want to keep pushing forward. I’ve learned how difficult it is to win the Countdown, and you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get.
“I feel like I’m in a good spot to perform well at these next two races,” Glenn, a four-time finalist, said. “I feel like the car is the best it’s ever been. I just need to do my job, and everything will work out. Overall, I feel pretty good about my first season. I had really high expectations because I know what I’m capable of, but it’s extremely difficult to win races in this class and especially in the Countdown. You have to be perfect in every aspect and everything has to fall into place on that particular weekend.”
KB’s Kyle Koretsky will line up against Cristian Cuadra.
The all-Elite match will feature a pair of class champions, Enders and latest addition Bo Butner.
REED BACK, AS A SPECTATOR – Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Cory Reed, mending from a broken shoulder and a compound fracture of left leg he suffered in an accident during eliminations in September at Charlotte, is at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend.
He said, “I’ll probably race next year, for sure. I’ll be good by New Year’s. I’ll be walking in three or four weeks, with this thing on my foot, be showering in a couple of weeks. Things are going really good. I had a bad infection from all the grime that my bone picked up, but they’ve got that under control now. It’s all good.”
He provided his version of the tale about how he inspired teammate Joey Gladstone – with whom his bike tangled in the ill-fated second-round pairing – to stay at the track and battle for the trophy. Gladstone reached the final round but lost to Angelle Sampey.
“He wouldn’t get out of the ambulance, man. He was like, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’” Reed said. “I said, ‘Joey, if you want something to do, they’re not going to let you got to the hospital and hang out with me, right? They’re going to x-ray me, MRI, and blahblahblah. He was freakin’ out more than I was. He was all worried. I said, ‘Joey, if you want something to do, go win the race.’ And he almost did!”
All in all, he said, “It was a crazy week, fun week overall, other than crashing and getting tore up. The whole experience was fun from Thursday until the time we left [in the ambulance].”
TORRENCE AWARE OF THREATS BUT CONFIDENT – Use the broken-record analogy. Refer to the movie “Groundhog Day.” Steve Torrence shrugs at it all. It’s just the best way to describe what he and his Capco Contractors Dragster team do on the racetrack: Race. Win. Repeat.
At least that’s the conventional wisdom. But the three-time and current Top Fuel champion is wise enough not to think conventionally. He’s taking nothing for granted, haunted a bit by what he has experienced and knows can happen in the midst of a title chase.
“We learned in 2017 (when he lost the world championship on the final day of the season) that anything can happen,” he said. “We crashed a car at Dallas and had to go to a back-up. Then I lost my focus and Brittany found hers and they got around us in the last race. It was a hard lesson, but it’s one we’ve remembered the last four years.”
Just the same, he said, “We’re on the same game plan we’ve been on all year,” said the only driver ever to sweep the Countdown (2018). “Go out and win rounds. Go out and win the race. If you do that, the points will take care of themselves.”
That’s the part he’s paying attention to. In this extended Countdown to the Championship, Torrence said, “Five different cars have won so far.”
Although Torrence has won one of those finals as part of his nine-trophies-in-18-events tear this season, he’s right. As strange as it might seem, he isn’t always the dominator. The other four Countdown Wallys have gone to his dad Billy Torrence (Reading), Josh Hart (Charlotte), Justin Ashley (Dallas), and Mike Salinas (Bristol). So Torrence has assessed the situation. And while he’s aware of who’s lying in wait to steal his points lead, he’s confident he can stop them.
Brittany Force is closest to him in the standings, trailing him by 73 points entering the weekend. She inched three points closer Friday night, earning qualifying bonus points as the quickest in the field in the opening session while he was shut out of any points by qualifying fourth in the provisional order. He has his eye on what she’s doing. And he saw her outpace him in qualifying with 17 additional points (nine in bonus points and eight for qualifying first) to his nine (two points in bonuses and seven for qualifying second). That makes her 65 points behind him going into race day.
“Brittany and Grubby [crew chief David Grubnic] have been crushing it, performance-wise. Seems like they’re setting records every race,” he said. “In the big picture, though, what matters is what you do round by round. And I have the luxury of driving for the best team in the business. With Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana, and these Capco Boys, I always go up there knowing I’ve got a car that can win, no matter who’s in the other lane,” he said, “and that’s the ultimate confidence-booster right there.”
Still, he’s taking nothing for granted, despite consistent performances that have produced eight “regular-season” victories and taken him to the semifinals or beyond in every Countdown event. He’s winning at a 77.7-percent rate (14-4). He has a 52-9 overall eliminations record.
Torrence has won here four times, twice at the spring race (2018, 2021) and twice at this fall event (2016, 2018).
VICTORY NO. 50 LOOMS – Four-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Eddie Krawiec and Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta are on the verge of reaching the 50-victory plateau. This weekend they have the chance to become the 14th and 15th to accomplish that.
Krawiec said with a laugh that “honestly, I don’t even keep track” but “of course, it’s something special to say you’ve won 50 races. There’s people who haven’t even won one that dream for it. That was me. I dreamed for one [victory]. To be at 49 right now, it’s a special deal. It’s really cool. It’s a lot harder to come by a win nowadays. You’ve got to be on your game all the time.”
If he’s going to earn that 50th victory this weekend or at the season finale in two weeks at Pomona, Calif., Krawiec knows he’s going to give to outsmart his Vance & Hines Suzuki motorcycle.
“We’re struggling with our bikes. They’re just not happy. Everything catered to this bike, it just doesn’t like it,” he said. “We know it, and it is what it is. So we’re just making the best of it. We’ll look at data over the winter and decide what direction we want to go, what changes we want to make.
“My tune-up is good. That’s what’s carrying me the rest of the way. You can’t be going 1.08s 60-foots out here when guys are going 1.04, 1.05 next to you,” he said. “You can’t make that up [downtrack].”
At the beginning of the year, it was unclear if Krawiec and teammate Andrew Hines would be competing at all. They started 2021 concentrating solely on Angelle Sampey’s Mission Suzuki. But Vance & Hines’ choice to bring out their two stalwarts, who have combined for 10 series championships, was a result of “sit[ting] down, making choices. That’s what it comes down to. It comes down to money, ultimately. That’s what it is. We had all the parts and pieces. We were able to go race, so we did.”
Krawiec said, “That’s where we are now. That’s why I say I don’t know what our plans are for next year. We haven’t discussed them yet. We’re just trying to get through this year.”
Kalitta, much like Krawiec, wants to get another victory not to hit some magic number but rather just to get back to the winners circle.
“We have gotten a couple of wins at the fall race, and we would definitely like to get that third win at The Strip this weekend,” the Mac Tools Dragser driver said. “We have been battling all season and have come close a couple times. I know we have what it takes to get four win lights on Sunday. We just need to make it happen.”
WELCH MAKING STRIDES WITH PROGRAM – Although Top Fuel racer Brandon Welch said it has “been frustrating coming out of the COVID lockdowns and reducing the number of races we can run,” he is showing that he is using the extra time at his San Diego shop wisely. He came off the trailer Friday and took the provisional No. 9 spot in the line-up with a 3.940-second pass at 260.26 mph. His Max Mileage Dragster skated all over the lane and ended up crossing the center line, but the former Funny Car driver made a case for his best qualifying position yet in Top Fuel.
Unfortunately, Troy Buff bumped him out in the final qualifying session Saturday as they ran side by side.
His still-freshly restarted program, Welch said, “is in a stage of constant growth and improvement. With the extra time in the shop, we have been examining any areas of our program where we are light on spares or where special tools would help make us faster in servicing the car. We use our time to slowly address those items and keep on growing.
“The ultimate goal,” he said, “is to have a fast, consistent race car and a crew equipped with the parts and skills needed so that a major explosion wouldn't prevent us from making the next round.”
One valuable component to his team in that regard is tuner Scott Graham, Pat Dakin’s long-time crew chief. And Dakin and his occasional driver, Spencer Massey, know well how to take Graham’s calculations and scramble the status quo in competition without hurting parts.
“Scott is a tuner that may fly under the radar among the fans, but he has earned the respect of everyone that earns a living running Top Fuel cars. I'd be proud to put a Scott Graham-tuned Top Fuel car up against anyone,” Welch said.
“The team is the same. Bill Tagney is the crew chief, and Scott Graham is tuning. Bill has spent decades working on this team, starting with Chuck,” Welch said, referring to his late grandfather, Funny Car pioneer Chuck Beal. “I have to give credit to Bill, because he is singularly focused on preparing the car and managing the work schedule, staffing, and to-do list for the racing operation. His dedication to the car enables me to focus on the sponsors and the budget.” Welch’s cousin, Tyson Porlas, who also is Beal’s grandson, serves in multiple roles on the team. “Tyson is my business partner, he is the diver on the car, and he works with me on sponsorship sales,” Welch said. “The crew guys are a mix of Chuck Beal-trained veterans and newer guys that have joined in the last couple years. It's a good group of guys that are really positive and lift each other up.”
Now the biggest chore for Welch is to get the driver prepared. He actually used to split his work week between San Diego and Las Vegas. But he’s home at San Diego full time, “focused on building my own wealth management business and running the race team.” He and wife Kathryn have six-year-old twin daughters, Kate and Claire, and, he said, “a feisty 2-year-old daughter named Jane. My dog is a girl too. Raising three daughters is by far the highlight of my life.” So he already has more on his plate than many have, but he also makes time to concentrate on the Top Fuel team and his driving duties.
But he said candidly, “I don't spend enough time focused on driving the car. I've always been fairly quick on the tree, and my time in a Funny Car prepared me pretty well for whatever can happen after I hit the gas. That said, I've watched guys like Spencer Massey and Justin Ashley cutting ridiculously quick lights this year, and I know I've got to invest more time in that.”
He has no problem with his timing on the marketing side of the race-team business. That’s definitely one of Welch’s strong suits.
“Sponsorship development is a never-ending pursuit,” he said, “and I always have something brewing. My goal is to bring new sponsors to the sport and scale the programs that work. We've really loved the response of the fans to Pittsburgh Power and their sponsorship of Beal Racing, promoting their Max Mileage Fuel Borne Catalyst for diesel engines. Pittsburgh Power is a well-respected brand among truckers, and I know there are a lot of truckers that follow NHRA Drag Racing. I'm always working to bring new sponsors to the sport, and I hope to have additional announcements prior to the start of the 2022 season.”
TRACKSIDE TECH TALK RETURNS – Engine experts gathered early Friday afternoon at Pro Stock racer Matt Hartford’s hospitality area to learn about the evolution of piston rings and cylinder honing from Lake Speed Jr. and Keith Jones of Total Seal Piston Rings and Ed Kiebler from Rottler Manufacturing. They took some time to answer technical questions sent from Hidden Horsepower podcast listeners via Total Seal's social-media outlets.
Kiebler shared how proper honing techniques produce the appropriate surface finish for optimal piston-ring performance and shared the capabilities of Rottler’s machines.
Speed is a chemist by trade – more specifically, a tribologist. And tribology, he said, “is a fancy word for the study of friction, wear, and lubrication.” And that leads to ring seal, which he said “is the key to optimizing the power in the engine.
“Things are interrelated. Nothing exists in an engine in isolation,” Speed said. “One of the challenges we see in the industry, [what] we fight on a day-to-day basis is this concept that people have that these [engine components] are all in isolation, therefore one item can be the best. Best fir what? Best in what system? There is no best. There’s a right, but there’s no best. There’s a right for the application.”
Rather than use super-specialized jargon to explain the engineering of ring seal, he said, “Ring seal is like soup. It’s not just the broth. It’s not just the chicken. It’s not just the spices. It’s not just the vegetables. It’s all of it coming together. Ring seal isn’t just the pistons. It’s not just the piston rings. It’s not just the cylinder wall finish. It’s not just the oil. It’s all of them coming together.”
So just like fuel and oil don’t come in tidy, one-size-fits-all packages, neither does a one-style-fits-all piston ring exist, Speed said.
Even so, he said he is certain of one thing: The piston ring “is quite easily the most underestimated component in the engine.”
If industry workers and enthusiasts took a survey and were asked the most significant element to an engine build, Speed figured, “they’re going to talk about cylinder heads, camshafts, talk all kinds of other stuff other than a piston ring.
“But I can tell you this, and science backs me up on this: There is more friction in the engine from this,” he said, holding up a thin, circular piston ring, “than anything else – bar none. This bad boy is still the No. 1 source of friction in the engine. There are others, but this [accounts for] about 40 percent. This is the easiest way to increase the efficiency of the engine, by the piston ring – way easier than oil, actually.”
Hartford, owner-driver of the Total Seal Chevy Camaro Pro Stock entry, is President and CEO of Phoenix-headquartered Total Seal Piston Rings.
DRAG-RACING COMMUNITY HONORS DYLAN CROMWELL, FUNNY CAR TITLE RACE REMAINS INTENSE, JOHN FORCE BRINGS BACK HIS FAMOUS ‘BRUTE FORCE’ FIST, KORETSKY SHINES IN PRO STOCK, STEVE JOHNSON READY TO FIGHT AGAIN FOR BIKE CROWN
Some of Dylan Cromwell’s coolest moments in high school came on the football field as a player for the Scobey Spartans in his hometown of Scobey, Montana. But his love was auto racing, and not long after graduation, he was working daily on race cars that blasted the length of three football fields quicker than anyone could read this sentence.
With a motorsports scholarship and an education at NASCAR Technical Institute, he found himself working for one of drag racing’s most intriguing and innovative leaders, Jim Head. He was working long hours in a job far different than the clerk job he had in his family’s convenience story just 12 miles south of the Canada border. And when he went to the races, he was backing up driver Blake Alexander on the dragstrip, in front of crowds that represented sometimes 10 times more than the population of Scobey. It was a vastly different world from the grain and cattle country of Northwest Montana that was a destination for bird and big-game hunters – but he loved it just as much, in such a different sense. He was genuinely living his dream.
The 23-year-old had, in Don Schumacher Racing Vice-President Mike Lewis’ words, “earned the trust of car owner Jim Head and was driving Head’s race trailer to Las Vegas” last Sunday morning.
But a driver in another semi-trailer coming from the opposite direction on Interstate 70, in Plainfield, Ind., not far from Head Racing’s shop at Brownsburg, crashed through a concrete barrier in a construction zone and plowed head-on into the rig Cromwell was driving. Cromwell died at the scene.
The drag racing community remembered Cromwell at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and many more poured out their condolences on social-media outlets all week long.
As Dylan Cromwell’s family – dad Shane, mother Tiffany, and brother Kevin – prepared for his funeral services that will take place Nov. 20 at the Scobey High School gymnasium, they took time to send a message to well-wishers:
“We would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support we have gotten over the past few days. We know how special our son, Dylan, is to us, and now realize how special he is to not only our community, but his racing community as well. We would like to invite everyone to the celebration of life for Dylan on November 20, at Scobey Schools at 1pm. Thank you all for the wonderful posts, comments, and prayers in honor of Dylan Cromwell, it truly means the world to us. Shane, Tiffany & Kevin”
Individuals may post remembrances, send cards and flowers online, and leave messages of support at Waller Funeral Home’s website: www.wallerscobey.com.
Ron Capps, the Funny Car points leader and 2016 champion, had the pleasure of meeting the Cromwell family in Montana.
“I got to spend some time with his family a couple of years ago as they drove over two hours to come see me at a sponsor appearance to say hi and to tell me that their son had achieved his dream of working on an NHRA Nitro Funny Car team,” Capps shared this past week in a social-media post. “I tracked Dylan down in Jim Head’s pit area at the next race to tell him and show him the hat I got from his parents. And I could instantly tell he was from that wonderful family I had met. Our thoughts are with the Cromwell family. RIP, Dylan.”
Alexander posted a heartfelt tribute to his valuable crew member: “I’m going to miss you, buddy. Thank you for always being someone that we all could rely on through thick and thin. You were mature beyond your years, and everyone respected you for it. We all felt so fortunate to work with you out on the road. An amazing son, friend, and teammate.”
Lewis said, “Dylan loved our sport and had a promising career ahead of him.” Ironically, Lewis had heard about the accident and not knowing Dylan had been behind the wheel of the hauler, said he “texted Jim and Dylan to see if DSR could assist. An hour later I learned that Dylan had been taken from us in the accident. My prayers go out to Dylan’s family, his many friends and to everyone affiliated with Jim Head and his team.”
A visibly emotional Richard Hartman, crew chief for Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson, said during qualifying, “We’re missing Dylan, man, Godspeed, Dylan.”
Many drivers had memorial decals on their cars that bore Cromwell’s picture and the phrase “Racer and Friend, 1998-2021.”
Cromwell’s passing is a reminder that the often-overlooked race-team hauler drivers – who deliver the cars that compose “the show” at the dragstrips and work behind the scenes, setting up the pit areas – put their lives in peril as they criss-cross the country.
Retired Funny Car legend Dale Pulde said via social media that “going down the road is more dangerous than the race cars themselves.”
Funny Car title contender JR Todd used to drive the race rig for Bruce Litton, and he knows first hand (especially after encountering a situation with a loose bull running freely down Interstate 80 in Cromwell’s home state) some of the dangers these drivers face.
"I don't think most fans realize how hard and how many hours these guys work. They work some long days. It's not an easy job,” Todd said, “but the reality is without the drivers, we couldn't race. And it's not just the race drivers that are taking a risk. It's all of these guys, as well. You have to love the sport to do what they do."
Top Fuel owner-drive Josh Hart, who drives to as many races as he can, said, “It takes a lot to be out here. I used to say that to a lot of the other drivers when they were down and out. I was like, ‘Look, it's a miracle to just get your stuff from one place to the other,’ because no one realizes, especially even in the alcohol category, what it takes to get everything here to be able to make a run.”
FUNNY CAR CHASE STILL INTENSE – Matt Hagan had a chance to take the Funny Car lead in Friday qualifying. But neither he nor Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) colleague Ron Capps, who had a one-point advantage over him, got a single bonus point as both of their Dodge Chargers failed to make it into the top three in the provisional line-up. Hagan muscled to fourth place in his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye, but Capps didn’t cross the finish line under full power in his NAPA Dodge and was seventh.
Toyota Camry driver Alexis De Joria, Chevy’s John Force, and another Toyota racer, JR Todd – the top three Friday – sort of spoiled the streak for Tim Kuniskis, Dodge Brand CEO – Stellantis, who had said before qualifying began that he and his associates were “eager to return to Las Vegas for the Dodge//SRT Nationals and watch another exciting Funny Car championship play out with three of our brand’s drag-racing stars in the hunt.”
Of course, this was just the first of three scheduled qualifying runs this weekend, and the other near-the-top-running driver, Cruz Pedregon, and Force are tangling over fourth place in the standings. Pedregon had traction problems on his first qualifying pass and wound up 16th, but no one is counting out the veteran and two-time champion. And Kuniskis said, "Our ultra-passionate Dodge drag-racing enthusiasts can expect to be treated to a great showcase of pure Dodge performance this weekend.”
Kuniskis said fans should watch for special paint schemes on Pruett’s and Hagan’s cars, previewing a major upcoming Dodge brand announcement.
Meanwhile, the suspense continues in the championship battle as Capps and Hagan each are poised to deliver Dodge//SRT and Mopar brands a seventh Funny Car title with the DSR team in 19 years.
Capps said, “I believe this type of scenario is what NHRA envisioned when they came up with the Countdown to the Championship format. We’ve talked all year about how 2021 has been one of the tightest Funny Car battles we’ve seen in a long time. And here we are, two races to go and we’ve got a pretty bunched-up field. Consistency has really been the key for our NAPA AUTO PARTS team. Qualifying high in the field and earning qualifying bonus points has helped put us in the points lead going into the Dodge//SRT Nationals presented by Pennzoil, and we’d love nothing more than to be able to shine for Dodge and Pennzoil at their event.
“We’ve got a great battle going on with our teammate Matt Hagan, and the other Funny Cars are nipping at our heels,” he said. “It definitely seems that this will be a pivotal race.”
It’s one of only two left to play out.
“It always seems that way when the points are tight, but our NAPA AutoCare team has given me a great car every weekend, and we’ve won some very big rounds in the Countdown,” Capps said. “And I have a feeling there will be more of that this weekend in Vegas.”
Hagan is the three-time and reigning champion (who secured his latest crown here at this venue), and he said, “I don't really approach this event any differently. I approach every round as if it's the most important round ever. I've done that all year long, but unfortunately, I can count six or seven races where we lost by just two- or three-thousandths of a second. It's nothing that we haven't dealt with before. I think every championship that I've won has come down to the last race in the semi-finals or finals. So why should this year be any different, right?
“I feel like [crew chief] Dickie Venables is going to be aggressive moving into these next two races. We're going to run hard and let the cards fall where they may,” he said. “But I'm excited about it. It's going to be fun. It's business as usual. We’re staying focused and will do the best job we can for our sponsors and our fans."
This year’s stop in Las Vegas comes in its traditional spot as the penultimate race in the Countdown to the Championship.
Todd, who as runner-up at Bristol, tossed a stink bomb into the crowd at the top of the heap and moved into third place, is just 83 points back. Pedregon and Force entered this race tied for fourth place, 101 points off the pace. But Force earned two qualifying bonus points Friday, edging him ahead of Pedregon for the moment.
Hagan, a 39-time winner, said, “I’ve got a lot of confidence [now]. Last year we won the race and the championship here, so we’ve done well here in the past. The track is great, and we feel good about everything, but it’s going to be a challenge. Capps was right there with us last year, and he’s back in the thick of it again. But if we can come out of Vegas with the lead, we’ll feel better heading into Pomona. We’ll just roll up and do the best job we can. The points have been changing around all year in Funny Car, and we’re just going to keep battling.
“We’ve got that mentality of we’re in a fight, so it’s time to bite down on that mouthpiece and just throw down,” he said. “I hope Dickie continues to be aggressive and I’m confident that’s going to be our mentality. That’s how we won the championship last year. We never let up, and I hope we keep that up. That’s the type of mentality we need to continue to have. But I’m enjoying all this and I’m not letting the pressure get to me. We’re ready to get after it this weekend.”
As he prepared for qualifying to start, Pedregon said, “I expect the Dodge//SRT Las Vegas Nationals to be a great race for competitors and fans alike. There are more cars in the hunt now, so I think that'll make for closer racing. And then Pomona is a points-and-a-half race. It'll make the champion really earn it before they close the deal.”
Todd said, “We were in a little better position in 2018. Going into the Countdown this year, I knew that we had a good enough car and team to contend for a championship. We have had some hiccups along the way, but we are still in the hunt.” He picked up a point Friday in qualifying.
KORETSKY TOPS PRO STOCK LEADERBOARD – KB Racing’s Kyle Koretsky claimed the provisional No. 1 qualifying position in the Pro Stock class Friday with a 6.667-second pass at 205.10 mph in the Lucas Oil Chevy Camaro.
And he said, “We just give it everything we have. [The car] is running good already this weekend, and the confidence is great and staging the car here in Vegas is just beautiful scenery. But we're going to try to really gain some ground in the points this weekend.
Koretsky entered the event ranked fourth in the Pro Stock standings, just three points behind Dallas Glenn. Koretsky made up those three points, but Glenn was third Friday, so he got one of them back. So their battle for third place rages on.
What seemed to be more on Koretsky’s mind Friday, though, was his flashback to this race last year. He reached the final round, but Erica Enders – who earlier that day had been crowned champion for the fourth time – got the better of him then. He red-lit, handing the victory to her.
They have faced each other only three times this year, and she has a 2-1 advantage. But Koretsky said Friday that he is “definitely going to try to get her back here. I owe her one.”
Greg Anderson clocked the day’s fastest Pro Stock speed at 205.32 as he was just three-thousandths slower than Koretsky and slid into the No. 2 spot overnight.
JOHN FORCE RESURRECTS LEGENDARY LOGO – One of the iconic logos in drag-racing history is back on the racetrack this weekend. John Force has that famous fist on the side of his PEAK Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car. It will be on the car also at the Finals at Pomona in two weeks – accompanied with another PEAK promotion, the PEAK Squad hood that showcases 100 names from fans who entered across PEAK’s social-media platforms.
“It’s where I came from,” Force said. “I’ve always had a dream that someday I’d bring back the history of my cars. I have them all in my museum. This is just a small throwback to something that is really important to me: my history. And I’m happy PEAK and Old World Industries wanted to be involved. I think maybe there will be more to come down the road.”
Brian Bohlander, Old World Industries director of marketing, said, “This event in Las Vegas has a reputation for special driver and crew themes. John’s fans and our customers have been asking for ‘Brute Force,’ so we’re giving them what they want. This weekend is the perfect time to do it.”
Force first drove a “Brute Force”-branded car, a Chevy Vega, in Australia from 1975-76 and came back to the United States to campaign on the match-race circuit. In October 1978, Force qualified for his first NHRA national event in a “Brute Force” Chevy Vega at the Winston World Finals at Ontario Motor Speedway.
“I got a good hot rod. I just got to get myself together,” Force said of this year’s run at a 17th championship. “But bottom line, I've been here before, and I've won championships – won 16 of them. But the competition's really tough. Right now, they’re all jammed up together. I'm like three rounds back or something like that. [Fore the record, he entered the weekend tied with Cruz Pedregon for fourth place, 101 points off Ron Capps’ lead.]
“But it doesn't matter. Got ‘Brute Force.’ Kind of motivates me. And some of the fans remember where I came from, and I hope someday to do a final tour of all my cars before I walk away from this sport. But I'll never walk away, because sooner or later, I'll be here with my kids, or I'll be here with my grandkids. So let's see where it goes,” he said.
Overnight, Force has the tentative No. 2 position in the Funny Car order.
SALINAS CAN’T SIT STILL – Bristol winner Mike Salinas once again will be going for two Wally trophies in the same weekend. The Countdown-qualified Top Fuel racer will dash back and for the between his Scrappers Dragster and his ’69 Pro Mod Chevy.
“I’m 60 years old, and I’m one of those guys who can’t sit still. I’m a multi-tasking guy. Doing one thing is harder for me. I ran the Pro Mod and jumped out of it and warmed up the Top Fuel car. This is a full day for me. I love it when I can do that. I would love to throw motorcycle in the middle of that, too,” he said.
“My youngest daughter, Janae, got her Super Comp license,” Salinas said proudly. “So she’s going to be coming out next year in A/Fuel, starting slowly. And we’re going to start transitioning Jasmine into Top Fuel [from Top Alcohol Dragster], getting her license, just mess around with it a little bit and see what they want to do. Daughter Jianna Salinas is racing in the Pro Stock Motorcycle with the Underdahl family, racer Jimmy and tuning dad Greg.
“Our family, we’ll sleep when we die. But you know, I have my leathers already. I’m going to have to start practicing. We’ve got another program set up for the bike next year. It’s going to be heck of a lot of fun. I just want to race with my kids,” he said. “It’s like we’re going camping all the time and we’re together. I’m the luckiest guy in the world because of that.”
In Top Fuel, Salinas is ranked fourth in the standings, 150 points behind leader Steve Torrence. Winning the title, with Torrence and No. 2 Brittany Force just 73 points apart heading into this race, Salinas might have a hard time breaking up that battle, even though the final race, at Pomona, Calif., pays out points and a half. Salinas is pressuring No. 3 Justin Ashley, the Dallas winner. He’s just three points behind Ashley. If he is to crack into the top three, Salinas knows he has to have all the stars align perfectly in his favor – and that includes him performing at his best.
“’Good’ isn’t good anymore,” he said. You need to step it up to do any good out here anymore. Everybody’s stepping their game up.”
One advantage he has is that he blocks out the idea of big rounds or formidable foes. He dismissed the notion of “big match-ups.” He said any pairing on race day “is just a match-up. And here’s the thing I do. I don’t care where I qualify. I don’t care who I race. I don’t know until I get in the lane next to them.” For instance, at Bristol, he raced Clay Millican in the second round. Salinas said, “Clay came and hugged me and said, ‘Let’s have a good race.’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m running you? Yeah? Oh, OK!’ The best way for me: I race that track, every time. I don’t race anybody else. They just happen to be in the lane next to me.”
Salinas took the provisional No. 2 spot Friday with a 3.766-second elapsed time at 321.12 mph.
‘POP’ OF SENTIMENT FOR HART – Josh Hart is paying tribute this weekend to former sponsor Perry Walton, who passed away last December. Walton was the owner of POP’s Philly Steaks in Las Vegas, and he gave financial support to Hart for his Top Alcohol Dragster at this event last year. Walton’s daughter, Christina Walton, will attend the race and get a chance to see the remembrance of her dad on the race car.
“Perry jumped on as a primary sponsor on the alcohol car,” Hart said. “Perry always wanted to be a part of the fuel car. Unfortunately, we lost Perry due to COVID. We have a little tribute to him. We’re going to put some small POP’s Philly Cheesesteaks stickers on the car and the wings. He was so excited to be a part of the NHRA. He wanted to get POP’s Philly Cheesesteaks eventually in the midway. He had big hopes. He was a dreamer. He was a very good guy.”
Two-time 2021 winner Hart, who just this week named crew chief Ron Douglas a partner in his Fearless Racing operation, is coming from Florida – and he means business. He said he’s ready to get back to winning. At the most recent race, at Bristol, Tenn., he absorbed his fourth first-round loss of the year.
“We don’t come out here to go out in the first round. We want to go rounds,” Hart, rookie owner-driver of the R+L Carriers Dragster, said. “We have brand new engines, heads, superchargers. We’re ready to go. Hopefully, we can stay in the 3.60 mark at 330 mph plus. The air was amazing at Bristol. It’s very much the same here.”
“I’m very focused,” Hart said. “I feel like whether I’m in the business back home or in the race car, I never had a different path. I always worked for myself. Kind of learned the hard way,” he said. And what he has learned about the business he is putting to productive use.
On the dragstrip, he is 17-9 so far in elimination rounds with victories at Gainesville in his first-ever Top Fuel try and the fall Charlotte race three days after his 38th birthday. He has qualified for every race that he has entered. And he was in the top 10 before the Western Swing and chose to sit out two races (Topeka and Brainerd) while several crew members were ill. (“I'm also very loyal. We had some teammates that had some [false] COVID concerns, and I felt like if we can't all go as a team, I didn't want to go half-ass.”)
So he didn’t qualify for the Countdown. But he has fared well since he came back for the U.S. Nationals. He reached the semifinal round at Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Dallas, and won at Charlotte.
That and bringing new sponsors to the sport are what has him a frontrunner for the NHRA Rookie of the Year Award.
“I am living proof that anything is possible. I came from a very poor background, basically living in a trailer park,” Hart said, “and now I work in the most expensive trailer park in the world. I feel like I have a very real rags-to-riches story. I had to work every day to make my dream come true. I made it happen with the love and support of my wife [Brittanie]. I want to stay humble and be kind to other people.
“Stay humble and kind, stay out of the politics, and do your job,” he said is the motto he tries to live by. “You’ve got to muscle through it if you want to be the best at what you do.”
He knows strong marketing partners – such as Perry Walton – make a huge difference. And he knows a partnership works both ways, that it isn’t about asking a company for money to run his race car. He knows he has to provide return on investment. And he has impressed the drag-racing community with all he is doing with new-to-the-sport sponsor R=L Carriers.
“We started doing some promotional events before every race with R+L Carriers,” Hart said. “They're not even trying to necessarily gain more business. They're trying to recruit drivers because there's a national shortage. They pay great. It's a fabulous company, and I genuinely believe in their product. So it makes it easy for me to talk to people, because it is a great company. There's no smoke and mirrors. They do everything they say they're going to do.
“Reputation is everything, and when you're in a position like this, and everybody's watching, it's easy when you're not faking it. And I'm not faking it at all. This is who I am. It is what it is. I'm not going to change for a sponsor or for the fans. I hope that they like what I'm putting out. I'm trying to be as honest as possible and I'm trying to really prove that anything really is possible,” Hart said. ”If you want to drive one of these things, if you want to be out here, it's all obtainable. You just got to work hard and build a strong foundation.”
He said he’s “very grateful for Bob Vandergriff. He licensed me, and my intentions were never really to own a Top Fuel team. I was going to team with Bob, and we were going to make a run at it. Situations and hurdles presented themselves that we were fortunately able to overcome, and then COVID hit. So I feel like I am a little late. I should have been here maybe a year ago or two, but I wouldn't have it any other way at this point.”
And he has earned the respect of two of the class’ three-time champions.
“I love Antron. He came to me in the staging lanes. We prayed together. He's very supportive. He has a very, very upbeat personality. I like that a lot. We actually were texting one night and I said, ‘I didn't know if I made it to your contact list.’ He said, ‘Of course you're there. Also, Steve Torrence was one of the first people to call and congratulate me on Gainesville. It has been a great experience. Super-blessed to be out here,” Hart said.
And that victory at the season-opener, which put his name in the record books, netted him “about 5,000 social-media requests and 1100 text messages,” he said. “I didn’t know that many people had my phone number.”
He has shown a number of his on-track and Countdown-qualified competitors that he has their numbers, too. He defeated Clay Millican twice before Millican returned the favor. He beat Justin Ashley in three of their four meetings. He eliminated Pomona winner Leah Pruett twice and Bristol winner Mike Salinas twice, as well. He’s 2-3 against Brittany Force.
Hart said he’s seeing a trend after 13 of the first 18 races had incomplete fields in one or both fuel classes: “We’re starting to see a lot of these independent teams starting to come back out. They’re preparing for 2022. That’s the way it should be. I hope that these sponsorship issues go away and teams can come out here more and be competitive. Hopefully, with COVID concerns coming to a slowdown, maybe more people will be inclined to jump on and be sponsors for the other teams.”
‘I DO’ = ANSWER TO QUESTION: MISS RACING? – In the past couple of months, independent Top Fuel racer Jim Maroney has been to more weddings and wedding-related functions than he has drag races. But the Gilbert, Ariz., owner-driver is back on the strip this weekend with his American Flowtech / WSM Auctioneers Dragster.
This is only the third race of the season for Maroney, and it will be his last in 2021. He qualified 12th for his first four-wide experience in April at the spring Las Vegas race and qualified 10th in July at Pomona, Calif., but ran into tire smoke against Shawn Langdon in the first round.
“This has been a busy summer,” Maroney said. “We haven’t been to as many races as we had planned. Colton [Maroney] got married, and Brandy [Maroney] gets married next week. We’ve had a lot of family commitments.”
New in-laws aren’t all that’s new with Maroney. A new race shop and new tuning responsibilities are keeping the team busy. They’re producing benefits, too.
“We have been working on a new shop,” Maroney said. “It’s a pretty good-sized shop. We ultimately chose to sit out a few races and utilize our money on the shop. With that being said, we have more and better parts than we ever have coming into this race. We have a 3.80 [-second elapsed time] baseline tune-up. The car has been 3.90 flat last time we were here, and we now have every intention on running in the 3.80s. The goal is we are here to play and not just qualify. My long-time team leader, Kevin Knowles, and myself will be making all the tuning calls this weekend.
“I hate [that] this has to be the last race of the season for us, but we just can’t make it to Pomona. I simply don’t have the crew available for the race. Everyone has other commitments,” he said.
Maroney Racing, the boss said, wouldn’t be able to run without the help of their marketing partners. WSM Auctioneers in Phoenix does weekly virtual and in-person heavy equipment auctions,” Maroney said. “They really have been a big supporter of our team over the years, and we value our partnership with them.” Likewise, he said he would like to thank Torco Oils, Western Washington Cornwell Tools, Dixxon Flannel Co, King Bearings, Total Seal Piston Rings, Diamond Pistons, and CP Carrillo.
BROWN LUCKY AT LAS VEGAS – Antron Brown is waxing a wee bit nostalgic as he winds down his 13-year association with Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). And The Strip at Las Vegas has a special place among his treasure trove of memories.
“Vegas has been very good to us. It seems like big things happen there,” soon-to-be privateer Brown said.” We clinched the [Top Fuel] title here in both 2015 and 2016. We’ve won at The Strip five times, including a big win here last year to close out the season. The facility is top-notch, and we have two of our best races there.”
It was on the dragstrip, too, that Brown gave DSR its NHRA-extending 300th victory.
“That was a big win,” he said. “I remember it like yesterday. It was in Las Vegas for the spring race, one of the best tracks we go to. We had to beat some great drivers that day. We had Steve Torrence in Round two and then had to race two of our teammates, with Leah Pruett in the semis and then Tony [Schumacher] in the finals, but our Matco Tools Toyota boys were on top of their game. Tommy Johnson had just won the Funny Car final for 299 [No. 299 for DSR], so either Tony or I were going to get No. 300.
“To win the 300th race for Don was really special. To be a part of that legacy and history was just an honor. With all the incredibly talented drivers and crews that have been a part of this team, it’s pretty wild to think we got No. 300.”
PRUETT STILL GRINDING – Mopar Dodge//SRT Dragster driver Leah Pruett still has a few goals this weekend, even though her chances of a Top Fuel championship in the last year for Don Schumacher Racing have vanished.
She’s gunning at this race (and the season finale in two weeks in her native Southern California) for a top-three finish. She has finished a career-best fourth in the final standings for the past three years. So the Pomona winner is seeking a second Wally statue for the year. And she’s racing in the Factory Stock Showdown class – its last event of the season – still trying to earn a pair of trophies on the same weekend.
“My entire career has been about proving something,” Pruett said, “and this weekend is about proving that this Dodge//SRT team can be consistent and win races. All we can do is race to the best of our ability, and that mindset serves us well as we set our sights on getting a win at this Dodge-sponsored track.”
She said she’s all right with wearing the label of spoiler but isn’t aiming to knock out anyone specifically: “To play spoiler can seem like fun, but really, it’s because we are advancing and not because we're putting any particular opponent on the trailer. We want this win for us and for Dodge.”
As for her chances in the Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak, Pruett said, “The Factory Stock Showdown finale feels like the ultimate homecoming for me because of how far Dodge and the Mopar Drag Pak program have come these past four years. Being a part of the program and its progression, then seeing the growing number of new Mopar Drag Pak entries and their own performance journey, has been truly enjoyable. To see a new generation of drivers choose Mopar Drag Paks as their weekend warrior or fierce piece of weaponry is outstanding.”
She won the 2018 FSS championship as a rookie and has played a key role in helping develop the 2021 Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak.
"A final FSS Wally in my final race of the season, I couldn’t ask for much more,” Pruett said, except maybe a double-up. It’s my last shot at it this year. That's what drives me this weekend and why I feel more determined than ever."
THAT’S A MOUTHFUL – Cameron Ferré just might have the biggest tongue-twister when it comes to top-end interviews and reciting his sponsors or name of his Top Fuel car. He’s driving the Paton Racing EMPI JBS Equipment Ted Wiens Complete Auto Service Performance Data Systems Fast Eddie Racewear Top Fuel Dragster. And he drove to his career-best elapsed time and speed: 3.851 seconds at 318.39 mph.
Team owner Todd Paton said, “We've had a couple of years off, sitting up in Canada, and we looked at it and we said, ‘Let's just see if we can get it across the border, come on down.’ Stewie [John Stewart] has been helping us. The Lagana team – Torrence’s – has been helping us. Everybody put this deal together. Cameron came along with a little bit of money from the folks from EMPI, and a little shot from PDS and Fast Eddie Racewear. We got this thing good: center-of-the-road tune-ups. We just want to make sure it went A to B, and we'll tune from there.”
Veteran crew chief Tony Shortall also is assisting.
FIRST THREE-SECOND PASS – Funny Car racer Tony Jurado, of Pleasanton, Calif., clocked his first three-second pass in qualifying Friday. He ran a 3.986-second elapsed time and a 318.17-mph speed to claim the provisional No. 8 position in the top half of the field. If he should stay there or improve, he and his Ford Mustang will have lane choice in Sunday’s eliminations.
Jurado’s Friday performance wasn’t without incident, though. His Pure Cool / Capitol Glass Company entry strayed from the left land and veered over into the right lane in front of Jeff Diehl after the finish line.
SCOOBY-DOO-ING IT – Pro Stock racer Alan Prusiensky is a serious man, an owner-driver who most of the time is a one-man band operating from his shop at Rockaway, N.J. It often can be a little tough to get a smile from him, but he showed his playful side Friday, rolling up to the starting line with an early Halloween-spirited paint scheme on his car. He sported the Mystery Machine look that was popular in the Scooby-Doo cartoons and movies. He’s likely in a jolly mood, too, Friday night, because he nailed down the provisional No. 9 spot. If that holds through two Saturday qualifying sessions, he’ll have by far his best start this season.
LANGDON HAS NEW SUPPORT – For Shawn Langdon, the vibe is nitro power, construction and roofing, country music, and Las Vegas-style hospitality. If that sounds confusing, here’s the deal . . . His dragster is carrying the livery promoting CMR Construction and Roofing, a new sponsor in the Kalitta Motorsports fold since the Sonoma Nationals this summer. CMR also is sponsoring the Nov. 7 Ragin Country Crawl charity concert with music from Lee Brice, Randy Houser, Colt Ford, and Dee Jay Silver.
Langdon said he’s enjoying “representing CMR Construction and Roofing this weekend, and I want to thank Steve and Chandra Soule for all the support. CMR has been very active with all our sponsors and at events since the summer. They love everything about NHRA, and we are enjoying hosting their customers and employees.”
Steve Soule, CEO of CMR Construction & Roofing, said, “We are excited to see the CMR Construction and Roofing Top Fuel Dragster on track in Las Vegas. The level of professionalism from Kalitta Motorsports, combined with the feedback we received after just a few races, made it obvious we were in the right place. Our national footprint complements this partnership through the diverse B2B program Kalitta Motorsports offers and the fantastic VIP hospitality program we are leveraging with our customers, employees, and vendors.”
FIGHT COSTLY – The sanctioning body fined Richard Freeman and Josh Hart $10,000 each following a fistfight that broke out among crew members on both teams in the pits earlier this month during the FallNationals at Texas Motorplex. The $20,000 has been dedicated to “enhancing the capabilities of the Safety Safari.” Freeman and Hart may appeal the decision.