MONDAY NOTEBOOK –
Welcome to the TF rookie - Doug Kalitta has been in 52 final rounds and this was Hillary Will’s first. The points leader admitted he didn’t feel a bit of remorse en route to beating her.
“You can’t make it too easy on them,” Kalitta said. ‘She almost beat me. It was her first opportunity to go after a win and by beating her makes her hungrier.”
Tradition Ends - This marks the first time since 1999 that Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon has not advanced to at least the semifinals at the Memphis race. Dixon lost to Brandon Bernstein in the second round.
Dixon and the Miller Lite team remain seventh in the NHRA Top Fuel standings with six races remaining on the 2006 NHRA schedule.
What do you think this is, a Holiday Inn? – John Force learned the difference between a full media circus and a rainout skeleton crew.
“I thought I was in Montreal back in 1987 again,” Force said, recalling his first national event victory. “They didn’t have a hat. They didn’t even have a girl or a trophy.”
Force even mentioned former nemesis Al Hofmann, but we won’t get into that one. He did say he made Hofmann laugh.
It’s a freaking pig – John Force is a bit tired and weary from filming a television show for A&E, as well dealing with an unpublicized battle with animal activists for dropping the family’s cat two-feet to the ground on the show.
“I was on a plane and I was dead tired, and the guy next to me said he watched my show on A&E,” Force said. “The guy reminded me about dropping the cat and I cut him off. I said you can drop a cat from the roof of a house and it will land on its feet. I only dropped it two feet and got a ton of letters from the animal activists. A&E was even looking at pulling the scene from the re-runs.”
Force should have stopped when he was ahead.
“I was reading the newspaper where they had the headline BP/CASTROL pipeline breaks,” Force said. “They admitted they had a maintenance problem and they were running pigs through the pipes to the other end.
“I said…can you believe that s#$%? I drop a cat two feet and I get in all kinds of trouble and they can run a pig 3,000 miles through a pipeline and no one bitches? When we were getting off of the plane, the guy asked if I was kidding. I said…NO…right there in the headlines. There it is.
Technically speaking, the “smart pig” is an electronic drone that BP runs through the line and not a four-legged creature.
“My brain just wasn’t working and that was up there in Alaska, and I figured no one wanted to crawl through 3,000 miles of pipe so they’d put a pig in there and if it came out the other end…nothing was plugging it up.
“I was standing with my boss and I brought the subject up. He looked at me and said, ‘Force, that’s an electronic pig that takes pictures and stuff. Then I felt dumb.
“I looked over at [crew chief Austin] Coil and he was just dying laughing. I let him know I was just tired. Who knows? When you think about it, they probably did use real pigs in the old days. After all, we do use a roto rooter through our toilets.”
Okay, I’m really tired (But not of talking) – Again, John Force is a bit tired. So tired is he, that he engaged in another battle of wits with crew chief Austin Coil. The last time Coil engaged a fired up and ready to race Force with the suggestion, “You might want to go back to the trailer and grab your firesuit.” The class was running and he was only a few pairs back.
Today the rain-delayed eliminations just got the best of him. Force didn’t take into account that one round was completed on Sunday and confronted Coil about selecting the second pair out in the semis.
“I started yelling at Coil, it’s cooling down - what was wrong with number three or number four pair?” Force said. “He looked at me and said there ain’t no number four. The NHRA guy looked at me and asked me if I was okay.”
Losing Focus – Right when Force felt he had focus with the new drivers, Robert Hight and Eric Medlen, he was thrown another curve – the television show on A&E.
“Ford took me in and slapped me around for it,” Force said. “It all comes from the top. When I show up at the races after working until midnight and show up on the red-eye, I tell the guys I have to go to my bus and get some sleep. That doesn’t motivate them. They don’t care about movies. They care about winning.
“I’m overworked trying to grow the sport, trying to grow my popularity and grow my kids. It's starting to beat me up. I am addressing it. Instead of filming seven days a week, we cut back to three. There’s only two after you get through racing. You want a day off.”
Force said an employee came up to him to point out the shortcoming.
“He said, you used to yell and scream and beat us up if you lost. Now, you’re on a plane back to film.’ I said, yeah, you’re speaking the truth and then I fired him.”
That person was Robert Hight, and Force didn’t really fire him. After all, you can’t fire your son-in-law.
“I was mad as hell,” Force said. “It really was the truth. There was stuff he didn’t know.”
Force admitted that he had some health issues which included blood sugar levels. Hight’s crew chief Jimmy Prock remedied the situation by putting him on energy bars and POWERade for an energy boost. He consumed the combination before the final round match against Tony Pedregon.
“I couldn’t take another top end speech from Tony telling me how he hated beating me, but he had to do it,” Force said.
Blazing Baze - Just when he thought he’d abandoned the name “blazemore,” it fired up again on him in the second round against nemesis John Force. The fire didn’t get him but the tumble afterwards didn’t leave him with that comfortable feeling.
Bazemore had a few scrapes and a sore back. But, that’s nothing that band-aids and a trip to the masseuse couldn’t fix.
“It was a fire similar to the ones we used to have in the old days,” Bazemore said. “Everything was manageable until the brake-line burned off. I rely on the brakes a lot and sometimes we don’t use the parachutes. I had nothing to stop the car.
“It was hot and there were no brakes on the car and I could have been going 100 miles per hour and need another 30 seconds to stop,” Bazemore said. “I stood up through the hatch and I saw we were going to glance the wall and I didn’t want any part of that. I jumped off.
“I’m fine, they (NHRA) made a big deal about going to the hospital,” Bazemore said.
Bazemore said the car, while burned pretty good ought to be fine for Indy testing.
Close but no cigar – Mike Ashley and Robert Hight represented the second and third quickest runs in the quarter-finals.
Ashley ran a 4.833, 314.97, the second-quickest lap of the quarterfinal round, but came up short against Hight. Hight won with a slower 4.835, 309.20.
“It was close at the finish line,” Ashley added. “Drag racing is a game of thousandths and the difference in losing this way is you don’t walk away with your head hanging. We have our heads held high because we knew consistently we are among the quickest out there. I think that says a lot.”
Fast Day – Ron Capps found out today that sometimes life comes at you fast. Before the noon bell rang today, he was on the sidelines, and by 12:30 p.m. he was out of the points lead. He's now second in the rankings, 17 markers behind today's winner John Force.
Tony Pedregon outran him in the quarter-finals.
"The conditions were tough, and it was the same for everybody," said Capps, who had lane choice over Pedregon. "I don't feel like lane choice was any factor at all. The Brut Dodge ran great to half track and Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) is pretty upset with himself because he did some things to make sure it made it to the finish line at the other end, as there are a few bumps here. He probably backed it down more than he wanted to, in hindsight. That's when Tony came around me. We had great numbers early.
"It didn't put cylinders out and it didn't do anything weird. It didn't hurt the motor, it just didn't run as hard to the finish line as it should've.
"We had the car to beat yesterday in the heat and adapting is the biggest part of the whole thing. And we didn't adapt as well that round. It was funny. (Teammate Whit) Bazemore had his fire (also in the quarters today) and it was a pretty long clean-up and the sun started peeking through and I said, 'Oh, no,' because we set it up to go up there in (somewhat) cool conditions. Then I thought to myself, 'Hey, we ran by far the best E.T. in the heat yesterday, so come on out, sun.' As soon as I thought that, the sun hid again, went back in behind the clouds. It's just a part of it all."
Capps did a lot of sweating this weekend, but it wasn’t over maintaining the points lead.
"It's going to be fun to the end of the year, no question. I'm going to get in my motor home and drive to Indy today because we're testing this week and I'm going to match race the nostalgia car next weekend in Cordova, Ill. (at The World Series of Drag Racing).
"There's so many big things happening in Indy right now. I've been excited about actually getting past the Memphis race and looking at all the new stuff that Brut's coming out with. The fans are going to be excited about what happens in Indy and from here on out. I can't wait."
Three-timer – Kurt Johnson captured his third national event this weekend in a car with only six runs.
“I was pleased headed into the semis,” Johnson said. “It reacts well, it runs quick and has fresh paint on it. We’re trying to make up some points. We want to hit home runs every time. I had a car that would run that right lane very well.”
Speaking of home runs, even Kurt couldn’t help but notice his dad’s good fortunes earlier. That served as a sign his day was going to be a good one.
“There’s days at the shop when he gets fired up, so you just have to let him do his thing,” Kurt said. “He did good. When he goes fast, he goes fast.”
Was son afraid of dad outreacting him if they met?
“I think we ought to put an ACDelco decal on the inside passenger door of his car whenever he runs, then he’ll get a double-oh reaction time. He’s a treat.”
Oh that Cagey WJ – When Alan Reinhart asked Warren Johnson if he’d greased the clutch pedal in order to holeshot Dave Connolly. The resourceful Johnson responded, “Nah, I sprained my clutch and couldn’t hold it in.”
Reinhart went on to add, “Mike Edwards was my pick to win…that is, until Johnson started driving like a kid.”
Johnson should have broken the ankle because Edward nailed him with a .000 reaction and took the victory.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Hines stock rises – Andrew Hines ascended to the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle points lead when he defeated Antron Brown in the final round.
“We had a really great time last year at this race,” Hines said. “To come back this year and do well is great. I’ve never back-to-back races before. It’s a testament to what me team can do in the heat winning here and in Denver. My team worked hard. When I saw Antron’s red-light, everything went blank and I felt really calm.”
Hines ironically left last year’s race with the points lead.
Bazemore Transported – Whit Bazemore was involved in a nasty
fire following his second-round loss to John Force.
Bazemore took a tumble at the top end when he exited the car through the hatch as it was still rolling at an estimated 30 miles per hour.
According to an NHRA official, Bazemore was transported to the hospital to be checked for potential injuries associated with the fall.
Back underway – The two bikes that were called to the lanes in the midst of last evening’s tempest thundered down the quarter-mile at 8:48 AM. Matt Smith defeated Mike Berry with a 7.131.
12 hours made all the difference as the quickest winner of the first round of
Top Fuel clocked an elapsed time of 4.757. Today’s second round quickest was the
4.553 posted by Brandon Bernstein. Funny Car on Sunday produced a 5.097 best and
Monday’s 4.824 by John Force established low elapsed time of the event.
Makes sense to us – When Alan Reinhart asked Warren Johnson if he’d greased the clutch pedal in order to holeshot Dave Connolly in Sunday's fist round, the resourceful Johnson responded, “Nah, I sprained my ankle and couldn’t hold it in.”
Reinhart went on to add, “Mike Edwards was my pick to win…that is, until Johnson started driving like a kid.”
Johnson should have broken the ankle, because Edwards nailed him with a .000 reaction in their second-round face-off and took the victory.
Yeah, Sounds Right To Us – At 7:30 PM, the announcement went out over the PA system, “Please take shelter, we have bad weather coming through the area and it’s severe.”
Ten minutes later the announcer came back on and proclaimed in a somewhat puzzled voice, as lightning strikes lit up the dark sky, “I have been told that we are just fifteen minutes away from running. Can I have the two remaining Pro Stock bikes and Top Fuel to the staging lanes. (The photo above was taken just minutes after the announcement was made).
In the interest of fair reporting, one bike showed up, along with a Top Fuel
crew chief, who was scratching his head.
The track was dried in time for the next band of thunderstorms.
The race was eventually postponed until 9 am Monday.
The curse continues – On Saturday night, Rod Fuller said he didn’t believe in the number one qualifier jinx. Sunday the curse responded that it didn’t believe in him either.
A leaking valve cover sent oil over the header pipes and onto the track, canceling out any chance for a trip to the second round by the Valvoline machine. To add insult to injury, Fuller was charged with an oildown violation.
Fuller forfeited the run to Bob Vandergriff Jr. "To say we're disappointed is
an understatement," Fuller said. "I've been working on bettering my reaction
times and I was hoping to use those newfound skills at the starting line today.
I guess it wasn't meant to be. And no, it's not a jinx to be the No. 1
qualifier; we just had some bad luck."
Chamber of Commerce comment – Gary Scelzi said what a lot of people were thinking but didn’t dare say.
"I'm glad to be out of this hell hole. Nothing about this place I like except
leaving it. That's what we're going to do. We'll head to Indy (O'Reilly Raceway
Park in Clermont, Ind.) and start testing (this week)."
Two go out, one comes back – Whit Bazemore invited his friend Tommy Johnson to go on a bike ride this morning, but he declined. Maybe it had something to do with the fact they were scheduled to run each other in the first round of eliminations.
“When we go out riding bikes we are the best of friends,” Johnson said. “When you have to race a guy in the first round, you don’t want to be friends with him.”
On Friday the pair rode alongside the legendary Mississippi river, and at one point Bazemore pointed out a deep ravine. He admitted he had passing thoughts on Sunday morning when he pointed out the area to Johnson. Full contact bicycle riding, maybe?
Johnson admitted that memory was the first thing that came to mind when the invitation to go ride this morning presented itself.
“I might have ended up in the river somewhere,” Johnson said.
“Actually, I might have considered going this morning, but I overslept,” Johnson admitted.
Johnson didn’t oversleep in the first round, however, In fact, he did just
the opposite – he fouled.
Public Service Announcement – In the interview following his first round victory over Tony Bartone, Tony Pedregon reminded the capacity crowd at Memphis Motorsports Park of an important tidbit.
“Keep drinking those fluids,” Pedregon said. “And I’m not talking about beer either.”
Not afraid of #1 – Rod Fuller is not intimidated by the number one qualifier jinx.
“I don’t believe in all of that stuff,” Fuller said. “Drag racing is drag racing and that’s what makes it exciting. Anything can happen from the number one qualifier to number sixteen. I think if we do the best we can and do our jobs, we will be fine.”
Memphis Motorsports Park could be his saving grace.
“I’m a firm believer that I do better at some tracks than others. I came into tonight with a lot of confidence. We knew we were solid in the field. Today gave us a lot of opportunities to find a good baseline for tomorrow. We’ll roll the dice and see how it plays out tomorrow.”
Dupuy’s new Gig? – Wayne Dupuy is just helping now, but he’s clearly interested in a full-time position aboard Bob Vandergriff Jr.’s UPS-sponsored team. Right now he’s assisting his brother Jim.
“It’s looks like it’s headed that way if everything continues to go well,” Dupuy said. “The Vandergriffs are good people and I’m trying to help out my brother. I’m having fun.”
The Dupuy brothers last worked together with Joe Amato’s Top Fuel operation.
Got Help? – In the week leading up to this weekend’s event, Scott Palmer decided it was time to go get help.
“We went to the David Powers team and they helped us to get where we needed to be,” Palmer said.
Palmer had the third quickest run in the sun-drenched Sunday afternoon session with a 4.716, 292.90. Only Tony Schumacher and rookie Troy Buff were quicker.
The Cerny Tune-up – Cory McClenathan knew what to expect when he strapped in to run each time.
"Wes (Cerny, crew chief) said his tune-up would get after it in the middle of
the track and tip-toe at the end of the track . . . and that's what it did,"
said McClenathan of the 4.673 run that was fifth-best of the session. We did
get down the track all three times (during qualifying). Hopefully we'll be able
to do it four more times on Sunday. We need it."
As for Kalitta, McClenathan said it "will definitely be a good race."
Bazemore Ponders – Whit Bazemore confirmed that Jack Beckman will make test runs behind the wheel of his Funny Car during next week’s Indianapolis test session.
Rumors had surfaced indicating that Bazemore might be at the end of his deal with Don Schumacher Racing, but the veteran driver is confident of his status and isn’t intimidated by the situation.
“I really don’t care one way or the other about Jack driving the car,” Bazemore said. “It doesn’t mean anything to me. The relationship that I have with Matco Tools is very strong. The relationship I have with Don and Sarah Schumacher is strong. Don has told me repeatedly that I am the second best Funny Car driver out there, which a tremendous compliment. Given that and my relationship with the sponsor, I’d have to say Jack Beckman isn’t driving this car to replace me.”
Bazemore did say there is room to expect the unexpected.
“But, he does bring a lot of sponsorship to the table. I don’t think it’s right to automatically assume anything. In all fairness, the Matco Tools Funny Car is probably the one that fits him the best. That’s why he’s driving.
“I try to do the most professional job and try to drive at the best of my ability,” Bazemore said. “I feel that I am at the top of my game now. We have passionate fans. I have a great relationship with the sponsor and if Don wants to put Jack Beckman in the car because he brings seven-figure sponsorship to the table – then more power to him.
“I’m not out here driving for free and I know my ability. If I get replaced by a rookie who has completely unknown qualities then it’s a decision outside of my control and I really don’t care.”
Bazemore has no contract for 2007 and he’s had interest elsewhere. Don’t expect him to shop around at the conclusion of the season like a stick and ball sport free agent, however. He wants to be with Schumacher for a while.
“A lot of things depend on funding and sponsorships,” Bazemore said. “It’s highly unlikely things will take this path, but what if Jack Beckman is to drive that car? Would the sponsors want that? That remains to be seen. Is that what the team wants? It’s up to Don if I stay here or not. I’ve made it clear what I want to and I think we have a great opportunity. We’ve had some unsettling things in terms of personnel over the last few years with guys being moved around. I think things are starting to gel and this team has a lot of potential. We are realizing it.”
“You look at your problems and you fix them and that’s what we have been doing. I would hate it for the team’s sake to see things get disrupted. I would hate it for them and hate it for Matco Tools. I just have to say I wouldn’t read much into Jack driving my car on Wednesday.”
If history repeats, considering Gary Scelzi also drove Bazemore’s flopper before stepping into the Oakley ride, could this mean a fifth car?
Kalitta’s Toyota - Connie Kalitta confirmed that his team is working toward a new Toyota body for the Indy test session next week. Most likely the body make for this project will be a Solara. Kalitta says this is contingent on the completion of the body, though.
The plan is to run the car during the test session and if things work as anticipated, it will see action at the U.S. Nationals.
No Wonder He’s Smiling – Robert Hight scored his seventh pole position this year and the thirteenth of his career.
Hight has made quite a splash since his debut last season and his numbers signify that he’s done it twice as many times as anyone in the class.
“Conditions were pretty decent out there tonight but it will tighten up tomorrow,” Hight said. “Anybody can win. Guys that don’t have the power will be going up and down this track. We have got to make four good runs tomorrow if we want to win this.”
The Numbers Game – If you didn’t race with Team Force or the Pedregons, the best you could qualify was sixth. Force cars were first through third. The Pedregons were fourth and fifth.
Team Force has taken the top three sports three times since last year and none of the drivers have ever won when that transpired.
While there has been much discussion about the number one qualifier jinx, low
qualifier Robert Hight captured his first two career victories from the pole
That’s Why We do it – Okay, so Ron Capps likes his reputation of being a prognosticator.
"Those weekends that you have when you just get into the show are as good
looking back at the end of the year and as important as qualifying No. 3 or No.
2 at a race," said Capps. "It is one of those weekends where we had a shot of
losing a lot of points and not qualifying and just having a disastrous weekend,
but it turned into a pretty good one so far.
"I told the guys on the Brut team that the feeling you have right now, bottle it up and just remember it, because this is why we do this. It's not the money, it's not everything else, it's that feeling you get of going from the lowest of lows and you don't know if you're going to get in and, all of a sudden, you get in, your anxiety goes away, and the whole team is excited. Everybody's got the same goal. It's exciting."
Son of the Beach – John Force knows heat when he feels it.
“It was tough to get in with this kind of heat,” Force said following his 4.876 during the final session. “It’s almost like going to the beach and there’s no sand.”
Son-in-law Hight offered his take on the heat.
“I tried to wear some glasses that would allow me to see the tree better,” Hight said. “I had to throw them out. They kept fogging up. They had stuff dripping off of them.”
Hight made mention of the extreme coolness of the press room during a post
qualifying interview, to which one reporter offered, “Don’t feel bad Robert, our
sunglasses fogged up when we stepped outside too.”
Shameless sponsor plug – Gary Scelzi knows the drill. If you don’t have a good excuse, make up one and plug the sponsor.
“We had her tuned up to run 4.80s and something must have happened,” Scelzi said. “I must have spilled my Coke or something. I can’t remember what happened.”
Too close for comfort – Scelzi ran a 4.935 against new teammate Mike Ashley during the final session. While that may not seem like all that big of a deal, consider this. Ashley also ran a 4.935. Both runs were their best of the weekend. Scelzi gained the higher spot due to a faster mile per hour.
The only problem with it all is that Scelzi’s lap placed him in the eighth spot and Ashley in the ninth. They meet in the first round.
Another interesting tidbit is that both drivers are defending champions.
Scelzi won the Funny Car crown while Ashley was tops in Pro Modified before
stepping into the nitro ranks.
Scary Moments – Tony Rizzo emerged uninjured from an incident that was potentially fatal.
Rizzo broke a fuel line as he fired his Chevrolet Cobalt and the subsequent leak ignited when he started the car. His Pro Stocker became engulfed in flames.
“I hit the fire bottles and it went out,” Rizzo said. “it must have hit the headers and flamed out again.”
Rizzo admitted that the incident happened too quickly for him to get scared.
“Someone on the Safety Safari was trying to get me out of the car, but I couldn’t get my belts unbuckled.”
The damage is mostly cosmetic and will be at Jerry Haas’ shop on Monday for
Feels like the 49th time – Greg Anderson knows
the drill. For the 49th time of his career, he will hold the No. 1 qualifier
position headed into eliminations.
Memphis Motorsports Park (MMP) was one of two tracks, the other being Richmond, on the 2006 schedule at which Anderson had not earned a No. 1 position. This No. 1, the ninth top spot in 2006, changed that stat.
"To be able to run that under these conditions says a lot," said Anderson after his blast on Friday evening. "It (the track) is still very green out there. The rubber was all washed away. So we expect it will get better as the weekend goes along, but it won't be this cool again so we could very well be a tenth off tomorrow. It should be 100 degrees with track temps in the 140s.
"It's good to get the upper hand for now but qualifying hasn't been our big snafu this year, that’s been race day. But we feel like we're ready to break though and get on a roll where we win some races. Our confidence is higher now than it's been all season."
“It’s going to come down to the driver and the tuners,” Anderson said. “If you go over the edge either way with your set up, you’re going to slow down. It’s a tricky racetrack. We proved that today with our Summit Racing Pontiac. We missed the set-up each trip down the track today. You’ve got to hit the target, run fast and the driver has good to be good. That’s my goal tomorrow and hopefully go four rounds.”
Anderson, who is seeking to join the late Lee Shepherd and Bob Glidden as the only NHRA drivers to win four consecutive Pro Stock titles, has two wins at Memphis, the first in 2003 over Jeg Coughlin and last year he defeated Kurt Johnson.
In the first round of eliminations, Anderson will pull to the line opposite Greg Stanfield, who qualified No 16 with an elapsed time of 7.793 seconds.
Same Ole, Same Ole - MOS -- more of the same -- that's what Dave Connolly expects when the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals gets underway Sunday at Memphis Motorsports Park.
That MOS definitely includes the stifling conditions that have prevailed during qualifying Friday and Saturday for the 17th of 23 NHRA POWERade Series races. Connolly will be starting eliminations from No. 7 berth after a best of 6.768 seconds in the SKULL Gear Chevy Cobalt.
"I'm not complaining," said the Elyria, Ohio, native. "Everybody is running pretty close together. We're in the top half of the field and we're looking forward to eliminations."
He meets veteran Warren Johnson (10th, 6.780 seconds) in the first round for the third time in four races. They split the first two. Connolly is coming off his fourth victory of the season last Sunday at Brainerd, Minn. He is third in points.
Real Isolated Shower – The temperature in Memphis rose as high as 95-degrees with a heat index of 105. The surrounding skies around Memphis Motorsports Park were cloudless. In fact, the only cloud in the sky was a medium-sized dark one that hung over the track. Guess what happened? A pelting of raindrops delayed professional qualifying by nearly four hours.
MMP track public relations rep Doug Franklin was at a loss for words as the rain fell.
“It rained two Fridays ago and that was the first time in three weeks that it had rained.”
Franklin added that downtown Memphis never saw the rain and Beale Street was dry as well.
Make-A-Wish – The Make-a-Wish Foundation serves to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions in order to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. The children served by Make-A-Wish are referred to the Foundation by physicians, social workers, their parent (s) or legal guardian (s), and the children themselves. The Foundation does not solicit wishes.
Wish Kid Mark Vasbinder, 9, of Punxsutawney, PA., met his hero Gary Scelzi today. In addition, Mark and his family will enjoy three days at the event.
"This is a totally different story than driving,” Scelzi said. “This is
humans and emotions. It was really neat to watch his eyes light up when we put
that Funny Car body down with him inside. I remember as a kid sitting in a Super
Modified at about eight or nine-years old, and I'll never forget that as long as
I live. I was making runs in it, even though I was only in it for 30-seconds; I
was going around a race track. Hopefully he'll remember that for a long
"It was a neat experience, a great feeling, and very touching."
Mark’s mother Brenda was touched by the experience.
"It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience for Mark,” she said. “Everyone out here has been great. We were walking around and people noticed us with our Make-A-Wish shirts on, and they were so kind. Kenny Koretsky in the Nitro Fish trailer gave Mark some t-shirts and a car."
Statement Time – Rod Fuller and team owner David Powers made a statement earlier in the day that Valvoline would not return for the 2007 season. They ended the day with a statement that their hot rod is still the hottest car at Memphis.
Fuller knew they needed to get their point across early.
“Being limited to one run, we didn’t want to be too conservative. Knowing this track we feel confident in our hot weather tune-up. It’s all a testament to Lee Beard and Rob Flynn. All we’re doing is taking last year’s tune-up and adding a bit extra to it.”
The top qualifying effort marked the eighth consecutive run on a brand new chassis without smoking the tires.
“Sometimes when pull into the staging lanes, you immediately concern yourself with whether or not you will smoke the tires,” Fuller said. “I went in to stage and I felt confident. It left hard and threw me back in the seat. It was a nice smooth run.”
Fuller was gunning for the high 4.50s or low 4.60s on the run that yielded a 4.575.
“You don’t make a run tonight and you are pressed for Saturday,” Fuller said.
“Hopefully the weather will be the same hot weather conditions and work to our
favor. We are still the baddest car on the property tonight and I have a lot of
faith and confidence in my guys. It’s amazing what an impact a year has made.”
Conservative - Low qualifier Robert Hight had his doubts as to whether the track was ready for the nitro cars.
“The track was still a little too green for the Funny Cars,” said Hight. “With the conditions we had and being short a session, we were all leery of being too aggressive. [Crew chief] Jimmy Prock pushed pretty hard, which he always does. I may have shut it off early because it is really difficult to see out there.”
Hight admitted his hand was on the parachute early.
“I was prepared for anything,” Hight said. “It’s unfortunate we only got one run because we could have gone for the track record.”
Hight noted the misfortune of his teammate Eric Medlen, who exploded a supercharger on the starting line.
“At least he has two other runs from which to draw data from for Saturday,” Hight said. “He won the race and beat me in the semis last year.
“Conditions aren’t going to be as good tomorrow as they were tonight,” Hight said. “If you don’t make a representative run tonight it will be tough to get down the track tomorrow and get in the show. It will be tough to get in the show tomorrow because it was hot.”
Hight considers himself fortunate the run was completed because his supercharger belt was shredding teeth backing up from the burnout.
“That’s the kind of stuff that can bite you,” Hight said. “There are so many
parts on these cars that it is unbelievable just how many good runs we make and
that says a lot about our team and their attention to detail.”
Pleasant Surprise – Greg Anderson was caught off guard when he lit up the humid night with a 6.742, 203.83.
“I didn’t expect to run those kinds of numbers this early in qualifying,” Anderson said. “Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s more out there. The track is green and I expect it to get better. It’s always a tricky track and once the sun goes down and gets off of it, it will help us a bunch.
“We won’t get to run this late tomorrow and most of the time we will have that hot blazing sun,” Anderson said. “It will get better and get more rubber on it as the weekend continues. It’s good to get one in the books like that. It could be hotter than we can imagine tomorrow.”
Watching Dave Connolly win last week made successfully navigated the track a necessity.
“We were going down the track regardless,” Anderson said. “It’s good to get the upper hand early. Obviously qualifying hasn’t been our problem this year, Sunday has. We needed to get one tonight and we are extremely close to breaking through.
“Even though Dave won, we still knew we had good cars. We just got stung early. Our confidence is higher than it has ever been and I’m looking for good things starting this weekend.”
Anderson described the distance between being at the top and unbeatable by a matter of inches.
“I guess I shouldn’t open my mouth before we win races,” Anderson said. “We
are so close and if we win one, hopefully we will go on a roll. We are at the
best we have been in a long time.”
Humidity Heaven – It was hot and humid at Memphis Motorsports Park Friday even before an unexpected rain storm delayed for five hours the beginning of the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals.
But the long delay, and much better than expected track conditions, enabled Dave Connolly and the SKULL Gear Chevy Cobalt to scoot down the quarter-mile in 6.768 seconds at 202.97 mph and secure the fourth position after the first qualifying day. He and Greg Anderson tied at 6.768 seconds, but Anderson got the higher spot with a faster speed.
"It was a good start . . . something to work with," said Connolly, who is
coming off his fourth victory of the season last Sunday at Brainerd, Minn. "The
track was fine. We didn't know what to expect."
The Tribute is coming – Sources have confirmed that a Sox
& Martin car is forthcoming and the car is currently at the paint shop. The
tribute car (with the blessings and involvement from Buddy Martin) will be the
new Mopar of Bob Panella, Jr., that was built by Jerry Haas.
Happy, Happy Birthday – Friday night in Memphis was the way
NHRA exec Graham Light and multi-time Pro Stock champion Bob Glidden spent their
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Falling in Place - Matt Smith jumped to the top of provisional qualifying on the strength of a 7.086, 185.26 pass.
“This is the same motor I had in the bike when I ran the 7.00 at Pomona last year. We haven’t run this engine a lot in competition and used it more in testing. We did some work on it and it didn’t run too good. I think they have it back good again.
“I saw Mike Philips go the 7.14 and I immediately drew the conclusion that either he made a killer pass or the track was really good. I knew he had made a good pass. We probably left a bit on the table.”
Smith admitted that he lifted 200 feet shy of the stripe.
“We put a new sprocket on and every shift it yanked the wheels in the air,” Smith said. “They usually don’t do that. The shift light was on well before the finish and I just didn’t want to blow it up. I pulled the clutch in a bit early.”
Smith employed the talents of his dad Rickie Smith as an assistant. The elder Smith was in Memphis minus a Pro Stock car or a team.
“He’s not getting in the way. I’m glad he’s here because the last time he was here, we won the race. If we win this weekend, he’s going to have to come to every race from here on out.”
The bikes were the first out following the lengthy rain delay.
“I saw the left lane perform better than the right lane on the starting line,” Smith said. “We moved the bike all the way over out of the tire tracks toward the center and the rubber was really good and it stuck.”
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK -
New Vocabulary - "Hot Rod" Fuller enters new territory this weekend that will be commonplace in 2007. The Valvoline-sponsored driver will be able to say -- "I'm the defending champ!"
A longtime sportsman racer who was named the Super Gas Driver of the Decade for the 1990s, Fuller realized his dream of turning professional last season when Houston-based custom homebuilder David Powers offered him a ride in the Valvoline Top Fuel dragster, a 330-mph quarter-mile monster that makes 8,000 horsepower.
Fuller jumped at the chance, and in just his 10th professional outing with the team -- Memphis' annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals -- Fuller scored his first professional-level victory. It was a banner moment in the career of the Rogers, Ark., native, who grew up calling Memphis Motorsports Park his home track.
"This racetrack is where I fell in love with drag racing when I was a little kid," Fuller said. "We'd come over here with my dad when he was racing or with other friends of ours that were racing and I'd sit up in the stands and dream about drag racing one day. To come back here as an adult with one of the best race teams in the world and win the race was beyond anything I could have imagined. It still blows me away."
Now Fuller returns to MMP with three Top Fuel wins under his belt, including two wins this season, his first full campaign on the POWERade tour. For the first time he is the defending champion of a national event, although he collected 13 national event wins when he was a sportsman racer so the experience isn't entirely new to him.
"It's very exciting, I have to admit," Fuller said. "I was lucky enough to win quite a few races when I was a sportsman racer, including a bunch of high-dollar bracket races right here at this track. But to come into town as the defending Top Fuel champ is like nothing else. It says you belong among the best in the sport.
"I couldn't think of a better time for us to defend a race title because the Valvoline car is running so strong right now. My crew chief Lee Beard and the rest of the guys have really busted their butts this summer to make us consistent and fast and we have been a win waiting to happen ever since our last victory in Englishtown."
A Scorcher - Tony Schumacher knows very well that high temperatures and humidity can make even the most finely prepared racing surface as slick as an ice skating rink.
With air temperatures expected to range from 95-100 degrees and humidity levels predicted to be high, Schumacher will be challenged behind the wheel of his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster.
Schumacher is headed to Memphis coming off of five straight final round appearances with two victories thrown into that mix as well (in St. Louis and Seattle).
In six races, the Chicago native has moved from seventh in the standings into a tie for second and is now just 81 points behind leader, Doug Kalitta.
“We’re on a roll, no question,” said Schumacher. “But, the trick will be to stay on that roll. The weather conditions in Memphis will be tough. With that said, I’m confident Alan Johnson (his crew chief) and my U.S. Army team will give me a great race car. They never quit, no matter the obstacles that may be in their way. They’re all warriors in my book.”
Schumacher has seemingly conquered the Memphis weather gods in the past. In the last three years, he has a win (2003) and a runner-up finish (2005) to his credit.
“Hopefully, we can just duplicate what we did in St. Louis a couple of months ago,” he added. “It was pretty hot there and we got the job done.”
Go Doug, It's Your Birthday - Doug Kalitta is not a man of many words and neither does he consider himself full of hot air. That's why he's not exactly enthused about his birthday on Sunday.
“Well, to be honest, I’m not all that excited about trying to blow out 42 candles. Hopefully we’ll get the win and I can just douse the cake with POWERade.”
Kalitta, the Memphis Motosports Park speed record holder (327.90 mph, Sept. 2003), is hoping to hear his name announced over the public address system as the Top Fuel titlist on his 42nd birthday Sunday after four thundering quarter-mile “strolls” in pursuit of his life-long dream – Being crowned as the NHRA Top Fuel World Champion.
“A win in Memphis would sure go a long way,” Kalitta said. “The points are really close, and there are four or five cars that could get up to the top very quickly. I’ve never won in Memphis, so now would be a great time to get our first Wally (trophy) there.”
Kalitta holds an 81-point lead in POWERade Top Fuel championship points with seven races remaining on the 2006 schedule.
Earlier this season, Kalitta won back-to-back events in Bristol, Tenn., and Atlanta and then consecutively won again at events in Topeka, Kans., and Chicago. Kalitta leads Top Fuel, the NHRA’s quickest and fastest racing class, with four wins in 2006.
How about some AC? - The summer heat has taken its toll on Melanie Troxel and she finds herself fighting to get back on top of the rankings, with seven events remaining, following a string of six early-round losses. But her strong No. 5 qualifying effort in Brainerd, Minn., last weekend has heightened the team's hopes.
Troxel, who led the Top Fuel point standing through the first 12 races of the 23-event 2006 season, is now tied in second with teammate Tony Schumacher and in a three-way battle with leader Doug Kalitta (81 points ahead) and Schumacher for the crown.
"We're looking forward to getting back to Memphis, even though we know that the weather there can be tough on the entire team," she says. "We felt like we made progress last weekend and we definitely like what we're seeing from the performance side. We'll have to see whether or not that tune-up will work in the different conditions that we'll have in Memphis, but we're optimistic.
"It's going to be interesting. It looks like the forecast is calling for warm weather, but we're hoping that the fact that we're running later in the day will give us cooler temperatures and weather similar to what we had in Brainerd. Hopefully, that will keep it from being as extreme as it would be if we ran in the heat of the day."
As for the championship chase, "It's obviously shaping up to be a close race down to the wire," she says, "and I think fans are going to be treated to some really good racing through the end of the year."
In 2005, the Memphis event was Troxel's fifth race of the season after re-joining Don Schumacher Racing in Denver. She arrived in Memphis 22nd in points and left in 19th.
On a Mission - David Baca and his Mach 1 Air Services teammates have dedicated their summer to raising awareness for various charitable entities. From the Muscular Dystrophy Association to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research Foundation to the Mark Hindy Charitable Foundation benefiting the children of 9/11, Baca and crew have touched multitudes of people in a positive way.
But it wasn't until the tour's last stop in Brainerd, Minn., that Baca used his 330-mph billboard for something close to his heart -- organ donation. Through DonateLife.net, Baca asked race fans to take a minute and consider giving the "Gift of Life." The cause is special to him as Baca's father-in-law Frank Gau is alive today thanks to an artery transplant that repaired his ailing heart two years ago.
"Everything we've done this summer has struck a chord with a segment of fans out there who can relate to the cause," Baca said. "When we hosted an entire summer camp of Jerry's Kids, so many fans got involved because they felt compelled to do something. The deals we did involving cancer research hit home with so many people who have been affected by that terrible disease. The Mark Hindy Charity we helped in New York City made some people break down and cry. It was that powerful.
"Last week, we switched gears and decided to help DonateLife.net because Rod Fuller's mom had recently undergone a liver transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis. It reminded my wife Michele and I of the scare we had a few years ago with her father so we decided to do everything we could to help."
Whenever Baca got the chance, he asked race fans to consider signing up for organ donation, reminding them that one donor can help more than 60 transplant recipients. The response was more than he could have hoped for.
"It's a personal decision to make and one that people shouldn't take lightly," Baca said. "But the feedback we got from people blew us away. Sure we're all out here to race and win trophies, but there are many things that are bigger than racing. Our sponsor, Mach 1, is committed to using our program to help the various communities we reach. Because the DonateLife.net thing went so well we're carrying it over to Memphis."
Once again, Baca will carry the DonateLife.net logo on his racecar and he will most assuredly remind ESPN2 viewers to visit the site and sign up.
The plan is to win the race so that should give us lots of chances to be on TV," Baca said. "Our Mach 1 Air Services racecar is running strong right now and we're due for a big weekend. Hopefully, it's our turn to win one of these things."
Riding the train - Ron Capps is riding the train toward his first Funny car championship and he's confident that his championship hopes won't be derailed despite four first-round losses in the last five events (and one runner-up). He's hanging on to the No. 1 spot he's held since the second event of the season. Capps has been up as high as 122 points and as low as 15, and with seven races remaining, the five-time season winner is now 48 in front of 13-time champion John Force, who's won once.
Force has had his own share of slip-ups, having exited early in five of the last six events.
"For us to struggle a little bit and go out the first round and have the problems we had the last few races and for Force to have the same problems the following round and only lose a little bit of ground on him is amazing," says Capps.
"That wouldn't have happened five or 10 years ago with Force, for sure, and I really attribute that to the great teams in the Funny Car division right now.
"John Force won a lot of rounds by intimidation 10 years ago and now we have so many teams that are capable of running as good or better than his team at times. It doesn't surprise me that, if we struggle sometimes, he's also going to possibly struggle.
"Every time we go through another race and we still hang on to the points lead, it's one more race down and one less to go. And it's going to turn into a nail-biter. I'm hoping of course that it doesn't get to be as close as it did last year (when Capps lost the title by eight points at the final event). I'm hoping that somebody wraps it up before Pomona (the final race). But until then it's going to be fun.
"I'm enjoying the ride. You can't always count on things going your way. We had a problem last week in Brainerd first round that no team expects to have. Several teams had problems. Things happen that are out of your control. You can't count on going up there and have everything go perfectly. That's what makes this sport so unpredictable and so exciting. I know our slump that we've had the last two races will not last.
You Owe Me - Cruz Pedregon has a bone to pick to Memphis Motorsports Park.
"If there's one track that has been tough on me through the years, it's Memphis," explained Pedregon. "We hope to change that this weekend. It's always very hot there, and hard to get a good grip. Coming off of a consistent weekend in Brainerd, I know the Advance Auto Parts team has a good setup, so we hope to change all of our luck in a positive direction. We are definitely looking forward to the opportunity to change our fortune heading into the Labor Day weekend and the U.S. Nationals. It would be nice to go into Indy and the rest of the races toward the end of the season with some momentum."
The Numbers Game - The code may look indecipherable to anyone else, but Del Worsham would recognize it immediately. The string of numbers is 7, 8, 3, 3, 4, 2, 8, and it's noteworthy that all of the digits are of the single variety. Those numbers represent Worsham's finishing position on the POWERade points chart since 1999, with the high-water mark being set in 2004 when he won five races and finished second. Heading into the Brainerd race this past weekend, Worsham was tiring of toting around a cumbersome two-digit points position, having held the 10th spot for three straight races.
Now, as the tour quickly and immediately turns south and heads from the peaceful woods of central Minnesota to the hot and muggy confines of Memphis Motorsports Park for this weekend's O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, Worsham has managed to shed that extra number to get back into the land of the single numerals, yet again. His semi-final finish in Brainerd moved him into the No. 9 position, but in his mind there is still a long way to go.
"To me, it's just awful and hard to believe that we aren't in the top five, so being ninth again isn't much consolation," Worsham said. "But, with all the struggles we've had, it's not that bad to know we've spent every week in the top ten this year, and getting back to ninth is the first step toward getting up to eighth, and so on. We're a better team than our results have shown, and I know we're good enough to lower this number a lot further. We just have to keep winning rounds."
Worsham's frustration and travails throughout the 2006 season are well documented, and the long list of indigestion-inducing narrow losses have conspired to keep him from ever being in the thick of the current points battle. His highest position this year was the No. 5 spot, which he claimed for just one race after reaching the semi-finals in Atlanta. Other than that, it's been a string of 7s, 8s, 9s, and those three oversized 10s. Now, as he heads to the diametrically opposed environment in Memphis, his main goal is to continue picking up those precious POWERade points, no matter what the conditions may be.
"Other than the drizzle on Sunday morning, the weather in Brainerd was nice," he said. "We've baked quite a bit this year, so it was good to get up there in the Minnesota woods and feel some cool air. I hope everyone enjoyed it a lot, because we're going straight to the place where we almost incinerated last year. Right now, the forecast in Memphis is for low to mid-90s, which isn't as bad as last year's 100+, but it's still going to feel pretty bad after Brainerd.
"When you run in Memphis in the heat, you better have your 'Tuning Genius' hat on. It's a decent track surface, not the best by a long shot but also not the worst, but when the track temperature gets up over 130, it's a mess. You just try to get to the other end making noise, basically. Physically, you stay hydrated and stay cool however you can, but mentally you have to be able to just block it out. It can be tough in Memphis, but you have to gut it out."
Worsham's best showing in Memphis is a runner-up finish he managed in 2002, so the track still eludes his long list of conquered facilities. Of course, in 2002 the Memphis race was held in the more forgiving climate of mid-September, rather than the blast furnace of August. Either way, Worsham looks back over his Memphis career and sees a few ongoing threads of consistency.
"We've never won here, and weather almost always plays a part in how this race goes," he said. "They've moved the Memphis race all over the board, trying to find a decent weekend, but it's not easy. There are lots of places on the tour that are hot in the summer, and we can't run all 23 events in April and September, so you just have to deal with it.
"Some of the hottest days in my racing career were in Memphis, and some of the wettest ones too. A couple of years ago, we had a flood come pouring into the pit area and teams were truly scrambling to save their equipment. I guess, in comparison, I'd rather have the heat than the flood. That flood was kind of scary."
Giant Killer - Bob Gilbertson should be called "Giant Killer" after getting the best of Ron Capps last weekend in Brainerd. That victory and subsequent quarter-final finish moved him into a tie for 12th place in the points standings.
"Brainerd was a big turning point for this team," Gilbertson said. "We were down a guy on Sunday as (co-crew chief) Nicky got a case of food poisoning and was missing in action on Sunday morning. It proved to us that this team is ready for the challenge and we managed to win a round and give Scelzi a run for his money, loosing by just inches. The one thing that this confirms is that we've got a great hot weather tune-up and Memphis will be the hot weather proving grounds."
This Mid-South Nationals are traditionally run under extreme heat and humidity conditions and makes this race the great equalizer between the multi-car teams and the independents like Gilbertson.
"Running on a hot, greasy track like Memphis is one of the challenges crew chiefs have to deal with," Boninfante added. "The high-horsepower teams have to de-tune for this race, we can go to the line with what we know works on tracks like this and I think we have an advantage. With a little luck maybe we can go some rounds and climb our way back into the top ten, we'll find out Sunday."
Focused - Mike Ashley expects Memphis to serve up
a hearty helping of heated conditions.
The last time Ashley raced in heated conditions of this nature was last month in Sonoma, California. He reached the semi-finals that weekend, his best finish ever in NHRA POWERade competition.
“This car is running strong and I couldn’t have scripted a better performance standard than Brian Corradi and the crew has developed with this car,” Ashley said. “There are some other things I am working on that we should yield improvement this weekend. The car is working fine. I just need to continue my development as a driver.”
Ashley is still smarting, but not discouraged by a first round red-light last weekend in Brainerd. He’s consulted with noted self-improvement specialist Dr. Jim Will and likewise worked on finding the “happy medium” in his reaction times. A two-time champion in Pro Modified, Ashley has long been lauded for his reaction time prowess in that class. Funny Car has provided a complex challenge and the problems have been narrowed to a single diagnosis.
Ashley is simply trying too hard.
“I want to win and to do that a certain level of emphasis must be put into the driving part,” Ashley said. “I want to win and I want to win badly. This is a good team and I intend to do my part and employ whatever it takes to put us in the winner’s circle.”
Between maintaining his status in the corporate world as executive Vice President of Lend-America, the official mortgage lending source of the NHRA, Ashley spends much of his break time sitting at his desk with a practice tree. The firesuit has been replaced with the traditional suit and tie.
This practice is part of the big picture.
“Whatever it takes to win,” Ashley continued. “I’ll do what it takes to maintain our best opportunity to win.”
Ashley has reached two Memphis finals while racing Pro Modified and finished
runner-up in each.
Slipping Away? - Greg Anderson is used to people challenging his perch as champion. However, the battles haven't been as close to home as they have been lately.
Last weekend, at the race in Brainerd, Minn., the three-time POWERade Pro Stock champ advanced to the semifinal round before losing on a red light to Dave Connolly. The loss and eventual win by Connolly over Anderson’s teammate Jason Line, allowed Connolly to close the point gap to 25 points between him and Anderson, who is currently second in the POWERade point standings this year.
“We missed an opportunity in Brainerd for both Jason and I to put some distance between us and Connolly and the remainder of the field,” said Anderson, “but we have a new opportunity in Memphis. I would much rather see the POWERade battle between Jason and me than a three- or four-way chase. Therefore, we’ve got to take every opportunity that comes to us and our Summit Racing Pontiacs this weekend and move away from the others in the point race.”
Anderson, who is seeking to join the late Lee Shepherd and Bob Glidden as the only NHRA drivers to win four consecutive Pro Stock titles, is locked in a tenacious battle with Line for the championship but Connolly is coming on strong. With seven races remaining including this weekend’s O’Reilly Mid-South Nationals, Line leads second place Anderson by 83 points and third place Dave Connolly by 108 points. Jim Yates is fourth, 253 points back and Kurt Johnson rounds out the top five in fifth, 296 points in arrears.
Anderson holds the Memphis Motorsports Park track record for speed at 204.23 mph, which he set in 2003. He has two wins at Memphis, the first in 2003 over Jeg Coughlin and last year he defeated Kurt Johnson.
Eye of the Tiger - You can't miss Dave Connolly. He's the one that seems to have the Rocky music playing in the background when he opens his mouth to speak. He can't seem to rid himself of it.
Blame it on the momentum. Connolly's meteoric rise to the upper echelon of the Pro Stock ranks invokes the image of the fictional boxer challenging to champion. He continues to grab the spotlight from the two season-long pacesetters, teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson.
But what Connolly definitely prefers over the spotlight is the POWERade Series championship and he positioned himself for a solid stretch run by defeating Line in the title round at Brainerd, Minn., Sunday. Connolly still trails Line by 108 points (1149-1041) in the run for the top spot, but he’s now only 25 points behind Anderson, the reigning and three-time champion.
The chase resumes this weekend in the O’Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park in what likely will be steamy (hot and humid) racing conditions. It is the 17th of 23 series races.
That Connolly, 23, and his SKULL Gear Chevy Cobalt teammates are in title contention is a demonstration of their resiliency and the excellent work of crew chief Tommy Utt. Ten races ago, Connolly was 12th in points and after not qualifying for the second time in six events. Utt took over and Connolly took off.
Sunday’s triumph was the fourth by Connolly (tops in Pro Stock this year) since Utt’s arrival. Other notable statistics include: Five final-round appearances, one semifinal finish; three quarterfinal; and one first-round loss (it was caused by a broken motor); 814 POWERade points added to his previous 227 for 1041 total; A 24-6 record in eliminations.
“I think Sunday was probably one of our better wins although there aren’t any bad wins,” said Connolly, who also had one runner-up earlier in the year. “This one stands out because everything just clicked. The car was good and I was driving good.
“I think we probably had the best car. We were able to run with Jason in the final. Tommy kept making changes and we kept making headway all weekend.”
Now they would like to repeat that outstanding performance at Memphis, and Indianapolis, Reading, Pa., Dallas, Richmond, Va., Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif. If they do, Connolly may wind up with a championship.
Teacher's Pet? - Imagine going to school and there are no teachers.
Kurt Johnson is getting an education. However, there are no institutes of higher learning involved, no teachers providing assistance or guidance, nor a diploma to mark a successful completion of studies. Instead, the Pro Stock standout will conduct his own lessons in a very unique classroom – the cockpit of his powerful ACDelco Cobalt. His grades will come from his results on the racetrack, and the only form of acknowledgement he is interested in receiving is a “Wally” – the NHRA’s traditional winners’ trophy.
This weekend will mark Johnson’s second race with his new race car. As such, both he and his crew are continuing to learn their ride’s specific performance characteristics. After a solid showing in Brainerd one week ago, they look to build on the information gathered during that race and move forward. Although acknowledging that it is still early in the learning process, the second-generation racer likes what he has seen so far, and is cautiously optimistic about his chances in the Birthplace of the Blues.
“We’ve only had one race with it, but so far this new ACDelco Cobalt looks like it’s going to be pretty forgiving,” said Johnson. “We’ll keep working with it, testing things and making changes to try and improve its performance. It’s all part of learning to race a new chassis, particularly one that is so different from its predecessor.
“For example, immediately after the second round in Brainerd last week I knew what I needed to work on to make it run better in second gear. That was the one area where we needed help. It was pretty decent in low gear, so if we can get it to make a move in second, we should have something, and we’ll see what we can do with it in Memphis.”
Sticking to the left - KJ knows he must be on his game from the very start, as the disparity between lanes makes qualifying in the top half of the field a must in order to succeed in final eliminations.
“The right lane in Memphis is a mess, so getting and keeping lane choice is vital,” stated Johnson. “That’s what we did last year. We were the No. 1 qualifier and in the left hand lane for every run until the final, when we were in the right hand side and lost.
“Still, coming off a runner-up finish there last year at one of the hottest races I’ve ever been to, we’re feeling pretty good about our chances for this weekend. We’ll look at our notes and see what we need to do to get our ACDelco Cobalt to adapt to the conditions, and get after it as best we can. It would be nice to get this new car to the winner’s circle and check Memphis Motorsports Park off the ‘to do’ list. Other than that, our plan is to enjoy some good Memphis barbecue, while trying to avoid the blues.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Hate the Heat - When you're the point leader, you can admit to hating the heat. Newly christened leader Antron Brown does.
“I’m not one for the heat, I have to tell you,” he said. “But, we’ll all have to deal with the same thing down there. Consistency will be critical this weekend.”
After winning in Brainerd, Minn. this past weekend, Brown vaulted to the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings. It’s the second time he’s held that spot this year.
“It feels good (to be back in first-place),” he offered. “We’ve had to fight exceptionally hard to reclaim the lead. This time, I’d like to keep it for more than a race.”
The Kings of Memphis - If there is one track that features an especially large cheering section for G.T. Tonglet and teammate Andrew Hines and the entire Screamin' Eagle team, it's Memphis.
"All of our friends and family usually make the trip to Memphis," Tonglet said. "It's the closest race to New Orleans, so we usually have a little more fun in Memphis just because everyone comes out to this race. The best part is that my dad always goes and the races are always better when he's there."
The results earned by the Screamin' Eagle squad in 2005 will be difficult to match. After all, they couldn't have asked for a better weekend.
Hines qualified in the No. 1 qualifying position. Tonglet was second. Hines won the race, beating Tonglet in the final round. The pair of Harley-Davidson riders left holding the first (Hines) and second (Tonglet) positions in the point standings too.
"It would be difficult to beat last year's outcome," Tonglet said. "Andrew and I have not faced each other in the final round since that race, so it would be fun to do that again. But the field is so explosive right now. Everyone seems to be riding well and the performances numbers from the top 10 riders are consistently quick. It's tough to win rounds right now."
Hines said the team learned plenty last weekend – enough to carry them into good qualifying positions in Memphis.
"The bikes should be ready to qualify in the top half of the field with the changes we made," Hines said. "There are five more races left in the season and we just need to stay focused on winning rounds, but we need to qualify well and give ourselves lane choice as much as possible."
Enough - Angelle Sampey was so angry she wept on television last week. Now she's ready for a memory lapse of the incident where she was disqualified after a round one win for being under weight during the NHRA’s post-race tech inspection in Brainerd.
“We’ve got to forget about that and move forward,” she said. “The Memphis race should be the only item on the agenda at the moment.”
Despite the Brainerd disappointment, Sampey is still very much in contention for her fourth world title. Presently, she holds the fourth position in the standings and is 51 points behind Brown.
“Heck, that’s less than three rounds of racing,” she said of the deficit. “For the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, 20 rounds are still left on the table for someone to grab. I’m going after as many of them as I can get.”
Still Smarting - Chip Ellis tested the emotional spectrum last weekend in Brainerd. He won the qualifying battle but lost the race war.
"It was pretty good," Ellis said about the Brainerd weekend. "We qualified on the pole and won the Full Throttle award. But it could have been a little better." That's because Ellis lost to eventual winner Antron Brown in a knock-down, drag-out, drag race in round 2 of eliminations. "The skies were clear when we went to the staging lanes for the round and then it started raining," Ellis reported about the lead-up to his last round of competition.
"We had to run back to the truck," said G2 tuner/crew chief George Bryce. "The temperature dropped ten degrees and we pulled our hair out trying to decide whether to make a tuning change."
"We were at the trailer for about 20 minutes and the altitude changed 700 feet while we were waiting to run," added Ellis.
Making a tuning change on the S&S Buell's electronic fuel injection system isn't quite as easy as one might think. "The NHRA doesn't allow sensors on the bike, so when the temperature changes we have to manually change the jetting just like a carburetor," explained Bryce. "The NHRA guys came running over to the truck and said 'The track's dry, let's go!'"
At the line, Brown was still smarting from his Sonoma red-light loss to Ellis, who made matters worse when he broke down track. "Antron had a .002 light in Brainerd and got left on," said Bryce, who noted that his driver Ellis cut a perfect .000. "We ran lean and got beat by a foot. That's cut throat racing there. That's like index racing."
"Antron owed me one so he paid me back," said Ellis. "But we learned a lot about the air/fuel ratio and what the bike needs."
"We came close, but we went the wrong way on the tune-up with Chip's bike and it cost us few hundredths," said G2's George Smith. "We got Matt's bike to run better, but we've still got work to do there."
Feeling Froggy - A funny thing happened to Steve Johnson. Instead of racing a just racing his motorcycle, he played a game of points leap-frog.
As a result of his strongest performance of the 2006 season thus far, Snap-on Tools Suzuki rider Steve Johnson of Birmingham, Ala., jumped two positions in the NHRA POWERade points standings following Brainerd. He's feeling hoppy this weekend as well.
“We’re certainly pleased with the way things worked out at the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway last weekend,” Johnson admitted, “but we’ve still got a long way to go to reach our goal of making it into the top 10. The men – and women – who are ahead of us in the standings are tough, capable racers who aren’t likely to make mistakes on the track. If we hope to improve we’ve got to do it ourselves.
“We had a great weekend in Minnesota, thanks to some luck and the efforts of our crew, led by our head man, Mark Peiser. Since he joined our operation full time Mark’s played an integral role in our successes, but he can’t do it alone. The old cliché is that there’s no ‘I’ in team, but regardless of that, I’m the one driving our Snap-on Tools Suzuki, so it’s up to me to avoid mistakes on the starting line. If I do my job the way I’m supposed to, and our guys do theirs, I think we can continue to improve.”
Johnson ranked 13th coming in to the this weekend’s race sits just behind GT Tonglet, 25 markers in front of Johnson and Craig Treble, currently 10th, is 59 points ahead, a considerable margin, but nevertheless still within reach.
“I honestly don’t think we can reach the Top 10 at the O’Reilly Mid-South Nationals in Memphis this coming weekend,” Johnson said. “But, if we can keep whittling away at the margin, we could make it by the time the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals rolls around at Indy over Labor Day weekend.