Sophomore Officially - The event marks Mike Ashley’s one year anniversary in the funny car category.  Ashley was a standout in the Pro Modified category before switching to the nitro burners and recently moved his Torco backed team under the umbrella of Don Schumacher Racing. Late yesterday we took the opportunity to talk to Mike about his future in the category. On the subject of the move to DSR  Ashley commented that he felt that Schumacher’s operation was as professionally structured as any team in the sport and was convinced that they would provide him with the opportunity to contend for the NHRA Powerade championship. He noted that the team put together by DSR has jelled quickly and that he feels that crew chief Brian Corradi is definitely one of the up and coming stars.

In addition to the DSR side of things Ashley has recently retained the services of Frank Hawley, the legendary two time funny car champion whose most recent efforts have involved driver training, psychology and focus. After two rounds of competition today Ashley was pleased that his reactions were both relatively quick considering that he staged very shallow, but more importantly consistent at .073 and .076. Hawley later told us that Ashley had all of the basics down and that he was working on finessing the package.

Ashley also commented that  Evan Knoll was the prime mover behind the entire operation and was effusive in his praise of the man who now has a major presence in many aspects of drag racing.

Respect Me in the Morning? -
When Torco’s Competition Plus spoke to Scott Kalitta last night he was doubtful that the Toyota body would be on his car for today’s eliminations as there was a major fracture in the right side of the body above the header opening  but  some overnight repairs were effected as the Chip Foose
graphics were in play again today. The team actually cut and peeled back part of the Foose logo decal before repairing the carbon fiber and then re-applied the decal.

Following round one more remedial action took place as members of Doug Kalitta’s crew patched another fracture, this time adjacent to the firewall. Due to a shortage of time to have epoxy cure this time the repair consisted of aluminum plates doubling the fractured section. Kalitta’s round one victory also indicated that the team was getting a handle on the tune-up as Scott made his quickest run of the weekend at 4.761. Tire smoke early in his second round clash with Ron Capps took Scott out of the action for the day.

Ways to lose at Indy:

Tommy Johnson-Tire smoke early in the run

“It scuffed a piston and when the retard came in it was probably weak, and chattered the tires and then smoked them”. Tommy had nearly 30 thou in the bank off the line against Scott Kalitta at the time.

Eric Medlen–holeshot to Cruz Pedregon with the additional factor of banging the blower. John Medlen (surveying the remains of the injector hat) “A piece of steel about an inch square went through the blower and subsequently the motor. The backfire did all the damage as all the rods were still in the motor and the bearings looked good. The secondary explosions as Eric tried to slow the car were simply fuel vapor igniting under the body. We are still trying to find out where the piece of steel came from”. (Motel6 Vision)

The cars were evenly matched all the way down the track with Pedregon’s lead varying only a couple of thousandths at each incremental timer from his .057 off the line margin and Medlen may not have made up the difference but the boomer obviated any top end charge.

John Force–With a .067 foul (his first of the season) Force gave this one to Jim Head on a platter. Force’s comments: In a top end interview, “They should take me back to the trailer and beat the shit out of me”. In the press room (without his
handler/spin meister Dave Densmore) “Yesterday I was a hero to my sponsors, today I forgot how to drive”.

Tony Pedregon–holeshot to Mike Ashley.

Ashley left first (.073 to .079) and was just one thousandth slower in elapsed time to take the win by 5 thou. With the reaction times taken into account Ashley was ahead at all the incremental clocks until the one thousand foot timers where Pedregon had a one thousandth lead but then the Quaker State car nosed over and the Torco Dodge went back into the lead at the stripe.

Jim Head—DQ
Both Head and Whit Bazemore smoked the tires and Head recovered better to just nip Bazemore in the lights but clipped the finish line “cone” in the process earning himself a DQ. Head was so close to making it past the cone that the damage to his car was confined to the spill lip on the right front wheel opening.

Ways to win at Indy

When Ron Capps’ crew fired the Brut Revolution Dodge for his second round clash with Scott Kalitta there was a fuel leak where the main feed line attaches to the barrel valve. The crew attempted to tighten the connection but were unable to stop the leak. In desperation crew chief Ed McCulloch wrapped a glove around the fitting as Capps frantically signaled the crew to close the body as Scott had already made his burnout. When the body was raised after the burnout Capps noted that the glove was still in place and once more the body was lowered before anyone from the start line crew had a chance to spot any leaks. Capps won the round handily when Kalitta
smoked the tires and when telling the story later was adamant that we should note that it was a Ringers glove (a team sponsor) although he was not sure if it was a medium or large size.

Jimmy Prock’s decision to switch camshafts (among other things) on Sunday morning sure paid dividends today as the AAA/So Cal Mustang had low elapsed time and top speed of every round.

Hight also contributed to the win by being first off the line in all but the semi final clash with Ron Capps.  Prock told Torco’s Competition Plus after the race that the motor was happy on every run with none of the problems that haunted the team during the initial qualifying sessions. Admittedly the car did run quicker with the old tune-up but that run also came under ideal weather and track conditions.





Remembering Flash - Some of the more recent fans of the sport may not know the name Gordon Mineo but those of us who are older can remember “Flash” Gordon’s two funny car careers. Texas based Mineo initially raced in the 1970's and then returned to the sport in the 1990's with his distinctive rocket logo. Sadly we have to report that Mineo was killed in a boating accident yesterday along with his wife, daughter and son in law.

Darkest Before The Dawn - Crew chief Nicky Boninfante told us this morning that Bob Gilbertson’s aborted run last night was due to a too aggressive application of the clutch in the Autolite XP entry. On the prior runs the car had worn the clutch too much so Nicky and Tommy Delago decided to speed up the throwout bearing retraction. They evidently got it going a litttle too fast as after the early short
times were good enough to run a mid ’.70 the car smoked the tires.

That was soon forgotten once the team was notified their new paint scheme earned Best Appearing Award.

Recurring Problem - Gary Scelzi was also off the expected pace in the Oakley/Mopar Charger and when the crew arrived on the top end to collect the car they found that the right front wheel bearing had failed and welded itself to the spindle. Evidently the cotter pin that retains the spindle nut broke and the
rotation of the wheel tightened the nut to the point that the bearing was overloaded. For those not versed in the world of funny car parts failure this is something that is definitely not normal.

Interestingly this is not the first time that the problem has occurred for the team although the earlier failure only involved the destruction of the bearing. To make it even more bizarre this car had only 11 runs on it.

Would've Should've Could've - With the ideal conditions that existed during last night’s fuel car qualifying sessions the expectation was the horsepower king Jimmy Prock would put Robert Hight deep into the 4.6 second zone, bettering his Friday effort. Earlier in the event the AAA/SoCal backed team had been having problems hurting cylinders 3 and 7 and the hope was that this time the motor would
be happier. The fix did help those holes but 1.2 seconds into the run the #5 piston burned and Hight completed the run on 7 cylinders, stopping the clocks at 4.723 and 318.47 mph.

This morning the team had four short blocks on the ground changing camshafts as Prock reverted to a combination that he ran during last week’s test here. Jimmy told Torco’s Competition Plus that he had initally decided not to run the new tune up as he felt that he had insufficent runs on it but that the continuing problems here changed his mind. Hight’s numbers in the opening round of the Skoal Showdown were the second best of the session but in round two it all went pear shaped when the driveshaft speed climbed too quickly, the clutch did not wear enough, and tire smoke

The AAA/SoCal car failed to fire for the final session and it was initially assumed that the ignition was at fault. Once the crew got the car back to the pits they fired it using a different prime bottle.

They then replaced the entire ignition system from the magnetos to the kill switch including the retard control box and attempted to start the car with the first prime bottle. Once again nothing happened even though the fuel was able to be ignited when dumped into a drip tray. This was the same bottle and fuel that was used for the first two rounds of the Skoal Shootout earlier in the day. Prock vowed that from now on the prime bottle used to warm the car will be the same one used at the line for the subsequent run even though there is no rational explanation for what happened.

Falling Short - Early on Sunday morning Chuck and Del Worsham thought that they had figured out what was holding the Checker/Schucks/Kragen Monte Carlo back this weekend. Debris was found in a return flow valve in the fuel system and that had an effect on the whole fuel flow scenario, leaning the motor one second into the run and killing the rings on Saturday night . The early run on Sunday however simply produced tire smoke once more. When Torco’s Competition Plus stopped by the C/S/K compound between sessions the team were headed for the scales to check
the car’s corner weights as Chuck informed us the the car broke the Goodyears loose when it made a move to the right after hiking a front wheel. The preload on the chassis did prove to be incorrect and as the first car in the final qualifying session Del finally make a representative pass but fell just .005 short of the record bump with a 4.806 relegating the defending event champ to a spectator role for Monday’s eliminations.

Drama King - Paul Lee’s dramas continued today with the Rislone Camaro pulling the head off a valve during the warm-up this morning. Luckily the teams one remaining short block survived and the team set to in an effort to make the final session. Lee noted that he would have to run a career best to make the show and that did not happen when he smoked the tires.

Gray Area - Following Johnny Gray’s tire smoking final attempt to bump into the show crew chief Paul Smith noted that he finally threw enough motor and clutch at the car, just at the wrong time. In a typical Smith scenario the team did not hurt a part all weekend and in fact until this morning were running the motor that was in the car for the Englishtown event and last week’s test here at ORP. That bullet had 10 runs on it and when Smith detected a small hairline crack in the crank this morning a replacement was dropped into the frame. Smith commented that with the installed cost of his Monte Carlo body approaching $40,000 he was not about to jeopardize that investment.




Aww Schucks - During Friday night’s initial qualifying session Del Worsham’s Checker/Schucks/Kragen Monte Carlo had very good early numbers before slowing dramatically on the top end. The cause of the sudden lack of power was a failure of the shaft that connects the top blower pulley to the rotor.

When the shaft broke the now liberated pulley began thrashing around inside the body before being deflected to the left where it made it past the headers before blasting three holes in the top of the body above the rear tire.

Miraculously the by now extremely battered pully did not pierce the slick although it did do a lot of damage before exiting the body. The team has high hopes for this car, the brand new chassis of which made its track debut last week at the test session here at ORP.

Worsham smoked the tires in the afternoon session and then again this evening. When queried by Torco’s Competition Plus Del was at a loss to explain why the car failed to produce a representative run as early shut off runs during the test last week indicated that the car was capable of running low 4.7 laps. After doubling up with a win in the Skoal Shootout and the race itself last year the C/S/K team is now struggling to make the show at all after failing to garner enough points to qualify for the shootout. Currently Del is 21st of the 22 entries with a 5.390 best.

Jockeying for Dollars - Torco’s Competitionplus.com has heard from reliable sources, and has confirmed with those involved, that a total of four race teams were in the mix for the sponsorship from Monsters, a product of Hansens that is distributed exclusively on a national basis by none other than Anheuser-Busch.  Included n the chase were Don Schumacher Racing (either as a replacement sponsor for the departing Matco Tools or for yet another Funny Car), Kalitta Motorsports (with some involvement from the now sidelined Jerry Tolliver, who had some involvement in the Kalitta Toyota program) and Don Prudhomme Racing.  The consensus of opinion is that Bernstein’s obvious connection to A-B through the Budweiser brand may have played a prominent role in the decision making.           

In related Bernstein “news,” a significant number of PRO members, including some Board members, were less than pleased to find out their elected president had been in on the discussions with NHRA regarding the new points system and failed to alert them.  As one Board member said, requesting anonymity,  “If you can’t trust your fellow Board members, you shouldn’t be the leader.  Why should I waste my time working for the organization when stuff like this is going on?” - Jon Asher

Underestimation - A number of teams, especially those who did not test last week, noted that they underestimated the traction available last night. Jimbo Ermalovich who calls the shots on Paul Lee’s ride told Torco’s Competition Plus that drive shaft speed on the Rislone backed entry was down right from the hit while Mike Smith who is running Johnny Gray’s ride along with his dad noted that in their case the car drove through the clutch when the tires failed to slip at all. Although Gray’s 4.89 put him 12th in the initial order the team was looking for a low 70. They came a little closer in the second session with a 4.863 but by the close of that session that was good only for the #16 spot.
During today’s late session Gray’s car headed for the centerline and after three failed attempts to rein the car in he decided that discretion was the better part of valor and shut off.

Look Out! - Also having some directional stability problems was Cruz Pedregon whose Advance Auto Parts Monte Carlo cliped the right hand wall right in the lights tonight. The car started driving to the right and at around the thousand foot mark got completely out of the groove and dived towards
the concrete. Luckily the blow was a relatively glancing one and the damage was limited to scuff and fractures in the shell with the tubular “tree” surviving with no damage. The right fender was badly split at the top of the wheel opening and another fracture extended to the left of the hood burst panel opening. The lower lip on the rear quarter panel also took a hit and was partially ground away as was the very rear of the lower body.

First Cut is the Deepest - The first run today by the aforementioned Paul Lee hurt a bullet as did the initial shot and going into Saturday evening’s run the team were down to the last short block that they had on hand. When they had problems during the warm up the decision was made to pass on tonight’s session and check things out thoroughly. The culprit appeared to be a fuel pump that was going away and the replacement unit will hopefully enable the team to bump into the show tomorrow.

Creasy Family Out - During the first qualifying round Bob Bode came to the line on Friday evening but he was not paired with another car indicating that there was at least on more funny car on the grounds than ran in the session. That car turned out to be Dale Creasy’s Tyrant Camaro. Terry Haddock who Creasy recruited to drive this weekend noted that there was just too much work to be performed on the seldom run car to make it in time for that initial session. Haddock’s own car is parked due to the failure of his sponsor to actually fund the team and thus he was available for the “Big Go”.

When the team did come to the line for the second round on Saturday the car smoked the tires just off the line. Back in the pits the cause was traced to a broken throwout bearing that interfered with the clutch application. The third session also provided a less than stellar result as the car appeared to be on a reasonable run until a huge shower of sparks replaced the glow of the header flames. In the pits after the session Dale Creasy noted that the car had thrown the clutch out to the point where it had spun the liner in the bellhousing. With a shortage of components to effect a repair the team is done for the event.

Here Come Da Judge - Gary Densham’s team arrived back at their pit following his Frday night 334 mph speed clocking to find both NHRA and MSD personnel waiting. The inference was that the speed limiting ignition
retard electronics had been “fudged” to produce the big speed. When that contention was disproven a check of the incremental numbers of several runs in the session including the half track speeds indicated that the speed was out of line and it was disallowed. Densham however has a great photo of the car in the traps with the readout boards superimposed and plans to frame and display it.

Driving Force Safe - Prior to the commencement of the evening qualifying session Force co-crew chief Bernie Fedderly told Torco’s Competition Plus that the car was set up safe to make sure that John qualified. By the time that the car came to the line in the third to last pair it was evident that the track had some real teeth and obviously the game plan changed in the Castrol camp. That was borne out by the track record 4.691 run that took Force from the bump spot to the top of the qualifying list and a new track elapsed time record.

When questioned later Fedderly noted that he and Austin Coil were worried that if the car was not stout enough it would shake the tires. Incidentally while Force is at the sharp end of the order Jim Head is on the bump for the quickest flopper field ever with a 4.801 and everyone else is in the 4.70's (or better in the case of Force and teammate Robert Hight who trails him by a mere thousandth of a second)

Toyota Struggles - After struggling early in the event Scott Kalitta stepped up in the Mac Tools/ Chip Foose special graphic package Toyota Solara. A 4.790 topped Scott’s prior best ever 4.797 (set at Columbus earlier this year) while his speed was also a personal best (barely) as the 322.11 outdid the 322.04 that he ran at Englishtown. Late this evening Alan Johnson was in the Kalitta pit as the crew effected some repairs to the body. Johnson is the man behind the creation and development of the swoopy Toyota shell and is keeping a close eye on his project.




The Forever Green Tour - In an announcement that took most of the media members present by suprise Kenny Bernstein revealed that he will be back at the wheel of a funny car in 2007. Backing for the return of the six time NHRA champion will come from Monster Energy drinks, a Corona, CA based entity that has a history of involvement with extreme sports. The company currently sponsors vehicles in both the SCORE and CORR off road series and felt that backing a funny car would further their extreme image. The fact that one of the better known names in drag racing would be at the helm of the car was also a major plus in putting the program together. The final clincher was that Bernstein’s long time backer Anheuser-Busch recently signed a national distribution agreement with Monster Energy.

Bernstein noted that he has never totally gotten over the urge to drive fuel cars and that the opportunity to get back into a funny car was too hard to resist. The fact that he would not be competing against son Brandon was also a plus as it negated any chance of accusations of “diving” with subsequent favoritism implications. The fans will also have to get used to seeing Kenny in black and green as the new car will mimic the colors of the drink container.

At this point in time the team has not decided on a body style or crew chief with Bernstein noting that the lack of good (and available) crew chiefs would be a problem. The current dragster team shop in Speedway, IN is not large enough to house both teams so efforts are underway to relocate both teams to Brownsburg, just west of O’Reilly Raceway Park.

Marketing 101 - Forrest and Charlotte Lucas were present at the press conference as Bernstein and Monster’s Joe Parsons announced the sponsorship and Kenny took the opportunity to hit Lucas up for and associate backing package to match that of the Budweiser dragster. Forrest thought that it was a good idea so evidently the deal was made there and then.

New Colors - Tony Pedregon’s Quaker State Monte Carlo is sporting new colors this weekend with the familiar silver and green replaced by orange and blue. The new graphics will be on the car for this and the next two events as Quaker State promotes a new oil line aimed at the 4 x 4 and truck market.
Tony Pedregon told Torco’s Competition Plus.com that the timing could not have been better as this weekend marks the public market debut of the new product.

Also fitting into the new colors group was Ron Capps as in a fire up lane ceremony the shroud was pulled off the Brut Dodge to reveal a blue and silver scheme that showcased Brut’s new Revolution fragrance. The name is a neat tie in with crew chief Ed “the Ace” Mcculloch as his funny car ran under the “Revellution” nameplate in the 1970's when backed by the model making

With no fanfare whatsoever John Force also appeared with a new paint job with silver predominant on the Castrol GTX Mustang as he staged alongside Capps in the final F/C pairing of the evening. Force’s paint job commemorates 25 years of Mac Tools involvement in drag racing, hence the silver theme. The catchphrase to go with the paint job is “A quarter century on the quarter mile”.

That's A Whole Lotta Speed - Running relatively early in the initial funny car session Gary Densham carded a solid 4.770 lap that placed the Racebricks Monte Carlo seventh in the final order but the speed clocks lit up at 334
mph, by far the fastest run ever seen at ORP . Later Gary Scelzi put a 330.31 up on the board and that was the number that became the new track speed record as, after a review by the NHRA officials, the Densham speed was discarded as bogus. Scelzi’s speed was the second 330 plus run at the facility following teammate Tony Pedregon’s 330.07 during testing last week but as it happened at a national event Scelzi’s effort will go in the books as the first official barrier breaker.

Mixed Emotions - Among the funny car drivers feelings are mixed regarding the new points chase scenario for 2007 and beyond. At a post qualifying press conference Robert Hight noted that he was looking forward to the new system, commenting that if it was currently in place he would be right back in the running for the championship despite the bad luck that has plagued the AAA/SoCal team this year. Many time #1 qualifier Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock have been beset with small glitches that have effectively taken them out of the championship running barring a major
resurgence in the 6 remaining races.

Gary Scelzi is also in favor of the new package, without playing the “back from the dead” card.

He told Torco’s Competition Plus.com that he felt that the final events of the season would have much more excitement. He did qualify his comments with the rider that he felt that the top 8 cars should remain in the running until the last race rather than being progressively eliminated. His boss Don Schumacher had just the opposite take, noting that he hated the new package.

Those Stinking Rumors - In other Scelzi news he told your reporter that despite the commonly circulating rumours he plans to be with DSR for the next three years. The most common of those silly season stories had Scelzi again teaming up with Alan Johnson with a funny car. Amazingly Scelzi had not heard that one or the folow up that had Tony Schumacher stepping into a flopper and Antron Brown replacing him in the Army basked dragster. Hey, it is the silly season folks.

A more believable scenario has Bazemore leaving DSR to go to David Powers Motorsports and that package gained traction with the late Friday evening press release from Powers’ team that revealed that 2007 will see two T/F entries from the Pittsboro, IN based team. The release noted
that Matco Tools will be the primary sponsor and that the driver will be a “high profile, proven candidate”. Can you spell Whit Bazemore? This dovetails with the DSR announcement that Matco will no longer be a primary team sponsor and give more credence to the Bazemore part of the rumour.. If all of this shuffling plays out as expected look for Jack Beckman to be the third of DSR’s funny car shoes as he brings a funding package to the team.

Nice Ride, Man - As well as having one of the sharpest paint jobs in the funny car pits Bob Gilbertson’s Autolite backed team also had one of the coolest tow cars as painter Cary Bewley supplied a trick Tahoe built by his Indy Speed, Custom and Restoration shop. With predominately orange and yellow graphics the car, owned by one of Bewley’s customers, dovetailed well with the flopper’s graphics

Warning: Don't Crash -- Bob Gilbertson said he's especially pleased with his new-look Prestone-Autolite Dodge Stratus, which Carey Bewley of Indy Speed, Custom & Restoration in Brownsburg, just down the road from the race track, painted for this race. "I've never had a paint job this nice. I hope I don't wreck the car," he said.

He'd better not, Bewley said: "I'd hate to beat his ass in front of everybody."

Gilbertson made it safely into the field, the tentative No. 10 position with a 4.793-second, 318.92-mph pass. - Susan Wade

You don't understand -- Gilbertson said he got a chuckle when at Friday's drivers meeting officials talked about improvements that are scheduled to take place at Norwalk Raceway Park in Northern Ohio before next year's inaugural NHRA event June 28-July 1.

"I just started laughing. I thought, 'Maybe they don't know that Bader guy,' " he said, referring to the track operators Bill Bader Sr. and Jr. and their colorful personalities.

Gilbertson said he listened to talk of "a media center and something else and something else and they're going to spend $4 million but then I heard they're going to spread that out over four years. So that means a million a year, and then it’ll probably go down to . . . They'll probably put some pea gravel in instead of asphalt and pack that in and that'll be good enough.

"I'm glad I got to run there for IHRA for their last race. And I got the track record," he said. - Susan Wade



Jungle Fever - When Bob Gilbertson’s Autolite flopper is unveiled on Friday afternoon its new color scheme will be one of the freshest in the pits. Thursday afternoon saw co crew chief Tommy Delago and a couple of crew members just down the road from ORP at Indy Custom Shops where Carey Bewley’s team applied the flashy new Jungle Jim themed paint. The team were there to apply the minor sponsor and contingency decals to the car.

This one is not a vinyl wrap as are a number of the graphic packages of recent memory but rather a true custom paint application. For those on hand at the event it is worth taking a close look at the body and some of the subtle images incorporated into the base color which is considerably brighter than what has been Gilby’s staple so far this season.

New Kalitta Colors - Scott Kalitta will also join the new color scheme contingent this weekend with a Chip Foose themed graphic package. Foose will be the Grand Marshall for the event and has come up with a new Mac Tools layout for the car which has been run mostly in its base carbon fiber this season. Kalitta tested here at ORP last week with Alan Johnson’s new Toyota Solara shell in place of the Monte Carlo that he has run since his return to the funny car ranks but that body was damaged when it made a trip into the sand trap at the IHRA World Nationals at Norwalk last weekend. The
need to get that shell back to Jack Roush’s composite shop in Livonia’ MI for repair may have been one of the factors that influenced Kalitta’s decision to suggest to Gary Densham that they split the final round money rather than stay for Monday’s rain delayed conclusion of that event.

As noted from the test last week the Toyota is one swoopy unit with a front end that some internet chat board pundits have described as more closely resembling a dirt late model oval tracker but it obviously gained approval from the NHRA tech department and will add a little variety to the class.





BOB FREY:  For those who may not know, the rules for qualifying for the Skoal Showdown are fairly simple. Drivers get points based on their qualifying, and the higher you qualify the more points you get.  One-hundred seventy-five points if you are number one and 165 if you are second.  It drops in 10­point increments for the first four.  It really does put a premium on being in the top four.  It drops off by five points after that.  If you are the 16th qualifier, you get 85 points.  Unfortunately if you do not qualify, you get zero and that has happened to a couple of the drivers this year and we will talk more about that in a bit. 

Points actually begin right at the U.S. Mac Tools Nationals.  For example, after Indy last year, John Force was the number one qualifier.  Six of the eight drivers in the top eight after Indy last year managed to hold on to the entire season and will run for the Skoal Showdown this year.  It is pretty important to get off to a good start and make the other guys chase you. 

This will be the 25th anniversary of the Skoal Showdown. It got started back in 1982 and a couple of Hall­of­Famers are the guys that won.  Frank Hawley beat Don "the Snake" Prudhomme.  Snake has a team running in the Skoal Showdown and it will be Tommy Johnson, Jr.

Some of the background on some of the numbers for people who competed.  In the 24 previous events, 49 drivers have competed and that's a pretty select group over the last quarter of a century.  Twenty-three different drivers made it into the final round and there have been 14 winners of the Skoal Showdown.  Ironically with all the good drivers that have been in there, only six drivers have won it more than one time.  Two of them we have on here for the teleconference; John Force has won it five times, and Ron Capps has won it three times. 

It is tough to repeat.  Just getting into the top eight is very tough, especially with the quality of the field, but it is tough to repeat.  Believe it or not, in the previous 24 years, only two drivers have won this event in back­to­back years.  Al Hoffman did it, and one of the drivers we have on the teleconference, Ron Capps, did it.  It is a very tough thing to do.

Last year's winner of the Skoal Showdown, Del Worsham, won the Skoal Showdown and then won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals the next day.  He did not qualify for the event this year.  It is not unprecedented.  Prior to this season only five times did the defending champion not qualify for the event the next season.  I am sure Del doesn't want his name to be on the list.  As I always say, I don't write them, I just read them. 

The race day purse is $147,000.  That is just part of the money that the folks at U.S. Smokeless Tobacco and Skoal put up.  During the course of the year they pay $4,000 at each race as low qualifier money.  If you add it up, it is a quarter of a million dollars that the folks from Skoal and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco put up in cash against this event every season.  Del Worsham last year wins the Skoal Showdown and then backs it up with a win at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.  That's another $50,000 bonus.  There are six drivers that have done that over the past few years. 

In addition to the four drivers who were scheduled to be on the teleconference, we have Robert Hight in the program, Eric Medlen who went to the finals last year, Tony Pedregon who is the 2003 champ will not be happy when I mention this stat, has the distinction of the driver to beat in the Skoal Showdown the most times without a win.  He has been in it 11 times coming into the season.  Last year Del Worsham had been in it ten times and had one win. 

It is interesting to note, while the drivers are racing it is part of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.  The POWERade point battles qualifying to go into the Skoal Showdown is important.  The points carry over or reflect where we are in the national standings.  Last year the final champion, Gary Scelzi, who won the POWERade Championship, won it, even though he had less race wins than the guys who were right behind him and the qualifying points were very important for those drivers. 

It is good to get off to a great start.  And two of the drivers we have on for the teleconference, John Force and Ron Capps, are involved in that points battle this season. 

That gives you a very quick history of what has gone on in the past. We will talk to a couple of our drivers.  Ron Capps is on with us.  Ron, are you there? 

CAPPS:  Yes, sir.

FREY:  Ron has three Skoal Showdown wins.  He won in '98, '99 and '02.  This is the first time you have been back in here.  How does it feel? 

CAPPS:  It feels good.  Last year I was crushed I wasn't in it.  You win it not only once but you win it like we did three times and you look so forward to this event, and to stand around and walk up and watch it when you are not in it, it was a pretty empty feeling.  I talked with Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) and we said we would work real hard to make the field this year.

FREY:  You had one of the more emotional wins here.  Tell us about it.

CAPPS:  It was a snakeskin car.  I have been with U.S. Smokeless Tobacco nine or ten years.  We had a special car put up in the snakeskin.  We caught it on fire first round and they sent me to the infield care center, the burn center and the late Steve Evans snuck me out in the golf cart and we got back to the pit area.  And there were about 30 fans helping put the car back together because I think Del Worsham at the time had beaten Force.  And I was in the burn center watching the TV.  I said, we may have a shot at this.  Steve Evans snuck me back and we went on to win the thing with our backup body.  It was an emotional day.

FREY:  Everybody on the team was walking off and Snake (then-owner Don Prudhomme) had tears in his eyes.  It was impressive with the team you have together.  You have qualified well for this thing and it has been consistent in your performance all year.

CAPPS:  We haven't qualified as high as we wanted to.  Last year we sat down and looked and the showdown points that Skoal put up is to get into the field, but you also have to look at it for points, at season­ending POWERade Championship points.  So we lost a lot of points with our standings in qualifying and we really want to work on that, not only to get into the Skoal Showdown but to make sure we gain as many points as we can and everything that goes with that. 

I have said it especially the last ten races, almost every interview, we are fighting for a championship right now but our second goal right behind that was to get into the Skoal Showdown.  We got in.  It is a tough field.  Del is not in, like you said.  There are tough cars that didn't make it.  A few races ago I was pretty nervous.  The last race we knew who you were and then you look at who you are going to run the first round.  We are nervous on a race day where after Saturday qualifying you know who you are going to run.  Now we know who we are going to run for a week so it has made it pretty difficult.

FREY:  We wish you a lot of luck here this weekend.

FREY:  Tommy Johnson is also on with us.  He will be representing the Don Prudhomme team and the Skoal Smokeless Tobacco debuted the limited edition of the Skoal Monte Carlo a couple races ago.  It is his third appearance in the show.  How are you feeling? 

JOHNSON JR.:  Good, good.  Proud to be in it.  That's probably one of our team's most important goals throughout the season is to make sure we make the Skoal Showdown and to get the car and not only for the championship for the whole season, but that's probably one of the bigger things on our minds throughout the season. 

FREY:  Now, you have been in this twice before.  You still get a little nervous going into these things with the kind of money and competition that you are competing against? 

JOHNSON JR.:  I guess you get a little nervous, but not really.  This is the eight best guys out here as far as the eight best cars and the best guys you race against every week.  It is not really more nervous, but it is definitely the toughest eight cars out here.  It is not going to be an easy trip. 

FREY:  What about the fact that you are running for the Skoal folks?  I know a lot of people say if their sponsors are sponsoring an event, it turns out to be a hectic time for them.

JOHNSON JR.:  Yeah, you know, last year, this being the thing everybody kept asking me if there was added pressure, I kept thinking yeah, there is a little bit of added pressure.  When it came down to it, the support they give us is win, lose or draw.  I was actually most comfortable going into that first round last year and probably drove better than I've ever driven and still got beat.  I think there is probably just more added pressure we put on ourselves, not from the sponsors, not from Skoal or anybody involved. 

Skoal Racing Monte Carlo, you want to make sure that's in the deal and I think that's where the pressure comes from.  And when you finally get in it, race day is kind of a relief.  I feel more relaxed I think than I do all season.

FREY:  You have a pretty good race car.  The big win at Brainerd, Minn. and the low ET in the finals.  You have to have as much confidence in (crew chief) Mike Green and your team as you have all season long.

JOHNSON JR.:  Absolutely.  I couldn't think of a better time to peak in the season than coming into Indy for the Skoal Showdown and the U.S. Nationals.  Definitely the car running right now the way it is it gives me a lot of confidence and definitely gives you a hope that you have got the car to beat going into that.  We qualified, I think ­­ I think this is the highest I have ever been in the Skoal Showdown coming into it and we missed getting lane choice by just ten points there last weekend. 

I don't think that's important.  We are trying to have a little bit of advantage, but I don't think it will hurt us at all.  It will be a great race between Gary Scelzi and myself.

FREY:  First of all, John (Force), nice to have you with us here today, getting set to go into the Skoal Showdown.  This is like a regular part of your Indy ritual, isn't it?  You know you are going to come here and run in the Skoal Showdown.

FORCE:  It is really good because if you can win it, it is just kind of ­­ you have worked all year for this and part of last year qualifying.  So it is kind of a way to flex your muscles if you can and back it up back­to­back, that's really cool, and make NHRA give you the extra bonus.  We all like this.

FREY:  John has been in the race 11 times in the final round.  That's a record.  He has five wins, that's a record.  Six more runner­ups.  A little bit of history is because you are not going in as the number one qualifier.  It is the first time in 17 years that you haven't been the number one guy.

FORCE:  Well, stuff happens. 

FREY:  Do you find it a little hard to swallow or what? 

FORCE:  Nope, yeah.  It is just the way it goes.  This year we have come out and we have pretty fast hot rods, just can't win races.  Capps is whipping me in the heat.  I hope we get a cold front here in Indy so I can survive.  It is what it is.

FREY:  You run for this thing, and there is an awful lot of money and you share that with your teams.  We wonder what motivates a champ.  It must be the money because in the whole history of the Skoal Showdown you are the only guy to win a whole round on one shot.  Does that add up for this kind of thing? 

FORCE:  I better have to if I am going to whip these young guys.  They have the energy.  I have to find it through POWERade or something or Power Bars.  I am on the Power Bars. 

FREY:  Gary? 

SCELZI:  Yes, sir, Bob.

FREY:  You are getting set to go into this thing with a very good team with your Mopar Oakley Dodge.  How do you like running these big money events?

SCELZI:  It is flattering to be in these because it is the eight best of the whole year and Funny Car is such a tough class anymore that it is like a normal race.  Anybody can win from any spot.  It is just the eight of us are the elite, and the $100,000 is always sweet, too.

FREY:  It will be interesting now that you have raced in both the Top Fuel and the Funny Car classes.  We were talking to Tommy and he said you don't have a prayer.

SCELZI:  Tommy has been drinking a lot lately and I think he will try to get off the sauce before the Skoal Showdown.  We will give Tommy all he wants, so to hell with Tommy.

FREY:  He didn't say that. 

SCELZI:  Damn you, Frey.

FREY:  You have been such a fixture in the Funny Car class we think you have been in the showdown a lot, but this is your third time in the Funny Car class.  You run it the same way as you did with the Top Fuel cars.  Just let it all hang out? 

SCELZI:  That's it.  Hopefully we will get the car qualified early on Friday and Saturday so we don't have to mess around and we can go stand on it and see what we can get away with it because it is $100,000.  It is a gamble.  You have the best of the best.  You have to see what you can do on Monday.  The key is to make some good runs early so you have a good idea of where you are at and hope the weather doesn't throw you a curve.

Q. Ron, how is Ace doing, first of all? 

CAPPS:  He is good.  He is pissed off; he is waiting in line with the car and he is up there and I am down here.  He is back to normal.

Q.  Is he all done with his chemo? 

CAPPS:  Yes.  He didn't have to do it.  The stuff they pulled out was noncancerous.  That was the best news, he had no chemo to go through this time.

Q.  This is for Tommy, Ron, and Gary.  With the success of Force’s TV show (“Driving Force,” Mondays at 9 p.m. on A&E), has his head gotten any bigger?

SCELZI:  If Force can't fit in the room, that's because he is talking from the parking lot.

Q.  Is he wired? 

SCELZI:  He is always wired. 

Q.  Ron, what do you think?  Tommy, is he the same quiet kind of guy? 

CAPPS:  He is looking a little older. 

Q.  This is for John.  You have been a popular driver for several years.  How much more popular are you now to the non­racing audience since your show has taken off? 

FORCE:  Well, the first question I'm asked every week, do you have any chance of catching Capps?  Still has nothing to do with the TV show.  People are caught up in what I do out here and it is exciting.  We find a new group of fans with my family and just interested about racing.  And I think if we are accomplishing anything, we are showing them what we do, and that will help the sport and that will help us find new sponsorship, all of us, not just my teams.  We are getting a lot of new people looking.  We will see. 

Q.  This is for Ron and Gary.  What is it about Indy that has become ­­ it has been special for decades now.  Is it the fact it is a little more special now knowing so many teams have moved to the area?  This is for Ron, Gary or whoever else wants to answer this, how important Indy is to NHRA. 

SCELZI:  I think it is the prestige and the age of the race.  From the beginning this is the race that the guys from the west coast would come out to, the guys from the east coast, from everywhere.  If you didn't have money, you saved your hundred to come to Indy to make the splash.  If you could do well here, that would be your ticket to paradise, you could land a sponsor, at least you would be recognized or try to become a household name. 

I mentioned the story, years ago in 1986 I came here with my alcohol dragster.  I was dead broke, battling for the championship with Bill Walsh.  I made it to the final and I got beat by Eldon P. Slick.  Nobody had heard of him before.  Nobody heard of him ever.  Every time this guy was in a drag race, it was Eldon P. Slick, the winner of the U.S. Nationals in 1986.  I think he ended up winning two or three races.  Great guy, but that was his tag, that was his deal that he won the U.S. Nationals. 

It is one if you win the championship or you don't win a championship, if you have won the U.S. Nationals, you have done something. 

CAPPS:  Growing up in the sport, I used to it watch all the heroes.  You watch all the other drag races but you particularly watch Indy.  To watch all the guys who have won Indy over the years, the history, it is definitely something you want to put on your résumé as the driver.

FORCE:  What makes me nervous about Indy, the guy we are up against right now ­­ we are up against everybody in the room, but Ron Capps' crew chief has won this thing ten times or something.  He holds the record for wins here.  No one has dominated at Indy like he has, so we will keep an eye on you. 

Q.  I have a question for TJ.  TJ, Bob alluded to the fact that there is added pressure at the sponsor’s event.  Since Indy is your transplanted home and the fact that not only do you have to race the rounds of the Skoal Showdown but you are also in qualifying for the elimination come race day, how does that all transpire or come to play into your philosophy for the weekend? 

JOHNSON JR.:  You definitely want to go out and try to get the car qualified Friday and Saturday so you don't have to worry about that.  That's the last thing you want to worry about when you go into the first round of the Skoal Showdown.  If you are not qualified, it puts more pressure on there.  As long as the guys go out and get the show good Friday and Saturday, you can forget about qualifying for a short period of time and just go out there and go back to a normal Sunday race. 

Being able to sleep in my own bed a couple miles from the racetrack, that helps a little bit and takes the pressure off.  There is still added pressure.  Indy is so big and you want to try to win the Skoal Showdown on Sunday and get back and win it on Monday.  I think it will all go back on how you qualify Friday and Saturday.  The first run may dictate how the whole weekend goes.

Q.  This is for John.  With all the distractions of taping this show, how are you managing to keep a focus going into the biggest race of the season, Indy? 

FORCE:  I thought I was going to be free at Indy, but A & E wants more shows so the cameras are coming to Indy, which is going to be a pain because it is hard to focus.  You walk around with a radio stuck to you all day and a radio in your ear.  I took a job, I have to do it.

Q.  Are you adjusting or is it still difficult? 

FORCE:  It is hard on the whole family because you live it.  It was fun at first and then it got painful.  We are trying to work through it.  To win a championship as everybody in the room knows, you have to focus every day on just that.  If your focus isn't there, you can't win. 

And that's the issue that I have of getting back to Castrol and Ford and Mac Tools and the money they are spending.  They are great I have a TV show and it is doing good.  But, you know, we are here to sell Mustangs and you need to get that job done.  It is that way for any driver, Capps or Scelzi or Tommy here.  So I just have to get my stuff together.  There ain't no party and beer drinking in my life.  It has pretty much come to an end here for a while.

Q.  Here is a question for any of one of you.  You struggled with the weather in Memphis.  What's the weather forecast for the Indy race? 

FORCE:  I don't think it will be as bad as Memphis.  If it is as good as it is here today it would be wonderful.

FORCE:  It depends on the fans.  The fans take it either way.  Tires smoking, balls of fire or national records.  They are always happy.  We will give them something. 

Q.  Tommy, how is Melanie (Tommy’s wife, driver of the Skull Shine/Torco Race Fuels Top Fuel dragster) doing?  Kind of fell into a slump after that great start. 

JOHNSON JR.:  She is not any easier to live with at home, I can tell you that.  The TV show is affecting John's household, the slump is affecting mine.  She is all right actually.  She is enjoying the success they had earlier in the season and hopefully see will be up here on the starting line rooting for me on Sunday in the Skoal Showdown. 

But I think they are on their way back.  It is a little bump in the road.  We all go through them.  I went through it earlier in the season.  We had some struggles and I used her for motivation.  Hopefully I can kick her in the butt and she can do better the rest of the year. 

THE MODERATOR:  All right, thanks, John.  Thanks to Skoal and thanks, Bob, for hosting today.  Take care, everyone, and we will see you in Indy.





Sophomore Funny Car driver Robert Hight will start from the No. 1 position in the Skoal Showdown on Sept. 3 at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis, as he goes for his first victory in the special bonus event for qualified Funny Car drivers.


The Skoal Showdown, a high-stakes, high-speed race featuring the eight quickest and most consistent Funny Car teams from the last season, is a lucrative race-within-a-race held during the 52nd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the world’s most prestigious drag race.


The winner of the 25th annual Skoal Showdown will earn a $100,000 bonus from U.S. Tobacco. Any driver who can win the Skoal Showdown and the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals will earn a $50,000 ‘Double-Up’ bonus from NHRA.


A race day purse of $147,000 is available for the eight drivers competing in the Skoal Showdown. The Showdown runner-up will earn $15,000, while the two semifinalists will earn $6,000 each. The four first round finishers will earn $5,000 apiece.


Hight, from Anaheim Hills, Calif., was the No. 1 qualifier seven times in his Auto Club Ford Mustang and posted top five qualifying efforts at 17 of the 23 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series events that comprise the 2006 Skoal Showdown. It is Hight’s second career appearance in the Skoal Showdown and his first as the No. 1 seed, and he will face veteran Whit Bazemore in the opening round. Bazemore, who drives the Matco Tools Dodge Charger, is making his 12th career start and is looking for his first victory in the bonus event.


John Force holds down the second position and will make a record 23rd career start in the Skoal Showdown. He’ll face former teammate Tony Pedregon in the opening round. Force is a five-time winner of the event, while Pedregon’s only Skoal Showdown victory came in 2003.


Eric Medlen and three-time Skoal Showdown winner Ron Capps will battle in the first round and Gary Scelzi and Tommy Johnson Jr. also will square off in the opening round.


Drivers accumulated points for the Skoal Showdown at 23 NHRA national events between last year’s Mac Tools U.S. Nationals up to the 2006 O’Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals at Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park. A $4,000 bonus was awarded to the No. 1 qualifier at each of those races.


Last year Del Worsham raced to victory over Medlen in the final round. Worsham will not be able to defend his title as he failed to qualify for this year’s Showdown.


Skoal Showdown rounds are scheduled for 12:30 and 4 p.m. on Sept. 3.



1. Robert Hight, Anaheim Hills, Calif., Auto Club Ford Mustang                3,495

2. John Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Castrol GTX Ford Mustang                  3,415

3. Eric Medlen, Indianapolis, Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang                     3,370

4. Gary Scelzi, Fresno, Calif., Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger                    3,035

5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Avon, Ind., Skoal Chevy Monte Carlo                     3,025

6. Ron Capps, Carlsbad, Calif., Brut Dodge Charger                            2,965

7. Tony Pedregon, Chino Hills, Calif., Q-Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo         2,920

8. Whit Bazemore, Indianapolis, Matco Tools Dodge Charger                     2,850





      Hight vs. Bazemore

      Force vs. Pedregon

      Medlen vs. Capps

      Scelzi vs. Johnson



      Hight-Bazemore winner vs. Scelzi-Johnson winner

      Force-Pedregon winner vs. Medlen-Capps winner


FINAL (4 p.m., Sept. 3)