NHRA SOUTHERN NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - DRAG RACING HISTORY MADE AND POSTPONED, THE ART OF AUTOGRAPH SIGNING AND THE MIKE EDWARDS TURNAROUND
FINALLY! - Ashley Force knew winning her first national event was going to be a tough row to hoe. The second-generation
The Funny Car final round at the NHRA Southern Nationals had all the makings if a made for television movie. Threatening rain, which eventually turned into a race delaying downpour, a veteran driver looking for 1,000th career round win and a sophomore driver looking for a career first national victory and the first by a woman, who just happened to be the daughter of the veteran in the other lane.
The forces of nature, emotion, experience and history joined in a battle between a father and daughter who just happen to be Force's by name.
At the finish line, youth overcame experience, a daughter beat a father and the NHRA had it's first female nitro Funny car winner ever. However, for Ashley Force winning had nothing to do with being female; she just wanted to win, period.
“I am just happy to win an event, that's the main thing,” Force said, following the historic run. “Being a female, that's exciting for the record books and everything. But, for my team we just wanted to get our first win. We went a whole year last year and got close a few times. To get it done, finally, here in Atlanta; we're just a little relieved but so excited.”
The feat took Ashley five final rounds to achieve; 21 years after her father scored his first national event victory. Ashley was a toddler at the time.
John realized shortly after getting beat by Ashley just how much the sport had changed since his momentous first day. He was barely able to congratulate his daughter on her victory, before the television and marketing crews whisked her away to speak to the masses.
He could only shake his head because when he won the 1987 Le Molson Grandnational, there wasn’t even a television crew on the property.
“I’m just proud of her as a woman to accomplish that,” he said of her victory. “Shirley Muldowney led the way but not just for Ashley to win in Funny Car, but for so many other women who are trying to be in this sport. Melanie Troxel is fighting every day...Hillary Will and Angelle (Sampey)...everybody...(Shirley led the way) for women to have a place in this sport.
“And I just think now that (the NHRA POWERade Series) is just another place in history that can say, ‘Women are showing their stuff (here).’ And they beat this old man pretty good … even if it was my kid. I’m proud of her and I love her.”
As much as Force might have wanted to give his daughter a victory, he made sure everyone knew he was beat fair and square, not just by a daughter, but by a fellow competitor. And, his mind was on who was in the other lane. Force's mind was on a record of his own.
“She did her job. She didn’t do anything stupid on the starting line, go deep, didn’t try to hole shot me, just did what she always does and that was most important, but really my focus was in my lane.”
“I would have liked to have had that (milestone), 500 (races) and then backed it up with (the 1000 round wins), but it’s also important in her career because wins, it took me a lot of years to win and it’s good for her that she gets that win and gets it out of the way.”
The win didn’t come easy for Ashley, but she got the breaks when she needed them. She reached the finals by stopping Ron Capps. In the final round, Ashley left on her dad and that was the last time she saw him.
“I never saw him and I never saw my win light which was weird because every other run it was down far enough where I could see it,” Ashley admitted.
John clearly had a tough decision to make on the day. Which meant more to him on Sunday in Commerce? He was clearly in a no-lose situation. But for those who mumbled a dive, John clearly answered over the PA system that if Ashley was going to be the champion today, she was going to have to earn it.
Ashley was fine with the fact her dad was going to gun for her as if she were Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps or Whit Bazemore. On this day, Ashley revealed her dad was the type of driver who didn’t get amped one way or another about who was in the other lane.
“I think dad has done this enough years he has the same routine; he doesn't care who is next to him, if you're related or not, because he is proud of us and happy for our team,” Ashley said. “But, when he goes up to run he has trained himself it doesn't matter who is in the other lane. I am the one who needs to practice and not be thinking about that. He wants that 1000th win as well. Mom and I have it all figured out. He can get it next week on his birthday, that will be special and I could my first win here.”
Never in her wildest dreams could Ashley have envisioned the day would come at the expense of her dad.
“I never really thought about it that much,” Ashley added. “I thought about racing but I really thought about being a crew member on his car. That's kinda what I thought when I was younger. When I got a little older he said, 'Do you think I am going to let you go off and drive through the country with a bunch of guys?' So, then he gave me the opportunity to drive a Super Comp car and it went from there. Growing up around him, I was always on his team rooting for his team. So, it’s weird all these years later beating his team.”
DID YOU KNOW? – Every time Top Fuel winner Antron Brown has won in Top Fuel, Ashley has reached the Funny Car final.
I MEANT TO DO THAT - Sometimes a malfunction can make a driver look like a genius. NHRA Southern Nationals Top Fuel
Nothing defies the traditional definition of breakage more than a hole shot victory over the point leader and former U.S. Army teammate Tony Schumacher.
“My car just kept rolling on me,” said Brown, the former Pro Stock Motorcycle standout. “I just kept pulling the lever back and I kept rolling a little bit. I was popping up with some good reaction times this weekend so it made me look like I was doing good. I was hurt in the ET a little bit but I went into the final round knowing that we were racing Alan Johnson and Tony Schumacher with that great US Army race team over there.
“They’re five-time world champs and you've just got to give it everything you've got, so as soon as I saw that thing just flicker yellow I just hit the pedal as quick as I could.”
Faulty brake or not, Brown was pumped for the final round. Blasting tunes from Jay-Z and Linkin’ Park in the team’s Toyota Sequoia tow vehicle prior to the final round only got his intensity level up.
“I got myself amped up,” Brown admitted. “I just hit that throttle as quick as I could and that thing just took off. We were going down and had no hiccups going down so I knew we were on a good pass. I didn't see Tony but I heard him right there so I was like man come on, come on and I went through the traps and I saw that win light come on and I just went ecstatic.
“I couldn't get out of that car quick enough. I was trying to get out of the seat belt and unbuckle it. It just felt fantastic because we have so many Matco Tools distributors pushing us on every week and they just want to see this car do well.”
While Brown credited the hand-brake for the rapid starting line departures, a good measure of the credit could be traced to the days of racing Pro Stock Motorcycle where reaction times can be in the .00 range on a consistent basis.
Case in point, NHRA Southern Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines had a .009 reaction in the final. In the first round of eliminations for that category, there were five reaction times quicker than a .019.
The starting line prowess for those competitors compared to the move team owner David Powers made to bring a rider from the category and put him in a Top Fuel dragster could very well create a trend for cultivating talent. Such a trend wouldn’t surprise Brown.
“There are a lot of great athletes in Pro Stock Motorcycle,” Brown said. “To drive a pro stock motorcycle you have to be a great athlete. You see all of them; they’re all slim, trim and light. The reaction time deal, everybody thinks that because you have a Pro Stock bike you have a quicker reaction time and then you come over to Top Fuel and it's going to show. That's not necessarily the case. You just have to work hard because it's hard to get a light in a Top Fuel car. The good thing about it is all the bike guys, like I do; we can't go red seeing yellow.
“We could work on hitting the tree as hard as we can but we can work on making ourselves better. That's why I'm glad I'm not in Pro Stock bike anymore because I don't have to be a human delay box anymore. I'm loving Top Fuel because every drag racer wants to go quicker and faster. I always wanted to do this, years and years ago but I'm just fortunate enough to do it with DPM.”
REDEMPTION TIME - A little over a year ago, Mike Edwards was questioning his existence in Pro Stock competition. The
This frustration led to a serious heart-to-heart with team owner Roger Stull regarding their existence. A man of faith, Edwards supported Stull in his decision to make the leap of faith into developing an engine program.
“It’s unbelievable,” Edwards said. “Roger made the commitment last September in Indy, to do this one time the right way and see how far it takes us. I never dreamed I would be standing here this early in the season. That car has two races on it. To come here and run the way we ran today; we ran good. We ran good in both lanes.
“This might be my most “best feeling” win I have ever had because it's ours. It's all ours. It's our engine program; Nick and Paul at the engine shop. Terry Adams came on board this year. Josh Robertson, Alan Lindsey, John Phillips, the whole team worked so hard and put in such a great effort. I am so proud of them. I am just so fortunate to have the opportunity to drive this thing.”
Even Edwards couldn’t have anticipated this kind of success so early in the program.
“No way,” Edwards said. “No way. When we started this we were going to sit down later and see if we were going forward or were we going backwards. Right now it would be really easy to go backwards. I hope we can keep going forward. It's tough to get a win but hopefully we can keep this momentum going. All it takes is hard work.”
Edwards became NHRA Pro Stock’s 600th winner by defeating Jason Line in the final round at the NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga. Not only did he run strong, but he left the starting line in rapid fashion with a .009 reaction time.
He joined four other "milestone" Pro Stock race winners including the winner of race No. 500, three-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson in the Summit Racing Pontiac; race No. 400 winner, ACDelco Chevy driver Kurt Johnson; and the winner of race No. 300, Jim Yates, driver of the WileyX Pontiac GXP. And the man who won the very first Pro Stock race 38 years ago was Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, legendary racer, engine builder and continuing motorsports innovator, more times than not in conjunction with Team Chevrolet. Jenkins was voted No. 8 on NHRA's all-time driver list, and this past Thursday his racing exploits were recognized in the form of induction into the prestigious International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.
"That's kind of cool to win the 600th race," Edwards said. "Anytime you can win one of these races against these guys it's an unbelievable feeling. That's pretty good company.”
The experience was overwhelming for Edwards, who was close to tears in the post-race press conference.
“You can't describe the feeling of winning one of these races in this class. It’s so hard, so competitive. It's so tough. There are so many good teams. I tried and tried and tried. It's been 2006 since I've won and I was wondering if I was ever going to do it again to be honest.
“I tell you what; it's just an unbelievable feeling to win one of these races. When you have to race these guys like the Summit team, the Jegs team; they are the guys who have set the bar for us all. To come away with the win is amazing.
“I am so thankful for my team. First of all, I am so thankful for God. This win is for him and I give him all the glory. And, for all those Penhall employees and Penhall customers and all those Young Life kids that came out Thursday night. I am sending four more kids to camp this year. And, thanks to all of those who support Young Life. I tell you what, I am truly blessed.”
BETTER GET TO WORK - Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Pro Stock rider Andrew Hines couldn’t help but notice the trend in
Hines took his concerns to his father Byron Hines, one-half of the legendary Vance & Hines legend.
“I pointed out both of them won the event after qualifying No. 1,” Hines recalled. “I said, ‘dad I want to qualify number one in Atlanta.”
Hines continued, “I swear that is what I told him and he said, ‘Okay make it happen.”
The Hines brothers had better get used to that kind of input because the elder Hines is beginning to step away more and more from the operation and putting it into Andrew and Matt Hines’s hands.
According to Hines, he and his brother made about sixty pulls on the shop dyno and added a successful test session in Valdosta, Ga., prior to Commerce for good measure.
The top spot added extra pressure to Hines, who had been shut out of the top spots in both qualifying and race day situations.
“With those guys having done it already [won from the No. 1 qualifying position], it really added a lot more pressure on me,” Hines admitted. “I felt pretty nervous all day long because I didn't want to be the first guy of the season at this point to qualify number one and not win the race.”
The Commerce victory marked the 14th of his career with the most recent coming last season during the second Las Vegas national event.
“The motorcycle was flawless this weekend,” Hines said in a post-race press conference. “There was nothing wrong with it. We left the same engine in it all weekend long. It's the same engine we had in at testing on Monday. We made five runs in Indy and we made eight runs here. I can't say enough about what the guys did with the engines back at the shop.”
Make no bones about it; Hines wanted the Atlanta win badly.
“We were all frustrated after Houston,” Hines admitted. “Matt Smith and Matt Guidera showed us what it was like to get our butts kicked at the last two races. We put our noses to the grindstone, and I know that's an old saying but it works every time with my team.”
Every wonder what the grindstone means in terms of reaction time? It meant a .009 reaction time for Hines in the final round. Or, maybe he and we’re being sarcastic, just screwed up a red-light?
“That [his .009 reaction] was a little bit on accident,” Hines explained. I wanted to go teen. I figured we needed to be a teen or something to run with Chip. We kind of threw a tune up in there that we hadn't put in all weekend long. It definitely performed.
“I knew I could hit the tree as hard as I could because it was getting dark and I could see the tree a little better. I just pushed the bike in there and said, ‘alright let's go.”
Hines continued, “Luckily it was green. When I saw it was green, we don't have blinders on our helmets anymore because of the new NHRA rules. It was a little awkward because I've raced with blinders in my helmet my entire career.
“I hadn't gone red all weekend. I knew we were conservative on what we had the bike set up to do so I got lucky that it wasn't red but we were shooting for a low teen. A little extra final round pressure got me an extra few thousandths.”
SIGN ‘EM ALL – Ron Capps cannot bring himself to leave an autograph-seeking fan sitting at the ropes of his pit area.
Capps remembers, as a kid, drawing the wrath of Funny Car legend Don Prudhomme for seeking an autograph while walking through a restaurant.
“He was eating and I wanted his autograph,” Capps recalled. “I remember him yelling at me.”
Capps rewinds the memory of his devastation every time he’s tempted to walk away, leaving a fan.
“You could walk away and some five-year old kid could be devastated,” Capps said. “You want to sign them all but sometimes the situation is tough, and our fans are good about knowing when you need your space and when you need to go get dressed.”
One of the most prolific autograph signers is none other than 14-time champion John Force. Capps is quickly gaining on Force in terms of processing sheer volumes of the autograph-seekers.
“John’s got the ‘JF,’ signature,” Capps said. “When Force is in a hurry his name becomes JF. I always joke with my teammates because my name is really short that I’m lucky.”
In the ultimate autograph showdown between Capps and Force, Capps knows he’d lose in head-to-head competition.
“He’s the best driver to ever put on the fire boots and also the best to sign an autograph,” Capps admitted. “He can work a crowd.”
NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart asked him about the mixed feelings of winning a race like that when carrying dual roles.
“The crew chief is a dumbass, but the driver’s lucky,” Head responded.
HE’S STILL THE BOSS - Ashley Force said she couldn’t wait for the first round encounter between her dad and teammate Mike Neff. According to her, “There’s been a bunch of blabbing going on the radio between them.”
When asked after her first round-winning race if she was going to get involved in the blabbering. She respectfully declined.
Hey may be dad, but he’s the boss and I’d get in trouble if I talked to him that way.”
FORCE, THE SPRING CHICKEN – John Force has been burning the candle at both ends with his rehabilitation and workout
On the road, if the hotel doesn’t have a gym he maintains his routine with stretching and the larger rubber band exercises.
This weekend, he came in a few days early to do some promotional work with Coca-Cola. The hotel had a great gym and Force visited to get in a workout.
“I’m not trying to fool anyone, I do a pretty extensive workout on several different machines,” Force said. “I got into the workout and I really got excited.”
That’s when Force happened upon Kim Anderson, wife of Pro Stock icon Greg Anderson. She told Force her husband would be there soon.
“Here’s a guy who’s physically fit and in good shape, and I was shocked at what I saw,” Force added. “I get my weight bar with the two weights on it; they look about the size of Krispy Kreme donuts. I started doing my curls.”
Force said he does the same thing at home which generally prompts his daughters to laugh at him.
“They laugh because they’re stronger than me,” Force added.
Force catches a glimpse of Anderson enter the gym.
“This guy is over there pressing iron like a muscleman,” Force explained. “He’s throwing up the bunch presses with big ole black weights on them.”
Force estimated Anderson had about 300 pounds on the bar.
“I didn’t originally think it was Anderson, I thought it was a professional body-builder. I looked over and saw it was him. I was so embarrassed that I left the gym. I made sure I let him know I was done because he’d run me out of there as I was walking out the door.
Force said he was really feeling his age at that moment. The encounter kept him in the dumps for much of the day until he realized an important factor which greatly lifted his spirits.
“Here I am walking around and bumming because I’m feeling old and tired,” said Force, who turns 59 on Saturday. “Then I realized Moses in the Bible didn’t really get to kicking up until he was about 400 years old, I have quite a ways to go before I get old.
“Just goes to show you that one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”
THOSE KIDS – Force had another run in with a younger world champion earlier this weekend too. He knew Anderson, but had
The two crossed paths at a recent Coca-Cola function. While his wife Laurie Force was off taking, he took the time to talk to Smith. Force testifies that he was drinking a glass of milk and no alcohol.
“I was talking to this kid and I asked the kid how he got into racing,” Force said. “He was just the best kid to be around. He told me about how got to doing all of this drag racing.”
Then Force asked him the question.
“Did your dad race?” Force asked.
When Smith nodded, Force started to tell the Pro Stock Motorcycle about a racer he used to race around named Rickie Smith.
“Oh, I went off on one of my stories,” Force admitted. “I told him about getting wild with this guy back in the day. Yeah, I told him all the things we did. I made sure he knew this Rickie Smith guy would fight at the drop of a hat. I think he wanted to beat me up a few times because I was acting stupid. I loved that Rickie Smith because he was just a good old country boy. I told the kid this Rickie Smith guy was a genuine fella and he and I had hit it right off.”
About that time, Smith interrupted Force before he could incriminate himself any more.
“That’s my dad,” Matt said.
Force responded, “Who’s your dad?”
“Rickie Smith is my dad,” Smith answered.
Force had no idea what to say from that point.
“I almost fainted,” Force said. “And, I loved this Rickie Smith guy because he’d give all of the race officials heck, everyone from the starters and all. I loved him to death.”
This exchange taught Force a valuable lesson.
“Here I am meeting the children of guys who were my heroes,” Force admitted. “I knew most of these kids when they were in diapers. Now they’re doing it like their dads. God gave me a second chance here, I have no complaints.”
ANOTHER KID ON THE MOVE – Seventeen-year old Zach Beard is counting down the days until he turns 18. The son of famed nitro tuner Lee Beard will then get his opportunity to race in the Top Alcohol Dragster division.
Beard recently procured his Top Alcohol Dragster license.
“Hopefully after this weekend Dunkin Donuts will make a decision to stay in racing,” Beard explained. “We will hit some divisional events and hopefully be racing at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Beard will be racing in the Top Alcohol Dragster to gain seat time until he makes the transition to Top Fuel. When the Dunkin Donuts program was announced last month, Beard was scheduled to drive.
“It’s been a little frustrating,” Beard said of the delay in getting to drive the car. “I don’t really like to spectate.”
Racing Top Fuel will fulfill a dream for Beard.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Beard added. “I’ve been around racing all my life and I’ve grown up watching all of the Top Fuel drivers. Hopefully I will be one of them someday.”
The ultimate would be working with his dad while running Top Fuel. He’s confident he could handle the criticism from the elder Beard.
“I don’t think there would be a problem at all,” Beard said. “He’s always offered advice for my go-kart racing. We seem to get along really well at the track.”
Beard said his father has been very supportive of his racing endeavors, although he prefers to offer the support from a parental role instead of a racing capacity.
“He’s really more into watching and spectating,” Beard said. “He likes to get involved, just not too much.”
SHOOTING THE HOOPS – Tom Hammonds spent many hours at Atlanta Dragway during his collegiate basketball days at Georgia Tech.
“I used to come to the Southern Nationals when I was in college every year,” Hammonds said. “This has always been one of the fun times of the year for me. Usually when basketball season was over and I had a chance to kind of relax and unwind, this is one of the things I loved doing. I always enjoyed watching Pro Stock cars run.”
Hammonds loved his racing and one might have easily assumed he liked it more than basketall.
“A chance to become a better player and play in the NBA was outstanding,” Hammonds admitted. “But if I wasn’t playing basketball or practicing, I was out racing somewhere, and Coach Cremins did not like the fact that I was racing. So, I am pretty sure I really added a lot to his gray hairs. But you know what, racing is what I enjoyed doing.”
HE’S OFFICIAL, SOMEWHAT – Spencer Massey got a reprieve from NHRA officials regarding additional Top Fuel licensing
Massey has been making a lot of noise on the IHRA side with two national event wins in as many races behind the wheel of Mitch King’s dragster. The car wasn’t legal for this weekend because of the mandatory back-half specifications weren’t in place.
Massey wasn’t frustrated because he had plenty of fun racing Gene Snow’s A/Fuel dragster and a quarter-final low elapsed time confirmed it. He ran a 5.242 elapsed time at 277.84 miles per hour.
“We talked to Graham Light this weekend and he said, we’d proven ourselves,” Massey said. “Of course, when Paul Smith puts in a good word for you – that helps too.”
OH HAPPY DAY - It was almost like magic. Frank Gugliotta, a close friend of Justin Humphreys and his parents, accompanied their RaceRedi Motorsports Pro Stock team to Commerce, Ga., to provide chassis tuning advice in the NHRA national event.
“The car was awesome all weekend,” said a smiling Humphreys. “We’ve now made nine good back-to-back runs. The credit goes to Frank and Bob Glidden. Bob decided to leave the team after the Las Vegas race and Frank stepped in to help out. He drives a Ford Mustang at IHRA races.”
Humphreys, who climbed into ninth place in NHRA POWERade Series points with 276, on the strength of a semi-final finish.
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - SHAKE-UPS AT PRO2, VANDERGRIFF STILL WORKING ON DEAL AND MIKE ASHLEY RETURNS TO NITRO
JOHNSON RESIGNS PRO2 – NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Steve Johnson will no longer serve as President of PRO2, the
Johnson cited the failure for the organization to fully understand the business side of Pro Stock Motorcycle racing as one of his leading factors to step away.
Another factor in his decision was likely the questioning of his actions by members of the group for a past meeting with the NHRA’s technical department specifically raising parity concerns regarded to the Suzuki combination and a clear decline in the Suzuki participation. The meeting was funded through the Suzuki owners.
When other members of PRO2 found out about the meeting, the controversy and grumblings made their way around. Questions of a conflict of interest abounded.
Were Johnson’s concerns supplemented by the stats?
“The Suzuki's only qualified #1 in the last four years -- 25% of the time, you know the parity's not even close,” Johnson said. “So from a sanction body NHRA has to look at this and say "Hey what's good for the category; is it good for the category to have V-twins always qualifying No. 1?”
“I could never get that across to the people either. Qualifying #1 is way different than who wins, because as we know you could have the fastest bike and not win the race. Everybody should come to the race and not know who's going to qualify #1, and right now everybody knows there's not going to be a Suzuki qualifying #1. And that's not parity.”
Johnson, during his tenure with PRO2, regularly took the NHRA to task regarding issues surrounding the Pro Stock Motorcycle division. He’s intent on maintaining his voice outside of an official capacity.
“I know the sanctioning body gets beat on all the time, and trust me, there are some huge frustrations that I have with them, but I know quitting just lets them win, and as long as I can get a spot in the batters box trust me, I will speak,” Johnson said. “There’s a value when the Harley-Davidsons and the Buell’s do good. I'm about growing the whole property over here and just because I resigned doesn't mean I'm not going to work my own angles.
Johnson feels strongly that he did the best job possible for PRO2.
“I felt like for the amount of resources that we had, and the amount of contacts that I had representing the category from a marketing standpoint was a good fit,” Johnson explained. “In a perfect world I support everybody that thought that way, because at the end of the day they've got small little ideas of what's going on and they don't understand the bigger picture. If we had a suit and a tie guy that we could pay a salary to run PRO2, all the more power.
“But we never did and nobody ever cared enough about it, they didn't understand how important the business side here is. Its helping sponsors activate there program and working with the NHRA. It got to be frustrating and I built up a lot of enemies through that just because they were mad at me and I was over that. I was doing everything right, I represented the category 100% for 11 years and I felt like I did a pretty good job and look back at the things that we did and I'm proud as heck of the things that we accomplished.”
Johnson said PRO2 is an organization which needs to continue.
“I've always said if it cost $500,000 to run a motorcycle team and with 20 teams, you got a $10 million a year business,” explained Johnson. “Any $10 Million dollar business is going to have somebody guiding the ship where it's going to go and I think the people understand it. You have some guys in our class that are real knuckleheads and not only do they not believe in the business side of it, they're dissension causers. I think you have that in society and I was ok with that, I just took that as face value.
“I think core group of our class is really a bunch of good guys and girls. I think they get it. But resources are difficult when you don't have the money and you know money is the king. When we have team owners that are successful businessmen -- that's what our category thrives on. That's what our sport needs because when they have investment money and when you invest, you get back and when you get back, you grow and that's what we have to do.”
COMING BACK – Mike Ashley will drive a nitro Funny Car in at least five races during the 2008 season. The two-time Pro
“We’ve only been running the second car at select events,” Ashley said in a Saturday press conference. “I’m looking at doing this at least up until Norwalk.”
He added there were two strategic factors in his decision.
“It’s important the way our team has progressed that we have two cars out here gathering data,” Ashley said. “We must come up with a master plan to master the combination. It’s no secret there have been significant changes to the chassis this year.”
Gathering data is a primary objective, but that may pale in comparison to another major desire. Ashley wants to drive a nitro car again.
“It’s no big secret that I miss driving,” Ashley said. “I’ve having fun driving the Pro Modified car, but I do miss my time with the Funny Car.”
Ashley added the team is still lacking major funding for the second car and once the funds are secured, Frank Hawley will return to competition.
“We were not planning on driving these races, so that’s why I am returning to drive the car,” Ashley explained.
Melanie Troxel will continue to drive the car tuned by Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald. Ashley will be tuned by Aaron Brooks.
“We’ve mapped out a strategic plans and I’m confident after five races we’ll have a good handle on this program,” Ashley said. “I think we’re already closer than it looks.”
Ashley said whether or not his driving stint lasts longer than five races will depend on their points ranking.
“It’ll also depend on what my wife and family says, too” Ashley added.
Ashley also revealed a grand scheme for the future which could include a third Funny Car team and even a Top Fuel dragster. All would be contingent on proper funding.
“I feel pretty good about some of the things we are working on,” Ashley said.
Would Ashley ever drive the Top Fuel car? Most likely not, Ashley said, because in his assessment, they create a more claustrophobic setting than a Funny Car.
“I would have a hard time driving a Top Fuel car,” Ashley admitted. “I’m a drag racer, so you never know. I’ll still be driving a Pro Modified while driving this Funny Car.”
MR. MILESTONE - As NHRA hits a milestone this weekend with the 600th Pro Stock race in the drag-racing series' illustrious
"There's a lot of emotion qualifying No. 1 here," Krisher said. "We had a qualifying streak of 77 straight races in 2003 and this was the 78th race, and we missed the field by one thousandth of a second. Maybe this track owes me something, I don't know. We had some time to play today and try some different things, and we had a whole different setup in the car motor-wise on the last run. We're pretty comfortable going into tomorrow; real comfortable and excited, both. We'll see what happens, of course, but it's been a good day.
"We've been running strong ever since we got the new car. The car isn't such a big deal, but the crew chief that has worked with these (Todd) Bevis cars for two years is. Tommy Utt knows what to do with that Valvoline Cobalt and how to make it work. He really understands them and if we tried and raced our other car, he would have had a whole new learning curve. I didn't think at that point in time we could afford to do that. Our Haas car wasn't a bad car, either; it was just a different setup and a different way to race. So I've got a good crew chief, good power, and good people to work with. I don't know what else you could say."
STILL THE ONE - Cory McClenathan maintained the momentum he gained with his recent victory in Las Vegas by holding on to
In 1995, McClenathan took home one of his three career Top Fuel victories at the Georgia facility from the No. 1 position. He's won six of his 30 career Top Fuel titles as low qualifier.
"When things are going good, you kind of roll with it and it's a snowball effect," said McClenathan. "It makes all the difference in the world as far as the teams go and how they work. My guys are on a natural high right now and it's incredible. When we put the FRAM Top Fuel dragster in the winner's circle in Vegas we beat the odds there and once again we come in here with 16 good cars and we've been able to stay very consistent throughout the weekend."
McClenathan's first qualifying effort produced a 4.670/311.20 mph, good for No. 2 at the time. He returned for the third Top Fuel qualifying session on Saturday and once again set low elapsed-time of the round in the FRAM dragster with a powerful 4.581/308.28 to maintain No. 1 going into the final session. He completed qualifying with another consistent 4.602/321.35 to solidify his hold on No. 1.
"Considering it was supposed to rain this morning, we didn't see that, but we saw some heat," McClenathan said. "I think that actually helped us. We were able to figure out some things with the race track and (crew chief) Mike Green has done a great job with that. The car is running good from beginning to end and the 60-ft. times are outstanding considering that it's pretty warm out there. It ran a 4.58 and a 4.60 flat and I think that’s a good set-up for tomorrow if the weather stays the same.
"I hope the FRAM Top Fuel dragster will go some rounds because that's what we really want. We're not trying to win a bunch of races, we're just trying to win a bunch of rounds," added McClenathan, who is fourth in the point standings. "The more rounds we win the better our points deal looks and we can stay with the top-five cars, and that's really what we want for this team. Thanks again to everybody at DSR and (U.S. Army crew chief) Alan Johnson and Mike Green and all my guys."
McClenathan will square off against Todd Paton in round one of eliminations on Sunday.
GOT PLENTY OF WILK - Tim Wilkerson held on for his third No. 1 qualifier of the season with an elapsed time of 4.774
"It's a good feeling to be first, no doubt about that," Wilkerson said. "Hopefully I can get myself together tomorrow, the track will do what we want it to do and we can win some rounds. It would sure be special going into St. Louis with the points lead. With this recent success, Mr. Levi's just beside himself. He has stood behind me for the last three or four years when we couldn't do anything right and God bless him for that. But it's not for a lack of effort because we work hard at what we do and try our best on every run. Sometimes it just gets ahead of you and I'm telling you, you can't catch up without testing. That's our biggest problem with being a single-car team; you can't go out there and test. I'm not really under-financed, I'm just lower-financed, let's put it that way.
"Teaming up with Don Prudhomme Racing this year has been invaluable. Snake's really helping us out more than you know. Every cylinder head I've got came from him; they're all used parts off of his Funny Car (driven by Tommy Johnson Jr.) from last year. And I spent all day Friday and some of the day on Saturday last week running clutches and blowers again. We're still learning, and I think we have a lot more to learn. Hopefully, it's going to keep going."
HARVICK DEAL STILL WORKING – Bob Vandergriff, Jr. confirmed he and NASCAR superstar Kevin Harvick are hard at work on
“We’re working on a lot of things, talking to companies and gauging the interest,” said Vandergriff. “We are seeing if a particular sponsorship works and two or three that might add up to one. We are just seeing which is going to be the best for us in the future. It’s still early and companies are still making decisions as to what they want to do. We should have some news soon.”
Vandergriff confirmed he and Harvick talk on a daily basis. Harvick announced during the NHRA Summitracing.com Nationals that he’s exploring the possibilities of fielding a Top Fuel team in the NHRA.
“We talk quite a bit now,” Vandergriff added. “I spent a good bit of time on Friday text-messaging him to let him know what was going on while I was in the Wal-Mart shopping. We just bounce a lot of ideas off of one another.”
THE TOP FUEL C.O.T. – Vandergriff revealed plans last fall for a Top Fuel version of the “Car of Tomorrow” to bring increased safety to the 330-mile per hour division. With the advent of the Harvick program, the C.O.T. project has taken a back-seat, although it remains on Vandergriff’s radar screen.
Harvick has shown in interest in the development of this potentially new chassis design.
“He has some interest in it from a driver’s standpoint and the safety aspects of it,” Vandergriff added.
Vandergriff said Top Fuel dragster Car of Tomorrow co-ordinator Gary Dehart will be in Atlanta this weekend and with this visit, more details could be released.
“We should have prototypes because we’ve already passed through that procedure,” Vandergriff said. “To be honest, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to make it a priority and I really should.”
Vandergriff could be looking ahead to potentially strapping Harvick into a dragster. He’s certainly hasn’t been shy in proposing the idea on Harvick.
“He really doesn’t want any of that,” Vandergriff said. “I told him the deal was conditional on him getting behind the wheel and stepping on the throttle for a few seconds. We’ll see if we can talk him into that. He’s kind of scared of it right now.”
Vandergriff said Harvick shouldn’t be fearful of the ride.
“I’ve told him he’s just got to convince himself to hit the throttle for a second or two and then he’ll see nothing bad will happen,” Vandergriff said. “He’ll be alright.”
HONORING THE AGES – Pro Stock celebrates its 600th event this weekend in Atlanta. In attendance was the winner of the
Bill Jenkins, who was the winner of the first Pro Stock event, was asked whether he felt the Pro Stock division would have progressed to the current level.
“I knew the class would only get better,” Jenkins said. “I expected it.”
DADDY DAYCARE – Poor Ashley Force, the Funny Car point leader and daughter of 14-time Funny Car champion John Force,
John asked Ashley, following the first day of qualifying, about her driving routine. He didn’t want to critique her. He wanted to pick her brain.
“Since my crash, I’ve had to learn how to drive all over again,” Force said. “Holding the clutch down has been tough since my accident and I just kept smoking the tires. The car has been dropping cylinders and all kinds of things.”
Force pondered whether the problem was driver or car related.
“I’m looking everywhere and I went over to Ashley and asked her how many times she used the clutch,” Force said. “She told me, and counted the times from burnout to backing up and to stage. Her number was half the time of mine.”
He was clearly putting more heat in the clutch.
“I realized that I just can’t keep the clutch in as long as I used to,” Force said. “I have to let it out to rest. That puts more heat in it. Subconsciously I didn’t know I was doing it. I do now.
“I told Ashley that and she just laughed it off, but then we looked on the computer and it confirmed it. I need to get my head back in that computer and learn stuff.”
COUGHLIN CRASHES - Pro Mod veteran Troy Coughlin was shaken but otherwise uninjured after crashing hard into the retaining wall of Atlanta Dragway during Saturday's first round of eliminations in the JEGS ProMod Challenge.
After qualifying for the first time this year, Coughlin launched
hard and pulled the wheels up on his JEGS.com Pontiac GTO before his car started
to shake the rear tires in the right lane. He did a quick pedal job to calm it
down but a sudden move to the retaining wall resulted in a hard hit. He then
drifted over the centerline, well behind Pontieri, and brushed the left side
before idling down to the top end.
"I'm okay," Coughlin said after being examined and released by NHRA doctors and medical personnel at the racetrack. "Sometimes that tire shake will clear itself up but it didn't this time and I probably kept my foot in it a tad too long. We were up for the race and excited to get our first round win of the year.
"I feel bad for the guys because they've worked very hard on this car and we qualified so well. Everyone was just sky-high in the JEGS pit. We'll have to evaluate what happened and see about fixing this car, if it can be fixed.
"I'm so happy Tony was well down the track and that we didn't get tangled up. I'd have felt 10 times worse if I'd collected him up in this mess. The main thing is I'm alright. The rest of this stuff can be replaced."
A TALE OF TWO FINALISTS – A month ago, proverbial longshot Joe Baker defeated Raymond Commisso in the final round of the NHRA Gatornationals. Only one of them made the field this weekend.
Commisso captured the Ohio Crankshaft No. 1 qualifier for the first time in more than a year as qualifying for the JEGS ProMod Challenge concluded Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Dragway.
Currently ranked third in the JEGS championship standings, 93 points behind Joe Baker, Commisso suddenly has a golden opportunity to gain a bunch of ground back on the No. 1 ranking as Baker failed to qualify for the event after winning the first two races of the year.
"We're definitely looking to earn as many points as we can," said Commisso, driver of the ProCare Rx Camaro. "The standings are about to bunch up considerably with Joe out of the line-up so it's going to get very interesting.
"I think we have a car that's capable of winning. It's only got three runs on it since Vanishing Point Race Cars rebuilt the center section of the chassis so we're still working out the bugs a little bit but any time you enter a drag race with Al Billes tuning your car you have a great chance to win."
Commisso's elapsed time of record was the 5.957 at 244.87 mph he posted in Friday's first qualifying session. He'll open against Rick Stivers, who set a very quick bump spot of 6.099 at 233.36 mph in his '67 Tindle Enterprises Shelby GT.
Returning to his '41 Willys after one race behind the wheel of Roger Burgess' hot rod, Baker's best run was a 6.165 at 234.94 mph. With an 80-point advantage over Tony Pontieri, who qualified 12th with a 6.066, Baker could still leave town with the points lead but it's dwindling fast.
NEW FUEL – Max Naylor’s plan for the 2008 season was a lot different than what he’s experienced thus far. He’s qualified in
“The last race, things started coming around,” Naylor said, referring to the Las Vegas event. “We’ve got to go back because we’ve been chasing phantoms for the last few races. We have to get everything set back to where it was. I think we’ll be good from this point on.”
The largest phantom Naylor chased started in the paint booth when, in the process of repainting the car to accommodate his new Vegas Fuel Energy Drink sponsorship, overspray corroded many of the electrical connections on his Dodge Stratus.
Before finding the culprit, Naylor found his frustration level growing because he admitted his car was better than it performed.
“I think it always bothers you,” Naylor said. “I knew we had a good car and had a good crew. We knew we had something wrong and we tried every which way we knew to find what was wrong.”
Naylor ran the 2007 season with backing from Jagermeister and by all accounts, appeared headed for a multi-year program with the spirits company. He elected to discontinue the program in 2008 when Jagermeister was forced to scale back their efforts.
“We were very fortunate to have had the program with the folks at Jagermeister,” Naylor said. “They had one person in the company that wanted to make a change. They didn’t want to lose the entire relationship with us but they weren’t going to be able to go us what we needed to be competitive.
“Our choice was to either take a step backwards or run the risk of losing it and see if we could put something together down the road that was going to be better. That’s the choice we made.”
Naylor could have easily felt shortchanged with the end result of the scenario, but he chooses to view the situation in a different light.
“Companies have to make decisions everyday they feel are the right ones to make,” Naylor said. “Truly this was a successful program. During our two year run, I think we went from under 2.8-million cases to six million a year. I’m not so arrogant to think we were responsible for that but I think we did have a major part of it.
“They still support us in little ways and they may be interested in coming back. You don’t burn your bridges and people make decisions, it doesn’t mean they are right or wrong. They just do what they feel is right. “
A staple of Naylor’s programs has always been in promotional appearances. He’s not doing as many this season as he did with Jagermeister sponsorship, but he’s confident this is an important component of any sponsorship activation.
Naylor visited an elementary school earlier this week and his visit was inspired. The parents of a Jr. Dragster racer contacted Naylor when he was told at a career fair by a school counselor that being a professional drag racer was not a real job.
“The parents emailed me and we took the whole team down there as well as the transporter,” Naylor said.
Naylor never had a guidance counselor try to squelch his efforts.
“I’ve always been fortunate to been in a position through hard work and planning to get to where we wanted to be,” Naylor said. “Everyone out here has the chance to do what they want to in life. You just have to have determination and enough education to do what you want to do. I don’t think anyone has the right to tell you that you can’t do something.”
RAMPY’S RETURN – Rarely do the diverse worlds of PGA Golf and NHRA Championship Drag Racing intersect. This weekend presents one of those rare occurrences.
Multi-time NHRA sportsman world champion David Rampy will race the rest of the season thanks to backing from PGA tour golfer Boo Weekly.
Rampy had planned to sell all of his equipment and step away from racing. Up until the Tuesday before the event, he was out of racing.
“This has all been a blessing,” Rampy said. “Maybe this all started when he won the Heritage tournament last weekend in Hilton Head, S.C. That’s probably put everything in motion.
“We had everything for sale and luckily nothing sold. We had some people talk to us but nothing ever came together. I think the good Lord knew what was going on and wouldn’t let anything happen until this deal came along.”
Rampy pointed out Weekly was already involved with his team, albeit on a limited basis.
“It just wasn’t enough to do what we wanted to do,” Rampy admitted.
This season Rampy estimates there will be 13 events on his 2008 schedule. The veteran driver from Piedmont, Alabama ranks as the second winningest NHRA sportsman drag racer at 67 victories.
“We got such a late start that we might not do much more than that,” Rampy said. “A lot of drag racers don’t keep up with golf, so I realize they might not know who he is. He’s just a good old country boy like me.”
Rampy says the major difference between them is their winner’s purse.
“My son told me he was quitting the golf team at school because it was interfering with his fishing time. He quit playing for the team and went fishing. I told him how much Boo won last weekend, he decided then to quit fishing and return to golf.”
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – CORY MAC ATTACKS, NONE OF THAT STINKING SCHUMACHER MONEY AND THE FIRST CASUALTY OF THE FULL THROTTLE ERA
NOTHING BUT MOMENTUM - Cory McClenathan knows how important momentum is to a drag racer. On Friday at the NHRA
His first qualifying effort today produced a 4.670/311.20, good for No. 2 at the time.
"We knew coming in here that the track was going to a be a little on the green side," said McClenathan after the run. "They re-did the surface and did a great job with that and the NHRA comes in and does their stuff and Lanny Miglizzi, the DSR track guru, came back and said the track is going to be good tonight.
"We wanted to go A to B this morning and crew chief Mike Green is really good at that and plays the game real smart. We knew we could stand on the gas on this last run," said McClenathan, who was paired with his teammate Tony Schumacher in that final pass. "The track was getting better and we could see the numbers and the temperature were dropping. We made a pulley change in the back and obviously if you're going to run (U.S. Army crew chief) Alan Johnson and Tony Schumacher, your teammate, you want to be able to at least run with them or do good doing it.
"We're just following their lead. Alan has had a lot of input on this race car and Mike Green takes it and does what he does best with it and that's just work it. And Mike's great at that."
WHOA NELLIE - When Pro Mod driver Rick Stivers said he was looking to “get lucky” in Atlanta
at this weekend's JEGS Pro Mod Challenge event at the Summit Racing Equipment
NHRA Southern Nationals, he didn't think he would be talking about the kind of
luck he had today. It wasn't "bad" luck— far from it. It was the kind of luck
that kept him from hitting the walls and barrel rolling sideways down the
quarter-mile at Atlanta Dragway.
In his first qualifying attempt, the Lexington, Ky.-resident delivered a white-knuckle, breath-holding performance, characteristic of the thrills common to the Pro Modified class. From the left lane, his '67 Shelby Mustang GT took a hard left after Stivers pushed the car into second gear, and the veteran driver held on and corrected, narrowly missing the left wall only to turn and head for the right wall traveling nearly 100 mph. Holding on for dear life, Stivers recovered from the car jumping up on just one wheel and kept from barrel-rolling down the track. He ended the run back in his lane, looking around the cockpit for the divine helper that got him through the run unscathed.
"We didn't think we'd be getting another lap because of a possible rain storm, so we had to push the car to try to make the field," Stivers explained. "When all hell broke loose after I pulled second gear, it was kind of : 'hang on and try to keep the rubber side down,' and I don't know how it happened, but it worked.
"I know there was an angelic co-pilot with me on that run, because I should have been in the wall - one or the other, take your pick, or rolling down the track. Now, that's what I call luck — if not a whole lot more," he said.
After a thorough inspection of the car and chassis by crew chief Mike Janis and team owner Tim Tindle,'The Dozer' was cleared for action, and Stivers prepared for the second round of qualifying. He delivered a safe 6.141-second, 232.11-mph pass that was good enough to take the provisional 14th spot heading into the final qualifier Saturday morning. Stivers teammate, Tim Tindle, is on the No, 16 bump spot at 6.153/240.34, capping the quickest-ever field in JEGS Pro Mod history.
"After that first run, I'm just glad we were able to get back on the track, let alone get into the show," Stivers said.
Tomorrow, the forecast has a chance of rain, which may lay claim to the last chance qualifying round, setting the field as it sits tonight.
"Either way, I'll be ready to race tomorrow. We'll just have to wait and see what Mother Nature sends us. I'd really like to have another consistent run before we go into eliminations Saturday night, just to get things shaken out - but we'll see what happens," Stivers said.
STIVERS WILD RIDE - THE SEQUENCE
A WILK SHAKE – Funny Car racer Tim Wilkerson continues to shake up the pecking order of Funny Car. He’s atop the
Wilkerson said the revamped Atlanta racing surface greatly aided his efforts during the first day of qualifying.
“There’s just not enough rubber out there on the asphalt yet but it's pretty dang good now,” Wilkerson said. “Jim Head and I talked about it before I ran and he said what are you going to do out there. I said it'll run on the other end. We'll just make a run early because it's good, real good.
THE RUMOR MILL – Tim Wilkerson had plenty of rumors circulating around him the last few weeks and one of those mentioned Whit Bazemore as a potential teammate.
Wilkerson hadn’t heard the Bazemore rumor but holds “Baze” in high regard.
“I talk to him a lot,” Wilkerson said. “He’s a good guy and one of the best Funny Car drivers out there. He would make a great teammate.”
But, the situation might create a rift within the Wilkerson family.
“I have a 20-year old son who would be upside down,” said Wilkerson, whose son Daniel races a Top Alcohol Funny Car. “But, you never know if they money was right and the sponsor situation permitted.”
What about a three car Funny Car team?
“I could do that,” Wilkerson said. “I have one problem though; I have very little hair left running only one Funny Car. Imagine having three? I might be in the insane asylum with three.”
BEEN A WHILE – Pro Stock racer Ron Krisher said a driver can get used to some luxuries, such as driving their way to the top
If he survives Saturday, it will be his 14th number one qualifier but first in the last five years.
“Well, we kind of got used to it before,” Krisher admitted. “We had a fast race car, a good crew chief, Tom Head, I've got good guys lined up. It takes a whole bunch of people to make a run like that. You can't lay it on one guy. Victor Cagnazzi has been tremendous. Joe Hornick has to warm me up. They are just a tremendous group of people that all make this happen then you've got to drive. That's the easy part. If everything else goes right then it's easy to drive.
Krisher pointed out his accomplished was a hard-fought one. He added the quality of the class is going to demand the best from everyone, time and time again.
“There are a lot of tough people out here in Pro Stock,” Krisher said. “This whole thing started to get jammed up again. There was a big spread at the beginning of the season and it's starting to crunch down here pretty quick for some reason. With Dave Connolly coming in there's going to be a spot that somebody needed to qualify in that was open earlier. It's pretty simple. It's about power, crew chiefs, about guys lining you up, it's about a lot of things not just you sitting there. You've got to shift great and do everything right but they do too. I can't give enough people enough credit.
MONEY WELL SPENT –Krisher abandoned his own in-house engine program to lease an engine from Cagnazzi late last season. The program has been paying dividends ever since.
“The best money I've spent in a little while,” Krisher said. “Aside from the fact that their really, really good people to work with. I just have an excellent relationship with all of these people and I'm extremely happy with the whole situation. You can run it and be at odds with everybody but that's not happening. It's a really, really good situation that I'm in. It can't get much better than it already is.”
Krisher said this pathway has put the fun back in racing for him.
“It's no fun to not have a shot at being at the top,” Krisher said. “Just qualifying doesn't get it. We've been there for a number of years and I think at Dallas five years ago was the last time we qualified number one and that's been a long time. We were getting kind of used to it, 1, 2, 3 all the time.”
Krisher said the racing surface deserves credit for his strong performance today as well.
“The track is the best I've ever seen at this race track because this race track has usually been a problem for everybody,” Krisher admitted. “This is the best race track I've seen in Atlanta, Georgia. I was surprised. We were so surprised we had the wrong transmission in the first run anticipating what we usually see. I could've drove that thing down a turnpike it was geared so high, hooked up and could've just rode forever.”
PROBLEMS EXORCISED - Andrew Hines admitted his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod just hadn’t been itself since
The end result was a provisional low qualifying effort and if he retains the top spot, the top qualifying effort will mark his second in Atlanta since 2005.
“It’s the same motorcycle I’d ridden since Houston although it feels totally different,” Hines said. “We were completely frustrated with our performance and went back to the shop to see if we could find what we needed to change.”
Hines confirmed the team pondered for a week as to what parts to order and changes to make.
“We really couldn’t come up with anything, so we decided to take the front of the bike off. We rewired the front half of the bike and decided to move some electronics around. We put new plug wires on the bike and you name it, we did it.
“We even checked the frame for air leaks and did a complete overhaul on the motorcycle. It paid huge dividends.”
Hines said the team tested on Monday and exceeded the track record four times. He added the best run was the final one.
“Luckily the momentum the bike rolled over into this weekend and its run the same. My dad has been stepping back and putting the responsibility on his sons.”
“We made 60 runs on the dyno and hurt a few parts but that comes with the territory. We found some power. To come out here and go to the top again.”
“We found a bunch of problems that needed to be resolved. The team gives me feedback to help me. I think we did so many engine swaps in Valdosta that I think we actually hurt some wiring.”
WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING MONEY – Cruz Pedregon fired a huge verbal shot across the bow of the Don Schumacher
“Just goes to show you don’t have to have Don Schumacher stinking money to run nitro,” Pedregon said.
WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING ADS – Full Throttle Energy drink announced plans to take over the primary sponsorship of the NHRA Drag Racing Series on Friday.
Rafael Acevedo, senior brand manager for Energy Drinks, Coca-Cola North America, opened the press conference with the catchphrase, “Go Full Throttle or Go Home.”
This week the first victim got sent home. An existing advertiser in the official event program was sent packing with the notice their full page ads could no longer be accepted.
Dan Pikarsky, sponsorship relations director for the Vis Viva Top Fuel team, said the agency who publishes the program called him early in the year and he bought into the program well before the change in sponsorship.
“They gave us a great opportunity to get involved with a full page ad. Just launching the product, this gave us the perfect opportunity to show our support for the NHRA.”
Pikarsky was taken aback by the call he received early this week.
“They told us they could no longer run our ad effective this weekend,” explained Pikarsky, who confirmed he’d signed a contract at the beginning of the program. “When we asked why, we were told the NHRA said we couldn’t run the ad anymore and they were notifying us that our ad would no longer be included.”
Pikarsky said he pointed out the agreement and said the plea fell on deaf ears.
“We’re taking the high road on this and simply saying that we’re glad they consider us to be competition,” Pikarsky said. “”It’s great to be recognized by a huge company like Coca-Cola. To be on their radar is a great honor. Besides, it’s their sandbox and we’re just happy to play in it.”
Pikarsky confirmed that Vis Viva and the other energy drinks are grandfathered in for the length of the Full Throttle contract. Because no new energy drink sponsors will be granted entry, the Vis Viva dragster driven by Alan Bradshaw will the lone representation in the class.
“And we’ll be the only one ever there, too,” Pikarsky added.
A spokesperson for the NHRA was unavailable for comment at the time of this posting.
WELCOME BACK DAVE - Cagnazzi Racing driver Dave Connolly made his long-awaited return to NHRA Pro Stock racing this weekend behind the wheel of a Chevy Pro Stock car. The 25-year-old Connolly debuted the Charter Communications Chevy Cobalt after loss of sponsorship forced the young talent to miss this season's first five races. He won eight races last year including a record-equaling five in a row from the race at Reading (Pa.) through the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis to the third annual race at Richmond.
"I'm thrilled to be back and I hope to be racing with Charter on the side of our car for many years to come," Connolly said. "They are a good company and we're going to do everything we can to put the Charter Chevy Cobalt in the winner's circle. I feel comfortable. It's been a while, and it made me a lot hungrier. I'm ready to get out and get at it.
"I have a lot of hope that we can go out and get into the top 10. I think if any team can come back after missing five races and qualify for the final part of the Countdown, it's this team. We're going to give it our best shot. Hopefully, we can put on a good show in our first outing with a brand new car. It's the same old driver, the same old crew chief (Tommy Utt) and crew, but we have a new sponsor and a new Chevy Cobalt."
CROSSING THE TRACKS - Justin Humphreys called on a friend for help going into the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals Friday at Atlanta Dragway and boy, did Frank Gugliotta answer.
Gugliotta, a longtime friend of the Humphreys family and an IHRA Pro Stock competitor, made some chassis changes Friday that provided the impetus for two solid runs of 6.679 and 6.655 seconds. The last one put him solidly in the provisional starting line-up at No. 3. He had been fourth after the opening round.
"I just came here to see if I could help them," said Gugliotta.
He got credit for what Humphreys called "two of the best runs we've made all year. We've had trouble getting the car to run better off the starting line, and the car did what it was supposed to do on those runs. Actually, if you add our two test runs before coming here, we've made four good ones. Finally . . ."
They have two more runs scheduled Saturday to set the starting line-up for Sunday's elimination. Humphreys knows he will be among them.
TENSE MOMENTS – The former crewchief/driver tandem of Mike Neff and Gary Scelzi were inseparable during Friday qualifying, literally. Neff exploded his engine and the subsequent oil spilled under the tires, forcing him into Scelzi lane.
Scelzi took evasive action and missed Neff, but made slight contact with the right retaining wall.
“It was running pretty good and then it started spinning the tires,” Neff recalled. “It just went off big. ‘Boom.”
This marked Neff’s first major fire since turning in his tuner’s wrenches last fall to drive for John Force Racing.
“My first real thought is that I had a huge fireball right in my face,” Neff continued. “The more I tried to get it stopped; the oil under the tires sent it over into the other lane. I just barely got into the wall. I was just trying to get the thing stopped.”
Scelzi ran over quickly to check on Neff.
“Driving those midgets at the Chili Bowl didn’t hurt,” Scelzi said. “"Lanny Miglizzi (DSR 'track whisperer') got on the radio and said, 'he just blew up, he's on fire, I don't know where he's going.' And just as he said that I looked and I saw him on fire coming into my lane and, I'm going to tell you what, (crew members) John Collins and Mike Knudsen have been working on these brakes on this Strange rear-end. I'm going to tell you, I had them babies locked. I just caught the corner of the guardrail on the right-hand side. But it was no big deal. Thank God Mike's OK. I still love him. He's my old crew chief. Hot damn, it wasn't me running into somebody for a change."
THE PRO MOD REPORT - Canadian racer Raymond Commisso is feeling right at home in the Deep South after opening
Commisso's run came in the first session of the day when ambient temperatures were at their hottest, but it didn't seem to bother the restaurateur. Even when the weather cooled slightly in the evening round, Commisso's mark was untouched.
"We stayed after Houston to test and discovered some problems with the centerpiece of the chassis," Commisso said. "As quick as we had been running, the car never felt right and we finally figured out what was wrong. We took the car back to Vanish Point Race Cars and they repaired it like brand new. They were true professionals in every sense of the word and the end result is a perfect racecar.
"When you have [crew chief] Al Billes tuning the engines and a car that goes straight, you can run 5.90s like it was nothing. We would have been even quicker in the second session but it lifted the wheels and I got out of the groove a little and I had to lift. I had a 1.00-second 60-foot time in Q1 and a .985-second 60-foot in Q2 so that tells me there is a lot left in there."
Danny Rowe (5.993) and Steve Engel (5.999) were the only other racers to record five-second passes on the day.
Tim Tindle represents the 16th and final spot on the provisional elimination ladder with one qualifying session left to be run. JEGS points leader Joe Baker is unqualified through Friday's action and must improve in Saturday's third round, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Eliminations begin at 4:30 p.m.
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