Keep up with this weekend's IHRA Spring Nationals by reading our behind-the-scenes event notebook. We bring you the stories behind the numbers and win-lights throughout the course of the weekend. Tune in daily for the latest news from the pits  





Matt Hagan learned a valuable lesson Sunday in Rockingham, North Carolina. The former award-winning Pro Modified driver turned Nitro Funny Car pilot realized a race is never over until it’s over.

Hagan struck the tires early in the Funny Car final round during the IHRA Spring Nationals and while his chances of winning appeared slim at the moment, something just wouldn’t allow him to give up. He quickly pedaled the throttle in an attempt to get the car to hook up.

Then Hagan glanced out of the windshield to see his opponent, Paul Lee, also a first time finalist, go up in smoke at mid-track.

Hagan’s ride caught traction and he started playing a game of catch-up, although his prospects looked slim considering he was two-tenths behind. The deficit was aided by his slower starting line reaction.

“I knew I had a bad light,” Hagan said of his starting line efforts. “I knew it was over then. Then his car went into shake and I pedaled and then I passed him. I knew I had to get it done from that point. He never caught back up to me. I was shaking inside of the car. The feeling came in and it was overwhelming.”

Hagan didn’t exactly know how to react to winning. He’s raced the Pro Modified program for two years without a national event victory and he’d already prepared himself for a lengthy learning curve in Funny Car. Then came the Rockingham triumph which negated every tire-shaking and smoking rubber effort he’d ever experienced.

“I was cheering,” Hagan admitted, when describing the final round experience. “Then I didn’t see the win light. I then I said to myself, ‘Oh no, why didn’t it come on?’

Hagan’s questions were answered when he exited the car.

“When I got out of the car and everyone was running over with the cameras, then I knew,” Hagan said. “All I could do was say, ‘Alright, we got it done.'”

While Hagan’s entire operation may resemble a first-class effort, a great misnomer is the team races with a huge budget. This is why Hagan’s crew chief Jay Lewis fits perfectly into the program. He fits in  not because he works cheaply , but because of his uncanny knack to do more with less.

Lewis, who was formerly crew chief for Bobby Lagana, works with a totally volunteer crew. In the end, Hagan said, everyone worked together to make this triumph happen.

“Jay told me that we weren’t going to beat ourselves,” Hagan said. “I can’t say enough about them, they thrashed hard to get us through each round. They are in it for the love of the sport.”

Hagan has surrounded himself with others who race primarily for the love of the sport. He credits a lot of advice from two-time Funny Car champion Dale Creasy. Case in point, Creasy counseled the rookie on driving his Funny Car to the right following Friday’s lone session.

“Dale came over and said, ‘You have to cock your hand a little to compensate for taking your hand off of the brake and putting it on the steering wheel,” Hagan said.

“I had no idea,” Hagan continued. “That made a lot of sense. Having a veteran driver like Dale to watch over you and your car going down the track and for them to make comments, you can’t replace the seat time this man has. Being a two-time world champion, he knows how to make a car run up and down the track.”

Hagan and Creasy have raced one another for the last two races, and have split the wins. He beat Creasy in the first round of eliminations.

When all was said and done and the trophies were awarded from the memorable day, Hagan made the point clear where the first trophy was headed when he gets home to Radford, Virginia. He’s presenting his trophy to his father David Hagan, the financier of his racing efforts.

“I’m gonna get home and put this trophy on his desk because he’s paying for all of this,” Hagan said. “That’s the least we can do.”

Hagan was named the 2005 NHRA Pro Modified Rookie of the Year for his efforts behind the wheel of a supercharged 1968 Chevrolet Camaro. He’s experiencing rookie status all over again with a Chevrolet-bodied flopper.

“The Funny Car is really, really fast off of the line but the Pro Modified takes much more skill when you having to swap feet,” Hagan said. “There’s a lot going on with getting your rpms right and pounding those gears. The Funny car is so overwhelmingly fast and your mind is trying to play catch up all the way down the track.”

Hagan has 25 laps to his credit now in the Funny Car including testing which began last fall in Las Vegas.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable,” Hagan admitted. “I’m not worried as much any more about what the car is going to do. In these cars, anything can happen but I feel really comfortable any way. The Pro Modified took me about 10 laps before I started to feel that way.”
Still, Hagan can’t seem to shake the memory of the first Funny Car run from his mind.

“I said ‘Holy Cow that was fast,'” Hagan recalled. “All I could see was the wall and the cones. You start picking up on stuff the more runs you make.”

Suddenly the term “getting beat by a girl” isn’t such an embarrassing proposition, at least that’s the stance taken by the IHRA Alcohol Funny Car fraternity of drivers. They’ve really got no other choice.

Laurie Cannister has led every round of qualifying thus far in 2008 and has won every round. In fact, the driver of the Kalbones Grill’n Sauce Funny Car has won three of the last four events she’s entered.

“That’s pretty much unheard of,” Cannister said of the team’s accomplishments. “I don’t think anyone has done that well since Jimmy Rector was racing. He dominated that last year I was in it. I just hope we can stay up there. Once you get up there, it’s tough to stay there. I know I have the crew and I know I have the backing with Kalbones.”

“It’s been quite a ride,” Cannister added.

Cannister is racing with a familiar ride seeing the car she’s driving is the same one she piloted in 2002 when she ran an abbreviated schedule. What is not the same are the components under the GM-bodied entry.

“We have a totally different supercharger than we used to run,” Cannister said. “The heads are still Ken Veney heads, but they are the 2-600 heads. The others were 2-500 Ken Veney heads. It all obviously works different and obviously faster too.”

In 2002, Cannister ran as quick as a 5.77. She’s since lowered the standard to a 5.66.

Cannister found out on Sunday the extra horsepower can come in handy, especially when she’s tardy on the starting line like she was against first round opponent Neal Parker. She’s familiar with Park having raced him many times in the now defunct Pro Outlaw division.

Cannister was able to run down Parker’s .12 starting line advantage and beat him by almost three feet at the stripe.

“I beat myself up today after that round,” Cannister said. “When Neal Parker left on me and all I saw was red car, I knew I was in serious trouble. Luckily the crew gave me a car that was able to drive around him.

“I tried to get out of my head and psyche myself up a little more,” Cannister said. “I tried to get up for the tree and concentrate harder. I just did that every time, so the last pass was my best one.”

Cannister’s winning reaction time was a .049 in the final round.

Cannister may be beating up on the boys badly this season, but when she’s down, they don’t think twice about helping. Dale Brand came to Cannister’s rescue when the team had a problem with the front tires on the car.

“They lent me the front wheels and tires because I had chunks out of my tires,” Cannister said. “We needed the help and they came to our rescue and brought their crew down to help us. We also had a hurt cylinder at that time – the number one – and it was hurt pretty bad. We were concerned about it. I put the car into third gear in the final and it was still going pretty fast. Right as it went through the lights, it quit and I thought it was going to throw me into the windshield. I knew something was hurt, but when I saw the win-light I said, ‘I don’t care, this is perfect.”

Driving a Top Fuel dragster shouldn’t be as easy as Spencer Massey is making the process look.

He earned his Top Fuel license just days before the IHRA season-opener in San Antonio, Texas and drove his way to the winner’s circle during that event. Three weeks later, he added a win at the IHRA Spring Nationals in Rockingham, NC., to prove he’s no fluke.

“I’m having a ball,” Massey said. “We came all the way from Texas to Rockingham and we keep getting the round wins. I’ve had my license for three weeks and won two national events.”

Massey warns his success is nothing more than having the perfect combination of talent behind the Mitch King car.

“If it was this easy, then everyone should be doing it,” Massey said. “Mitch King has a great car and Paul Smith has one of the best tune-ups, it runs down the drag strip and never hurts anything. It runs 4.70s and could run 4.60s, but there’s no sense in stepping on it and hurting ourselves.”

Massey entered the first event full expecting a limited schedule. The next IHRA event wasn’t on the initial list. However, with the success – the likelihood of the team being in Milan remains strong.

“We have a large point lead built up and you haven’t seen the last of us,” Massey added.

Massey raced the defending world champion for the second time this season. This time was in the final round and while Massey will admit the champion might not have expected him to be a force in the first event; he was more than prepared for the rematch.

“I knew he was going to try to get a light on me because that’s how I beat him in San Antonio. I have been working hard on improving my lights in this car. I usually have really good lights in the A/Fuel car. I haven’t been able to cut what I call a good light in this car. I’ve tried lots of things including the positioning of my foot and how I do it in the injected, nitro car we race over in the NHRA. I went back to the routine I use in the A/Fuel car and had a .038 light in the finals.”

Massey said his starting line and driving confidence can be directly attributed to the team Mitch King has assembled.

“If it weren’t for Paul Smith and Mitch King, it wouldn’t be as easy,” Massey said. “Paul Smith puts the car down the track without it blowing up and making you worry about what it’s going to do. All I have to do is get in the car and worry only about cutting a light and keeping it in the groove and getting on the parachutes. That’s all a driver should ever concern himself with is only driving the car.

“If you had to get in the car and worry about the rods coming out of it, or having bad oil pressure, you might have not be able to cut a good light having all of that on your mind. You need to have a good team and a good crew chief and that’s what we have.”

Elijah Morton is one of three active IHRA Pro Stock drivers who call North Carolina their home.

Morton, who hails from Jacksonville, North Carolina, has been a competitive force in the class since stepping up from the Top Sportsman division earlier in the decade. Today’s victory represents the first time he’s won at Rockingham Dragway since becoming a professional drag racer.

He defeated point leader John Montecalvo in the final round of the IHRA Spring Nationals to pull within eleven points of the top spot.

“I’ve got family and friends here and it’s been a long dry spell of three years since we won one of these,” Morton said. “It’s awesome and nothing feels better.”

Morton, who had laid down some impressive times thus far this season, credited his engine program with Allen’s Competition as a major factor.

“My driving has been decent and the car was set up pretty good,” Morton added. “There’s a lot of people that has been standing behind me and it feels good. It felt great just to be in the final round and win it.”

Off course, Morton’s Rockingham success could have easily been aided by extensive testing at the revered facility over the course of the weeks leading into the national event.

“We were here testing about three or four weeks ago,” Morton said. “We ran a 6.279 here in testing and I wish we could have had the air to do it this weekend. We are happy with what we’ve got and ran good and consistent all day. My team gave me a good race car I could feel confident to drive today.”

Morton’s ride to the finals in Rockingham was achieved by victories over Trevor Eman, Dean Goforth and Cary Goforth. Of the three, his match against Dobbins had special meaning.

“We had first round and that got the jitters out of the way. We had Jeff Dobbins in the second round and beating him was like winning the state championship. When we got to the finals, I knew we couldn’t be happy with just the state. We had to win the nationals. My team gave me a very good and consistent car to drive today. We won by a small margin each time and a win is a win.”

The Rockingham victory marked the fourth career win for Morton dating back to his sportsman participation.

How far will a drag racer drive to win a race? If you’re Kenny Lang, the correct answer ranges from 35 – 40 hours.

Lang, who hails from Grand Pointe, Manitoba, Canada, won his first career IHRA national event in Rockingham, after two previous finals,  when Scotty Cannon, Jr. broke prior to staging for the final round.

Lang won the 2007 IHRA Torco Pro Modified Shootout crown in Martin, Michigan, and in that event, his opponent also broke prior to the final round.

“I still drove the car to prove what it can do, what we were going to do that round,” Lang said. “That was my intent here. It went out and bogged a little bit out of the hole, and it rattled the tires pedal, and it wasn't worth going any further, but other than that you want to put a show on for the fans and that's what we're going to do here, we're going to run it down the track and see what it can do. So that's what we try to do.”

Lang pocketed $20,000 for the shootout victory and even though he’ll cash in half the amount for the Rockingham victory, he’ll forever hold the event in high regard.
“You know I've always wanted to win an Ironman trophy but we just hadn’t gotten one,” said Lang. “We wanted to get the car in the five-second zone and when you have the kind of horsepower Al Billes provides plenty but we are going to need a few more runs on the new car to get there.”

Yes, former IHRA Pro Stock champion Steve Spiess is racing in NHRA Pro Stock this year. No, he’s not doing it exclusively.

Spiess was running Pro Stock during the IHRA Spring Nationals in Rockingham, NC, and fared quite well, qualifying tenth.
“I never said that we were going to completely go away from this place,” Spiess said. “We kept everything and we're going to run three or four of them, maybe more.”

The Pontiac GTO Spiess was running in Rockingham was the same one he branded the “Spiess Shuttle” for its tendency to run quick elapsed times. He converted an older car over to run the NHRA.

One could easily wonder how the transition has been for Spiess in converting from the big engines to smaller and back to big.
“It's kind of like riding a bike,” Spiess explained. “Once you're in a car everything should happen just fine as long as you go straight, it'll be fine.”


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A week ago, Nitro Funny Car pilot Paul Lee figured he’d spend this weekend in much the same way as

Paul Lee had planned to keep up with the race via the Internet. He decided earlier in the week to keep up in person instead.
two weeks ago, sitting home keeping up with the IHRA race action via the various Internet news websites. A lack of funding kept the Wynewood. Pa.-based driver at home and away from the season-opening IHRA Texas Nationals in San Antonio, Texas.

If not for some last minute maneuvering from veteran tuner Paul Smith, Lee might have missed his opportunity of a lifetime. He drove his way to a career-first pole position with a track record elapsed time of 4.797 elapsed time at 315.34 miles per hour.

“This means a lot to me because five days ago we weren’t coming to this race,” said Lee of his monumental performance. “Paul Smith and I basically put this thing together in a few days and he wanted to come here. We found out on Monday for sure we were coming.”

Does this accomplishment mean a lot to Lee? You betcha it does.

“The number one means a lot because Paul Smith has a great team. We want to race and it’s all about deals and stuff like that. We are just trying to promote some potential sponsors out here. This means a heck of a lot. I want to carry over this momentum in Sunday.”

There’s a belief the No. 1 qualifying position can present a special jinx during the first round of eliminations. Lee doesn’t subscribe to the notion.

“I’m not superstitious,” Lee said. “I think it’s bad luck to be superstitious.” 

Bruce Litton headed into Saturday unqualified. He didn’t leave with the same status.

Bruce Litton earned his way into the field in the afternoon. That night he established his dominance.
“It was on a really good run and we had some good early numbers, but we didn’t finish it,” Litton said of his lone Friday evening qualifying attempt. “I hate losing the Friday night run because it puts you behind the eight-ball headed into Saturday. That sticks in your head. But we were blessed we got tonight’s run in to show the potential of our car.

Litton won his very first national event title in Rockingham during the 1999 season and has added two more victories during the spring race. He also clinched his first career world championship here last season during the fall race.

Litton didn’t bank on past success to get him in the show on Saturday. He was banking on a favorable nod from Mother Nature.

“We were worried about only getting one session in today,” Litton explained. “We hated to think we might only get one shot and could get bumped out if we didn’t run well tomorrow. We were blessed to get both runs in today.”

Alcohol Funny Car driver Laurie Cannister has led every session of qualifying for her class thus far in
Laurie Cannister has no qualms about being called the last
2008. The reason for the success is obvious.

“As long as everyone does their job and the car runs consistent, you can’t help for the end result to be this,’ Cannister said. “It’s amazing to us and everyone around us.”

Cannister, whose husband Dale is the tuner on her Kalbones Grill'n Sauce-sponsored Funny Car, said the team is still searching for the edge of the envelope to their tune-up. She ran a 5.722 elapsed time at over 245.15 miles per hour to claim the top spot.

“We thought we had found it,” Cannister said. “I don’t think so, but we’re going to try and find it. We’re going to keep pushing the car to go quicker.”

A popular topic of conversation associated with her success has been the banter of potentially changing the name of the Last Man Standing program to make the qualifying reward program gender correct. Cannister said she’ll protest the move.

“I don’t want them to change the name of the program because then we might stop winning it,” Cannister said. “I don’t want it to be the Last Person Standing. We need to leave it the way it is.”

Former Pro Stock world champion Pete Berner has his sights on the regaining his title. He led
Pate Berner said he gunning hard to regain his Pro Stock championship.
qualifying from the first session on Friday until Saturday’s evening session.

“All in all we've had a great weekend so far,” Berner said. “The guys have made some really good calls, and what can I say about my crew -- they do a tremendous job of preparing this car - I just sit in it and work the clutch.”

Berner says the key to his success can be attributed to his equipment.

“This new RJ Race Cars Pontiac GXP has been a winner right out of the box,” said Berner. “I was a little leery about replacing my GTO, because it was such a good car, but (car builder) Rick Jones told me this car would be awesome, and it is. On our first run during testing the car went 223 miles-per-hour. We put the tune-up out of our other car in this one, and it has just continued to pick up ever since.”

If one thinks Berner plans to rest on his laurels they are greatly mistaken.

“We have two new motors at home that we're going to start testing with next week,” Berner added. “One is from our new in-house engine program and one is Jon Kaase's latest combination.

“We definitely want our championship back, and we're going to work real hard to get it. There are some tough customers out here, and I'll have my hands full trying to deal with them, but we're going to give it everything we have.”

Three-time IHRA Alcohol Funny Car champion Rob Atchison is about 19 days away from being a father.

“Looks like I’ve got to grow up and get a real job,” Atchison joked. “I think I’m more nervous about that than I am about making the car go to the finish line. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. The baby doesn’t know that I’m a rookie.”

Atchison and wife Julie won’t know the sex of the baby until it’s born.

“There’s a fifty-percent chance it’s gonna be a boy,” added Atchison.”

Top Fuel racer Kevin Jones made his way into the eight-car field and in doing so, the Berea,
Kevin Jones en route to his first 300 mph run and a qualifying berth.
Kentucky-based driver scored a personal milestone. He finally exceeded 300 miles per hour.

“This is a hurdle we’ve been trying to clear for a long time,” said Jones, who drives for Sipple Motorsports. “Even more importantly, we got in the show.”

Jones described the run as a normal one for the car owned by Doc Sipple. A normal run for the team can sometimes be a challenge.

“It put a hole out and moved me over near the center-line,” said Jones. “I worked the car over and got the parachutes out. I asked the crew what I ran and there was silence. I figured we missed the show and everyone had removed their radios in disgust.”

He found out otherwise when they arrived but another shocker came as the announcers mistakenly announced Jones had missed the eight-car cut.

“We had just got our first 300 mile per hour run and the thought we hadn’t made it dropped our spirits down to the bottom again,” Jones said. “IHRA President came out to congratulate us on the feat and making the show in the eighth spot. It didn’t take us long to get excited again.”

The popular rumor circulating throughout Rockingham Dragway suggested six-time IHRA World Champion Scotty Cannon had sold his newly constructed Vanishing Point Race Cars-fabricated 1968 Pontiac Firebird. Cannon confirmed the rumor as truth.

So who did he sell his car to?

“We sold it to an unknown guy,” Cannon responded.

“An unknown guy?” we asked.

“When he pays you it's his, regardless of his name and who he is,” Cannon explained. “He just doesn't want his name revealed yet. I guess it's sort of a surprise. We did some testing with it at Darlington; he did some driving with it and he's happy and all good. Everybody will know pretty soon who it is. It won't take long, I'm sure.”

As for son and defending world champion Scott Cannon, Jr., he’s driving the team’s lone classic Firebird, at least for this weekend thanks to backing from fellow Pro Modified team owner Richard Patterson’s PMS Excavation Company.

“When we didn't have a sponsor before, helped us out,” Cannon said. “He called and volunteered to help us out again. He really didn't require us to put his name on the car. He's just helping me from the goodness of the heart until we get a sponsor. I'm going to make him let me put his name on the car anyway; that's the least I can do. That just goes to show you in drag racing, when things get rough we stick together and make it happen.”

Cannon beamed with excitement about the possibility of returning to driving this season. On Friday, he was applying sponsor decals.

“The long and short of it is it's just an adjustment; and there ain't any using in crying over spilled milk,” Cannon said. “I enjoy watching Scott race. It's not like we’re going anywhere -- we've just had a minor setback and keep kicking away.”

Pro Modified racer Thomas Patterson, son of PMS Excavation Company owner Richard Patterson, had the
Thomas Patterson has returned to his trusty 1941 Willys to race Pro Modified.
opportunity to run a pair of Dodge Daytona Superbirds along with teammate Billy Gibson.

Patterson’s feeling a bit sentimental these days and returned to his proven 1941 Willys for what he plans to be a full 2008 IHRA tour.

“I like my Willys,” Patterson explained. “I know it will go down the track. It's faithful and it’s been proven several times back to back.”

Patterson has run the Vanishing Point Race Cars entry since 2002. A Patterson tradition requires the older race vehicles to be retired to the family’s office.

“We had to pull it out of retirement,” Patterson said. “It was fixing to go into Dad’s office and we had to pull it out of there. Yeah, if I can keep him away from it we’ll run it for a while longer.”

The car might have had more miles on it had the Patterson’s business not been so successful.

“I had to sit out a season just to keep up with the business; that's what pays the bills for these things,” Patterson added.

Pro Stock points leader John Montecalvo admitted the shelf-life on bragging rights from winning a national
The shelf-life for a national event victory and the point lead bragging right lasts a few days.
event and gaining the points lead can be short.

“That lasts until Monday afternoon, after that it's all over,” said Montecalvo. “You get back to work and get back on your normal life, and you try to enjoy it for the weekend. Certainly got a lot of calls to the office on Monday and Tuesday, lot of congratulations, but I would say by Wednesday night it was all over.”

One thing which hasn’t subsided for Montecalvo is the belief this season will be the quickest-ever for the class.

“You know there are a lot of people out there that are making good runs, good cars, good motors,” said Montecalvo. “There's no doubt in my mind it's going to be the fastest year ever.”

The doubt was removed for Montecalvo when Robert Patrick bettered the existing quarter-mile elapsed time world record by more than .01 and was only .004 off the eighth-mile mark two weeks ago.
“I think once we get into the good air, end of the season, up in New Hampshire, you will see,” Montecalvo said. “That is the one race I'm looking forward to, with the shootout being there, ideal weather conditions. That's going to be the one that sets the standards.”

Montecalvo has a reason to get excited considering he’s a former winner at New England Dragway. He captured his first career national event title there during the 1999 IHRA North American Nationals.
Adding to the excitement level, is the fact he and most every team in the Pro Stock pits made significant horsepower gains in the off-season.

“We picked up some and I won’t quote our figures, but it’s evident everyone else did as well,” Montecalvo explained.  “I think as a whole the class is getting smarter with our cars, our accommodations, and I say we're up a couple hundredths.”

Montecalvo made power gains in the off-season, but also improved in the reaction time department thanks to a simulator device fabricated by former crewman/teammate Jeff Dobbins. He can get starting line practice while in the transporter yet retaining the similar confines of a race car.

Dobbins developed the device which has become valuable in Montecalvo’s race preparation regimen. The device’s creator has developed a reputation as one of the better starting line drivers in the class.
“I guess he's proof that it works,” Montecalvo said. “Jeff sold me that a few years back and actually after the final round in San Antonio, he told me there was a recall on it, he had to take it back.”

Make no mistake about it, beating Dobbins on the starting line was huge for Montecalvo. 
“We could do no wrong that day,” Dobbins said. “We didn't have the power advantage that we needed.  We were struggling with the car in qualifying and we had a lot of issues going on.  I think we solved all of those issues.  I knew it was up to me and I had to do the job that day.  I did it.  This practice here definitely helps.  It's all mental, Roy Hill told me that a while ago.”

Montecalvo has some help flying the GM banner in IHRA Pro Stock now. There was a time when he felt like he was the last of a dying breed. He just couldn’t turn his back on the brand.

“I've just been a GM person all my life,” Montecalvo explained. “I've ran Chevrolets from the beginning of time and I just couldn't switch. I have a lot of loyal fans out there that would butcher me if we did switch.” 

Ed Hoover wants nothing more than to be in love with Rockingham Dragway. If only he could
Ed Hoover likes Rockingham Dragway. he just wishes the track liked him.
get the revered facility to reciprocate those feelings.

“I like the place, all my of my friends come here and Steve Earwood does a great job with the race track but this place beats me to death,” said Hoover, who lives down I-77 in Columbia, South Carolina. “It's embarrassed me in front of my friends more times than you can ever imagine.  It owes me is the way that I'm looking at it this weekend.  This has got to be my home track now that we don't go to Darlington anymore.  It owes me big time.”

Hoover hasn’t accepted the bum luck in stride. He’s not an overly suspicious person but when he’s experienced an inordinate number of misfortunes such as Rockingham presents, drastic measures take over.
“I can't say everything we’ve done but we have called in a witch doctor,” Hoover added.

Hoover entered this weekend on the heels of an event at San Antonio Raceway, a facility which has provided just the opposite. He’s won at the track twice out of the last three events. Has he envisioned fooling the car into thinking it’s in Texas?
“I wish that we could get a couple of cowgirls out here and some horses that way to make it look like we're in Texas,” Hoover said.

Hoover admitted as good as the Trussell Motorsports cars seem to perform in San Antonio; this season’s event threw them a curve. He cites an inconsistent racing surface as a leading factor.

“The biggest thing about San Antonio is the track was a moving target,” Hoover said.  “It never stayed the same.  If the tracks will stay consistent then we can tune to something that's going to stay consistent because run after run you've got to get better on it.  San Antonio, everything we threw at it was the wrong thing because the track went from having eight-foot long bald spots at one time and then it got really good the next.” 

Robert Patrick rebounded on Saturday night and vaulted himself from the ninth spot to third.
IHRA Pro Stock World Champion Robert Patrick made a strong run in the first session and for the next two events, he wondered why fate was frowning on him. Patrick’s second Friday run resulted in an aborted run and Saturday’s opening attempt resulted in a less-than-spectacular effort.

Patrick saved his best for last as the 14-time national event winner from Fredericksburg, Virginia recorded a 6.343 elapsed time at 218.69 miles per hour vaulted himself from the ninth position into the third seeding for Sunday’s final eliminations.

“We had a pretty good rebound today,” Patrick said. “We didn’t have a good run today and that put us at the front of the pack and because that, we couldn’t make those last minute adjustments those at the back of the field get to make. I’m confident we left something on the table.”

Patrick races Cary Goforth in the first round of eliminations. He gets lane choice on a track which has presented a wide spectrum of conditions.

“The track conditions changed so much today, we tried to get a handle on it the best we could,” Patrick explained. “We had temperatures that went as high as 123 and low as 84 during the course of the day. That was a big swing for us to hit. We’ve been chasing this track for two days now.”

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Chances are, when the IHRA developed their Last Man Standing award, a special program which

Laurie Cannister has been on a tear in 2008 with two national event victories in three outings.
rewards drivers for qualifying win-lights, they never anticipated a gender problem. Then came along Laurie Cannister and her propensity for illuminating the win-light in rapid fashion.

The former Pro Outlaw world champion turned Funny Car points leader pulled off the feat on Friday evening by gaining the provisional No. 1 qualifying position and a bonus five points for winning her qualifying match. Cannister didn’t have to search hard for a secret to the Kevin and Wendy Sims-owned team’s success.

“It’s gotta be the tuner and the whole crew,” Cannister said. “I put it in third and it pulled even harder than it did at the first part of the track. The run was so smooth that I noticed how hard I was pushing on the pedal. I was pushing awful hard. I was thinking, ‘Please throttle cable – don’t break.”

Three weeks before last season’s IHRA Torco Race Fuels President’s Cup Nationals in Budds Creek, Maryland, Cannister’s team was organized. They went on to win the event and pace qualifying in the next event. Two weeks ago, Cannister scored her tenth career professional national event victory.

“It’s in how you gel as a team,” Cannister said. “We were fortunate to get the right people together and it’s been working right since the fall.”

The team obviously subscribed to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory during the off-season considering their success at those initial outings.

“We didn’t change anything from last year and we certainly weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel.” Cannister said. “We expected our team to do well enough to stay up near the top. That’s all we wanted to do. We set our objective to qualifying and when you do that, you exceed the expectations.”

Cannister admitted they are leaning on the car a bit and if she has her way, they’ll try to coax even more performance from the Kalbones-sponsored entry.

“I want to be the first into the 5.50s and the first over 250,” Cannister said. “If we can’t pull it off this weekend, maybe we can do it in the fall.”

Top Fuel racer Scott Palmer’s outing during the last event wasn’t the start he envisioned for the
Scott Palmer went to the top spot on a run in which he was forced to lift early.
2008 season. He could have experienced the same fate at Rockingham if not for a telephone conversation with veteran tuner Johnny West.

“Johnny had told us to watch out for a set of clutch discs and we checked out ours and sure enough, there were some in there,” Palmer said. “We changed them out and the car went back to running like it was before.”

Palmer landed atop the field with a 4.645 elapsed time with a slowing speed of 296.83 mile per hour pass.

There was a good reason for the early shut-off.

“My arm restrain got caught in my buckles,” admitted Palmer. “I had to click it off about 150 – 200 feet earlier. I ended up grazing the wall in the shutdown area. I ran it as far as I possibly could. I just got a little racing stripe, that’s all.

“I actually felt like I was back in my old alcohol Funny Car days.”

Pete Berner took the crown and title of "Last Man Standing" for the Friday night qualifying
Pete Berner was the quickest of the Pro Stockers with a 6.377.
session at the Spring Nationals in Rockingham, NC. Berner's Quarter-Max.com Pontiac GXP made the tricky left lane look easy as it glided to a 6.324 at 220.37 mph to win the Quarter-Max Pro Stock Challenge.

"I'm thrilled to win this Quarter-Max Pro Stock Challenge for Rick Jones," stated Berner. "It's been awesome to work with him and the guys from Quarter-Max this year. I can't thank him enough for all he does for the Pro Stock class and for building such a great car. This Quarter-Max.com GXP works perfectly every time we go down the track. It's a joy to drive. We had a great time out here tonight and we look forward to doing it again tomorrow night."

Berner qualified number one after Friday's afternoon session with a 6.377 at 218.41 mph. In the evening session he improved his time to keep the pole position along with capturing the Quarter-Max Pro Stock Challenge award. "That was fun. Let's do it again," said an enthusiastic Berner. "The Quarter-Max.com machine is geared up and ready for Saturday."

One of the more noticeable absences from the season opening IHRA Texas Nationals in San Antonio
Brian Gahm sat out the first event of the season in San Antonio for what he calls economic reason.
was the two-time IHRA Pro Stock champion Brian Gahm. The Lucasville, Ohio-based driver had a good reason.

He was working. Plus, the current state of the economy and his disdain for eighth-mile racing were contributing factors.

“I just couldn’t see going down there for an eighth-mile race and spending all of that money for fuel,” Gahm said. “I’m just not doing it this year. We have a lot of stuff going on at home. We’re going to race but we’re not doing a lot of things like we used to – like driving all the way to Edmonton. It ain’t gonna happen.”

Gahm is a veteran of the mountain motor Pro Stock wars, having migrated over from the rough and tumble world of racing nitrous Pro Modified. He’s reached the final round in eighteen IHRA national events with eleven victories.

He may have won world championships but his racing is now based on dollars and sense, not cents.

“I am just as competitive as I’ve always been,” said Gahm. “Business is first for me. I’m not going to make a living drag racing. We have a lot of stuff going on at home and things have tightened up. The price of fuel is high and there are all kinds of factors I’m weighing in on my decision process.

“Having won a championship or not shouldn’t weigh in on the common sense decisions. I want to win every race I go to.”

Gahm other factors outside of helping with the family business aided the decision-making process.

“We’ll still race; I just can’t see spending all of that fuel money, about $3,000 per race, and still racing for the same amount of money we were racing for fifteen years ago,” Gahm explained. “C’mon. The race cars are twice as expensive as they used to be and the motors are too. The rigs have gotten expensive too since then. The money hasn’t changed. Does it take a rocket scientist to figure that out? I don’t think so.”

Gahm is running the same car he had last year and admitted he didn’t do a thing to it over the winter.

“All I did was make a couple of test laps in Darlington before I headed here,” Gahm said.

Last year Gahm limped into the season-opener, literally. He broke a bone in his ankle.

This season he kept all the bones intact but this was of little consolation as he battled a severe case of kidney stones.

“Spent my share of time in the hospital,” Gahm said. “I had to have surgery to correct the problem. It seems every winter there is something going on. Maybe next year will be better.”

Pro Stock racer Jason Collins has returned to the IHRA after a three year absence. Boy, things sure have
Jason Collins returned to competition after a three-year absence.

He’s found that fact out the hard way in the first two events of 2008.

“There’s a whole lot more of the motor tuning and stuff like that than before,” Collins said. “You've got to be on top of you engine program as far as how the motors tuned. You’re doing stuff with the laptop and things like that. It's a little more technical than it was.”

Collins spends much of his time as a drag strip operator, handling the day-to-day operations of Alabama International Raceway. He’s a two-time finalist in IHRA Pro Stock competition.

Such credentials would qualify one to have an extensive logbook of places to start when establishing a baseline. Collins wouldn’t say this process was methodical.

“We’re doing a lot of guessing,” Collins said. “We’re just trying to sneak up on it, not trying to go out there and set the world on fire, but of course anybody would like to go out there and run up front right off the bat. That's not normally the way it happens, and after this race here the motor is going to go back to Jon Kaase’s and hopefully he can help us out, give us a little more power. That will make it easier.”

During the downtime, Collins was able to procure a major sponsorship with Alabama-based O.E.M. cylinder head manufacturer Patriot Performance.

Quan Stott was seventh in the program after two sessions.
Pro Modified racer Quain Stott exercised his no procrastination plan during Friday qualifying. The Inman, South Carolina-based driver of the LeeBoy Corvette ran the seventh quickest elapsed time of the day with a 6.119 at 237.09 miles per hour.

"I'm just happy we're in and not waiting until the last minute like San Antonio to get in,” said Stott. “I've got some more left, we didn't really go after it. I wanted to make sure we were in the field in case it rained tomorrow. We'll get after it tomorrow - we might show our ass... But we'll go for it. It won't be a .98 like Mike (Janis), but we've got some more in it"

CHANGE OF PACE – Nitro Funny Car racer Cory Lee has experienced nitro racing from two distinctive angles over the past two seasons. He’s spent a fair amount of time turning the wrenches on a few top-running nostalgia Nitro Funny Car but now he’s back in the cockpit this weekend driving Jeff and Bonnie McGaffic’s Metalwood Bats-sponsored entry.
“This is pretty exciting, we were hoping over the winter to get a sponsor on this car and come out and start the season in San Antonio and then run all the way through,” Lee said. “But that didn't work out quite well. Jeff called me about a week ago; we've only known this for a week, so it's great to come back out here at the Rock.”

At this moment, Lee cannot elaborate how many events he’ll drive in this year.
“We're week by week right now,” Lee said. “If we do well here, we may go up to Michigan next month.”

Nitro Funny Car driver Matt Hagan was laboring away in his Radford, Virginia shop, getting his
Cory Lee makes a qualifying attempt on Friday evening.
nitro Funny Car ready for this weekend’s event. The freshman driver was meticulous in his preparation for the weekend of drag racing and even more so knowing this is only his second event behind the wheel of a nitro-burner. He is more focused than usual for those simple reasons.

Details mean the difference between winning and losing.

Then his concentration was broken by the radio. Instead of yelling for one of his co-workers to turn the volume down, he paused and listened.

The disc jockey presented a reminder April 16th was the one year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. All of a sudden racing didn’t have his attention anymore.

“I used to party with some friends over there. I actually went to the college one exit down from there in Radford. Fortunately, I didn’t know any of the victims. It was a terrible situation any way you look at it.”

“It brought back a lot of memories,” said Hagan. “It’s tough, especially when you think of those people. You think about the incident and how it touched their lives. It’s a tragic thing you hope never happens again. As a community, everyone really pulled together. It was such a bad thing; it pulled the community together even more.”

Hagan was doing pretty much the same thing last year, as he was on this day, except he was preparing a race car for competition for the upcoming weekend, ironically also in Rockingham, NC. His work was interrupted by the sirens wailing from a convoy of ambulances and emergency vehicles, as well as Virginia State troopers, racing to the Virginia Tech campus, located just ten minutes from his race shop.

Hagan learned on that day how unimportant racing could become after he found out 32 victims lost their lives at the hand of a gunman.

Hagan plans to honor the slain and wounded students by running one of the commemorative black ribbons with the Virginia Tech logo this coming weekend at Rockingham.

“You keep everyone in your thoughts, especially those families who had to go through this,” Hagan said. “It affected everyone differently around here. It brought some together and tore others apart. I hate that it happened and hate that it happened here. It could have easily happened somewhere else. All you can do is pray for them.”

Hagan wouldn’t mind winning; but not for his own self-edification. Rather he’d prefer winning as a positive alternative to such a negative situation.

“If we can touch someone out there by our efforts and ease their pain, that’s what matters the most,” Hagan said. “We’re out there to win and doing our best to represent the communities of Christianburg and Blacksburg and do the best for our area.

Matt Hagan remembers the day of the Virginia Tech massacre. He's racing this weekend in honor of those slain and injured as well as their families.
Pro Modified racer Tommy D’Aprile may not be the quickest car in the show but he’s not overly disappointed. When you’re as consistently good as he’s proven to be in the first day of qualifying nothing else matters.

"We're just happy to get the car down the track,” said D’Aprile. “I had to pedal everything in San Antonio. We went to Mooresville and made eight passes one after another and I never got it out of first gear. We come to Rockingham and Mike (Janis) get the car down the track in the afternoon with an .11. Then tonight we matched his early numbers except I had no clutch.

“I drove through the clutch the whole way. I thought - this must be a .25 or something. Then I found out the run was a .12. There's a lot of potential with this car. People thought we would never get this car down the track. I'm telling you this car has a lot of power."

Forgive Hagan if he’s been spoiled by his early success. He earned the 2006 NHRA Pro Modified Rookie of the Year honors and chose to follow up the success with a vault into the Nitro Funny Car ranks.

He’s quickly learning the different between walking and crawling.

“I thought driving these cars would be easy, but there’s a huge learning curve,” Hagan said. “Just keeping up with the car and making sure I’m doing what I need to do is something that can be demanding. I don’t think it’s anything more laps won’t fix. Nothing replaces seat time in a nitro Funny Car.”

Hagan has been a testing junkie by blazing a trail between Rockingham, NC. and Valdosta, Ga. He parlayed the extra seat time into a qualifying berth during the season-opening IHRA Texas Nationals as well as a first round win.

In the end, Hagan has marketing motives.

“This has been a great experience because it is a step up to the next level,” Hagan admitted. “I just feel there are more sponsorship opportunities for me here. This style of racing will take me farther down the road I want to go.”

He’s currently ranked sixth in provisional qualifying.

Tommy D'Apile is taking the consistency route this weekend. His two qualifying attempts were within .01 of one another.
Top Fuel racer Terry McMillen is working many angles of promotion this year in addition to his major endorsement program with Amalie Oil. He’s also carrying a promotion with Country Music Television’s “Trick My Truck” television show. During the promotion, McMillen, in conjunction with CMT, will offer an opportunity for a lucky fan to accompany his team to the races.

“We’ll fly them in and they can ride with us in the transporter to the races,” McMillen said. “This will be an all-expenses paid experience and they will be part of the crew.”

McMillen added the program has already gained momentum since appearing on the CMT website. Without promotion several thousand entries were received by last Friday. As of today, the number had doubled.

As excited as McMillen is about the project, he’s brought back to reality that he’s not on the same level as teenage sensation Miley Cyrus who had over eighty times more participants on her sweepstakes program announced with a few hours after his.

“Don’t know that I can sing as well and I’m certainly not as good looking,” McMillen said with a chuckle. “But I do know I can drive a Top Fuel dragster better and if that’s my only bragging right, I’ll take it.”

McMillen reached the finals of the IHRA Texas Nationals two weeks ago, only to be left stranded at the starting line with a broken throttle cable. The good news is the throttle cable was fixed and made his way off of the starting line. The bad news is he didn’t make his was down the track as far as he hoped.

"I shut it off at 980 feet,” McMillen explained. “The number eight cylinder was going away and I clicked it off,” explained McMillen. “We were 3.14 to half track. That looked like a .50 run to me. We're happy to have the number 2 spot. John (Smith) and the guys did so good. We got here and found a broken crank shaft. These guys worked all day to put this motor together and it did a great job.”

Reportedly McMillen is one of two IHRA regulars attending next weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga. According to sources, McMillen’s participation as well as Mitch King with Spencer Massey driving will participate enabling the NHRA to achieve a full sixteen-car field.

Terry McMillen has a promotion in conjunction with CMT's Trick My Truck which offers a lucky race fan the opportunity to attend the races as an honorary crew person.
Rockingham Dragway has a special place in Top Fuel world champion Bruce Litton’s heart. He won his first national event here in 1999 and last season captured his first world championship during the fall event.

“I always enjoy coming to Rockingham because this was the site of our first career victory at the 1999 Spring Nationals,” Litton said. “I like the people and I like the community so it’s always been a good track for us. To win the championship in Rockingham last year was awesome.”

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