Read another side of this weekend's NHRA Summit Nationals by four-decade drag racing journalist Jon Asher's behind-the-scenes event notebook. He'll bring you the inside skinny and the not-so-politically correct [not that the rest of us do] stories behind the numbers and win-lights throughout the course of the weekend.   


_JA40274 copy.JPGTeam owner Don Schumacher addressed the media at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway following the announcement by NHRA that he was being fined $100,000 “for possessing nitromethane fuel in (his) professional pit clearly in violation of the fuel regulations…” He also answered a few pointed questions on the subject. Obviously, Schumacher views the fine in a completely different light than does the NHRA. Here, with very minor editing, is his statement:
“I received notification from NHRA this morning that they have imposed a $100,000 fine (on) Don Schumacher Racing because we possessed nitromethane that is Pro Nitro methane at the facility on Saturday. It was removed Saturday off site. I (was) also told at Gainesville, and prior to Gainesville, by both (NHRA president) Tom Compton and Graham Light that Pro Nitro is now an accepted nitromethane in NHRA.
“We’ll appeal the fine through the proper process, and go forward from there.
“Homeland Security has put a program in place that anybody can possess nitromethane, but if you possess more than 400 lbs., which is approximately 42 gallons anywhere, whether that be at your home, your shop or anywhere, you must be Top Screened. Don Schumacher Racing is the only team that I’m aware of that is Top Screened -- at my facility in Brownsburg (Indiana) and at every NHRA facility, so I am not violating Homeland Security regs in any way at all. I have all of the numbers, I am Top Screened, and have been Top Screened because of Pro Nitro, and I am in (a) position that I follow the laws.
“The fine speaks to itself. My teams were in possession of nitromethane that we had brought to test with in Las Vegas last October prior to the (AC Delco Nationals) race. That’s where this fuel has come from. We moved some fuel out here that we utilized in that test session. We didn’t use all of it then, so we kept it here in Las Vegas, not here in my race rigs or any place like that. We stored it here in town, and we brought it back to the pits yesterday, to be able to test with it on Monday.
“Pro Nitro, based on verbal conversations between Tom Compton and myself, Graham Light and myself, is an accepted nitromethane to be utilized in NHRA events, and in fact a (shipping) container of Pro Nitro was distributed by VP (Racing Fuels) earlier this year and utilized in (NHRA) national events.
A member of the media then asked Schumacher if VP was a manufacturer or distributor of nitromethane, to which Schumacher replied, “Darned if I can answer. That’s between NHRA and VP.”
He was then asked if Pro Nitro had to be sold through VP Racing Fuels.
“Today, and based on my conversation with Graham (Light) today, I can sell Pro Nitro to VP at X amount of dollars and then turn around and have them mark it up $500 or $600 a drum and sell it back to me so I could use my own nitro, I guess, but that isn’t what’s written in the rule book, from my reading the rule book. We’re being forced to accept the sources of nitromethane that NHRA has mandated. There used to be Dow Chemical and Wego. Dow pulled out of the sport a year and a half ago, which left only Wego, and prior to Gainesville is when Tom Compton and Graham notified me that Pro Nitro was now a legal nitro to be used at NHRA events, and that I could sell nitromethane to VP and certainly VP could distribute it. But all of the other areas in distribution and that kind of stuff, I can’t speak to that, you’ll have to get that from NHRA. VP is the only distributor they allow on site here distributing gasoline and nitromethane.”
A member of the media tried to press Schumacher as to where the nitro had been stored, but he refused to be specific as to its storage location. CompetitionPlus.com has learned from reliable sources that LVMS was indeed the site of that storage. “I don’t want to get anybody else involved in this,” he said. “This is a Don Schumacher Racing situation and NHRA and doesn’t involve anybody else at all.”
He was then asked why he thought this action had been taken against him, to which he replied, “I’m not going to make any guesses at all about this. I’m a businessman and certain business situations puts a target on my chest, so I just deal with it.”
Schumacher made no estimate on when his appeal might be heard, citing the busy racing and travel schedule the principals would be facing as obstacles to a quick solution.
Schumacher was previously fined for a hospitality violation at Columbus not too many years ago for circumventing NHRA’s “required” catering services. He appealed that fine and lost.
Schumacher was then asked about what had taken place during this weekend’s PRO Board of Directors meeting, but he cited confidentiality in refusing to answer. He did, however, say that it would be safe to assume that areas like track preparation, safety, “the quality of the show,” and other areas were discussed.
He was then asked if this fine was the result of a safety violation, but he responded by briefly outlining how VP had increased the price of nitromethane about 40 percent some years ago. “I found that to be displeasing, so I arranged to import nitromethane myself from China into the United States just to supply the teams and supply the sport. A rule was written by NHRA that there were only two accepted suppliers of nitromethane. I believe that’s written, but it was certainly transmitted to the teams, probably in letter form, and it was transmitted to the teams verbally, that only Dow-Angus and Wego were the accepted suppliers of nitromethane. At that time I think Steve Leseur was still in the fuel business. Shortly after that Steve started to use VP as his distributor of nitromethane. He went to VP, and I continued to bring nitro in, so they wrote a rule that only the Dow-Angus and the Wego nitro was allowed here at the races. They said fine, your fuel can be used at the test sessions. My fuel was the fuel that was supplied to the IHRA for all these years. The reasoning why the (Dow-Angus and Wego exclusivity was allowed) is something that would have to be answered by the NHRA. I know (NHRA) is concerned about nitromethane being supplied to the sport because without nitromethane we can’t race. It would be an alcohol show which may not draw the fans that this draws. That’s always a concern. Nitromethane, insurance and tires. Those are the big issues, and I certainly understand that.
“I believe competition is a beneficial situation in a world wide economy, and when you make it where there’s only one supplier, they can charge whatever they want to. I know what nitromethane costs in China. A drum delivered to my shop in Brownsburg, we’re talking just over $500. Less than $525 for a drum of nitro. That’s with freight, product costs – everything. I believe that as our economy goes into the troubles that it’s in, all raw materials, including nitromethane, will get a little cheaper. Steel, copper, aluminum, gas – all of the things that we use in our everyday lives will get cheaper.”
Schumacher was then asked for an opinion as why there’s been such a massive price increase in the costs of nitromethane from VP Racing Fuels. “They can increase it because they’re the only guys that are allowed out here.
“God, I love NHRA drag racing!”
“Yesterday we discovered nitromethane in Don Schumacher Racing’s pits that was not purchased through the official distributor and that is clearly in violation of the rules,” Graham Light said, in an interview with ESPN2 during the event telecast Sunday evening. “As stewards of that product we take our responsibility very seriously. There are very strict guidelines as to the purchase and use of nitromethane. As a result of this violation, a $100,000 fine has been levied against Don Schumacher’s team.”
Light confirmed this as the largest fine ever levied against a team in NHRA POWERade Drag Racing.


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SATURDAY OVERVIEW - Under crystal blue skies and moderate temperatures the NHRA Summitracing.com Nationals

Tony Schumacher dominated qualifying – and may do it again Sunday.
continued today at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of the finest facilities on the POWERade Series trail. Despite the excellent weather the spectator turnout was a disappointment, as there were numerous empty seats on both sides of the track. This could be the first real indication that a stagnant economy and near-four-dollars-per-gallon gas prices are having an impact on the quarter mile sport.
With two runs today the “expected” hitters in Pro Stock finally stepped up and made the field, leaving only those unfortunately accustomed to DNQ status occupying the sixteenth through twenty-third positions. Larry Morgan’s personal struggles continued, while all of his customer cars save Vinnie Deceglie made the show. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. had to abort his first run today after someone on the crew forgot to install the rearend cap back in the pits, with Jeggie oiling the track on his burnout, resulting in a lengthy clean-up. It would be far from the first such delay of the day, and from the comments overheard from the spectators, they were less than pleased with the quality of the show they witnessed. Greg Anderson. Who was on the outside looking in when the day began, finally locked up the ninth slot (see additional story for more details on Anderson’s weekend thus far).
Beneath that long burnout smoke lies an equally long trail of rearend grease, but Jeg Coughlin, Jr. rebounded to make the Pro Stock field.
There were only 18 cars trying to make the Top Fuel field, and when the tire smoke cleared (there seemed to be more tire smokers than hooked up runs – but maybe that’s just our jaundiced view of things) the surprise DNQ was Alan Bradshaw, who could only muster a 6.379. It’s not as if the bump was ultra-tough. It only took a 5.107 to make the show. This rather soft bump was probably the result of a combination of factors, which certainly included track preparation – a subject the competitors are becoming ever more vocal about. Trust us on this, you have not heard the last on this subject.
Alan Johnson continues to be the tuning master. Although Tony Schumacher didn’t improve on yesterday’s 4.510, he ran extremely well and easily held on to the Number 1 position. Of the five cars than ran four-fifties yesterday the most impressive of the bunch was probably Morgan Lucas, who has not had the greatest season to date. One wonders if Las Vegas is going to be the turning point for the young driver of the Lucas Oil dragster. We shall see on the morrow!
As of last night John Force was 15th in Funny Car, meaning he had no guarantee of being part of Sunday’s eliminations when this day began, but come on, you knew he and tuners Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly would get the big Ford in the show, and that’s exactly what they – wait a minute. They didn’t! Force could only muster a best of 5.020 – and the bump was a 4.997 by Jack Beckman. Also destined for “no-racing-today-only-autographs” status tomorrow are Jerry Tolliver, Terry Haddock and Tony Bartone – who had another disastrous outing in Jim Dunn’s Canidaie All Natural Pet Foods Chevrolet, coming past the finish line on fire in his last attempt. Okay, it wasn’t a major conflagration, but as you can see in the photo, it was on fire! Scott Kalitta also DNQ’d, but since he rarely signs autographs anyway…oh, never mind.
Tony Pedregon’s Palms Resort & Casino paint scheme looks sharp.
The run of the day was clearly Robert Hight’s 4.849 – which took away the Number 1 spot from Tim Wilkerson, shoving him down to second, and Bob Tasca III down to third. Melanie Troxel hung on to make the field, as did the other “usual suspects.” Champion Tony Pedregon’s one-off paint scheme from The Palms Hotel & Casino looked good going by in 4.914 seconds, but expect the car to be back in Quaker State trim at the next outing.
As we wrote yesterday about today, tomorrow’s going to be an interesting day because the tuners are still going to be fighting a very tricky race track, the temperature’s supposed to be in the high 80s and a plague of locusts is expected right after the National Anthem. Okay, we made up that last part, but look, if you’re looking for straight, staid and boring copy, better look elsewhere. We’re al trying to have a little fun here, and we hope you are too!

Tony Bartone’s last attempt fire was nothing more than the end of a disastrous weekend for Jim Dunn Racing.


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Better look at John Force’s car now, ‘cause you’re not going to see it Sunday!

PRESSURE? YOU DON’T KNOW THE MEANING OF THE WORD! - Greg Anderson is a winner in every sense of the word. He wins

This is the shot where we tell you Greg Anderson’s hard at work studying his computer. Uh-uh. He’s watching the Masters gold tournament on television!
races, he wins championships, his wife is a stunner, he has a great sponsor in Summit Racing Equipment and overall, life seems remarkably good for the guy who was once Warren Johnson’s lead mechanic. But that’s how we see things because we’re not inside Greg’s head, where turmoil sometimes reigns supreme. He may appear nonchalant, confident and at ease, but that’s just the public persona.
Take, for example, this little outing at The Strip. For probably 90 percent of the competitors it’s just another race they desperately want to win, but for Anderson it’s far more. Just listen to his words about pressure.
“I can’t lie. Sure, there’s more pressure, not just because it’s a Summit race, but it’s (car owner) Ken Black’s home town, and all of his family and friends are out here. And a lot of our other sponsors are from out here, so this is not only a Summit race, it’s a home town race for us. There’s a lot on the line here, and this is certainly not the place we want to make any mistakes. We want to come here and shine if we shine at no other place in the country.”
Greg Anderson ultimately qualified his Ken Black-owned, Summit-sponsored Pontiac.
On Anderson’s first run Friday a fuel pump wire broke, leaving his car gasping for gas, and unable to run. It was a freak deal, but it set the team back, resulting in their “overestimating the track” on the second run. That put them under the gun on Saturday, but they came through and made the field.
“It always hurts if you miss that first run,” he said in a considerable understatement. “It really sets you behind if you don’t get that information from the first run. Now we have to make some major guesses about the track today, and that’s not a comfortable feeling, but we’ve had to do it before.
“Yeah, the pressure’s high, but we’ve got to come through.”
They did.
The arrival of NAPA Auto Parts as a major sponsor in drag racing may have more importance Capps_350.jpgthan is immediately evident. It’s more than “just” another team sponsor, because it has the potential for producing wide-ranging impact, impact that may never be visibly evident, but will nonetheless be important for the sport. For example, most companies thrive on competition, liking nothing better than “showing up” their rivals in any number of ways. Cruz Pedregon (Advance Auto Parts) and Del Worsham (CSK Auto parts) could actually benefit because of NAPA’s involvement by having their sponsorships enhanced or extended, for example.
NAPA couldn’t have done much better than to have the likes of Ron Capps as its driver and trackside representative. He’s well-spoken, good looking, popular with fans of all ages, and is also, for what it’s worth – and that’s a lot – one heck of a good driver. Matched with Hall of Fame tuner Ed McCulloch, they’ve become one of the better combinations on the circuit – although this year has been a struggle at times.
Yesterday was one of those tough ones. “The car put a cylinder out right away,” Capps said, “and like a lot of other guys, we didn’t get down the track. We were early in the (first) session because of where we are in the points, and in the second session we were (also) up early and (so we) didn’t get to watch a lot of cars run. That’s our fault for being where we were. Tony Bartone had a big oildown right after us, and that let the air get cooler for everyone else. That’s just proof that timing’s everything. Without a night session, as the air got cooler, the track got better for the other guys. It’s just our own fault for being where we were. Beyond that, I feel good!”
On Sunday morning in Houston McCulloch went back to an older tune-up from last year. “He went back to his old clutch, and everything he knows,” said Capps. “(The car) responded the way he thought it should, which it hasn’t been doing, so I felt good, and I still feel good coming in (to Las Vegas). Time will tell. Today’s the test”
They “passed” with a 4.887 for the sixth spot.
Like a number of competitors, Capps and McCulloch are somewhat confused by the 12-car qualifying situation in which those top 12 cars are “locked in” after Friday night. We asked him if he though the fans understand the program.
“Heck no, they don’t understand it,” he said. “We don’t understand it either. It’s a good plan to a certain extent, but a perfect example is that Ace and I spent 10 minutes up in his computer are in the rig trying to figure out exactly what it means, and I know it’s not that hard, but you still have to question what’s going on with it. NHRA tried to do something that was going to help, and I think that the idea is good, but when we’re trying to make this sport easier on the fans we just made it harder. All they did was confuse the fans and confuse the racers more. That’s a bummer, because as it is the fans are confused by things like Reaction Times, the roll-out on the starting line, how a car can win on a holeshot, deep staging or not deep staging. All that stuff is confusing enough for the racers, let alone the fans. We had a chance to make things a little more mainstream, a little less confusing, and we didn’t. But the idea is good!”


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Del Worsham’s victory in Houston was overdue and, to some people, unfortunate in that he Del Worsham_350.jpgdenied Ashley Force her first NHRA national event victory. But, shed no tears for Ms. Force because, like her father before her, once she gets that first win she might become unstoppable.
But we were talking about Mr. Worsham, weren’t we? “So Del,” we foolishly asked, “did you have a good time in Houston?”
“It was fair,” he deadpanned. “Of course I had a great time in Houston! It was great. Sunday was really great. Qualifying on Saturday we had a lot of problems, but come Sunday, that was really special.”
Worsham acknowledged that the win did a lot to boost his confidence for the rest of the year. “It did a lot for right now,” he amended. “The further we got in eliminations, the better I felt driving.”
Although his CSK backers weren’t in Houston for that victory, they are here in Las Vegas, where Worsham hopes to duplicate that performance. “Man, that would be something, wouldn’t it?” he added.


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Saturday is going to be interesting with the likes of John Force, Ron Capps and Jerry Toliver unqualified.
FRIDAY OVERVIEW - The first of two pro qualifying sessions resulted in a fair significant amount of grumbling from a number of tuners and drivers about the track preparation – or lack thereof.  As one former champion put it after noting that the Funny Car list had a best of 4.927 and it only took a six second run to get in at that point, 

“There is no way there are 21 stupid crew chiefs out here.”  Mired at the back of the field at that point were the likes of drivers like John Force, Ron Capps, Scott Kalitta and Cruz Pedregon.

Top Fuel looked a bit better at the top of the list, with Tony Schumacher leading the way with a 4.605, but with only 16 cars making that first call three drivers made the 12-car Friday cutoff with six second runs.

Pro Stock appeared to be more “normal,” with Kurt Johnson atop the charts with the 6.730/204.63, and max Naylor 12th with a 6.790.  In the second session things returned to normal, well, close anyway. Kenny Koretsky was the surprise leader with a 6.724 with a resurgent Ron Krisher right behind him at 6.726.  Naylor faded all the way to 12th with a 6.781, but on the outside looking in were the likes of  Greg Anderson, Jim Yates and Phoenix winner V. Gaines.

When the shadow of the massive LVMS grandstands helped cool the track a bit the Funny Cars picked up the pace considerably, but again there was a surprise leader in the form of Tim Wilkerson, who said, “We’re 
just trying to get along.  We’re runnin’ our junk and traying to make it better.”  Wilkerson, by the way, brought new sponsorship support to Las Vegas in the form of Diversified Yacht Service.

If Wilkerson’s name atop the list was a surprise, how about Bob Tasca III coming in second with a 4.864.  That alone might put to rest the talk that the departure of tuner Mike Kloeber might have been a mistake.  Chris Cunningham appears ore than up to the task – at least thus far.

Houston winner Del Worsham took the 12th and final “guaranteed” spot with a 4.941, with Melanie Troxel – breathing a sigh of relief that could be heard all the way from the finish line – right in front of him with a 4.936.  But, when you look at the first day’s results you can’t help but wonder, just what the heck is going on here?  Not listed among the qualifiers were the likes of Jack Beckman, Tony Bartone, Jerry Tolliver, Ron Capps and (wait for it!) John Force!

Whatever was “wrong” with the track in the first session had obviously been corrected by the time the Top Fuel cars came back around for the second session.  Tony Schumacher remained atop the list, but with an improvement all the way to 4.510.  Doug Kalitta was right behind him with a fifty-for-one, with Urs Erbacher on the  bottom with a 4.826.  Not in the show?  Two-time Number 1 qualifier Alan Bradshaw, superstar youngster J.R. Todd and – surprise, surprise – Larry Dixon.

Saturday’s going to be a very interesting day!


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Larry Morgan is working on getting the engines to zing higher.
WHAT’S UP WITH LARRY MORGAN? - The Ohio-based Mopar driver is not only an excellent shoe, he’s also a respected and sought-after engine builder.  This year Morgan-built Hemis are powering the likes of 
Vinnie Deceglie, Max Naylor, Johnny Gray and Phoenix winner V. Gaines and, of course, his own car.  The thing is, though, all of Morgan’s customers have been competitive from time to time this year, with Gaines having emerged with one big victory.  But the team leader has been spending his Sundays on the sidelines, an ignominious DNQ every time out.

In Morgan’s own words, “Why do I suck?  What I’m trying to do is move forward, but you’ve heard that old saying, for every step forward you’ll take one step back.  Well, that’s us.  I’ve stepped back a long step!

“What we’re trying to do is change the engines so that they’ll turn more RPMs, but we haven’t hit on it right so far, but we will.  It’s just a matter of time.  When you get something that looks good on the done and then bring it to the track and it sucks, that’s when you know you’ve gone the wrong way.  I’m not giving up on what we’re
trying to do, but I’ve got to figure it out.”

Morgan says that at least half the field is spinning their engines faster than ever before, and knows that’s the right way to go.  Now he just has to get there.

Gary Scelzi is staying the course with the Brad Hadman Funny Car chassis.
“My sponsors are okay for right now.  At least that’s what they tell me, but I know they expect us to perform, and believe me, we’re going to.  That’s what we’re working towards.”

SCELZI’S HADMAN-BUILT RIDE - After a relatively successful outing in Houston with the car that Brad Hadman engineered for him Gary Scelzi has committed himself to the new machine.  Tuner Todd Okuhara likes the car, and feels it has considerable promise.  Minor adjustments will be made as they work the wrinkles out, but Scelzi seems relieved to be behind the wheel of the new Dodge.