LAS VEGAS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
So that's what happened - JR Todd had an explanation for Tony Schumacher's pace-setting performances this weekend.
“Sometimes he can be on another planet . . . and he was today,” said Todd of Schumacher’s performance.
“I hate to go to the finals and lose, but at least we didn’t beat ourselves. All you can do is race the track and hope it gives you a good lap. We did what we wanted to do, and that was go rounds today.”
It takes two - It only took two races races before Todd and Steve Torrence, his new teammate, squared off against each other. It came in the quarterfinals and they put on a good show.
Torrence, who registered his quickest elapsed time (4.583 seconds) and speed (326.56 mph) in qualifying 11th, did what he needed against Todd. He left the starting line first with a .085-second reaction to Todd’s .090. But Todd prevailed with a 4.582 at 320.28 to Torrence’s 4.663 at 311.92.
Torrence, of Kilgore, Texas, picked up the first round win of his two-race career by outrunning Cory McClenathan in the opening round. Torrence had the jump at the line (.078 to .093) and turned on the win light with a 4.609 at 321.12 to the veteran McClenathan’s 4.632 at 320.06.
“The engine had a cylinder out down-track,” recalled Torrence, “and I felt it nosing over. I kept watching for the win light and saying ‘go baby go!’ to the car. It was a relief when I saw the win light. It was bittersweet, though, because I knew I’d be running J.R. in the next round.
“It was a really good weekend for our new team and a good day for us because we got our first round win. It came quicker than I thought it would. Cory is a good racer. I did my job and the crew did its job by giving me a good car to drive. It was a team effort.”
The Real Champion - David Baca didn't win the event but was a distant first place in the special "powerslide" competition on Sunday.
If you can't win the race, be spectacular. Those words summed up the sixth annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals for Mach 1 Air Services Top Fuel driver David Baca.
Baca lost with a 4.585 opposite of Brandon Bernstein only to find out his 320.66 mph quarter-mile pass would not be slowed by the aid of his twin parachutes, which failed to deploy after the finish line.
Baca did his best to scrub off speed as his land rocket approached the top-end sand pit but was still estimated to be traveling in excess of 100 mph when he decided to slid his 300-inch wheelbase rail sideways to avoid damaging it in the trap. The spectacular and successful maneuver drew a standing ovation from his peers as well as the ESPN2 camera crew, who covered the near-catastrophic stop from several angles.
"I think that one might be on the highlight reels for years to come," Baca said. "I'm not sure what happened with the chutes but all I know is that sand trap was coming up fast. They always say to brace yourself and try your best to keep your car straight going into the sand but at the last split second I decided to slid her in there and it worked. I figured if John Force can do it, so can I."
The difference is that John Force, the sport's most prolific racer with 13 titles and 121 wins, drives a Funny Car, which has a much wider stance. No one at the track could remember a Top Fuel racer trying the sliding stop before without tipping over.
"You drive by instinct and the feel in your butt," Baca said. "My butt told me I could do it and the tires didn't hop so it stayed right side up. I know I saved the guys a lot of extra work had I gone into the sand.
"In the end we didn't get the round win so that's a bummer but we did go out in style."
Darned Parts - Hot Rod Fuller really wanted a good showing this weekend and it hadn't been for parts failure, he could have achieved his goal.
“I felt like I was more on top of my game this race,” Fuller said. “I think it was a combination of things, it’s home, I wanted to win really badly, and the Budweiser Shootout. I’ve got some newfound confidence. My guys have been saying I have a swagger to me since Dallas. I really feel like I’m in there with the best in Top Fuel. It takes some time, but I feel really comfortable in the car. It’s really coming natural to me now.
“We lost both races this weekend due to parts failures. We broke a burst panel, a $40 part, in the semis. Nothing else was wrong, just a faulty part. We’re going to keep our heads up and try and win the last race of the year at Pomona (Calif.) in two weeks. We gained some points on fourth place, so that’s our goal.”
Get me out of here - Larry Dixon has had better weekends in Las Vegas.
He didn't qualify in the top half of the field and got beat in the first round. Did we mention he blew the engine to smithereens on Saturday?
"We are struggling to make a good run consistently," Dixon said. "We have a mechanical gremlin that has been following us around since right around Memphis. We make one or two good passes, and then we fight the gremlin.
"Every time we think we found the problem, something else comes up. It's just taking a little more time than we would like to be a more consistent."
Dixon started the day in the No. 14 position and lost J.R. Todd in the first round.
Hope it's Not A Train - Dixon knows it's a matter of time before the team finds themselves basking in the glow of the photographer's flashbulbs in winner's circle.
"We can all see the light at the end of the tunnel," Dixon said. "The one person who should be frustrated is Snake (Don Prudhomme, team owner) and he's the most upbeat and positive person in the group. He knows we're on the right track and he can see that we're making some good moves.
"He also has a great example in Mike Green (crew chief for the Prudhomme-owned Funny Car). Mike has done a great job with the Funny Car but it has come over time. He's see what can happen with time and patience with a team."
Dixon said the team plans to test at the track on Monday with hopes of leaving Las Vegas with a better game plan for the season finale in Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 9-12.
"We want to make a few passes and see if we can fix the problem that plagued us this weekend," Dixon said. "We want to have a shot at Pomona and testing can help us make that happen."
Feels like the first time - It took only four times for Torco's CompetitionPlus.com columnist Jack Beckman to figure out how to win in a nitro-burner.
"Since Don Schumacher hired me, it's been a steep, steep learning curve," said Beckman in the winner's circle, "but I had a lot of help. Frank's (Hawley) been working with me some, (Ron) Capps, (Gary) Scelzi, Mike Ashley. We sit down and talk. I had a lot of help from my teammates at DSR. And it really is a team. It's a business enterprise, but there really is a sense that we're pulling for each other. When Richie won I couldn't jump up and down (because) I was strapped in the Funny Car, and when Tony won, we were all happy for him. To get to share the podium with two teammates up here it's just an amazing culmination to the day.
"And, God, I'm looking over there at the Matco Tools Funny Car and that's the baddest group of crew members over there. Those nine guys, they're the ones that made that car run.
"One of the things about drag racing is it will eat you alive if you let thelows be too low," Beckman continued in the press room. "So, you kind of have to temper things a little bit, things like weather, track conditions, scheduling, anything that burns nitro. Sometimes it doesn't go the way youwould like it to go. So, if the lows aren't quite as low, it means you kind of clipped off a little bit of the highs. I think I just bypassed that when I got out of the car down there.
"I've always kind of thought to myself, You want to be a dignified loser,you want to be a dignified winner. It kind of went out the door when the roof hatch opened down there at the other end. To do something like this has been a dream of mine for 33 years, since I was 7 and I first got taken to adrag strip. And it's something that you want very much.
"To come here to a track that I love to race at - I've had a lot of successes here (in Sportsman racing) - and to be able to do it in Vegas infront of a lot of my friends in an area close to my home, this is probablyas high as it gets."
Beckman was clearly grateful to his Matco Tools crew: "There are nine gentlemen over there that are more responsible for this win than me. In my opinion, a driver's job in a nitro car, especially in a Funny Car, is to letthe crew chiefs' number crop on the scoreboard. In other words, you gotta leave on time, and you gotta keep the car in the groove so the tires stay hooked up. And if the crew chiefs put a good tune-up in it, that big number will crop up there.
"I think drag racing successes over the years are more based on chemistry than intelligence, and we've got both over there (at DSR). Phil Shuler(assistant crew chief) and Todd Okuhara (crew chief) - one's from South Carolina, one's from Hawaii - are like brothers. There's no egos on that team. They key ideas off of each other. They're just geniuses with this stuff.
"We had a broken fuel line on the warm-up before the final. Shut the car off, nobody had to panic. We put another one on it, re-fired the race car and went out there. The guys just have such good chemistry over there. For them to be as accommodating to me as they are is more than I could ask for coming into the team. I never got any of that razzing when I made mistakes, let the car out of the groove, which maybe cost us some qualifying positions. They were more than supportive. I hope today we gave them back a little bit of that and a big thank you with that trophy.
"And this is for the 1500 Matco Tools distributors out there who havesupported this team for so many years."
Been there, Done that - Don Schumacher's three-driver triumph was a neat experience for the team owner - but not his first.
"A year ago in Reading three DSR teams won (Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle), so this is the second time my team has been able to do that, but it's the first time we've done it with Pro Stock, Top Fuel and Funny Car. It's just a fantastic weekend here in Las Vegas. Great race track, great teams, and the guys really deserve all of the credit. And every driver, without a doubt."
Give Me A Break - Ron Capps got one lucky break today after losing the first round of eliminations: third-in-points Robert Hight broke down in the opening round on the burnout. Driving the Brut Revolution Dodge Charger R/T, Capps holds onto second place and is now two points ahead of Hight, as he aims for his first Funny Carcrown. On the other side of the coin, however, points leader John Force went two rounds before being eliminated by Tommy Johnson Jr.
The 13-time champion now tops Capps by 71 points as the series heads to the season finale in Pomona, Calif., in two weeks. Capps took off at the starting lights against Scott Kalitta with a .059(of-a-second) reaction time to Kalitta's .088. He led through the 330-ft. mark, then fell back at half-track, losing to Kalitta's 4.810/316.30 withhis 4.866-second pass at 317.87 mph.
"I never saw him out the window," explained Capps. "I never even heard him until, gosh, about 1000 ft. It looks like there's a slight bump out there in both lanes and it may have upset the car, and it put a cylinder out at that point. He came around me at the finish line. It was running pretty good up until then. We went down the track both runs yesterday in the heat and just felt very confident. Scott's car didn't go down in the heat yesterday, so we felt likewe just needed to go down the track. The car just got upset over that bump and we got beat."
Today's result places Capps in another exciting battle for a Funny Carchampionship, mirroring last year's fight to the finish, as Force, Capps and Hight take their scrap to the final event of the year.Losing ground to Force is definitely a setback to the popular Carlsbad, Calif., driver.
"At this point, the disappointment is so severe you can't even put it into words," he said following his loss today. "I feel foreverybody on our Brut Revolution team. My guys have never let up one beat,even through some of the first-round losses we've had. We've had ups and downs this year. Our wins this year and the good races we've had on thetrack on Sundays have been unforgettable.
It's been a fun year. It's not over yet. We can still win this thing.Unless they tell us mathematically we're out of it, we're going to go to Pomona and we're going to try to win and see what Force does."It's so tough," he said of the level of competition this year.
"As of late here, with Scott Kalitta's team running better, Jim Head's car running better, a lot of these teams are really stepping up and running some big numbers. We knew it was a matter of time. And every year we say next year is going to be a lot of fun.
"When you look at the competition going into next year - yes, we're already thinking about next year - it's gong to be just a tremendous year, with anew points system and so many cars running as good as they are.
"We're going to go to Pomona and we're going to stand on the gas and we're going to try to win the race."
C'mon WOO Us - Ron Capps, who'll drive just about anything if given the chance, took advantage of his friendship with a number of World of Outlaws drivers and team owners to make laps on the dirt oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday night.
"The WOO guys were here in town," said Capps. "Danny Lasoski, a good friend of ours, was racing. It was the last race of the year for the WOO. They just announced that they'll be on ESPN2 next year and that's a big deal. I love that sport. Any time we get a chance, Gary Scelzi and I will go to a dirt race. So, the WOO guys invited me to make some laps in a WOO sprint car. Once the A feature was over last night they put me in one of their cars
which just finished running and I got to go out and make about 10 laps.
"There's not a whole lot of cars in the world that you can drive that will get you as excited as driving a Funny Car, and a WOO car is definitely one of them. When you throw it down into that corner at over 100 mph, sideways in the dirt, with that much horsepower at your toe, it's an unbelievable feeling. I couldn't get the smile off my face."
The Undisputed Champion - It only took three full seasons for Jason Line to clinch his first NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Championship.
By capturing the championship, Line, who was born and raised in Minnesota and now lives in Terrell, N.C., ends the reign of teammate Greg Anderson, who had collected three consecutive championships (2003-2005).
“The title NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Champion sounds pretty darn good actually but I’m used to hearing that with Greg's (Anderson) name, not mine,” said Line on lock up the championship. “I’m not sure my name belongs with those champions but it definitely has a nice ring to it and is something to be proud of forever. Pretty Cool!
“To have your name mentioned with people like Greg (Anderson), Bob Glidden and Warren Johnson and other Pro Stock champions. Thinking back, yes it has been a dream – but I always thought of it as a pipe dream. To actually have it come true will take a while to sink in. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a life-changing experience. It’s a neat thing to happen for me, my family and the whole KB Racing team. I think it speaks volumes of our race team and the caliber of the people we have working at KB Racing.”
“I’m proud of Jason and I’m proud of this team,” reflected Anderson. “In the first couple of years Jason was learning the game. Now he knows the game and has proved he knows how to win. We’ve got a dynamite one-two punch now that’s capable of winning every race we go to, capable of winning championships. The team has grown and is now ready to go ahead and win races and championships for a long time to come.
“Looking back over the past champions in Pro Stock, I can’t remember a two car team that has had four championships in a row with two different drivers winning and two different cars winning those championships. That says a lot about the strength of this team overall both today and for the future. We now know that we can win with both cars. The team, from Jason and I on down, should be proud of what we’ve accomplished. It says a lot for next year but for now we’ll savor Jason’s championship.”
A former Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner – rookie of the year – Line becomes the 14th driver to earn a Pro Stock title since the “factory hot rods” became a NHRA professional class in 1970.
Won the War, Lost the battle - In the final round Line left late against Richie Stevens, Jr. and ran out of track before he could catch Stevens. Stevens crossed the finish first in 6.789 seconds, followed by Line who ran a 6.735-second pass.
“I had the worst year driving and lost again tonight because I wasn’t as focused as I needed to be,” said Line. “I plan to work on this and by the new season you’ll see a new Jason Line behind the wheel. It sure was anticlimactic after winning the championship but winning the championship was cool.”
No One to Blame - A somber Dave Connolly shook his head and said, “There’s nowhere else to put the blame but on the driver’s shoulders,” following his semifinal Pro Stock loss to Richie Stevens in the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Connolly, who qualified third, drove the SKULL Gear Chevy Cobalt to victories over Bob Panella Jr. and Tom Martino in the first two rounds with consistent runs of 6.772 and 6.776 seconds. But his competitive day ended with a foul start by 13-thousandths of a second.
“We were doing what it took to win the race, but we didn’t turn the win light on,” added the native of Elyria, Ohio. “The good new is that our new race car is running better. I think we have a car that can win a race. Maybe we can do that at Pomona (Calif.).”
Gelling - Jeg Coughlin Jr., is more than happy with the way the Slammers team has come together in such a short time.
"This team is really clicking," Coughlin said. "Our team owner Victor Cagnazzi is committed to making this group the best in the sport and he's closing in fast on that goal. I'm proud to be associated with this team and we're all really excited about next year."
After dismissing Kurt Johnson in the opening round with a 6.791 at 202.73 mph to Johnson's 6.809 at 202.94 mph, Coughlin set his sights on POWERade points leader Line. Coughlin was definitely up for the race, leaving the tree with a great .017-second reaction time. But Line was able to catch and pass him before the finish line, posting a 6.767 at 203.31 mph to Coughlin's 6.810 at 202.61 mph.
"Losing to Jason Line is nothing to be ashamed of at this point," Coughlin said. "He's proven over the course of this season, especially down the stretch, that he's got the baddest car on the planet right now and I congratulate him on his first professional championship. I know how he feels and I want to bring that exuberance to this team next year."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYLE
Like it Now - Andrew Hines likes The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. They really don't have a reason not to like it now. Sunday was that good for the team.
Hines rode his way back into the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle points lead after starting the event 27-point gap between him and first place rider Antron Brown.
Hines left the event with a 37-point lead and his first career Las Vegas victory.
"This has not been one of my favorite tracks because the last two years we blew up the engine in the early rounds when we were leading the points with a championship on the line," Hines said. "But I think the casinos are going to love our team tonight because I think we're all happy about breaking that streak. This was a great weekend for the entire team."
Hines faced teammate GT Tonglet in the final round. It's the first final round appearance for Tonglet since the Memphis event in August 2005.
The runner-up finish also helped Tonglet move back into the top 10 in the NHRA point standings.
"We had one goal in mind for the last two races and that was to get back into the top 10," Tonglet said. "We've struggled a bit this season but we've made some good strides lately and this was such a good weekend for both bikes. It's a relief to be back in the top 10 and now we have to do what it takes to keep it through the last race of the season."
Tonglet beat Chip Ellis in the first round with a 7.228-second pass at 182.60 mph over Ellis' red-light foul at the starting light. He beat No. 1 qualifier Shawn Gann in the second round with a 7.352 at 178.57 over Gann's red light. Tonglet then beat Geno Scali in the semifinals with a 7.191 at 184.95 over Scali's foul.
Hines topped Tom Bradford in the first round with a 7.088 at 188.44 over Bradford's red light foul. Hines moved on to beat former points leader Antron Brown with a 7.151 at 186.00 over Brown's foul before he beat Ryan Schnitz with a 7.126 at 187.42 to Schnitz's foul.
Hines earned his third win in five final rounds this season and seventh career victory with a track record pass. Hines recorded a record 7.080 pass at 188.65 to take the win over Tonglet's 7.310 at 181.91.
Hines gave credit to Terry Vance, his mentor and dad's friend in partner in racing for more than 30 years.
"Terry talked to me a lot and really hammered the point about being inside a box before making each run," Hines said. "He's been so instrumental in helping me become a better rider at the starting line and I think it made the difference this weekend."
The last time Hines got past the first round at this track was 2003.
This year, he's leaving happy.
Seeing Red - What do you get when you lose the point lead and both team bikes foul in the second round? An Army of None.
With his second round red light loss to defending champion Andrew Hines, Antron Brown dropped out of the point lead and into second-place with just one race remaining at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway in two weeks.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Brown, who is now 37 points behind Hines. “We really could have padded our lead today but I gave it away at the starting line. We’ll just have to regroup for the season finale. We’re still very much in contention for the title, so I guarantee you we’re not quitting.”
Brown entered the Las Vegas event 27 points ahead of Hines and 64 points up on Sampey.
For Angelle Sampey, her second round red light loss to Ryan Schnitz may have ended her dream for a fourth world championship. While she remained in third-place in the standings, she’s now 98 points in back of Hines.
“Like Antron, I’m not very happy right now,” said the Louisiana native. “We’re still in the hunt, mathematically, but we definitely have an uphill battle ahead of us. We’ll show up in Pomona and give it our best shot and see what happens.”
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That head-turning performance, however, caused a lot of work for the Miller Lite crew. The car suffered mechanical problems in the second round and the flames and fireworks might have been a show for the fans, but will be lots of work for the team.
The car was on a good run before the engine let go with a big fireball just past the 1,000-footmark for a 4.629-second pass at 269.94 mph.
"Everything behind the driver's seat had to be replaced," Dixon said. "We broke a few things, but nothing the team can't fix. It was a big explosion with a pretty big fire that created a lot of work for our guys.
"I stayed and tried to help out as much as I could, but they were still hard at work at the end of the day trying to prepare for the final elimination rounds."
Dixon is qualified for the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals in the No. 14 position with a best run of 4.587 at 325.22. He will face J.R. Todd in the first round.
"We changed some things around with the fuel system and I think the car is going to be ready to go," Dixon said. "The car responded well and we had the quickest time to half track on that pass. We're showing great signs of life. If we can get the car back together I think we are going to take advantage of the data we collected today."
Paper Drags – Hot Rod Fuller found himself in the “no-claim”
zone during the “unofficial qualifying” second round of the Budweiser
Top Fuel Shootout.“On paper, we’re really No. 2,” Fuller said. “We ran
that 4.518 in the second round of the (Budweiser) Shootout, but it
didn’t count towards qualifying. I like our bracket and I don’t think
too many teams want to face us. I hope we can play spoiler for some of
the title contenders.”
Did You Notice? - Spending more time than usual in the Top Fuel pits was former Oakley-sponsored Funny Car driver Scotty Cannon. Cannon says that he's just on vacation and watching the races. Rumors suggest otherwise. Could the former champion be planning a comeback?
Cannon's last nitro effort was in 2003 but that ended when he opted to return to Pro Modified. He's now the crewchief for his son Scott Jr., who runs Pro Modified in the IHRA and recently won Rockingham.
Comings and Goings – Doug Herbert provided notice to John
“Bodie” Smith on the Monday prior to Las Vegas that he was headed in a
different direction. His replacement, at least for this weekend, is
Doug Kuch whose most recent gig is with Doug Foley and before that
Bruce Litton and Danny Dunn.
I saw Elvis at 60-feet - Brian Olson, veteran announcer and chief backer-upper for Cory McClenathan, learned this weekend that a lost bet can sometimes be a painful and embarrassing situation.
Olson made the comment in Richmond to GM head man Fred Simmonds, “If we win this race – the next event I’ll wear all pink when I go out to back up Cory.”Being the manly man that Olson is one can only imagine the look on his face when the Richmond victory celebration subsided and
Simmonds subtly reminded him of the commitment. Simmonds had the power to enforce the “wager” because General Motors is a team sponsor.
Olson tried all week to gain a compromise and eventually successfully convinced Simmonds to allow an Elvis impersonation.
Olson might have a future as an Elvis impersonator as he sported the trademark outfit and hairdo (complete with electrical tape sideburns).
The stunt was a hilarious hit and even Bob Frey commented, “Olson may just be the fattest Elvis we’ve ever seen.”
The Fear Factor - Robert Hight left no doubt that he’s ready to battle down to the wire for the title. He extended his pace-setting prowess on Saturday.
“Jimmy Prock was really throwing it out there,” Hight said. “We are playing hard-ball and we are trying to hit it out of the park. We have Triple AAA in the house and Ford and we just want to do our best. Those 20 points sure would have been nice.”
If the 4.677, 333.08 was scary enough for the competition, Hight reminded them of a new fear – acrophobia.
“That’s the fear of Hights,” Hight said. “How about fear of Prock? That’s the big one.”
Don’t Worry They Have My Back – John Force was scratching his head following his car’s mechanical failure short of the finish line.
“She was trucking and it shut off like the belt came off but when I looked it was still there,” Force said. “It wasn’t the camshaft or I’d be on my way to the burn center. This old heap was cooking. That’s what our sponsors are paying us for – to do good.
“Right now my two best hot rods are coming to the line,” Force said of Hight and Eric Medlen.
Another Nail-biter – There nothing like waiting until he last day to make the field in the midst of a championship battle.
Ron Capps made it into the field on Saturday, in the No. 11 spot, following two aborted and non-qualifying tire-smoking runs on Friday.
Capps first posted a 4.806-second pass at 322.58 mph, good for No. 12, then clocked in with a solid 4.761-second pass at 325.30 mph in his final attempt.
"It was real easy to get knotted up after Friday night," he said, "not being in and only having two runs left. The way we approached it was, we had good weather, so we didn't have to worry about that, we had two more runs today, and it's a great race track. That took a lot of the anxiety away.
"There have been tracks where it was middle of the day on a Saturday (in hot weather) and you had to improve. It was not a good situation. This is a great place under most conditions.
"We shot for lane choice (in the last pass), for sure," he added. "We wanted to move up and still didn't run as good as we wanted to. But, I recall those races we won this year, and a lot of those rounds we won during those races we won without lane choice. I wake up Sunday morning, no matter where we're qualified, knowing we can win from that position."
Following qualifying, Capps holds on to second in the rankings, 51 points behind Force, and is two points ahead of third-place and No. 1-qualifier Robert Hight.
Capps faces Scott Kalitta in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday.
Beckman back in a dragster? – Could Jack Beckman return to Top Fuel in 2007? No one knows – including him.
“No comment,” Beckman answered when asked about it.
“It’s a no comment because I just don’t know. I’ve heard the rumor from two other people. I just don’t know. I’ve always wanted to be a professional nitro driver and I’ve always expressed that in all of my stories and interviews. I want to be a full-time nitro racer. If the deal comes through for this – it will be a Dodge Charger with all the same guys. We are working on the money end of things now. I think when the money end closes that we can answer the questions a lot better.”
Beckman pointed out that he’s never been told what class he has to run.
“Don [Schumacher] and I have been talking since 2004,” Beckman said. “Back then…it was a dragster deal which never materialized because of the timing and the sponsorship. I want to race for Don Schumacher Racing and I want to run a full schedule. I want to race a car that has a chance to race on Sunday. Hell, if they put together a fuel altered deal and it’s run by Don Schumacher…sign me up for it.”
Beckman’s leading backer Roger Comstock of MTS is said to have only one preference of car for his driver.
“I think he just wants to see me in a car that can win,” Beckman said. “To do that – you have to be on the whole tour with the right funding. I think the money will dictate where we end up.”
Which does Beckman think provides that best opportunity?
“I think right now the Funny Car class has a bit more depth of competitive Funny Cars,” Beckman said. “I think right now there is about 18 good Funny Cars. The dragsters are starting to close the gap.
“When you have new talent coming in like there is it will be good. I say ‘no comment’ to the rumors because I haven’t been privy to anything contracted. Nobody is getting any slower in dragster right now. If you say there’s 18 Funny Cars that can make a final round, then there are about 13 dragsters that can do the same thing right now.
“I’d say if you’re going to build a car, then I’d say a dragster is the best way to go right now. Keep in mind your goal is not to finish 15th. If you want to win in Funny Car – you have to beat the three Force cars, Capps, Scelzi and the Pedregons. If you’re Top Fuel you have to beat Kalitta, Bernstein, Schumacher and Dixon. There are eight guys in dragster that will rip you apart.”
A Tribute – Beckman was sentimental after a 330.39 MPH speed coupled with a career best 4.720 qualified him for the fourth position.
Joe Cozato was a huge fan from the Las Vegas area and Beckman described him as the consummate local race fan. He had a surgery prior to the race and didn’t survive long enough to make it.
Cozato’s ashes were then brought along for the ride.
“I wanted to run 325 for him,” Beckman said. “We went 330 and now that puts us in an elite group.
“We might have run 331 but his ashes were a little heavier because we didn’t weigh them beforehand,” he added with a laugh.
Their Best Ever - Tommy Johnson Jr., got a present in Las Vegas and it wasn’t a 21 on the blackjack table. It was a joint effort from his crew.
“I try to get my guys something every year,” Johnson said. “I do it because I want to say thank you for a great season. They also give me something.”
This year his crew beat him to the punch.
“It just goes to show you what a special crew I’ve got,” Johnson said. “They wanted to get me something that I collect and they knew I keep all my helmets at the end of the year in a collector’s case. They shocked me. It was really great to know you have a group of guys that think that much of you.
‘To go and get all of that done and not let you know about it is something special. Not only can you win races and have such a special group of guys, you can have a great friendship with them. This means a lot to me. I don’t know of many crews that have done that for their driver.”
His Best Ever - Johnson admits the 2006 tour has been his best since joining Don Prudhomme Racing in 2001.
“A lot of that goes back to the same group of guys,” Johnson said. “These guys have worked together for a long time. We have a lot of continuity and chemistry working in our favor. That’s probably a result of why we are starting to do so much better. The car is running better and we are starting to do better.”
Downsizing to a one-car team has made a difference.
“It has made one,” Johnson said. “The focus is so much better. Finding key people to keep these things going makes the difference. When you’re trying to find those people for multiple cars, it gets difficult. It’s been a key to our success. The downsizing of the focus to one team has been great. There are some drawbacks but the plusses outweigh the minuses.”
The rumor mill has suggested the one-car flopper team will expand to two again. Johnson admits he’s heard the talk but knows of nothing beyond the rumors.
“You never know,” Johnson said. “They are looking for a sponsor…it will depend on what they want.”
We’re All Adults – Jason Line says he and Greg Anderson are battling for the title in an adult way. They are battling to the wire.
“It was a great day and I didn’t think about the points thing,” said Line, who needs to go one round further than teammate Greg Anderson to clinch the 2006 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Championship. “Tomorrow should be a really interesting day for all of us. If I win a couple of round tomorrow it would be great. I’d like to win four.
“We’re on the same side of the ladder with Greg and if both of us win we’d meet in the semis. We definitely have a good racecar. We have Warren Johnson in the first round and he a champion of all champions and I guess if you want to be one you have to beat one. So it’s a good first round match up for sure.
“(With me running Greg for the championship) it’s a new situation for us to be in. We try to put ourselves in each other's shoes. We’re both handling it in an adult way. The bottom line is that we’re teammates and friends. It’s all good and will make us a better team.”
It is his sixth No. 1 of 2006 for Line and 10th of his career. Of special note is that a KB Racing LLC / Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTO has been in the top spot 17 times in 22 races — Line (6), teammate Greg Anderson (11).
After Line set national records for elapsed time and speed at the last race in Richmond, the elapsed times and speeds at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track that has the second highest elevation on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series circuit, seem slower and the are due to the altitude.
Including qualifying here at the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals, Line leads the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock point standing by 122 points. If Line leaves with an advantage of 139 points or better, there is no way that Anderson can catch Line.
No Surrender – Greg Anderson would like to reiterate – he’s not surrendering. But…he is preparing for next season.
“The new car is a step toward next year,” said Anderson, who is chasing teammate Jason Line for the NHRA POWERade championship “This season we’ve run two or three different brands of cars – Jerry Haas, Jerry Bickel, and Rick Jones. For some reason we’ve been rubbing on Jason’s (car) and we’ve really got it happy. So two or three months ago we decided to build a new RJ (Rick Jones) car like Jason’s. This is that car.
“It is certainly not throwing in the white towel on this year’s championship. I think it’s going to make me better. I think it’s going to be a better situation for me and for the team because now the two cars will be the same. It is by no means going into test mode for just next year. I think it is going to be better for the last two races. It’s going to be closer to the dynamite package we have on Jason’s car. Rather than fight two different cars, we decided to join Jason.
Nothing Like A Rebound – Jeg Coughlin Jr., was in unfamiliar territory after Friday’s qualifying – unqualified.
This was a good rebound day for us," Coughlin said. "Coming into Saturday unqualified added a whole new level of pressure to the situation. It's times like this when you're glad to have a good, strong team behind you. We came out and put a number up there that put us deep on the field so now we can relax a bit and get ready to race.
"You're not nervous, per se, when you get down to the wire and you haven't made a good run. These POWERade races are hard to win if you're not in the field so the first thing you always need to do is just make a pass that gets you in that top 16."
As the No. 8 qualifier, Coughlin will enter race day with lane choice over Kurt Johnson, who qualified 9 with a 6.748.
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The Count Is On - Tony Schumacher, who came into the race weekend 89 points out of the lead and holding third-place, appears headed for his 13th pole of the season and the 35th of his career.
"Like I've said in the past, it's nice to get all of these poles, but we really need to do the job on race day," said the defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel world champion. "We need to win this race in the worst way."
Rod Fuller has qualified fourth or better at the last eight NHRA events dating back to July and kicked-off qualifying by powering to a 4.584, 327.66 mph to card the fifth quickest run of Friday’s first qualifying session. Friday night; however, a parts malfunction caused a small explosion as the local fan favorite coasted to a run of 5.754 seconds.
“At the last race at Richmond (Va.), we had back-to-back runs where the car smoked the tires, so we wanted to come out and make a good baseline run and get down the track,” Fuller said. “We weren’t going for a home run, but it was a nice, consistent run and we ended up fifth.
“We came back on the night run and were looking to step on it. We had a fresh engine and parts in the car, but sometimes the new parts don’t work as good as older, proven parts. The early numbers were really good, but it broke a camshaft. It was on a low 4.50 run. I’ve got a great team behind me and I know that Lee Beard and Rob Flynn will tune it up and we’ll be ready to go for the first round of the Budweiser Shootout.”
Preparation - Stymied in his first qualifying attempt Friday, Cory McClenathan rallied in his second run, by running a 4.581 to claim the No. 8 eight position.
McClenathan aborted his first run and the Carrier Boyz Racing Top Fuel dragster coasted through in 8.606 seconds.
"We were happy with our last run," said McClenathan. "We needed to go down the track. We would've preferred to get into the low 4.50s (seconds) but we got in the show. We'll be trying to run better and get a set-up ready for Sunday's eliminations.
"Unfortunately, we aren't in the Budweiser Shootout Saturday, but at the same time, that should help us concentrate on the task at hand . . . that being getting ready for the race so we can win more rounds and keep a spot in the top 10."
In Preparation – Larry Dixon qualified 11th with a 4.603-second pass at 329.42 mph in the first session before smoking the tires earlyin the second session.
"The car ran a really good speed in that first session," Dixon said. "But it seems like we had some issues in the second pass, especiallywith the performance in the front half of the track."
Dixon is convinced, however, that the team will figure out what problems led to the shaky second attempt.
"I know these guys will spend
the rest of the night working on thecar," Dixon said. "They won't leave
any stone unturned. We have a big
race with big money on the line Saturday. The team will work it out."
Over the past calendar year, Top Fuel drivers have qualified to race in the bonus event. The eight-car field will battle in a three-round event and the winner gets $100,000. Dixon has earned three wins in the bonus event in his career. He will face Melanie Troxel in the first round of the Shootout.
"Our first goal was to get qualified for the Shootout, and we did that," Dixon said. "I really like how we run in Las Vegas. For onereason or another, we seem to do well there. It's an altitude-correctedtrack and we just seem to have a pretty good setup in the car there. When we know you can run well at a certain track, you have to learn how to take advantage of that. Hopefully we can figure out the right setup and take home a couple of trophies."
Team Leader – JR. Todd led the way for Dexter Tuttle's team,
posting an elapsed time of 4.557 seconds at 320.89 mph and grabbing he
No. 5 berth. Todd also registered at 4.624 in the first attempt.
"We got the car down the track, made two clean runs and qualified in the top half of the field, so we are happy about that," Todd said. "We were right with Doug Kalitta (who was in the other lane) until about 1000 feet."
Déjà vu All Over Again – Steve Torrence encountered a rude introduction to Top Fuel racing during the last event in Richmond when both parachutes flew off the car at the finish line. He slowed the car with no incident.
Torrence missed his first qualifying attempt when the team discovered a problem that had potential safety ramifications.
"I changed safety belts before this race and one of the belts wasn't secured properly," said Torrence. "When that happened we decided not to make the run."
Torrence earned a place in the field during the second session with a 4.676, 323.97 package.
When Corradi Speaks - Mike Ashley heard his crew chief Brian Corradi make a statement suggesting the class would be solidly entrenched in the 4.70s. The Knoll Gas – Torco Race Fuels Funny Car driver did his part to back up his tuner’s words by blasting out a 4.787, 326.71 during the second session on Friday.
Ashley’s run served as the eighth quickest on the evening proving Corradi's words prophetic - seven cars in the 4.70s and the one rare exception, a 4.6 second lap.
“We had a strong opening combination,” Ashley said. “We still had some left over but this gives us a good starting point headed in Saturday qualifying. This was our earlier run but we just had much more power than the track could handle at the time.”
Corradi confirmed Ashley’s comments.
“The track just wasn’t there,” Corradi said. “We never changed a thing between sessions. The track came to us. This was a good safe run and we still have a bit more left in it.
“I don’t know that we’ll get after it a lot more tomorrow. We are certainly going after the 4.70s but it will depend on the weather. That is the great determining factor.”
One of Those Days - Del Worsham suffered a rare broken cam shaft on his first pass, which not only caused him to abort the run but also managed to demolish most everything in the power train, and then had his blower belt break a hundred feet short of the finish line during the late session. Fortunately, Worsham was on a stout pass and still clocked in with a 4.794, good enough for the No. 9 spot overnight.
"On the first pass, it was on a decent run, nothing spectacular, but that was by design," Worsham said. "We wanted a nice baseline so that we could stand on it a little tonight, but it just quit out there around half track. When we got back to the pit, the engine was a total mess, with pieces everywhere. I don't remember the last cam shaft we broke, but there you have it.
"Tonight, it was running well, though the clutch wasn't locking up and the engine was really zinging down there. I'm sure that had something to do with the belt finally giving up before the finish line. But, I'll take the 4.79 and we'll move on to tomorrow. All in all, not bad considering we broke a cam and broke a belt on two runs."
From Zero to Hero - After the first round of qualifying, Tommy Johnson Jr. was in 20th place. Only 16 Funny Cars get to play for the trophy on Sunday.
After a few changes to the car, Johnson proved he will definitely get to race for the trophy this weekend. Crew chief Mike Green tuned thecar to a 4.734-second pass at 323.97 mph to move up into the No. 5position.
"After that first run we were all scratching our heads because we couldn't figure out why it smoked the tires," Johnson said. "Mikerefused to believe that it wasn't the right setup. So we put some newtires on it, tuned it up and sent it down the track.
"You don't want to have your back against the wall and go into Saturday not qualified, so it was great to get solidly in the field."
Icing on the Cake - Not that there was a lot of doubt after setting both national time and speed records for the NHRA Pro Stock class at Richmond two weeks ago, and today grabbing the Pro Stock provisional pole but Jason Line is starting to get that look of an NHRA POWERade champion. The current Pro Stock point leader claimed the provisional No. 1 qualifier with a Las Vegas track-record elapsed time of 6.720 seconds at a track-record speed of 204.94 mph. The Minnesota native edged Dave Connolly, who is the highest-qualified Chevy in the Pro Stock field, as he qualified his SKULL Racing Gear Chevy Cobalt second with an elapsed time of 6.727 seconds at 204.20 mph.
"We're off to a good start, and obviously qualifying on the pole, that's the goal every week," said Line, "but it's tough. Between Greg (teammate Anderson) and myself, and obviously Dave Connolly made a heck of a run also, but there are a lot of cars that can do it. Qualifying on the pole's the way we want to start the weekend, and hopefully we can go four rounds on Sunday, end (the title chase) and go to Pomona and not have any pressure whatsoever. But there's a lot of stuff that can happen, so I'm definitely not counting any chickens before they're hatched, that's for sure."
Line enters the penultimate race on the NHRA POWERade circuit this weekend with a 119-point lead over teammate and three-time defending Pro Stock champ Greg Anderdson as the former NHRA Stock eliminator national champion (1993) looks for his first NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championship.
"I don't know (if closing in on his first Pro Stock championship) has sunk in yet - I try not to really think about it because there's a lot of stuff that can happen yet," said Line. "Not that I'm superstitious, but I don't want to jinx anything. It would be a shame to get this close and not win it, but you never know. Greg's going to be tough, and whatever happens, happens. Either way, it's good for KB Racing."
Mo Horsepower – Allen Johnson will be the first to admit that he hasn’t experienced the kind of luck he’d prefer at Las Vegas. But, even he couldn’t help but smile headed into the weekend with the horsepower gains he made on the dyno last week.
“We beat up on the old motors and what we’ve found, we put on our good one,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what in the world was done – I just know it is fast.”
Johnson was the second quickest after the first session with a 6.764, 203.03. He was third at the conclusion of the day.
More In Store, Pass the Maalox – David Nickens says the 210 run that Erica Enders car made in testing is just a preview of things to come.
“We are really excited about the potential of our new engine program,” Nickens said. “If we’re not among the fastest this weekend I am going to be sick to my stomach.”
Nickens had to reach into his supply of Maalox when Enders concluded the day as the first alternate.
Pass the Maalox, Part 2 – Jeg Coughlin Jr., had a tough day in the office on Friday.
The three-time series champ got behind early in the day when he missed the first round due to a broken piece on the throttle linkage. A conservative 6.806-second at 203.52 mph in the evening round placed him 19th overall with two rounds left on Saturday.
"Our goal has become very clear -- we need to make the field," Coughlin said. "I'm not too concerned because historically the early session on Saturday morning is the one where people make their best attempt. It's still in front of us so the worry hasn't set in by any means.
"Some times you experience parts failure in areas where they never normally occur. That's the situation we had in Q1. This car is brand new and everything in it is new. These things happen and it's pat of racing."
Coughlin was excited at the end of his work day to cruise over to the World of Outlaws race across the Las Vegas Motor Speedway compound.
"We're gonna go watch the guys get dirty over there," Coughlin said. "I went over last year and sat in the stands checking the cars out with some friends. I love all kinds of racing."
Nothing Solid for Shoe-Johnson in 2007 – Allen Johnson confirmed that he and Don Schumacher are working toward continuing their relationship for the 2007 season. Nothing is finalized as of this weekend.
“We are working towards it,” Johnson said. “I think it’s what we all want. We just have to make sure it is what Mopar wants.”
Batting 500 - Warren Johnson reached another important milestone in Las Vegas when he enters the 500th national event of his career at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals. Since making his first appearance at the 1971 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Johnson has scored 96 wins, 149 final-round appearances, and 136 No. 1 qualifying performances, representing the most by a single competitor in the history of the Pro Stock class.
“I’ve never really looked at my racing career in terms of its longevity. When I was at the point of entering that first race at IRP, I had already made the commitment to race for a living. However, not knowing how feasible or lucrative my career choice would be, I always maintained the option of doing other things. Fortunately, I’ve been pretty successful, and going to Plan B, whatever that might have been, was never an issue.”
WJ didn’t make the cut after the first day with the 18th quickest (6.803, 203.09).
I told you so - Before the second round of qualifying Friday
night, Dave Connolly predicted the performance of the Skull Gear Chevy
Cobalt would improve -- and it did. He left The Strip at Las Vegas
Motor Speedway second after a 6.727-second effort in the ACDelco Las
"I told you we'd step up," he said after moving from third into the runner-up position. "It was nice to see the new car running good this weekend. The testing we did a couple of days ago in Tucson has really paid off. The car's performance picked up in the first half of the track.
"We were happy with that run."
If you’re not first – you’re last – Imagine the shock on Tom Martino’s face when he walked by a crewman carrying a door through the team’s pit area and saw his new nickname emblazoned on the door.
Just below the standard driver’s window name was lettered “AKA Ricky Bobby.”
Crewman Rainer Amrein decided Martino provided a quality example of the fictional character portrayed in the movie Talledega Nights – The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Martino hasn’t seen the movie yet but figures he’s being the butt of a joke.
“I haven’t seen it, but I think it’s just a jealous thing,” Martino said.
Amrein then responded, “Yeah he’s just like Ricky Bobby. He’s not a thinker. He’s a driver.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Counting Points - Andrew Hines knows that at this point in the game every point counts. Right now he is second in the point standings with two races left this season. On Friday Hines rode his V-Rod to the top of the qualifying ladder with a 7.102-second pass at 187.13 mph.
"It seems like we're going in the right direction due to my team and all the work they have put in trying to find as much horsepower as they can," Hines said. "Luckily we're in the running for a third championship and every point is important." Hines said he earned the top spot with a less-than-perfect pair of passes.
"It's astonishing the way the bike ran because the bike felt like a
bucking bronco," Hines said. "It tried to throw me past the handle bars
about a dozen times. The good thing is that we have some good data and
two more qualifying passes to make before final eliminations start on
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Double Down - Brandon
Bernstein is heading into the weekend in second place in the Top Fuel
category, 83 points out of the lead, with the third place team less
than a round (6 points) behind.
“Bob Frey (NHRA announcer) always says you have to bring your ‘A game’, and he’s right on,” said Bernstein. “We’ve got a shot at the championship, and we have a tenacious team. We’re going to try to grab hold and make that big leap. But while we’re looking ahead of us, we need to be watching behind us, because third place is breathing up our exhaust.
“We have to go rounds in Las Vegas and we have to go more rounds than the leader and the third place contender. That’s a tall order and a lot of pressure for me and for the team. Tim (Richards, crew chief) and Kim (Richards) have weathered this kind of pressure before. This is a new challenge for me. Dad is trying to help me adjust my mindset by approaching each round individually. No big championship picture. Just micro thoughts round to round.
“In addition to the national event in Vegas, we have the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday. We’d sure love to double down in Vegas – win the Shootout and the race. Budweiser’s celebrating their 25th anniversary of the Shootout specialty races they’ve sponsored through the years.”
Bernstein’s best Budweiser Shootout finish was his first when he finished runner-up. It was the 2002 Budweiser Shootout in Pomona, Calif., which was rained out and postponed to February 2003.
One Track Mind - Tony Schumacher has a specific performance agenda beginning with this weekend’s ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals here at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Schumacher will have to make up 89 points in the standings if he is to pocket his third straight world championship and the fourth of his career. Schumacher will have to take care of his own business while getting some help elsewhere if he’s to overtake Brandon Bernstein and leader Doug Kalitta by season’s end.
“By going out in the first round down at Richmond two weeks ago, that set us back a bit,” offered the Chicago resident. “We’re now a little over four rounds out of the lead with only eight rounds of racing left. While we have a big hurdle to jump over, we’re confident we can still do it. I can assure you that we’re never going to accept defeat.”
The defending NHRA POWERade world champion will be doing double duty this weekend in Las Vegas as he will also compete in the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday, which is a special race-within-a-race that showcases eight of the best-performing Top Fuel teams on the NHRA tour.
Schumacher, who is the defending Budweiser Shootout champion and this year’s number one seed, will once again be vying for the $100,000 check that goes to the event winner.
“The Bud Shootout is a blast,” he said. “You get in the car and you don’t have to worry about points. It’s all about the money and the free beer. You can’t beat it.”
Keep It Simple - Larry Dixon won't over-think the Miller Lite team's goals for the last two races of the NHRA POWERade drag racing season. He doesn't see a reason to complicate something so simple.
"We want to win 11 rounds of racing and that's what I would like to see us do," the two-time Top Fuel champion said. "Why not? If there is money and trophies on the line, why not try and go after them? We're in a position to go after all three, so we may as well do everything we can to win."
Dixon and the crew will start attacking the goals this weekend at the sixth annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Not only is the event title on the line, but the bonus event title as well. Over the past calendar year, Top Fuel drivers have qualified to race in the Budweiser Shootout. The top seven drivers - Dixon included - have been guaranteed a position to compete for the $100,000 that goes to the winner. The eighth driver will be selected from a lottery drawing on Thursday. On Saturday, the eight-car field will battle in a three-round event and the winner gets the big check.
"One of our goals was to get seeded for the Shootout and we did that," Dixon said. "Donnie (Bender, crew chief) had been working on some new clutch setups in hopes that our car becomes more predictable on race day. Whether it's been the car or the racing surface, something hasn't been predictable enough for us and we've spun the tires too much. We're trying to make the car a little more forgiving. We want a bigger window to tune out of on race day."
Dixon shouldn't have any problem preparing to drive at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He's got plenty of winning experience at the track. In just seven seasons of racing in Las Vegas Dixon has earned four wins in five final rounds. Dixon swept the spring and fall events in 2002, won the spring event in 2003, was the runner-up in the spring in 2004 and won the spring race in 2005. He also has two No. 1 qualifying awards from 2001-'02.
The Second-Half - In only her first full season of Top Fuel competition, Melanie Troxel took the 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series by storm, winning the season opener in Pomona, leading the point standings through the first 12 races and becoming the first Top Fuel driver to reach the final round in the first five events of a season.
The driver of the Skull Shine/Knoll Gas-Torco Race Fuels entry from Don Schumacher Racing captured her second career Top Fuel victory at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last spring and is aiming to repeat that performance at this weekend's ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals, as the season winds down to its last two events.
While resigned to the fact that claiming her first Top Fuel championship is out of reach after struggling through the second half of the year, Troxel, in fourth, is in a strong position to move into second in the standings. She is just 89 points out of that spot (Brandon Bernstein) and 83 points short of third (Tony Schumacher). Leader Doug Kalitta is 172 markers in front of her.
"We're coming into races where we ran very well in the beginning of the year, tracks that we have a lot of good information on. So, I'm looking forward to this weekend's race in Las Vegas," said Troxel, who last week was named the "Sportswoman of the Year" by the Women's Sports Foundation.
"We won the spring race here and I think we're on the right track to getting back to where our performance was earlier in the year. It would be great to finish off the year strong and move up one or even two positions in the point standings."
Field Is Set - The eight-car field for the lucrative Budweiser Shootout was set on
Thursday evening during a draw party at The Joint in the Hard Rock
Hotel and Casino. David Baca, who drives the Mach 1 dragster, was the
lucky No. 8 wild card spot winner among the eight Top Fuel drivers
eligible for the position.
The Budweiser Shootout, a special race-within-a-race bonus event that pays the winner $100,000 is contested annually during the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The first-round begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, with rounds to follow at 3:15 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Baca will face Budweiser Shootout No. 1 qualifier Tony Schumacher in the opening round. Schumacher, who raced to a record 13 No. 1 qualifying positions during the Shootout series in his U.S. Army dragster to claim the top spot, is looking for his second consecutive Shootout victory. It is the third year for the new qualifying format and the first time that a driver other than the original No. 8 qualifier for the Budweiser Shootout gained entry to the bonus event via the wild card position. Baca was 12th in the final point standings.
Qualified drivers in positions 2-7 participated in wild card drawings to determine their first-round pairings. The results of those random drawings included: David Grubnic vs. Rod Fuller; Melanie Troxel vs. Larry Dixon; and Doug Kalitta vs. Brandon Bernstein.
If a driver wins the Budweiser Shootout and the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals, he will earn a $50,000 double-up bonus from NHRA, bringing his potential winnings for the weekend to nearly $200,000.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Budweiser Shootout, Budweiser saluted many of its past champions from Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Shootouts. Those honored on stage and with a video tribute included Joe Amato, winner of a record six Top Fuel Shootouts; Kenny Bernstein, the only driver in NHRA history to win both Top Fuel and Funny Car Shootouts; Shelly (Anderson) Payne, the only female driver to ever win an NHRA bonus event in a pro category; John Force; Frank Pedregon; Tom McEwen; and Larry Morgan.
Been there done that - John Force has seen this
movie before. The difference is that this week he can write an
alternative ending, a luxury he didn't enjoy during a sometimes painful
first season of Driving Force, a real-life TV series in which he stars
with his wife and daughters on A&E Network.
"That's reality TV," Force said of the series which presently is on hiatus, "but this (points race) is reality and, trust me, there's a really big difference."
Last fall, the 13-time Auto Racing All-American rolled his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang into The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the Funny Car points leader in a three-way duel with Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps for the $400,000 NHRA POWERade Championship.
Leading by 36 points with just two races remaining, Force stumbled at LVMS, losing a first round match with Del Worsham, and faltered again in the season finale at Pomona, Calif. As a result, both Scelzi and Capps moved around him in the final standings, the three of them separated by just 32 points.
It was an unexpected and eye-opening turn of events for the only drag racer have won more than 100 tour events (121).
"Honestly, after we won Dallas and took the lead, I though it was over," Force said. "We had won so much (14 championships in 16 seasons for the team) that I never thought that we wouldn't win it."
Flash forward to the present. Force is back this week at LVMS for the sixth annual ACDelco Nationals and, like last year, he is the point man in a three-way battle for the title. This time, the other players are Capps, who trails by 46, and second year pro Robert Hight, Force's son-in-law, who is 54 behind.
Although he has been established as the Funny Car favorite by Las Vegas odds makers, Force doesn't exude the confidence he did at this time a year ago.
"I'm not taking anything for granted," said the NHRA national record holder for quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed (333.58 miles per hour). "I learned my lesson."
Been there done that, too - Ron Capps is having a bad case of deja vu as the 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series comes down to the final two events of the season. He finds himself in second place to John Force in the Funny Car point standings and once again in a three-way battle for the crown.
It was exactly one year ago when he was in a similar position entering the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This time, the driver of the Brut Revolution Dodge Charger R/T is looking for a different outcome. In 2005 he ended the season second to teammate Gary Scelzi in the most hotly-contested championship in NHRA history. Having led the point standings for most of 2006, Capps is aiming to land his first Funny Car title after three career runner-up finishes.
"We're in a precarious position again this year," says Capps, who receives additional support from Knoll Gas-Torco Race Fuels. "We went into Vegas (in 2005) with not a whole lot of pressure. We were in third place at the time. In Dallas, the race before Vegas, we were No. 1 qualifier and went a couple of rounds. We were 57 points back of Force going into Vegas, and Gary and the Mopar/Oakley team were only 21 ahead. We didn't feel a whole lot of pressure and we went there to win that race.
"I remember Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) telling me that's what the plan was, to go in there and win the next two races and let the points lay where they were going to lay. And that's what happened. We went into Vegas, we won the race, beat Gary in the final, Force went out first round and everybody knows what happened then. We moved into second place, and went to Pomona all tied together, or pretty close."
The plan for the end of this season is the same: "Ace, the guys and I talked on the phone from the shop and that's the plan," says Capps. "The first thing Ace told me was we're going to concentrate on winning both races, and the other guys are going to have to go as many rounds as they can. If we do our job, then we're going to have another exciting chase right down to the end in Pomona."
At this stage, Capps is 46 points behind Force and eight points ahead of Robert Hight. He has won five times in eight final rounds and led the point standings following 17 of the 21 events so far.
All About The Points - The quickest qualifier this weekend will earn a measly eight bonus points. That's just seven more than the driver who claims the 16th and final spot in Sunday's starting lineup.
Nevertheless, Robert Hight has demonstrated this season just how important those little bonus points can be.
Last year's winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year, Hight is a contender for the 2006 POWERade Funny Car championship primarily because of his qualifying prowess at the wheel of the Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang.
Third in POWERade points with just two races remaining, Hight believes he can move past Ron Capps and into second place (behind boss and teammate John Force) simply by doing what he has done all season long and that is putting up the category's best qualifying numbers in an 8,000 horsepower Ford tuned by Jimmy Prock.
"Our goal is the same as it is every week," Hight said. "We want to qualify No. 1 and then we want to win the race for the Auto Club, Ford and Castrol. I know Jimmy will give me a car that's capable of doing that. We're eight points behind Capps and if we can qualify just a few positions ahead of him in these last two races, we could make that up."
The No. 1 qualifier a category-best eight times this year, Hight has earned 95 more qualifying points this year than Capps (158-63). That's the equivalent of winning four additional rounds of racing and it is one of the biggest reasons Hight is a position to win the title in just his second season.
Of course, the 37-year-old Californian has been pretty good on race day, too. In addition to a victory in the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., he won the biggest race in the series, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., and followed up a week later by winning the O'Reilly Fall Nationals at Dallas, Texas.
A finalist in three of the last four races in the series, Hight is hoping this week to reverse his fortunes at LVMS.
Although he set the track record (4.702 seconds) in qualifying No. 1 for last spring's SummitRacing.com Nationals, the one-time Force crewman hasn't advanced beyond the second round in three appearances at The Strip and will be looking for his first round win in the ACDelco race in which he was upset in the first round last year by Mike Ashley.
Confidence builder - Mike Ashley chalks up his confidence headed into this weekend’s NHRA ACDelco Las Vegas to experience – something he longed for in the early days of his career and cherishes at the twilight of his first full season.
“I would say the largest attribute for me over last season has been experience,” Ashley said. “That experience has come from not only being behind the wheel but also staying in tune with the crew and of course, my crew chief Brian Corradi. The guy is amazing and is incredible when it comes to relaying information to me about the car. When you look at where we were at in Denver with this brand new team and now, there’s a world of difference. There’s no substitute for experience but I feel being surrounded with the group of talented individuals we have under this umbrella – I have been able to jump onto the fast track.”
Vegas Tuning 101 - Brian Corradi has been one of the brightest spots in Mike Ashley’s development as a front-running driver. The veteran tuner expects a great weekend of racing for the fans.
“Normally the air in Las Vegas is really dry,” Corradi said. “The temperatures for this weekend are supposed to be in the 60s and 70s – which should be really good for us. You have to deal with a little bit of elevation and that’s not really hard to deal with.
“We make a lot of power in Vegas and it’s a good smooth track so we are able to capitalize on it. That is contingent on the temperatures being conducive to what we want.
“The last two venues on the tour [Dallas, Richmond] were really difficult,” Corradi said. “Normally the cars are really all close with blower and five-ten thousandths on the gasket. The last two races – the air was so great - that you couldn’t take enough power away from the thing. That makes the motor real snappy. A motor is real hard to deal with when it is snappy. It changes your clutch wear and how the engine responds is important to how the clutch responds. Normally, it is all really close – 1500 – 2000 feet. You should see a lot of 4.70s there.”
Heroes have always been Cowboys - After a successful drag racing weekend earlier this season in the 2006 POWERade Drag Racing Series in Denver flying the primary colors of Las Vegas-based Technicoat Companies, Scott Kalitta and his Toyota Solara Funny Car team will again assume major sponsorship from Technicoat for this weekend’s ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“‘The Cowboys’, Bob and Glen at Technicoat are great,” Kalitta said. “They come to a lot of events and there’s always a good time waiting to happen around them. We hope we can go out there and put up some good numbers so they and their customers will have something extra to cheer for.”
Within his grasp - Jason Line could lock up the 2006 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Championship this weekend.
Line, who leads the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock point standing by 119 points, needs only to maintain his point lead during qualifying and then go one round further than teammate – three-time and reigning NHRA POWERade champion Greg Anderson – during eliminations to officially clinch the championship. If Line leaves the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals with an advantage of 139 points or better, there is no way that Anderson can catch Line.
“We’ll just go out and do what we’ve been doing all season,” said Line, as he looked forward to once again visiting The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “The points always take care of themselves. Do I want to win the POWERade championship? Yes! But the cool thing is that this is the fourth year in a row that the POWERade championship trophy has come home to KB Racing.
“KB Racing is a hard working team with great chemistry and we’re already looking to next year. If everything goes right for me this year then next season I’ll go after my second (championship) and Greg (Anderson) will be after his fourth. Because of the team that we have behind us, I know we’ll be right there in the mix next year.”
Last Gasp - Greg Anderson's time is running short in his bid for a fourth consecutive NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Championship.
Including this weekend’s NHRA ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals, there are only two races left on the 2006 schedule. The other is Nov. 9-12 in Pomona, Calif.
Being that the three-time and reigning champ feels that a national elapsed time record will not be set at either of the two events, he must substantially cut into the 119 point deficit that separate him and teammate Jason Line entering the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals this weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Reality is that I must have a perfect race this weekend and Jason must falter enough to open the door for me at Pomona,” said Anderson as he reflected on the point battle. “Otherwise, it’s over for me.
“The way Jason has been running I don’t expect him to collapse, but I do need to go a lot more rounds than him. At this point in time, I’m still moving forward with great optimism.
“If it happens that I don’t leave the door opening enough for me to have an opportunity at Pomona or Jason should clinch at Vegas, then I’ll be happy for Jason. The main thing is that the championship will reside with KB Racing, Summit Racing Equipment, and Pontiac for the fourth straight year. That’s a win-win situation.”
Just Win - With third place locked up, Dave Connolly and the Skull Gear Chevrolet Cobalt Pro Stock team are focusing on finishing the season with a victory.
A new Cobalt made its competitive debut at Richmond two weeks ago, garnering smiles for carrying Connolly to a career-best elapsed time (6.612 seconds) and speed (208.91 mph) and into the quarterfinals of eliminations. But that wasn’t enough to please Connolly or crew chief Tommy Utt.
So the team left its Mooresville, N.C., shop early and made a stop at Tucson, Ariz., for testing Monday and Tuesday before driving north for the penultimate event of the 23-race schedule, the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals, Friday through Sunday, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
“We want to make our new car a little bit better for this race,” said Connolly. “We’d like to improve its 60- and 330-foot times and make some tune-up gains at Tucson. We want to get the Cobalt running good so we can thank the guys from Victor Cagnazzi’s chassis shop. They worked hard to get the chassis ready to use for the end of the season.”
Finishing as high as third wasn’t in the team’s thinking during its first visit here in April. Connolly was 14th when he arrived and 11th when he departed, thanks primarily to a stellar runner-up finish.
In what was one of his finest days as driver, he parlayed quicker reaction times into three round wins and left 29-thousandths of a second ahead of Kurt Johnson (.006 to .035 of a second) in the title round, but Johnson reached the finish line a paltry three-thousandths of a second before Connolly.
But Connolly slipped to 12th in points at the next race and Utt took over the reins. Since then, Connolly has won four times, been to two more final rounds and made the long climb to respectability – even though he didn’t qualify twice early in the year. Series point leader Jason Line also has a 4-3 mark in title rounds this year but qualified for all 21 events.
Milking It - Jeg Coughlin is ready for big things.
"We want to win the race," said Coughlin, a 47-time national event winner. "We may only have one race under our belts in this new Slammers Ultimate Milk/Jegs.com Chevrolet Cobalt but we showed so much potential I firmly believe we're capable of winning Las Vegas."
After winning the 2005 season-ending Auto Club Finals in Pomona last November as a member of Don Schumacher Racing, Coughlin decided to step back from Pro Stock until a more agreeable situation presented itself. He found that with Victor Cagnazzi's race team, which now fields two cars for Slammers (the other driven by Tommy Lee), and provides motors to championship contender Dave Connolly.
"Victor and I have been friends for years and we started talking about doing something awhile back," Coughlin said. "Basically, we played it smart and waited until a deal came along that made sense for all of us. We have that with Slammers.
"At the same time we wanted to make sure the engine department and the crew was ready for the expansion. Judging on how we ran in Virginia I'd say we're good to go."
Coughlin, Lee, and Connolly all recorded career-best numbers in Richmond. Now the trio will try to conquer The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Coughlin has three victories at the facility, including the first race ever held there in 2000. He also won in Las Vegas in 2001 and 2002.
"I'd like for us to make an impact before the end of the season," said Coughlin, the Pro Stock world champ in '00 and '02. "I'll admit to feeling a little nervous when we headed up to the line for the first round of qualifying in Virginia but as soon as I let the clutch out and felt that power under me, I knew it would be okay."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
An Army of Two - With the end of the 2006 NHRA drag racing season in clear sight, U.S. Army drivers Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown have specific performance agendas on their respective plates beginning with this weekend’s ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals here at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
On the Pro Stock Motorcycle side, Brown will be eager to pad his lead in the standings with just two races left on the schedule, while Sampey would like to mount a late charge from third-place to capture her fourth world title.
Brown, who is 27 points ahead of two-time world champion Andrew Hines, can clinch his first NHRA POWERade world title with two solid showings at both Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif. in three weeks.
“I guess I control my own destiny,” said the New Jersey native. “My goal is simply to go out and win these last two races and then the outcome will be decided for me. I’m going to go into both races with an open head and just try to stay relaxed.”
In attempting to become the NHRA’s first African-American world champion, Brown said he will be approaching every round of racing remaining as if he’s not the leader.
“I believe you have to pretend you’re not in the points lead because I think when you have the lead you tend to go into protective mode. It’s all about staying mentally focused and making sure you’re watching your P’s and Q’s.”
After setting a new national elapsed time record in Reading, Pa. last month, Sampey will be hoping for similar results over the next couple of weeks as she tries to track down Brown in the points.
“Personally, I’m thinking my chances are pretty good,” said the three-time world champion. “But, I also know that my team, overall, is very capable of winning the whole thing. They’re capable of pulling off the championship regardless of whether it’s me or Antron.
“While I would love to get that fourth ring, I know Antron is trying really hard to get his first. Needless to say, if I don’t win, I hope he nails it. I’m rooting for him just as much as I’m rooting for myself.”
Memory Maker - You may as well call the Screamin' Eagle/ Vance & Hines V-Rod Harley-Davidson team a pack of elephants. They don't forget anything.
So if you ask any of the team members what goals they might have going into the final two races of the season, the answer is going to be the same: Right the wrongs from 2005.
Last year rider Andrew Hines posted a first round and runner-up finish. Teammate GT Tonglet lost in the first round at both of the season's final two events. They finished first and second in the standings, respectively, but the team is in a different position this year and race results matter heavily.
Going into this weekend's ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Hines is in second place, just 27 points away from category leader Antron Brown and the U.S. Army Suzuki team. Tonglet is in 13th place.
"We have to win rounds, no matter how you look at it," Hines said. "I'm looking to move up to first and GT wants to move back into the top 10. To do that we need to produce a better outcome than we did this time last year. Some round wins and maybe even a race win or two would be great for our team."
Tonglet is just 47 points out of the No. 10 spot in the standings. If he can move up during the last two events of the 15-race NHRA POWERade season, it will be his fifth top 10 finish of his six-year career.
"Unfortunately I'm not in championship contention, but I still want to finish the season on a high note," Tonglet said. "This team has worked so hard over the season and it would be great if we could jump back into the top 10 and end the season well."
Hines is the defending two-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion. He has two wins in four final rounds this season along with one No. 1 qualifying award.
"It's been a real dogfight the last couple of seasons but luckily this Screamin' Eagle team has been able to earn the top spot and take the championship the last two years," Hines said. "I feel really lucky just to be in a position to compete for a possible third title. It would be an amazing achievement for the team. But in order to compete for the title, we need to go out there and turn some heads in the last two races and that starts in Las Vegas this weekend."
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