A look back at Denver and a look ahead to this weekend's Sonoma Raceway event in Northern California yielded some news nuggets and quotable quotes . . .






A look back at Denver and a look ahead to this weekend's Sonoma Raceway event in Northern California yielded some news nuggets and quotable quotes . . .
'MORE FUN NOW THAN EVER' - Pssst- don't tell Juan Mota, but Cruz Pedregon said after Sunday's Funny Car victory at Denver, "I'm a big believer in veteran crew chiefs and mechanics. We need a little help in our pit area, pit strategy. We had a rough four-race swing, so we brought Johnny West in, just to try to make us better. He has improved our team from a mechanical standpoint." The reality is that "Juan Mota" is Pedregon's name for the tuning side of himself, his alter ego. And he's having a genuine blast spinning yarns about Juan Mota's hauler-lounge arguments with the Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry driver. "I joke about this Juan Mota guy, but I really do try to compartmentalize."
Pedregon said he's having fun overall. And why not, with three victories, three No. 1 starts, and a stint as points leader in late April to mid-May? He said, "As long as I don't feel like we're pulling a car up to the starting line that's lacking, I'm going to race and be here and do this for a number of years. The day that comes that I don't feel like I can put the car out there that equals or is better than the competition is the day I'll step away and do something else. I've had a great career, and I'm having more fun now than I've ever had."
NOT ENOUGH ROCKS? - Tom Hanks' "Forrest Gump" title character said, "Sometimes I guess there's just not enough rocks." But Forrest Lucas' son, Morgan Lucas, might feel the same way. Mired in ninth place, the Top Fuel driver of the GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster, said, "The car sometimes will show promise. I don't know what the problem is. I know we can say it's Denver or whatever, but when you know what other teams are running out there and what the potential is, bottom line is we're not doing our job. I think the potential is there. It's just finding out which rock to turn over."
BEWARE OF BEAST - A number of companies and causes have latched onto the "Unleash The Beast" slogan. Reigning Top Fuel champion Antron Brown has his own spin on that after absorbing his eighth first-round defeat in 10 races this past Sunday at Denver. He declared he and his Matco Tools Dragster team were "too tame on the mountain, but at Sonoma it will be like we're letting a raging animal out of the cage. It will be back in beast mode. The car will be in a totally different mode."
He said he's expecting "a reawakening for our team" this weekend at Sonoma, Calif. "You're able to unwind and get back to what you're used to doing [nearly at sea level]. It's a really high- level racetrack, and the weather conditions usually are as good as we have all year." Brown said he and his team were breaking out of their slump "until we got to Denver, and that race is so unique because of the thin air in the high altitude. You don't make the power, and the clutch discs we use are very aggressive." This weekend he'll be aggressive, too. Still, Brown has two victories in three final rounds, an above-.500 elimination record (17-12), is fifth in the standings, and led the points in March.
HEAVY HEARTS - News of drag-racing legend Paul Candies' fatal heart attack hit the Matco Tools Top Fuel team especially hard Sunday. Crew chief Mark Oswald drove for the famed Candies and (Leonard) Hughes for 11 years, including in 1984, when they won the NHRA Funny Car championship. "He meant everything to my career. I was just a guy working on his own race car when I attracted his attention, and he gave me the opportunity to drive a first-class race car. He was always behind you 100 percent, and everything was positive," Oswald said. "He was an excellent man and had a pure love for this sport as much as anyone who has ever been out here." Oswald introduced Antron Brown and co-crew chief Brian Corradi to Candies a few years ago, and they have been planning to work together on a nostalgia Funny Car. Candies, 74, lived near Oswald at Houma, La., close to the hometown of Brown's wife, Billie Jo. Brown said, "I met Paul through Mark when he'd come out to the racetrack. He was one of those types of people who people gravitate toward. He is what this sport was built on."
THIS SPORT IS DIFFICULT - Matt Hagan, the 2011 Funny Car champion, showed him it can happen. But Jack Beckman, his successor, is struggling to win his first event after 13 races this season. And Beckman indicated he feels the urgency to win. "We have to get our Valvoline/MTS Dodge into the winners circle -- pronto," Beckman said this week. He's sixth in the standings, despite only one final-round appearance, in June at Englishtown, N.J.  "Our car and team are too good to be this far into the season to be looking for the year's first trophy," he said. "We have continued to improve, but right now we're focused on winning a title more than gaining points on the drivers ahead of us."
This Friday afternoon, he'll talk about how he won the biggest battle of his life -- a battle for his life, against cancer. He's expected to announce he will continue for a second year as a national spokesman for the "Chemotherapy: Myths or Fact" campaign. "It's important for people with cancer to sit down with their doctor to get the facts about chemotherapy so they better know what to expect during their treatment," Beckman said. "When I was diagnosed, there's obviously a state of shock, but that's the most important time to speak to your doctor and get good guidance and information."
JUST TWO MORE - Two spots remain open for the eight-driver, $100,000-to-win Traxxas Nitro Shootout Funny Car bonus race set for Labor Day weekend during the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. One will go to the winner of a lottery that follows a fan vote, but Jack Beckman wants that last spot that goes to a race winner during the so-called "regular season." Already qualified are Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Johnny Gray, Cruz Pedregon, Matt Hagan, and John Force. Eligible for the fan vote for the final berth are Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Tim Wilkerson, Del Worsham, Bob Tasca, Alexis DeJoria, Jeff Arend, and Tony Pedregon.
On the Top Fuel front, the field is set with seven 2013 race winners: Shawn Langdon, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Spencer Massey, Bob Vandergriff, Steve Torrence, and Khalid alBalooshi. A lottery winner will get the last one, and the eligible drivers are  Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas, David Grubnic, Brittany Force, and Terry McMillen.
HE SAID WHAT?! - Shawn Gann had the quote of the weekend after riding his PiranaZ/Gann Speed Suzuki to the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory -- his first in nine years -- Sunday at Bandimere Speedway. And he gave plenty of credit to dad Blake Gann, his crew chief. Said the winner, "My daddy is unbelievable. It don't matter if it's making a doghouse, making something out of popsicle sticks, making it out of titanium or magnesium, making something out of a volcano or nuclear waste -- it don't matter. My daddy can make anything."
CHARGING HARD AGAINST LEADER - Allen Johnson's Pro Stock victory included a Round 2 elimination of points leader Mike Edwards. No. 2-ranked Johnson said. "I wish my teammate (Jeg Coughlin, Edwards' opening-round victim) had done it in the first round and one of us had gone on to win the race and gain more points on him. For me to be able to do it was huge."  
303, BABY! - For Robert Hight and new crew chief Mike Neff, 303 is the magic number. If Hight can build on his semifinal finish at Denver (which broke away from a string of six first-round losses in eight races), he can get Neff his 300th round-win as a crew chief. But both Funny Car champions are hoping to hit 303 rounds, which would give Hight his first victory since the spring race at Charlotte last year and that last spot in the Traxxas Shootout. Saying, "There is so much positive energy in our whole camp," Hight -- a Northern California native -- said his goal is to halt his Sonoma streak of three quarterfinal finishes. He's aiming instead of a memorable visit like he had in 2008. That was when he followed his late teammate Eric Medlen (2006) and boss John Force (2007) into the winners circle. "The last three years we have been bounced in the second round, twice by Cruz [Pedregon] and once by [Jack] Beckman. Cruz just won in Denver, and Beckman is also looking for his first win of the season like me. This Funny Car class is so tough. There are no guarantees no matter where you qualify."

All articles and photography published in are protected by United States of America and International copyright laws unless mentioned otherwise. The content on this website is intended for the private use of the reader and may not be published or reposted in any form without the prior written consent of