The biggest names in professional drag racing will converge on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the sixth annual Nitro Blast-off preseason test session for NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series teams.  The list of participants will read like a who's-who of drag racing - including John Force Racing, Kenny Bernstein and Don Schumacher Racing - as Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle teams fine-tune their entries in preparation for the grueling 2007 NHRA POWERade schedule.

Stay tuned as Torco's brings you the latest in news, notes and photos throughout the three-day event. 





Realistic but rarin' to go -- Different teams have different goals and different measures of success for the first test session of a year. But Ashley Force had to be pleased with her Sunday run of 5.006 seconds at 236.67 mph, which ranked sixth-best of the weekend.
"My goal," the newest Castrol Ford Mustang driver said, "is to get all the puzzle pieces to fit together and get to know the routine. I think our team's more nervous than the other teams, because we haven't competed professionally yet." 
Force said she and crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli "bonded quickly. We've tested together for the last year and a half. We already knew each other, but we've gotten to know working with each other. I understand now what he says and what he means. I try to explain as best I can what I'm feeling. I'm sure some of the terms I use are completely wrong, but he seems to understand what I'm trying to say."
She showed her patience, knowing that the media and fans constantly want to ask, "What do you expect? Will you win races this year?"
Said Force, considering her rivals inside and outside her family, "It'll be a hard year.
"I think it'll take a few months of competition to get all these little kinks worked out," she said. "I look at my dad's team that Guido came from, and it's like a dance over there, how smoothly everything works. It's like the guys can read each others' minds. It's amazing.
"It'll take us some time to get there, but I have a really good group of guys. They're really excited. It's a young group," she said. "I think it's neat that everything's new, that we can all start out the year together."
She said the plan for her team is to stay on at Las Vegas and continue testing, then head to Phoenix for the upcoming weekend. "We weren't going to run Vegas again, unless there were a lot of problems. We wanted to give the guys the weekend off before the season-opening Winternationals."  
Back in the saddle -- Brittany Force was back on the track Sunday, despite spending some time at University Medical Center in Las Vegas with a slight concussion the evening before. She had hit the wall with her Brand Source-sponsored Super Comp dragster, damaging the left front wheel area. She drove sister Courtney's car twice Sunday afternoon . . . while Jack Beckman, a Funny Car driver and the Force women's instructor at Frank Hawley's driving school, shared some tips and thoughts with her dad, John Force.     
Positive first weekend -- Jeff Arend's team had no plans for the Checker Schuck,s Kragen Funny Car driver to make full passes. Nevertheless, he and his crew were happy Sunday. And it didn't have anything to do, really, with the fact his 4.911-second elapsed time at 250.27 mph was third-best of the day and weekend in the class or that he hit a top speed earlier in the day of 261.72 mph.
"I'd give us a B+ score for the weekend, which is good," co-crew chief Chris Cunningham said. "The car reacts to the changes we make. The power is there. And we're actually having to work at calming it down rather than hoping to find new pop. And it really wants to go down the track. All of that is good. The only downside to our weekend here has been parts attrition. We've broken more stuff than we wanted to, so we'll have to address that, but Jeff did a really good job and the guys are on top of it. It's been good, and we're all pretty pumped up."
Arend certainly understands the part about hurting equipment. "It's better to go to half-track and make sure the motor looks good than to run to the finish line and have a piece of junk," he said. "Between a thousand feet and the finish line, on a normal run, it can start eating up the parts. If the car runs good at half-track, you can look at a number and say, 'OK -- if it's running this at half-track, it's going to run this at the finish line.'
"We had some good-looking numbers yesterday," Arend added. "The first run went OK. The second run was really good." He said he thought the blue CSK Chevy Monte Carlo was on a low 4.7-second run that could have been his career best. "It was flyin'," he said.
"We have a good race car here, no doubt about that," he said. "It wants to go down the track. It wants to go very fast, and I think we're getting a real handle on how we're going to run it. The guys have been great, and I really feel part of this team now, but speaking of this team, it's a great bunch of guys who work their tails off but know how to laugh and keep it loose. This is a great group, and it's great for me to be the driver in the car for these guys."
What? Me worry? -- Doug Foley, back in a dragster this weekend for the first time since his accident last September in an International Hot Rod Association race at Cayuga, Ontario, said he wasn't nervous.
He said any apprehension he might have had stemmed "more from adapting to" his new McKinney chassis. "We changed some of the safety devices in the car and rerouted them. It was a different feeling," he said. "New car, higher wind screen, all these things are coming together." He said he wanted to make sure everything was set up correctly and that he felt comfortable with the new configurations.
Foley said he phoned wife Shelagh at home in Sewell, New Jersey, and told her, "The track is pretty cold, and the weather here's not very good." She told him, "I don't need to hear that. Go out and make a good, clean run and call me again and tell me everything fine." He said son Douglas wasn't worried at all about Dad getting back into a dragster that he knew could wreak so much havoc. "It's fine, Dad. What are you worried about? C'mon -- " the youngster said.
Foley just laughed. He said co-owner Tim Lewis probably was more skittish about this first time back in operation. "That was a horrific accident for all of us to have to go through," Foley said, "and going through the entire winter having that [the crash] your last run is tough."
The Millican Magic Diet -- Just like the South Beach Diet or the Atkins Diet or the Chocolate, Subway, Lazy Zone, or Russian Air Force diets, the latest down-home weight-maintenance program -- The Millican Magic Diet -- might not work for everyone.
But this unconventional method has kept 40-year-old Top Fuel champion Clay Millican a consistent 142 pounds since his senior year in high school.
The Knoll Gas/Torco Dragster driver, who'll turn 41 the Friday of the season-opening Winternationals, said his home scale in Drummonds, Tennessee, reads 142  pounds but that other scales document him as low as 140 or high as 145.
Anyone who hates to count calories will find a friend in Millican -- he doesn't mess with that. However, health teachers and nutritionists, stop reading right here. What he'll say next will make you crazy.   . . .
Millican said he begins his day with no breakfast -- doesn't like it, says he has no need for it. However, he chugs down eight cups of coffee each morning.
Lunch brings more coffee and just about his favorite thing on earth to eat: a fried bologna sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mustard.
In his early days of racing, another team would show up at the race track with a stick of Starling-brand bologna (the kind his mama and daddy always sold in the family's grocery store in Drummonds). They would split it lengthwise, load it up with spices and sauces, wrap it in aluminum foil, and slow-grill it. "Now, that's real food!" Millican said.
Bologna scores big with Millican, but he said he's "hung up on PayDay" candy bars. (Hey -- got to have an afternoon pick-me-up, right?)
While many men regard the mark of affluence to be ordering a steak dinner, Millican said he's just not meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. His dinner often consists of what he calls "Campbell's Mush." The recipe for his favorite meal is this:
Start with a can of soup. Go to wife Donna's spice cabinet and see what happens to be in there. Dump a pinch or shake or smidgin' of that into the soup. Take a handful of crackers and crumble them into the soup so that the mixture has hardly any moisture in it. Heat thoroughly. Enjoy!
The I'm-Not-Too-Good-To-Help Award goes to . . .  -- Top Fuel driver Hillary Will.
Will doesn't get elbow-deep into the engine of her KB Racing LLC/Kalitta Motorsports Dragster. But the second-year driver wants to pull her weight around the shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan, to help her crew and the organization. So she volunteered to do what needs doing.
She cleans the restrooms at the shop.

'Looking for an igloo' -- Del Worsham continued to work on various tune-up tweaks on Sunday in Las Vegas but had no plans for full runs. Besides, the "fire and ice" combination of hot rods and cold, windy conditions wouldn't have been conducive for that.
"On our side of the pit, we've been working on a lot of new stuff, and today we kept changing things around and acting as our own guinea pigs," Worsham said. "The conditions here didn't lend themselves to making a lot of laps, to be honest, because the track here was its normal stout self but the weather made it very tough to get off the starting line in a Funny Car. We had to wait until about noon to even think about running, just to let it warm up a little bit, and then by 4:00 or so it started getting so cold I was looking for an igloo.
"We really wanted to get back up there for the last run," he said, "and we were at the line around 4:30, but by then the conditions were just so tight it was almost a waste of time. You're talking about one of the best tracks in the world, low humidity, and temperatures that were dropping rapidly once the sun got low in the sky. Still, we're pretty happy with what we did here and although we wish we wouldn't have shook the tires so hard on the last pass. We really couldn't help it. The conditions just got the best of us there.
"I think we're onto some good things here," Worsham said, "so we're going to get back to our shop for the week, service a lot of parts, and then we'll head to Phoenix for testing next weekend. I'm never overconfident, but I feel pretty good right now."

No hassle with Cassel --
Doug Foley has had to 'break in' a new crew chief.  Or has he? Oh, he has a new tuner in Rick Cassel, but Foley knows Cassel isn't wet behind the ears. "He's got a lot of experience working for the Pedregons and Bob Vandergriff," the Accelerator Products/Torco co-owner/driver said. "He has a lot of knowledge."
Actually, he's really breaking in a new car more than a new crew chief.
After a couple of short runs Saturday that were designed "to get everybody acclimated," Foley said, the team "is showing lots of potential We're really making great strides."
That's especially encouraging, because Foley knew Cassel was coming into his new deal with a bit of a handicap. "It's not even like I can hand him the same car and the same tune-up book. As soon as you put new pipe out there, it's all out the window," he said.
NHRA as a tune-up for IHRA -- Doug Foley calculates his racing strategy a little bit backwards from the way other Top Fuel drivers might. He said he's using his NHRA experience to help him improve his IHRA championship chances.
"My goal was to come here and to Phoenix, do some quality testing, and to have 30 laps on my car by the time I go to San Antonio," he said, referring to the March 23-25 Amalie Oil Texas Nationals that kick off the 12-event e-Max Drag Racing Series.
Foley also said Evan Knoll, sponsor of his Accelerator Products/Torco Dragster, have given the team enough funding to compete at 10 NHRA races, as well as challenge for the IHRA championship. He said he thought that "was huge" and gives him a clear advantage over his e-Max Series rivals.
"Evan puts us out here on the NHRA side. It doesn't hurt once in awhile to get a good ol' ass-kicking," Foley said. "It makes you work harder. Over here it's tough, tough to run. I think that helps our IHRA program."
He told fellow Top Fuel driver Clay Millican -- who used to be his on-track nemesis but is in the racing family fold now that his sponsor Knoll is Millican's new boss -- that he doesn't know what to expect with the six-time champ no longer running a full IHRA schedule. Said Foley to Millican, "We're going to win that championship that you've won I don't know how many damn years -- I've run out of fingers [to count on]. The goal is to pick up where we left off, see if the car can be consistent as it was before the crash. We were disappointed that we went to a lot of final rounds and couldn't close the deal. We've got to fix that."
Foley led the Top Fuel standings at the time of his accident. 
He said the Foley & Lewis team will field two cars again in IHRA competition but that Boise, Idaho, driver Rick Cooper won't be in the seat. He said he and co-owner Tim Lewis haven't decided on a replacement for Cooper but have been talking with a couple of candidates.




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SUNDAY - Bernstein makes first lap in Monster Funny Car



Bernstein's first run was a launch and an early shut-off by plan.



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vandergriff_saturday.jpgToday's the day -- With weather forecasts calling for high winds and temperatures in the high 30s, low 40s Sunday, Saturday became an especially critical day in the Nitro Blast-Off weekend. Among those making their first passes of the season Saturday were Top Fuel drivers Doug Foley (8.051 seconds at 95.23 mph) and Dave Grubnic (9.614/84.16). Funny Car drivers who took to the track for the first time this year were Jack Beckman (11.232/76.63), Del Worsham (9.237/87.89), and the four Force Racing drivers. In the first of two scheduled half-track passes, Force cranked out an 8.708-second elapsed time at 101.95 mph. He followed with a 5.862/169.83. Robert Hight rode out a 12.646 E.T. at 72.78 mph. But Eric Medlen had the best Ford performance of the day with a nearly full-track pass of 5.273/195.53 in his only run. Medlen shut off at half-track but he had posted a 260-mph clocking by then. Tommy Johnson Jr. and his new Chevy Impala SS body led the Funny Car field with a 5.018-second E.T. at 219.26 mph., and Gary Densham, in a Monte Carlo, was second-quickest at 5.133/214.28. Medlen's E.T. ranked third of the day.

Bob Vandergriff led the Top Fuel contingent at 4.780/236.17, with Clay Millican on his heels at 4.879/213.40. Dave Grubnic took the third-best showing (4.940/212.83) ahead of Kalitta Motorsports teammate Hillary Will (5.234/183.27). Foley, the Sewell, New Jersey, resident who got the prize at least for traveling the farthest, was fifth-best with a 7.905/99.96 in his first time back in a dragster since his International Hot Rod Association accident last September at Cayuga, Ontario.


bforce_saturday_old.jpgBrittany Force crashes -- Ashley Force's first test run since turning professional Tuesday (a 10.824-second elapsed time at 71.88 mph) looked to be the hot family topic of the day. But 20-year-old younger sister Brittany later got the attention in a way nobody wanted to see.
Brittany Force suffered a slight concussion Saturday evening after her Brand Source-sponsored Super Comp dragster hit the left retaining wall during her second run of the day. She was conscious and sitting up following the accident but reportedly had a temporary memory loss.
She was transported to University Medical Center and released later Saturday night.
The accident folded the A-arms on the left front wheel, crushing it into the body of the car. The car was unable to roll and was taken back to the pits on a truck.
John Force said of Brittany, "She'll be fine." He has cautioned his three racing daughters that if they compete long enough, they will experience a crash. Nevertheless, he and wife Laurie, and the family and team were shaken by the incident.
About an hour after she made her first pass, Brittany Force encountered cooler track temperatures. He dragster made a quirky move about half track, and she corrected it. The car moved back toward the center, then made a hard left turn into wall.

DSC_0016.JPGMonster of a first day -- Kenny Bernstein's Monster Energy Dodge Charger rolled off the trailer around nine o'clock Saturday morning, but it didn't roll down the track. In fact, according to an NHRA technical official, it didn't pass the tech inspection because the bracing rods were too narrow underneath. So the crew, under the direction of veterans Ray Alley and Johnny West, worked the rest of the day to make adjustments.

Bernstein, who has four Funny Car series titles among his six championships, said he knew "we had a lot of work to do." Still, he said he had hoped to "try to go make something happen today."

He had planned to execute a burnout and make a short spurt in his first trip to the starting line in a Funny Car since 1989. "It'll be a short one," he said early Saturday.

"We'll do a burnout, and it won't be more than 330 (feet) by any means," he said. I don't think it'll be any more than that. Ray (crew chief Alley) needs to look at the engine and make sure he's in his game plan."

What surprised and disappointed Bernstein is that he didn't get to make a pass at all. He still needs to refresh his Funny Car license by making two runs at 5.50 seconds or better at 250 mph or better.

"It's relatively easy, if you've got your act together," Bernstein said, laughing. "That's a question of whether we can do that." He also recognized that the cool temperatures, coupled with the "greenness" of the track (or lack of rubber laid down to break in the surface and help with traction) could cause unpredictable problems.

He said his first time or two out would amount to "a shakedown, trying to get it all figured out, trying to get somewhat comfortable."

Said Bernstein, "I've got to get me to know where I know where the gas pedal is. I've got to find it in there."

worsham_saturday.jpg Cautiously optimistic -- Del Worsham was the picture of guarded optimism Saturday after making a pair of short runs in the red Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevy.

Despite some minor parts damage with the Monte Carlo, he said he was really pleased with the results.

"We hurt some pistons and actually did throw one rod out on the second run," Worsham said, "but we feel pretty certain we know why it did that and we can address those issues. The bottom line is we have two cars here that really want to run.

"We've spent a lot of time this winter updating our systems, working hard at coming at the tune-up from a new direction, and I'm pretty excited about the potential. Between the blue team and my car, we put a couple of stout half-track runs on the board out there.

"It's just the start of the preseason, but we're pretty used to coming out here and having to feel our way around to get the cars up to speed for a couple of weekends. Right now, we're already pretty quick," he said. "So that's a better situation to be in.

"We finished last season running faster and quicker than we ever have, and it's easy to think we've carried that over into 2007. We just have to keep working at it and learning. There's a long way to go before Pomona," Worsham said, "but I'm pretty excited about what we can do."

'Ready to rock' -- "I've been on some good runs in my career, but this thing was ready arend_saturday.jpgto rock," Jeff Arend said of his blue Checker Schucks Kragen Monte Carlo.

The newest member of the Worsham team made one short burst on Friday, and then came back Saturday with a pair of planned half-track runs in which his car performed so well that he said, "Let me tell you something -- that was good."

Arend said after his second run, which featured incremental times right with, if not ahead of, the blue team's all-time best efforts, "On our first pass, it dropped a cylinder at the hit, then picked it back up again around the 330-foot mark. When I clicked it at half-track, according to plan, it was still on pace to run a low to mid-4.80, even with the cylinder out
for a while. On the second run, it was going on all eight and it was a totally different sensation. Our guys will just keep picking at it, smoothing out the rough parts, and tweaking the tune-up. That's what testing is for, but we're starting from a good place with this kind of performance."

grubnic_saturday.jpgAlways learning -- Was Winston Churchill or Doug Kalitta the one who said, "Never, never, never, never, never give in"?

The bottom line is that Top Fuel driver Dave Grubnic got the message, he said, after seeing his Kalitta Motorsports teammate lead the entire second half of the season, then lose the championship to Tony Schumacher in the final 5 seconds of the season.

"What I learned from Dougie's near-title last year is that you must never give up. He was pushed into a corner, but he kept on fighting. And that's what we intend to do. We keep going and it makes us stronger," Grubnic said.

The Australian has said he considers team owner Connie Kalitta his mentor. He said Kalitta's 40-plus years in the sport "can't be replaced or replicated" by any other tuner. "He's got a wealth of information and, for me, it's an ongoing learning process. After all, you can't replace wisdom," he said.

Here at The Strip at Las Vegas, Grubnic used Friday's cool, windy weather to get his race car ready for Saturday. And the weather gave drivers a break. "We didn't make a run on Friday, but we're looking forward to being consistent and quick in races this year. We warmed up the car this morning and our system check showed no leaks."

Although Grubnic's team, with Jon Oberhofer in charge, did quite a bit of wheel testing last year, nothing much on that front is planned for these three preseason runs.

As for tires, Grubnic said Goodyear has given the team new rubber of the same construction as what it used toward the end of the 2006 season -- but with new
compounding and adhesion properties. With the cold temperatures here
at Las Vegas, Grubnic's crew hasn't yet tried the new tires.

While his car has already been repainted with the colors of returning sponsor Zantrex-3, Grubnic knows he needs a new paint job on his helmet, which is, for the moment,
wears last year's pink and black StriVectin colors.

berry_saturday.jpgBerry steady -- Pro Stock Motorcycle privateer Mike Berry has the only Pro Stock Motorcycle entry this week at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And he made steady runs in the low- to mid-7-second range Saturday afternoon after discovering his bike had a bad coil.

Berry said he would stick with his trusty Suzuki engine instead of going at once for the Hayabusa that the sanctioning body recently permitted.

"We've been allowed a billet engine. But it's got to have a Suzuki part number, and we don't yet have that. I'd be willing to bet (the riders) going for the Hayabusa will switch to a billet engine once Suzuki makes it available," the Colorado native said.

Berry said he thinks Rob Muzzy will has a better chance of getting power out of his new Kawasaki ZX14 than the Suzuki Hayabusa riders will because of the better bore spacing on the Kawasaki.

foley2_saturday_old.jpgNow he knows -- Doug Foley took his brand new Murf McKinney-built dragster out for a half-track pass early Saturday afternoon.

"I just wanted to get in and see if I could do it again," Foley, a drag-racing driving school owner, said with a grin after registering an 8.051-second time at 95.23 mph.

He said he still has some comfort issues with the car because he's sitting lower than he once did before his accident last fall.

He said he had hoped to "get another partial run in today and a full run tomorrow (Sunday)" but said he and his Foley & Lewis team is "also intending to spend five or six days at Firebird (International Raceway at Chandler, Arizona) next week."

He said that if all goes well there, they will return home to see their families and come back out West for the first two races of the year, at Pomona, California, and suburban Phoenix.

Foley made a second and straight half-run shortly after four o'clock Saturday afternoon and again was all smiles.

"This has been great for my confidence level. But man -- it was tough to get some heat in those tires." The sun began setting and temperatures fell dramatically.

"We measured the track temp about 10 minutes before I went out and it was 59 degrees," Foley said.

johnson_saturday.jpg Beat ya! -- At about 2:15 Saturday afternoon, Tommy Johnson Jr. made his first full pass of 2007 and recorded a 5.01/219.26 in the Don Prudhomme-owned Skoal Chevy Impala SS. He was the first pro driver to make it down the track completely, but 15 minutes later, Top Fuel driver Dave Grubnic went 4.94/212.83 to be first in the 4s this weekend. He might have been quicker but dropped the No. 6 cylinder at about half-track.

Busy schedule, big plans --
Hillary Will was a bridesmaid at the wedding of her best friend, Abby, last weekend at an estate in Newport, Rhode Island.
will_saturday.jpg But she indicated she has no plans to be the bridesmaid on the race track. With one International Hot Rod Association victory under her belt, she said she plans to bring team owners Ken, Judy, and Kenny Black "a lot of wins."

Will said she enjoyed being at the wedding and seeing all the friends whose company she has had to forgo the past four years as she has developed her drag-racing career. The event capped a really busy "off-season." Most recently, she visited the PRI Show in Orlando just before Christmas, then made an appearance at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, where about 7,500 youngsters listened to her talk about her career during Education Day at the show. Right before this test session, she attended the Mac Tools Fair.

Will said she has been staying in shape by doing kickboxing and running, but she also has taken up Bikram Yoga, one of the most intense disciplines of that sport. Normally conducted in a hot room (105-110 degrees), Bikram is about an hour and a half of merciless workouts. And Will, for some obscure reason, said she loves it.

This weekend, she is driving the same dragster she used in the first part of her debut
season. She said she is hoping to work with the little tweaks her crew has developed for her this year. "We're trying lots of new things, and I think the guys have some good ideas
for this car.” In her first run, Will lifted after the 330-foot mark, per the crew's instructions.

She said the Blacks "are used to" victories "with the Pro Stock guys and I want to get them used to visiting Victory Lane in Top Fuel with me."

Will said she has much more confidence with a year behind her in the fuel class: "I'm about 500 percent more confident than I was this time last year, and it all feels good."

aforce_saturday.jpgAshley's first -- Ashley Force made her first pass of the year at about 3:20 Saturday afternoon, with sisters Brittany and Courtney, mother, father, every crew chief/engineer on the Mega-Force team watching. After several looks at the rear of the car, crew chief Dean Antonelli let her go. But Force made it only about 60 feet before her Mustang started getting wiggly. She shut it off and coasted the balance of the way.

Fit and friendly -- Rod Fuller, a Las Vegas resident, stopped by the tower to say hello to everyone in advance of his appearances at Firebird International Raceway next Thursday. "Just meeting and greeting, shaking hands, and all," he said with girlfriend Rachel in tow.

During the off-season, Fuller embarked on a new workout schedule, doing six days of cardiovascular exercises per week and four days of weight training. In addition, he said, he has been developed more healthy eating habits and has lost about 15 pounds.

  Fuller said his team didn't change anything on a car that finished the season in the top five. He said he's really excited to get back into the Valvoline/Matco Tools/LP Building Products Dragster.
With a six-day-per-week schedule of workouts, Fuller admitted that on the seventh day he has been watching plenty of NFL action and is pulling for the Chicago Bears in Sunday's NFC finals.

Clean inside and out -- The ninth and final John Force Racing hauler made it to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway late Friday night -- after a two-and-a-half-hour wait at the truck wash. It was evident that none of Force's über-competent crew chiefs ran the facility, for the attendant left the hood unlatched, leaving a mess for the driver to clean up. Meanwhile, Force's crews were on the job from 8:30 a.m. to about 11 p.m., prepping things for the drivers when they returned from the Mac Tools Fair in Nashville.





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densham_saturday.jpgTommy Johnson Jr. topped the Funny Car field during the second day of testing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Headliners of the NHRA POWERade Series – including category rookie Ashley Force - completed another fruitful test session on Saturday, gathering valuable information as the clock ticks closer to the opening day of the 47th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 8-11. The event, at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. is the first of 23 events in the $50 million POWERade Series.

Johnson Jr. turned in a 5.018-second, planned half-pass at 219.26 mph in his new Skoal Racing Chevy Impala SS.

“I’m elated with how testing is going so far,” said Johnson Jr., adding that his crew has invested hours of work into figuring out the new body. “That’s the fastest I’ve ever ran at half-track. I’m extremely pleased with what we have so far. We were probably on a 4.6-something run. It’s showing all the signs of what we thought it would do.”

This season professional drivers will vie for valuable points toward NHRA POWERade world championship titles in the multitiered Countdown to the Championship.

Utilizing the final-elimination-round concept synonymous with the sport of NHRA POWERade Drag Racing, where winners move on and losers go home, the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship features three distinct periods during the 23-race NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series when competitors will be eliminated from the championship hunt in a playoff-style format.

Johnson Jr.’s first new Impala body was waiting for him in the shop when he returned from the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals last fall.

In Top Fuel, Bob Vandergriff paced the pack with a 4.78 at 236.17 in his UPS Top Fuel dragster. Pro Stock Motorcycle's Mike Berry got an early jump on the season, posting a 7.215 at 183.17 on his Suzuki.


Saturday's best runs, listed in order of elapsed time, in Top Fuel at the NHRA Nitro Blast-off:

1 12 Bob Vandergriff, Alpharetta GA, McKinney-BAE    4.780    236.17    236.17

2 104 Clay Millican, Drummonds TN, Hadman-BAE 4.879    213.40    213.40

3 4 David Grubnic, Ypsilanti MI, Attac-TFX 4.940    212.83    212.83

4 763 Hillary Will, Ypsilanti MI, Attac-TFX 5.234    183.27    183.27

5 1301 Doug Foley, Sewell NJ, McKinney-TFX 7.905    99.96    99.96


Saturday's best runs, listed in order of elapsed time, in Funny Car.

1 503 Tommy Johnson Jr., Avon IN, '06 Impala 5.018    219.26    219.26

2 782 Gary Densham, Bellflower CA, '05 Monte Carlo 5.133    214.28    214.28

3 4 Eric Medlen, Yorba Linda CA, '05 Mustang 5.273    195.53    195.53

4 8 Del Worsham, Chino Hills CA, '05 Monte Carlo 5.309    197.05    197.05

5 3 John Force, Yorba Linda CA, '05 Mustang 5.471    195.19    195.19

6 170 Jeff Arend, San Dimas CA, '05 Monte Carlo 5.627    172.43    172.43

7 319 Scott Kalitta, Ypsilanti MI, '07 Solara 6.056    143.19    143.19

8 711 Jack Beckman, Brownsburg IN, '06 Charger 9.335    86.13    86.13

9 7321 Ashley Force, Yorba Linda CA, '05 Mustang 10.824    71.88    71.88

10 5 Robert Hight, Yorba Linda CA, '05 Mustang 12.648    72.78    72.78


Saturday's best runs, listed in order of elapsed time, in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

1 573 Mike Berry, Littleton CO, Suzuki 7.215    183.17    183.17



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tim_test_lvms 159.jpgWhat's left to test?! -- During the previous day that Jack Beckman drove his Don Schumacher-owned Funny Car, he set both ends of the national record at Pomona, California. So what in the world would he be looking to find in a car that covered the quarter-mile in 4.662 seconds and at 333.66 mph -- in the cold desert, no less?
"There's always something to learn," Beckman said. He said that testing often means finding out what doesn't work as much as discovering what does.
"Sometimes it might seem like it’s a waste of time, but many times we find something that doesn't work but it points us in the right direction," he said.
Two days after the conclusion of the 2006 season, the sanctioning body announced that has increased the minimum weight for a Funny Car by 25 pounds, to 2,425 pounds. So that will give the Todd Okuhara-led crew a new wrinkle to iron out.
"We have two new crew guys," Beckman said, "so this will give us a chance to go over procedures."
The appearance was a last-minute decision that broke ranks with the other two Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car teams.
Ace McCulloch and Mike Neff, crew chiefs for Ron Capps' Brut Charger and Gary Scelzi's Mopar/Oakley Dodge, respectively, said they plan to join the testing process in Phoenix next weekend. They based their decisions to stay in the Midwest on weather forecasts and the fact that some of the key parts they needed hadn't arrived as late as last weekend.
"We were going to leave Monday," the North Hills, California, resident said, referring to the Brownsburg, Indiana-based crew, "but we left Tuesday afternoon. That's how last-minute a call it was."
If nothing else, making the trip to Las Vegas is a chance to show off the cool, freshly painted trailer doors. One boasts "The World's Quickest" the other "The World's Fastest."
Using both lanes -- Scott Kalitta, who'd just as soon forget the wallbanger he had in testing last January at Phoenix, got a bit of a jolt Friday in the first few feet of his Funny Car run.
His Kalitta Air Toyota, which started in the right lane, immediately made a hard right, then got sideways and crossed the center line at about 100 feet. It was up on two wheels before shutting off.
tim_lvms_tnt_day1 157.jpgImpatient For Impala? -- Top-five Funny Car finisher Tony Pedregon registered his disappointment at not receiving one of the first Chevy Impala SS bodies, because he "felt like we had earned" the right. But he indicated he's a GM team player and nevertheless is excited about the aerodynamically improved shell.
"We were the highest finishing GM team. We finished fifth in the points, We won more races than any other GM car," Pedregon said, citing his three victories. Tommy Johnson Jr., who was sixth in the standings last year, won two races and is the recipient of the inaugural Impala SS.
(Cruz Pedregon, Tony's brother and teammate, and Phil Burkart each scored a victory with the Monte Carlo in 2006. However, the John Force Racing  Mustangs accounted for eight triumphs. Ron Capps led the Dodge contingent with five wins, and teammates Scelzi and Whit Bazemore added one apiece.)
Pedregon, who opted to remain in Indiana until next weekend's National Time Trials at Chandler, Arizona, was pragmatic about the distribution of the new body.
"We realize there's history with Prudhomme, and they got the first two bodies," he said. "We were told that we were going to get the third body, but it hasn't shown up yet. And they tell us that we're another month away.
"So from a marketing standpoint, that doesn't make a lot of sense. But we are on their program and we do support what they do," Pedregon said. "And it is a big improvement to what we have been running.
"You look at  some of the other manufacturers -- what Dodge has done, what Ford has done, and the Monte Carlo for the last two years has had a slight disadvantage, maybe a slight handicap. It is just not aerodynamically as good. There's not as much downforce. There's probably a little more drag. We're excited about the new body."
Just the same, he said, "It looks like we're definitely going to have to hit those first two races with what we've got. And we'll make it work. We won some races last year with it."
Awww, gawrsh, fellas -- Is GM engineer Dan Engel downplaying his handiwork?
The GM Drag Racing Group Manager, who has worked for more than a year to produce this first GM drag-racing body devised and developed using  a 3-D computer-aided-design process, said he "wanted the new Impala to come out a slightly better car aerodynamically than the current Chevy Monte Carlo." He added that "even though there isn't a big advantage with the new car, there are some incremental advantages with the Impala SS that will certainly help our Chevrolet Funny Car teams."
But Skoal Racing driver Tommy Johnson Jr. certainly is pleased with the Impala SS and indicated that compared to the Monte Carlo, it definitely is more than "slightly better." He christened it Friday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a spurt of about 100 feet following a flawless burnout.
"This is the smoothest first start-up I think I've ever had in my career," Johnson said. He said crew chief Mike Green and his Skoal team made a few little engine modifications -- "We didn't quit at the end of the season." However, he said that aside from the new body, the car is largely the same as it was last November at the Final at Pomona.
"I'm excited to debut the Chevy Impala SS this season," Johnson had said in a statement last week. "GM and Don Prudhomme Racing have worked closely on this new body and they've come up with one of the best-looking Funny Cars I've seen in a long time. Not only does it look good, but the extensive wind tunnel time we have with the body tell it's going to be a fantastic race car. I can't wait to get the car on the track and see how it performs.
"With a larger cockpit area, it is definitely a different view from a driver's standpoint and will take a few runs to get used to. As with any change, after a couple of runs, I'll feel at home," he said. "This might be the thing we need to put us out in front of the competition."
Green, too, was effusive in his praise for the newly minted body.
"In the years I've worked with GM," Green said, "this is the most comprehensive attempt at our making a competitive Funny Car body. With the Monte Carlo, we kind of morphed what we had in the Camaro and made some improvements, but Dan Engel spearheaded this Impala SS project and started from a clean sheet of paper. The result is a much better race car body than we've ever had before."
Last week Green had said, "It has been great working with Dan, because he's an engineer and likes the engineering side of the sport. He's really dedicated to making us a first-class body that will be competitive. We'll expect the Impala to be competitive the first few runs down the race track. It'll take us a few runs to get the aero balance right so Tommy can drive it, get the right amount of downforce on the rear, and get it balanced a little bit, but even then, we'll have it really close coming out of the wind tunnel. When we first hit the track with it, I think it'll give us the amount of downforce we need and have quite a bit less drag than our Monte Carlo."
Tony Pedregon, Johnson's on-track rival but GM "teammate,"  said Engel "is probably being pretty modest in saying it's not a big upgrade, because based on what we see, it will be a substantial improvement. What you're able to do when you do have more down force is . . . be able to apply more power to these cars. The fact that you don't have to stack as much rear wing on it -- you're allowing it to have more downforce and creating less drag -- that's a big plus.
"How much is it going to improve the elapsed time? To put a number on it, it's hard to do that," Pedregon said. "But it's going to be worth some amount of time and I think it's going to increase the speeds these cars have been running -- the GM cars, anyway. We've run 331. I think Prudhomme's team has run a little faster. We're hoping to pick up a couple of miles an hour from that."

tim_lvms_tnt_day1 136.jpgMaiden Voyage -- New Checker Schucks Kragen Funny Car team member Jeff Arend made a couple of passes Friday. After a tire-shaking run in his debut, he shut the Monte Carlo off at about 100 feet, after the burst panel came off. It appeared simply to have malfunctioned and didn't blow off.
"We're pleased," crew chief Chris Cunningham said. "We didn't go far, but that's O.K. We've done a few start-ups, but that is fine." He said he and the crew have made some fuel-system changes."
For awhile, Del Worsham looked like he might head up to the starting line and see what he could get out of his Monte Carlo. He had an uneventful first warm-up, and team owner/manager Chuck Worsham had the car hooked up to the tow vehicle. But they never made it to the starting line.
Bad Citizenship Report -- Former high-school shop teacher Gary Densham might have given his Torco/Racebricks Funny Car an "F" for cooperation Friday. His team had all kinds of problems getting the car running late Friday afternoon.

Math, JFR Style  -- John Force Racing tried some new math Friday. Here's the problem: Take four transporters, add a tech trailer, throw in four more haulers altogether, then subtract four drivers who were attending the Mac Tools Fair in Nashville, Tennessee. What do you get? Silence. But the Force camp is expected to roar to life Saturday.
tim_lvms_tnt_day1 113.jpgLet's Just Do It -- Top Fuel driver Clay Millican shrugged off the cooler temperatures that had kept so many of the pro drivers away from the Nitro Blast-Off and made a pair of 60-foot runs in his newly renamed Knoll Gas/Torco Dragster.
"The weather's not changing, so we might as well do it," the six-time International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel champion said.
Crew chief Mike Kloeber and the crew that changed hands from Kenny Koretsky Motorsports to Evan Knoll's stable just days ago, struggled with fuel pick-up problems on those first two runs Friday.
Sponsor Brings Luck? -- Dave Grubnic won his first NHRA national event under the of Zantrex-3 banner at Topeka in May 2005.
"I have some really great memories of racing our Zantrex-3 car in 2005, so I'm really looking forward to putting those familiar colors back on the race tracks again."
He'll take a shot at it later this weekend -- on the track where he recorded his first victory in the Top Fuel class: the Budweiser Shootout and its $100,000 top prize.
Kalitta Motorsports announced earlier this month that the "high-energy Super Pill" will sponsor the dragster Grubnic drives.
tim_lvms_tnt_day1 130.jpgWhat Will Cold Do For You? --About 200 feet was the farthest Bob Vandergriff's UPS-sponsored dragster made it down the track today in the cool, windy conditions. 
Snazzy Cagnazzi -- Cagnazzi Racing announced Friday that it has signed on Truck Fleet Painting Center as an associate sponsors for the 2007 Powerade Drag Racing season for the Pro Stock Chevy Cobalts of Jeg Coughlin's Slammers Ultimate Milk entry and Dave Connolly's Torco Racing Fuels/Slammers Ultimate Milk ride.
Truck Fleet Painting Center is based in Concord, N.C., where it paints racing haulers for such operations as Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing, to travel campers. It's located behind the Hendrick Motorsports complex but will be visible now in drag-racing "circles."





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Gary Densham
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Tommy Johnson, Jr. 
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 David Grubnic

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Jeff Arend 
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Jack Beckman 
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Alexis DeJoria  
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Scott Kallita 
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Bob Vandergriff, Jr.  
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Chris Perl
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Doug Foley
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 Robert Hight



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hightDSD_3871.jpgThe biggest names in professional drag racing will converge on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the sixth annual Nitro Blast-off preseason test session for NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series teams.  The list of participants will read like a who's-who of drag racing - including John Force Racing, Kenny Bernstein and Don Schumacher Racing - as Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle teams fine-tune their entries in preparation for the grueling 2007 NHRA POWERade schedule.

The test sessions will be open to the public, and as the NHRA's slogan says, "Every ticket is a pit pass."  Drag racing fans will be able to get a sneak peak at their favorite drivers' rides for the upcoming season.  ESPN also will be on hand to videotape the test session for future broadcast use.

For more information, please contact The Strip at LVMS' office at (702) 632-8213 or visit

Thursday, Jan. 18
9 a.m. - Credential sales and pit gates open for all participants.
2 p.m. - Sportsman tech (in staging) and professional tech.
6 p.m. - Credential sales and tech closed.
9 p.m. - Pits closed (working on cars after 9 p.m. is prohibited).

Friday, Jan. 19 to Sunday, Jan. 21
7 a.m. - Credential sales and pit gates open for all participants.
8 a.m. - Sportsman testing.
10 a.m. - Professional testing begins.
4 p.m. - Sportsman testing concludes.
5 p.m. - Nitro Happy Hour (Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car only).
6 p.m. - Track closed.
9 p.m. - Pits closed (working on cars after 9 p.m. is prohibited).

Spectator admission
Adult single-day - $20.
Adult weekend super-saver (all 3 days) - $50.
Kids (6-12) single-day - $8.
Kids (6-12) weekend super-saver (all 3 days) - $20.
Kids 5 and under (with paid adult) - Free.

Racer entry fees
NHRA professional categories (car, driver, five crew passes and two parking passes) - $750.
NHRA Sportsman categories (car, driver and one parking pass) - $200.
NHRA Sportsman single-day (car and driver) - $100.

Weekend restricted-area pass - $50.
Additional pit parking passes - $30.

Eligible professional categories: Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Mod, Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Top Fuel Harley.

Eligible Sportsman categories: Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Dragster, Top Sportsman, Super Pro Bracket, Pro Bracket, Sportsman Motorcycle.

• All teams, all classes will be granted one (1) free oil-down for the weekend. A clean-up charge will apply after second leakage.

• No one may enter the facility early for set-up.

• Testing will take place on the Monday (Jan. 22) and Tuesday (Jan. 23) following the event as a private track rental. The cost to participate is $500 per car (regardless of class).  Payment must be made in the tower each day prior to testing.  Testing on the private rental days will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• NHRA "hard cards" (including racer, crew, sponsors and media) will not be honored for this event.  All media credential requests must be directed to LVMS Public Relations Manager John Bisci at (702) 632-8231 or [email protected].