HUMBLE BILLY TORRENCE KEEPS FAMILY DOMINATION ROLLING, PAYS BACK KALITTA FOR U.S. NATIONALS DEFEAT LAST FALL - Billy Torrence’s even-keel personality never lets him get arrogant with an NHRA Top Fuel victory or upset about a loss, And he always describes himself as a member of the Capco Contractors Dragster team “by invitation only.”

After defeating points leader Doug Kalitta in the final round to win the E3 Spark Plugs Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceways at Indianapolis – and after eliminating his own son, reigning class champion Steve Torrence, in the semifinal – the elder Torrence continued to downplay his role on the team and in the sport.

He deflected the notion that he’s looking like the team’s No. 1 driver following his sixth victory.

“No, I am the No. 2 driver. My car is right there with Steve's car. I mean, we don't have the same set-up in them, but we run almost identical. But he's certainly the better driver. I take a lot of tutoring from all the guys, and they keep me going.”

He insisted that he isn’t all that much of a secret weapon for the operation that his wife, Kay, actually owns and manages.

“Well, you know, I'm a little sketchy. One time I'll have a [3.]98[-second] lap, the next time I'll have a .56. But, you know, I'm just an old guy. I keep up. I keep the magazine loaded, he said.

Every chamber was loaded Sunday, as he brushed aside Terry Totten, independent T.J. Zizzo (who had put up extremely powerful numbers in qualifying and Round 1 and set top speed of the meet at 326.40 mph), and his son Steve before overtaking points leader Doug Kalitta late in their final-round race to win by .012 of a second.

Torrence’s more-than-respectable .056-second reaction time paled in comparison to Kalitta’s stellar .018. And Kalitta had the lead until about 660 feet of the 1,000-foot course. But Torrence blasted past Kalitta and used a 3.802-second elapsed time at 322.34 mph to top Kalitta’s 3.852, 307.86.

It was deflating for the Mac Tools/Toyota Dragster driver, who the round before had beaten Antron Brown to become only the second Top Fuel racer to hit the 700-round-win plateau. Tony Schumacher lead with 842 round-wins.

For Torrence, it reversed the results of last September’s U.S. Nationals Top Fuel final on this same fabled dragstrip.

It vaulted the Kilgore, Texas, racer into third place in th standings, nine points behind his son and 120 off Kalitta’s pace as the NHRA eyes a second Indianapolis race, the Lucas Oil Summernationals, this weekend.

Kalitta said, “I was happy to get to another final. My Mac Tools - Toyota Dragster was running really good on that run. Smoked the tired right at the very end. I looked over and there he was. It was just one of those deals. That is drag racing, for sure.”

He hinted that his .018 reaction time in the final round was a bit of luck: “I haven’t been very consistent today on my reaction time. I have been either really good or middle of the road. You have to keep at it. The reaction times are very critical in Top Fuel and, really, all the classes. You keep trying your hardest, and every now and then you get a little lucky. It was the time to do it. Unfortunately, we didn’t capitalize on it.”

But he said, “It felt good to be back out here. I am super proud of my Mac Tools guys.We were fortunate we didn’t tear anything up. We are going down the track and the guys are working together. I am looking forward to next weekend.  For all our sponsors like Mac Tools, Toyota, Mobil 1, RevChem andNGK Spark Plugs, we just really appreciate the support.”

“Super happy to get to the final at this first Indy race, and hopefully it is a success for everything that is going on to keep us coming back out,” Kalitta said, alluding to the fact this is the NHRA’s first race since February and the fact that uncertainty from state to state regarding coronavirus restrictions might jumble the schedule once again. “That is all I am hoping for.”

He said, “Hat’s off to Connie [team owner Kalitta, his uncle] for keeping everything together and getting us through these four months. I think we are all just happy to be back out here.”

Same for Billy Torrence, no matter how he fared Sunday.

“To come out here and be able to compete at this level, it's always gratifying. I mean, to get this deal and these boys worked so hard to give me a competitive card. If you can't have fun doing this, you can't have fun doing anything. Just, God bless America. Only here can you do this.

“For the people that come out here to put these events on and for all the people trying to keep all of us safe and all, just thank you. My hats off to them,” he said. “As far as the coronavirus, I'm going to take all the precautions I need to, but if I get the coronavirus, I'll get the coronavirus.”

If a Kalitta team reaches the final round, fans prepare to see a mosh-pit-like celebration if the team wins. But Sunday, the starting line looked more like a handshake-and-hugging hockey line-up following the Stanley Cup Finals. The Capco team and the Kalitta Motorsports team embraced each other one by one, signaling relief that the NHRA was permitted to put on an event after such a long drought and the rekindling of camaraderie unique to drag racing.

The moment clearly belonged to Billy Torrence, who has combined with son Steve to claim 35 of the 75 races contested since the start of the 2017 season.

But in a sense, it was a moment that celebrated everyone. Susan Wade


After a nearly five-month gap between races, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returned in full force over the weekend with Matt Hagan leading the way with an exciting, car-banging victory to welcome the series back in style Sunday at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s pretty amazing just to be out here and to be a part of the NHRA again,” Hagan said. “All of the folks that are supporting us, they are back out here watching us this weekend and I’m just really proud to be a part of it.”

Hagan won in dramatic fashion in the first nitro-powered final round since February. While the race itself wasn’t much to write home about, with No. 1 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. clicking it off just past the 330-foot mark, the result at the other end of the track certainly was.

As Hagan neared the stripe, his Mopar-powered Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car let go with a massive fireball as Hagan limped across the stripe with a 4.328-second pass at 215.00 mph to earn his 34th career victory in the class. Johnson followed behind the event champion with a 5.854 at 117.84 mph.

Making matters worse, a piece of the car came loose and tagged Hagan in the leg. While he was uninjured in the incident, it still made for a rather dramatic finish to an exciting return to racing.

“I had a valve come through and tag me on my knee pretty hard. I hate that it’s my pedal foot, but hell, I’ve been kicked by cattle a little harder than that. It will take some ice, but it’ll be alright,” Hagan said. “It was one of those SportsCenter moments like I had a few years back, but you never go up there thinking it’s going to be a coasting, drifting, pedalfest kind of run. I probably should have pedaled the car instead of lagging it out a little bit, but you look over and there is nobody there and you just hate to pull your foot out of it and put it back in it.

“Sometimes it’s just a gut decision and obviously it had some holes out and it didn’t like itself and beat itself up a little bit and banged the blower. At the end of the day, we got the win light. We got the trophy. And that’s what the sponsors want.”

Sunday’s exciting finale culminated a busy day for the two-time champion.

Hagan marched through Daniel Wilkerson, Jack Beckman and Tim Wilkerson on his way to his first final round of the year.

Hagan had strong runs against the Wilkerson father-son duo as both drivers were forced to click it off early, but by far his closest race of the afternoon came in the second round against Don Schumacher Racing teammate Beckman. The two drivers were welded together at the light and remained that way the entirety of the 1,000-foot track with Hagan turning on the win light by nine-thousandths of a second.

Hagan crossed the stripe with a 3.949 at 321.19 mph while Beckman followed right behind with a 3.969 at 316.90 mph.

Hagan’s final round opponent Johnson, who was in his second-consecutive final round four months apart, had round wins over Ron Capps, Blake Alexander, and J.R. Todd.

Fireball aside, it was the perfect ending to a successful afternoon for Hagan as he showed the strength of his team coming back from what has been an unprecedented time for all of the racers and teams in the sport.

“We have a lot going on, but to be able to come out today and watch Dickie Venables and Mike Knudsen and Alex Conway make the changes and adjustments and adapt to these hotter conditions and still put a great race car underneath me, it shows the type of guys we have,” Hagan said. “Our guys did what they needed to do today to turn four win lights on. I’m really proud of them. I’m glad we’re kicking this thing off right.”

Hagan was especially pleased to win the race for Conway, who was celebrating a birthday on Sunday, as he reflected on just what it meant to be out racing with his Don Schumacher Racing team following the delay caused by the pandemic.

“It’s Alex Conway’s birthday, so he’s going to get the trophy today. But today is really about us coming back and showing some value for our sponsors and keeping these crew guys in jobs,” Hagan said. “I’m really proud of Don Schumacher Racing for not parking this stuff and still being out here and keeping these guys and their families employed. It’s just really special to be a part of something like that. To get a win on top of that just feels amazing.”

While Hagan and Johnson both added to their point totals with final round visits on Sunday, the biggest winner in the return to racing was Beckman, who maintained his spot atop the championship standings. Johnson remained in second, but closed the gap to just two points, while Hagan moved up to third. Larry Crum.

LINE DOMINATES IN RETURN TO RACING - Sunday’s final in Pro Stock was one for the ages.

And it won’t be around in the sport for much longer.

It was a battle of two of the winningest drivers in Pro Stock history. It was a battle of competing mail-order part companies. It was a battle of the top two teams in the category. And it was a battle between two veterans that both earmarked 2020 as their last in the sport.

When Jason Line and Jeg Coughlin lined up across from one another in the final at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway on Sunday - their second final round matchup in three races this season - it represented more than 820 races and 115 wins between the two competitors.

And when Line crossed the stripe first to collect his 51st career Wally, it put the two drivers in the midst of their retirement tours at 1-1 against one another in final rounds this season.

“As a driver, he’s as good as there’s ever been. So I have much respect for him for that,” Line said. “You know you’ve got to be great when you go up there against him, and fortunately, today we were good enough. I struggled all weekend, I guess I’ve been too long out of the car or maybe I’m just getting old, but I struggled a little bit. But I had it when I needed it. The guys helped me a little bit with the car, so we had a great hot rod all weekend.”

While Coughlin got the best of Line at the season-opening Winternationals back in February, Line won the rematch at the season reboot in a tremendous drag race. Line left first in the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro and ran a smooth 6.647-second lap at 207.21 mph, just edging Coughlin’s 6.658 at 206.76 mph in the JEGS machine. The margin at the finish line - .016 - or roughly five feet.

Line added a win over his KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson in the semifinal, to go along with wins over Alan Prusiensky and Alex Laughlin. Line trailed in two of those matchups early, but found the horsepower to easily drive past all four of his opponents on Sunday.

Coughlin had wins over Bruno Massel, Chris McGaha, and Erica Enders to reach his second final of the season.

While Line had the horsepower to cover all of his opponents on Sunday, he was a little down on his driving overall. His reaction times in the first three rounds - .071, .088, .057 - left little room for error, but he found it when he needed it most in outmatching Coughlin in the final.

“My car didn’t struggle at all, but I struggled as a driver,” Line said. “I didn’t do some things right and it certainly wasn’t great with my left foot, that’s for sure. But I was good when I needed to be, so I guess that is all that matters.

“It is what it is. But overall it was a great day and I thank all of the fans for coming out and everybody who supported this. I think people need something good to feel good about right now, so hopefully this brings somebody as much joy as it does us.”

Even better, Line moves up a spot in the championship standings from third to second and sits just eight points behind Coughlin in the class. The other winner in 2020 Erica Enders, winning in Phoenix back in February before the shutdown, is third. Larry Crum


First win? Check.

Having all of your career firsts come at the first race of the season following an eight-month gap between races brought on by a worldwide pandemic causing unprecedented change and disruption? Check.

Coming into his third season of NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competition excited for big things, Ryan Oehler never could have imagined that things would turn out the way they have. Just hours from turning a tire in his first round of competition in 2020 at the Gatornationals back in March, the season was indefinitely delayed due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That meant packing things up and entering into a wait-and-see approach for the rest of the year.

But four months removed from that decision and eight months since the season finale back in November, the teams were finally able to get back out on track. And that led to an upset win by a truly underdog team in the first race of the year for the two-wheel category at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“Man, this feels good. I can’t tell you how hard we have worked for this,” an ecstatic Oehler said. “We have put in the hours. Every week, every day, my dad is in the shop seven days a week, 12 hours a day, working on our engine program. And I’m out here working my butt off with our team and my wife. And we just have so much support for our team because everyone knows we’re the underdogs.

“Well, the underdog showed up today and whooped some butt!”

Oehler matched up with three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith in Sunday’s final and used up everything in his “luck jar,” as he called it, with a string of lucky breaks in the deciding round.

Oehler entered the matchup with clutch issues that led to his bike rolling out from under him, forcing him to adjust on the fly. But the young rider made it work, posting an .010 reaction time and cruising to a 6.974-second pass at 194.16 mph aboard his EBR to earn his first career victory. Smith, on the other hand, saw his bike bog down at the hit as he limped across the stripe with a 10.126 at 83.38 mph.

“That was an epic final. When we left the pit, Terry (Sutton) told me that the clutch was a little out. I assured him it was fine, but when we got up to the line, as soon as it starts, it starts dragging me out of the water,” Oehler said. “I knew if I was going to even remotely have a chance at beating Matt, I had to wait until the very last second to go on the two-step. And it did pull me, it was trying to pull me through the lights, but we pulled it off.”

Of course, the final was not the first time Oehler was lucky on Sunday.

After qualifying fifth on Saturday, Oehler faced an eventful afternoon from start to finish. It started out innocently enough, with Oehler outmatching Marc Ingwersen in round one with his quickest pass of the weekend - a 6.921 at 196.33 mph - but it only got more difficult from there.

In round two Oehler was simply outmatched against Scotty Pollachek, but a red light from Pollacheck by one-thousandth of a second negated a much quicker and faster run. In the semifinal, Oehler outpaced Hector Arana Jr. with a close 6.901 to a 6.984 to advance the young rider to his first career final.

Matt Smith had wins over Chris Bostick, Angelle Sampey and Andrew Hines to make his first final of the year.

“We have had literally zero luck in the last few years. So when Scotty (Pollacheck) runs that 6.85 with a double-zero-one red light while I’ve gone the wrong way on the tuneup, I thought that is the first time that we’ve gotten lucky in the last couple of years we’ve been out here,” Oehler said. “At that point, I said, ‘well, now it’s up to me.’ And then we went and ran Hector Arana Jr. and laid down a good, solid pass with low ET of that round and things are looking up.

“Then knowing that we had that trouble with the clutch and knowing it was trying to drag me through the lights, I thought now my luck jar is empty. Then Matt had a little trouble. I mean, that’s luck right there. But I think you have to have a little bit of luck to win these races. These are tough people out here.”

With a tiny, family-run team, Oehler credits the hard work of his family and team members for Sunday’s win, led by his father who puts the power into their engine program.

“We really laid it down this weekend. We came in and we tried to strategically plan what we had going,” Oehler said. “We had three motors we brought. We had A motor, B motor, C motor. We came in and tested with C motor thinking that C motor would be good to knock the dust off. The next day we put the A motor in and we made one hit on Friday and everyone was wondering what was wrong, why did we make just one hit? We kept that motor back and it worked perfect all weekend. I mean, we got a little bit of luck, but we haven’t had any luck in the last few years so I think we were due.”

So with the first win behind them, how will the team celebrate? Carefully. Afterall, we are in the middle of a pandemic, right?

“Hey, I won in a pandemic,” Oehler exclaimed. “We went to go test at South Georgia when this all broke loose and everyone was a little nervous, telling us it is dangerous. I said, ‘I am about to go 200 miles-per-hour on a motorcycle. I really don’t think I’m too worried about it.’ This is certainly a serious thing. We’ve all got to protect ourselves and keep everyone safe, but at the same time we’re drag racers. We love the thrill and that is for real as well.” Larry Crum



– It’s official – Joe Morrison is the newest Top Fuel driver.

Despite tire smoke, rain, coronavirus, timing-system glitches, and an engine that needed to be replaced, the experienced 51-year-old New Jersey racer earned his Top Fuel license Saturday at Maple Grove Raceway.

Driving Gary Leverich’s dragster, Morrison clocked a 4.034-second, 292.77-mph pass at the Reading, Pa., racetrack to complete the requirements for the class.

He’s licensed in Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Dragster, Super Gas, and Super Comp and has competed in the nostalgia ranks for many years. And as early as this Friday could be racing with the sport’s elite.

Leverich said he planned to enter next weekend’s Lucas Oil Summernationals here at Indianapolis. The deadline is Monday at 4 p.m. (ET). (Had Morrison not earned his license this weekend, the target debut would have been the event at Atlanta or the one back at Maple Grove.)

The team had hoped to race at this NHRA season restart. But the NHRA did not permit Morrison to make his practice runs at last Thursday’s or Friday’s test session at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“We really want to help NHRA with their car counts. But they denied us licensing in Indy,” the Michigan-based Leverich said. “They told us we needed to be entered in the event to run Thursday. But we couldn’t enter the event without a licensed driver. So we had to drive almost twice as far to come [to Reading].”

He offered a sense of what small-budgeted teams are thinking about the interim format and racing conditions – some of it unhappy, some of it positive, and some of it pragmatic.

“I think cutting out paying the 19th and 20th alternate spots hurts the smaller teams like us without any major sponsors that depend on the purse money to keep going. As well, taking the qualifying money down from $10,000 to $75,000 hurts,” he said.

“I do like the single-day, two-session qualifying format, as that helps lower the cost to help with the lower pay,” Leverich said, understanding the NHRA’s reason for trimming purses. “But for a team that depends on that money for our primary income, it hurts.

“That all being said, I realize things needed to be done because of the whole COVID epidemic,” he said. “And not everyone will be happy with the decisions that had to be made.”

While Billy Torrence was racking up another Top Fuel victory Sunday, Morrison was en route to Indianapolis. He was bringing his paperwork to hand in person to the NHRA to make sure he’ll be approved and his name will be placed on the entry list for the Lucas Oil Summernationals here this coming weekend.

Lex Joon

SMALLER TEAMS GET TO SHINE – The Top Fuel field is missing regulars Austin Prock, Brittany Force, and Jordan Vandergriff, all of whom have workshops here but inadequate funding. Same for John Force and Robert Hight in Funny Car. And Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle’s nine-time winner and last year’s No. 4 finisher, has opted out of the 2020 season. Bike-class colleague Hector Arana Sr., the 2009 champion, virtually has retired. He said the twice-postponed Gatornationals was to be his final race, but what he’s saying now is “I don’t plan on running this season unless I have to.”

Much of the pre-race attention centered on returning Top Fuel standouts Tony Schumacher and Cory McClenathan, who came out of mothballs as field-fillers who hardly fit the traditional description of also-rans. But both drivers were out of commission in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Schumacher did leave with a fiancée, for he proposed to longtime girlfriend Summer Penland Saturday evening in the staging lanes and she said yes.

But about 75 pro racers did show up – from California, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, Connecticut, New Jersey, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. And they made the most of their chance to be part of the live FOX broadcast of this first race since February.

The fields have some popular part-time privateer returnees and a few fresh faces. And they had their chances to shine and stories to tell.

Lex “Never Give Up” Joon is back with upgraded equipment, thanks to sponsor Chip Lofton and Strutmasters.com. Joon and crew-chief wife Gerda became United States citizens last Saturday, July 4. The couple from The Netherlands will continue their “American Dream Tour” (every season they call their schedule the “American Dream Tour”), this time officially as Americans. They shared with Joe Castello on WFO Radio, a Competition Plus marketing partner, that the car Joon is driving once had been McClenathan’s FRAM-sponsored dragster.

Doug Foley is back with trusty Doug Kuch as his tuner, just like in their IHRA days, hoping for Clay Millican-Mike Kloeber results. Unfortunately for Foley, he and Kuch had to face the well-oiled Millican-Kloeber machine in the first round and bowed out.


Terry Totten had hoped to be licensed and on his way in the Funny Car class by this time in 2020, but the Nebraska native was back in his faithful dragster and making the most of it. By the end of qualifying, he was 13th in the lineup, sandwiched between veterans McClenathan (12th) and Antron Brown (14th). Less satisfying was eventual winner Billy Torrence’s stout 3.768-second run that sent him home on his way back to Nebraska in the first round.

Rising star Justin “The Influencer” Ashley cut a tremendous .018-second reaction time in his Strutmaster.com Dragster, but he fell to DHL-Toyota Dragster driver Shawn Langdon in the opening pairing of the day.

Alex Miladinovich

In Funny Car, earnest young class newcomer Alex Miladinovich towed his Hot4Teacher Toyota Camry all the way from Orange, Calif., and made the field at No. 13. Illinois part-timers Dan Wilkerson and Dale Creasy Jr. qualified higher (at 11th and 12th, respectively).

In Top Fuel, occasional entrant Kyle Wurtzel, the financial planner from Warsaw, Ind., made a memorable appearance . . .  for the wrong reason. He grenaded his engine Saturday in the first of two qualifying sessions right at the hit of the throttle and never came back, becoming the odd man out in the 17-car order.  

Aaron Stanfield, a second-generation Pro Stock racer from Louisiana, lasted until he met reigning champion Erica Enders in the quarterfinal. But like Ashley in Top Fuel, his stock is climbing, particularly after he had a great preseason appearance in March in Florida.

Mason McGaha, son of tour regular Chris McGaha, missed the field in his NHRA and Pro Stock debut – but only by .006 of a second. The younger McGaha, who was graduated from high school at Odessa, Texas, just last month ago, is a third-generation drag racer, said he had spent nine months prepping for this moment and said, “We have used this time of quarantine to grow as a [two-car family] team and learn as much as we can.”  Pete Smallwood, who helped shape the Pro Stock careers of Steve Kent and Rodger Brogdon, is helping the younger McGaha (who also has guidance from Div. 4 Hall of Famer grandfather Lester McGaha). Smallwoord called the 18-year-old McGaha “a smart young man” who “is like a sponge.”

Bruno Massel, a multi-time sportsman champ who usually has command of a microphone as a pit reporter for FOX during the NHRA telecasts, qualified 15th in the Pro Stock field and fell in the first round to fellow versatile champion Jeg Coughlin, Sunday’s eventual runner-up.

Troy Coughlin Jr., who’s experienced in several classes both pro and sportsman, made the lineup in his first Pro Stock opportunity at No. 13. However, he didn’t have enough in the first round for four-time class champion Greg Anderson.

T.J. Zizzo

ZIZZO HAS WILD DAY – The one independent Top Fuel racer who got a lot of attention – for his strong performances and the crazy situation he found himself in early Sunday morning – was T.J. Zizzo.

The Rust-Oleum Dragster driver from Lincolnshire, Ill., brought his enthusiasm and changes “in everything that makes this car go” down to Indianapolis. And he was spot-on with one assessment with himself. Zizzo said, “We're certainly good at missing time and doing well and performing at our highest level.” The part-timer who hadn’t been in a race car for 10 months, qualified fifth in the 16-car order Saturday and made a huge statement in Sunday’s first round.

Zizzo lined up against Cory McClenathan, and McClenathan had trouble during his burnout. At about 300 feet down the track, the Don Schumacher Racing veteran encountered trouble getting his car in reverse. While Zizzo sat, idling and burning an extraordinary amount of fuel, at the starting line, McClenathan’s crew pushed the dragster toward the starting line and appeared to behaved as though the car would be able to make the run against Zizzo. Instead, they cut off the engine at the starting line, further annoying Zizzo’s Mike Kern-led crew. Nevertheless, Zizzo made the most of his solo pass. He blasted down the 1,000-foot course in 3.778 seconds at 326.40 mph. That was one-thousandth of a second quicker than Steve Torrence’s top-qualifying elapsed time of 3.779 and far faster than Torrence’s top speed in qualifying (321.19 mph).

“We let Cory Mac start first. We know Todd Okuhara likes to take his time, which is totally cool. So we waited for him to start. We started our car. He did his burnout. I did my burnout. I saw he was having troubles.  So I gave him a little extra time. We want to compete. Cory Mac has taught me so much over the years. It’s the least I could do for him. I could tell he was struggling out there. I back up from the burnout. He’s still out there. I moved forward, waited and waited and waited – and waited extremely too long. Two and a half minutes this car sat, waiting and waiting and waiting. Now, that’s total from the time that we started the car till I staged the car.

Cory McClenathan

“When this car got to the finish line, it hurt itself . . . an injector and a supercharger. It banged it pretty hard. We haven’t banged the blower in a long time. This car was two gallons short at the finish line. It ran out of fuel, plain and simply,” he said.

“So when I got out of the car, I had a discussion with Tim White and Ned Walliser [the tech boss and vice-president of competition] – two wonderful people, two people who love this sport as much as I do, two people who when I talk to them I hear the name Wally Parks a lot . . . from [President] Glen Cromwell, too  . . . I’m hearing ‘Wally Parks’  more than ever before . . . this is a wonderful thing . . . he was a wonderful man . . . And I truly believe we have people in place who love this sport as much as I do,” Zizzo said. “So I got down there, and I said, ‘Tim, this thing ran out of fuel.’”

He said White said, “OK, T.J. All right. We’ll talk about this. We know. We know.”

Next Zizzo said he spoke with Walliser, who he said responded in the same manner.

“Two wonderful people that care about this sport, who want to see us compete more, the driver said.

“Our clutch guru, Tony Smith, who has been with our team 27 years, had a discussion with the starter as all this stuff was going on. I saw a 275-pound man – I might be generous on that – sprinting over the top of our car and hurtling a couple of walls to get to the starter to say, ‘Hey – we. can’t. sit. here. anymore! This is ridiculous! What are you doing?!’

“So, with the conversations that all took place,” Zizzo said, “all will be OK. We will make this sport a better sport. The starter learned something. We learned something. Everybody’s going to learn something about this. T.S. - our clutch specialist – he is more than that . . . he is everything at the starting line to me – he’s good with the starter. He talked to the starter before second round. I talked to Tim. I talked to Ned. Things will get resolved, but man, that was disheartening. That’s not what we need to do. It’s not where we need to be. A starter commands the starting line – period. The starter is God up there. And if I don’t see the starter and I don’t see his eyes, I don’t know what’s going on. He is my boss at the starting line. And that’s what we need as racers.

“All is resolved – all will be resolved. And we’ll make this sport a better place for us.”

“By the way, this is no fault of Cory McClenathan or DSR or team members of their team. Cory Mac came to our pit area and apologized. He knew the car wasn’t going to go forward or in reverse,” Zizzo said. “It’s really, for us, wrong place, wrong time – and it is no fault of Cory Mac’s.”    

His crew chief, Mike Kern, said afterward, “These cars burn a lot of fuel. They burn about a gallon every 15 seconds. We sat there probably an additional 45 seconds, which was probably another three gallons of fuel off the car. At 10 pounds a gallon, that’s about another 30 pounds off the car. And you’re getting low in the tank.

“It’s pretty much courtesy,” he said, “that we start and stage roughly at the same time, anywhere from a minute, 40 seconds to two minutes. They [McClenathan and team] had gone fully over [that] to two and a half minutes, with pushing their back. The driver knew the car broke, but the crew did not. They didn’t have a radio to relay that information.

“And there was a little bit of confusion there with the starter at the starting line. We’re not going to place any blame on anything, but he should have made a decision a little bit sooner, we felt, to allow us the single [pass]. It was not a situation we’d like to be in. Tempers were up a little bit afterward because there should have been some quicker decisions made. Safety is paramount. But everything worked out for the best, and we were on to the second round. Cooler heads prevailed,” Kern said.

Zizzo lost to eventual winner Billy Torrence in the second round.

“They had a better car,” Zizzo said of the Capco Contractors Dragster driver.



PURSES DIMINISHED - In 2019 (and for the past several years), the winner of a Top Fuel or Funny Car race earned $50,000. Already that’s a losing proposition, considering the cost of sending a large crew on the road for hotel, airfare, rental cars, and meals – in addition to hauling the race cars down the road, fuel for the hauler and for the car, parts and equipment, and entry fees and insurance.

And the promise is $50,000 – if a racer has the car hold together for four straight runs with no opponent simply having a better car. That’s if track and weather conditions are favorable during the course of about six hours.

The runner-up has been pulling in $22,000. The payouts have awarded $18,000 to the semifinalists, $14,000 to second-place finishers, and $10,000 to first-round losers.

So let’s see . . . $50,000 . . . That’s the kind of money Jack Nicklaus made for winning a major PGA tournament – in 1974.

Take heart, though, NHRA elite drag racers. You are right on par with the champions of the breathlessly named Women’s Water Polo World League Super Final. Sorry – their male counterparts got $100,000 for winning.  

Today, the NHRA’s headliners are vying for significantly reduced purses:

Winner - $35,000 (30-percent pay cut)

Runner-up - $17,000

Semifinal - $12,500

Round 2 - $10,000

Round 1 - $7,500

Colton Herta (who had a gearbox malfunction after just three laps), finished last (33rd) in the 2019 Indianapolis 500. He banked more than $350,000.  

First-place prize money at each World Surf League tour event is $100,000.

As early as four years ago, in 2016, a Street League Skateboard competition winner was bagging $150,000.  

In the esports space in the sports entertainment market, 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf pocketed $3 million one year ago this month for winning a Fortnight league tournament – yes, playing a video game, not even breaking a sweat or putting his life in danger.

In this new construct of coronavirus economics, it isn’t likely the NHRA will go back to the still-inadequate rate of $50,000 to win.

According to NHRA Vice-President of Racing Administration Josh Peterson, the decision to slice the payouts is based on the fact all events (except the U.S. Nationals) have been sliced to two-day events. The logic was that without Friday qualifying – and therefore with no Friday revenue – a purse reduction has cost savings on the other end of the teeter-totter.

New Jersey racer Steve Sisko, the hottest name in drag racing right now, can testify that uber-stout prize money is possible. Just this past Saturday, he won $1.1 million at the JEGS-SFG event at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park at Martin, Mich. The next day, he claimed another $100,000 for winning the Hanson Global $100,000. Granted, those opportunities don’t come along every week. But NHRA pro racers such as Jeg Coughlin Jr., Shawn Langdon, Alex Laughlin, and Erica Enders enjoy bracket races and independent events. They’re lucrative.

So why can’t the NHRA – which former President and current Chief Executive Officer Peter Clifford has guided from a huge deficit to profitability – do better?

At the least, racers – who have kept teams together during rough economic times, who are flying or driving into Indianapolis, who are remaining loyal to the sport and to the romance of the sport, who are complying with all the public-health restrictions – deserve better than being expected to race for a sizeable pay cut.

Terry McMillen, this weekend’s No. 3 Top Fuel qualifier and owner-driver of the Amalie Oil Dragster, said the news of a reduced purse hit it him “really hard.”

The Elkhart, Ind., racer said, “Ultimately, that's what helped pay for the nitro. That’s what helped pay for hotel rooms. And now that you don't have it, so... Some will argue that you're saving money because you're not running two extra runs. But the fact of the matter is the fixed costs are still the fixed costs. It takes X amount of dollars to get here, X amount of dollars towards the hotel rooms. So, those things don't change. And what we have to do is shrink the purse, and that's just tough. I think that I understand the situation. We're all in it right now together. I'm hoping that next season they come back and change that – and even look at raising the purse because we've had the same purse for... Gosh, how old am I? I mean, 90 years or so, or 80. I don't know. It seems like it's been the same forever.”

KABOOM - Top Fuel racer Kyle Wurtzel was a one-and-done effort in Saturday's qualifying. His engine explosion effectively ended his day in Q-1. 
Terry McMillen

NITRO PRICES SOAR – While pump gas at local stations seems to be more affordable these days, the same can’t be said of nitromethane.

The price of what fuels the planet’s quickest and fastest vehicles has skyrocketed to about $1,680 for a 42-gallon drum.

And team owners Terry McMillen and Doug Stringer say that’s “insane” and “bizarre” and are calling for everyone to work together to fix what most definitely is a problem.

McMillen and Stringer, who fields the Top Fuel dragster driven by Clay Millican, agree that the exorbitant costs are debilitating for multicar teams as well as single-car teams.

“I think it's insane, you know what I mean?” McMillen said. “I understand that they got to carry so much fuel back so that it's available at all times. But the cost of nitro is not that much. We're just being penalized for trying to keep the sport alive. And it's just not fair. There's so many independent teams out here and even the big teams are feeling the squeeze on this.”

He said the supplier “stepped up and is going to make sure we get a couple hundred bucks back after both Indys. But the fact of the matter is it's ludicrous to be that high. It's time for a change. Somebody needs to step up and fix it, because it's just wrong and we're going to lose cars and continually lose cars because people can't afford the nitro on the runway.”

McMillen’s solution is that “we need to get some money back into sport so that we have more cars. But then at the same time, it takes money to run the operation, energy and all that, as well. But we just got to work collectively to try to figure this out, because the nitro teams can't carry the load for the cost of nitro. And I think that we just got to find a way of getting more sponsors back in here. The only way we're going to do that is getting more cars out here.”

Stringer said he hoped to see the NHRA move more into the team owners’ corner when it comes to nitro procurement.

“Well, the cooperation that we're getting from NHRA is less than a satisfactory, period,” he said.

“We come out here, we bring sponsors out here, we bring fans out here, we bring people out here, and the fact that I do believe, and this is me personally, I believe that the product can be purchased at a much more reduced price from other vendors. The fact that we're held... we can't bring other nitro in here, we have to do what they tell us we have to do,” Stringer said. “Sunoco's a great company, been a great supporter of the sport for a long time, but there is a deal in place with Sunoco and NHRA, that I believe NHRA receives some financial support from Sunoco as an official fuel of NHRA. However, I don't see that translated in the pricing of what we're paying for nitro.”

For example, he said Friday’s test session caused a domino effect of concern.

“We came out here to test and I got one of those little drums of nitro over there, and I got a bill for it. And there was some miscommunications on all parts, as far as when we can make our last run yesterday. I needed to test really bad. This team is, I don't want to use [the term] ‘in a survival mode,’ but we turned pennies into nickels, nickels into dimes, dimes into quarters, and I don't think they make half dollars anymore, maybe they do. But anyway, it all comes down to putting the competitor and the fans first,” Stringer said.” We're an entertainment industry. We have to be able to afford to come out here to entertain the fans. And the fans are the ones that cause us to get sponsors. Without fans and the correlation between the two and the marketing and the media that go behind it, we can't put those fans where they need to be with their sponsors if we're not here.”

A letter from Josh Peterson, NHRA vice-president of racing administration, mentioned a rebate for fuel purchased. Evidently, it was more confusing than encouraging.

“I read a letter that stated that NHRA would rebate a portion of the nitro costs, but I don't know where that money's coming from,” Stringer said. “I don't know when we're getting it or how we're getting it. That wasn't explained to us so that's somewhat of a mystery. I mean, will we get it? Yes. If Josh Peterson said it, I take him for his word. I mean, one thing I will say about those guys [NHRA officials] is they won't lie to us. But sometimes they won't necessarily answer the question, either. But they won't lie to us. So if they say they're going to give us a rebate, it'll be somewhere.”

That triggers the rationality that if the price of the fuel additive isn’t so high, the NHRA wouldn’t have to offer a rebate.

Stringer said, “If you think about it, it is somewhat bizarre, period. Why wouldn't you just go to the vendor and negotiate better pricing if the nitro itself is less expensive versus creating a rebate somewhere, whether it be from point fund money or from winnings?

“We took a significant cut in our purse money, which is what a lot of us survive on. Now, mind you, they came back with another significant cut on charges, like parking our transporters here, hospitality fees, so it was kind of a give and take,” he said. “They're in a really bad position. My dad told me not to bring a problem, but I don't have an answer. I don't have an answer other than making better deals.”

LIMITED CROWD NEAR NHRA TARGET – The NHRA insisted on showing off its Mello Yello Drag Racing Series to live audiences if and when it relaunched.

That has delayed and canceled a full one-third of the 24-race season so far. But circumstances – with restrictions - allowed this first race back from a four-month layoff to admit fans.

Saturday’s crowd was estimated to be in the 2,000-2,500 range, far below the normal size audience but better than the situation of racing in front of completely empty grandstands. And it wasn’t a poor turnout, considering the weather went from steamy to stormy, the sport’s biggest star and his entourage were absent, the fact even local fans were confused about state and county guidelines and whether they were allowed to purchase tickets.

The racetrack is in Hendricks County, Indiana, which in general has less strict public-health guidelines than Marion County, which is across the side road from the property. While Hendricks County has more flexible allowances, the NHRA has particularly strict regulations for fans and participants alike. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which hosted an Indy Car and NASCAR doubleheader the weekend before, is in Marion County, although it’s about only five miles away. So local fans weren’t sure if the same guidelines/restrictions applied at the dragstrip.

Add to that the reality that the NHRA isn’t a huge presence with the media. In the Motorsports Capital of the World, the NHRA has scheduled three races within eight weeks, television, talk radio, and the local newspaper focused on the Colts, Pacers, and Indiana and Purdue football, and its “Big Two” motorsports interests.        

“This race was designed to have limited fans,” NHRA President Glen Cromwell said. “We knew what numbers we wanted to bring here, a limited number.”

After evading the question a bit about that target number, he revealed the organization was hoping to attract about 3,000 fans. So it was close to achieving that. Using a non-traditional model, the event was invite-only to NHRA members and those who already had purchased tickets for the 2020 Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals that is scheduled for Labor Day weekend.

Tickets are priced at $20 per day or $35 for a Saturday-Sunday combo.

Jonnie Lindberg

POLICIES CHANGE WITH JONNIE-COME-LATELY – We have seen the so-called Don Schumacher Rule (following a flap about nitromethane and involving lawsuits and eligibility to race). And last year we encountered the so-called Billy Torrence Rule (regarding Countdown requirements).

Call this latest one the Jonnie Lindberg Rule.

In response to the effects of coronavirus, the NHRA announced Friday it temporarily has modified its points-based replacement driver policy.

Effective July 11, 2020 (and, in legalese the NHRA added, “and notwithstanding any rule to the contrary”), if the original driver is replaced due to COVID-19, the new driver will continue to earn points for the original driver. This change applies only if the original driver has been affected directly by COVID-19 in the judgment of NHRA’s medical director.” That would apply if, for instance, a driver tested positive for coronavirus or was required to quarantine because of contact.

If the original driver must withdraw in the middle of the event, the original driver’s times will still be valid if he/she is replaced because of coronavirus-related reasons. The replacement driver will not be required to re-qualify.

These changes apply only to drivers in the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Mod, and Top Fuel Harley classes.

So Jonnie Lindberg will be earning his own points as he subs this weekend for Bob Tasca III, who is mending from coronavirus at his Rhode Island home.

Ned Walliser, NHRA’s vice-president of competition, said, “The leadership team met, and we all agreed that trying not to allow the spread of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, was the utmost importance as we came back. And protecting all the drivers, the crew members, the spectators, all the people that are involved here at the event, that was equally important. So if someone was feeling ill, not feeling 100 percent, we wanted to make sure they did not run their car. To disrupt that decision, we want all great decisions coming out of this. So if you're not feeling well, stay at home. A replacement driver can be put in for COVID-19.

“This is a new world we're living in, and we have the responsibility and the accountability of living up to all the safety standards that we normally live up to. Now, the additional safety standards of COVID-19, and we want to be with the responsible party and show the world we can put motorsport events on with spectators in a responsible way," he said.

At this point, the new rule is in effect for 2020 only, but Walliser said, “We'll take a look at it obviously. If you would have asked me that question back in 2019, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation. So as the sport evolves, as the virus evolves, as the world evolves, we will always look at situations and make the best choice possible."

He said the NHRA has set no limit on how many races a team may use a substitute driver: "No, the determination of a driver returning will be per doctor's orders and per the test results that we receive before coming back."

Is the NHRA thinking it might expand the rule to cover situations other than coronavirus, perhaps anything from a broken bone to cancer?

Walliser said, “At this point, no. We've only opened it to COVID-19, but we will consider all those things as we move forward."

The NHRA also has changed its oildown policy.

Effective immediately, it is suspending monetary penalties for excessive oildowns throughout the 2020 season. If a drive is committing an unacceptable number of oildowns, officials are reserving the right to reinstate a penalty – again in legalese – “at any time at NHRA’s sole and absolute discretion.”

However, the NHRA will continue to deduct points from racers in the four major pro categories (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle) for oildown infractions. Violators will lose ground in the standings in in five-point increments per violation. That goes for oildowns that happen in qualifying, as well as during eliminations. The maximum maximum per-incident penalty will be 15 points for Top Fuel and Funny Car and 10 for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

The points-based oildown penalties will be in place through the end of the season. In past seasons, oildown points penalties were not assessed during the final six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship.

WHAT’S THE PLAN? – John Force Racing’s massive Brownsburg, Ind., headquarters is locked and deserted. The parking lot is empty. And an untrimmed evergreen tree is encroaching on the memorial statue for beloved Funny Car racer Eric Medlen. It was a place where folks – whole families – once came on a summer’s evening and brought their ice cream cones and sat and remembered the outgoing, happy-go-lucky Funny Car driver who promised that “you can’t be unhappy when you’re eating ice cream.” No one does that much anymore.

This sprawling shop, which not all that long ago buzzed with purpose and energy, is silent. And so is John Force.

One of the most delightfully talkative personalities in all of motorsports – in all of sports – hasn’t been talking about why he isn’t participating in this race that’s unfolding about two miles from his race-team building.

The last time the entire John Force Racing contingent didn’t participate in an event was in April 2007, at Houston, immediately following the death of team driver Eric Medlen (after a testing accident at Gainesville Fla.)

(Fellow Funny Car racer Ron Capps recalled that “they weren’t comfortable, safety-wise, with what was going on. They were going to revamp their cars. We raced that race. I won that race in Funny Car. It was emotional for me, because I was close with Eric.”)

So what is Force’s plan?

At age 71, is Force contemplating coming back in 2021 to extend his records? The assumption is that his team is parked not only for this Indianapolis race or this doubleheader that includes next weekend’s Lucas Oil Summernationals but for the remainder of the year. But he didn’t say that. His team didn’t hint at anything, not even when asked point-blank on several occasions by more than one media outlet.

Is he ready to walk away and be satisfied with 21 nitro-class championships as a team owner, 16 by himself in Funny Car?

He isn’t saying, but Capps, his longtime on-track rival as well as friend, said no.

“No. Nope. I’m sure,” Capps said. “He has talked about it a lot. And he will, probably, soon rather than later.” However, he indicated sooner is not now.

Force’s triumph here last September, his NHRA-record-extending 151st, rings in the distance. With all the changes in the sport and the world since then, it’s a fainter echo these days. It was less than a year ago, but it seems like ages ago. At that time, his tearful tug-o-war within himself spilled out uncontrollably. Now, 10 months later, has he decided whether he’s going to listen to the angel on his shoulder who whispers that the sport still needs him or listen to the devil on his other shoulder who’s prodding him to retire, maybe to throw in the towel, and let an economic upheaval and global health crisis diminish all he has worked hard to build? Nothing ever seemed to stop John Force, not even losing his two major sponsors in swift succession, not devastating injuries from a wicked crash at Dallas and months of painful rehab. Is he in a downward spiral or one that just has his mind spinning in no particular direction right now?

This weekend gives the drag-racing world a peek at what the future of the sport might look like.

Ron Capps

“Yeah,” Capps said, “and it sucks. He’s our guy. There’s going to be a lot of people tuning in to the FOX network and wondering about that.

“Eighty percent of what you see from me I learned from John Force early on. I stop and think sometimes, ‘What would John do?’ in certain situations. He’s the best we’ve ever seen. It’s going to be weird not to have him here,” Capps said. “Of course, Robert, they’re the team to beat. We’ve got great teammates and great cars [at Don Schumacher Racing], but that team has shown time and time again that they will push you to the limit. I’m going to miss that this weekend.

He said he told Hight Thursday night via text message that “it’s going to be hard. There’s lots of good competition, but what you guys bring to make us work harder. And Jimmy [Hight crew-chief Prock] pushes any crew chief out here.”

The way Capps sees it, “There’s going to be a small asterisk beside [the name of] whoever wins here. It’s not going to be put next to any records. From my standpoint, there’s already and asterisk. When you don’t have John Force out here, it’s because he’s not physically out here, for whatever reason.

“One thing I know about Force is he’s not as dumb as he plays out to be. People get this idea that he’s a guy who does stuff off the cuff, old truck driver, and all that. When he says, ‘I need to do something,’ it’s usually for somebody else in his family – and when he says ‘family’ . . . I’ve been considered his ‘family’ at times - and I’m a competitor. I’ve seen him do stuff for the sake of a competitor, to help the competitor and help the sport. I’ve seen him do stuff that’s so unbelievable – like, somebody wouldn’t do that unless their heart was so huge,” Capps said. “So I know that when he does come out and say what’s going on, it’s going to be something that’s unselfish on his part, and I guarantee that it’s going to be for the better for his family or for whoever he’s trying to help, for whatever reason.”

Capps said, “Everybody hears rumors. I’ve talked to him a couple of times. I talked to Robert. We kind of hear what we think is going on.”

NHRA President Glen Cromwell said he doesn’t think it’s appropriate for him or the sanctioning body to announce Force’s private concerns: “I think it’s important for John to answer for himself,” Cromwell said.

“We all love John Force. We know what he means to this sport. Those are his decisions, and we support his decision,” he said. “We did put out a statement that ‘The John Force Racing team is not registered for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals. We look forward to their return in the future,’” Cromwell said.

Capps said Force “will talk when he’s ready.”

What will Force say?

He surely is considering more than his own future. Three other racers are depending on his leadership. Funny Car teammate Robert Hight, the president of John Force Racing and the three-time and current class champ, has a stake in what happens. Top Fuel drivers Brittany Force and Austin Prock also are in holding patterns.

Naturally, sponsorship dollars are vital, and right now, it appears his marketing partners are hanging onto their investment funds. But Force didn’t address that, either.

“He’s not going to throw somebody under the bus,” Capps said.

By the same token, he said, “He’s not going to come out here and lose money. Bottom line, if he was to come out in these next two races, he would be spending his own money. And thankfully, he’s smart enough not to spend his own money.”

So what is his plan? Will he return later in the season? (Will the NHRA be allowed to think about conducting those remaining 14 races in as many weekends through 12 different states until mid-November?) If John Force saw his rainy-day savings wash away like water through a sieve, it’s somewhat surprising that he wouldn’t take advantage somehow of this live broadcast on FOX to stay relevant. After all, it could be drag racing’s lone chance in 2020 to scream to the world how extremely cool and coolly extreme it is.

For most, the world seems to be turned upside down and nothing is normal. What could be more characteristic of that than John Force staying silent?

Bob Tasca, diagnosed with coronavirus, is sitting out this event. Jonnie Lindberg is driving the Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford Mustang Funny Car in his place.

TASCA RECOUNTS ORDEAL – Funny Car owner-driver Bob Tasca – absent from this race because of a bout with coronavirus – has lost 11 pounds, fought through pneumonia in both lungs, and spent a stint at Kent County Hospital at Warwick, Rhode Island, he said in a blog published in Autoweek’s online magazine.

Jonnie Lindberg, who was planning to race in the Top Alcohol class this season after losing his Jim Head Racing ride to Blake Alexander, is driving the Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford Mustang in his place.

Moreover, he described himself as “brokenhearted” that he can’t be here at Lucas Oil Raceway as the NHRA restarts its season and said, “This will be the first time in my career I’ll miss a race, but nothing is more important to me than the safety of my team, fans, and competitors. Trust me, I’ll be back soon. I want to thank Jonnie Lindberg for stepping in for me. I know he will do great. He is a great driver and a first-class guy!”

The 44-year-old Tasca said he “was exposed to the virus on Fathers Day at a small gathering of family only at my dad’s home. Even though we were all being cautious, at some point within an hour span, eight members of my family contracted the virus. Within days, we tested positive. What was real scary [was] had I not been tested, I would have exposed many other people to the virus, because I had no real symptoms for seven days. The second week was far different.”

Tasca said, “What makes this virus so deadly is it attacks your whole body. I had body aches so bad I could hardly move, fever that lasted days, a resting heart rate that ping-ponged wildly for four straight days. However, what really took me down was my breathing. I ended up developing pneumonia in both of my lungs from the virus.

“I had a dry cough that was uncontrollable. One morning my oxygen level dropped to a point where I knew I needed help. After spending a few days in the hospital, they were able to help control my cough and get my lungs stronger. I can’t thank the staff of nurses and doctors at Kent County Hospital enough. They are truly on the front lines of this fight,” he said. “Over the last few days, I have definitely turned the corner. Now I need to focus on building myself back up. I’ve lost over 11 pounds.”

Evidently coronavirus is no respecter of in-shape athletes. “As a driver,” Tasca told Autoweek, “I live a healthy life. I eat well and exercise and was in very good health before I got COVID, but over the next seven days, I was brought to my knees with symptoms.”

He had some advice: “First, do everything you can not to catch or spread the virus. Wear masks, respect social-distancing guidelines, wash your hands (I believe I contracted the virus by touching something), and if you have any symptoms at all, get tested! Most people that get it will have mild symptoms, but you can spread it to people who could die if they get it.

Second, if you have any underlying conditions at all you need to take extra precautions. I was the healthiest person I knew, and it took everything I had to pull through this. This isn’t a five-day bout with the flu. This is a 14-day-plus bout that attacks your nervous system, lungs and heart all at the same time. Don’t underestimate this virus—it can be deadly!”

He thanked “everyone for all the well-wishes and prayers. I am truly blessed to have so many people praying for me. It has been an incredibly challenging time for me and my family. I hope my experience can help others get through this difficult time.” He called wife Terri his “head nurse” and said, “She has been amazing, helping me through this. I couldn’t imagine going through this without her by my side.”

ARANA JR. OVERCOMES VIRUS – Coronavirus ordeals of such NHRA family members as Funny Car racer Bob Tasca III, Pro Stock Motorcycle technician Jock Allen, and tuner Todd Smith. Fewer might know what happened to perennial bike championship contender Hector Arana Jr.

He said he didn’t have a severe case when it hit him toward the end of March, along with many others on New York’s Long Island.

Arana told National Dragster that he “never had the lung issues. I did have the severe body aches, the loss of taste and smell, and other flu-like symptoms. I quarantined myself in my basement for a week, and my wife [Nicole] just brought me food at the top of the stairs. And I would walk up and get what I needed and go back down. It was a little tricky. I would think I was getting better, and then I’d be slightly more active and then feel way worse the next day. It did take awhile to recover from it and start to feel like normal.”

Arana, 31, is campaigning the one fulltime bike for the pared-back team that once had his father, Hector Sr., and brother Adam on track with him.

He indicated that like coronavirus, his motorcycle engine is tricky. He said it “makes power, but you can only get a handful of runs out of it.”

He’s on the bike here at Indianapolis (just up the road from where he spent his formative years, in Southern Indiana’s Milltown, near Corydon) for the first time since he made a couple of passes at Valdosta, Ga., on his way to the originally scheduled Gatornationals.

Arana Sr. said, “I don’t plan on running this season unless I have to.”

EARLY 2020 RECAP – Hey, no shaming here. But in case you forgot who won the first two races of the year (at Pomona and Phoenix in February), here’s a little recap of the 2019 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season so far.

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta won the Winternationals to open the season at Pomona, Calif., and he remains first in the standings. Steve Torrence – who had skipped Pomona – came to Phoenix and dominated, besting Kalitta in the final round. Brittany Force, who’s MIA this weekend, was top qualifier at both events.

In Funny Car, Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) has the upper hand. Jack Beckman defeated John Force in the final round at Pomona, then Tommy Johnson Jr. earned the trophy at Phoenix, swatting away runner-up Beckman’s chance for back-to-back triumphs. Beckman leads in points. Like Brittany Force in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan was No. 1 qualifier to give DSR another boost.

Elite has been the team to beat in Pro Stock, as it ruled both finals over Team KB/Summit Racing. Retirement-bound Jeg Coughlin kicked off his “Breaking Barriers Tour” with a final-round victory over Jason Line at Pomona. Erica Enders beat Bo Butner in the money round at Phoenix.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle class is kicking off its season this weekend.