2021 NHRA CHARLOTTE FOUR-WIDE NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
WAIT A MINUTE – TOP FUEL WINNER STEVE TORRENCE DOES LIKE FOUR-WIDE RACING - Even men have a right to change their minds, and Steve Torrence definitely has changed his about four-wide racing.
In the beginning, if he had had his way, the three-time Top Fuel champion would have decreed a ban on the gimmicky notion of four 11,000-horsepower dragsters churning up chaos at one time.
But now the Capco Dragster driver is the king of it.
With his photo-finish victory Sunday over Brittany Force, Antron Brown, and Josh Hart at the NGK NTK Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway, he mastered it for the sixth time in seven four-wide races and breathlessly declared, “Man, this is fun!”
The 42-time winner said, “Everybody continues to put a little bit of pressure on us about doing well at the four-wides. And at first, admittedly, I was not a fan of the four-wide. But Bruton Smith and Marcus [track owner and his son], thank you, guys. I love it.
“We do really well at it, and I don’t know why. But I like to keep doing it,” Torrence said. Then, a bit tongue-in-cheek, he said, “It’s the only things that I’ve got a winning record at.” But turning sincere again, he said, “I’m proud of that.”
His latest source of pride is his wire-to-wire, .02-second victory over Brittany Force with his 3.716-second elapsed time (at 329.10 mph) on the 1,000-foot course at Concord, N.C. It also held off previous-race winner Antron Brown and Gatornationals victor Josh Hart.
With that, Torrence became the Top Fuel class’ first repeat winner in four races this year.
“With continued success, you build an expectation for everyone,” he said, “So you got to really focus on not letting that get in your own head and say, ‘Hey, we’re the five-time winner of the four-wides here – we’ve got to go win this thing just to keep our streak going.’ That can change your mindset, instead of saying, ‘Let’s go win this round.’
“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to buckle down and focus on it, because the competition’s always going to be stiff, with A.B. [Antron Brown] and Brittany [Force] and everybody running as hard as they are right now. And the conditions have been conducive to just go out and throw down.”
Brown was going for a back-to-back showing and his third victory in the past five races (dating back the 2020 Finals at Las Vegas). He was third, .026 seconds behind Force.
She was the No. 1 qualifier who had won this race in 2016. She was seeking her first victory of the year and first since Nov. 2019 at Las Vegas.
And rookie Hart was going for his second triumph in just his third pro start.
Round 1 saw some shockers, including some positives for a pair of rookies. Josh Hart, in his first elimination round of four-wide action, cut the best light in his quad (.058) and advanced along with group winner Doug Kalitta. Krista Baldwin – despite a clunky .117 light, an intimidating trio of veterans to contend with, and losing some pieces of her rear wing – ran her career-best elapsed time and speed (3.855 seconds,319.52 mph) to move on with Antron Brown.
Steve Torrence clocked low E.T. of race day at 3.707 seconds, and No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force topped her own track speed record from qualifying (333.08 mph) with a 333.49.
But No. 3 starter Leah Pruett and accomplished driver Shawn Langdon had engine trouble and dropped out. Justin Ashley wasted his best pass of the weekend (3.734 seconds) with a red-light foul. And Mike Salinas had the second-best E.T. in his quad, but Doug Foley knocked him out with a holeshot.
Round 2 began with Clay Millican unable to get his car started and being pulled out of line, then Kalitta finishing last among the remaining three in their quad, while Hart and Force advanced to the final.
It was a gratifying round-win for Hart. He got his wish to beat the 2017 champion and return the favor from Atlanta. She eliminated him in the second round there two weeks ago.
And at the time, he said, “When I was in the Alcohol ranks . . . Courtney [Force] ran Advance Auto Parts on her car. And I ran Advance Auto Parts on my car. We both won Atlanta the last time we both were there. That was cool. That’s when I met Brittany. Then, when Brittany crashed the Monster Energy car [February 2018 at Pomona], I sent her flowers, saying, ‘I hope you’re back in the saddle soon,’ and she took the time to email me back. At the end of her email, she said, ‘Thanks, Jack, for the flowers.’ I wanted to beat her, because she never took the time to get my name right.” But after they raced at Atlanta and Force won, Hart said, “Today she was nice in the pits. She just had the better machine. I’m glad we got her off the time, but we’ll get her the next time. We were trying to be consistent. But they had the stronger car.”
So this next time, he evened the score in their friendly rivalry which actually hasn’t had time to develop into any real rivalry.
Also in the second round, elation turned to deflation for hopefuls Baldwin and Foley. It was especially frustrating for Foley, who had a quicker E.T. than quad runner-up Steve Torrence (3.778 to 3.786). But Torrence had an .071 light, compared to Foley’s .107.
The next stop on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule is this coming weekend’s Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals at Baytown, Texas, near Houston. Susan Wade
THE BIGGER THE STAGE, THE BIGGER THE FORCE MOMENT AS HE WINS NO. 152 - The bigger the stage, the bigger the John Force performance.
And in Force's eyes, his 72-year old eyes, there's no grander stage than Bruton Smith has at his self-proclaimed Bellagio of drag strips with zMAX Dragway, the palatial straight-line speedway on the hallowed grounds of his Concord, NC, horsepower complex.
With the strip closed in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Force helped Smith make a grand return to the Camping World Drag Racing Series by winning the NGK NTK NHRA Four-Wide Nationals by edging out J.R. Todd at the stripe.
Call it Force bravado, but the cagey veteran's mouth wrote a check his butt had no other choice but to cash.
"I ran my mouth and said I could win this for Bruton, and that's just a play of running your mouth, but I really wanted to, and it was in my heart," Force said. "He's done so much for me. Things people don't even know to keep my head in the game. When I'm getting old, he always says, 'I'm older than you," and I dedicated this trophy to him."
Force might have written the check with his words, but he's quick to point out co-crewchiefs Danny Hood and Tim Fabrisi ensured the account had sufficient funds.
"Danny's going to get one. So is Fabrisi, but this is going to Bruton with the hat," Force said. "I've got a young team; the only thing old is me."
Age is only a number, Force believes.
"Is Bruton too old to run race tracks? Force asked. "Is John Force too old to drive a race car? I don't make those rules, but today I'm okay, and I'm going to keep doing it. Sometimes things just work right for me."
Force made a clean sweep of the event, driving his way to the No. 1 qualifying position on Saturday. He was also the top runner of his quads in the first two rounds of competition, running 3.926, 329.10 in the first round, and low elapsed time of the event in round two with a 3.897, 330.31.
Force ran a 3.916, 328.78 in the final round, edging out J.R. Todd's 3.944, 327.02.
"Timing is everything; God's got a plan for me," Force said. "I won the inaugural coming in. I met Bruton a hundred years ago in a coffee shop early in the morning. He came in and said he wanted to meet with me when he built Bristol. I just saw the fire in his belly where he was going and with kids like I have. We went down a road, and we did our thing. I don't ever run my mouth very much.
"I called out to Bruton. I insinuated I was going to win this race. And then I said, you can't do that. And I said, 'Well, I am sure going to try. I threw that in. You never tell him you're going to do something and then don't do it."
The timing couldn't have been any better for Force, who picked up career win No. 152 after sitting out the pandemic restart last season, which started in July.
"You don't realize how much you love something," Force said. "It's a wake-up call. You take things for granted. Do you know what I mean? Buy flowers for the wife, do stuff. Don't ever take somebody for granted. And don't take the job that you love for granted or the people. Do you know what I'm saying?
"I never get to see the people anymore. I got one in Seattle and then Indy. I won Indy. And then we didn't get to race last year, but you know what? We're back here." Bobby Bennett
PRO STOCK ROOKIE GLENN HITS THE JACKPOT IN CONTROVERSIAL PS FINAL - It took a little while for Dallas Glenn’s first NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Pro Stock win to set in.
Literally, it did.
A timing snafu signaled to NHRA announcer Alan Rinehart that Mason McGaha was the winner in the NGK NTK Four-Wide Nationals Pro Stock final round. But the numbers didn’t add up.
The camera didn’t lie either. Race officials overruled the decision and awarded Glenn the victory and McGaha the runner-up.
“When I left, I felt really good on the tree and the car felt really good,” Glenn said. “I’m going down there, hit the shifts. I’m still taking Jason’s advice. I’m not looking over, no matter how much I want to. I went to the finish line and saw the solo light up there. I was like, ‘Well, at least I got a runner up.
“I make the corner, pull over there to the left, and I get out, take my stuff off, I’m just walking over there. Everybody starts surrounding me, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?”
“It was definitely pretty wild.”
A source close to the situation told CompetitionPlus.com when Fernando Cuadra went red because of a glitch; it did not lock out for the final round. This resulted in no win light.
Glenn might not have been as disappointed with the runner-up if his ascension from bracket racer to Pro Stock crewman to driver was not already a dream come true.
Back in 2012, a conversation between Glenn and a couple of friends related to the KB Racing team revealed three openings on the crew, one of which he’d end up filling. Fast forward to 2021, with the retirement of Jason Line and backing from Rad Torque Systems; he got the chance to drive Pro Stock.
What started out as a four-race program has Rad’s owner Dan Provost looking ahead to more appearances.
“We talked to him last night and he said, “We’re fully committed. We’re going to try to find out whatever we can, and we’re going to send you to all of them. You just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t worry about any of the results because the results will come.”
Glenn paused and added, “I guess they just came a little sooner than what we were thinking.”
As Glenn sees it, the timing couldn’t be better for Pro Stock, a division he sees as on the upswing.
“I think Pro Stock right now is extremely healthy,” Glenn said. “Every race, we’re getting at least 18 racers. Pretty much half the field is, I guess, under the age of 35, and there are a lot of young guns driving right now. It’s absolutely brutal right now. Anybody in the top 16 can go up there and win a race.
“Anything can happen right now.”
But apparently, for Glenn knowing anything can happen for him to score a win this early in his career is a feat he might need a little more convincing to believe.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s really even hit me yet,” Glenn said. “I still am just kind of going through it, just trying to soak everything up and enjoy everything I can. I’ve never got to experience this side of winning. I’ve been on KB Racing, and we’ve had a lot of success. I always just go back to the trailer and just start tearing everything down. You’re happy you won and everything.
“This is a whole new perspective for me. These cars are so much fun, but they’re hard to drive. That was a very interesting final round there.” Bobby Bennett
JOHNSON’S PRO STOCK BIKE FEAT AT zMAX GOES FAR BEYOND WINNING, GETTING TROPHY - It’s true that Steve Johnson claimed the Pro Stock Motorcycle trophy Sunday at the NGK NTK Four-Wide Nationals, just like he did at the first-ever NHRA event at Concord, N.C.’s zMAX Dragway in September 2008.
It’s true he won for the first time in more than seven years, since the March 2014 Gatornationals.
It’s true that he was third among the four racers in the final round to launch from the starting line but came from that far behind to win.
It’s true this seventh victory for him in 451 races gives the class four different winners in four races
And it’s true he said the feeling of earning the victory was “euphoric” and called it “the most special” in his collection, rating it [with apologies to the NHRA and its image-keepers] “higher than a U.S. Nationals trophy.”
It isn’t true that this victory validates Steve Johnson.
“The real validation, for me,” the independent Suzuki owner-driver said, “is to go through COVID with Jock [Allen, his crew chief]” and simply be able to be out at the Charlotte-area venue – or anywhere else – competing together in the sport for which they share a passion.
Allen contracted coronavirus and was on a ventilator for 24 days. In the meantime, his mother passed away, and the task of breaking the news to him fell to Johnson, who was at his bedside daily and posting updates on Allen’s condition via a social-media “vlog.” That’s why when Johnson won, competitors and crew members from other teams streamed to Allen and enveloped him with hugs. Everyone knew how much it meant not only to Johnson and Allen to win but how much it meant to all the drag-racing and motorcycle-racing family that those two are still are alive, functioning, and part of the mix in the Camping World Drag Racing Series.
“Man, if you just come out of COVID breathing, you’re a winner,” Johnson said. “There’s no trophy” for that, he said.
That, he said, is what he’ll attach to earning this latest brass-and-wood Wally. He saw this victory through Allen’s eyes: “To come though all of that, to have him finally come to the track and struggle [with so many after-effects of the disease] and even struggle with putting the darn transmission in right, all of these things . . . It’s cool the sanctioning body gives you a trophy that says, ‘You guys came through that, and you did it with a great job.’
“Our society is driven on winners and winners and winners,” Johnson said. But despite his honest statement that “I have plenty of financial issues,” he said he still has faith in the “cliché” that if one has a passion, money will follow. He’s not overly worried about amassing a big bank account, although that would fuel his NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racing passion in a much more comfortable way.
“I try to inspire people,” Johnson said.
“If you look at this race and us winning – and winning in this fashion,” he said, referring to his 6.729-second elapsed time (at 198.03 mph) in the quarter-mile. “That’s low E.T., on a Suzuki. But our brand is not necessarily the quickest. Our brand is really to be a fantastic human being. I know it’s corny. But be a fantastic human being – and if [someone’s] company is along those lines and you believe in that [with] the culture of your company, then let our passion drive your sales. It’s a pitch, sure, but at the same time, it all stems from my emotions through COVID and Jock and him coming out of that.
“Less than 10 percent survive after 21 or more days on a ventilator. So to see him with his excitement . . . He lost his dreads [his trademark dreadlocks]. He lost his mom. But he has some love today. It’s very rewarding,” Johnson said.
Johnson, 60, said he “really felt good” about his performance throughout the day. He said he was buoyed by John Force’s Funny Car victory Sunday because “he’s our eldest, our Dale Earnhardt or whatever.” And he emphasized that “You ride a bull. You drive a Pro Stock Motorcycle.” He said, “And it’s the coolest thing to be able to shift it on time and throw your body forward. I mean, we take the soles out of our shoes so that our feet are lower to the ground – these are the details that we chase to capture something at this level.”
Full of emotion and joy and gratitude and wonder all wrapped up into one sensation Sunday, Johnson said, “We’re committed to this sport, excited about the emotion of our sport right now: the brand, the ambience, the aura, all these fancy words. I really feel like our sport’s really doing well. There’s a lot of excitement right now.”
Johnson shared the winners podium with three others whose days capped plenty of drama. Steve Torrence won in a Top Fuel four-abreast classic. John Force won for the 152nd time in Funny Car. And rookie Dallas Glenn won in a Pro Stock photo-finish nail-biter over fellow young guns Mason McGaha and Troy Coughlin Jr.
The others in Johnson’s final-round quad had their own drama, as well.
Four-time series champion and current points leader Matt Smith, hoping to win at his home track, took his shot at becoming the class’ first two-time winner this season. The Gatornationals winner was impressive in his runner-up effort with a 202.48-mph clocking, but he missed by .0072 of a second.
Karen Stoffer, looking for her first victory since the September 2019 St. Louis event, finished third, even though her .020-second reaction time was quickest of the quad.
Just last month, Joey Gladstone was in McLeod Medial Center at Florence, next door in South Carolina, with a concussion, four broken ribs, a bruised lung, broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade, and road rash over much of his body from a testing crash at Darlington Dragway. But he reached the final round Sunday and finished fourth (after returning to competition at Atlanta and making the quarterfinal round).
The class saw 24 passes at 200 mph or better this weekend, including 11 on race day and a national-record 203.49 from Eddie Krawiec during qualifying.
The series heads west this weekend to Houston Raceway Park at Baytown, Texas, for the Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals. Susan Wade
NHRA CHARLOTTE FOUR-WIDES - SATURDAY QUALIFYING RECAP
THE LONG AND NOT-SO-WINDING ROAD - It long has been a lament that many NHRA fans head for the hot dog stands and the restrooms when the nitro-less Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes run.
But anybody who did that Saturday afternoon at zMAX Dragway during qualifying for the NGK NTK Four-Wide Nationals missed a spectacle even beyond four racing machines lined up before the Christmas Tree.
Eddie Krawiec, the four-time champion who began the year as a crew chief for Vance & Hines teammate Angelle Sampey, blasted to the fastest Pro Stock Motorcycle pass in Camping World Drag Racing Series history early Saturday. His 203.37-mph speed erased a pair of 202-plus clockings from Matt Smith and Andrew Hines as the track bests.
Then Krawiec went out in his final qualifying run and trumped himself, posting a national speed record of 203.49 mph.
But Denso EBR racer Scotty Pollacheck got what counted – the No. 1 qualifying position – with a 6.736-second elapsed time. His team boss Matt Smith wound up third in the order, with Friday-night leader Joey Gladstone fifth, Krawiec sixth, and Hines seventh.
In the Pro Stock class, Greg Anderson once again dominated qualifying. He secured his fifth straight No. 1 starting position in the HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro and has the chance to tie legend Warren Johnson for the most victories with 97 – which would out him in a tie with Johnson for second-most in the history of the sport behind runaway leader John Force (who has 151 trophies).
Force could extend that to 152 Sunday, and he would be doing it from the No. 1 Funny Car spot.
The Peak/ BlueDEF Chevy Camaro driver used a 3.904-second, 328.30-mph performance early Saturday to jump from last in the order to first, edging aside Friday top qualifier Alexis De Joria. He returned for his final pass of qualifying and improved with a 3.902, 330.55. Neither was a record, but it was plenty stout enough to help him deliver on his Friday-night declaration after a tire-smoking disappointment that during Saturday’s redemption runs “I know we’ll be good.”
His daughter Brittany held onto her claim of quickest in the Top Fuel class. She propelled her Flav-R-Pac Dragster to a class-best and track-record 3.662-second elapsed time and 333.08-mph speed Friday and held onto it Saturday.
ODE TO BRUTON SMITH: NO. 1 FUNNY CAR STARTER FORCE GRATEFUL FOR HIS CHANCES - Bruton Smith owns this racetrack – and three others that account for two four-wide spectacles and five altogether on the Camping World Drag Racing Series circuit.
And he owns no small part of John Force’s heart.
Force was captivated by the auto-sales giant and speedway mogul long before becoming the No. 1 Funny Car qualifier Saturday for Sunday’s finale of the NGK NTK Four-Wide Nationals at Smith’s zMAX Dragway at Concord, N.C.
He said he met Smith “a hundred years ago” at Bristol, Tenn., where Smith owns and operates another NASCAR/NHRA complex. There, Force recalled, Smith “wanted a six o’clock-in-the-morning meeting” at a restaurant.
Who knows what topic of discussion was on Smith’s mind at the time? But what Force came away with was a fascination and respect for the man who imagined this “Bellagio of dragways” and its four lanes of 44,000 horsepower that Force conquered Saturday with a 3.902-second, 328.30 performance on the 1,000-foot course to lead the Funny Car class into eliminations.
“I just love the guy, his energy, his dreams, what he wanted to do. He made it big in the car business and bigger in this,” Force said of Smith’s racetrack empire. “All the racers love him, and we all care about what he’s done for NHRA drag racing, NASCAR, IndyCar – everywhere. He’s a very unique individual.”
It takes one to know one. It takes a dreamer to know a dreamer. It takes an imagineer to know an imagineer. It takes a smart businessman to know a like-minded one.
And as Force seeks to extend his long-awaited 152nd Funny Car victory, he said of Smith, “I want to win this for him. And I’m going to give it all the heart I got tomorrow.”
After earning his NHRA-record-extending 161st No. 1 start, Force said he told Smith, “Your racetracks don’t know how old you are, and my race car sure in the hell don’t know how old I am.” He said, “I thanked him from all of us out here. Then I was able to get him low E.T. And I said, ‘Hey, this hat is yours!’
“Your heart’s here because Bruton created the supertracks and the four-wides,” Force said.
For the 30th season, Force has recorded at least one No. 1 qualifying position. And this legend whose trademark is coming back when people might count him out, this outhouse-to-penthouse /rags-to-riches kind of fighter, continued his achievement Saturday by leapfrogging the entire field to move from last place to first in the qualifying order.
He was dead-last in the 16-car field Friday night because his Peak-BlueDEF Chevy Camaro smoked the tires at the first hit of the throttle. But he didn’t panic. Instead, he reassured at least himself that everything would be all right Saturday, thanks to the cooperation of crew chief / son-in-law Danny Hood and assistant tuner Tim Fabrisi. (“They work really hard together,” Force said. “All the [John Force Racing] teams work together.”)
And he responded with a 3.904-second pass at 328.30 mph, which he eclipsed with a 3.902, 330.55.
That sealed Force’s first top-qualifying spot since the October 2019 race at Dallas.
“We’ve struggled. And last year [after the first two events of the season], we didn’t get a shot,” he said.
Despite that, his team is starting to come around. At the most recent race, at Atlanta, he was runner-up to Bob Tasca III. And Saturday he was back in command of the field.
“To come out here and run low E.T., it’s good for your feelings,” Force said, “but you’ve got to make it count tomorrow.”
His first chance will be in a quad that also features Dale Creasy Jr., Mike McIntire, and Dave Richards.
“They’re doing the job,” Force said of his crew. “I’m driving. Give me a good car, and I’ll win races. We’ll see how it goes.”
He shared the spotlight Saturday with Top Fuel No. 1 qualifying daughter Brittany Force.
“Taking this PEAK BlueDEF Chevy to No. 1 with Brittany and Flav-R-Pac over there. It means a lot, being out here with her, I love my kids and my grandkids,” Force said.
He gave a special shout-out to grandsons Jacob and Noah Hood, the children of Danny and (Force’s daughter) Ashley Force Hood. He said they “are home, watching their dad carry Grandpa – maybe to a winners circle. That’s what we’re going after.”
And if he does that, Force will give the credit to his team and to Bruton Smith in celebration. But he just might not be able to make another 6 a.m. breakfast meeting.
INSPIRED ANDERSON ON BRINK OF PRO STOCK HISTORY FROM NO. 1 STARTING SPOT - Inspired in a sentimental way like never before in his storied career, Greg Anderson set the bar Friday in Pro Stock qualifying for the NHRA NGK NTK Four-Wide Nationals at his home track, zMAX Dragway at Concord, N.C.
And his 6.524-second elapsed time in the quarter-mile remained quickest throughout two more sessions Saturday to give him his fifth consecutive No. 1 qualifying position. It’s also the 110th No. 1 start of his career, ranking him third in the NHRA in the category behind Funny Car’s John Force (160) and Warren Johnson (138).
It’s the second time Anderson has had five No. 1 starts in a row. He did so in 2007, a year in which he actually had a string of six (Atlanta, St. Louis, Topeka, Chicago, Englishtown, and Norwalk) and 11 totally.
If Anderson wins Sunday, he’ll tie Johnson for the most victories in Pro Stock history (97). That would lift him into a tie for second-most ever among all NHRA pros. Force is the runaway leader at 151.
What would make it all the sweeter would be the chance to share his joy with his new – and continuing – sponsor, NASCAR titan Rick Hendrick.
“I can’t thank him enough,” Anderson said, “but the only way I think I can thank him properly is to make sure I find Victory Circle with him, especially this weekend in front of him and his all his friends and family . . . local track . . . obviously Charlotte’s the world to him. Can’t think of a better place to win. This is the place to ‘git ’er done.’
“If he could find his way to Victory Circle, I don’t know that he’s ever done that in drag racing. I think that’d be pretty damn cool. And I’ll bet you that’d be a pretty neat feeling for him. I know it’d be a great feeling for me, but I’ll bet it’d be neat for him, even with all the neat things he’s won in his life. It’d be pretty cool,” Anderson said.
What would make that an almost indescribable moment for Hendrick is the fact Anderson’s Chevy Camaro carries the livery that once decked out his late son Ricky Hendrick’s stock car. Ricky Hendrick, a driver and co-owner of Hendrick Motorsports, perished in October 2004 in an airplane crash, along with seven other family members and friends, as they traveled to Martinsville, Va., for a NASCAR race.
“It’s a paint scheme he loves,” Anderson said of Rick Hendrick’s approval of the Pro Stock car’s HendrickCars.com theme. “He’s excited about it. It’s a paint scheme his late son Ricky had before we lost him, so it means a lot to him. He came out here the other day [to Anderson’s shop in nearby Mooresville, N.C.] and he basically fell in love with it. It’s just a very special paint scheme to him. That’s why he was able to offer to join on for the rest of the year – because he just loved the look of the car.”
Anderson has been selling sponsorship on a race-by-race basis this year in the wake of Summit Racing Equipment’s drastically reduced investment in his Ken Black-owned operation. So Anderson said he’s beyond thankful for Hendrick’s support – and for his No. 1 performance that’s getting to be a habit this year.
“Really, honestly, that should make any man smile – and it certainly does me, no doubt about that,” Anderson said after Saturday’s performance. “I really, really, really am excited. I want to make the man happy. He’s doing me a big favor here.”
Anderson has won two of the season’s three completed races, at Gainesville and Atlanta, and has set low elapsed time of the meet at all three. But the four-time champion – and No. 3 starter Erica Enders, as well – hears the stampede of the class’ young guns and knows Sunday’s eliminations won’t be easy.
Pro Stock’s newer competitors flexed their muscles all weekend. Aaron Stanfield, Kyle Koretsky, and Mason McGaha are top-six qualifiers in this crowded field. (McGaha’s dad, Chris, slipped into the No. 5 slot in the final qualifying session Saturday.) And Deric Kramer, Matt Hartford, Dallas Glenn, and Troy Coughlin Jr. follow.
However, Anderson has a powerful weapon: his Hendrick Cars.com Camaro.
“This is absolutely the best race car I’ve had in a lot of, lot of years,” he said. “My hat’s off to Rob Downing and Dave Connolly. They’re the maestros with it. They’ve figured it out. They’ve found a happy spot for it. It’s a happy car. All I can do is screw it up. Thank God I haven’t done that lately.
“As long as I can keep the oars in the water and keep ’er straight,” Anderson said, “I think we’re going to have a chance at a lot of race wins this year. Just to have the opportunity to come to a race and have a fast car on race day – a legitimate opportunity to win – it’s all a driver can ask. And I’ve got that – had it at all races this year, got it again this weekend. So it’s up to me. That’s just all you can ask from a driver’s standpoint. I’ve got it.
“Bring on the pressure. I love pressure. I love that part of it,” he said. “I can’t wait to get here tomorrow for first round.”
Anderson said if NHRA officials told him the opening round of eliminations were in 45 minutes, “I’d be up there [to the starting line] in 30. Pretty simple. I’m ready to race. I’m ready to race every day right now. When you’ve got a good hot rod like this, it’s a dream to drive. It makes it easy to drive. And it makes a driver look good. It’s as simple as that. It’s a winning combination. It’s a win waiting to happen. You’ve just got to go out and execute. We’re going to try to do that tomorrow.
“I’ve had a lot of very special wins in my career, and a couple of these last ones have been right near the top. If I could find a way to do it tomorrow, that might be the biggest carrot I ever took. I’m looking forward to it.”
Anderson will be lining up in the first round of eliminations Sunday against Cristian Cuadra, Deric Kramer, and Troy Coughlin Jr.
BIKER POLLACHECK NOT FASTEST BUT QUICKEST FOR SECOND STRAIGHT NO. 1 START - Scotty Pollacheck proved Saturday at the NHRA’s NGK NTK Four-Wide Nationals that a Pro Stock Motorcycle racer doesn’t have to clock a 203-mph or even a 202-mph speed to secure the No. 1 qualifying position.
The Central Point, Ore., winner of the most recently completed event (at Atlanta) used his track-record 6.736-second elapsed time at 201.16 mph in Saturday’s opening session to climb from 19th place and seize the top spot. By two-thousandths of a second, he edged Steve Johnson, who wasn’t even flirty with the 200-mph mark.
Eddie Krawiec registered the fastest pass in class history at 203.37 mph, but his 6.785-second elapsed time made him only the seventh-quickest in the overflow field after that session. He repeated the feat – this time at 203.49 mph and wound up sixth on the grid.
He erased the excitement from the previous quad, which had produced speeds from Matt Smith and Andrew Hines that at that moment were the two fastest ever in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Racing in the same quartet, Smith and Hines had identical E.T.s – 6.773 seconds – but neither rose higher in the tentative lineup than fourth. Smith was fourth because of his 202.18-mph speed, while Hines was relegated to fifth place with a 202.15.
Later in the day, Smith, of King, N.C., improved to No. 3 with a 6.740-second effort. Hines will start eliminations Sunday from the No. 7 position.
Hector Arana Jr. had a 201.79-mph clocking to make it five runs at 200 or better in that session – and reeled off a 202.70-mph exclamation point to his qualifying later Saturday.
Las Vegas winner Ryan Oehler was off the grid after the first two overall sessions by .06 of a second. But he bumped in at No. 13 for a chance to say he has won half of the season’s events.
For Pollacheck, his second straight top-qualifying act on the Denso EBR was a tribute to his team.
“It actually takes a whole lot of work. I’m just the lucky guy who gets to get on top of that thing and ride it. Matt and Angie [Smith, his husband-wife teammates] do the big heavy-lifting stuff, and Michael Ray does all the work on the bike when we’re at the track. So a lot of credit to them,” Pollacheck said.
“They had a late night last night,” he said, “because I kind of broke it a little bit yesterday. They did a heck of a job, because it came out and ran like a bandit today.”
He said, “It’s amazing how much confidence it gives you and how good it makes you feel when you know you have a fast motorcycle like that. It makes my job so easy. I’ve just got to keep from screwing it up – that’s all.”
Pollacheck traveled about 2,500 miles to compete this weekend. But for the Smiths, the team owners, it’s a quick skip from their home and shop. And Pollacheck said it made him proud to deliver for the team in front of their family and friends: “It makes it really nice when we can all perform good in front of fans here and do a good job at their home track.”
Angie Smith was eighth to give the team three bikes in the top half of the ladder.
Pollacheck said having more fans permitted in the beautiful Bruton Smith-owned track that’s the newest on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour made his feat that much more gratifying.
“We had a lot of friends trying to get tickets to the race, and they couldn’t get tickets to the race until yesterday, when it opened up,” he said, referring to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order that lifted restrictions and no longer required fans to wear masks or socially distance at outdoor venues, starting with Saturday’s activities. Under previous restrictions, the zMAX crowd had reached the permitted capacity.
“So everybody that wanted to come was able to come out today,” Pollacheck said. So that just makes it phenomenal.”
What will be even more phenomenal is if he can score back-to-back victories Sunday. His starting quad will include Angie Smith, Karen Stoffer, and Jim Underdahl.
SOLID SECOND FOR SCELZI - Giovanni Scelzi, one of the two sons of former NHRA champ Gary Scelzi who race sprint cars, surely made his pop proud Saturday night with a second-place finish in the World of Outlaws race at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
Scelzi, who is only 19, hounded eventual race winner Aaron Reutzel before finally having to settle for runner-up. Gio owns an Outlaws victory, which came at Williams Grove when, as a 16-year-old, he captured the National Open, one of the crown-jewel events in sprint-car competition.
HECTOR ARANA JR. BACK RACING IN CHARLOTTE AS TEAM LOOKS FOR NEW PRIMARY SPONSOR - There’s been one Pro Stock Motorcycle racer noticeably absent at the past two NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series events in Las Vegas and Atlanta – veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle pilot Hector Arana Jr.
He is back competing at the NGK NTK NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., this weekend.
“Lucas Oil is no longer our primary sponsor,” Arana said in an interview with CompetitionPlus.com. “They are still helping, and we are grateful for their support.”
“Right now, we are on our own budget. We are open to any sponsors. We are looking for sponsors, and if there is somebody interested in renting, we have three other bikes available for rent. They are all EBR bikes. We are looking for funding for this year and beyond.”
In 2017 at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Arana Jr. debuted the new Erik Buell Racing 1190RX body style Buell.
“The EBR 1190RX body that everybody is running (now) is a body that was developed by Arana Racing,” Hector Jr. said. “Everybody who has gone 200 mph, except Angelle (Sampey, who was riding a Suzuki) and Eddie (Krawiec, on a Harley-Davidson), has gone 200 mph because of our Arana Racing body. Andrew Hines was not able to go 200 mph until he got our body. Matt Smith could not go 200 until he got our body. That performance is from our hard work and dedication and design. Wind tunnel testing, CNC development, computer engineering and everything to have a body to be able to perform and be stable and safe on the track.
“I want people to know that we are proud of what we developed, and all the accomplishments, and it is still for sale through us, and we will be competitive with the other manufacturers. We prefer that they come to us instead of going through somebody who literally stole something.”
Hector Sr. is upset about other riders competing with EBR 1190RX bodies that were not bought from him.
“When people bought an EBR (1190RX) body from me, I had them sign a contract that they could not duplicate or reproduce the body in any way,” Arana Sr. said. “A competitor we sold the body to has violated the contract that we had them sign and they had our body copied without our permission, and they are selling it at our expense. It is a shame that a racer can buy something that is being pirated when all the hard work and everything was done by the Arana family and surprisingly NHRA approved those bodies.”
Arana Sr. won his lone NHRA PSM world championship in 2009. Hector Jr.’s career-best finish in the points came in his rookie season of 2011, when he was the runner-up.
Arana Sr. has competed in 326 NHRA national events and has seven national event wins with 16 runner-up performances. Arana Jr. is competing in his 154th career Pro Stock Motorcycle national event this weekend. He has 15 career wins, 12 runner-up finishes and 22 No. 1 qualifying achievements.
“When I got hurt really bad in a Pro Stock Motorcycle accident in 1989, my main thing was safety and, of course, performance and we did it right,” Arana Sr. said. “It took us three years to develop the 1190RX body and we debuted it in 2017. How can honesty be there? Someone’s hard work and money and dedication is put into something, and then someone else takes it. I’m concerned about the safety of the riders with the copied bodies because we don’t know what the quality of the bodies are that have been copied.”
Arana Jr. made his 2021 season debut at the Gatornationals two months ago. He qualified No. 7 and upended Angie Smith in round one before falling in the second stanza to reigning world champion Matt Smith, Angie’s husband.
Arana Jr. is hungrier than ever this weekend for the Four-Wide Nationals.
“We want to kick some a**,” Arana Jr. said. “We are out here for the love and the passion of racing. We had so much hard work and so many things in the pipeline for development, we have two brand new Gen2 S&S (Cycle) engines that were in the process of being developed and now they are kind of on hold. Those motors have a lot of promise and we believe they will be even faster if we can get the funding to continue with that. We had so many things in development, in the pipeline, to just give up. We can’t give up. This what we love and this what we have done. This is our livelihood, and we would like to be able to bring on another partner so we can continue.”
After Charlotte, Arana Jr. said his family-run team will decide week-by-week what events it will attend.
“If somebody wants to contact us to help us go to another race, we will need just a little bit of heads up just to make sure we are ready,” Arana Jr. said. “We continue to work on stuff. We haven’t stopped our development, it just has slowed down a little bit. Any little thing would help, and we would be appreciative if any partner wants to come on board.” -- Tracy Renck
SELFLESS PROMOTION - The last event victory for two-time Funny Car world champion Cruz Pedregon came at Charlotte’s Four-Wide Nationals in 2018. If he can duplicate that feat Sunday and return to the winners circle, he’ll do so while promoting causes near and dear to his heart.
For the rest of the 2021 season, the rear window of Pedregon’s Snap-On Tools-sponsored Dodge will now feature Jenkins Forever Farm and Kanda Farm Sanctuary, which are for rescue animals. Sharing that space is Foster Fairies, an organization that exists to aid foster-care children.
“The long and short of it is, I've always been an animal lover and so I thought, ‘We have a rear window (available) on this car. Rather than try to sell it and shove money in our pockets, why don't we dedicate the rear window to three sanctuaries we support? ’ ” Pedregon said.
“We could all afford a little bit of real estate on the racecar. … I think it's a way for the fans to connect more with the driver because he can be into whatever. He could be into saving the planet for not cutting as many trees down, I don't know. So I just want to be able to say, ‘Look, I provide this space on my car.’ It's not for sale. It's to show my support of these organizations. … If I get one team out here to do the same thing, I've done some good.”
At the very least, Pedregon said, asking others to follow his lead could be a perfect way to either attract new fans to the sport or increase the loyalty of existing ones. How so? Pedregon believes it helps fans connect with drivers by giving them some insight into their character, or humanizing them as more than corporate mouthpieces.
“I think that's what's lacking. Show people a little more. Humanize a little bit. Show what you're into. Show what you like. Show what you support,” Pedregon said. “I'm not saying that I don't want the money. I like money, just like the next guy, but I think as a car owner it's easier for me to do.
“But I'm sure the driver or some of these owners would be okay with, ‘Hey, let me have a little spot right there on the car.’ Not to give you money, but to show that I support these causes, or if you have some messaging, there might be some messaging. It's got to be in good taste, but I think there could be and I think we could all use a little bit in all series. Show what you're into a little bit. ...”
“It's all about commonality and reaching people that have certain interests. Not everybody's going to like a car or going to like you for, ‘I think your car is cool’ or ‘I think you're cool.’ It might be that connection to that it might be the connection to this. I didn't even do it for any other reason other than I wanted to do it.”
TOO MUCH TIME ON HIS HANDS - NASCAR superstar Kyle Busch was on hand at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals promoting Toyota's involvement in drag racing as well as his new Rowdy-brand energy drink.
For a day, Busch was a drag racing spectator -- and fan.
Busch, whose driving style and personality have proven explosive in the past, pondered the question of whether he'd be a nitro racer or a Pro Stock guy given the chance.
"I don't know. Good question," replied Busch, the 2015 and ’19 NASCAR Cup Series champion. "I'd be up for anything, but since I'm here sitting with these guys, I would go the dragster route. They say don't do the Funny Car. I've got to give every one of them a shot. How about that?"
Busch admitted the only drawback to the straight-line sport is the downtime between races.
"How do these guys pass the time?" Busch pondered. "That really intrigues me. Because when I get to go to work, I go to work for three hours. When these guys go to work, they go to work for seconds at a time.
"That's what I mean. That's the thing for me. I guess that's why I went the NASCAR route and never the drag racing route. I just couldn't ever really figure out what I was going to do to pass the rest of the time."
Busch's older brother Kurt raced Pro Stock in 2011 and was competitive. He lost to multi-time national champion Erica Enders in the opening round of the Gatornationals with a time that was just .003 seconds slower. Kurt Busch was NASCAR’s champ in 2004.
"He's lost a couple of (races) by just that little bit. Another one at Darlington years ago, just by .002 of a second, but no, that's awfully close," Busch said. "Even sometimes when we're racing off pit road in a NASCAR race and you're side by side with somebody and you're like, ‘I know d*** well, I beat them to the exit line.’ And NASCAR will say no.
"It's like d***, you're watching it and you swear you think you won. And I'm not even close to that. So, I don't know how these guys decide sometimes, if they've got a close run on who wins or not."
ROY HILL UPDATE - Prior to the start of Saturday afternoon’s nitro qualifying session, several drivers -- among them Steve Jackson, Rachel Meyer and Anthony Bertozzi -- received their 2020 NHRA championship rings.
During his comments over the public-address system, Bertozzi took the opportunity to send a get-well shoutout to one of his mentors, former Pro Stock racer Roy Hill. Hill, a 2020 inductee into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, was injured Friday at the track when he was struck by a Super Comp car. Bertozzi told the crowd that Hill had suffered a broken hip.
NO WAY IN HELL - Back in the early 1990s, when Greg Anderson was a Pro Stock crewman for drag racing legend Warren Johnson, there was a lot of animosity from the Pro Stock ranks toward the new kids on the professional block, Pro Modified.
For the record, Anderson wasn't among those who looked down on the darlings of the drag racing scene.
Friday, for the first time in zMax Dragway history, the Pro Modified pits were parallel with Anderson and the Pro Stock class.
"We love having them," Anderson said. "We love having every class at every race. That's the way every race should be. They should have every single class at every race we go to. That's my belief and the more, the better.
"There's a lot of people that come to these races to see every kind of race car. It's not just Top Fuel or Funny Car they come to see. There's a lot of people that come to see every single creation out here. So, I love to see a full pit area. I love to see all the classes that are involved with NHRA drag racing and at every race."
Anderson might be happy with seeing Pro Modified on the property, but don't mistake the appreciation for a willingness to give power-adder racing a try.
"I flat-out think they're nuts, to be honest," Anderson said. "I don't think you could pay me to drive one, and that's just the truth. They look like beyond a handful. Don't get me wrong, I love driving a race car, but I don't want to ride something or drive something that I can't think I got some kind of control over. And to me, it looks like that driver doesn't have a lot of control."
HERO WORSHIP - Antron Brown’s victory at Atlanta two weeks ago gave him 52 in that category, which moved him into a tie for third in career Top Fuel wins with Joe Amato.
The triumph had special significance for Brown, who grew up in Trenton, N.J. Amato’s hometown of Old Forge, Pa., was barely two hours to the northeast, and Brown considered Amato his “local” hero as a youngster and teen.
“I had heroes in every class,” said Brown, who entered the weekend just 28 points behind class leader Steve Torrence. “Everybody loved ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits. Kenny Bernstein in Funny Car, then Top Fuel. Mark Oswald, the Chi-Town Hustler, Raymond Beadle, Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, Jerry Eckman, Eddie Hill, Dave Schultz, Pizza John Mafaro, and Bob Carpenter, our local hero from south Jersey who did all the engines on my dad’s little H2 Kawasaki that my dad drag raced. And then we had Bob Jenkins, who was the chassis builder that built Joe Amato’s Top Fuel cars back in the day before he went to the Swindahl stuff.”
Brown needs just one more win to tie Bernstein for seventh all-time with 69 victories in all classes. He considers his accomplishments to date to be downright mind-blowing.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I think about being mentioned with these guys. For me, it doesn’t feel like it’s real,” he said. “We’ve been working so hard. I’ve been very blessed with the team that I’m on. We all do it together. It’s just been incredible, incredible, incredible.
“Joe Amato. Wow, to hear that name and realize he won five world championships,” said Brown, the Top Fuel world champ in 2012, ’15 and ’16. “We’re working on that. We let a couple of them slip away or we’d have five. Amato won them the old-school way where you count the whole season before the Countdown was introduced. If we still counted like that, we’d have won five.”
Brown was in beast mode in notching his latest victory. In all four rounds of eliminations, Brown was first off the launch pad, and he needed every bit of edge he could gap. He took down Doug Kalitta 3.79-3.80 in the opening round, Billy Torrence 3.81-3.82, Brittany Force 3.786-3.785, and, in the finals, Steve Torrence 3.75 (low E.T. of the day) to 3.79.
“We raced a whole bunch of champions,” Brown said. “Doug’s a champion in his own right (a five-time Top Fuel championship runner-up), Billy was the No. 1 qualifier, Brittany was the 2017 champ, and Steve has won the last three. The competition level was ridiculous. It’s like that in our whole class right now.”
While Brown’s reaction-time skill undoubtedly was a key in his victory, he was quick to credit the three crewmen who head up his team: Brian Corradi, Brad Mason and Mark Oswald. He describes them as the real-life equivalent of comic-book heroes.
“Brian is like Batman, Brad is his Robin, and Mark is more life Alfred, the older, wiser one that reminds everybody about this and that; the creator of all gadgets and widgets,” Brown said.
“When you get a braintrust like that and you have all the guys that work on the car in each department who look up to them and trust them, we’re all in. We’re pulling the rope in the same direction, so it makes it so much easier to pull that (Christmas) tree down.”
LEARNING THE ROPES - The team for which Antron Brown and others drive, Don Schumacher Racing, has embarked on its eighth year of an internship program with Western Technical College of El Paso, Texas. It’s a hands-on, real-world experience for those who are involved in prepping the team’s Top Fuel and Funny Car entries.
The current crop of interns began their duties two weeks ago at Atlanta. Five groups of four students will learn the ropes in 2021.
Under the right circumstances, the experience can pay off with full-time work in professional motorsports. One of those interns who has found employment in the field is Josh Munoz, a cylinder-head specialist on the DSR Top Fueler driven by Leah Pruett. He interned on her dragsters two years ago.
“I can say with certainty that the hands-on training I received during that three-race program prepared me for what I do out here now as a permanent member of the team,” said Munoz, who landed a full-time NHRA gig after graduating from Western Tech.
“It wasn’t just about the actual training, but I got to experience what it was like to actually live this lifestyle where you travel all of the time, so I knew what to expect and all that comes with working a career in motorsports. It’s more than just working on a car.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – RACING UNDER THE LIGHTS AT THE BELLAGIO
THE EARLY LEADERS - Brittany Force literally wasted no time in catching the attention of the fans at zMAX Dragway in Top Fuel qualifying Friday night.
She wheeled the David Grubnic-tuned John Force Racing dragster to a 1,000-foot blast of 3.662 seconds, 333.08 mph -- both track records.
“I’m just pumped,” she said.
World champ Steve Torrence almost matched her elapsed time, grabbing the second spot at 3.683, 318. Leah Pruett was third with a solid 3.71, 324, followed by recent Atlanta winner Antron Brown at 3.766.
Two weeks after a frustrating Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, Alexis DeJoria got a welcome dose of relief Friday night.
Her Rokit-sponsored ride was one of only two Funny Car entries to make a full run -- well, close enough, anyway, to take the No. 1 spot after the opening round. DeJoria was the only driver to reach into the three-second zone at 3.93 seconds.
“The car shut off early,” she said of her 301.74-mph pass. “I’m surprised nobody else made it down. Right now we’re No. 1. Yeah, I’m pretty excited.”
Mike McIntire wound up second at 4.019 and a career-best 313.15 mph. The gap behind him was substantial, as Dave Richards’ 8.55 secured the No. 3 position heading into Saturday’s pair of qualifying sessions.
Greg Anderson has begun the 2021 season with wins at Gainesville and Atlanta. He left no doubt in Friday’s lone Pro Stock session that he’s more than capable of putting Charlotte in the win column Sunday.
Running in the final set of four qualifiers, Anderson covered the quarter-mile in 6.524 seconds, 210.50 mph. Also in that quad was Aaron Stanfield, whose 6.533 was good for the No. 2 position and a 6.535 had Kyle Koretsky in third.
Joey Gladstone made the most of track conditions to claim the No. 1 slot in Pro Stock Motorcycle, running career-best numbers of 6.763 seconds (a track record) at 198.58 mph. “I feel like I can really do some damage now,” he said of riding the Vance & Hines V-Twin.
In Pro Modified, Justin Bond showed the same kind of muscle with which he won at Atlanta two weeks ago. He blistered the strip at 5.631 seconds to take the No. 1 spot, with Khalid alBalooshi a couple of ticks back at 5.65. Their runs in the same quad knocked reigning series champ Steve Jackson (5.690) out of catbird’s seat.
Top Fuel Harley saw 2020 world champ Randal Andras set the pace at 6.330 seconds. Teammate and 2018-19 kingpin Tii Tharpe had the second-quickest lap at 6.361 with a best-in-class 224.96.
OPEN THE GATES - In accordance with NC Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest executive order, grandstand seating limitations have been lifted, opening the door for thousands more race fans to enjoy this weekend’s NGK NTK NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
“We are thrilled with today’s news that will allow fans to return to America’s Home for Racing without limitation,” said Greg Walter, executive vice president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “From the outset of the pandemic, whether operating a drive-through testing clinic or hosting the state’s first mass vaccination event, this has been the ultimate goal – to get back to filling the grandstands for the biggest, most entertaining events in motorsports.”
Per the executive order announced today, fans will no longer be required to wear masks or socially distance in outdoor venues. Following state recommendations, fans who have not been vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask.
The order, which goes into effect immediately, lifts restrictions for race fans starting with Saturday’s event, which had reached capacity under previous restrictions. Fans can visit www.zmaxdragway.com for tickets, which start at $40. Kids 13 and under get in free. With anticipated call volume, fans are encouraged to purchase online to avoid extended wait times.
Fans attending this weekend will have the opportunity to receive a Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccination on-site. Vaccines will be administered by Atrium Health to anyone 18 years of age or older at no cost. No appointment is necessary.
ROY HILL INJURED IN STARTING LINE ACCIDENT – Hall of Fame drag racer Roy Hill was injured Friday afternoon when he was struck by a race car during Super Comp qualifying. Hill was apparently alert and conscious and was transported to a local hospital.
TWO AND COUNTING - Bob Tasca III entered the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals having claimed the Wally at the last two events, Las Vegas and Atlanta.
It’s not the first time he’s pulled off such a feat. Tasca did so with a Top Alcohol Funny Car before switching to nitromethane for propulsion, and in 2019, he won Bristol and Norwalk back to back.
This time, however, Tasca’s victories have him atop the Funny Car points for the first time (at least, he said, as far as he can remember).
The Hope, R.I., racer could not be more pumped up about all facets of his program, and that includes having fans back in the stands. Saturday’s qualifying schedule at zMAX Dragway is sold out.
“Last year, I don’t think we ever got into a rhythm. Not racing in front of fans was like testing, not racing,” Tasca said. “To see sold-out places like Atlanta, Vegas, Gainesville, it just feels like we’re back.
Tasca said he considers himself extremely fortunate that his primary sponsor, Ford Motor Company, held firm in support of his team last year when the COVID-19 pandemic turned the sport of drag racing, and NHRA’s schedule, inside-out. While some teams were forced, or chose, to sack employees, Tasca was able to keep his team intact, and that continuity is paying obvious dividends in 2021.
“The guys worked really hard to come up with a coupla thousandths of a second this year,” he said. “If you look at our season last year, we lost a lot of races -- not a couple, but a lot -- by thousandths of a second, and it’s frustrating when you lose by that close of a margin. I think we found some of those thousandths of a second, and you see the car, where we lost the close races last year, we’re winning the close races this year.
“I’ve got a great group led by Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer. They’re championship-caliber crew chiefs, and even more importantly, they have great chemistry,” he added. “That’s not easy to find because you need two guys in this sport now. It’s not a one crew-chief sport anymore. They’ve won championships together.”
Their full season together -- full being a relative term given its brevity -- is paying dividends now, as is the performance of a new car they developed and built in the offseason.
Then there’s the owner/driver, who’s of the belief that he’s driving as adroitly as he has at any point in his career.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I give all the credit to the team, even the reaction time. People say, ‘How can you say that, they don’t hit the throttle,’ ” he said. “Well, as a driver, when the car’s as good as it is -- and mine’s as good as any out there -- I have so much confidence in the car it makes me a better driver.
“Having someone like Mike Neff, who’s been a Funny Car driver, he has really had a huge effect on my driving. Just being able to talk about things he’s experienced -- ‘Mike, this isn’t right’ or ‘This has got to be better -- we have really picked away at this car, not just from the tune-up standpoint, but from the driver standpoint, they’ve made me a better driver. Ninety-five percent of these wins is Mike and the guys. Obviously, the driver’s still got to get in there and do the job, but they’ve given me such a good car, it’s exciting to get in it.”
SOMETIMES STUPID *#@! HAPPENS -- BUT THAT’S RACING - All the forethought in the world can go into preparing any racing vehicle, but occasionally, cars and crew do the darndest things.
At the NHRA Southern Nationals two weeks ago, that was evident in drag racing’s premier divisions.
In Top Fuel, Clay Millican was KO’d in the first round of eliminations because his car couldn’t make a proper burnout. More on the reason why in a sec. Over in Funny Car, on consecutive days, the Funny Car campaigned by Alexis DeJoria was “timed out” because her entry couldn’t complete the staging process. More on that, too.
“Those things happen,” said Cruz Pedregon, the NHRA Funny Car champion in 1992 and 2008. “It happens in all racing. Like, circle track. Imagine if you had one banzai lap around a dirt track to get everything frickin’ right instead of 30. But that’s all you get in drag racing.
“You have one shot at it in our sport, eliminations especially. This sport does not care. You’ve got to be sharp, you’ve got to be on it or you’re going to get beat. You’ve got to have your (expletive) together or you’re going home.”
Pedregon said he once had virtually the same issue on his car that sidelined DeJoria.
“It was a deal where the body height wasn’t right, and the (starting-line) beams were reading the front lip of the car and not the tire,” he said. “I remember I backed up and did some things to overcome that. When I rolled forward, I kept rolling even though my crew chief was telling me to stop. I was thinking, ‘I think I know what’s happened. I hope I’m right.’ So I kept rolling forward until the top light came on.”
In Millican’s case, crew chief Mike Kloeber said he simply didn’t provide enough H20 in the water box for his driver to be able to execute a burnout. That led to problems that forced Millican to shut the car off, exit the car for a safe position trackside, and watch Justin Ashley get a bye run into the quarterfinals.
“That’s something that Clay and I both vowed the first time it happened; that we would never let something so simple keep us from making a run,” Kloeber said. “The first time, it happened to us at Epping, N.H., and we lost to ‘The Greek’ (Chris Karamesines).
“There's no way to describe how low your heart sinks to your feet when your car can't do a burnout and you know you have a legitimate chance of winning the round and ultimately the race. It's a feeling I hope no one ever has to experience. You feel like there are big, giant arrows pointing at you like, ‘That guy right there. He's the one who always puts the water down -- the guy who didn’t put the water down this time.’ ”
Millican said he’s not about to fault Kloeber for a mistake because “it's all of our fault, and we truly say that. I can lose on the biggest holeshot, I can red light or we can smoke the tires -- it's all on every one of us.
“Fifteen or 20 years ago or whenever we did that at Epping, we were like, ‘That’s the stupidest thing ever. How could we do that?’ And dang if we didn’t do it again.”
But oversights and unintentional mistakes are simply part of racing, right? Ohhhhh, no. Not for Mike Kloeber.
“That’s not part of my racing, I'm sorry,” he protested. “That's just inexcusable.”
Such was the case once at an IHRA race at St. Louis, when the then-Werner-sponsored dragster refused to start in the staging lanes. No matter what Kloeber and crew tried, the engine would not turn over and come to life.
When they got it back to the pits -- “and didn’t touch a thing,” Millican said -- it fired right up.
“It was as simple as us going and getting gasoline from the official fuel company and it was racing gas - high-octane stuff. But these cars want El Cheap 87 octane to start on, not race fuel. A different fuel bottle, it cranked right up.”
“That was a painful lesson,” Kloeber chipped in.
The worst case of unforced errors, in Pedregon’s opinion, happens much more frequently -- and every time he’s guilty of it, it drives him nuts.
“That’s when you have a good car and the driver screws up,” the owner/driver said.
He added with a chuckle, “If anything screws up, let it be the car, not the driver. That’s the way I look at it.”
LEARNING THE ROPES - Angelle Sampey is used to learning curves. Fortunately, she's also used to mastering them.
Sampey became proficient at riding Buells after a decade of riding nothing but a Suzuki. Then she straddled a Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson got used to that, too.
Now she's full circle aboard one of the new four-valve Suzuki bikes fielded by Vance & Hines.
"The biggest thing for me was the sound of it," Sampey explained. "I was so used to the lower RPMs of the Harley, and then going back to the higher RPMs, I felt like the motorcycle was going to blow up on me going down the racetrack. So I was short-shifting because the sound of the RPMs getting up into those 13,000 scared me, and so I'm pushing the button to save the engine when I needed to wait.
"I had to break that habit, which I think I did pretty good at the last race. I'm holding out the gears better. And then the next biggest thing, which is actually more important, is that I'm over-correcting it."
Blame it on the torque of the Harley-Davidson, but as Sampey puts it, the new Suzuki has its own kind of torque.
"You felt it more on the Harley in the bottom end of the gear," Sampey explained. “When I'd shift, it was yanking me, and it would yank the entire gear. Where these Suzukis, you feel it a little bit more at the top of the gear. It's like it winds out, and it's pulling at the top. I don't know if it's the four-valve or it's just that I haven't been on a Suzuki this powerful since 2007, or I haven't been on a Suzuki since 2007, and this one's even more powerful. It's pulling through all the gears.
"The pull is smoother if that makes any sense. Where the Harley was, like, you hit it in gear and it yanked, and this one slowly pulls hard. So it's more comfortable, it's a smoother ride. The engine sounds smoother, feels smoother than the Harley did. But the Buell that I used to ride, I called it a paint shaker. It felt like you were strapped onto a paint shaker. The Harley was way much smoother than that, but this one's even better. I love it."
In her days of riding the Harley-Davidson there was a lot of man-handling -- a term she said she hates to use -- during a pass.
"If it was going to the right, I've got to yank and yank and yank to get it to come back, and this is more of a finesse thing. If it starts to go into the right, you have to correct it, but just one time and then get back on it."
One of Sampey's tendencies has been to overcorrect, based on experience from the last few seasons. She getting better with each trip down the quarter-mile.
"It took me two full years to get 100% comfortable in that Harley," Sampey said. "I'm about 80% there already on this Suzuki. So a few more runs on the track hopefully will get it. Battled some crosswinds the first couple of times out. So hopefully if we get a good straight headwind or tailwind or no wind, I can get some good practice runs. And once I can ride it the way it needs to be ridden, you're going to really see a fast, quick motorcycle."
Sampey has already been quick and fast this season, qualifying No. 1 at the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals with a 6.742 elapsed time at 200.00 mph.
She knows what she needs to do to improve.
"I have to kind of just settle down," Sampey said. "I need to react very quickly, but smoother, not so feisty and trying to be a beast on it."
WHY NOT? - Doug Foley is smitten with drag racing. And, if he has his way this weekend, many others will be, too.
Foley launched the drag racing initiative WhyNotDragRacing.com Friday during qualifying for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
“My goal is to get this team to compete at the highest level with a full schedule,” said Foley. “I believe this new, innovative platform to bring awareness to our sport is going to benefit us and eventually many others.”
Foley has been searching for marketing partners, many of whom didn’t view the straight-line sport as a serious marketing asset.
“This is why the idea for WhyNotDragRacing.com came about,” Foley explained. “We wanted a platform to expose the product of drag racing to more people, especially business owners and those in charge of growing companies.”
Foley and partner Tim Lewis had raced together for 11 years, and after sitting on the sidelines for a period of time, they returned in 2019.
“We have everything necessary to be a top contender,” said Foley. “We just need a few partners in place where we can expand our schedule to 12 to 15 races a year.
“I don’t want people to be intimidated by what they think the cost is to be involved in drag racing. The numbers thrown around in the media are often millions of dollars. It’s not necessarily that kind of money to make a big impact with a team like ours. We have opportunities available for virtually any business owner or even a car enthusiast with the means to participate. We want the chance to talk to those folks, invite them down to our shop and see what we are all about.”
CAR-HOPPING NO BIGGIE FOR SALINAS - Mike Salinas says that pulling double duty at the Four-Wide Nationals this weekend won’t be an issue. Not in the least.
The 60-year-old racer from San Jose, Calif., is one of 18 Top Fuel dragster entrants at zMAX Dragway. He’s also among the 22 drivers competing in Pro Modified -- a vastly different animal -- for the first time.
It’s not just a matter of a speed gap of some 90 mph, there’s simply very little in common between them in terms of staging, driving … well, the list is long.
“Totally different procedures. Totally different animal,” Salinas said. (The Pro Mod), “you have the same respect for it. It’s a little bit slower in speed, but fast in the moving around.
“So I have (Gatornationals winner) Jose Gonzales, (tuner Steve) Petty, (drivers) Eric Dillard and (Khalid alBalooshi) ... helping me drive. They’ve taught me some really good things in testing, so I think we’re pretty confident in having a good time with it.”
And in alBalooshi, he has common ground, given that the racer from Dubai is a former Top Fuel competitor, too. The biggest lesson Pro Mod driving tip alBalooshi imparted to Salinas -- “Don’t hit the brakes” -- was one he forgot during preseason testing at Orlando Speedway, and he nearly tagged the retaining wall as a result.
“These are harder. These are harder,” Salinas said of the Pro Mod steed. “There’s a lot more things going on. They’re more aggressive. Top Fuel is more aggressive and just pure, raw horsepower. They’re fast.
“These are more gingerbread. You touch them. You be gentle with them. And it’s like when you first met your wife.”
THREE TIMES A GENERATION - Krista Baldwin's enthusiasm is contagious.
The third-generation Top Fuel driver is making her second start in three races since making the jump from A/Fuel Dragster. For her, the conversation starter at the ropes wasn't the beautiful, new-look golden dragster her crew had just rolled out of the hauler as much as it was her new kicks.
"I had to look swag, so we had to go out and get some custom bands, cheetah print," Baldwin said, enthusiasm prevalent. "I have to set myself apart from these other people. These people have been doing it for years. I'm fresh out here. You got to have some coolness. SoCal coolness here."
One would think being the granddaughter of Chris "The Golden Greek" Karamesines and the daughter of the late Bobby Baldwin would have been enough of a calling card.
"My personality has to shine through as well," Baldwin explained. "Driving the car is super cool, but being able to match shoes with some of my best friends out here, and we all get to drive or work on this Top Fuel car, I'm having the time of my life."
What is important to Baldwin is making her own way and not living in the shadows of her elders.
"I'm very respectful and I love where I came from, but to get where I'm going, I have to step out of that comfort zone," she said.
Baldwin made her debut at the NHRA Gatornationals in March and failed to make the 16-car field. This time around, she has to find her way into the field while battling three other cars during her three qualifying sessions.
"Pretty nervous here," Baldwin admitted. "I've talked to quite a few people out there. They said, 'Keep your cool. Just remember what lane you're in.’ "
Karamesines has always been known as a man of few words in the sport, but when it comes to his granddaughter, evidently, he's a man not shy about speaking what's on his mind.
"There's definitely a lot of advice being shared," Baldwin explained. "Some of it, yes, I take to heart. Some of it, I kind of brush it off because I don't think we've done that since the 60s, but we'll try it.”
Grandpas will be grandpas, even one unofficially credited as being the oldest credentialed driver who retired at the end of 2020.
"Over the course of Gainesville and coming into this race, just the sheer excitement that's coming from him," Baldwin said. "I mean, it's so much fun to see him looking forward to me driving the car. And he's still out here, he's still going to build racks for me and do his normal duties out here. But man, it's been so much fun."
REINVENTING THE WHEEL - Reinventing the wheel is not easy; just ask Bob Brockmeyer.
For Brockmeyer, reinventing the wheel might have been an easier proposition. The founder of drag racing’s most prominent timing system was tasked with redesigning the iconic Christmas Tree, not for the racer but for race fans.
“The driver’s side of the tree is the same as it’s always been,” Brockmeyer said. “The backside is the same, except they can see a little better. The sides are built for the spectators because with the blues tree, as they call it that we developed here for the Charlotte four-wide race years ago, the blues face the driver in the back, but people on the sides.”
The new version has a stage bulb on the top of the tree’s hat on both sides, so fans can see when both cars stage. Additionally, there are LEDs down the side that will stand out for those in the stands.
“It’s actually been in the works for about a year,” Brockmeyer admitted.
One thing about the new tree, which is expected to debut at the NHRA Springnationals in Houston later this month, it’s not energy efficient.
“When it fires, it pulls 50 amps, the DC current just to run the sidelights on it,” Brockmeyer explained. “It fires up things pretty bright. It’s like the Top Fuel of Christmas trees.”
The new unit was expected to debut at the final running of the NHRA Southern Nationals outside of Atlanta, Ga., but Brockmeyer confirmed it was damaged in transition.
“Somewhere in transport from Las Vegas to Atlanta, I-40 is a pretty rough highway, probably bounced around a bit,” Brockmeyer said. “Something shorted and hung half of a pre-stage light on the back side on.”
The damage in transit wasn’t something Brockmeyer said he was prepared for, although he’s quick to point out it was tested for virtually every other scenario of on-track action.
“We spent a lot of time going back and forth from our shop to our home track, Bandimere Speedway,” Brockmeyer revealed. “We’d test it. Go look up in the stands and say, ‘I can see that, I can’t see that.’
“And move things around. That’s what it took. It went through many revisions before we arrived at the finished product.”
What started out as a drawing on paper evolved into a complex project of many revisions.
How many revisions?
“I can’t count on both hands how many revisions it went through,” Brockmeyer surmised.
GETTING BACK ON THE HORSE - Jasmine Salinas began qualifying Friday in a new Top Alcohol Dragster built at Indy Speed Shop by Richie Crampton. Jasmine walked away from a blow-over accident in March at the Gatornationals that totaled her race car.
The Scrappers Racing crew has been hard at work over the past month and a half to ensure everything on the new car would be ready by this weekend.
“I just want to thank everyone again who helped out. More people had their hands on this car than we can list, but it was a massive team effort to get us back out for Charlotte,” Jasmine noted about the diligent work that went into the new build.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN - It’s been exactly eighteen months since Justin Ashley made his pro debut on Oct. 14, 2019. The novice driver, who had worked his way up the ranks from Junior Dragster to Top Dragster to Top Alcohol Dragster, scored a semifinal finish in his first race. The impressive maiden race was a glimpse of things to come.
“That first race in Charlotte was a blur,” said Ashley, who also earned his Top Alcohol Dragster license at zMAX. “We qualified No. 12 and our goal was to finish the weekend strong. We knew we had a team capable of having success, but we also knew the greatness of the competition we faced. We had a great day and fell short to Steve Torrence in the semifinals. It all went by very quickly, but I do remember getting more comfortable in the car throughout the day and trying to stay focused on my driving routine.”
Last season Ashley led the category in best average reaction time and has started this season leading the pack. His skills on the starting line have translated to win lights and a strong reputation already in the ultra-competitive Top Fuel class.
“I really focus on doing the best job that I can when I am on the starting line. It’s something I work on all the time,” said Ashley, a semifinal finisher at the season-opening Gatornationals. “I have an amazing team led by crew chief Mike Green and we all work together. My job is to be consistent inside the race car and give 100 percent every time we go down the track. I don’t think about who is in the other lane, I am completely focused on my routine.”
Ashley announced Friday at the track that Smart Sanitizer has come aboard as a primary sponsor of the Davis Motorsports entry for the rest of the season. It will share top billing with Strutmaster.com.
“Adding Smart Sanitizer as primary sponsor is another huge step for our Top Fuel team,” said Ashley, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year. “Our goal with our race team is to win races and also provide businesses and brands with exceptional marketing opportunities through our NHRA racing program. I am excited to represent their products and help introduce them to millions of NHRA fans around the world and at the race track starting in Charlotte this weekend.”
CORY LEE BACK IN THE SHOW - Cory Lee has a wealth of experience both as a driver and a tuner. This weekend at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, he’s bringing his driving talents to the New Englander Funny Car team and is being tuned by another cagey veteran, Johnny West.
Lee learned from some of the legends of NHRA Funny Car racing, Tom Hoover, Ed McCulloch, and Al Segrini. Most recently, Lee drove Chuck and Del Worsham’s No. 2 car in 2017.
West brings a new set of eyes to look over the program and offer guidance to the New Englander Team. West has plenty of experience in drag racing, as he has tuned or consulted for every major team in the sport.
The New Englander Nitro Team was formed by Rhea Goodrich and Bob Simmons in 1976 as a Funny Car team. Through the last 45 years, Goodrich has been racing the New Englander name in either Top Fuel or Funny Car, mostly in the northeast.
HEY, LADIES! - The sun hadn't gone down on zMAX Dragway when the second qualifying session for Top Alcohol Dragster wrapped up, but it was definitely Ladies' Night.
Five of the 15 alky dragsters on the premises are being piloted by women. At the end of the second qualifying round Friday evening, three of them occupied the top three spots in the field.
Julie Nataas led the way at 5.155, 273.72. Rachel Meyer was close behind at 5.184, 281.13 and Karen Stalba's ride clocked in at 5.187, 280.14. Megan Smith (5.67) and Jasmine Salinas (10.437) are the other women in the field.