2021 NHRA NORWALK SUMMIT NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE TOP FUEL DOMINATION CONTINUES: WHERE HAVE WE HEARD THIS BEFORE? - The Torrence steamroller keeps powering along in NHRA Top Fuel competition.
Steve Torrence claimed his fourth Camping World Drag Racing Series victory of 2021, defeating Brittany Force in Sunday’s final round of the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio.
That victory, along with dad Billy Torrence’s at the previous race, at Epping, N.H., gives the Kilgore, Texas, tandem four consecutive victories and five in the series’ seven completed races.
Steve Torrence won on a holeshot, using a better reaction time in his Capco Construction Dragster to prevail with a slower elapsed time and speed (3.736 seconds at 313.88 mph on the 1,000-foot course to Force’s 3.730, 326.24).
This 44th overall victory gave him his third victory at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park since 2017. He also won in 2019.
“It’s not Brittany and I,” Torrence said of the pairing between the Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers that some might regard as a budding rivalry. “It’s Grubby [her tuner, Dave Grubnic] and Hogan [Capco crew chief Richard Hogan]. We just drive their cars. Pretty good match-up.
“I knew I had to leave [the starting line first]. The competition level right now is so high that if you’re not on the Tree, more than likely you’ll go home. Brittany’s really picked up her game on the tree, and she was [running] [3.]70s all day – all weekend. You’ve got to go out there and throw everything you can at it and be in the right spot at the right time,” he said.
He advanced past a trip of tough customers to reach the final Sunday: Shawn Langdon, Leah Pruett, and Austin Prock. That semifinal race against Prock was an especially hard one for Torrence, who hasn’t had to battle this gritty competitor in more than a year – and probably is glad of that.
“There’s people that drive race cars, and then there’s race-car drivers. Austin Prock is a race-car driver,” Torrence said. “Whatever you put him in, he drives it well. I really had to get up on the wheel for that one.”
As for the final round, Torrence said, “Brittany’s got a fast race car, and she got everyone’s attention with that 3.69 in the semis, but our ol’ hot rod ain’t bad, either. I knew these Capco boys would give me a car good enough to win if I could just do my job at the starting line.”
He did have a bit of trouble with his staging procedure and said that was “a complete accident” and apologized to Force at the top end of the track so she didn’t think he was playing games at the starting line.
Torrence did say that he knew he “had to be on the Tree. I really expected both of our cars to run in the [3.]60s. We were spinning the tires down here pretty good at the end. But when you don’t see ’em [opponents]and you don’t know what’s going on but you can hear ’em, you just leg it. And so that’s why the mile-an-hour was down a little bit.”
Torrence has been on a torrid pace both here and on the Camping World Series tour overall since he missed this race in 2016 after experiencing a minor heart attack. (His doctors have attributed it, most likely, to radiation treatments he underwent as a teenager during his healing from Hodgkins lymphoma. He asked back in 2016 if he was able to go back to work, and the doctor said, “Sure. What do you do?” Torrence’s answer startled the doctor, but Torrence was racing his 11,000-horsepower, 330-mph dragster two weeks later.)
In six Norwalk appearances before his heart issue, he had a 6-6 record with no winners-circle appearances. Since then, he’s 14-1 with victories in 2017, 2019, and Sunday. Overall, Torrence has earned 39 of his 44 Top Fuel victories since sitting out the 2016 edition of this event. During that stretch, has won 243 of his 307 individual matches.
After reeling off a first qualifying pass Friday that came within four-thousandths of a second from tying the track elapsed-time record, he cheerfully said, “Now I’m going to go get some ice cream.” This facility is famous for its $1 per pound ice cream, which has inspired the tradition of winners receiving a special ice-cream-scoop trophy along with the Wally statue. Now he has the ice cream and the scoop and the Wally trophy.
Torrence joined other winners Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Force’s runner-up finish, her second of the year, salved the sting of first-round exits at her previous two events.
She had said before the event started that she and her team are “going back to old approaches, attacking every run. Playing it safe is easy, comfortable but, we're going back to pushing the limits, because that's what David Grubnic, Mac Savage, and this Flav-R-Pac / Monster Energy team are capable of.” She said this weekend she would be “chasing records, going after the No. 1 qualifier, and focused on going rounds on race day. We’re hoping to turn our luck around in Norwalk.”
Ultimately, the luck, the results belonged to Torrence once again. Susan Wade
PEDREGON COLLECTS EMOTIONAL FIRST WIN SINCE 2018 AT SUMMIT NHRA NATIONALS - Cruz Pedregon is quite an accomplished racer.
He is a two-time NHRA Funny Car champion. He has more than three dozen national event victories and 61 top qualifier awards. His nearly 600 round win tally is among the best in the sport.
So why, moments after collecting his 37th career victory Sunday at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, did he call it the biggest win of his career?
“It is the biggest win of my career because of what we had to go through to get here,” an emotional Pedregon said.
And what he has had to go through is an emotional roller coaster on and off the track.
In October, Pedregon’s co-crew chief was killed in his first year with the team when he was struck by a car while walking back from a restaurant in Texas. Behind the wheel, Pedregon has undergone challenges as well. He has only three final round visits in the past six years, accompanying a number of mental mistakes, including a string of run-ins with the wall this season.
“We have gone through a lot. The tragedy of losing Eric Lane. When you lose someone like that, such a young guy, it is tough. I thought about Eric before running the final today and I got a little emotional,” Pedregon said. “I was also able to put the wall scraping behind me. I really felt like I was letting the team down. I thought, ‘I don’t want to get in a rut because we do have a good car and a good team.’ They are proven winners. I really had to go back and start from scratch on myself.”
On Sunday, Pedregon was able to put the trials and tribulations of the past year - and really the past few seasons - behind him when he collected his first NHRA Wally since 2018 with a thrilling holeshot victory over a red-hot Bob Tasca.
Pedregon used a slight starting line advantage - a .053 to a .100 - to dispatch Tasca with a 3.958-second pass at 324.75 mph in his Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car. Tasca, who was looking for his third win of the year and back-to-back victories at Summit Motorsports Park, crossed the stripe with a 3.913 at 332.02 mph in his Ford Motorcraft/Quicklane Ford Mustang to take the runner-up spot.
“I really felt I drove well today and the car was good,” Pedregon said. “We kicked a rod out in the semis and these guys thrashed. They were pushing the show because of the weather, but I had every confidence in the world that when I hit the throttle up there I was going to be safe.”
Of course, even in victory, it wouldn’t be a race weekend without some type of drama as Pedregon discovered moments after mashing the throttle in his final round race.
“I hit the throttle and all of a sudden the cockpit filled with smoke,” Pedregon said. “So I am going down the track not knowing if it is on fire, but it was still pulling. As a driver, you want to sell out. You want to give everything you have to the guys that put in the time and work during the week. And now here we are.”
Pedregon started the weekend from the ninth position on the ladder - his first start outside of the top eight all season - and recorded wins over Tim Wilkerson, Robert Hight and Alexis DeJoria on his way to his 77th career final round.
Pedregon upped his game in each of the first two rounds of eliminations, posting personal best times with a 3.973 and a 3.959, with the latter marking an impressive side-by-side victory over Hight. That race showcased a 3.959 at 326.24 mph to a 3.986 at 321.50 mph.
After a lengthy rain delay, Pedregon got back at it with a holeshot victory over DeJoria - a 3.947 to a 3.941 - as he recorded his quickest pass of the weekend to advance to his first final round since winning at Charlotte in 2018.
“The competition is really tough and we went through a tough field today,” Pedregon said. “When you are talking about Robert Hight, he is probably one of the best two or three diver/car combos out here. Tim has been really running well and Alexis has emerged now with Del (Worsham). And of course Tasca has won a couple of races this season.
“When you go through the field we have gone through, that is a nice feeling. They are going to get their licks in on us, but I really feel like we are going to get better as the year goes along.”
Tasca, who maintained the points lead in the Funny Car class when he defeated John Force in round two, had wins over Blake Alexander, Force and Ron Capps. With Tasca’s win over Force, and Pedregon’s victory over Hight, it ended a three-race win streak by the John Force Racing team.
Pedregon was most excited to achieve his first career victory with accomplished tuner John Collins calling the shots. Collins most recently led the MD Anderson Cancer Center nitro Funny Car team and driver Tommy Johnson Jr. to a second-place points finish in the 2020 season. Collins was joined by the entire crew that powered Johnson Jr. to four final rounds and three wins last season.
“I believe in J.C. and Rip (Reynolds) and these guys. They are proven winners,” Pedregon said. “I feel like the sky's the limit with this team. I am going to get better at driving. I am not really where I want to be yet. I feel like J.C. is going to get better. It is hard to quantify, but if we can keep qualifying in the top half of the field every week and racing these guys like we have been, we have a shot to do some really special things.” Larry Crum
ENDERS BESTS ANDERSON IN CLASSIC PRO STOCK FINAL AT NHRA SUMMIT NATIONALS - Greg Anderson was the No. 1 qualifier. He was the quickest car through all four rounds of eliminations. And he had all the motivation in the world, sitting one win shy of tying Warren Johnson atop the all-time Pro Stock win list.
Then Erica Enders happened.
In a classic matchup between two of the best drivers in the history of the Pro Stock category, Enders did what she does best with a lightning-quick reaction time to beat Anderson on a holeshot and prevent him tying Johnson’s mark at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. With the win, Enders earned her second Wally of the year and her first at Summit Motorsports Park since 2014.
“I wanted that one bad,” an elated Enders said moments after climbing from her car. “It was so killer to go against our arch-nemesis and one of the baddest dudes Pro Stock has ever seen. He is gunning for his 100th win, trying to rack them up to beat Warren Johnson. To be able to go out there and run with him and turn the beacon on is huge for me.”
Enders flew under the radar most of the afternoon, recording relatively easy victories from the No. 3 spot on the ladder en route to meeting Anderson for the 40th time in their storied careers. Enders, like her fellow competitors, also had to deal with numerous delays brought about by persistent afternoon showers that bombarded the Norwalk, Ohio, based racing facility.
Roughly three hours after the final round was originally scheduled to take place, Enders met up with Anderson on a green racetrack and the two went to work.
Enders posted an incredible .005 reaction time in her Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro for Elite Motorsports, getting every tick of performance out of the car to claim a holeshot victory with a 6.606-second pass at 205.44 mph.
Anderson crossed the stripe with a quicker and faster 6.594 at 206.20 mph in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro - his best elapsed time of the entire weekend - but it was not enough to overcome his opponent.
“I knew I could be 10 up there and I was a five. I tried to put everything out of my head with the rain delay. I knew we were going to have a great track, so I am doing the math in my head and I know I am going to be close, but you can’t back down. Not against a guy like that,” Enders said. “He wants to kick my butt just as badly as I want to kick his, I can assure you that. This stems back to the beginning of my career when he made that comment that he didn’t want to be the first guy to lose to a girl. I think I have earned my stripes and I am not looked at any differently now.
“To go toe-to-toe with the best in the business like that is really awesome.”
Enders had a relatively quiet weekend, by her own standards, matching up with a handful of relatively green drivers in the Pro Stock category.
She easily dispatched of Cristian Cuadra and Elite Motorsports teammate Bruno Massel in the opening rounds. She overcame a starting line disadvantage in round one with a 6.674 at 206.95 mph to defeat Cuadra to open the day, followed by a wire-to-wire win over Massel with a 6.647 at 207.34 mph before the first round of storms washed over the track.
Following a lengthy delay, Enders again had to overcome a quicker opponent at the starting line as Anderson’s KB Racing teammate Kyle Koretsky posted a .008 reaction time in his Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro, but Enders was able to quickly drive around him with a 6.643 to a 6.660 to collect the win.
“We have a running joke here that we win as a team and we lose as a driver,” Enders said with a laugh. “But we have a lot of fun together as a team. When their backs are against the wall, they rise to the occasion every single time. They were up there on the radio before we fired the car pumping me up so I could go up there and rip the tree. These guys work their entire lives for moments like this and this means the world to them just like it does to me.
“And to be able to park a JEGS car in the winner’s circle at a Summit race is always fun.”
Anderson, who collected his sixth pole position in seven races this season, reached his fourth final of the year, holding a 2-2 record in those matchups. On Sunday, he defeated Fernando Cuadra, Val Smeland and Matt Hartford to reach his 162 career final round.
He had low elapsed time in every round of eliminations.
For Enders, Sunday marked a turnaround for the team that has struggled since winning at Las Vegas back in April. The team had slipped from second to fifth in the Pro Stock points since that win, with Enders holding only a 4-4 round record over the past four races until her breakout win on Sunday.
“(Crew chiefs) Mark Ingersoll and Tim Freeman have fought this racecar for the past couple of months since our Vegas win, but they were able to get a handle on it today,” Enders said. “We were making significant changes with the car and they just dug deep and went after it. I am so lucky they are mine.”
After the win, Enders also took a moment to remember racer Kyle Seipel who lost his battle with cancer on June 21.
“That win was definitely for Kyle Seipel and his family,” Enders said. “What that guy did for big money bracket racing is unheard of and he fought a really great fight. We will celebrate this one in his memory for sure.” Larry Crum
MATT SMITH INTERRUPTS JOHNSON’S MOMENTUM WITH RAIN-PLAGUED PRO STOCK BIKE VICTORY AT NORWALK - People chuckle that drag racers compete for just a few seconds. That might be true, but during eliminations at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, Pro Stock Motorcycle finalists Matt Smith and Steve Johnson discovered those few seconds – just a single round – can be spread over several hours.
The NHRA almost completed two rounds Sunday before brisk winds and heavy rain moved in, leaving only one pair of Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors, No. 1 qualifier Steve Johnson and opponent Angie Smith, at the starting line. Already advancing to the semifinals were Eddie Krawiec, Joey Gladstone, and Matt Smith.
But the Smith team and Johnson waited it out, and in the end it came down to the Smith team and Johnson – Matt Smith and Steve Johnson. It was a juicy match-up for fans who have enjoyed the behind-the-scenes drama in the past year or two between those two as they quarreled about Smith’s term “hobby racer” and Johnson’s animated protests.
Another brief rain shower delayed the showdown. Finally, the spoils went to Smith, who used a 6.782-second elapsed time at 200.56 mph to end Johnson’s momentum. Johnson countered with a 6.836, 196.10.
Johnson had won the four-wide race at Charlotte in the previous appearance for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. And he had swiped the top starting spot in the final qualifying session Saturday. Johnson was on a roll.
And four-time series champion Smith said after celebrating his 28th overall victory and second this season that he thinks he’s largely responsible for Johnson’s rededication to his craft.
“Steve stepped his game up,” Smith said. “They say we’ve had a rivalry and we’ve had words before. But probably my words of him being a hobby racer has probably made him work harder, because now he’s become a fulltime racer and is doing his own motor program. And look what it’s done for him.”
Smith said, “You just got to work hard out here. And people that work hard, it shows up. That just shows ya – he stepped his game up, and we’ve been on our game for the last three years. And trust me, me and Angie [wife/business partner, riding teammate Smith] work hard in that shop. We take care of all four of these motorcycles.”
The winner said his day – regardless of the weather – was a tough one. He had to get past Jianna Salinas, Las Vegas winner and Gatornationals runner-up Ryan Oehler, and Joey Gladstone to reach the final round.
“The first round, when you’ve got a fast bike, you just want to turn the win light on. It doesn’t matter what your actual time is, what your E.T. is and all that. But I had to race Jianna. The last time I raced Jianna, it cost me the championship,” Smith said. “I told somebody, ‘I hope she didn’t find that horseshoe she lost at Pomona.’ But anyway, we got past Jianna.
“And we had Ryan Oehler. I knew we just had to turn it [the win light] green, and we had a better bike than he did. We got our job done there,” he said.
“Then I had to take on Eddie Krawiec. They’re tough,” Smith said of the Vance & Hines contingent that includes Andrew Hines and Angelle Sampey – multi-time champions all, just like himself. “As for Krawiec’s bike, Smith said, “All that is is a Buell bodywork with a Harley motor in it. We know how fast their motors are. They’ve got the aerodynamic package that we have now. They’re a contender. They just don’t have all their ducks in a row, but they’ll be back – they’re here.”
Smith called this victory “very satisfying” and said, “It’s hard to do this out here. This is the top of the line for motorcycle racing. To come out here and do this, I feel privileged. I’ve been honored to be able to do it.
“We have a good team. We had a great team last year, and we won four of the eight races with our team. And this year, now it’s our second – and Scotty [Pollacheck] has won one this year [at Atlanta]. So out of five races, we’ve won three of ’em.”
He said he was proud of riders Angie Smith and Pollacheck but also his crew member Nate and the team’s “new guy, Cookie Man.”
Smith said, “We have a great team. And as long as you keep the team intact, normally everything goes good.”
It has gone exceptionally well so far for Matt Smith Racing. Susan Wade
BLOWING S&%@ UP SINCE 2007 - There are races, and then there are spectacles.
And it is known far and wide that events at Summit Motorsports Park fall under the latter category.
In fact, you could say that the Bader family really likes blowing stuff up and setting things on fire.
Beginning with the father, Bill Bader Sr., and carrying over to the son, Bill Bader Jr., the Bader family has been putting on shows alongside their NHRA national events for nearly two decades.
Formerly home of the World Nationals with the International Hot Rod Association from 1981 to 2006, the former Norwalk Dragway and, later, Norwalk Raceway Park, became one of the crown jewel events on the IHRA schedule.
In 2007, Ohio-based automotive parts company Summit Racing Equipment purchased the naming rights to the facility. The Pontiac Performance NHRA Nationals, previously held at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio, between 1972 and 2006, found its new home at Summit Motorsports Park. And with a new name, a new partner, and new expectations, the Bader family knew they were going to have to step up their game if they wanted to make a splash on the big stage of the NHRA.
Beginning with the inaugural event in 2007, the Baders added a fireworks display that would rival many cities around the country on the Friday night “under the lights” portion of the event, all with patriotic music blaring over the speakers. He also continued his partnership with some of the top jet car and jet truck teams in the country to put on a show after the final round of nitro qualifying during the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
“People come to Summit Motorsports Park to be entertained and we are responsible for ensuring that they are,” said Bill Bader Jr., Summit Motorsports Park president. “It was with that in mind that we began adding feature elements, like fireworks and a jet engine-powered vehicle, to make an enthralling show even more enthralling.”
And one of the longest-standing entertainment elements at the event is the grand finale each Friday night produced by jet truck legend Bob Motz. Aboard his jet-powered Kenworth, Motz closes the show during the evening portions of the race weekend with a fire show and the “burning down” of the sponsor signs located behind the burnout box. While many races have jets, wheelstanders, and fireworks, no one does it quite like the Bader family, earning them the moniker as the P.T. Barnum of drag racing after the famous founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
“Bob Motz puts on a great show for everyone. And he did it again last night for everyone who waited out the rain with the fire, flames, smoke, burner pops and daunting music that he is famous for,” said Bader Jr. “He has always had a lot of fans here at Summit Motorsports Park, and he made a lot more with his performance last night.”
Of course, rain forced the cancellation of the fireworks portion of the program on Friday, leaving Bader disappointed that he was not able to conclude the night qualifying session with its signature mark.
“We were really disappointed that rain-related delays prevented us from having our fireworks show on Friday,” said Bader Jr. “We know that fans love the pyrotechnics and the patriotic music, and we can’t wait to give them that, and more, next time.”
Of course, no mention of Summit Motorsports Park and its fan-favorite elements, would be complete without the mention of the ice cream. In a tradition dating back to 1987, Summit Motorsports Park offers a pound of ice cream for a dollar at each of its NHRA national events, something you can’t find anywhere else in the country.
“It was my dad’s idea, and it is far more popular than we imagined it would be,” said Bader Jr. “In fact, we sell more than 50,000 pounds of ice cream each year. Fans want it whether it’s hot outside, like this weekend, or cold outside, and we love to see them enjoying it.”
A FAREWELL TOUR (SORT OF) - It is the elephant in the room. Or in this case, the new team in the pits.
Antron Brown is gearing up to leave Don Schumacher Racing after a long and storied run with the company, winning championships with the team in 2012, 2015 and 2016.
Brown, who has 52 wins in Top Fuel, will be starting up his own operation in 2022 under the banner of the AB Motorsports Top Fuel team. Brown will be taking with him his entire operation and crew as the team ventures out into the wild, wild west of team ownership.
“I’ve always been excited. It has been a dream of mine for years. And not just me, but Brian Corradi, Brad Mason, Mark Oswald, this whole Matco Tools team that we have together,” Brown said. “Of course, it is not just excitement. We are nervous. It is a big deal to do this and it is going to take each and every one of us. It is going to take all of the guys on this team digging deep and pulling together to make this happen. Being out here with all of our partners and people from Matco, this is what we live for.
“They all own their own businesses and they have been pushing me for years to follow in their footsteps. And that is exactly what I am doing.”
While it is nothing new for a driver or crew to break away from a larger team to start their own operation, in each of those instances the results have been mixed. Some have found success, while others have not. But Brown is determined not to measure his successes or failures based on past precedent. He knows that his situation is unique and he is determined to see it work on and off the track.
“At the end of the day, everybody’s scenario and situation is totally different,” Brown said. “Ours is no different. We are on a whole different end of the realm and the main thing is having a team. Having those partners that stand behind you and are part of your brand. We’ve got a lot of great partnerships that are chipping in and a lot more that will be announced at the end of this year.
“We are very stoked and very blessed and honored to represent the people that we do right now. The partners that have been behind us for all of those years. They are carrying us to the next level.”
Of course, while it is fully out in the open that Brown is leaving DSR at the end of the season, it is far from the end of the relationship.
Brown will use Schumacher parts and pieces and lean heavily on his old team to make his new venture work in 2022 and beyond. And that has made it easier to treat the coming months as more of a branching out rather than a full breakup with the company.
“It is never going to be a farewell tour with this group. We are going to be leaning heavily on DSR to make this thing work,” Brown said. “We will still have our foot in the door. It is kind of like when a dad says, ‘son, you are on your own now,’ but at the same time I’m still leaning on them to get through and help us. It is truly a special relationship.”
And relationships are what make a race team.
While there is plenty on the mind of Brown as he balances his plans for 2022 while also campaigning a championship-contending ride this year, Brown could be seen in the pits taking the time to show a young intern the ins and outs of the car. It was just another example of how Brown doesn’t let the big things get in the way of what is most important - the team.
“At Don Schumacher Racing we have an internship with Western Tech. We have a new Western Tech puts all of these students in real life situations so they can be successful. They get to come out here and be on the road with us for three weekends and what you saw was a new intern who is learning what we do out here on a routine basis,” Brown said. “It is so cool to see them pick it up so quickly because they always send us the best of the best. I could see him being out here really soon on a race team working if that is what he chooses to do. We try to show them every aspect of the car and make them appreciate what it takes to make these things go. And when you train up good crew members, that is how you have a championship-caliber team.”
Brown put in a good showing for his DSR team this weekend, placing his Matco Tools dragster sixth on the ladder with a 3.790 at 317.87 mph. He will face Doug Kalitta in round one on Sunday.
WILD RIDE - In more than 20 years atop a motorcycle, Kelly Clontz had never experienced an incident. Not once. Ever.
But, as they say, there is a first time for everything.
On Friday, Clontz experienced her first-ever major issue when she was thrown from her Suzuki at the top end of the racetrack following a pass of 7.281 seconds at 178.02 mph. The brakes locked up on her two-wheel ride and the bike tilted on its side, sending Clontz on a wild ride just shy of the sand trap.
She stood up under her own power and was checked and released by the NHRA safety team, but it was a scary incident for the veteran racer.
“Unfortunately, you go down the track and you try to get a pass on the board. You want to be on the sheet. It wasn’t a great run and my first instinct was actually to get out of it, but I stayed in it because I didn’t feel threatened,” Clontz said. “Once I got to the finish line, I was slowing up and the brakes locked up. At that point there was nothing I could do and it just flung me off the bike.”
Clontz remembers vividly every moment of the run and the top-end incident and remembers her first thought was to grab her head and prepare for anything.
“My first instinct was to just grab my head. I grabbed my head and I rolled and I was thinking, ‘my husband is going to be so mad at me,’” Clontz said with a laugh. “I am just thankful to be ok. I am fine. The only thing that is hurt is my pride.
“This is my first incident ever. I have been racing motorcycles since 2002 and this was the first.”
So, does the veteran racer have any hesitation about getting back on the bike after experiencing her first wild ride?
“I trust myself and I think the next time I will probably make a better decision and just go with my gut and try not to stay in it when I know that it is not a great run,” Clontz said. “I could have just shut it off. I didn’t have a good run and then we could come back today and I should have. You have six seconds to think about it and you have to make your best possible decision in that six seconds. It just wasn’t a good one this time.”
Clontz was not able to get her bike back out on Saturday, leaving her 18th of the 19th bikes on the property.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF SEASON - The strategy was simple in 2020 - win every race, for you never know when it might be your last.
With a moving target last year brought about by the pandemic, teams were left scrambling week to week not knowing how many races there would be. Would the season last just four races? Six races? 10 races? As events dropped off the schedule and others were added, it was a hectic year for the teams capable of contending for an NHRA championship.
With so much uncertainty plaguing the teams, the answer became clear - win as many races as you can and don’t worry about anything else.
“Last year you had to just keep going. You never knew how many races you were going to get in, when it was going to stop,” Hagan said. “You were just trying to stay in the lead for as long as possible to win the championship.”
Of course, we all know how that strategy played out last year.
Don Schumacher Racing famously swept all 11 races held in Funny Car in 2020 on their way to claiming the top four spots in the standings and yet another Funny Car championship. With no Countdown to mess with the points, Hagan paced the field to the tune of three wins in five final rounds as he held off Tommy Johnson Jr. to win his third title.
It was a combination of a number of factors that led to the dominance. First, the all-out, no-time-for-testing approach left all four DSR cars on kill all season long. Second, other teams sat out last year including the equally dominant John Force Racing cars. And third, and possibly most important, the team enjoyed four cars to bounce information off of and push each team to the limit.
“It was great. DSR dominated, but we had twice as many cars as we do now,” Hagan said. “We had good drivers and good crew chiefs as well. They never really shared that much information. Those guys got along, they bounced some stuff off of each other, but they mostly do their own thing. But it wasn’t really about information sharing, it was just having two more good cars out there to be competitive with that pushed us to race so hard last year.”
Of course, things a little different this year. Don Schumacher Racing is down two cars after funding issues forced the ouster of Jack Beckman and Johnson. The cars that sat out last year, including the pair of John Force and Robert Hight, are back. And with a full season ahead, it is back to the old approach of a marathon after what was very much a sprint last year.
“With this year being a real season, you have the whole Countdown in play again and last year you had to come out and you don’t know when it is going to be your last race,” Hagan said. “Every point matters. So we come back with a new chassis and we are trying new things again. We want to win as much as we can for our sponsors, but you still have to evolve and try new things. And that is what we have done these first four or five races.”
After going a perfect 11-for-11 last year, DSR has yet to visit victory lane in 2021, with only a runner-up each from Hagan and teammate Ron Capps to show for their season. The team has been competitive, regularly qualifying in the top half of the field and going multiple rounds, but it hasn’t been the show of force the team managed last year. But that is starting to turn around.
Last week Hagan claimed the No. 1 qualifying spot - his first of the season - and though it was met with a second round exit to Tim Wilkerson, the team is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. This weekend, Hagan again flexed some muscle with the third-best time in qualifying.
“Last weekend we were trying to get back to where we need to be with our combo and our setup and we were the No. 1 qualifier. We are right there. We have been losing these races by a couple hundredths. It is not like we are smoking the tires and giving these races away,” Hagan said. “We have just been on the backside of a bunch of good drag races. We need to push harder and be more aggressive. I feel good about the way things are going. Our lights are really good and I feel confident in the car.
“I don’t see why it won’t come around and be our time soon.”
While the wins haven’t been piling up, Hagan said he is grateful to see all of the teams back to full strength this season as that gives his team more competition and more motivation to go out there and be the best.
“I’m glad to see Force back out here. Congrats to him. (Bob) Tasca is over there running our chassis and he’s won two in a row,” Hagan said. “It is one of those things where there are a bunch of good cars, but I feel like we are right there about to be back in the mix with them.”
KING OF NORWALK - Steve Torrence has been nearly unbeatable at Summit Motorsports Park since missing the race in 2016 due to a medical issue.
Since that race, Torrence has two wins and a 10-1 round record. During that run, however, Torrence has never started better than third at the track.
On Sunday, he placed his Capco Contractors dragster first on the ladder with a 3.705 at 324.83 mph - his first-ever pole position at the track. He will get Shawn Langdon in round one.
6-OF-7 - Not too shabby.
Greg Anderson made it six pole positions in seven races on Saturday as he unseated Aaron Stanfield with a 6.602-second pass at 206.54 mph to earn his sixth No. 1 qualifier of the year and 112th of his career.
Anderson will face Fernando Cuadra in round one on Sunday.
PUT ME IN COACH - After suffering through an inner ear infection and slight dizziness during the first round of qualifying Friday night at Summit Motorsports Park, Clay Millican has been replaced by Austin Prock in the Stringer Performance Parts Plus dragster at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Norwalk.
“Earlier this week Clay went to the doctor for a normal checkup and they checked his ears and they found out that he had a slight inner ear infection. His hearing hadn’t changed much, so we didn’t think too much of it,” said Doug Stringer, owner of Stringer Performance. “Then on Friday he got in the car and he hit the button and he got dizzy. He got out of the gas and came back and told us and at that point we said let’s not push the envelope and let’s take the opportunity to go get it checked out. The report I just got back is that Clay is all good. He does have an inner ear infection and he is going to have to let it run its course and we will be good to go.”
In his place, Stringer named 2019 NHRA Rookie of the Year Austin Prock as his replacement driver on loan from John Force Racing to re-qualify the car on Saturday and run the elimination rounds on Sunday. Prock got the call Friday night that he would be driving the car for the remainder of the weekend.
“I was already really excited to come to Norwalk. (Bill) Bader always puts on a great show. We’ve been on quite the streak with my old man's hot rod over there in John Force and Robert Hight. And then to get a call like this last night, it is pretty special,” Prock said. “It makes you feel good inside that people you know respect what you do and trust me to drive the racecar. These things aren’t cheap and it takes a lot of talent and skill to do this right. For them to believe in me, that is pretty sweet.”
And Stringer agreed, it was a no-brainer to tap Prock to drive the car for the remainder of the Norwalk race weekend.
“It really was between Austin, Larry Dixon and Tommy Johnson Jr. Austin is a good kid and he wants to get back in the driver’s seat, so if we have the opportunity to help somebody make an opportunity for themselves while we are working through our stuff, that is what it is all about,” Stringer said. “It was a group decision to go with Austin. And it certainly helped that he fit into Clay’s fire suit without any problem. He actually fit into Clay’s shoes as well.
“We are excited to have Austin with us this weekend and see what he can do. Clay will be back at it in Denver and we will continue on.”
While Prock molded perfectly into Clay’s spot, he admits that the car itself took him by surprise after previously running a dragster for John Force Racing.
“This thing is totally different,” Prock said. “There isn’t one thing that is the same on this car that I am used to. There is a lot more going on in his routine. Clay Millican and (Mike) Kloeber, they do this stuff old school. It is a lot of fun to drive. I was a little rusty, but overall I thought I had a nice first lap.”
And what a first lap it was.
After Millican shut it off Friday night, leaving the car 13th on the ladder, Prock bounced back in his first pass in more than a year with a 3.764 at 323.35 mph in the hazy afternoon heat, firmly locking the car into the field in fourth spot. He will face Krista Baldwin in round one on Sunday.
“We got off to a great start,” Prock said. “We got two points by being second-lowest of the session and we placed ourselves fourth on the ladder. We will see what we can do with this car tomorrow.”
Prock had a breakout season in 2019, winning a race and showing the makings of a potential star, but he didn’t race for most of 2020 and had not made an appearance in Top Fuel until this weekend. This weekend marks his first race since February of 2020.
“This last year and a half has been really hard on me. Losing my ride and coming out and working on them and not getting that adrenaline rush was disappointing,” Prock said. “This was an opportunity that you can’t say no to. I am young and this is what I want to do. To turn down something like this I would be crazy. I am just having a blast. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”
RIDING HIGH - The last time we saw Steve Johnson, he was doing something he hadn’t done in a very, very long time.
At the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte in mid-May, Johnson drove a masterful race to earn his first victory in seven years. On a historic weekend in the class, Johnson made the third quickest pass in class history in the final round on his Mac Rak Suzuki. While it was Johnson’s seventh career victory in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, it was his first since Gainesville in 2014.
Of course, with the sporadic nature of the motorcycle category on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series tour, Johnson has had five weeks to soak it in. And, he admits, five weeks might not have even been enough.
“I was so happy that we had the five weeks to celebrate. If we had had seven weeks, I would have enjoyed it even more,” Johnson said. “I was getting texts from all of these people saying, ‘how long are you going to celebrate this?’ We have made the most of it. We even had a party at the shop where we invited the entire police department, fire department and the city workers. We had a couple hundred people in our shop in Birmingham. Then I flew all over and sent trophies to all of our partners. We bought a tremendous amount of trophies and gave them out to all of the sponsors and manufacturers and all of our partners because it is so important to us.”
Johnson said that after such a long stretch between wins, you start to doubt if it will ever happen again. And when it does, it makes you appreciate the victory all that much more.
“You have to celebrate. Your soul is part of all of the effort your body and your mind goes through. So when you win, you have to celebrate so your soul realizes there is a carrot there to go after,” Johnson said.
Of course, Johnson remembers vividly the last time that he won a race. After earning a victory at the 2014 Gatornationals, the very next race Johnson failed to qualify. So when he came to Norwalk this weekend, that was top of his mind after five weeks away.
“When we won the first race of the year in 2014, we put a big No. 1 on the back of the trailer that was about 12 foot tall. We were having fun with it. We drove around with it and showed off,” Johnson said. “Then we DNQ the next race. So I am like, ‘we don’t want to DNQ after winning this time.’”
It is safe to say Johnson doesn’t have to worry about that.
Johnson followed up his win with his first No. 1 qualifier since Charlotte in 2019 Saturday at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk.
After briefly holding the top spot during Q2, Johnson took it back for good in the final qualifying session with a solid 6.789 at 198.44 mph to hold off Eddie Kraweic who had a 6.807 at 201.49 mph.
While the accolades of being the defending NHRA winner and now the No. 1 qualifier, Johnson said he was most excited by the fans coming out and talking about what his win meant to them.
“Being back out here with the fans is so cool. It is really, really cool to see the fans who say they were watching. They saw the interview. They woke up their husband because I was in the final,” Johnson said. “All of those stories were so cool to hear. It just makes this really, really special.”
TOP FUEL VS. PRO MOD - They are two of the quickest, fastest and baddest race machines on the planet.
A Top Fuel dragster, the fastest accelerating race machine on earth reaching speeds in excess of 330 mph, vs. a Pro Modified, a wild, unpredictable car that is known as much for its carnage as it is for its highlight-reel passes.
While the two race machines are very different disciplines typically wrestled by very distinct drivers, this weekend one man is trying to tackle both classes at once. Mike Salinas.
Salinas drives both the Scrappers Top Fuel dragster alongside a ProCharger-equipped Camaro in the Pro Mod class and says he enjoys the two different disciplines so much so that he simply can’t pick a favorite.
“That is an unfair question for one simple reason. Top Fuel is the baddest thing on the planet. You can’t take that away from the car. It is awesome,” Salinas said. “But in Pro Mod, it is another amazing animal that requires so much more work behind the wheel. I am just lucky I get to do them both.”
So which one comes out on top?
“I’ve got them even,” Salinas said with a laugh. “There is not one better than the other. Pro Mod is the modern day Fuel Altered and it is a handful and keeps you on your toes. Then you get to come and drive the dragster, it feels different and is crazy fast. I love them both the same.”
Of course, the biggest challenge associated with pulling double duty during a race weekend is quickly jumping from one machine to the other with only a few moments between runs. That, Salinas admits, is probably the most challenging part, though he has been working hard to get better at compartmentalizing the two.
“They are two different animals, but it is not as hard as it seems,” Salinas said. “You are not doing the same sequences. There is more to do in the Pro Mod than the dragster, but everything you do is different. Thankfully, I’ve got some great people teaching me some really good things on how to keep them separate and it is working.”
While Pro Mod is more of a hobby, Top Fuel is where Salinas’ true passion lies.
And after one missed race and three first-round exits, Salinas finally started to turn a corner last weekend in Epping with a No. 2 spot on the ladder and a run to the final where he lost to Billy Torrence. This weekend, Salinas placed the Scrappers machine in fifth place on the ladder with a 3.776 at 314.17 mph.
So what has changed from those early-round exits to now?
They found “it.”
“We have been missing it by something small. We know what it is and we have fixed it,” Salinas said. “Epping was a great test session for us. We know our car is back now and now all we have to do is do what we know and we will be fine.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON - One week ago at the New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire, Mason McGaha did something he has done only once before in one-on-one competition - eliminate his dad.
The first time McGaha beat his father in Pro Stock competition came at the fourth Indianapolis race of the 2020 season in his NHRA debut. The next time came just last weekend as McGaha defeated his father Chris McGaha in the opening round with a 6.573 to a 6.581.
It is an interesting dynamic as the two drivers share information and parts, but on the track, it is every man for himself.
“Dad knows that I don’t really like to race him because I know how he is and his tendencies,” Mason said. “But he can also pull something together out of nowhere and that makes it fun. I know that he hasn’t shown too much this year, but it is coming.
“We both just have to get all of our ducks in a row. I just don’t want to be the guy to get taken down.”
So what was the atmosphere like in the pits last weekend after Mason’s first-round defeat of dear ol’ dad?
“We tease each other every chance we can get. At the house, around the car, at the races, we just have fun with it,” Mason said. “We like to go back and forth. But that is what makes this so much fun. This is all I’ve ever known. It is what we do and it is great we get to do it together.”
Coming into the weekend, Mason is third in the championship standings, while Chris is 10th. But Mason’s team has suffered a number of issues including having no oil pressure in round one of qualifying and having a throttle linkage get loose during the second round of qualifying.
He was eventually able to get the car down the track, but it was only to the tune of 13th on the ladder with a weekend-best 6.683 at 207.05 mph. He will match up with Matt Hartford in round one on Sunday.
“We’ve had success here in the past, but for me this weekend, we would be better off back at the waterpark right now. Anywhere but here,” Mason said. “It is simple mistakes. I guess we just have to go over that a little bit better and make sure we know what we are doing.”
A MCGAHA REBUTTAL - To Mason Mcgaha, last weekend’s victory over his father Chris was a fun chance to show up dad on the racetrack. For Chris McGaha, it represented a bit of a changing of the guard.
While Chris is certainly used to stiff competition on Sunday’s coming in the form of teams like KB Racing and Elite Motorsports, having his son part of that gauntlet only adds to the degree of difficulty. But he is up for the challenge - as long as it doesn’t occur in the first round.
“I would really rather not race him in the first round so I don’t have to be a first round loser,” Chris said with a laugh. “But this is a fun deal. This is what it is all about.”
This season hasn’t seen the usual level of performance from Chris, an eight-time Pro Stock winner on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour. But he admits that the performance has shifted a bit from himself to his younger teammate.
“We have an A team and a B team and I think everybody knows who the A team is. And it is not me,” Chris said. “We joke about it all of the time. When we raced last week, he is higher in the points, so I just assumed he would win and keep being higher in the points.”
But Chris said that the team doesn’t let their fun little family rivalry get in the way of true competition, evident last week when Chris was eliminated and the team went to work on advancing Mason to the semifinals.
“We went back and everybody pitched in to get his car ready to keep going rounds,” Chris said.
Now, the team has to start getting over a few gremlins. Last week Chris suffered through a gauntlet of issues, followed by Mason this week in Norwalk. The team is ready for the issues to be behind them and for both cars to have a good run in the same weekend and hopefully meet in the latter rounds as opposed to round one.
“I am still trying to get over all of the problems I had in Epping. I sucked in Epping. We blew a motor and got behind and I think I am trying to dig out of that hole still,” Chris said. “That blue car over there, the gremlins are over on that side this weekend. I don’t know why, but it is. It happens. But that is Pro Stock for you.”
Chris qualified eighth Saturday in Norwalk, placing himself in the top half of the field after two races below the line. He will face Val Smeland in round one on Sunday.
CELEBRATING DAD - Earlier this year Mike Bucher achieved a lifelong goal when he competed in Top Fuel at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.
It was something that Bucher had hoped to do that he never dreamed would actually happen when he made his first pass back in March.
“If you would have told me five years ago I would be out here doing this, I would have never believed it,” Bucher said. “It is a dream come true for me and a goal realized.”
While Bucher typically sports a VitaCshot.com scheme on the side of his machine, this weekend Bucher is honoring his father Jim Bucher with a special throwback scheme honoring the accomplishments of his father who died when Mike was 15.
Mike’s father, Jim, was a popular Top Fuel driver who won the 1975 NHRA Summer Nationals before becoming sick and eventually passing away in 1977 at the age of 37. Bucher finished fourth in the 1975 points standings behind champion Don Garlits, Gary Beck and Marvin Graham.
Since then, Bucher has made it a lifelong goal to one day drive in Top Fuel himself and, after realizing that dream earlier this year, is back at it this weekend. And it is made even more special by the throwback look honoring his dad.
Bucher will get to continue his honoring of his dad this weekend, placing his machine 15th on the ladder. He will get Brittany Force in round one.
VERY SPECIAL GUESTS - For the second time in 2021, Kalitta Motorsports is hosting a special guest from A Kid Again, a national nonprofit organization offering hope, happiness and healing for children facing life-threatening conditions and their families.
During the weekend, Chase Kulik, a 15-year-old Cystic Fibrosis warrior who enjoys drag racing, along with his brother and family, will be the guests of the Kalitta Motorsports team.
Additionally, local junior dragster racer 12-year-old Keegan Beverly, who rebranded his personal race car to the A Kid Again branding after hearing about the charity, will be recognized as Kalitta Motorsports honorary crew person of the event.
“We have a lot of different things going on this weekend, but the A Kid Again program is something special. It is a great opportunity to introduce these guys and girls to the sport of NHRA drag racing and the cars. It is just fun stuff that hopefully they are going to enjoy and remember forever,” said Doug Kalitta, driver of the Applied Imaging Top Fuel dragster.
Kalitta admits that programs such as this are a great way to give children an opportunity to be themselves and enjoy a special weekend with the team. And that passion carries over to every race weekend when Kalitta has an opportunity to sign an autograph, take a selfie, or make a special memory for young fans.
“These cars are, as far as watching them on television and actually being here, it is a whole different experience. And we like to get people out to the track to let them experience it and make them fans for life,” said Kalitta. “With this A Kid Again program, they seem to have a really good organized effort and since we have gotten involved their participation has gone up, so that has been great.
“That really makes us feel good that we are helping something like that.”
Before the final session of qualifying on Saturday, the A Kid Again program had a special moment when Chase came to the starting line as Keegan fired up and made a pass in his Junior Dragster. Moments later, they announced that the next step for the young fan would be Cedar Point on Sunday.
On the track, however, things have not gone as smoothly as Kalitta would like. The car failed to fire on Friday, forcing the team to miss out on the best qualifying session of the weekend as cool conditions allowed the teams to push the limit.
“We just couldn’t get the car started, but I think we’ve got it sorted out,” Kalitta said. “I think the last time that happened to me, we ended up making it to the final. So sometimes, even when things aren’t going perfect, it is not the end of the world.”
The troubles continued on Saturday with an oil down and a slew of issues leaving Kalitta 11th in qualifying, his worst start since starting 12th in Charlotte. Kalitta gets a tough round one draw, matching up with Antron Brown.
Of course, Kalitta would love for fate to repeat itself and turn a poor start into a strong run on Sunday. And that would be extra special as Kalitta continues to chase that elusive 50th career Top Fuel win, a number he has been sitting on since October of last year.
“It would be great to do it here in Norwalk,” Kalitta said. “This is kind of our hometown track and the closest track to us. Today it is all about trying to get this thing in the top half of the show and get a good setup for tomorrow. Let’s hope we can get it done.”
ESPY x3 - For the third time in her professional racing career, Erica Enders has been nominated for an ESPY award.
Enders, who won four times in 2020 en route to winning her fourth Pro Stock championship, is nominated alongside IndyCar’s Scott Dixon, Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton and NASCAR champion Chase Elliott.
On Saturday in Norwalk, Enders continued her march to try and work her way back into the Pro Stock championship mix with a qualifying spot of third with a 6.620 at 206.83 mph. She will face Cristian Cuadra in round one on Sunday.
The ESPY’s will take place on July 10 at 8 a.m. ET on ESPN.
SURPRISED? NOT SO MUCH - After sitting out the first two races of the season, Eddie Kraweic and teammates Andrew Hines and Angelle Sampey returned to the fold in motorcycles equipped with Vance & Hines’ VH160VT engines and Buell 1190RX bodywork.
As the team adjusted to the new chassis, the results have been subpar compared to the typical performance seen out of the Vance & Hines camp in previous years during their lengthy partnership with Harley-Davidson. But the team has been making incremental gains and showed those gains this weekend at Summit Motorsports Park.
It began under the lights on Friday. Hines temporarily placed his machine first and Krawiec followed him in fourth, but Krawiec’s new track-record pass of 201.22 mph quickly turned some heads.
“That is where we want to be. That is where we expect to be,” said Kraweic, a four-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion.” We tested during the off weeks and we are just trying to make sure we get our program right. It just takes one run to get back on track.”
When asked after making the pass if he was surprised by the sudden jump in performance, Krawiec was very frank in his answer.
“Not really,” Krawiec said. “We know we have fast motorcycles, we just have to get them down the track. We have been struggling with the chassis. Once we get the chassis right, the bike will run pretty well.”
As for the run itself, Krawiec also admitted that he may have had a little extra help propelling him to the impressive speed.
“We had a pretty huge tailwind,” Krawiec said. “I think a couple of the bikes should have (had the same speeds), I just don’t know if everyone else had the tuneup correct. We were pretty confident and we knew we had a good tuneup. We tested in this weather and for us, it is all about knowing what we had.
“I was actually more nervous about the track because the track was actually so good that we might shake the tires and we don’t go anywhere. We were just trying to get from A to B and get in the show with the bad weather and the unknowns.”
But Kraweic’s Friday night performance did not last long.
While Krawiec was able to improve on both of his numbers on Saturday, placing his machine second on the ladder with a 6.807 at 201.49 mph, he lost the speed record to Matt Smith who recorded a 201.58 mph pass during Q3 Saturday night.
Krawiec will race Marc Ingwersen in round one on Sunday.
NORWALK FRIDAY - Notebook 2021
SEASON RESET – How did we get here?
After six races – four for Top Fuel Motorcycle – the championship leaders in the four professional classes of the Camping World Drag Racing Series are Steve Torrence, Bob Tasca, Greg Anderson and Matt Smith entering the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
Torrence has been a force like no other, winning three times in his Capco Contractors Top Fuel machine – best among all professional classes – to open up an impressive 162-point lead over the field with a little over a quarter of the season behind him. His wins have come at two four-wide events in Las Vegas and Charlotte, along with a victory near his hometown in Houston, Texas, in late May. His father, Billy Torrence, is third in the standings and has the most recent win in the class one week ago in Epping. Wedged between them is another 2021 winner in Antron Brown whose victory in Atlanta back in early May has kept his title hopes afloat.
The rest of the Top Fuel top five entering the weekend are Shawn Langdon and Brittany Force, with the season’s lone additional winner – Gainesville winner Josh Hart – is seventh in the standings.
Exactly the opposite of the dominating season that Torrence has enjoyed thus far in 2021 in Top Fuel, the Funny Car class has seven drivers bunched inside of the same points gap as Torrence has on second place in that category.
Bob Tasca, the most recent Funny Car winner in Norwalk back in 2019, leads the way by just 15 points entering the weekend in his Ford Motorcraft Mustang Funny Car over John Force. Both Tasca and Force lead the way in the nitro flopper class with two wins apiece, with Tasca getting it done in back-to-back races in Las Vegas and Atlanta, and Force claiming victories at Charlotte and the most recent race in Epping. Force last won in Norwalk in 2014.
2018 Funny Car champion J.R. Todd sits third in the standings with one win on the year, while Robert Hight and Matt Hagan round out the top five in the standings.
Interestingly, after Don Schumacher Racing dominated the Funny Car class in 2020 with a clean sweep of all 11 races, DSR has been blanked this season with Hagan and teammate Ron Capps going 0-for-6 despite a runner-up finish each.
Greg Anderson leads the way in Pro Stock in the HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro, owning a sizeable gap over Elite Motorsports-powered Aaron Stanfield. Anderson leads the way with two wins in the class coming at the season-opening Gatornationals and the Southern Nationals. Stanfield won one week ago in Epping, collecting his second career victory.
The rest of the top five in Pro Stock include Mason McGaha, Deric Kramer and defending champion Erica Enders.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, the four winners in 2021 make up the top four spots in points, with Matt Smith leading the way atop his Denso/Stockseth Racing Buell. Scotty Pollacheck, Steve Johnson and Ryan Oehler make up the rest of the top four, with Angelle Sampey sitting fifth.
HIGH SPEED CHESS MATCH - When you think of the game of chess, you think of strategy, quick wits and a cool head. The last thing you think of is nitromethane and 300 miles per hour.
But if you ask Steve Torrence how he would describe the game of Top Fuel in a nutshell, he will tell you - it is nothing more than a high speed game of chess.
In this case, however, the chessmasters aren’t the drivers. Far from it, in fact. The real heroes of this high stakes game are the crew chiefs. And that couldn’t have been more evident Friday night at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
During the first round of qualifying Friday night, John Force Racing’s Brittany Force powered her Flav-R-Pac dragster to the top of the charts as cooler conditions fell onto the track. In fact, Force’s 3.722-second pass at 323.74 mph looked like it was going to be the class of the field.
Then came Steve Torrence. Watching Force’s pass two pairs earlier, followed by his father Billy Torrence who slotted in right behind her with a 3.724 at 325.37 mph a pair later, Torrence knew it was time to crank it up a notch. Step in Torrence’s crew chief Richard Hogan.
“We went up there with everything set on go for the top or go home,” Torrence said. “(Brittany) went out there with a 72 and that gave us all the liberty to go out there and stand on it. I was laughing because Hogan was changing stuff in the box and that is the benefit of having two cars. You go up there and see what you can get away with on one of the cars, then you try to push the limit with the other one. That is how we are working and he is doing a great job.”
Torrence elaborated by pointing out that, while he and Force dominate the headlines, it is actually their crew chiefs that make it all possible thanks to their calculated moves. Very much like, you guessed it, a chess match.
“Brittany and I are just the pawns who sit in the seat,” Torrence said. “It is Richard Hogan and David Grubnic that we take pride in backing. I really didn’t do anything to make it go faster, and neither did Brittany. Me and her just hang on and give it up to some really good crew chiefs.”
And so far, Torrence’s chessmaster is dominating the class.
Torrence, who has won 36 of the last 91 Top Fuel races for an incredible 39.5 winning percentage, has won two of the last three trips to Norwalk, making him a favorite once again to hoist his fourth trophy of the year.
Ironically, Torrence’s record in the Summit Nationals largely mirrors that of his overall career.
In six Norwalk appearances before a heart issue in 2016 forced him to miss the event, he posted a 6-6 record with no winners’ circle appearances. Since then, he’s 10-1 with victories in 2017 and 2019, the latter making him the defending champion in a race that was not contested last year because of the pandemic.
Overall, the 38-year-old has secured 38 of his 43 career victories since missing the 2016 Summit Nationals.
FEELS GOOD TO BE HOME - We all know what it is like to be away from home.
Whether away on business or pleasure, there is always a longing to return to the place you call home when you are away for too long.
For John Force, home is at the racetrack. And there is perhaps no racetrack that is more home to Force than Summit Motorsports Park.
While Force has been to - and won at - nearly every track that has been thrown his way during his nearly 50 year drag racing career, there is just something special about the track located just a few miles from the banks of Lake Eerie. And that bond stems from a special relationship with the Baders, owners of Summit Motorsports Park.
“It all goes back to the Bader family. The special relationship with dad and the kid, back when the kid was just a kid sitting on my tailgate. Now he is running the place,” Force said.
That kid is Bill Bader Jr., owner and operator of the track in Norwalk, Ohio, who learned all he knows from his father, Bill Bader Sr. Together, they have turned the track just an hour west of Cleveland into a crown jewel event on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series tour. And because of that, the track was sorely missed in 2020.
Summit Motorsports Park was one of the dozens of tracks that were forced to cancel their NHRA national event in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic and all of the drivers - perhaps none more than Force - were glad to pull through the gates and into the pits this week.
“Coming through the gates and seeing all of the people, it was something to see,” Force said. “And the gratitude of the people now that we are back, to know they care about you and all of your drivers. Robert (Hight), Brittany (Force) and myself, it was great to see. But it all goes back to the Bader family. Bader will pack this place. He knows what he is doing. They are truly the P.T. Barnums of drag racing.”
Of course, Summit Motorsports Park is not the only thing returning to the NHRA tour in 2021. Force himself, and his two additional cars as part of John Force Racing, are returning to the tour after sitting out 2020 due to financial reasons.
“It was painful. We had to do it for financial reasons. We didn’t sit out because we don’t love racing. We did it to keep this thing going,” Force said. “Sometimes we will have a year that is so bad we lose money, but we are right back out there. We sat out last year to be able to come back and fight another day and we made it.”
And what a return it has been.
After missing the entire 2020 season, John Force Racing has come out with a bang this year, having won half of the races run thus far this season in Funny Car. And those three wins have all come consecutively, with Force winning in Charlotte and the most recent race in Epping and Hight splitting those wins with a victory in Houston.
“Daniel Hood has been learning for years to run (this car) and he is doing a great job,” Force said. “We won the Four-Wide, then Robert came back and won Houston, and we won Epping last week. There is a lot of good competition out here, and we’ve had a little luck on our side. But a little luck is sometimes what you need. I am just glad we are here.”
Force continued that momentum on Friday with the fourth best run of the day in Funny Car with a 3.928 at 326.71 mph.
AGE GAP - The first side-by-side pairing of Top Fuel dragsters to make a pass on Friday was the pair of Krista Baldwin and Luigi Novelli. Baldwin, the 27-year-old granddaughter of Chris Karamesines, gave up a 50-year age gap to her opponent as Novelli continues to wrestle a 10,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragster at age 78. And on this day, it was Baldwin coming out on top with a pass of 4.024 at 306.81 mph, good enough for 11th.
GO BOB GO - It has been two years and 733 days since the NHRA was last at Summit Motorsports Park.
And that is also how long Bob Tasca has been the defending winner of the race.
Tasca drove his Ford Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang Funny Car to the win at this track on June 23, 2019, and has been waiting two years to defend that victory. Of course, not only is Tasca the defending race winner, the veteran racer enters this weekend as the Funny Car points leader and has the momentum of two wins so far in 2021.
“We’ve got a lot of good momentum on this team right now. That is a big part of racing, you want to keep the momentum going,” Tasca said. “We bobbled the ball a little bit in Epping, it wasn’t the weekend that we wanted, but we know this racetrack and we get down it when it is hot or cold. We won here two years ago when it was really hot, which is what we will probably see on Saturday and Sunday, so we are very confident.”
Tasca is excited about what his team has been able to produce so far this season and he continued to show that strength on Friday with the fifth-best time in the class. Tasca drove his Ford Funny Car to a 3.934 at 323.74 mph.
“We’ve got the parts and pieces and people to go out and win races. And we are going to have to continue to do that to stay at the top of the heap,” Tasca said. “The points will reset in Indy and we will have to see where we are, but right now we are taking it one race at a time. The car came here ready and so did we.”
SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY - There is an old saying in motorsports: win on Sunday, sell on Monday.
Of course, in drag racing, there is also a well-known understanding that success on Friday and Saturday typically leads to those Sunday wins. The reason is obvious. Success during qualifying sets up favorable matchups on Sunday against theoretically lesser opponents, at least for the first few rounds. That gives drivers who qualify in the top half of the field a better chance of making it to the finals and winning.
But that equation has not been adding up for Greg Anderson this season.
Despite dominating the early part of each race weekend, to the tune of five pole positions in six races, that has only equaled two wins this season in six tries. While that has still been good enough to keep Anderson atop the Pro Stock championship standings in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro, it hasn’t equaled the results that Anderson expects of such a dominant car.
“The car performance has been right there on Sundays as well, but the driver hasn’t got the job done. It is as simple as that,” Anderson said. “I can’t sugarcoat it and I’m not going to make up any stories. I’ve had one off run every Sunday. Whether it be second round or final round, I’ve had a clunker of a light and it has cost me.
“It is as simple as me keeping my mind in the game for four runs on Sunday. I got stung in the second round two races in a row and I got stung in the final. I did better last weekend and made it four runs, but the car didn’t come through on the fourth run.”
On Friday, Anderson drove his Chevrolet to third on the charts with a 6.626 at 208.04 mph.
While Anderson admits that the mistakes have been more on him than the performance of the car, he says that he is still confident behind the wheel and knows that the wins will follow those great qualifying performances.
“We are certainly getting better. I think I can conquer it and get back to where I am doing it four runs in a row without a problem,” Anderson said. “The car performance has been there all year long, regardless of the race track, regardless of the weather, the car has been good. I have all of the faith in the world in the car. And I’ve still got faith in myself, it is just a matter of keeping your mind straight for four runs in a row.”
What doesn’t help with his mental state is a weekend like what the teams have experienced so far this weekend. With intermittent rain showers expected throughout the weekend, and a delay of more than seven hours on Friday with passing showers, Anderson said that it is more of a mental game when you are sitting and waiting than when the team is scrambling to get the car ready to race.
“It certainly tires you out more than if you were working like a mad man,” Anderson said. “I hate days like this. It tires you out. It is a bummer, but it is the same for everybody. You can’t control mother nature, she is the boss.”
While the team gears up for the remainder of the Norwalk weekend, the elephant in the room remains that this is the last weekend for the Pro Stock category until mid-July in Sonoma. That means no Denver in a couple of weeks, a track that Anderson says will be sorely missed among the class.
“We have run well there. I won there last year and I’ve always run well there. It is a unique challenge and a pretty big challenge for a Pro Stock ccar and team with all of the changes we’ve got to make there. It is a pain because of those changes, but it makes it a bigger challenge and it is more than just another race,” Anderson said. “We love those types of challenges. I am really going to miss it this year. I hope we can go back sometime soon.”
DÉJÀ VU – It feels like just yesterday when a bright-eyed young racer by the name of Justin Ashley first got a taste of life behind the wheel of a 10,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragster.
Now a regular on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series tour with one national event victory to his name, it was right here in northern Ohio where Ashley first got behind the wheel of one of the quickest and fastest race machines on earth. In 2017 Ashley made passes in now fellow competitor Antron Brown’s Top Fueler to earn his professional license. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year also made a handful of test runs at the track located just over an hour west of Cleveland.
But this weekend will be his first shot at winning an NHRA national event at the famed Summit Motorsports Park.
“In 2017, with the help and guidance of a few amazing people, I got my license at Summit Motorsports Park in Antron’s Top Fuel Dragster. I also did some testing at the facility when the Davis Motorsports team and I first joined together,” Ashley said. “Although I have never raced there in Top Fuel, I am very much looking forward to it because I know the Bader family does an amazing job. I have been there on multiple occasions as a fan and I am always more than impressed.”
The winner of the 2020 NHRA Summernationals does have memories from Summit Motorsports Park as a fan and supporter of his father, Mike Ashley, who took home the Funny Car title in 2007. The experience at the facility left a lasting impression on the second-generation driver.
“I remember being at the track when my dad won there in 2007,” recalled Ashley. “At the time I was a young kid and I was really impressed with the facility and the show they put on. The job they do providing a good racing environment and a good fan experience is second to none.”
Leading up to this weekend’s race Ashley and his Smart Sanitizer Top Fuel team are thinking of how they would like to add their name to the list of winner’s along with his father.
“I think about it more so leading up to the event versus when I am at the track,” said Ashley, when asked about the prospect of winning the event. “It would be super cool to win the same event my dad won years before me. To share in that kind of moment would show how things can come full circle. It provides a little extra motivation and would certainly be an exciting story.”
Ashley enters the weekend seventh in the championship standings, but does have some positives to build off of. One week ago in Epping the team had one of their best-ever qualifying runs racing to third on the ladder, but he eventually lost to Leah Pruett in round one.
While he has more round losses than wins in 2021, Ashley feels confident that the team can find some momentum and pull things together as the season progresses. Afterall, the team did get off to a odd start during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
“This is going to be my first real full season as a professional driver,” said Ashley. “When I look ahead to Norwalk and all the events after it, I see a lot of races coming up in a short period of time. I am excited to start getting into a serious groove. It will be my first opportunity to race a lot of races in a short period of time. That is only going to help from a driver’s perspective. It will be a new challenge for me as well, especially running the business at home and traveling. But I am developing an appropriate plan and no matter how you shape it, this is a dream come true for me.”
THE MISSING WALLY - A quick peek at the trophy case of J.R. Todd will reveal a slew of big show wins.
A couple of U.S. Nationals trophies. Two-wide and four-wide wins. A championship.
But one trophy that Todd does not have is one from Summit Motorsports Park, one of the crown jewel events on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series calendar. And for a driver that grew up racing Junior Dragsters at the track dreaming of one day being a professional driver, that is one trophy he is itching to add to his collection.
“It would be big. This definitely has that home track feeling. As a kid I wanted to race professionally and never thought it would happen. I was racing Junior Dragsters here. I got my Top Fuel license here when I was 18. There is a lot of history here for me,” Todd said. “It would be a big accomplishment to check that off my list.”
Todd does have one final round visit at the track coming back in 2016 when Shawn Langdon defeated the young driver in a Top Fuel car.
Victory or not, Todd considers it a huge win just to back at the track after a year away due to the pandemic.
“It is always good to be going back to these tracks that we didn’t get a chance to compete at in 2020 and Norwalk, for us and for Kalitta, is like a home track,” Todd said. “This is the closest track to the race shop and there are a lot of people from the shop that don’t get to go to a lot of races that come out. We’ve got a lot of sponsor people here and I’ve got a lot of friends and family here. It is going to be a great weekend for sure.”
SIGNS OF PROGRESS - Veteran Pro Stock driver Richie Stevens Jr. is seeing signs of progress and enjoying his time driving for Beaver Motorsports, owned by Mark Beaver.
Stevens is competing in his fifth NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series national event this season at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio this weekend.
Stevens, who is driving a 2017 Camaro for Beaver Motorsports, is coming off a season-best performance at the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H., June 13.
Stevens qualified No. 11 with a 6.585-second lap and then defeated Deric Kramer in round one with a 6.617-second run.
“We went to Epping and there were 16 cars on the premises, so we knew we were going to get in the field, which was a plus,” Stevens said. “We went out there and on Saturday morning (June 12) and made a really good run. We were ninth after that run and we came back on the last run and tried to improve on that and went the wrong direction and slipped two spots.
“We still started race day at No. 11, which was awesome. I had to race my good friend Deric Kramer. I was .002 on the tree and he went three feet and blew the tires off. But it still would have been a good race and close at the stripe. Hey, I will take a win light any way I can get it I don’t care.”
Stevens’ day ended with a second-round loss to eventual race winner Aaron Stanfield.
“My car shook right at the top of low and I pulled it out of low just to get it down the track, but he went 6.58 and we went 6.66,” Steven said. “It would have been hard to beat him, and he made a good run, and it was good for him to go on and win the race. I was to see another Louisiana guy go on and win the race. What are the chances that two Louisiana guys go all the way to New Hampshire to race each other in the second round?”
This season Stevens, a six-time NHRA national event Pro Stock winner has competed in Gainesville, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Epping, and Norwalk.
“We have found out what the car likes,” Stevens said. “This car doesn’t have very many runs on it. This was Shane Tucker’s car, and they did not really run it a whole lot and we only got to run it three races last year. We are just trying to figure out the window, the sweet spot that the car likes. We are getting power from Frank Iaconio which is awesome. He’s giving us good power.”
Stevens said his first three races of the season – Gainesville, Charlotte, and Atlanta – were a learning curve.
“We just had to figure out the car,” Stevens said. “It was going down the track, which was a good thing, but it was too glued to the track. We made some changes here and there with weight and shocks and clutch package and it seems to be coming around. I hope what we saw in Epping is a sign of things to come and we can keep going in that direction.”
With the possibility of qualifying sessions being reduced because of rain in Norwalk, Stevens is planning accordingly.
“It is more pressure because you have to go out there and pretty much have one or two runs where I can’t make a mistake and they can’t make a mistake,” Stevens said. “Everybody has to be damn near perfect. We will be toward the front of the field to go down. This car is going down the track every run. I feel good about our chances going A to B which is a good thing on a green track like this, considering the rain that has come down. It is a green track for everybody.
“I feel good from that aspect, and I feel confident in myself that I can go out there and do my job. The car is going down the track and it is a pretty forgiving car. I think if they give me a car that goes A to B, we can go out there and be 12th or 13th after the first run and that’s good enough for me.”
Stevens said after Norwalk, he and the Beaver Motorsports Team will likely not compete again until the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Sept. 1-5.
“That could all change depending on the outcome of this weekend,” Stevens said. “This has been fun. This team has a laid-back atmosphere with Mark Beaver and his daughter, Amanda. They are humble people. If we do good and go out there and go rounds, that’s a bonus but at least we are having a good time. We are definitely not chasing points. We are out there to have a good time on the weekend and hopefully get an upset here or there. It has been good. It keeps the rust off me, and it has been a couple of years since I’ve done this many races in a row. I get more when I get in the car, especially when you have a weekend like we had in Epping. It has been a long time since I’ve qualified in Pro Stock. The last time I qualified in Pro Stock is
when I was driving Deric Kramer’s car in Houston, I think in 2017.
“For it to be the first time for Mark to qualify in Pro Stock with a car he owns and to get a round win felt good to deliver that to him.” - Tracy Renck
NUMBERS DON’T LIE – Can you name the Funny Car drivers who have qualified in the top half of the field in every race this year?
Here is a hint, there are only two of them. And one is Ron Capps.
The other? None other than Cruz Pedregon.
Pedregon has qualified as high as fourth (Atlanta, Houston) and as low as eighth (Las Vegas), but all six of his qualifying weekends thus far have placed him in a favorable position on the ladder.
In fact, Pedregon’s 5.8 qualifying average through six races is fifth among all Funny Car drivers and is his best qualifying average since 2012. While it is still a relatively small sample size, with only a quarter of the season in the rear-view mirror, it is nonetheless a great achievement for a team that needs some forward progress.
“We’ve been running top speed of all the cars, even Top Fuel, so it shows that the HEMI power is there,” Pedregon said. “We’re putting it to the ground and looking to improve little by little and start winning the rounds that have come as close as .0003 seconds. The car is running better and better all of the time.”
Through six races, the only drivers with better qualifying averages are Capps – with a fantastic qualifying average of third – Alexis DeJoria, Bob Tasca and John Force.
The last time Pedregon had an average qualifying position of eighth or better is 2015 – also the last season he obtained a No. 1 qualifying position on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour. For a driver with 61 pole positions in his career, it is a welcome sight seeing his Snap-on Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car back at the top of the charts and placing him in more favorable matchups on race day.
“I feel like we’re on schedule to have some great runs in the near future. We’re really looking forward to Norwalk this weekend and then our Western swing starting out in Denver and then we go to California,” Pedregon said. “Norwalk is a really good racetrack and we know we can run some good times here.”
To accompany those favorable Sunday matchups are two semifinal finishes at Gainesville and Charlotte and five total round wins in 2021. Already, Pedregon is on pace to have his best season since 2018 – the last season he recorded a win.
Cruz says crew chief John Collins and the team are giving him a good car and he’s working to keep up with it. Collins worked over the break to improve Cruz’s position in the car, primarily focusing on head clearance, and adding a chin strap to the helmet following his collision with the wall one week ago at the New England Nationals.
On Friday, Pedregon placed his machine in ninth on the ladder, one spot shy of keeping his streak of top half qualifying efforts alive. He will try to move up a couple of spots when qualifying resumes on Saturday.
GRINDING AWAY - The last time we saw Mike McIntire Jr. on the racetrack he was firing off career-best runs on his way to collecting his first-ever round win in NHRA competition.
On Friday, the team was back at it again.
McIntire backed up his best career weekend at the Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte with an impressive pass that currently has the young racer in the top half of the field for the first time in his career. McIntire ran a 3.984 at 316.45 mph Friday night in Norwalk.
It is a testament to the hard work that the independent team has put in as the driver of the bright orange McAttack Funny Car looks to keep that momentum going this weekend.
“We have learned that this is extremely hard. It is not easy at all. But we have kept working hard and getting the right people around us and it is starting to come together. It is crazy that two years has already gone by,” McIntire said. “Our last race in Charlotte we had a great weekend. We strung a bunch of 4.0s together and won our first round. We are looking to build off of that. If the car can keep repeating that this weekend, we will be happy over here at the McAttack pit.”
Adding to the excitement - and pressure - of this weekend, is that Summit Motorsports Park serves as the home track for McIntire. His home is located a little over an hour away from the track and that short distance has led to quite a busy scene in the team’s pit this weekend.
“It is added fun, but also added pressure. A lot of people are here. There are a lot of people in our pit,” McIntire said. “It makes it a little stressful, but it is also great having everybody here. We view this as friends and family in this deal being this close to home. And having all the family here, there is nothing better.
“We are just out here trying to have fun as a family and as a team.”
WILD RIDE - In the first round of qualifying Friday in Norwalk, Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Kelly Clontz came off of her motorcycle after posting a 7.281-second pass at 178.02 mph. NHRA reported that she stood up under her own power following the tumble and was seen by the on-site medical team.
READY FOR A RESET – The numbers just don’t add up.
Ron Capps has been lights out on Friday and Saturday, but his Sunday’s have not been as kind. His average qualifying position of third is tops in the Funny Car class and third among all professional drivers to have run all six races, behind only Greg Anderson and Steve Torrence.
Despite favorable matchups on Sunday, however, Capps only has one final round appearance in 2021 – a runner-up finish to Robert Hight in Houston – and one semifinal showing to accompany four exits in the first two rounds.
Following a disappointing first round exit through no fault of his own one week ago in Epping when an engine let go, Capps slid to sixth in the standings and already has some work to do to make up ground. But Capps knows that the lack of performance on Sunday’s have been fluke occurrences and he hopes that the team will get the gremlins behind them and start firing off round wins beginning this weekend.
“Our team has had great performance all year long, and we expect more of the same this weekend. If we had a few lucky breaks here and there, we’d have several Wally trophies by now, but the wins are coming,” Capps said.
Capps hopes the turnaround begins this weekend as he travels to a track in which he has seen a good deal of success. He has one win at the Norwalk, Ohio, track coming in 2016, accompanying three runner-up finishes in 2011, 2013 and 2014. He is also the most recent pole winner at the track when the Camping World tour was last in northern Ohio in 2019 and backed that performance up on Friday with the provisional top spot on the strength of a 3.888-second pass at 329.34 mph.
“That was sure nice, after a long day of waiting and hoping the weather was going to clear, especially with the conditions we saw. I know every crew chief and driver was licking his chops,” Capps said. “So it’s great to finally get a shot to make a qualifying run, although we had three pairs to go after us – wasn’t sure that was going to stand, as good a run as it was.”
This weekend also marks the true beginning of the summer stretch of races, something that Capps favors over the cooler race weekends.
“This is one of my favorite parts of the season. I love racing during the summer when there’s a little more heat in the race track, a little bit trickier conditions, and a stretch of races that are one right after the other,” Capps said. “Plus, I love that we’re able to welcome full grandstands of fans back and we’re visiting places that we didn’t get to go last year. Things are very, very exciting in the world of NHRA right now.”
And with predicted temperatures in the upper 80s and lows 90s this weekend, Capps is feeling pretty confident about his chances to collect that first Wally.
PUT YOUR HART IN IT - When you start off your career at the very top, it is hard to come up with something for an encore.
Josh Hart began his NHRA Top Fuel career with a win in his very first start at the Gatornationals back in March. Since then, the team has had some success, but it has been hidden behind a new set of expectations for a team that wasted little time showing its hand.
“It feels like we are trying to catch ourselves now,” Hart said. “We were in the finals in Charlotte. In Atlanta we went out in the semifinals. Texas was terrible, it was our first mechanical failure. We’ve been consistent and we are extremely excited and revamping the program a little bit. We will get there again.”
Since that win, and then missing the races at Las Vegas and Epping, Hart had success in Charlotte by making it to the final four of the Four-Wide, but has offset those two big races with a handful of early exits. Still, the team exudes confidence and Hart admits that, while one of the younger teams in the pits, he expected the success the team has enjoyed thus far.
“Actually, I did expect this. We have Ron Douglas,” a confident Hart said about his crew chief.
The team enters their first trip to Summit Motorsports Park with a new look as R&L Carriers comes on board as the primary sponsor for the weekend. And Hart looks forward to making a big splash at one of the crown jewel events on the schedule with a new group backing the car.
“R&L Carriers came on board for this race as they do their best to boost company morale and recruit some new talent. I am very blessed to have them onboard and hopefully it leads to something bigger,” Hart said. “Regardless of the venue, I look forward to any time I get to spend in the nitro office. But Norwalk is special and I look forward to seeing what we can do this weekend.”
Hart’s first hit at the track on Friday resulted in a 3.840-second pass at 317.57 mph, good enough for eighth on the ladder.
A FAMILY AFFAIR – A lot of racers circle the Norwalk, Ohio, race weekend as one of the must-attend races of the year. Some even consider it their favorite race.
But for the Coughlin family, the annual pilgrimage a little over an hour north to Summit Motorsports Park is more like a family reunion than an NHRA national event.
With the JEGS Performance Parts headquarters located about 100 miles south in Delaware, Ohio, the Norwalk event provides a unique opportunity each year for the entire Coughlin family to get out and race together in dozens of classes across NHRA’s professional and sportsman categories.
This year, three members of the Coughlin family will be in action at Summit Motorsports Park, lead by Troy Coughlin Jr., driver of the bright yellow JEGS.com Chevrolet Camaro for Elite Motorsports. Troy will be joined in the pits by his uncle Mike Coughlin and sister Paige Coughlin who will be pursuing their own respective victories in Top Dragster and Super Comp.
“It’s Norwalk weekend, so if you’re from Ohio this is the one you want to win the most,” Coughlin said. “It’s all about Buckeye pride and representing the best state in the country.”
While no stranger to the Norwalk, Ohio, facility, this will be Coughlin’s first trip as a competitor in the Pro Stock category, though he is quite familiar with visiting victory lane at the track.
“Our family has done well at this track in the past and we really want to keep that going this weekend,” Coughlin said. “I actually won the last time I raced here (in 2019) when I was in Top Alcohol Dragster. My dad won Pro Mod here in 2014 and that same race my uncle Mike won in Top Sportsman. Aunt Samantha (Coughlin) also won Super Comp here in 2009. We need to keep those wins coming.
“Uncle Mike gets on a roll in that dragster and he’s just plain nasty, and Paige is so close to a win I don’t think anyone would be surprised if she got it done here. I’m definitely pulling for them both, and we have a great chance as well. The guys never stop working on this Pro Stock car, which is what it takes to be competitive in this cutthroat class.”
Coughlin comes to Norwalk on a bit of a slide, having fallen from second in the Camping World Drag Racing Series standings following his runner-up finish at the season opening Gatornationals, to eighth after two early exits in Houston and Epping. In fact, since that runner-up finish in March, Coughlin has advanced out of the first two rounds only once this year.
Still seeking his first career victory in Pro Stock, Coughlin admits that it would be quite the feat to do it this weekend so close to home. Throw in the fact that several family members enjoy birthdays around this time of year and the Norwalk race has always been a special weekend for the entire family.