EMOTIONAL MIKE SALINAS CELEBRATES SECOND TOP FUEL VICTORY OF 2022 AT CHARLOTTE - It wasn’t as though Mike Salinas hadn’t won in Top Fuel competition.

It wasn’t as though Mike Salinas hadn’t won earlier this year.

The tears in Mike Salinas’ eyes didn’t appear simply because he captured Sunday’s Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. They formed when it hit him that he is finally positioned to be a serious Camping World Drag Racing Series championship contender.

That’s why, when he was overcome with emotion during his post-race interview, he needed a full 10 seconds to compose himself before he could continue his answer to a question. 

Salinas’ overpowering victory in the finals was the fifth in his Top Fuel career. His 3.708-second, 330.47-mph blast easily took down fellow finalists Spencer Massey, Josh Hart and Cameron Ferre, and it moved him into second in the points behind Brittany Force. Ferre was the runner-up at a distant 3.986, 272.56, Massey smoked the tires the moment he launched, and Hart experienced problems downtrack.

“Most people don’t understand, this stuff is hard. We’re racing with the best guys in the world,” said Salinas, who celebrated his 61st birthday last Wednesday. “But if you believe you belong here and you do the right things to stay here, you’re going to be here and you’re going to win. 

“This isn’t going to be the end for us, I just know it. Everybody in our pit, they’ve got raw emotions for what we’re doing. This is hard stuff. We take this stuff so hard and take it to heart, I honestly feel bad for the other guys that didn’t win. I’ve worked for this 17, 18, 20 years, losing, losing, losing. You know how you’ve got to pick yourself up every day from losing to win? That’s us. That’s why we named this team Scrappers. We don’t quit, we just keep going.”

Under the usual format of pairs racing, Salinas wouldn’t have advanced past the first round. Doug Kalitta’s 3.725 was the first to the line in his quad, but because of the four-wide format, in which two cars from each foursome advance, Salinas, who was the runner-up at 3.765, also survived to fight again. 

In the semifinals, Kalitta and No. 1 qualifier Justin Ashley both fell victim to tire smoke. Salinas won the foursome at 3.708, and Ferre moved forward at 3.92. 

Ferre’s place in the finals was his first, and he achieved it on a day in which he was fortunate to be in the field. Ferre, driving for team owner Todd Paton, was the No. 16 qualifier at 3.854 seconds – the same time posted by Kyle Wurtzel. Ferre got the spot in the field by virtue of covering the 1,000-foot distance with a higher speed, 319.45 mph to Wurtzel’s 317.72.

Salinas sat out the 2020-wracked COVID-19 season, and he rebounded last year with his best season to date. Salinas won at Bristol and was runner-up at St. Louis, the second Las Vegas race and Epping en route to a third-place points performance.

He nailed down career win No. 4 earlier this season at Phoenix, where he took down Jim Maroney, Shawn Langdon, Steve Torrence and Clay Millican. 

For Salinas to have won twice in the first six events of the season – a feat matched only by Force – sent a message that he can, indeed, succeed without Alan Johnson as crew chief. When Johnson made a move to Kalitta Motorsports, Salinas put his team’s fortunes in the hands of Rob Flynn, and in the wake of Sunday’s triumph, he couldn’t stop singing the praises of his new tuner/crew chief.

Johnson, Salinas said, “taught all of us. He taught (Steve) Torrence, he taught Brittany, he taught Tony Schumacher, he taught all these different things. So indirectly, Alan is racing himself out here, and it’s a great thing. What he does bring to the table is a discipline that most people don’t have in racing. He’s an amazing man, he really is.”

Salinas then described Flynn as “the most underrated, most underappreciated crew chief out here; probably the most brilliant. He takes everybody else’s stuff and manipulates it and makes it ours and it makes it better. We have a car that is going down the track almost every run and not hurting parts. … Knock on wood, but it’s been good. When you do see us spin tires or something, it’s because we’re trying something new, and we know that we’re pretty good in the show.”

Salinas won’t have much time to bask in victory. The next event is May 13-15 in Dinwiddie, Virginia, and Salinas said that Flynn would be the first one thinking of the task ahead.

“Everything that we do out here is setting us up for Virginia already. I will bet you – after we finish celebrating – Rob will go in the trailer and he’ll sit there for another couple of hours looking at Virginia already,” he said. “That man lives in that trailer on that computer. It’s crazy. So mild-mannered, sweet man, just gentle. But he’s deadly, he’s deadly, that guy’s deadly. I’m lucky to drive the car that that guy tunes.”

Two of the pacesetters early in the season were ousted in the semifinals.

Force, who was victorious in the Las Vegas and Houston events prior to Charlotte, saw her streak come to an end in a cloud of tire smoke. Pomona winner Ashley suffered the same fate to end his race.

An even greater surprise occurred in the opening round when another streak came to an end. Steve Torrence, the four-time reigning Camping World Top Fuel champion, qualified No. 3 of the 18 dragsters on hand, and he entered eliminations in a bid to win the Circle K Four-Wide Nationals for the fifth consecutive time. But that prospect vanished shy of the finish line when his car briefly spun the rear tires, then had its supercharger pop loose. Torrence coasted across the finish line in 3.967 seconds and a slowing 270 mph.

The best set of performances came in a first-round foursome that involved Massey, Force, Tony Schumacher and Leah Pruett. Massey crossed the finish line first at 3.749, and Force was second at 3.732 to advance. Pruett reached the line just 9/1,000ths of a second behind Force at 3.741, and Schumacher was in the mix to the end at 3.753. Thomas Pope


And now, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force understands the difference between a donkey and a goat. 

A goat can will a team to a win. No one had more determination to win Funny Car at the Circle K NHRA 4Wide Nationals than Force, who drove his Peak-sponsored Camaro Funny Car to victory over teammate Robert Hight. 

Force dedicated the win to his eldest daughter Adria, recovering from an unspecified medical issue over the last two weeks. 

"I've been trying to find God for the last few years, and while I am not going to get into that, things have just seemed to happen to me throughout my life," Force said. "At times, it was like I was just destined."

Force had worked himself into a tizzy, which he usually does over the most trivial issues, but this time he had a legit reason, and the pressure of it all had worn drag racing's most iconic driver out.  

"Going up for the final, I was struggling, just being honest. The kids out here [I race] are just good, and I have to jump on that tree," Force recalled. I was sitting there with my crew chief [Danny Hood] back in the pits; I said, 'Somebody needs to fire me up. If I don't find some energy, I am going to go up there and sleep on the tree."

Force said there are times he can sound like a reverend when he grabs the microphone, but on Sunday, he said he believed he and the man upstairs found common ground. 

It's been said God works in mysterious ways, and for Force, he watched the scene unfold before his eyes.

"Switch motors," Hood responded. 

Force looked at Hood with a perplexed expression. 

Hood explained to Force how the engine that had carried him to the final round was now dead.

"I'm sitting there, and they start ripping the engine apart," Force said. "I tried to explain to them it was time to go race. They made it happen in the little bit of time they had remaining."

Force admits that was the boost he needed. 

"That's when you find that fire in your belly," Force said. "I usually just take those times to pray. I say, 'Lord, you got bigger issues to deal with than me, and I'm really nothing. In the end, please always take care of my family and keep everyone out here safe. I asked if I could just win this for Adria, it would be something special." 

Mysteriously, a so-called wounded engine that ran 3.85 gained new life like Lazarus. 

"I told Danny, 'that engine is hurt," Force said. "He told me to start it, do the burnout, get some tv time, and we will see where it goes from there. It trucked and ran a good number. On some days, and I don't know why, but I know what I want to believe."

Force was not only first to the finish line, but also got off of the line first with an .05 reaction and ended up with a 3.914 elapsed time at 328.86 miles per hour run. Hight crossed second with a 4.038, followed by Ron Capps and surprise semifinalist Mike McIntire.  

"Over my career, magic has just happened," Force said. "To come out here with an engine we didn't know if it would start is like that old Paul Newman movie where he says, "Somebody up there likes me."

Force picked up his first victory of 2022, winning the Circle K NHRA 4Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, located in Concord, NC. The win was back-to-back in four-wide competition at the drag strip located on the hallowed motorsports grounds of Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Force established a new zMax Dragway track record, running 335.07 in the first session en route to career NHRA win No. 155.

In the end, Force knew fate had enabled him to get away with one. 

"I almost apologized to Robert and Capps," Force admitted. "I shouldn't have won that. It shouldn't have happened. I don't know. It's like its destiny."

Force learned a lesson on Sunday, G.O.A.T.'s are destined more than the average player. 

OBSTACLES ASIDE, STEVE JOHNSON COMES OUT ON TOP IN CHARLOTTE - Steve Johnson captured his second consecutive win of the season and 13th of his storied career at the Charlotte Four-Wide Nationals from zMax Dragway, putting together another convincing performance aboard his Slick 50 / USA Electric Suzuki.

"Anytime you can race and win on a Bruton Smith track, you are killing it in drag racing," Johnson said.

Johnson, at times, made it look effortless, but the reality of establishing the low elapsed time of the event [6.712] came amid multiple struggles. 

Most notably, during qualifying Friday afternoon, Johnson's alter-ego crew chief [himself] made a self-induced error that caused the team to lose their second run when he forgot to tighten the bolts on top of the engine, which caused oil to spill out and the bike to smoke on the starting line.

Johnson and his team came into Sunday's final eliminations more than ready to battle. He needed the momentum from winning last weekend in Houston to outlast formidable foes such as Angie Smith, Hector Arana Jr, and Ron Tornow in his opening quad before laying down the jaw-dropping 6.712 in the semifinals.

However, before the final, Johnson's problems would creep back in once again, as the same problem from Friday would plague him for a second time.

"The valve cover had loosened up again," Johnson said. "The engine builder, the knucklehead engine builder, didn't tighten everything right. Oil had filled up."

Sometimes when it rains, it pours.

"When they finished fixing that, we have this battery, and it's smoking inside our bike, and it's ready to burn up," Johnson explained. 

Johnson's attentive crew quickly leaped into action. 

Leaky valve cover and battery issues aside, Johnson and his team didn't miss a beat, belting out a 6.740 at 200.65 miles per hour during the least favorable conditions to beat Gainesville winner Karen Stoffer, Eddie Krawiec, and Joey Gladstone in the final round. 

Johnson not only got the win this weekend, but he also put the icing on the cake by taking over the Pro Stock Motorcycle points lead heading into the next race in Richmond, Virginia. 

There's still plenty of season left, but this doesn't stop Johnson from dreaming big.

"That's what I want and why we are up [working] every single day," Johnson said. "I sleep at the shop. Every penny I have goes into the engine, pistons, and valves. Contending for a championship is why we are here."  Darin Williams, Jr. 


THE ANATOMY OF A RIVALRY - It’s a rivalry that would make Foghorn Leghorn and The Dog look like amateur hour. Only in this case, there’s the reality that five-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith and arch-rival Steve Johnson enjoy not liking each other.  

Their tempest in a teapot came to a boil last weekend at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston when Matt Smith pulled off a legal maneuver in switching bikes before his final-round duel against Johnson. Johnson beat Smith, and almost immediately, the barking and quacking commenced. 

“So he can have a spare bike and bring a spare?” Johnson asked. “We got a spare tire for our trailer and a spare set of smart plugs. We don’t have a spare bike. Where the heck do you get a spare bike to roll out in the final round of a national event?”

Johnson won the event, and in a prime example of the winner enjoying the spoils, he uncorked an interview in which he poked fun at Smith.

“I finish my interview, and as I get ready to turn around, I said, ‘Man, he can buy whatever bike or build whatever bike he wants. We’re ready for him.’ And I turn around, and he’s staring, and he’s listening. He’s got his bike in the interview, which is what he wants. But he’s sitting there listening to my interview, and I’m like... I just dogged him out. But I really didn’t. And I look at him, and I’m like, ‘What did you expect me to say?’ “ 

Smith’s Facebook page, which he shares with teammate/wife Angie Smith, explained the team’s actions and added at the end of the post, “Ps Steve Johnson Racing Nice comment about Matt Smith at the end of your interview... #GAMEON.”

Then Johnson took to Joe Castello’s WFO radio podcast and made comments about Matt Smith, which drew the champion’s ire. 

Johnson, Smith said, “bashed me. He bashed my wife. He bashed Angelle Sampey. I thought a 30-some-year-old veteran would do a much better job of representing our class, and that’s probably why he’s never won a championship, the way he’s acted. So maybe that’s why he can’t keep a sponsor. So we’ll see what happens.”

Smith said he’s all for a good rivalry but contends Johnson takes it too far. Yet in 2019, Smith made a comment about the difference he sees in professional and “hobby” racers.

“I like having rivalries with people, but in my opinion, you don’t disrespect other people that’s out here trying to do this,” Smith said. “The whole hobbyist thing come up three, four years ago when we did that. It was no disrespect for anybody out here. It was just a simple fact of you have professional races, and you have people that come out here and they hobby race. And that’s all I put was hobby race. That means that they have a normal job somewhere else; this is not their full-time job. 

“I did not discredit anybody that does this. They come out here to have fun. They come out here to race. If that was their only way of income, they wouldn’t be out here because they couldn’t make a living at it. That’s what I considered a hobby racer.”

Smith believes Johnson took a molehill and made a mountain of his comment. 

“I don’t think I made too much out of it,” Johnson responded. “I posted a rebuttal on social media. I printed a T-shirt. I told my mom and everybody that would listen about it, but I don’t think I made too much out of it.”

But it doesn’t take much to get Johnson sideways on the subject.

“I think in any motorsport, there’s a rivalry of the haves and have-nots,” Johnson explained. “Matt has five championships. I’ve been racing a long time. If I count the one coming up and the next one, that will be twice that I’ve won championships -- which is none, in case you’re watching or following along.

“I’ve been racing forever. So he’s got five. At the end of the day, he’s done a hell of a job, so yeah, but there is a rivalry because he’s kind of ... no, he’s not kind of, he’s a knucklehead. It drives me crazy. People come out here and work their butts off just to be here and to go down the track much less qualify, much less win a round, much less win the race and have a trophy.”

Johnson said the rules of rivalry shouldn’t have to be stated and should be understood.

“If you need to stir up the pot a little bit, I think that’s good,” Johnson said. “Don’t dog out somebody’s mom, but stir the pot a little bit. But you can’t call up a whole bunch of people’ hobbyists’ when they’ve got everything. They work their butts off at work, and then they spend every single minute of their time working on their motorcycle and their racing program. And then some jackwagon calls them a hobbyist. So it’s like, ‘Hey man, love your opinion, but keep it to yourself.’

Smith took the time to clarify his comments so Johnson could understand.

“I am a professional racer because this is how I make my living, and he took that to a whole ‘nother level, spun it out,” Smith said. “He does stuff to catch attention, and that’s kind of the only way he gets attention. And until this last year, he hasn’t run good enough to get attention for himself, so that’s how he’s done it. Now, if he’ll just keep his mouth shut and let the bike do the performance on track, he’s getting attention because he’s running good, and I’m proud of him that he’s running good.”

And in Johnson’s words, it was Oakley founder Jim Jannard who drove a point home to him. 

“We cannot be vanilla,” Johnson said. “The guy that started Oakley in the back of the trunk of his car, he says, ‘Your sport’s too vanilla.’ “

LEGACY LORE - Between the two of them, they have 20 NHRA championships. What they don't have is an idea of is how they want their legacies to play out when they hang up the firesuit. 

John Force has 154 career wins, putting him atop not only the all-time wins list of Funny Car racing but also all of professional drag racing. Steve Torrence's 51 Top Fuel career wins, while impressive, pales in comparison to Force's resume. He's just one win shy of tying Joe Amato and Antron Brown for the third-winningest driver in the class. 

"I don't go there, I don't think about it, I don't think about," Force said, shaking his head. "I've had people try to say, 'You can go after Petty. Steal it. 200." 

"I never raced Petty. So, why would I even say that? They said the same thing to Glidden, and Glidden goes. I was standing there one day, and actually, I was talking to him, and he goes, 'Well, good luck. You can break that record." 

"I said, 'Which one?" And he said, "Mine." 

"I said, "You're the greatest there ever was. I never raced you. Why am I going after your record?" So, none of that makes sense. But I was getting to a point. The point is, I'm still chasing the Don Prudhommes and the heroes of my era. I'm still chasing them in my mind. That's what motivates me."

As National DRAGSTER's Phil Burgess pointed out, "You have four times as many wins as Prudhomme, or Garlits, or any of that stuff. Why don't you feel you're worthy of that title?"

Force admits he cannot help it; he has a hard time putting himself on an even keel with those he idolized. 

"They were all I lived for," Force explained. "You don't understand. I was a kid, right out of school, racing in school with that dream, standing at the fence. I couldn't afford to get in the race track at Pomona with my truck parked down the street that I was driving and said, 'One day I'll be out there." 

"And that was everything that made you when you were at a crossroad, like, 'This is over. You can't make it." 

"I remember sitting in Memphis at a crossroad, 'It's over, you're broke, the crews are wanting to beat you up, you had to lock them in a trailer. There were only two of us in those days. I mean, when we had six guys, we slept six in a room. Can you imagine that?

"We did what we did to survive. And then you reach a point where you say, "It's over," and then you go."

For Torrence, life's priorities have changed with the birth of his daughter Charli, and his legacy is leaning more towards being a better father than a historic drag racer. 

"When you have something that you gauge time off of, like a little girl that's learning to sit up and learning to walk and all these things happen, and you don't realize how much time has gone by, I mean, my little girl's a year old," Torrence explained. "It seems like she came out two or three months ago, and things happen so much quicker because you have something to gauge them by. 

"It's not changed who I am; it's changed how I look at things and what really is important. This is about family and the next generation and what you're going to leave. And John [Force] has built a dynasty.

Just like Force, Torrence isn't ready to keep score of his accolades alongside drag racing's legends. 

"Somebody showed me a list here a few months ago, and honestly, man, it blows my mind to even think that I'm there," Torrence admitted. "It's not a feeling of deservedness or anything. We worked really hard to do what we've done; we try to win every race we go to. And sometimes, I think you just work so hard at what you're trying to do and stay so focused on the task at hand when you look up; you're further down the road than you ever thought you would be. 

"I'm so much further down the road than I ever imagined I would be. I'm just thankful and blessed to be here. Probably every one of us remembers being at the ropes, watching those drivers, watching those teams, wanting to be there. Standing at the fence, watching just in awe to see a Top Fuel car go down the racetrack. Never in a million years would I imagine I would be driving one, I would win a race, I would win a championship."

"When somebody shows you [your accomplishments], or you ask me that question, I mean, that hits you pretty hard. Because I mean, I can talk about that question forever. I mean, man, I grew up in a trailer house in Kilgore, Texas. My dad was a welder, and my mom cleaned houses. Now I'm a four-time world champ."

BRITTANY FORCE OFF TO BEST START - Heading into Sunday’s Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals near Charlotte, Brittany Force is enjoying a start the likes of which she’s never experienced.

She won the two most-recent races: Houston one week ago and Las Vegas on April 3. She’s posted the top speed at all five national events, topped by a 338-mph blast at Vegas. 

She’s combining that kind of top-end muscle with improved reaction times, and that’s what allowed her to capture Houston over Justin Ashley.

It’s no wonder she’s on top of the Top Fuel world for the moment.

What a difference a year makes, she noted. In 2021, she had “a lot” of No. 1 qualifier performances, but couldn’t parlay those into wins. Her first victory, in fact, didn’t come until mid-August in Topeka, when she shared victory lane with her father and team owner, Funny Car superstar John Force.

The triumphs in Las Vegas and Houston marked the first time Brittany Force has won consecutive national events. 

While admitting that better reaction times have played an important role in her team’s strong performance this season, she reminded the media Saturday that her job involves far more than delivering a quick leave.

“It’s something I still battle with. Throughout the season I’m going to have ups and downs. I already have this season. It’s something that’s always been very tough,” she said.

“When you strap yourself into a car with a bomb behind you, it’s a whole different world and it’s a whole different mindset. You’re pulling five, six G’s on your body within the first hundred feet, and zero to 300 in less than four seconds is a lot.

“A driver is a lot more than reaction times, and that’s one of the unfortunate things I think gets missed all the time. There’s a lot going on: Keeping that car in the groove, when you’re dropping cylinders; keeping it in your lane, keeping it in that groove all the way to the finish line; listening for anything that feels off in your car and responding to it, and whether to keep your foot in it gunning for the end or pull your foot out of it and pedal it. It really doesn’t come down to reaction time all the time.”

She also said that four-wide racing, which is in play once a year at Vegas and Charlotte and wraps up for the season Sunday, offers the possibility of a challenge that doesn’t exist in “normal” racing in pairs.

“The two easiest lanes for a driver are one and four,” she said, noting that there’s only one other competitor in her immediate peripheral vision with a wall on one side of her dragster. “When you’re looking at that Christmas tree, it’s the closest thing to what you typically see every single weekend. Those would be my vote.

“What it really boils down to is lane choice and track, so I’ll leave it up to my crew chief,” David Grubnic. “Whatever lane he wants, whatever lane he thinks we can get the car down in and turn the win light on, that is the lane I want.”

IF HE DIDN'T KNOW IT BEFORE HE KNOWS IT NOW - Justin Ashley learned the saying " you live by the sword, you die by the sword" has real creedence. He found it out the hard way by losing on a holeshot to Brittany Force in the final round at the NHRA SpringNationals outside of Houston. 
“It hurts, and you learn to live with it at times,” Ashley said. “Ideally, going to that final round, it’s not what you want. It’s not what you expect. But I think the most important thing is to learn from it and move forward, which I think I did a good job of.” 
The driver of the Phillips Connect Top Fuel Dragster learned the value of adopting the mindset to that of an NFL Quarterback.  
“That’s part of the game,” Ashley said. “It’s forgotten. It’s done. It’s in the past. They say the greatest quarterbacks have the shortest memories, and that’s kind of what you got to live by in a situation like this.”  
Ashley, a former college football player, has learned to keep a positive mindset and outlook, and deems the Houston runner-up a victory.  
“Overall, you don’t really want to focus on that round,” Ashley admitted. “You want to focus on the weekend, and the weekend was really good,” Ashley said. “It was really positive. We went a lot of rounds. We were able to get more data, more information, stack points for the rest of the season.” 
Ashley currently sits third in the Camping World Series standings and is not shy in saying he’s going to do what it takes to scratch and claw his way like a dog to get to the top.  
“I love to be on top,” Ashley admitted. “Forget about being the underdog. You want to be the best at what you do. It’s about helping put your team in a position to win. So our team wants to be the best, and we work hard to be the best. And it is hard out here.”  
Ashley knows building up a reputation of being a master on the starting line is one thing, but he also knows building up a reputation as a team to be reckoned with is something as well.  
“A reputation on the track and a reputation off the track is just as important,” Ashley said. “So you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, and we have the best group in the world, and I feel like we’ve developed a reputation, not just me as an individual, but as a team, that we can really go to any race and we can win any race that we enter.” 

HEARTBROKEN - Top Fuel independent Kyle Wertzel almost made it in. In the Q4 session, Wertzel laid down a 3.854, 317.72 to land 16th in the field, but one pair later found himelf on the outside when Tony Schumacher bumped in with a 3.831, 319.98.

HARD RESET - As far as Two-time NHRA Pro Mod World Champion Stevie “Fast” Jackson is concerned, the 2022 season started on Friday.

“Gainesville never even happened in my book unless you’re Kris Thorne,” Jackson said. “The weather we had in Gainesville with no qualifying shots at the racetrack and our cars shutting off on the starting line in E1, we’re scrapping that one off the books. We’re looking at this [Charlotte Four-Wide] like it’s the beginning of our season.”

Jackson’s season-opener at the NHRA Gatornationals last month was a forgettable experience. He lost in the first round when a part failed and left his Bahrain car sitting idle on the starting line.

If it appears Jackson is more aggressive than usual this weekend at zMax Dragway, it is because it is. 
“We have been overpreparing and overpreparing for the last six weeks to get ready for this. Jackson explained. “I am super fired up. I was up at 6:00 AM and at the racetrack at 8:00 on Friday to run at 3:30 or 3:15. So that kind of tells you not only how excited I am, but our whole team is for this event. We won this deal last year. I like four-wide racing, the fans like it, and I’m ready to get out there and see what we can do.”
Jackson’s motivation comes from his roots as an outlaw racer, where success and failure is measured by gambled money won or lost. 
“I treat every race in every round like it’s a grudge race,” Jackson said. “It’s the opportunity to kick the s**t out of three people instead of one. So for me, I get into it, and I like it.”

Speaking of money, the NHRA’s Pro Modified division is now fully funded through the end of the year by Fuel Tech. 
“I’m always happy to take any of FuelTech’s money that they got laying around,” Jackson said. “So if they got some cheese, I’m going to come get it. It’s really good for all the competitors and for the fans for us to have a title sponsor. We’ve got a new advisory board committee that’s kind of helping to steer our class a little bit. We got some good leadership and we have some people in place that are actually successful businessmen and are good at what they do. So I think anytime you got some voices of reason to help advocate for the Pro Mod class, I think it’s a good thing.” 

Jackson is glad to know that he’s got a voice in some aspects of the class. During a recent episode of the CompetitionPlus POWER HOUR, Jackson lobbied for NHRA to adopt a bonus points format for qualifying. 

Last week NHRA announced a new bonus point program based on average elapsed time. 
“I think the going off of average qualifying for bonus points is at least a step in the right direction,” Jackson said. “I don’t know if it’ll entice folks enough to run their cars as hard as they need to.”
However, Jackson says qualifying bonus points or not; he will race the same as he always does. 
“I’m going to run my car as hard as it’ll go all the time. That’s the only way I know how to run it. I just run balls to the wall all the time, but hopefully, it’ll make everybody else follow suit.”
PARALLEL CAREERS - Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer met at a motorcycle racing school in 1995, and a year later, they made their NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut at Bandimere Speedway near Denver.

More than a quarter-century later, they’re still fast friends; Sampey, as a three-time NHRA series champion, and Stoffer, the owner of the quickest quarter-mile time ever in their class. 

The fact that both women are still competing in the same class all these many years later brings smiles to their faces. 

“I remember when I first started, George (Bryce) asked me how long did I think I would race,” Sampey said. “I said probably five years. I was hoping to get five years in. That five years went by in what felt like five months. Crazy.

“In those five years I accomplished just about everything I set out to accomplish. My career got a great start from the beginning but the more I won, the more I wanted to win, so there was no stopping at five.”

Bryce was not only the owner of the motorcycle racing school where Sampey and Stoffer learned to race at a higher level, he was Sampey’s first NHRA team owner. Sampey’s first full season was 1997, and she notched her initial championship in 2000. She successfully defended her crown on the Winston-sponsored bike, then captured her third in a row in 2002. In 2001, her 19th victory made her the winningest woman in NHRA pro-category history, and she was in the midst of dominating the division: In those three seasons, she won 18 times in 24 final rounds, and she was a finalist in 57% of her starts.

The husband-wife team of Karen and Gary Stoffer, meanwhile, tested the waters in 1996 and found themselves in water deeper than they could manage.

“One of the things that I learned when I dipped my toes in in ’96 was that the water wasn’t ready for me – or I wasn’t ready for the water,” the 58-year-old from Gardnerville, Nevada, said. “We ran once or twice and said, ‘We really shouldn’t be out here, we don’t have the skills, we don’t have the equipment, we’re just out having a good time’ kind of thing. So we definitely took the toes back out.”

They returned in 2002 with team owners Doug and Debbie Johnson, and at Maple Grove Raceway that season, Karen lost to Sampey in the first all-female final in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle history. In 2004, with GEICO as her sponsor, Stoffer earned her first victory at Houston.

After scoring a pair of wins in 2007, Stoffer didn’t return to victory lane again until 2011. She sat out the 2013-14 and 2020 seasons, and she plans to wrap up her Pro Stock Motorcycle career as a full-time competitor at the end of this year. She may consider racing in the Factory Stock Showdown in the coming years.

Sampey took a break during the 2009-13 seasons to start a family. She is now in her fourth season with Vance & Hines Motorsports on the Mission Foods Suzuki. She had high hopes of winning the 2021 Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, but couldn’t pull off the feat.

“Vince & Hines is the elite part of Pro Stock Motorcycle drag racing, but I’ve still got to drive the damn motorcycle, and I can sure find a way to screw it up,” she said. “I should’ve won the championship last year, but I managed to screw that up. It was not Vance & Hines’ fault.”

Sampey’s 2021 title hopes came to an end when she lost on a holeshot to eventual champion Matt Smith in the season-ending event at Pomona.

Back in 1996, Sampey and Stoffer didn’t compete on the big stage as the only women, as Stephanie Reaves made her PSM debut that same weekend. Sampey was originally slated to race at Rockingham Dragway in a Prostar-sanctioned event, but with a hurricane wiping out that event, Bryce made the call to head to Denver. It turned out to be a blessing for Sampey.

“I was glad (Stoffer and Reaves) were there because it took the pressure off of being ‘the girl’ out there,” Sampey said. “I don’t know how Karen and Stephanie were treated, but it was rough back then. There wasn’t a lot of confidence in me from other riders, not a lot of trust. There were things that were being said like they didn’t want to be in the other lane against me, they were afraid to race against me because I guess everybody just had this idea that I was going to crash into every other motorcycle there and kill somebody.

“Instead of it just being me, it was two other girls, and that made that a little easier. Karen and I actually did become really good friends over the years. I respect her and love her a lot. She is just a genuine, awesome human being. I’m so glad she’s still out here with me. … Overall, it’s just made it easier. If I had had to be the only female out here the whole time, I, quite frankly, don’t know if I would have lasted because of the treatment I was given.”

Their on-track fortunes have often run parallel in that when one is running well, so is the other. When one struggles, the other seems to fight an uphill battle, too. That bit of common ground has allowed them to celebrate or commiserate as circumstances dictate.

“If I come around the corner and had a bad run and she sees I’m sitting there discouraged, she’s like, ‘Girl, me, too. We’re in this together,’” Sampey said. “Then we end up turning it around at the same time. There’s been several races where neither one of us were qualified ’til the fourth round and we both got in at the very last minute. It’s like we were doing the whole thing together. Some way, Karen and I have been on the same wavelength our entire career, and I’ve just really appreciated it and hope she does, too.”

When Sampey began her NHRA career, she juggled her schedule around her duties a nurse. Stoffer was in the grocery business in high school and college, then went to work 29 years ago for Bently Nevada as a process and quality expert in a manufacturing facility. The firm builds computers for large-scale power generators around the world, she said. 

“Nuclear plants, warner plants, turbines, wind – anything that spins or turns or rotates, we make the equipment that captures the data and lets you know if it’s running at its efficiency or if there’s something out of balance or a temperature issue,” she said. “It prevents catastrophic failures. It also allows you to bring your power down so you can maintenance it. Power companies lose millions of dollars a second when their power goes out, and our equipment allows you to bring it down to the level where you can maintain it, sustain it and fix it, and then bring it back up.

“I work in the technology department. I’m one of the process leaders for our global technology department, so I work with engineers around the world, making their days easier, designing and making products, doing everything compliantly without letting them know it,” the 11-time NHRA national-event winner said. “I work with engineers in China, India, Brazil – three or four hundred of them around the world. If I can make an engineer smile because they can do their job and not worry about the bureaucracy as far as recording or not recording everything, that’s a good day.”

Sampey said she wasn’t always been easy to befriend at the track due to her intensely competitive nature. “I don’t care if it’s a monkey on the motorcycle in the other lane, I want to win,” she said.

“I was trying to survive out there and be competitive and fight off the men that wanted me to leave,” she said, “but I think (Karen and I have) come to appreciate each other even more as we’ve gotten older. She’s always been super, super nice and friendly to me. I wasn’t always … I wasn’t not nice, I just didn’t really go around and really associate with everybody like I do now.

“I think I had built up a wall around me because of some of the ways I was treated — not by her, by any means, or some other people — but there were people that hurt me pretty bad out there, so I just got to a point where I said, ‘I’m not here here to make friends.’ My slogan was actually, ‘If I want friends at the race track, I’ll bring them with me.’ Now it’s different, I’m out there to have fun and enjoy myself, I’m more relaxed and talk to everybody. I don’t know which way is better. I think maybe I need to go back to being mean.”

The “mean Angelle” would have come in handy had she not pursued a racing career, she said.

“There’s only one other sport that I would want to be involved in and that’s the UFC. I always said I think I would’ve been a good UFC fighter,” said Sampey, who is 51. “But now it’s too late for that. I’d get in there and try to fight somebody and break a hip.”

STACKING THE BRICKS - 2018 NHRA Funny Car World Champion J.R. Todd knows Rome wasn’t built overnight.

Todd hasn’t had the kind of start he’s hoped for, but a semi-final finish last weekend in Houston is cause for confidence.  

“We definitely needed that. We haven’t gotten off to the start that we had liked here at the DHL Funny Car Team. Todd said. “It’s just been a rough go for us. It was nice going some rounds last weekend. It gets everybody’s confidence back where it needs to be. Gain some points, moved up in points. Just got to keep chipping away at it. Rome wasn’t built overnight, but we’re trying to make it happen.”

When Toyota decided to switch from the familiar Toyota Camry body to the new Toyota GR Supra in 2022, Todd knew there might be some growing pains initially and admits the slow start has been frustrating.

“It’s tough, man; drag racing is tough if you’re not winning,” said Todd. “It’ll test your patience, especially if things aren’t going to your liking, but it doesn’t change how we approach things here.”

Todd, a proven champion, understands the peaks and valleys in drag racing. He believes the team will figure it out and put themselves at the top of the pack when it’s all said and done.

“We go out there and try to do the best we can.” Todd Said. “Whether it’s the guys putting together the car, the crew chiefs making the calls, or me behind the wheel. Just go up there and do the best we can. When things line up, we’ll be right there in the hunt, I think.”

PRUETT THANKFUL FOR WORK OFFLOAD - Starting a Top Fuel team from scratch is a daunting undertaking. A tractor-trailer combo – at least one, and maybe more – has to be ordered, as do items as insignificant as nuts and bolts of the correct grade. Crew and driver uniforms have to be designed and purchased, photo shoots scheduled for “hero cards,” and travel arrangements made (hotels, rental cars, flights and more), and personnel hired.

Those duties kept Leah Pruett busy for months as she and her husband, retired NASCAR Cup, USAC and IndyCar champion Tony Stewart, put the wheels in motion to launch their team in 2022. 

Thankfully, now that the season is in its second month, Pruett has been able to shed some of the responsibility she shouldered when the team added Kelly Antonelli to the employee roster.

“I will say that within the past (three) weeks I haven’t had a whole lot except for doing what I like to do, which is work on the execution of the marketing thing,” said Pruett, who is seeking her first Tony Stewart Racing victory this weekend at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte. “Putting all the ingredients in and baking the pie … like, right now, I’m just getting to do the icing, which is really nice because of the people we have working at TSR.

“I don’t have a business card that has a particular role like ‘Tony’s wife.’ There’s a lot that goes into that. For instance, we went to the season opener of the All Stars (All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car tour that Stewart owns) in Attica, Ohio … so that he could be with the executive team and see how that race was going. Right before that we were in Martinsville supporting the NASCAR teams, then a coupla weeks ago we were in Austin” at the Cup race.”

At the forefront of her non-driving duties for now is filling the races for which her dragster and teammate Matt Hagan’s Funny Car don’t have primary sponsors. That said …

“That it doesn’t change the way that we operate. There’s a lot of pressure on me because that’s my husband’s money that is up-fronting – but that’s how transparent we are; that nothing changes, no driver, no crew member, no crew chief is ever going to feel whether we’re overfunded or underfunded,” she said. “We are funded at the place to win championships, and I think that’s what everyone is seeing right now by the results these teams are executing.”

Hagan leads the Funny Car points heading into Sunday’s 11 a.m. EDT eliminations while Pruett aims to continue a recent performance upswing and crack the top 10.



STOFFER’S FINAL CHAPTER? - It’s been almost 26 years since Karen Stoffer made her NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut in Denver.

This season is very likely her last. 

Stoffer, an 11-time national-event winner, is ready to hang up her helmet, but only in terms of full-time Pro Stock Motorcycle competition. She’s in her third season with the White Alligator Racing team because she skipped the abbreviated 2020 campaign due to COVID-19’s impact on her career in Nevada. At the season-opening race for the class at the Gatornationals in March, she not only won, she recorded the quickest run in the division’s history at 6.665 seconds in a second-round victory over Eddie Krawiec.

“Because I have dual careers, people call me a hobby racer, which is true for as long as I’ve been racing with NHRA,” said Stoffer, who lives in Gardnerville, Nevada, and is now in her 29th year of a full-time job at Bently Nevada. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative. For me, it’s been a big positive. I have a really good work/life balance, and I’m very fortunate and blessed in every aspect of it.

“But I have had people make the comment, ‘Just think if you were doing this professionally and could test and could do your own engine program and all that, you might have taken a different path.’ But I don’t regret anything, and I would never have given up my job. If I had had to give up one for the other, it would have been racing. I love them both, but I would have given up racing, not my job. I love my job.”

Stoffer’s never won an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle crown; fourth in 2019 is her career best. She was victorious at World Wide Technology Raceway that season.

The 2020 season was to have been her last, but COVID forced a change of plans. NHRA was idle for three months due to the pandemic, then returned with a compressed schedule that was crammed into a smaller window in the calendar.

“It was such an erratic schedule that I could not balance my work career with their changing, dynamic schedule, plus I had to stay close to work,” she said.

Stoffer opted to shift that PSM retirement plan to 2021, but a late-season surge and some strong persuasion helped energize her to return for 2022.

“They put the big motor in my bike for the last three races, and we went to the final round in every one of them,” she said. “I was going to be done again. I finished on a high note, so I was OK with that. Then my husband (Gary) and (sponsors) the Skillmans and Big St. Charles and Suzuki Extended Protection got together and said, ‘We all think Karen should race another year. Does she want to?’

“So, this is going to be my last year riding a full season, I think. There are other people that want to ride the WAR bike. I think there are some other things I could do in NHRA, so I could still be out there with the race teams. I think there are some teams that could use some of my skills and assistance.

“I’m pretty sure that this year is going to be my last full season. I’ll still have my license, and I still might jump on a bike here and there, but I think from a full-season standpoint, this is probably going to be it.”

Gary Stoffer works on Jalina Salinas’ Pro Stock Motorcycle, and when he and Karen aren’t competing at NHRA national events, they participate in NHRA divisional races and big-money bracket shows from coast to coast. They keep a set of bikes at home in Nevada for racing from the Rockies to the Pacific, and two others are housed in a shop in Indianapolis.

During the down time in 2020, the Stoffers filled their need for speed with grassroots racing – and that’s not going to change.

“We never did leave racing altogether,” she said, “and we never, ever will.” -Thomas Pope

IT JUST WORKS - The four-time NHRA Top Fuel champion didn’t have an answer to the question. 

We’ll tell you the answer in Jeopardy style.

This driver has won the last four Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway and another two four-wide style events in Las Vegas. 

Who is Steve Torrence?

“I have no clue why we have been successful with this format,” Torrence said. “Maybe it’s because it’s only three rounds. We’ve only went into semis this year, so maybe that’s our threshold. But honestly, I think that it goes back down to just the bare fact of you don’t get but one run in every lane. You go into race day with less data for each lane. 

“I have all the faith and the confidence in the world in Richard [Hogan] and Bobby [Lagana] to get it figured out before the other guys do. I think that, that’s been our advantage in a lot of the races that we’ve won, is they get it figured out quicker. They know how to make that race car go down the racetrack when they need to.”

Torrence believes each crew chief has their characteristics and tendencies. His guys are known for their consistency. 

“Grubby {Brittany Force's crew chief David Grubnic} is known for hitting the home run,” Torrence explained. “That guy’s going to run 3.62 if it’s there, and he does it when he needs to, and he’s bad to the bone. Richard gets the race car down the track almost every time; we’re very consistent. I think that’s one of the things that plays into our favor in this format is being able to navigate the racetrack when the conditions are tricky, when you don’t have as much information when you don’t have as much to build off of, Richard gets it done day in and day out.

Torrence is off to an uncharacteristically slow start this season, and it’s not so much the CAPCO team has run bad as much as it has been the rest of the field has been hard at work bridging the gap, which has existed for the last four seasons. 

“That’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re used to going out and going to the final round and when you’re used to winning races a lot,” Torrence said. “You go five races, and people think that you fell off and you’re not this and you’re not that. We won Pomona [last November], so it hasn’t been that long since we won. 

“It’s all the same people, it’s all the same parts, it’s all the same everything. We didn’t just forget what we were doing, but you do have to sacrifice. You got to say, “I’m going to have to give up now to be better later.” And that’s where we’re at. And I think that things are slowly coming in that direction. I think last weekend was a glimmer of that.”

Torrence said his team is about 30 laps or so into developing his combination of the future. 

“Everything we’ve done before is negated,” Torrence said. “So you don’t have that backlog, that inventory of stuff to build on. And so we’re kind of building as we go and it’s what we did in the years prior to our success. So I think that it’s just something that we’re not all the way at the bottom, but we’re having to stack back. A lot of times you have to tear everything down and build it back stronger to make it better and that’s where we’re at right now.”

CAPPS FINALLY GETS HIS TOYOTA - Two hours before unveiling his new baby Friday, Ron Capps had the butterflies of a prospective father pacing in a waiting room.

Nine months, you see, is how long it took for Capps’ desire to become a Toyota-backed racer to putting the manufacturer’s GR Supra body on the track. It became a reality with first-round qualifying at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

“I’m nervous,” said Capps, the 2016 and ’21 NHRA Funny Car champ who this season launched his own team. “I’ve driven a long time, but I still just want to make sure I do everything right. I’m excited about getting down the track and (crew chief Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli) finding the right balance for this body.

“There’s been a lot of man-hours in the wind tunnel developing this body, a lot of man-hours working on this car,” he added. “I run off and do sprint cars and nostalgia Top Fuel and Funny Car, and they’re all different – different brake handles, different seats, all sorts of different stuff – so I’ve had to learn to adapt on the fly, then come back and get in my Funny Car. I hope that experience will help in a car that’s new to me.”

The move to Toyota has its origins to Labor Day weekend 2021 at the U.S. Nationals, which was when Capps informed his then-team owner, Don Schumacher, that he was going to do his own thing this year. That meant entering into deep negotiations with potential sponsors and manufacturers, and Indy was crucial to that, he said.

“Indy’s one of the rare races where you get manufacturers and sponsors that come out that don’t go to a lot of the races,” he said. 

It was during the U.S. Nationals that Capps met with Paul Doleshal, Group Manager, Motorsports for Toyota Motor North America. At that point, Capps wasn’t privy to the information that Toyota was going to switch from its Camry body style to the GR Supra. But what he did know was the importance of being aligned with a manufacturer in a big way – something he learned by watching how major motorsports team owners such as Roger Penske, Rick Hendrick, Chip Ganassi, and Richard Childress, as well as Capps’ first big-time team owner, Don Prudhomme, dealt with those key players.

“The foundation to a team is the manufacturer, and if you do it right, you might get a partner,” Capps said. “So at Indy and after that, we’re in the middle of the (NHRA) Countdown to the Championship, I’m trying to win a championship, a couple of the sponsors we were talking to weren’t sure yet, and it was a tough time.

“Finally, in December, right before I was going to leave the hotel to go to the (Performance Racing Industry) show to make the announcement about starting my team, I got a call. It was Toyota saying, ‘We want to be involved, we want to be a partner – but are you OK with not having the body to start the season off with?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. I’m willing to wait because I don’t want your current teams … the current teams they had deserved to have it first.’”

Those would be drivers J.R. Todd and Alexis DeJoria. And while they had their bodies in time for the season opener at Pomona, California, in mid-February, Capps had to wait – and keep mum. But when Capps’ team left the shop in Brownsburg, Ind., two weeks ago to head to Houston for last weekend’s event, the new body was finished and in the hauler. Its debut at Charlotte was held back for a reason, Capps said.

“Us racing in Charlotte is a big deal,” Capps said, “and this being a four-wide race, we get four qualifying runs, and that’ll help.”

For now, Capps only has the only GR Supra body, though he said the second one will be ready Monday.

And what if something disastrous happens to that brand-new shell this weekend? What’s the back-up plan?

Capps will fall back on a Dodge Charger body. Well, it used to be a Dodge Charger.

“If we have to, we’re ready in case something happens,” Capps said. “It’s not a Dodge. It’s a ‘nothing’ body.”

Antonelli had no trouble figuring out how to tune the car with the new body on it. In Friday's two nitro qualifying rounds, Capps made runs of 3.885 and 3.873 seconds -- third fastest halfway through the qualifying sessions.

FIRED UP - Funny Car racer Paul Lee continues to search for his groove with new tuners Dustin Heim and Jason Bunker. The McLeod Funny Car backfired the supercharger in the Q2 session. 

GUESS WHO’S BACK - Top Fuel Harley racing is back in the NHRA spotlight this weekend at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.

Its continuation on the 2022 calendar is unknown at this point, but there’s optimism among the competitors that it could be back at full strength in 2023.

The eight bikes on hand at zMAX Dragway this weekend aren’t racing for much more than glory, but the racers will take that – for now.

“This is what we lobbied for. We needed to be here or we were just going to disappear into the abyss,” said Jay Turner, whose 2017 NHRA crown was one of many in his career. “That’s why we put an effort forward to bring five bikes and make sure we have a full field. We want a program that works for NHRA and for the racers so that we can have a good class and the class can grow back like it was and where we want it to be. 

“This is the first time they’ve ever given us any concession, and I’m looking at that as a positive. They’ve never wavered from that, and this time they did.”

The concession is that NHRA didn’t require an entry fee from the teams this weekend. On the other hand, there’s no purse to offset the racers’ expenses. That said, exposure on the biggest playing field is invaluable for the competitors.

“Last year we kind of made a suggestion that if we could not pay entry fee or crew, we’ll come and still help keep it alive so you can still showcase us and get our name out there to potential sponsors,” said Ryan Peery, who captured the rival AMRA and AHDRA titles in 2021.

“It’s give and take. We’ve got to try to help find that sponsor, and we do that by being at the track to give them a product they can showcase. There’s nothing else like this. A lot of people like to compare us to Pro Stock Motorcycle, and those are fun to watch as well, but this is a different animal. Running on nitro is unforgiving. It can be special when it runs great – and it can be special when it doesn’t run great.”

Top Fuel Harley was part of the NHRA slate last year, but not in a full-scale capacity; i.e., there wasn’t a series sponsor, so the fact that Randal Andras was repeated as champion was unofficial. In 2021, the small number of shows were funded by sponsors rustled up by the racers.

Chris Smith, a Funny Bike national champ a year ago, won NHRA’s 2021 Top Fuel Harley finale at Texas Motorplex. He will mount up on another Turner bike this weekend for with hopes of repeated success.

“There’s value here, we just need to get some of those people that are interested here to the race track to see what we really do,” said the Tennessean. “Hopefully we’ll have some of those guys out this weekend to get them excited and hopefully be a part of this class.

“I know the fans love it. We’ve tons come by this morning and say, ‘Man, we’ve missed seeing you guys this season.’”

Apparently, NHRA has missed having the nitro Harleys as part of the show, too, and that’s an encouraging sign to Tii Tharpe, who captured the 2018-19 NHRA titles.

“I believe they do want us. They’ve asked us, they kept us around after last year,” he said. “It’s a struggle for everyone right now to find sponsorship. Hopefully we can just work together and hopefully get back to a 10-race deal. It’d be real nice to have an attractive purse for everybody next year. We’ve got opportunities to race other places that pay a good purse and we’re ‘the show,’ but us being out here is good for all sanctions. It draws attention and awareness.”

Bob Malloy, who posted the quickest NHRA Top Fuel Harley pass in 2020 with a 6.096-second blast at Indianapolis, agreed that the presence of his class is important for the racers and the sanctioning body.

“It’s a good show and people love to see them,” he said. “We’re just hoping they can put something together here and get a series sponsor going again because we want to be here, the fans want us to be, and NHRA does, too. NHRA really does want us here, but we have to put a program together.”

Peery called the lack of a solid, busy NHRA slate for the Top Fuel Harleys “disappointing,” and said it’s a situation that he believes should be a relatively simple one to solve.

“All of us racers, this is what we live for. We love to compete against each other and ourselves,” he said. “But it ain’t cheap. There’s got to be something that we’re racing for other than a Wally or a plaque.

“It’s frustrating. You would think that a sponsor would step up and see the potential that they would get with exposure and TV time. We’re not asking for the world. And if you look at some other classes, we’re fairly cheap in that department. We’ve just got to find that right sponsor to get that info to so they can see it. It’s not my department to do that, so hopefully the guys at NHRA are doing it, and hopefully we can get something in place for next year or maybe later this year.”

For the time being, the only other appearance at an NHRA national event will be May 13-15 at Dinwiddie, Virginia. The racers are hopeful that tentative plans for appearances at Bristol (June 17-19) and the U.S. Nationals (Aug. 31-Sept. 5) come to fruition.

HEY BROTHER, SPARE A BIKE? - Matt Smith knew he was in a no-win situation last Sunday as he shut his Suzuki down following a semi-final victory over Karen Stoffer. That’s when he entered a new bike in the NHRA SpringNationals final round against Steve Johnson.

“We hurt the motor on the Suzuki,” Smith said. “Second round, it slowed up, and then third round in the semi-finals when we ran it, really slowed up a lot more.”

That’s when Smith reached down into his bag of decreasing weapons and used the NHRA rulebook in his favor. 

“If I’d have known it had been hurt second round, I probably would’ve done a second round, but all-in-all, we didn’t do anything illegal,” Smith said. “We did everything we were supposed to do and to go a 681 right off the trailer was way better. We had a better shot of beating them than not showing up at all.

So, where did this obscure and seldom-used rule come from?

Back when live television became a part of the NHRA landscape back in 2017, NHRA provided the racers a concession in the event turnaround times had to be contracted to 30 minutes to safely keep the show moving forward. A spare car could be entered into competition provided it hadn’t been run in the same event. 

In 2017, the rule was first used when Steve Torrence crashed his Top Fuel dragster in the semi-finals. He was able to bring out a spare car in the semis. 

The bike Smith brought out was a brand new Buell, and with only a short testing pass to its credit. 

“We missed tune up a little bit, but it’ll be a fast bike,” Smith said. “I figured if it messed them up [psychologically], that’s good for us. It was the last race at Houston Raceway, and I didn’t want the fans to see a single run in the finals. So it was to try to put on a show for those guys. And that’s what we did.” 

The problem Smith faces is a part shortage tied to the pandemic. He came to the track with one Suzuki engine, and if it broke, his day was done. 

“It’s like everything, but I’ve been running the V twins so long that I have plenty of parts for that for the next two or three years and don’t have to buy anything,” Smith said. “The Suzuki stuff, I’ve got a bunch of stuff on order, and a lot of stuff keeps dragging out. I’ve got one good motor in Jimmy’s bike, and I’ve got one good motor on my bike. And that’s basically all we got right now.”

Smith caught grief for his decision being against the spirit of the rules. 

“I think the only guy I caught grief from was the guy in the other lane,” Smith said.

Friday, at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals outside of Charlotte, NC., Johnson, who won the Houston race, was still having a hard time with Smith’s actions.

“I was like, ‘Is that the Eddie Hill rule or something?” Johnson said emphatically. “And my crew chief Jock said, “Yeah.” 

“I’m like, ‘So he can have a spare bike and bring a spare?” And Jock said, “I guess. Everybody’s pretty mad about it.” 

“We got a spare tire for our trailer and a spare set of spark plugs. We don’t have a spare bike. Where the heck do you get a spare bike to roll out in the final round of a national event?” 

ONE WORLD AT A TIME - So much for that rookie reputation. 

Chad Green, whose race track reputation is tied mainly to racing a nitrous-injected Pro Modified doorslammer, has done everything in the three races to impersonate a veteran fuel Funny Car racer. Reaching the semifinals in two of the last three NHRA events has made him a threat to reckon with in 2022. 

“I felt like we had one of the most consistent cars in Houston,” Green said. “That semifinal round, I feel like we should have won, [not warming up the car between rounds] bit us. And there was some crap that got in the barrel valve. We would’ve found that had we warmed the car up, but it wouldn’t have put cylinders out. We feel like we missed a good opportunity there.”

Success has its rewards, and for Green, he came into the weekend ranked eighth in Camping World Drag Racing Series. 

Credit Tim Wilkerson, the Funny Car driving tuner, for keeping Green on the straight and narrow in his quest to navigate the shark-infested waters of the class. 

“I couldn’t do without Tim; it basically falls down to that,” Green said. “I’ve learned so much from that guy. He’s such a great teacher and mentor. Driving these cars are so much different. It’s a transition for me to get familiar and comfortable in the car, and he’s just really helped me along the way. 

Just because Green has found his groove in the Funny Car doesn’t mean he’s not going to dance with his doorslammer every once in a while. They are both ornery machines and demand a driver’s respect. 

“With the Pro Mod, it’s like you’re driving on ice,” Green explained. “You barely steer. With the [Funny Car], you never stop steering them. The whole way down the track, it’s like you’re wrestling a gorilla.” 

Green loves them both, the one with doors and the one without, but for now, he’s a one volatile car man at the time. 

“I love racing Pro Mod,” Green said. “I still got all my Pro Mods and planning to race them again, but just right now, just trying to focus on the Funny Car, get better at it.” 

CLAY GOES BOOM - Clay Millican lit up the Concord, NC. sky when his Parts Plus-sponsored dragster suffered parts failure as he neared the finish line during the Q2 session.

“Not sure what happened there,” Millican said. “It was going pretty good and I saw a reflection on the wall, and said, ‘That’s me.”

“It’s funny what you can see when you make a gazillion laps in these things. For the briefest moment, I wondered if that was me, or Kyle [Wurtzel] beside me. Oh yeah, it was me.

“I figured I had better stop at that point. I guess I was looking like a human roman candle.”