2022 NHRA NEW ENGLAND NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TOP FUEL THREE-TIME WINNER SALINAS AIMS TO IMPROVE DRIVING SKILLS - Life is pretty dang awesome for Mike Salinas.
He won his third NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel race of the year and sixth overall Sunday at Epping, N.H., defeating Justin Ashley in the final round of the New England Nationals.
His daughter Jasmine won the Top Alcohol Dragster final Sunday at the Division 3 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at Norwalk, Ohio moments after his victory.
“Families that race together, win together,” Salinas said. “I’m excited about the momentum we have as a team and as a family. This is a great day for all of us.”
He improved on his 2021 runner-up finish to Billy Torrence at New England Dragway.
He’s going to become a grandfather. Daughter Jacqueline is expecting.
He just became a father-in-law, with daughter Jianna marrying in April.
His wife, Monica, just participated May 29 in her graduation ceremony at Harvard University. (She completed her studies last year but because of COVID was unable to receive her diploma in person.)
His family is wonderful. Business is terrific.
So what’s the problem? How could he have a problem?
He thinks he has a problem – himself, specifically his driving.
Even after Sunday afternoon’s triumph – which matched points leader Brittany Force at three in eight events so far and moved him into second place in the standings, just 30 points behind her – Salinas wasn’t completely satisfied. He classified his driving performance as not adequate, even after recording his winning 3.729-second pass at 330.80 mph on the 1,000-foot course and joining points leaders Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) on the winners podium.
“I was lucky today. Driver messed up all day long, even in the finals,” Salinas said after defeating Ashley by about a car length at the finish line.
“The car’s been moving on me on the top end. Antron [Brown] drove my car a few weeks ago, and the car did really nice with him. It’s the driver. I’m doing something wrong, and what we’re doing is we’re correcting me,” he said.
The Camping World Drag Racing Series heads south to Bristol, Tenn., in two weeks. In the meantime, Salinas – who also won this year at Phoenix and Charlotte – said he will be devoting himself to improving his driving skills.
“We changed the steering. We changed different things on the car to find out [what need to be different]. Every run is a different run. We’ll get it. We’ll go straight. And we will win some more races,” Salinas said.
In the standings, Salinas leapfrogged Steve Torrence, the No. 1 qualifier this weekend with a track-record elapsed time (3.664 seconds). Torrence lost traction against class newcomer Scott Farley and dropped out in the opening round.
He secured his 12th final-round berth by eliminating Joe Morrison, Leah Pruett, and Austin Prock.
On the other side of the ladder, Winternationals winner Ashley drove his Phillips Connect powered by Vita C Dragster past Dan Mercier, Scott Farley, and Shawn Langdon to reach his seventh career final-round appearance. In the final, he clocked a 3.782-second performance at 315.78 mph but lost by about a car length.
Meanwhile, at Norwalk, Jasmine Salinas was matching her father round for round at the Division 3 regional points meet, where she qualified second. She beat Jeff Chatterson in the final round with a 5.329-second, 275.96-mph run in her Top Alcohol Dragster.
“We were runner up at the Norwalk regional last year,” she said, “so it feels awesome to be bringing home a Wally this year. But what makes it even better is that my dad and his Top Fuel team won their race in Epping right before we did. Even though we were at different tracks, we were following each other all weekend on NHRA.tv so we didn’t miss a thing.
“One day we’ll eventually get another father-daughter double-up at the same event and be in the winners circle together. I’m looking forward to coming out again for the national event,” Jasmine Salinas said.
That’s a fitting goal for Fathers Day weekend at Bristol’s Thunder Valley Nationals, where Salinas has won in the past two Caping World Drag Racing Series visits.
Salinas said the crew of his Valley Services-branded dragster is “so dedicated it’s scary.” He is, too, and he might be scarier once – in his eyes – he masters the subtleties of driving the dragster.
MATT HAGAN KEEPS ROLLING WITH EPPING FC VICTORY - Matt Hagan’s first season with Tony Stewart Racing continued its torrid success Sunday at the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H.
Hagan clocked a 3.992-second elapsed time at 327.98 mph to defeat Robert Hight who slowed to 6.232 seconds at 110.15 in the final round before a sellout crowd at New England Dragway.
This was Hagan’s third win of the season in eight races and the 42nd of his career. Hagan also won in Gainesville and Houston, and he had three runner-up efforts in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Richmond.
“I don’t care what (crew chief) Dickie Venables says, it is worth 17 horsepower,” Hagan said about his Fu Manchu moustache. “The Stache has validation. “It was just a great weekend. I can’t say enough about Dickie. Obviously, nothing really needs to be said the race car speaks for itself. All the boys wrenching on the car do a great job. It is one of those things where I don’t even think about it anymore because each and every one of those guys have earned my trust. When you say that it really does mean something. I trust those guys with my life so when I crawl in that car, I don’t think about anything other than just leaving the starting line.
“Trust is earned. It is not given over freely. I can’t even describe how many times these have caught something where I could have had a nasty crash out there or a big explosion. That mentality of having the group of guys for so long putting a great race car underneath me. We have been doing this for 11 years. We have had a lot of time to build, to grow and a lot of doors slamming and *ss chewings in the lounge but that is what it takes to get to this point. I’m so proud of my guys. I’m nothing without them. They deserve all the credit.”
Hagan, who also was No. 1 qualifier with a 3.878-second elapsed at 332.51 mph in his Dodge Brokers Charger, ousted Dale Creasy Jr., had a bye in round two, beat J.R. Todd in the semis and then took care of Hight out of the John Force Racing stable in the finals.
Hagan, who won NHRA nitro Funny Car world championships in 2011, 2014 and 2020, is first in the points standings – 41 points in front of Hight.
“I don’t know if we can maintain anything,” Hagan said with a chuckle. “I think we are just doing what we do, and we are in a good rhythm and good mindset and Dickie is in a great headspace and we have a lot of data that he has collected over the years we have been together, and it says a lot about keeping your team together for years. You try and ride this wave as much as you can, and you have to give a lot of respect over there to Robert Hight and Jimmy Prock. They are showing up and showing out. I love that because it creates a great rivalry for our fans. We had sold out crowds here and that’s what they want to see. They want to see that throwdown.”
Hagan winning in Epping should come as no surprise as he has wins at New England Dragway in 2017-19 and 2022.
“They need to name the track after Dickie Venables,” said Hagan when it was suggested in his winner’s press conference, they should name the track after him. “He has the tune-up and the date to go with it and I’m just hanging on to a fast race car. I’m trying to keep it in the groove. Some tracks just show you love. Some tracks are like I can’t buy a round if I had to. This track for some reason, I remember back to my IHRA days when I was running a fuel Funny Car here and even my Pro Mod stuff, it just has history for me. We were going to New England, and I was like I’m ready to go.”
As good as Hagan has been, he knows the Countdown is when his team needs to be running its best.
“Peaking too early is a real thing,” Hagan said. “What I feel good about is Dickie Venables. When we get back to the Countdown area, the whole weather conditions, and the cooler stuff, he just thrives in that. My concern is always the middle of the season because it is so hot. It is so hard to slow one of these cars down versus making them go fast. Dickie can make them go fast. I feel like Dickie has proven he can run on a hot racetrack and do what he needs to do be a good racer on Sunday.” Tracy Renck
AFTER LONG BREAK, ERICA ENDERS KEEPS MOMENTUM GOING WITH EPPING WIN - NHRA’s Pro Stock class had not competed in a national event since Houston on April 24.
Erica Enders won that race at her hometown track in the farewell event at Houston Raceway Park and she kept her momentum going Sunday, June 5.
Enders, a four-time world champ, clocked a 6.547-second time at 211.00 mph in the final round to defeat Elite Motorsports teammate Aaron Stanfield who came in at 6.553 seconds at 212.13 mph.
“I mean any weekend we can stick two Elite Motorsports, Elite Performance cars in the finals is just epic and awesome,” Enders said. “But yeah, you mentioned Aaron won here last year. We won in '17 coming off a win-less season in ‘16 prior to that was two back-to-back world championships. So, being able to win here and Epping in 2017, kind of turned the tides for us and then parking Aaron's car in the winner circle last year was significant, but to go up there and know what each of us has under the hood and what each of us are capable of behind the wheel is pretty awesome. But I love it. I'm so proud of my team.”
This was Enders' 37th career Pro Stock national event win. She has now won three races in a row as she captured the title at the Four Wide Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 3.
“We were talking about it at the top end,” Enders said. “In 2015, we had a tremendous year, a season winning nine of 11 finals and just claiming the championship in Vegas before the year was even over. And then this year we're off to an even better start than we were in 2015. So, I know as well as anybody that there are way more valleys than there are peaks, but we're going to enjoy the ride while it lasts and just try to capitalize on every single moment.
“I mean, they all matter and I try to gather it all in as much as I can because you just never know when it's going to be your last and I never know when I'm going to be done. It's a dream come true for me to be here as a little kid, as a junior drag racer, just with big dreams to be on the stage with these professional drag racers one day and we're getting to do it. So, it's pretty awesome.”
Enders, who won world championships in 2014-15 and 2019-20, beat Kenny Delco, reigning world champion Greg Anderson, Mason McGaha, who had a redlight start and Stanfield.
“That's the stuff that I miss out on being in the car is that the way that the fans react and the way that my team reacts on the starting line, but we call this Pro Stock country,” Enders said. “Englishtown, N.J., Epping, New Hampshire, Reading, Pa., just back East. They tend to love the naturally aspirated factory hot rods. And it's a unique place to come. The cars usually run pretty well, especially if there's cool, dry air it's conducive for record-setting runs. And they've done that at all those tracks.
“So, I love racing in this part of the country. So, to see the fans reception for our class when nitro kind of takes the lead because they explode and crash and blow up and hit things. And we just kind of go straight down the racetrack, but it's so intricate and it's so precise. I wish that people could see what goes on behind the scenes. It makes Pro Stock what Pro Stock is, but long answer to your question, we love racing in this part of the world and I'm thankful that we're finally back.”
Enders is first in the points standings – a whopping 108 points in front of second place Stanfield.
“I guess, I mean, we kind of have keyed it ‘Drive for 5,’” Enders said. “It's just our effort for our fifth title and I talk about it when I'm asked this question. So, if you've heard this answer before, excuse me. But the fashion that we lost in last year was pretty gut wrenching. And Greg (Anderson) had a dominant car all year. He should have wrapped the championship up way sooner and whatnot, but things didn't fall that way. He couldn't get that monkey off his back for that win to top WJ (Warren Johnson). All that history making that happened for him was just awesome. Last year was just his year, but the fashion in which we lost to him kind of gave us that extra edge to go to work.”
Enders also acknowledged she never takes driving for Elite Motorsports for granted.
“I had reconstructive surgery on my elbow in the offseason,” Enders said. “I didn't even know if I was going to be able to drive in February. And thankfully my doctor released me, and we were able to start the season off on the right foot. Again, you never know how things are going to go, but we'll continue to ride the wave. I'm thankful to my team and for Richard Freeman for giving us the best equipment that money can buy. We don't want our need for anything from our rigs to our race cars, to the parts in the trailer, to our shop facility in Oklahoma, it's state of the art. And I'm a blessed girl to get to drive that race car.”
As for race day, Enders addressed her crazy second round.
“Yeah, the whole deal for second round was interesting with Greg going 227 mph next to me and a 51, which is not the case, because he would've had to put two hundredths of a second on us from a thousand foot to 1320,” Enders said. “It's just, it's literally not possible. So, those numbers in our matchup were completely wrong and then they were wrong against Mason and Kyle (Koretsky). But the video footage obviously showed Mason winning. I don't ever care who it is. All we really care about is lane choice and this racetrack, the facility has done a great job. The lanes are pretty equal, one pulled a little bit differently and it didn't necessarily show that on our data, but on that physical track reader it did. So, we could win out of the bad lane today.
“I go out there and I clutch it. I knew I was good on the tree. I go to pull second gear and it just blows the back window out of it. Because we're racing, I pull second gear and I try to force it and it sometimes it'll settle down and go on. This was not one of those cases and I pulled it just blew, it blew the tire off uncontrollably. And I look over and I don't see Mason because when you're doing all that you're scrubbing ET obviously. He should have been out in front of me, and I look over, I don't see him. So, I just paddle it and grab third gear. And then my guys came on the radio and told me that he red lit. So, I'm paying attention to my car, trying to shift, not push the clutch in to abort the run. I know that's a lot of information, but I never looked at the scoreboard to see that he red lit against me. My guys told me in my radio and inadvertently we fried a clutch unit, but we had a backup for the final round. But that round was crazy for sure.”
Tire shaking in a Pro Stock car is quite the adventure, according to Enders.
“It's definitely really rough,” Enders said. “Having TJ Coughlin as my teammate now he's able to tell us he's experienced tire shake in a Top Fuel car, which obviously is nothing like a Pro Stock car, but it is very grueling. It's really hard on your body. Tomorrow I'll have knots in my shoulders. Just to give you some perspective, the radio in the carrier on the side was out of it and flung out my sunglasses case. There's just, whatever's not completely bolted down. Even my bell housing bolts were rattled loose. So, it's pretty significant shake that your body goes through and then that the car goes through. So, the guys go over everything, make sure everything's still tight and together and not broken.”
Enders her team keep its momentum going in the upcoming busy schedule.
“I mean, momentum is huge in our game,” Enders said. “The five-week gap for Pro Stock was a little interesting. The guys obviously were hard at work every single day in the race shop and in the engine shop, we raced two divisionals in our off time, Great Bend, Kan., and Dallas was a doubleheader. So, we didn't by any means to take off racing and there was some testing done by Bo Butner and TJ Coughlin.
“So, there's never any real offseason, you know that, but glad to be back, I think we're going to have what six races or in eight weeks or something pretty significant. So, we're ready to get on a roll, carry the momentum. It's just important that we keep going rounds, keep parking these Elite Motorsports cars in the winner’s circle.” Tracy Renck
SATURDAY - BROWN ADDS TALENTED TEENAGER TO HIS TOP FUEL OPERATION, HADDOCK: COSTS ARE BIGGER BURDEN THAN SUPPLY-CHAIN ISSUES, TORRENCE HEADED IN RIGHT DIRECTION
About a dozen years ago, Top Fuel racer Antron Brown won the Finals at Pomona, and in the sports section of USA Today newspaper the next morning, a blurb read that “Anson Brown” had won the race.
Anson Brown was barely in kindergarten when that misprint occurred. One day he might be in the winners circle – and in the pages of the newspaper. But first things first.
Starting this weekend at the NHRA’s New England Nationals at Epping, N.H., the articulate and already-automotive-savvy high-school student is joining his father’s AB Motorsports Matco Tools/Toyota Dragster team as a crew member during his summer break.
“Right now, I’m just starting out, so I'm just like an extra set of hands. Wherever anyone needs me in, I'm there to help. If they need me to wipe down the car, I'll wipe it down. If they need me to clean the pistons, I'll clean the pistons,” the younger Brown said.
“Right now I'm learning how to mix fuel. So that's really fun and very interesting, because it's like science class in high school, but at the track,” he said.
A third-generation drag racer, Anson Brown started racing in the Jr. Dragster program and at age 17 now, he soon will be finishing his time at that level. And he said becoming involved when he was so young has been a huge boost.
“When I was eight years old, I didn't do that much on the car. But when I started getting older, I started learning more about the car and how it operates – because my dad always says that there's always two sides of driving. You can drive, but you also should know, and need to know, mechanical knowledge. He started teaching me at a young age. Any questions I asked he’d always answer. So I’d say racing Juniors definitely advanced my knowledge in racing a lot, and that's how I know most of the stuff about ‘big racing,’ what he does, today.”
The agenda at the newly established but long-planned AB Motorsports team is for Anson Brown eventually to compete in the Top Fuel class like his three-time champion dad who also won 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle trophies.
“That is one of my future goals. I love it, and I think I would be great at it,” he said. “I love racing, and I think it'd be so cool to drive a Top Fuel dragster.”
However, he said, “Right now I'm just taking things slow. So it's just a future goal. But, I mean, honestly, I can't wait. And I'm going to work as long as I have to work to get to that goal.”
So, already he has a strong work ethic ingrained in him from his parents. He still has that youthful enthusiasm, though.
“I'm going in my senior year, and I'll be graduated. So I can't wait to go on the road after high school,” Anson Brown said. “I'm going to be involved in helping out something on my dad's team. But I also have plans on going to college, too. I want to get my MBA.”
Antron Brown has strong relationships with automotive technical schools, and this son, the middle of three children, said he wants to attend one, as well, one day.
“Tech schools, I love them, and I would love to go to one after going to college. But I also have another aspiration. I want to own my own business,” Anson Brown said. “So I think going to get my Masters in business administration would really teach me how to operate a business and even help with racing, because it teaches you how to operate a business. And racing is a business, so it helps you operate a team if you want one.”
HADDOCK: COST CONCERNS OVERRIDE SUPPLY-CHAIN ISSUES – While COVID restrictions in China [where key automotive resources and materials originate] are just now starting to ease slightly, Russia’s military assault on Ukraine has kept the global supply-chain situation unstable. Inflation hovers at undesirable levels, and it’s most noticeable in America at the gas pump. Labor shortages and sometimes astronomical shipping and transportation costs have sent ripples of concern through specific economic sectors.
Christian Hinton, in a January 31 article for SEMA, wrote that more than 80 percent of its members have experienced supply-chain disturbances and that prices are expected to remain elevated into 2023. Despite that, he said, the specialty-equipment market continues to grow and that SEMA calculated the worst is behind us. In the Camping World Drag Racing Series, teams from the big-budgeted ones to the small-resource entries report they’re doing fine so far and are keeping their fingers crossed.
Don Schumacher, who has his Top Fuel operation and two Factory Stock Showdown cars, is keeping a close eye on the availability of raw materials because of his interconnected DSM Precision Manufacturing. According to jpmorgan.com’s May 25 article, “Ukraine is the largest exporter of alumina to Russia and operations were suspended in early March. The potential for alumina shortages is an immediate and tangible issue, which could be problematic for supply chains, as aluminum is a critical metal used in packaging, transport (automobiles and aerospace), renewable energy infrastructure, and wiring.”
Schumacher said Alcoa, his company’s aluminum vendor, has given “notice that they are now taking orders for 2023 and 2024, because some of the elements that create the aluminum castings and such does come out of Russia. There's certainly concerns. But I know DSR and DSM, we are in good shape for 2022, even going into ‘23, but I can't speak to a shortage for anybody else. A lot of things have some makeup in them that comes out of whether it be Russia or Ukraine or parts of the world that are really in turmoil right now.”
After speaking with DSM President Chad Osier, he said, “All I can say is what I got out of my people were that some of the items come from Russia that makeup aluminum and Alcoa has put us on notice that they are looking for orders for 2023 and 2024 - which tells me that if we wanted some more XYZ or, you know, blocks, the billet that makes up our blocks in 2022, I do not believe that is available. We are in good shape for 2022 and even in to 2023 with all of our products. So we don't have a problem, but I can't speak about any of the other [parts of the] industry.
“I can't tell you how aluminum is made. That’s way out of my pay grade,” Schumacher said. “I don't think they dig up aluminum ingots out of the Earth. I think it’s made up from x, y, z, a, b, c, d, and some of those items do come out of Russia. So Alcoa has put us and I would imagine the racing industry and other industries on notice that they are now looking for orders for 2023 and 2024.”
Haddock, who runs his race team on a far more modest financial plan, told Competition Plus. “We've had no problems getting raw forgings and material, but all the material I use is made here in the United States. The forging company that I use, we've had no problems with, but what you do have problems with is what used to cost. I think we ordered 120 forgings in the middle of January, and we got them probably five weeks ago [sometime around March 1]. What used to be $800 or $900 shipping is now $2,000. The price of the materials has gone up a little bit, gone up quite a bit. Almost $15 a piece, which is quite a bit. The shipping has gone through the roof, but we haven't had problems getting our aluminum. Now everything else like all these race car parts, you try to buy stuff and it's a problem. But for the wheel business [he owns Circle Racing Wheels], the aluminum hasn't been an issue for us.
“My nine-to-five business is fixing blocks and building billet aluminum wheels. So when I repair the blocks, the patch material that we use hasn't been hard to get,” he said. “The helium that I weld the blocks with is touch-and-go. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you can't. But that's been going on for a couple of years. But the materials for doing the repairs on the blocks hasn't been bad.”
Haddock said he doesn't know the source of other teams’ forgings. “I know Alcoa is a provider of aluminum, but that's not who our forgings come from. What we're seeing more is everything that's gone on in the world and everything that’s gone on with COVID-19, everybody's made everything more expensive.
“When I fix your block, we buy what's called drops. So for different aerospace projects, the leftover aluminum, that's what I'll make the patches from because it's the same grade of material. We have enough patch material to fix blocks for another couple of years. It doesn't affect me directly in that respect,” he said. “But when you go to the welding shop, and I weld all these blocks with helium, it's a medical-grade helium and it's a kind of a special welding process. A 200 series bottle of helium used to cost me 300 bucks, and now it's 795 bucks. One bottle of helium will weld for 11 hours straight. That's all that's in it. So you get 11 hours’ worth of welding out of that bottle. It just doubled your hourly cost because of the welding, and it's not our fault. It's the gas we need to weld with.”
Haddock said he has seen labor problems.
“We run Alan Johnson's rods and we're on the list to always get connecting rods, and they do their best to get them to us. I don't know what the issue is, whether they can't get forgings – because they've never told us and I haven’t asked – or if it's just getting the qualified people to build the parts. And I don't know if that's at Alan's, but you see when you call and order connecting rods, you can't just order them off the shelf anymore.”
He hasn’t sought another supplier because he said AJPE [Johnson’s company] “makes the best connecting rod and every time I've ever tried personally to do something different, it bites me in the ass. So I just don't do it.” He said he’s sticking with what he knows works and is willing to put up with the inconvenience.
“They're doing their best to supply everybody. But it's such a good product that I'm afraid to go anywhere else,” Haddock said. “Now, for bigger pieces like cylinder heads and blocks, I don't know where their aluminum comes from and what kind of forgery they use. because it's not necessarily the same as what I do for the procedure. On the block and head thing, he deals directly because they do make their own blocks. He would have a better feel for that.”
Haddock said he hasn’t heard anything from the other teams throughout the pits, “not about the materials and stuff like that. Everybody out here is struggling with the cost going through the roof on everything and availability of stuff, like when you order stuff. Obviously, the bigger teams can buy more of it at a time, so they get a better pick than you get in the parts. But by some miracle, between all the teams and manufacturers, I've had everything I've needed for my cars.”
He indicated he’s not as concerned about all that as he is about rising costs.
“I think we have bigger problems, let's put it that way,” Haddock said. “If you can't afford to put fuel in these trucks when you're going up the road, none of it's going to matter. You try to take your crew out for dinner and the price has doubled. You try to buy groceries to feed everybody at the track and it's doubled. The diesel fuel’s gone through the roof. I mean, it's crazy. So a hotel used to be a hundred bucks, is now 200 bucks. So all the logistical stuff is going through the roof.
“I think that's going to cripple us all, as much or more, than the parts,” he said. “The parts are going to be a factor, especially the more you hurt. But all the other stuff is going to tie together. So if we're worried about a shortage of aluminum, but if we can't put fuel in the trucks to run up the road, we're all thinking of it the wrong way.”
Haddock acknowledged that many costs that are involved in NHRA drag racing are beyond the sanctioning body’s control.
“Anybody that's in business can look at this picture. And as much as NHRA used to not think about the racer as much, I think they're generally caring about us now,” he said.
“Let me give you an example. At the beginning of the year, my overall insurance policy that covers the shop, the equipment, liability, the stuff running up and down the road . . . Last year my policy for the whole year was like $21,000. Well,” Haddock said. “this year in January, it goes up to $26,900 or something like that. It goes up huge, and there's nowhere that does this that you can just shop it around and go somewhere else. So if my insurance has gone up that drastically, what does NHRA’s go up? What are these racetracks faced with? Like we always bitch that we don't get enough money, but do we ever stop and go, ‘Wow, if my s--t went up, theirs went up’?
“We're all in it together, but I don't know what the answer is. I have no idea,” he said, “but I know that this is going to be hard. It's a bigger storm to weather than aluminum.”
He said he might not know what the answer is, but he had a theory: “Maybe if these people that spent their time trying to figure out what bathroom to use could have figured out how to keep their eye on the ball, maybe we wouldn’t be here.”
TORRENCE HOMING IN ON HIS GOALS – A Torrence has been in the winners circle for the past three NHRA visits to New England Dragway. With Billy Torrence staying home at Kilgore, Texas, for the sixth time in eight events to help the Capco Contractors Dragster team conserve resources and manage the family’s oil-and-gas-pipeline construction business, it’s up to reigning Top Fuel champion Steve to keep the streak alive.
It’s not an impossible assignment, particularly considering Steve Torrence is pointing his team in the right direction this weekend. He said Friday evening that his provisional No. 1 qualifying position – with a track-record 3.664-second elapsed time – was a huge performance leap for his team, which has been
experimenting during this first half of the season.
Many would say Torrence had been in a slump, but that’s not how he looked at his year-to-date performance.
“What these Capco Boys have been able to do the last five years is amazing,” he said, referring to his team’s 43 victories in 102 starts from 2017 through 2021. “But there’s no way, with this kind of competition, we were going to be able to keep up that pace. We’re doing what we’ve always done: taking what the track gives us and trying not to beat ourselves. If we keep putting ourselves in a position to win, we know eventually it’s going to happen. We’re close, real close.”
Torrence maintained his No. 1 starting spot Saturday and will race Scott Farley in the opening round of eliminations Sunday.
A REAL BALL OF FIRE – Austin Prock took the No. 7 berth in the Top Fuel order, in spectacular fashion. His opening qualifying pass Friday was a bit of a wild ride in the Montana Brand Dragster. His cylinders went in and out before his engine finally flamed out.
“It was definitely an exciting start to the weekend for the race fans,” the John Force Racing driver said. “We put on a little bit of a fireworks show there. We had a rear oil line crack due to a parts fire that started an oil fire at about 300 feet but still made a competitive run. We shut off about 200 feet early so we went 3.74 at 293.50 mph. That puts us sixth so not a terrible start but definitely a little bit of work for the guys.”
His engine blew again in his final qualifying chance, but Prock said he’ll be ready to take on Antron Brown Sunday morning in the first round of eliminations. He’ll need to make up the 15-point penalty he received Saturday for his third oildown of the season.
NOT IN VIRGINIA ANYMORE – Robert Hight might be humming “Carry Me Back To Old Virginny,” the official song of the Commonwealth, for he had a winning weekend there in his previous outing. He couldn’t keep the momentum going, at least not during qualifying. He started Friday with his safety system deploying right away in his run.
That, Hight said, “Definitely not the way this AAA Chevy team wanted to start the weekend. We had a mechanical failure. It was basically a wire that shot the parachutes out and closed the throttle – just a safety system. The system thought that it had the burst panels out of the manifold, so it shut it off. It’s kind of a bummer, because those were our best conditions to try and get the top spot. Let’s hope the clouds stick around tomorrow and we can get another shot at trying to go to the top.”
He got another shot – two of them – Saturday but couldn’t capitalize. Hight is the No. 14 starter and will begin his race day with a match-up against Cory Lee and the iconic New Englander.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? – Part-time Top Fuel racer Mike Bucher will be back on the racetrack at the month-end Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, driving Luigi Novelli’s Torrence Racing-prepped dragster. And Bucher – like Justin Ashley, Krista Baldwin, Brittany Force, Josh Hart, Alex Laughlin, Steve Torrence, and Jordan Vandergriff – has experience in the Top Alcohol Dragster category.
Bucher shared with Competition Plus his explanation of the difference between the two classes of dragsters.
“Here's a good analogy between Top Alcohol and Top Fuel: Top Alcohol is like you're looking way past the finish and it's almost like standing on a balance beam on one foot. You're balancing and the car is going to move around from the back. So you're actually steering from your rear end, believe it or not. You feel the back end move. But imagine a three-inch balance beam and you're standing on one foot. It’s fixed, three-inches wide,” he said.
“Now, Top Fuel is like a one-inch-wide tightrope. It's not fixed. It's moving. Top Alcohol, the tires are fixed. They hook up. Top Fuel, they don't hook up all the way down the track. And so it's not three inches. It's one inch. It's not fixed. It's moving. Top Alcohol drops a cylinder, it doesn't do anything. Top Fuel drops a cylinder and it's like somebody pushing your shoulder. That’s what it feels like. It's ridiculous. So there's never a time to relax. Once Top Alcohol launches it drives itself down the track, but Top Fuel does not,” Bucher said.
“I’ve told that analogy to a couple of people and they’re like, ‘Yeah, that's a good description. One is fixed, three-inches wide, balancing on one foot and there's some skill to it. But man, Top Fuel, it's a one-inch tightrope and it's not fixed. It's moving around because, like I said, Top Fuel tires never fully stick. They're always slipping. And so imagine when you're always on ice the back end wants to move around, and it's all from the back end.
“Frank Hawley taught [that] you fix your eye way past the finish. You don't look around and you see out of your peripheral [vision] and the car follows your eyes. So the front end is going one direction. But the back end is trying to pass the front end. That's the bottom line. It wants to pass the front end,” he said.
Bucher confessed that the first time he made a pass “it scared the daylights out of me, just trying to time the finish line. You see the scoreboards coming up, 280 miles an hour. You got to be throwing the ‘chutes beforehand. Well, after I did Top Fuel last year, I went back for Indy, Jegs All Stars in Top Alcohol. Well, after Top Fuel, I'm at half-track in the Top Alcohol car, and I'm kind of like going, ‘Come on, like, what's taking so long?’ So your brain, there's a totally different perspective, because my brain got used to something faster.
“There's a difference,” he said. “But anybody in Top Alcohol or A Fuel can drive a Top Fuel car. It's just the launch in both of them is ridiculous. The difference is Top Alcohol stops pulling at half-track. For Top Fuel it's like, ‘This is still going.’
“It’s not terrifying. It's cool. It's actually, like, really neat,” Bucher said. “But you can definitely tell you are not slowing down, because the Top Alcohol goes zero to 230 at half-track and it goes 230 to 280 at the second half. So that's only 50 miles an hour more. But Top Fuel, you're going to 280 at about 1,000 foot.
“Yikes is the right word. It doesn't feel real. It feels like it’s a blur,” he said. “It’s something of a feel. You're feeling from the back. And you react, and the steering is so subtle. If anybody messes up in Top Fuel or Top Alcohol, it's because they're overcorrecting.”
FRIDAY - TASCA DEDICATED TO Y.E.S. PROGRAM, ENDERS LEADS REJUVENATED PRO STOCK CLASS, MORRISON MAKES 2022 DEBUT BUT HAS BEEN BUSY PROMOTING SPORT, TORRENCE MAKING PROGRESS WITH TRACK-RECORD E.T., PRO STOCK WOWS CROWD
This NHRA weekend always is special for Rhode Island native Bob Tasca III, and it’s not just because the New England Nationals at Epping, N.H., is in his backyard.
It’s not even because New England Dragway is the first racetrack on which he made a pass (in a ’92 Ford Mustang street car).
Tasca loves it for those reasons – plus the fact he gets to have the undivided attention of teens ready to be making career choices. And as the spokesman not only for his family’s expanding franchise of auto dealerships (and their Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center franchises) but also for the Ford Motor Company. He has hopeful news for them – and a few free life’s lessons along the way.
The driver of the PPG Ford Shelby Mustang had the mike once again, as he does many Fridays at races across the nation, at the Y.E.S. (Youth & Education Services) Program before the lone qualifying session of opening day of the New England Nationals.
Y.E.S. is a free educational platform that focuses on career opportunities through the filters of goal-setting, continued learning, S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) principles, and real-world applications via the Camping World Drag Racing Series.
“What's really been so inspiring about the whole thing,” Tasca said, “is you look at these kids in the eyes and they're unbelievably engaged – and many of them don't really know what the auto industry has to offer. It's been fantastic.”
He said, “NHRA coordinates the whole thing. They've been doing it for many, many years. They've done a tremendous job really building a following behind it. So I give them all the credit for putting it together. Then you got the sponsors like Ford that have really leveraged it through me as the speaker. And we give the kids a message. We give them a message of what the auto industry has to offer. And we also give them a message on what it takes to be successful in life.”
This is what he has told the young adults:
“So what, Tasca? So what you need technicians? What’s in it for me? Why is this a great long-term decision for me and my family down the road?
“Well, I can tell you first-hand why: when I’m not in that race car, going 335 miles per hour, I’m back at my family’s Ford dealerships all over the country. And we have over 250 technicians on our team. I started as a technician. So I’m going to leave you with some things to think about on why it’s a great career choice.
“You want to make some money, right? That’s one of the No. 1 questions I get: How much money can I make, and how long is it going to take me to get there? Anyone can say, ‘You can make $100,000 a year,’ but you don’t want to wait 10 years. Well, I can introduce you to techs in our company five years out of high school earning or well on their way to earning a six-figure [salary] – with little to no school debt. Not many careers you can find that five years after high school.
“Second, I talk about job portability. What does that mean? You grow up and you get married and you’ve got to move. You’ve got a career, and you’re well-established at it and you’ve got to start over. Nobody wants to start over in life. The demand for technicians is so high that as a certified Ford technician, you can call any Ford dealer anywhere in the country. They’ll pay to move you and most likely give you a raise the first day on the job. That’s the level of demand in the marketplace.
“The last thing I talk about is job stability. It wasn’t that long ago that I’d look out into a crowd like this, with all the young faces, and say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like to live through a recession. You don’t know what it’s like to come home and look your family in the eye and say: I lost my job. I lost my job, and I don’t know how we’re going to pay the mortgage.
“Those are moments you never want to have in your life. Unfortunately, we’ve all been through COVID, right? They actually shut our country down. I’m sure everyone out here knows families that were severely impacted by people losing their jobs. I can tell you in my family’s 70-year history – several recessions – not one time have we ever laid off a certified technician. In fact, when things get tough, our technicians make more money, because people have to fix their vehicles versus buying new ones.
“So when you think about career decisions that you’re about to make, you want to make sure you make those decisions [so] you put yourself in a position to win. If you even have an inkling about being a Ford technician, go to any Ford dealer anywhere in the country, walk right in like you own the place – trust me – and ask for the service manager and say, ‘I’m interested in being a technician. I’d like to know how you’re going to put me in a position to win.’ And I promise you, you’ll get an interview.
“I can introduce you to technicians who have been with my family for 30 years and they’re not senior master technicians. So what’s the difference? Here’s the first lesson you’re going to learn in life: You’re not going to be successful or unsuccessful accidentally. You’re not just going to wake up and accidentally it’s going to happen. It’s going to be the decisions that you make and the people that you surround yourself with that ultimately put you in a position to win. For me, it boils down to three simple things.
“The first thing is everyone has heard ‘Work hard. Play hard,’ right? I’m here to tell you: make sure you work harder than you play, ‘cause it ain’t easy out there. In one week [of an employee] on the job, I can go to any manager in our company and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about the new guy or gal?’ In one week, they’ll be able to give me an answer on whether they’ll be successful. And it’s got nothing to do with how old they are, how much money they [make], how much experience they have. It comes down to the fact they’re in early, they work hard, they ask questions, they leave late, they’ve got a great work ethic. It’s vital to be successful in life.
“The second thing I talk about is being responsible with your life. It’s not your mom’s or your dad’s or your brother’s or your friend’s – it’s your life. Look in the mirror. And I’m not talking about drugs and alcohol and criminal backgrounds. If you haven’t figured that out y now, you’re already in trouble. I’m here to talk about being responsible with your time. Think about that for a second. Every day you wake up, you get to decide what you want to do and who you want to do it with. See, you have a choice: You can hang out with the winners, or you can hang out with the losers.
“If there’s any shortcut in life that I’ve learned – and there aren’t many, trust me, but there is one, or two, and I’m going to share one with you now . . . If you hang out with the winners, if you seek out the people in your life who are successful and you ask them what they did and what mistakes they made in their lives, you can save yourself a lot of time. When I started racin’, I didn’t go ask a guy who’s never won a race before, ‘What should I do? What do you think?’ I went to the legends, the Bob Gliddens, the John Forces: ‘What did you guys do?’
“The last thing is as a young kid, [adults] tell you, ‘Have goals in your life. Got to have goals.’ Well, unfortunately, that’s not enough. What they didn’t tell you is that a goal without a plan is a wish. And trust me, I don’t wake up every day, wishing for my goals to happen. I wake up making them happen. If you have five goals, too many. You won’t get any done. If you have one goal, it’s not enough, because, unfortunately, sometimes in life, things just don’t work out. The most successful people I know have two or three things, they have a plan, they wake up every day chasing those goals, and they find success. They make it happen.
“Here’s the harsh reality about life: Plan B sucks. What a golden opportunity each of you has – you don’t have to live a Plan B in your life. Set those goals. Work your plan. Surround yourself with successful people. And I’m here to promise you you’ll find success in your life.”
Tasca said, “Everything that you hear comes through experience. When I'm not in the race car, I'm back at my family's dealership. I started as a technician, so I know firsthand what it takes to be successful and all of the benefits of what the auto industry has to offer from a technician perspective. As far as my comments on being successful in life, I've just been blessed to have been around incredibly successful people throughout my life, whether it's in racing or back in the business side. And I've been able to take some pointers from a lot of different people. And for me to be able to share that with the younger generation, it's a way that I can give back and help bring along the future. That's really what I get the most out of.”
He said it’s the same advice he imparts to his own four sons: Bob IV, 19; Austin, 18; Cameron, 13; and Dylan, 11.
CAN ANYONE PUT BRAKES ON ENDERS, STANFIELD? – The Pro Stock class is back on the dragstrip after being off the schedule for the previous two events, at Charlotte and Richmond. And most of the class’ racers are hoping they can cool down three-time winner Erica Enders and No. 2 Aaron Stanfield.
The class has raced just five times this season, and Enders has won three times (at Pomona to start the season, then at the most recent two events, at Las Vegas and her hometown track at Houston). With the Houston victory, she recaptured the points lead from Aaron Stanfield, the Phoenix winner and Pomona runner-up who led the standings following three races.
If Enders wins this weekend, she will hit the 400 round-win plateau. She entered this weekend with a 12-2 race-day record.
Stanfield is the latest Epping winner. He also has been No. 1 qualifier at Gainesville and Las Vegas and set low elapsed time and top speed of the meet at both Phoenix and Las Vegas. He is 9-4 in eliminations.
Dallas Glenn, who has won two-thirds of his career elimination rounds (36-18), won the Gatornationals in March.
JEGS.com Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro driver Troy Coughlin Jr., eager to put his Houston DNQ farther in the rear-view mirror, is just happy to be back at this venue where fans truly appreciate Pro Stock racing.
"Just look at the fans in the pits and up in the stands," Coughlin said. "That's all it takes. They are completely out of their minds with excitement that we're racing here. It's like they're stunned all these big-time professional teams have made the trip to this local track in Epping, New Hampshire, to do our thing.
"I feed off of that vibe, because I'm still a big fan at heart. I always say I'm the luckiest kid in the pits, and I believe that more and more each year. I really want our team to put its best foot forward and perform at the highest level to put on the best show possible for these fans, because they deserve it."
He and his Elite Motorsports teammates took advantage of their 40-day break to test at Tulsa.
Coughlin said, "It was a long break, but we put it to good use. We switched to this new RJ Race Cars Chevrolet earlier in the season, and it just takes time to get all the parts and pieces to work together. These cars are all handmade one at a time, and they each have their own personalities. Obviously, the more runs you can make, the more data you gain.
"We mostly focused on the clutch system and matching it to the power the guys in the engine shop have been building for us,” he said. “Pro Stock is so competitive, so every thousandth of a second you find is huge. Mark [crew chief Ingersoll] and the rest of the guys – Kyle Bates, Ricky Calloway, and Kelly Murphy – seem very pleased with the progress they've made."
Coughlin was runner-up at Phoenix to Stanfield.
Camrie Caruso, seventh in the standings and only seven points out of sixth place and less than a round from fifth place, has been ready since her No. 1 start and final-round appearance at Houston, to compete again. The rookie driver of the Sand Haulers of America Camaro sped to her career-first top-qualifying position quicker than any other Pro Stock driver in history except for last year’s rookie of the year Dallas Glenn. He also did that in just five races.
“Houston was a great weekend for the Sand Haulers of America team, and I was really going for that win light in the final. Our whole team has a lot of confidence and our Titan Racing Engines have shown we can race with anyone. My crew chief Jim Yates has been very helpful and the support I get from my family is a big help too,” Caruso said.
After that performance in Texas, Sand Haulers of America signed on as primary sponsor for additional races, this one. At the beginning of the season GESI, Right Trailers, PowerBuilt Tools, NGK Spark Plugs, and VP Racing Lubricants all backed the start-up team. And Caruso herself, who just turned 24 years old, built all of these relationships and brokered the sponsorships because she wants to be hands-on with all business matters when it comes to her Pro Stock race car.
And it all brings her to New England Dragway, where she has raced many times in the past with her family.
She said, “I’ve raced at Epping quite a bit in Super Comp, and I’m super excited to be [here] in a pro category. It’s such a cool track. We’re ready to get back out there and compete again and show it wasn’t a coincidence we made it to the final in Houston. We’re out there to prove we’re going to keep running up front and we’re going to continue to be a strong competitor. I’m definitely enjoying going to all these different tracks and seeing all the fans, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
So, it appears, is the entire Pro Stock class.
And it put on a great show for the Pro-Stock-crazy fans here Friday. Dallas Glenn was quickest of all at 6.543 seconds (at 209.33 mph). And the quickest four are separated overnight by a mere four-thousandths of a second.
Trailing Glenn’s 6.543 were Kyle Koretsky (6.544), Aaron Stanfield (6.545 at a class-best 211.00 mph), and Camrie Caruso (6.547).
Pro Stock records at New England Dragway are pretty old, but they’re still safe. Shane Gray, who isn’t active in the sport anymore, set the elapsed-time mark at 6.486 seconds in June 2014. Then in 2015, Greg Anderson registered the track speed record with a 214.72-mph pass.
TORRENCE SETS TRACK RECORD – Running side by side with Brittany Force and clocking identical speeds (329.50 mph), Steve Torrence secured the provisional No. 1 starting position Friday at a track elapsed-time-record 3.664 seconds on the 1,000 Epping, N.H., course. Force posted a 3.687, which will stand overnight as second-best.
Mike Salinas is third so far with a 3.705-second, 328.06-mph performance. His crew chief, Rob Flynn, said, “There’s a little bit more out there, based on what Matt Hagan ran (3.878, 332.51). There’s usually two-tenths between Funny Car and dragsters. We’ll take that.”
Torrence’s record eclipsed the five-year-old mark of 3.673 seconds that Leah Pruett set in 2017.
Doug Kalitta’s track speed record – 331.69 mph – remains intact.
Torrence said after he had a chance to collect his thoughts, “Fastest run of the year and so much emotion behind that run, just because we’ve been working so hard and diligently to really make this car do that. Couldn’t be happier for every one of these guys on the team, because it’s so much hard work. And this is like seven or eight races now without us winning one, and it’s all a sacrifice you have to make. You have to tear stuff down to build it back up stronger, and that’s where we’re at. I’m not going to say that we’re there yet, but we’re definitely a step in the right direction. That’s a confidence-booster for myself and for every one of the guys. That’s what we needed to do – and it came at the perfect time.”
In the Funny Car class, Robert Hight’s standards (3.822 seconds, 336.74 mph) from 2017 were in no danger of falling Friday. Matt Hagan was top qualifier Friday for Tony Stewart Racing, going 3.878 seconds at 332.51 mph on the 1,000-foot course.
MORRISON DEBUTING AT EPPING BUT HAS BEEN BUSY – This visit to Epping, N.H., is the first of the year for Top Fuel’s Joe Morrison in the Leverich Racing / Right2Breathe.org Dragster. However, the Flemington, N.J., resident hasn’t been idle. Just two weeks ago, he served as instructor for a class of seven teenagers and their parents at a Jr. Street Instructional & Licensing program that he had spearheaded at Island Dragway at Great Meadows, N.J.
But Morrison said he’s “so excited to get back behind the wheel,” even though his first pass was a planned early shutoff.
“The goal for this weekend,” he said, “will be to begin to get a handle on the tune-up for all the new parts the team purchased” since the team ran last, in October 2021, at Dallas. The purpose of the partial-track pass, Morrison said, was “to make sure everything is working properly and we have a decent baseline for the tune-up. From there, we will decide how we will approach Q2 and Q3.”
Morrison said, “Fortunately, I won’t have to wait long to be back in another race car.” He’s planning to drive a Nostalgia Funny Car at Maryland’s Cecil County Dragway next weekend.
An accomplished guitar player who picks up the occasional weekend gig with his classic-rock cover band and the CEO of his non-profit organization Right2Breathe.org, Morrison said his Jr. Street function was a hit. It started with Morrison (who’s licensed in Nostalgia Top Fuel, Fuel Altered, Top Alcohol Dragster, Super Comp, Super Gas, Top Dragster, and Advanced E.T., as well) spoke about the importance of safety and about drag racing procedures. He guided them through the entire process, from tech inspection to exiting the racetrack. Once the parents and teens were completely comfortable, they took to the track for personal instruction regarding racing procedures, rules, and the importance of maintaining concentration while driving. Eventually, the Jr. Street racers made their first run to 100 feet, then 330 feet. The remaining four runs went to the eighth-mile. Morrison rode with each student during one of their eight-mile passes to provide additional instruction, and he eventually signed off on their NHRA competition licenses.
"I'm impressed by how quickly these new drivers learned," Morrison said. “There were some ‘nerves’ early on, but once they had their first experience launching the car, everything started coming together. All in all, it was an encouraging environment that allowed these kids to learn with no pressure. One of the coolest things to see was the kids and their parent co-drivers having fun and experiencing the thrill of drag racing together."
The NHRA began its Jr. Street youth racing program in 2015 for 13-16-year-olds to continue the momentum from the Jr. Drag Racing League. This program gives teens the chance to race against their peers in full-body street vehicles with an adult co-driver as teammate. It provides aspiring racers with an economical entry point into drag racing, because they compete in daily drivers.
Morrison forged a coalition with Island Dragway owner Melissa Milano, and EJK Insurance founder Ed Krajewski. And the first event (despite a rain postponement from May 7) was so successful and the group received multiple inquiries from other East Coast NHRA-sanctioned tracks, Morrison said he has decided to extend the program. He said he expects to publish soon the additional dates and locations for more Jr. Street Instructional and Licensing events.
Like Cam Ferré, Morrison declined to make a qualifying attempt Friday. The field has just 16 entries.
CAMPBELL GETS CAREER-BEST E.T. – Funny Car’s Jim Campbell was super-amped Friday that the rain let up and the pros got in the first of three qualifying sessions for the weekend. And no wonder – he set a career-best elapsed time at 3.965 seconds (at 315.64 mph).
That time improved his previous best, a 3.974-second run at Dallas last October.
“We have been plugging at this and plugging at this. This car has been getting better and better and better,” the Southern Californian said. “We turned on a win light in Houston. We’ve been trying to get this thing in the three-second range the whole time, and it’s been right on the edge. And finally it did it. I couldn’t be more stoked doing it in New England. Thank you, I love you guys! This is so awesome! So cool.”
FORCE HOGGING TOP FUEL HONORS – Brittany Force has an 81-point margin over No. 2-ranked Top Fuel racer and an 84-point advantage over No. 3 Mike Salinas as she and her Monster Energy / Flav-R-Pac Dragster team try to hoard all the performance records at every track on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour.
New England Dragway is one of four venues on the current circuit where Force does not own the record for either elapsed time or speed. She has the E.T. mark at 11 of the 17 and the speed record at nine.
Moreover, she has set nine of the 10 fastest Top Fuel speeds in NHRA history, including the national record of 338.17 mph (from the 2019 fall Las Vegas event). Three of them came this spring (at Las Vegas, Gainesville, and Richmond). Tony Schumacher’s 336.57-mph pass from the 2018 Phoenix race (good for sixth-best of all time) is preventing her sweep.
Force has six of the 10 quickest E.T.s in class history, as well as the quickest at 3.623 seconds (Reading, Pa., 2019). Clay Millican has two, and Leah Pruett has two.
This year, Force is parlaying those flashy achievements into victories. In the first seven races, she has won three times – definitely her career-best start to a season. “We’re ahead of ourselves this season with three wins under our belt already,” she said.
She won the New England Nationals in 2017 from the No. 2 starting position. But this race is one of four at which she never has qualified No. 1. The others are at St. Louis, Seattle, and the early Las Vegas meet.
HIGHT SEEKING FIRST EPPING VICTORY – Robert Hight owns the New England Dragway Funny Car elapsed-time record (3.822 seconds, June 3, 2017) and has led the field twice (2014, 2017). But he never has won the race. “I’d like to check that off my list,” he said. This is one of just two dragstrips on the Camping World Series tour where he hasn’t won. Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, at Norwalk, Ohio – site of the June 24-26 event – is the other.
A victory here could give Hight the points lead. Hight, winner at three of the season’s first seven races (including the most recent one, at Virginia Motorsports Park near Richmond) entered here in second place, trailing Matt Hagan by only 15 points.
SHE’S NOT CHILLIN’ – When rookie Pro Stock racer Camrie Caruso met her crew chief, two-time series king Jim Yates, she told him emphatically, “I want to be No. 1 qualifier. I want to win races. I want to win a championship.”
He told her, “You need to chill.”
But she might not be able to do that. Her brain is in go-go-go, excel-excel-excel mode. And that’s not just regarding on-track performance. She has that mindset about the business end of her race team.
“I want to be involved from top to bottom with this team,” Caruso said. “I get a lot of help from my dad and papa [dad Marc and grandfather Joe], but at the end of the day, I want to be the one writing the check and then delivering on the racetrack. I have great sponsors that I want to have for many, many seasons. The best way to do that is to show them how we can grow their business through the NHRA and Caruso Family Racing. I want to do as many appearances and interviews as I can to make this program successful. I know that turning on win lights helps, and we have aggressive goals for this season. It’s fun. But it’s definitely a career, and it’s definitely a business. Trust me, I remind myself of that every day.”
And when she has made strides in her races, she only wants more. She hasn’t gotten complacent or figured this would be easy. She’s still mindful of her goals.
Those strides have come in various forms. Caruso set top speed of the Winternationals (210.90 mph), then at Houston was No. 1 qualifier with low elapsed time of the weekend (6.547 seconds) on the way to her runner-up showing. She has qualified in the top half of the field at every event except for the tricky Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals, where she started from the No. 9 spot. In just her second career Pro Stock race, the Arizona Nationals, she earned her first win light in eliminations. With only one qualifying opportunity, she also picked up a round-win at the Gatornationals. But the visit to Houston produced her most significant leap forward. At Houston Raceway Park, she defeated Fernando Cuadra and former class champion Bo Butner in the first two rounds of runoffs. In the semifinals, she beat reigning Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson on a holeshot. And in the final round, racing against four-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, she came up a few hundredths of a second short, even without fifth gear.
“We lost fifth gear on the burnout, so I knew I was in trouble,” Caruso said. “But there was no way I was giving up. I got a great jump off the starting line, and I was doing everything I could in the car to get that win. It was a great race weekend, and I am looking forward to getting to more finals and getting that first win.”
PEDREGON SET TO BE AGGRESSIVE – Ignition-system problems plagued Funny Car’s Cruz Pedregon at the previous race, in Virginia, but he and his Snap-on "Makers and Fixers" Dodge Hellcat think they have that resolved and said they plan on “being aggressive” this weekend.
Pedregon is in fifth place in the standings, thanks in part to consistent qualifying. He has started from the top five at every race but the Las Vegas four-wide event, where he was a top-half seventh.
"The great thing about this team is that we’re working together so well and we’re continuing to see these top qualifying performances out of the Snap-on Makers and Fixers Dodge. That’s been a tough thing to accomplish in today’s Funny Car competition, with so many cars running so close. We’re going to hang our hat on that and keep digging,” he said.
LONG TIME NO SEA – Tony Schumacher said last week that he “absolutely cannot wait to get to Epping, N.H. I’m chomping at the bit to get back to the area and back to racing at a track where we’ve been successful.”
He enjoyed winning here in 2014 and 2015, and he said, “I’ve missed racing [here]. The last time I competed [here] was 2018, so it’s definitely been a while and is long overdue. I miss the people. I miss the coast. And I love the track itself. It’s a small-town venue, not a ‘super stadium,’ and the fans come out in droves. They’re a great group of people that love NHRA and Top Fuel and Funny Car racing.”
Before traveling up from Boston, he attended a Scag Power Equipment Open House in Connecticut, where he met his New England Scag supporters. This weekend he’s running the co-branded Maynard Family / Scag Power Equipment car this weekend, and, he said, “I love that livery. It looks amazing.”
As for the car’s performance potential, Schumacher said things are looking up: “The guys have spent this break since Richmond sorting through some issues that had been plaguing the car, and they’ve made some new parts and pieces which we’re confident should alleviate some of those issues that had bit us previously."
Schumacher and Josh Hart, in the R+L Carriers Dragster, ran identical elapsed times, but Hart took the tentative No. 4 berth and left Schumacher with No. 5, based on speed. Hart had a 326-flat, while Schumacher coaxed a 307.44 from his car.
Just past the eighth-mile marker on the 1,000-foot track, Schumacher’s dragster appeared to jettison a head gasket. He confirmed that after he got out of his car.
“It went through a quick quiver early. I think everyone will probably do it. It’s just really tight up there . . . 8.55, 60-foot, there's definitely more out there. I think what our problem is we did it too early. There's a lot of cars back there going to turn it up. That car was on a high .60 run. It just pushed a head gasket,” he said. “I probably got lean.”
Schumacher called it a “good run. Now we'll come back tomorrow in the heat, because it's going to be nice and warm and we're going to go out and just get down that racetrack. We had a huge, huge change we had to make. Drastic change. When you do that, you come out and you pray that it proves all that work was right – and it was, man. All the guys back at the shop did a great job making new parts and pieces, and the car is just beautiful to drive.”
He gave a shout-out to his sponsors: “Hey, Cathy Maynard, we love you. I know you're in the hospital right now. Joe [her husband], you guys have just been so kind to us, bringing me back to racing, man. We thank you. Prayers are behind you. All of NHRA, we're all here and all the fans. We're just loving you guys. So Scag Power Equipment, thank you.”
CHOCK-A-BLOC WITH CHAMPIONS – Funny Car racer JR Todd made an astute observation: “You look at the people racing Funny Car right now, and it seems like everyone has at least one Funny Car championship or multiple championships.” Indeed, six of the top eight drivers in the standings are champions: himself, John Force, Robert Hight, Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, and Ron Capps. They account for 27 titles. So the Funny Car category is just as cutthroat as the Top Fuel class is.
“There are no easy round-wins out here. That is what makes this a blast. The competition has never been tougher,” Todd said, “and I have a great team behind me. We have a brand-new Toyota GR Supra Funny Car that I think will help us get a lot of wins this season. It will just take one good weekend.”
And that might be asking a lot, for in the NHRA’s nine visits to New England Dragway (since 2013), the trophies have gone to just four drivers: Matt Hagan (3), Ron Capps (2), John Force (1), and now-retired Courtney Force (1).
And Todd said he’s like to win with his new Supra: “So many guys from Toyota Gazoo Racing North America have worked really hard on this new body. We definitely want to start racking up some wins with it. I know they are out there, and we just need to string some good runs together on race day. We are making good runs with this DHL Toyota Funny Car, and I feel really good in the car. Some things have just bitten us on race day or in qualifying that have knocked us back a little.”
But he said he feels like “the season is just really getting started now. And I know my DHL guys are ready to get after it. We have a great attitude over here, and everyone is on the same page. The best part is no one is getting too low or too high. You have to keep the goal in sight, and our goal is winning races and being in a position to get another championship.”
DID YOU KNOW? – Novice Top Fuel racer Scott Farley not only has a new team to race with this weekend, but he also has a keen sense of humor. Farley, who debuted this February at Pomona in Terry Haddock’s dragster, is competing in Terry Totten’s car this weekend.
This week in a Facebook post, he encouraged drag-racing fans to either watch the FOX broadcast of the New England Nationals or “come on out to see some great racers (and me too).” Farley is a veteran UPS pilot for 22 years with thousands of miles on trans-Pacific cargo routes. As a teenager, he worked as a mechanic at a Chrysler store to earn money for flying lessons.
Today he flies airplanes that when fully loaded weigh 630,500 pounds – and on occasion now drives a far lighter, 2,350-pound Top Fuel car that his daily, familiar “vehicle” dwarfs. A dragster has a 300-inch wheelbase, while Farley’s planes measure 2,424 inches long. His four-second Top Fuel blast has an approximate maximum speed of 338 mph, but his much longer glide in the sky travels at more than 630 mph. Farley has said he doesn’t plan to return to Camping World Drag Racing Series competition until the Finals in November at Pomona.
. . . THAT . . . Racers don’t like too much time off between events. Funny Car’s John Force said, “Two weeks off has been painful,” and Top Fuel’s Austin Prock said it “has seemed like an eternity.”
. . . THAT . . . Pro Stockers Greg Anderson and Kyle Koretsky, whose class wasn’t on the schedule for the past two races, didn’t like their extra-long layoff. Anderson said, “It almost feels like a second offseason,” and Koretsky called it “the longest five weeks of my life.” Their teammate, Dallas Glenn, used the time to sharpen his skills through bracket racing but said, “To say I'm ready to get back on track would be the understatement of the year so far for our Rad Torque Systems / KB Racing Chevrolet Camaro team. I miss being behind the wheel of my Pro Stocker.” The Gainesville winner said, “After two races with weird, bad-luck things happening with our car, I'm ready for a big rebound this weekend."
Antron Brown wanted to wring the most out of the down-time for his Matco Tools/Toyota team. He said, “We’ve had two weekends off since our most recent event in Richmond, and we’ve had two very informative test sessions since that time.”
. . . THAT . . . Funny Car owner-driver Ron Capps said this race “is definitely an event that we always look forward to. It’s one of the rare races where we go in early and spend the whole week with our NAPA Auto Parts and NAPA AutoCare customers. The fans in [this] area are unbelievable, and our NAPA Auto Parts community there is like no other.” He’s hoping to parlay what he anticipates will be “super-fast” conditions all weekend and a New England Dragway track that “has one of the best track surfaces on tour” into a third victory here. He won in 2014 and his championship year of 2016.
. . . THAT . . . If Doug Kalitta wins this weekend, he will become just the sixth Top Fuel driver to reach the 50-victory plateau. That would put him one victory behind Steve Torrence. And it would put the Mac Tools Dragster driver within two victories of tying Joe Amato and Antron Brown for No. 3 on the class’ all-time list.
. . THAT . . . Alexis De Joria spent much of her childhood here in the Narragansett, R.I., area, so she said she considers this a Homecoming weekend – one in which she said, “We really need to get some round wins under our belt.” And the Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota Supra driver said she’d like to do it with her 94-year-old grandmother, Louisa, looking on. The Funny Car driver reached the final quad at Las Vegas but has four first-round exits in the first seven outings.
. . . THAT . . . Antron Brown and John Force, whose team headquarters are at Brownsburg, Ind., had a hand in helping the Performance Racing Industry celebrate the grand opening of its Membership Headquarters at nearby Speedway. Their race cars were on display at the two-story, 42,500-square-foot facility in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 1255 Main Street.
Brown said, “PRI plays such a critical role in the motorsports industry, and the opening of the Membership Headquarters is both significant and historic. Being able to connect in a centralized location will strengthen our advocacy efforts. I look forward to visiting the PRI Membership Headquarters whenever I am in town.”
What he’ll see there are a 25,000-square-foot garage, meetings and conference rooms, office space for race-related businesses and organizations, and a venue that PRI vows “will continue to evolve and become a one-of-a-kind gathering area for the motorsports community.” Outdoor space provides more than 85 parking spots for events and gatherings.
. . . THAT . . . As a 19-year-old and working in the tech department at New England Dragway, track manager Joe Lombardo sent Lohnes to the tower to begin announcing. That began the FOX Sports broadcaster’s career at the mike. And Lohnes loves every chance he gets to return to his drag-racing roots.
"I don't think there's anything I could ever do that's more satisfying than that," Lohnes said. "And not because of outgrowing 'the place,' that's not why I feel that way. I feel that way because I go back, and the people that I knew then that are still racing or still hanging around the racetrack, I still recognize and say hello to now. And I think it's amazing. I mean, who else gets the shot to do this? Really nobody. When you're a baseball or a football announcer, you don't start at a venue that will eventually host a big-league event. So I think it's very unique."
Lohnes didn't actually get his first shot to announce a motorsports event at New England Dragway, and it wasn't even a drag race. The first shot came at New England International Speedway, where the teenager first called a sports car event. His first drag racing announcing gig didn't even come at New England Dragway. That was at Lebanon Valley Dragway in Upstate New York.
It was New England Dragway, though, that confirmed he wanted to earn his keep in life behind the microphone. And he aspired to be just like the legends.He wanted to be like Dave McClelland and Steve Evans.
"Those two guys are the gold standard of all of this stuff," Lohnes said. “In a very real sense, I always try to honor them when I work. I really feel like I owe it to them, even though they're not here to see it, owe it to them to kind of have that type of enthusiasm or have that type of delivery or have that type of fun to try to connect with the audience, because that's what it did for me. It was those guys that elevated the people in the sport that made me look at racers differently.”
Lohnes admits his command of drag racing's history and tendency to rely on drag racing's historical platform make him a perfect candidate to be considered an "old soul." He appreciates the sentiment but believes he was born precisely at the perfect time for this generation.
"I think it's unfortunate when people have that opinion of themselves that maybe they were born at the wrong time," Lohnes explained. "If I were born in Dave McClelland and Steve Evans' era, I'd probably be driving a dump truck somewhere. I look at the sport of drag racing as I have grown into it and seen a lot of it, around obviously the NHRA stuff but also every kind of other forms of the sport.
"I think I'm incredibly fortunate to live in this era. I mean, those guys never had an opportunity to go call a Million Dollar bracket race. Those guys never had an opportunity to see Radial vs. The World cars. Those guys never had an opportunity to go and announce Diesel drag races with guys blowing the cylinder heads at sky high," he said.
"And to double down on it,” Lohnes said, “I think that being around in 2020 will be maybe the most important part of my career, that year that was so terrible. I mean, we did a lot of work to try to make it less terrible. And I think for as long as I'm involved in drag racing, I'm going to look back at 2020 as I think one of my proudest times, even though it was such a crummy year."
Lohnes understands he has decades before leaving a legacy is essential, but as he sees it, every day, he picks up the microphone to extoll the virtues of drag racing and its participants; it's part of the process.
"I just want people to feel I was able to be a positive influence either to the competition or the people or the presentation or the execution of it," Lohnes said. "I think the only thing I would like, I guess, at the end of all of it is that I worked hard, and I worked hard for the betterment of the sport." – Bobby Bennett