2022 NHRA TOPEKA NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
BROWN REBUILDS FROM TORNADOES OF FRUSTRATION, HURRICANES OF DOUBT TO GET FIRST WIN FOR TEAM - Anybody who knows NHRA \ Top Fuel owner-driver Antron Brown should know better than to think he would lose faith and lose confidence in himself and the people with whom he has chosen to surround himself.
He might have lost some races – well, he did, 30 of them in a row . . . 13 this year and 17 last year since the May event at Atlanta. But he never lost sight of his goals. He’s all about goal-setting and working hard, and that combination produces positive results.
It finally did Sunday for Brown at the Menards Nationals presented by PetArmor at Topeka’s Heartland Motorsports Park. He broke through for his first triumph as a team owner in his first final-round appearance since the 2021 season finale.
Brown did it by beating winless and equally hungry four-time and current champion Steve Torrence. Brown, in the Matco Tools Toyota Dragster, used a 3.902-second, 309.49-mph performance on the 1,000-foot Topeka course to disappoint Torrence, who clocked a 4.443-second elapsed time and 201.49-mph speed from his Capco Contractors Dragster.
That 53rd Top Fuel victory moved Brown past retired legend Joe Amato and into sole possession of the No. 3-ranked slot on the class’ all-time victories list. Had Torrence won, he would have tied Brown and Amato at 52.
But his tears of joy at the top end of the track Sunday afternoon represented a deep sense of relief, of reaffirmation, of rejuvenation.
“For me, I've been through some rough roads. Been there, done it, been through it. Know what it takes and what works, and the mindset you need to have,” he said, not allowing himself to be deterred by public opinion.
“And you can even see on some people's expressions, some people's faces. The media writes you off. There's no difference than what you see in every day. It's like people believe in what they see. They don't know what's going on behind the ropes and what goes on in the shop,” Brown said. “And I saw the chemistry change, I want to say, before we went on the Western Swing. We brought a new intern in, hired them full time, and you can see the chemistry and the guys expressing on their face, even though we're struggling.
“And for me, I'm just going, ‘Brother, if you stay at it, it will change. Just like the weather,’” he said. “The weather never stays the same. You just got to stick with it. Tornadoes come and knock the whole city down. Hurricanes blow things over. But you know what you got to do? You've got to rebuild. And we just kept on building, and I never lost the faith. And all of our partners that are in this, they go, ‘You guys will be fine. You're going to be fine.’ And when sometimes it's your lowest point, you go back by those ropes and those fans come to you and go, ‘This is y’all’s week. You gonna get it.’ And when you get that, and even some of the people on your team, they go, ‘AB, what do we got to do?’
“It's got to be at the right spot at the right time,” he would answer them.
His family always has told him things happen when they’re supposed to. And they did.
He told his team, “We got to beat numerous cars first round, just qualified in the wrong spot. Takes a little bit of luck of chance.”
And, with his eternally optimistic spin on any situation, Brown said, “Then once you get your chance, you got to shine on it. And from here on out, we're only going forward. Like AB Motorsports, we put that one on the map and this won't be the last.”
Just like Torrence said Sunday when some might have been surprised that he advanced to the final round, “We didn’t get here by accident.” Neither did Brown reach the winners circle by a fluke.
“This has been a lifelong dream, and we never imagined we're going to struggle like we did,” he said. “But I can tell you one thing: we all got through it together.
“It was always high emotions and for my family. I just wish that my grandma would have been here to see it. We lost her in December, and I know Brian's [crew chief Corradi’s] got a heavy heart, too. He lost his mom a year prior, too, and it's one of those deals where it doesn't feel real because it's a dream. This is literally a dream when you think about where we came from. We worked for motorcycles. Brian worked on cars. All of us as teammates, we all worked on stuff and worked on stuff. Never in a million years we thought that we could own a team as a whole, all of us together. And we talked about it for years. My wife, my family, TY [team business manager Ted Yerzyk], we talked about it and we're like, ‘Man, we could do this. We could make these changes. We could do that.’ But you never think it's a possibility,” Brown said.
“And when you have so many different people going, certain people going, ‘You will never do this. You can't do it. Cost too much money. It takes too much of this.’ And to surround yourself by the right people at the right time from all of our staff at ABM to Allie who does our PR, Ted does our B-to-B, I mean, you got my wife doing hospitality, you got Brad [Mason] running crew guys, you got Brian and Mark [Oswald] leading the helm on the performance side. And then we're just working our tails off to get the support from Matco, Lucas, all the people on our deal from Hangsterfer’s, from Sirius XM, Toyota with GRR and then Western Tech Summit coming aboard, Oakley, all the people that make this possible,” he said.
Brown said he’s no different a person than he was before this December, when he made the move officially: “The only difference is I just sign the checks.” This is our whole team as a whole, and we're all in this together. We split things they get a bonus. We all split everything on this race car. Only thing you don't get to split is when we have some chaos. And right now, our team, AB Motorsports, everybody is together, we're all in this together. And that's what AB Motorsports is all about. It's family. We're family, and we're sharing in this. And everybody's holding up from every end, the whole team as a whole, all of our people, everybody that I said earlier, they're all in this together. So that's what makes it so special right now. It makes it really special because we're doing this as family.”
The progress, he said, is gratifying. “And when you get this all to come together and you look where you came [from], to where we're at now, and brother, the struggle is real, but this makes it all worthwhile,” Brown said. “And when you hear people, [they’re] not even talking about you anymore. They're not even talking about your team.”
But he said he knew the Sonoma race was a turning point for the team: “We just needed to qualify a little better and get in the right spot. And when you get in this right spot when we got here . . . that's the old-school team. It doesn’t matter where we qualify – you put your head down and you grind. And once we got past first round and then we went out there second round and we got to the third, we got to the final with Steve-o in the final, brother, that's old-school right there. You don't know who's going to win. Toss a coin. And when that win came light on, brother, it was just like, BOOM. And is it real? It is real, because look, that's what makes it really that's the way, the hard work.”
He said he knew conditions at Topeka, one of his favorite racetracks, were going to be a challenge but that a weekend at Seattle prepared him.
“Topeka has always been one of my favorite races, especially since it brings back memories of one of my drag racing heroes, Gary Ormsby, when you turn into the track onto Gary Ormsby Drive. We’ve won at Topeka before . We’ve lost some close ones there in the past, and it’s definitely one of those tracks that can hold big numbers. After our Seattle race, I feel that our team as a whole at AB Motorsports has turned a corner,” he said before qualifying opened Friday. “The track is going to be hot. It’s going to be tricky. And those are definitely the types of conditions where we shine.”
Predictions came true.
Brown said he has avoided comparing his path and his results to those of his former Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car colleague Ron Capps, who also struck out on his own at the same time to operate his own organization. Capps’ inaugural season as a team owner hasn’t been cushy, but he has won twice in three finals and is third in the Funny Car standings.
“Well, it tries on your faith and your confidence, of course, but at the end of the day, we didn't do exactly what Ron did,” Brown said. “Like, Ron went out there and he's run all the same stuff that he won a championship with last year. Nothing different at all. We started from scratch. We ran our same chassis, changed the whole clutch program, changed blowers, injectors, changed the body. We changed pretty much 70 percent of the stuff that's on our race car.
“So we knew we were going to come out with bumps and bruises, because we didn't want to come out and be the same that we were. We wanted to be better. And we're getting there now. We're getting there. We know we're starting from scratch with parts that we're unfamiliar with, and we thought that they were better than what we were running, and they are. You just got to figure it out, and that's what we're doing,” he said. “We're going through it. And Ron, he had that short success, short term, where boom – he just left off where he left off last year. And one thing he added to the table that even gave him another boost, he added the Toyota team, you know what I mean? So Toyota, with all the benefits there, with Guido and Medlen [his crew chiefs, Dean Antonelli and John Medlen], the whole team. We started off not with the same team. We have two new guys, and we lost one of them and replaced one other guy. And to get that synergy there, it was a lot. And to get everybody on the same page, atmosphere, and we went through it, it was like the school of hard knocks, bringing everybody together, believing in the same vision. And we're there now. And now [it] only keeps getting better.”
Torrence understands Brown’s struggles. He has been there before, and he’s there again, for the moment.
“We’re just using the races before the Countdown to work through some issues,” Torrence said. “We haven’t been the dominant car all season, but we’re trying to see if we can be the dominant car the last six races. I feel confident [in the changes we’ve made], even though it hasn’t paid off in wins. I think that you just have to stay the course. You don’t get to be on top of the mountain by not having to overcome obstacles.
"I think we're getting there,” he said. “I'm starting to see some consistency, which has been the hardest thing to get back to. I know what these Capco boys are trying to do, and I know what the car is doing. And it’s aligning itself very closely. We’re just picking away at it a little bit at a time. It’s a mental game. We had a plan and to be successful. We know we have to execute that plan to the end.”
He and Brown are best buddies, but they wipe that from their minds – both of them – when they race each other, especially when the stakes are highest.
“Let me tell you something. Me and Steve go way back. We're racers. He went through the struggle before and for us. We've been through the struggle. We're in the same boat. He changed a lot of stuff on his car all season, too, and they were working on it to make it better, to be better than what they were. And when we race, brother, I don't care who we race, we go out there and give it all we got and let the chips fall where they fall,” Brown said.
“And like he is working off from last year. He won a lot of races last year and won the championship, and we won last year in Atlanta. Started off right and we fell back and forth. But, man, right now, I don't care who we're racing, we're going to give it all we got. And brother, when that trophy is up on the line, I ain't got no feelings lost. Ain't no love lost,” he said.
Torrence, for his part, is trying to make the Countdown work for him rather than trying to resist it.
“We’re just trying to use the Countdown to our advantage, like Brittany [Force] did [when her 562-point deficit was reduced to 60 for the 2017 playoffs],” he said. “Whether you like the rules or not, if you’re going to play the game, you have to play by whatever’s there. That’s the lesson we learned.”
Like Brown, he’s looking toward the races at Brainerd, Minn., this coming weekend and Indianapolis during Labor Day weekend. They’re the final two of the regular season.
“We’ve got two more races to fine-tune everything before we really have to kick it in gear for the Countdown,” Torrence said. “We’re a solid fourth in points and could gain a spot or two. When Brittany won [the 2017 championship], she started sixth.”
Brown said his strategy is to go full speed ahead: “Ain't going to stop, ain’t going to slow down. And we went out on that racetrack every run. And we didn't show all that we had on race day. We didn't show what we had in qualifying. So we're right where we want to be, and we just got to keep getting better. So a lot of good came out this weekend, and we're looking forward to Brainerd. Brainerd has always been a great racetrack for us. It's going to be great weather. And we're looking to try and run in the .60s [3.60-second range for elapsed time] again. And once we get that figured out, it's game on. And I think Brainerd four qualifying rounds is going to help us achieve that.” Susan Wade
GLADSTONE MAKES BACK-TO-BACK TRIPS TO WINNERS CIRCLE IN PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE CLASS - Joey Gladstone came to Topeka, Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor at Heartland Motorsports Park, to show that his first Pro Stock Motorcycle victory at Sonoma, Calif., was no fluke.
No one can doubt him after this weekend’s dominance.
He blistered the Heartland Motorsports Park quarter-mile as the No. 1 qualifier, set low elapsed time of every round on race day, and dusted off four-time champion Eddie Krawiec in Sunday’s final for his second consecutive victory. (The bike class was not on the schedule for Seattle two weeks ago.)
“This is what dreams are made of. I feel like I’m dreaming. I always thought that it would feel like this, and I’m so thankful,” the Precision Service Equipment Suzuki rider said after shining in his fourth consecutive final round.
He won with a 6.876-second elapsed time at 195.59 mph. Krawiec countered with a 6.935, 195.36 aboard the Vance & Hines Mission Foods Suzuki.
“This weekend was a dream weekend. My team did such an awesome job. I give them so much credit. The bike was perfect every lap,” Gladstone said. “Nobody's been here in 25 years, so data is irrelevant. You just go off of other tracks. We made a real good decision, and we nailed it, and we really didn't have to do much for the entire weekend. It was really relaxing, and it was really fun. It was awesome with these guys. We had a blast all weekend.
“I flew under the radar for quite a number of years. So really, the only people that knew about me were the ones that followed my career earlier. But it's cool. I love when new people come up and say they're new fans. It's great. It's fantastic. I love this sport,” he said. “I love the people. I love every part of this. And to do this with the group of guys that I got, it's a dream come true.”
Saying he felt “a lot less pressure than I felt in other previous finals, because you're trying to get that monkey off your back of the first win,” Gladstone said he’s looking ahead to Indianapolis and the six-race Countdown to the Championship that begins in September at Reading, Pa.
He said of his four final rounds – at Norwalk, Denver, Sonoma, and Topeka, “That's over and done with. That's ancient history. So it's all just about moving forward now and making proper decisions. It's starting to feel like my whole Pro Street days, when we were very successful. We had a lot of success for a string of five years. And it's not bad. It's hard to get up top, but you have to have a burning desire to stay up top, and you don't rest on your laurels. Keep working. Keep on the right path. And I think we can do that.”
Maintaining his energy level Sunday in the torrid Topeka heat was a challenge, Gladstone said.
“I had to drink a lot of water. I probably drank a little too much Miller Lite last night after the No. 1 [after securing the top qualifying position], and I could feel it today. I was a little dehydrated, but I got it. That's a shout out to the RFC crew and the Safety Safari for looking out for the racers all weekend. Without them, there would've been some heat stroke, heat exhaustion down on the starting line and the finish line. We all saw Justin Ashley that had heat stroke that one time [last summer at Pomona]. It's a serious deal. And for them to take the time out of their day and sit in the 100-degree heat and just make sure we're all hydrated, thank you guys for that. That means the world to us.”
He said what he wants fans to know about him is “that anybody can do this. If you have a goal and a desire to do something and you dedicate enough time and effort into it, things will happen for you.” Gladstone, who turned 31 years old last month, said, “Twenty years ago, I was dreaming of this, and I felt that I wanted it bad enough to dedicate my life to get here. And you can do it, too. I know that there's no real avenue for junior drag bikes, but if you want to race these motorcycles, see if you can get Mom and Dad to get you a little dirt bike or something. Learn how to ride these things. You race the dirt bikes, if you want to, but Cory [team owner Reed] will tell you that could be pretty painful. But no, learn how to ride a bike. And when you get old enough to do it, you can go bracket racing and eventually you can do the same thing. So if you want to do it, go do it.”
He leads No. 2-ranked Angelle Sampey by 64 points as the bike class looks toward the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis the first weekend in September. (The class is not on th schedule for the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., this weekend.) Susan Wade
HART IS HOT UNDER THE COLLAR, SO IS HEARTLAND PARK - TOPEKA
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH - Josh Hart is as mild-mannered of a driver as you will find in the NHRA pits. He smiles each time one of the teams expresses to him, “We are so glad you are out here.”
As much as it pains Hart to say it, it doesn’t take long for the smile to turn to a frown.
He’s got this to say to some of those teams in the pits.
“Quit trying to poach my crew and sponsors.”
“I was a businessman long before I ever drove a race car,” Hart said. “Last year, I genuinely did just come out here to have some fun. I wanted to race with the best people on the planet, taking it all at face value. I thought that [some] were upstanding, good people. As you enter this arena, you realize very quickly that nothing’s off-limits. “
Hart said he understands it’s no secret the pit area can often appear as shark-infested waters, and for years the experience was understood as nothing personal, just business. It’s not the kind of business Hart will ignore without speaking his peace, however.
“People sending crew chief proposals, calling them, trying to get them, and people come into your pits literally trying to steal your crew,” Hart revealed. “So there’s certain people out here that I definitely have learned from in a negative light, and I’ll enjoy nothing more than putting them on the trailer.”
Hart declined to name the offending parties other than to say if you see him smiling extra wide at the end of a race, that can be construed as a clue.
Hart believes that if these teams wanted crew members so bad, they should have approached them before he hired them.
“Why did it take our success for people to try to tear it down?” Hart asked. “When you’re doing average, everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re so happy you’re out here.”
“As soon as you start putting them on the trailer, they obviously don’t want to be friends. But even before that, I thought it was kind of a weird thing when I learned what silly season was, and there’s really no season. Everybody out here is very cutthroat. I’m learning that it’s a business just as much as it is for fun.
The crew is one thing, but then there comes the attempted sponsor poaching. He reiterates that the process starts with their happiness to see his team in competition. Shortly after that, the sponsors begin receiving calls from those “who can do better.”
“I just don’t do business that way,” Hart said.” My relationships are built on the long term, and we started this program self-funded, so if one of the sponsors did choose to leave us, we’ll continue on.”
Hart said he loves drag racing immensely, but this seedy side of the straight-line sport wounds his drag racing soul.
“It’s extremely painful,” Hart said. “I can’t say it enough, I came out here for fun, and I understand it costs a lot of money out here. There’s a lot of self-made millionaires out here, and they don’t want to run their cars on their own money. I came out here self-made, and I plan to run on my own money. It’s nice to have sponsors, but I would never go to somebody else’s team and deliberately steal their sponsors or attempt to steal their crew.”
WANTED: AC - Saturday's air temperature for Topeka, according to Weather.com hit the 100-degree mark in the middle of nitro qualifying. The track temperature was 142 degrees at the start of the Q-2 Top Fuel session on Saturday. Today's conditions in Topeka exceeded those from two weeks ago in Seattle, the track temp got as high as the high 130s, and the air temperature was in the low-to-mid 90s.
Pro Stock low qualifier Greg Anderson summed it up best.
“They never scheduled a race on the sun before,” he said. “But here we are.”
HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN? - Greg Anderson drove to his 120th No. 1 qualifying position with a 6.623, 205.44 recorded in Friday's opening qualifying session.
Anderson, long considered one of the hardest working drag racers in Pro Stock, told the assembled media in the Heartland Park- Topeka media center the competition had caught and passed him with on-track performance.
"We've been working hard all year trying to catch up, basically," Anderson said. "We were ‘getting our doors blown off’ as they say in drag racing, and that's not fun. So we don't really like that. We've been working awful hard trying to make our product better, trying to find horsepower, trying to make our race cars work better.
"We stumbled onto a few things by the time we got to Sonoma, and we've been able to improve in the last couple of weeks a little bit more, little bit more. So now we're a legitimate player again and I've got a chance to win again. Quite honestly, we didn't have a realistic chance of winning the first ten races out this year. We were behind the eight ball, and now we're back. We can absolutely contend for wins again."
So how does one pass an admitted workaholic such as Anderson?
"I don't know," Anderson admitted. "I don't have the real answer for that. Obviously, I work, but I didn't work smart enough. I worked hard. I didn't work smart enough, apparently, and a group worked smarter than I did. And you got to have both. The only thing I know how to do is work hard. But sometimes I'm not the sharpest axe in the shed. So just keep digging away, and eventually you get that hole dug."
DEAL A MEAL - Bob Tasca III knows when to feel good. He also knows when not to.
"From a team owner and driver perspective, it's way less stressful to be on this side of the curve than the other side of the curve," Tasca said Saturday, after securing his second consecutive No. 1 qualifying position. "I am such a competitive person, along with Mike and the whole team, not to have a car that runs like this is stressful. We are dug in, we're thinking, we're working, we're testing, we're doing everything we can to get ourselves to where we are.
"I wouldn't call it stress, but it shifts from trying to compete and figure out how to get there to now continuing to perform. And that's ultimately what our mindset is now. A year ago at this time, we were slipping away. We had a great run. We were slipping away. We didn't really have the breath of the tuneup from hot track to cold track to everything in between.
"I think you can see us mature as a team. With Mike and John, really digging in this past off season. And we sacrificed a lot of races. I said it a couple times. I said, 'We looked a little silly early in the season, but we don't look silly anymore."
"I give all the credit to the guys and Mike and John for really getting this race car where it is. I'll take a little credit for my diet."
Yes, he said it. His diet contributed to Friday's qualifying triumph. At least this is how Tasca sees it.
"I think those seven pounds that I lost got me the number one qualifier hat," Tasca said.
"It was no carbs, no dairy, no meat," Tasca explained. "Vegetables and that's about it. A lot of water. But no, I just challenged myself. I'm a competitive person, even to my own self."
UNDER OATH - Top Fuel low qualifier Mike Salinas was careful in what he could say Saturday after securing his third 2022 No. 1 qualifier. He would love to tell what his team discovered on Topeka’s blistering hot racing surface, but a solemn oath prevents him from giving even the slightest clue.
The code of the Secret Squirrel bound Salinas.
“Car’s running fine, not hurting parts. Real smooth, real clean. Really kind of funny,” Salinas said. “On the last run, we tried something, and we know it will go faster. We have a lot left in the tank, so it’s good and the guys are very comfortable, so we think we’re going to be ready for race day.”
When prodded about the nature of the finds, Salinas was somewhat secretive.
“We’re building one that’s kind of a Secret Squirrel thing, but it’s very nice,” Salinas said. “I think we’re going to be really good in the heat, to be honest with you. It’s really good. The car just seems to love it. And I felt something different on that run. On the back, on the top end, it was pulling really nice, and we dropped two holes and it was pulling this nice, so we’re like, ‘Whoa if we cannot drop those holes. That run should have been a .76, .75.”
The one secret Salinas did drop was two key secrets that fell outside of the Secret Squirrell restrictions.
First, let your managers manage.
“If you let people do the jobs that you hired them to do and not micromanage them, let them be who they’re going to be,” Salinas said. “We have a model that we’re working with right now, and it’s been working. On the team, I’m just the driver. It doesn’t matter that I own all the stuff. It doesn’t matter that everything has to go through me, the major stuff. But when we’re at the track, I’m just another guy with the guys. And you let the car chief, the crew chief, the head crew chief, and everybody do their job, you’d be surprised how good it becomes, and that’s what’s happening. I don’t get involved in the runs. I don’t care what they do. They have a job to do. Let a man do his job.”
Secondly, it’s okay to be a follower.
“It’s almost like two factions, I’m the driver, and they’re the other part,” Salinas continued. “Together, we work really well together because the guys that strap me in will tell me, ‘okay, I need you to cut a good light. I need you to bump it in.”
“I’m the owner, and most people would get offended. They’re going to teach me things that maybe I didn’t see. I didn’t feel like I had to do that this day. But it’s really funny. I have a guy that comes in, and he tells me, ‘okay, I need you to bump it in. Okay, I need you to go deep. I need you to this.”
“He’s just one of the guys. It’s really cool because, at that point, I’m just the driver. I’m not the owner. Pretty awesome.”
LOVING EVERY MINUTE OF IT - If Joey Gladstone chooses to name the 2022 season, "The Tour of Firsts" might be as appropriate as any.
Saturday, in Topeka, Kan., Gladstone scored his first No. 1 qualifer, which comes almost a month after scoring his first career national event victory.
"It's pretty awesome right now," Gladstone said. "I don't know, I hope it never ends, but I'm a realist and I'll take it, as much success as I can get, obviously. And I'm going to keep working at maintaining it. I'm just enjoying it while it lasts. Times like this don't come around all the time and I'm just very thankful for the opportunity that I have and the people that support me.
"Jim and Annie Whiteley and Corey Reed and this awesome team I got, I'm so thankful for them and I'm very proud. I'm proud to represent them and I'm proud of the work that we're doing."
Rest assured, the easy-going Gladstone is loving every moment of it.
"This is what we live for," Gladstone said. "This is the people that do this for a living and spend their whole life doing this, these are the moments that we live for. This is the cherry on top of the cake. So yeah, this is the stuff that we dream of and when it happens, it's awesome and it makes you hungrier and you want to do it more."
I WAS OUT, AND THEY SUCKED ME BACK IN - It's been a good weekend to be Jim Epler.
Epler, who recorded the first 300 mile per hour run in a Funny Car in Topeka in 1993, climbed back behind the wheel of a fuel Funny Car before qualifying on Saturday at the Menards NHRA Nationals.
Just like the mural on the front wing of Justin Ashley's Phillips Connect Top Fuel car, the opportunity to warm up defending Funny Car champion Ron Capps' NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car came as a total surprise.
"I had no idea," Epler said. "So Justin takes me over because we're talking about doing some business with Ron and NAPA, and they tell me I get to warm up his car. So I was blown away."
Epler admitted he'd stayed away from Funny Cars because the propensity to get the itch to race again was very overwhelming. On Saturday, he said the heck with the itch and climbed into the cockpit. For Capps, it was the first time someone other than himself had ever warmed the car.
"I had been avoiding getting that itch again," Epler said. "It was really cool for me to do that. And for Ron to let me do it, that was also pretty cool."
As Epler readily admits, once the engine fired, the power of the nitro engine reached into his chest and grabbed his heart.
"When you sit behind that kind of power, it's just an experience like nobody else gets to experience," Epler said. "That's why I actually didn't want to do it for so long. Cause you start thinking about it again, what it would be like. But it was cool.
"His car is different. Got a push brake and they do things a little bit different, but it all came right back. It was cool."
The Funny Cars of today are much different than those Epler drove in the early part of the 2000s. He quickly realized they are not one size fits all.
"The technology on the cars, the setback blowers, just sitting in there with the engine running," Epler said. "First of all, I'm sitting in a seat poured for Ron Capps. So I don't fit the same. The pedals are way too close, so it's not exactly comfortable.
"Just sitting in there and going through the motions was pretty cool. And now I get to thinking, "Oh, that'd be really cool to sit in something I do fit in, and see what it's like."
MR. 600 - While Capps was busy honoring Mr. 300 Jim Epler, it should be noted the defending NHRA Funny Car champion can be effectively recognized as Mr. 600.
This weekend's event marked race No. 600 for the NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored driver, and, man, what a ride it has been.
"I don't even know how to react to 600 races," Capps said. "That's like John Force numbers. It blows my mind that I've been lucky enough to do this for that long. I've been blessed to be around super good people that worked on really good race cars that made me look way better than I am, trust me. So the fact that I've done that many races, every time we hit a plateau of so many wins, it blows my mind.
"It's numbers I never in a million years thought I would ever achieve. And I was just happy with one race and one Wally, let alone what we're going to see now. So 600 is a pretty big number. That's old guy stuff. So, I don't know if I should start feeling like I'm that old or not, but I still can't fathom 600 races."
SEEING IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT - Back in April, Kyle Koretsky had no idea how much his racer mindset would change once his family secured the purchase of Maple Grove Raceway.
The first lesson he learned was how much more challenging being the one who puts on drag races is than being the one who participates in them.
"We're getting there, slowly but shortly," Koretsky said. "Working out some of the kinks, trying to get new equipment. Like everything else, you can't buy anything. Trying to buy new tractors, and it's just tough."
Koretsky admits the lessons have been plentiful along the way. What was the first one to really get his attention?
"How much grass I have to cut every week," Koretsky responded. "Figure out the weed whacking and weed spraying and the weeds that grow under the bleachers; it's every week. We're constantly spraying the weeds. That's all we do is spray weeds. It's a lot. It's a lot more than I ever thought. Track owners, I take back everything I ever said and give them a lot of credit."
With this said, Koretsky can no longer think just as a racer when it comes to affairs of the track. Case in point when he's at an NHRA event, and there are challenges with the racing surface, let it be known that Koretsky understands.
"There's no more bitching [from me] and complaining about the little things," Koretsky said. "I see it every week, going in and out bracket racing, people complaining and trying to figure it out. It's a lot. The racers need to understand that it's more than just spraying the glue and blah, blah, blah. It's a lot of preparation during the week, not even on the racing weekend, that goes into it.
"Everyone goes home at the end of the night, and our crew's out there scraping, dragging, and prepping for the following day. It's a lot of work. It definitely caught me off guard. I've been there seven days a week, 16, 18 hours a day.
"If I'm not Pro Stock racing, I'm trying to learn every different thing, down from the weed-whacking down to the track prep, down to the financial side of it. So, I know the insides and outs, but owning the track now, I don't ever really complain too much about tracks."
The track, its racing surface, in particular, Koretsky, all too well knows it's not the only focus one can have.
"The track surface is really hard to make sure it's right and safe every time," Koretsky said. "There's more that goes on. You got to have the right team behind you. You have to have the right crew and equipment. It's one big circle. Our track, I feel, is one of the best on the east coast, surface-wise. That does nothing if you don't have the crew behind it to prep it and maintain it during the week and keep up on everything.
"I think the crew, we're putting together a good team right now. We have our few hiccups here and there, but the team is coming together as one. Everyone sees that we're reinvesting every penny plus into the facility to try to make it the best facility on the east coast."
Finding the right balance of knowing when to push forward and when to take a break is the balance Koretsky still seeks.
"There's always something to do," Koretsky said. "There's always something you can make better. That's definitely a downfall of us as a Koretsky family. We try to make everything perfect. We're never satisfied. We think that we can do better. I paint a wall. Second day, I'm like, 'Man, that needs another coat of paint."
"But, you walk up and ask somebody else like, 'Oh, you put brand new walls up."
"We find the little things, but it's the little things to us that make the place exciting and want the fans to come because it's not just about the racers. The fans need to have the experience, too, because they're coming to watch us."
WHEN SPIT LEADS TO REVELATION - You know your family is badass when they name a colony after you.
Buddy Hull is blaming it on ancestry.com, the DNA-based genealogy website where patrons spit in a cup, send it off and wait for weeks to learn how many famous kin-folk they have.
That's what the Texas-based Top Fuel driver Hull did, and the results have him knee-deep in tracing the family tree.
"No one in my family really truly knew how our family got to the U.S.," Hull said. "Four years ago, I really took it upon myself to learn. And so I did the typical, I spit in the cup and sent it into ancestry.com, and they got me started."
Sure enough, Hull realized he was a member of a family with a reasonably famous military heritage.
"I kept digging, digging, digging, and it actually got very addictive," Hull said. "I spent two to three hours a night looking at the thing. And to boil the fat off of it, and we triple, quadruple verified it, my family first came over here from Hull, England, and settled what is the area of Massachusetts which used to be called the Hull Colony, which I think is just so cool."
His folks might not be on the same level as William Wallace, the fictional character portrayed in the movie Braveheart but he's got the Reverend Joseph ... Hull.
"Actually, his last name in England wasn't Hull, but he wanted to bring the Hull name to the future to-be United States, but at that time wasn't the United States yet," Hull said. "So he took on the last name Hull, which is really cool. And then the next piece is, it continued on, and Isaac Hull, which would be my fifth great-grandfather, was the captain of the U.S.S. Constitution in the war of 1812."
Hull wouldn't go as far as to say chasing one's family tree can be as addictive as racing a Top Fuel dragster, but it can be a close second.
"Especially when you're digging like that, and you find aspects that make us who we are, and sometimes you look at your lifestyle, you look at what you're good at, you look at what you're bad at, and you say, where does that come from?
"And then when you really start to research and you look at your roots, your deep roots, you realize how, even in modern times, it transfers over. I know what type of person it took to get on a wooden boat and float from England to the United States to settle here. I mean, that takes some serious guts, right? It's serious, right? It's risky, right?
Then Hull sees his characteristics of desiring to lead, and he understands where the spirit came from.
"I look at my life through always being the leader of something and being a business owner, an entrepreneur, and taking risks and driving race cars and competitive powerlifting," Hull said. "No matter what I do, no matter whatever it takes, be the best at it. And so it's funny because, in my eyes, it's a direct correlation. It's genetics. It just is. There's no way... You can't defy genetics."
So what would Grampa Isaac say about grandson Buddy Hull's dragster?
"He would say it was cool. He'd say it was faster than his boat," Hull surmised.
THE VALUE OF BASEHITTING - Long before Paul Lee drove his McCleod Funny Car, he drove a Monte Carlo for Jeff and Bonnie McGaffic. In those early years, Lee was sponsored by the MetalWood bat Company, a company that claimed to produce the “safest unbreakable baseball bat around.”
Lee wasn’t a professional baseball player but had experience playing the sport in high school. One of the lessons he did learn in the stick and ball sport translated into his current pastime.
While home runs get all the notoriety and the fanfare, Lee learned a long time ago that base hitting could make the difference in the long run.
Saturday in Topeka, in drag racing terms, one had to be a base hitter. When the temperature climbs into the triple digits at the drag strip, going from start to finish under power can be the strongest weapon in a drag racer’s arsenal. As Lee sees it, this is the drag racing equivalent to base hitting.
“When it’s hot... it evens the playing field out there,” Lee explained. “So going down the track, even if it’s a .4.0 something, it’s going to be pretty important. That will go rounds on Sunday when it’s 95 degrees out. The big boys won’t have a chance to hit their walk-off home runs.”
Lee also understands the importance of setting a baseline, and he got off on the right foot Friday with a 4.024, 315.42. He had a mechanical issue in Q2 but rebounded in the final session with a 4.075, 312.57,
Headed into Sunday, Lee is ready to get on base and score the winning run.
“A lot of the big guys, the big teams, the big crew chiefs that can run those low numbers, and I don’t blame them for going for it,” Lee said. “Go for the home run [on Friday]. And if you miss it, you get down the track on Saturday. Maybe you won’t be number one qualifier, but that’s what they’re going for, that number one. I mean, it’s important to be in the top half.
“That’s what levels the playing field. When it’s hot like this, when it’s cool, it’s harder to keep up with those guys. But when it’s hot like this, it’s a level playing field.”
THAT NEW CAR SMELL - It might have the new car smell, but his new RJ Race Cars Camaro didn't have the traditional new car tendencies for Bo Butner. And what tendencies would that be? The ability to be ornery until broken in.
The past Pro Stock champion only needed one run on Friday to get a good feel for the#JHGDriven entry. It's a far cry from the previous ride he battled to find the right combination for nearly six months.
"This car was sitting there ready to go," Butner said. [So I told Richard] Let's try it. Seems to be pretty good at first hit. Everything worked. It's kind of weird. I've raced everything in my life. I've never just showed up and made a full A to B run, but everything worked. These guys worked.
"I think they picked it up a week ago, Wednesday. So, the car is ten days old. So, they did a very good job. Of course, there's quite a bit left in it, so I think we'll be happy and just try to get some rounds of momentum going."
In Friday's lone session, Butner ran a 6.672, 206.32 to land eighth in the provisional field. Making a full pull on the first outing with a new car can be an experience.
"It was really loose in fourth and fifth gear, not too loose, but you have to try to get a base run, a data run," Butner explained. By doing that, it showed us how to improve for Saturday."
So was Butner's loose, a Pro Stock loose, or the Pro Modified kind?
"That was actually a little Pro Mod loose," Butner admitted.
ENDERS LANDS THIRD - Points leader Erica Enders, who has six wins this year, took third thanks to her 6.632 at 207.62.
HARTFORD MEETS BO IN E1 - On a day where you could fry and egg on the sidewalk, Matt Hartford's 6.678, 206.35 landed him ninth in the qualifying order where he will race Bo Butner on Sunday.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME - Al Lindsey understands some crewmen work a lifetime and never get the opportunities he's had. He's served both as crew chief for the championship effort of Mike Edwards and car chief on the championship-contending Camaro driven by Aaron Stanfield.
"I feel very fortunate to have both of those," Lindsey said. "They're very similar in what they do and how they think and just really good all-around racers."
Lindsey has had a birdseye view to watch both drivers perform what could be considered magic behind the wheel. Over a decade apart in their careers, he has seen similarities between Edwards and Stanfield.
"The seat of the pants, the feedback that they give me and the rest of the guys, what they feel in the car is the biggest thing they had in common," Lindsey explained. "I questioned Mike once when I first started, and I was wrong. He was right. He told me there was something wrong on the left side of the engine, and I didn't really believe him."
Lindsey said that was the first and only time he doubted Lindsey and admitted a quickness to latch on to Stanfield's feedback. He believes they are cut from the cloth because they know how to save parts.
"The most important role I hold is to ensure the car is safe for them and comfortable, and just go fast," Lindsey said.
Lindsey did a stint with Drew Skillman before landing with Stanfield and quickly pointed out he's another driver with similar traits.
Working with Edwards ingrained in him the importance of being meticulous with every detail.
"You have got to go from front to back to make sure everything is right," Lindsey said. "We check things two times, three times, and just to make sure that when we let that car go, I mean, we got his life in our hands. So I want to make sure it's right and go fast."
Lindsey pointed out Skillman was the perfect conduit to Stanfield, who wondered after leaving Edwards if he'd work alongside another driver of that caliber.
"I've known Aaron for a long time since he was little," Lindsey said. "The same way with Mike. He grew up around race cars, and so did Aaron and I see a lot of similarities. I remember the first time he got behind the wheel. I believe it was Chicago. I could just see his face light up when he sat in the car. I had a feeling he was going to be in one soon. Here we are."
WHERE TO START? - The Pro Stock Motorcycle class last raced at Heartland Park - Topeka in 1997, which begs the question, "Where does one start?"
"You just try to look back at the other tracks that you've been to that are similar in weather, and that's kind of where you base it at," responded defending NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith.
Smith, who ran a 6.995, 196.59 to land in the eighth spot after the first session, suggested he'd go back to a Bristol or Norwalk logbook as a starting point.
On a day when the thermometer ran to 100, Smith said he didn't rule out looking at the Denver data. But this is in analyzing atmospheric conditions. The tracks still have their personalities.
"Some tracks hook better; some tracks seem to be slicker than others," Smith explained. "The track prep this year has been a little different from NHRA than the last two years. So, all in all, it's kind of a guessing game for Q1. You just hope you hit it close and go down the track, and then that way you can adjust for Q2 and Q3."
DEDICATED TO THE SUZUKI - Matt Smith brought out his Buell and ran roughshod over the NHRA Mile High Nationals field in Denver, Co. The result of his showcase performance was a weight penalty added to the bike.
Smith said he made the decision to run the Buell because of parts availability for his Suzuki, and the reality, the V-twin held a performance advantage there. Now he's sticking with the Suzuki for the long run and now has additional spare parts that only enhance his game plan.
"We got a new motor, so I really want to run it and see what happens," Smith said. "We finally got a second motor, so we'll see what happens. That's all I can do.
"I'm starting to finally get some parts for the Suzuki stuff. We were running three Suzukis all the time with Jimmy Underdahl and Jianna Salinas, and now we're back to just two with just me and Jianna. So I have more parts and pieces now, and we're getting parts in. So it's easier to deal right now to run two Suzukis instead of three like we were doing."
LIGHT MY FIRE - Austin Prock's Q2 run was doomed from the start. As he entered the traps, the engine let go in his Montana Brands-sponsored dragster resulting in a massive fireball and a 15-point penalty for his sixth 2022 oildown. The silver lining for the John Force Racing driver was his 3.930, 298.93, which moved him up in the qualifying list.
FAIR PLAY? - When NHRA's technical department penalized the Buell combination by adding 15 pounds following a .048 advantage. The Suzuki four-valve combination had its minimum weight reduced to 625. Following Saturday's qualifying, the Suzuki combination had a .095 advantage heading into Sunday's final eliminations.
SELECTIVE APPROACH - Clay Millican skipped Saturday's blistering Q2 session after running a 3.842, 279.96 in Friday's lone session. He jumped to eighth in Saturday's final session with 3.810, 297.61.
HONORING MR. 300, JIM EPLER - Jim Epler was taken aback.
As the Top Fuel dragster driven by Justin Ashley rolled out of the Phillips Connect hauler, the former Funny Car standout could only put his hands on his face, both in shock and emotion. Splashed across the front wing of the dragster was a mural commemorating Epler’s grand achievement in drag racing -- the first 300-mile-per-hour Funny Car driver, recorded on October 3, 1993, in Topeka, Kan.
Ironically, Ashley wasn’t even born.
Long before Epler, one of the corporate officers at Phillips Connect, knew who Ashley was, the kid from New York’s Long Island knew he was Mr. 300.
“Time goes by so fast when you get older, and I was always about driving the cars back then,” Epler said. “Then, to retire in 2001, I thought I would come back again and drive. And just 20 years went by, and I got really into the business world, and I love marketing, and I love drag racing.”
The memories of the day are some of his fondest ever.
“At qualifying, we went 299.90, and it ran on all eight to the finish line, so I could feel it was good,” Epler recalled. “You can’t tell. I can tell the difference between 290 and 299 or 300. But then, in the first round of eliminations, against Gordon Mineo, it made the same move and ran clean on eight cylinders.
“I thought it could run 300, but I was surprised -- everybody jumping up and down in the end, holding three fingers up. That was exciting. The first thing I thought of was, ‘Man, all the races to have my wife and kids not here. This was the one; they weren’t here for that.”
Epler also loves knowing there are those like the second-generation drag racer Ashley who recognize the accomplishments of those who paved the way for his generation.
“I’ve had an appreciation in the history for the drivers who’ve done it in the past and helped bring the sport to where it is today,” Ashley said. “I knew Jim from his 300-mile-per-hour run, and I also knew him from the business side and the innovative side he took when he came to NHRA as a business owner.”
Epler is impressed that the kid remembered his place in drag racing history, considering what he considered one of his most significant shortcomings.
“One of the things I was really not good at was the self-promotion,’ Epler said. “Kenny Bernstein was so much better about promoting himself and the King of Speed and all that. I’ve just never been good at promoting myself. And it was like Dave McClelland came up with that Mr. 300, and it kind of stuck. I use it in business; I just didn’t promote it as much as I should have.”
Right now, there’s another 300-mile-per-hour milestone close to being conquered. No nitro driver has run over 300 to the eighth mile in NHRA nitro racing.
Epler confirmed a plan in motion to create a club much like the Slick 50 300 MPH club he joined in 1993 as the ninth member. Interestingly enough, only Epler and Hoffman earned a place in the 16-car
“Nobody bought a Funny Car would go 300,” Epler said. “I hated that there was never a Funny Car 300 Club at the time, and that’s because nobody thought a Funny Car was going to go 300. I guess we showed them.”
And on Friday in Topeka, Ashley showed Epler that it wasn’t a forgotten milestone.
BARNETT’S MISFORTUNE - Things got a bit sporty for NHRA Pro Modified racer Lyle Barnett during Friday’s qualifying session at the Menard’s NHRA Nationals in Topeka, Kansas. Barnett admitted it’s the second wreck he’s had this week.
“I had gotten rear-ended on Tuesday back home leaving work to come here,” Barnett said. “So I don’t know if I should quit for this weekend and just count my blessings or try to shake this monkey off. But we’re going to go to Q3 in the morning; hope for the best.”
An apparently broken throttle body led to a hung throttle and forced Barnett into the right lane retaining wall after his car crossed lanes. He was able to avoid Jose Gonzalez, who was having issues of his own. Barnett was uninjured in the dust-up.
“It was a combination of just bad luck,” Barnett admitted. “We’ve been struggling today and couldn’t really figure out what was going on. It turns out we had a throttle body broken. Yeah, I was not on a great run at all, but I just wanted to get something half respectable on the board. But I went through the finish line and chopped out of the throttle; the throttle hung wide open.
“We had one throttle body broke open, one shut. The throttle was wide open. I reached up to cut the power off about the same time Jose had gotten out of shape, came over in my lane, and I just grabbed a little too much brake pedal.
“Just a lot of things going on with the throttle being hung and Jose being out of shape in front of me. So really nothing I could do, just bad luck.”
Barnett remains confident the Elite HP crew will have the car repaired in time for Saturday’s qualifying.
“It’s really not bad,” Barnett said of the cosmetic damage to the front end and left rear. “In fact, we’re going to patch it together and see the rest of these boys in Q3 in the morning. A little bit of red duct tape and some carbon work, we’re going to be good to go.”
PEP IN HIS STEP, IN THE HEAT - Top Fuel racer Mike Salinas had the top performance of the opening round of qualifying, delivering a solid pass of 3.754-seconds at 323.19 mph in his Pep Boys dragster. If it holds, it will give Salinas, who has four wins this season, his third No. 1 qualifier in 2022 and 11th in his career. Salinas led the points for a two-race stretch earlier this summer before Force jumped back in the lead, and the veteran is trying to close the gap again this weekend in Topeka.
“The way we’re doing this, we’re taking it one round at a time and not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” Salinas said. “There’s a lot of racing ahead of us and a lot of great teams. You can just see the cars getting closer and closer. Tomorrow is going to be awesome. Our cars love the heat, and we’re getting ready for Sunday. It’s going to be a dogfight and it’s anybody’s race out there. All the Top Fuel cars are so close here.”
TASCA TO THE TOP - Bob Tasca III edged out the John Force Racing tandem of Robert Hight and John Force with an impressive run of 3.930 at 323.81 in his 11,000-horsepower BG Products Ford Mustang to take the provisional No. 1 spot. After advancing to back-to-back final rounds on the Western Swing, winning in Sonoma, Tasca qualified No. 1 in Seattle and will now look for his second straight top spot and the ninth in his career. Tasca’s strengthened his championship resume in recent weeks and started his weekend in Topeka strong as he looks for his first career win at Heartland Motorsports Park.
“It’s nice to start off from the No. 1 position,” Tasca said. “This is big because it’s going to get hot out. Look how competitive the class is. It just shows you how tough it is out here.”
Hight, the current points leader and six-time winner in 2022, is right on Tasca’s heels with a 3.931 at 323.81 and Force, the defending event winner, is third after his pass of 3.932 at 312.71.
OH, WHAT A DIFFERENCE - Last year’s Dallas Glenn, meet this year’s Dallas Glenn. He’s a more street-smart, seat-of-the-pants-savvy driver than the rookie who won last year’s event with a “trip-zip” reaction time in the final round.
“We’re in a different car now,” Glenn said. “It’s a whole different feel for the year. I feel a lot more confident in the car. I can just get in and do my thing. I feel a lot better about that. This car is, I won’t say it’s frustrating me a little bit, but it’s definitely been a little bit tougher to kind of find my sweet spot and a little bit tougher to stay there, which I don’t know if that’s me or the car.
“Being that it’s the second year and I’m coming into all this stuff with a little bit more experience. It almost feels like I’m a little bit more relaxed all the time I’m up there. So I kind of have to hype myself up a little bit more when it’s time to really get on it. So that’s something I’m kind of just getting used to, but I’m still having an absolute blast out here.”
Just being able to express frustration in a car shows just how much Glenn has advanced.
“There’s always frustrations in it; no matter what happened last year, I’m just along for the ride,” said Glenn, who was the 2021 NHRA Rookie of the Year. “This year now, I feel like it’s a little bit more refined. I can pay attention to some of the better, smaller details. I kind of learned all those lessons throughout the year last year, and now I’m trying to implement them and still learn, so still making adjustments every run, just like I was. I’ll find that good spot, and I’ll stumble on something eventually.”
As Glenn sees it, he’s stumbling onto more experience with each pass.
“Sometimes I’ll go up there and try something, and then something will confuse me and I’ll be like, ‘well, that doesn’t make sense.”
“I’ll go look at the run, and I’ll go back and try something else on the next one. I’m like, ‘oh, okay, that makes more sense of why that happened and why this happened to that race.”
“That’s definitely a good learning thing. But the beginning of the year, just all that bad luck stuff that happened that I keep telling people, I’m saving all my luck for the end.”
Make no mistake, the perfect reaction time in last season’s Topeka final was no lucky matter. Well, maybe a little bit.
“It wasn’t the first run I was double 0 that weekend,” Glenn explained. “But I do contribute to a lot of it being luck because I gave myself the triple 0 because I staged a little bit sloppy. I think I got in an extra three-quarters to an inch or so and knocked a few thousandths out of my light that way. I think I just got lucky I didn’t go that extra eighth of an inch and go red. But some of it is when you’re on it, and you’re constantly hitting it and sometimes you just get lucky, and you don’t go that extra eighth of an inch.”
Looking back on his incredible rookie season, Glenn will admit he wasn’t 100 percent in step with his car.
“I would say I feel like maybe in the 70%, and I feel like now I’m closer to the 90%. By the end of the year, I was probably 80% last year, and I feel like I’ve learned a few new things this year that I didn’t know last year. So who knows, maybe next year I could be over. I don’t know. You may have to adjust all those percentages. It’s a nonstop battle of learning in Pro Stock.”
NOW A FAN, KINDA-SORTA - Steve Torrence hasn’t minced words in his disdain for the NHRA’s Countdown format since the format in 2017 cost him what would have been a sure championship in the regular format. The format had been in place for a decade before it bit Torrence, who finished the regular season with a three-round and a few qualifying bonus point lead. Yet the championship went to a driver who got hot and won the title in the reset points format despite finishing the regular season over 560 points behind.
Now, there’s a chance the same snake that bit him can be a guardian angel.
“We’re just trying to use the Countdown to our advantage like Brittany (Force) did (when her 562-point deficit was reduced to 60 for the 2017 playoffs),” Torrence said. “Whether you like the rules or not, if you’re gonna play the game, you have to play by whatever’s there. That’s the lesson we learned.”
The following season Torrence left no opportunity as he not only won the regular season title but also made a clean sweep of the Countdown to the Championship. He’s added three more consecutive titles.
This year, by Torrence’s standards, has not been to the same level of excellence, but it hasn’t been a bad one either. He’s fourth in the points currently.
“We’re just using the races before the Countdown to work through some issues,” Torrence explained. “We haven’t been the dominant car all season but we’re trying to see if we can be the dominant car the last six races. I feel confident (in the changes we’ve made) even though it hasn’t paid off in wins. I think that you just have to stay the course. You don’t get to be on top of the mountain by not having to overcome obstacles.”
Torrence has reached the finals twice, finishing runner-up twice; he’s also reached the semis four times. The one aspect of this season is his lack of a victory at this point in the season, something which hasn’t happened since 2014.
“I think we’re getting there,” Torrence said. “I’m starting to see some consistency, which has been the hardest thing to get back to. I know what these Capco boys are trying to do, and I know what the car is doing, and it’s aligning itself very closely. We’re just picking away at it a little bit at a time. It’s a mental game. We had a plan and to be successful; we know we have to execute that plan to the end.
“We’ve got three more races to fine-tune everything before we really have to kick it in gear for the Countdown. We’re a solid fourth in points and could gain a spot or two. When Brittany won (her championship), she started sixth.”
Torrence has gone to the semi-finals or beyond in his last five appearances in the Menard’s Nationals, winning a family feud with dad Billy to reach the winner’s circle in 2019, the only time he has started the race from No. 1.
OUR HOUSE, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HEARTLAND - Kalitta Motorsports drivers, including the late Scott Kalitta and David Grubnic, have ten combined wins at Heartland Park - Topeka
“Last year, Topeka was a good race for the DHL team with a No. 1 qualifier and then a runner-up finish,” Todd said. “We just came up short in the final. We were runner-up in Seattle two weeks ago, and we let one get away. The most important time of the year is coming up in the Countdown. We have three more races, including this weekend in Topeka, to make up some ground and build some momentum. The DHL Toyota guys are doing a great job, as always. We are just going to work on staying consistent and keep doing what we’re doing. I really believe the wins will come. Topeka will be hot, but it was hot in Seattle, and we did alright.”
Of the current Kalitta Motorsports drivers, Doug Kalitta sets the team standard for success.
Kalitta has four final round appearances at the Topeka Nationals, capturing runner-up honors in 2003 and 2004 before picking up his two national event wins. He also secured the No. 1 qualifier in 2005.
“We have had a lot of good races in Topeka,” said Kalitta. “I am looking forward to getting back to that track. There is a lot of history there. This weekend will be a big one for us since we are working to lock down that spot in the Countdown going into the playoffs.”
Kalitta’s team has been getting on the right path at the right time and as recently as the last two stops on tour with a semi-final finish in Sonoma and a quarter-final in Seattle. This year has been more favorable in qualifying as he produced a No. 1 qualifier at the Arizona Nationals and eleven additional top half qualifiers.
“We have a great race car, and it is starting to come around on race day for us,” said Kalitta. “I have a lot of confidence in (crew chiefs) Alan (Johnson) and Brian (Husen). They have brought a lot of positives to this team, and we are ready to have some long days on Sunday.”
ONE IS NOT ENOUGH - Up until two weekends ago, Joey Gladstone had never won an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle race. Likewise, up until today, he’d never raced Heartland Park - Topeka either.
Gladstone picked up where he left off at in Sonoma, in his first experience racing in Topeka. Thanks to a stellar run of 6.831 at 195.08 on his J&A Service Suzuki Hayabusa, Gladstone is primed to pick up a No. 1 qualifier.
“The run felt really good, and this is a new track for most people in the class,” Gladstone said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was good down low to put a (good) number down. We made a call as a team and it worked out, and that feels pretty good. (The win) proved to me that I could do it, but now it gives you some nerves being up high in the points. This whole facility is so cool and it’s awesome. It’s a unique place and I really like it so far.”
Gladstone’s Sonoma victory brought him to within two points of Pro Stock Motorcycle leader Angelle Sampey. Prior to the breakthrough victory, Gladstone had back-to-back runner-up finishes.
“Going to all these finals and losing, you wonder if it’s ever meant to be, but then you win, and it makes all that sacrifice worth it,” Gladstone said. “It means more than you could ever imagine. (Sonoma) was just the start for us. We’re hungrier and we’re going to stand on it a little bit and try to get this championship. Now that the monkey (of getting the first win) is off my back, we’re going after the big one and trying to win a championship.”
Nine races into the season, Gladstone has been the most consistent rider in the class this summer, advancing to three straight final rounds. He’s having the time of his life riding for team owner and close friend Cory Reed, becoming a legitimate championship contender in the process.
“As long as I can stay out here, I will be out here,” Gladstone said. “The people we’re racing against – Matt, Angelle, Eddie, Jerry, Karen – are all top-tier. These people are stout, and they’re all good. That makes it feel quite a bit better. They’ve been out here a while, and we’re still green, but with a bit more time and refinement, I think that we can become one of those names. To be a pair of renegade 29–30-year-old guys swinging with these guys and making them sweat, this is so cool, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
TASCA TOUGH - n a thrilling round of Funny Car on Friday, Bob Tasca edged out the John Force Racing tandem of Robert Hight and John Force with an impressive run of 3.930 at 323.81 in his 11,000-horsepower BG Products Ford Mustang to take the provisional No. 1 spot. After advancing to back-to-back final rounds on the Western Swing, winning in Sonoma, Tasca qualified No. 1 in Seattle and will now look for his second straight top spot and the ninth in his career. Tasca’s strengthened his championship resume in recent weeks and started his weekend in Topeka strong as he looks for his first career win at Heartland Motorsports Park.
“It’s nice to start off from the No. 1 position,” Tasca said. “This is big because it’s going to get hot out. Look how competitive the class is. It just shows you how tough it is out here.”
OH, THE PLACES YOU WILL GO - Top Fuel drag racer Josh Hart admits he was a fan of Dr. Suess books growing up as a kid in Fort Wayne, Ind. Little did the driver of the R&L Carriers dragster know one day the words of Suess’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” would resonate in his racing career.
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Hart, who won in his Top Fuel driving debut back in 2021, continues to have new experiences along the road in his sophomore season.
The two-time Top Fuel national event winner has raced on the west coast in Sonoma and Seattle as well as the desert of Arizona, the hills of Virginia and the cool climates of the northeast. This weekend Hart is racing at Heartland Motorsports Park – Topeka for the first time.
Hart has already developed a routine for acclimating himself to the new facilities.
“You go up there by yourself and kind of look at the landmarks and make sure you know where you’re at and make sure you know which direction to turn off,” Salinas explained. “All those easy things. But for me, it’s been just an awesome experience to kind of get to see the country.”
Learning each track has required relying on data delivered by the seat of his pants.
“I think that anybody that really is good at driving one of these has to be able to drive by the seat of their pants,” Hart explained. “There’s no action, reaction, thought-process. You kind of shoot yourself in the foot if you start thinking about things.
Understanding what your seat is telling you of course, pales in comparison to the sage advice offered by a crew chief who has tuned at the tracks.
“Keep it in the groove,” Hart confirmed.
CAN HIGHT PULL IT OFF? - If Robert Hight can pull off a win this weekend, he’ll join elite company with seven wins in a single season. Right now this fraternity includes boss John Force (who has done so on seven different occasions) Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Ron Capps and Jack Beckman.
“It’s been a great season so far this year,” Hight said. “To have six wins with this Auto Club Chevy team at this point, it’s just awesome. We’ve already secured our spot in the Countdown so now it’s just maintaining and being consistent. We’re always aiming for perfection. I said I wanted to get win 60 this year and I think it will take getting win 62 or 63 to win this championship this year.
“Competition is so tight and there are a lot of good Funny Cars in this field. We’ll just take it one run, and one day at a time.”
Hight has picked up four wins on five final round appearances in the last seven races, and has a strong track record at Heartland Park - Topeka. He’s won here three times with back-to-back victories in 2010 and 2011 and most recently in 2019. He’s also qualified in the No. 1 spot four times, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010.