Keep up with this weekend's Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals by reading our behind-the-scenes event notebook. We bring you the stories behind the numbers and win-lights throughout the course of the weekend. Tune in daily for the latest news from the pits.







Replays -- The Top Fuel and Pro Stock final rounds were rematches, and the Funny Car final was a reunion, of sorts. Rod Fuller and Melanie Troxel met again in their dragsters, just like last year when Fuller spoiled Troxel's chance to share the winners circle with husband Tommy Johnson Jr. The Kurt Johnson-Jason Line final pairing was a rematch of last year's O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals Aug. 20 at Memphis -- Johnson's previous final-round appearance and latest victory.
Funny Car final-round opponents Robert Hight and Tony Pedregon paired the former John Force Racing teammates. Pedregon, who left the organization after winning the 2003 championship (and who participates in a number of activities to highlight his Hispanic heritage), said of Hight, "He's like a brother to me -- without the suntan."
The Funny Car final also marked the second straight race that pitted the Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers. At the Winternationals, Hight raced Scelzi in the final round, and Scelzi won.
Two-timing guys -- Rod Fuller became only the third Top Fuel driver to win this race at Chandler, Arizona, two years in a row.  The first to do it was Dick LaHaie in 1986-87. Brandon Bernstein repeated the feat in 2003-04.

4.4 Flurry -- Brandon Bernstein, lined up against dangerous Doug Kalitta in the opening round, joined a flurry of 4.4-second runs with a career-best 4.457-second elapsed time at 329.67 mph. 
Rod Fuller began the trend, beating tire-smoking Dave Grubnic with a 4.466-second blast., and Tony Schumacher advanced past Doug Herbert with a 4.498. Following was Melanie Troxel, who recorded a 4.492-second E.T. -- but lost lane choice for Round 2, because she had to face Bernstein.
Pedal-pushers -- When Melanie Troxel, in her Evan Knoll-owned Vietnam Veterans/POW MIA Dragster, met Brandon Bernstein and his Budweiser/Lucas Oil Dragster in the second round, it was a match between the car that set low elapsed time in the opening round (Bernstein, 4.457-second E.T,)  and the one that posted the fastest speed (Troxel's, 330.07).
Troxel won the tire-smoking quarterfinal pedalfest, despite her car's slip-sliding around all over the right lane and getting close to the center stripe twice.
"I don't know if I've ever been involved in something that crazy," Troxel said. "The car was all out of shape. I saw Brandon was in trouble. I had to do whatever it took: point it at the wall, point it at the center line. How's that for you Vietnam vets? We got another round-win for you."

Ready for some happy news -- Hillary Will is overdue for an outstanding race day and her first NHRA Top Fuel victory. And she said the upcoming Gatornationals just might be the place where that will happen.
She  gained a slight edge at the Christmas tree, but Bazemore and his Lee Beard power was too much for Will’s KB Racing-owned, Kalitta Motorsports-managed Attac-built dragster.
Will ran a respectable elapsed time of 4.589 seconds at 321.88 mph, but Bazemore won with a 4.513/326.95.
"The KB Racing Dragster was on a good run," Will said. "I didn't see him [Bazemore] the whole time, so it surprised me when his win light came on. The team is disappointed. Our season has not gone the way we had hoped."
She said the early-season adversity – an accident during testing at Las Vegas and a mechanical problem at the season-opener – is behind the team.
"Those misfortunes were behind us before we came to Phoenix," Will said. "We're going to stay here in Phoenix and test. My crew chief, Jim O  [Jim Oberhofer], wanted us running in the 40s [in the 4.40 second range]. I know we can run those types of numbers and that we’re going to be competitive at the next race."

Which twin has the pink slip? -- Robert Hight met teammate Eric Medlen in the second round, and fans did a double-take when they saw the identical-looking Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang bodies sitting side-by side at the starting line. Medlen also continues to wear one of Hight's firesuits, like did at the  Winternationals. After Hight reached the semifinals over a traction-troubled Medlen, Hight said of the Bobbsey-Twins pairing, "He's got my fire suit on. So Hight won either way."
Throws it away -- Ashley Force appeared to be on her way to her first victory, running away from Bob Gilbertson. But she crossed the center line and was disqualified. Gilbertson said at first that he didn't know he had won. When he climbed from the car, he said, "I guess I won. I don't know."  Then when he learned that he would advance, he said, "Ashley needs a spankin' from us old guys once in awhile."

Perseverance pays off -- Capps, agitated even before he made the burnout in his Don Schumacher-owned Brut Dodge, had a crazy first-round run against John Force. Castrol crew chief Austin Coil already had the body on Force's Ford Mustang up following his burnout before Capps was in motion.
 "We were trying to get the starter off the car," Capps said, adding that he was yelling inside his helmet, "Get the damn body down and get out of my way!" He performed a short burnout and just about at half-track, his Dodge got squirrelly, fishtailing and sliding all over the left lane -- not unlike his fellow fuel-car drivers' opening-round runs. But he hung on to hand Force his second straight first-round exit. It has been 18 years since Force began a season without a round-win in the first two races.
Capps is 17-38 against Force in eliminations rounds, but Capps has won nine of the last 11 meetings. Capps also has won the last four first-round races against Force.
He said the victory over Force "was a huge. I raced the toughest there is the first round. You have all night to think about that run. Knowing the conditions were going to change [for the first round] really excited me as a driver because of the way we approach those kind of race tracks with a little bit of heat in them. We like them, so everything was really playing into our hands."
Then his trouble started -- with the starter.
"The starter wouldn't come off. We started the car and I could watch the Motel 6 Vision. I saw Force backing up. I know he was watching the screen as well," Capps said. "He could tell that we couldn't get the starter off the car because the camera was on him. So, about the time we finally got it off they were about to send a guy over to tell us It was too late. I got on the radio and said, 'Drop the body. Get out of the way. I rolled up and did a quick little burnout, got back. With the amount of respect you have for those teams, you don't want to hold them up. We would have shut it off had we waited too long but I was surprised. I got back, we lifted the body, Ace did his adjustments, lowered the body, and I was right in behind Force lighting the
pre-stage light.
"So, I flipped the pumps on, went right in and the car just got out there and jumped sideways and I thought I would cross the center line. I did everything I could to keep it in our lane. I was surprised because I could hear Force's headers right out my side as we were going along. I didn't know he was kind of having the same problems. I pulled the parachutes and he went flying by, and I said, Oh, boy, it must have been close. I turned the corner and the camera guys came my way. So, that was a good thing."
Run for the record -- Something extra was at stake besides the event victory in the Funny Car final round. So were 20 extra points and the national elapsed-time record. Tony Pedregon and Robert Hight each had a shot at it during the weekend. During Friday qualifying, Hight recorded the quickest elapsed time in Funny Car history with a pass of 4.636 seconds. It came just after Pedregon had posted a 6.549-second E.T. Hight needed to cover the Firebird International Raceway quarter-mile in 4.685 seconds or better to eclipse Jack Beckman's national record (4.662).
"We've got to quit worrying about the record," Hight said when he qualified No. 1 and even during the early stages of eliminations when he was winning roundsbut winning ugly.
Pedregon needed to clock a run at 4.717 seconds to take the national record. He got it in his first-round victory over Scott Kalitta at 4.701. But the record wasn't official until the end of the event. So Hight still had a chance to upstage Pedregon.
When Hight reached the final automatically because opponent Ron Capps red-lit, he said of his second straight final-round appearance, "Hopefully the driver can do his job this time and not cross the center line -- and get that record."
So all of a sudden, the last Funny Car race of the day became a quest for Hight, not just to win but to take the record from Pedregon's hands.
Pedregon, the No. 2 qualifier, won the race and earned 137 points. The maximum number of points a driver can earn at a national event is 138.
Seeing red -- Ron Capps, hoping to follow Gary Scelzi's lead from Pomona and score a second Funny Car victory for Don Schumacher Racing, disqualified himself in the semifinal by jumping off the starting line .173 of a second early.
 Asked what happened to trigger the first red-light foul of his career, the Brut Dodge Charger driver said, "I don't even know.I wasn't amped up or anything. I feel like I let all my guys down.I feel so bad for Ace [crew chief McCulloch]. We had a good car. It's going to be a long two weeks." The next event is the March 15-18 Gatornationals at Gainesville, Florida.
"I've heard guys tell what happens when they red-lit," Capps said. "My foot went down. It was time to go. It was no different than any rounds or pressure we've had in the past. I was real surprised. I don't think my brain even said go. My foot was down, and it was already past the tree, and I saw the red light, and I thought, 'Oh, my God.' In that moment between pre-stage and stage, for a driver, no matter what class, you're in the utmost concentration. I didn't have any lack of concentration. It just felt like another round. Next thing I know, my foot was down, and away you go."
He received consolation from his crew chief. "Like Ace said, we did well in points and we'll come out of here OK. It hurts that we had one of the best cars here this weekend, and I always
prided myself on making sure to not make mistakes like that, or at least try my hardest not to, so the guys always count on me and I feel like I let them down.
"All in all," he said, "this one's going to leave a mark. It's going to hurt for two weeks. I've never redl-it, for as long as I've been driving. It's the first time."
McCulloch was not the only one who tried to make Capps feel better by putting the error in perspective.
"This whole DSR organization is a great support system. Don Schumacher was over here, and Ace was the first one to pull me aside and say, 'It's OK. Stuff happens.' He's done it before. Don Schumacher came in and patted me on the knee and said, 'Don't worry about it. We'll go to Gainesville.' When you have people who are behind you like that, you never have to go and roll up to the starting line and doubt yourself. It's an amazing feeling to have nine guys on the crew that feel sorry more for me than I feel for myself. It's a good family, a good support system. I'm going to beat myself up pretty good, but that's the way it goes. When you got a shot at winning the race and you got that kind of car, it hurts worse."

After you -- Dave Connolly and Kenny Koretsky engaged in a staging duel, triggering a string of three such incidents that opened Pro Stock eliminations.
The night before, Connolly had said,  "We're a little behind where we want to be. The key was we lost lane choice. We'll do the best we can and try to get down the [not preferred] right lane. We were trying some things that just didn't pan out. The track is pretty tricky when the sun is on it."
So Connolly decided to be a little tricky himself.
"We didn't have lane choice, soI was going to do what we could, maybe get n his head a little bit."
His one-minute, 10-second burndown, during which starter Rick Stewart sat down and folded his arms across his chest, worked. He got a .026-second jump at the line, and Koretsky had a .079-second reaction time.

Get well, Roy Johnson -- Roy Johnson, father and co-crew chief of veteran Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson, is expected to stay for a few more days at Chandler Regional Hospital, where he was admitted for bypass surgery at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Johnson suffered an apparent heart attack late Saturday at Firebird International Raceway.
A team member said Sunday morning that Roy Johnson was making jokes and in positive spirits following the 30-minute procedure that repaired artery blockages with the installation of stents.
“It looks like he’s going to be OK,” Allen Johnson said.
“My family and I appreciate everybody coming by and really appreciate Don Schumacher arranging to fly my family here from Tennessee. It was a lifesaver. We also appreciate everybody’s prayers. My Mom is with Dad right now. He was very lucky. The doctor said if he hadn’t been exactly where he was, it might have been a different outcome. The Chandler Regional Hospital has awesome [cardiac specialists], so we’re very lucky that he was taken there.”
Allen Johnson failed to qualify for the 16-car field, showing no better than 18th.
Kurt Johnson, who is no relation to Roy and Allen Johnson but enjoys being mistaken for a member of their family, pulled up to the starting line for his match-up against Jeg Coughlin Jr. with a message for Roy Johnson on the side of his ACDelco Cobalt. It read, "GET WELL, ROY."
Richie Stevens, Allen Johnson's Mopar Dodge teammate, used a perfect reaction time (.000 seconds) to beat V Gaines in the opening round. "We're going to do this for Roy," Stevens said. "He said, 'Go rounds.' So we're going to see what we can do."
He ended up facing Kurt Johnson, who had defeated Coughlin. K.J. returned to the starting line in the quarterfinals against Stevens with a new message for Roy Johnson: "ROY, ARE YOU BETTER YET?"
Roy Johnson probably wasn't crazy that K.J. eliminated Stevens. But surely he appreciated the sentiment on Johnson's car -- that one and the he sported in the semifinals: "SORRY, ROY. GET BETTER SOON."
The final-round message on K.J.'s driver window was "GET BETTER QUICK AND FAST!"

The skinny on that victory -- Through his "Team on a Mission" campaign that's a key element to his Young Life Pro Stock program, Mike Edwards makes donations for every round-win to send a youngster to a Young Life-sponsored camp. When Edwards eliminated Greg Stanfield by a three-thousandth margin, announcer Bob Frey quipped, "He'll have to send a skinny kid to camp for that margin of victory."

Sprung a Leak - Against Jim Yates in round two, Anderson broke an oil line which spilled oil onto the track during the burnout, giving Yates a free ride to the second round.  Anderson was shut off and his day for a second consecutive win to start the 2006 season came to an end.

“An oil line ended what other wise might have been a good day,” said Anderson, following the abrupt end to his race day.  “It was a good weekend, even though we had a few hiccups in qualifying, which we corrected for today.  For some reason we’ve always had issues with this racetrack.  This year was no different.  I guess you could say it was an up and down weekend.

“We’ve got a great package between the engine and the race car. We’ll go to Gainesville and try to make perfect runs and take a win light.”

Lightning Quick - Richie Stevens Jr. aced the tree by posting a perfect .000 reaction time to win over V Gaines.

Driving the Team Mopar/Valspar Dodge Stratus R/T for Don Schumacher Racing, Stevens crossed the finish line in 6.671 seconds at 206.99 mph over Gaines' 6.683/207.08. In the second round, however, he suffered tire shake at the hit of the throttle, then coasted to a losing 13.886/61.51 to Kurt Johnson's winning 6.688/206.99
"We got by the first round," he said. "We actually got kind of lucky becausethe car rolled the beams a little bit first round. We got lucky with a win light there. Came back up for the second round, had lane choice against Kurt. We should've been fine, we should've just gone down and run a good number. We took a little bit out of the clutch department because the track
got a little worse. It almost looked like we added clutch to it. It just blew the tires off and we can't really figure out why.



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fullerDSA_4839.JPGFuller staying put -- Contrary to accelerating rumors, " Hot Rod" Fuller won't be out of a ride range since this season began and will start Sunday's elimination rounds as the second-quickest qualifier (with a 4.471-second run at 331.61 mph).
According to David Powers Motorsports media rep Ted Yerzyk, "Rod Fuller has a contract for the full season. Why would we dump him when he’s performing this well, anyway?"
The plan is to change the paint scheme on Fuller's dragster for Gainesville, because the team's Valvoline partnership isn't scheduled to continue after this race. However, that situation could change before the Gatornationals begins March 14th.
Army strong, Army stoic -- He’s No. 1 but not terribly excited about it.
 A driver doesn't win races by qualifying No. 1, according to Tony Schumacher. He or she wins championships by winning rounds, he reminded himself after taking the top qualifying spot again this weekend at Firebird.
"There's no comfort level qualifying No. 1,”"Schumacher said, "not after last year." schumacherDSA_5446.JPGHe qualified at the top of the order 13 times, including at four of the first five races, last year, ad he couldn't convert that to a victory until St. Louis. He had to come from 336 points off the pace to claim his third consecutive title on the last run of the season.  

"It's hard to say what Alan [Johnson] is doing with the car, but the first run [around 1 p.m.] we were trying to run pretty hard," Schumacher said. "On that last run he told me to motor it down the track and it was a nice run."
Schumacher took the left lane and said he isn't sure if that was the trick to his 4,457-second, 329.34-mph pass. "It's so hard to make the two lanes the same. We've got as much data as anyone out there, and it's hard for a car with that much power to adapt to any changes we make."

millican.JPGFrom DNQ to No. 3 -- Clay Millican's calm approach to this race paid off.

The Top Fuel driver who has won the past six International Hot Rod Association championships failed to make the lineup for the first event of his first full-time NHRA schedule two weekends ago at Pomona, California.
But he stormed back at Firebird International Raceway with a 4.479-second pass at 309.20 mph to put his Knoll Gas Motorsports/Torco Racing Fuels Dragster in the No. 3 position. His top qualifying speed was 317.05 mph.
 Millican, who almost never is caught without a smile on his face, said he didn't stew about not qualifying for the Winternationals.
"We weren’t all that depressed we didn’t qualify at Pomona. We were disappointed we didn’t get in, but, at the same time, we missed the fastest Top Fuel field in history by two-thousandths of a second," he said. "We never thought a run of 4.577 (seconds) at 327.43 (mph) wouldn’t be good enough.”
He said he and crew chief Mike Kloeber ought to have confidence coming to Chandler, Arizona. “We know how well the car ran during testing at Firebird last month, so we should be in pretty good shape when qualifying starts Friday," Millican said. "We made a bunch of laps at the track.
"We called the exterminator after the Winternationals, and I think we got rid of the bugs that bothered us there," he said. "We didn’t get the job done on a couple qualifying runs and then we had a weird thing happen when an ignition wire came loose on our final qualifying run."
d-kalittaDSA_5071.JPGMore last-ditch efforts -- Doug Kalitta extended his Top Fuel-best qualifying streak to 162 races, with a 4.547-second, 327.90 effort in the Mac Tools Dragster in his final chance.
And John Force repeated his cliff-hanger qualifying scenario from Pomona. He made the Funny Car field by driving his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang  to a 4.81-second E.T. to preserve his NHRA-leading string at 393 events dating back to October 31, 1987, at Pomona, California.
Force said after his streak-saving run that he had sought advice from teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight. He said he listened to Hight's suggestion and that helped him. "That's why I love ya, Robert," Force said. "That's why I let ya marry my kid." Hight's wife is Force's eldest daughter, Adria.
But Hight said, "This thing about John qualifying in his last chance, he's got to quit that." He said too many things can go wrong and said Force simply can't keep taking risks with such a small margin of error.
Veteran Cory McClenathan made the Top Fuel show in his last chance, too. He took the No. 9 position with a run of 4.516/327.51.

scott-griffinDSB_8147.JPGSitting it out -- Scott Griffin, who announced earlier that he would field a car with driver Scott Weis, said Saturday that he has put the venture on hold because of what he said was a lack of available quality crew chiefs.
He said he has two brand-new Brad Hadman-built dragsters ready to go in his Wilmington, North Carolina, shop. But he said losing veteran tuner Lance Larsen this past week to Morgan Lucas Racing played a major role in his decision.
"Lance had the opportunity to go to a first-class operation, and I didn't want to hold him back," Griffin said.
Griffin, who had Andrew Cowin in his Serta Mattress-sponsored dragster for NHRA and IHRA races last season, said he'll keep that sponsorship on an associate level.
"I just felt it was best to park it until the right person crosses our path," Griffin said.
He has partnered with the Carrier Boyz for the FRAM Boost Dragster that Cory McClenathan drives.




Dropping the Clutch - After four rounds, Robert Hight retained the top qualifying spot with his quickest run in Funny Car history yesterday of 4.636 seconds (327.74 mph).  Hight’s tuner Jimmy Prock “is plenty aggressive but we’ve got to go down the track” after smoking the tires twice today.  “If conditions are right tomorrow, we’ll go for the record but it’s going to be an interesting day.” 

hightDSA_5267.JPG Prock’s tune-up for the Auto Club Ford was a bit aggressive today, forcing Hight to think about “going down the track.  We thought about that record too much; we were too aggressive and smoked the tires.  I don’t want to think about that record right now,” he said.
The Force quartet will stay and test here at Firebird on Monday and Tuesday no matter how they finish, Hight said.
Teammate and team owner John Force once again had to qualify in his final attempt and, according to his son-in-law, Force is “not yet used to the way we’re running the clutch this year.  Jimmy and I tested with the new clutch package all winter but he doesn’t understand yet what it’s gonna do. 
“John was complaining that it was hard to hold the clutch pedal down but I told him, ‘Ashley isn’t complaining’ and he didn’t say another word.”  Hight questioned Force’s timing of his questions – always in the staging lane.  “Why can’t he ask about this stuff when we’re in the pits?”


pedregonDSA_5224.JPGNo leisurely cruise for Cruz -- Cruz Pedregon has had his share of engine explosions, but the one he rode out Saturday afternoon in the third overall session showed just how skilled the 1992 series champion is. Jack Beckman sailed on down the track in the right lane, far ahead of Pedregon as the Advance Auto Parts Chevy Monte Carlo had trouble by about 600 feet.
But Pedregon got back on the gas and the engine blew up, crumpling the body in front of him. With his steering locked up, he drifted into the opposite lane, behind Beckman. Then he guided the runaway car between Beckman and the outside wall, hitting neither and doing no further damage.
"That was the best outside pass I've seen since Rick Mears went around Michael Andretti at Indianapolis in 1991," Michael Knight, longtime motorsports journalist and former CART series media director, said. 
Pedregon said safety and respect dictated how he handled himself in this situation.
"I just reached up enough to pull the belts loose, and I was able to see a corner and I thought I better stay between the guard rail and Beckman," he said. "I respect the guy in the other lane,. You got to do that.  It is bad enough you have one car in trouble -- you don't need another."
He apologized to his team and the fans for any inconvenience but said he was trying to drive the car hard, that that's what drag racers are supposed to do.
"I wasn't trying run better than a 5.11, and I apologize to the team and the fans," he said. "Hey, these cars are made to hammer down the entire quarter-mile, and when you life off the throttle like that, it confuses everything. Hey man, I'm just trying to make the difference in the seat."
He said his car "smoked the tires and had a lot of power but we'll be back there. We'll get another body on it and get back to trying to get in the field."
Pedregon's crew did get him ready for a fourth and final qualifying session, but he had only a 6.68-second elapsed time -- not enough to top Jeff Arend and his bump spot of  4.864 seconds. (Photo courtesy of Motel6  Vision/ESPN2)

Maybe Gainesville is the charm --
Funny Car returnee Kenny Bernstein is 0-for-2 in his comeback quest, but he had his Monster Energy Dodge Charger in the field at least for a few minutes. But he had some familiar company with fellow Winterernationals DNQers Tony Bartone, Del Worsham, Terry Haddock, and Bob Bode. This time throw in Cruz Pedregon, too, a former champion like Bernstein. Next on the schedule is the Gatornationals at Gainesville Florida, where Bernstein cracked the 300-mph barrier. So maybe the track will bring luck on St. Patrick's Day weekend.



DSA_5018.JPGGood 'Ole #12 - Jason Line reset the Firebird International Raceway record book with a track record elapsed time 6.635 seconds and the No. 1 position, the 12th top spot of his short Pro Stock career.  His 209.33 mph was only second-best though, as his teammate Greg Anderson set the track record for speed at 209.49 mph, a career best for the three-time champion.

“Awesome. Pretty darn cool,” Line said after his track record run in the first session on Saturday.  “It (the car) was great in low gear, but rough after that and in the middle, but the numbers don’t lie. The numbers say it was a good run.”

Line feels that the early performance this season is due to the KB Racing team making a decision to proceed with the development of the GM DRCE3 (General Motors Drag Racing Competition Engine, third generation) during the off-season (from November 2006 through February 2007).

 “So far, so good with our DRCE3 engine,” said Line.  “We’re obviously pretty optimistic about it with the first two times out (Pomona and Phoenix) here and we think it’s running great.  There’s a lot of room for improvement in it yet, and we feel like it’s got a lot of potential. We’ll see.  If we can just do the right things to it, and the development goes as planned over the course of the year, it could be really good.  Time will tell.  We said that about the “2” engine, too, and sometimes it just takes you longer to develop the engine than what you think it’s going to, but that’s normal.  That’s engine development.”

Line will take on Max Naylor in the opening round tomorrow. Naylor is the No. 16 qualifier in the 16-car Pro Stock field.  He recorded an elapsed time of 6.690 seconds at a speed of 206.13 mph.

“We’re really struggling with the racetrack,” said Line following qualifying.  “Honestly, if we can make a nice run I think we’ll really lay down a big number, but we’re struggling in the first part of the track.  All in all you can’t complain – we’re on the pole and that’s about as good as it gets.
Pro Stock - highs and lows - Richie Stevens earned his best start since taking No. 1 at Joliet last year, putting down the second best time of 6.640 (207.18) in his Dodge Stratus.  It was a yin and yang experience, though, as he had to watch teammate Allen Johnson’s streak of 42 races end with a DNQ this afternoon in 18th place.

"Last race Allen ran well," said Stevens. "He qualified second, and this weekend I'm second and he's out. Luckily, I was in. It's almost like we swapped doors on the car and I got the better car this weekend. He struggled and really didn't make a good run any of them,” Stevens remarked.

"We made four good runs. The last one was a little violent, but luckily we made ours when it counted, this morning, got in, and got in solid.” Stevens runs against V Gaines in the first round of eliminations tomorrow.  “We’ve got a good car; it’s been running good and it’s been consistent.  We’ve got good power” with Mopar engines prepared by Ray Johnson, Allen’s father.  “If I can go out there and just do my job, we should go a couple of rounds.”


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lucasDSB_8254.JPG'Really big deal' -- Top Fuel driver Morgan Lucas was No. 8 spot after the first day of qualifying for the Checker Schuck’s Kragen Nationals with a 4.555-seconds elapsed time and 325.92-mph speed. If he were to keep that place in the 16-car field, that would mark only his third start in the top half of the field in the last 22 races.
He was No. 8 last year at Dallas and Sonona. His only 2006 start that was better than eighth came at  Gainesville, where he qualified fourth.
 Teammate Melanie Troxel grabbed the No. 3 position with a  4.495-second pass at 331.12 mph. And that had Lucas animated.
"That's exactly it," Lucas said. "This whole two-car thing is that people don't put enough emphasis on it, because it's really a big deal. Melanie's team put a lot of their thinking into our car to make our car identical. We're trying to tune both of them the same way."
Lucas said he got a lift from having new co-crew chief Lance Larsen on board to help John Stewart.
"I've got great people on my car and Lance (Larsen) came in and helped out a lot," he said. "Maybe this is the combination we've been looking for, and all I can say is it's only going to get better. [A] 4.55 is not an awesome run by some people's standards, but for us and the struggles we've been through, especially not qualifying for the last race, I'm very happy with the run. And maybe after our two more runs tomorrow, peopletroxelDSB_8227.JPG will believe we brought a race car with us."
Troxel knows she brought one with her, and she said she also is benefiting from being associated with Lucas' Lucas Oil Dragster.
The Vietnam Veterans/POW MIA Dragster's top-three showing prompted her to say, "Things are definitely coming around over here. It's great to see not only our car step up and run our first 4.40 of the year, but to see Morgan's car run to the finish line has to give them a great feeling," she said." I know they have a little more room to improve, but I feel we're moving both cars in the right direction. I think we're going to see improvement because we going to be able to share information between the two cars and really step our program up."
No. 17 about 16 places off -- Cory McClenathan had to abort both of his runs Friday in the Carrier Boyz/Scott Griffin Racing FRAM/Torco Dragster but said the track was not the culprit.
"We definitely have some (mechanical) issues," he said. "We can't blame the track. There were good numbers from others cars."
Tony Schumacher topped the list at 4.430 seconds and 328.22 mph in the Army Dragster.
What frustrated McClenathan, he said, was that "this comes after we tested so well here [last month] and our good performance at Pomona [where he set top speed of the meet in the season opener].
"We're not happy," he said. "I know Mark and Andy [Carrier] and Scott [Griffin] aren't happy, either. We'll keep trying harder to make it better. On the plus side, we had a lot of people from Bendix at the track, and our new hospitality area was full. They all had a good time."
Maybe Saturday was McClenathan's turn to have a good time.

Phoenix jinx broken? --  Firebird International Raceway was the only stop inJ.R. Todd's wildly successful 2006 rookie season at which he didn't qualify. But the Winternationals winner assured himself a spot in the field with a No. 4 showing on the first day, thanks to his  4.510 seconds at 323.43 mph in the Skull Shine Dragster.
"That was a nice way to end the day," Todd said. "I'm glad it went straight down the track. We lost traction on the first run because the tune-up was too aggressive, but [crew chief] Jimmy [Walsh] came back with a strong run. We hope to make a couple more good runs Saturday."

worshamDSA_5193.JPGWorsham slightly off -- Del Worsham and teammate Jeff Arend unveiled specially designed "10th Anniversary" decals on their race cars today, commemorating the 1997-2007 decade of Worsham Racing and CSK Auto's partnership. But Worsham could match that with a 10th in the order. He was 14th, though, in his CSK Chevy Monte Carlo.
In the first session, Worsham made it farther down the track than most of his Funny Car colleagues, but he smoked the tires just past the 330-foot mark. His second effort encountered tire shake, but he got it to hook up and he posted a 5.296-second elapsed time.
Referring to Robert Hight's quickest-in-class-history pass of 4.636 seconds, Worsham said, "Robert's run showed you how much track was out there, but we just missed on the tune-up a little. On the first run, we did better than most of the teams, but just drove into tire spin out there. On the second lap, we had the front part of the lap dialed in pretty well. But it made a funny noise on me near the top end, so I thought it was best to lift. I'm glad I did, because the computer shows it was losing boost really fast out there, and something ugly might have happened if I had kept my foot down.
"If we can narrow this tune-up down to where we keep it going the whole way, we're going to run very well," he said. "The challenge is to get the tune-up to match the track when the conditions are changing that fast. Obviously, [Hight crew chief] Jimmy Prock
nailed it. We haven't gotten into the 4.6s yet at all, and they're ripping off 4.63s. That's really something."

coughlinDSB_8215.JPGJeg busy and doing well -- Versatile driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. stepped up in the Pro Stock, jumping from No. 24 to No. 6 by the end of the first day of qualifying. He rallied with a 6.6672-second elapsed time  at 207.50 mph.
"We are looking to pick up right where we left off tomorrow," Coughlin promised Friday night. "This Slammers Ultimate Milk team has what it takes to get the job done this weekend."
Coughlin didn't miss a beat Friday in his Super Stock quest, though. He was the No. 1 qualifier in Super Stock at Pomona, and he did well Friday at Phoenix's Firebird International Raceway. He was fourth with a best pass of 8.840 seconds at 153.77 mph in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cavalier. He also posted an 8.863 at 155.6 mph.
"Once again the car is very consistent, which is extremely encouraging," Coughlin said. "We start early Saturday with class eliminations, which still counts towards qualifying. We have one guy to race there and it appears we have him covered, but we'll have to be on our game to get past him. Then we'll get set for eliminations and go from there. It would be very exciting to take two Super Stock trophies home this weekend."

johnsonDSA_5346.JPGProfessor 'headed in right direction' -- Warren Johnson and his GM Performance Parts GTO Racing team opened qualifying for the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals well enough for the so-called Professor of Pro Stock to grade himself relatively well.
"We're not where we want to be yet, but we're certainly headed in the right direction. Our GM Performance Parts GTO made two pretty good runs today, and, more importantly, we have a good idea of what we need to do to make it even better. Even though the forecast is calling for it to be a little warmer tomorrow, we're hoping to keep climbing up the speed charts."
He began Saturday's final day of qualifying in 11th place with runs of 6.704 seconds at 206.35 mph and an improved 6.695/207.21 mph

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friday_notebook2.jpgEnjoying top 1 spot -- No. 1 qualifier Tony Schumacher said DSR Funny Car teammate Ron Capps gave him some valuable advice to enjoy himself. And he did that Friday with a Firebird International Raceway elapsed-time record of 4.430 in the U.S. Army Dragster.
Following a tire-shaking first run that had the reigning POWERade Top Fuel champ mired in eighth place, crew chief Alan Johnson found the right combination to get Schumacher down the track.
Still, he said he's not looking to back it up here.
"What's the use of getting a record here when it's only the second race of the year? If I go into Las Vegas [next October] with a 300-point lead, it could still be lost," he said. "Alan just told me to get in the box because we don't want to embarrass ourselves" Friday afternoon.
Schumacher has his eyes firmly on the Countdown for the Championship and is strictly looking to make that top eight in points by the time the U.S. Nationals roll around August 29.
"Every one of us wants to win 23 races, but it's not going to happen," he said. "We'll work to get our points without jeopardizing the championship. We might need that record at Pomona again next November."
While Schumacher said he isn't sure what he thinks of the Countdown yet, he knows it's going to "take a full year to see if the new points structure works. I want to be No. 1 all year, but I don't need a huge lead.
"Capps said to me, 'Just go drive and remember how much fun it is.' It's not just about the money and the trophies. It's personal, and it's about the challenge."
fullerDSB_7774_nb.jpgWaiting in the wings -- Fans who were at Firebird International Raceway during the National Time Trials test session last month saw Rod Fuller and his David Powers Motorsports debut the modern version of the monostrut wing-equipped Top Fuel dragster. But they are unable to "wing it" in this weekend's Checker Schuck’s Kragen Nationals.
Rob Flynn, Fuller's co-crew chief, said that version of the Valvoline/DPM Dragster will not during this event or during Monday testing. Flynn said the team seriously considered running it but couldn't make the safety-dictated changes in time.
"The SFI change that they made . . .  where they wanted us to add a tube or change the upper frame rail  . . .  was unrealistic to do at the track," Flynn said. "We tried to add the tube, but because of the other welds, we weren't able to do it at the race track. That might be more of a shop project."
He said the team will return to the shop in Pittsboro, Indiana, and determine what work needs to be done before deciding when the car will make its competitive debut.
In the meantime, Fuller used "ol' Reliable" and set the Top Fuel pace with a 4.471-second elapsed time at 331.61 mph.

When Big speaks . . . -- Announcer Bob Frey had his take on when the monostrut-wing dragster will appear in competition. Said Frey, "They will debut the monostrut car in Gainesville, where Big Daddy [Don Garlits] is in the house. He'll be there to tell them everything they do wrong. If Big Daddy is talking, I'm listening." 

fullerDSA_4838_nb.jpgAdjusting well, thank you -- When "Hot Rod" Fuller gained a David Powers Motorsports teammate for this year's POWERade Top Fuel season, he also lost the bulk of his team to Whit Bazemore, who moved over from driving floppers to test his hand in a rail.
The only members of Fuller's 2006 crew still with him are tuner/crew chief Rob Flynn and bottom-end mechanic Neal Carmichael. The balance of his 2006 group joined Bazemore, including tuner/crew chief Lee Beard, who was a big factor in Fuller's success last season and is the über-chief of both teams.
"I think it's really impressive how quickly we've come together," Fuller said between qualifying sessions Friday afternoon. "I could have been really upset by this, but instead, I relish the challenge."
Without sounding too mushy, he said, nodding to his team and then to Bazemore's, "I really love these guys, and I really love those guys. We're a big family. My new guys – all of whom have worked on a championship NHRA team – were really impressed that I was willing to party with them. Not everybody does that, you know?" he said.
Flynn, who helped Fuller become one of the few Top Fuel drivers to make a first pass all the way down the Firebird Raceway quarter-mile, is from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. For that reason, the crew decided this machine has Canadian Horsepower. These days that kind of currency could be quite valuable.
In the first round of qualifying, only six of 19 Top Fuel cars broke the beam in under five seconds: Fuller, Brandon Bernstein, Doug Foley, Larry Dixon, Melanie Troxel, and Morgan Lucas (who has a new co-crew chief for John Stewart starting this weekend -- Lance Larsen).

foleyDSA_4831_nb.jpgDo-overs? – Hey, we don't have “do-overs” in drag racing! That is . . . unless you’re a victim. Doug Foley was paired alongside Top Fuel rookie Gene Davis in the opening pair of dragsters for the first session. And it got ugly.
Davis had staging problems, rolled the lights,nailed the throttle, and coasted down the track. Meanwhile, Foley sat on the starting line [with instructions from Rick Stewart to hold] with the stage lights lit and the engine running at idle. Foley's clutch heated up and the car rolled the beams before shutting down.
Foley was given the opportunity to refuel and try the pass again. It was worth the second effort, as he swiped the third position with a 4.560-second elapsed time
"You never really know what is going to happen in a deal like that," Foley said. "Most people write you off. But it went right on down there."

Predicting whether weather will change -- It seems all the Phoenix forecasters could talk about
Thursday night and Friday morning was how lousy the weather would be on Friday and into Saturday. That goes to show no one really can predict sunshine – even in the Valley of the Sun!
While it was cold and threatening this morning during Sportsman time trials, the afternoon sun kept peeking from behind cumulus clouds. On the other hand, winds are brisk and temperatures are in the low 60s, as predicted. At least the weather prognosticators got something right!
After the rain-delayed start to final eliminations at the Winternationals, the NHRA continues to press on despite the specter of rain.
friday_notebook.jpgHight sets Funny Car standard -- Ask any driver what's the most wicked Funny Car on the track today and Robert Hight's Jimmy Prock-tuned Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang would receive an overwhelming number of votes. He showed Fridat at Firebird International Raceway why he would deserve every one of them.
While everybody was calculating what former-teammate-turned-rival Tony Pedregon would have to run to back up his 4.659-second pass for a national record, Hight made that a moot point by recording the quickest run in Funny Car history at 4.636 seconds.
"It was flying," Hight said of his stunning run, which came at 327.74 mph. "But I think it was eating itself up on the other end. The guys said it was flickering on the top end.
"Making the run today was a real confidence-builder. The numbers for this run were incredible. I never imagined that a Funny Car could run that quick. This is a great race track."
He indicated he had no idea during the run that the John Force Racing entry was on the best run ever.
"I thought I actually spun the tires in the middle," Hight said. "When it locked up the clutch, it took off again. It ran 273 at half-track and got on the rev-limiter early," he said. "What you can see on the computer is not comparable to anything we've ever run."
But Hight, who handed the Winternationals victory to an equally dangerous Gary Scelzi in the final round by crossin gthe center line for an automatic disqualification, said following Friday's milestone run, "I was more impressed that I kept it in my lane.
"We could have backed up the record in Pomona, had we have kept it our lane during the final round," he said.
Hight reached the final by beating Jeff Arend with a 4.646-second E.T., at that point the quickest pass in class history but missed the chance to back it up. His failure to do so left the national record in the hands of Jack Beckman, driver of the Don Schumacher-owned  MTS Dodge, who posted a 4.662 at Pomona last November.
To back up this run for the national record and gain the 20 points that come with it, Hight must register a run at 4.685 or better.
"I think our team ought to be able to run a 4.67 or 4.68 tomorrow," he said. "I'm sure it's on Jimmy Prock's mind right now. As the race goes on ,the track gets better. It's a little green early. The NHRA does a great job, and the more runs we make the better it gets."
As for how much he might have left on the table, Hight said, "I haven't watched the video yet. The numbers were unbelievable."
Q for Quick! -- Tony Pedregon's Q Racing Chevy Monte Carlo was no slouch in the No. 2 spot with a 4.59-second pass at 324.44 mph that represented the Funny Car class' third-quickest elapsed time. His run Friday afternoon is third only to Robert Hight's two passes (4.646 in the Pomona semifinals and 4.636 Friday at Firebird).  
Impala-quick -- Tommy Johnson Jr., last year's event winner here, is sixth in the Funny Car order so far with a 4.733-second elapsed time. But his 330.88-mph speed Friday in the new Chevy Imapala SS eclipsed Robert Hight's former track mark of 329.99 from February 2005.
k-bernsteinDSB_7869.JPGWhole lotta shakin' goin' on -- Tire shake, his Monster Energy Dodge Charger's worst enemy through preseason testing and certainly throughout Winternationals qualifying, continues to plague Funny Car returnee Kenny Bernstein. In his first time out this weekend, he shut it off and took a 13.055-second, 45.33-mph clocking. His second run yielded not much better -- a 10.742/77.76. Neither was close to cracking the field of 16, which Tony Bartone anchors in the Lucas Oil Chevy Monte Carlo after two sessions with a 5.804-second E.T.
Also unqualified yet in the Funny Car class are Bob Gilbertson, Terry Haddock, Gary Densham, Scott Kalitta, and Bob Bode (who used to race boats on the lake adjacent to this dragstrip).
forceDSB_7903.jpgMore drama? -- Just like at Pomona, John Force finds himself all too close to being bumped from the field and seeing his nearly-30-year-old qualifying streak die at 393 races. The owner of the four-entry Funny Car team wound up Friday's sessions in the No. 15 position, just ahead of anchor Tony Bartone -- who, ironically, had about the last chance to knock him from the Winternationals lineup in the season-opener and failed to do so. Force's 5.507-second E.T. at 232.99 mph left him vulnerable. Daughter Ashley, by contrast, sailed into the No. 5 slot with a 4.730-second E.T. at 319.82 mph -- just behind "The Other Ashley," Mike Ashley.
Back to School - For nearly 100 elementary students in Deer Valley, the world just got a whole lot faster - 331.85 mph, to be exact. When NHRA driver Mike Ashley visited their classes on Friday, he explained that in the amount of time it takes them to count to four, his nitromethane-powered Funny Car reaches that speed - and the children were amazed.
Ashley, a father of two from Long Island, New York, made it a point to spend time with the students at Stetson Hills Elementary School as a part of his visit this weekend as a participant in the 23rd annual Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler.
Along with a positive message of determination and accomplishment, Ashley handed out T-shirts, autographed hero cards, and even a die cast model of one of his cars for display in each classroom.
"These kids are a lot of fun," said Ashley. "They asked some good questions, too, like what kind of safety equipment we use in the cars and what it takes to be a driver."
Priorities -- Gary Scelzi indicated he was more interested in going from one end of the track to the other during the first Funny Car session. That’s why the third-quickest lap of the session (a 4.794-second elapsed time) suited him just fine.
"This thing has not run out of the 4.70s since testing," Scelzi said. "Even though it wasn't the quickest, it went down the track. And that's the most important thing, and that is what wins races."
Scelzi said his car is set up exactly like that of teammates Ron Capps and Jack Beckman. The only difference is the crew chiefs make their own specialized adjustments.
Scelzi said his Mopar/Oakley Dodge team would make minor adjustments to the set-up between sessions. Whatever Mike Neff ordered, it was effective. Scelzi ran a 4.697-second E.T. at 330.07 mph -- right up there with record-setting and resetting runs from Tony Pedregon and Robert Hight. The Winternationals winner will enter Saturday's final day of qualifying in the No. 3 spot.
Poppin' and bangin' -- Funny Car driver Ron Capps had problems, despite being the second-quickest of the first session. Crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch backed the Brut Revolution Dodge down considerably for the opening session. Capps popped and banged his way to a 4.750-second elapsed time.
"It got on the rev-limiter really bad, and I couldn't tell whether it was a hole out or if it was on the rev-limiter," Capps said. "I didn't want to get out of it."
The third Don Schumacher Racing-owned flopper, Jack Beckman's Mail Terminal Services Dodge, opened in the 12th spot.

friday_lowq_03.jpg'More for everybody' -- Jason Line is hot to keep the Pro Stock championship he worked so hard to achieve in 2006 and is doing all the right things to make that happen so far. After watching teammate Greg Anderson set a track record in the first qualifying session, Line went out and topped the three-time champ with his own record, set in cool, cloudy, windy conditions.
Line blew through the quarter-mile in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTO at 6.642 seconds and 208.84 mph, then said he thinks he has more left in the car.
Haven't we heard this before?
"Conditions were good down the track," Line said, "but the car really didn't feel that good," he said with his sly smile. "That run was pretty phenomenal, but there's definitely something left – not just for me but for everybody."

The Summit Racing team, together with 2006 Phoenix race winner Warren Johnson and his son Kurt Johnson, is developing GM's new DCRE3 engine on the track.
"It's pretty fast out of the box, but there's still a lot of room for improvement," Line said.
"We're hoping to do the right thing with our development here. But if you'll recall, it took awhile for the '2' to work. So right now we're just marginally better than we were with the older engine.:
By the end of the season, Line said he believes, we'll see the new engine hit its stride.
Line just might be hitting his right now. As the fastest Pro Stock driver, a label which came during a second session under extremely cloudy, cool, and blustery conditions, Line showed that. And, he said, "I am going to sleep well tonight, that's for sure."
friday_notebook3.jpgThe Two Gregs an item again -- Just as at Pomona, "The Two Gregs" had a connection. Greg Anderson and Greg Stanfield were finalists in the Winternationals. In their next time on the track, Anderson and his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTO  led the field with a pass of 6.667 seconds at 208.39 which set both ends of the track record.Stanfield, in his PiranaZ GTO, was No. 16 qualifier after the first session with a 6.730/204.32.
"Just call me the bridesmaid," Stanfield, of Bossier City, Louisiana, said after his runner-up finish to Anderson at Pomona. "I really felt like we had something for Greg in the finals. All in all, for having our backup engine in -- we lost our good one in Las Vegas [during testing] -- to come out here and do this, this is awesome. Our goal coming in was to qualify and go a round or two. Now we're second in the points."
"There's a pack of cars of about 10 or 12 that are real close," he said. "And right now Greg is just a tick better than the rest of us. They've raised the bar and it's our job to keep our heads down, work hard, and catch up."
He got his primary engine back together for Phoenix, and he said in the downtime that the team was planning to "go over a few things and see if we can pick it up a little bit. If we do, we'll be dangerous."

edwardsDSB_7537_nb.jpgTucson testing -- It has been several years since PRO-sponsored preseason testing took place at Southwestern International Raceway. But a surprising number of Pro Stock teams went to nearby Tucson, about an hour and half south of Chandler, earlier this week to tune up for this second race of the season.
As usual, they are looking to keep up with Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and the Summit Racing team. 
Pomona top qualifier Allen Johnson tested Wednesday only. 
"We were working on different combinations to help us be more consistent" he said. "You've got to swing for the fence every time, because this class is so close.  It takes just one little mistake and you don't qualify."
Just ask Erica Enders, who -- along with Justin Humphreys, Ron Krisher, Tony Rizzo, Dwayne Rice, Larry Morgan, and Ben Watson -- failed to make the quickest field in class history. (Rizzo, Watson, Morgan, Humphreys, and Rice still hadn't found the combination through Friday's opening session. Neither had veterans V Gaines and Jeg Coughlin Jr.)
Johnson admitted he and his tuner father Roy "got a little too aggressive at Pomona" and paid for it, losing in the first round to Gaines.
Mike Edwards, on the other hand, was one of several drivers to spend three days at the Tucson track, testing Monday through Wednesday.
 "It went well," said wife Lisa Edwards.  "Based on Pomona, we may be a little behind.  This is a new car and we had maybe 15 rounds on it [before the test].
"We need to learn some characteristics, what it likes and dislikes. Even though we had a Haas chassis last year, all of them are different," she Edwards said. "We didn't learn anything earth-shattering, but hopefully we got a good baseline. We made maybe 12 runs and half of them were full-track, so we'll see."

brogdonDSB_7531_nb.jpgDouble duty pays off -- Rodger Brogdon pulled double-duty, of sorts, at Houston during the 11 days between the Winternationals and the Checker, Schuck's Kragen Nationals. He tested for himself and Erica Enders, trying to find the right Mopar combination for both of them. His best, according to an admittedly impatient Enders, was [an unofficial] .659 at 210.31, she said.
"This gives us a lot of confidence coming in. I watched Rodger test, but I'm a terrible spectator," she said. "He needed to get the seat time and he's doing a good job.  I'm ten times more nervous outside the car."
Whatever Brogdon found out at home, he put to effective use at the track and shared with Enders. Both made the top half of the field in Friday's opening session -- with identical elapsed times of 6.697 seconds. But he took seventh place with his 207.46-mph speed in his Stratus, while she recorded a 206.20 mph.
Brogdon earned a Comp Eliminator class victory recently at Chandler, Arizona, and he was especially eager to return because David Nickens, his engine builder, also has been successful at this track.
"We tested last week during the divisional race in Houston for a couple of reasons," Brogdon said. "We had some different set-ups we wanted to try on the car, and I needed the seat time. I've made over a thousand laps in my Comp cars but have less than twenty full laps in this pro stock ride. Each and every lap that I make now allows me to feel more comfortable inside the car. The opportunity to test some different components and chassis configurations also showed us what this Dodge Stratus does and doesn't like in the way we set the car up for race day. With the horsepower that Nickens is providing right now, my team just has to find the right combination to put it all to use. And last week's testing continued to teach this team how to do just that."
He couldn't resist getting ina plug for his crew members: "The guys on my team may not be household names to everyone yet, but I'll match them up to any team out there for their hard work and dedication."
Clutch expert Pete Smallwood, fellow chassis men Dustin Stricker and Paul Brogdon,and engine gurus Nickens and Scott DeSpain helped Brogdon grab the No. 12 position in an ultra-competitive Winternationals Pro Stock field.
"With Pete, Dustin, and Paul taking care of the clutch, car and chassis set-up and Scott and Nickens masterminding the engine combination, I think we can run with the rest of this field," Brogdon said. "Give me moore laps in the car this weekend and we might just be on to something."
Brogdon said, “The engine that ran 210 mph is the engine we use for testing. The atmospheric and track conditions we encountered at Houston last week were certainly outstanding. But how many teams can say that the fastest engine in the country has been put back in the trailer, so that their race day bullet can be put back in the car? Just knowing we have that kind of power in reserve raises the anticipation level just that much higher."

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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - Worsham prepared to right the wrongs; Event preview notebook

worsham_02.jpgDel Worsham's Checker Schuck's Kragen team doesn't waste any time.
The sense within the Funny Car organization is that it doesn't have time to waste.
Last year the veteran driver -- who has come close to that elusive championship with a second-place finish in 2004 and top-three finishes in three of the past six seasons -- left the season-opening Winternationals in seventh place. His lot improved only slightly before he spiraled downward, out of the top 10 by the midway point, at Denver.
After those three dreadful letters -- DNQ -- at Pomona (but in excellent company with Gary Densham, Tony Bartone, and Kenny Bernstein), Worsham wanted to get back to the track.
"Once we got packed up in Pomona, the feeling on this team was one of  wanting to get right back out there, to run the car as many times as we could before the Phoenix race," Worhsma said. "We headed over to Las Vegas and made 10 laps in three days. We made some subtle changes, some big changes, and we mixed in new ways of approaching the tune-up. We never took it to the line just to run it. We had a plan on every lap, and we
accomplished what we wanted to do. Now, we have to make it pay off at the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Nationals."
Ah, that's part of this annual pressure-packed weekend. The team arrived early in Phoenix and put in a full week of promotional work in support of their primary sponsor and the event sponsor -- in the sponsor's hometown.
Winning here is something Worsham has done twice, in 2002 and 2004. But he said he remembers the stress-filled weekends at Firebird International Raceway, too.
"We've had some real nail-biters over the years here," he said. "Every team out here has experienced the stress of getting into the field on the last qualifying run, but as nerve-wracking as that is, it's nothing compared to doing it at your sponsor's race. I don't know why, but we've somehow managed to create that stress for ourselves on more than a few occasions in Phoenix. Every year we say we're not going to let it happen again, and this year I'm sure we're not.
"There's no getting around the fact it's a big deal," Worsham said.
"We've won all over," he said, "and we've won some very big races, including the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, but being handed that trophy in Phoenix is really special. We've been associated with CSK Auto since 1997, and they've been through good times and bad with us. They're one of the greatest sponsors in this sport, and to give a huge group of them a chance to celebrate, at their home track is about as good as it gets."

Hungry for championship -- With Doug Kuch out as crew chief for Doug Herbert's Snap-on Tools Dragster -- "a mutual decision,” Herbert said -- the Lincolnton, North Carolina, driver is looking for his first victory since the second Chicago race of 2004. And he's depending on reliable mechanical mastermind Jim Brissette to help him.
“Brissette and I have worked together for years," Herbert said. "We have a great record and want to win a championship. With the rest of the team still intact, we are going to take our time and make the right decision. Right now, we are looking inside our team to find the right person to assist Brissette.”
He wants to go quick on the race track, and he wanted to move quickly in making changes to the team.
"When you want a championship like we do, sometimes things have to change," he said, "and have to change quick. You can't take too much time making a decision. The rest of the team is still intact, and we are hungry for a win."
The Herbert-Brissette combo can account for four International Hot Rod Association championships, Herbert’s first NHRA national-event victory, and his historical first pass into the 4.80s -- at the 1992 Winternationals, 15 years ago.
"We're ready for things to go our way," Herbert said.
Change for Lucas --
Like Doug Herbert, Morgan Lucas decided he needed to shake things up with his Top Fuel team. So when he takes to the Firebird International Raceway quarter-mile, John Stewart will be there with him. Stewart has a new co-crew chief, though -- Lance Larsen. Gone is Ronnie Thompson.
And while the move, Lucas indicated, was simply a business decision, he's getting a bit weary of fans thinking of him as a Victory Waiting To Happen. He wants to record that first Top Fuel victory this weekend.

"I'm excited to see what is going to happen after this weekend and see where things go from there. I'm excited about running this race car and being competitive," Lucas said.  "Over the past couple of years, we haven't been competitive, and after a while, it takes its toll on you. I'm going in with the intention that it is time to win!
"We're moving in the direction we need to go and working to make our car identical to Melanie Troxel's car. It's one of those things we have to do in taking the right steps in making the process happen," he said
Lucas was direct. "What we're doing is trying to turn our season around now,” he said after just one race -- one for which he didn't qualify. "There are no guarantees, but we're making changes. That's the most important thing: to make the changes we have to make to make this work.”
As for Thompson, Lucas said, "We love Ronnie Thompson, and he did a great job for us. He's like a brother to me, but sometimes that doesn't solve all the problems."
He expressed confidence in Larsen's experience: "Lance has years of experience, and I've watched him with other teams for years. I know Lance has the capabilities and a winning attitude, and that was proven with the Clay Millican team. If he can bring over that same success that would get us on the right track, who knows? We might win a race pretty soon. We hope he is our missing link to our situation."
Larsen said he appreciated Lucas' energy but cautioned that he didn't think he could wave a magic wand and conjure victories in a snap.
"Morgan is young and aggressive, and I know they want to win and they have the resources of doing it the proper way," Larsen said. "I hope by coming on board, I can help them achieve their goals."
He laid out his goal for this first weekend with the team. "If we can turn it around and get it to run at the same level as the other team car driven by Melanie Troxel in a very timely manner. I'll be satisfied with that for the first race," Larsen said. "Obviously, we want to qualify in the quick half of the field and win a couple of races this year and build a program. I'm not a magician, nor are any of us are; we have to see what's there and work out the issues."

Will Firebird be lucky track for KB? -- Kenny Bernstein has a distinction here at Firebird International Raceway. And  he hopes the magic will rub on him this weekend, as he seeks to qualify for his first race in his second stint in the Funny Car class.
The six-time series champion is the only driver to have won at this facility in both the Funny Car and Top Fuel classes. He did it in a Funny Car in 1986, and he reached the winners circle with the Budweiser Dragster in 1991 and 1996.
This weekend will  mark Bernstein's second appearance in his driving comeback in the Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Funny Car.
Bernstein retired at the end of the 2002 season but was pressed into action again in 2003, when son Brandon suffered back injuries that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. And now he's back, part of the wildest Funny Car contingent in the sport's history.
"This category promises to be filled with much drama," Bernstein said. "At Pomona, the qualified field was the quickest in NHRA history, and there were big names bumping in and out of the starting line-up."
He missed it but focused on his team's progress.
"We started this team from the Mac Tool box up," Bernstein said. "We have spent many hours in pre-season testing, and between the season-opener in Pomona and this race, we went to Las Vegas to put more runs on the Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Funny Car. Our team is dedicated and has been putting forth every effort to get this car running quick and fast."
It was at Firebird International Raceway where Kenny Bernstein completed his requirements to cross-grade his license -- and where Brandon Bernstein made the first pass of his pro career, in testing in 2003.
Brandon Bernstein also won the Checker, Schuck's Kragen Nationals twice in the Top Fuel category -- in 2003 and 2004.

Positive sign? -- Winternationals Funny Car winner Gary Scelzi said he thinks the Chandler, Arizona track "shouldn't be a whole lot different than it was in testing."
That's pleasant news for Scelzi. He's already brimming with confidence in the performance of the Mike Neff-tuned Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger after setting his career-best elapsed time (4.690 seconds) and career-best speed (333.49 mph) at Pomona.
And looking back at his results here just four weeks ago, he has to feel even better.
"[Track preparation specialist] Chad Head came in and prepared the race track, and NHRA will do the same thing this weekend. The track will be at its best and hopefully so will we," he said.
"We ran really well there in testing," Scelzi said "Phoenix is one of those really tricky,
narrow-grooved race tracks, and the Mopar/Oakley Dodge seemed to go down
there at will and the slowest we ran in testing was a 4.77 (-second E.T.) and ran our quickest at a 4.73. [Teammate Ron] Capps ran really well there, but our car again was one of the most consistent in testing. Sometimes that doesn't mean much because other guys are trying things, but we made six out of eight runs without tire smoke. And the two runs where it smoked the tires, we were trying something totally different."
This is the first time since November 2005, when he won the Funny Car title, that Scelzi has led the standings.
Fond of Firebird -- Despite a nasty crash during testing at Firebird International Raceway last season, Scott Kalitta indicated he's cautiously optimistic about the potential performance of his Kalitta Air Toyota Solara  this weekend.
"We got our first round-win with our new Funny Car program in Phoenix last year," he said. "It was our first really positive step with our new deal, so we're definitely looking forward to returning. We've started off the ’07 season on a good note. It could be better, but at least we qualified in Pomona this year. We couldn't even get that done last year."
Kalitta said his Solara "still needs a lot more consistency, but we're definitely making strides. We know we can run some big numbers, because we have. We just need to find better ways to do that most of the time and not just some of the time."
The Palmetto, Florida-based driver celebrated his 45th birthday this past Monday, and dad Connie Kalitta, his crew chief and a drag-racing pioneer, will celebrate his 69th birthday Saturday.
Comfort + chemistry = success -- Tommy Johnson likes the status quo -- sometimes, anyway. He wouldn’t mind it if he leaves this suburban-Phoenix track just like he did last year -- as winner. The 2006 event champion might have a new Funny Car body with the Don Prudhomme-owned Skoal Racing Chevy Impala SS, but he said he's comfortable and happy with his crew.
"The biggest thing I like about our team is that we didn't make a lot of changes," Johnson said. "We made changes as far as the new body was concerned and some things to make things go quicker, but the biggest thing is that we didn't change any of the crew. We have one new addition, and that's it. That's big as far as continuity and building chemistry with your team. If you look over the past few years, the teams that are really good are the ones that don't make changes. They have a good group of guys, and they are able to build on that. Chemistry is something you can't buy. You have to build it over the course of a few race seasons. That's what we've done over the past few years at Don Prudhomme Racing,  and that's why we keep getting better and better."

Imposing his own expectations -- Tim Wilkerson is living by a self-imposed ultimatum. "If we want to be taken seriously this year," the Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevy Monte Carlo driver said, "we need to continue what we started in Pomona."
At the Winternationals, each of Wilkerson's qualifying passes was a 4-second run, and the last one was a career-best 4.723.
"I'm optimistic for what we are going to see out of our LRS Funny Car," he said. "When I look at our data, it shows me that the car has great drive-shaft speed and several other elements that are very important. Now, as long as we can get them all to work together at the same time at the right place, it should all be good for this year.
"The pressure is on us for Phoenix,” Wilkerson said. "We're going to have a ton of LRS guests all weekend, and we certainly want to show them what our car can do and give them a weekend to remember."
Some teams are hot -- The John Force Racing trio of Robert Hight, Force, and Eric Medlen are 1-2-3, respectively, in the updated Skoal Showdown points. The tabulation began at Indianapolis and will run through this year's race at Reading, Pennsylvania.
The Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car crew-chief tandem of Mike Neff (Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger) and Ed "Ace" McCulloch (Brut Revolution Dodge Charger) lead in Full Throttle Pit Crew Challenge points. Fred Mandoline, of Tim Wilkerson's team, has the No. 3 spot so far. The challenge recognizes crews and crew chiefs in season-long competition culminating in $25,000 award to the top team.

Professors grades self tough -- Warren Johnson, last year's Pro Stock event winner, said he had better "pick up the pace on the driving end" if he is to repeat.
The GM Performance Parts GTO driver said his less-than-perfect start at Pomona was "a combination of both myself and the car. This chassis is a different design from any other I've driven, and for some reason I've never been able to cut great lights with it. So we may have to change its configuration in the driver's compartment to help my performance in that area. It's all part of the total package that we are constantly working on, trying to make it better."
He said he thinks he has at least one thing going for him this weekend.
"Firebird Raceway is my kind of race track, because it takes a driver to get it to the other end," Johnson said. "At some tracks, once you get it off the line, all you have left to do is talk to the announcer at the top end. But here, with the wind and sand blowing across the track, you have to be on your game all the way down or you can end up on your roof. With that in mind, and based on what we learned in Pomona, we're really looking forward to going back to Phoenix."
If he wins again here this year, he said he wants to get a better bounce from it this time.
"Naturally, the win in Phoenix last year was the highlight of our season," Johnson said. "We had a good weekend, fighting our way to the winner's circle from the eleventh starting spot. Unfortunately, from that point on, we proceeded to shoot ourselves in the foot. However, instead of dwelling on our mistakes, we prefer to see them as part of racing's learning curve, doing what we can to make our program stronger in the long run. This year, we're looking for a repeat performance as well as a strong showing for the rest of the year. We certainly have our work cut out for us, but we're pretty optimistic about our chances."

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