Keep up with this weekend's NHRA Springnationals 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.


capps_02.jpgFunny Car driver Ron Capps has a plea to race fans and members of the media:  "Leave it alone."
Capps, who assumed the points lead Sunday in Robert Hight's absence, said he wants the drag racing message boards, Internet sites, and newspapers to cease speculation on what caused Eric Medlen's fatal accident. He said he's confident that John Force Racing will release the information as soon as it is 100-percent certain.

"I read the Internet sites just like anyone else," Capps said. "I go for the news of our sport. I'm still a big fan of the sport. I like to read up on the latest stuff.

"What has been bugging me and a few other people … The bad thing is that people are making assumptions. We know the result were the harmonics from the tire flapping around. What caused that, we don't know. I assure everyone … and I can't speak for John … but in talking to him and knowing him very well … the truth will come out and I'm sure it will be before Las Vegas. I just want people to stop having discussions what to do.

"The same thing happened right after Dale Earnhart's death. You saw pictures on the Internet and it was the most unbelievable thing.

"In the long run, this will be the best thing … whether Force builds a Car Of Tomorrow … which I think he will. Don Schumacher Racing will follow him. That's what we think of John Force and John Medlen --that whole group over there. The time they are taking is to make our sport safer, especially Funny Cars. That's the point.

"I hate to read discussions about the subject. I know the fans just want to know and are looking to the future … and looking out for us. But let's not discuss what happened yet until the facts are out, myself included."

Capps had his own inspiration Saturday. Almost all drivers and crew chiefs attended a special meeting Friday. Members of the drag racing media were not invited to participate.

"Some things were put out of context by a reporter," he said. "I was asked one thing about one thing and the next thing the guy wanted to know if the speed was a factor in Eric's death. Eric only ran to half-track. I just want people to know that we need to let it rest until John Force comes out with an explanation about what really happened. That includes me and every driver out there.
"I think if the fans really want to support everyone out here, we will leave this issue alone. We'll find out soon enough. John Force has been very open. That call they made on Friday morning was unbelievable. I can't tell you how important that was to all of us to hear John Medlen talk. The guy is just a pillar," Capps said.

Capps said he hates to see the undue stress and hurt put on Force through this speculation and a number of inaccuracies. He said he's aware that sensationalism can be a part of reporting, but this time it is inappropriate.

"I have been on the phone with John Force a couple of times this week," Capps said. "You can hear the hurt in his voice over what has happened. He has the passion to make sure this doesn't happen again.
"We could go another 15 or 20 years with nothing changed on these cars and that accident may not happen again. It was a freak accident that happened. The point I want to make is the members of the media that we have talked to … we have tried to stay away from the subject."

Capps has taken notice that John Force Racing is not providing lip-service in their desire to make the class safer for other teams as well as their own. They aren't keeping secrets, either.

"The most courageous thing I have ever heard was for John Medlen to get on that call [to] the drivers and crew chiefs and explain to us what they felt happened," Capps said. "It was just for the sake us to look at our cars and make sure it didn't happen again.
"We are here racing … myself, Don Schumacher, and Ed McCulloch … because that is what Eric would have wanted us to do. John Force is not here because he doesn't want the same thing to happen to one of his kids. Eric was one of his kids."

Capps said he already feels safer because Force is on the job. – Bobby Bennett


SCARY MOMENTS IN THE PITS - Don Prudhomme's SKYTEL team lost a hospitality trailer to fire just as the professional final rounds came to a completion. The NHRA's Safety Safari was dispatched to fight the fire and did their best to bring it under control. According to eyewitnesses, the local fire department in Baytown was dispatch and arrived a little over 25 minutes to put out the fire. 


DSB_8338.jpg I MEANT TO DO THAT – J.R. Todd experienced a tough month of March. Today's triumph provided an opportunity to cheer.
The trials began with the abrupt departure of tuner Jimmy Walsh and just last week the passing of close friend Eric Medlen. Today was the completion of his most crucial mission ever.

"You bet your ass it was mission accomplished," said Todd. "All week long I worried how long it would take me to win a race so I could dedicate it to Eric and John Force Racing. I want to win every race and every final round I am in. I know Eric was looking down on us. We needed it for sure."

The victory marked Todd's fifth career victory in six final round appearances. It also marked his first under the tuning guidance of Jim Head and Johnny West.

"I had to treat it like any other final round," Todd said. "I've never wanted to win a race as bad as I did today. I wanted to prove that we could win after Jimmy went over to Bernsteins. I think a lot of people thought it was over for us. We have a great bunch of guys and a great team. That is what it takes."

PREPARING EMOTIONALLY – Todd trained relentlessly during the years of his ascent from Junior Dragster racer to Top Fuel competitor. He admitted there was no formal training to prepare him for the emotional demands of losing a fellow racer.

"You can never prepare yourself for something like that," Todd said. "Eric was one of my best friends at or away from the track. I was there on Monday when he crashed and with him through the whole ordeal. It hurts you to see your buddy like that. You never expect something like that to happen to someone close to you. We know the dangers within our sport and I think sometimes we may take it for granted. You always realize those things can happen.

"You have to just get all of those bad thoughts out of your head and get back to business in that race car."

Todd first met Medlen when working as a crewman for Bob Gilbertson.

"He knew that I had driven in the past and always pushed for me to get in a Funny Car," Todd said. "I used to hang out with him over at Force's a lot after the races."

One day in Indianapolis, Medlen's wishes came true.

"A couple of years ago I got to make a pass in testing," Todd said. "Eric had run in front of me. I was doing the burnout and was backing up when I saw him coming up the return road. As I was staging, I looked over and he jumped up on the wall to watch me.

"He was stoked when I got this driving job with Dexter Tuttle. I am so grateful that we got to share the victory in Sonoma together."

DSB_8048.jpg AND THE CLOCK STRUCK MIDNIGHT – Top Fuel runner-up Joe Hartley enjoyed the greatest day of his short racing career by reaching his first Top Fuel final round.

"One of the goals I have always had is to win a race," Hartley said. "This has been an amazing experience."

Hartley said that he'd already won the event just by reaching the finals. It marked the first time he'd been past the second round in his career and first time in 2007 winning the first round.

Was he in a zone or in the right place at the right time? For Hartley, he only knew one way to call it.

"Honestly, I think we have been in the right place at the right time," Hartley admitted. "You get those could of rounds where they smoke the tires and you go right down. I've been on that end of things a few times. You have to be at the right place at the right time. But, we've outrun a few before."

NO NO. 2 --
Sunday marked the first time this season that Top Fuel points leader Hot Rod Fuller did not start from the No. 2 spot, but a loss of traction and not his qualifying touch cost him in the first round against Bruce Litton. 

Give the Top Fuel teams credit – when the clock was on, they got the job done. Rain delayed the start of racing for nearly three hours forcing teams into 65-minute turnarounds between rounds. Top Fuel drivers responded with a clean 20-minute first round.

DSB_7059.JPGLITTON STILL STRONG -- Bruce Litton's spring surge in the Lucas Oil Dragster is especially satisfying for the Clermont, Indiana, businessman. Less than seven months ago, Litton was in a hospital with several fractures and recovering from shoulder surgery.

Having crashed hard at an International Hot Rod Association race at Epping, New Hampshire last Sept. 10, Litton suffered a concussion, broken nose, cracked elbow and torn-up shoulder that required skin grafts. He said his shoulder "went though the seat and the side panel of the car, and I actually dragged it along the guard wall. It took a lot of meat out of the corner of my shoulder."

Still recovering one month later, he was back in his Top Fuel car at the IHRA Finals. He qualified fourth at the season finale at Rockingham, North Carolina and lost by just .0404 of a second to Jim Cavalieri in the first round.

He began the IHRA season a week ago Sunday with the victory at San Antonio. Then Sunday at Houston, he advanced to the second round by eliminating the points leader, Rod Fuller. Litton lost to his Hoosier neighbor, Larry Dixon, in the second round.  

DSB_7728.jpgTROXEL TAKES LEFT – Never second guess the man tuning the car, especially if he used to work with "Big Daddy" Don Garlits. That's what the fuel tuning fraternity learned from Melanie Troxel's chief wrench man Richard Hogan.

When many of the better qualified cars took the favored left lane, Hogan went against the grain and chose the right – despite those ahead of his driver smoking their tires.

Hogan never wavered in his decision and neither did the driver of the Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA dragster Troxel. Her 4.623, 314.39 made all the difference in defeating Alan Bradshaw.

"I had watched three cars, two or three cars go over 320 in that lane," said Hogan. "The rest of the cars were spinning after half-track. I never doubted the decision."

THE BUZZ -- Beginning with the second pair of dragsters Sunday, drivers had to take an alternative route to the pits because of a swarm of bees. Houston Raceway Park officials had to call the beekeepers/bee-removal experts again before the quarterfinals so teams could avoid another group swarming in a tree near the staging lanes .

DSB_7303.jpgTHIRD TIME NOT CHARM -- Cory McClenathan is in his 16th season of drag racing, and Sunday was only the third time he started from the bump spot. Despite a starting-line advantage, he lost in the opening round to top qualifier Whit Bazemore, who was making just his fourth start in a Top Fuel dragster. 


NEW WAY TO LOSE – Whit Bazemore has been in drag racing long enough that nothing surprises him anymore. The former Funny Car standout lost to the surprising Joe Hartley in the second round when he encountered temporary blindness.


"It was a tough weekend," Bazemore said. "There's a new way to lose all the time. The car shook and I pedaled it. The car shook and the helmet moved on my head, so essentially I couldn't see. So, I'm taking the helmet home and we're going to get it fixed. I've never had that happen before. It would have been hard to beat him anyway.

"We have a great race car and a great team, it's just a matter of being patient and to keep doing what we're doing. If we do that, the wins will come our way. We're still in the top of the points race and our teammate (Rod Fuller) is number one, so we have two really strong cars."


fc-winner.jpgWHEN ACE IS TICKED, LOOK OUT – Some teams work better under pressure. For Ron Capps and his crewchief Ed "the Ace" McCulloch, anger is the best medicine.

"It's cool when you are going rounds because you have less time to think," Capps said. "They were buckling me in while we were in the staging lanes and Ace was yelling at us to get up there because they had already run Pro Stock. I wasn't even buckled in right when I came to the line and in fact my neck strap wasn't right.

"When I left the line, it pulled my helmet down and I couldn't see. I thought I was going to lose the round because I didn't have time to fix my neck strap."

Then something happened magical for Capps.

"Somehow my helmet moved and I was able to see," Capps said. "It was the weirdest thing."

The car flew because Ace was ticked off.

"When Ace gets mad like that it is a joke for the crew," Capps said. "When he gets mad, the car hauls ass. As soon as he gets mad, the guys look at each other and say, 'Oh boy, this is going to fly."

DSB_8254.JPGJUST NOT THE SAME – Many Funny Car drivers were experiencing an empty feeling without John Force Racing in Houston. Ron Capps was the most vocal about it.

Capps trailed JFR driver Robert Hight in the championship standings by six points. He assumed the point lead following qualifying.

"Not to disrespect any of the other drivers out here but it just wasn't the same after qualifying," Capps said. "It just isn't the same without Ashley, Robert and especially John. I don't want to take anything away from the fans but it just isn't the same at all. I don't like it.

"I'm sure every driver will say that it brings out the best in you to have them out here. It is just a weird and strange feeling."

Capps has mixed feelings about taking over lead in Hight's absence.

"Eric would want John and the team out racing," Capps said. "What they are doing is making safer cars. With that being said…I'm glad we have the Countdown. Even if they miss a race or two, it will still give them a shot to get in there where they deserve to be."

"Really, whenever you stand back and look at what they're doing, it's going to have a big impact on all of us. It's like they are doing the work for us and it is weird to not have them out here. I just hope they're not gone too long and they can get back in the hunt. To win anything without them here…and the competition is tough as heck…is just not the same."

Mike Ashley qualified fourth and ran low elapsed time in the first round.

"It's hard to deny there's an overwhelming feeling that something is missing," Ashley said. "Eric wasn't just another driver. He had that energy. I could relate to Eric because he was a dreamer. I am a dreamer like him. We both managed to have our dreams come true. Not having them here gives us all an empty feeling."

What happens when Team John Force Racing is absent? Exactly what happened in the first two rounds is the answer.

The Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars run one another. Ron Capps defeated Jack Beckman and then iced Gary Scelzi in round two.

Beckman was the first one eliminated despite outreacting Capps.

"It's really interesting when you get three team Funny Cars with three great crew chiefs and we all have access to everybody's information. The end result was that Ron's and my runs were pretty darned close. They had lane choice. They got after it a little bit more early in the run, we got after it a little bit later in the run, but the numbers read almost the same if you looked at the scoreboard - just 26 thousandths of a second apart. It was great for the fans."

"It's still disappointing to not win, but everybody on the MTS crew did everything perfectly, I drove all right on that run, I left on time, it just wasn't good enough to beat the car in the other lane. It's easier to swallow that than having a red light or crossing the center line or driving the car out of the groove.

Scelzi smoked the tires opposite of Capps in the quarter-finals.

"It's great that Ron Capps won today for Don Schumacher Racing, but it seemed awfully empty without the Force cars here. And even when you look on the qualifying ladder the first thing you normally look at, and I think everybody does, is who's got a Force car and how they end up, who's got to run them and when you've got to run them. No matter where they qualify or what, those guys, they're the guys. It almost felt like a match race, even though we were trying to win it.

"I would have loved to have won this race and brought a trophy home to John Medlen. I'm glad that Ron said the trophy he won today will go to the Medlen family, which I think is where it belongs, at least this first one."

EMOTIONAL MOMENTS – An emotional Capps successfully defended his O'Reilly NHRA Springnationals title. He dedicated the win to Eric Medlen and will deliver the trophy to the elder Medlen this week. Capps has planned to purchase a second for Eric's mother.

"That kid lived 99 years in his young life," Capps said.


DSB_7572.JPGKEEPING FOCUSED – The rain produced a natural distraction for the professional teams this weekend – especially Jason Line.

"It's really tough to keep from doing that," Line said. "Normally there is a natural flow to things in a race weekend, but there was none of that this weekend. We made a lot of changes…stupid changes and we probably shouldn't have. But we changed them back.

"We second guessed ourselves a lot. What can you say? We learned a lot. If we ever get conditions like this again…we'll be ready."

SHHHH—AKIN – Greg Anderson refuses to mince words in his loss to Dave Connolly.

"We shook the tires, it was as simple as that," said Anderson, following the second round.  "We just over tuned the car. We've been fighting tire spin in low gear all weekend long and it finally came back and bit us.  Fortunately, Jason's Summit Pontiac picked up the slack and headed to the winner's circle.  We now head to Las Vegas to see if we can win one for (team owner) Ken (Black) in his hometown.  We've got to get the tire shake figured out before we get there."


psm-winner.jpg FIVE MORE – Angelle Sampey needs just five wins to pass Dave Schultz on the all-time Pro Stock Motorcycle wins list. By winning this weekend's rain-soaked event, Sampey recorded her third win in the last five years.

What was her key to winning? According to Sampey, race in front of the Cajuns, red-light less than your opponent and accept green underwear from NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart.

"My confidence at this race comes from my friends and family and grandstands full of crazy Cajuns,' said Sampey. "They all come to this race to root me on. This is the one race that most of the people can pronounce my name correctly. It's a Louisiana-French name. Most people mispronounce it.

"My family is here and we have all kinds of Cajun food. We had all kinds of crawfish last night. We were eating down last night."

In the semi-finals, she was a slower foul start against Tom Bradford.

Then there was the Reinhart thing.

"I tried green M&Ms and all of that to keep away from the red-lights," Sampey said. "Then Reinhart gave me a sack of green underwear. That did it."

Angelle Sampey rewrote the track elapsed-time record with a 6.947-second pass at 192.14 mph as she defeated No. 7 qualifier Peggy Llewelyn in the second round. Sampey, on the U.S. Army Suzuki, set the national record at 6.911 seconds in Gainesville two weeks ago, tying the quickest pass ever.

FIVE TIMES A LADY – Sampey's victory is the fifth straight win for a female at this event.



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Just moments away from firing up a qualifying session for Pro Modified, the rains began to fall. Race officials are determined to dry the track and race.

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TOLIVER PREPARING - Jerry Toliver didn't get to Gainesville, as he had hoped. And he appeared in Houston, with the Toyota Solara Funny Car that Jeff Diehl will drive for sponsor Rockstar Energy Drink in International Hot Rod Association competition. But he said Saturday he wanted to correct any rumors about his deal.

"Rockstar is extremely happy. We have a great relationship. It's a three-year contract. We're just excited to get going," Toliver said. 

He said Dale Armstrong, who tuned his WWF- and WWE-sponsored cars when he last competed, still is on board with the program. "Dale's with us until Dale doesn't want to be with us," Toliver said.

"Dale's wound up. He went to Las Vegas with us," he said, referring to the test sessions that wind and rain cut short last week. "It's a four-and-a-half-hour drive, and he talked all the way home. We're blessed to have Dale with us."

Toliver needs to renew his license but said that should come in his five days of testing next week at Phoenix.

"We'll definitely make Vegas," he said.

CLUTCH TROUBLES - Despite clutch trouble from trying to figure out  the newly repaved track and changing weather conditions, Tim Wilkerson landed the No. 12 qualifying position in his  Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevy Monte Carlo. "It's weird acting here," he said of the track. "It's shaking the tire early, but I think the track has more power than we think."

BRING IT ON - Oddly enough, Funny Car leader Cruz Pedregon said he would have preferred to take his chances Saturday on his 4.796-second, 300.20-mph performance and make two more qualifying passes in his Advance Auto Parts Chevy Monte Carlo.

"Being No. 1 is great, and it would be good to keep it through [Saturday], but I'd trade it right now for some consistency," Cruz Pedregon said, knowing that brother and teammate Tony Pedregon was just two thousandths of a second behind in his Q Racing Monte Carlo that fetched the national elapsed-time record.

"If we can run another 4.79 in the morning and then step it up and go a little quicker after that I'd be happy, no matter where we end up on the ladder. I just want to get down the track and pull the 'chutes a few times."

FINALLY -- MAYBE...? - For once, something might have gone Del Worsham's way.

Although the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Chevy Monte Carlo driver dropped from fifth to seventh place in the order from the first qualifying session to the second, he picked up five-hundredths of a second on his elapsed time (improving from a 4.887 to 4.830). He also recorded the top speed of the day with a 318.24-mph speed, a strong three-miles-an-hour more than Ron Capps' 315.34.

And then the rains came.

"It ran fine on the first lap, but it got down there and was spinning the tires, so I lifted a little early," Worsham said. "We came here still looking for a lot of answers, and you're not going to learn much spinning the tires at the top end, other than how to replace yet another motor after the run. I knew the track would come around for the second lap, and if it all felt OK, I'd run it right through the lights. We weren't up there even trying to be No. 1 or anything. We just wanted to improve over the first run, come back to the pit with a motor all in one piece, and run it out the back door.

"The 4.83 is fine. We're in the top half of the field, and the car did pretty much exactly what we wanted it to do. To make it even better, everything in the motor looked just about perfect after the run, so we're finally eliminating some of the things that have been hurting us all year. To make two solid runs, and to leg it out and not hurt anything, that makes everyone feel better around here."

SEMPER FI TO CAMP AL TAQADDAM - Funny Car driver Jack Beckman's Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger is featuring the Marine Corps' Camp AL TAQADDAM as part of its "Mail From Home" program. And sponsor Rodger Comstock, who owns and operates MTS, said this particular war-zone base is extra-special to him and his employees.

"Earlier this year we were presented a flag that had flown over the camp and a Certificate of Appreciation for successfully getting the mail to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in a timely fashion," Comstock said. "During the holiday season, when they miss their families and their homes the most, we processed over 500,000 pounds of mail a day. That flag is hanging in our terminal in Newark, N.J., and it's a tribute to all the employees at MTS and the Mail from Home program."

The "Mail from Home" program provides fans an opportunity to send postcards of support to the troops in war zones directly from the race track. From kiosks set aside in the Don Schumacher Racing pits and the U.S. Army "Racing Zone" in Nitro Alley, MTS has received and forwarded thousands of postcards since the opening race at Pomona, California.

OCEANS OF HELP - Top Fuel points leader Hot Rod Fuller and team owner David Powers have had to cobble together sponsorship, despite his victory at Phoenix, semifinal finishes at Pomona and Gainesville, No. 1 qualifying position at the Gatornationals, and strong showing here at Houston. But so far they're able to keep doing it. And the latest company to put its name on the dragster is Ocean43.com, a new secure and private online system to store documents and connect with friends, family and business associates.

The Ocean43.com logos will go on the car's rear wing. Steven Costello, president of SBT Marketing, said, "We could not think of a better place than being on the rear wing, which provides the critical downforce to keep the car safe and secure as it barrels down the track at 330 miles per hour, because Ocean43 is about providing a safe and secure environment for our users. NHRA fans are known for their brand loyalty and we felt it's a great group to launch with, especially with the large Military fan base which O43 is perfect for as family members can tend to be separated for long periods of time. It’s a great way to help them stay connected."

The site was created for three distinct market segments: those who want complete control over who sees their personal and/or business information, those who want to protect their files from computer crashes and viruses, and those who want an online community free of predators.

Fuller will help another team sponsor, Valvoline, this coming Thursday, when he will return home to Rogers, Arkansas, to participate in a meet-and-greet with fans at the Rogers Valvoline Instant Oil Change (VIOC) service center.

COUGHLIN BREAKS SUMMIT LOCK - Jeg Coughlin's Friday performance constitutes an upset of sorts, long before final eliminations get under way. Either Jason Line or Anderson has qualified a Pontiac GTO No. 1 in 11 of the past 12 races, dating back to last July's Sonoma, California, race. The lone interruption came at Reading, Pennsylvania, last September, when Greg Stanfield led the field in his Pontiac. A Pontiac has/had occupied the top spot in Pro Stock for the last 15 events, going back to the June event at Englishtown, New Jersey. At least he kept the No. 1 honor in the GM family, for he took the top spot with a 6.649-second elapsed time in his Cagnazzi Racing Chevy Cobalt.

'YAY! I'M 16TH!'- Seldom does a top-drawer driver rejoice that he's on the bump spot, but that was Cory McClenathan's reaction Friday. Especially knowing that the weather could take an ugly turn and wash away Saturday's final two chances, he said after at least preserving his No. 16 status (with a 4.689-second elapsed time that was a huge improvement from his 10.522 that had him ahead of only Whit Bazemore and Joe Hartley in the 18-car contingent after Session 1).

He perked up when he saw Friday's qualifying results. "Hey, we are 16th!" he said. "We knew we had to get down the track on that run after our 10.52, because we don't know what the weather is going to do. It was hard to tell where the groove is (in the track) at night. From my point, the crew did a good job preparing the car and I didn't do a good job driving.

"The car got out of the groove and when I was trying to get in back in, the engine dropped a couple of cylinders and the (blower) belt came off. We'd run 274 mph at half-track and we were at 276.86 at the finish line. Our numbers show we can run better than that," McClenathan said.

A CURE - J.R. Todd's first trip down the Houston Raceway Park quarter-mile Friday was straight and 4.618 seconds' worth at 311.77 mph. And he said that helped him get back in a racing mode. It had been an emotional roller coaster of a week for Todd, who kept a commitment to attend the NASCAR race at Bristol, then returned home to serve as a pallbearer (along with Brandon Bernstein, Robert Hight, and Morgan Lucas) for close friend Eric Medlen.
"At the end of the track, I told [ESPN2 announcer] Gary Gerould, 'That was the best therapy for you, getting back in the race car and making a good lap like that,' I'm sure Eric was looking down on us. We can't sit and dwell on [his loss]. That's not what he would have wanted. If he'd be here, he would be trying to cheer us up and cracking jokes."

W.J. THE MAN TO BEAT - GM Performance Parts Pontiac GTO driver Warren Johnson has been the man to beat in Pro Stock at Houston Raceway Park. He leads the class with six career victories (1990, 1994, 1998, 2000-fall, 2001, 2005) and eight No. 1 qualifiers (1991, 1993, 1995-1999, 2003, 2005). The next nearest competitors to Johnson in career victories are Chevy driver Jeg Coughlin and Pontiac driver Mike Edwards with three each. Coughlin's three wins include back-to-back victories in the fall event in 1997-1998. The two-time NHRA Pro Stock champ's third triumph came in 2000. Edwards is the defending event champ; he won in 1996 and 2002.

He's fifth at 6.680 seconds/207.94 mph.

"We seem to be in pretty good shape," Johnson said, noting that his time "was still among the best in the left lane, which apparently wasn’t as good as it was cracked up to be."

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ALL ABOUT THE ICE CREAM - Baytown area merchants just might witness a run on ice cream.

During a special tribute to John Force Racing driver Eric Medlen during Funny Car qualifying Friday afternoon, public-address announcer Bob Frey shared a memory of Medlen from Top Fuel driver Brandon Bernstein. According to Bernstein, he was down in the dumps about something and Medlen asked him, 'You got any ice cream?' Bernstein asked why in the world he wanted to know that. He said Medlen told him that nobody can be unhappy if he's eating ice cream.

Frey suggested that everybody honor Medlen by eating some ice cream.

The announcer said Medlen "had the gift of making everybody around himself better, of making everybody around himself smile" before introducing a tribute video featuring Eric Clapton's song "Tears In Heaven."

Gary Scelzi made a single pass, as the class used the "missing-man formation" in the staging lane and beyond. After his 4.929-second pass, the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger driver said, "It was pretty hard sitting there. I didn't know that was coming. I wasn't really ready for that video."

He said by racing "we're going to do what Eric wanted us to do."  

Provisional Top Fuel leader Whit Bazemore said he wanted to thank the John Force Racing organization for openly sharing safety-related information from Medlen's accident that is helping his and other teams.

He also said he misses Force, who has been his on-track nemesis. "For once, I want to see John Force or one of his cars in the winners circle," Bazemore said, "and I never thought I'd say that."




bazemoreDSB_7037.JPGA 4.51 WON’T HOLD - Whit Bazemore’s vault to the top of the Top Fuel qualifying order, if it holds, will be his 30th career and first in Top Fuel. Bazemore didn’t seem optimistic about Friday’s best run holding through Saturday’s qualifying.

“For a .51 to hold tomorrow, it will have to rain,” Bazemore said. “This is a great end result for the team and good for me as a driver. It has been tough. You come here with so many emotions. You have to answer them and the only way to answer them is to drive the car and they get answered for you.

“It’s good for us because the guys are working hard. It’s a great team but I am surprised we are number one. We were in the first pair because we struggled in the first session. We didn’t have the opportunity to watch the other cars and tune off of them as everyone does. When we ran the .51, it showed the track was good and it would have taken more. I expected Hot Rod [Fuller] to be number one today.”

Bazemore, whose only nitromethane racing experience is behind the wheel of a Funny Car, is making the transition to a dragster appear easy. He had twelve testing runs before his Top Fuel debut in Pomona.

“It’s my job,” Bazemore said. “David Powers hired me to drive his car, not to learn how to drive it. We had to get after it right away. We did that during testing and some in Pomona. I am still learning about the car.

“On that run,” Bazemore said of the 4.51. “It seemed so slow on the second half of the track. It’s a lot different than a Funny Car. If I ever went back to a Funny Car, to be good, I’d have to go right back in like I never left. That would be the real test.”

MISSING HIS OLD FOE – Whit Bazemore said the unthinkable in his Friday press conference. He wished a Team Force Racing car into the winner’s circle.

“I never thought I would say it, but I am now,” Bazemore said. “We want them to come back as quickly as they can. It has been a rough week for the sport. We have some safety issues that we still need to address like scoreboards too close to the track and things of that nature. Unfortunately it takes a tragedy of this nature to get things done. We’ve been trying for a long time and I think now there are enough of us to make things happen.”

Bazemore has always been vocal on his demands for Monday testing safety standards.

“The PRO has made an arrangement with the Safety Safari to have certain members at some of the test sessions,” Bazemore said. “That came about a few years ago when some of the safety personnel were completely inadequate at the finish line. There’s an arrangement now in place. I feel the need for organized test sessions…on Mondays after the national events because we are here and that makes the most sense for every one. I think five of them where the tracks are prepped to national event standards would be great.”

DSB_7047.jpgIDENTITY: WHO’S THE DRAG RACER? - When NBC aired its latest episode of the hit game show "Identity" at 8 (ET) Friday night, Hillary Will was backing up her claim of being a Top Fuel driver.

The program, which comedian-magician Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame hosts, is the ultimate game of "Who's Who?" One contestant faces 12 strangers and a list of 12 traits to identify them. The contestant picks a trait -- ranging anywhere from a profession to a shoe size -- and tries to match it with one of the 12 strangers . . . In hopes of winning $500,000.

Will, driver of the KB Racing LLC-owned, Kalitta Motorsports-managed dragster, appeared as a "stranger," although she's no stranger to drag-racing fans.

The producers of Identity learned about Will when she appeared at the North American International Auto Show at Detroit's Cobo Center as featured speaker at the third annual Automotive Education Day.

"I was really excited when the NBC producers contacted me to be on their game show as a professional drag racer," Will said. "They told me that the shows drew [more than] 12 million viewers in its premiere back in December. I think this is great exposure for our sport. I'm a big advocate of getting NHRA Powerade Drag Racing into the mainstream. Once people find out what our sport is all about, they love it and are immediately hooked. I think that doing things like this show will spark curiosity and increase our fan base.

"I know I don't look like I could be a professional drag racer," she said, "so it was interesting to see if the contestant could guess what my identity was."

DSB_6742.JPGBIG HIT IN NASCAR - Cory McClenathan and J.R. Todd were at last week's Food City 500 NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Bristol, Tennessee, and gave the stock-car crowd an earful of 8,000 horsepower. They fired up their cars on opposite sides of the half-mile oval and whacked the throttle twice. The noise drew cheers from the crowd, estimated at 160,000 by the green flag.

"That was fun, and the fans sounded like they liked it, too," McClenathan, who normally drives the Carrier Boyz/FRAM Dragster, said. "We had our JEGS.com car that we will be running at Bristol [at the May 18-20 Thunder Valley Nationals]. I want to thank FRAM and all our sponsors for allowing us to run special cars like this."

"It was way cool," Todd said. "At the beginning of the year, I noticed we had off the weekend of the Bristol race and I wanted to come. Once I heard we had the opportunity to start our car, I thought that was a great idea. Bristol (Motor Speedway) was like a football stadium, but bigger. There were 160,000 people in a bowl watching the race. I don’t get too star struck at the drag races, or anywhere really, but it was cool to see the NASCAR drivers walking by."

Kyle Busch, who had chatted with Hot Rod Fuller at the March 11 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas, won the race.

SUBTRACT ONE, ADD THREE - Doug Kalitta lost one crew chief this past week when Rahn Tobler abruptly resigned from the Mac Tools Dragster team. But he gained three more. Pooling their talents and resources this weekend to help Kalitta are Jim Oberhofer, crew chief of the Hillary Will-driven KB Racing LLC Dragster; Jon Oberhofer, crew chief of the Zantrex-3 Dragster that Dave Grubnic drives; and Glenn Mikres, crew chief for Scott Kalitta's Kalitta Air Toyota Solara Funny Car. They'll combine efforts until Kalitta Motorsports hires a permanent crew chief for the perennial contender.

DSB_7041.JPGTIME FLIES - Cory McClenathan knows those calendar pages flip over at an alarming rate. That's why he has a sense of urgency that not a lot of other drivers seems to be exhibiting at this point in the season.

He's in 10th position after three of 23 races -- and of the 17 before the Countdown begins in earnest. "The first race after the cut is the [Labor Day weekend] U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis," McClenathan said, "and that will be here before we know it."

He said he likes his chances at this race. "We've run fairly well at Houston," he said. "We were runner-up in 2003 and 2005. Last year we qualified No. 1 and got to the semifinals. I think Wes [crew chief Cerny] and Tony [assistant crew chief Shortall] are excited with the way the car has been running.

“We had a great car at Gainesville. We had one of the quickest times in the opening round but got beat on a holeshot by Doug Kalitta. That hurt us in points, so now we have to concentrate on winning rounds on Sunday and picking up points at every race so we can be among the top eight [in NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship]."

Heading into Saturday, he's on the bump spot at 4.689.

DSB_6744.JPGPROBLEMS? PRESSURE? NOT FOR FULLER - Nursing a sore knee that he said likely will need surgical repair later in the year and picking up sponsorship race by race, Top Fuel points leader Hot Rod Fuller has even more pressure on him this weekend.

He'll be in his hometown of Las Vegas in two weeks, but first he needs to perform well at his sponsor's home track. Team owner David Powers, a custom home builder, lives in nearby Katy, Texas.

"It's the first of two races that are very important to the team. David and I have back-to-back home races. Houston is David's home track, and it’s cool to go there. It's a second home for the race team. We have a lot of friends and supporters there rooting us on. We want to do well for them."

So far so good. He went to the top of the order Friday with the lone 4.5-second pass of the opening session. He had low elapsed time and top speed in that first run with the Caterpillar-sponsored dragster with the 4.561-second pass at 317.64 mph.

Teammate Whit Bazemore replaced him as the provisional leader in the night session, and Melanie Troxel's 4.530-second E.T. put her in second place so far.

Just the same, Fuller can't help but feel at home here. "I won my first round of Top Fuel competition here a few years back." That happened in 2005, when he beat Clay Millican in the opening round of his 12th race in the Top Fuel class. Fuller's father, Bob, also earned two national-event victories at Houston Raceway Park in the sportsman-level Super Comp class.

"We want to build on the momentum that we've had all season long," Fuller said.

He won the Feb. 25 Phoenix race, where he set personal-best elapsed time and speed (4.466 seconds and 331.61 mph). He has advanced to the semifinals at the other two races, Pomona and Gainesville.

Fuller has advanced to at least the semifinals at six of the last seven races. In that stretch, he has three final-round appearances, including at last year's Dallas and Richmond events.

Last season, Fuller qualified sixth at Houston and lost in the opening round to Millican after crossing the center line.

DSB_6697.JPGLATE SWITCH - During Monday testing at Gainesville, Whit Bazemore put Clay Millican's frustration with the Knoll Gas Motorsports/Torco Racing Fuels Dragster in persective. He told the six-time IHRA champion that his car "was running like a light switch: When it’s off, it’s off and when it’s on, it’s on.”

The switch was on Friday afternoon, as Millican used a 4.632-second elapsed time at 314.61 mph to grab the early No. 4 spot -- one-thousandth of a tick behind Morgan Lucas.

Millican, who said, “We just had a weird weekend at Gainesville . . . it was crazy," ended Friday in 10th place.

He and crew chief Mike Kloeber have had memorable performances at Houston Raceway Park. Millican's fastest speed in a dragster – 330.23 mph – came here in 2003. The following year, he recorded the first of his three NHRA runner-up finishes on this track.

Despite the glitches at Gainesville, Millican has had bright spots this season. He qualified third at Phoenix with a career-best 4.479-second elapsed time.

That and his recent Monday testing are what he and Kloeber said they want to build on. “We did well at the Monday Nationals,” Millican said quasi-sarcastically. “We made four laps and all of them would have been good enough to qualify.”

DSB_6694.JPGLEAN MACHINE - Doug Herbert and his Lincolnton, North Carolina, operation are going lean. And that has nothing to do with the fact that Herbert is the Top Fuel class' biggest driver at 6-foot-4 and 220-pounds. 

"The lean process" is a Japanese concept typically applied in the manufacturing process to eliminate wasted human effort and reduce production time. And Al Biland, president of Herbert sponsor Snap-on Tools, thought exposure to the idea might help the dragster driver and his team. So he brought a consultant from industry expert Shingijitsu to the race shop last Tuesday.

Snap-on's manufacturing facilities have used the lean process with favorable results, but no one in drag racing had tried to apply its principles to success on the race track -- until Herbert and his team focused that day on reducing the overall engine rebuild time and improving both safety and quality during the that exercise. By the end of the week, Biland said, "Our theory was right on."

Herbert, too, said he "learned so much and the guys really came together as a team." He said it should translate to better results and that he liked the idea of trying the lean concept at Houston Raceway Park. “In 1999 we became the only Top Fuel team ever to win the prestigious Winston 'No Bull' Challenge, and that happened here in Baytown. We’re going to think about what it felt like to win here, put into practice what we learned last week with Snap-on, and go some rounds. We’re ready for a win."

He began Friday 14th in the 16-car line-up but was bumped from the field, last among 18 entrants.



DSB_6943.jpgCRUZ NOT DOING THE RAIN DANCE - While Matt Smith, Pro Stock Motorcycle's tentative top qualifier, said he was hoping rain would wash out Saturday qualifying, Funny Car low qualifier Cruz Pedregon said he'd prefer to get in two more sessions. "If we deserve it, we'll get it," he said of the top position.  "We'd rather run. No 1 is good, but we want to win the race.  We need to make some runs to get our confidence level where it needs to be.

"We're cautiously optimistic. We haven't done anything yet," he said.

"Eric has been in our thoughts," he said of Funny Car driver Eric Medlen, who was buried Wednesday. "[Brother and teammate] Tony and I have made some changes in our cockpits -- more padding around the roll cage. I've competed against John Force since 1992, and it's weird not having him here. I wish he were here, to be honest."

DSB_7024.jpgSEEKING REPEAT - Ron Capps was a repeat winner at Gainesville, and he'd like to be a repeat winner at Houston, too. But he indicated that back-to-back-victories scenario just could be much easier to dream about than accomplish.

"Houston always seems to be a challenge," he said. "Houston is the type of track where, if we see any kind of cool conditions, records can be set. We know how good that track is. They patched some stuff up and fixed the track last year, and it showed in the elapsed times.

"Come race day it got hot and humid," Capps said. "And we had just left Gainesville with the same conditions, so Sunday morning when I woke up, I was pretty excited. Ace [crew chief Ed McCulloch] and the guys had just proved that they could run in those conditions, and we won again.

"And now here we are again. We left Gainesville, which definitely had tricky conditions, and we got a win and we went down the race track every time. Ace is definitely feeling like the car's responding to everything he does. Right now things are good. I'm really excited about going to any track with any conditions at this point, because I feel that Ace has really made a lot of progress during Friday-night sessions. And, even come Sunday, if the sun's out and it's hot and humid, I get excited."

Capps' goal at the start of the season was to qualify better than he did last year, and here at Houston he's third in the order right now with 4,806 elapsed time.


A WARM PLACE IN THE HEART - The Marine Corps' Camp TAQADDAM, featured on Jack Beckman's Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car this weekend at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals has a warm place in the heart of Rodger Comstock, President and COO of Mail Terminal Services, and the company's employees.

The "Mail From Home" program, which provides fans an opportunity to send postcards of support to the troops in war zones directly from the race track, out of kiosks set aside in the Don Schumacher Racing pits and the U.S. Army "Racing Zone" in Nitro Alley, has distributed thousands of postcards since its inception at the opening NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event in Pomona, Calif.

"At this race in Houston the Marine Corps' Camp TAQADDAM that we're honoring is a very special place in all of the MTS employees' hearts," said Comstock. "Earlier this year we were presented a flag that had flown over the camp in January and a certificate for successfully getting the mail to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in a timely fashion during the holiday season when they miss their families and their homes the most and they count on it. That flag is hanging in our terminal in Newark, N.J., and it's a tribute to all the employees at MTS and the Mail from Home program."

DSB_6652.JPGKNOWS HIS ROLE, HIS ABILITIES - Funny Car driver Jeff Arend reached the semifinals at the season-opener at Pomona but lost there to Robert Hight. In the past two races, Hight and his teammate and sister-in-law, Ashley Force, have eliminated him. So he's eager to put his special-edition K&N Filters Chevy Monte Carlo in the Houston winners circle. Arend, who hasn't won since 1996 at Reading, Pennsylvania, has plenty of confidence.

"I take great pride in my skills, and I work on them all the time," he said. "As the driver, I'm not there to make the tuning calls, although I do also pride myself on being able to give solid and informative feedback to my crew. But once we're at the line, it's my job to get the car to the other end, to keep it straight, and on Sunday I have to focus on leaving first. With this team, and all of our abilities, we always have a good chance to win."

He put himself in a terrific spot Friday, capturing the No. 1 honors in the first session with a 4.836-second elapsed time at 308.50 mph. He didn't remain the quickest, as his time was relegated to the No. 8 spot -- just below improved teammate Del Worsham. Brothers and teammates Cruz and Tony Pedregon were 1-2, respectively, at the close of the day.




DSB_6529.jpgCOUGHLIN CHARGED UP - Whether he was eating Wheaties, poring over computer data for the missing information link, or just plain living right and drinking lots of Slammers Ultimate Milk, Jeg Coughlin's rededication to putting the Bravo Foods-sponsored Chevy Cobalt at the forefront is paying off.

Before coming to Houston, Coughlin had said of the Victor Cagnazzi-owned team, "We’ve been really rejuvenating ourselves, back-tracking and trying to dot our i’s and crossing our t’s from a setup and performance standpoint. I think we are real close to showing off that Cagnazzi horsepower and get the car down the racetrack, trying to be more efficient and more consistent. If we can get just a little bit of luck in our favor this weekend, nothing will stop us.”

Nothing stopped Coughlin Friday. He led the field with a track-record 6.649-second pass at 208.17 mph in the first session and held onto the position through two tries.

"I’m ready to go," Coughlin said, and he certainly looked ready to add to his Houston resume, which includes Pro Stock victories in 1997, 1998, and 2000,  and one in Super Stock in 1994.

What motivated him to step up the program was the close second-round loss to Greg Anderson at the Gatornationals. Coughlin recorded a career-best elapsed time (6.582 seconds) at a best speed of 210.01 mph in a first-round victory. Anderson won by just six-thousandths of a second (6.563/211.40 to 6.589/209.29).  "That was probably the quickest side-by-side race in Pro Stock history," Coughlin said. "That takes the wind out of your sails."

But crew chief Roy Simmons and teammate Dave Connolly's crew chief, Tommy Utt have shown what Coughlin called "that never-surrender attitude," along with the entire engine shop, the whole crew in chassis development, and Cagnazzi himself.

"We're very excited headed into Saturday," Coughlin said. "For Victor Cagnazzi and the entire Slammers Ultimate Milk team to be on top for both sessions is definitely a feather in our cap. We have been working extremely hard on our race engines and race set-ups."

FIELD TRIP -  Jeg Coughlin's Ultimate Milk team and the Torco Race Fuels team with Dave Connolly went to Farmington Dragway in North Carolina last weekend and made several hits during a two days of testing. "Dave drove both cars. I think our testing is paying dividends right now. It's starting to show on the track, Coughlin said.

"I don't have a real good feeling whether the rest of the teams are struggling or if we came out swinging. That [6].64 was a great shot for us," he said. "We had a little more of a side-wind than I thought tonight. Even with the humidity going up a little and the air staying the same, maybe thicker, I felt the track might come around and a little of a tail wind would push us down there a little quicker."

Coughlin said he feels comfortable behind the wheel of this car. "Victor, Roy Simmons, and Tommy Utt have done a great job in making me feel comfortable and orchestrating the team. We have great harmony right now. We aren't making huge mistakes, but we are doing very little that we have to peck away at to make improvements. That's a long way from where we were six races ago during the quickest and fastest event in the history of the class in Richmond, Virginia. That's exciting and I think we are headed in the right direction."

DSB_6554.jpgANDERSON FASTEST - Greg Anderson, who gave Coughlin such trouble on the track at the previous race as he won for the second time in three events this year, took a back seat to Coughlin in the order early Friday. He put his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO in second place with a 6.665-second run in the first session. But he did it with the track-record speed of 208.36 mph that he raised to 208.59 in the evening session.

While only four Pro Stock drivers dipped into the 6.6-second range in the first go-round, 10 did so in the day's final opportunity.

TEAM MOPAR MILESTONE -Allen Johnson, driver of the Mopar/J & J Racing Dodge Stratus R/T, kicked off his 250th race appearance by qualifying in the top half of the field at No. 7 with a 6.707-second elapsed time at 206.86 mph. He found a little more horsepower, improving to the No. 3 position in the second session with a 6.675-second E.T. at 206.89 mph.

If Johnson stays in the field and reaches the semifinals Sunday, he will have competed in his 250th round of NHRA POWERade drag racing.

"We’ve had a ball and have been very fortunate to compete in as many races as we have," Johnson said "I still feel like a rookie out there, but now I get Richie and others calling me ‘Old Man.' "

Johnson’s father, engine tuner and co-owner, Roy Johnson, continues his remarkable recovery after suffering a heart attack in late February at the Checker Schuck’s Kragen NHRA Nationals in Phoenix. Johnson returned to work at the NHRA Gatornationals, less than two weeks after his heart attack. "He’s right back to himself," Allen Johnson said. "You wouldn't think anything had happened to him. You wouldn’t believe he was sick."

Allen Johnson said he thinks the team is "right on target, although I know we haven’t shown it yet."

He certainly is starting to.



DSB_6443.jpgC'MON GEORGE - Provisional No. 1 qualifier Matt Smith said he has made some improvements to the bike he bought from George Smith has and that it has become "a pretty good piece."

Said Smith, "We did some work to the motor that we got from George [Bryce]. We knew there were some improvements that could be made, and I never could get George to do them. He would say, 'Let's do this and let's do that.' We went ahead and did it, and it’s a pretty good piece. The other motor that we ran during the first session is going to be good, too. We just can't keep it from sticking a piston. This is the motor that we ran at Gainesville, so we know it is going to be good."

He said dad Rickie Smith, a Pro Stock and Pro Modified veteran, is learning what to do with a bike. "The clutch and everything else is so much different than on a car," Matt Smith said. "The clutch on these works off of the transmission instead of the flywheel. I had to explain to him that it is opposite of what he thinks. He is starting to see that."

As for parity between domestic and foreign-built bikes, he said, "I think comparing the Suzukis to the Buells is close. Angelle [on the U.S. Army Suzuki] ran right beside me and went a 6.99. I went a 6.96 [on the Torco-sponsored Buell]. I had a good run going. It was only .03. The racing is still very competitive. She went a 6.97 in the first session. There's only .01 between us."

DSB_6412.jpgHOW LOW CAN YOU GO? - Reigning series champion Andrew Hines, who had said of this Houston visit "I can't wait to roll in there and get on the bike," clocked the first 6.9-second pass of the weekend.

However, three-time champ and 2006 event winner Angelle Sampey trumped Hines' 6.995 in the opening session with a 6.973. Matt Smith bumped them each down a notch with his track-record 6.968-second run in evening qualifying.

"I hope it rains tomorrow, all day!" Smith said, noticing the poor weather forecast and hoping Friday's performances will set the field for Sunday's eliminations.

If the weather doesn't help him, Smith said, "That’s fine. We'll prepare just as we would any other time. We'll fine-tune a little more. I am just getting a lot of laps on that motor and I need to get it right. When you only come out with one motor, you don't want to have to run it any more than necessary. We'll be fine."

FOR FAMILY HONOR - Andrew Hines, who never has won at Houston, said, "I came close last year and went to the finals. Matt [his brother, crew chief and former champion racer] earned the No. 1 qualifying award there four times but never won. So we all want to win this weekend and finally check that off our list. It may not seem like it, but we do have momentum that we are hoping will carry over from Gainesville."

DSB_6438.jpgWOULD YOU PASS THE BREAD, GOVERNOR? - Steve Johnson closed Friday's action on the bump spot for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, but the Snap-on Tools Suzuki rider was right there at the head table at a dinner Thursday night in Birmingham with Alabama Governor Bob Riley and Bettye Fine Collins, president of the Jefferson County Commission. 

Johnson -- whose biggest accomplishment of the month before that had been recording a career-best 6.987-second elapsed time during the Gatornationals at Gainesville, Florida -- was invited to the dinner to share his thoughts about moving his racing business from California to Alabama.

Johnson, cooperating with the Birmingham Business Development Board, said, "I hope that my reasons for moving my operation to Birmingham, and how that move has enhanced our operation, will give the governor some ammunition in his efforts to convince other businesses to move here,” Johnson said. "Governor Riley and his staff know far more about those things than I do, of course, but I hope our story proves helpful to those efforts."

Early Monday morning, Johnson will be an ambassador again. He'll make the first of four personal appearances at Houston-area schools, where he’ll continue to carry his important message about careers in and out of motorsports, the importance of an education in today’s increasingly high-tech world, and how to market one’s self in today’s job market. "I don’t have a ‘canned’ speech," Johnson said. "I try to make each appearance as personal as I can, so I tailor my remarks to how the students seem to be reacting. What we do on the race track with our Snap-on Tools Suzuki is important, but what we do away from the track is even more important. The young people I’ll meet with at these four high schools, along with the WyoTech students I’ll see at the track, are our future." 

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As the Powerade Drag Racing Series headed to Houston Raceway Park for the O'Reilly Spring Nationals, the fourth of 23 races, competitors in all four pro classes shared their memories of Eric Medlen and how they plan to honor the late Funny Car driver from John Force Racing by carrying on:

"It was a very numbing deal. I watched what the John Force Racing teams had to go through this week, and after all they've been through, I applaud John Force for calling a halt to things and giving his teams the weekend off as they seek answers, closure, and time to regroup.
"We all probably wish we could be home this weekend, but we won't. It may sound like a trite statement, but we definitely will be racing with heavy hearts. We'll go to Houston because it's what we do, and we'll hopefully give the fans a good show. But Eric, the Medlen family, and John Force and his extended racing family will never be far from our thoughts."

CRUZ PEDREGON - "Eric was a genuine guy. He was very enthusiastic about everything. You couldn't help but like him. His father, John Medlen, is the nicest guy in the world, and I could see from early on that Eric inherited that gene from him. He was a great human being."

CORY McCLENATHAN- "The healing process has to start. Now we need to find out what caused Eric's accident. There are going to be changes made. Things will be different, and we have to learn to adapt to them. If we can make drivers safer . . . that's what I'm all about. I've been around here long enough to see a lot of things happen, from my accident last year at Bristol to Eric's accident, and why one walks away and one doesn't, only God knows that. It will probably be a quiet weekend in Baytown."

HILLARY WILL - It is hard to find anything to smile about right now with the loss of our friend, Eric Medlen. This is a really difficult time right now for everyone. I think I speak for everyone at KB Racing and Kalitta Motorsports when I say that we can't imagine racing without Eric. Although he isn't physically there, Eric will always be in our hearts. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his friends, and everyone at John Force Racing.
"My initial thought about Houston was that we should postpone the race. However, I know that Eric would have wanted us to continue on. I think it will be helpful to be with the rest of the racing community so we can all be together during our time of loss. We will all go out and race for Eric."

"Words can't even describe my feelings now. Eric had such a positive, unselfish, and kind disposition about him. I wish I was half of Eric Medlen in that regard. He was a true friend to everybody. My heart truly bleeds for his family, and right now I wish we could wake up and this all be just a nightmare. As hard as it is going to be to go to Houston and race, I believe in my heart that is what Eric would have wanted us all to do. I'm going to remember all the great things about him and the good times I had with him. He was the only guy I didn't mind losing to. Eric was good at everything he did. I'm going to do my best to console his dad and his family. I know he'll be riding along with me and all the other drivers this weekend at Houston Raceway Park. Going to the race track will never be the same. The only positive thing I can extract from this is Eric was doing what he loved. If there is life after death, he's up there smiling down upon us feeling fulfilled. I can only hope when the shock and pain subsides we will then be able to celebrate his life and all that he contributed to us in his life. Godspeed, Eric."

"Right now I'm at a loss for words. Eric was one of kindest and most genuine people that I've had the privilege of knowing. I don't understand why the good are taken from us so prematurely, but I guess I'm not supposed too. My deepest and sincerest sympathies are extended to the Medlen Family and to John Force Racing."
DOUG KALITTA - "The thoughts and prayers of my family are with Eric's family and everyone at JFR. Eric was such a great guy to be around. He always made me laugh, and that's what I will miss the most. He was a great driver and a great ambassador for drag racing. We will miss him terribly."
RON CAPPS - "Racing without Eric Medlen will not be the same. He was a terrific person and an extremely talented driver, and we'll miss him. It will be tough. He will be on our minds, but we have to focus on getting to the next race and trying to do our jobs.
"Right now Ace's  [crew chief McCulloch's] main concern is the safety aspects of the car. [Chassis builder] Murf McKinney, Ace, and I and Bill Simpson have been on the phone together, and Bill has been over at our shop. Ace has already added a couple of things
around the roll-cage area to our car, which won't affect the performance but definitely will up the safety aspect.
"It wasn't speed that hurt Eric, so we're looking at ways to make sure that the driver is better protected on all the Funny Cars. We have some great, great talented drivers in the sport of drag racing and we need to protect them more.
"If it means revamping these cars completely, even if affects the performance, if it's something that can be mandated for all cars, so be it. I can guarantee that John Force is looking at everything right now. He's always at the forefront of safety, and I know that will benefit the whole Funny Car class." 
J.R. TODD - "Eric was one of my best friends in racing. We hung out quite a bit at the track and away from the track. He only lived a mile up the road from me. We were really good friends. It's going to be different not having him here with us.
"When you see something like that happen, you know there are chances it is going to be bad. But you expect him to make a recovery. That was my first experience with [an accident] like that and I really didn't know what to think.
"We all know the dangers of this sport before we climb into the car but we do it because it is what we love to do. I don't think any of us are going to quit because of what happened, but the danger is here. Once you're in the car, though, and it starts up, that's the last thing going through your mind. It's like being back in the office and you have to forget about what happened and focus on the job at hand and not worry. But we'll never forget Eric."
ANGELLE SAMPEY - "I'm still upset by Eric's passing. Events like these really make you think about what's important in life. We will all have to find a way to keep going. We'll have to be there for each other, if needed."
ANTRON BROWN - "Eric will never be forgotten by any of us.  He was part of my extended family and I will miss him very much. With that said, racing has to continue. Eric would have wanted it that way, I guarantee you."
DOUG HERBERT - "Eric was always smiling," said Herbert, "one of the really nice guys out there. He was a fan favorite, and it was always easy to see why. My thoughts and prayers are with John Medlen and his entire family, and everyone who loved Eric. He will be greatly missed, but never forgotten."
TONY PEDREGON - "Eric and I remained the best of friends after working together for eight years. I respected Eric, not just as a friend but also as a driver and competitor. I am privileged to have been able to work with someone with so much talent and ability. He made me smile every time we talked or saw one another. John Medlen raised a very unique and special son. I loved Eric like a brother. He will be missed by me, my family, and my team." 

"Whenever something like this occurs in the NHRA family, it's tough to go forward. But I'm confident that Eric would want us to move on with life, which includes racing. He will definitely be with all of us in spirit out in Texas."

ANDREW HINES - "It's a tough loss for everybody. I didn't get a whole lot of chances to hang out with him but when we did talk, we always had a good laugh. It's rough on the entire racing community, whether you race a bike or drive a car. He left his mark on the sport and it won't be the same without him."
KURT JOHNSON - "It's a terrible tragedy and a huge blow to drag racing. I still find it hard to believe, but we've lost one of the sport's young stars. He was just out there on Monday, trying to get his junk to go faster, when something went terribly wrong. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Medlen family, and to everyone at John Force Racing. Competing in a different division, I really didn't know him all that well. However, of the six races he won in his career, I feel fortunate to have shared a winners circle with Eric in Seattle. Standing next to him on the podium that day was probably the closest I was to him, and will always be a special memory. We're certainly going to miss him."
WARREN JOHNSON - "Eric was one of the fan's favorites, and we've lost him way too soon. I always enjoyed his interviews at the top-end. Not only did he have something pretty interesting to say, but he always conveyed an incredible level of excitement, which the fans really picked up on. He was just a neat kid, and without a doubt, he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts go out to John Medlen and the entire Medlen family, as well as the entire John Force Racing organization.
"Wally Parks founded the NHRA over 50 years ago to provide competitors a safe place to race. That premise remains in effect today. Drag racing is certainly a sport, but it is also how we make our living, so I am adamant about minimizing the risks involved. We have sadly lost one of our brightest young stars and as much as we all would like, we can't change that. What's important now is how we move forward.
"I know everyone agrees that losing even one life is totally unacceptable. Therefore, I suggest that we handle this accident, as well as any on-track incident, much like the NTSB approaches a plane crash. In other words, reconstruct the event, examining every detail no matter how minute, bringing in whatever experts are needed. Every element involved that day needs to be considered from the weather and racetrack to the car, its driver and the safety equipment, painstakingly inspecting each piece individually and together, until we find out exactly what happened.
"We may end up realizing that there was nothing we could have done better, or we could learn something new that will help in the future. In either case, the information gathered is important to preserving the safety of those involved. Doing that, while continuing to try our very best on the track this weekend, is the only way to truly honor the memory of a great kid taken from us way too soon."
STEVE JOHNSON - "Eric was among the best of the new drivers on the circuit," Johnson said. "He was a joy to be around, always smiling, always with a good word for the fans. When something like this happens – and thankfully such incidents are extremely rare – it puts everything into perspective. Racing may seem important, but what really counts are family and friends, so we'll go on after attending the funeral in an effort to honor Eric's dream of becoming a champion."
KENNY KORETSKY - "It's a real shame . . . I didn't know him well, but I liked him because you could tell he liked drag racing. He was always smiling. I know he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his dad John, the Medlen family and everyone at John Force Racing. It's going to be a tough race. I know a lot of people are going to be thinking of Eric. I know we will."

ANNE PALUSO, Harley-Davidson Racing Manager - "This will obviously be an emotional weekend for everyone because Eric was such a presence at the track. We asked him to speak to a group of Japanese media that came to the track last year and before we brought them over, Eric learned a few words in Japanese so he could greet them properly and make them feel welcomed. He didn't think anything of the extra effort. He was a great spokesman for the sport and it won't be the same without him. Our condolences and deepest sympathies go out to the Medlen family and John Force Racing organization."
JIM OBERHOFER, Kalitta Motorsports Manager - [In Hillary Will's blog on NHRA.com for March 26] . . . "Drag Racing is a tough business in many ways but it is toughest when something like this happens. I know that after watching Hillary's accident during testing in Las Vegas I was devastated to say the least. One of the most amazing things I saw afterwards was Hillary standing there saying she wasOK. I know that accident took its toll on [team owner] Ken Black, myself and our team because Hillary is like family to us and we don't ever want to see anything happen to her. Hillary reminded us afterwards that this is what she wants to do. Eric would tell us the same thing.
"Right now our thoughts and prayers are with Eric, his father John and the rest of the Medlen family along with everyone at John Force Racing. I can only imagine how tough the last week has been for them and how the upcoming months will be. I am going to miss a lot about Eric, his goofy text messages, his goofy phone calls, how he would call me 'Pop' and I would call him 'Son' but most of all I am just going to miss him because of the good person he was. Thanks for being my friend, Eric, and thanks for making Ashley feel special whenever you talked to her. Rest in peace, Eric."

TODD MYERS, Kalitta Motorsports Public Relations Representative -
 "Everyone at Kalitta Motorsports is deeply saddened by Eric's death. To lose a competitor as well as a friend is completely unimaginable. Eric's smile and gentle-hearted laugh was inescapable to his peers and to drag racing fans across the world. Eric will be irreplaceable, but we as a drag racing community must continue to do our best to honor his name in all of actions from this point forward. Our condolences go to the Medlen family, John Force Racing, and everyone privileged enough to have known the great man that Eric Medlen was."
BOB GILBERTSON - "I just don't know what to say or think. I talked to Eric in the staging lanes in Gainesville on Sunday and now he's gone. All of us feel sad, but I can't even imagine what his family is going through. Eric was such a cool guy. Everyone loved him,  and he'll be missed. I don't know why but Houston has always good to me. We've always run well at Houston Raceway Park, I have many great memories from there, and I'd like to be able to go one more round than we did last year and dedicate the win to Eric. It's going to be a tough weekend on all of us, but I'm positive that Eric would want us to keep on racing. And we'll all do that in his memory."
DEL WORSHAM - "It was really hard this past weekend when we were racing in San Antonio. Eric got injured on Monday, and we were all beginning to think he would finally pull through, in some way. Then the word that he had passed away started to circulate on Friday afternoon, and it was all kind of surreal. We had to somehow digest the news, try to make sense of it all, and then get right in the car and make a lap. Something like this tests your focus, and it hurts you inside.
"Getting together at the track in Houston is when the healing will really start to happen.
We'll be back where we all belong. We'll get back into our routines, focus on our jobs, and move forward. It's just that Eric won't be there."
JEFF AREND - "I've spent the majority of my life racing on the drag strip, and a big hunk of my adult life driving Funny Cars, so this is absolutely where I'm meant to be. My wife, Windy, and I talk about it all the time. Del [Worsham] and my teammates talk about it. This is what we do, and we're lucky to do it. Eric was doing what he loved, and although we lost him, it doesn't diminish our love for this. It's going to be good to get back to the track, and it's going to be good for all of us, as drivers, to get back in our cars."

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