Keep up with this weekend's NHRA Torco Race Fuels Route 66 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.  



The sun shone brightly for the third consecutive day at Route 66 Raceway on Sunday. There was a high cloud cover and that helped to improve performance in all four Professional categories. Despite the cloud cover there were plenty of pedal-fests when the high-powered fuel cars hit the track for the first round of eliminations. 

SPORTSMAN IN THE MORNING- Sportsman cars were racing at 8:30 in the morning on Sunday due to the large amount of oil downs and the Jeg's All-Star event on Saturday. They raced right up until opening ceremonies began at 10:00 a.m.

With some racers questioning the NHRA's track preparation many racers were wondering if something has changed in the Safety Safari's procedure.

"As far as the preparation, we've been scrapping and spraying like normal," said Rich Schreck, assistant director of Top Fuel and Funny Car. "And as far as any material changes, no, everything has been the same. We were fighting the heat yesterday and it was a lot hotter than it was on Friday."

THE FAN - Luke Stoval, 12, of Joliet, Ill., beat out hundreds of local fans to win the POWERade Fan Nationals event title. At every event, local fans compete against each other to win a trip to the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. in November. With the win, Stoval was able to stand in the POWERade Series winner’s circle with the professional winners for the Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals.


Never underestimate the power of revenge. Larry Dixon exacted his revenge on Hot Rod Fuller 51 weeks later.

Fuller beat Dixon to end a consecutive streak of Fathers Day triumphs in Englishtown. With the shuffling of the schedule, the NHRA will be off on Father’s Day for the first time in nearly a decade.

Dixon contends there was no revenge factor.

“This is my Week before Father’s Day win,” Dixon said. “There was no revenge factor because that’s a good team over there. I was just happy for us to win. The more you win rounds, the more you will get your share of wins. I feel good.

“I don’t deserve anything. You just go out there and put your time in. If you’re driving good and your car is responding, you’ll get yours. Today it all came together.”

Dixon’s march to the final gave the impression his ride to the winner’s circle was in a bracket car rather than a Top Fuel dragster.

Dixon posted a string of consistent runs book-ended by 4.600 and 4.572 elapsed times to claim his 39th career national event wins.

The victory for Dixon ended a 36-race winless streak and moved him into a second place tie with Kenny Bernstein amongst the all-time Top Fuel winners. Joe Amato leads with 52.

The day wasn’t a complete waste for Fuller as he reacquired the point lead he lost in Topeka. Dixon is fourth.

REALLY FULL THROTTLE- When Larry Dixon rolled to the starting line and hit the throttle for his burnout, the motor revved up extremely high, forcing the two-time former Top Fuel champion to abort his tire-warming process. Dixon was unfazed and went on to win the round over Cory McClenathan with a solid 4.600 at 319.75 mph.

"I tell you," said Dixon, "I can really do a good burnout if they would tell me it wasn't going to have the throttle stop on it. That's one of those things. You've got to be prepared for everything that can happen and that's one that's never happened to me before, and I've been driving for 12 years. Chalk that one up on the experience list and I hope we don't have to do that again."

Dixon defeated No. 1 qualifier, Tony Schumacher in the quarterfinals, with a 4.572 at 322.96 mph, to advance to the semifinals. Then he blew past Doug Herbert with a 4.582 at 321.65 mph to advance to his first final round since Gainesville in March.

"Just getting to the dance doesn't mean you're going close the deal," said Dixon, "but at least we've got a shot at it." 

FULLER TAKES THE LEAD- Hot Rod Fuller, who hasn't qualified lower than the No. 4 position all season, took over the points lead with a victory over Hillary Will in the second round. The driver of the Fabick CAT/David Powers Motorsports dragster began the day with a first round victory over Scott Palmer, running a 4.574 at 326.32 mph.

"This is Chicago and this track is awesome," said Fuller. "There's going to be no difference in the lanes. My guys will tune it up, the weather conditions are going to get a little hotter and hopefully I can make it to the finals."

Fuller defeated Hillary Will in the second round with a consistent 4.582 at 323.66 mph, and then rolled past surprising semifinalist Doug Foley with another great run of 4.576 at 325.53mph to reach his second final round of the season. With each round win Fuller extended his points lead over non-qualifier Brandon Bernstein, who held the points lead coming onto the event.

“I thought it would be hard to come out of here with the points lead because Brandon (Bernstein) had a three-round lead and they’ve been really good, but when they didn’t qualify, I knew we’d take the points lead back,” Fuller said. “Other than not winning, the weekend couldn’t have gone any better. We accomplished a lot. The most impressive run we made was that 4.50 on Friday afternoon. That would have qualified us fourth. We qualified well again, set a career-best E.T., went to the final, and got our lead back. It’s all good.


“The biggest goal that we achieved is that we now have a good hot-weather tune-up. Not only can we run 4.40s, but good on hot, greasy tracks too. We went up there in the final and in typical Rob Flynn/Rod Fuller fashion; we wanted to make sure this car was going to be fast. We wanted to crush it and not back into the win. We had just too much CAT power. We’ll learn from it. Running a guy like (Larry) Dixon, he’s the best in the sport off the line. I was proud to leave the line first.”

FOLEY VERSUS MILLICAN (AGAIN!)- Doug Foley, who qualified his Mach Series Accelerator/Torco Fuels dragster in the No. 14 spot with a 4.577 at 326.95 mph, is no stranger to his first round opponent, Clay Millican.

"In Phoenix we ran each other in the first round and again here," said Foley, "and I don't know how many times we ran each other on the other side (IHRA), it seemed like every final round. We definitely spent a lot of time racing each other.

"We have a good quality team and we've got a lot of good parts," Foley said. "It's a little bit of a battle for us to come over and try to get used to the NHRA tracks. Losing those two sessions yesterday really hurt us but it was equally as bad for everybody. We're glad we had a good run on Friday night. Evan Knoll and I were kidding around last night having some fun and I was saying 'I got to your other car out tomorrow'. We're both quality teams and we'll just go up there and do our best. It'll be like the old IHRA days.

Foley is still recovering from a devastating accident last year that ended his season prematurely.

"I'm probably 90 to 95-percent recovered," said Foley. "It's gotten to the point now where I don't necessarily feel it everyday and I feel pretty good. Is it speeding up the aging process? Absolutely. When you break that many bones in one shot, and include multiple surgeries on my back and lung surgery two years ago, I've been fortunate to be able to come back. Having something like racing to come back just speeds up the process. You have tunnel vision, this is your job and this is what you do, you love to do it. A guy like Evan Knoll gives you the opportunity to do it and when you look at an accident like that I don't think you would ever come back that quickly if you didn't have such a good thing to look forward to.

Foley plans on racing 10 NHRA races in addition to running the full IHRA schedule.

"Unfortunately we have to miss our hometown race at Englishtown (to return to Tulsa)," said Foley. "We don't have a choice, Evan Knoll gives us a job and we want to do it for him. We've had a tough time on that side. We found a lot of power this winter and the car really hauls the mail now. If you can qualify over here you've got a good car." 

Foley went on to upset Millican in the first round with a great 4.572 at 321.81 mph, the second quickest run of the session. Then he out-pedaled J.R. Todd to make his first career NHRA semifinal round appearance. He smoked the tires in the semis against Rod Fuller, ending his best weekend ever racing on the POWERade Drag Racing Series tour.

GO WEST YOUNG MAN- Veteran tuner and former driver, Johnny West, joined Clay Millican's Knoll Gas dragster team this season and the move looks like its starting to pay dividends. Millican qualified in the No. 3 position with an outstanding 4.483 at 328.94 mph, and he was quick to note West's significance to the team.

"He's made a huge impact," said Millican as he prepared for eliminations. "Johnny is so wonderful at organization. He came to our shop during the three week break and started on one side and went all the way to the other. Rearranging, straightening, and just making it look like a real race car shop. He did the same thing with the trailers and the people too. He's even got me a little more organized. A very well organized car is a car that seems to run better. We really haven't changed the car any. He's allowed Mike (Kloeber, crew chief) to stay in the trailer and look at the computer and not worry about how the car is put together. He stays out here and makes sure the car is bolted together properly."

West has purchased a brand new home in Tennessee and Millican was quick to help him adapt to his new surroundings.

"The first thing I'm trying to do is teach him how to chew tobacco," said Millican with his trademark grin.  

ALL OR NOTHING- J.R. Todd has developed an interesting pattern this season behind the wheel of the Skull Gear dragster. He has either gone out after the first round or went to the finals at seven races this season. With four first round loses and three final round appearances this season it's all or nothing for Todd this season. He won an ugly race in round one on Sunday when he an his opponent, Joe Hartley, both smoked the tires early and were forced to pedal the throttle.

"This is our sponsor's race and all the dig dogs are here," said Todd. "That was an ugly pedal job, I'd say, but it got the round win and for Kevin Poynter and Dexter Tuttle we'll keep on going."

Bob Vandergriff Jr., who made the quickest run of his career during qualifying with a great 4.499-second run, did an expert pedal job in the first round to defeat Scotty Cannon in his first NHRA Top Fuel appearance.

"We were surprised," said Vandergriff, "I didn't think that it was going to shake, we haven't had that problem in a while. But on race day you've got to do what you got to do. It picked the front end up but it wasn't climbing, it was just hanging, so I kept my foot buried in it. On race day you don't take your foot out of it unless you have to."


Gary Scelzi knew that he couldn’t beat the track conditions on Saturday.

If you can’t beat them, join them. He prepared for Saturday’s conditions on Sunday and then learned first-hand the squeaky wheel always gets the grease.
“The track was better today than it had been all weekend,” Scelzi said. “Nobody can tell me they didn’t do things differently today. They did something different.

“Kudos to the NHRA -- whatever you did -- whether you admit it or not, good job on what you did. We didn’t just get smart today.”

Scelzi said on Saturday that it might be better just to tune the car for a 4.90 and run there all day Sunday.

“We were very careful and we tried only to run what the track would hold,” Scelzi said. “We were very conservative at the concrete to asphalt transition. We took a lot of timing out.”

Tuner Mike “Zippy” Neff was apprehensive about getting aggressive in the final round. Scelzi gave him the “talking to.”

“Zippy told me that he hated to throw it away,” Scelzi said. “I said, ‘Who cares? We made it to the final.”

Scelzi knew that third place in the point standings was already secure regardless of the outcome.

“We stepped on it from half-track and beyond because that’s normally where our car thumps,” Scelzi said. “We left it alone early. I was able to leave with him and when we got to the transition, the big dog started to eat.

“We thought about running a 4.75 and hurting their feelings, but we didn’t want to throw it away. We just wanted to get after it a little and if it stick, it will be good.”

The victory, Scelzi’s 35th, moved him into a tie with Don Garlits for 13th place on the all-time wins list.

%^*&%^$ !!! –
Scelzi swears he didn’t cuss. He also added he screwed up a perfectly good red-light in his second round win over Tommy Johnson, Jr.

Scelzi had to pull his helmet down a bit to see the tree just as he went to stage. In doing that, his head sock went into his left eye. He blinked, staged and nailed the throttle simultaneously.

“I screwed up a red-light,” Scelzi said. “I had a .013 light and that should have been my demise right there. The drag racing gods smiled on us and let us get away with one stupid mistake. That’s what you need. That wasn’t a great light by me. It was an idiotic move. I’ll be the first one to admit that.”

THREE'S A CROWD- Don Schumacher Racing put all three of their Dodge Funny Cars into the semifinals. 'Fast Jack' Beckman, a former Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series world champion, had a foul start against teammate Ron Capps, propelling Capps into the final round to face his other teammate, Gary Scelzi. 

DID I TELL YOU YOU'RE MY HERO? - Ron Capps and Gary Scelzi matches always create love-fests.

"We had such a great car today," said the California native. "I'm such a huge Gary Scelzi fan that with him retiring at the end of the year, we hugged each other in the staging lanes and had a little talk. It was more of a 'Let's do this more often, especially before you quit at the end of the year' kind of talk. It was such a great feeling to be in the final round, especially against Gary, because we're so tight.

"We went up to the final round and Ace pretty much said he was going to leave it alone for the semis and if they beat us, they beat us. We knew Zippy (Scelzi's crew chief Mike Neff) was going to step on it and try to run better, and he did.

"I let the car get a little out of the groove, for whatever reason. I told Ace I don't know why it went right on me right away and then I had to fight it. That might have been the difference between a win and a loss. I told the Brut guys I was sorry and I felt like I could have handled the car a little better.

"But, it doesn't hurt so bad, because the Mopar/Oakley Dodge team helps us a lot, and we help them."

OVERTHINKING - And you thought driving a nitro car left little time for thinking. Capps almost overanalyzed his semi-final race against Beckman.

"What a weird race," he said. "He left and I thought I stutter-stepped mine and when I heard his it stopped my foot for a second and when the car started going he was out in front of me. I was actually looking at his car going down the track the whole time and I'm thinking OK, I got left on, I got drilled and what am I going to tell Ace. Maybe I'll shut it off so it won't like such a holeshot. Then I thought, Ace knows that trick, I'm not going to shut if off. OK, maybe I should run it through so he knows what it ran. Then I thought, But what if it blows up at the finish line? He'd be mad at me for losing on a holeshot and mad at me for blowing it up. So, I had all these thoughts in just fractions of seconds, and then I pull the parachutes and I see my win light on already. It was just the strangest race.

"We were lucky. That was one for the books."

FORCED OUT EARLY- John Force lost in the first round for the sixth time in seven races on Sunday. Force was defeated by former teammate Tony Pedregon who outran the 14-time champion with a 4.903 at 315.78 mph.

"To me it is hard to feel bad for him because he's won so many championships," said Pedregon. "We've had a tough weekend and to see what happen to Robert Hight and Mike Ashley kind of puts things in perspective."   

Force's daughter, Ashley, also lost in the opening round and with Robert Hight not in the show the Force team was done for the day.

FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING - This event marked the first time since the 2005 CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals that a John Force Racing-owned Ford Mustang did not advance to the second round. Robert Hight failed to qualify for the first time in his career, and both John and Ashley Force lost in the first round, to Tony Pedregon and Tommy Johnson Jr., respectively.

HEADED TO THE SEMIFINALS- Jim Head, who entered the race fifth in the POWERade point's standings, opened eliminations with a solid 4.892 at 312.06 mph to defeat Del Worsham.

"This a great race track," said Head who has lane choice in the second round. "I don't think lane choice is going to matter. I wish it was a one lane race track, but it's going to be a tough second round."

Head made a nearly identical run in the second round with a 4.897 at 318.77 mph to defeat Tony Pedregon and make his fifth semifinal appearance of the year. Unfortunately for Head he lost in the semifinals to Gary Scelzi after running a 4.915 at 319.67 mph to Scelzi's 4.881 at 320.58 mph.   

QUIT THINKING AND DRIVE!- Ron Capps rebounded from his DNQ in Topeka one week ago in fabulous fashion. The POWERade Funny Car point's leader since Houston, Capps drove to his fifth final round of the season with victories over Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and red lighting teammate Jack Beckman. Capps didn't realize that Beckman had a foul start.

"I didn't know that he red lit at first," said Capps. "I thought I heard him sidestep it (the throttle) then I thought that I sidestepped my foot on the throttle. Scelzi ran a 4.88 in front of me and I thought 'I just screwed up lane choice'. Then I'm at half-track and I'm pondering to myself, 'Jack's out my window, he's left (first) on me, do I just shut this off so I don't get beat on a holeshot and have to explain it to Ace and Don'? No I'll run it down there and just take the punishment. And then I went over the finish line and my win light was on. So then I'm pleading with Ace to tell me he red lit, and he tells me it runs a 4.82, the quickest we ran all day. So, I guess I am over-thinking, I don't know."


Three-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin avenged his semifinal round loss to Greg Anderson in Topeka one week ago by defeating Anderson's teammate Jason Line on a holeshot in the final round in Chicago.  He moved into second place in the Countdown to the Championship with the win.

Coughlin used an excellent .002 reaction time, coupled with a 6.658 at 207.37 mph, to outrun Line's quicker and faster 6.656 at 208.07 mph. Line's reaction time was a none-to-shabby .025 but he couldn't run down Coughlin, who was super-consistent throughout eliminations in the Jegs.com Cobalt. Jeg ran 6.663, 6.665 and 6.679 en route to the finals in his bright yellow Roy Simmons-tuned Chevy. It was his first victory since the last race of the 2005 season, but he's only competed at 11 races in that time, taking most of the 2006 off to race in the sportsman categories. 

It was Coughlin's first victory in three final round appearances this season and his 35th victory in 55 final rounds as a Professional driver. The win tied Coughlin with legendary drag racer "Big Daddy" Don Garlits for 13th place on the NHRA's all-time winner's list.

"It feels exceptional," said a smiling Jeg. "It was a great day for us, we ran in the front of the pack all weekend. The crew just did a phenomenal job. We won the Full Throttle Pit Crew Challenge for the third time this year, which was outstanding and shows great consistency through qualifying. And we were no worst than third in all four of the sessions and qualified No. 3.

"Today we were just a picture of consistency, running the number just about every round," continued Coughlin. "We had a little blip there in the semifinals, the car spun the tires just a little bit coming out of the hole but fortunately we had enough to hold off Larry Morgan and his hard charging car. The victory feels great. To get a win here and kind of break the ice. It's the third final round we've been in with the Jegs.com car and I guess the third time is the charm for us.

"It seems like a long time ago since the last win in 2005 with Don Schumacher and that group," added Coughlin. "We've been knocking on the door, this was our third final and we've been in several semifinals. To be crowned champion today is exactly what we look forward to. My teammate Dave Connolly got a win just a few weeks back and it’s a real testament to our team and our whole program right now. We're coming, we're nipping at the performance advantage that the KB teams have had for the last several years."

SLAM DUNK- Tom Hammonds upset No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson in round one when Anderson encountered trouble in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO and slowed to a 10.047 at 90.23 mph. Hammonds remained consistent with his qualifying numbers, running a 6.669 at 207.08. He was rewarded by having to face the other Summit Racing GTO driven by Jason Line in the second round. Hammonds was unable to take out Line when he slowed to a 6.702 at 206.61 mph in the heat of the day.

VAST IMPROVEMENT- Jason Line improved on his first round run by almost two-tenths of a second when he defeated Tom Hammonds in the quarterfinals. Line ran a 6.853 in the first round then laid down a 6.661 at 207.46 mph against Hammonds to reach the semifinals for the fourth time this season. Line will face V Gaines in the semis.

"We've made a lot of poor decisions," said Line, who qualified 9th. "That happens sometimes but we've got a great team, we just haven't showed it this weekend. It is what it is and sometime you have those. Hopefully we'll have something for them." 

BROKED THAT ONE TOO - Greg Anderson was already walking on eggshells after breaking his primary engine on Friday. By Sunday, there was nothing left to walk on.

The #1 qualifier broke his secondary engine in the first round and that was enough to end his day opposite of former NBA superstar Tom Hammonds.

“There’s not much to say about this one,” said Anderson. “What happened? We broke another engine. We won’t know how it happened until we get back to the shop. We’ll look at the engine, find the weak link, and fix it. It will be long hours getting ready for Englishtown but we’ll be ready.”


Three-time defending POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines raced to his first victory of the season on Sunday, completing a dominating weekend onboard the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod. Hines defeated Matt Smith with a 6.959 at 192.11 mph to Smith's losing 7.014 at 187.18 mph. The victory also included a holeshot win over rival Angelle Sampey in the semifinals.

It was Hines 16th final round appearance and the ninth victory of his career. It was also the first time that Hines has advanced past the quarterfinals all season. He ran the table by qualifying No. 1, setting low elapsed time and winning the event as he moved from ninth place all the way up to fourth place in the Countdown to the Championship point's standings.

"The bike ran great all weekend and that was the reason that we were able to move up to fourth in the points," said Hines after the win. "The great thing is that my team rallied together since the last race and we were able to go out here and do this. They were pretty ticked off about how we were running all year long. Luckily they were able to pull together and give me a motorcycle that could win the race.The thing ran in the six-second zone seven times. We missed that one round by six-thousandth's of a second, but I'm not giving that up, I won the race.

"Just being able to be this close to Milwaukee, with all of the Harley executives here, just makes it that much more special," added Hines. "We had everybody in the winner's circle down there from the factory. We're going to head up there this week and go do some autograph signings for the guys, hang and maybe even do some burnouts for them and make some smoke. Tomorrow we're headed over to hospital and a school to talk to some kids and make them feel a little more special. It's all about the kid's nowadays. I wish my son could have been here for this, he'll be in Englishtown and Norwalk. We're just going to try and do the best for those kid's up there and take them a Wally. To leave here with that win and take it them I hope that we can make their day.

"When you a motorcycle that should win the race and you have a slight performance advantage and you're 60-footing good, you're going straight down the track, it puts a little more pressure on you. You've got tot go out there and make sure you don't red light, make sure you don't get beat on a holeshot and luckily my lights progressed throughout the day. I started off with a .071 and ended up with a .024 in the final, my best light of the weekend. That's just s tribute to how calm my team makes me. I see them thrashing over there on the bike, we had to change some parts before the final and luckily we made the right calls to get this win in Joliet and get it off my back. After giving it away four years ago it's just that much better."    

WOMEN ON TOP- Three women starting eliminations from the top half of the ladder going into Sunday's eliminations. Karen Stoffer, Angelle Sampey and Peggy Llewellyn all qualified with solid 6-second runs during qualify. Stoffer and Llewellyn will have a chance to race against each other in the quarterfinals, provided they can win there respective first round races.

After all three women won in the opening round. Llewellyn took out Karen Stoffer, who slowed dramatically from her first round 6.99 to a 7.267. Llewellyn reached her first semifinal of the season with a 7.104 at 186.48 mph. She improved to a 7.061 at 187.52 mph in the semis but was outrun by Matt Smith's 7.044 at 187.00 mph. Llewellyn moved from 11th place to fifth in the Countdown to the Championship with the stron performance in Chicago.

Angelle Sampey defeated Eddie Krawiec and Chris Rivas with a pair of 6-second runs to reach the semifinals, where she was up against No. 1 qualifier Andrew Hines.

"I have an awesome Suzuki," said Angelle after defeting Rivas. "The Army team is doing there job. The competition is so unbelievable this season. But Andrew and I love to race each other we have a great rivalry between our two teams." 

Angelle was late off the starting line against Hines, losing on a holeshot when she ran a 6.983 at 190.94 mph to Hines' slower 7.005 at 190.67 mph.

RACE YOU FOR A $1- Matt Smith and Chip Ellis, former teammates, squared off against each other in the second round. The pair always bet a dollar when they face each other and on Sunday it went to Smith, who had a .017 reaction time.

"We're learning to adjust to the weight they've (NHRA) added on and just try and make as many rounds as we can. Man, I've got to thank Torco Race Fuels," said Smith. "What an event they've got." 

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DSA_2510.jpgA TOUGH TIME - Donnie and Holly Faulkner returned to the NHRA POWERade tour this weekend after taking a few weekends off to grieve the death of their son Eric Blake Faulkner. The popular couple who run the Oakley apparel trailer, are determined to transform a completely negative situation into a positive by lending help to others.

The Faulkners have formed the Eric Blake Faulkner Foundation in order to lend support to those families who suffer the death of an infant child. Their adversity is replaced with determination.

They want to ensure that every family has an angel in their corner such as they did when the painful news was delivered to them late last month.

That’s where a hospital volunteer named Lynette Spruiell proved to be a blessing on such a dreadful day.

“It was probably the worst day of my life,” Faulkner said, when told the baby had been lost. “Lynette was there for us. I am convinced she was not human. She was an angel for us. To do the job she does, she had to be.”

Donnie pointed out that Spruiell was there for them throughout it all.

“She went home and got some sleep,” Donnie said. “She came back and was there. Her dedication was instrumental in making sure every detail was handled from the time he was born and throughout our grieving process.”

Donnie and Holly’s experience opened their eyes to many details that aren’t public knowledge.

“I never knew that funeral homes bury children for free and cemetery don’t charge for the plots,” Donnie said. “Everything was free and they won’t let you pay for it. I thought to myself that these people didn’t even know us and yet they knew what we were going through and needed.

“I thought if Lynette did this every day, with the network of friends we have and the sport has, we could use that for a positive. We could make something good out of a bad deal.”

Donnie sought to find a way to relieve the daily pressures on Spruiell. He wanted to make it easier for her to serve the community. The Faulkners wanted to make it easier on others experiencing the same heartbreak.

“I felt if we could help those families upgrade to better caskets that last longer, it could ease some of our pain in the future,” Donnie said. “If we could make it where they could have the funding to get that upgrade it would be great. We knew that we were blessed to have the capacity to do that, but others might not be so fortunate.

“I don’t want someone to have to go into a room with caskets and have no options. I don’t want them to have to go through that. I want them to know that one has been donated so they don’t have to go through that same experience. It will already be taken care of.”

That’s where the Eric Blake Faulkner Foundation comes in.

“The burden of the details will be removed,” Donnie said. “That’s what matters the most.”

Spruiell, through the assistance of the foundation, will be able to go into other hospitals and train likeminded people how to handle her same duties.

“If we can raise awareness, we will have reached our first goal,” Donnie said. “We aren’t the first to experience this and we won’t be the last I’m sure.”

Donnie said a new hospital is being built close to their Little Rock, Arkansas residence which will have a bereavement area separate from the standard delivery room area. This area will be named after Eric Blake.

For now the Faulkners handle life one day at a time.

Holly has drawn her strengths through a strong supporting circle of friends. Coming to the Joliet race was the first major step in the healing process.

“We knew were ready to come back out here,” Holly said. “This is the life we’ve known together. We have more friends and family out here than anyone could ever have.

“For me, to get back out on the road and see people and know how loved we are and that people are praying will be my healing, emotionally and mentally. This foundation is a new focus for our lives.

“Eric is looking down on us from Heaven. We want this to go on in his name. I’ve told people that you can crawl under a rock and be depressed and you will only hurt yourself and those around you. Donnie and I are positive people by nature and this is certainly a tragedy I’d never wish on anyone. You just have to find the good in a bad situation.

“We want this program to go on. I don’t know that we could have made it without it. It provided the closure for us.”

DEPENDS ON THE WEATHER- When sportsman qualifying began early Saturday morning there was not a cloud in the sky over Route 66 Raceway. After dodging rain drops all weekend at the previous race in Topeka, it was a refreshing sight for the racers and the fans. The sky remained clear and blue by the time Professional qualifying began, with absolutely no rain in the forecast for Saturday.

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DSA_3210.jpg THE SHOE ON TOP- Tony Schumacher celebrated the Army's 232nd birthday by qualifying the U.S Army dragster in the No. 1 position for fourth time this season. Schumacher grabbed the 39th No. 1 qualifying spot of his career and his fifth in Chicago with a stellar run of 4.462 at 327.66 mph from Friday evening.

"This is a tough track when it's hot out," said Schumacher. "I think you come in with the expectation that there is nothing you can't throw at this track. And then it gets hot out and it's such a big window and it gets smaller. Look at the guys that didn't qualify. If you didn't get in last night, that's how big that window can be. It's brutal man.

"Kalitta first round you can't beat that," Schumacher continued. "I've been struggling all year with the underdogs and now I've got Kalitta. This is great, this is what racing is about, suck it up and do the deal. It's cool, it's my home track and he is running decent. We're running good, that last run was good. We were trying something and that was exactly what we expected to run. We tried something to see if it would get down there and it's great. You know Doug's a good leaver and it's going to be a good race and a good first round."   

AN NHRA EIGHTH-MILE- That's exactly what the Joliet race fans were watching during Saturday's third qualifying session. Only one car made it past the 660-foot mark under power and he grenaded an engine.

Credit Luigi Novelli with being that lucky unlucky man. Novelli recorded a 4.936 at 248.61 mph, the best run of a horrible session, and remained on the outside looking in on the 16-car field in the 19th position. 

With no cloud cover and the sun blazing down on the track, not one of the 22 Top Fuel dragsters that made a qualifying attempt during the session were able to make a full quarter-mile run under power.

DSA_3380.jpgALL STAR NON-QUALIFIERS- Four of the biggest names in Top Fuel were not among the 16 qualified dragsters entering the final qualifying session on Saturday. Topeka winner Brandon Bernstein, David Grubnic, Whit Bazemore and Morgan Lucas were all on the outside looking in entering the final qualifying session. The bump spot was a 4.596.

"Our Budweiser/Lucas Oil car definitely can run in the mid-50's in the heat," said Bernstein, "but this track just seems like it’s a little greasy out there. We'll see what we can do, I thought it was going to make it, it was further down. It's just unfortunate it came loose there."

Bernstein's 6.473 at 124.29 mph wasn't even close to making the show, leaving the current Top Fuel points leader in the No. 17 position for the final session.
With the sun beating down and track temperatures soaring above 120-degrees for the final qualifying round, all four drivers were unable to step up and make the field on their last attempt.

Weis_wheelstand_Chicago07_400.jpgBACK BREAKER- Top Fuel driver Scott Weis spent the night in the hospital after he hurt his back when his car slammed back to earth following a monster wheel stand during the Friday night qualifying session. He was expected to return to the track on Saturday but he was done competing for the weekend. 

PENTHOUSE TO OUTHOUSE (PART 1)- Brandon Bernstein's second DNQ of the season was a shock, especially considering that he's won three of the last four races on the POWERade tour and that he entered the event as the Top Fuel point's leader.

"This is a humbling sport," said Bernstein after his final run, a 4.61 that just missed the 4.59 bump spot. "We've got a great team and we're going to be back, we'll be ready. It's unfortunate. The conditions are really treacherous right now. That's a good run right there in the heat. That's probably the best you're going to see if not maybe a little quicker. It's tough when you've got a 4.59 bump, you got to get in there. It's not going to kill us (in the points) but it hurts us definitely. We have a great race car and a great race team and hopefully we'll bounce back from this and come out charging."   

DSB_2220.jpg WILL A BIG SISTER FOR A DAY- Top Fuel sophomore Hillary Will spent time at Route 66 Raceway on Thursday talking with 40 pairs of Big Brothers/Big Sisters from the Joliet Boys and Girls Club. The driver of the KB Racing dragster spent time telling her guests about racing and answering questions about her life and the sport, and Route 66 Raceway provided the group with tickets to the race.

"I do this kind of thing all the time," said Will. "I'm in a unique position that kids will listen to me. They see a race car driver and they stop what they're doing and they pay attention to everything I say. So I'm in a unique position to actually send a message that will be heard. Sometimes my message is about getting a good education, but I have different messages. I do this around where I live in Michigan. I go to different schools and I'll go to career fairs. Even when I ran Top Alcohol dragster I talked to kids all the time.

"It's very inspiring," said Will. "Obviously race car driving is my number one priority, but I think I can be and do so much more. It's really rewarding to actually have kids listen to me and have their teachers tell me that what I said inspired the kids or made a difference with them. It makes me feel great."

Will didn't need a video of what she does to get their attention.

"When I first started talking I described to them what it feels like to be in the car. How its hot and they strap the seatbelts down so tight I can hardly breathe and that I wear a full fire suit and helmet. And when I try and describe how fast the car is it just gets their attention, I don't need a video, I don't need anything."

Will, who walked away from a devastating high speed pre-season accident, doesn't flinch when the kids ask her about crashing.

"I hang out at the ropes during the races all the time and the fans always want to ask about the crash. At first it kind of bothered me because you just want to forget about it, but that's part of it, its part of racing. I'm over it, I can talk about it and it just reminds me that we have to use that incident to propel us to do better things."

Will has recently been contacted by the History Channel to appear in an upcoming biography about legendary drag racer, Shirley Muldowney, who Will often sites as a major inspiration.

"It's going to be exciting," Will said. "I'm honored that Shirley wants to have me on the show with her. She's done a lot for women in racing and I'll always admire her for what she did for our sport and all the barriers she had to knock over to get to where she got."

Will, who is currently running without a major sponsor, would be an ideal candidate as a spokesperson for corporate America. She's articulate, educated, talented and an extremely fast rising star in the world of NHRA drag racing. The perfect package.


scelziDSA_3535.jpg BAD VIBES - Gary Scelzi said that he had bad vibes during Saturday’s qualifying and some were confined to his Oakley Funny Car and others weren’t.

“The car has had a vibration out there,” Scelzi said. “We changed some tires and did some different things. There are vibrations on the burnout and vibrations during the run. I’m not sure where it’s coming from and I don’t like going into Sunday with that kind of a car.”

Houston, we have a problem. In the case, Chicago does too.

“Basically one good run out of four is not the car we had in Pomona,” Scelzi said. “I’m actually surprised that it didn’t make it down on the last run. We had it backed down. We just went out and shook the tires.”

Scelzi said he had yet to see the computer graph, so it was impossible for him to comment on what happened during the run. But, he has an idea.

“I know we can run and we can run on hot tracks,” Scelzi said. “It’s not a big confidence builder making one out of four good runs. To me the tracks are a lot different than they have been in the past. I don’t think it is just me. Look at the cars that have had trouble.”

Scelzi’s references were to top runners Robert Hight and Mike Ashley’s DNQ efforts.

“Something has changed and I don’t know what it is,” Scelzi said. “Maybe we are doing something different. Something is different and I don’t know what it is. I hope someone figures it out.”

Scelzi left no doubt when asked if he had an idea.

Track prep.

“That’s what I am thinking,” Scelzi said. “Something is going on that is not consistent. Maybe we are not spraying the track right. Something’s going on and we need to fix and it needs to be fixed now.

“I don’t know what is going on there. Either chemicals have changed or production. Something is going on. It needs to be fixed. I’m not making excuses. We qualified. Something is going on. Cars are not making consistent runs. I don’t know where to look but someone needs to start looking and it needs to be looked at yesterday.”

Then Scelzi paused.

“We can win,” Scelzi said. “I just don’t like knowing what we are coming up against. You go out there and if every car smokes the tires, you set it up to run a 4.90 and hope you win. It’s a crapshoot and I don’t like racing that way. We make educated guesses, but tomorrow is a gamble and that’s not historically what Chicago is. That’s more frustrating. It has been going on for a while and for me since Gainesville.

“They need to hire Chad Head [former NHRA track prep specialist] back and get him back here.”

AshF_chicagoQ07_boom_4_400_a.jpgBLOWED IT UP REAL GOOD – Sometimes fireworks will send a statement. Other times they serve as a pretty good eye opener.

Funny Car rookie Ashley Force exploded a motor near the top end on her third qualifying attempt, resulting in a huge fire. Force handled the situation like a veteran, keeping the car in the middle of the lane, putting the fire out and getting the car stopped without further incident.

Despite the unexpected conclusion, Ashley’s time was the fifth quickest in the session and she remained ninth in the provisional starting lineup.
 “I remember thinking that we were getting down the track pretty well,” said the Funny Car rookie, “(especially) since everyone else was having trouble.  We were getting to the end and then ‘boom!’  I screamed because it scared me.  I wasn’t expecting it. 
 “There was some fire in the cockpit and I could feel the heat, but I also knew my helmet was sealing me off since I wasn’t getting any hotter.  My first instinct was to go for my radio, but then I got on the fire bottles. It was slowing down after that. It stayed in the middle the whole time.  There was a moment when I couldn’t see, but when I could see again, I was still right in the groove.
 “In Phoenix (where she first experienced an engine fire during pre-season testing), there was a lot more smoke,” she said.  “Today, there wasn’t as much smoke but a lot more fire. ‘Guido’ (crew chief Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli) said it boomed and lifted the body and that let in more fire.  I’ll take the fire over the smoke, because with smoke it gets dark and you can’t see as well.  The fire was warm like, well, a sauna.” (ESPN2/Motel6)
CAUTION, CHAMPION TEST DRIVER – Mark Oswald has four world championships as a nitro Funny Car driver. That’s more than enough credentials to qualify for the position of test driver for class front-runner Mike Ashley.

Oswald fills in for Dean Skuza whenever the iconic driver is unable to make the call. He first tested following the Las Vegas 1 event.

“It was quite a bit different than anything I’d ever driven before,” Oswald said. “The clutch technology has changed so much in the last ten years since I have driven. The cars pull so hard in the middle of the track.”

“It came back to me,” Oswald. “I adjusted quickly. I don’t really a desire to go racing, being a test driver suits me fine.”

ashleyDSA_3469.jpgPENTHOUSE TO OUTHOUSE (PART 2) – Just one week after qualifying one-two in Topeka, Robert Hight and Mike Ashley couldn’t find their mojo in two days of Joliet qualifying.

Both Hight and Ashley’s motors ran out of steam during their final qualifying attempt.

“This was one of those scenarios where if you didn’t get in on Friday night, then the odds were stacked against you on Saturday,” Ashley said. “Last night, we broke a clutch lever and that hurt us badly.”

Hight was fighting new car blues throughout the weekend. His primary car was severely damaged in a few and subsequent guardrail collision last Sunday.

Hight passed through the traditional 300-foot “trouble” spot and appeared headed for a berth in the field. Then a plume of white smoke exited the bottom of the car.

“It was on a good run, but when I came to a stop at the finish line, there was no belt on the car,” Hight said. “I’m embarrassed because we had sponsors here.”

Let the record reflect that Hight’s worst Sunday start in 2007 was from the second position. Both teams plan to test on Monday.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN- Robert Hight hasn't qualified lower than the No. 2 position at the seven races he's competed in this season. But the driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang, who has won two races in four final round appearances, entered the final qualifying session on the outside looking in. Hight's 4.894-second elapsed time was only good enough for the No. 17 spot after three sessions. A huge fire last weekend in Topeka forced Hight's team to build a new car for the Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals and crew chief Jimmy Prock was still working the kinks out on the new car. Hight was unable to get into the field on his last run and missed the first race of his career, ending the day in the No. 18 position.

Pro Outlaw driver and promoter, Dave Hance, will attempt to earn his fuel Funny Car license on Monday at Route 66 Raceway. Hance will work with savvy veteran tuner and car owner, Paul Smith, who helped Jon Capps earn his license earlier this season in Gainesville. Smith has helped many of NHRA's stars earn their fuel license, including Jeff Arend, Clay Millican, Johnny Gray, Cristen Powell and Phil Burkart, among others.


DSA_2990.jpg BIG PIMPIN’ – Don’t think for a moment that Kurt Johnson allows many opportunities to pass.

Johnson captured his fourth career Barry Grant King Demon title since 1993 by stopping an upset-minded Greg Stanfield in the final round. The second-generation Pro Stock driver won the special race-within-a-race in 1993, 1994, 1998 and 2004.

Johnson methodically worked his way through the field from his fifth seeding. He knocked off Dave Connolly and Greg Anderson to reach the finals against Stanfield.

For his part, Stanfield played the role of David versus Goliath. He entered the show as the seventh ranked and used monumental victories over Jason Line and Allen Johnson to reach the final round.

DSA_3027.jpg KRISHER’S NEW POWER - Ron Krisher confirmed that he will soon have Victor Cagnazzi horsepower beneath the hood of his Valvoline-sponsored Chevrolet Cobalt. The new engine lease program will begin in Bristol.

The lack of a competitive effort was the ultimate factor in this decision.

“We’ve been kind of lagging and dragging and I’m not used to that,” Krisher said. “We did the things we thought would be best for the car and the Valvoline people. We are in a two-year deal and we just had to find a starting place.”

Throughout last season, Krisher struggled with his own engine program before putting it on hold and testing lease engines with Greg Stanfield. Krisher needed a quick fix to the problems and sought out the Cagnazzi program.

“The Stanfield group was one of the finest people I have ever worked with,” Krisher said. “I have nothing but good things to say about them, but the reality of it all is that I’m soon going to be headed for 60 years old. We haven’t done a good job this year and I had to make some drastic changes.

“I am absolutely positive that the motor will no longer be the problem in our program after Bristol.”

Krisher contends that despite popular belief, Valvoline did not put any pressure on him to perform.

“It was a matter of pride,” Krisher said. “My sponsors never put pressure on me. We haven’t done this bad since I started running Pro Stock. It’s a matter of stepping up and we wanted to be competitive.
“The Stanfield program will come around, it’s just I don’t have a lot of time left to make it happen. I can’t finish out my career looking like this.”

Krisher added that his engine program is still operational with four new combinations they are developing for future use. For now – a two year program with Cagnazzi is just what the doctor ordered.

“We look forward to a lot of success with Cagnazzi because they are successful people,” Krisher said. “They are doing a heck of a job and I am excited.”

Krisher will gain the extra data generated by Cagnazzi team as well as sharing his with them.

This move now gives a third car to the Cagnazzi program to rival the third car effort provided by Matt Scranton for KB Racing. Scranton is hoping for 23-races in 2008, but worst case scenario will run 12-races.

As for Krisher, he’s not bothered by being the third member in this triple threat. He just wants to play the game.

“I think we can provide the opportunity to grown their program and vice versa,” Krisher said. “We have a good contract that is fair for both of us. No baloney. It’s right to the point.”

The learning curve will be steep.

“We’ll go right to this new program from our present combination,” Krisher said. “There’s no time for testing leading into and following Bristol. It will be interesting.”

andersonDSA_3016.jpgANDERSON'S NO. 1, AGAIN- Greg Anderson qualified in the top spot in Pro Stock for the sixth time this season. It was his 57th career No. 1 qualifying position placing him all alone in 5th place on the No.1 qualifiers list in NHRA competition. Anderson drove his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO to a 6.617 at 208.94 mph, claiming both ends of the track record, and will race against former NBA star Tom Hammonds in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.

"That's awesome," said Anderson, "I never thought I'd be anywhere near there. Way ahead of expectations and its cool, every time you do it it's really neat. It's a good thing I did it yesterday because I couldn't have done it today. We didn't perform up to par today. We got beat in the King Demon deal and that's kind of a bummer but we're going to have to forget about that right now and get ready to race tomorrow. We've got a good package, we've got a good hot rod and we just made a couple of mistakes today. I screwed up driving and took a nap against Kurt (Johnson) in the semifinal there. You're not going to win any races with a .099 light. The positive is we're No. 1 qualifier in the Pro Stock field. It's a tough, tough field, a lot of great cars out there. That's great but you know what, it's not going to get you anything tomorrow. You're going have to come back and act like it never happened and perform No. 1 tomorrow or you're not going to win. That's the goal right now. We have to go back and do our home work and get that car fixed back up. We missed a little bit on the set up today and I missed driving wise so we didn't deserve to win today, but maybe tomorrow will be a different story." 

WE'RE FIRST TODAY- Usually the Pro Stock cars follow the Pro Stock Motorcycles during qualifying, but because of the King Demon Crown event, the cars ran before the bikes on Saturday.

David Connolly and Kurt Johnson, the first pair of drivers to square off during the King Demon Crown event, held a 55-second staging duel before finally lighting the second yellow bulb. Johnson strapped a .007 to .024 reaction time advantage on Connolly and took the victory on a holeshot with a 6.712 to Connolly's quicker 6.700.

"Well we knew we needed it," said Johnson about his reaction time after the run. "That .71 is definitely not going to hold up out here. When you run eight of the best cars and eight of the best drivers you got to be on time. We just had a little fun up there, that's what racing is all about, keep the fans interested. We're going on to the next round in the ACDelco Cobalt."

When asked what he's thinking about sitting in pre-stage during a staging duel Johnson was quick with his answer.

"You think us driver's can think?" 


hinesDSA_3133.jpg HINES HITS HIS STRIDE- Andrew Hines rode his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley Davidson to low elapsed time of the third session with an outstanding 6.958 at 190.78 mph in the heat of the day. After 41 test runs since the last Pro Stock Bike event, it looks as though the Harley-Davidson team is hitting there stride in time for the hot summer races.

"We've finally got our wheels back underneath us again," said Hines, "this V-Rod has been running on a rail. My dad (Byron Hines) has been making some great calls, making this bike go down the track. I just can't say thanks enough to all of the Harley people out here from Milwaukee, they've been supporting us 100-percent for the last five years and we're out here doing it for them this weekend."

Hines admitted it wasn't just one thing that has helped turn their performance around.

"We fixed a lot of little things," said Hines. "We went through these motorcycles from head to toe, front to back and it's just a lot of hard work since the last race in St. Louis. Forty one runs on two bikes, that's a lot of time."

Hines secured the No.1 position with the quickest and fastest run of the weekend, a track record 6.921 at 193.65 mph, to grab his first top spot of the season and the 20th of the defending three-time champion's career.

"We're completely impressed with that pass," said Hines. "The bike just seems to be responding to every change we make and that’s all due to the test runs we've been making at O'Reilly Raceway Park. The bike is deadly consistent at 60-foot now and it's actually going quick to 60-foot, which is a change for our team. Last night we went 1.079, first round today we went 1.080 and that round we went 1.079. It's amazing how much a 60-foot can make or break a run and we're really starting to figure that out now. Luckily we're charging at the right time and to get this No. 1 right now at this race with all the Harley people in town makes it that much more special."

The NHRA added 10 pounds of weight to the Buell motorcycles beginning in Chicago. The move was met with the usual mixed feelings, depending on what kind of bike you raced. Chip Ellis, who rides the Drag Specialties S&S Buell, had a great attitude toward the change.

"There's nothing we can do about it," said Ellis, who entered the race fourth in the Countdown to the Championship. "Our team is just focused on trying to go some rounds and we'll take the 10 pounds and do with it what we can and try and make the bike a little bit better. I'll let somebody else worry about it, I'm just going to worry about trying to get my bike down the race track as fast as we can and cutting good lights and going a couple of rounds."

LLEWELLYN JOINS 6-SECOND CLUB- Peggy Llewellyn joined the Pro Stock Motorcycle 6-second club when she rode to a stunning 6.985 at 188.41 mph in the heat of the day. Her run moved her up to the No. 6 qualifying spot and brought the total of 6-second performers to seven with one session remaining.

"I just have to thank my team because they've been giving me the bike, I've just been failing them," said a refreshingly honest Llewellyn. "I just did what I had to do and the number came up. It's been there I've just been doing little mental mistakes. I'd to thank Kim and Karl Klement for giving me this opportunity and our sponsors PJ1 and Motion Pro who stick with us."

Chip Ellis, rider of the Drag Specialties S&S Buell, enjoyed the company of some of his major sponsors during the weekend in Chicago. Steve Niesman, President and CEO of Itelligence, an automotive distribution and supplier of software solutions based in Chicago, was on hand with members of his company to take in the race.

"What Itelligence does is implement the software that SAP provides," said Jackie Bryce, the wife of George Bryce, who is the crew chief for Ellis. "They had a group of people here throughout the weekend, including some potential clients. They're using this as a fun thing but at the same time their going to have salesman here talking to them. I'm hoping that they'll pick up some more potential customers to talk to within the drag racing community that don't understand how SAP and Itelligence can help their business. They do a lot with automated manufacturing and parts supplying.

"We had a really nice group on Friday," continued Bryce. "We did pit tours and set them up in a suite in the tower so they could really enjoy themselves. Steve Niesman was most impressed with how many different companies were involved in drag racing. We walked up and down the manufactures midway and he loved the interactive displays. As he walked through the midway he was impressed with the variety of companies that are involved in drag racing. I want to compliment the NHRA's marketing department on the way they do the midway, they could see the products that people had and that worked real well for them."

THE LONGEST ONE - Hector Arana holds the distinction of being sponsored by Lucas Oil the longest of any racer in drag racing, according to Deda Prock, wife of Jeff Prock (Jimmy Prock's brother). Deda, who is a customer representative for Embee Corporation, and her husband have been helping out with Arana, who was in the No. 15 spot going into the final qualifying session. He was bumped out of the show in the last session and finished qualifying in the 17th position.


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DSA_2620.JPGWINDS OF CHANGE- The weather at Route 66 Raceway was extremely windy on Friday, but it helped blow away the early morning threat of rain. The result was nearly a cloudless sky and dry conditions for the first round of Professional qualifying Friday afternoon. It also provided for a great turnout out of fans, which packed the stadium-style seats on both side of the quarter-mile.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?- Entering the event, the track speed record in Top Fuel and Funny Car are exactly the same, 333.58-mph. David Grubnic set the Top Fuel speed mark at the fall event in 2004, the same race that John Force set it in Funny Car. Force also set the track ET record on the same run with a 4.665-second blast down the quarter-mile.    

WHAT A SESSION! - The first round of Professional qualifying was marred with oil downs, even in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Despite starting 15 minutes ahead of schedule it took almost four hours to complete the first session, which finish exactly when the second session was supposed to begin.

TOP FUEL VERSUS A STREET CAR- ESPN announcers Mike Dunn and David Rieff squared off in a special race prior to the first Top Fuel qualifying session. They were showcasing the difference between a Top Fuel dragster and a street car for the ESPN telecast. Dunn shut off just one second into his and still beat Rieff to the finish line by four-seconds. Both cars ran identical speeds of 88-mph.

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DSA_2717.jpgHOMETOWN BOY DOES GOOD- Tony Schumacher began the weekend with a very strong run in the U.S. Army dragster. Schumacher rolled to a 4.511 at 327.66 mph in his Alan Johnson-tuned dragster to grab the No. 2 spot going into the night session. He returned to run a 4.462 at 327.11 mph to grab the provisional No. 1 spot with two qualifying sessions remaining on Saturday

"That was fantastic," said Schumacher. "I have my whole hockey team and ever friend and family member that we have here today. That's what racing at home is all about. We've got a great race track. The key was to get down the race track on that run. It's great to go out and run real good but to get down the race track so we can run late in the night is going to be outstanding. It's great to be at the end of the session at night trying for low ET."

"Tonight's run was great, but today was better," said Schumacher. "Going out and running as 4.51 during the day when you're going to race was great. However, the weather is supposed to be in the 80's on Sunday, so earning the qualifying points is great, because it is tight right now. But it doesn't matter who you draw, it's tough."

DSB_2583.jpgMILLICAN READY TO "BLOW IT UP"- Clay Millican, driver of the Knoll Gas Top Fuel dragster, has been tapped by Rich Christensen, creator of and host of SPEED Channel's popular television series "Pinks", to host a new show set to debut next month. Millican will be the host of "Blow It Up", in which the Drummunds, Tenn. native will challenge contestants to bring their cars to the breaking point in an attempt to see if they can handle whatever Millican can dream up.

"I've certainly blown up a motor a time or two," said Millican as he explained his experience of filming the show. "It was a lot of fun but it was a lot of work," said the talkative Top Fuel driver. "We went to Cordova, Ill. and filmed five pilots which are going to air beginning in July. If enough people watch, it'll become a regular series. The process of making a television show is something I've never been involved with and I had no idea how all of it worked. In fact, I thought we were done but I still have to go back to the studio and do some voiceovers."

Millican filmed all five shows in one very long day.

"The basic premise of the show is me versus the cars," Millican said. "What can these cars take and can they handle whatever I throw at them. Once the show started it was non-stop. For me it was like being at the races with the exception of that fact that I wasn't putting the helmet on and hopping in the car. I tried to do the best I could to punish the cars and see if the guy that built and owned the car would do it."

The vehicles involved included everything from 7-second Top Sportsman cars all the way to Volkswagens. There were even opposing car clubs involved.

"It was a real learning process for me," said Millican. "I had to memorize my lines shooting the commercials and that was hard for me. I'm very serious on this show and that was the tough. It's a serious show. It's me versus car shops, race cars and race car drivers. I like smiling all the time and I bet I heard 'eyebrows down' a hundred times before the day was done. But I had a blast and I hope people watch the show and it becomes a regular series because I really enjoyed doing it. It was a lot of fun."    

Millican finished the first day of qualifying with an outstanding 4.483 at 328.94 mph to finish the day in the No. 3 spot.

WILL POWER- Top Fuel sophomore, Hillary Will, recorded a great opening lap in her KB Racing dragster. Will ran a 4.566 at 323.81 mph to qualify No. 4.

"Yeah, will take that," said an out of breath Will after the run. "It was such a handful out there. It wanted to go every which way. But we got down the track and that's a good thing. It was worth the wait. We've been in the staging lanes for I don't know how long and its cool a lot of the fans hung out and watched. I had time to go back to the pits and have dinner and I'm hungry again. It'll be a good show tonight."

DSB_2572.jpgCANNONBALL RUN- Scotty Cannon made the first run down the track in Top Fuel really count. The former Pro Modified champion and Funny car driver roared to a 4.641 at 322.27 mph to move into the No. 10 spot.

Cannon eventually lowered his best effort to a 4.557 to end the day as the 13th quickest behind the wheel of Evan Knoll’s Seelye-Wright-sponsored Top Fuel dragster.

“When we rolled through the gates it was as if we had never left,” Cannon said of his first NHRA appearance since 2003. “I’m driving a Top Fuel car which was drastically different from our Funny Car.”

Cannon admits he’s anything but short of help when it comes to tuning on the dragster. After all, he’s received offers of help from a multitude of the Knoll-sponsored teams in Joliet.

“Anybody knows in this class a newcomer can win,” Cannon said. “We pretty much qualify for that status.”

FULLER & FABICK FIRST IN FIRST- Rod Fuller catapulted to the No. 1 qualifying spot on the last run of the first qualifying session Friday afternoon. The Fabick CAT dragster put up a 4.502 at 325.85 mph to move past Tony Schumacher, who went to No. 1 the run before his.

"We've got the CAT dealer group with us with Fabick," Fuller said. "There part of the family. We had them at St. Louis and we did real good there, qualifying No. 1. We also have CAT Global Petroleum with us this weekend. We made a great run and tonight we'll go out there and run a 4.40."

BERNSTEIN OUTSIDE LOOKING IN- Top Fuel points leader Brandon Bernstein goes into the final day of qualifying not in the 16-car field. The driver of the Budweiser dragster recorded a 4.597 at 324.44 mph, but it was only good enough for the No. 17 spot on the ladder.



DSA_2577.jpgSCELZI SEZ "I'M NUMBER ONE- Gary Scelzi blasted into the provisional pole position during the second qualifying session on Friday with a 4.736 at 330.96 mph. The driver of the Mopar/Qakley Dodge Charger was elated after taking the top spot in a wild night of racing in Funny Car. Scelzi thinks he can hold on to the top spot going into Sunday's eliminations.

"I think they're pretty good," he said of his chances to hold on to No. 1. "Tonight was pretty stellar. I don't know what happened to the race track on the first qualifying session for Funny Car, but there was definitely a problem. Evidently they fixed it for Top Fuel and then we knew it would be good tonight. We actually kind of threw the Pomona tune-up in it, and we were looking to run .71 (and) it ran .73, so that's close enough for me to hold No. 1. It feels good because we've struggled since Pomona and, who knows, maybe we can turn it around right here.

"No. 1 qualifying is fun, but blue-hat day is the day. Winning on Sunday is what's always mattered to me. The qualifying stuff is kind of the fluff, but we definitely want to win on Sunday; that's the big thing. (As for) qualifying, as long as you're in, and you always like to be in the top three or four, it's great, it's neat."

FUNNY CARS PUT ON WEIGHT- The NHRA Technical Services are increasing the minimum weight of Funny Cars starting at the next event in Englishtown. Officials want the class to increase the minimum weight from 2,425 to 2,455 pounds due to the recent implementation of additional safety equipment, such as roll-cage helmet shrouds and extra roll-cage padding.  

Most teams are already well over the limit so the extra weight isn't much of an issue.

"It doesn't bother me," said Chris Cunningham, co-crew chief on the blue Checker Schuck's Kragen Funny Car driven by Jeff Arend, "we're within forty of weight anyway, all it'll do is get us closer."

"Big Jim" Dunn, owner and crew chief of the Lucas Oil Funny Car driven by Tony Bartone, had a somewhat different opinion.

"All of the poor teams are so far overweight that it won't mean anything," Dunn said. "What they should do is weight all the cars that qualify and divide it by 16 and say 'here's your legal weight'. But that would be unfair to Force and all those guys who spend $100,000 on titanium and stuff to get down to minimum weight. The NHRA keeps the weight down to an advantage for the big teams. Everything that happens is an advantage for the big teams."   

T.J. Jr. HAPPY WITH TRACK- The first Professional qualifying session didn't provide much in the way of stellar performance in the two fuel classes but that didn't discourage Skoal Racing Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr.

"The track is really good early," Johnson said, "then you go off the concrete to the asphalt and I think it's just a little slick. We need more rubber down there from the cars with a little more horsepower and the track will come around. Our car just drove 'em off down there around half-track. I tried to stay with it a little while but it started sounding really ugly so I thought it was a good idea to shut it off."

Johnson finished the first round of qualifying in the No. 7 position with a 5.471 at 191.51 mph. Johnson returned to lay down a during the evening session to end the day in the No. 5 spot.  

DSA_2557.jpgWHAT DID YOU EAT? - Tony Pedregon didn't sound like his energetic self during his top end interview following his first run of the day.

"I think I've got a little food poisoning," said Pedregon in uncharacteristically  very low key manner. "We've got good conditions out here and this track is only going to get better tonight. I don't know what it ran but I know we had it pulled back just to get it down the track and to be safe. No question tonight will be a lot better and this is just a great facility, we're always happy to race here."

TAKE WHAT IT WILL GIVE- Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Funny Car driver Kenny Bernstein didn't make the quickest run of his rejuvenated Funny Car career, but it was good enough to put him in the No. 2 spot after the first session. His 4.941 at 309.42 was just about all the track would take during the opening qualifying round.

"There all smoking the tires but we got right down through there," said a pleased Bernstein. "It was a great job by (crew chief) Jimmy Walsh and the team for Monster and Lucas and Alpha Trade. Appreciated the fans hollering here for us, we appreciate that a lot."

Bernstein, who has won more here than any other driver in all four Professional classes, will here a lot of hollering if he can maintain his pace and win another race in Chicago.

DSA_2513.jpgTUMBLING DOWN- Mike Ashley, who broke through for his for NHRA national event victory last weekend in Topeka, fell like a rock on the qualifying ladder after the second session. He began the weekend with a 4.867 at 314.17 to jump up to the No.  spot. But after a 9-second run in the second session, most of the other cars improved and he fell all the way to the 16th and final qualifying spot by the end of the night. Robert Hight also struggled, and despite a 4.894 at only 263.36 mph on his second run, he will head into qualifying tomorrow #16.

Ashley's less-than-spectacular effort was traced to part attrition.

"Chicago is such a great track, there are always great numbers to be had here," Ashley said. "We were ready for a stellar run, and were really looking to stay on top after the second round."

Describing the car's performance in round two, Ashley said, "I could tell it was going to be one of the quickest laps I'd ever run - it really grabbed me and threw me back.
"After about 60 or 100 feet though, it just hazed the tires, and I couldn't get back into it to go anywhere," he said.
As the car was examined after the run, a broken clutch arm was found to be the culprit, having broken just after the initial throttle hit and causing the clutch to lock up early and the tires to lose traction.
"Honestly, I'm not worried about being in the field. We have a car that can come out and run a mid-70 easily, which is what I think we'll do, and we'll be right in the top half of the field heading into Sunday.
"I'm actually glad this happened today instead of on race day. It really doesn't matter to me if I'm number one or number 16 - I still look at the tree the same way, react the same way - regardless of where I qualify.  I think it's just more of a shock, after coming off the win in Topeka.
"I've seen it over and over - teams come out and either do really well after a win, or they get their tails handed to them.  I tell the guys, we just have to keep doing what we've been doing all along - and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.


DSB_2399.jpgANDERSON HURTS SO GOOD- Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson suffered a huge blow during his first qualifying run on Friday. Anderson's best motor broke and left him in the 24th qualifying position going into the second session Friday night. Despite the set back, Anderson installed his back up motor and in true championship fashion, drove straight to the top qualifying position with a track record 6.617 at 208.94 mph.

"We installed the back up motor and it performed great and obviously that's why I have great cars every weekend," said Anderson after qualifying ended. "We lost a key engine today and it's going to be tough to go six straight races without running out of good equipment. We've got backups but we don't consider then to be our primaries. Hopefully by the end of three or four races we consider back ups back ups and nothing less. That's the depth part that comes into play. Obviously we've got some depth but I don't need to go through anymore of it, I can guarantee it's not a comfortable feeling. Especially when you're going into six races after losing your best motor. So we're going to have to regroup a little bit and get some engines put together, hopefully some good ones."   

hammonds_04.jpgPOWER FORWARD - Tom Hammonds made a great run on his first qualifying effort of the weekend at Route 66 Raceway. The former NBA star recorded a stout 6.673 at 206.48 mph to jump into the No. 5 position.

"I tell you what," said Hammonds, "that was a pretty good run. It was a little bit aggressive down low but overall it was a good starting point for us. It's tough out here.

The former Minnesota Timberwolves power forward has found out how tough it can be in the NHRA, fighting with a blind-fold on.

After nearly six months, Tom Hammonds and his team are about to evacuate the two-car garage and lawnmower shed that have housed their racing operation since the start of the year.  Their new 11,000-square-foot facility should be open the week following the 10th annual Torco Racing Fuels Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, IL.
According to Harry Turner, Hammonds’ key team player and good friend, the team has built four Chevy Cobalt engines for the 2007 campaign with only a single visit to the dynamometer.  “We ‘borrowed’ a dyno after we didn’t make the field at Vegas 1, but the rest of them we built in that storage shed, with Jimmy Oliver doing the heavy lifting,” Turner said.
It’s hard to believe that in December of last year, Hammonds had no parts, no engines, no team to speak of and was planning on making a concerted effort to win rounds and races in 2007.  But Hammonds had a plan: “When he asked me to join him, I asked him what his long-term plans were and he actually had a five-year plan.” 
Turner was impressed by that dedication and came onboard, even though he was flirting with retirement at that time, having worked with GM for 32 years and in the racing business a good 20 seasons.  “I was surprised he had a realistic plan in place and I just couldn’t say no,” he revealed.
The team came together in January and they went testing, first at Las Vegas (2) and then at Valdosta, just before Gainesville in March.  On his first time out, Hammonds made the field of 16 at Gainesville and has only failed to qualify once, at Vegas 1. 
“We are running our own port design on the engine that is proprietary,” according to Turner.  “In this class, it’s all about parts and people and we’ve got a talented crew with over 100 years experience between them,” including Turner, Oliver and crew chief Jerry Eckman.
In the new shop, the Hammonds squad will finally be able to drive their hauler into the building and there’s space now for between four and eight cars.  “We’ve got room for expansion,” and by the way things are going for Hammonds, they might need it all.  Oh and yeah, they’ll have a clean, dyno room ready to go when they return from this road trip to Topeka and Joliet.

Hammonds finished the first day of qualifying in the No. 16 qualifying position on the strength of his second run, a 6.666 at 207.21 mph.

DSA_2408.jpgSTEVENS STARTS OFF IN THE TOP FIVE- Richie Stevens Jr. started off his weekend strong in the Team Mopar Dodge Stratus. Stevens powered to an impressive 6.669 at 206.51 mph on his first qualifying run to move in to the No. 4 qualifying position.

"It was a pretty good run," Stevens said afterward. "It washed out a little bit down low and we lost a little bit of time there, it could have been better. I think it was a good first run and we'll tune it up for tonight."

Stevens had the track ET record coming into the event with a 6.635-second run at last year's event. He returned for the evening session and recorded a quicker 6.645 at 206.83 mph, finishing the day in the No. 5 qualifying position.

THE TOUGH WORK LIES AHEAD- Jeg Coughlin made the an impressive opening run to grab the provisional No. 1 qualifying position with a 6.647 at 207.05 mph in the Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt.

"We've got a great crowd out here in Chicago and it's always fun to come here and race," Coughlin said. "The track is always second to none and we've got nice, crisp cool air out here for a June weekend. We'll see if we can't keep this Jegs.com Chevrolet running out front all weekend, that'll be the real chore."

Coughlin finished the day in the No. 3 spot, despite improving during the evening session with a 6.632 at 208.17 mph, the second fastest run of the event.

PLAYING CATCH UP- Richard Saulino has been one of the longest tenured members of the Cagnazzi gang, who appear to be catching up to KB Racing’s Summit Racing team of Greg Anderson and Jason Line.  With drivers Jeg Coughlin and Dave Connolly in the bright yellow Cagnazzi built Pro Stock Chevy Cobalts. 

Despite still utilizing the DRCE2 engine while the Summit gang roars along with the new DRCE3, Connolly has scored one victory – against Coughlin at St Louis – and lies second in points after Topeka.  Coughlin holds third place, so the Cagnazzi gang is creeping up.
Still, they’re not quite ready to make the move to the “3”, although it won’t be long, Saulino said.  “We’ve got a LOT of parts for that engine, not to mention a lot of experience with it, something that’s held them in good stead thus far this season.


DSA_2343.jpgHINES SCREAMIN' INTO THE SIXES, GRABS TOP SPOT- Andrew Hines broke the track ET record on his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Hines laid down a 6.987 that was good enough for the second position at the end of round one.

"It's good to be out there making a pass after not having raced for a month," said Hines. "We did a lot of testing over the last month. We made 36 runs on my bike and hopefully we found a little bit of consistency. The thing shook real hard out there but my team has a lot of data to look at now."

Hines returned for the second session and improved dramatically, riding to another track record with a 6.930 at 192.88 mph to grab the provisional pole going into Saturday.

"Our team really hasn't been struggling too much this year," said Hines in the press room. "We've just caught a stream of bad luck. It seems like our mechanical gremlins keep catching up to us on Sunday. One of our goals this race was to come here and make sure we don't have any issues during qualifying so we could get four solid runs. Our main goal was to prove everyone wrong that has been saying we have no clutch management on this team. I feel like my dad and my brother can tune with the best of them and we've just been behind the eight ball.

"We made it our goal since the last race to go out and test and make sure these bikes are getting to the 60-foot clocks just as quick as everybody else out there. We went up to ORP for six days, made 41 runs, 36 on my bike and five on Eddie's bike, just trying to get our set up consistent. We just had to get our initial set up here on the first run. We went back and looked at our data and now that we have that data from the test runs, we knew exactly what we had to do. We went out there and made the correct changes and the bike performed flawlessly."    

SCALI SCOOTIN'- Geno Scali opened qualifying with a very respectable 7.018 at 193.38 mph to grab the No. 5 position on his Performance Machine Suzuki.

"That feels good," said Scali, "that 7.01 with the tail wind was a big help but the fast boys are behind us. It's going to be a good weekend." 

RIVAS ROCKING ON NEW BUELL- It didn't take long for Chris Rivas to make an impact riding a new bike for his new teammate, Matt Smith. 

"We're really excited to be a part of Evan Knoll's team," said Rivas after his 7.004 at 189. 92 mph run in the opening round. "He's got such a great program over there and Matt Smith's got a really good engine building program. So I'm really excited to be a big part of that. I hate having the four weeks off. I wish we could run the bike a little more often."

Rivas finished the opening session in the No. 4 position on his first run in competition for his new team. 

SMITH SLIPPING AWAY- Matt Smith stole the No. 1 qualifying position away from Andrew Hines on the final run of the first session. Smith rode his 2007 Buell to a track record 6.975 at 190.89 mph, but he said the run could have been even better.

"We messed up a little bit on the launch," said Smith. "I've got a brand new paint job by Brian Olson and I slid to the back seat right on the launch. But hey, Evan Knoll, Torco and Latrell Preston, man I can't thank them enough. We've got two bikes out here that are going to be really, really fast. I thought we had enough sticky stuff on the seat but we'll get some more."

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THE CHI-TOWN COUNTDOWN - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series enters the second of a 10-races-in 12-weeks stretch this weekend at record-setting Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois. With nine races remaining in the POWERade regular season, the event could prove to be crucial to many teams still working to make the 'Elite Eight' that will fight it out for the championship over the final six races. Those eight teams in each Professional class will battle in a four-race playoff, with the four top teams at that point competing in a two-race championship round to complete the 23-race 2007 schedule.




HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Nothing says "Happy Birthday" like scoring a big win.

With the U.S. Army’s 232nd birthday arriving next week, Tony Schumacher would like nothing better than to provide a nicely wrapped victory present for his sponsor.

For Schumacher, who advanced to the Top Fuel semifinals last weekend at the O’Reilly Summer Nationals, this weekend’s race amounts to a “home game” since he lives in the suburbs of Chicago.

In Topeka, Kan., last Sunday, Schumacher broke a four-race, first round loss streak with his semifinal round advancement. In the process, he moved up two spots in the standings to fourth-place.

“That was a solid weekend for us given the record we had beforehand,” said the defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel world champion. “Now, we have to get back to victory lane. It’s been a while, that’s for sure.”

With the U.S. Army’s birthday falling on June 14 – Flag Day – Schumacher knows a win at Route 66 Raceway on Sunday would mean plenty to the Soldiers stationed around the world.

“It would be huge,’ he added. “The U.S. Army’s birthday is definitely a good time for all of us to reflect on the sacrifices our Soldiers have made, both past and present, in defending America’s freedom.”

Schumacher has two wins to his credit at Route 66 Raceway – in the spring race of 2003 and in the fall race of 2005.

Clay Millican owns one distinction no one else can claim: He was the first Top Fuel driver to attempt a run on Route 66 Raceway’s quarter-mile drag racing track when the facility opened in 1998.

Nine years later, his goal is to be in the last pair of dragsters to go down the track Sunday in the final round of the Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 Nationals. Qualifying begins Friday.

Millican’s current ride, the Evan Knoll-owned RATT – Back for More Tour dragster the driver calls the RATT Mobile, appears to be responding to crew chief Mike Kloeber’s tune-up. And it can’t come any quicker.

The team got off to a slow start as Kloeber was perfecting a new clutch setup and searching for consistent runs necessary to be competitive. Judging from Millican’s performance last weekend at Topeka, Kan., Kloeber is almost there.

Millican qualified seventh (4.597 seconds at 318.54 mph) on a very tricky racing surface and the team was awarded the Full Throttle Pit Crew championship and $3000 bonus for most consistent runs during qualifying. He had other laps of 4.699 and 4.796 seconds in qualifying and times of 4.606 in beating Larry Dixon and 4.717 in losing to Tony Schumacher in eliminations.

Route 66 Raceway’s racing surface has yielded record-smashing performances before and this could be another race featuring low elapsed times.

“It looks like Mike is getting a grip on the clutch,” said Millican. “We went down the track on every run we made, and the track really wasn’t very good. The biggest thing for the team is that the car got past the spot on the track where we had been having trouble.”

Millican is 13th in points (276), six rounds wins from eighth and the final berth in NHRA’s Countdown to Eight portion of the season. A hot streak featuring semifinal and final-round appearances over the last eight races could carry Millican into the elite eight. The cut comes after 17 events and the eight who move on will be trimmed to four after four more races. The final four will compete for the top prize in the season’s last two races.

PARTY ON, GARTH - Drag racing fan and popular RATT rock band member Stephen Pearcy also will be following Millican’s performances. Pearcy attended the Topeka race last week. Initial plans call for him to be at Joliet and he may become a regular at the races later in the season.

Millican’s appearance at the track in 1998 was in Peter Lehman’s Chicago White Sox-sponsored dragster. “Peter got us there but I never got to make the run because we did a reverse burnout and I broke the reverser. I got my Top Fuel license a few days before that. We did go to the first race and I got my first four-second run, but we didn’t qualify.”

Millican intends to be in the starting line-up for Sunday’s eliminations.

RISKY BUSINESS - Dave Grubnic holds the track record for speed at Route 66 Raceway, with a 333.58 mph blast. He and his team are hoping to capitalize on the momentum they built with a semifinal showing in Topeka, his third semifinal of 2007.

“Racing in Joliet is great and nerve wracking at the same time,” Grubnic, a 44-year-old resident of Ennis, Mont., said. “The track is so good you can’t wait to get out there and see what you can do, but everyone else is champing at the bit to get out there, too. We always see some incredible runs there from all the cars, so you know that you have to make no mistakes or you’ll be in trouble. The level of competition is amplified even more in Joliet.”

In early 2004, Grubnic was hired to drive for Kalitta Motorsports. Since joining Team Kalitta, Grubnic has posted consecutive top-five championship points finishes. In the fall of 2004, he won the lucrative and coveted Budweiser Shootout in Las Vegas, becoming only the fourth driver in the special event's history to win its $100,000 prize in his first attempt. His only other event victory came at the 2006 running of the famed Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

FULLER CATTIN’ IT- Rod Fuller enters the ninth race of the season in second place in the POWERade point standings, despite not having a major sponsor for most of the year. Fuller, who won the event in Phoenix in February in his Rob Flynn-tuned dragster, has continued to race competitively despite that lack of major funding. But this weekend the David Powers Motorsports entry will have the support of Fabick CAT, the same company that helped him in St. Louis in May. "I'm really excited because our team had great chemistry with the folks from Fabick," Fuller said. "It was an honor to fly there colors in St. Louis. We qualified No. 1 and got our points lead back at that race, and that's our goal this weekend at Joliet. I'm hoping we can put on another good show for the Fabick folks and put the CAT dragster in the winner's circle."

BERNSTEIN ON A ROLL- Brandon Bernstein has been on a roll this season in his Budweiser Top Fuel dragster. He's appeared in four final rounds in eight races, winning three, including last weekend's race in Topeka, which put him back on top of the point standings. "We're having a great run so far this season," said Bernstein. "Tim (Richards, crew chief) has our car running consistent numbers and we've been quick and fast. Route 66 is a track where I know we can excel." 

Bernstein is on top of the points despite a disappointing DNQ in Gainesville in March. No one has ever won the NHRA championship after having a DNQ during the season.

TODD STAYS NEAR THE TOP DESPITE CHANGES - Top Fuel competitor J.R. Todd has pulled off a feat that has never been accomplished before this season. The driver of Dexter Tuttle's SKULL Shine dragster has appeared in three final rounds with three different crew chiefs. Despite the continuing changes, the sophomore Top Fuel driver has won two races and sits in second place in the point standings entering the Chicago event. The key, Todd says, is consistency. "You have to know your boundaries, stay consistent and not to get in over your head," he said. 

Todd earned his first career NHRA round win in Joliet last year. "Conditions are usually pretty good at Joliet so the car should haul the mail," Todd said. "Kevin (Poynter, crew chief) is excited. He's still learning, trying to figure out which directions he can go. He just needs more runs under his belt. The more runs we get, the better we get. Hopefully we can make four good runs in qualifying and four good runs on Sunday."   





TRIAL BY FIRE - Consider Robert Hight to be fire tested.

Matched with Scott Kalitta in the second round of the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka, an event in which he started from the No. 1 qualifying position for the third straight season, Hight was transformed in mere seconds from Funny Car favorite to unwitting stunt driver.

The smoke and flames from a massive engine explosion enveloped him in an inferno as he crossed the finish line, restricting his vision to the point that he lost his sense of direction and hit both guardwalls. After climbing out the roof hatch to escape the flames, Hight sat on top of the body, steering the 8,000 horsepower hybrid with one foot, pulling on the brake with the other, until he had scrubbed off enough speed to safely exit, stage right, as the Ford rolled into the sand pit at the end of the racecourse.

"It was the biggest fire I'd ever seen," Hight said, "(but) you just do the stuff that you've been trained to do. The first thing is to get the chutes out and get on the brake. I hit the fire bottles (the onboard fire-suppressant system) a couple of times and the next thing I know, I hit the right wall. I couldn't see a thing.

"So I whipped the wheel to the left and when I felt it hit again, I thought I was in the sand. So I bailed out the roof hatch and the thing was still rolling. Well, I wasn't about to go back down (into the fire, that was swirling inside the cockpit). So I sat on the roof until it nosed over into the sand."

For most teams, that would have been the end, but not for Hight's.

With the help of crews from the other two teams in the John Force Racing stable, Hight, crew chief Jimmy Prock and the other members of the Auto Club unit stripped all the charred and melted parts and pieces off the chassis and literally built a new race car in little more than one hour.

Unfortunately, after completing the task, Prock and his fellow crew chiefs at John Force racing determined that there was a good chance the chassis has been damaged and that, without further investigation, it would be imprudent to put it back in competition. Nevertheless, they took it to the starting line and fired the engine yielding the track to semifinal opponent Jim Head.

"It is really cool to be on this team," Hight said, "because nobody every gives up, ever. They're the best."

Emotionally charged from his first Funny Car win Sunday in Topeka, Kan., Mike Ashley is anxious to maintain his momentum.

Driving the Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger R/T, Ashley's win pushed him solidly into third place in Countdown to the Championship, just 153 points off the lead. A two-time world champion in the Pro Modified class, Ashley is keenly aware that the battle is won by amassing victories, and that every point and round-win is critical to achieving his ultimate goal of winning the Funny Car title.

"Winning in Topeka was huge, and I'll never forget it because it was my first Wally [event trophy], but, as a team, we all know that we can't rest on our laurels and let down at all," Ashley said. "Chicago is an incredible place to race, one of my favorite tracks, and it's Torco's race, so, we're definitely going to be hitting it hard to put on a good show for our sponsor. Evan [Knoll, Torco's owner] was in Topeka last weekend and celebrated with us in the winner's circle, and I'm just planning on continuing the party through this weekend.

"I know that Brian [Corradi, crew chief] has a couple of things he is going to try this weekend, and I know that Mark Oswald [R&D director, co-crew chief] has had great success at this track, too, so, I'm very confident that we'll continue to perform just like we have been for the past several races."

Ashley's Gotham City Racing team has been on a record-setting streak of late, setting track speed records at the past four events, including recording the fastest speed in Funny Car history - 334.32 mph at The Strip in Las Vegas.

"With the marathon schedule ahead of us, it's very important that we stay focused and keep working the way we have been for the past several weeks. This team is a family, and we all know what has to get done to win. I think the win in Topeka just prepared us for what's around the corner, and it'll be tough, but a whole lot of drag racin' fun."

What do you look forward to when you're in the top eight towards the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series' Countdown to the Championship (fourth), have a hiatus awaiting you at the end of the 2007 season, and are headed to one of the fastest quarter-miles on the NHRA drag-racing circuit? A blizzard.

What? That's what four-time NHRA champion Gary Scelzi, driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, is expecting at this weekend's Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Ill., "home track" for Don Schumacher, the team owner who hails from nearby Park Ridge, Ill.

"It's just a great place," says Scelzi, a Fresno, Calif., native. "It's Schumacher's home, and we'll have a ton of Schumacher Electric people in the pits. It's almost like racing at home because of Don being from here. It will be a little hectic at first, but it's always good. There's a friend of Schumacher's who owns a Dairy Queen who always brings Oreo Cookie blizzards, so that's what I'm really looking forward to."

Scelzi also loves the track, at which he's won twice - once in Top Fuel (2000) and again in Funny Car (2005). It's where he became the first Funny Car driver to break the 330-mph barrier (330.15 mph) in 2004.

"We love racing in Chicago," said Scelzi, "because Route 66 Raceway is absolutely one of the best places we go to. The night qualifying session there will be fun. We'll let the big dog eat.

"Besides the Bruton Smith-owned tracks, Chicago is right up there. That's where we broke the 330-mph barrier, we've won here in Top Fuel and in Funny Car and it's one of the fastest tracks we go to. It will be an exciting weekend for the fans and the competitors."

One thing that has become apparent this season is that Ashley Force is more than just a novelty.

As the first woman in the last seven seasons to drive a Funny Car in the POWERade Drag Racing Series, few expected the 24-year-old to be a legitimate contender for one of the eight spots in the NHRA's new NASCAR-inspired Countdown to the Championship.

Nevertheless, entering this week's 10th annual Torco Racing Fuels Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, the graduate of California State University-Fullerton leads such straight-line luminaries as Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Gary Densham, Kenny Bernstein, Scott Kalitta and, oh yeah, her father, reigning series champion John Force.

In fact, while her dad is languishing in 17th place in the standings after the worst start of his career (five first round losses and a DNQ in seven races), Ashley is coming up sevens: seventh place after seven races having won seven rounds in what widely is regarded as the most competitive category in NHRA Pro Racing.

Ashley credits her team and especially crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli for her early success at the wheel of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

"My team and crew chief have been great about not pushing me," she said. "They have given me time to get used to the car before I start worrying about things like reaction time. They've told me, 'you have to be comfortable in the car before you can work on the smaller details,' but after last week (when she lost to race winner Mike Ashley despite a quicker track time) I am definitely going to starting working (on improving my reaction times).

"In Super Comp, it took me some time to get good at it and, then, in A/Fuel (driving three years for Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows), it was the same thing.

After skipping a few races on the NHRA tour due to financial concerns, Funny Car racer Bob Gilbertson will return to competition this weekend.

Gilbertson is really looking forward to getting back to racing at the track where he's recorded career best elapsed times and speeds.

"Route 66 has always been good to me," Gilbertson said. "Traditionally Route 66 has been the quickest and fastest track that we run on all year and every Funny Car team out there will be swinging for the fences so we've got our work cut out for us. Just to qualify will be a major accomplishment and hopefully we'll be able to get in the show and race on Sunday."

Gilbertson's crew chief, Tommy Delago, is optimistically confident about the team's chances this weekend.

"We're making a lot of power but we've had some problems applying it to the track but I really think we've got a handle on the combination and there's no better track than Chicago to prove it," Delago said. "With any luck we'll be able to get down the track and make some noise at Route 66."

John Force, Whit Bazemore, and Del Worsham. Any way you slice that short list, it's not bad company and, heading into this weekend's Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 Nationals, Worsham would like nothing better than to personally pare that specific roster to one. The list denotes the three Funny Car drivers who are tied for the most career wins at Route 66 Raceway, one of the most spectacular venues on the NHRA POWERade tour, and Worsham would certainly like to pull away from the pack with a fourth.

With Bazemore now driving in the Top Fuel class, the chance for any one driver to take the lead by grabbing his fourth career win at Route 66 comes down to Force and Worsham, and should either one accomplish the deed, it will be big news indeed. Force, of course, has only one round win all season, and is currently sitting 17th on the POWERade points chart. A Joliet win for the 14-time POWERade Champion would most likely stop all of the "Can he do it?" talk and put Force right back in the mix.

Worsham has fared better, to this point in 2007, with a runner-up finish in St. Louis being his best finish, but his 8th place standing in the points is still tenuous, as his own teammate, Jeff Arend, is only 27 points behind him. Looking the other way, a Worsham win would vault him onto more solid ground within the precious top eight. For the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen driver, it's all about Route 66 and feeling that good Windy City vibe.

"We've had some huge moments here, so there's no doubt it's one of my favorite tracks," Worsham said. "We had the Mountain Dew weekend in 2001, when we had that beautiful 'Do The Dew' car for the race, but then blew it sky-high on the last qualifying run. A lot of people remember that, but I remember putting together a funny looking CSK/Mountain Dew car overnight, transplanting some of the decals onto my red Checker, Schuck's, Kragen car, and then winning the race with that body.

"In 2002, we won the race but had to get past Force in the second round. That was the one where we were side-by-side, and he started having engine problems at about 900 feet. I saw him disappear and then the anchor fell out, because my parachutes deployed for no reason. I beat him by a few inches with the 'chutes out. In 2004, we came in here in the fall, right after we won Dallas, and not only made it back-to-back wins but it was also our fifth win on the year, which is the best we've ever done. So, there are plenty of good memories for us at Route 66."

14-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force enters the ninth race of the season with only one round win to his credit. Force is 120 points and eight places out of the Top 8 and sits further back in the points than he has been in 20 years at this point in the season. If history is any indication, Route 66 Raceway might be just the place for Force to begin his run towards the top. He has made seven final round appearances at Route 66, earning 3 victories and qualifying No. 1 five times since the track opened a decade ago.

CAPPS READY FOR REBOUND- Ron Capps failed to qualify in Topeka last weekend, the first time the current Funny Car points leader has missed Sunday's eliminations since 2004. Capps and the Brut Dodge team, led by tuner Ed "Ace" McCulluch, took a gamble when they entered the race with new modifications to the car but they're not concerned about the DNQ. "We have one of the most consistent Funny Cars on the planet this year – and last year," said Capps, who won in Chicago in 2005, "yet we didn't qualify in Topeka. That just tells you how difficult it is out here. The more Ace looks at what he did in Topeka, the more we feel very comfortable going to Chicago and unloading out of the trailer and running the same car. I don't want to attribute our weekend in Topeka to the brand-new car. We brought it out a couple of weeks ahead of time because of the Bristol postponement, so going to a great track like Chicago with a wide groove and a great surface will be a good place to go with a fresh car. I really feel comfortable going straight there from Topeka." 

BERNSTEIN LOOKING TO ADD TO RECORD WIN TOTAL- Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein has more event wins at Route 66 Raceway than any other competitor in the four Professional categories, and he's looking to continue his domination at the facility in a Funny Car. Bernstein won the inaugural event in 1998 and had two victories in 2001 and one in 2003, all in Top Fuel. "Route 66 has treated us mighty nice through the years," said Bernstein, "and consequently, it's one of our favorite tracks. It would be great if some of that past performance could rub off on our Funny Car." The driver of the Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Funny Car is looking to make a push toward the "Top 8" in the Countdown to the Chase. "Our focus is to be in the countdown to eight, which is the first stage of the new championship format. The team is working hard to get our Dodge Charger seeded in that prestigious field."




JOHNSON LOOKING TO DISTANCE HIMSELF- Team Mopar Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson wants to put some distance between himself and eighth place in the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship. Johnson, who is currently in sixth place just one point out of fifth, enjoys competing at Route 66 Raceway. "To me this is one of the premier tracks in the country," Johnson said. "Next to Indy, this is the biggest event of the year and since I've run pretty well here in the past, I see no reason why we can't have even more success this weekend."

Another reason for doing well this weekend is the NHRA King Demon Crown event, which showcases the best eight Pro Stock qualifiers over the past 22 events. Johnson, who is qualified third in the King Demon Crown standings, will compete against seven other driver's for a purse of $76,000. "It would be extra special to do well in the King Demon Crown race this year," said Johnson. "We've been in the finals of this event four times, so we're hoping that 2007 is the year we finally break through."

COUGHLIN GOING 'BACK TO THE FUTURE'- Jeg Coughlin Jr. is a two-time winner at Route 66 Raceway, having won the fall events in 2002 and 2003. But he says any drag racer that pulls through the gates is a winner. "This place makes you feel special before you ever get your car out of the trailer," Coughlin said. "That big stadium-like grand stand and massive tower is big-time and your heart skips a beat every time you pull out from under the tower and see the fans packed in there. It's the first of the next generation of drag strips. This place took us into the future." 

$50K HAS CONNOLLY PUMPED UP- Dave Connolly is enthusiastic about this weekend's Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals. First there is the fact that Evan Knoll, owner of Connolly's Torco Race Fuels/Seelye Wright Automotive Group Chevy Cobalt is sponsoring the event. Second, Connolly has a shot at taking home $50,000 by winning the King Demon Crown event, a race within a race for the top eight Pro Stock qualifiers over the past 22 races. "I've had a lot of success there," Connolly says. "I can't count the number of trophy's I have from that place. I'm definitely excited about going back there. It's one of those tracks that just seems to treat us real well. You like to have a little luck on your side when you racing for $50 grand."   




SMITH STARTS FROM THE TOP- Matt Smith will enter the race in the Chicago as the Pro Stock Bike point's leader for the first time in his career. Smith is coming off of one of his best outings ever in St. Louis, where he qualified No.1, won the race and set a new national E.T. record (6.901-seconds) to the maximum points (138) possible. Smith will also have a teammate in Chicago, adding Chris Rivas to his team. Rivas, who is currently sixth in the POWERade standings, is expected to be riding a Buell recently purchased from independent Pro Stock Motorcycle rider, Connie Cohen. "I am excited about having teammate again," said Smith. "Especially the way we have this program running. We want to win races and eventually championships, and Evan Knoll has given us that opportunity." 

EAGLES READY TO SCREAM- The Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team are eager to return to the NHRA tour after a month-long schedule break. Team riders Andrew Hines and rookie Eddie Krawiec are both currently not in the "Top 8" in the Countdown to the Championship, but a strong showing in Chicago could change that by the end of the weekend. "Route 66 Raceway is one of my favorite tracks on the circuit," said Hines, the defending three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion. "I get such a good feeling from the place when we roll in. It looks really cool, it’s the only stadium on the tour and the entire facility is just great. So I'm happy we're finally going to race again, but just as excited about where we are racing."

Krawiec, who joined the Screamin' Eagle team just before the season started, will be making his first appearance at Route 66 Raceway. "I'm excited to get back on the bike and do some racing," said Krawiec. "I've heard so many great things about Route 66 that I can't wait to check it out. A month is a long time between races. I feel like when you're just sitting at home, you get out of your race day rhythm. So I'm excited to get back on the bike and make some quick passes down the track."   

JOHNSON READY TO IMPRESS SPONSORS- Steve Johnson, rider on the Snap-on Tools Suzuki, is set for the second of three races in the heart of his sponsor's area. Snap-on Tools headquarters are located in Wisconsin, making the race in Chicago the closest one on the NHRA tour to the home office. "This is a very important race for the Snap-on Tools Suzuki team," Johnson said. "Not only is Route 66 Raceway one of the quickest and fastest in the nation, it's located in one of my favorite cities, Chicago, and it's also right in the heart of what I like to call 'Snap-on Country'. We're going to be hosting a large number of Snap-on Tools franchisees, so it's going to be a heck of a weekend for us."

Johnson is currently eighth in the elite "Top 8" for the Countdown to the Championship, which adds even more importance to the event for Johnson. "As a Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor I have three races that I think are incredible important, all for different reasons," said Johnson. "The Pro Stock Bike season-opening Gatornationals in Gainesville, because performing well at that event can set the tone for your whole season. The Torco Racing Fuels Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals, which is Snap-on Tools 'home track' and the U.S. Nationals, which is drag racing's largest and most prestigious event. I've been fortunate enough to win two of my 'Big 3' and I'd like nothing better than to add a win at Route 66 Raceway to my resume."

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