2006 NHRA FRAM - AUTOLITE NATIONALS - SAME DAY COVERAGE
Just as he did in Denver 14 days ago, the 24-year-old Todd simply outran Schumacher, earning this win in 4.619 seconds at 309.27 mph to Schumacher's 4.679 at 316.01 mph.
Eric Medlen, Jason Line, and Chip Ellis joined Todd in Infineon Raceway's winner's circle. Medlen took the Funny Car crown against fellow Californian Tony Pedregon, 4.854 to 5.021. Pro Stock points leader Line got a holeshot victory over veteran Vieri Gaines, and Ellis benefited greatly from Pro Stock Motorcycle finalist Antron Brown's red-light start for his second win of the year.
|RACE COVERAGE||PHOTO GALLERIES|
SUNDAY FINAL - TODD WINS SECOND RACE; MEDLEN,
HINES, AND ELLIS ROUND OUT THE FIELD IN SONOMA
(7-30-2006) - Top Fuel rookie J.R. Todd upset three-time
NHRA POWERade world champion Tony Schumacher for the second time in three weeks
Sunday to earn the trophy of the $1.3 million Fram-Autolite NHRA
Just as he did in Denver 14 days ago, the 24-year-old Todd simply outran Schumacher, earning this win in 4.619 seconds at 309.27 mph to Schumacher's 4.679 at 316.01 mph.
Eric Medlen, Jason Line, and Chip Ellis joined Todd in Infineon Raceway's winner's circle. Medlen took the Funny Car crown against fellow Californian Tony Pedregon, 4.854 to 5.021. Pro Stock points leader Line got a holeshot victory over veteran Vieri Gaines, and Ellis benefited greatly from Pro Stock Motorcycle finalist Antron Brown's red-light start for his second win of the year.
Racing in just his 11th national event, Todd is now 2-0 in final-round appearances with both wins coming against Schumacher. The two men have faced each other in each of the last four national events, with each man winning twice.
"You couldn't write it any better than this," Todd said. "Beating Tony and that team once for your first trophy ever is like a dream. To do it twice in three races is unreal. I can't even believe this is happening. You work so hard just to get to this level and you don't even think what it will be like to actually win."
This was Schumacher's fourth final in a row and he moved up another spot in the championship standings to third place overall. He now trails POWERade leader Doug Kalitta by 106 points. He entered the race 150 points back. After her third first-round loss in a row, former points leader Melanie Troxel is now 82 points behind Kalitta and just 44 ahead of Schumacher.
Breaking a winless streak that dated back to last year's Memphis event, Medlen came through in the Funny Car final. After leaving with a slight advantage at the starting line, his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang drove away from Pedregon's Q Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, taking the stripe in 4.854 seconds at 316.30 mph to Pedregon's 5.021 seconds at 271.62 mph.
"People ask me how aggravating it is to go a year without winning but I don't even think like that," Medlen said. "I'm out here having fun and we have a car that could have and should have won several times so you feel like you're right in there any way. Man, it's hard to win these things; that's the deal. It's not for lack of trying."
Ron Capps still leads John Force at the top of the standings, although Force did trim his deficit down to 70 points. Both Force and Capps lost to teammates Sunday, Capps to Whit Bazemore in Round 1, and Force to Medlen in the quarterfinals.
Line came through Sunday with a win over Vieri Gaines in the Pro Stock final. Line's 6.672 seconds at 207.15 mph was enough to beat Gaines' quicker but losing 6.668 seconds at 207.05 mph.
"This is a very, very satisfying win for me," Line said. "Especially doing it on a holeshot. Both of our cars ran great all weekend and between our two cars and V.'s car, I think we probably had the three best cars on the property. To be the one standing here [in the winner's circle] is probably the best feeling I've had as a driver."
Line's victory helped him increase his lead in the POWERade points to 64 over his Summit Racing teammate Greg Anderson.
Ellis remains perfect in final-round appearances after Antron Brown handed him his fifth career win and second of the year with a red-light. Brown will be reliving this one in his head for quite awhile after Ellis broke his motor halfway down the racetrack and had to abort his run. Still, his 8.863 seconds at 88.41 mph was more than enough to give him the victory.
"To go into the sixes is a big honor and it used to just be me and Andrew [Hines]," Ellis said. "Now there are two more in that six-second deal and that just tells you how competitive everyone else has become out here. Man, it's tough to win a round, let alone a race."
The win lifted Ellis past Brown and into third place in the POWERade points. Andrew Hines is still the leader by 33 points over Angelle Sampey. Both Hines and Sampey lost in the quarterfinals.
Final finish order (1-16) for professional categories at the 19th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway. The $1.3 million race is the 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
1. J.R. Todd; 2. Tony Schumacher; 3. Doug Kalitta; 4. Hillary Will; 5. Rod Fuller; 6. Larry Dixon; 7. Bob Vandergriff; 8. David Grubnic; 9. Cory McClenathan; 10. Steven Chrisman; 11. Doug Herbert; 12. David Baca; 13. Melanie Troxel; 14. Brandon Bernstein; 15. Morgan Lucas; 16.
1. Eric Medlen, Ford Mustang; 2. Tony Pedregon, Chevy Monte Carlo; 3. Whit Bazemore, Dodge Charger; 4. Mike Ashley, Dodge Stratus; 5. John Force, Mustang; 6. Tony Bartone, Monte Carlo; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang; 8. Scott Kalitta, Monte Carlo; 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Monte Carlo; 10. Ron Capps, Charger; 11. Cruz Pedregon, Monte Carlo; 12. Del Worsham, Monte Carlo; 13. Phil Burkart, Monte Carlo; 14. Gary Scelzi, Charger; 15. Gary Densham, Monte Carlo; 16. Bob Gilbertson, Stratus.
1. Jason Line, Pontiac GTO; 2. V. Gaines, Dodge Stratus; 3. Jim Yates, GTO; 4. Allen Johnson, Stratus; 5. Greg Anderson, GTO; 6. Tom Martino, GTO; 7. Mike Edwards, GTO; 8. Dave Connolly, Chevy Cobalt; 9. Mark Pawuk, GTO; 10. Ron Krisher, Cobalt; 11. Larry Morgan, Stratus; 12. Warren Johnson, GTO; 13. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt; 14. Mike Thomas, Stratus; 15. Richie Stevens, Stratus; 16. Greg Stanfield, GTO.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:
1. Chip Ellis; 2. Antron Brown, Suzuki; 3. Craig Treble, Suzuki; 4. Tom Bradford; 5. Steve Johnson, Suzuki; 6. Matt Smith; 7. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki; 8. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson; 9. Geno Scali, Suzuki; 10. Chris Rivas; 11. Matt Guidera; 12. GT Tonglet, Harley-Davidson; 13. Mike Berry, Suzuki; 14. Ryan Schnitz; 15. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki; 16. Shawn Gann, Suzuki.
Sunday's final results from the 19th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway. The $1.3 million race is the 15th of 23 in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series:
Top Fuel -- J.R. Todd, 4.619 seconds, 309.27 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 4.679 seconds, 316.01 mph.
Funny Car -- Eric Medlen, Ford Mustang, 4.854, 316.30 def. Tony Pedregon, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.021, 271.62.
Pro Stock -- Jason Line, Pontiac GTO, 6.672, 207.15 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Stratus, 6.668, 207.05.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- Chip Ellis, Buell, 8.863, 88.41 def. Antron Brown, Suzuki, foul.
Top Alcohol Dragster -- Morgan Lucas, 5.400, 261.72 def. Duane Shields, 5.396, 263.31.
Top Alcohol Funny Car -- Clint Thompson, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.628, 255.00 def. Roger Bateman, Chevy Camaro, 5.682, 249.39.
Competition Eliminator -- Glen Treadwell, '23-T Ford, 8.102, 158.58 def. Dean Carter, Dragster, 6.986, 176.33.
Super Stock -- Brad Rounds, Chevy S-10, 9.652, 116.81 def. Frank Grossi, Pontiac Sunfire, foul.
Super Comp -- Sheldon Gecker Sr., Dragster, 8.901, 168.66 def. Keith Downing, Dragster, 8.924, 161.36.
Super Gas -- Mike Blodgett Sr, '27-T Ford, 9.956, 145.00 def. Eric Reyes, Chevy Corvette, broke.
Final round-by-round results from the 19th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway, the 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series:
ROUND ONE -- Bob Vandergriff, 4.844, 296.11 def. Morgan Lucas, 7.245, 112.30; Hillary Will, 4.976, 236.13 def. Melanie Troxel, 6.637, 127.26; J.R. Todd, 4.690, 295.08 def. Alan Bradshaw, 8.720, 84.41; Doug Kalitta, 4.796, 298.01 def. David Baca, 5.233, 199.82; Tony Schumacher, 4.549, 328.22 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.872, 298.47; Larry Dixon, 4.994, 293.98 def. Brandon Bernstein, 6.717, 123.50; Rod Fuller, 4.612, 324.44 def. Doug Herbert, 5.022, 264.34; David Grubnic, 4.606, 321.58 def. Cory McClenathan, 4.699, 315.49;
QUARTERFINALS -- Will, 4.725, 301.67 def. Dixon, 4.959, 268.49; Kalitta, 4.943, 283.25 def. Fuller, 4.918, 320.20; Todd, 5.152, 270.81 def. Grubnic, 5.410, 192.25; Schumacher, 4.570, 328.86 def. Vandergriff, 5.221, 235.39;
SEMIFINALS -- Todd, 4.678, 308.92 def. Will, 4.673, 317.49; Schumacher, 4.585, 326.40 def. Kalitta, 4.597, 322.42;
FINAL -- Todd, 4.619, 309.27 def. Schumacher, 4.679,
ROUND ONE -- Whit Bazemore, Dodge Charger, 4.902, 315.78 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.975, 293.41; Tony Pedregon, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.910, 315.56 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Monte Carlo, 4.947, 307.30; Tony Bartone, Monte Carlo, 5.023, 289.07 def. Del Worsham, Monte Carlo, 4.996, 318.09; Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.859, 318.77 def. Bob Gilbertson, Dodge Stratus, 8.159, 101.98; Eric Medlen, Mustang, 4.885, 315.78 def. Cruz Pedregon, Monte Carlo, 4.982, 280.78; Scott Kalitta, Monte Carlo, 5.055, 301.60 def. Gary Scelzi, Charger, 5.497, 205.01; John Force, Mustang, 4.812, 318.32 def. Gary Densham, Monte Carlo, 6.839, 129.45; Mike Ashley, Stratus, 4.884, 313.73 def. Phil Burkart, Monte Carlo, 4.999, 303.64;
QUARTERFINALS -- T. Pedregon, 4.909, 311.34 def. Kalitta, 9.070, 94.73; Bazemore, 4.873, 318.17 def. Bartone, 7.276, 117.78; Medlen, 4.898, 312.42 def. Force, 5.998, 163.04; Ashley, 4.975, 360.09 def. Hight, 8.230, 100.73;
SEMIFINALS -- T. Pedregon, 4.910, 314.39 def. Ashley, 7.813, 132.87; Medlen, 4.922, 314.53 def. Bazemore, 5.020, 306.60;
FINAL -- Medlen, 4.854, 316.30 def. T. Pedregon, 5.021,
ROUND ONE -- Allen Johnson, Dodge Stratus, 6.701, 206.23 def. Ron Krisher, Chevy Cobalt, 6.695, 206.73; Tom Martino, Pontiac GTO, 6.693, 206.92 def. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.700, 206.76; Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.695, 206.83 def. Richie Stevens, Stratus, foul; V. Gaines, Stratus,
6.698, 207.37 def. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.697, 206.61; Jason Line, GTO, 6.671, 207.43 def. Mark Pawuk, GTO, 6.693, 206.70; Dave Connolly, Cobalt, 6.685, 206.73 def. Warren Johnson, GTO, foul; Greg Anderson, GTO, 6.659, 207.75 def. Mike Thomas, Stratus, 6.706, 205.57; Jim Yates, GTO, 6.723, 205.54 def. Greg Stanfield, GTO, foul;
QUARTERFINALS -- Gaines, 6.671, 207.40 def. Edwards, 6.705, 206.35; Yates, 6.695, 206.16 def. Connolly, foul; Line, 6.663, 207.78 def. Martino, 6.700, 206.10; A. Johnson, 6.696, 206.61 def. Anderson, 6.659, 207.75;
SEMIFINALS -- Gaines, 6.675, 207.05 def. A. Johnson, 6.715, 206.16; Line, 6.677, 206.92 def. Yates, 6.684, 206.39;
FINAL -- Line, 6.672, 207.15 def. Gaines, 6.668,
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:
ROUND ONE -- Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.069, 189.20 def. Ryan Schnitz, Buell, 7.148, 186.05; Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 7.069, 187.83 def. Shawn Gann, Suzuki, 7.482, 147.68; Matt Smith, Buell, 7.058, 187.60 def. Chris Rivas, Buell, foul; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.006, 191.10 def.
Mike Berry, Suzuki, 7.140, 185.49; Antron Brown, Suzuki, 7.028, 191.02 def. Matt Guidera, Buell, foul; Tom Bradford, Buell, 7.003, 190.83 def. GT Tonglet, Harley-Davidson, 7.126, 188.25; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.063, 189.52 def. Geno Scali, Suzuki, 7.064, 190.78; Chip Ellis, Buell,
6.911, 193.21 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, foul;
QUARTERFINALS -- Brown, 7.034, 190.83 def. Johnson, foul; Treble, 7.088, 191.10 def. Hines, 10.558, 79.06; Bradford, 7.076, 190.62 def. Sampey, 7.278, 161.87; Ellis, 6.986, 191.78 def. Smith, 7.103, 187.65;
SEMIFINALS -- Brown, 7.116, 186.79 def. Bradford, 7.152, 184.72; Ellis, 7.152, 184.88 def. Treble, 7.139, 187.29;
FINAL -- Ellis, 8.863, 88.41 def. Brown,
Point standings (top 10) for NHRA professional categories following the 19th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway, the 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series -
1. Doug Kalitta, 1,105; 2. Melanie Troxel, 1,023; 3. Tony Schumacher, 979; 4. Brandon Bernstein, 925; 5. David Grubnic, 881; 6. Rod Fuller, 844; 7. Larry Dixon, 823; 8. Morgan Lucas, 686; 9. Hillary Will, 678; 10. Cory McClenathan, 674.
1. Ron Capps, 1,139; 2. John Force, 1,069; 3. Tony Pedregon, 948; 4. Eric Medlen, 928; 5. Robert Hight, 913; 6. Gary Scelzi, 841; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 824; 8. Whit Bazemore, 809; 9. Cruz Pedregon, 640; 10. Del Worsham, 635.
1. Jason Line, 1,052; 2. Greg Anderson, 988; 3. Dave Connolly, 930; 4. Jim Yates, 864; 5. Kurt Johnson, 800; 6. Mike Edwards, 797; 7. Allen Johnson, 767; 8. V. Gaines, 712; 9. Larry Morgan, 704; 10. Richie Stevens, 675.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Andrew Hines, 678; 2. Angelle Sampey, 645; 3. Chip Ellis, 627; 4. Antron Brown, 617; 5. Ryan Schnitz, 476; 6. Matt Smith, 467; 7. Karen Stoffer, 453; 8. Matt Guidera, 451; 9. Tom Bradford, 428; 10. Craig Treble, 397.
By Susan Wade
FEATURE: SCELZI GOES FOR TRIFECTA
BUT ENDS UP EMPTY-HANDED
Gary Scelzi, a Fresno, California, native, had his hands full with three events this weekend: these FRAM-Autolite Nationals (as a two-time winner) at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, the Junior Sprint races (as a father and car owner) in Visalia, and (as a car owner) at the Ford Focus Midget race at Altamont. Scelzi's nine-year-old son Dominic, a regular on the Junior Sprint circuit and the current points leader in that series, competed Friday night at the Plaza Park circuit in Visalia. The next night, USAC California Ford Focus Pavement Series points leader Michael Faccinto raced Scelzi's car at Altamont Speedway.
In a points battle with three other drivers, Dominic Scelzi qualified 10th among 14 cars and finished fourth in the main event. His dad apologized for the poor results.
"Dominic had a bad night in qualifying," the senior Scelzi said. "We had a brand-new motor in it. They changed motors. He won the heat race and he had to start seventh in the main event. He ended up fourth. It wasn't one of his better nights, but I believe he's still leading the points. I explained to him that those nights happen and he's probably going to have more of those nights than good nights, but we'll work harder to try to give him a good car because he's definitely got the driving part down.
"Dominic and two other kids are 1-2-3. They're in a big points battle right now, with seven races left to go," he said.
Faccinto, 16, qualified on the pole for the fourth straight USAC Ford Focus race. He started eighth in the heat race and ran second, and he started sixth in the main event and ran second. "So he gained one point in the points chase and he's still in the lead," Scelzi said.
Scelzi traveled with wife Julie from Infineon Raceway to Altamont Speedway to root for his driver Saturday night. "We had a great night," he said. "I was nervous as hell, just like when I'm watching my kid out there, because there were three or four yellows [in the race]. He was really smart last night, and saw [the wrecks] coming before he got to them. They were right in front of him and he made moves to miss them. He did a really good job and impressed a lot of people."
Dominic Scelzi is developing his own post-victory ritual, his father said.
"When he won the main event at Plaza Park a couple of weeks ago he did a cartwheel and climbed the fence, just like Tony Stewart does," Gary Scelzi said. "So the crowd went crazy. It's pretty exciting to let him have his own personality and do the things he wants to. He goes, 'Dad was that OK?' I said, 'You can do anything you want to do.'
"He was talking about the next time he wins he was going to do a snow angel
on the straightaway. I said, 'Dominic, you race in the dirt, you might not want
to do that.
"He has no ego, not really. He just loves to race. When the other kids win he goes and congratulates them and tells them he does a good job," added the proud dad. "He's fine as long as nobody runs into him. When somebody runs into him he gets a little pissy -- just like Dad."
Gary Scelzi's wife and Dominic's mom, Julie, said of her son's racing, "I think it's great. It's very exciting to watch. It's very competitive, and I try not to cuss when I'm filming him. I don't [worry about him] in this class. I'm a little anxious when he goes to the next class -- and he's going to start in the restricted 600 -- because it's so much bigger, so much faster. They not only roll over [something Dominic already has experienced] -- they flip a few times. But I think he'll be another year older by the time he gets there and will probably be ready for it.
"By that time we'll have [4-year-old] Giovanni in the little Junior Sprint.
It'll be exciting. It will be Giovanni we'll be worried about instead of
As for Scelzi's Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger duties, that didn't go as well as he planned, either.
He got the jump on Scott Kalitta at the starting line and kept the lead until about half-track, where he began to lose traction. And with that, the sixth-place driver just might have lost a chance to mount a serious challenge for a second straight series title.
"It wasn't the day that we planned," Scelzi, who's 298 points out of first place. "It got out there probably 500-600 feet and it's like it hit oil. It just blew the tires right off of it. Everything looked right on the [computer] graph, including the drive shaft. Everything looked like it was right, but it just took the tire right off. All the timing, management, everything was over with and it just blew them off.
"The only thing I can think of, " he said, "is that I was on the right side of the groove, and maybe there was still a little bit of oil or something on the race track from Cruz [Pedregon, in the previous pairing]. I don't know. [John] Force went down in 4.81 [seconds] right behind us, but maybe he was on the inside. Just unfortunate.
"We thought we could really do well. It started out well on the three-race swing, but it didn't end up as well as we thought it would."
The Don Schumacher Racing trio of Scelzi, Whit Bazemore, and Ron Capps missed
its chance as a team to sweep the Western Swing. Scelzi won at Denver and
Bazemore at Seattle.
Todd shines in West -- While most drivers use worlds such as "grueling" and "tough" to describe the so-called Western Swing, J.R. Todd would probably call it "magical" or "memorable." Until the Denver-Seattle-Sonoma stretch started, the rookie had competed in only seven of the 12 races on the schedule. He failed to qualify at Phoenix, and team owner Dexter Tuttle opted to skip the Gainesville, Houston, Bristol, and Atlanta events. And of the seven races he qualified for, he had four opening-round defeats, two of them to Dave Grubnic.
However, in Sunday's action, he beat Alan Bradshaw, then Grubnic, to assure his third semifinal round in three weeks.
After eliminating Bradshaw with a 4.690 that was low elapsed time of the round until top qualifier Tony Schumacher ran a 4.549 against Steve Chrisman, Todd said his confidence is "through the roof." Todd, who has acquired Mac Tools and Autolite Spark Plugs as new sponsors, said crew chief Jimmy Walsh is "a bad dude on these hot tracks."
He finally broke Grubnic's streak against him in the second round, pedaling his way to a semifinal meeting with another strong rookie, Hillary Will. He won that one with a holeshot, using a not-especially-stunning .092 reaction time to Will's worse .101 and won with a 4.678-second E.T. to Will's quicker and faster 4.673/317.49.
"That's a good race for two rookies out there," Todd said of his battle with Will. "I couldn’t see her, but I could hear Hillary all the way."
Todd and Will are the leading Rookie of the Year candidates.
Slipping away -- Melanie Troxel, who led the Top Fuel standings for the first 12 races this season, came into this race trying to make up the 40-point edge Doug Kalitta opened on her since swiping the lead two races ago, at Denver. The Torco/Skull Shine Dragster driver, who lost to Hillary Will in the opening round while Kalitta advanced to the semifinal, dropped to 82 points off the pace.
With her third consecutive first-round loss, she described her disastrous Western Swing as "disappointing" and said, "We have a few weeks now to regroup and get ready for Brainerd. There is still a lot of season left, and we're not going to lose focus on trying to win the championship. Richard [crew chief Hogan] is working on a few things with the clutch disks that could definitely work in our favor."
Said Hogan, "We'll go to Brainerd and get started again. We have a whole new
set of clutch disks that I think will be a big help for the rest of the season.
We switched over to them this weekend, so we have the transition out of the way.
We'll be OK."
Against Will, Troxel struck the tires early, crossing the finish line in 6.637 seconds at 127.26 mph. Will had traction issues also, but won in 4.976 seconds at 236.13 mph.
"I thought we had a pretty good shot out there this morning," Troxel said. "A lot of people struggled to get down the track, and we were one of them. We got through what is usually the tough spot early in the run, but just before half-track the Skull Shine car started to smoke the tires. We weren't able to recover and get around Hillary. They smoked the tires too, but it was further down track, and they were able to hang on."
'Fortuna Flash' meets another hot rookie -- Hillary Will, the rookie whom Rich Rupprecht of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat nicknamed "The Fortuna Flash" this weekend, made a strong showing in front of her family from nearby Humboldt County. She reached her second semifinal round -- for her second semifinal finish in five races. She lost by five-thousandths of a second to hot-streaking J.R. Todd, who made his second final-round appearance in three races.
"Heartbreaker is the best way to describe it," Will, whose home is about four
hours north of Infineon Raceway. "My team gave me a great car all weekend. We
had our best run of the day against Todd. That makes it kind of tough, but we
did make it to the semis."
Will, who has moved from Northern California to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to be near her team's headquarters, said, "I've seen a lot of familiar faces this weekend. A lot of people from home have come by to say hi to me. It's really cool to see everybody. I'm glad we did as well as we did. My team deserves to be in the winners circle. It's coming."
Underdog prevails -- Larry Dixon, the surprising No. 15 qualifier in the Miller Lite Dragster, upset No. 2 Brandon Bernstein in the first round. Afterward, the two-time series champion said, "Unfortunately, we were the underdogs. The odds are starting to come back to me. He [Bernstein] has smoked me a few times this year." In a five-race span from the May race at Columbus, Ohio, to the late-June event at St. Louis, Bernstein beat Dixon three times, twice in the opening round.
If the Schu fits . . . -- U.S. Army Dragster driver Tony Schumacher has gotten hotter in the last four races and is in third place, just 44 points behind No. 2 Melanie Troxel, his teammate. And if anyone has been able to cool him down in that span, it's J.R. Todd.
The two have battled in the semifinals or better in each of the past four events. Schumacher beat Todd in the St. Louis semifinals on the way to his first victory of the season. Then Todd earned his first career victory by beating Schumacher in the final round at Denver. Schumacher eliminated Todd in the Seattle semifinals, and Todd beat Schumacher Sunday at Sonoma.
And Todd respectfully indicated after his victory Sunday that he isn't
intimidated by the three-time champion. This triumph, he said, "is a lot
different" from his first.
"The first time, it was a big surprise, a big shock. People hadn't heard of us. Our goal going into Denver was to qualify, not hurt any parts, and leave. To win surprised the heck out of me." This time, he said, "I knew we could beat the Army car. It shows what we're capable of."
He paid respect to Schumacher and his crew chief. "Alan Johnson is the
baddest man on the property. Everybody knows that," Todd said.
Beating Force no big deal -- That's not what Eric Medlen said.
But the Sonoma winner knew that no matter how he phrased it or addressed the issue, it could become weird.
Medlen beat boss John Force along the way to his first victory since last
year's Memphis event and his first at the track closest to his hometown of
"From a point standpoint, we probably should have been helping him," Medlen said, alluding to Force's quest to overtake leader Ron Capps. But he said he's glad they raced heads-up..
"My dad said if we don't, they'll murder us anyway," Medlen said, referring to fans and media. "I really don’t want to make a big deal of it, because then it'll become a big deal."
Noble try -- Cruz Pedregon made a remarkable comeback Sunday from his nasty fire Saturday evening at the end of his final qualifying session. Pedregon, the No. 15 qualifier, gave Eric Medlen a close run in his spare Advance Auto Parts Chevy Monte Carlo but lost with a 4.982-second elapsed time to Medlen's 4.885. He didn't have another fire, but he did have another oildown.
"Sorry about the oil down, folks," Pedregon apologized on the public-address
system. "We're going to try to fix this thing. We need to go back and regroup
for Brainerd. We made a good run, but it wasn't good enough."
He said his crew, led by Ron Douglas and Sam Shockley, worked at the track until about 11 p.m. Saturday, preparing the back-up car.
Rare feat -- Whit Bazemore lost his first three match-up this season with Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps. But in the past four races, he has eliminated the Funny Car points leader three times. That includes his first-round triumph Sunday over Capps.
Bazemore thanked team owner Schumacher for insisting that such pairings "are definitely heads-up," meaning no team orders. Added Bazemore, "Last week when we beat Capps in the [Seattle] final, it was huge. Ace and Capps, they're a grea team. So to get two in a row is pretty special. It's pretty rare."
Common denominator -- The Funny Car final round pitted two drivers intimately familiar with the John Force-owned Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang. Tony Pedregon capped his eight years behind the wheel with the 2003 series championship.
And Eric Medlen, his successor, had been the clutch expert and had worked to
some extent on just about every part of the car in prepping it for Pedregon.
Said Medlen before their run, "He used to drive this car, and he helped my dad
[crew chief John Medlen] on it. We're still great without them -- and they're
Inching up on Capps -- After John Force lost to Castrol/Ford Mustang teammate Eric Medlen because his own Castrol GTX entry smoked the tires, he said, "I thought we had traction up the tail end!"
But when his best pass of the weekend, a 4.812-second elapsed time at 318.32 mph, didn't translate into a victory, Force said, "I picked up another round on you, Cappsie! This ol' man ain't dead yet!" Force, second in the standings, entered this event 88 points behind leader Ron Capps. He left trailing Capps by only 70 points.
Force said he was excited that Medlen, the No. 2 qualifier, was keeping the organization in the chase for the event crown: "Eric's still in! He may not have a job tomorrow."
Striking a common chord -- Points leader Ron Capps might have lost his first-round race and lost 18 points from his margin over closest challenger John Force. But he had some fun this weekend with a special guest. James Hetfield, the lead singer for the heavy metal rock band Metallica, hung out with the Brut Dodge driver from Don Schumacher Racing this weekend. John Cardinale, Vice-President of Medial and Community Relations, said Hatfield, a resident of nearby Marin County, recently rented Infineon Raceway for his birthday. Hetfield brought out his collection of custom cars, and he and his friends raced cars down the dragstrip.
Densham vs. Force -- In the opening round, Gary Densham and
John Force squared off against each other for the 19th time, and it marked the
first time Densham had lane choice. It's hard to imagine John Force, the
sanctioning body's most successful driver in any category with 120 victories and
13 series championships, as the underdog. But he was the No. 10 qualifier, while
Densham started from the No. 7 slot.
After Force won, he said of his former employee, "I love Gary Densham. If you give him money, he's dangerous. I decided if I want to win this championship, it's time to step on this ol' Mustang and see if it'll talk."
Great start for Kalitta -- Scott Kalitta made his
best start in 21 races. The unpleasant news was that, as the No. 4 qualifier, he
had to start is day against reigning class champion, and No. 13 qualifier, Gary
Scelzi. The pairing held enough excitement for the fans because it pitted two
multiple-time Top Fuel champions against each other: Kalitta won back-to-back
titles in the mid-1990s, and Scelzi was a three-time dragster dominator.
Kalitta made it even more electrifying, knocking out the Denver champion with 5.055-second elapsed time to Scelzi's 5.497. It was only his third round-win of the season in the Chevy Monte Carlo, and it was his first Round 1 victory this year over Scelzi in four meetings.
"We needed that, for sure" Kalitta said. Then, horsing around with top-end
announcer Alan Reinhart and playfully driving his car close to him, Kalitta
said, "I don't know which was better -- beating Scelzi or putting you on the
Kalitta dropped out in the next round, a victim of finalist Tony Pedregon.
Ashley breaks through -- Newest Don Schumacher
Racing driver Mike Ashley earned his first elimination-round victory of the
season when he defeated Team Checker Schuck's Kragen's Phil Burkart.
"Thank God for getting this monkey off my back! [Crew chief] Brian Corradi and the guys -- they deserve this round," a relieved and excited Ashley said. "They deserve it much more than me."
Burkart, meanwhile, had an equally dramatic reaction to the abrupt finish to his weekend: "Round 1 is so tough it puts your heart and soul into a shredder."
Ashley, a Pro Modified champion, reached the Funny Car semifinals for the
first time since he came to the class. In the second round, he drove the
Torco/Skull Gear Dodge Stratus into a semifinal match against Tony Pedregon, as
No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight's Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Ashley's day ended against Tony Pedregon in the semifinals.
Close but no excuses -- Checker Schucks Kragen Team headliner Del Worsham has had a year full of close defeats, and his first-round holeshot loss to Tony Bartone in the Lucas Oil Chevy Monte Carlo by 17-thousandth of a second joined the list.
"No excuses, none at all," Worsham said. "I was dead late. I don't know why this is all happening to us, but we seem fully capable of finding every possible way to lose. The fact we outran him and I messed up just makes it worse. I'll take the blame, it was me in there and I was late. End of story."
Worsham said, "If the track was three feet longer, we win. I was gaining on him so fast I thought I actually caught him. I knew I'd been late on the tree, and for quite a while he was just out there ahead of me, but then they must have started to have problems just as our car started to perk up and run, and those two things combined made it look like he was backing up towards me. We just put ourselves in too big of a hole to make it up. If I was just 'normal' at the tree, we win going away. No excuses."
Spinning wheels got to go 'round -- Bob Gilbertson has the only transport rig with 18-wheeler-size spinner wheels. As it turns out, he is parked in the pits with his front wheel at the corner of one of the most heavily trafficked areas. During the entire event at Infineon Raceway, one of the favorite things to do is keep the spinner rotating on the wheel. As of late Sunday morning, the spinner has been happily rotating non-stop since Friday morning, since the first fan gave it a whirl.
Back to drawing board -- The Western Swing mercifully is over for Levi Ray & Shoup Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson. He failed to qualify his Chevy Monte Carlo, ending the stretch of three consecutive races on as many weekends the same way it began. He opened with a DNQ at Denver and barely squeaked into the Seattle lineup as the No. 16 starter (and lost to Robert Hight in the first round).
And the Springfield, Illinois, owner/driver couldn't be more frustrated, for
his misfortune followed a 12-race string in which he advanced to the
quarterfinals just once (at Englishtown, N.J.). In those dozen events, he had
four DNQs and seven Round 1 exits.
John Force, who had his own troubles and missed the cut after Friday's two qualifying sessions, bumped Wilkerson from his tentative No. 16 position. He smoked the tires in his first attempt to rejoin the field, and in his final chance his 4.995 wasn't quick enough to beat the 4.968 bump.
"The car was just too aggressive all weekend," Wilkerson said, "and the change we made in our clutch is the reason. We thought that might happen but needed to try it and find out. It's been a tough season, and we keep trying different things to get it straightened out. But we're running out of things to try. We've got a brand new car at the shop and I'm thinking about pulling it out for Brainerd. It possibly could be the chassis. Sometimes they just don't work right. We've got some time back at shop to look things over and make that decision."
Foul! -- Three red-light starts scrambled the Pro Stock picture in Round 1, as top-half-of-the-ladder drivers Richie Stevens, Warren Johnson, and Greg Stanfield were overeager on the Christmas tree. That mean freebies for Mike Edwards, Dave Connolly, and Jim Yates -- all of whom have won this year but none of whom capitalized on the automatic passes.
'Spooky-quick' -- V Gaines buys the engines for
his Kendall Dodge Stratus from pal Larry Morgan. And Morgan got some great
advertisement -- at his own expense -- in their first-round match-up. Gaines,
whose car announcer Bob Frey described as "spooky-quick," cut a .007 light to
holeshot Morgan and win with a 6.698-second elapsed time to Morgan's 6.697.
Gaines reached the final round, his second in the past eight events.
Line said Gaines "did a good job" of driving Sunday, adding, "You almost hate to beat him, because he's so nice. But I don't hate beating him that bad."
Hometown hero -- Jason Line, who joined Dave Connolly as a three-time winner, said it's "kind of unreal" heading home to Minnesota as the Pro Stock points leader. He hasn't lived in Minnesota -- which will host the next race at Brainerd International Raceway in two weeks -- since 1998.
Confidence-booster -- If nothing else, this third
victory of the season and 11th of his career should solve points leader Jason
Line's crisis of confidence. After his victory over V Gaines, he said, "I
haven't had a ton of confidence, which is bizarre because I have a great car.
This is the best car I've ever driven. I haven't always driven it the best."
He said his first-round exit on a red light at the previous race, at Seattle, didn't help.
"The first round or two is always my Achilles heel. But Seattle was a major screw-up on my part," he said. "It's not the stuff championships are made of." Reminded that the top seven drivers in the standings lost in Round 1 at Seattle, Line said, "Maybe its karma. I'll take it."
He denigrated his performances on previous Western Swings, too, saying, "I
stunk up the place." He certainly didn't this time. He entered Denver No. 2 in
points, left there with a 22-point lead over teammate and year-long points
leader Greg Anderson. Despite his stumble at Seattle, he stretched his lead to
25 points. And he heads into Brainerd with a 64-point lead over No. 2
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Quickest ever -- It might not have mattered that Karen Stoffer had a red-light disqualification in her first-round match against Chip Ellis. He rode his Drag Specialties S&S Buell V-Twin to the quickest pass in Pro Stock Motorcycle history, a 6.911-second elapsed time.
It marked his second sub-7-second elapsed time of the weekend. But his high-performance visit to Infineon Raceway was tinged with disappointment.
"To go in the 6s and qualify fourth was disappointing," Ellis said. And although he beat G-Squared Motorsports teammate Matt Smith in the second round, he missed the chance to back up the 6.911 run for a national record -- and 20 points that would have moved him past Angelle Sampey for second place in the standings -- by six-thousandths of a second.
Finishing with a bang -- Chip Ellis caused quite a stir in his first-round victory -- and he made quite a mess in his final-round triumph. After opponent Antron Brown's red-light foul assured him of his second victory of the season, his bike broke, spraying parts and shrapnel across the track.
"From the looks of things, it broke the crankshaft. It blew the oil pan right
off. It just bent it down. It was dragging it down as I was going down the
track," Ellis said.
"It was our best motor," he said. "I hate to say it, but we may have to bury it."
Perfect isn't enough -- The bike class opened its eliminations with a stunner. Ryan Schnitz, the No. 8 qualifier with lane choice over No. 9 Craig Treble, cut a perfect light. But his .000 reaction time did him no good at the other end of the track. Craig Treble, using a great but sower .027 bulb, posted a winning 7.069-second elapsed time at 189.20 mph to Schnitz's 7.148/186.05.
Beats wounded Eagle -- Craig Treble, who prevailed over Ryan Schnitz's perfect light in the first round, had a nearly perfect .009-second reaction time in his next race. But he would have won anyway, as Andrew Hines' Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson went silent in the opposite lane. Treble was Chip Ellis' semifinal victim.
Three most important things -- Funny Car winner Eric Medlen said that John Force always reminds him that the three most crucial things in keeping life in perspective are family, music, and going back to one's roots.
Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Chip Ellis was talking about that after the race
with Morgan Lucas, who won the Top Alcohol Dragster title but lost in the first
pairing of Top Fuel competition Sunday.
Ellis said in the off-time for the bike class he returned to his roots as a drag-boat racer and lasted three of five rounds at that sport's prestigious Augusta Nationals. "I felt rejuvenated," he said.
Lucas said he enjoyed being in the sportsman pits this weekend. "They barbecue. They have fun. They're real. Drag racing's supposed to be fun." He said he was going to finish his day with a beer.
"I think I can beat him to the beer," Ellis said.
Replied Lucas, "Your cooler or mine?"
Coming back for more -- Honeywell Consumer Products Group -- makers of FRAM automotive filters, Autolite spark plugs, and Prestone antifreeze/coolant, among other industry products -- announced a multiyear extension of its sponsorship of this event at Infineon Raceway.
SATURDAY - ANDERSON POSTS RECORD TIME, HIGHT CONTINUES QUEST FOR WIN AT SONOMA
(7-29-2006) - Three-time and reigning NHRA Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson posted the quickest pass in history -- a 6.631 at 207.82 mph -- to lead all qualifiers at the 19th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals.
Another three-time world champion, Top Fuel's Tony Schumacher, held onto the lead in his category, as did Robert Hight in Funny Car. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines leads the quickest field ever assembled, which includes a record four riders in the six-second range. Tom Bradford became the fourth member of the NHRA Mickey Thompson 6-Second Pro Stock Bike Saturday afternoon.
Anderson is fighting to regain the POWERade championship lead from his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO teammate Jason Line and could benefit from a 20-point bonus for setting a national record if no one else betters his mark on race day.
"I feel like a stole one from Jason, to be honest," Anderson said. "His hot rod is the best right now and if he had gone straight he would have been quicker than me but we got it done and if it holds I'll get those 20 extra points. I sure do need them because it seems like they've been very hard to come by for me lately.
"If Jason or I manage to win the championship it might be the most rewarding of them all because it's been so tough. I hear Tiger Woods sometimes say that he had to grind it out to get through a round. That's how we feel right now. It's a grind."
Schumacher remained the only Top Fuel driver in the 4.4-second range
Saturday, bagging his seventh low qualifier award of the season in his U.S. Army dragster. His top-qualifying 4.486 at 326.48 mph earned him the maximum points a driver can earn in qualifying, helping him continue to inch closer to points leader Doug Kalitta.
"I'd like to say we don't care what Doug does but that would be a lie," Schumacher said. "We watch what he does in qualifying and I'm smiling when he goes out early on race day. It's not personal. I like the guy.
We're friends. But my sole purpose in life right now is to win the championship and he's in the way."
Hight's 4.738-second, 325.30 mph run from Friday kept his Auto Club Ford Mustang well ahead of anyone else in the Funny Car category.
"There's no doubt about it; we haven't gotten it done on race day," Hight said. "Especially when we've been No. 1 qualifier. We seem to be okay in the first round but the second round has been a real stumbling block for us lately. I have complete faith in [crew chief] Jimmy Prock and I know our luck is going to change one of these days. Hopefully it's tomorrow."
Cruz Pedregon qualified 15th with a 4.952 but he'll need to pull an all-nighter to prepare for race day after a spectacular fire consumed his Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo during his fourth qualifying run. Pedregon emerged uninjured.
Pro Stock Motorcycle leader Hines stripped the top qualifying spot away from Friday leader Antron Brown with a quick 6.974 at 191.48 mph in Saturday's first session, which took place under thick cloud cover. This is the first time Hines and his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod team has qualified No. 1 this year.
"To be the No. 1 guy in the quickest field ever feels great," Hines said. "We haven't been No. 1 since last year in Reading ( Pa.) so it's pretty sweet to me. We qualified No. 1 here last year and won the event. We're pretty hungry right now. We got that win in Denver and we'd love to keep it going here."
MB Precision rider Mike Berry anchored the quickest Pro Stock Motorcycle field ever assembled with a 7.096 at 189.18 mph.
Sunday's eliminations begin at noon PT.
First-round pairings for professional eliminations Sunday for the 19th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway, the 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday.
Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 4.486 seconds, 328.94 mph vs. 16. Steven Chrisman, 5.259, 201.25; 2. Brandon Bernstein, 4.532, 327.74 vs. 15. Larry Dixon, 4.711, 323.89; 3. David Grubnic, 4.554, 331.36 vs. 14. Cory McClenathan, 4.700, 325.14; 4. Rod Fuller, 4.569, 326.40 vs. 13. Doug Herbert, 4.695, 305.84; 5. Doug Kalitta, 4.582, 326.48 vs. 12. David Baca, 4.642, 285.53; 6. J.R. Todd, 4.586, 321.19 vs. 11. Alan Bradshaw, 4.632, 320.89; 7. Hillary Will, 4.597, 322.27 vs. 10. Melanie Troxel, 4.608, 322.65; 8. Morgan Lucas, 4.605, 304.87 vs. 9. Bob Vandergriff, 4.607, 321.12.
Funny Car -- 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.738, 325.30 vs. 16. Bob Gilbertson, Dodge Stratus, 4.968, 306.60; 2. Eric Medlen, Mustang, 4.801, 323.81 vs. 15. Cruz Pedregon, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.952, 292.39; 3. Del Worsham, Monte Carlo, 4.803, 323.89 vs. 14. Tony Bartone, Monte Carlo, 4.879, 304.39; 4. Scott Kalitta, Monte Carlo, 4.806, 319.14 vs. 13. Gary Scelzi, Dodge Charger, 4.865, 317.64; 5. Tony Pedregon, Monte Carlo, 4.816, 319.75 vs. 12. Tommy Johnson Jr., Monte Carlo, 4.857, 314.31; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.821, 320.81 vs.11. Whit Bazemore, Charger, 4.857, 322.73; 7. Gary Densham, Monte Carlo,4.825, 319.14 vs. 10. John Force, Mustang, 4.855, 312.50; 8. Phil Burkart, Monte Carlo, 4.833, 319.98 vs. 9. Mike Ashley, Stratus, 4.851, 314.09.
Pro Stock -- 1. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GTO, 6.631, 207.82 vs. 16. Mike Thomas, Dodge Stratus, 6.693, 205.94; 2. Jason Line, GTO, 6.636, 207.78 vs. 15. Mark Pawuk, GTO, 6.693, 206.73; 3. Warren Johnson, GTO, 6.644, 207.40 vs. 14. Dave Connolly, Chevy Cobalt, 6.689, 206.48; 4. V. Gaines, Stratus, 6.644, 207.37 vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.688, 206.10; 5. Richie Stevens, Stratus, 6.649, 207.08 vs. 12. Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.680, 206.73; 6. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.649, 206.92 vs. 11. Jim Yates, GTO, 6.679, 205.72; 7. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.650, 207.72 vs. 10. Tom Martino, GTO, 6.667, 206.92; 8. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.650, 206.95 vs. 9. Ron Krisher, Cobalt, 6.653, 207.37.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 1. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.974, 192.69 vs. 16. Mike Berry, Suzuki, 7.096, 189.18; 2. Tom Bradford, Buell, 6.981, 192.00 vs. 15. GT Tonglet, Harley-Davidson, 7.094, 189.82; 3. Antron Brown, Suzuki, 6.981, 192.52 vs. 14. Matt Guidera, Buell, 7.083, 187.03; 4. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.998, 191.67 vs. 13. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.082, 190.75; 5. Matt Smith, Buell, 7.015, 190.70 vs. 12. Chris Rivas, Buell, 7.081, 187.57; 6. Geno Scali, Suzuki, 7.018, 192.22 vs. 11. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.072, 190.06; 7. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 7.021, 190.54 vs. 10. Shawn Gann, Suzuki, 7.042, 191.65; 8. Ryan Schnitz, Buell, 7.025, 190.81 vs. 9. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.032, 192.96.
By Susan Wade
NEWSMAKER OF THE DAY: Pro Stock's Greg Anderson, Ken Black LLC/Summit Racing Pontiac GTO
The three-time series champion covered the Infineon Raceway quarter-mile in national-record time in Saturday's first session. His 6.631-second pass, which he backed up with Friday night's 6.657-second elapsed time, will give him 20 points if he leaves with low E.T. of the meet.
He erased his own mark of 6.633 seconds that he set last March at the Gatornationals. Anderson also improved his own year-old track speed mark Saturday morning with his 207.82-mph effort. He had owned the previous record at 206.95 mph.
"We are trying to find every point we can right now. We're in dire need right now of points," Anderson said. "This is huge. At least we got the record right now, but I'm not going to stand here and say that somebody else can't outrun that. The bottom line is that we've got it right now and they have to take it away from us. I'd rather be in my position. This is the shot in the arm that this team needs. We're very, very close to turning the corner with both of these KB Racing/Summit Racing Pontiac GTOs and going on a win streak. Our goal is the championship."
At Denver, Anderson lost the lead he had protected since the February season-opener at Pomona, California. He entered this event 25 points behind leader and teammate Jason Line.
TOP QUALIFIER QUOTES
Top Fuel - Tony Schumacher, U.S. Army Dragster (track-record 4.486-second elapsed time, 331.36 mph)
"All we did was cut down [Doug Kalitta's] lead by four points. But that's better than losing four points," Schumacher said after earning his seventh No. 1 qualifying position of the season. "But if we keep qualifying No. 1, we can gain up to 20 points -- and that's a whole round of racing."
He said crew chief Alan Johnson is ignoring all the hype about the fact that no driver has won a race in Top Fuel (or in the Funny Car class, either, for that matter) from the No. 1 position.
"Alan said, 'I don't care about that. We want that No. 1 every time.'"
Echoed Schumacher, "We need every point."
He said that during Sunday eliminations, the passes in which he doesn't get the U.S. Army Dragster down the track with a stunning elapsed time, "the other guy has to smoke the tires. We gave 'em [opponents] enough mistakes early."
Schumacher said he isn't going to kid anybody: he relishes it when points leader Doug Kalitta stumbles in his Mac Tools Dragster. "I like the guy. He's a great guy, but we're fighting for a championship," Schumacher said. "My sole purpose on Earth is win a championship."
Funny Car - Robert Hight, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang (track-record 4.738-second elapsed time, top speed of 325.30 mph)
"We didn't have a very good day in the Auto Club of Southern California Mustang. But John and Eric did," he said, referring to boss John Force making the field at No. 10 after missing the cut Friday and other teammate Eric Medlen grabbing the No. 4 spot. "That's what this whole deal is about -- teamwork."
Hight, leading the field of 16 for the sixth time this year. downplayed the growing "No. 1 jinx. It has plagued Funny Car's best qualifier at every race since Medlen won last August at Brainerd. "We haven't done the job on race day," Hight said. "Some little something has bitten us lately. But I have all the faith in the world in [crew chief] Jimmy Prock.
"Jimmy's real good at reading the data and knowing what to do. It's not like we're lost," Hight said. "We'll come out and win the first round then smoke the tires in the second round. We're just not making the changes necessary to back the car down in the second round."
Hight will face No. 16 Bob Gilbertson, who naturally would love to win this FRAM/Autolite Nationals for the sponsors of his 2005 Dodge Stratus.
Pro Stock - Greg Anderson, Ken Black LLC/Summit Racing Pontiac GTO (national-record and track-record 6.631-second elapsed time, track-record 207.82 mph)
"Anytime you can run a national record you certainly have something to be proud of,"
Anderson said after earning his seventh No. 1 position this season, the 47th of his career, and fourth at Infineon Raceway.
"It felt like a real nice run, but we have great conditions right now and everybody is stepping to the plate. There were four cars that ran 6.64 or better, and Jason [teammate Line] and I ran 6.63, so we're certainly excited about that. It's going to be a dogfight tomorrow, no doubt, but we love it when conditions are like this. It's fun to run fast. We wait for this all season long, and you only get this opportunity once or twice a year, so when you get it, you'd better take advantage of it. Now we need to go on and put both Summit Racing Pontiacs in the final on Sunday. That would make for a really great weekend, but we're having fun trying, anyway. It has been a blast so far this weekend.
"I think the car is coming along with every run we make," said Anderson. "This new GTO keeps getting better and I don't know where it's going to stop. Hopefully our progress with it keeps moving forward. I'm happy. I'm stoked. And the program is definitely going in the right direction. We're this close to getting it turned around."
Since 2002, Anderson has advanced to four final rounds at Infineon Raceway. He beat Kurt Johnson last year and Dave Connolly in 2004. He was runner- up here to Larry Morgan (2002) and Jeg Coughlin (2003).
Pro Stock Motorcycle - Andrew Hines, Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson (6.974-second elapsed time, top speed of 192.69 mph)
The two-time and defending series champion prevailed on a day that brought five of the class' top-10 elapsed times. With Hines' 6.974-second pass in Saturday's first session -- the second-quickest in bike history -- he replaced Antron Brown as No. 1 qualifier.
"It feels pretty awesome," Hines said of leading the quickest bike field ever. "We haven't been No. 1 qualifier since Reading, Pennsylvania, last year. So we're pretty hungry right now."
He said his team ripped out the motor that ran the 6.974-second E.T. following the early run and put in a new one for the fourth and final pass. "The tune-up on that one was a little soft," Hines said. He called it a "break-in lap" designed to test some new parts and pieces and combinations.
Hines discovered a bit of history in between sessions, too. "When we took out the 6.97 motor," he said, "I saw that my dad had engraved it. It was the same motor that we ran the 6.99 with at Gainesville last year." That was the first pass to break the seven-second barrier.
"I said, 'Why are we taking that out?' " Hines said. "We're going to have to update the engraving."
Fuller brushes off ugly Friday -- Rod Fuller, the lone unqualified driver after two Friday sessions, jumped into the field at ninth place early Saturday with a 4.632-second, 323.12-mph run in his Valvoline/David Powers Homes Dragster. The two-time winner this season improved to fourth in his final qualifying chance with a 4.569 elapsed time at 326.40 mph.
Grubnic earns record -- Dave Grubnic's 331.36-mph pass in the final session Saturday gave the Jon Oberhofer-tuned StriVectin/Kalitta Motorsports Dragster the track speed mark. Larry Dixon, driving the Miller Lite Dragster, had established the previous record last July with a 329.02-mph clocking.
Anchor from Anaheim -- Part-time racer Steve Chrisman, of Anaheim, California, anchors the Top Fuel field with a 5.259-second, 201.25-mph effort.
For the girl-watchers -- No. 7 qualifier Hillary Will, in the Ken Black LLC-owned, Kalitta Motorsports-operated Dragster, will face No. 10 Melanie Troxel and her Don Schumacher-owned Torco/Skull Shine Dragster in the first round of eliminations. Troxel has won both previous meetings, at Atlanta and St. Louis.
Baca in spoiler role -- No. 12 qualifier David Baca is the first hurdle between points leader and No. 5 Sonoma driver Doug Kalitta's bid for a third straight victory at Infineon Raceway. Kalitta is looking to extend his class-record tally of Sonoma wins to six.
Cruz esta en fuego -- Just short of 1,000 feet on a single run in the right lane in the final qualifying session, Cruz Pedregon's Advance Auto Parts Chevy Monte Carlo caught fire and was incinerated at the top end. Pedregon wrestled the car to a stop and exited through the escape hatch in the roof. He was uninjured. He and his Ron Douglas- and Sam Shockley-led crew are expected to prepare and field a back-up car for his first-round match-up against No. 2 qualifier Eric Medlen in Sunday's eliminations.
Drama for Connolly -- Three-time winner Dave Connolly rallied to make the field on his final attempt Saturday in the Evan Knoll-owned Torco/Skull Gear Chevy Cobalt -- after changing the engine and "just about everything else," crew chief Tommy Utt said.
His quickest run of the weekend, 6.689 seconds at 206.48 mph, gave him the 14th starting spot.
"We needed that run," Connolly, who's third in the standings behind Jason Line and Greg Anderson, said. "Sitting in the lanes before we ran, I was confident we could get into the field. We made an awesome run when we needed it. It's not something you want to do every weekend, though. It's important we are playing on Sunday."
He said the engine that he used to make the lineup was the same one with which he won in May at Topeka.
"It was a weird weekend for us, because we broke our good motor in the first run and I shut off on the second run. Then after the third run, we decided the horsepower wasn't up to snuff and we changed motors."
He has a tough Round 1 assignment: Warren Johnson, who claimed the No. 3 position at 6.644/207.40. This will be the second straight race the two have met in the opening round. Johnson won last week in Seattle.
KJ eyes record -- Kurt Johnson said he was "going to be swinging for the fences" Saturday morning with his ACDelco Chevy Cobalt, looking for a national elapsed-time record and the 20 points it brings.
"I think it’s a realistic goal," Johnson said, citing track conditions. "I believe someone is leaving Sonoma with the record, and we’d certainly like it to be our ACDelco Cobalt."
To Johnson's disappointment, some one did set a provisional national record, but it was former teammate and current nemesis Greg Anderson. Johnson qualified seventh. His dad, Warren Johnson, joined him in the top half of the field at No. 3 -- behind the Summit-sponsored tandem of Anderson and Jason Line.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Berry last rider -- Mike Berry brings up the rear of the quickest field in class annals with a 7.096-second elapsed time at 189.18 mph on his MB Precision Machine Suzuki.
Bradford earns elite berth -- No. 2 qualifier Tom Bradford became the newest member of the Mickey Thompson 6-Second Bike Club. As the fourth to crack the seven-second barrier with a 6.981-second pass at 192.00 mph on his Hal's Speed Shop Buell, the competitor from Eagle, Wisconsin, will receive $1,000.
Antron Brown was the first to join the elite club at this event, seizing the provisional No. 1 position Friday. Andrew Hines was the inaugural member when he posted a 6.991-second elapsed time last March 18 at Gainesville, Florida. Chip Ellis joined him this June 10 at Joliet, Illinois, with a 6.988 E.T. on his Drag Specialties S&S Buell.
Amen -- Andrew Hines spoke for racers in all classes in saying, "I can't ask for much more from Infineon Raceway."
FRIDAY - BROWN JOINS
SIX-SECOND CLUB, SCHUMACHER, HIGHT AND GAINES SET TRACK RECORDS AT
(7-28-2006) - Antron Brown became the third Pro Stock Motorcycle rider in drag racing history to post a six-second run Friday when he traversed Infineon Raceway in 6.983 seconds during the first round of qualifying at the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals.
Ironically, Brown's historic run was not one of the four Infineon Raceway records set in the first two rounds of time trials. Top Fuel leader Tony Schumacher, second-year Funny Car racer Robert Hight, and Pro Stock veteran V. Gaines all set elapsed time records in their classes, while Greg Anderson added a speed record in Pro Stock.
Brown's 6.983-second pass at 191.51 mph on his U.S. Army Suzuki was remarkable, but the track record remains with point leader Andrew Hines, who posted a 6.968 at last year's race. Nevertheless, Brown is the third member of the NHRA Mickey Thompson 6-Second Pro Stock Bike Club and will receive a $2,000 bonus from the tire maker for his effort.
"The six-second deal is very huge," Brown said. "It feels awesome to do it and to be the first Suzuki to do it in competition. We've done it a bunch in testing but we'd come and stub our toe and run like a 7.01 or a 7.02 at the races. Credit my crew chief Steve Tartaglia."
Hines almost reached into the sixes himself but came up one-thousandth of a second short when he tripped the timers in 7.000 seconds at 192.69 mph on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod.
After Schumacher opened with a 4.543 at 328.94 mph, which was still No. 1 when he arrived at the starting line in the last pairing of the day, anticipation was high that the U.S. Army driver would set another record. He didn't disappoint as his Alan Johnson-tuned Top Fuel dragster passed the scoreboards in 4.486 seconds at 326.48 mph, the quickest pass in track history.
"At 1,000 feet that rev limiter hits and you just get out of the car at the other end and think, 'man, what would it have run?'" Schumacher said. "That was a cool pass but the one that impressed me was the 4.54 earlier today that was a tenth of a second quicker than everyone else. That's the lap that will help us win the race Sunday. Tonight was just a
Brandon Bernstein, driver of the Budweiser Top Fuel dragster, was well back in second with a 4.557 at 327.79 mph. Denver winner and Rookie of the Year candidate J.R. Todd continues to run well, qualifying third with a 4.586 at 321.19 mph in the Skull Shine rail.
Running a special Rookie-of-the-Year paint scheme on his Auto Club Ford Mustang, sophomore pro Hight put a huge gap on the field with a track-record 4.738 at 325.30 mph. Hight was born and raised in Alturas, Calif., near the Oregon border and considers Infineon his home track.
"That was pretty exciting," said Hight, who has been low qualifier five times this year. "The joke is that if you qualify No. 1 you should just drive past the scales and have the run thrown out because there hasn't been any No. 1 qualifiers that have won a race this year. But we don't feel that way at all."
Hight's father-in-law and boss, John Force, is not qualified.
Gaines' Dodge Stratus R/T was the quickest of both sessions with his 6.651 at 206.86 mph setting an Infineon Raceway elapsed time record. The pass also marked a career-best E.T. for the Lakewood, Colo., driver.
"We've had a great car, what I would call a No. 1 or No. 2 car, for the last six or seven races but we've had little things wrong with the set-up and just missed it," Gaines said. "We've aspired to be the No. 1 qualifier for a number of years and it would certainly be a great thrill if we can hold on through tomorrow."
Points leader Jason Line is second with a 6.656 at 207.02 mph in his Pontiac GTO.
Results Friday after qualifying for the 19th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway, 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.
Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 4.486 seconds, 328.94 mph; 2. Brandon Bernstein, 4.557, 327.74; 3. J.R. Todd, 4.586, 321.19; 4. David Grubnic, 4.593, 324.20; 5. Morgan Lucas, 4.605, 304.87; 6. Bob Vandergriff, 4.607, 321.12; 7. Hillary Will, 4.626, 320.81; 8. Alan Bradshaw, 4.632, 319.52; 9. Melanie Troxel, 4.640, 322.65; 10. David Baca, 4.642, 285.53; 11. Doug Kalitta, 4.665, 306.12; 12. Doug Herbert, 4.695, 305.84; 13. Cory McClenathan, 4.702, 325.14; 14. Larry Dixon, 4.733, 319.60; 15. Steven Chrisman, 5.259, 201.25; 16. Mike Strasburg, 9.482, 94.39.
Funny Car -- 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.738, 325.30; 2. Del Worsham, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.803, 323.89; 3. Eric Medlen, Mustang, 4.804, 319.37; 4. Scott Kalitta, Monte Carlo, 4.806, 319.14; 5. Tony Pedregon, Monte Carlo, 4.816, 319.75; 6. Gary Densham, Monte Carlo, 4.825, 319.14; 7. Phil Burkart, Monte Carlo, 4.833, 313.51; 8. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.851, 314.17; 9. Mike Ashley, Dodge Stratus, 4.851, 314.09; 10. Tommy Johnson Jr., Monte Carlo, 4.857, 314.31; 11. Gary Scelzi, Charger, 4.865, 317.64; 12. Tony Bartone, Monte Carlo,
4.922, 304.39; 13. Cruz Pedregon, Monte Carlo, 4.952, 290.19; 14. Whit Bazemore, Charger, 4.966, 265.59; 15. Bob Gilbertson, Stratus, 4.975, 301.33; 16. Tim Wilkerson, Monte Carlo, 4.987, 314.39.
Pro Stock -- 1. V. Gaines, Dodge Stratus, 6.651, 206.92; 2. Jason Line, Pontiac GTO, 6.656, 207.02; 3. Greg Anderson, GTO, 6.657, 207.24; 4. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.666, 206.51; 5. Kurt Johnson, Chevy Cobalt, 6.669, 206.80; 6. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.670, 206.16; 7. Tom Martino, GTO, 6.678, 206.86; 8. Jim Yates, GTO, 6.679, 205.72; 9. Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.680, 206.32; 10. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.688, 206.10; 11. Ron Krisher, Cobalt, 6.692, 206.42; 12. Richie Stevens, Stratus, 6.692, 205.76; 13. Mark Pawuk, GTO, 6.708, 205.41; 14. Warren Johnson, GTO, 6.709, 206.64; 15. Mike Thomas, Stratus, 6.714, 205.04; 16. Max Naylor, Stratus, 6.715, 205.29.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 1. Antron Brown, Suzuki, 6.983, 191.51; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.000, 192.69; 3. Chip Ellis, Buell, 7.013, 189.84; 4. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 7.024, 190.54; 5. Tom Bradford, Buell, 7.038, 191.13; 6. Shawn Gann, Suzuki, 7.042, 191.65; 7. Geno Scali, Suzuki, 7.044, 190.57; 8. Ryan Schnitz, Buell, 7.061, 189.39; 9. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.079, 189.26; 10. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.082, 189.98; 11. GT Tonglet, Harley-Davidson, 7.104, 189.82; 12. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.114, 188.20; 13. Matt Smith, Buell, 7.119, 185.28; 14. Chris Rivas, Buell, 7.144, 187.47; 15. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 7.204, 189.39; 16. Mike Berry, Suzuki, 7.220, 185.84.
By Susan Wade
NEWSMAKER OF THE DAY: Pro Stock Motorcycle's Antron Brown, U.S. Army Suzuki rider
Antron Brown, riding his Steve Tartaglia-tuned U.S. Army Suzuki bike for Don Schumacher Racing, registered the class' second-quickest pass in the opening qualifying session. His 6.983-second elapsed time (at 191.51 mph) was 15-thousandths off rival Andrew Hines' national record 6.968.
"It felt great. The six-second deal is very huge," Brown said. "We couldn't do it [before] in competition, but we could do it all day long in testing. I'm really stoked for Steve and my team."
The class' riders compete for bonus money in the NHRA Mickey Thompson
6-Second Pro Stock Bike Club. Andrew Hines became the first member of the club
March 18, 2005, when he set the bar at the Gatornationals on his Harley-Davidson
V-Rod. Chip Ellis, on his Drag Specialties S&S Buell, Only eight competitors
will join the club.
Brown will receive $2,000 and a special recognition plaque for entering the Elite Eight.
PROVISIONAL TOP QUALIFIER QUOTES
Top Fuel -- Tony Schumacher, U.S. Army Dragster (track-record 4.486-second elapsed time, top speed of 328.48 mph)
"Alan is so good at calling it. He said he was going to go for a high-40. But we don't race at night. More impressive was that (4.)54 this afternoon. That's the one that's going to win the race. This was nothing. It was 'Yea! Whooee.' But 54 is as stout as you're going to get in the afternoon."
"We probably feel better now because of what we went through," Schumacher said, referring to the fact that he didn't win this year until the12th race, at St. Louis. He followed with a runner-up finish at Denver and a victory at Seattle. "Adversity is what makes the good times seem so darn good. We put our noses to the grindstone and do what we have to do.
"We're always testing. That (4.486-second) run is an example. We tried different things on that run. I'm not going to tell you what it was -- but it was cool!" he said.
"This track has a nice wide groove. This track is great. They're not sticking us on an average track," he said. Then he only half-joked, "I think if you set a track record you should get 20 points -- starting now."
Funny Car -- Robert Hight, Auto Club of Southern California
Ford Mustang (track-record 4.738-second elapsed time, top speed of 325.30
"No one has won from the No. 1 spot, but we're going to keep taking Skoal's money [awarded to the No. 1 qualifier]. I don't believe in curses. We're just not doing our job on Sundays," he said, referring to the fact that teammate Eric Medlen was the last Funny Car driver -- at Brainerd last August -- to win from as top qualifier. Hight has led the field five times this season.
"The track temperature was 80 degrees. That's optimum. I know [crew chief] Jimmy Prock. He's aggressive. I knew we'd either be No. 1 or it wouldn't go," he said, noting that the track was much cooler than conditions at the previous two races on this Western Swing, inDenver and Seattle. "Tomorrow's going to be huge. I need to be in the top two or three cars."
Pro Stock -- V Gaines, Kendall Dodge Stratus (track-record
6.651-second elapsed time, 206.92 mph)
"Being No. 1 is something we've aspired to for years. we’ve never been No. 1. It'd be a great thrill. We want to go out and use the great car we have," he said.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- Antron Brown, U.S. Army Suzuki
(6.983-second elapsed time, 191.51 mph)
"We tested at St. Louis, trying to figure out some things. Our bikes have been a handful on the starting line," he said. Brown is third in the standings, 71 points behind teammate Angelle Sampey. He had led the points in May after his victory in Atlanta.
No crying over spilled oil -- Scott Kalitta has
made a combined 334 runs in a dragster and his Kalitta Air Chevy Monte Carlo
Funny Car since he returned from his hiatus three years ago -- and he has not
caused a single oildown. Cousin Doug Kalitta had been perfect in the Mac Tools
Dragster in 92 passes before messing up the track in Friday's second session.
Heading into Friday's action, Doug Kalitta's Mac Tools Dragster, the StriVectin-SD Top Fuel dragster that Dave Grubnic drives, the Hillary Will-piloted the KB Racing Dragster, and Scott Kalitta's Funny Car had made a combined 316 oildown-free laps out of a possible 319 this season. The Mac Tools team, under crew chief Rahn Tobler.
"There's no doubt Red Line Oil has been a big factor in our success," team owner Connie Kalitta said. "They make a great product that we rely on week in and week out. Nitro cars are extremely volatile and hard to tame, so not having to worry about our motor oil is a huge advantage."
Red Line Synthetic Oil Corporation is based in Benicia, California, not far from Infineon Raceway. It is the primary sponsor for this weekend's event in Sonoma on Scott Kalitta's car.
No. 1 blues -- Tony Schumacher has been No. 1 qualifier six times this year, and he never converted one of those top starting positions into a victory. He has won twice, but he came from the fifth spot at St. Louis and the ninth at Seattle to do it. Just as in the Funny Car class, no one in Top Fuel has won from the No. 1 slot.
"Eventually someone will do it," Schumacher said. "We're the ones who made that [scenario]. People say, 'No one has won from the No. 1 spot.' Well, if it's always us and we're getting beat . . . "
Thirteenth but better -- Cory McClenathan wants to win this
FRAM-Autolite Nationals race for the Carrier Boyz and sponsor
Fram/Autolite/Prestone/Bendix/Honeywell. But he got off to a horrendous start
In his first chance, he wisely shut off his engine early into the run. During the burnout, something malfunctioned in the timing system and shut off all timers, which affected the clutch as well. The fuel pump forced nitromethane out the headers and into the cockpit.
McClenathan said the situation "definitely sucked" but was happy to get into the field, even if it was in the dubious 13th place.
Odd man out -- Rod Fuller, winner at Phoenix and
Englishtown, is the lone unqualified Top Fuel driver after Friday's chances.
Force 0-for-2 Friday -- John Force, who has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car for a record 383 consecutive NHRA national events dating back to the start of the 1988 season, is unqualified after two sessions. He cut off his engine halfway down the right lane in the second session, climbed through the escape hatch in the roof, and walked back up toward the starting line, waving to the fans.
Force has been a Funny Car finalist in half of the NHRA races contested since 1989 (174 of 348). During that span, he has won 115 times and has won at least one event for 20 straight seasons.
"I have faith in Austin Coil and all the guys. They'll get in. No problem," teammate and top qualifier Robert Hight said. "We'll all pull together."
Had to beat own time -- No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight was fourth on the grid after Friday's first session with a 5.111-second performance in his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang. That wouldn't have been enough to qualify at day's end. Tim Wilkerson sits on the bump spot heading into Saturday's determining two sessions with a 4.987-second elapsed time.
Latest honor -- John Force will be inducted during pre-race ceremonies Sunday morning into Infineon Raceway's prestigious Wall of Fame. He'll join such other motorsports stars as NHRA Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson, Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith, and NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and Rusty Wallace. "It's an honor to be recognized with drivers like Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace," Force said, “but it's really special to be included with Bruton Smith, who has given us so many great racetracks like Infineon."
Don't blame TV -- John Force and his family have enjoyed outstanding ratings for the A&E Network program "Driving Force," but he started the weekend with the No. 16 ranking in the Funny Car order. And that has him irritated.
"My job is to win races, and I take that job very seriously," he said. "Castrol and Ford and Mac Tools and the Auto Club pay us to win and right now, we're not winning. But it's not because we're not trying, and it's not because of the TV show.
"The competition is just better than it used to be. Instead of whining to the NHRA about domination, [rival team owner Don] Schumacher went out and got the people and got the technology and got the budget to challenge us," the 13-time champion said. "We made him better, and now he's made everyone else step up -- including us."
Becoming fast friends -- Mike Ashley is starting
to click with his new Dodge Stratus and new crew chief Brian Corradi at Don
Schumacher Racing. In his debut at Denver, he qualified No. 14, and he started
the Seattle race in the No. 4 spot. In Friday's second run, Ashley turned in a
4.851-second elapsed time that was No. 2 at the time. The E.T. equaled that of
teammate Ron Capps, but Capps took the provisional eighth place and left Ashley
ninth because of a faster speed in his Brut Dodge Charger (314.17 mph to
314.09). When Ashley owned his own operation and when he joined the Checker
Schuck's Kragen team of Del Worsham and Phil Burkart, he drove a Chevy Monte
A little help from my friends -- V Gaines said he has been getting some coaching from a longtime sportsman-level driver and former Top Fuel driver who's an instructor at Frank Hawley's drag-racing school.
"Jack Beckman has been helping me," he said. "We're just trying to figure out what's wrong. We're just overdriving."
He said he had been a bit intimidated by the young lions of the class. "They don't have the fear we older guys learn," Gaines said.
"We need to settle down, he said.
Anderson fastest -- Greg Anderson used a 207.24-mph run in Friday's second session to keep the Infineon Raceway speed mark. Jason Line, his Ken Black/Summit Racing Pontiac GTO teammate, topped his July 2005 record of 206.95 mph with a 207.02 in improving three positions to No. 2 Friday night. But Anderson reclaimed it, although his 6.657-second effort was one-thousandth of a second slower than Line's elapsed time and put him No. 3 overnight.
Hoping favorite track comes through -- Shaun Carlson was
born in Alta Loma, California, east of Los Angeles, and he still lives there 32
years later. NuFormz, the company he established 11 years ago that builds
aftermarket components, is headquartered in nearby Ontario. And he made his Pro
Stock debut at the 2004 Winternationals, substituting for an injured Darrell
Alderman and almost advancing to the semifinals.
However, the former Pro FWD driver in the Xplod Sport Compact Racing Series said Infineon Raceway, not the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, is where he feels most comfortable.
"This track feels like home more so than even Pomona, because we are able to race here more often. We've been coming here for years, and every time we come up here it's been great. We've been doing drifting up here.
"We aren't able to race in Pomona much because of the noise restrictions,"
Carlson said. "We've raced the FWD car here, the drift car here, and even my
girlfriend, Apple, has done some stuff in shifter-karting here. They have all
types of racing here. It's a very neat track to race at."
He didn't have such a neat time in Friday's first session. The rear end of his Team Mopar/SRT Dodge Stratus broke, leaving him with a 10.192-second elapsed time that was last among the 22 Funny Car qualifying attempts.
"Going into third gear, it rolled the teeth over on the rear-end gears and broke the rear end. And the run was over at that point. I'd much rather get [my bad luck] out of the way in the first session," Carslon said as he anticipated the cooler evening run. "Now that we've got a brand-new gear with no runs on it, it'll be good." (Click here to view the video at 1320 TV)
But something else went wrong in the night session, and Carlson missed the 6.74-second bump with his 7.986 at 124.78. He was late on the tree, and the car made a move toward the left wall near the finish line. He's 23rd heading into Sunday's final two sessions.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Didn't even get record -- Although Antron Brown became only the third bike rider to break the seven-second barrier, he didn't set the Infineon Raceway record. That's because Andrew Hines recorded his national-record elapsed time of 6.968 seconds on this Northern California quarter-mile last July 31.
While that might not help Brown personally, it does mean the track is motorcycle-friendly.
"Infineon Raceway is unbelievable for us," he said. "I was so thankful that they invited the bikes
Hot E.T.s -- The top 10 riders posted a 7.08-second or
better elapsed time in the first session. Immediately after Brown recorded his
stunning 6.983-second pass, Andrew Hines got a 7.000-second E.T. from his Vance
& Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson.
Angelle Sampey, Brown's U.S. Army Suzuki teammate, ran a 7.024 in the opposite lane. Her run put her fourth in the order with one session remaining Friday, but it didn't rank among the class' top-10 performances.
Chip Ellis, on the G-Squared Buell V-Twin, was third in Friday's early lineup with the 7.013-second E.T. His run was 11th quickest in class history.
No change -- The top 12 positions remained the same from the first to second session Friday. Matt Smith, who did not make a pass in the opening round, slipped into the No. 13 spot, bumping Matt Guidera from the field and sliding Chris Rivas, Michael Phillips, and Mike Berry down one place each. The culprit was a headwind in the second session, a contrast from the slight tailwind that helped everybody in the first.
FEATURE - W.J. PUTS SELF IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT; DSR FUNNY CAR TEAM PRESSURES FORCE TRIO
Warren Johnson has been serving time, first in his motorhome during this
Western Swing, then at Alcatraz.
It sounds dramatic. And in a sense it has been for the 63-year-old Pro Stock icon who is starting to pull out of a slump. After winning the second race of the season, at Phoenix, he had six consecutive first-round losses and back-to-back DNQs among his next 11 events. But last Sunday at Seattle, Johnson experienced a turnaround. He advanced to the semifinal, where eventual winner Allen Johnson beat him on a holeshot.
"Driving the motorhome gives me plenty of time to do a lot of thinking," Johnson said. "With so many hours at your disposal, you have time to take a fresh perspective on what's going on, because you're not inundated with phone calls, or grinding manifolds, doing this or that, or worrying about a host of other items. All you can do is think of what you've been doing and analyze what you've done wrong or right."
He put himself in solitary confinement, so to speak.
"On the drive from Denver to Seattle, I shut off my cell phone and asked Arlene not to speak to me," Johnson said, referring to his wife, who has been at his side since he began racing 44 years ago. "I then started to backtrack over the last year and a half, going over the evolution of what ended up as a deficit in performance, and about the time I arrived in Missoula, Montana, I was able to determine where it all started and how to correct it."
His team has called it "The Missoula Miracle," but it has a trail from Georgia to Washington.
He phoned his shop back in Buford, Georgia, east of Atlanta, and had a team member ship the parts he needed to Seattle, to Nick Drzayich's shop. Nick, a part-time Pro Stock racer, is father of newest crew member Adam Drzavich.
"We started working on our GM Performance Parts GTO on Tuesday, finished up on Wednesday afternoon, spent Thursday at Renegade Raceway in Yakima, and came up with a pretty sporty performance in Seattle, which we hope to improve on this weekend in Sonoma," Johnson said.
A "sporty" performance? It sounds like "The Professor of Pro Stock" is in a happy mood these days. He is -- but how does Alcatraz figure in?
Once he arrived in the Bay Area, he took some rare time off Wednesday -- remember, this is a man who can't wait to get the gift-wrapping over on Christmas Day so he can get to the shop and work when the phones are silent for a change -- to visit San Francisco's leading tourist attraction.
Johnson playfully suggested the tour would be something between team-building and a warning.
"I'm going to bring our guys over to Alcatraz and show them where their new home will be if they screw up this weekend," he joked. "But in all seriousness, everyone knows about Alcatraz, and I enjoy going there because it has so much history.
"For example, few realize that it actually started out as a military hospital. It's such an ominous location, and you can really get a feel for what the prisoners went through," Johnson said. "Being able to see and from what I understand, hear how the rest of the world was able to enjoy life such a short distance away must have really let them know the severity of their actions. It's quite an experience."
He indicated that he's hoping this weekend's return to Infineon Raceway for the FRAM-Autolite Nationals will be an inspiring experience, too. In his previous 16 starts at the former Sears Point Raceway, Johnson was No. 1 qualifier four times, has won three times in five final-round appearances, and has a 27-12 elimination-round record.
Last year Johnson was inducted into the facility's Wall of Fame. Said the veteran driver, the only racer so honored to win a race at the track, "I’d like to make a return appearance to another special location – the winners circle.
"Obviously, winning races is the object of this whole exercise, and I think we are getting ourselves back to that point," Johnson said. "We can once again depend on our GM Performance Part GTO, making changes to it and knowing how it is going to respond, as it did in Seattle. This allows me to go back to working on the engine side, which will only help our efforts. I'm pretty optimistic that both Kurt and my cars will become significant forces to be reckoned with, and we hope to provide evidence of that this weekend."
NEWSMAKERS OF THE DAY: Schumacher Racing Funny Car drivers Whit
Bazemore, Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi
The FRAM-Autolite Nationals is the "home race" for Gary Scelzi. Ron Capps, who studied and worked in the Bay Area, also claims it. Most recent winner Whit Bazemore beat Frankie Pedregon in the final here in 1999, a year after he was runner-up to Frankie's younger brother Cruz. So each has his own memories and motivations as this 15th of 23 races on the Powerade Drag Racing Series schedule approaches.
But they have one thing in common: they're poised to give the John Force Racing trio of Force, Robert Hight, and Eric Medlen -- Nos. 2, 3, and 5 in the standings -- a run to the finish.
Points leader Capps has an 88-point margin over 13-time champion Force. The Brut Dodge Charger driver recently has received invaluable help from teammates Scelzi, who won at Denver, and Bazemore, who won at Seattle. If Capps can win at Sonoma, Team Schumacher will sweep the Western Swing. Capps was runner-up to Scelzi here last year and to Force in 2002, after winning in 1997.
"Everybody is trying to win for themselves, but the fact that they've been lining up next to Force and the fact that Scelzi and the Mopar/Oakley team have taken out John for the last two races, has helped a ton," Capps said.
"Seattle was such a big weekend for the overall team, to have the Matco Tools guys win. We're a big team and there's been a lot that's gone on this year. There's nothing better than to see somebody finally get the payoff from the struggles that they had and for both of us to be in the final round. Everybody on our team hates to lose, but if we had to lose, it was OK losing to the Matco Tools guys, Baze and Todd [crew chief Okuhara]. I was truly happy for those guys at the other end.
"At the same time," he said, "we ran up some more points on Force. That was probably the least upset that I've ever been losing the finals. It was just a great weekend for everybody.
"We get a lot of people when it's a home track - friends and family," Capps, a Ssan Luis Obispo native and Carlsbad resident, said. "And we do so much with this track, such as helping the Children's Charities by competing in the go-kart race earlier in the year and with the dinner we're attending for the charity on Thursday night in San Francisco. It's a very pleasant track to work with."
It has been pleasant for Fresno businessman Scelzi, who has won at Infineon Raceway two of the last three years. He and the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger are just one point behind No. 5 Medlen and 45 behind No. 3 Hight. And even though he trails Capps by 295 points, he said he's thinking he might have a shot at repeating his championship.
Capps ruined Scelzi's dream of a Western Swing sweep in the quarterfinals at
Seattle. But Scelzi said, "We'll just throw Seattle out. We had a good round
against Force. That race track is kind of like Denver -- you just hope to get
out of there with your skin.
"Infineon Raceway has a good surface. Even if it's hot, it's easier to control your race car. And that's what I like about Sonoma," he said. "Even though the temperatures may be in the 100-degree range, the surface is still a good surface. And it's equal both lanes. It's not a one-lane race track. The asphalt is good, the concrete is good and then we've also got that Friday night run, when the ocean air comes in. Even if it's hot, it's going to cool down enough to where we could run some pretty good runs.
"I think we still have a great race car. I still think we can make a chase out of this thing," Scelzi said, "and that's what we're going to Sonoma to do."
As for his 11-8 round-win and 3-1 final-round record against Force, Scelzi said, "Well, I think it's a good record. I don't like to brag about something like that, because I really believe that if you race John Force enough, he's going to have the upper hand on you. But right now, [crew chief] Mike Neff is on his game and he seems to do really well against guys like John. I can't help but get up for him because of who he is. He's 'The Man.' I don't care whether he's on a losing streak, a winning streak, whatever, when you pull up next to John Force you'd better have your A-game or you're going home."
Bazemore had his A-game in Seattle. But the eighth-place driver said Capps is "leading over us by quite a margin. They've had a great, great season. Capps is on his game. He's a great driver.
He was quick to say that his Matco Tools Charger team is highly motivated. "A lot of guys say you should never look at who's in the other lane. Well, I'm not that kind of person. I always know who I'm racing. I do better under pressure. And when you're racing a guy like Capps, or any of our guys on the team, there's more pressure because we certainly want to be the best guy on the team at the end of the day."
No matter how it shakes out, Capps said, "Look at what we get to do for a living. We love it. When you have to dread going to work, it's time to do something else. If you can't enjoy yourself being a race-car driver or working on a race-car team, then you need to look somewhere else for a job. Everybody at Don Schumacher Racing is enjoying themselves."
QUICK QUOTES & FAST FACTS
"The guys on the crew have worked hard all season, and it
seems like we just can't catch a break. But I think there are times when you
have to make your own breaks. That's what we'd like to do for the FRAM Honeywell
folks this weekend."
-- Cory McClenathan, whose Carrier Boyz team is sponsored by race-sponsor FRAM/ Autolite/Prestone/Bendix/Honeywell.
McClenathan made four test runs with the new car and its thicker tubing Monday at Pacific Raceways in Seattle. Assistant crew chief Tony Shortall said it responded to aggressive 330-foot set-ups and clocked a 4.71-second elapsed time on the first test pass.
John Lewis of San Francisco, a longtime McClenathan fan and winner of a Racers for Christ on-line auction, will be a pit crew member for a day.
"It was looking as though it was going to be very hot here this weekend. That is a concern for us. We still don't have a solid, hot weather tune-up. We're just going to keep plugging away until we get a tune-up that works in the heat, because even if it turns out to be a little cooler here this weekend, we know we'll have plenty of other events where it will be hot yet this year. It has seemed that Doug [Kalitta, who took the points lead from her at Denver] hasn't been as dominant as he was for three or four races. That certainly has helped us out. Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team are making a hard charge right now. You don't know at this point of the year who's going to be there at the end of the season to have a shot at that championship." -- Melanie Troxel, driver of the Skull Shine/Torco Race Fuels Dragster, who dropped from the points lead to 40 behind Doug Kalitta in the standings.
"The way I look at is we had never won in St. Louis prior to this year, so why can't we break through in Sonoma as well? We're going to take a real good swing out there." -- Tony Schumacher, who has driven the U.S. Army Dragster to two victories in the past three races and been runner-up in the sandwich race. He was runner-up to Doug Kalitta in 1999, when he earned the first of three series titles.
"We've had some really good runs in Sonoma. It's definitely one of my
favorite tracks. Three in a row would be a great accomplishment for our team. I
hope we can get it done.
"Our main goal now for Sonoma and beyond is to be consistent and put ourselves in position to win rounds. If we can do that, we'll stay near or at the top of the points and put ourselves in position to win it all. That's the big picture." -- Points leader Doug Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools Dragster and five-time winner at Infineon Raceway, who has a curious connection with NASCAR star Jeff Gordon. Nearly each year that Kalitta has won the FRAM Autolite Nationals, Gordon has won NASCAR's event on the property's road course. "That Jeff Gordon thing is cool," Kalitta said. "Last year he didn't hold up his end of the bargain, though. We won but he didn't. Hopefully we'll hold up our end this year and get the streak back on track."
"I ordered some clutch parts for Sonoma., and I want to make some changes to our clutch program. I think this is what we need to do to get a handle on this tire that has been giving us nightmares. I hope this change is what we need to get back to the numbers we would like to run. It's not going to be as hot this weekend, as it's been the last two races, so maybe we can finally get our car to come around like we had planned when we started the Western Swing. -- Tim Wilkerson, who hopes to put his Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevy Monte Carlo in the winners circle for the first time since the 2004 Sonoma race. The owner-driver, who competed in his 200th race at Denver, is overdue for a victory. He has five DNQs and has advanced past the first round just once this season.
In Seattle, No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight handed him his eighth first-round defeat of the season. "The tire has just made it impossible to negotiate anything. It's sub-standard, unless you go slow," Wilkerson said. "And I had to run the guy that runs low E.T. of the round, which is normal. We expected him to run that good, so we tried to run that good too, but it didn't work out for us. We're still chasing this new clutch set-up we're running, so we haven't given up just yet."
"I've been doing this full-time since 1991, and I have
rarely been as frustrated as I am now. Believe me, we've had plenty of ups and
downs over the years, and we went eight years between race wins at one point,
but what's been happening to us this year is beyond my ability to digest. We've
made a few mistakes, but everyone does that and I honestly don't think we've
made any more than the other good teams out here. We've run well, sometimes
better than almost everyone, but we always seem to run into the one guy who is
running a few thousandths better than we are.
"For the first few months, it was just kind of interesting and odd, but I figured it would all even out and we'd bounce right back to what we're used to. The losses just kept on coming though, and you have to begin to wonder what you did to bring this on yourself, your team, and your sponsors. I know I'm putting pressure on myself, and every person on this team feels it too, but we just have to find a way to break out of this and get better. Maybe we just need one of those crazy lucky weekends where everything goes right, but I'd rather just be a few thousandths quicker so we can break some hearts out on the track, rather than have our hearts trampled on again.
"We've spent the past five years being a team people didn't want to race. We
built our program on hard work and total dedication, and we got some incredible
rewards for all that sweat and energy. What hurts the most now is that we've
lost all these close ones, races that could just as easily have gone the other
way, and all of a sudden it's like 1998 all over again. We're still working just
as hard, if not harder . . . but we're almost off the radar screen. I want
people to remember we're out there. I want to get back to spanking the big boys
and ruining their days, because way too many of my days have been ruined this
"We still believe in ourselves, and we know we're going to break loose at some point, but there's no getting around the fact we're pretty tired of this. Will this be the weekend? I sure hope so, and I know I'm going to do everything I can to give us that tiny edge we need. We need to feel good about ourselves." -- Del Worsham, who's an uncharacteristic 8-13 in elimination rounds this year. Despite a DNQ and five straight Round 1 losses since Columbus, the Checker Schuck's Kragen headliner clings to a top-10 spot.
"The way the points are shaping up at this point in the
season, I want to have a good showing and get back on track at Sonoma. Last
year, the Sonoma race was a downfall for us. It's important for us to have a
good weekend and get back into the top five and gear up for the U.S. Nationals.
We'd like to be in the top five going into Indy and a strong weekend at Sonoma
will help with that. It's hard not to focus on it, but it's frustrating when you
have a first-round loss and drop a couple of spots in the points. It motivates
us to do well. It really makes you want to do well and win a race to pick up a
few spots in the standings. I've qualified No. 1 at Sonoma before. I'd like to
do that again and lock up our position in the Skoal Showdown, as well." --
Tommy Johnson Jr., who's seventh in points and fifth in the
Skoal Showdown lineup at this point in his Skoal Chevy Monte Carlo. The Phoenix
winner has been to three consecutive semifinals but has been as high as third in
"It's behind us now. We didn't want to leave with that first-round loss and we've already forgot about it. We'll be trying to get back that winning momentum in Sonoma. I have confidence in Victor guys in the engine shop. I know they will be working hard to get us a good motor in time for Friday's qualifying sessions." -- Dave Connolly, who uses motors from Victor Cagnazzi's shop in Mooresville, N.C. in his Evan Knoll-owned Skull Gear Chevy Cobalt. He has a 19-5 elimination-round record and three victories in four final-round appearances in the eight races since Tommy Utt came on board as crew chief.
"We got to the top by having the best car out there both in qualifying and eliminations. Now we must make a move to show that we are the best and, because there are so few races remaining, we must not let anything get in the way of putting this Summit Pontiac in the winner’s circle here at Infineon Raceway. It is up to us and this KB Racing team. With no time left, we must start right now." -- Jason Line, for whom the Western Swing has been excellent. He took the points lead from teammate Greg Anderson, who had maintained in from the start of the season.
"All I'm thinking about now is when we get our next round
win. If we don't focus on the next thing we need to do – and that's to first
qualify at Sonoma and, secondly, win the first round on Sunday, and then the
second round, and so on – then we may not make it to 400. You can't take
qualifying for granted at any race because we have more than 16 quality cars
capable of qualifying all of the time. We are racing in a tough class. All you
have to do is look at Sunday's results in Seattle, where the top seven cars in
points all lost in the first round, including us.
"Our Pontiac GTO has been great all season and done such a good job, but for some reason, we've had some chassis problems recently. That hasn't happened often, but it's something Jamie and I have to work out this weekend. We want to get the performance back up to where it was." -- Jim Yates, who started his 300th Pro Stock race at Seattle. He has 393 round-wins and said he hopes to add four more this weekend in Wiley X Eyewear Pontiac GTO.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
"This U.S. Army team is extremely focused on the job at hand. We're going out to Sonoma with the intention of grabbing that lead back." -- Angelle Sampey, who lost her nearly year-long points lead to Andrew Hines following the Denver race two weeks ago.
"With a few breaks, it's clearly possible. But whether I regain the lead for our team this weekend or at Pomona [California] in November, it really doesn't matter to me. I just want my first championship. We're going to keep working hard to accomplish that goal." -- Antron Brown, who left Infineon Raceway in the points lead last season.
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