McMILLEN FINALLY RECORDS FIRST TOP FUEL VICTORY IN 195TH TRY - Terry McMillen left Las Vegas this weekend with a wife, a Wally, and a wonderful antidote to a wicked case of Valley Fever.

McMillen, the popular underdog who’s starting to bite, scored his first NHRA Top Fuel victory Sunday at the Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He finally earned the $50,000 winner’s share of the purse for the first time in 195 events.

The Amalie Oil Dragster owner-driver, who’s competing in his first Countdown to the Championship, scored a 3.870-second, 253.99-mph victory on the 1,000-foot course as Brittany Force fouled out. But McMillen, determined to cash in on his second final-round appearance of the season and third overall, stayed on the gas even though he saw her red light.

“I paid for 3.7 seconds. I’m going to stomp it all the way down there until I get my 3.7 seconds, and anything after that’s extra,” he said with a well-deserved laugh. He said he saw the light and hoped it wasn’t a malfunction.

“They say after the first one it gets easier. I’m going to put that to the test, because I want to find out,” McMillen said. “It’s pretty cool.”

He and longtime fiancée Cori Wickler were married the previous Sunday at the scenic Valley of Fire setting near Las Vegas. But the bride and groom and the team members who attended the wedding contracted what’s commonly known as Valley Fever or some strain of the fungus that produces flu-like symptoms and can last as long as six weeks.

“Since Tuesday we’ve had a fever, almost everybody on the team,” McMillen said. “But every time you won a round, it just gave you more energy. I can’t tell you that in 10 minutes we won’t fall over. It’ll probably happen. But we had a job to do.”

His so-called “Extermigator” Dragster, he said, “was great on the starting line. The lights were good. It all fell in place. We just never missed a beat. Hat’s off to my crew, because they’ve never been this deep [into a race] in a long time. They turned around that car flawlessly. We just went up there [to the starting line] and did our thing. I’ve always said this car would go down a dirt road, and it lived up to that today. We’re really blessed. It’s been a blessed day.

“This is the stuff you dream of as a young kid, to have the opportunity to go out and win a race against the teams that are the best in the world,” McMillen said. “To get that opportunity to get that win was just an amazing feat.

“I wouldn’t be here without all the people who have supported me over the years, even the fans. The fans keep me going every day, because they come by and don’t want me to quit when I was going to walk away after all those [costly and disheartening engine] explosions. Man, I’m so glad I stuck it out,” the Elkhart, Ind., resident said.

“It seemed like I was never going to get a break. I’m not complaining, because I’m a person who believes you make your own breaks. But as our car started to turn around and the team started performing and everything started to go together, we started creating our own breaks. And I think that’s what put us in this position today,” he said.

McMillen, who’s competing in his first Countdown to the Championship and is ranked No. 9, reached the finals of the 2016 Amalie Oil Gatornationals. But he had a dry period until this August at Seattle, where he gave Antron Brown a scare in the Northwest Nationals final round.

“Until we started to have success this year, it was a very distant light out there. It seems like you could see it but you could never reach it,” he said. With the team gelling and the car behaving, McMillen said, “I really knew then we had the opportunity. I’m not going to lie: I felt pretty comfortable coming into the Las Vegas race. Whether our car was going to run like it did, I couldn’t tell you. Our team was motivated after leaving Dallas, knowing that we had put ourselves in the position that we could go out there and win a race.”

Crew chief Rob Wendland, he said, has “done a great job with the car all year long. The best thing that happened is getting Rob Wendland on this team and turning this team around. Rob did an amazing job calling tune-up shots.  And the team’s come so far to get us to this level.

“We’re a really small team with a large heart and passion,” McMillen said. “We have a lot of passion to go out there and be successful. Sometimes we don’t have the necessary resources – to be able to test and all that.”

But that didn’t matter as he plowed past Richie Crampton, Clay Millican, and Shawn Langdon on his way to the final.

He won’t be in the down-to-the-wire race for the Top Fuel championship at the season finale in two weeks at Pomona, Calif. But he affected No. 2-seeded Force’s status. Had she won the final, she would have tied Torrence for the lead.

The standings actually started shifting in the quarterfinals. Points leader Steve Torrence opened the round with a tire-smoking, engine-popping loss to Shawn Langdon, who already had eliminated No. 4-ranked Antron Brown.

“That was big,” Langdon said. “Glad to get past those Capco guys with their big guns. So bang-bang.

“Our main focus is to get Doug Kalitta a championship,” he said. “Guy’s a hell of a driver. He deserves it.”

But Kalitta didn’t move any closer to a title when the round ended with his showdown against chief nemesis Force. His Mac Tools Dragster sat still on the starting line with a mechanical problem, while Force benefited despite a .084-second reaction time and a 4.343-second elapsed time. He nudged his car to a .657-second reaction time and 22.684-second E.T.

Also in the quarterfinals, McMillen forced Clay Millican to work even harder at the NHRA Finals if he wants to score his targeted top-five finish. Leah Pritchett used low E.T. of the round (3.754 seconds) to smash Tony Schumacher’s optimism about mounting a miracle comeback.

Torrence retained his points lead. However, he said he hadn’t expected his dragster to lose traction: “We haven’t done that very much this year. It’s just a situation you go through with a new car.  You can set them up the same, but there always are going to be little differences. The thing is, I know I’m taking a good hot rod to Pomona. We’ll be ready to rock and roll at Pomona.”

And so will Terry McMillen. Susan Wade

HAGAN GETS BACK TO FUNNY CAR WINNERS CIRCLE - Matt Hagan’s mini slump is over.

Hagan, a two-time nitro Funny Car world champion driver (2011, 2014), broke out of his funk with a victory at the NHRA Toyota Nationals Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Hagan clocked a 3.942-second lap at 392.42 mph to defeat Courtney Force’s 4.020-second run at 320.05 mph.

“These Funny Cars are finicky, sometimes they love you and sometimes they rip your heart out and step on it,” Hagan said. “We just got in a little bit of a rut and we had to work and make big wholesale changes and dig ourselves back out and it is a testament to Dickie Venables and my crew to what they can do and how far they can come and bounce back. We had some pretty bad first-round losses earlier in the Countdown and you lose hope sometimes, but then you have to get your pom poms out and make sure everybody is up.”

Hagan, who was driving the Pennzoil Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing, won his fourth race of the season and his first since Epping, N.H., on June 4.

“I just can’t say enough about Dickie,” Hagan said. “The guy is one of the smartest crew chiefs out here and I’m just blessed to have him in our corner. There’s no replacement for the feeling of winning. That’s a fix you can’t get anywhere else. Sometimes it takes a little struggle to put things back in perspective of how special it (winning) is.”

This was Hagan’s inaugural win at Las Vegas and his 26th career win and he leaves Las Vegas fifth in the point standings, 161 points behind leader Robert Hight. The season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals will take place Nov. 9-12.

Hagan’s victory parade Sunday was comprised of wins over Gary Densham, Del Worsham, Jack Beckman and Courtney Force.

“(Sunday) was a pretty chill day,” Hagan said. “My crew chief was confident that he had a pretty good handle on the tune-up and I just wanted to get up there on the wheel and cut some good lights and keep it in the groove. What we get to do is pretty intense, pretty incredible and there’s just no replacement for it.” Tracy Renck

ANDERSON STRETCHES PRO STOCK POINTS LEAD WITH VEGAS WIN - Needing a clutch performance to set the stage for his fourth career NHRA Pro Stock world championship, Greg Anderson delivered Sunday.

Anderson clocked a 6.698-second elapsed time at 204.70 mph to beat Bo Butner, who slowed to 15.506 seconds.

Anderson, the driver of the red Ken Black Racing (KB Racing) Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, leaves Las Vegas with a 40-point and 76-point lead over his teammates – Bo Butner and Jason Line with one race left in the season at Pomona, Calif., (Nov. 9-12).

“This was huge,” Anderson said. “The ultimate scenario for us at KB Racing was to eliminate the Gray team over there, Drew Skillman and Tanner Gray. I didn’t think it would happen. They have great race cars and they are great race car drivers, but somehow, we found a way and we outlasted them (Sunday) and now they are not a part of the equation. Now, there are three KB Racing cars in there and it is a dream scenario for us. Now we are just going to have to go out there and settle it amongst ourselves. A 40-point lead is obvious great, I feel great about that, but there are 30 points a round when you get to Pomona, so nothing is over yet. As great a day as we had (Sunday) and only came out 40 points ahead, it probably just means you are going to have to go to Pomona and win to be the world champion. That’s the way it should be. If you’re going to be a world champion, you should have to earn every inch of it. That’s the way it’s going to be at Pomona and hopefully we can execute like we did (Sunday).”

Anderson defeated Alan Prusiensky, Chris McGaha, Jason Line and Butner.

This was a fabulous weekend for Anderson. He qualified No. 1 and won his fourth race of the season and the 90th of his career. He is the second-most winning driver of all time in the category. Only Warren Johnson has more Pro Stock trophies (97).

Anderson has the most Pro Stock victories at The Strip in Las Vegas with eight. His most recent victory – before Sunday – came in 2010.

“We put a smile on (owner) Ken Black’s face and folks from Summit who were here (Sunday) and I can’t thank everybody enough,” Anderson said.

Anderson acknowledged his team isn’t going to change its game plan with a championship on the line for he, Butner and Line.

“We try to operate as an open book and we try to do all we can to make every car as fast as we can, that’s just are M.O. and that’s what we do. I guess we do the best we can to beat ourselves. That’s what is so unique about our race team, you can’t predict what is going to happen. That’s what makes you feel the best at the end of day when you come out on top. You want all the cars to be even and let the drivers and crew chiefs settle it.”

NHRA announced Saturday that all 24 national events in the 2018 season will have 16 cars. On Oct. 3, NHRA told Pro Stock competitors because of low car counts and low interest among other things, the sanctioning body was going to have 8-car fields, instead of 16, at nine of the 24 of the national events in the 2018 season.

The list of 2018 national events with eight-car Pro Stock fields is comprised of Houston, Topeka, Kan., Epping, N.H., Englishtown, N.J., Bristol, Tenn., Denver, Sonoma, Calif., Seattle, and Brainerd, Minn.

Now, that is not the case and it’s something Anderson addressed.

“I’ve said it many times, I don’t feel Pro Stock is broken,” Anderson said. “Yeah, we need to make changes just like everybody does. The world changes and you can’t do what you did 10 years ago, you can’t do what you did five years ago. The entire world changes. The NHRA has to evolve, Top Fuel has to evolve, everybody has to get better. Yes, we have a great fan count, but we are all struggling to get enough car count, so we have to find a way to make it better for the racers.

The sport has so much going for it, you look up in the grandstands and they are full, no other motorsport can say that. We have an ace in the hole right there, let’s not mess it up. Let’s use that to our advantage and make this sport go through the roof like they did with NASCAR years ago. It is opportunity and we can make that happen. We are going to make everything better, better for everybody. We finally got shook enough that we realized that if we didn’t do something, it could come to an end and I think we have come up with a lot of great ideas and we are all thinking and working together. This sport is going to climb. I feel really good about the plans we have got.”

Anderson admitted he and Line are old-school racers, who want to compete like it was two decades ago, but he knew change was needed.

“That’s not going to work anymore,” Anderson said. “You have to change with the times and the grandstand wants something different than it did 20 years ago. They don’t have the same beliefs that we because we have been so deep in this sport for several years and we need to appease the new young crowd that comes to the races or we will not have a sport. It’s great. We got knocked on the head and finally realize it and we are going to make some decisions, go forward and make it better. At least, we are not starting in a negative where you don’t have anybody in the grandstand like other motorsports do, they have a real problem. We got problems, and the biggest problem is the grandstand and we are doing well there, so let’s fix the rest of it, so we can be the best of the best.” Tracy Renck

KRAWIEC HASN’T CLINCHED BIKE TITLE YET BUT GETS 43RD VICTORY - Eddie Krawiec is floating in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle stratosphere.

He rose to the top of the qualifying order, took his points lead to a virtually untouchable level with one race remaining in the schedule, and soared into the sport’s outer orbit Sunday with his final-round victory against Hector Arana Jr. at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

With a 6.924-second quarter-mile elapsed time at 193.16 mph, Krawiec earned his 43rd victory at the Toyota Nationals and expanded his lead over second-place L.E. Tonglet from 107 points to 150.

He’ll have to wait until the season finale in two weeks at Pomona, Calif., to claim his fourth championship officially.

But this weekend he passed Angelle Sampey for third on the career victories list and is one behind the late class icon Dave Schultz. Krawiec’s Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod teammate, Andrew Hines, is the class all-time leader with 47 victories.

“To be in that elite group, up there above 40 . . . it’s awesome. All I wanted was one back in 2008. I ended up with a championship trophy. I didn’t even have a win, but I had a championship. I felt cheated. It was weird.”

“This is really a dream season. I can’t believe the Countdown season going the way it is: four wins out of five [races]. Just the way it’s all rolling into place for me, it’s a dream season – couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Krawiec did it Sunday by beating John Hall, Sampey, and Scotty Pollacheck on the way to his seventh victory in eight final rounds this year.

Arana ran a 6.949-second, 192.91-mph pass in the final round after defeating Katie Sullivan, Mike Berry, and L.E. Tonglet.

He joined Terry McMillen (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) in the winners circle.  Susan Wade

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MILLICAN INCHING TOWARD GOAL – Clay Millican said even before the season started that he and his Stringer Performance team’s goal was to put the Parts Plus/Great Clips/UNOH Dragster in the top five by the end of the season. And they’re close to doing that.

Millican entered this weekend seventh, but his top five aim is within reach as he prepares to line up against No. 14 Mike Salinas in Sunday’s first round of runoffs in this penultimate race of the year.

Millican, the No. 3 starter, said, “The points battle is just so close. We’re less than a round behind Leah [Pritchett] and Tony [Schumacher]. At this point, every lap down the track is critical for us. We need those qualifying bonus points and round wins. With only two races left, we are throwing everything we have into the [car].”

He didn’t earn any qualifying bonus points Friday, but he did gain two Saturday.

Millican owns the national elapsed-time record with a run of 3.631 at St. Louis last month. He earned his first NHRA victory at Bristol in June and has led the field five times this year. In 2013, he was runner-up at the NHRA Toyota Nationals, and last year at this event he was the No.1 qualifier.

“This is always a great race for us. First off, we have done well here in the past. Second, all the fun surrounding Halloween makes for a good time,” Millican said. “All bets are off in Vegas this weekend. We want to get other event win this year.”

CRAMPTON’S LUCK TURNS – Richie Crampton had a miserable day Friday in qualifying. His SealMaster Dragster lost traction on the first try, then (like Mike Salinas in the opposite lane) he aborted his run even before he could do a burnout. But Crampton got off the bump spot early Saturday and retained his No. 11 starting position. He’ll face Terry McMillen, who battled through a flu-like bug that swept through his pit this weekend to secure land choice with the No. 6 spot.


ZIZZO, REED HAVE Q4 ENGINE BLOW-UPS – T.J. Zizzo has come a long way in his program, but he didn’t get far in his final qualifying run Saturday evening. He made it only about 100 feet down the track before experiencing an engine explosion in his Rust-Oleum Dragster. And he blamed the mishap on himself.

“Simply driver error,” he said. “The thing over-revved. We’ve been fighting gremlins. For some reason, that thing wants wheel speed instantly.”

He said crew chief Mike Kern and the crew made a change they thought would work, but they evidently miscalculated.

“When it over-revved, I heard it bang. That’s driver error, juts being in the gas too long after it smokes the tire like that,” Zizzo said.

However, he was considerate of the fans, his fellow racers, and the Safety Safari. He said, “I was trained a long time ago, ‘T.J., you pull over to the side of the racetrack. You stop. In case there is oil you don’t oil the racetrack and make for a long day for all those spectators out there.”

Zizzo’s incident came right after Shawn Reed’s engine let go.

“It was the first and hopefully the last experience like that in a long, long time,” Reed said. “I feel bad for Barry and Todd Paton and the crew. We try real hard. Hopefully we can get enough parts and put it back together for tomorrow. But yeah, that was a gruesome one.”

Zizzo ended up with the No. 9 slot in the starting order and is scheduled to race No. 8 Leah Pritchett in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

Reed took the No. 13 berth in the 16-car field. He’s matched up against No. 4 Brittany Force in the opening round.


DENSHAM  TAPPED FOR HALL OF FAME – No. 12 Funny Car qualifier Gary Densham is one of seven who will be inducted next March 15 into the Don Garlits Museum International Drag Racing Hall of Fame at Gainesville, Fla.

Honored, as well, at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center will be Jeb Allen, Kelly Brown, Roy Fjastad, Jim Oddy, Greg Sharp, and the late Oliver (Ollie) Riley.

Densham, a fan favorite as an underdog privateer for most of his career, is a retired automotive shop teacher (Gahr High School, Cerritos, Calif.). Densham built and tuned his own race cars for three decades, then joined John Force Racing in 2001.  In five years at the powerhouse Force Racing team, he proved his driving talents, winning eight races.  He continues to race a limited schedule on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit, and is a youth motivational speaker on automotive technology careers.

Retired General Motors executive Herb Fishel will be the recipient of the Founder’s Award. Fishel a career GM employee, began as an engineer in Chevrolet’s infamous “Skunk Works” (unofficial racing parts program) under the famed Vince Piggins, and was later named to lead the Chevrolet Racing division in 1983. In 1991, he became the Executive Director of the General Motors Racing, which included the GM Performance Parts Division. Fishel expanded upon the foundation Piggins created and continued to grow General Motors’ presence in drag racing, particularly the Chevrolet Division, with race-specific components and support.  He retired from General Motors in 2003. Fishel is a member of SEMA Hall of Fame’s Class of 2005.

Allen, of Redding, Calif., was the youngest professional class event winner until Pro Stock contender Tanner Gray came along this season. Allen was 18 years old when he won the Top Fuel trophy at the 1972 Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J. He earned the NHRA Top Fuel series championship in 1981 at the age of 27, the youngest Top Fuel champion in history. He also claimed Top Fuel titles in the American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) and the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA).  He retired in 1982 and owns Palomar Buildings, a home-building business.

Brown started racing Top Fuel dragsters the mid-1960s and became one of the sport’s leading drivers.  In 1978, he won the NHRA championship, driving for the legendary Jim Brissette in the Brissette & Drake entry and winning three events. In 1979, he joined the legendary “Over the Hill Gang” team and won four events, including the prestigious U.S. Nationals.  In his off-the-track life, Brown was a highly sought stunt driver for movies and television commercials. After he retired from the sport, the Gazelle, Calif., resident became co-owner of Drivers, Inc., a precision driving company, designing and executing complex automotive stunts.

Mission Viejo, Calif.’s Fjastad is a legend in the drag-racing chassis-building community. His Speed Products Engineering (SPE) company perfected the concept of fixture-built chassis to assure repeatable performance behavior. The company supplied 225 chassis to racers. Fjastad then turned his attention to the street-rod market, and using the same fixture concept, started the Deuce Factory, building precision reproduction frames for 1932 Ford roadsters. His latest company, Full Bore Products, produces specialized tools for engine and chassis builders.  He also has been a fixture in the Land Speed racing arena with a streamliner car, and a Modified Roadster.

Oddy, an upstate New York native who migrated to Mooresville, N.C., is one of drag racing’s most respected names, not just in driving performance but also in engine building. In the mid- to late-1960s, Oddy raced in the “Gasser” classes, setting records and winning races in the NHRA Northeast Division (Division 1).  He retired from the driver’s seat in the 1970s, launching Oddy’s Automotive, building race-winning powerplants.  In the late 1980s, he and driver Fred Hahn debuted a revolutionary late-model Corvette in the IHRA’s Pro Modified class. They won a dozen races. Today, semi-retired, he races a 1934 Willys “concept” two-door sedan known as the “Junkyard Dog” at nostalgia Gasser meets.

Sharp is at home at Pomona, Calif., where he is the curator of the Wally Parks/NHRA Motorsports Museum at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds and is regarded as one of the sport’s leading historians. A drag racing fan since a teenager, his knowledge and enthusiasm led NHRA Founder Wally Parks to name him as the NHRA Director of Historical Services following his retirement from the Los Angeles Police Department. In that role, he helped create the Wally Parks/NHRA Motorsports Museum and was named the curator when it opened in 1998.  He was the Pioneer Award recipient from the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2010. Sharp coined the popular term “Cacklefest” to describe the static idling of a group of nitromethane-fueled restored dragsters at nostalgia drag-racing events.

Riley revolutionized the methods used to determine drag-racing winners and their elapsed times and speeds. After being approached by the NHRA in 1954 to develop a portable, repeatable drag-racing timing system, Riley, who helped design top-secret timing mechanisms for guided missiles, accepted the challenge. He was also involved with the creation of the “Christmas Tree” race starter, which integrated with the electronic timing system.  Riley’s Chrondeck company built the electronic clocks and Christmas Trees for many years, and his system, with updates, continues to be the bedrock for determining drag-racing winners worldwide.


PRO STOCK FIELDS TO REMAIN AT 16 – Graham Light, the NHRA’s senior vice-president of racing operations, told Competition Plus Saturday that its Pro Stock fields will remain at 16 cars for 24 races next season.

Details of the meeting among NHRA decision-makers and Pro Stock owners and drivers two weeks ago at the Texas Motorplex, near Dallas, remain confidential.

However, Light said, “It was a positive meeting. It was good to see the great majority of the teams all came together for a common solution. We’re obviously concerned about the dropping of entries in Pro Stock as they are. They submitted us some ideas. One of them is a new engine platform that Glen Gray of our Tech Department is working with a few of the teams to evaluate, and that’s a possibility. As a result of the input, we’ve decided we will run 16 car fields at all 24 national events next year.”

That decision is final for 2018, Light said, assuring that the sanctioning body will “continue to work with that contingent of Pro Stock racers to try and better the class.”

Earlier this year, the NHRA suggested that it might reduce the Pro Stock class’ appearances next season. But Light said Saturday that met with mixed reaction.

“Over the course of the summer, the teams, manufacturers, made many, many different suggestions. One of them is reducing the number of races. And that fits with some teams, business owners [for whom] 24 races is a huge time commitment. It didn’t fit with other teams where their livelihood is racing. We get that: everybody’s got different objectives or needs. So it was just one of many, many ideas that were submitted.

“A lot of the times we think of the idea [and] teams come back and say, ‘You know, that idea wasn’t a good idea. It’s going to cost us a fortune’ or ‘It’s not going to work’ or whatever. We’re the same way. So [we] kind of went through the season and got to where we were, Dallas with the meeting, and we’ll see what happens going forward.”

Overall, Light said, “I was impressed with the fact that they all came together to try to achieve a common goal, and that’s to make their category bigger and better than it is.”

PRIVATEER SAYS PROGRESS A TWO-WAY STREET – Alan Prusiensky, the independent Pro Stock racer from Rockaway, N.J., who’s nearing the end of his first full-time season, is optimistic following the meeting class owners and drivers had recently at Dallas with NHRA officials.

“NHRA, I think, was positive and listened to what we had to say. Whether they like what we said, I don’t know, but they’re supposed to get back to us here shortly and let us know what their proposal was to counter-proposal us,” he said.

But NHRA Senior Vice-President of Racing Operations Graham Light revealed shortly afterward Saturday that the owners’ and drivers’ push-back paid off. Light said the Pro Stock fields will remain at 16 cars – for 24 races, not a reduced number of races – for the 2018 season.

So the Pro Stock class has scored an incremental victory in its battle to boost visibility and popularity. And Prusiensky said while he doesn’t have all the answers, he knows both sides can contribute to the solution.

The Pro Stock class’ collective proposal, he said, “was just that we would make sure that we have the car count that they want and maybe be a little bit more fan-friendly, as far as maybe doing longer burnouts and that kind of stuff. And the fans seem to like it, so that’s what we’re here to do, to entertain the fans.”

He also said, “NHRA can promote us better, there’s no doubt about that. But we do it to ourselves, too, though with all the secrecy. You know, probably both ways. Probably we need to do a little bit, NHRA needs to do a little bit, and hopefully… I still see a lot of fans that like Pro Stock.

“We have a lot of fans,” Prusiensky said, “and I think they’re [NHRA is] making a mistake by thinking that the fans are only here for Top Fuel and Funny Car, because they’re not. There’s a lot of fans here for Pro Stock. I see them in front of my pit, and I’m nobody. I don’t have 10 years of experience and won a championship or anything like that. And there’s still a lot of fans here that come and say, ‘Hey, we need Pro Stock’. So NHRA needs to listen to them, too. They get rid of Pro Stock, it would hurt NHRA.”

He said he saw the merits of the showy burnouts, despite the fact the one in September at Indianapolis drew lukewarm support from drivers.

“Yeah, but if the fans don’t appreciate what we do, we can’t race,” Prusiensky said. “So we have to pick and choose what we can do. I mean, it definitely might not be optimum to do a half-track burnout, but if you did it maybe one pass and not the next, the next guy does it that pass, we could make it work. I’m sure we could figure it out if the fans like it that much. You hear them cheering, so, I mean, they like it.”

Perhaps a burnout contest or display could be an exhibition sort of affair instead of occurring when points are at stake.

“I don’t know. I don’t know the answers. It’s just to make the fans appreciate us more maybe if we show them more with the cars,” he said. “Still, with the covers on the manifolds and stuff, I still think that’s a problem. But if you’ve figured out something that’s two-hundredths [of a second] better, you don’t want to give it up to the next guy that you’re racing either. So it’s a double-edged sword. But somehow or another, we’ve got to make more fans friendly to Pro Stock cars.”

The prospect of more manufacturers getting involved in Pro Stock racing might not be on the radar at the moment, and Prusiensky is pragmatic.

“It’s the Camaro show,” he conceded, “but I don’t know how to get Dodge more involved and Ford more involved. They want a platform for their car that they can sell in the showroom. So they want Factory Showdown cars, or whatever you want to call them, shootout cars. But if we go any slower, that’s going to hurt fan appeal too. We need to go faster. We need to figure out how to go 6.30s, not 7.0s. If you brought the Challenger out here, a Mustang, and a Camaro that basically look like what you can buy in the showroom, maybe it would help a little bit for a little bit of time. But it will get boring, watching a seven-second car going down the track. We need to figure out how to go faster, not slower.”

He laughed at the notion that the Pro Stock drivers might want to stage a few fistfights.

“I don’t know who I’m fighting with,” he said, smiling. Told he could take his pick of colleagues to pick a fight with, Prusiensky mulled it over: “I don’t know. Maybe . . . I don’t know. I’d have to think about that. I’ll have to think about that.

“I know, you don’t want everybody to be friends. You want a rivalry. You don’t want everybody out here shaking hands. It’s just like football: Everybody at the end of the game is handing shirts, from my shirt to your shirt. You know, it was better when everybody hated each other in football. So, I don’t know what the answer is.”  

But he said he is sure of one thing.

“I think we need more guys out here that just work on their own stuff. But you hear all the stories on the Internet that it costs millions and millions of dollars, and that scares a lot of people away,” Prusiensky said.

He said, “If you go to all the races, it probably costs us, maybe, like, $300,000 or $400,000 for the whole year to go to all 24 races. NHRA has paid us $125,000 with qualifying money, so that’s legitimate. But I do everything myself. We make sure we get a cheap flight. We make sure that we don’t go out to dinner and spend a couple thousand dollars a night, you know what I mean? We’re just low-key, and we spend every dollar we can on the car. We’re frugal.

“There’s not too many guys that are going to do the amount of work, but you can go to 10 or 12 races for a reasonable amount to race Pro Stock,” Prusiensky said. “If want to contend for a championship, yeah, it’s probably going to cost you a couple million dollars. It’s pretty fun just racing here and qualifying and maybe winning a round or two. I’d like to get there, but this isn’t too bad, either.”

He said in his first season he has “learned a lot. We definitely learned a lot. We would be better if it was the end of 2018 – we would be in a better spot than we are right now. It’s just the learning curve of coming to all the races, knowing what parts you need on the shelf, maintaining the engines the right way, keeping them fresh. We need to get better at that this year. And we need more power, so we got to work on that over the winter. Hopefully we can find [more] horsepower. That would help. Because when we make a good run, we’re OK. But when we make a bad run, it really shows up that we don’t have the power.”

Prusiensky said he knew the class will be scheduled for 24 races next season, and Light’s declaration of a 16-car field for certain was happy news for him.

“That’s what we’re hoping for, because eight cars doesn’t do the class any good. Just a couple of KB cars, a couple of Elite cars, a couple Gray cars are going to qualify, and then all the little guys and the newcomers, they don’t have a chance for an eight-car field. And we’ve invested a tremendous amount of money into NHRA, so why should they just cut us out like that?” he asked.

He said it would be unfair of the NHRA to decide that late in this year. He said the sanctioning body “can’t just spring that on us overnight and say there’s going to be eight cars. Especially the one that hurts the most to us is Englishtown, that’s our home race. That’s a big-time race to have eight cars.

“I can understand maybe some races that it’s tough to get more than 13 cars. But even at that, I said, my personal e-mail back to Graham was at least give us a fighting chance. If we don’t get 16 cars, then make it eight cars. You know, at least give us a chance to fight for our own class,” Prusiensky said.

“I just said, ‘You know, I’m a little team. I’ve come to 30 races in a row. I’m supporting your class, and then you just cut it away from us. It’s tough,” he said. “But [Light is] in a predicament, too. He’s got a lot of people probably telling him Pro Stock is dead the way it is. I’m a fan, and I love it just the way it is, so it’s going to be tough for me to say we need to change it. I’m not going to say that, because that’s not what I believe. I believe that 500-cubic-inch, naturally aspirated, that’s what Pro Stock is.”

Prusiensky said he and other teams can’t afford to keep making changes, either.

“That’s a problem, too. You lose two or three races every time you make a change,” he said. “I think the fuel injection they needed to do. I think maybe they could have done it a little different way, but I have no gripes about fuel injection. We’ve got it now. That’s what you wanted. Give it a few years. Racing is down in general. It’s hard to bring new people into racing because they think it’s going to cost them $5 million dollars, they don’t want to do it. We need to see where it goes.

“The little guys, you can’t throw away the little guys, because they fill up the fields, too. And we’re dreaming of being the No. 1 guy. We’re supporting the class. We’re all supporting the class,” he said. “I don’t believe there needs to [be a] change. I like it the way it is, not because I’d have to spend money – I just do like how it is. I like 500-cubic inch Pro Stock motor. That’s why I started this class.”

Evidently more fans do than the NHRA might have predicted.

“I think they got a lot of pushback from just people in general. I must have had 400 or 500 posts on my Facebook page about NHRA: ‘This is wrong. This is wrong.’ I really believe that they got a little more fight from the fan in general that it wasn’t the right move to cut us back to eight cars,” Prusiensky said. And I tell every fan that comes to my pit when they say, ‘Hey, we love Pro Stock’, I say, ‘You need to call NHRA and tell them. Post on their Facebook page, ‘Leave Pro Stock alone’.

“We need to be positive about the class, not negative, about any racing in general,” he said. “Tracks aren’t being built; they’re being taken down. So any kind of negativity just gets to be like a snowball down a hill: It just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. People never go on Facebook and say, ‘Hey, Pro Stock is great’. But you’ll get 10 guys that say, ‘Pro Stock stinks.’ People want to be negative.

“We need to be positive. We need to be fan-friendly, whatever we can do that way. If we can pick up two, three fans a weekend, and their family, it just gets bigger and bigger. Whenever anybody comes by my pit, I try to show them the car. Kids come by, take a picture. Try to get our class more friendly,” he said. “Just to say we need eight cars at Englishtown is crazy. I don’t even see how that could help. I couldn’t believe how many people were by my pit in Reading. That’s a hundred miles away from Englishtown. To say Pro Stock should be only eight cars at Englishtown, that’s crazy.”

PRESSURE? SCHUMACHER CAN HAVE IT – Top Fuel’s Tony Schumacher always says he and his U.S. Army Dragster team loves those big, bottom-of-the-ninth-inning-with-two-outs moments, when the pressure is ratcheted up to the max. Jason Line is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

"It's crunch time, and I hate pressure,” the reigning class champion driving the KB/Summit Racing Equipment Camaro said.

“I can't stand it, but I'm going to have to figure out how to harness that and do a better job of it. I like really boring, big points leads, and that is out the window,” Line said. “I'm going to have to step it up, for sure. I've been incognito the whole year, which is not good. But we're trying to get it done now, and hopefully we can bring home that big check at the end of the year."

Line, the Dallas winner two weeks ago, is seeking his fourth series title. And he’s heading in the right direction. He has advanced to the final round at both of the previous two races. Before that, he hadn’t reached a final since winning the season-opener at Pomona. So he entered this event in third place, just 30 points out of first place.

At Las Vegas, where benefactors Ken and Judy Black live, Line has two victories in six finals. He has been runner-up in this fall race three times: in 2004 and 2010 to Greg Anderson and in 2006 to Richie Stevens.


HE’LL BE BACK – Greg Underdahl, who helps tune the Pro Stock Motorcycles of Scotty Pollacheck, Karen Stoffer, and Andie Rawlings, said son Jim Underdahl will be back on a fulltime next season.

THANKS, DARLIN’ – L.E. Tonglet received a kiss on his helmet at the top end of the racetrack following his fourth and final qualifying run Saturday. It was from Angie Smith. Lest anyone think it constituted a scandal, Smith simply was thanking Tonglet for sparing her the fate of facing her husband, Matt Smith, in the opening round of Sunday’s eliminations. Instead, she’ll race Karen Stoffer, while Matt Smith lines up against Scotty Pollacheck. Tonglet’s first-round opponent will be Melissa Surber.



RACES TO GO DOWN TO WIRE – No Top Fuel or Funny Car driver will clinch a championship at Las Vegas, like Antron Brown did in each of the past two seasons. That would take a 192-point margin. And that isn’t possible, considering the NHRA’s new points format at the Nov. 10-12 season finale at Pomona, Calif.

This weekend, just as at every race this year except the U.S. Nationals, the maximum number of points a driver can earn is 130. At the Finals in two weeks, a driver could earn 191 points.

That also means any driver 192 or more points out of first place after Sunday's final round at Las Vegas will be eliminated from championship contention. Funny Car’s Cruz Pedregon already has been eliminated, but the remaining 19 nitro-class racers remain in the championship hunt. However, most are expected to be eliminated this weekend.

Steve Torrence continues to lead the Top Fuel class. He has a 57-point edge on Brittany Force and a 76-point margin over Doug Kalitta. Brown, the current champion, is fourth in the standings, 105 points off the pace. Leah Pritchett (-180) is fifth and Tony Schumacher (-192) is sixth. The top four drivers represent four different organizations.

Don Schumacher Racing’s Ron Capps still is the No. 1-ranked Funny Car driver as he tries to repeat his 2016 championship. But Robert Hight, who split the first four Countdown victories with Capps, is lurking just 24 points behind in second place for John Force Racing. Courtney Force (-171) is third  is third, but DSR fields three of the next four contenders. Jack Beckman (-186) is fourth, Matt Hagan (-226) is fifth, and Tommy Johnson Jr. (-271) is seventh. John Force (-243) is sixth.


BACK ON THE HORSE - Steve Torrence is such a master at playing mind games with his competition, using his dragster to back up his words. Two weeks ago, in Dallas, his dragster turned on him. At least for a moment, in his mind.  

Torrence had a comfort zone with the dragster which had propelled him into a point lead, and eight wins in eleven races, but this engineering marvel was reduced to a bundle of twisted tubing when a tire failed as he approached the finish line at the Texas Motorplex.  

The cause of the crash is believed to be a tire failure. An unnamed source close to Goodyear's investigative process confirmed the tread of the tire was in good condition, but it appears something punctured the inner sidewall of the left rear tire.  

Torrence and his CAPCO team thrashed to bring out their second car, an unproven back-up, but in losing the semi-final race, the car just didn't "feel right."

A couple of test runs on Monday didn't make him feel any more confident. The comfort zone he'd settled into, and made him a winner was missing.  

"Initially, I was a little bit concerned about it," Torrence admitted. "When I got in the car in Dallas, it didn’t feel the same. It just, it wasn’t far off, but it was just a little bit different. And I had a different insert in the seat, and had a different steering wheel and different brake handle."

It was as if someone had moved Torrence's cheese; a play on the famous book by Spencer Johnson using a fable on how to cope positively with change.  

"It’s kind of like when you get in your normal daily driver, and somebody’s been driving it, and they moved your seat," Torrence explained. "You know it’s your car and everything’s normal but it just doesn’t feel right, it was the same deal."

Torrence's crew immediately switched out the seat insert, putting back in his former one. They also replaced the steering wheel, brake lever and gas pedal on the new car, with those parts salvaged from the crashed car.  

"I went up there last Friday and if you wouldn’t have told me it was a new car, I would not have been able to tell any difference," Torrence said. "Everything was exactly the same, and just spot on comfortable. So I made two laps and was as confident and as comfortable and just relaxed as if I was in the car that we wrecked in Dallas.  

"That effectively took all doubt out of my mind as far as my being comfortable in the car and being able to drive as well. And then the other thing is, we were able to go out there and really throw down two solid laps straight out of the trailer on a good racetrack."   

Torrence's decision about making an all-out effort to prepare the second car in the midst of eliminations in Dallas was as much about getting back on the horse as it was in fending off a surging Brittany Force, second place in the Top Fuel point standings.  

"We’re drag racers, that’s what we do," Torrence said.  "We get in these things; we know the risk with them. We’re not racing just for fun; we’re racing to win a championship and to help our cause. I had to get back in the race car, and those guys had to get us a race car out there to drive, and they did it, and I got in it, and I did the best I could.  

"I think if we’d had another run, or we’d had our other car, we could have probably won that round and went to the final at least. I’m from the school of you get on the horse that bucked you and keep riding. You don’t think about it; you just do it. And so, that was just my instinct, that was what I was supposed to do.  

"A lot of people have come up and said, ‘Man, I can’t believe you done that, and, ‘I don’t know about this."  

"I’m not the only guy out here that would have done it; I’m just the guy that had the opportunity to do it. With that being said, I don’t really want a lot of attention for just climbing back in the thing, because there are some other drivers that would do the same thing and have. We’re in a race for a championship and Brittany is and was right there nipping on our tails, and we needed to go up there and try to beat her. That’s why we did what we did." - Bobby Bennett

TIES THE KNOT – Terry McMillen hasn’t been in his Amalie Oil Dragster since his first-round exit at Dallas two weeks ago. But he had arguably the coolest ride in Las Vegas earlier this week. McMillen and longtime fiancée Cori Wickler were married Monday at a desert destination near Las Vegas. Afterward, they drove through town in style, in a classic pink Cadillac along with an Elvis impersonator.


ON THE VERGE – Brittany Force has won exactly half of the Countdown races so far, at Reading and Dallas (after winning in June at Epping, N.H.). That has put her in an excellent position to join Funny Car-icon father John Force as a family champion and to become the first female Top Fuel champion since Shirley Muldowney in 1982.

However, she has taken the mystique from this title chase that has just two more races to go.    

“I just can only go at it one round at a time,” Force said. “Yes, there’s the pressure involved in a championship, but there’s also excitement and motivation of winning a championship that’s going to push you and your whole team to do the best job you can. We use it as motivation. But, really, I just take it one step at a time, one run at a time. When it comes down to race day, it’s the same thing.”

Force, in second place (her highest ranking this year), is 57 points behind leader Steve Torrence. She has won at least one round in all four previous playoff events.

“We have a great shot at going after the title,” she said. “I’m proud with the run the Monster team has had this year, and we’re going to go after it.” Moreover, Force said, “I like Vegas. I’ve raced here in Super Comp, A-Fuel. I love the track. It’s a new race track, a beautiful facility, a long shutoff area. It’s just a great track, and I love racing here.”

In nine Las Vegas appearances in her career, Force has not won yet. She has made it to the quarterfinals six times, including at each of the last three races. Her best qualifying effort at this facility is fourth, and she started No. 4 twice (at the 2016 and 2017 spring races). Force led the field at Joliet, Ill., this summer.

She’d like to give Monster Energy Dragster crew chief Brian Husen a No. 1 starting position for his birthday Saturday.

SHINES AT VEGAS – The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway isn’t a home race for Michigan-based Mac Tools Dragster driver Doug Kalitta. But two of his 43 victories have come here in the fall races (2004, 2015), and four more of his 91 final rounds have been on this course (in the fall of 2007, and at the spring events in 2003, 2005, and 2014). The No. 3-seeded Countdown driver trails leader Steve Torrence by 76 points and No. 2 Brittany Force by 19 points.

So it’s no wonder he said he was excited to arrive here (which, as usual, he did by flying himself here in his own private plane).

“We have a strong set-up and always run well here,” Kalitta said of his Jim Oberhofer-tuned entry. “I know we will have a car to compete. Hopefully we can get the win and close the gap in the standings.”

Kalitta, fifth in overall victories among Top Fuel racers of all time, is going for his first NHRA series championship. He was the 1994 USAC Sprint Car champion.

A DIFFERENT FIGHT – This is not the kind of Countdown that reigning and three-time champion Antron Brown had expected or wanted. But he still talks in terms of trying to “throw everything we have at it” and “come out swinging.”

Brown said, “The last two years we’ve been fortunate enough to wrap up the championship there. This year, we’re going to go in and just try to give ourselves a better chance to be in the running so we can go to Pomona and try to win another championship. That’s our main focus right now. We usually end up in the finals or semifinals in this race, but now we need to put the Matco Tools Toyota into the winner’s circle. If we do our jobs, everything else will take care of itself.

“You certainly have a different mindset coming in when you are trying to protect a lead,” he said. “I wish we were in that position right now, but we are on attack mode instead. We’ve had an extremely fast race car and been consistent. We just have not had the luck we needed so far. If you look at the previous two years, we came to Las Vegas with the lead because we won three of the first four Countdown races. We’re still trying to get our first one of the Countdown this year. We just haven’t been able to get past the semifinal. Brittany [Force] beat us in Reading and went on to win. Steve [Torrence] took us out in St. Louis and went on to win. Those two are on top of the standings, and you just never know how things would stack up right now if the results would have gone in our favor. We just have to press forward in Las Vegas and throw everything we have at it. I know [crew chiefs] Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald] and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys are going to come out swinging. We have to grab every point we can in qualifying and complete the job on Sunday.”

Brown earned his first 2017 victory here in the spring, and he said, “The only thing winning in April helps us with is coming in with a winning mindset. If we can sweep Las Vegas, we may have a chance at the big trophy. That’s all we can do right now – keep our heads down and work as hard as we can. It’s been a good track for us. Winning there earlier this year was a big moment for us. That first win is always tough to get, and the next one is just as important. You have to win in the Countdown if you want to win the championship. The three drivers in front of us in the standings have all won at least one race. If we want to be part of the championship mix, we have to win this weekend. It’s just that simple.

“We had a tough battle with our U.S. Army teammate Tony Schumacher in the final here in April, and hopefully it’s a rematch Sunday. We both have some ground to make up, and we both need a win. I know we’re ready to get out there and get after it,” Brown said. “The Toyota Nationals is the second from last race in the Countdown to the Championship and it has always been a crucial race for us. There’s so much riding on this race.”

CONCEDES ODDS ARE TOUGH – Tony Schumacher has come from behind before to seize a championship in the U.S. Army Dragster. But this weekend, the eight-time titlist conceded that “it’s a longshot right now to win the championship.” However, he said, “Winning this weekend is first on the agenda.

“The reality is that we still have a shot at the championship. It’s a longshot, for sure, but all we can do is control our part of it and hope for some help this weekend. There is no quit in this U.S. Army team, and I’ve always said we perform our best when we absolutely have to. I’ve been part of some incredible moments with the U.S. Army team, and we’re just hoping to keep the dream alive. We’ve had so many good weekends racing at The Strip and, despite not having the success we were aiming for so far in the Countdown, we still have the chance to do something special here at the end of the season.”

Schumacher said timing probably is the main factor for his success at this racetrack.

“We have the opportunity to race in Las Vegas twice a year, and timing always seems to play a factor. Our spring race typically is after we’ve had a handful of races and teams have a pretty good package under them. We started the season very consistent and the U.S. Army car was really good. We won the Gatornationals and came to Vegas on a roll and that continued. We qualified second and had a heck of a race in the final with Antron. We won the spring race there in 2013 and 2014, so we’ve been good there for quite some time. In the fall, it’s the crunch time, the second-to-last race of the Countdown, and we live for those opportunities,” he said. “The U.S. Army team thrives in those high-pressure moments. We’ve proven it over the years, and I’m excited we have another shot at it this weekend.”

SCHUMACHER’S FRUSTRATION ERUPTS – Tony Schumacher’s frustration spilled over Friday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He was irritated that any one of his testing passes the Monday after the Dallas race two weeks ago could have helped him perhaps win that race in his adopted home state.

“There’s no reason for that,” he said. “We can’t do that. We’ve got to learn to race better.”

And he clearly was perturbed by his first-session results that left him in seventh place.

“If racing average is our goal, we’re doing a hell of a job,” Schumacher said.

Nothing was average about his second run Friday. He set the track E.T. record with a 3.673-second blast at a class-best 332.67-mph speed. That made him the provisional No. 1 qualifier.

PRITCHETT STILL HOPING – Leah Pritchett recognizes she has slid from 30 points off the lead when the Countdown began to 180 with only two races remaining on the schedule. But she prefers to reflect on the positives, including the notion she can stage a miraculous comeback and battle for her first title throughout the Pomona weekend.

After all, the Pennzoil/Papa John's Pizza/FireAde Dragster driver finished seventh in the final 2016 standings, after her team disbanded and she drove not only one but two other dragsters as she cobbled together sponsorship to keep going after her first race victory last February and her team’s collapse about a week or two later.

She has been no slouch this season, either, winning the first two events and four overall in six final-round appearances. She also earned six No. 1 qualifying positions and reset the elapsed-time record twice.

"If you would have told us all the accomplishments we would have this year before we opened the season at Pomona (in February) we would have said, 'sign us up.' It's been amazing. But we are competitors,” Pritchett said, “and while we are excited about that, we wouldn't be the racers we are if we didn't think we could go for more. We want more because we know we can do more.                                               

"These last two races are important on multiple levels: for our team, for our morale, going through all these highs and lows together. I couldn't ask for anything more," she said.

Well, maybe she could ask for one more thing . . .

“I do think there’s more to be gained,” Pritchett said. "This season has been a learning season, specifically what it takes to maintain a championship-caliber level, and a win or two would create even more momentum. We have the mentality of nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“What this season has forced me to do is find that balance between having confidence in my abilities and also pursuing new ways to improve,” she said. “I feel like I’ve done a good job of exploring that and hopefully these last two races will be the product of conquering that. The team is working hard, and we’re all excited for these last two events to hopefully finish well. But I know we’re going to stand up there on stage [at the Nov. 13 awards ceremony] and know we gave it all we’ve got.”

Pritchett and DSR Funny Car colleague Matt Hagan will stay in Las Vegas and co-star at the Pennzoil display at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show at the Convention Center. She attended for the first time 10 years ago, and she still recalls “walking up to the Pennzoil booth as a small-time, grassroots racer.” She said she “introduced myself and hoped one day I'd have Pennzoil as a partner. Now I will be one of the featured drivers at the Pennzoil display that will be the largest stage at SEMA. That will be very humbling and a testament to what it means to be a driver for Don Schumacher Racing."

FIRST THINGS FIRST – Shawn Langdon will switch to a Funny Car next season, but he said, “My plan is to win the next two – that’s my goal. It will be a big change next year, and I’m excited about it. But my plan is to just focus on the rest of this year first. If we have a car like we did in Dallas for the last two races, I plan on winning at least one of them. It would be awesome to get another win in Top Fuel.” Langdon reached the final round at the most recent race, at Dallas, in his Global Electronic Technology Dragster. “Hopefully we can carry that momentum into the last two races,” Langdon said. “Kalitta Motorsports has run strong there in the past, and my plan is the continue that run of success there to the winners circle. It will also be a cool weekend with testing the Funny Car on Monday. I am excited about that, too, but we will take this weekend one day at a time.”


SANFORD STEPPING UP – Ashley Sanford has decided to go all in with Top Fuel in 2018. She and her family are selling their Top Alcohol Dragster – after she completes this race and the Finals at Pomona with Red Lion Hospitality sponsorship. But she said these last two races, part of what she and parents Shane and Michele tease is their “Eagles Farewell Tour,” said the change to a 10,000-horsepower car is “bittersweet.”

The Fullerton, Calif., native said, “This is where my heart is, and honestly, where racing stemmed for me. My dad raced blown alcohol in sand, and that was when I really knew, ‘Oh my gosh – I want to get in a car like that!’ So getting to come out and compete with my family again, with the old team from the sand drags, is absolutely amazing. It keeps me 100-percent humble. I like to keep my feet as close to the Earth as possible.”

Since her Top Fuel debut at Indianapolis in the Lagana family’s Nitro Ninja entry with support from K1 Speed and 805 Beer and her appearance at St. Louis in the Rapisarda Autosport International Dragster, people continually want her to compare the nitro-powered car with the alcohol version. They ask her, “Is this slow for you, now that you have gone more than 300 miles an hour?”

She quickly responded, “Absolutely not. These cars still are a blast to drive.” After her first qualifying pass at Dallas, she said, “I went 275 miles an hour in the quarter-mile at 5.135 [second] E.T.  That’s an incredible, solid run in the alcohol class, so I had a blast. Really, the biggest difference is those Top Fuel cars just pull so much harder. It’s almost like a relaxing fast drive in this car. When you’re in the Top Fuel car, it’s as intense as anything you can ever imagine all the way down [the track].”

With drivers still debating the merits of 1,000-foot racing versus a return to traditional quarter-mile racing, Sanford recognized she’s still getting to experience each: “I’m getting the best of both worlds.”

Sanford said these last two events in the Top Alcohol Dragster class are “very exciting,” especially “being out here, getting to talk to everyone. Even though we’re a couple of pits over [from the Top Fuel contingent], being here is so important. Out of sight, out of mind . . . It’s just motivation, really.”

Sanford said racing with RAI was a real learning experience and a lot of fun.

She received the call from RAI the Tuesday after the Reading race, meaning she had just three days before making her first qualifying passes at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“In Southern California, it was 2:49 p.m.,” she said – not that she was watching the clock or anything eager like that. “It’s not like I was waiting for it or anything,” she said with a silly sarcasm. “That was a stressful day, waiting to see if I was going to get the call. It was absolutely worth it, though.

“It was honestly the most challenging experience I’ve had as a driver. I’ve raced with other people before, but there’s always been more time to plan and adjust things and get everything ready. It was extremely rushed – which I’m not complaining about at all! – but we didn’t have as much time to do as many things. They wanted to go there and test. They were unhappy with how Reading went. They had gone up in smoke pretty much every run, and they were like, ‘We’re not going back to Australia and leave [the car] after all those passes. We want to get the car down the track, get the monkey – or kangaroo – off the shoulder. They just really wanted to go [to St. Louis] and test some things out,” Sanford said. “They were working on things while I was getting adjusted to the new car. So that combination was challenging. It ended up working out great in the end.

“Unfortunately, I as a driver was getting out of shape a lot during the qualifying passes. I told the guys, ‘I feel like I’m steering it correctly. I don’t know why it’s not catching up with me.’ I was starting to overthink myself,” she said. “Then it was like, ‘Oh my gosh – I’m a terrible driver! What am I doing?!’ And it ended up [that] after all the qualifying sessions we finally were able to take the time to figure it out. The front steering alignment was off by half an inch, which is a lot in these cars. You want to get just minute steering turns. You want to move it very shortly, very tightly, and very quickly. In this car, on the last qualifying pass, I thought I was driving a Funny Car. I was feeling like I was all over the place, trying to steer it. It happens so quickly in these cars.

“Being a rookie driver in these cars, my vision isn’t 100 percent clear yet. So to me, it looks like I could be extremely close to the wall, but in reality, it was just moving over a hair. But how quickly it happened, my mind was just like, ‘Get out of it.’ I do take pride in that I’m a very cautious driver. Whenever something doesn’t feel right, I let off. I’d much rather race another day,” she said. “Especially having an opportunity to be in the Rapisarda car, I was like, ‘I’m not going to hurt this baby for them. If it’s getting funky, I’m out.’”

Sanford qualified 15th at St. Louis and drew Leah Pritchett in the first round of eliminations. “And Leah ran a .63 [3.63-second elapsed time] right out of the gate. I have never seen a car go so fast past me before,” she said.

In all, though, she said, “That was awesome. Dom and Bobby [Lagana], they had my back [in recommending her to team owner Santo Rapisarda].

“I knew my name was in the hat with a couple other really strong racers who have done extremely well in the NHRA and other forms of drag racing. When I knew my name was in the hat, it was like, ‘This is so cool!’ Then when they picked me, I was just blown out of the water. I was screaming before I could even answer the phone.” The caller ID on the phone said, “Australia,” and, Sanford said, “At that moment, I knew I may or not be getting the call. My boyfriend had to stop me from screaming and say, ‘Answer the phone!’ because I was way too excited.”

She’s still excited, but she still works double shifts at Tony’s Deli at Anaheim, Calif. And she still hasn’t signed an official deal for 2018. But Alan Johnson Racing has confirmed that it is trying to field a two-car team featuring Sanford and Swiss newcomer Noah Stutz, who has a couple of NHRA Top Fuel races under his belt (including at Las Vegas) and has been working this year on Scott Palmer’s crew.


COLLISION COURSE, ALMOST – John Force and Jim Campbell had a close call in their second-session match-up Friday night. Force began the pass in the right lane but ended up in the left lane, in front of Campbell, his Peak parachutes blowing across Campbell’s line of vision. Force’s unscripted lane change took out the top-end timing cone and cost each of them an elapsed time. And each was on outstanding runs. Force finished 12th for the day and Campbell 15th.

“I want to thank Jim. Good driving job by him. We watch out for each other,” Force said after exiting his car. “I was going left. I was trying to go right. I was trying to get it back. I just didn’t get it there. I saw him go by, so God bless him.”

Campbell said, “That was probably our best run of the season. It was haulin’ - stayed right in the middle of the groove. Just reached over to slap the parachutes, and all of a sudden I saw John go across in front of me. I understand these things are beasts.”

HOPES FOR HEALING – Points leader Ron Capps said this visit to The Strip at Las Vegas will carry an emotional element all weekend. It’s one of three racetracks (along with Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., and Sonoma Raceway in Northern California) the Carlsbad, Calif., veteran considers home territory.

Four of his five triumphs here at this facility (2001, 2005, 2011-12) have occurred in the fall race, one in which has also has two runner-up finishes (2006-2007). But he feels at home here because this is one venue at which he can share extra time with brother Jon, a part-time Funny Car racer. And this visit is especially gripping because of the Oct. 1 mass shooting near the Mandalay Bay just a few miles down Las Vegas Boulevard from this dragstrip.

"That hit home," the NAPA Dodge driver for Don Schumacher Racing said. "I've been to so many events in Vegas, and having Jon and his family there really made it hit harder. It was senseless. We've been looking forward to getting back there and in our own way maybe helping Las Vegas heal a little more. That is such a resilient town. We're there so often for holidays and hanging out with Jon and his family. It seems like another home."

Capps’ car and all of the DSR cars are carrying a black and white #VegasStrong decal in honor of the shooting victims. Earlier this summer, the organization similarly recognized the Houston area following Hurricane Harvey’s destructive blast through South Texas.

Last weekend, Capps shared time with his family at the Formula 1 race at Austin, Texas, as guests of U.S.A. Compression, and he said these events and his family time have changed his perspective. But he knows he needs to concentrate on his tasks this weekend – as family and friends will surround him.

He has recorded a career-best eight Funny Car victories this season through 22 races and has a slim lead (24 points) over 2009 champion Robert Hight, a rival from John Force Racing. Capps has topped the standings after 16 of the past 17 races.

Capps, a 58-time winner, lost to Hight in the most recent race, at Dallas two weeks ago. That gave Hight and Capps two 2017 Countdown victories apiece.

"We've had a better Countdown than a year ago, when we didn't win a trophy," Capps said. "This year we've won twice, but so has Robert. I'm confident on what [crew chief Rahn] Tobler and the NAPA AutoCare Centers crew will give me for these last two races. We at least need to keep our lead over Robert at Vegas, but we really need to add to it so we can have a better cushion going to Pomona with the new points system at the Finals."

JFR IS BACK – To heck with worrying about the battle he has going with current champion and points leader Ron Capps. Robert Hight is enjoying the idea that he is in the hunt – that both he and Top Fuel teammate Brittany Force (both ranked No. 2 at the moment) are legitimate contenders, putting John Force Racing squarely in the championship conversation.

“We haven’t been in this position – any of our teams – in the last two years, going down to the last two races with a shot at winning the championship,” Hight said. “Brittany and I are legitimate contenders. I can remember going to Las Vegas last year, and you go to the SEMA show, and you’re bummed out because you meet all these fans, and they know that you’re not in the hunt and you’ve been struggling.

“We’ve turned it around, so it’s a lot of pride,” Hight said. “We need to make the most of this. We’re here, so we’ve got to close the deal.”

Hight, tuned by premier crew chief Jimmy Prock, set the national elapsed-time record (3.987 seconds) and speed (339.87 mph), so it’s clear they have a fast race car.

“I’m not putting any extra pressure on myself,” Hight said. “When you have confidence in your car and you know you’ve got the best car out there, that helps you and takes away pressure. It’s not like we’re just squeaking by qualifying or anything else. If we go out there and do what we know how to do, we’re going to win.”

He’s on a roll right now, for his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers are in baseball’s World Series, waging their own battle against the Houston Astros.

“It’s kind of cool,” Hight said. “It’s a big deal. It’s been 29 years since the Dodgers have been in the World Series, and I’m a huge Dodger fan. To be in the hunt at the same time is very, very cool. But I’m really focused on what we have to do. The Dodgers are entertainment for me, and what I’m doing is business.”

Hight has won in five of his 25 appearances at this racetrack, two of them at this fall event (2009, 2015). His 41 victories put him fourth on the all-time Funny Car list, behind John Force (148), Ron Capps (58), and Tony Pedregon (43). He is 20th on the all-time professional victories list, one behind Pro Stock Motorcycle racers Angelle Sampey and Eddie Krawiec.

TODD EYES TOP FIVE – JR Todd, closing his first year of Funny Car competition, has two more chances to add to his two-victory total. And he has another shot at claiming his first victory at Las Vegas. This weekend’s visit to Las Vegas is particularly significant, because the race’s title sponsor is Toyota.

“We always want to perform well in front of our sponsors,” Todd, ninth in points, said. “Toyota is a great supporter of Kalitta Motorsports. And all of our cars have run well at the Vegas race, so we’re hoping to check off another win in front of the higher-ups from Toyota. We seem to do really well at Toyota-sponsored races. I’ve had some good runs in Vegas in a Top Fuel car and, hopefully, we can carry that over to the Funny Car. The team has had success and won with Del Worsham in the Funny Car in 2014.

“Our DHL/WIX Filters team is a winning team, and we want to finish strong with a top-five finish in points,” he said.

He is a winner – at Sonoma and Indianapolis – but he’s trying to shake the annoyance of first-round losses at each of the past three playoff races.  

Todd, a nine-time Top Fuel winner, won’t be trying to catch points leader Ron Capps, but he’s aiming instead for better consistency: “We show up to every race to win. Finishing strong at the end of the year, it gets everybody a little more pumped up for 2018. I’d love to win in Vegas this weekend. I’ve done well in the past but have never won there.

“I knew switching to Funny Car this year would be a challenge,” Todd said. “We are constantly working on things to help me drive better. In order to beat great drivers like Matt Hagan and Ron Capps, you need to find every little advantage you can inside in the car.”

He called The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway “a great track, especially this time of year. The Toyota Nationals are a big fan draw, and it’s crazy around Halloween.”

WANTS MOJO BACK – Matt Hagan opened the season with back-to-back victories but hasn’t reached the final round in the Countdown. Now, winning is all that he said can salvage the disappointing season: "It's all about winning races now. That's all we can do. Unfortunately, we haven't shown what we're capable of in the Countdown and we've fallen pretty far down in the points standings. So we just have to go out and turn on win lights.”

He said it’s valuable for his Dickie Venables-led Pennzoil/Mopar team to win again. "For these guys, it's important we get another win under us. The offseason is long, man. You want to end it on a high note to carry you through till we can get out here and try it again," Hagan said.

"This is not the time of year you want to have your struggles, and it's unfortunate that it worked out that way for us,” he said. “We stayed after Dallas and tested, and we're continuing to work on it. We're definitely not giving up. We still have two races we have to go out and win.”

Hagan has three victories and a runner-up finish this season but is seeking his first career victory here.

WEIRD PAIRING – Little went right in the Gary Densham-Jeff Arend pairing during the first qualifying session. Densham started to perform his burnout, and evidently the throttle cable came unhooked. So he just kept rolling down the track. Arend didn’t fare much better when it was his turn to run. He got out to about 800 feet, already mixing up cylinders, and the 2007 Monte Carlo that belongs to Australians Peter and Helen Russo started getting out of the groove. He finished the 1,000-foot course but stopped in the shutdown area.

HOT DIEHL – Jeff Diehl rode out a second-session pass with flames surrounding him in the cockpit for much of the way down the racetrack. He exited the car on his own and was unhurt.



ANDERSON SETS BAR – Taking advantage of what he called “Chamber of Commerce” conditions, Greg Anderson recorded a 6.663-second elapsed time to claim the early No. 1 starting position.

The KB-Summit Racing Camaro driver, who’s going for his fifth No. 1 qualifying position this season, said, “We stepped on it tonight. We went for it. If you want the pole, you’ve got to be bold. It stuck and made a nice run. It’s going to be tough for cars to get around that tomorrow. It’s going to finish in the top three or four.

“I feel great. I’ve had a great playoff run so far, but I just haven’t had the speed I need. We’ve got two races to go and four cars locked in a heck of a points battle. It can go any way, so you need as many points as you can get,” Anderson said.

“I have a lot of new parts under the hood. I’ve got a fast car again,” he said. “I’ve got a great opportunity, and that’s all you can ask for. I’ve got a great car under me, and I’ve got a chance. Now it’s up to me to see if I can find a way to that championship.”

YOU GO, BO – Bo Butner might be a used-car salesman from Floyds Knobs, Ind., but he’s as sharp as any Wall Street lawyer. Take, for instance, his recent . . . ahem . . . business acquisition.

After partnering with Kenny Koretsky and his Nitro Fish line of T-shirts, Butner had a lovely idea that seemed to backfire on him . . . and ended up backfiring more on the NHRA.

“I’m new to this. And believe me, I get along with everybody in the world. And there’s enough business out here for everybody involved. We should all work together,” Butner said, prefacing his story.

“But I kind of got in trouble,” he said.

Fiancée Randy Lyn Shipp designs most of Butner’s T-shirts. And she came up with one that included the wording “The Big Go 2017.” Butner said he had 144 shirts made and planned to hand them out to sportsman racers.

“Evidently Main Gate or somebody owns the rights to the U.S. Nationals, which they call ‘The Big Go.’

I’m not a hothead, and I said, ‘No problem.’”

Maybe Butner would have been an excellent reporter, for it then occurred to him that he ought to check out just who owns the trademark to the phrase “The Big Go.” Shipp did the legwork and discovered no one owned the trademark.

So Butner applied for it.

In the interest of keeping the peace, he asked for another meeting with the NHRA officials. He told them, “Listen, again, I get along with everybody. There’s no trademark to it. I am in line to have it. Let’s all get along or I’ll have to have  a problem with people using ‘The Big Go’ if I have the trademark.”

He said, “It all went good. They just asked me, ‘Please don’t stick it out in front of people’s faces. But this was the second day in, and at that time I was buying them to give to the stocker racers, mainly. I didn’t want to make money off of it. Ever since then, I’ve had a couple of spats where I’ve gotten in trouble. But now we all get along pretty good.”

So does the NHRA have to pay Butner anytime it chooses to advertise or market or promote “The Big Go”?

“No, no, no, no. no - I would never enforce that – no, no, no,” Butner said. “I didn’t even want to bring that up. If they want it that bad, they can have it. I promise you, you do not get that rich on T-shirts. The guy I buy them from does.”

Butner uses the catchphrase “Bo Knows” for his Jim Butner Auto Sales business at Clarksville, Ind. He got some push-back for that, but he said Nike (which ran a “Bo Knows” advertising campaign for cross-training shoes in 1989-90 that featured NFL and Major League Baseball star Bo Jackson) dropped the trademark or allowed it to expire.

“I’ve applied for it,” Butner said. “It’s kind of senseless and crazy, but oh well.”

Oh well . . . c’est la vie . . . Wait- Does anyone have trademarks on those phrases?

REALLY, IT’S TRUE: YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID – Larry Morgan drew the attention of the NHRA years ago when he had his own T-shirt program that asserted, with some extraneous drag-racing text, “You can’t fix stupid.”

The NHRA reprimanded him.

But Morgan’s Chevy Camaro has resurrected the phrase, festooning the hood with it. And he said the NHRA hasn’t objected.

Son Nick added, “We’re coming out with T-shirts, too.”


TRICK OR TREAT – Deric Kramer, Bo Butner, and Alan Prusiensky are among the Pro Stock racers who have gotten into the Halloween spirit this weekend, having fun dressing up themselves and their cars.

Kramer chose “Days of Thunder” as his inspiration, decking his car out in Cole Trickle Mello Yello style. Butner, continuing his “Smokey and the Bandit” theme from last year, is giving a nod to the Burt Reynolds-depicted main character, Bo “Bandit” Darville. Prusiensky has revived “Gilligan’s Island” memories – and no, he’s not dressing up as Ginger or Mary Ann.    

NOT-SO-SECRET LOVE – Erica Enders isn’t going to forget the incredible run she enjoyed at Las Vegas in her championship years. She was unbeatable in 2014 and 2015, winning six straight events. That included both the spring and fall national events and consecutive K&N Filters Horsepower Challenges.

"It's no secret I love the Vegas track," she said. "Those two years were pretty darn special. It felt like we could do no wrong, but believe me it took a lot of hard work from these guys at Elite Motorsports. We had it all figured out back then, and we even clinched our second title at the fall race in 2015. So nothing but good feelings for this place."

Her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro isn’t quite blowing out the competition at the moment, but she does have the Wally trophy from Epping, N.H. And she’s ready to win again for the first time since June.

"It might as well happen in Vegas," Enders, who took the tentative No. 7 spot in the opening qualifying session and improved later to No. 6, said. "We certainly had a better car at the last race in Dallas, both in qualifying and on race day.

"We wanted more out of this year when we switched back to Chevy, but a lot of little things have slowed us down a touch. And we all know it doesn't take much to get beat at this level,” she said. “Those championship years, we always seemed to be on the right side of every close race. And we haven't had that kind of luck this year."

GOAL: MISTAKE-LESS WEEKEND – Rookie Tanner Gray wowed everyone in his first visit to Las Vegas, winning the race before he turned 18 years old and becoming the NHRA’s youngest winner ever. And the leading candidate for the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award said he’s pretty confident he can repeat.

"We've had really great success in Vegas," Gray said. "My dad [Shane Gray] won this race last year, and I won this race in the spring. We have the same crew and a proven competitive race car. As long as I can do my job on Sunday, we should end the day with a win."

Who could argue with him? He has won five times this season and is just 111 points off the Pro Stock lead (ranked fourth) with two races left to go and more than 300 points available to earn.

“With two races left, our Gray Motorsports team has to throw whatever we have at winning this championship,” Tanner Gray said. “We have to be able to capitalize [on] every opportunity to get those points. This weekend is critical. We cannot have any mistakes if we want to keep our championship hopes alive.”

VEGAS LUCK FOR JOHNSON? – Allen Johnson has won three out the four times he has reached the final at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the 2012 champion has a desire to win again before he retires from 22 years of Pro Stock racing in two weeks. The Marathon Petroleum/J&J Racing Dodge Dart owner-driver said he thinks his odds are better than even.

“Racing wise, we’ve really done well there,” Johnson said. “The track is somewhere between sea level and Denver’s altitude. And it seems like in the past, that’s played into our good fortune. I feel confident.”

At the fall Las Vegas event, he has been to two final rounds and won most recently in 2012, defeating Vincent Nobile.

“We’re gung-ho these last two events and want to move up in the top five in points before this season is done,” Johnson said. “Of course, I’d love to win a race before the end of the year. But my plan is to go rounds, jump into the top five, and go out on a good note.”


KRAWIEC LEAPS TO TOP – Eddie Krawiec, massaging a finicky new transmission and drafting off some data from teammate Andrew Hines, vaulted from 12th place to first Friday evening with a 6.936-second pass on his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod.

“I think we definitely had a little left in the tank,” he said, anticipating Saturday’s two final qualifying sessions before Sunday eliminations. However, he said he didn’t think his elapsed time is safe.

“I missed three little [qualifying bonus] points the first round but got them the second session,” the leader in the standings said. “I know everybody says, ‘Pomona’s points and a half. Pomona’s points and a half. But Pomona’s points and a half.”

Hines was fastest in the class Friday with a speed of 193.82 mph.

COUNTING HIS BLESSINGS – Hector Arana Jr. still looks to his teammate father for inspiration. And what’s he taking away now is not to grumble about the fact he’s in seventh place, 209 points off leader Eddie Krawiec’s pace.

"My dad raced 19 years before he ever won a race," Arana Jr. said. "He raced 20 years to get his first championship. I've only been out here seven years and I've already won 11 times. I won three times in my rookie year. When you take a step back and look at my career, how can I complain?"

Arana Jr., seeking his first championship on the Lucas Oil Racing TV Buell, began the Countdown in third place. But a recent two-race performance that ended in uncharacteristic first-round losses squashed his chances. And he’s still going for his first victory of the season.

"We have all the same parts and pieces in place," Arana Jr. said. "We haven't forgotten how to race. We just didn't mix the ingredients the right way the last few races. This is the same bike and the same motors that carried us to runner-up finishes in Englishtown, Chicago, and Indianapolis. So we know what we have is good.”

He parlayed all that into a provisional second-place effort with two Saturday passes remaining.

ARANA SR. BACK – The song says you can’t hurry love. It’s the same for a return to normal after rotator-cuff surgery. Hector Arana knows that, but he’s back in action for the first time since early June. That’s the happy news. The unpleasant news is that he landed 26th and dead last in the order in both sessions Friday.

Still, he said, he’s “feeling good. Time for the old man to have some more fun. There are some things we want to try, both for these last two races, in regards to what [Hector Jr.] is doing and stuff we think will help us next year. Rather than experiment with his bike during qualifying sessions, we can use my bike and keep him in race mode."

Arana Sr. suffered a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder while changing a flat tire on the Lucas Oil team's race hauler at Englishtown, N.J.

"It's an injury you can't rush," Arana Sr. said. "I followed my doctor's orders and did all the rehab I had to do, and it feels back to normal now. It takes time for the injury to heal and then more time to get your range of motion and strength back. I can do everything I did before, but now I'll test it to make sure I can ride my Lucas Oil Buell."

He said he wanted to get back on the track “to give Lucas Oil even more exposure." Arana Sr., who works at the Lucas Oil production plant at Corydon, Ind., is the first racer to receive sponsorship from Forrest and Charlotte Lucas and Lucas Oil. "They've been so good to me and my family all these years, and I'll never be able to thank them enough. I do know that Forrest likes it when we win races, so we'll do all we can to get another one before the year is over."

As for his son, Arana Sr. said, "The higher he can finish, the better it is for everyone involved. He's a good kid, and he works hard. He's becoming really good at staying focused on what's next and not looking backwards. He'll be a champion, for sure. Sometimes you just have to be patient."

You can’t hurry championships, either.

TEAM LIBERTY RETURNS – So far Team Liberty is 1-and-1 in its return to the racetrack this weekend.

“Taking those races off helped our team kind of reset a little bit,” team owner and rider Cory Reed said. “Stepping back kind of opened our eyes to a couple of things that we may not have had time to see if we didn’t skip a few races. We’re confident that we’re going to . . .  not hurt anything and even go faster than we have all season because we’re not hurting our stuff.”

Ken Johnson and Chris Rivas worked on the bikes at the team’s Cordele, Ga., shop. And after Friday’s two qualifying sessions, with two more scheduled for Saturday, the improvements landed Angelle Sampey in the provisional No. 14 spot. But Reed is 20th overnight – in a long list of unqualified racers that includes John Hall, Charlie Sullivan, Ron Tornow, David Hope, Mark Paquette, Scott Bottorff, Lance Bonham, Andie Rawlings, and Hector Arana Sr.
“We want Team Liberty Racing to be a thorn in their sides this weekend,” Sampey said with a laugh, referring to her competitors. “We have a solid team, and I’m really happy with how far we’ve come this year with our Victory Magnum Pro Stock Motorcycles. I have a good feeling about this weekend and our chances of going rounds.”
STOFFER IMPROVING – Karen Stoffer, of Minden, Nev., curiously, said The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a track she never has been able to solve. But she’s looking for her first victory at Las Vegas and her first since 2015.

Stoffer is eighth in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings and tentatively No. 9 in the field for Sunday’s reliminations.

“I love the track and facility, so hopefully this is a year of change,” Stoffer, an eight-time winner, said. “Unfortunately, it’s never been a good race for us. So hopefully we can put those things behind us. It’s one we haven’t been able to master, and we’re trying really hard to do that this year. We still have a little bit left to find with our performance, but if we can find it, hopefully we can equate that to a great ending to the season.”

Stoffer, Scotty Pollacheck, and Jim Underdahl teamed up this season, and Stoffer said she has enjoyed the process. Pollacheck is on track for his best-ever finish in the class.

“I think for us it’s been a good year, and we’re continuing to find that E.T. that we’ve been missing the last couple years,” Stoffer said. “We can’t climb much higher in the points, but if we can help Scotty a little bit and find our E.T., I would consider it a good season. That will help us going into next year. I think we’ve made a turnaround and we’re improving race after race. We’re optimistic.”

Stoffer said she removed the fuel injection from her bike and went back to carburetors, and, after the initial adjustment, she has made steady improvement. She has a pair of semifinal finishes, and she qualified for the Countdown to the Championship for the eighth time in her career.

“It’s great to see all the riders coming out and doing well and doing it with good teams,” Stoffer said. “It shows how thriving this class and sport are. I’ve always been an advocate of giving people the opportunity to come out, and it’s great seeing all these people. There’s so many riders out there and I think it’s going to be very challenging [the rest of this weekend]. But if we can find the little bit left performance-wise on the bike, I think we can have a good weekend.”



SCARY MOMENT - J&A Services Pro Mod racer Eric Latino wasn't the least bit happy after Friday's Q-1 session at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas.

Latino left the starting line in the left lane, but after severe tire shake, his supercharged Camaro made an abrupt turn right into Jim Whiteley's lane, missing the turbocharged racer. The car headed for a direct hit into the retaining wall, but a last-second turn resulted in a side impact. The out-of-control car then headed back to the left lane, where it impacted violently the left retaining wall. The car slid to a halt, and Latino exited the car under his own power.

"The car left good, and it felt pretty good," Latino said. "It got out and started rattling the tire. Once it rattled, I lifted, and when I lifted the momentum's already there. The tire’s on fire. It kicked the car sideways. It put that car up on two wheels. I knew it was going to go for the wall, tagged it, came back.

"I thought it was going to definitely straighten it out, but it broke the wheel and the suspension. So I had no way to steer it out. It just rolled in and hit the left wall," he said.

Latino was disappointed because he felt there was good chance the car was going to run well this weekend.

"I don’t know how bad the car really is, but it just . . . it’s a crappy day," a dejected Latino said. "You know, I was looking forward to a good race weekend this weekend. My sponsor is here, and the car was going to be in their booth at the SEMA show. I think I kind of messed that up a bit for them."

The display might not be the only thing messed up. Latino's right hand was swollen once he returned to his pit area 30 minutes later.

"My left hand’s pretty sore. It’s kind of swollen up, so I don’t know whether something got fractured," Latino said. "I’ll have to go check that out. It could have been worse. I feel fine. The car was one of the best cars I ever had, and it worked so well. At the end of the year, you know, we got the car working so well. It just really sucks that we had to end the year off this way with it." - Bobby Bennett



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