2018 NHRA NGK FOUR-WIDE NATS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
DESPITE THIRD FOUR-WIDE VICTORY, TOP FUEL’S TORRENCE DOWNPLAYS YEAR’S SUCCESS - Top Fuel ace Steve Torrence has left no doubt that he never has cared for four-wide drag racing.
And Torrence left no doubt Sunday at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at Concord, N.C., that despite his disdain for it, he has been completely in control with the novelty format.
For Torrence, it was his third straight four-wide victory and third victory in five races. He took sole possession of the points lead when tire-smoking Tony Schumacher failed to advance from his first-round quad.
The Capco Contractors Dragster driver won the final quartet in 3.813 seconds at 326.56 mph, leaving runner-up Doug Kalitta about 84 feet in his wake on the 1,000-foot zMAX Dragway course. Kalitta ran 4.010 seconds at 278.12 mph in the Mac Tools Dragster.
However, Torrence didn’t talk like a dominator.
“It’s pretty unbelievable. We didn’t do the best through qualifying. We haven’t had the best car all year,” Torrence said. “We’ve been working on some stuff. I think that we can easily go back and run what we did at the end of the year last year and just stay consistently there. But you’ve got to constantly evolve your program. You’ve got to change, try to go quicker. It’s just something you’ve got to keep working at.”
He said crew chief Richard Hogan “gas been trying things. And there’s no better time to try than in qualifying.” Torrence started fourth on the 16-car grid.
In spite of his enviable performance so far this season, he spoke like a hard-luck racer trying to crack the top 10: “Even though it’s frustrating, I know there’s some light at the end of the tunnel and the car’s doing really well. We went back to our generic set-up, with a few minor changes for today. The car performed flawlessly and do what it was supposed to do. I’ll put Richard Hogan up against anybody out here when the track gets greasy. Some of these guys can go out and outrun us pretty good when it’s cool and the conditions are mineshaft. But when it’s tricky and not everybody can go down it, that guy can go down a wet street. He’s the guy. And I’ve got a lot of faith in my [crew]. They’re the reason for every bit of the success. Everybody says it, but that is the true story right there. I just drive the race car and make sure I don’t run over anything or do anything real dumb. But they cover my butt a lot.”
Torrence said that in the final round, “I had my money on Doug. But I knew that we could go down through there. We spun the tire a little bit in the semifinal, and they went right down that same racetrack, so I thought we might have our hands full with those guys. Any way you look at it, a win;s a win. It may not have been the prettiest, but it’s fun, and we need those Mello Yello points.”
Torrence denied Kalitta his first four-wide victory and back-to-back triumphs here. A victory would have been Kalitta’s 45th, which would keep him in the No. 5 all-time spot in Top Fuel history but put him just four behind Antron Brown for No. 4. Most of Kalitta’s success at this track has come at the fall race, which he won last September from the No. 1 starting position. Two of his three previous final-round appearances were at the fall event, and he has led the field twice here in the Countdown race. He did reach the spring race final in 2010.
“We were so close to our first four-wide win but came up short,” Kalitta said. “But still a solid race for our team. We picked up some valuable points, and I feel confident about our chances going into Atlanta."
When the tour shifts this coming weekend to Atlanta Dragway for the NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello, Pomona winner Kalitta will be seeking his 50th No. 1 qualifying performance.
Terry McMillen and Clay Millican completed the Top Fuel class’ final-round quad Sunday.
McMillen, in the Amalie Oil Dragster, defeated Torrence by .0027 of a second, or about 14 inches, to win their semifinal grouping and advance to his second straight final round. Millican, driving the Parts Plus/Great Clips Dragster, is a multi-time IHRA Top Fuel champion who was seeking only his second NHRA victory and first in nearly a year (since the June 2017 Bristol race). The two-time top qualifier this season also set low elapsed time at three of the first five races this year.
In this third quad grouping with Torrence, McMillen finished third with a 4.361-second pass at 235.72 mph. Millican, who lost traction, trailed McMillen by about 100 feet by the finish line at 5.295/129.97.
Torrence shared the winners circle with Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Jose Gonzalez (Pro Modified). And he said he’s going back home to Kilgore, Texas, with a trophy to present to his father Billy, who turned 60 years old Saturday.
Torrence said he had no idea what the formula for success at a four-wide race is.
“Sometimes my focus and concentration isn’t the best. And I have a tendency to overthink and over-analyze and go up there and just not do my job. It’s super-cliché to say it over and over because Tony has worn the phrase out, ‘being a machine,’ but you can’t be a thinking part of this vehicle. You have to be in it and be mechanical,“ he said. “When you’re thinking about anything other than that yellow light comes on and you hit the gas, then you’re typically late. I wasn’t the best on the Tree this weekend. Last year I was crushing it pretty solid. Final round, I’m looking at the wrong side of the Tree and I end up double-bulbing everybody. I had to get out and apologize to all those guys real quick, because I did not mean to do that. But end of the day, it was a much-needed win. The Good Lord looked after us, and we had a safe, successful weekend. We need to continue this momentum.”
By contrast, Schumacher, who lost his grip on the points lead, needed to find his momentum. However, he said he’s not panicking.
“My U.S. Army [Dragster] crew is as good as anyone, and we’ll get it figured out,” he said. “We are all adjusting to the traction NHRA is providing. I’m not surprised with how unpredictable things went today in the first round. We knew it going in that there were going to be changes. It’s not like 20 crew chiefs became idiots last night. We just have to get used to it and bring the cars to it. When the track warms up, it becomes a little more predictable. The first quad there was an oil down. The second quad there was an oildown. When there is that much span in between runs, the track is just not good. You want to go one pair after the other, but we didn’t get that opportunity because of the oildowns and the blow-ups. That didn’t help us today.
“Hat’s to off to Steve Torrence and his team. They went out and won the race. We make no excuses,” Schumacher said. “I am a firm believer there is a reason. We had too much power. We missed it. That’s the reason. I wouldn’t want to race against our car right now. We are bad to the bone and looking forward to showing in Atlanta.”
That’s where Torrence’s eight-victory 2017 season gained traction, propelling him to a second-place finish in the standings. Susan Wade
PEDREGON ENDS 92-EVENT WINLESS STREAK WITH FOUR-WIDE VICTORY - Cruz Pedregon might have been frustrated at times over the past four years but the two-time NHRA Funny Car world champion never gave up and his perseverance paid off Sunday when he and the Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry team won the NGK Spark Plugs Four-Wide NHRA Nationals.
Pedregon’s last trip to a Mello Yello Drag Racing Series winner’s circle was at Englishtown, New Jersey, in the ninth event of the 2014 season.
The winless streak stretched to 92 NHRA national events.
“92 is a good number because (1992) is the year I won my first (NHRA Funny Car world) championship,” he said of the year when he also won the first of his 36 Mello Yello event titles. “It must be my lucky number.”
His other championship was in 2008.
Pedregon, a Southern California native who lives near Indianapolis where his team is based, won with a time of 4.059 seconds at 310.84 mph on a tricky track to defeat runner-up John Force (4.098), Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.43) and No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force (6.215) in the final foursome at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte.
“This one ranks right up there (with my first),” said Pedregon, who also was the quickest to react at the starting line.
“I was thinking maybe I wasn’t destined to win again. I don’t want to be out here if I’m not competitive. What motivates me is having a good race car that people respect.”
The opposition certainly will respect him when he arrives at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, Friday for the next event on the Mello Yello tour.
And the only thing brighter than the sunny North Carolina sky was Pedregon’s beaming smile.
“I didn’t believe my ears when Caleb (Cox), our team manager radioed me and told me I won,” he said in the media center. “It was surreal and still is a little bit surreal.”
Pedregon, who is involved with tuning the car, gave full credit to crew chief Aaron Brooks and new assistant Glen Huszar.
Pedregon became the fifth different Funny Car winner in six races, and the third Toyota Camry-bodied car to win a title this year.
Force, however, showed you can’t keep an old man down, especially when he is the greatest Funny Car driver in drag racing history.
One week after failing to qualify a week ago for eliminations near Houston, the 68-year-old runner-up was close to becoming the 40th professional driver in NHRA history to follow a DNQ to leave the next event with the trophy. Jeff Wolf
FOUR-WIDE FIRST: ERICA ENDERS FINALLY GETS IT DONE - Erica Enders is back.
The two-time Pro Stock champion – and her Elite Motorsports team – put on a dominant performance Sunday to win the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. She broke a 20-race winless streak, dating back to Epping, N.H., last June.
"It's a first for us, and it's exciting," Enders said of her first Four-Wide victory. "We've had a lot of success, but it been a long time since we've had success. This is, hopefully, the start of what will be a tremendous year."
Her victory also extended a couple other streaks: 1. She was the sixth winner in six Pro Stock races this season; 2. Since Drew Skillman lost in the final, no No. 1 qualifier has won this season.
Enders' Elite team, led by crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, powered her to low elapsed time in the first and second round, and then her left foot powered her to the victory.
Enders' 6.500-second run at 212.56 mph was the quickest in the first round, and she ran 6.517 seconds in the second to reach the final, so the pressure was squarely on her shoulders.
"I like that kind of pressure," Enders said. "I really enjoy when the weight is on my shoulders. Knowing we have a fast car was great – it's the first time we've had a fast, really consistent race car in a long time. … The pressure is significant, but I feel like I thrive under it; I love it. We got it done – that's all that matters, I guess."
Enders got it done with a .014-second reaction time, and as Skillman and Chris McGaha slowed with problems, it came down to the Elite-powered cars of Enders and Nobile. Nobile ended up with a quicker ET, 6.520 seconds, but his .095 light had him trailing Enders the entire quarter-mile.
Enders won the 2014-15 Pro Stock championships, but a switch from Chevrolet to Dodge in 2016 kept her out of the winner's circle in '16. Elite Motorsports went back to Chevy for 2017, and she won in Epping but finished sixth in the points as the team struggled to get her Camaro back toward the top.
Enders drove a new Chevrolet in Houston last weekend and reached the final round. Now, she has a victory – the 23rd of her career – to continue the momentum.
"We made a car change going into our home race in Houston, Texas last week – Jeg Coughlin and myself. That was a change that we, unfortunately, were needing, to have some on-track success. We went to the finals in Houston … and this is definitely significant and special for me. I'm very excited."
Her victory exorcised some demons from the 2012 Four-Wide race, where the win light came on in her lane in the final round – but Greg Anderson got to the finish line first. The light on the scoreboard on Anderson's lane didn't come on, and Enders had initially celebrated what would have been her first career victory.
"Funny story – but not really," said Enders, who described what happened six years ago here. "We got to the end of the track and pulled off. All the TV cameras and photographers were down there, and they were banging on my car, taking pictures. I was like, 'Oh, my God.' This was my first win in Pro Stock and first for a female. I put my head down to take my HANS off, and I look back up, and it's ghost town. They were all gone – they got word that the win light didn't go to our team but it went to Greg Anderson.
"To be able to come back and finally win Four-Wide six years later – that's a long time – we're very excited."
Was that on her mind after the win light came on today?
"No," Enders said with a laugh. "My crew chief was screaming in my ear, so I knew we got it done." Lee Montgomery
SAVOIE’S BIKE COMES AROUND AT BEST TIME, IN FINAL ROUND - Pro Stock Motorcycle No. 1 qualifier L.E. Tonglet said Saturday that teammate and White Alligator Racing boss Jerry Savoie had a Suzuki that was “coming around.”
It came around at the perfect time, giving the alligator farmer from Cut Off, La., his ninth NHRA victory Sunday at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at Concord, N.C.
Andrew Hines was runner-up, despite launching his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Street Rod first in the final quartet that included Scotty Pollacheck and Matt Smith.
Savoie won with an elapsed time of 6.784 seconds at 195.73 mph on the at zMAX Dragway quarter-mile to edge Hines, who countered with a slower 6.873-second E.T. at a faster 197.05.
“It was an amazing thing,” Savoie said. “We struggled all weekend. We made one hit on the first engine. Tim [crew chief Kulungian] worked hard all winter to get these things right, and we’ve been struggling. He made the decision to pull it out and put another one in, and we had some issues. Last night he worked until about 10:30 and said, ‘Hey – give it all we got.’
“Went out there today and thought we showed some real promise. We kind of figured some things out. I’m glad to be here, trust me,” the 2016 series champion said, addressing the media as the first-time winner of the four-wide venture.”
Gatornationals winner Eddie Krawiec’s Round 1 exit Sunday guaranteed the class would have a new winner in just its second appearance so far on the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour.
It happened Sunday to be a relentless helicopter-flying farmer-rancher who raises alligators and um, a herd of possibly tipsy cattle.
“I’m an outdoorsman, as everyone knows. I have a ranch in Mexico. I love animals. It’s not just alligators, either. In the last year – people think I’m crazy because I’m creating my own problems . . . all I do is work . . . I work seven days a week – I bought some cows. So now I have cows. And it’s really funny. We get the grain [to feed the cows] from the beer brewery. And those cows are happy. My wife and my sister got together and formed a company called Happy Cow Farms. For me, work is not a job. It’s a pleasure. And to come out here kind of gives me a break. Without everybody back home taking care of things, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. And I appreciate everybody in my world.
“People ask me all the time, why do you cry when you win?” Savoie said. “People don’t have a clue what it takes to do this. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication by your whole team, from the truck driver to Vance & Hines. It’s a tough gig, man, and mentally, it’s a tough gig. At my age, at 59, to win one, you never know when it’s going to be the last one. I’ll be honest with you: my time is coming due. It’s going to end. And I’m not going to be out here at 70 years old, beating up the track. I thank God – and Racers for Christ. It gives people confidence to go out and do what we do.”
Savoie joined Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Jose Gonzalez (Pro Modified) in the winners circle.
As for his program’s early-season success, Savoie said, “With L.E., when you put him on a bike, you don’t have to judge whether it’s going to be done right or wrong. We click really well and gel. We thrive on each other. I went up there, and it finally came together. I did my job. It ran some good numbers.”
He said he and Kulungian made some changes to the clutch and gear ratio throughout the day.
“The main thing,” he said, “is reaction time on my bike, as everybody knows, is not really good. I’m part of the problem, and the way we run our set-up is another part. I cut a halfway-decent light in E2 [the semifinals]. It gives you a lot of confidence. When you go to the line, you try not to think of anything.” He said a handful of factors played into the tuning and riding strategy Sunday, but “we got after it, and it showed.”
Hines was making his second straight final round in as many races this year and seeking his fourth victory at this event. He is the class’ all-time victories leader, and he was pursuing No. 49, which would have tied him with fuel legend Don Prudhomme at No. 12 among all NHRA racers ever.
Pollacheck, at 6.865/193.79 on the Suzuki Extended Protection entry, finished third in the final quartet. The 49-year-old from Central Point, Ore., trekked all the way across the country, aiming for his first NHRA Pro Stock bike victory. Many have called him a Victory Waiting To Happen, but he’ll have to wait at least until next weekend, when the series completes a string of three consecutive races with the NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello at Atlanta Dragway.
Smith was disqualified in the final for crossing the center line. His San Marino Excavating/Denso Victory motorcycle veered right as he approached the finish line and clipped the timing blocks– The two-time series champion and 2010 winner of this race – was in position to share the winners circle again with father Rickie Smith, a Pro Modified finalist. Rickie Smith fared only slightly better: third in his quad, as Jose Gonzalez won in that class. Matt Smith was hoping to record Victory No. 19 of his career. Susan Wade
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - IT'S ALL ABOUT JOCKEYING FOR POSITION
NEW CAR NEWS - Brittany Force and her Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster team earned their first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and did it with a new John Force Racing dragster with her time of 3.689 seconds at 318.39 mph set Friday night under optimal conditions.
The reigning Top Fuel world champion was able to hang on Saturday to join her sister Courtney Force in sweeping the nitro poles for the third time in their careers.
Brittany will go for back-to-back titles Sunday after winning last Sunday at Houston that marked a complete comeback from her season-opening crash at Pomona, California. Despite still undergoing physical therapy on her left shoulder, the popular driver was more than pleased with the performance of her new car.
“This is the third car we have run this season and it isn’t easy when you have to rebuild a whole new car,” she said. “We went out and won the debut race with it and that is pretty impressive.
“I have to give credit to (consultant) Alan Johnson and (crew chief) Brian Husen and my Monster guys for making it happen. We are on a roll and I’m happy we qualified No. 1 and held onto that spot but tomorrow is a whole new day. The plan is to go some rounds and win the thing.”
NOT AGAIN! – It will be déjà vu all over again for Kalitta Motorsports Top Fuel teammates Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton during the first round of eliminations Sunday when they are in the same quad.
It will be the fifth time in this year’s six events that they have faced each other in the opening round. Kalitta holds a 2-1 edge in traditional two-lane races and both advanced out of the first round at the inaugural four-wide event three weeks ago at Las Vegas.
Kalitta qualified sixth on Friday while Crampton needed the last of our qualifying runs to moved outside the field at 17th up to 14th.
MESS WITH THE BULL - Steve Torrence will readily admit it probably wasn't the best idea.
Armed with an overabundance of testosterone, and supplemented with liquid courage, Torrence and his team decided they wanted to ride a bull.
At first, the list of those willing to pilot the beast was lengthy, but once they took a look at the personality-challenged bovine, the willing participants were narrowed to just two - Torrence and his faithful clutch specialist Gary Pritchett.
"We got up there and got to feeding cows, and I think they were getting some liquid courage in them and decided they wanted to ride a bull," said Torrence, every bit a Texan from Kilgore. "After two or three times of mentioning it, one of my buddies said, ‘Man, we can call somebody that’s got some bulls you can ride."
In the future, Torrence and company learned if they ever decide to ride a bull not to call a professional. The call went out to Robson Palermo, a former World Champion PBR rider and multi-time World Finals champion who still rides.
Neither Torrence nor Pritchett lasted a combined total of eight-seconds on the ornery bull.
"I don’t think that our crew chief’s that proud of us," Torrence admitted. "We could have waited until the offseason to do something that we could have got hurt at. You can’t be a true Texan if you can’t say you at least tried to ride a bull once."
For the most part, Torrence and Pritchett emerged with no major injuries.
"Gary’s limping around a little bit, but he’s going to overcome it," Torrence explained. "He’s tough."
Pritchett was walking gingerly in the pits on Saturday while the team prepared to make a run during qualifying at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.
"I’m wounded. I’m wounded pretty good," Pritchett said with a grimace. "I didn’t break nothing. I went and got some x-rays. But it whipped me so bad, and it stepped on my side. It tried to get me with its horn, but it missed. I’m not hurt, just bruised up a little bit. That’s about it."
Mess with the bull, get the horn.
"That’s right, I did," Pritchett surmised.
MONUMENTAL - It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done.
Leah Pritchett qualified for her 100th career professional race this weekend, albeit in the No. 15 position. Saturday's Q3 session with a 4.004, 294.31.
“The positive is that we are in the field," Pritchett said. "There is some obvious frustration with how the last qualifying session went, but the best part is you can win from any qualifying position. There are four lanes to race in, and they are all unique. I’m confident we can get down each one of them.
"Coming into Q4, we were in a similar situation as last weekend in Houston," Pritchett said. "We had to put it to it. Really go hard at it and that was our plan. And after further review of the video, there was an issue with the (staging) beams. The car moved a significant amount and never turned the bottom bulb on, which of course resulted in us timing out and getting a red light. It’s something we definitely need to take up with NHRA.
"Those are the complications you are going to have running four-wide at different times of the day. I’m proud of our team that we were able to qualify for this race and we do have a hot rod that has come around every run and made progress each time. If anything, this is just fuel for the fire for us to give everybody an absolute run for their money tomorrow.”
DSR SPONSORSHIP EXTENDED - Hangsterfer’s Metalworking Lubricants has expanded their involvement with Don Schumacher Racing [DSR], the 16-time world championship race team as they embark on their fifth year together.
The partnership, which began in 2014 when Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown was on the hunt for a Jr. Dragster for his son and was introduced to Hangsterfer’s Laboratories in the process, has grown tremendously since its first affiliations with Brown and DSR. What was once a marketing partnership built on in-kind product support, has developed into a major associate sponsorship role on Brown’s 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster and has now grown to include a supporting role on the Make-A-Wish Foundation Funny Car, piloted by Tommy Johnson Jr.
Hangsterfer’s commitment to team owner Don Schumacher’s Brownsburg, Ind. based operation also includes its vast array of straight cutting oils and technological expertise for use at Don Schumacher Motorsports CNC machine shop, the in-house sister company of the racing conglomerate located in the same state-of-the-art 145,000-square-foot headquarters.
“It is an honor to be affiliated with DSR for the fifth year,” said Bill Jones, Vice President of Hangsterfer’s Metalworking Lubricants.
“We are thrilled to enter into our second year as an associate sponsor of Antron Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota Top Fuel dragster. As Antron always says, ‘us Jersey boys stick together,’” added Jones of Hangsterfer’s New Jersey headquarters, which proudly boasts more than 80 years of metalworking application production.
“I’m really excited Hangsterfer’s is back on board for another year and stepped up their support even more,” said Brown, a three-time Top Fuel world champion.
AB GOES A TO B - Antron Brown, a past winner in the NHRA Four-Wide, starts from the No. 3 spot with a 3.719, 331.77 MPH pass during Friday evening's q-2 session.
"We are getting better every day and that has been our focus," Brown said. "The conditions were tricky today. It got hot and it was nasty out there and our Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys led by (crew chiefs) Mark (Oswald) and Brad (Mason) made big moves. We had to make big moves to get down that race track. When the track is hot and slimy, we know we are comfortable and confident to get down the track.
"We were running on a really good pass in that last session and it just spun right before halftrack. I just shut it down and we still ran an 88 (3.880 seconds). You could have put a marginal back end to it and we would have been quickest in that round. I like where we are going right now. We know things will be different tomorrow. The sun will be out, but they are predicting the ambient temperature to be about 10 degrees cooler. It’s going to get interesting tomorrow.”
He will face off with No. 6 Doug Kalitta, No. 11 Mike Salinas and No. 14 Richie Crampton.
COURTNEY’S CREW CHIEF ‘CARMA’ – When Courtney Force started this season with three-time world championship crew chief Brian Corradi joining Danny Hood to lead her Funny Car team, she knew Corradi would bring a lot with him.
But she probably didn’t expect such a drastic change so quickly. That was reflected again this week at the NGK Four-Wide Nationals near Charlotte where she earned her third pole in six races in the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro heading to Sunday’s championship eliminations scheduled to begin at noon (EDT).
Corradi left Don Schumacher Racing and close friend Antron Brown at the end of the past season to reunite with Hood, who was hired at 17 by Corradi to work with him on Dean Skuza’s Funny Car in the late 1990s.
Corradi and Brown own a track-record five NHRA Wally trophies including two from Four-Wide competition at zMAX Dragway (2014 and 2015)
The new combination has worked well, and this weekend is the first time to see if Corradi’s juju with Brown at Charlotte will carry over to the Force camp.
So far, it has.
Courtney’s time of 3.873 seconds at 332.92 mph during Friday night’s coolest conditions run during the first day of qualifying in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro to maintain the top position. This is her third No. 1 of the year, her most recent at the event in Las Vegas, and the 20th career.
She joins sister Brittney Force in Top Fuel as No. 1 qualifiers marking the third time they have swept nitro poles.
“I’m really excited for us to come here and race four-wide,” she said. “For us to do it with my sister Brittany and her Monster Energy team right beside us is pretty amazing. I’m really excited and I hope it is something good for what is to come tomorrow and Brittany and I can celebrate in the winner’s circle.”
LANGDON GOES SOLO - Shawn Langdon had been planning for a special southern swing for the past few months, but often in racing, you need to write your plans in pencil.
Langdon’s priority this weekend at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte Motor Speedway is his Global Toyota Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports. But over the next eight days was going to also compete in his Super Comp dragster.
He was going to compete in his dragster this weekend, in the Spring Fling big-money drag race at GALOT Motorsports Park in North Carolina and race both cars next weekend in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event near Atlanta to complete three tour events in three weeks.
But a mechanical issue in the first Super Comp qualifying session at Charlotte shortened his schedule.
“I’m back to only racing my Toyota Camry Funny Car with Global Electronics, but that’s the moneymaker. I’m OK with that but it was really going to be fun little swing in the dragster.”
Langdon began competing in NHRA Jr. Dragsters before graduating to Super Comp where he won NHRA world championships in 2007 and 2008.
He loves tuning, maintaining and driving his Super Comp dragster and said it helps him when he gets in his Funny Car.
“It takes a little more prep, but I enjoy driving.”
THE ENTERTAINER RETURNS - Once an entertainer, always an entertainer. At least this is how Funny Car veteran Paul Smith sees it.
Smith is racing with his sons this weekend, John and Mike, with the family's trusty 2008 Monte Carlo Funny, and sponsored by Rock Batteries.
Smith is a legend in the Southeast region. As a driver, he was runner-up for the NHRA Funny Car championship in 1974. As a team owner and tuner, he has won races in Funny Car and Top Fuel and, as proprietor of Paul Smith’s Drag Racing School, he made available the equipment and hands-on instruction that jump-started the careers of dozens of young pro drivers.
Smith developed his driving skills in the heyday of Funny Car match racing.
"One year I drove four different Funny Cars," he said. "I drove for four different teams. At that point, I would drive anything that rolled. As long as the money was there, we'd go racing.”
Smith won three races on the IHRA pro tour and was a fan favorite on the match race tour in “The Entertainer,” a car he bought from the late NHRA and NASCAR champion Raymond Beadle. Nevertheless, it was in the “Fireball Vega” that the Miami native first made a name for himself, finishing second to Shirl Greer for the 1974 NHRA championship.
It was as close as he would ever get to the title.
“We never had the kind of major sponsorship needed to be able to run the car right,” Smith said. “Even back (in the ‘70s), you needed a thick wallet to stay competitive even though very few cars had major sponsors."
Nevertheless, Smith almost always runs “good enough,” and that’s what still frightens his rivals.
Saturday, the Smith team landed a spot in the field, nailing down a 4.123 to secure the position.
'EXTRA OPPORTUNITY TO SCREW UP' – No. 1 qualifier Drew Skillman definitely isn't in love with four-wide drag racing. But after holding on to the top spot Saturday, he's ready for whatever comes his way during Sunday's eliminations.
The Four-Wide Nationals present a series of challenges to drivers not used to racing three competitors. But a driver can also lose twice and still win the race, as the top two from each "quad" advance to the next round before the winner-take-all final.
"I guess it’s drag racing now," Skillman said of that possibility. "It is the game we’re playing this weekend. That’s what we’re all here to do. I like normal drag racing, but if we’re going to play that way, I guess it gives you a little bit of extra opportunity if you screw up, you’re still in it."
Having to watch four staging bulbs can be confusing, too, but Skillman is hopeful his Pro Stock competitors don't play any games Sunday.
"I’m getting more comfortable with four-wide," Skillman said. "It’s a little less confusing as we go on and all the drivers seem to be on the same page finally. I think the biggest part is getting everyone on the same page. No one’s dicking around, with a lack of a better term. Everyone knows when they pull in the water it’s time to do it. As long as there’s not people screwing up and double-bulbing and doing all that other fun stuff, we’ll be all right."
COWBOY IS BACK – Popular former Pro Stock driver/owner Mark “Cowboy” Pawuk is returning to NHRA competition with the Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak in the 2018 SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown Series (FSXX).
Pawuk’s last Pro Stock competition was at Richmond in 2006, and his last NHRA Wally Trophy was earned at Las Vegas in 2001.
“I never really retired, rather I just sort of stepped away,” he said.
“My goal is to go out and get another Wally. I feel like my career was never totally fulfilled. I stepped away at the end of 2006 but have gone to a few races as a spectator every year since. I still have a lot of friends out here, and people asking when I would come back, and I think that’s part of what helped me make the decision to come back out and race again; get my fix.
“My son Kyle has been pushing me to get back into racing. Don and I go way back, and we’ve been talking about this for a little while now, and it sounded intriguing. I wasn’t quite ready to hang up my driving shoes for good just yet, and I felt like I had some unfinished business, so this was a great opportunity to give it another shot.”
Kyle Pawuk, 21, is a junior linebacker at the University of San Diego and once he graduates would like to join his dad in a Drag Pak.
Mark Pawuk plans to test at Charlotte on Monday to begin preparing for his first race in June in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway, which is the third event on the series’ seven-race schedule.
He will team with DSR Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett, who was the No. 1 qualifier at Charlotte before losing in the first round of FSSX eliminations on Saturday. But she struggled in her DSR Pennzoil Top Fueler in qualifying, and will start Sunday eliminations ranked No. 13 after a brake issue prevented her from staging in the fourth session.
WHEN A WIN ISN'T A WIN – In this race in 2012, Erica Enders was the only driver to turn on the win light on either of the two scoreboards here – but she wasn't the winner. As it turned out, the win lights malfunctioned and didn't come on in the actual winner's lane, Greg Anderson.
So what would have been Enders' first win … wasn't.
"I don't think about it often, but it was one of those moments," Enders said. "That race was before I'd ever won a Pro Stock race. The way it happened with the win light – and my crew chief telling me on the radio that we'd won, we're screaming, excited because it's 'first win.' I get to down and pull off at the end of the race track, and all the cameras and TV crew are around my car, and I'm like, 'Oh, my God, oh, my God!' I looked down to take my helmet off and when I looked back up, everybody's gone. I’m like. 'What?' It was kinda like an episode of Punk'd.
"It was an emotional roller coaster for sure. But we went on to win Chicago and three others that year, so it always comes around, and it did when it was the right timing."
Enders is still looking for her first Four-Wide victory.
"I've runnered-up a handful of times," Enders said. "I definitely need to redeem myself from the spring race here last year when I got timed out. I don’t love Four-Wide racing – I guess I really don't care, it doesn't matter. But the reason why I do like it is because people struggle with it, so I feel like I can thrive. I didn't show that last year, so I'm ready to redeem myself. We had some practice in Vegas running Four-Wide, and we are coming off a great performance in Houston, and I hope to carry that momentum here. On Sunday, all we've got to do is win three rounds instead of four. I'm looking forward to it."
ONCE A COMEDIAN … – Twelve-time Pro Stock winner Larry Morgan won't be racing in the class this year – or in any class. Well, maybe. While Morgan is building engines for Team Liberty Racing in Pro Stock Motorcycle, he retains his sense of humor.
"I'm excited about this year," Morgan said. "I'm not racing anything but my mouth."
You're still good at that, aren't you?
"Been in the top half the whole day," Morgan said.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
BAYOU BULLET - It's like L.E. Tonglet never left.
After starting the season on another bike, Tonglet returned to the White Alligator Racing Suzuki he rode to a fourth-place finish in the points standings a year ago. All he did in his first race back was snare the No. 1 qualifier.
"I told (crew chief) Tim (Kulungian) and (team owner) Jerry (Savoie) and all of them after the Q1 that it’s good to be back, and it’s good to be home," Tonglet said. "It feels right being over there. We all get along really good and we’re just having fun.
"The success is all the team; I couldn’t do it without them. Jerry and Tim built an awesome team. They built a really good program and I’m just fortunate to be a part of it. The bike’s flying and I’m looking forward to going three rounds tomorrow. That’s the only track I can say that right now. We just need to go out there and get green lights and win lights at the other end, and I feel like I’m on a bike that can do that."
Tonglet's best pass was 6.812 seconds at 196.99 mph, and he'll square off against No. 8 qualifier Savoie, No. 9 Hector Arana Jr. and No. 16 Jim Underdahl in the first round. As usual, his dad Gary will remind him what lane he'll be in and what bulb to look for in the unique four-wide race.
"I’m feeling comfortable racing four-wide," Tonglet said. "You’ve just got to stay level -headed. It does get a little chaotic up there. When you’re in the middle two lanes, you look at the Christmas Tree and then you’ve got to look at the middle two staged lights. So if you’re not paying attention, it can bite you in the butt. I’ve caught myself looking at the wrong light a couple of times in years past and you’ve just got to remember what lane you’re in. I get my Dad to tell me where I’m at every time."
SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING RENTED – Steve Johnson has a unique setup this weekend. Johnson, back on his own Suzuki after being replaced on White Alligator Racing's Suzuki by L.E. Tonglet, has a borrowed trailer that was towed here by a rented pickup truck. And the trailer that brought his Suzuki to Charlotte? A U-Haul.
Yeah, it was a bit of a scramble to get here.
"We wanted to bring our tractor-trailer, but we didn’t have a driver, it wasn’t registered, we didn’t have all the IFTA taxes and licenses and things that you have, and we just really weren’t ready financially to tackle that," Johnson said. "So we checked into Enterprise and U-Haul, and pretty soon it was a great resource. There’s so many resources for us in society whether you’re racing or not. … It’s amazing what 60 bucks gets you."
Hickory Enclosed Trailer Sales of Hickory, N.C., loaned a trailer to Johnson, but he has to deliver it to Atlanta.
"We’re delivering that trailer to Atlanta after we use it – it’s sold," Johnson said. "So it’s a great process to create a measurable in the marketing world. And then getting the bike ready was a whole other interview. We’re here and we’re trying to save some parts and we’re going to probably make the fourth session and see what we got."
Johnson made a stellar run in Q1 and ended up in the No. 11 spot with a pass of 6.866 seconds at 193.62 mph after skipping the second and third sessions.
BUT FOR THE WANT OF A RAG – Hector Arana Jr. made a blistering run in the second qualifying session on Friday – thanks to a misplaced rag.
Arana's 6.848-second run had him in the No. 2 spot at the time, but a late engine change nearly kept him from running Q2. After feeling the engine in his EBR was weak in Q1, Arana and his team replaced a broken valve spring. But they then discovered a cylinder head was damaged.
"I mean it was just (throwing air) like crazy out of the intake, so we knew the head was hurt," Arana Jr. said. "We decided to yank the head off thinking it probably just bent the valve. And sure enough, it didn’t bend the valve, but it wrecked the seat. At that point, we had to stop what we were doing and swap motors."
Hector Arana Sr. jumped in and helped, along with the rest of the team. Soon, though, the bikes were called to the lanes, and Arana Sr. had to go.
"There were a couple issues with Pro Mods and different things that happened, I’m not even sure, but we just kept working and working," Arana Jr. said. "My Dad waited until the last minute, then he left, and the NHRA guy kept saying, ‘Are you going to make it?’ We said, ‘We’re working until we hear bikes go down the track.’ So we kept going.
"At one point, we said, ‘That’s it, we can’t, done.’ We looked for the towel to cover everything up, but we couldn’t find it, so we just decided, 'Let’s keep working.' You know what? If we would have found that towel, we would have never made that run."
Arana Jr. aborted Q3 when a wiring problem caused the two-step to malfunction, but he bounced back in the final session with a 6.847.
ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID – Eddie Krawiec has clearly had a stellar career, winning four championships and 44 races – including three here in Charlotte. But in the Four-Wide Nationals? Nothing but heartbreak.
Since 2013, Krawiec has finished in the runner-up position in the Four-Wide race every year. Yes, that's five years in a row of finishing runner-up.
"That's a rough stat," Krawiec said. "I think I'm going to let the air out of the other three competitor's tires and say, 'I don't know what happened?' and just roll up for the final and take my chances. But somehow or another, my bike will shut off and I won't ever get to the finish line and it'll be like, 'Sorry, no winner.'"
Krawiec isn't that worried about the weird numbers in this race. On the contrary, he's rather enjoying it.
"I don't let the statistics sidetrack me," Krawiec said. "It's funny: I like to joke about it because if you're too serious, you take it really serious and you put undo pressure on yourself. I'm the guy who tries to do the opposite. It's really stupid: I'm superstitious to not be superstitious. I try to go out of my way to be different just so I don't say, 'Well, it's because I didn't put my socks on let foot first.' There are people who have that and they believe it works for them.
"For me, I try to have fun and take it as light as you possibly can. If things don't go your way, you can't worry about it. You need to move and focus on that next race. Don't look behind you, look in front of you."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – IT’S DAY ONE AT THE HOUSE OF THE FOUR-WIDE
STILL SHINING- Brittany Force had a Monster day on Friday. The daughter of Funny Car legend John Force raced her Monster Energy dragster to a pass of 3.689-seconds at 318.39 mph to take the provisional top position. She has yet to have a No. 1 qualifying position this season. Her elapsed time is a zMax Dragway track record.
“It felt good, especially compared to that first run we made earlier,” said Force. “I just wanted a clean, safe pass and I wasn’t expecting to go No. 1. When they told me when I got out at the top end that was pretty exciting. My team is pretty pumped."
Force, racing her third dragster of the season, is coming off a victory at the most recent NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, the NHRA SpringNationals. Force debuted her current hot rod at the event in Texas and was a top performer all weekend.
“This is a new dragster that be brought out before the Houston race and we won that race. This team is excited about it and we are ready for the rest of the races this season,” Force said.
ODD MAN OUT - Richie Crampton understands out of the four Kalitta Motorsports drivers, he's truly an outsider in one realm.
Crampton, an eight-time NHRA Top Fuel winner, has never driven a fuel Funny Car in competition or testing. His current Kalitta teammates have.
"I made some runs in an alcohol Funny Car, some years ago," Crampton explained. "I've never have run one with nitro in the tank."
J.R. Todd made the switch over to Funny Cars in 2017, while Shawn Langdon made the conversion this season.
Doug Kalitta has 470 races in Top Fuel, and remains dedicated to the class, has raced Funny Car in one event where he drove his way to a runner-up finish.
Kalitta borrowed his cousin Scott Kalitta's Funny Car and raced at the 2006 IHRA Motor City Nationals in Milan, Mich, where he finished runner-up to Gary Densham.
Crampton longs for the chance. If the opportunity presents itself, count on him making the most of it.
"The team knows I'd be the first in line if the opportunity ever presents itself," Crampton admitted. "I love Top Fuel, and the dragsters are the kings of the sport. There's something about the Funny Cars that ever since I was a kid, I wanted to drive one of them.
"Hopefully I will get to try it sometime during a test session. Those days are really hard to come by because every test session is important. Just because I want to get in a Funny Car doesn't mean the timing is always right.
"Jim O [Oberhofer] and the other drivers know that I am ready to jump at the opportunity.
KALITTA APPROACHING 100 - J.R. Todd’s victory last weekend in the Mello Yello event at Houston marked the 98th for Kalitta Motorsports and owner Connie Kalitta.
That would take a first ever sweep of nitro titles at the same event this weekend near Charlotte could hand Kalitta numbers 99 and 100.
The following drivers have carried the Kalitta flag to victory: Connie Kalitta, the late Scott Kalitta, Doug Kalitta, David Grubnic, Hillary Will, Jeff Arend, Del Worsham, Todd, Alexis DeJoria and Crampton.
TIME TO STOP DSR SKID – After dominating last year’s regular season in Top Fuel, Don Schumacher Racing drivers Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett have lost their way to the finish line.
Brown and Pritchett each won four Wally trophies in 2017 and Schumacher added another to total nine of 24 possible Top Fuel titles (37.5 percent)
But it’s been 12 events dating to Brainerd, Minn., last year that a DSR dragster driver has won a title.
When Schumacher was the runner-up in the recent Four-Wide Nationals at Las Vegas it stop the streak of 12 races when a DSR team didn’t make a finals.
Despite the drought, Schumacher arrived at Charlotte Friday tied for first in Mello Yello championships points with Steve Torrence, a two-time winner through five events.
While Pritchett continues to look for some four-wide mojo, Schumacher and Brown have been successful in Four-Wide races in the spring at Charlotte.
Schumacher, the eight-time Top Fuel world champion and holder of nearly every Top Fuel record with the U.S. Army dragster, won the first NHRA event at zMAX when it was still conducted under the standard two-wide format in September 2008 and is a three-time runner-up in the Charlotte four-wide event.
Brown is a two-time NHRA Four-Wide Nationals winner, having scored back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015 aboard the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR.
“It’s almost to the point where I’ve gotten used to it,” said Brown, a three-time world champion. “I know how to stage the car. I know how to race. It doesn’t matter what lane I’m in. I do know there is nothing easy about it.
Schumacher holds the No. 2 spot with Brown fourth and Pritchett 15th.
“We’ve been to consecutive finals racing four-wide, but we finished second both times,” Schumacher said. “They only give a trophy to the winner. We’re working on the details, and the trophy’s usually in the details. We’ll get it figured out and we’ll get one soon.”
THE OVERWHELMING FORCE IN FUNNY CAR - Courtney in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro was able to retain the top spot with her 3.873 at 332.92 pass from the first of two sessions. She was the No. 1 qualifier in Phoenix, where she also raced to victory and notched her second top spot in Las Vegas.
“We have done pretty well here but have yet to take home a win,” said C. Force. “I love coming out here to Concord, to zMAX Dragway, Bruton Smith always does it right, and it is a lot of fun to race on any of his racetracks.”
Consistency has been on Force’s side through the start of the 2018 season, she has qualified in the top four at every event and was the No. 1 qualifier at the Las Vegas four-wide event.
“We are going to keep trying to be consistent and runs like the one we made in Q1 give us a lot of confidence. We want to have a long weekend with this Advance Auto Parts Camaro,” Force added.
MOMENTS OF MAYHEM - The 2018 season has been a challenge for John Force Racing. Of the four drivers on the team, three of the four have encountered some sort of catastrophic incident within the first five events.
Courtney Force, who holds the provisional pole, understands at any given time; her Advance Auto Parts Camaro could make it a perfect record.
"These cars don’t want to perform perfectly, and you change one thing, and it screws up with another thing," Force said. "It’s just a matter of fixing the problem and figuring it out. It may happen. This year we don’t plan on anything happening. We just hope to continue to obviously push our car hard and hopefully come out with some safe racing by the end of the season."
Force has spent time consoling her father, sister Brittany and teammate Robert throughout their various calamities.
"It’s not easy," Force said. "I think the best way to help my dad after what happened last weekend would have been Brittany’s win. That was the best thing that could have come of that weekend to help make him feel better and put him in a little bit better mood. I think it definitely puts a little bit of extra fire in my sister and I when we see something. Obviously we’re a very tight-knit family, and we don’t like to see dad being down and frustrated with how a team is, how a car’s performing, and not being able to get qualified. I think that pushes all of us just to try that much harder to show him that we do all have a great team, we are one team and to be able to come out with a win definitely helps it."
For the record, Force, the youngest of the four Force daughters, hasn't been totally mayhem free this season. At the pre-season NHRA test in Phoenix, her tow vehicle wheels and tires were stolen. When the crew came out the next morning, the car was sitting on blocks.
HOTTEST FUNNY CAR – Wins at the last two Mello Yello events by J.R. Todd mark the first time he’s posted back-to-back wins.
But that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Todd’s third and fourth wins in the last 15 Funny Car races is the most by any driver.
Kalitta Motorsports also has won four of a possible 10 nitro titles with Bruce Crampton and Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel adding the others. This is the best start ever for Kalitta Motorsports.
He is qualified fourth after two sessions.
HOT CARS, HOT CAKES – The annual B.R.A.K.E.S all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast is 8-10 a.m. for all fans and racers in the hospitality pavilion located between the pit areas for drivers Ron Capps and Tony Schumacher.
Admission is $10 with all proceeds going to B.R.A.K.E.S – Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe – teenage defensive driving program that was established by former Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert after his sons Jon and James died in a car crash.
For more information: PutOnTheBrakes.org.
FINALLY! - Drew Skillman, behind the wheel of his Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro, holds the top spot after driving to a 6.534 at 210.37 during the second qualifying session. Skillman has yet to record a No. 1 qualifying position of the year and sixth of his career.
“We finally made a good pass, our car has had the potential all season,” said Skillman. “Last season we ran really strong middle of the year and end of the summer. We got lost over the winter somehow, but we are kinda inching our way back. We were testing a couple of days ago, and it is showing.”
DRAGGING THE LINE - If you liked Rodger Brogdon's ride from Houston, you'd love Jason Line's race car at Charlotte. That's because they're one in the same.
Line parked his blue Summit Chevrolet as KB Racing makes some changes to that chassis. Instead, he's driving the R&J Race Cars Chevy that Brogdon used last weekend. It's a vehicle that Bo Butner has driven in the past, too.
"Well, I'm not sure I'm going to stay in it but, you know, keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting," Line said. "We wanted to make some modifications to the other car and we just weren't quite done with it yet, so now I'm just going to jump in this one this week and just drive. Just been struggling a little bit lately and just want to do something different."
Line sits in the No. 9 spot after two rounds of qualifying, with a best pass of 6.562 seconds at 210.01 mph. Is this car any better?
"I don't know, maybe more forgiving, maybe right now," Line said. "We'll see. I don't know. It's too early to tell. Jimmy Alund and Bo Butner both won with it. I figure if Jimmy Alund and Butner can win the race, then surely I can as well."
BO KNOWS HOME - Bo Butner loves racing in the Pro Stock class. In fact, he just loves racing. If he could race more than just two divisions he would. This weekend, Butner is racing the KB Racing Pro Stocker as well as Darrel Herron's Super Stocker.
"I've always tried to run two cars," Butner admitted. "If they'd allow us to run four or five I would do all that because I just like making runs. I'm actually more at peace with it. I have a good time. After I make this run, I haven't run Super Stock for a while, but after making this run this morning, I mean, I'm actually going down track in my brain saying, 'Why did you stop running this? Because it's fun."
"It's the backbone of drag racing, and I'll say that 'til the end. All the sportsman guys, they still come running over, they're happy that we're here, happy we're racing with them. I tell them as soon as this fantasy lifestyle of being a pro is over, I'll be right back there with you every week."
Butner was second-quickest in Super Stock as he ran 9.043, -1.007 under the FSS/E standard.
Over in Pro Stock, the defending champion was No. 4 with a 6.556 best.
EE ON THE RISE – Two-time champion Erica Enders hasn't exactly had the best start to the 2018 season. But a new Camaro and a final-round appearance in Houston has put a smile back on her face.
"Last weekend was definitely a turning point for us," Enders said. "We had struggled, and (teammate) Jeg (Coughlin Jr.) and I got these two new cars, and we have Rick and Rickie Jones tuning on them, which in my opinion speaks volumes for their character. They value their people here more than they care about any piece of equipment.
"After our performance last week in Houston, I am definitely very optimistic about the rest of the year. It put us right back in the mix of being players every weekend. Three of the four cars in the semifinals were powered by Elite: myself, Jeg and Matt Hartford. Then Matt and I went to battle it out in the finals. Unfortunately, we hurt a motor in our red Melling car, but it was cool for Matt to see him get his first Pro Stock win."
Enders said there are 10 cars that can win each week, putting the onus on a driver's ability to get off the line and hit the shift points. And that's right in Enders' wheelhouse.
"Definitely, having the car back helps," Enders said. "I feed off my crew chiefs. I know them like the back of my hand, so I can hear the confidence or lack thereof in their voice over the radio. To hear what I heard from them last weekend was so encouraging and so exciting. Having a car that's going A to B, still with the greatest guys in the business working on it, I'm super stoked."
FOLLOWING NFL DRAFT – While Advance Auto Parts Funny Car crew chief Brian Corradi was lamenting his beloved Cleveland Browns taking quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first pick in Thursday’s opening round of the NFL Draft, Pro Stock driver John Gaydosh has a much more vested interest in rounds on Friday and Saturday.
Kurt Benkert was the quarterback for Virginia and is projected to be picked in the sixth or seventh round, which would be on Saturday. Gaydosh is running a “good luck” decal on his Gaydosh Performance Camaro that also is supporting Pathfinders for Autism this weekend in tribute to another nephew and April is Autism Awareness Month.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS - Cory Reed raced to the qualifying lead in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category during the second session with a pass of 6.838 at 193.54 on his Team Liberty Racing Buell. The 2016 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner, the NHRA’s rookie of the year, is aiming for his first career No. 1 qualifying position.
“The thing took off and it was a rocket ship,” said Reed. “It was as smooth of a ride that I have had in a long time. I knew I was going fast and it was super smooth.”
EDDIE WAS CRUISING - Points leader Eddie Krawiec is seventh following his 6.872 at 191.29 recorded during the first session.
FIREADE ON CORY REED'S RIDE – Cory Reed's Team Liberty Buell was all-new for the Four-Wide Nationals: new engine, new body, new sponsor.
Thanks to an NHRA rules change, Reed and teammate Angelle Sampey are racing Buells with what's being called the S&S Gen 2 engine.
"We had to go through S&S, Victory and NHRA to tell us that we could do it," Reed said." It was kind of what the original idea behind the motor was, it was going to be a Gen 2, next generation, but an S&S motor for all of the twins that aren't Harleys. So Larry (Morgan) pretty much pushed it in their face in Gainesville and said, 'Hey, we need some help here, we need to make a change. This is a little unfair.'"
The bodies on the two bikes were ones the team had from Star Racing, but there was a lot more work to get them ready for Charlotte.
"We had to order side panels, belly pans, fearing, front cowl, all that stuff," Reed said. "It was still an undertaking. I was very impressed that we did what we did in the amount of time we had."
FireAde has been a sponsor in NHRA for some time, most recently with Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett. Reed's family owns an oilfield company which will help sell the product in a business-to-business deal. FireAde will be on the bike all season.
Friday, Reed found out first-hand – literally – how the product kills fire.
"They were giving me more details, and how it works is incredible," Reed said. "I mean, they did a demonstration where they sprayed it on my hand, took a butane torch right on my hand, no heat, none. It was incredible. I mean it really was. Like they told me, it's really one of the 'Wow' products in the world. There's not very many of those nowadays. It definitely is a 'Wow' product. I'm happy to be representing such a good company that has good morals and values. Yeah, hopefully it just keeps building from here."
LOOK WHO'S BACK – Reed and Team Liberty had some extra help in their pit area in the form of Pro Stock veterans Jim Yates and Larry Morgan. Yates is helping with gears and clutches, while Morgan has signed on to build engines out of his Larry Morgan Racing shops in Ohio.
"Well Jim Whiteley, my friend, he owns this bike team with Cory Reed, which is his stepson, and Angelle rides the other bike," Morgan said. "He came to me last year and asked me if I could help him on some cylinder heads, and I told him that I would. So they got me some heads about two months later. We done a set of heads and he was having trouble, and he said, 'Would you be interested in helping me with the engines?' And I said, 'Well, I don't know, let me think about it.'
"And he kept on me, and kept on me and then he didn't have to convince me. I realized that he was into it like I would be into it. I said, 'If you do it right, I'd be interested in doing it.' He said, 'I want it to be run like a professional operation.' And I said, 'I'll do the best I can do.' I said, 'I'll do it.' So that's how it happened."
Morgan and his son Nick help tune the bikes at the track, while long-time employee Dave Elk helps back in the shop.
"We stay real, real busy," Morgan said. "We work harder on this than we did our Pro Stock stuff. But I mean there'll be great rewards down the road. We haven't had a chance to race or dyno or anything. But he's showed a lot of promise, she's showed a lot of promise."
Reed said Yates will likely be with the team for four or five races, though Morgan will be around all season.
SURBER'S FIRST 'TROPHY:' – James Surber presented his daughter her first NHRA trophy, but it wasn't a Wally. It was an orange timing block, the one Melissa drifted into during her first qualifying pass. That was the first time in Melissa's career she'd struck a block.
"So my dad went down, grabbed the block," Surber said. "He's like, 'Here's your first trophy.'"
Surber said the entire first run was just off, starting with racing leathers that were too big for her small frame.
"I've noticed I've lost like 10-15 pounds, so my leathers are basically wearing me," Surber said. "So everything just feels a little off now. I guess I didn't have the wheel necessarily straight, so when I took off, the front wheel was in the air. When I set it down, it just turned and so it just kept going, and going, and going toward the centerline. I tried to reel it back, it was already too late.
"I was definitely trying to avoid the guy in the other lane. So as soon as I knew he was past me, I was like, 'OK, I don't have to worry about getting in the other lane and all that stuff'. I know I'm going to cross the line, trying to avoid the cone, but it was inevitable."
CAN FATHER FOLLOW SON? – Now that Hector Arana Jr. has broken the 200 mph barrier, can his father follow in his son's footsteps?
"We looked at the weather, and the correction is way up high, so I'm not going to think about it," Arana Sr. said. "It's like I told Hector, 'Don't think about the 200 mph. Just ride the bike, and if it's going to come, it'll be there.' I have to think that way because in the past when we (went for it) we screwed up, and that's not what we need to do here. We need to make clean runs, fast runs and hopefully the 200 mph will come."
Arana Jr. broke the historic barrier in Gainesville, eventually topping 201 mph with an engine his father built. And it's clearly a big deal to Arana Sr.
"Definitely, it's a big weight off my shoulder," Arana Sr. said. "It was the biggest milestone that was there. We made it. I know everyone wanted it and all the teams work hard, too, but we came out on top. Now, when I retire, I'll be happy because I accomplished something big. Our name will down in history: Hector Arana."
Wait, retire? Something you want to tell us, Hector?
"No, no, no," Arana Sr. said. "My wife wants me to retire, but, no, I still love this sport. I work on the bikes and still have a passion for it. It keeps me young."
CLONTZ GETS HELPING HAND – During Pro Mod qualifying, PSM racer Kelly Clontz was getting some advice on four-wide qualifying from fellow racer Angie Smith.
"Yeah, this is my first Four-Wide so I was in lane three and she was explaining how you're looking at the opposite side of the Tree, and she wanted to make sure that I was doing the right thing to have a good run," Clontz said. "Unfortunately I didn't have a good run, but she was explaining how the concept of four-wide works so that I would go up there and do the right thing."
Did it help?
"Oh yeah, definitely," Clontz said. "Because I probably wouldn't have looked at the right thing. I trust her 100 percent and I trust Matt (Smith) and I know that they're going to guide me in the right direction. They want to see us succeed, they want to see us be safe out there and do well. They've lived, for 10 years or so, racing and now we're trying to get to that point. They're trying to help us go through the things that they've already been through."
Clontz and her husband Chris bonded with the Smiths – another husband/wife race team – last year.
"Angie, we're only like two years apart, so she and I can relate to a lot of things," Clontz said. "And somehow we just kind of got together. And I race with my husband so she lives the same lifestyle, (and Angie) races with her husband. We just have grown a really good bond and over the wintertime, she just came over here and was helping him, talking to him about a video of a run I just made. She's been a great support with anything, you know.
"And I asked her, 'Please critique me, because if I'm doing something wrong, I need to know what I've got to do to make it better'. Because these things are so hard to ride and there's so many critical points to it, and if you don't get everything in line, it's just not going to work. So she came over and helped me with some tips on what I did on that video. Anything I need, she's 100 percent there."