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Wed, 25 Feb 2009, 07:32 AM

Now That Was Better
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2009 Auto Imagery, Inc.






By all accounts the silver anniversary of the race at Firebird International Raceway was a huge success. The racing was great, the crowd, despite some dire predictions, was good and the weather was just about perfect for racers and fans alike. Charlie Allen and his crew did a great job of getting the track ready for the event and Forrest Lucas, with his Lucas Oil Slick Mist product line, helped out by sponsoring the event. Since I was in town a week earlier, I know for a fact that there was a great deal of advertising for the event since I heard it on the radio and saw it on television numerous times. Whatever the formula was, to me it seemed to work. Now if we can just carry this momentum into Gainesville in a few weeks maybe we can put all this talk about a recession behind us. I have always said that if you have a good product, people will come, and it seemed that was the case in Phoenix. Congratulations to everyone.


Dixon vs. Kalitta
The racing was good in every class at Phoenix, although I must admit there seemed to be more oil-downs than I can remember at recent events, especially the 1,000-foot races. I hope that's not a pattern that will repeat itself at future races. In Top Fuel it sure looked to me like Larry Dixon was on a path to win his first race as part of the Al-Anabi team. Larry not only qualified at the top of the pack but he made four really good runs on Friday and Saturday, grouping those passes between a 3.843 and his best of 3.807. Then, on Sunday, he opened up with a 3.815 to beat Terry Haddock and that time was, by far, the best of the round. Round two brought more of the same as his 3.802 not only beat Pomona champ Doug Kalitta, but it was low elapsed time of the meet and his 317.27 ended up as top speed of the meet. Did you know that this was only the tenth time in his career that Larry has left the track with all three performance marks, #1 qualifier, low elapsed time and top speed? On six of those occasions he also left with the trophy, but not

Brown and crew celebrate win.
this time. That dreaded broken throttle cable sidelined him in the semi-finals and kept him from running the table in Phoenix. Still, it sure looks like Jason McCulloch and the rest of the team that Alan Johnson has assembled are going to be tough to beat, or at least tough to outrun at every race this year. Larry's top qualifying spot was the 32nd of his career and that ties him with Cory McClenathan for fifth place on the all-time Top Fuel list. Only Joe Amato, Tony Schumacher, Gary Beck and Gary Scelzi have more top spots, and since Beck did it thirty-five times and Scelzi thirty-three, Larry and Cory could both pass those two this year. I got to spend some time with Larry in the press room after he was interviewed for being number one and I'll say what I have said before, he is a truly nice person who loves the sport, its history and his place in it and he is a real credit to drag racing...Antron Brown made a little history when

Brown vs. Bernstein
he won the race and, in the process, took over the top spot in the points. Did you know that Antron became just the thirty-eighth driver to ever lead the Top Fuel points? He also became the only person to ever lead the points in both the dragster and the motorcycle classes. Of course he is unique because he is the only successful motorcycle rider to ever make the switch to Top Fuel, but still, it's something he can say that he has done that nobody else has. Wish I could say that about something! Following his DNQ at the last race of the 2008 season Antron and his team have started the new year with seven round wins out of a possible eight and they have let everyone know that the Matco Tools car is in the title chase and will be for the entire season. It sure looks like Mike Ashley has assembled a very good team, with Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald in the lead, and "AB" has to be considered one of the top contenders for the TF championship this year. ....Brandon Bernstein moved into second place with his runner-up finish

Brandon Bernstein
but he still wasn't satisfied, and I guess that's what makes champions, the fact that they won't settle for anything less than a win. Did you know that Brandon hasn't won a race since Brainerd in 2007? He has been to five final rounds since then and that's more than most of the teams in the Top Fuel class and I expect him to return to the winner's circle soon. Very soon. Rob Flynn has the car running well and the "Red Rocket" will also be a contender this year.....There were three red lights in the first round of Top Fuel and that hasn't happened in a long time. Apparently there were some adjustments made to the starting system this year and it has thrown some of the teams into a tizzy (that's a word, isn't it?) and that's why we saw the red lights in Top Fuel and the sluggish reaction times in Pro Stock. Like the early days when the LED lights were installed, the drivers will get used to it, or they better, and all will return to normal on the starting line before too long.


Capps got a single in the final,
I guess we'll never know what may have happened in the Funny Car final round if Mike Neff could have returned to the starting line and made a run against Ron Capps. But one thing we do know is that Mike would have had to make a very good run since Ron went 4.048 on his solo pass with the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge. And since Mike's Mustang went 4.037 in the second round it sure looked like the two were about to give the fans a great race. But, as the old expression goes, that's drag racing. Ron's win, his second straight to start the year, was impressive in every way and it sure looks like Ron, Ed McCulloch and the rest of the team have a new approach to racing this year, doesn't it? No more being cautious or conservative, now it looks like the "Ace" is determined to go for it on every run, even a solo run in the finals. "When I knew we had a single I asked 'Ace' what I should do on the run," Ron said after the race. "He told me to go for it and we did." And, in the process, I'm sure they sent a message that this is a new team and one that can run with any other team in the Funny Car ranks. After Ed and his son, Jason, had tuned their respective cars to the number one spot, how cool would it have been for them to share the winner's circle together? It's going to happen and it's going to happen soon. Like Brandon,

Capps and McCulloch
it had been a while since Ron had won a race before the start of the 2009 season. Did you know that Ron's last win came in St. Louis in 2007? "We knew we were too good a team to go that long without a win," Ron said. "And we were determined to do better this year." Well, you can't do any better than they have right now, two races and two wins. Did you know that this is the fourth time that Ron has won back-to-back races and the first time since he did it since Gainesville and Houston in 2007? Ron's win was his 26th in a Funny Car and that puts him in a fifth place tie with Cruz Pedregon on that all-time list. Ron also won the race from the number one spot and that's the first time in his career that he has done that. Did you know that there was only one other time that Ron

Force vs. Wilkerson
even made it to the finals after qualifying number one? And would you believe that also happened at Phoenix at the 2000 event?...Tim Wilkerson's weekend may not have been a thing of beauty, but after a DNQ in Pomona it had to feel like he just won the championship. Tim beat John Force in round one and Jack Beckman in round two before losing to Mike Neff in the semi-finals. Ironically, Tim's semi-final time of 4.187 was his best of eliminations and it came in a losing effort. Hey, it happens....Mike Neff was serving as driver and crew chief since John Medlen was in an Indianapolis

Mike Neff
hospital. From what I've heard John is doing much better but I'm sure a win would have been better than anything the doctors can prescribe. Well, almost anything. Mike was making his fourth appearance in a final round and he is still looking for that elusive, first win. The way that car has run lately it won't be long before Mike Neff, the driver, is lifting a trophy in the winner's circle just like he did as a crew chief. Just for the record Mike is now one of three drivers who had an 0-4 record in final rounds. One of the others was Tom Anderson while the other is Tom Prock, Jimmy Prock's father. Timing just wasn't on Tom's side since he had a very good car but he lost three times to Don Prudhomme in Don's record-setting 1975 and '76 seasons while the other loss came at the hands of one Russell James Liberman at Englishtown in 1975. By the way, those two, Anderson and Tom Prock, never did win an NHRA national event, but Mike will.

If anyone looked like a lock for a win in Phoenix it was Mike Edwards. Mike was brilliant in qualifying making runs of 6.613, 6.605, 6.624 and 6.627 en route to the number one spot. He then unloaded a 6.598 in round one, a time that stood up as

Krisher vs. Edwards
low elapsed time in the class for the weekend. But a funny thing happened on the way to the final round, Mike was upset by Ron Krisher in round two and he lost that round on a holeshot. Mike, who had been devastating on the line for most of the last year, had a .104 reaction time and that cost him the race. Maybe it's the new timing device in the Christmas tree or maybe it wasn't, but I know that I was stunned by the result of that round. Ron, by the way, is running engines out of Mike's shop and that made the run even more ironic. Speaking of which, Mike's number one spot was the seventh of his career and his second at Firebird. Did you know that the last time Mike was number one in Phoenix he was leasing engines from Ron Krisher, and now, eight years later, it's the other way around? If history is any indication don't expect to see Mike get beat on a holeshot again this year. Did you know that over the past three years he has averaged one holeshot loss a year? One! Even with the loss it's obvious that Mike's decision to start his own engine program is paying big dividends for him and for Ron Krisher....After two days of qualifying where it

Coughlin vs Johnson
looked like the lane of choice for the Pro Stock cars was the right lane, several teams with lane choice took the left lane on Sunday and it turned out to be a good move. Greg Stanfield was the first to do it in round one and he won, and then in the second round all four of the winners ran out of the left lane. Oh yeah, so did Jeg Coughlin in the final round and he won the race. Jeg, who had never beaten Kurt Johnson in seven previous final rounds, checked that off of his "to do" list when he went wire to wire in the final round. Jeg, as he usually does, was first off the line in every round and that's what makes him the champ. That and the fact that Victor Cagnazzi's

David Beckley
guys are making good power and, maybe even more importantly, making good decisions at the track, decisions like which lane to choose....David Beckley was driving the Mountainview Tire Company Dodge for the second consecutive race and, like he did in Pomona, he made the field. David got the call because the team's regular driver, Vinnie Deceglie, was home with his wife, Linda, who was waiting for an organ transplant. Well, she got that transplant last week and is making real progress from what the team told me. You know, in the overall realm of things, that's even more important than winning races, isn't it?

Dan Fletcher, who won the Lucas Oil Competition

Fletcher vs. Ficco
Eliminator championship last year, and who told me that he wasn't planning on running for the championship this year, now has won the first two races of the season and he's in title contention whether he likes it or not. Dan continues to add to his totals and his reputation as one of the best sportsman racers ever. Did you know that this was his 58th national event win and that moves him to eighth place on NHRA's all-time win list? It also puts him fourth on the sportsman list behind only Frank Manzo, Pat Austin and David Rampy. Dan also made a little history when he won Comp Eliminator at four consecutive races. Did you know that in the entire history of the class, and that's a span of 651 races, nobody has ever won four races in a row?...Mike Ferderer won Super Gas for the 12th time in his career and that ties him with Sheldon Gecker for the most wins in the 9.90 class. Mike, who went to his first final round in 1977 has thirty-two finals in his career and continues to be among the top "90" racers in the sport....I know there is a long way to go before we start talking championships, but Ryan Herem is off to a good start. The runner-up in Super Gas in Phoenix

Ferderer vs. Herem
adds those points to his semi-final finish at Pomona. That's a lot of points on the board before the end of February.....Brian Forrester, the current Super Gas World Champion, isn't doing too badly, either. Brian went to the final round for the second time this year when he added a runner-up at the Gainesville points race to a runner-up in Bradenton...Joe Teuton Jr. also has two final rounds in Super Stock and, even though there are a lot of races yet to run, anytime you can get to a couple of finals this early in the year I like your chances of finishing very high in the standings at the end of the year....And congratulations to Shayne Lawson for winning his first race in Top Alcohol Dragster. All of the qualifiers for the TAD class in Gainesville were fuel-injected cars and Duane Shields was the quickest with a 5.259. Maybe this 94% nitro thing will even the class out after all. I guess only time will tell.





NHRA: 10 Most Recent Entries [ top ]

Sep 30- READING - Back-To-Back Countdown Playoff Winner Courtney Force Makes More Funny Car History
Sep 30- READING - Fact Sheet
Sep 30- ST. LOUIS - Sunday Pro Mod Wrap Up
Sep 30- ST. LOUIS - Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Wrap Up
Sep 29- ST. LOUIS - Special Awards
Sep 28- ST. LOUIS - Countdown to the Championship Points
Sep 28- ST. LOUIS - Bonus Points
Sep 28- ST. LOUIS - Summary of Eliminations in Top Fuel
Sep 28- ST. LOUIS - Sunday Wrap Up
Sep 28- ST. LOUIS - Summary of Eliminations in Funny Car

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