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Tue, 24 Oct 2006, 09:19 PM

Where To Begin? I Know, 1971
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2006 Auto Imagery, Inc. & NHRA

WJ won Indy in '84.
As the NHRA POWERade tour nears its conclusion, and as we begin the next to last race of the season, there are so many things going on that I don't know where to start. I guess a good place would be 1971. With the professional championships all up for grabs and one, the Pro Stock class, that could be clinched this weekend, why begin thirty-five years ago you ask? Well, that's because that's the first time that the drag racing world heard of a guy by the name of Warren Johnson. Now, three and a half decades later, everyone who follows the quarter-mile sport knows about the "Professor" of Pro Stock. He's the guy who has won ninety-six races, second only to John Force. He's also the guy who has been to 149 final rounds which places him second on the all-time list. And speaking of lists, did you know that Warren is at the top of almost every performance list, and not only in the Pro Stock class, but in the entire sport? Consider this. Warren has qualified number one at 136 races. By comparison, John Force has done it 131 times and the great Bob Glidden did it 102 times. The "Professor" has set low elapsed time 139 times compared to 101 for Bob and 125 for John. And in the all important speed department, after all, this is a sport of speed isn't it, WJ has set top speed an astonishing 206 times, which is, ironically, exactly the same amount of times that Bob and John have done it combined!! Amazing. Over the course of his career Warren has faced 131 different racers, thirty-six of them in final rounds, and he has beaten most of them. His won - loss record is 828 -383 and, well, you get the idea. And as the season winds down, Warren Johnson is approaching his 500th career race and that is the most in the history of the sport. John Force is next with 473, followed by Kenny Bernstein, who will add to his 426 events when he returns to action next year, and, surprisingly, Mark Pawuk who has been to 405 races and Larry Morgan who has competed at

Billy Gibbons
402events. All in all, it's been a great run for Warren and he has been synonymous with Pro Stock almost since his first start in 1971....By the way, just to put Warren's longevity into perspective, did you know that when he entered his first race in 1971, Richard Nixon was the President, the Pittsburg Pirates won the World Series, the French Connections won the Academy Award and the cell phone battery was invented. Congratulations to Warren Johnson for a great career and thanks for all the memories. One more thing, over the course of his career Warren has won national events on twenty-four different tracks, and you know what, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway isn't one of them. Maybe this week...Billy Gibbons, the bearded guitarist for the ZZ Top group, will be the grand marshal at the race this weekend. Billy, who has a new book out called "Rock & Roll Gearhead" loves cars and, as such, he really should love the AC Delco Nationals this weekend. Billy will be coming is as a guest of AC Delco and that probably means that he'll spend some time in Warren's pit area. I wonder how many ZZ Tops' records Warren has?

Line vs Anderson
Staying in the Pro Stock class, Jason Line is the closest of any of the pro drivers to clinching a POWERade championship and he has a real shot at doing it this weekend. With a solid 119 point lead over his Summit Racing Pontiac teammate, Greg Anderson, it's almost inevitable that the former Stock Eliminator World Champion will add his name to the short list of Pro Stock champions. It seems pretty obvious that Jason has the best car in the class right now and that's going to make it tough, no, impossible, for anyone, even Greg, to deny the likable Minnesota native his place in the record books. And now that I think of it, it must be something in the water in Minnesota that makes great Pro Stock drivers. Warren and Kurt Johnson are from there and so are Greg and Jason. So, the way I see it, if you want to be a Pro Stock champion, move to Minnesota..and then move away. After all, testing is pretty tough in Minnesota in January, isn't it?...Not to take anything away from Jason's accomplishments this year, but think about what might have been. It's no secret that Jason's Achilles heel this year has been on the starting line, so if he had been a little better there he could have wrapped up the championship at Maple Grove or even earlier, and that's scary. It also goes to reiterate what I said about him having the best car. I'd like to be the first to congratulate Ken Black for the great team that he has assembled. This will be four consecutive years that Ken's team has won the Pro Stock title and that is, if I may coin a phrase, "Warren Johnson-like." It will be interesting to see how the Summit GTO's do next year with the new point system, but for now, I'm sure they would just like to sit back and admire what they have done. Plus it will be nice for Ken, who lives in Las Vegas, to see his driver crowned at "The Strip." And, if for some reason, it doesn't happen this week, the celebration will have to wait until we go to Pomona, but believe me, it will take place!!....

Jeg Coughlin
With the odds already being listed at the Palace Station for this weekend's activities, is there anyone out there besides me who thinks that Jeg Coughlin at 20-1 just might be a good bet? Jeggie is such a good driver and Victor Cagnazzi and his team have given him a very good car and it wouldn't surprise me if he went the distance this weekend. The Slammer's Ultimate Milk cars, including the one driven by Tommy Lee, are among the best out there and they will win one of the last two races of the year. Bet on it!!...By the way, the real sleeper bet in the group, besides Jeg, just might be Ken Koretsky at 30-1. Kenny, driving for Greg Hill and the Indicom Electric team, had one of the best cars in Virginia and they should bring that same level of performance to Las Vegas. And before you think that I've totally lost it, remember Ron Krisher's big win here a few years ago when he came in at 20-1 odds. I'll see you in line at the Palace Station.

JR Todd
The Budweiser Shootout for Top Fuel cars will also take place this weekend and we know who seven of the combatants will be, so now we'll have to wait until the Budweiser Draw Party on Thursday night to see who will join them in the field. If you listen to Tony Schumacher, the eighth spot will go to JR Todd. "The way his luck has been running lately, it's 99.4 percent sure that he'll draw the final spot." JR may, very well, get the final spot in the Shootout but I don't think luck will have anything to do with it, at least it had nothing to do with him getting here in the first place. Dexter Tuttle and Jimmy Walsh are the reasons why JR is the hottest thing in Top Fuel right now, and Dexter gets a huge amount of credit for giving Jimmy the shot at being a crew chief and for selecting JR as the chauffeur for his car. Together, they have surprised everyone but themselves as they have won three races and earned a spot in the top ten. Along the way, they also beat Tony and the Army car three times and, believe me, there's nothing lucky about that. This is a solid team and they should be a real factor next year....Doug Kalitta, who is on the verge of winning his first national championship, will have a new look for both the race and the Shootout this weekend. "Big Red" will be "Big Yellow," as the team flies the colors of the

Rendering of Kalitta's Von Dutch car.
special Von Dutch tribute tool boxes that are part of the MAC Tools line. It is a pretty impressive looking car and I guess it goes to show that Doug, Rahn Tobler and Connie Kalitta aren't superstitious. I mean, how many teams in the midst of a title run would want to change anything, let alone the complete identity of their car?....Tony will come in as the defending Bud Shootout champ and he'll look to add the $100,000 to his bank account, but then so will the others and there are no easy races in the shootout. Did you know that the first TF shootout was held in 1985 and was called the Cragar/Weld Wheel Top Fuel Classic? And the initial field was a like a Who's Who of Top Fuel racing, with guys like Joe Amato, Don Garlits, Gary Ormsby, Darrell Gwynn, Dick LaHaie and Gary Beck among the combatants....David Baca is one of the seven drivers who have a shot at getting

David Baca
in at the drawing party, assuming that Tony is wrong and JR doesn't get the final spot. But, as always, there's more going on in the pit area for the MACH 1 Air Services team than just racing. As they have done so many times this year, with the blessing of Mike Entzminger the CEO at Mach I, David will donate some of the space on his car for a charitable organization. With October being "Breast Cancer Awareness Month," some pink ribbons will be added to the red, white and blue Mach 1 car and they will be handing out ribbons in their pit area. "It's nice to be able to give something back," David said. "Mike knows how much racing means to us but he also knows there are more important things in life and that's why he does this." Mike and his family have had to face some tough times this year and for him to donate space on his car is something special indeed. Hey, maybe David will get that final spot in the shootout, win the race and then double-up on Sunday. And before Tony goes talking about how good JR has been this year, we may look back at David's win over the "Sarge" in round one at Virginia as the run that eventually derailed Tony's championship hopes....Don't forget, the Bud Draw Party is preceded by a huge Fan Fest at the Hard Rock on Thursday. It goes from 5 P.M. until 6:30 and features lots, and I mean lots of top drivers, cars and activities and it's a great way to start your weekend in Las Vegas. Plus it doesn't cost anything, and how many things can you say that about in Las Vegas?

Robert Hight
The Funny Car action will be intense this weekend to say the least. With three guys, John, Ron Capps and Robert Hight all vying for the championship, their every move will be under a microscope and we could see the field narrowed down to two after Sunday. Or, it could be just like last year when three drivers went into Pomona with a real chance at winning the championship. From a fan's point of view, it should be fun. From a driver's point of view, and their crews, it could be a battle of nerves as much as it will be a battle of machines. One slip, one mistake either in qualifying or on race day and your title hopes could be crushed....Which would be more exciting, two of the challengers for the title meeting in the first round this weekend or the last round? And how about a John Force vs. Robert Hight meeting in the early rounds? Of course the way the Team Force cars have been qualifying this year there's a much better chance that they will meet in the later rounds. Did you know that of the first twenty-one races this year one of John's cars has qualified number one seventeen times? That's a real testament to just how good those Fords are, isn't it? Not to mention the guys who work on them. The crew chiefs, Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, John Medlen and Jimmy Prock get a lot of credit but they couldn't do it without really good guys working with them. The Team Force cars have made a living this year from the top half of the field and that translates into points, and lots of them just from qualifying. Did you know that of a possible 63 starting spots in the top half of the field for his three cars this year, John's Mustangs have been there 59 times? That means that between them, the trio has only failed to make the top half of the field a grand total of four times in the entire season. And did you know that the only time Robert failed to qualify in the top half was at the first raced of the year? And I'm sure you remember what he did at that race, that's right, he won it in dramatic fashion. If Robert

Rendering of Frank Pedregon's car.
does go on to win the title it will be the very first race of the year that made it all possible....Frank Pedregon is supposed to return to the scene this weekend. Frank, who once drove a Von Dutch car himself, is slated to run in Vegas and Pomona and let's hope that he is on solid footing because it would be nice to see all three of the Pedregon boys on tour for the entire year in 2007, wouldn't it?....Jack Beckman will be making his last start as a single man this weekend. Jack, who will marry Jenna Lucy before the Pomona race, seems to have acclimated himself well to the Matco Tools Funny Car and let's hope that he's on board for the 2007 season. Jack has great support from Roger and Karen Comstock, whose MTS company has been on the side of Jack's cars, both in Top Fuel and now in the Funny Car class. It's nice to have friends like that, and I salute Roger and Karen for the loyalty and support. Plus, Jack has overcome some pretty serious medical battles and I'm sure he agrees with David Baca that racing and winning are great, but in the overall realm of life....

Angelle Sampey
The Pro Stock Motorcycle class also has three racers vying for the championship and this weekend will be a make or break weekend for one of them. Angelle Sampey, who comes in in third place, needs to gain some ground on the leader, Antron Brown, her Army teammate, and Andrew Hines, the reigning champ, if she wants to keep her title hopes alive. Pound for pound, and I mean that in a very serious way, Angelle has to be considered one of the best riders in the history of the class. When you factor in her weight against the weight of the bike, she has a lot more of a challenge getting it down the track than some of her male counterparts. For that reason, to see how she manages to get it back in the groove when it's out, how she manages to keep it straight most of the time, and how she generally handles the bike on every run are very impressive...The motorcycle class itself has shown great strength over the past couple of seasons and it's great to see the battle for the championship come right down to the wire. It's also great to see the different brands competing and the diverse mix of the riders in the class. Somewhere up above, I'm sure that Dave Schultz and John Myers are looking down and smiling at how strong the class is. And I'll bet we know who Dave and John are pulling for, don't we?....By the way, as tough as the class is from top to bottom, don't be surprised if someone sneaks in and gets their first win this weekend and, in the process, spoils the weekend for one of the top three riders....If all goes as planned, it looks like at least three riders, Matt Smith, Tom Bradford and Matt Guidera will make their first appearance in the top ten at the end of the season, which just goes to prove what I have said, and that is that the class has never been better, top to bottom, and it sure is fun to watch.

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