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Tue, 27 Feb 2007, 10:18 PM

The Important Things In Life
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2007 Auto Imagery, Inc. and BME Photography

Roy Johnson
OK, so Kenny Bernstein had a big shake up on his team, JR Todd and his Skull Shine team are looking for a new leader, Ashley Force went across the center line, John Force lost in the first round, Allen Johnson didn't qualify in Pro Stock, Greg Anderson was shut off on the starting line, Del Worsham didn't qualify at his sponsor's race and Jason Line lost the final round on a holeshot. But you know what? None of that really matters when you look at the really important things in life. Roy Johnson had a heart attack at the track and almost died, and when you're having health problems like that, none of those other things seem really important. Roy was taken to the hospital where he received incredible treatment, treatment that probably saved his life. "The people at the hospital were unbelievable," Roy's son, Allen, told me this morning. "I've never seen anything like that place. They are the best." The hospital, Chandler Regional Hospital, has a reputation as one of the best facilities in the country when it comes to cardiovascular care and Allen couldn't say enough about the care and attention that his dad received. "Something like this really opens your eyes," he said. "These people are so good at what they do and they gave dad the best care in the world." Allen went on to say that an incident like this also opens your eyes to the community that we live in. "I couldn't believe how great everyone was. When dad came out there were about fifty or seventy-five people in the lobby that he could see. It was just so good to see all of our friends there." As I spoke with him, Allen and his dad and family were getting on Ken Black's private plane to fly home to Tennessee. When the incident first happened Don Schumacher sent his plane to Tennessee to pick up Roy's wife and family to bring them to Arizona. I mention this to illustrate what a close family the drag racing community is. When they are racing everyone wants to beat the other person, but when the need arises everyone wants to help the other person. And I'm sure that neither Ken Black nor Don Schumacher care if anyone knows what they did in this situation but I thought it warranted mentioning to illustrate what kind of people we have

Lynn Nickerson
in our sport. Surprisingly, at least to me, Allen said that he will be in Gainesville in two weeks and he hopes to begin another long qualifying streak. "Dad got about another fifteen or twenty year warranty thanks to the folks at the hospital," Allen said. "He still has some work to be done in a couple of weeks but for now he's doing well and we're all very thankful for that. We also want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers." ....While I'm on this subject I want to add that I spoke with Lynn Nickerson today and he sounded good. Lynn, the Division 4 announcer and all around nice guy, has been fighting some serious health problems for a while now and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments that have really drained him. He's in the hospital but hopes to get released very soon and he is still planning on being at the national event in Houston next month. Please keep Lynn in your prayers, I know he'll appreciate it..Roy Johnson and Lynn Nickerson are doing well today and those are the important things in life!!

Fuller vs. Troxel
With Melanie Troxel and Hillary Will in the Top Fuel field, Ashley Force in the Funny Car field and Erica Enders in Pro Stock, did you know that it marked the first time in drag racing history that we have had a female driver qualify in all three pro classes at the same race?...Rod Fuller won the Top Fuel race in Phoenix becoming only the third dragster driver to ever win that race in consecutive years. With his win Rod now has four in Top Fuel, the same number as the great Blaine Johnson. He also has nine final rounds, the same number as Blaine and his top speed run was the third of his career, the same as Blaine Johnson. I only mention those things because if you're driving a Top Fuel car and you can have your name mentioned in the same sentence as Blaine Johnson you know that you're doing well.As a fan you had to love the run between Melanie Troxel and Brandon Bernstein in round two. Both drivers had their cars smoke the tires and get out of shape and Melanie recovered while Brandon, out of power, tried to coast to the finish line ahead of her. Melanie did a wonderful job of keeping her car off the center line and she saved the run for her team. Nice job, Mel... Did you know that when Rod faced Melanie Troxel in the final round it was the first time in the history of the event that the same two drivers made it to the final round in consecutive years? Rod, who credited "Canadian Power" for the win, won for the fourth time and he took over the points lead for the first time in his career. Did you know that Rod is the thirty-seventh driver to hold the lead in the history of Top Fuel? The reference to Canada comes from the fact that Rod's crew chief is Rob Flynn, a Canadian. Whatever the reason for his success it appears obvious that Rod is a very talented driver since he seems to win with who ever is calling the shots. Rob Flynn, meanwhile, is getting a good shot as the top guy on a very good team, one that is owned by David Powers, and he's making the best of it. The Valvoline team went to the semi-finals in Pomona before going to the winner's circle in Phoenix and that's a very good start. Of course, with the new "Countdown" system, the main thing is to be in the top eight spots by Labor Day and, after two races, guess who is not in that group in the dragster field? Doug Kalitta, and the MAC Tools team are off to a slow start but that isn't anything new for the team. Did you know that Doug won exactly one round at the first two races last year and he won exactly zero rounds at the first two races in 2005? Don't worry about the "Big Red" team, they'll be OK....In addition to Doug's round one loss in Arizona, his teammates

Whit Bazemore
in the dragster class, David Grubnic and Hillary Will, along with Scott Kalitta in the Toyota Funny Car also failed to get out of the first round. I'm pretty sure that's not the way Connie Kalitta wanted to spend his 69th birthday..Whit Bazemore in the other TF car that is owned by David Powers, had another good weekend with a semi-final round appearance. Whit, driving for Matco Tools, lost to Rod for the second straight race, but before that he looked very good. With Lee Beard as the crew chief, that team will be in the top eight for a long time and they should contend for the championship later this year....With Rod winning from the number two qualifying spot it continues a trend that seems to occur almost every year in Phoenix. Did you know that in the twenty-three years at Firebird Raceway the winner in Top Fuel has come from the top half of the field an amazing twenty times? By the way, speaking of Firebird Raceway, let's give Charlie Allen and his crew some credit for giving the teams a very good track on which to race. The NHRA Safety Safari has to get a lot of credit, too, and together they gave the teams a good racing surface that produced some amazing times. Of course it was at this track eight years ago tomorrow (February 28), that Tony Schumacher made the first 330 mile per hour run in drag racing history, so I guess the track has been good for a long time....It will be interesting to see who replaces Jimmy Walsh on the Skull Shine team for JR Todd. Jimmy certainly got everyone's attention with his performance over the past fourteen races and he is now facing his biggest challenge as he moves over to the Funny Car class. It's a tough situation for JR, too, since he and Jimmy seemed to be in a really nice comfort zone for the past year or so. I will tell you this, if I had a boy I would tell him to grow up and learn how to tune a fuel car because the folks who can do that at the top level can almost name their price. Good luck to all parties involved. I will also say this, if I had a fuel car and needed some immediate help I would be glad that I still had Paul Smith's phone number.

Pedregon vs. Hight
Tony Pedregon and his "Q" team won in Phoenix for the first time and they did it in convincing fashion. Tony qualified number two behind Robert Hight, and then set the record at 4.659 en route to the win. Did you know that this is the first time that the Funny Car elapsed time national record has been set in Phoenix? And did you know that this is the first time in his career that Tony has set the record?...Robert Hight ran low elapsed time for the second consecutive race and, for the second consecutive race he came up short in the final round. Still, his 4.636 might be the run of the year so far. Of course his 4.646 in Pomona was the run of the year after one race. Jimmy Prock, Robert's crew chief, just makes wacky power and they're going to win their share of races together. Robert qualified number one for the sixteenth time but he has only converted three of those into wins..When Robert and Tony met in the final round it was the second straight race this year where the top two Funny Car qualifiers have met in the final round. Did you know that it is only the fourth time in the history of the Checker, Schucks, Kragen Nationals that the top two drivers have squared off in the Funny Car final round? It's also the third time that the number two guy won the race and it marked the eighth straight year that the top qualifier in FC did not close the deal....If you watched the ESPN television show, or read a few other web sites,

Ashley Force
you know that John Force lost in round one at back-to-back season opening races for the first time since 1989. Did you know in '89 the same guy, Tom Hoover, beat John in round one at both of those races? John will be OK, I'm sure, and he'll be in one of those final eight "countdown" spots. Did you know that right now John is not in the top ten in points? I'll bet that new system is starting to look pretty good right about now, isn't it? Only kidding. John and his Castrol team still have to be considered the team to beat this year and until the other teams mathematically eliminate him he is a threat to win it all...Ashley Force's journey into the other lane in round one had to get a lot of attention both on television and in the printed press and rightfully so. Ashley is the focal point of a great deal of attention this year and, as such, you have to take the good with the bad. Having said that, let every Funny Car (or Top Fuel) driver who hasn't hit the timing blocks raise his or her hand. Just what I thought, I don't see a lot of hands going up. I'll say the same thing that I said after Erica Enders crashed her car during testing two years ago, everyone does it. In fact, if you go back just a few years, Robert Hight and Eric Medlen both did it and Ashley's dad, John, made a career out of doing it in his early years. Ashley will get over it and she'll do well, just like Robert, Eric and her dad. Let's face it, everything that she does this year, good or bad, will be magnified because of who she is.

Johnson vs. Line
Kurt Johnson won the Pro Stock title when he beat Jason Line in the final round and that's the 36th win of his career. With the win Kurt runs his streak to thirteen years in a row in which he has won at least one event. Did you know that next to John Force's streak of twenty years in a row, KJ has the second longest streak among active professional drivers in the sport? When KJ got the win it kept the number one qualifier from winning again in Phoenix. Did you know that in the past fifteen years the number one qualifier in Pro Stock has only won the race one time at Firebird Raceway? And that's weird because in the first eight years of the race the top guy won every time in Pro Stock. Go figure!!...Kurt won the race on a holeshot which means that five of his last six final rounds have been decided right on the starting line. Of that total he won four of them. Kurt had some cute little signs for Roy Johnson on the driver's side window of his car in each round. They ranged from "Get Well Roy," to "Sorry Roy" after he beat the Mopar of Richie Stevens in round two. Richie, by the way, uses power from Roy and Allen Johnson's engine shop..Rodger Brogdon continues to impress as he qualified for his second straight race, and as impressive as he was Erica Enders was even more so, after all, she beat Rodger in round one. Still, both teams need to thank David Nickens for giving them the power to run with the best Pro Stock teams in the sport.Warren Johnson had a .132 reaction time

in round one and I can't seem to figure that out. WJ had a .135 in Pomona and he's way too good for that to happen at back-to-back races. The GM Performance Parts Pontiac is running well and the "Professor" should be a factor all year long once he gets that little starting line glitch figured out....I tried to tell Jason Line about the number one jinx in Phoenix but he went ahead and qualified at the top of the pack anyway. Jason has qualified number one twelve times but has only won three times from that top spot. Along with Greg Anderson, the Summit Racing Pontiacs certainly seem like the best cars from a performance standpoint and maybe it will take a

Vinny Deceglie
holeshot or a mechanical problem to keep them from winning the title again....Jeff Perley, who had been with Greg and Jason for years, was at the race and he was hanging with the Mountainview Tire folks in the sportsman pit area. Jeff was seen on the starting line with Vinny Deceglie and David Beckley when they ran their cars and I guess he helped since David made the quickest run in the history of the class with his A/AA Corvette.

Since I already mentioned Vinny, did you know that when he didn't qualify this weekend it ended a streak of almost 100 races in which he had made the show? That includes both national and divisional races and I don't care what class you're in, making the field at one hundred races in a row is something special. Vinny will start a new streak this weekend at the Lucas Oil race at Firebird..Jody Lang just missed making history when he lost in the final round by one-thousandth of

Bill Evans
a second. Jody broke out by that slim margin in the finals and it kept him from becoming the first driver in history to win Super Stock at the first two races of the season....A couple of the top, young drivers in our sport won the other sportsman classes and that included Brad Plourd, who beat Lang, Shawn Langdon in Super Comp, Matt Constant, with the Chase Chevrolet truck in Super Gas and Jeff Jackson in Super Street. Jeff won his second CSK race in his classic 1968 Mustang and he'll look to repeat this weekend when he is back at Phoenix for the Division 7 opener..Jay Payne won his second race of the young season when he stopped Bob Newberry at the Division 2 Lucas Oil race in Gainesville, Florida, and congratulations to Bill Evans who won his first divisional race in Top Alcohol Dragster at Gainesville.

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