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Wed, 3 Sep 2008, 09:20 PM

It Was A Very Good Weekend
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2008 Auto Imagery, Inc.

Jeff Arend
There are so many things that go into making an event special, and the 54th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals had a lot of them. For me, one of the highlights of the weekend involved a car that didn't even qualify. Based on the way NHRA runs the qualifying rounds, drivers with the fewest points run first in the opening session of qualifying. That meant that Jeff Arend, who got the nod to drive for Connie Kalitta and the DHL team, was up first on Friday night. When I announced that the team was ready to open the Funny Car qualifying on Friday, the fans gave Connie a standing ovation. He was on the starting line at the time and I could tell that he was moved by the reaction of the fans. Jeff made a good run on that first pass but, eventually, didn't make the field. Still, having the car, complete with Scott's name over the driver's door was, for me, one of the best moments of the weekend.

Alan Johnson
Another thing that gained a lot of attention in Indy also involved a car that wasn't even racing. Or should I say, "cars" that weren't racing. The announcement by Alan Johnson that he was leaving Team Schumacher to field his own two-car operation next year, was the talk of the town for the entire weekend. Alan will have huge funding for his cars that will be driven by two, as yet unnamed drivers. While crew chiefs, and even drivers, come and go in this sport, the departure of Alan will put a completely new look on the face of the Top Fuel class next year, and, to a lesser extent, the Funny Car field, too. Big numbers have been tossed around about what Alan is getting for the team, and even if you cut the reported figures in half, it's still a whole pile of cash. A whole pile. Who will drive the cars and which, if any, of his current crew members will join Alan in his new venture are also the subjects of a great deal of speculation. All of that will sort itself out in the future, but for now, his announcement was one of the biggest things to happen at Indy.Before I talk about Tony Schumacher's record-setting Indy

Schumacher vs. Kalitta
weekend, I would like to congratulate Tony and his dad for the way they handled everything in Indy. They could not have been more gracious in the way they handled the "AJ" announcement and both of them, Tony and Don, heaped praise on their crew chief all weekend long. Even in his interview with the press after the race, Tony had nothing but great things to say about Alan. Both Tony and Don wished Alan well and acknowledged that they will have to try to beat him next year, and, more than anyone else, they should know that that won't be easy. I give them both high praise for their reaction to the situation, it was first class all the way. Now, on to the race....I've been watching drag racing for over forty years and I have never seen a car dominate the Top Fuel class the way the Army car is right now. Don Garlits dominated when he was racing, and the 2002-2003 Larry Dixon championship car was very good, but neither of them crushed the opposition the way Tony has this year. He already has eleven wins this year and that is the best single-season mark in the history of the class and we still have six more races on the schedule. Tony was quick to point out in his winning interview that "Big Daddy" didn't have the chance to win as many races as he has because of the number of races that were on the schedule when Don was running. He also

Schumacher and team celebrate win.
mentioned how honored he was to be mentioned in the same sentence as Don, Joe Amato and the other TF greats. And, when asked if he thinks he gets the respect that other Top Fuel drivers have, Tony said "probably not," but he added that that doesn't bother him. He's right, you know. Tony doesn't get nearly the credit that he should for what he and the team have accomplished, but in my opinion, he is greatly underestimated as a driver. He doesn't make many mistakes as a driver (none recently) and he has helped the team win a lot of rounds and races. His crew, too, although not known by name to most fans, does a great job and they should be congratulated, too..Tony now has tied Joe Amato with his 52nd win and that's just one of many long-standing records that will go to the Army camp. The most consecutive wins (6), the most consecutive round wins (24), the most wins in a season (11), also belong to Tony right now and there is more to come, including the most final rounds in a season and the most round wins in a season. By the time 2008 is over Tony should own all of the Top Fuel records and it will be a long time before anyone else ever approaches those marks....The top ten spots in the "Countdown" were secured when Morgan Lucas didn't qualify and David Grubnic and Doug Kalitta did. When the points are re-set before the next race, Tony's 567 point lead will become a thirty point lead and Doug will be ninety points out of first place instead of 996 points. Even with the new points in place, and even with Alan

Larry Dixon
announcing that he's leaving at the end of the year, Tony is still the odds-on favorite to win the championship this year. The really big question is, who will be the driver to beat him and end his winning streak?...Larry Dixon was the number one qualifier and that was the 29th of his career. Did you know that moved Larry into sixth place on the all-time list of top qualifiers? And did you know that qualifying number one in Top Fuel at Indy doesn't guarantee a win? In fact, in forty-five years of running TF at Indy, the number one qualifier has won exactly five times, and one of those came in 1964 (Don Garlits) and two came in 2006 & 2007 (Schumacher). In between those years only Darrell Gwynn in 1989 and Gary Beck in 1983 won the "Big Go" from the top spot..Not only did the dragster winner not come from the top spot but none of the pro classes were won by the number one qualifier and that's the first time since 2003 that has happened.

Hight vs. Beckman
I don't think you could ever call a win by a member of "Team Force" an upset, but I don't think that a lot of folks thought that Robert Hight would be the Indy champ, especially after the way he qualified. Robert made the field in fifth place even though he never really made a solid run during qualifying. "I wouldn't have given you a nickel for our chances of winning this," Robert said in the press room. "Especially after we smoked the tires on every qualifying run." Well, he did win it and he became a two-time Indy champ in the process. He also made a bit of history when he became the first Funny Car driver since Don Prudhomme back in the '70's to go to three consecutive Funny Car finals at Indy. Did you know that Robert's win from the number five spot made him only the second driver to win Indy after qualifying fifth? The other was Tom McEwen in his historic win in 1978. Robert got his one "lucky win" in the first round when he ran 4.894 to beat Frank Hawley's slowing 5.211. He then beat his teammate, Mike Neff, the points leader, Tim Wilkerson, and the hottest guy in the class, Jack Beckman, to get the win. Even with the win Robert finished the first part of the season in third place behind Wilkerson and Tony Pedregon....Del Worsham

Del Worsham
had a tough weekend on a couple of fronts. First, he found out that his sponsorship with Checker, Schuck's and Kragen, which will become part of O'Reilly Auto Parts once the merger between the two is finalized, will not be renewed. And if that wasn't bad enough for one weekend, Del then ran 4.176 in the first round against Tim Wilkerson and lost. 4.176 and lost!! Did you know that time would have beaten eleven other drivers in round one including four who won their rounds? What's a guy have to do to win a round? Robert runs 4.894 and Gary Densham runs 4.927 and they both win and Del goes 4.176 and loses. Del has a great team and he is always one of the fan favorites and I sure hope everything works out well for him on the sponsor front. Del has been with the CSK folks for a dozen years and he's given them a lot of exposure and I know he will do that for his next sponsor. I just hope that sponsor comes along soon..John Force failed to qualify for Indy for the second consecutive year and for only the fourth time in his great career. That DNQ cost John two spots in the standings. John came into Indy in sixth place and he'll go into the "Countdown" in eighth ....Jack Beckman, who has been to the final round at four of the last six races, and three in a row, jumped all the way to sixth place (from ninth after Maple Grove) and the Valvoline / MTS car is running as well as any car in the class right now. Jack and Cruz Pedregon received a lot of attention from the folks I spoke with at Indy and both appear to be peaking at

Pedregon vs. Wilkerson
the just the right time. Did you know that Jack has won fifteen rounds since the Denver event and that is, by far, the best in the Funny Car class?...Cruz, with his win in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown, reinforced the fact that he is running very well and will be a legitimate title contender when the "Countdown" begins. Even though he hasn't won a race this year Cruz will still go into the "Countdown" in fourth place and that's very good. Did you know that Cruz has only lost twice in the first round this year? Now that's the kind of consistency that will make Cruz a title contender beginning in Charlotte....With Matt Hagan qualifying in Indy (like I said he would), there were four meetings in the opening round between drivers who had never faced each other. Matt and Tony Pedregon, Mike Neff and Jim Head, Ashley Force and Jack Beckman and Robert Hight and Frank Hawley all faced each other for the first time. Did you know that when Jim raced Mike Neff he was facing the 107th different driver in his career?...Speaking of Matt Hagan, when he qualified it made me think about how good Paul Smith is. Paul, and his son John, not only tuned Matt to a starting berth but they also got Pat Dakin in the Top Fuel field. With all of the teams who are looking for a crew chief, when will someone pick up the phone and call Paul. I know I would.

Connolly vs. Morgan
Dave Connolly won Pro Stock for the second consecutive year at Indy and he will start the "Countdown" in sixth place, which is amazing since he missed the first five races of the season. Dave won the race from the ninth spot and that's not easy at Indy. Did you know that Dave is only the fourth driver in the history of the Pro Stock class to win Indy after qualifying in the bottom half of the field? His teammate, Jeg Coughlin, did it twice, winning from the ninth spot in 2002 and from the sixteenth spot in 2000. Mike Edwards was the only other Pro Stock winner from the bottom half of the field when he won in 1998 after qualifying tenth. Dave's final round appearance was his fourth in a row and that's the first time that a Pro Stock driver has gone to four straight finals since the end of the 2007 season when Dave did it. Did you know that Dave has now been to the final round at twelve of the last twenty-one races that he has attended? Anyone care to bet against him as we go into the "Countdown?"....In a strange twist of fate, Greg Anderson held on to the top spot

Warren Johnson
in the Pro Stock field and, when they adjust the points to start the "Countdown," Greg will actually have a bigger lead than he does right now. Following Indy, Greg had a sixteen point lead over Kurt Johnson but he'll get a thirty point head start when the "Countdown" begins. "I guess we kind of backed into that," Greg said after the race....Another great quote came from Warren Johnson after Greg Stanfield failed to qualify for the race. Warren, who needed to get to the final round to take the tenth and final spot in the "Countdown," said that he would try his best to make the final round. But, he added," Greg and his team have done a better job than we have and they deserve that last spot. We just haven't taken advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to us." Warren didn't take advantage of this opportunity, either, and as a result Greg Stanfield will be the tenth and final guy in the Pro Stock field....Larry Morgan is having a season unlike any that I've seen in a while. The driver of the Lucas Oil Dodge didn't qualify for a race until Topeka,

Larry Morgan
the ninth race of the season. He went to the final round in Kansas and has been to the final round at Norwalk and Indy since then. Larry's final round came after he beat Jason Line, Rickie Jones and Mike Edwards and it moved Larry into the fifth Indy final of his career. Did you know that Larry has been to thirty-one final rounds and that's the thirteenth best in the history of the Pro Stock class?...Larry qualified 14th and that meant that two drivers from the bottom half of the field met in the final round. Did you know that that was the first time in the history of the U.S. Nationals that the two Pro Stock finalists were both from the bottom half of the field?....The Pro Stock class will be wide open when the "Countdown" begins and there really doesn't appear to be any clear cut favorite right now...Shouldn't Rickie Jones get some consideration for "Rookie of the Year."

Johnson celebrates his win.
Steve Johnson won Indy for the second time and his win may have been the biggest surprise of the weekend. Steve's Snap-On Tools / Wyotech Suzuki qualified well and he was among the best on race day. Steve had the second quickest run in the first and second rounds and his 7.106 was the quickest in the semi-finals. And, in one of the real surprises, at least to me, Andrew Hines got a good jump on Steve in the final round but the Suzuki ran him down and won the race. This is Steve's second Indy title and the first that he got to celebrate on race day. His 2005 win, which was his last before this week, was awarded after a review of the tapes showed that Steve and not Matt Smith was the actual winner. Steve, who is closing in on his 400th round of racing, has now been to thirteen final rounds and that's the tenth best in the history of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.Two of the great riders in the class, Angelle Sampey and Andrew Hines, both failed to check something off of their "to do" lists. Angelle, who has been in the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle a record twelve times, didn't win that and Andrew, a three-time POWERade champion, failed to win Indy. This was Andrew's fist final round at Indy while Angelle never got out of

Stoffer vs. Arana
the first round in the "Battle."...When Karen Stoffer beat Hector Arana in the first round on Monday she grabbed the last spot in the "Countdown." Karen won the match on a slight holeshot and that means that she and not Hector will run for the championship this year. Did you know that this was the first holeshot win of the year for Karen and the first such loss of the year for Hector? Talk about timing, huh?...Valerie Thompson didn't qualify for the field but she certainly made a very nice showing for her first appearance on the NHRA tour. Driving her "Eye-On" Buell, Valerie made several good runs during qualifying and, if she shows up again this year, she will make the field. Remember where you heard that first..And congratulations to Joe Desantis for making the field. Joe has been racing for a long time and to put his "Privateer" Suzuki in the Indy field is quite an accomplishment..Michael Phillips got the 16th and final qualifying spot in the bike class even though he and Shawn Gann both went 7.072. Did you know that the last time the final spot was decided on speed at Indy was in 2002? That year three riders ran the exact same time with Greg Underdahl getting the final spot. And just who do you think missed the cut? You guessed it, Michael Phillips and Matt Smith. Ironically, the final spot in the Pro Stock car class was also decided on speed in 2002 just like it was this year. Go figure!!

Standing: Von Smith and Bill Reichert
Kneeling: Doug Engel, Mitch Truman,
Michael Ruff, Steve Cohen and Bob Dennis
Bill Reichert became only the second driver to win the Top Alcohol dragster title twice at the U.S. Nationals. Bill beat Duane Shields in the final round and, at the same time, he took over the points lead in the class...Von Smith won Indy for the first time when he beat Roger Bateman in the final round. Frank Manzo, who was number one and set low elapsed time and top speed, lost to Bateman in the semi-finals. Did you know that was Frank's first round loss at Indy since 2004?...Doug Engles had an interesting weekend. He won the race, didn't hit his index and then sold his car. Doug won the Competition Eliminator title when he beat Adam Hickey in the final round. Along with way, Doug saved his index and a lot of that was because he drove very well. Doug went .008, .003, and .010 on the tree before posting his best reaction time, a .001 in the final round. Doug then gave the title of the car to Vinny Barone who will have Anthony Bertozzi driving it beginning this weekend in Englishtown....Craig Bourgeois beat Dan Fletcher in the quarter-finals before losing in the semis to Hickey. With that performance Craig moved to within one point of Dan in the battle fore the Lucas Oil World Championship.Bobby Dennis, Mitch Truman, Steve Cohen and Michael Ruff were the other sportsman winners after six long days of qualifying and eliminations. Congratulations to all of them.

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