Drag Race Central - NHRA
Tue, 10 Sep 2013, 11:37 AM

Let's Start All Over
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2013 NHRA

Crowd at zMAX Dragway.
As the NFL season gets underway and the major league baseball playoffs are just around the corner it truly is one of the most exciting times for any sports fan. The same is true for drag racing fans as the NHRA Mello Yello series begins its six-race "Countdown," and not to be overlooked, the drivers in the Lucas Oil series start to make their stretch run for a championship. It will be infinitely easier to follow the drivers in the pro, i.e. Mello Yello classes than it will be those in the sportsman, i.e. Lucas Oil classes simply because of the way the scoring is done, but make no mistake about it, every race, national or divisional, starts to take on added significance at this time of the year and that makes every race that much more exciting. It will be hard to top Indy for sheer excitement and drama but the first race of the "Countdown" at beautiful zMax Dragway is a great place to kick off the playoff season, so sit back, relax and enjoy.

Antron Brown was No. 1
qualifier at Indy.
Photo copyright 2013 Auto Imagery, Inc.

A look at the Top Fuel field going into the "Countdown" reveals a group of ten very good cars, teams and drivers. I know it's a clich? but they all could win this, so getting off to a good start in the playoffs is very important. With only six races in the "Countdown" everyone is significant, and while a first-round loss this week isn't terminal it sure can put a damper on your title hopes especially if you are one of the drivers in the fifth through tenth spot. The way the points are an early exit wouldn't crush one of the top teams but it sure could hurt those in the bottom half of the group. As an example, did you know that Antron Brown lost in round one at Charlotte last year and still won the championship? Last year in the "Countdown" it was either all or nothing for Antron who had three first-round losses and three final rounds and that was enough to give him the title. Of course when he lost in round one at Pomona and had to sit out the rest of the day and watch while Tony Schumacher made a big run at him he probably wished he had the opening round at Charlotte to do all over again. The simple fact is that the top five in the standings, Shawn Langdon, Spencer Massey, Tony, Doug Kalitta and Khalid alBalooshi

Millican defeated Schumacher
in round one at Indy.
Photo copyright 2013 Auto Imagery, Inc.
have a little more "wiggle room" than the others?.One of the many surprises at Indy was the race between Clay Millican and Tony Schumacher in the first round. Tony basically owned Indy and Clay for that matter, and a quick look at the numbers showed why. Did you know that Tony was an amazing 14-2 in his first round races at Indy and he was a staggering 21-2 against Clay? Still, against all odds, Clay won the round and cemented his place in the number seven spot in the points. Did you know that going into the "Countdown" there are only two Top Fuel drivers who haven't won a race this year and they are Clay and Doug Kalitta, and yet both seem capable of going the distance once this six-race stretch begins, don't they?.....To illustrate how tight the competition is did you know that the dragster field in Indy was the closest in NHRA history? From Antron Brown's top spot of 3.811 to Morgan Lucas's bump time of 3.878 this was the closest that sixteen cars had ever qualified at an NHRA national event and that means that anyone can win the race. Of course the fact that both the number one and two cars lost in round one is further proof that it really is anybody's race?.Another indicator that the field is wide open is the fact that Antron was the top qualifier at Indy but Steve Torrence recorded low elapsed time. Did you know that since Top Fuel cars first ran at Indy, and that goes back to 1964 and spans forty-nine years, this was only the thirteenth time that two drivers shared those two benchmarks at the U.S. Nationals? Like I said, ten drivers in the "Countdown" and ten can win, believe me.

Matt Hagan at Indy.
Photo copyright 2013 Ron Lewis Photography

The situation in Funny Car is pretty much the same with a group of very talented teams slugging it out for the top spot. All you have to do to see how tough the class is this year is to take a look at who didn't make the "Countdown" including Bob Tasca, Alexis DeJoria, Jeff Arend and Tony Pedregon not to mention part-time runner Chad Head?..Three of the cars from Team Schumacher pace the field with Matt Hagan coming in as the top seed with Ron Capps and Johnny Gray right behind him. The first car not from Don's stable is the fifteen-time champ, John Force and he is followed by the reigning champ, Jack Beckman, who rounds out the top five. Care to pick a favorite from that group? I didn't think so?.Matt Hagan has run so well this year and they are putting the ghosts of 2012 behind them and doing it in style. Now they come to a track that they absolutely love and we'll see if they can get off to a good start. Matt didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that they lost in round one at Indy but they have to put that behind them, too, and go aggressively into the "Countdown."?.Matt appeared to have the car to beat at Indy, after all, he was the number one qualifier, set low elapsed time and recorded top speed. As much as that may seem like an unbeatable combination it obviously is not. Did you know that in the forty-five years of running Funny Cars at the "Big Go" Matt became the twelfth Funny Car driver to have all the numbers on his side and still not win the race? Hey, it happens and it has happened to John Force, Raymond Beadle and Mark Oswald to name just a few. I know that doesn't make Matt feel any better but at least he is in some pretty good company?.Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Del Worsham are the only members of the top ten not associated with one of the "mega teams" but each is capable of winning it all. Of the three only Tim has never been an NHRA World Champion in the pro ranks and he sure would like to change that....Five of the drivers who are vying for the championship have already won the Charlotte race and two of them, Matt (2011) and Robert Hight (2009), used it as a springboard to the championship.

Rendering of Erica Enders-Stevens new ride.

There is some good news for Pro Stock fans and drag racing fans in general this week with the announcement that Erica Enders-Stevens will be making all six races in the "Countdown." Erica locked up a spot in the playoffs well before the Indy cutoff and then skipped the biggest race of the year at Indy. As we all know this is not an inexpensive sport and Erica's car owner, Victor Cagnazzi, made the tough decision to sit out while looking for some funding to get the team to and through the "Countdown." That funding came from the folks at Husky Liners, a company that specializes in protective items for your vehicle, specifically your truck. The company has already been involved in drag racing with the Todd Patterson team and also in NASCAR with Richard Childress Racing as well as a team that runs a Studebaker truck at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Yes, I said a Studebaker. All Husky products are made in the USA and nothing is more American than drag racing. I know this sounds like a press release but I am just happy that Husky Liners has decided to join the Cagnazzi team and Erica and I hope they do well in the "Countdown." I know that the car, driver and team can contend for the championship and getting off to a good start in Charlotte, their home track, would be great for everyone, well, except the other Pro Stock teams, I guess. No, even they will tell you that it's good for everyone to have Erica in the field?Since Ford is still the "Official Vehicle of the NHRA" and Husky Liners deals in mostly products for trucks I thought this would be a good time for a little fun fact. Did you know that Ford's trucks

Mike Edwards is No. 1 going
into the Countdown.
are such big sellers that they sell one on average every 34 seconds of every day? Do the math, that's a lot of trucks!...I often give little tips to the teams on what to do if they want to be successful (and most of them ignore them, and rightfully so), but in Pro Stock one thing is for sure, if you want to do well make sure you start from the top half of the field. As close as the cars are from top to bottom it seems that the drivers in the one through eight spots in the field always seem to come out on top. Ok, not always, but you know what I mean. Did you know that this year not a single Pro Stock car from the bottom half of the field has even made it to a final round let alone won a race? And did you know that in Indy there was something that happened that rarely does in any class, and that is the fact that in every round the higher qualified cars advanced? That means that numbers one through eight won in round one, numbers one through four won in round two, numbers one and two in the semi-finals and the number one driver, Mike Edwards, won the race. Now when I say that's rare I mean rare. Did you know that in the history of the class, and that covers 728 races, this was only the seventh time that has happened and the first since the 1988 Supernationals in Houston when Bob Glidden beat Warren Johnson in the final round? Amazing!...Even more amazing though is the fact that it has never, and I mean never happened in the Funny Car class?.And as a little extra tidbit (because it's what I do) Warren Johnson was the number two qualifier at the Houston race in '88 and he beat the number fifteen driver, Joe Sway in round one (hey, it never hurts to work in a Joe Sway reference), and of course at Indy he was the number fifteen driver and lost to the number two man, V. Gaines. That's two historic events in twenty-five years and WJ was part of both.

LE Tonglet earned is way into the top 10 at Indy.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle class will be interesting to say the least, after all, when was the last time you had a championship battle without a member of the Hines family being involved? With the new rules the three-time champ, Andrew Hines, did not make the "Countdown" and he will now try to do what every driver outside the top ten says they want to do and that is make life miserable for the title contenders. Actually Andrew said that his main goal now is to win a race before the year is over. Did you know that Andrew has won at least one race in nine consecutive years?....Steve Johnson was also knocked out of the competition for the title at Indy when the former champion, LE Tonglet, went a few rounds and made the "Countdown." In fact, when LE went to the semi-finals it actually jumped him into ninth place in the standings and put Shawn Gann in the tenth spot. Did you know that Steve was in the top ten after every bike race this year except the one that counted the most?.The balloting at the end of the season for "Rookie of the Year" will be interesting and I'm sure most people think

Adam Arana having a great rookie year.
that Brittany Force will get the nod, or at least a lot of consideration, but you have to put Adam Arana in that mix. Adam, who enters the "Countdown" in eighth place, has a final round appearance, a number one qualifying spot and a top ten finish on his r?sum? and that has to count for something, doesn't it?...With three family members in the "Countdown" I think the Arana family will almost surely be disappointed if one of them doesn't win the championship. Still, what they have accomplished already this year is very impressive, isn't it?...By the way, let's not count out the reigning champ, Eddie Krawiec just yet. With the points being reset he is only four rounds out of the top spot and you can make that up in a hurry?theoretically. Plus, this is the closest to the top spot he has been since the Houston race and we know what the Vance & Hines team can do when pushed to the limit, so keep your eyes on the Harley-Davidson this week and see if he can make a move upward in the standings.

Bobby Lagana Sr.

The sport suffered two great losses in recent weeks with the passing of Bobby Lagana Sr. and Jimmy Gunther. Bobby was the patriarch of the Lagana family, a family that has given us many great years of racing, determination, fond memories and the true spirit of drag racing. Bobby raced for years and he taught his sons the real meaning of competition. One of the last drivers to still do some match racing Bobby was a fixture at tracks along the East Coast, from his home track in Englishtown, New Jersey, to Atco, Maple Grove and many others. He competed on the NHRA tour in the 1980's and raced in both Top Fuel and Funny Car during his career and he was part of the inaugural NHRA national event at Maple Grove in 1985. Bobby's sons, Dom and Bobby Jr., have carried on in the true spirit of their father and I'm sure they will in the future although it just won't be the same?.Jimmy Gunther may not have been a household name or even a very familiar face to most fans at the races but he has been around the sport for years. Recently he has been part of the Jim Cunningham Pro Stock team and has served as a crew member on that team for years. Jimmy is the kind of person who was liked by all and who makes this such a great sport, that is, the man working behind the scenes so the owners and drivers can achieve their goals. Bobby Lagana Sr. may never have won a national event and Jimmy Gunther may never have taken a car down the track but they are the kind of people who keep the sport growing and who add to the great history of drag racing in their own special way.

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