DieHard Race Week Start-Up, Reading
Thursday, October 04, 2012
It’s kind of funny how life works sometimes. Similarly, the power of music is also pretty amazing. Just as I began typing the 21st edition of the DieHard Race Week Start-Up for the year, what do you suppose was the first song that played when I opened iTunes? Here are some clues: This 30-year-old synth-driven song is about dealing with stress, and it is written and sung by a very popular singer-songwriter and pianist.
If you guessed “Pressure” by Billy Joel, you’d be right. And considering that there are nearly 6,000 songs in my library, I found it very coincidental because the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series has only three races left to decide the champions, and some very real pressure situations are developing. The lyrics seem to really apply to those in championship contention as we prepare for the 28th annual Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at scenic Maple Grove Raceway in Reading.
In virtually every lyric of the song, an analogy can be drawn to the men and women in each of the NHRA’s Pro categories who have survived the first half of the six-race Countdown to the Championship and still have a shot at reaching drag racing immortality.
“You have to learn to pace yourself. … Pressure. You’re just like everybody else. … Pressure.”
In regards to Pro Stock Motorcycle, the song's opening lyrics make me think of the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team. As a unit, this is a team that has paced itself quite nicely. Other than the Dallas race two weekends ago when Michael Ray won for the first time, Eddie Krawiec (seven victories) and Andrew Hines (five) have won every time. Both riders are series champions and Reading winners, and only 33 points separate them, but at some point, the pressure for the duo will not be like that for everybody else, and we will find out who best can handle it. And don’t be surprised if either of the Hectors or somebody else doesn’t force that hand!
“You’ve only had to run so far … so good. But you will come to a place where the only thing you feel are loaded guns in your face, and you’ll have to deal with pressure!”
Sounds like a verse written specifically for Allen Johnson in Pro Stock. I have said all year that his ability to win the championship will be determined by his team's ability to limit its mistakes. Since the Countdown began, it has done an excellent job of making the final round at all three races. A winner at one of those races, A.J. is taking away the opportunity for Charlotte winner Jason Line (second in points) and St. Louis winner Erica Enders (third) to gain any ground. With a six-round lead (+109) and only 12 rounds of racing left in the year, Johnson is dodging all the bullets in a talent-laden class and is in great position to get his first championship. A year ago at this event, Line went the distance while setting the e.t. record at 6.477. It could change again this weekend.
“Don’t ask for help; you’re all alone. … Pressure. You’ll have to answer to your own. … Pressure!”
These words apply to both nitro categories, as a team battle will have to be waged to decide the last man standing, especially in Top Fuel. While Tony Schumacher (five rounds behind in third place) is the veteran with seven Full Throttle titles, many of those earned by going deep as the season wears down, this title looks to be decided between Antron Brown and Spencer Massey. Each has yet to win a championship, but as this lyric suggests, neither can ask for help from his team, and both will have to do it on their own. At the last race in St. Louis, the two racers started the weekend tied in the standings, went toe to toe in qualifying, and eventually met in the final. Antron’s seventh win of the year gives him a small 21-point lead. But who will have the final answer? Last year in Reading, Spencer took a holeshot win in the quickest side-by-side race in NHRA history with Del Worsham (who left with the e.t. record at 3.735).
And that brings me to Funny Car and the pressure that both Ron Capps and Jack Beckman must be feeling.
“I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale. But here you are in the ninth, two men out and three men on. Nowhere to look but inside where we all respond to … pressure.”
Funny Car is like a real-life soap opera right now with Jack Beckman’s third win of the year moving him to within 30 points of teammate Ron Capps. It seems like it was only yesterday when team owner Don Schumacher made a car/team swap between the two, and veteran Capps, driving since 1995 and a three-time series runner-up, went to six straight finals and the top of the standings to become the odds-on favorite to win his first championship. Apparently, Beckman didn’t get that memo! Ultimately, what may make the difference will be staying away from their teammate Matt Hagan. Yes, Beckman may have beaten Hagan in the St. Louis final, but the reigning series champ has been on a tear, ripping off 18 round-wins and four runner-ups since Sonoma just seven races ago. Oh, yeah … along the way, he has raced Capps in six straight races, winning two rounds alone in the all-important Countdown. That’s 40 points plus the opportunity missed for more round-wins.
Don’t miss your opportunity to see history go down in person. Tickets to the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals are available by calling 610-856-7200 or logging on to MapleGroveRaceway.com.
On TV, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 12:30 a.m. (all times ET) and 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7, and three hours of eliminations, also on Sunday, at 7 p.m. ESPN3 will cover second-session qualifying live at/around 4 p.m. on Friday. Full coverage of final eliminations can also be seen beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
And now you’re ready … for … “One, two, three, four … PRESSURE!”