DieHard Race Week Start-Up, Seattle
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Just as quickly as it started, the three-race journey known as the Western Swing is set to wrap up this weekend as the traveling circus known as the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series heads to the Pacific Northwest and its second consecutive national event celebrating its silver anniversary. Pacific Raceways is the place, the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries is the race. And by all accounts, this will be a race we could be talking about for quite some time thanks in part to the reality-style subject matter that has a little soap-opera quality mixed in for extra flair!
And it is something that you can take in in person — 800-884-NHRA (6472) or NHRATix.com can put tickets in your hand in exchange for cash or credit — or via ESPN:
Live second-session qualifying: Friday, Aug. 3, at 7:30 p.m. (all times ET) on ESPN3.com
Qualifying recap: Saturday, Aug. 4, at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2
Live eliminations: Sunday, Aug. 5, at 2 p.m. on ESPN3.com
Eliminations recap: Sunday, Aug. 5, at 6 p.m. on ESPN2
What will the story lines be?
From the reality side, two racers, Top Fuel’s Antron Brown and Allen Johnson in Pro Stock, have the chance to add their names to the Western Swing history book. One is already there.
The most recent of seven drivers who has already pulled off the trifecta, 2009 sweeper Brown can become the first to do it twice. He is in this position after knocking down a murderers' row of talent in Sonoma (Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher, Brandon Bernstein, Spencer Massey). The Matco team debuted a new chassis design to start the Swing, and so far, "the Ant's” crew chiefs, Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, have knocked it out of the park.
Then there is Johnson. Eight times a No. 1 qualifier and four times a winner, including at the last two races, there is nothing to indicate, short of making a mistake, that that trend will end anytime soon. He simply has been dominating. Four more eliminations wins this weekend in Seattle, and A.J. can put his name alongside Greg Anderson's as the only drivers to sweep the Swing in Pro Stock.
That brings us to the soap opera. A good old-fashioned rivalry, or perhaps a love/hate relationship, may have been born when Anderson and Pro Stock’s most recent first-time winner, Erica Enders, exchanged words after their second-round race in Sonoma. Following a 17-second staging duel and subsequent red-light by Enders, which gave the automatic win to Anderson, the four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion was quoted as saying, “Sorry for her luck. It’s always good when you race her, and I’ve said it all along … she kicked my butt in Chicago. I really didn’t appreciate some of the things she did after that race. It was, in my mind, a little unprofessional. I think the karma train got her a little bit there. She’s a great racer, but you have to be professional.” Upon hearing what was said, an apparently stunned Enders immediately engaged Anderson in a somewhat private discussion, which was captured on television as well. The divide is said to be over a picture, and it has created a firestorm of opinion. ESPN will follow up with the two racers this weekend to find out more details.
Additional story lines include the fact that only three races remain in the regular season, which means that for drivers at or near 10th in the standings, these are pretty big races! Defending Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan (12th in points) does look to make that race pretty interesting after going to his first final of the year, finishing as runner-up to Johnny Gray in Sonoma. However, Hagan is still five rounds of racing out of the top 10 with only 12 rounds available. You can check out all the points scenarios by clicking here. Another example in Funny Car is Tim Wilkerson. Eleventh in the points standings, Wilk has been hit or miss for much of the season but does have a three-race winning streak in Seattle. He can definitely help himself with another deep run in eliminations. Wilk sits four rounds behind 15-time world champ John Force for the 10th and final Countdown-eligible spot. I can promise you’ll find a battle in all four divisions, but only three will be played out this weekend because Pro Stock Motorcycle is off until Brainerd.
Boil it all down, and the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, from the shadows of beautiful Mount Rainer, should provide some pretty good eating! Come hungry!