Saturday's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals photo blog
Saturday, September 01, 2012

News and views from the 
Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
presented by Auto-Plus
Last update: 9:15 p.m.
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Saturday at Indy
Saturday of the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus dawned gray and threatening, which was forecast by meteorologists as the remnants of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac continued its northward trek. Racing got underway on schedule, and we competed rounds in Stock, Super Comp, and Super Gas and had Comp on deck before the wet stuff started.

As of noon, the rain was spotty at best, just enough to keep cars off the track, but hopes persist that we'll get enough clearing to be able to resume action, which is scheduled to include the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuelers.

Despite the less-that-ideal forecast, race fans still have journeyed to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis to be part of the sport's biggest drag race and get a chance to meet the stars, gather some autographs, and collect some souvenirs while waiting for the action to resume.

As of noon local time, we are still in a holding pattern.


Eckman, Worden, and Stevens make returns to Pro Stock


Three Pro Stock veteran drivers — Jerry Eckman, Lewis Worden, and Richie Stevens Jr. — returned to factory hot rod competition this weekend. Eckman and Worden (13 years), have been absent the longest, and Stevens’ last appearance was at the 2010 Dallas national event.

Eckman, who has done clutch work for Rodger Brogdon and Steve Kent for the last few seasons, was given the chance to drive Kent’s Pontiac GXP. “I just wanted to do something for him, to give him a little sparkle in his eye,” said Kent, who plans to focus solely on running is Hemi ‘Cuda in both the Hemi Shootout and Super Stock competition this weekend. Eckman, who recently licensed in Kent’s car, said, “I was absolutely overwhelmed and most grateful for this opportunity.”

Worden, who was the Pro Stock runner-up at the 1995 U.S. Nationals, recently retired after 31 years in the construction business and had been working for Jim Cunningham’s Ford Mustang Pro Stock team doing clutch work and driving the racing rig. After driver Grace Howell recently left the operation, Cunningham offered Worden the chance to drive. “We’ll be running in Charlotte, St. Louis, and Reading,” said Worden, “and if we do well enough, we might go to the West Coast to attend the Las Vegas and Pomona events.”

Stevens will be driving a spare Dodge Avenger owned by Allen Johnson, and will also be racing with one of the Dodge Hemi engines prepared by Allen’s father Roy. “I have to thank Mark Eckman, the CEO of CarSafe, which has sponsored my mountain motor Mustang for the past two years, for giving me the backing to put this deal together. My longtime sponsor Valspar is also helping out.” Stevens will be racing on his own with his crew of chassis builder Rick Jones, who constructed the Avenger; his son, Rickie; and former Warren Johnson crew member Tom Pierson. “When asked how he felt about possibly racing his fiancée Erica Enders, Stevens said, “This is the once chance I have to show my stuff. So I won’t cut her any slack. I’ll send her home.”

In the first qualifying session, Stevens made the top half of the field with a No. 7 time of 6.673, Eckman was 18th with a 6.771, and Worden was 20th with a 6.777.

A not exactly perfect No. 1 run for Beckman


Jack Beckman enters the second qualifying day as the leader in Funny Car, but the 4.051 that put him atop the boards came as somewhat of a surprise to the Valvoline-backed driver. The run that looked impressive from the outside wasn’t exactly impressive from Beckman’s point of view with some challenges all the way down the 1,000-foot strip that required a lot of work on Beckman’s part.

“I’m telling you that was far from a perfect run, but the e.t. slip was perfect,” said Beckman, who was the No. 1 qualifier at the last event, in Brainerd. “We were in the right lane, and it was trying to move over to the centerline for the first half of the run. In Funny Cars, you’ve got to use a lot of steering wheel, but if you jerk the car, it upsets the car, transfers the weight to the outside tire, and you smoke the tires, and the run is done. So I’m moving a little bit and a little bit and a little bit, and finally, I move it a lot, and the car starts moving over to the middle of the lane, then it drops a hole, then it drops another hole, and makes another move down there. I lift and throw the chutes, and I look up at the scoreboard, and it says 4.051, and I’m thinking, ‘That’s got to be in the other lane.’ It never felt that quick.

“It was hugely important [to get a good first run] because now it doesn’t matter what happens. Whether we get all the qualifying runs or have to come back and run next weekend, that won’t get bumped out. We are absolutely safe, and everybody can breathe a sigh of relief.”

As always, the four-car John Force Racing compound was a magnet for fans who watched as the boss' car (above) was unloaded, and youngest daughter Courtney (below, center) met some of her youngest and most supportive fans.

The weather delay didn’t dampen activity in the Tequila Patrón hospitality area. Funny Car rookie Alexis DeJoria threw a party for her daughter Isabella (right of DeJoria) to celebrate her 10th birthday. Festivities were complete with cake, a piñata, and temporary tattoos.

(Above) The eight Funny Car drivers who will participate in Sunday's Traxxas Nitro Shootout took part in a press conference and autograph session (below) in the Top Eliminator Club.

  (Above) The only thing more depressing than an empty starting line in Indy is a wet, empty starting line. On-again, off-again rain still has action on hold, but officials remain hopeful, based on a radar map, that we'll be able to run later.

(Left) Boredom during a weather delay is a powerful foe, but Division 2 Director Rich Schaefer, who is directing the event from monitor control, put his artistic abilities to good use, sketching a colorful version of the Division 2 logo on his "office" window.

[1:30 p.m.] Defending NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car champ Matt Hagan, center, and current points leader Ron Capps took part in an entertaining Q&A at the Goodyear display. More Q&As are scheduled. [Schedule]

 Where’s Jerry?

Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Racing rig is parked in the pit area at Lucas Oil Raceway, but the trailer is not open, and Savoie’s six-second Suzuki is nowhere to be seen. Savoie, a runner-up at the 2011 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, did not make a run on Friday, and it seems likely that he won’t race Saturday either. Reports from his camp indicate that Savoie is at home tending to his alligator farm in Cut Off, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Issac.

Savoie’s Louisiana neighbors, Gary, GT, and LE Tonglet, are racing in Indy and report no significant damage to their Metairie, La., home other than some flooding. Baton Rouge, La.-based Pro Stock Motorcycle racers Michael Phillips and Redell Harris also report no major issues at home. 

[2:30 p.m.] Upon being notified that the final session of alcohol qualifying was delayed until tomorrow morning, Marty Thacker, a two-time winner at this event in Top Alcohol Dragster, began frying 60 pounds of fish for a large gathering of friends of family.

Record turnout for DSR Open House

The 7th annual Big O Tires Don Schumacher Racing Open House Friday afternoon proved to be heavenly for benefactor Riley Hospital for Children. The event featured a car show, motorsports art show, autograph session with DSR racing's seven Professional NHRA drivers, and tours of the spacious DSR speed factory near Indianapolis.

But the biggest star of the five-hour, fun-filled event was the annual silent auction in which DSR's sponsors and loyal NHRA Drag Racing fans raised the bulk of $25,000 generated Friday that pushed the total contributed by DSR events to Riley Hospital to more than $200,000.

Team owner Don Schumacher spent the day at the open house smiling like he had just won another world championship.

"This is wonderful," he said of the day. "It makes what our staff and sponsors did here today so special. We have wonderful sponsors who support our open house each year, but it comes down to these great NHRA Drag Racing fans who helped us help a great organization like Riley Hospital."

Money raised at the event, which was free to the public, goes to the Riley Children's Foundation that supports Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Riley Hospital has served as Indiana's only comprehensive children's hospital since 1924.

 A break in the weather finally occurred at about 3 p.m., allowing the NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA to begin drying the track, sending the Full Throttle teams into get-ready mode.

The teams for Spencer Massey (above), Ron Capps (right), and Antron Brown (below) prepped their machines for battle, projected to begin at 4:30 p.m. with the first round of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.

[4:45 p.m.] (Above) Morgan Lucas, far lane, ran low e.t of the event thus far with a 3.79 at only 311 mph to defeat Tony Schumacher in the first round of the Top Fuel Traxxas Nitro Shootout. Schumacher, who lost to Lucas in the semifinal round at the Brainerd event, made the second-quickest run of the event at 3.80 seconds and equaled his 324-mph top speed in a losing effort.

(Right) In the semifinals, Lucas will take on Spencer Massey, who had the round's third-quickest time, a 3.815, to defeat David Grubnic.

Clay Millican, who trailed Bob Vandergriff Jr. by just three points in the battle for the final spot in the Top Fuel Countdown playoffs, took a step backwards with engine woes that led to a five-point oildown penalty.

  [5:55 p.m.] Jack Beckman again had the best run of the Funny Car session with a 4.056, but Jeff Arend (above) was a surprise No. 2 with a 4.088 from the DHL Toyota to move to the No. 4 spot behind Beckman, Johnny Gray (4.079), and Courtney Force (4.085).

Defending champion Matt Hagan (left), needing session bonus points to claw his way into the top 10, put down a solid 4.119 that at the time was low of the round but ultimately ended up being just fifth best, earning no points.

[7:15 p.m.] Incoming Pro Stock qualifying leader Erica Enders (right) had the best run of qualifying for the second straight session, charting a 6.634 in her Chevy.

Allen Johnson (above) had the session's second-best time, a 6.639, but is third behind Enders' Friday 6.624 and the 6.631 of Vincent Nobile.

 [7:30 p.m.] Hector Arana Sr. (right) had the best lap of the event's second Pro Stock Motorcycle session with a 6.950 aboard his Lucas Oil Buell. His son, Hector Jr. was third quickest at 6.963, sandwiched around Andrew Hines, whose 6.954 did not improve on his field-leading 6.928.

Karen Stoffer (above), who announced prior to this race that longtime sponsor GEICO would not be returning in 2013, nonetheless had the quickest Suzuki pass of the round with a 6.993.

Tommy Johnson Jr. is making his first Professional start since the final event of the 2008 season and his first appearance in Top Fuel since the Topeka event in 1997. Driving Santo Rapisarda’s Titan Cranes dragster, Johnson has improved on every pass with a 3.93 best and will fight for a shot to make the field tomorrow.

Steve Torrence, near lane, advanced to the final round of the Traxxas Top Fuel Shootout with a win over a tire-smoking Brandon Bernstein. His team will have to thrash for their shot at battling Spencer Massey for the $100,000 prize because he wounded an engine near the end of his 3.88-second pass.

"The Golden Greek," ageless veteran Chris Karamesines, hiked the front end of his Lucas Oil machine and ran a 3.98, not good enough to make the Top Fuel field but enough to make his legion of fans happy.

[9:15 p.m.] Spencer Massey, near lane, collected a $100,000 payday for Don Schumacher Racing after powering his Prestone/FRAM dragster to a 3.78 to beat Steve Torrence in the final of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.

[9 p.m.] It was ladies night in the evening Funny Car session; class rookies Alexis DeJoria (above) and Courtney Force (below) had two of the three-best runs. DeJoria, who previously had run 4.10 and 4.11, hammered out a 4.064 for third best, just behind Tim Wilkerson's 4.060, and Force powered to a 4.049 at a track record speed of 317.27 to take over the No. 1 qualifying position in her U.S. Nationals Pro debut.

NOTE: Early in the evening's Pro Stock session, moisture in the air and the dew point resulted in unacceptable racing conditions, and NHRA officials canceled the balance of the session as well as Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying.