Friday's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals photo blog
Friday, August 31, 2012

News and views from the 
Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
presented by Auto-Plus
Last update: 9:30 p.m.
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Welcome to Friday of the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus. The event officially began Wednesday with Sportsman time trails and eliminations have begun for some of those classes, but today will be the first time that the Full Throttle teams in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle get to take to the course at this fabled facility.

Race fans opening their issues of USA Today this morning found a nice, four-page dedicated insert about the Big Go highlighted by a feature story on the Forces.

Today there is one lone qualifying session at 5:30 p.m., and Saturday will feature two more rounds of qualifying plus the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel. Sunday will feature the final two rounds of qualifying plus the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Cars. Final eliminations are Monday.

FAST FACTS: The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is the final of 17 regular-season Full Throttle Series races. Following the conclusion of this event, the top 10 drivers in each Full Throttle Series category will qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs that begin Sept. 14-16 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte. ... Tony Schumacher is a 10-time U.S. Nationals finalist in Top Fuel (winning eight). … Schumacher’s first career NHRA start was at the U.S. Nationals in 1996 and the then-rookie posted a runner-up finish to Cory McClenathan. … Pro Stock dominator Greg Anderson has won the race six times in the past 11 seasons. … Six female drivers representing all four Professional categories are pre-entered for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. … John Force, a 15-time NHRA Full Throttle Series world champion and winner of a record 134 events, has won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals four times, his last in 2002. … Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden is the winningest driver in the history of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, with nine victories. … The event will also feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx.

Westcott is top qualifier in Hemi Challenge

Charlie Westcott Jr., of Parma, Mich., powered to the No. 1 spot in qualifying on Thursday in his '68 War Fish Plymouth Barracuda at the 12th annual Mopar Hemi Challenge at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Westcott banked the Mopar top qualifier $500 bonus with his second straight pole in the event and will look to capture his second straight Indy win and fifth overall at the venue.
An impressive field of 23 Mopar-powered Super Stock A/Hemi (SS/AH) '68 Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas battled it out at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Westcott paced the pack with an elapsed time of 8.386 seconds in his Hemi machine. Clocking in at No. 2 was Jim Daniels, of Bristol, Pa., in his '68 Dodge Dart with an 8.458 mark, followed by Charlie Westcott Sr. in the third spot in his ’68 Plymouth ‘Cuda with an 8.488. Taking the fourth spot was former Indy Mopar Hemi Challenge champ Rick Houser, of Pasadena, Calif., with an 8.491 effort in his '68 Plymouth Barracuda, and Wendell Howes, of Rathesay, Neb., rounded out the top five with an 8.510, also in a '68 Barracuda.

“I think people were surprised when I put that .38 on the board, but I wasn’t,” said Charlie Westcott Jr. “Yesterday I had a few subpar passes. We found some adjustments in the suspension, and the car went down the track really nice today.”

The Westcott family is aiming for its fourth Indy Hemi Challenge win in five years. Westcott claimed victories in 2008 and 2011, and his father earned a win in 2009. Last year featured an all-Westcott final, and the father-and-son duo would relish a repeat performance.

“He almost beat me last year because he had a lot better light [reaction time] than I did,” said Westcott, of his battle with his father in the 2011 Mopar Hemi Challenge final. “He has beat me a few times, and I’ve beat him a few times. It’s all about who makes the best runs. If the ladder works that way, it would be cool. That’s obviously ideal, to get both of these cars in the final and win as much money as we can.”

The Mopar Hemi Challenge winner will earn an impressive $15,000 purse, with $1,500 slotted for the runner-up and $500 each for the third- and fourth-place finishers.

Auction at DSR Open House

The 7th annual Big O Tires Don Schumacher Racing Open House today will raise money for the Riley Children’s Foundation that supports Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health and Camp Riley.

Money will be raised through the event’s biggest-ever silent auction with all proceeds going to Riley Hospital, which has served as Indiana’s only comprehensive children’s hospital since 1924.

The annual Open House and other DSR functions have raised more than $175,000 for Riley Hospital.

Silent auction items range from a 50-inch HD, flat-panel television provided by Aaron’s to the actual front end from Matt Hagan’s Aaron’s Funny Car that was featured worldwide on the Internet and television news programs after the car exploded earlier this season at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s zMAX Dragway.

For a list of auction items go here.

  A spectacular display of vintage iron is on exhibit in the Mac Tools concourse, featuring hot rods of all eras as well as some famous racing machines, including (below) the Top Fueler of former Indy winner Terry Capp and Al Bergler's Motown Shaker Funny Car.

Cagnazzi’s Grumpy’s Toy XVIII ’12 COPO Camaro makes debut

Cagnazzi Racing is paying tribute to the late drag racing legend Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins by debuting the team’s new SS/CA ’12 COPO Camaro with a Grumpy’s Toy XVIII paint scheme. The car is being driven by Dave Connolly, who utilized an engine built by Jenkins when he scored his first career Pro Stock victory at the Brainerd national event in 2003.

Team owner Victor Cagnazzi, who built the naturally-aspirated, all-aluminum 427-cid powerplant for the COPO Camaro, said, “The idea for painting the car in the Grumpy’s Toy paint scheme came from my wife, Brita right after Bill passed away in March. We decided that’s what we wanted to do right before we received confirmation that we actually would be receiving one of the limited edition COPO Camaros. Steve Johns from our engine development program, who worked for many years as the Jenkins Competition shop foreman, confirmed for us that the number 18 was the next in line.”

Cagnazzi said that the team plans to have Connolly drive the car at four to five additional races this year and the full schedule in 2013 in a bid for the NHRA Stock championship title. “It was really a big deal for me to win my first race with a Jenkins motor,” said Connolly, “and I’m glad to have the opportunity to help pay tribute to a man who did so much for drag racing.”

Just two weeks after winning in Brainerd with their vaunted DD/AT Cobalt, Comp points leaders Bruno Massel Sr. and Jr. have chosen the U.S. Nationals at the spot to debut their new I/Dragster.

Powered by the same turbocharged four-cylinder Chevy Ecotec engine as the Cobalt, the new entry immediately followed its predecessor to the top of the qualifying sheets.

One of Jr.'s sons has nicknamed the car Black Mamba, after reading that the mamba is the lightest, longest, fastest, and most deadly snake.

Darrell Gwynn Foundation donates three custom wheelchairs

The Darrell Gwynn Foundation donated three custom wheelchairs collectively valued at $67,000 to three Indiana children.

Three Indiana children, all under the age of 9 years old, Zailey Andrade (Mooresville, Ind.), Benjamin Bang (Fishers, Ind.), and Eli Dilts (Bloomington, Ind.) received the gift of mobility, independence, and freedom from the Darrell Gwynn Foundation and its donors. The wheelchair donations are being made through the Darrell Gwynn Foundation’s national Wheelchair Donation Program, which provides custom power wheelchairs to individuals facing medical and financial hardships that have exhausted all other means of obtaining a power wheelchair that was recommended by their physician.

“We get to change, not one, but three children’s lives forever by giving them the gift of mobility,” said Gwynn, president of DGF, and Top Fuel winner at the 1989 U.S. Nationals. “It’s a testament to our donors and supporters that we are able to make this impact in Indiana. I can remember winning some big races at the U.S. Nationals during my career. These days, I get the same great feeling every time we donate a wheelchair as I got when I won a race. It’s going to be a beautiful day.”

The Darrell Gwynn Foundation’s mission is to provide support for people with paralysis and prevent spinal-cord injuries. A racing accident ended Gwynn's brilliant career in 1990 when he sustained a spinal-cord injury. In 2002, he and his wife, Lisa, founded the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, and in 2011, he returned to the U.S. Nationals driving a custom-built electric dragster defeating “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in a special “Garlits vs. Gwynn: Match Races for a Cause” charity racing series.

Goodyear's new midway participation game is fun on a big scale as fans get to drop a full-sized Goodyear slick into a pachinko-style game, with the goal to land in the slot with the large-winged foot.

Pro Stock veteran Jerry Eckman, right, will make his first start since the 1999 World Finals, taking over for Steve Kent, left, in his GXP as Kent concentrates on his new Hemi 'Cuda Super Stocker. “Jerry has been doing our clutches for years, and I just wanted to do something for him, to give him a little sparkle in his eye,” said Kent.
Head Unveils J.T. Stewart Tribute Funny Car

Funny Car driver Jim Head debuted an eye-catching new Chuck Buckler-created paint scheme on his Toyota Camry that pays tribute to late friend J.T. Stewart. Head, a two-time Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus winner in Top Fuel and Funny Car, is pleased with the latest in a line of wild paint schemes done at Chuck B. Studios.

“It’s amazing the stuff that guy comes up with,” said Head.

Stewart, an innovative machinist who created parts such as barrel valves that have been used by nearly every nitro team, died on May 9 at age 74. A former Top Fuel racer from Arizona, Stewart had spent time with various teams that include Eddie Hill, Doug Herbert, and Head. More information on Stewart can be found here.

A couple of Indy legends are enjoying the hospitality of the National DRAGSTER suite in the Parks Tower: Gasser great “Ohio George” Montgomery, left, and David Reher, the lone surviving member of the Reher-Morrison-Shepherd Pro Stock powerhouse.

Montgomery is the only racer to win Nationals titles in two venues — Detroit (1959 and 1960) and Indy (1963 and 1969) — while the RMS team and driver Lee Shepherd scored Indy Pro Stock wins back to back in 1980 and 1981 and a runner-up in 1983 and won the Pro Stock bonus event three times at the Nationals.

  The Top Fuel drivers in tomorrow's Traxxas Nitro Shootout met the media this afternoon before their opening qualifying pass.

In addition to the $100,000 top prize, the winner will also take home this handsome trophy designed by Traxxas.

First-round pairings are:

Antron Brown vs. Brandon Bernstein

Spencer Massey vs. David Grubnic

Tony Schumacher vs. Morgan Lucas

Steve Torrence vs. Doug Kalitta


A number of NHRA legends took part in a special autograph session in the Mac Tools concourse.

Among those who took part were (above, from left) Al Bergler, Hayden Proffitt, Jimmy King, and Hubert Platt.

There's plenty of Mello Yello on hand to allow fans to check out the tasty citrus-flavored product that will sponsor NHRA's national event series beginning next season.

 [6:30 p.m.] Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines riders Andrew Hines (right) and Eddie Krawiec (above) debuted new Harley-Davidson V-Rod Hard Candy Custom metal flake paint schemes. Hines, low qualifier in the first Pro Stock Motorcycle session with a 6.928, is sport the Hard Candy Lucky Green Flake scheme while Krawiec, No. 3 in the first session (6.953), is riding a bike sprayed with Hard Candy Purple Flake.
During October, Krawiec will display the team’s support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month by racing in a special Hard Candy Pink Flake color then will close out the season with Hard Candy Purple Flake paint. Hector Arana Jr. was the No. 2 qualifier with a 6.932.

[7:10 p.m.] Erica Enders (above) grabbed the No. 1 spot in Pro Stock with a 6.624 in her GK Motorsports Cavalier, Vincent Nobile (below) is No. 2 with the Mountain View Avenger with a 6.631.

(Above) The top two qualifiers in Funny Car came from the same pairing; Jack Beckman, far lane, ran a 4.051 in his Valvoline Next-Gen Charger, just ahead of the 4.079 logged by teammate Johnny Gray's NTB Dodge. (Below) Courtney Force was the surprise No. 3 qualifier with a 4.085 in her Traxxas Mustang.

[9:30 p.m.] In his first start since the Topeka event, J.R. Todd drove Bob Vandergriff Jr.’s second dragster to a 3.91. Tony Schumacher wheeled the U.S. Army dragster to a 3.81 at 324 mph (top speed) to lead Top Fuel.

A trio of jet dragsters helped close out the day's action to the delight of the crowd.