DieHard Race Week Start-Up
Thursday, May 03, 2012
The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series is heating up, both literally and figuratively. Fresh on the heels of a steamy Houston event, we head east to where the peaches grow, Georgia, and more specifically to a place we like to call Hotlanta. The early forecast for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway calls for the mercury to test the 90-degree mark every day, and that will give crew chiefs a fit trying to tune, drivers a handful trying to navigate, and last, but most importantly, another day of drama for the fans!
The second time this year with races back to back, the series gets serious now because after this weekend’s seventh stop, there will be only 10 races to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship. Translation: The margin of error is getting smaller for the teams that are struggling. Names that you would expect in the top 10 that aren’t (yet) include Brandon Bernstein (winless since Richmond 2009), Matt Hagan (only one round-win this season), Tim Wilkerson (he loves a hot racetrack), and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (two broken engines led to testing before Atlanta).
Going back to back doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else, but here is a sampling of what’s going on and who is moving and shaking in each of the four Pro categories.
Top Fuel: Morgan Lucas and the GEICO team are coming off their second win (both in dominating fashion), and in addition to having a "fit pit" area, Lucas is working out with his teammate at PitFit Training in Indianapolis, and it certainly appears to be paying dividends. After beginning his career 0-5 in finals, Lucas is on a streak of six straight final-round wins. Spencer Massey and the FRAM crew spent time at Kliebert Gator Farm outside of Atlanta taking “chomping” lessons, and J.R. Todd and his Total Equipment team took in baseball, watched C&J Energy’s Josh Comstock and other execs get drag racing lessons courtesy of Frank Hawley, and played a game called Dragster Mayhem (I have to get on that!). Following six races, Houston runner-up Antron Brown and his Matco team are in the points lead, followed by Massey (-1 spot), Lucas (+1), and the Army’s Tony Schumacher (-2). The top four teams are running away and are separated by two rounds of racing.
Funny Car: John Force Racing saw one streak end and another continue. After winning 17 straight rounds of racing, which included four national event wins in a row, Robert Hight and the Automobile Club of Southern California team broke the tires free in the Houston semi’s, which makes Ron Capps and his NAPA crew the answer to the trivia question "Who stopped the streak?" But when Capps got to his second consecutive final, a JFR car was waiting. This time, it was Mike Neff’s Castrol GTX flopper that won the race, which means it is still a season sweep for the JFR crew (Force, one; Hight, four; and Neff, one). Life is still good for Hight, though; with 597 points through six races, he has earned more than any other Professional driver. Leading into the weekend, I can’t wait to see where Capps' first pitch at the Atlanta Braves game goes on Thursday (Alexis DeJoria will be at Turner Field, too); it’s a given to be shown on ESPN2 this weekend.
Pro Stock: Boy, was youth served in the Lone Star State as Vincent Nobile earned his second straight Houston win in his Mountain View Tire Dodge when he beat the always-tough Dave Connolly and his Alamo Iron Works Chevy. The fourth win of his career moved him into third in the standings behind Summit’s Greg Anderson and Jason Line, respectively. For all you Twitter followers, get onboard with Vincent (@vincent154) and check out the photo of the Wally strapped safely in the back seat for the trip home. Safety first… It is priceless!
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines used a perfect reaction time (.000) to offset a quicker elapsed time by Lucas Oil’s Hector Arana Jr. (6.905 beat a 6.886) and the 20 extra pounds that NHRA added to the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidsons after Gainesville to win in Houston for the third consecutive year. Knowing that he needed to push the Tree, Hines added in his post-race interview, “I’m lucky I didn’t roll in an eighth of an inch more or I’d have red-lighted.” Hines took over the points lead from his teammate, Eddie Krawiec, but both have company from Arana in third! This weekend marks the third of 16 starts for the two-wheeled warriors.
Well, the wash is done; time to stuff it back into a suitcase and roll! And that gets me to the weekend schedule: Friday, May 4, live qualifying on ESPN3 at 6 p.m. (all times ET); Saturday, May 5, qualifying recap on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, May 5, finals recap on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.
The only thing that would be better is to be there! Come on out and join us at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga. For tickets, call NHRA, 800-884-6472, or log on to NHRATix.com.
As always, if you have questions that we can answer on-air, off-air, or for that matter anywhere, please do not hesitate to throw me a line either by email (email@example.com) or Twitter (@DaveRieffNHRA).
See you from Hotlanta!