Wow, it’s been a wild ride the last few weeks, with six straight weekends of racing. You really see what you’re made of in these kinds of situations, and the Mopar Dodge Avenger crew came through the six-week gauntlet in awesome shape. We enter the last two races of the season at Vegas and Pomona with an 82-point lead in the standings.
Since I last checked in, we scored a runner-up finish at St. Louis. The venue was back in action after a one-year layoff, and it was great to return. The whole St. Louis area was fired up to have drag racing back, and there were great crowds. St. Louis has always been one of my favorite venues, and I love the city, which is very nice and clean. My wife Pam and I, along with our good friend Erica Enders, went to a St. Louis Cardinals game at Busch Stadium on Saturday night, before eliminations. Awesome stadium with a great design, and a great atmosphere.
Come Sunday at St. Louis, it was a bit crazy. Against my teammate Vincent Nobile, we both had trouble and had to get off the gas. I was able to get back under control and then beat Vincent to the finish line. We made it to the finals, where we raced Erica for the second weekend in a row. This time she took the win, but it was a good event overall for the Mopar/J&J Racing team, as we left with a 109-point lead.
Next up was the NHRA Reading event, and while I can’t say we got the result we were hoping for, we still have a good size lead with two events left in the Countdown. I made it to the quarterfinals where I lost to Dave Connolly, but even though I didn’t win, the Dodge boys had my back! V. Gaines, another Mopar Pro Stocker and great guy, ended up winning the whole event. I was very glad for V., and also glad he took out Jason Line, who is second in points. Jeg Coughlin Jr., another Dodge boy, took out Erica, who was in third-place, so that was also a big assist. Aside from the help it gave us in the standings, it’s always great to see our fellow Mopar Dodge drivers go rounds.
Just yesterday, Pam and I, along with my mom and dad, went to a Dining in the Dark event in Charlotte to help raise funds for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Very cool event for a good cause, with folks like Kasey Kahne, Mike Helton and Richard Childress also in attendance. Now with a break before Vegas, Pam and I are finally going to get some R&R at our second home down in Sanibel, Fla., this week. We haven’t been to our house down there in about eight weeks or so. Erica and Richie Stevens will join us, and it’ll be great to chill and enjoy down time.
Vegas will still be on my mind, though. We won there in the spring and have excellent notes. The Mopar Dodge Avenger team is close to our goal of a first Pro Stock title, but there’s still a lot of work to do, as all those folks behind us right now are great competitors and want the same thing as us. We look forward to the challenge!
The NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs are in full swing, and we are already one-third of the way through the six races. We had just about the best start we could have asked for in the Countdown. We made it to the final round at Charlotte and left there with the lead in the standings. Last weekend in Dallas, we were fastest in each of the four qualifying sessions and then won the event. That was my first-ever win during the Countdown, so that’s one I’ll always remember.
It was a picture perfect weekend really. We started out with a couple of decent runs on Friday and were on top, and ran much better on Saturday and remained up there and got all of those little qualifying points, which is really important here in the playoffs. We had to overcome some jitters after the first round on Sunday, as we weren’t the quickest car, nor were we in the second round. We were able to pick it up in the semifinals and had a good Mopar vs. Mopar match-up with my teammate Vincent Nobile. We got the car sorted out at just the right time. When everyone else was going south, we started going north. We were the quickest car in the last two runs on Sunday and that’s what you always want.
We had a little bit of fun after the win, “riding” the car to Victory Lane. Since we were in Texas and each got a cowboy hat for winning, I climbed on my Mopar Dodge Avenger, and that HEMI is a bull to ride. I just wanted to ride it out there and let everyone else see. Everyone really seemed to get a kick out of that, and it helps take the edge off a bit. Someone who has won a bunch of championships called me before the playoffs and told me to just relax, have fun and enjoy it, and that’s what we’re trying to do. Even though it’s stressful and there is some pressure that comes with the territory we are in, we can still kick back and have some fun from time-to-time.
Going back to before Dallas, we flew to New Orleans after the Charlotte race for a business convention and spent three days there. We were able to brush up on some items for my Greeneville Oil & Petroleum operations back home and had a chance to visit with some people that we do business with as well. It was a productive few days and should help us with a few things going forward.
While we were in New Orleans, Richie Stevens and Erica Enders, who live there, took us out on the French Quarter and to some of their favorite places. We did a little sightseeing and went out on the bayou, and I even got to hold a baby gator and saw some much big gators in the water. It was good to spend some time with Richie and Erica. Pam and I are going to be in their wedding in a few months and they are very special people and great friends to us.
Normally I get to Dallas a day early and play in the Greg Morris Memorial Golf Tournament, but this year due to being at the business convention in New Orleans, I wasn’t able to make it over in time. I sure hated to miss it, but I’ll definitely try to make it next year. From what I’ve heard, it was a great event as always this year and they helped raise quite a bit of money. Greg was a former track worker at the Dallas Motorplex, who lost a battle with cancer, and the golf outing benefits his daughter Heather, who also lost her mother a few years ago to a car accident.
This week we’re headed to St. Louis for the first time in a couple of seasons. St. Louis can be a very tricky track if the weather is hot and the rubber does not adhere to the starting line. We seem to excel under those circumstances, though, and that’s always been a pretty good track for us. I’ve never won there but I’ve had a couple of runner-ups. It’s where my crew chief Mark Ingersoll and my clutch guy Mike Gott are from. They’ll have a lot of family and friends there and be able to visit with them, which is always great.
St. Louis is an awesome city. The hotel we stay at has a casino, and I always like to go down there and try my hand at a few games. There are a lot of nice places to eat in the area, and I just always enjoy going there. I can’t wait to climb back in my Mopar Dodge Avenger. I wish the race would have been the day after we left Dallas, but it’s good this week for the crew to get home for a few days to see their wives and families, after all the traveling we’ve done lately. Come St. Louis this weekend, we’ll be locked and loaded and ready to go as the Countdown rolls on.
Time sure flies, especially when you’re having fun. Last weekend marked the 17th time in my career that I was part of the “Big Go” — the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. It still seems just like yesterday that I made my first trip to Indy in a Mopar-powered Pro Stock car. The U.S. Nationals also marked the end of the regular season and it’s now go time for our J&J Racing team, and I couldn’t be more excited, as we chase our first Pro Stock title.
It may have taken two weekends, but we were finally able to complete the U.S. Nationals last weekend, and this time around Mother Nature cooperated. I just love going to Indy. We always have a chance to go downtown and eat at St. Elmo’s, the Capital Grille and also Mo’s, which has amazing steaks. Downtown Indy is so awesome and I enjoy every minute we get to spend there. It’s definitely one of my favorite races of the year, and is always a thrill for me. It was a little different this year with the race being pushed into a second weekend by rain, but it was still a great event and a lot of the fans were able to stick around all week or come back for Saturday and Sunday.
Unfortunately, the weekend didn’t quite end like we were hoping for. We kind of gave one away in my opinion, and it’s obviously disappointing. As a driver, I just made a mistake while staging the car, that’s all there is to it. This is the first time in a long time that I haven’t made it to the semifinals in Indy. Better it happened there rather than this week in Charlotte during the opening race of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. I always try to make a positive out of a negative.
We didn’t run quite as good as we should have during qualifying, but we picked it up on Sunday during eliminations and had the fastest car in both of the rounds we ran. I think we have the car back to where it was during previous races. We found a few things after qualifying that were a little bit off and we corrected those. Knowing that makes us all feel good going into the Countdown.
We’ve been testing everything we can think of to get this car perfect heading into the Countdown, and we’ll continue to do whatever it takes. We have great engines in our HEMI powerplants and a great car in our Mopar Dodge Avenger. We just need to tune the driver up a little bit.
Being in the No. 1 spot to open the Countdown, we received 20 bonus points and have a 30 point lead, which basically puts us a round-and-a-half ahead of the field. We’ll be shooting to get the extra points that are on the line during each qualifying session. Those points are huge during the Countdown with how tight the field is in Pro Stock. Every point matters. If we can do what we’ve done the last six or eight races and continue to get those extra points in qualifying it will really help us.
We need to go down to Charlotte this week hitting on all eight cylinders with everything, including the driver, and I believe we’ll do that. It’s going to be a knock out, drag out battle till the end of the year. There are about five cars that have a legitimate shot at this thing and will be scratching and pawing at it. It’s going to come down to who does the best job in all facets of their program both on and off the track. We’re ready and looking forward to it. We are relaxed going into the Countdown, which I believe is important, and we are going to have fun with it.
Like I’ve said to a lot of people this year, we just need to continue to be consistent and stay focused. We’re going to take it round-by-round over the next six races, whether it’s in qualifying or eliminations. I can’t wait to get to Charlotte this week and get after it. Our goal all year has been to deliver a Pro Stock championship to our friends at Mopar for their 75th Anniversary and that challenge begins now.
In this sport, there are usually far more lows than there are highs, so we are certainly making the most of this amazing wave we are riding this season and enjoying every minute of it. To be leading the points, have four wins and nine No. 1 Qualifier awards at this point of the season, is pretty unbelievable. I’ve been stressing consistency all year and it’s definitely paying off right now, as our Mopar Dodge Avenger is very, very fast.
We began the Western Swing a few weeks ago, with my favorite event of the year, the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. We’ve have had a lot of success there over the years. It’s a busy week when we are in Denver, but a very fun and rewarding one as well. It all starts with the Mopar Big Block Party on Thursday before the event, which is a great time. We get to meet a lot of fans that we only see once a year, and it’s amazing how passionate they are about the Mopar brand. Another fun part of the Big Block Party is that many of the executives from Mopar are there, and we are able to visit with them as well in a nice, relaxed setting.
Winning the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals during Mopar’s 75th Anniversary year was pretty cool. That ranks right up there as one of the most memorable wins of my career. To be able to give our friends at Mopar the Wally from that event to put in their trophy case in Auburn Hills, Mich., was very special. A lot of people have asked me what makes us so good in Denver, and I am a firm believer that practice makes perfect. We’ve tested a lot there, including the week before the event this year. We had a really good three-day test session and learned a lot that helped us during the event itself.
Sonoma was next up for us and we were fast again there, and had the quickest pass every time we took to the track on our way to the win on Sunday. When the car is that fast, it makes you confident that you can win, and it also helps me to settle down a little bit.
Every mark we are setting now is a career-high. The whole team is on cloud nine in one way, but we are also focused and cautious not to let that hinder our consistency and our plans for the remainder of the year. We have two races until the Countdown and our plan is more of the same. We want to be the fastest car down the track every single run, qualify No. 1 and put ourselves in a position to win the race. We have the car to do it in our Mopar Dodge Avenger, the power with our Mopar Hemi engines and the crew as well.
After our win in Denver, we kind of put celebrating off for a bit, because we had to ship an engine back home to work on it. Pam and I also headed back to Tennessee after that, so we just had a couple of days before heading back out west. After Sonoma, when we came back home, some of the local people who didn’t get to come to the races out west had a party for us. It definitely feels great to get to come home to something like that.
This weekend will be a nice relaxing one here at home. Pam has a ‘honey-do’ list for me, so hopefully I can get caught up on some of that. I can’t wait to get up to Brainerd and back in the Mopar Dodge Avenger next week, as we shoot for our fifth win and try to extend our points lead.