O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals event notebook
Sunday, March 29, 2009

by Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

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News and notes from the 22nd annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil in Houston. Compiled by the NHRA.com and National DRAGSTER staffs.

(Previous: Friday | Saturday)
Last update: 5:40 p.m. CT (click to latest item)

8:25 a.m.: Welcome to Sunday, race day for the 22nd annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil. The sun is shining, and the crowd is beginning to flow into Houston Raceway Park to watch us begin the process of crowning champs at the season's fourth race. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. with driver introductions and special awards. Paul Anderson's TigerFlow Top Alcohol Funny Car has been chosen the meet's Best Appearing Car, and, in a rare occurrence, the three-car TigerFlow team also has been selected as Best Appearing Crew.
Comp racer Adam White's F/Econo Dragster has been tabbed as the meet's Best Engineered car. We'll have some Sportsman action, beginning with Stock, prior to that.

Follow along: Winners and/or next-round pairings after each Pro round can be found on NHRA's Twitter page, http://twitter.com/NHRA. You can sign up to have these text-message-sized reports sent directly to your mobile device or read them online. Reports are posted minutes after each session is complete.

Racing under way: After another pinpoint touchdown by skydiver Jason Peters, the first round of Top Fuel is under way.

WOW: Urs Erbacher is giving Larry Dixon a good run for it in Top Fuel round one when the engine starts mixing up cylinders, then nukes itself in a massive engine and blower explosion that lifts the rear tires off the ground. Shrapnel blows the left rear tire, but Erbacher does a masterful job of keeping it between the lines and preventing further damage. You won't want to miss tonight's ESPN2 show. Incredible. (Photo by Lonnie Gautreau, Extreme Photography)

Update (11:25 a.m.): Safety Safari still cleaning up the mess from Erbacher. Lots of oil and little-bitty parts all over both lanes. We're still probably 10 minutes from continuing the first round.

Update (11:55 a.m.): After a 45-minute cleanup, the first round of Top Fuel has resumed.

Top Fuel round one: Low qualifier Antron Brown advances on a solo. Todd Simpson had reverser issues on his last qualifying pass that they were not able to fix, so he plans to do a short burnout to the line but goes a bit too far. The crew can't get the car into reverse again despite vigorous rocking, so they shut him off and push him back to let Brown solo. Brown will run Cory McClenathan in round two with lane choice.

Other second-round pairings, lane choice in bold:Clay Millican vs. Joe Hartley; Dixon vs. Brandon Bernstein; and Tony Schumacher vs. Morgan Lucas.

Funny Car round one: Seven of the top eight qualifiers advance to round two, but Cruz Pedregon, Ashley Force Hood, Tim Wilkerson, and Jack Beckman had to be lucky to do so after losing traction in what easily is the wackiest round of the year regardless of class. Del Worsham made them all look bad with a dazzling 4.08 and will have lane choice for round two against Matt Hagan.

Other second-round pairings (lane choice in bold): Cruz Pedregon vs. Tony Pedregon (!); Wilkerson vs. Beckman; Worsham vs. Hagan; and John Force vs. Ashley Force Hood (!!).

Papa Force owns a 3-2 record against his daughter, including in their last two meetings. Cruz and Tony met in the final round of this race in 1997, where Tony won.

Pro Stock round one: Greg Anderson runs 211.99, the fastest speed in class history and a new national record, but loses on a holeshot to Steve Spiess, 6.594 to 6.559! No. 2 qualifier Kurt Johnson loses the same way to Larry Morgan, 6.598 to 6.592, advancing the Nos. 14 and 15 qualifiers.

Second-round pairings (lane choice in bold): Jason Line vs. Ron Krisher; Mike Edwards vs. Warren Johnson; Morgan vs. Jim Yates; Spiess vs. Jeg Coughlin.

Pro Stock Motorcycle round one: The wild first round of Pros continues. Craig Treble runs the fifth-quickest pass ever, a new low e.t of 6.885, and is followed to the line by Karen Stoffer, who runs even better, a stunning 6.880, the third-quickest pass ever, but is red at the Tree against Hector Arana.

Second-round pairings (lane choice in bold): Andrew Hines vs. Steve Johnson; Arana vs. Doug Horne; Treble vs. Matt Guidera; and Matt Smith vs. Eddie Krawiec. Krawiec appeared to break at the top end against Gann's red-light, and Smith was dead late with a .158 light but still won.

Top Fuel round two: A lot of Goodyear rubber went down onto the HRP track in this round, and not just from burnouts. Schumacher beat Lucas in a pedalfest, as did Dixon against Bernstein. In a drag racing rarity even on full passes let alone a pair of broken runs, Schumacher and Lucas had identical e.ts and speeds (4.434, 230.37).

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold) McClenathan vs. Hartley; Dixon vs. Schumacher.

Funny Car round two: More tire-smoking madness as there's less traction than many had hoped for. Beckman beats "Wilk" on a holeshot, Cruz rolls 'er deep and fouls to bro Tony, Del outpedals Hagan, and Papa Force smokes 'em and bangs the blower against his daughter.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold): T. Pedregon vs. Beckman; Worsham vs. Force Hood.

Pro Stock round two: Edwards runs 211.76, one of the fastest passes in history, to chase down W.J.'s big holeshot. No. 1 qualifier Line falls to Krisher by .007-second.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold): Krisher vs. Edwards; Yates vs. Coughlin.

Pro Stock Motorcycle round two:
Smith breaks Angelle Sampey's near-two-year 6.871 national record (Englishtown 2007) with a 6.865, backed up by his first-round 6.893.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold): Hines vs. Horne; Smith vs. Treble.

Pro Stock Motorcycle semifinals: Hines fouls out with a -.013 red-light, and 21-year-old Horne goes to the final round in his second NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle race. In the other half of the ladder, Treble upsets new record holder Smith, 6.912 to 6.917. Treble will have lane choice.

Pro Stock semifinals: Yates is late arriving to the burnout box, but Coughlin graciously waits for him before beginning his pre-race ritual. The good sportsmanship pays off with a .007 light, his second straight 6.59, and the win against Yates.

More history in the other semifinal, where Edwards becomes the first Pro Stock driver to top 212 mph (212.03) but, like Anderson two rounds earlier, does it in a losing cause. Edwards' earlier 211.76 backs it up for a new national record, but it's Krisher who will be in the final by a razor-thin (.0006-second) margin.

Houston race fans have now seen the four fastest runs in Pro Stock history and five of the fastest 10.

Top Fuel semifinals: The first clash of the titans between Schumacher and former crew chief Alan Johnson and his new driver, Dixon, goes to "the Sarge" on a holeshot, 3.895 to 3.889.
Hartley hadn't won a round this season entering this event and won two here, but his hopes end in early tire smoke against Cory Mac. Schumacher will have lane choice in the battle of the two DSR cars.

Funny Car semifinals: Beckman makes it a third Schumacher car in the final rounds as he defeats Pedregon with a 4.17.
Force Hood reverses the outcome of last year's final round here, defeating Worsham, who puffs the tires at 300 feet, but she loses lane choice to Beckman by .002-second.

Final rounds: It's time to decide the winners of the 22nd annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil. The fans are on their feet, the air is cooling a bit, and it's all systems go.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Rookie rider Horne gets the jump on veteran Treble but can't hold it as Treble screams by for his 13th win.

Pro Stock: Krisher is dead late out of the box (.116 to .025), usually a fatal mistake against Coughlin, but something goes amiss for the Jegs Cobalt, and he slows to a 7.05. Krisher collects the win, the eighth of his career, with a 6.587 at a ripping 211 mph.

Funny Car: It's a great final round until Force Hood pulls away to collect the win, the second of her Funny Car career, 4.12 to Beckman's 4.22. Proud papa John throws his hat and sunglasses to the roaring crowd in the starting-line grandstands.

Top Fuel: The battle of the Don Schumacher Racing teammates goes to the U.S. Army team on Schumacher's second straight holeshot, 3.880 to 3.881, against McClenathan.


Ready for history: Welcome to day two of the 22nd annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Houston Raceway Park. It's a chilly 48 degrees outside with a stiff crosswind going left to right across your monitor.

All of the Pro Stock guys are gearing up for these rare conditions; last night, Pro Stock low qualifier Kurt Johnson estimated that the Pro Stock cars could pick up as much as 60 horsepower under these prime conditions. Corrected altitude all morning has been 300 feet below sea level … rare air, indeed. The joke going around last night was that the nitro teams had better be careful of slippery conditions on the starting line from all the drooling of the Pro Stock teams. Funny stuff.

Okay, Pros run at 11 a.m., starting with the bike riders, who will find the going a bit tougher with the crosswind. All morning, the Sportsman cars have been flying, so we could be primed for a little Pro Stock history.

Update (11:15 a.m.): We're a little behind schedule with a reshuffle and make-up passes from yesterday's shortened day, so we're going to run Pro Mod, then jump into the Pro Stock Motorcycles.

Prelude to history?: If the Pro Mods are any indication, Pro Stock should be as good as advertised. Raymond Commisso just ran 5.884, the first 5.8-second NHRA Pro Mod pass. The best previous run was 5.900 by Josh Hernandez at last year's Richmond event. Commisso also owns the fastest NHRA Pro Mod speed, 247.34, set in Gainesville last year. Corrected altitude is about 100 feet above sea level.

Pro Stock Motorcycle session two: Andrew Hines made the sixth-quickest pass in Pro Stock Motorcycle history, a 6.889, to lead the field. Although the air was good for the Pro Stock Motorcycles, the crosswind played havoc with them and cost quite a few riders good runs when they drifted out of the groove. The left-side bleachers end at about half-track, and the crosswind pushed the bikes hard to the right. "The wind is brutal; it just about blew me off the bike when I hit high gear," said Matt Smith.

The quickest Pro Stock Motorcycle time is 6.871, recorded by Angelle Sampey in Englishtown two years ago. Hines' 6.875, recorded in Madison last year, is his personal best and the second quickest in history.

Pro Stock session two: Jason Line made the third-quickest and third-fastest run in Pro Stock history, a career-best 6.544 at 211.49, to lead the performance parade. Kurt Johnson was alongside him and ran 6.562 for No. 2, and Mike Edwards and Warren Johnson also ran CBs of 6.567 at 210.87 and 210.84, respectively.

"That wasn't a great run for us," said Line. "There's definitely a lot left. I guess everyone else just missed it worse. It's just tricky in conditions like this. We were real soft, and I tried to take out the guardwall, and once I got it back in the center, it was okay, but overall it was terrible. There's a lot left for sure."

The Pro Stockers also didn't seem to be able to take full advantage of the great conditions as they were maybe a bit too aggressive swinging for the fences and also getting a little loose in the middle of the track. Still, career bests were the order of the day, both for e.t. and speed.

"I actually think today's second session might have even better conditions," said Edwards.

Allen Johnson is among the current surprises on the DNQ list with one session to go.

Top Fuel session two: Defending Top Fuel event champ Antron Brown jumped to the No. 1 spot with a 3.814, 316.75. Brandon Bernstein climbed to No. 2 with a 3.84 blast in the Rob Flynn-tuned Budweiser machine.

"I was watching all of the good runs in front of me, and we wanted to get to the top of the board," said Brown.  "There are a lot of good teams out there, so I'm proud of my Matco crew. They have some pep in their step."

Bernstein liked his run, too. "The thing left hard and picked the wheels up a bit and then was marching; it was a picture-perfect run," he said. "The wind is blowing pretty good, and you could feel it, but I was prepared for it."

Funny Car session two: On the heels of teammate Larry Dixon's breakthrough win in Gainesville for the Al-Anabi team, Del Worsham pushed the team's Toyota flopper to the top of the pack in Q3 with a 4.082. John Force and daughter Ashley closed the round side by side, with daughter beating dad, 4.097 to 4.125, to claim the Nos. 2 and 3 spots.

Hot times: Tony Pedregon had a small but long-lasting fire in his Quaker State machine; he bailed out in a hurry at the top end. "The car doesn’t look like it has a whole lot of damage," said Pedregon at first glance. A blown head gasket was the cause.

Matt Hagan also had a pretty good fire in temporarily claiming the No. 1 spot with a 4.12 and was up through the escape hatch before the car came to a halt; damage also was minimal. "We all understand that happens from time to time," said Hagan, who had a half-dozen small fires in his first four races last season. "It wasn't so much the fire that I wanted to get away from but the smoke. These things happen; you still have to make some sacrifices to the aluminum gods now and then."

He's back: Gary Densham, who sat out the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals, is back in the saddle, wheeling Terry Haddock's All Floors and More Stratus in Houston. They smoked the tires on their first pass and are the only unqualified team heading into the final session. Densham says he'll run his own car in Las Vegas but might not run again until Sonoma after that.
Pro Stock Motorcycle session three: Conditions have obviously degraded form the morning session, but it's still a decent 750 feet in corrected altitude. None of that stopped Craig Treble from making a career-best pass of 6.925 at a booming 193.74 mph for the No. 2 spot, but Hines remained atop the two-wheel field with his 6.88 blast from this morning.

LE Tonglet, younger brother of former Harley team rider GT, made his NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut a successful one by squeezing his way into the field on his final pass with a 7.024.

Eyes bugged out when Karen Stoffer shut off early on the GEICO bike and yet a 6.94 popped up on her scoreboard, courtesy of Shawn Gann taking out the finish-line light in the other lane.

Pro Stock session three: No changes atop the Pro Stock pack, but a lot of shuffling below that. Allen Johnson avoided a DNQ with a 6.587 as improvements went across the board in the bottom half of the field, but no one impressed more than Greg Anderson, who was actually on the bump when he blasted to a 6.563 at the fastest speed ever, a national record 211.89, breaking the 211.69 set two years ago in Gainesville by his teammate, Line.

Warren Johnson is known as "the Professor," but you could have called him "the Prognosticator" for the final pass. He publicly predicted that Allen Johnson would qualify and even cited the e.t. he thought he would run, a 6.585, which he missed by just two-thousandths of a second.

Tom Hammonds sits in the field's final spot with a 6.611.

Top Fuel session three: A lot of improvements across the board, but defending event champ Brown remained in the top spot with a 3.819. Tony Schumacher showed that he's still the champ with an improvement that jumped the U.S. Army team from No. 12 to No. 3. Joe and Allen Hartley sat out the final session after two breakage-filled runs, but their spot already was secure.

Kalitta misses: For the second straight race, Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals champ Doug Kalitta entered the final qualifying session on the outside looking in, but, unlike in Phoenix and Gainesville where he squeezed into the field, this time he missed when the car smoked the tires at half-track after a good launch, and his 4.42 fell just short of Todd Simpson's 4.31. Simpson's team had to shut off the car on the line in its last attempt with reverser issues but stayed around to watch Kalitta's effort, then celebrated after Kalitta's mount lost traction.

"Once we got off the line good, I just figured that I'd leave it to the floor, and if it blows up, it blows up," said Kalitta. "I tried to work the brake a little bit, but it just didn’t happen. We'll just dig in and go to Vegas and see if we can do better there."

Funny Car session three: Rahn Tobler tuned Cruz Pedregon from the outhouse to the penthouse, from outside the show to the top of the field with a stunning 4.075 that took the No. 1 spot from Worsham. That run bumped Jerry Toliver on team owner Jim Dunn's 75th birthday, but Toliver battled his way back in with a 4.19 that bumped out Bob Bode, who turned right around and got in with a 4.20 to bump Tony Pedregon. Pedregon stared down rookie Brian Thiel's 4.25 bump spot and ran 4.160 to make the show, bumping Thiel. Whew.

11 a.m.: After a bit of a delay while NHRA crews finished preparing the track after some torrential rain here yesterday, the event officially begins with a round of Super Street time trials. After a round of Stock qualifying, we'll go right into the alcohol cars, varying a bit from the original schedule, which included more Sportsman cars. There's a 30 percent chance of a thundershower later today, around 5 p.m., so we're racing the weather as much as we are the racetrack. The Pros are still scheduled to run at 1:30 p.m.

Follow along: Low qualifiers after each Pro session can be found on NHRA's Twitter page, http://twitter.com/NHRA. You can sign up to have these text-message-sized reports sent directly to your mobile device or read them online. Reports are posted minutes after each session is complete.

Welcome back: John Medlen, crew chief for Mike Neff's John Force Racing Ford Funny Car, is attending his first race since the season opener after recuperating at home in Indianapolis from a heart procedure.

Prior to the event in Phoenix, Medlen checked himself into an Indianapolis hospital with chest discomfort and eventually spent five days in the hospital as a number of tests and procedures were conducted to regulate his heart rate. Neff did double duty in Phoenix and Gainesville, relying on phone calls and text messages from Medlen to tune the car, which he did quite successfully, including a runner-up in Phoenix.

Pictured at right are, from left, Force Racing crew chief Austin Coil, Neff, and Medlen. (Photo courtesy Elon Werner, JFR)

High expectations in Pro Stock: It's been just about six weeks since Greg Anderson set the new Pro Stock e.t. record of 6.528 at the Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals, and the factory hot rod drivers are rubbing their hands in anticipation of setting a new mark in Houston this weekend. "There's too much water in the air for Friday's sessions," said Warren Johnson, "but the predicted forecast for Saturday looks very favorable. It all depends on the conditions of the track, which is a bit green now after the recent resurfacing operations." Added Jason Line, "I definitely think that a new record could be set this weekend. It's just a matter of us making the right tune-up calls and negotiating the car down the track."

Delays: On-again, off-again sprinkles are putting a kink in the day's activities. Light rain showers have already halted Comp qualifying a few times, but currently it has the first session of Pro Stock Motorcycle on hold. They were expected to start at 1:30 p.m. but already have been delayed considerably. 

We're on hold still at 2:25.

Minutes later ...

Well, that's always a sure-fire way to get a session started. Post a note that it's delayed, and, bam, we're running bikes at 2:35 p.m.

Pro Stock Motorcycle session one: The Harleys rule the first session, with world champ Eddie Krawiec finishing atop the pack with a 7.00 just ahead of teammate Andrew Hines' 7.01.

He's back: Dave Connolly made his Full Throttle season debut in the first Pro Stock session after sitting out the season's first three events due to lack of sponsorship for the second Cagnazzi Racing entry. Connolly is driving Kenny Koretsky's Nitro Fish Dodge, which was the first alternate in Gainesville with Dave Northrop at the wheel. Connolly's opening lap was a conservative 6.75 at 205 mph, but he's already two races ahead of last year, when he missed the season's first five races and still finished eighth in points. Connolly has been keeping his driving skills sharp by competing in the Sportsman ranks.

Bob Frey stat of the moment: Of the Pro Stock racers in competition this year, only Warren Johnson and Larry Morgan have competed in all 22 versions of this event.

Pro Stock session one: Kurt Johnson is the No. 1 qualifier after the first Pro Stock session with a 6.678, just a thousandth of a second ahead of points leader Jason Line's 6.679. Line made his pass alongside Allen Johnson's 6.681, which was good for No. 3. Asked by top-end reporter Alan Reinhart whether today's run really mattered in light of tomorrow's predicted mineshaft conditions, Line replied smartly, "Only if you crashed your car." Line is predicting that fans tomorrow at HRP will see the quickest and fastest runs in class history.

Rain delay (3:30 p.m): Racing is on hold prior to first round of Funny Car qualifying due to light rain.

4 p.m.: We're back to racing, and the nitro cars cackle to life for the first time. The delay, however, will cost the Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car racers today's second pass.

Fuel debut: Brian Thiel made his Professional debut in the nitro Funny Car class in today's first session with Paul Smith's Diamond Freight Monte Carlo, which is bannering major sponsorship at this event from Olympus Trailers. Thiel, of Pleasant Grove Calif., has competed in Top Alcohol Funny Car as recently as the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals, where he went to round two. Thiel licensed with nitro headmaster Smith the Monday following the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals, where Smith's son, Mike, qualified the car with a 4.19. Thiel, who has run 5.60s in his alcohol ride, ran 4.27 to 1,000 feet, which would almost have been good enough to qualify at the Gatornationals. Thiel's first run here was almost as good, a 4.30.

Two for the road: The two-wheelie-bar experiment continues in Funny Car, with the Jeff Arend-driven DHL/Kalitta Motorsports Toyota being the next to try the retro look. Jimmy Prock had led the way earlier this season with Robert Hight's car, the initial thought being to move the single wheelie bar to the right to stop the right rear tire from being buried by torque on the launch, but Prock was concerned that if the car wheelstood further downtrack on the offset bar, it would upset the car and lead to anxious moments for Hight. The solution was to add an offsetting bar to the left of center, giving the car a 1970s look.

The Kalitta team added them at this event to its yellow Toyota, but it was the only car sporting them for the first session as the Prock Rocket has gone back to a single bar.

Funny Car session one: Ashley Force Hood is qualified No. 1 with a 4.139, well ahead of No. 2 qualifier Ron Capps' 4.194. A lot of the Funny Cars were struggling to make it down the left lane.

Feel the burn: Joe Hartley has claimed the provisional lead in the Fireball of the Event sweepstakes after lighting up his and father Allen's digger big time on their first pass. The car had a cylinder out early, and it got worse from there when the car lit up near the top end. Post mortem in the pits reveals two broken rods.

Another debut: Local favorite Todd Simpson, who cut his teeth in the Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks with his father, veteran Division 4 wrench Dickie Simpson, made his Top Fuel debut in round one after licensing in Gainesville. Simpson competed in Top Alcohol Funny Car from 1995 through 2003, then moved to nitro Funny Car for a few years before stepping into Top Fuel this season in a car tuned by his brother, Byron.

Top Fuel session one: Cory Mac grabbed the No. 1 spot in Top Fuel with a 3.905 at 313 (also top speed); defendiing event champ Antron Brown is No. 2 at 3.912. We're going to run first round of Stock, then the first qualifying session for the Get Screened America Pro Mods, then right back into the Pros.

We're kind of racing the weather, but mostly dodged a big bullet to the north, but we may catch the bottom end of this monster storm. The arrow shows Baytown.


Oh, baby ... here it comes, down in proverbial buckets. Fans are setting new personal bests for the 1,000-yard dash to their cars.

Weather update (6:10 p.m.): The rain has slowed, but we just got a real close lightning flash, and then this: THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HAS ISSUED TORNADO WATCH 81 UNTIL 8 PM CDT THIS EVENING WHICH REPLACES A PORTION OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH 77.

Today's weather lesson: A tornado watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms that are capable of producing tornadoes. A tornado watch therefore implies that it is also a severe thunderstorm watch. A tornado watch must not be confused with a tornado warning. A watch does not mean that the severe weather is actually occurring, only that conditions have created a significant risk for it. Thanks, Wikipedia.

I'm no weather forecaster, but the radar map looks pretty good. I don't think we're done for the day yet. Chief Starter Rick Stewart already has the hand blower going, and now the tractor is hitting the track.

Progress update (7:10 p.m.): Still here, still drying. We're making good progress, aided by a medium wind. Most of the nasty stuff skirted around us to the south, then drifted north (I wouldn't want to be in Beaumont about now), and everyone is optimistic. Teams are rolling their cars back out of their trailers and prepping them for the hoped-for second session.

We're looking at an 8 o'clock resumption, if all goes well.

Update (8:18 p.m.): Hello, Pizza Hut, can I get a delivery? Still here, still waiting. The NHRA Safety Safari continues to work on drying the track; no new projected start time has been issued. 

And that's a wrap, people: With the temperature about to intersect with the dew point, NHRA officials have decided that the best course of action is to call it a day and start fresh tomorrow.