NHRA Nationals event notebook
Sunday, April 05, 2009

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News and notes from Sunday at the 10th annual NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. Compiled by the and National DRAGSTER staffs.

SUNDAY (Previous: Friday I Saturday)
Last update: 3:55 p.m. PT (click to latest item)

Welcome to race day: It's Sunday, and things are looking good for race day at the 10th annual NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Conditions are pretty comparable to yesterday -- sunny skies, cooler-than-normal temperatures, and a slight breeze, indicated by the flags at half-track flapping lightly. We're catching up on Lucas Oil Sportsman action this morning, then we'll go into pre-race, and the first round of Top Fuel is slated to hit the track at 11 a.m. At 9:55 a.m., the second round of Top Alcohol Dragster is running; TAD is the final LODRS class this morning before pre-race.

Follow along: Winners and/or next-round pairings after each Pro round can be found on NHRA's Twitter page, 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.

10:55 a.m. update: Crews are taking down the stage, and we're getting ready for the national anthem after an abbreviated pre-race ceremony. During pre-race, John Patton's Top Alcohol Funny Car was named Best Appearing Car. Comp racer Todd Hoerner and his crew were judged Best Appearing Crew, and Peter Adams received Best Engineered Car honors for his '09 GXP Comp entry.

Top Fuel round one: Brandon Bernstein was the star of the opening round, running a 3.871, low e.t. of the weekend, and the sixth-fastest speed in the 1,000-foot era, 317.57, en route to victory over Spencer Massey. “That’s a great job by Rob Flynn and the whole Budweiser/Lucas Oil team because we needed that speed and all that power to get through there,” said Bernstein. “He was right there; I heard him the whole way.” Bernstein will have lane choice over Larry Dixon, who ran a solo in the opening round after Urs Erbacher experienced troubles on the starting line and was shut off after his burnout.

Another great pairing of the second round is teammates Tony Schumacher and Cory McClenathan, who raced in the final round last weekend in Houston. Schumacher, who won that Houston match on a holeshot, has lane choice. Other second-round pairings (lane choice in bold): Shawn Langdon vs. Joe Hartley and Antron Brown vs. Doug Kalitta. 

Funny Car round one: A great first round of Funny Car that included several runs in the 4.1s set up a very interesting second round that will feature three battles of teammates. DSR teammates Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan will face off. In a repeat of the Houston final, Beckman exacted a little revenge on Ashley Force Hood, edging her out by a scant .008-second to advance. Hagan defeated Bob Bode to earn a spot in round two. Hagan has lane choice over Beckman.

JFR drivers John Force and Robert Hight will also square off. Force has lane choice over Hight after clocking a 4.128 en route to victory over Tim Wilkerson. Hight had a trouble-filled run in his first-round match with Jeff Arend; his engine expired near the top end. Fortunately for him, Arend also experienced troubles and faded back. Interestingly, Force and Hight are tied in points, making this a race for position.

For the second straight race, the brothers Pedregon will meet in round two. Tony Pedregon defeated Del Worsham, and Cruz Pedregon defeated Bob Tasca III, who had the strangest run of the round when his parachute came out at about the eighth-mile mark. Cruz has lane choice.

The only non-teammates match of round two is Mike Neff versus Ron Capps. Neff, who defeated Gary Densham, has lane choice over Capps, who bested Brian Thiel.

Let's do it again: The first-round Pro Stock race between Jeg Coughlin and Kurt Johnson will be rerun after a staging-light malfunction caused Johnson to receive a red-light. Apparently, a chunk of rubber became lodged in the infrared guard beam in K.J.'s lane, which prevented the stage light from coming on. As a result, Johnson was timed out. Coughlin drove to a 6.69 while Johnson did not receive an elapsed time. Both drivers have been instructed to have their cars in the lanes as quickly as possible.

Pro Stock round one: After getting off to a wacky start (see note above), the opening round in Pro Stock went smoothly. Greg Anderson was low of the round with a 6.672 that handily moved him around V. Gaines, and he will face Larry Morgan, who got past Tom Hammonds, in round two.

Greg Stanfield continues to impress this weekend, running the next-best time, 6.677, en route to victory over Dave Beckley. He has lane choice over Warren Johnson for the next round. Jason Line also ran in the 6.6s, putting a 6.692 on the scoreboards to turn on the win light against Dave Connolly. Line has lane choice over Rickie Jones, who beat Allen Johnson on a holeshot, 6.708 to 6.682.

We are waiting on the Kurt Johnson/Jeg Coughlin rerun. The winner of that match gets top qualifier Mike Edwards, who powered to a 6.684 to defeat Steve Spiess. Word is the rerun will take place before the next round of Top Fuel.

Pro Stock round-one update: The rerun is now complete, and Jeg Coughlin advances when Kurt Johnson red-lights. Coughlin ran a 6.712 and will surrender lane choice to Mike Edwards in round two. "It was clearly a malfunction, and it's a one-in-a-million deal," said Coughlin of the weird happenings. "Kurt's obviously always tough. I didn't feel like I made too good of a run out there, but it's a little different track out there."

Top Fuel round two: A warmer track created some tricky conditions for the Top Fuelers with five tire-smoking and/or trouble-filled runs. Brandon Bernstein continues to pace things, running a 3.927 on his way to victory over Larry Dixon. Bernstein will have lane choice over Antron Brown in the semi's. In the other semifinal match, Tony Schumacher will have lane choice over Shawn Langdon.

Funny Car round two: It was a wild second round in the flopper classes with one driver taking out the cones on what would have been a winning run and another clicking it off after getting close to the wall. Tony Pedregon had what would have been a winning run thrown out when he took out the cones at the finish line. Brother Cruz had troubles in the other lane and was coasting toward the stripe. The oddities continued in the next pair when Jack Beckman dropped a cylinder midway through his run and drifted toward the wall, ultimately lifting when things got a little too close for comfort.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold): C. Pedregon vs. Hagan and Hight vs. Capps

Pro Stock round two:
Mike Edwards ran low e.t. of the round, 6.692, but he threw it away with a .007 red-light start to give Jeg Coughlin a free pass into the semi's. Greg Anderson was the best of the winners with a 6.702.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold): Coughlin vs. Line and Anderson vs. Stanfield

Top Fuel semifinals: Tony Schumacher continues to march, clocking his second straight 3.93 to defeat No. 1 qualifier Shawn Langdon, who had problems on the run and slowed to a 4.022. Schumacher will select his lane in the final round over Brandon Bernstein, who defeated Antron Brown. Both Bernstein and Brown had engine trouble at the top end, both spurting out flames. Bernstein’s troubles came later, and he was able to turn on the win light with a 4.004.

Of note, the final round is a race for the points lead. Whichever driver wins will move to the top of the pack. Schumacher is just two points behind leader Brown at this point, and Bernstein is just five out of the top spot.

Funny Car semifinals: We will have an all-Don Schumacher Racing final after Ron Capps and Matt Hagan win their matches. Capps defeated Robert Hight, but not before things got a little hairy. Hight dropped cylinders and made a big move toward the centerline. Capps' car also kind of moved toward the centerline, but there was still enough air between the two to avoid big troubles. Hagan's pairing was less eventful. Pedregon smoked the tires while the rookie sailed straight through. Hagan earned lane choice by .001-second, 4.200 to 4.201. Hagan moved up to second in points with his semifinal win, but that's the furthest up he can go; Capps will stay the points leader regardless of outcome.

Pro Stock semifinals: It was a disastrous semifinal for the drivers of the Summit cars, who had their visions of an all-Summit final at the Summit event shattered. First, Jason Line fell to Jeg Coughlin in a great match. Line had the starting-line advantage, but Coughlin drove around him on the top end and won, 6.708 to 6.738. Line's teammate, Anderson, experienced problems early in the run and clicked it off. Greg Stanfield was far from perfect, running a 6.805, but it was enough to win. Coughlin has lane choice in the final, and should the defending world champ win, he will take over the points lead.

Feeling nostalgic: The nostalgia Funny Cars of Bucky Austin and Garrett Bateman put on a great side-by-side exhibition race prior to the Professional finals. In a rematch of the final round from the recent NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series March Meet race in Bakersfield, Calif., Bateman gets a bit of revenge by driving the Plueger & Gyger Mustang to a 5.88 to 5.89 win against Austin's Northwest Hitter Arrow.

It's finals time: Time to crown champions at the NHRA Nationals. The first final round, Stock, is in the waterbox.

Pro Stock final: Coughlin and Stanfield met in the final round here in the fall, and this is the third straight final at this track for Stanfield (he lost to Line at this race last year). The result is the same as the fall event with Stanfield fouling out and Coughlin going through for win with a solid 6.715. Coughlin overtakes Line for No. 1 in points, leading 430 to 418.

Funny Car final: Capps nabs his third win of the 2009 season, running a 4.182 to defeat teammate Hagan. Hagan hazed the tires on the top end and slowed to a 4.335. Capps adds to his lead and is now in front by 106 points.

Top Fuel final: It's a double for Schumacher and his team. He joins teammate Capps in the winner's circle after nabbing his second straight win. Schumacher runs his best time of the day, 3.874, to defeat Bernstein, who slowed to a 4.003. Schumacher is now the points leader in the class with 412 points. Antron Brown is second, and Bernstein is third.

Better day ahead (fingers crossed): The second qualifying day of the NHRA Nationals appears to be off to a much better start than yesterday. Skies are a clear blue with the sun shining brightly. Things are still breezy out there, but the wind is nothing like what we saw yesterday. Local forecasters are calling for gusts as high as 25 mph today, but all in all, things should be calmer overall today. Lucas Oil Sportsman cars are on the track for some qualifying in the Top Alcohol classes and Comp and eliminations in Super Stock down. Pro Stock is scheduled to run at noon, followed by the Top Fuelers then Funny Car. The final qualifying session is slated to begin at 3 p.m.

Oddities continue: The strange happenings are continuing in Las Vegas. The Top Alcohol Funny Car session has had a couple of weird moments. First, as the Safety Safari was towing one car off the track, the rear end locked up, making it impossible to move the car. That put things on hold temporarily as the crew worked to get it off the top end of the dragstrip. Then, Ken Webster had a spectacular engine failure that resulted in the body of his car flying off. The body broke into several pieces, with most of it coming to rest against the wall in his lane at the eighth-mile mark (though several pieces ended up scattered across his lane and the lane next to him). That once again sent the Safety Safari scrambling and caused a momentary delay. Despite the delays, things are nearly on schedule. The Comp racers began their final qualifying session at about 11:39 a.m., just nine minutes later than originally scheduled.

Pro Stock session two: With air temps in the 60s and track temps below 100, conditions were perfect for the Pro Stockers, and they put on a show. Both ends of the track record were reset. The e.t. mark entering this weekend was 6.703, but that got shattered by nearly eight-hundredths when Mike Edwards powered to a 6.656 to grab the No. 1 spot. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and it don’t get no better than this. That was all of it,” said Edwards of his run.

Jason Line earned the distinction of being the first driver to dip into the 6.6s at The Strip with a 6.697 in the pair ahead of Edwards. Greg Anderson set the track speed record with a booming 206.70. The amazing part of Anderson’s run, which resulted in a second-best 6.668 e.t., was that he made a sharp move to the left at the hit of the throttle but recovered and claimed the No. 2 spot and speed record. Greg Stanfield also ran in the 6.6-second zone with a 6.690 that places him third right now. Line is fourth. Warren Johnson, Allen Johnson, Tom Hammonds, and Jeg Coughlin round out the top half right now. Roger Brogdon’s 6.764 anchors the 16-car provisional field heading into the final session this afternoon. One surprise nonqualifier at this point is Ron Krisher, who won last weekend in Houston. Krisher sits dead last (21st) on the sheets with a 6.965. Johnny Gray, a regular qualifier, is also outside the field, sitting 17th.

Top Fuel session one: The Top Fuel cars struggled a bit on their first qualifying run with a number of drivers hazing the tires, putting out cylinders, or having other problems that slowed them down. Houston champ Tony Schumacher carried his momentum over here, showing the way with a 3.933. He’s nearly a tenth ahead of the rest of the field — Brandon Bernstein is second with a 4.027. Bernstein’s run was far from perfect; he put cylinders out at the top end. Points leader Antron Brown sits third after posting a 4.071, and Shawn Langdon’s 4.229 puts him fourth. A couple of surprises follow with Terry Haddock (4.301) and Steve Chrisman (4.331) next on the sheets. Cory McClenathan and Larry Dixon round out the quick eight. David Baca is currently on the bump with a fairly sluggish 6.893.

Whew, that was close: Tim Wilkerson's car made a sharp move toward the centerline just past the 1,000-foot finish line following his 4.162 run in qualifying. He shot over toward his teammate, Bob Tasca III, eventually straddling the centerline as the two Fords began the uphill climb past the quarter-mile timers and scoreboards. Thankfully, there was enough distance between the two, and Tasca was able to slow up even more to keep the two cars apart.

Funny Car session two: Proving yesterday’s 4.145 that gave him the provisional pole was no fluke, Bob Bode ran the second-quickest time of the second qualifying session, a 4.158. Bode was just two-thousandths behind John Force, who set the bar with a 4.156. “We have a really good race car,” said Bode. “It’s all about Richard Hogan and Walt Przybyl. They’re making this car work, and it’s fun to drive. I’m one of the luckiest guys out here.”

Ron Capps remains No. 2, followed by Force, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson (who moved up with a 4.169), Robert Hight (who jumped from outside in with a 4.170), Tony Pedregon, and newcomer Brian Thiel, who made his Funny Car debut last weekend in Houston. Jerry Toliver sits on the bump with a 4.340. Del Worsham is the lone nonqualifier entering the final session.

Update: We are temporarily on hold while the Safety Safari cleans up an oildown from a Top Alcohol Funny Car. It looks like we still have about eight pairs of the TAFCs to run once this cleanup is completed, so the final Pro session will be delayed. Pro Stock is up immediately after TAFC.

And, we're back! TAFCs are heading downtrack, so we'll be on to Pro Stock in no time.

Time for Pro Stock: A sea of crewmembers and drivers is scoping things out while the Safety Safari does the "Pro Stock shuffle," prepping for the final Pro Stock qualifying session.

Pro Stock session three: Only two racers improved in the final session: Johnny Gray, who clocked a 6.737 to move from outside the field to the No. 11 starting spot, and Allen Johnson, who powered to a 6.699 to move up one spot in the field, to fifth. Mike Edwards stayed at the front of the pack, and he had the best run of the session, a 6.693. He faces Steve Spiess in the opening round. Greg Anderson stayed No. 2, followed by Greg Stanfield and Jason Line.

There are a couple of interesting pairings in tomorrow’s first round. Line will square off against Dave Connolly, who qualified Kenny Koretsky’s Nitro Fish car 13th, and Jeg Coughlin and Kurt Johnson, both of whom started the day not qualified, finished eighth and ninth, respectively, and will race one another, likely in the first pair tomorrow.

Top Fuel session two: The crew chiefs got a better handle on the track in the afternoon session, and the performances picked up for everyone, with 10 three-second runs posted on the scoreboards. In a surprising twist, rookie Shawn Langdon moved to the top of the sheets, posting a 3.874 to claim his first pole in just his fifth start. Antron Brown, who ran side by side with Langdon, wound up second with a 3.878. Larry Dixon is third at 3.907, and first-session leader Tony Schumacher fell to fourth despite improving to a 3.908. Cory McClenathan, Spencer Massey, David Baca, and Morgan Lucas round out the top eight.

Funny Car session three: The clock struck midnight for Cinderella Bob Bode, who was bumped from the top spot in an amazing final qualifying session that included multiple changes in the No. 1 spot. Tony Pedregon ultimately took the top spot with a 4.100. A trio of John Force Racing drivers is in the next three spots: Robert Hight (4.115), Mike Neff (4.125), and Ashley Force Hood (4.139). Del Worsham bumped into the field with a 4.278 that places him 16th and racing T. Ped in round one. Jerry Toliver is the lone DNQ. One interesting first-round pairing is John Force versus Tim Wilkerson; interestingly, these two lined up against one another on the final qualifying run.

Krisher misses field: The biggest surprise nonqualifier was Houston Pro Stock winner Ron Krisher, who was unable to break into the top 16 on his final run. "We started out with an ignition problem here and didn’t get the first run in, and we just never caught back up," said a dejected Krisher.

Welcome to the show: After making his nitro Funny Car debut last weekend in Houston and just coming up short of qualifying, Brian Thiel solidly made the show in Las Vegas. He is 11th in the field and will race points leader Ron Capps in the opening stanza.



11:30 a.m.: Welcome to qualifying day one at the NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Right now, Super Gas round one is running. Super Gas will be followed by more Lucas Oil Sportsman action in advance of the first Pro Stock qualifying session, which is slated for 12:30 p.m. Conditions right now are cool with overcast skies (and it appears some rain may be falling off in the distance), and the wind is really blowing.

Follow along: Low qualifiers after each Pro session can be found on NHRA's Twitter page, 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.

Gotcha!: Fans who were watching the local news in Las Vegas Wednesday were no doubt shocked to hear 14-time Funny Car world champion John Force announce his impending retirement during an interview with local CBS affiliate KLAS 8. During the station’s afternoon news broadcast, Force made it known that the NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas would be his final event behind the wheel of his Castrol Mustang. “I’m all done,” said Force. “I just can’t do it anymore, so I’m not going to. This will be my last race.” The interview also included a brief sound bite from one of Force’s biggest rivals, Ron Capps, who noted that he was both saddened and completely caught off guard by the champ’s stunning announcement. The interview continued after a short commercial break, and Force quickly reversed course, revealing, much to the relief of everyone, what turned out to be an elaborate and well-executed April Fools' Day joke.

Autograph signing: More than a dozen of NHRA’s biggest stars, including reigning Full Throttle world champions Tony Schumacher, Cruz Pedregon, and Jeg Coughlin, were in the Key West room of the Palms Casino Resort Thursday night for an autograph signing to help kick off the 10th annual NHRA Nationals. For more than two hours, a steady stream of fans packed the room, where they were able to mingle with their favorite drivers. The event also marked the debut of the latest special-edition $5 and $25 gaming chips, which feature the likenesses of the three champs.

12:15 p.m.: Uh-oh! The rain that was in the distance is, well, no longer in the distance. It is now raining in Las Vegas, halting racing, midway through Super Gas round one. The Safety Safari was on the track trying to keep it dry, but it now looks as if the trucks are parked on the top end waiting things out, and the remaining Super Gas cars just left the staging lanes and headed back to the pits.

12:55 p.m.: Track drying is under way. The Safety Safari trucks along with the sweeper and other cleanup equipment are making passes up and down the track to get rid of the moisture that fell on it in the last 50 minutes or so.

1:35 p.m.: Track drying has now turned into track prep, with the Safety Safari spraying VHT on the quarter-mile. The Super Gas cars that were waiting to run when the rains hit have been called back up to the lanes. The plan is to complete the first round of Super Gas, then go straight into Pro Stock qualifying.

2 p.m.: We're back running!

Pro Stock session one: A cool track (temperature was right around 74 degrees through the session) made for a tricky first qualiyfing session in Pro Stock. A trio of familiar faces was the class of the first session, with Summit teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line and Mike Edwards, a two-time low qualifier this year, nabbing the top three spots. Anderson is No. 1 with a 6.718, followed by Edwards (6.721) and Line (6.725). Rodger Brogdon is in the final transfer spot at 6.816.

Important first run: Few racers were probably as relieved to get the first qualifying run under their belt as V. Gaines, who is debuting his in-house engines here this weekend. According to the crew, the engine that is in the car right now was “just a pile of parts and pieces on the shop floor on Monday morning.” What was simply parts and pieces just a few days ago carried Gaines to a 6.807 that placed him 10th after one session. The run was a big step for the team members, who admitted before the run that they were excited when the car simply started for the warm-up in the pits.

Familiar face, make that voice: Sidelined Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. is in the house, guest announcing during the Funny Car session. Wife Melanie Troxel did not make the trip ("She says she's not a good spectator," said Johnson), but T.J. is at the track chasing leads and trying to get back behind the wheel, and he says things may be moving in that direction for him. "We're hoping to be back soon," said Johnson. "I've got a lot of irons in the fire, and some good things are starting to happen. I think the economy is starting to turn back around a little bit, and I've got some good things starting to happen."

Tree troubles: Racing is temporarily on hold while NHRA and track officials work on the Tree, which malfunctioned when Gary Densham tried to stage for his first qualifying run. No lights came on as he rolled foward to stage. There was talk of swapping out the Tree, but though crews dragged a second Tree out, they have been working on the existing one for now.

Tree troubles, updated: The Tree swap is now under way. After working on the existing Tree, officials decided to completely replace it with a new one. They are making quick work of the swap, but it will still take about 15 to 20 minutes to replace and get ready for racing.

Update: Okay, so it was a little longer than 15 to 20 minutes (don't shoot the messenger -- that's what they told me originally, I promise), but it looks like we're getting closer to running because Tim Wilkerson, who is in the next pair, just suited back up and is now climbing into his Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang.

Back on track: We are back running again. Gary Densham is the first to go downtrack, followed by Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson and the rest of the Funny Car class and all of Top Fuel.

Snack time: During Friday afternoon’s Tree-induced delay, Funny Car driver Del Worsham was spotted in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway pressroom grabbing a few handfuls from the snack bowls. Worsham, still wearing his firesuit after climbing out of his Al-Anabi Toyota and legging it up a set of stairs, offered up a grin and a shrug and said, "Hey, I was getting hungry just waiting."

Funny Car session one: There's a big suprise atop the Funny Car field with Bob Bode, yes Bob Bode, leading the way. Bode, who was one of the first to run (he ran way back before the Tree malfunction), clocked a 4.145 to take the provisional pole. Ron Capps, who was in the last pair, ran a 4.148 for the second spot, and John Force is third at 4.149. Mike Neff is in the all-important 12th spot with a 4.347. It is especially important now because, due to the delays today, the second qualifying session for today has been called. We will set the provisional top 12 in all three classes on this first run only.

Rough start: Well, that wasn't a good way to start the Top Fuel session. Arley Langlo, who was making a solo pass, blew up the engine in his dragster, leaving fluid all over the track. The Safety Safari is cleaning things up, but we are in a hold pattern right now. Apparently, it's just not our day today.

Stick a fork in us ... : Cuz we're done! Unfortunately, Mother Nature is not going to cooperate with us today. The wind is blowing so hard at The Strip that officials had to call it a day.