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Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Saturday Notebook

Clay Millican set a new track record, Greg Anderson and Eddie Krawiec took over the poles, and Matt Hagan remained the No. 1 qualifier through Saturday's action at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
02 Sep 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Indy Hero

Features | Preview | Photos | Results 

QUALIFYING SESSION/TRAXXAS SHOOTOUT RECAPS

eddie.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (2:38 p.m.): The bump spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle plummeted from a 7.209 to a 7.065 after several riders who did not make clean runs last night, picked up the pace and moved into the field during Q2. Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec continue to lead the field following last night’s matching 6.825 runs. Krawiec picked up four bonus points with a solid 6.831 while LE Tonglet (6.883), Scotty Pollacheck (6.900), and Karen Stoffer (6.903) also scored bonus points. So far, 11 riders have run in the six-second zone.

butner.JPGPRO STOCK Q2 (3:09 p.m.): Tanner Gray slowed from last night’s 6.566 pace to a 6.630 but still held on to the top spot in Pro Stock qualifying after two of five sessions at Indy. Bo Butner added four more points to his already strong total after making the quickest pass of the round with a 6.595, 209.49. Johnny Gray was second-quickest with a 6.600 while Drew Skillman (6.616) and Jason Line (6.619) also earned bonus points. With three sessions remaining, the bump is held by John Gaydosh at 6.681.

terry.JPGTOP FUEL TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT ROUND 1 (4:05 p.m.): Terry McMillen got the chase for $100,000 off to a great start with a huge upset over No. 1 seed Antron Brown. McMillen ran a 3.774 to beat Brown, who was running on seven cylinders. That set up a matchup against defending winner Tony Schumacher, who began his title defense with an excellent side-by-side race against Brittany Force. Both racers ran 3.747-second passes, but Schumacher got the job done with a holeshot, winning by .013. Doug Kalitta got by Leah Pritchett, whose dragster was wounded by the time it got 800 feet, while Steve Torrence got by Clay Millican.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Tony Schumacher vs. Terry McMillen; Steve Torrence vs. Doug Kalitta.

torrence.JPGTOP FUEL Q2 (4:30 p.m.): Steve Torrence ran the quickest pass of the session (3.725) to get to the semifinals of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout; he’ll face Doug Kalitta, who ran the second-quickest pass of the second qualifying session (3.73). Clay Millican (3.734) and Tony Schumacher (3.747) rounded out the top four to earn the rest of the qualifying bonus points. Ike Maier didn’t run the second session, but his 3.861 pass from Friday night stands as the bump spot. That’s just .027 second away from making this the quickest Top Fuel field in history with three sessions to go.

capps.jpgFUNNY CAR Q2 (5:02 p.m.): The second session produced more shaking, and tire smoke than successful passes as only four cars made passes in the 3s. Ron Capps made a big improvement on his Friday run and made the second-best run of the session with a 3.883, but Robert Hight came through with a 3.848 to grab the four qualifying bonus points. Through two sessions he’s got seven of eight possible points, while Matt Hagan has six of eight. Jeff Diehl holds the bump spot with a 4.235-second pass, his first run of the U.S. Nationals, while Tommy Johnson Jr. has yet to make it down the track.

schumacher.jpgTOP FUEL TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT SEMIFINALS (6:02 p.m.): Tony Schumacher will defend his 2016 Traxxas Nitro Shootout Top Fuel title. He beat Terry McMillen off the line by .01 second and led at every incremental to turn on the win lights for a .049 margin of victory. That books him a spot in the final for the second year in a row, this time against Steve Torrence. The Texan topped Doug Kalitta to get into the Traxxas final for the third time in his career. He lost in 2012 and 2013 and will be looking to redeem himself in the 2017 rendition of the event. 

smith.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (7:02 p.m.): Former Indy champion Eddie Krawiec took over the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying from his teammate, Andrew Hines with a 6.822 on his Screamin’ Eagle Street Rod. Krawiec was followed by Matt Smith, who scored three bonus points following a 6.840 on his Polaris Victory Magnum. Smith prevented the Vance & Hines team from sweeping the top two spots after Andrew Hines made the third best run of the session with a 6.847. The bump spot dropped to a 7.01 despite the absence of the Team Liberty bikes of Angelle Sampey and Cory Reed, who sat out after damaging a couple of engines earlier in the day.

anderson.jpgPRO STOCK Q3 (7:15 p.m.): With the sun setting behind the West side grandstands at Lucas Oil Raceway, Greg Anderson took over the top spot in Pro Stock with a 6.561 in his Summit Camaro. Anderson edged Drew Skillman’s 6.570 and Tanner Gray’s 6.579. The real drama came at the back of the field where there was a lot of bumping between Allen Johnson, Kenny Delco, Shane Tucker and Deric Kramer. At the end of the session, Johnson and Kramer were in with runs of 6.601 and 6.622 respectively. Delco is on the bump after a 6.661 best while Australian Tucker is on the outside despite a 6.668 in his Azumat Architectural Camaro. Larry Morgan, who missed the first run of the day, returned with his new RacerDirect.net Camaro and ran an improved 6.772, but he’s still short of the bump spot.

millican.jpgTOP FUEL Q3 (8:16 p.m.): Clay Millican snagged the Lucas Oil Raceway track record with the seventh-quickest pass in Top Fuel history. His 3.663 pass is the third-quickest pass of his career, and fourth in the 3.60s this season; all four have come in the last two events. Crew chief David Grubnic has found something in the Great Clips/Parts Plus dragster. If he holds onto the pole position through tomorrow’s warmer conditions it will be his third time in pole position this season. He had green hats in consecutive races: back in the fifth and sixth races of the season (Houston and the Four-Wide Nationals).

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TOP FUEL NITRO TRAXXAS SHOOTOUT FINAL (8:16 p.m.): Steve Torrence took down the defending champion in the final with a better light and a better pass, so the $100,000 will be heading back to Texas. His 3.673-second pass outran the 3.680 of Tony Schumacher for a .03 margin of victory and his first-ever Traxxas title. [Shootout recap

hightatnight.jpgFUNNY CAR Q3 (8:52 p.m.): Robert Hight made the best pass of the session, a 3.807-second run that stands as the seventh-quickest in Funny Car history. That wasn’t enough to unseat Matt Hagan as the No. 1 qualifier, but it did earn Hight another four qualifying bonus points. He’s up to 11 of a possible 12 on the weekend. Hagan’s 3.821-second pass at 337.83 mph is tied for the ninth-quickest, seventh fastest in history. Tommy Johnson Jr. remains at the bottom of the 18-car field through three sessions; his best time is a 9.922. Jeff Diehl holds the bump spot with a 4.172. 

FEATURES

palmer2.jpgAfter running consistently in the 3.80s this season and clinching a spot in the Countdown to the Championship, Scott Palmer wants to start making his Top Fueler more competitive. That means inching his career best 3.768 lower over the course of his first ever Countdown season. Or, at least running in the 3.70s more consistently. 

“We’re going to try to run a little bitter quicker,” said Palmer. “We have plenty of power.”

That certainly came to fruition on Friday night, when Palmer set his personal best with a 3.754 hit. That came with a career-best speed of 328.54 mph and put the team in the No. 7 spot after the first day of qualifying. 

Part of the plan to make that happen involves switching to a six-disc clutch. The CatSpot Kitty Litter team runs a five-disc clutch now. That makes the data it receives from the Capco Contractor team of Steve Torrence a little less valuable. 

“We want to run a little bit quicker early, and the six disc helps with that,” said Palmer. “If the stuff was here, we’d do it right now. Our plan was to start in Charlotte, but we’re not 100 percent all of the six-disc stuff will be done and we’ll have it in our hands, but it’s been ordered.”

Once that change is made, Palmer hopes to work on improving the overall performance of the dragster alongside crew chief Ashley Fye. He doesn’t see a run for a title as a realistic goal, so even with six races remaining on the calendar, Palmer is keeping an eye on next year. 

“Our realistic plans are, from here on out, are to be better for next year, and wherever we end up, we’ll be okay. I think if we can finish, sixth down, and be better for next year, we’ll be in a better position,” said Palmer. “If we go out there and say, ‘yeah, let’s try to win the championship,’ we’ll tear up a bunch of stuff. We’re just now learning the maintenance and stuff and everything we have to do to run this hard.”

The team has already made tremendous strides this year. Now, we’ll wait and see what they have up their sleeve for the Countdown.

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pritchett2.jpgLeah Pritchett reset the Lucas Oil Raceway track record on Friday night by running the eighth-quickest lap in the history of NHRA Drag Racing. Just another run in the 3.60s, something that’s become almost commonplace in the sport this season. She was one of four drivers to run in the 3.60s in the first qualifying session, taking advantage of cool conditions and a cooperative track.

“There was a time when we would talk about what exactly we were going to run, is it going to be low 70, a high 60? And I’d go ‘woo, a 60? We’re getting it,’” said Pritchett. “And now you say a mid-60, that’s technically our new normal because we’re doing abnormal things all of the time. Our ramp up of improving our parts and our pieces and for (crew chief Todd Okuhara) to continue to improve himself is my inspiration.”

There were 26 runs in the 3.60s last year, including one by Pritchett. After the first qualifying session of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, there have been 62 runs in the 3.60s, and Pritchett owns 15 of them. That’s with six races, and a lot of the U.S. Nationals still to come.

Pritchett reset her own national record in Brainerd by running a 3.64 and earned her first win since race No. 5 (the NHRA Springnationals). She entered the final race of the regular season in third place, trailing Antron Brown by 60 points and Steve Torrence by 29. After securing four qualifying bonus points on Friday, she’s cut those figures down to 58 and 25. The Papa John's team is firing on all cylinders right now. 

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The race is only a day old, but it’s already been almost more than Shawn Langdon could have hoped for. Last weekend, he learned that his Kalitta Motorsports teammate – and the guy with whom he was fighting for the 10th and final spot in the Countdown – Tory Coughlin Jr., had resigned from the team, giving Langdon the de facto lock on the final spot once he completed his first qualifying run Friday.

Just before he made that first run, Langdon and his sponsors, Steve and Samantha Bryson, were in the media center announcing that the Bryon’s company, Global Technology, would continue to fund the car in 2018. [Story]

“This is more than just business to us,” said Steve. “It’s family and we love the sport. Connie [Kalitta] is finally starting to cuss me, so now I really feel like part of the team. I cussed him back and he smiled, and anything that makes him smile makes me happy.”

As many will remember, Langdon’s season got off to a late start as he missed the first four events while a member of Don Schumacher Racing because his car was not funded. The Brysons, associate sponsors with the Kalitta team last season, decided early in the year that they wanted to fully fund a car, and hired the idle Langdon to drive the new entry beginning in Houston.

Langdon entered the points chase already 148 points – or more than seven rounds – behind the current 10th place car and fought his way into contention. He entered the event 11th in the standings, eight points behind Coughlin in the battle for the 10th and final spot in the Countdown playoffs. Coughlin’s resignation changed all that.

“Making the Countdown was our sole focus from Day One,” said Langdon. “We knew we had a late start but we didn’t think it was something we couldn’t overcome. We had some moments of glory and greatness in the middle of the year but then we’ve had some stumbles along the way. With everything that has happened behind us, we’re just looking ahead. I was looking forward to battling [Coughlin] this weekend for the last spot, and I hated to see it for Troy, but it is what it is. This weekend is big enough by itself that we have to stay focused. We had a rough weekend in Brainerd with some electrical problems, but we had a good test session.”

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Troy Coughlin Jr.’s unexpected resignation from the Kalitta Motorsports team was quickly filled when they hired former Indy winner Richie Crampton to take over the controls of the SealMaster dragster.

Crampton, a seven-time tour winner, had been largely idle since Morgan Lucas Racing shut down at the end of last year, though Crampton had made some Top Fuel runs in Australia for Bill Lamattina – ideally enough, he had purchased Crampton’s 2016 dragster --and had driven an A/Fuel Dragster at some NHRA events. He also continued to work for Lucas, running the MLR chassis shop which has built cars for Steve Torrence and done work for Scott Palmer.

As soon as word of Coughlin’s departure came Saturday night, Crampton threw his hat in the ring with a text to Kalitta team boss Jim Oberhofer. He was hired Monday.

“I’m super happy; I mean, how lucky am I?” said Crampton. “To get the chance to drive for the Kalitta team is a special moment. I talked to Morgan [Lucas] about it and got his blessing, which was really important to me. He was never happy that he had to shut down our team so there was no way he was going to hold me back from a great opportunity like this.”

Crampton, who hadn’t competed in NHRA Top Fuel since last year’s Auto Club NHRA Finals – made his opening pass with an early shutoff 4.10.

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jonnie.JPGA run in the 3.80s could not have come at a better time for Jonnie Lindberg. The rookie Funny Car driver needs a deep run on Monday to get into the Countdown for the Championship as he trails Alexis DeJoria by 53 points and sits behind Cruz Pedregon and Jim Campbell in the standings. 

The Swede’s 3.887-second hit in his Jim Head owned, operated, and tuned Funny Car stands as the best of his career and currently has him qualified in the top half of the field. Lindberg has had a consistent race car, but it hasn’t been terribly quick. That hasn’t been good enough to go rounds at recent events as the field has gotten progressively quicker. 

“We did three runs (at the Indy testing last week), and it was basically the same run,” said Lindberg. “We found something that seems to work good, it’s pretty consistent. We changed a little bit in the clutch, the clutch management and stuff, and that works pretty good.”

Lindberg has just one round win since he returned from a planned two-race break. He smoked the tires against Tommy Johnson Jr. in Brainerd, but ran in the 3.90s in a losing effort vs. Alexis DeJoria in Seattle. Taking this step forward is a big one for Lindberg, especially if he can qualify in the quick half of the field and get a favorable first-round matchup. He’s qualified in the top half of the field in four out of 13 races this year. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Lindberg is, as usual, tuning Jay Payne’s Alcohol Funny Car in addition to his own Alcohol Funny Car, which is being driven by his brother, Johan. It’s another busy weekend for Lindberg at the biggest race of his career. No pressure. 

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bode.jpgThey say the measure of a champion is not how many times you get knocked down but how many times you get up, and popular independent Funny Car racer Bob Bode should get a belt of some sort for picking himself up after a rough outing two weeks ago in Brainerd.

Bode, whose lone national event victory in the Funny Car class came in Brainerd in 2010, was the only car outside the field when qualifying ended and he had nothing but a pile of busted parts and a broken body to show for it.

“I was a cranky SOB,” he admits. “We sucked. Once we blew it up [in the first qualifying session] we got behind and never caught up. We had to take off our Dodge body – which is better than our old Toyota body – and put the old one on. We’re still finding broken stuff on the car. The good news is that we blew up all of our junk stuff and had to buy better stuff. We’re better. I glued the body back together, so we should be fine.”

Bode, whose career best is a 4.02 recorded earlier this season, knows that it may well take a three-second pass to make the field here.

“We underestimated it yesterday and just missed and shook,” he said of their Friday 8-second effort. “We need to be on a better track, because we’ve been off the last four or five races. Seems like we’ve blown it up at least once every race. Most of our trouble is in the clutch can, but we’re working on it. After we ran that .02, every run since then has being trying to run a three. ‘Stewie’ [crew chief John Stewart] likes to run the car hard because he’s a dragster guy. We’ll get there.”

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Brian Stewart took all of the mystery out of whether his independent car – a quasi-teammate to Tim Wilkerson, whose son, Daniel, tunes the car – laid down a solid 3.92 to ensure a spot in the Funny Car field.

Stewart, who twice crossed the centerline in Brainerd two weeks ago, fought some serious drift on his opening Indy pass and had to click it off a little early to avoid crossing again, but still was happy with the result despite a 296-mph speed.

“It’s all me; I don’t have enough seat time yet,” admitted Stewart, who has about 100 laps to his credit. “We were lined up good but it got out of the groove. It steered it back but not enough so I had to lift to avoid hitting the cones. I knew it was on a good run. Tim looked at the numbers – we were seventh quickest to the 330 -- and thinks it could have run an .88.

“We ran .86 in Topeka and we think it could go at least that good again here. We can jack it up a little bit – we’re not going to try to run 3.79 – and get the crew and me used to the car because we don’t run every race like most of these guys do. We’ll probably sit out the last run on Sunday night to get ready for Monday.

“This is my first time racing here in a Funny Car [he competed at Indy in Pro Stock in the 1980s], so I want to make it a good one.”

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hagan2.jpgMatt Hagan wasn’t terribly thrilled about missing out on the 3.70 party in Brainerd two weekends ago. That turned into a party for one when Robert Hight set the new national record with a 3.793-second pass at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals while Hagan chased him in the next lane. It didn’t take the driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge to join the club, though. 

Hagan hopped to the top of the Funny Car heap with a 3.799 pass on Friday night, the second-ever pass in the 3.70s. He reset both ends of the track record, as crew chief Dickie Venables got back into the prize fight with Robert Hight and his crew chief, Jimmy Prock, in the process. 

“It’s an awesome feeling to strap yourself to that car, and you look in that dude’s eyes across the way there and he’s like, ‘hang on brother,’” said Hagan. “You know that he’s capable, he’s smart enough to do it, and we’ve got the resources and the people to do it. You know there are a lot of crew chiefs that would love to try to go 3.79, or do try, and I’m just very blessed to have him in my corner.”

Hight qualified behind Hagan with a 3.827-second pass at 330.96 mph pass. That seemed practically slow compared to the 338.77 mph hit Hagan laid down, particularly after John Force went 336.74 earlier in the session. While there might not be another session quite as good as the first, conditions are likely to stay good the rest of the weekend. 

In other words, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Hagan-Hight battle this weekend. With the drivers locked in a points battle (Hight has 1,247, Hagan has 1,214), it’s likely this is going to go on for the rest of the season. For fans, that’s great news.

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vincent.JPGVincent Nobile initially stated that he had little interest in the “Battle of the Burnouts” contest that is being held at Indy but once he strapped himself into the Mountain View Camaro for Friday’s opening qualifying run, he had second thoughts.

“I started thinking and I realized that if NHRA is trying to do something different to promote our class then we’re stupid for not going along with it. The deal is this. It’s not always easy to do a 300-foot burnout. Sometimes, the tires are going to hook and all you’re going to do it burn up an expensive clutch. I got lucky last night and got them spinning pretty good so I just stayed in it. The fans got a kick out of it and I know it didn’t hurt our performance one iota.”

Nobile ended the day as the No. 11 qualifier with a 6.615, 209.46. After winning the fan vote against Allen Johnson, he received a new set of Goodyear slicks. He’s also got a head-start on the $5,000 bonus that will go to the overall champion after each of the five sessions are completed.

Of course, the irony that a guy sponsored by one of the largest Goodyear tire dealers in the United States would win a free set of slicks wasn’t lost on Nobile.

“When I got back, Nick [team owner Mitsos] didn’t say anything so I don’t think I go in trouble for doing an extra-long burnout,” Nobile said. “Like I said, it didn’t hurt the run at all and I think the fans dug it. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to get a free set of tires no matter who you are.”

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Larry Morgan didn’t make it to the starting line for Q3 on Saturday afternoon but he’s far from done at the 63rd Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Morgan recently returned to Pro Stock with a new RJS Safety-backed Camaro and he put together a lease agreement with defending Indy winner Chris McGaha. Morgan wounded an engine in testing and then hurt another 500-cid powerplant during Friday night’s first qualifying run. With McGaha out of engines, Morgan thought he was done but Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman quickly came to the rescue.

“We were all done; I was going home,” said Morgan. “Then Richard came over and offered an engine. Hopefully we can write a happy ending for this.”

“I came here with ten engines so we were able to take care of Larry,” added Freeman. “That engine had been in Jeg [Coughlin’s] car so I know it’s a good piece. I wasn’t about to let Larry go home. He will qualify.”

Morgan and his crew missed the second run while installing the engine and it’s not a certainty that they’ll make Saturday’s third run but they plant to be ready for Q4 on Sunday.

“This isn’t exactly how we wanted to get started but I’m grateful to Richard for stepping up,” Morgan said. “We were sitting in the stands watching Pro Mod and we got a text that said, ‘Hey, you need to get back to your pit. Freeman just wheeled an engine over here.’” It all happened very quickly.”

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Defending Indy winner Chris McGaha was somewhat nonchalant about his performance so far, which includes a sixth-best 6.577, 209.95. On Saturday’s Q2 run, McGaha posted a 6.633 that could have been significantly better.

“It could have run better but we had the front end in the air,” said McGaha. “I was afraid it was going to hit the [wheelie] bars and unload the tires so I short-shifted it. I shorted two gears by 500 [rpm] so it was probably a 6.61 or so. It was completely my fault because I’m really good at [expletive] on my own neck.”

McGaha also addressed his relationship with Larry Morgan, who switched to an Elite powerplant after breaking two McGaha-supplied engines. 

“I swear that second engine broke when we were wheeling it over to Larry’s trailer,” said McGaha. “That is the same engine that Steve Graham ran in Sonoma. We took it back to our shop, put it on the dyno and we were really impressed with the numbers. We almost stuck a motor plate on it and put it in my car but we decided to least it to Larry. There was nothing wrong with that engine. It just broke. We came here with five engines, two for Larry and three for my car. We’re down a couple already.”

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enders.jpgYou don’t get to be as good as Erica Enders without lots of practice and the two-time champion got plenty of that before heading to Indy. In a whirlwind three-day test in Tulsa, Okla., Enders drove her own Melling Camaro and the twin JEGS.com Camaro of teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. All told, Enders made 42 runs while the team tried a variety of different combinations and broke in tires.

“I love to drive these cars and I’m thankful for every opportunity to do so,” said Enders. “When we test, it can be a 15-hour day and we can make 10 to 15 runs per car but I never get sick of it. In Tulsa, we can run until 1-2 in the morning and sometimes we do.

“We try a lot of things when we test and I work on a lot of things as a driver,” Enders said. “Sixty-foot times are so important that you have to stage shallow. You really have to focus every time you get in the car.”

The Elite team also tested with several other Pro Stock teams in St. Louis before heading to Indy and made an additional 20-or so runs. With over 65 runs of testing, the Elite team is at a loss to explain why Enders is only ninth-quickest with a  6.604 best and Coughlin is 13th best with a 6.642 after the first two runs.

“We’ve made so many runs but we’re off a bit,” Enders said. “Forget about setting the world on fire; we’re just struggling right now. That’s the frustrating part of Pro Stock. You can be on top of the world one week and struggling the next. We don’t give up and we’re going to get this deal turned around. It’s just frustrating to see because I know how much effort goes into this program. Our lack of success isn’t for lack of effort. I can assure you of that.”

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After wounding some engine parts in Denver, Mike Berry was just about to cancel his planned trip to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals when team owner Blake Gann stepped in to save the day. Gann offered to let Berry ride his Buell V-twin and Berry was happy to oblige. After two qualifying runs, the unlikely duo sits 12th with a 6.982 pass.

“I was about ten minutes away from cancelling my flight when Blake talked me into this deal,” said Berry. “Actually, he didn’t have to do a lot of convincing. Anytime I can go to the races and beat up on somebody else’s stuff it’s a good deal.”

At first glance, Berry’s MB Precision Buell looks similar to the Gann bike but Berry notes that there are significant differences. For one, Gann’s bike was built for his son, Shawn, so it has a bit different placement for brake and clutch levers and footpegs. Gann’s tune-up is also completely different than Berry’s. Berry normally dumps the clutch at 6,500 rpm while Gann’s bike leaves much lower, at approximately 5,200 rpm.

“When I twisted the throttle for the first time, I thought something was really wrong, “said Berry. “The bike didn’t sound right and it didn’t feel right but when I dumped the clutch, it really moved. Blake runs his own clutch and it’s just very different than mine. He’s got a good set-up and I was really surprised when I saw the time slip and saw that we ran sixes. I thought the second run was better than the first but the air wasn’t as good. We don’t have out best engine in the bike right now. Hopefully, we do that tomorrow or Monday. I’d love to be able to go some rounds here.”

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chipellis.JPGWhile his team owner, Junior Pippin, continues to put up a brave fight in his battle against cancer, Chip Ellis is determined to make the most of what could be one of his final opportunities to race a Pro Stock Motorcycle.

“Junior is struggling right now but he’s as tough as they come,” said Ellis. “He still texts me often and we’re continuing to pray for him. Right now, our plan is to run this race and then go to Charlotte because that’s our home event. After that, I’m not sure. We’re probably done. I’m in the process of buying a farm and I still spent a lot of time working in a shop that my friend owns. I stay pretty busy.”

On Friday, Ellis rode to a 7.136, which was far short of what he expected to run. He enters Saturday’s two runs at the No. 15 seed in the field.

“We made an ugly run but it hauled in the back half,” said Ellis, who is working as part of a two-man effort this weekend along with engine builder Lon Moyer. “We just missed the tune-up on the starting line. When we tested a week ago I had a 1.04 sixty-foot time and if we can do that again, we’ll be in the top half of the field. Before we ran I chickened out and lowered the launch rpm. I should have left it alone because there was nothing wrong with that race track.”

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jimmy.JPGLast night’s schedule change, where professional qualifying rounds were bumped up an hour in an effort to avoid a possible rain delay, proved to be a bonus for fans who got to see a full round of Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle runs. The downside was that Jimmy Underdahl missed his first run because he was flying to Indy form his home near Minneapolis.

“If we’d run at our [originally] scheduled time I’d have been just fine but I missed it,” said Underdahl. “I hate to miss a run but it is what it is. We’ll just have to make up for it today.”

Underdahl is racing as part of a four-bike team along with Scotty Pollacheck, Karen Stoffer, and Andie Rawlings. Missing a run, it would be easy to assume that Underdahl and his father and crew chief, Greg, could just duplicate a tune-up from one of the other bikes but he says it’s not that easy.

“We run our bikes differently so we’re sort of on our own as far as a tune-up goes,” said Underdahl. “This is Joe DeSantis’ old bike and it’s built a little differently than the bike that Scotty rides. Our tune-ups are close, but not exactly alike. Still, I think that we can run something close to what Scotty ran [6.917].”

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After making the first two runs on their EBR-bodied bike with less than satisfactory results, Hector Arana Jr. and the Lucas Oil team went back to their old Buell for the third run and it proved to be a wise decision. Arana was not in the field with a 7.103 best but quickly regained his old forum with a 6.871 that was the ?? best run of the session.

“This [EBR] has been two years in the making and it’s going to be a great bike,” said Arana. “We tried it twice and just didn’t get the results we were looking for. IT wasn’t working so we went back to old faithful. Our old bike is awesome. It ran great in Brainerd so I think we’re back 

Arana Jr. last rode the Buell at the 2016 Amalie Gatornationals and at that event, he elected to sit out eliminations after the bike encountered handling issues.

PHOTOS

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NHRA President Peter Clifford welcomed Ken Howell, who was NHRA Member number 01 when the association was founded in 1951.

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An autograph request turned into a heart-warming hug as Top Fuel newcomer Ashley Sanford was greeted by a young fan.

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Fan access is a huge part of any NHRA experience and fans swarmed through the world-famous open pits to get up close and personal with their favorite drivers like Funny Car star Courtney Force.

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There are Camaros aplenty – from vintage to brand new – taking part in Sportsman competition at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

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Chevrolet’s display in the pits allows fans to check out some of the manufacturers latest offerings and high-performance roots.

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In a special now vs. then match race, Ben Wenzel, near lane, who was the first NHRA winner in a Camaro when he captured Stock at the 1967 U.S. Nationals – a car also in competition at this event -- competed against Erica Enders in her new-age Factory Stock Camaro.

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Four-time U.S. Nationals Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon is competing again this year, but in an Alcohol Funny Car.

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Jackson Lombardo Racing, the championship-contending Top Alcohol Funny Car team, again hosted the Hoosier Burn Camp and RFC Kids. Their third annual "A Day at the Races" program brings kids who have been affected by burns to the track for a fun-filled day of activities and interaction with top drivers on Saturday, Sept. 2. Driver John Lombardo Jr. was joined by fellow racing stars including Courtney Force, Antron Brown, Allen Johnson, Angelle Sampey, and Cory Reed.

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Everywhere you look around Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis are assemblies of vintage race cars. Here, Mickey Thompson’s ground-breaking Grand Am Funny Car is paired with one of his earliest dragsters, which later was run by Dave Huber.

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Iconic header manufacturer Doug Thorley was an early competitor in Funny Car – winning the U.S. Nationals in 1967 with his Corvair – was on hand with some of his earliest rides, including this original version of his Chevy 2 Much Chevy II.

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Behind the main grandstands is yet another massive collection of vintage race cars and hot rods, more than two dozen strong.

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Alexis DeJoria, Jack Beckman, Chris McGaha, and Allen Johnson took part in the traditional Mello Yello autograph session in the pits.

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Another autograph session allowed fan to meet with the competitors in today’s Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel, including points leader Leah Pritchett.

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The competitors in Sunday’s Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Cars took part in a press conference and signed autographs in the Top Eliminator Club.

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Prior to the opening round of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel, the eight qualified drivers posed for a "class photo."

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The U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team were part of the pre-race pageantry before the Shootout.

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Steve Torrence celebrated this first Traxxas Nitro Shootout win after defeating Tony Schumacher to claim the $100,000 top prize.

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For the second night in a row, the Larsen Motorsports jet team brought down the house with a flame-throwing finale.

PREVIEW

Day four of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals gets underway with new track records already in place. Both Leah Pritchett and Matt Hagan knocked down records in the only pro session on Friday night, while Tanner Gray and Andrew Hines took the top spots in the naturally aspirated categories. Saturday will bring warmer temperatures and a pair of sessions for the four professional categories in addition to the Nitro Traxxas Top Fuel Shootout. There's still plenty of action to come from Indy. 

L_Pritchett.jpgLeah Pritchett reset the elapsed time record at Lucas Oil Raceway with the eighth-quickest elapsed time (3.667) in Top Fuel history. That was one of four runs in the 3.60s, and gave her the No. 1 qualifying position after the first session of the U.S. Nationals. She’ll look to hold onto that top spot in the second day of qualifying while also chasing her first Traxxas Nitro Shootout title. Pritchett will race Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown will take on Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence is set to face Clay Millican, and Brittany Force will battle reigning event winner and Traxxas winner Tony Schumacher. 

M_Hagan.JPGMatt Hagan reset both ends of the Funny Car track record in Friday’s lone pass under excellent conditions, powering his Dickie Venables-tuned Mopar to a 3.799 – the second quickest pass in class history – at 388.77, the third fastest – to pace the pack. With conditions today expected to be slightly warmer and without Friday’s cloud cover, that time may not be challenged until the day’s second session. Robert Hight, who ran the first 3.7-second pass two weeks ago in Brainerd, is a few ticks behind Hagan with a 3.82 and is followed his teammates, daughter and father Courtney (3.847) and John Force (3.849). Reigning world champ Ron Capps sits on the easily-poppable bubble with a 10.93.

T_Gray.jpgRacing as part of a three-car team along with his grandfather, Johnny, and father, Shane, Tanner Gray leads the Indy Pro Stock field after Friday’s lone session. Gray, the presumptive favorite in the rookie of the year battle, drove his Valvoline-backed Camaro to a 6.566, 209.88 to take the provisional pole. He is followed closely by Greg Anderson, Drew Skillman, and current points leader Bo Butner. With one of five sessions in the books, the bump spot is a 6.816 by veteran Kenny Delco.

A_Hines.JPGAfter struggling for a couple of months with their new Harley-Davidson Street Rod bikes, the Vance & Hines team came roaring back with a pair of solid runs to open Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying at Indy. Teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec recorded matching 6.825-second elapsed times on Friday with Hines getting the top spot due to his slightly faster speed, 194.75 to 193.57. The third spot went to Brainerd winner and reigning world champ Jerry Savoie, who was five-hundredths back with a 6.877. Points leader LE Tonglet is fourth after a 6.894 pass.