Dodge NHRA Nationals Friday Notebook

22 Sep 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage

Preview | Features | Photos | Results


scotty3.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (2:15 p.m.): Scotty Pollacheck led the opening round of qualifying with a 6.850 that was more than a hundredth quicker than the rest of the field. Matt Smith finished the first session ranked second after posting a 6.869, followed by rookie Joey Gladstone (6.878) and Andrew Hines (6.893). Reigning world champ Jerry Savoie was the only other rider to dip into the 6.8s, posting a 6.899. Points leader Eddie Krawiec enters the second round of qualifying in the No. 6 spot after riding his Harley to a 6.903.

butner.jpgPRO STOCK Q1 (2:30 p.m.): Bo Butner surrendered his points lead to Tanner Gray last weekend in Charlotte, but the regular season frontrunner gained a little ground back on Gray when he paced the first round of qualifying with a 6.554 that was nearly three-hundredths better than the rest of the Pro Stock field. Butner earned three bonus points for the strong opening shot. Drew Skillman, whose team tested after Charlotte, tallied two “little” points thanks to a 6.583, and Allen Johnson was the third-quickest of the session with a 6.589. Erica Enders was the only other driver in the 6.5s, posting a 6.594. In a couple of surprises, Tanner Gray and Jason Line both struggled in the first session. Gray sits ninth after Q1 with a 6.63, and Line will be one of the early cars in Q2 thanks to a 6.81 that has him 14th.

beckman2.jpgFUNNY CAR Q1 (3 p.m.): Two-time Reading winner Jack Beckman rebounded from a tough first-round loss last weekend in Charlotte to grab the early qualifying lead with a 3.914 from his Infinite Hero Dodge. Charlotte winner and new points leader Robert Hight followed closely with a 3.921 for the No. 2 spot while Matt Hagan grabbed the final bonus point with a 3.933 in the No. 3 spot. Despite warm temperatures, eight drivers ran in the three-second zone, including Alexis DeJoria, Bob Tasca III, Tim Wilkerson, J.R. Todd, and Jonnie Lindberg.

kalitta.jpgTOP FUEL Q1 (3:20 p.m.): Charlotte winner and new points leader Doug Kalitta continued his Countdown reign of terror by expanding his points lead by a few markers by going low in the first qualifying session with a 3.725. Tony Schumacher clocked a 3.747 for the No. 2 spot while Brittany Force impressed with a 3.758 in the left lane that was the only full pass down that side of the track. Antron Brown (3.766) and independent fan favorite Scott Palmer (3.805) had the only other full runs of the session as the dragsters struggled significantly more than their fiberglass-clad nitro brothers.

arana2.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (4:35 p.m.): After making what he called a “rookie mistake” in the first session that caused him to slow to 12.81 and place 16th in the order, Hector Arana Jr. made a great rebound in the second session, powering to a 6.834 in the first pair out. That run held up through several challenges to give Arana the provisional pole after the first day. The Harleys had the second- and third-best runs of the rounds. Eddie Krawiec earned two bonus points for his 6.841, and Andrew Hines carded one for his 6.86. Though Hines was third-best of the round, he sits fourth on the sheets after two sessions because Scotty Pollacheck ran a 6.85 in the first session, which has him third.

line.jpgPRO STOCK Q2 (4:55 p.m.): Much like the scenario in Pro Stock Motorcycle, a driver who struggled in the first session paced the second one. In the case of the factory hot rods, it was reigning world champion Jason Line who went from near the bottom of the field to No. 2 with a 6.563 that was the best run of Q2. Tanner Gray also rebounded from a No. 9 effort in the first session, nabbing two bonus points with his 6.565 that has him third entering the final two sessions. Allen Johnson continued to run well, again recording the third-best run of the round at 6.572. Bo Butner remained No. 1 in the order on the strength of his 6.55 in Q1. Butner put another competitive number on the boards on his second attempt, coming in at 6.573.

hight2.jpgFUNNY CAR Q2 (5:20 p.m.): Robert Hight, whose stated goal is to break the 340-mph barrier, fell about one mph short with a 339.02-mph blast in 3.844 seconds to take both ends of the track record and earn three more bonus points. The run was the second fastest in history behind Hight's 339.87 from earlier this year. The old track marks entering the event were 3.850 (Jack Beckman) and 333.99 (Matt Hagan) but Hagan, running just ahead of Hight, ran 335.82 to break his old mark, but the new record didn’t last long. Hagan’s consolation was a 3.874-second elapsed time that has his Mopar Charger in the No. 2 spot. Ron Capps, who didn’t make it down the track in Q1, rebounded nicely with a 3.877 for the third spot. Thirteen Funny Cars qualified in the threes today.

millican.jpgTOP FUEL Q2 (5:50 p.m.): Clay Millican, who already has three No. 1 qualifying berths this season –- including at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals -– is halfway home to his fourth pole of the season after blasting his Great Clips/Parts Plus dragster to a 3.699 for the top spot. His run is just a few ticks off the 3.688 track record set last year by Antron Brown. First-session leader Doug Kalitta improved from a 3.72 to a 3.70, but slipped to second behind Millican while former Countdown top seed Steve Torrence recovered from a 4.23 opening lap to a 3.720 to grab the No. 3 position.


Steve Torrence lost his points lead to Doug Kalitta after a surprising defeat at the hands of Richie Crampton in round two in Charlotte, but the damage was limited when his closest rivals also lost early at the Countdown opener.

“The only good thing about it is that everybody else at the top had the same kind of day,” said Torrence. “Antron [Brown] and Tony [Schumacher] went out in the same round as we did and Papa John’s [the dragster driven by Leah Pritchett, which lost in round one] didn’t even get that far.”

Even though he entered the Countdown as the top seed, Torrence acknowledges that doesn’t give you much heading into the playoffs.

“It’s a new season; it doesn’t make any difference what happened before,” he insists. “Timing is everything. Doug hadn’t won all year; now he’s leading the points. Obviously, you want to win the first race in the Countdown. That’s everybody’s goal, but there’s only one guy (or one girl) who’s gonna do that. In Top Fuel, it was Doug. Now, he’s the guy with the target on his back and we’re all chasing him. Having said that, I think we’re still in a really good spot.”

The warmer-than-normal weather expected this weekend may be a boon for Torrence and tuners Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr., who have not had the greatest of successes at this event. In six appearances at the normally-chilly event, Torrence has just two round wins (one each in 2014 and 2016) and also DNQ’d in 2013.

Torrence, the Top Alcohol Dragster national champion in 2005, is trying to become the first driver to win NHRA series titles in both the fuel and alcohol divisions. 


ab.jpgWhile good pal and championship rival Steve Torrence has traditionally struggled at this event, the opposite is true for Antron Brown and his tuning tandem of Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald. The Matco team has reached the final round four times in the last five years and have won the last two events at Maple Grove Raceway. His run to victory in 2015 was part of an incredible start to the Countdown in which he won the first three events. In that final, he defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher to score his first career win at the facility.

His second-round loss in Charlotte dropped him from second to third place in the standings, behind leader Doug Kalitta and Torrence.

"It's a battle," Brown said. "Charlotte was an indicator that anything can happen. You saw some of the best cars out here go out early. It's anyone's game right now. One slip-up can change everything. When you lose a close race, it makes you hungry. You know there are going to be a lot of races like that in the Countdown. The Countdown is so tough, the competition is tough. You can’t take any round lightly, and that includes qualifying. So we just have to go out there and take it one run at a time and give it our best each time. We know there is a lot of work to be done and we still have a great shot.

“Winning there the past couple of years has been great and really helped our runs to the championship, but we know this year it’s going to be just as tough, if not tougher. It all starts with qualifying.”


Audrey Worm will make her Top Fuel debut this weekend, becoming the fourth rookie driver -– and second female -- in the class this season on the heels of our introductions to Troy Coughlin Jr., Blake Alexander, and Ashley Sanford. But while that trio all had solid backgrounds in “Big Show” competition – Coughlin a Sportsman-racing superstar, Alexander a competitive Funny Car pilot, and Sanford a solid competitor in Alcohol Dragster -– Worm’s class debut this weekend in the dragster owned by veterans Gary and Bob Leverich is also her NHRA national event debut.

Although the 25-year Pennsylvanian is a far from being a dragstrip rookie -- she’s logged hundreds of runs over nine years in the front-engined, gas-burning “shop car” nostalgia dragster built at Slingshot Dragsters, her father’s chassis business -– she has just over a dozen runs in a Top Fueler spread over two licensing sessions. She’s clocked a best of 4.39 at just 257 mph, light years ahead of the 8.55 at 165 mph best in her dragster.

“We just took our time, going 300 feet, then half-track, just to help me get accustomed to the car then made our [license] upgrade passes,” she said. “I’ve probably got 13-14 runs in the car now and feel pretty comfortable already, but it’s still really fast. My dragster would do 1.90 60-foots and so far we’re already down in the .090s with this car. This is a dream come true; I’ve dreamed of driving a Top Fueler since I was 8 or 9 years old.”

Worm, who also had the honor of being Bruce Larson’s “back up girl” for two years for his Nostalgia Funny Car -– a car also built by her father –- before she broke her leg and had to stop racing. She met the Leverich family through her fiancee, and, thanks to that, is making her return to racing in Top Fuel.

Worm hopes to compete at six to eight events next year in support of research on Parkinson’s Disease, from which is father now suffers. She plans to brand the car Team Fox as part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which was formed by the popular actor after he was diagnosed with the disease. Worm’s goal is not only to raise awareness of the disease but hopefully raise up to a million dollars for the cause.

This weekend’s goals are much simpler, and with just 15 cars entered, half the battle – just qualifying – is already won but Worm would also like to get a round-win under her belts. Smax Smith, who drove the Leverich car earlier this year, earned the team its first win with an upset over Tony Schumacher in Epping, so anything is possible in their eyes.

Scott Palmer is competing in his first Countdown to the Championship, but the popular independent runner out of Missouri isn't having to go it alone, at least not at the first two events of the Countdown as quasi-teammate Dom Lagana ran in Charlotte and again here with support and shared tuning with Palmer’s CatSpot team.

Palmer impressed in Q1 with a 3.805, the fifth best run and only one of five drivers to make a full pull down what was a bit of a tricky track, just one pair behind Lagana, whose car struggled at the 300-foot mark and went up in smoke, so tuner John “Stewie” Stewart leapt into action.

“We ran Dom’s car first and saw what it did, then were able to make a few adjustments – basically we slowed the clutch flows down a little --and get [Palmer’s car] to run a little better,” he explained. 

“That was a bit of a pressure cooker for us,” said Palmer, who lost in round one in Charlotte. “We wanted to get down there that first run. Our guy Benny [Patterson], who’s been helping us the last eight races and it just a whiz with the computer and just a smart, had to go home to Australia, so we’re racing without him. I’m calling him between runs to talk about things but it’s not the same as having him here.”

Earlier this year, a lot of Funny Car drivers had pointed to the Reading event as the likely site of the first 3.7-second run in class history, but Robert Hight surprised everyone by accomplishing the feat three races early with a dazzling 3.793-second pass in Brainerd. That task accomplished, Hight now his his sights set on breaking the class’ next barrier: 340 mph

Hight already owns the fastest speed in class history, 339.87 recorded in July in Sonoma, and has set top speed of the meet a career-best 10 times this season and 51 times in his career. He currently owns nine track records for speed, all of which have been set this season, but Hight would love to add to his legacy by being the first to top 340 mph.

“I look forward to it, because you know that elusive 340-mph run is out there,” Hight said. “I know we can get it. We’ve made the first part of a run, and different parts of the second half of a run. If you put them together, it’ll run over 340. You just have to have the conditions. It’d be cool to get that barrier. We were the first in the 3.70s this year, so to be the first in the 340s, that’s one that will stick for a long, long time. Maple Grove is a perfect place to do that.”

Qualifying note: Hight got close again, running 339.02 mph in Q2, the second fastest speed in history.

beckman.jpgJack Beckman has been involved in a lot of weird races this season -– who could forget his wild race with J.R. Todd in Sonoma? –- but his loss in the first round in Charlotte to Jim Campbell was especially frustrating. Beckman got off to a huge lead after Campbell, with sweat in his eyes, left the line late, then Beckman’s Infinite Hero Dodge smoked the tires and Campbell eked past him at the stripe.

"If someone had told me that you're going to race the No. 13 car and you're going to have a reaction time of more than three tenths better than them, I would have thought it's a 100 percent shot that we win the race,” said Beckman. "I pedaled, and it started to move over towards the centerline and I didn't want to take the cones out, so I lifted early and we lost by 16-thousandths of a second. If we would have lost by a second, it wouldn't have stung this bad because I feel like if I would have done a better job of pedaling the car, we would have been 17-thousandths ahead and we would have still been able to salvage the win light.”

Beckman knows what it takes to win a championship, having done it twice, in Funny Car in 2012 and Super Comp in 2003, and losing winnable races is not part of that equation, especially in the six-race Countdown. 

"It's a big hole that we've dug ourselves into; you just can't go out early multiple times in the Countdown and hope to win the championship," said Beckman. "If you look at the last couple of seasons, it takes 14 to 15 round wins in the Countdown to have a legitimate shot at the championship. Right now, that would mean us averaging a final-round finish so I think we need to take all four round wins here to get right back in the hunt. It's possible that cars in front us could all go out early the next few races but it's not likely. You sure can't depend on your opponents failing for you to succeed."

Bob Tasca III made his return to Funny Car in Q1 after sitting out since the Norwalk event in June, and although the 3.958 that rang up on the scoreboard was a welcome sight to the Rhode Island-based Ford dealer and gave his AutoAlert Shelby the No. 5 spot after the opening session, it did not come cheaply as a six-run-old crankshaft broke at the finish line, giving the veteran driver a handful.

tasca2.jpg“That was a great run, exactly what we were looking for, but just before I stepped off [the throttle] it let go. It got oil under the rear tires and got real loose and was a real handful,” he said. “I was just happy I saved it.”

According to former world champ and current NHRA on FOX analyst (and good Tasca friend) Tony Pedregon, broken crankshafts are becoming a familiar sight in the nitro ranks as the toll of 11,000 horsepower beats them side to side and end to end. At about $4,8000 apiece, crankshafts are one of the big-ticket items in an engine and obviously a vital part of the reciprocating assembly.  

Matt Hagan was Charlotte winner Robert Hight’s first-round victim in Charlotte, so the former world champ came into Reading determined to rebound. A Friday best of 3.874 put his Mopar Charger in the No. 2 spot.

"We had our bad race right out of the gate," Hagan said. "So from here on out we have to turn on win lights. It's as simple and complicated as that. We need some of those guys in front of us to have a bad race too. It's just tough out here, man. 
"We got a little behind in qualifying and that set us up for a tough first round on Sunday. So this weekend we just have to make sure we have a better qualifying effort and that should transition into a better Sunday."


The Pro Stock class has a new, yet familiar face joining the driving ranks this weekend. Brian “Lump” Self, who has served as a crew chief for the likes of Chris McGaha and Elite Motorsports the last few years, will get behind the wheel this weekend in a fourth entry out of the Elite camp. Self, who found out Monday he would transition from crew chief to driver, will be driving the car that had been driven by Vincent Nobile through the first 18 races this season (The Nobile/Mitsos team decided to sit out the remainder of the 2017 season with plans to return next year).

“This is the car that Vincent was driving. Richard [Freeman] owns it, and he was like, ‘Well, let’s at least test it,” said Self. “We stayed and tested Monday, so we’re just going to use this car because I’m going to be before [Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr.], so we can test to see what we can learn for those two cars and, of course, Alex [Laughlin]. We’re going to use it strictly as a test car.”

This week is not the first time Self has been in an NHRA Pro Stock car. Self has had a license for many years, and he has tested Coughlin’s car previously. In addition, Self has previously raced in the now-defunct Pro Stock Truck class and Comp and in the ADRL Pro Stock class. However, like many others out here, racing Pro Stock has been a dream of Self’s since he was a kid, so he is excited to get the opportunity.

“It will [sink in] when I pull in the staging lanes,” said Self, of fulfilling the childhood dream. “I mean, you’re not nervous. You’re just excited.”

Because Self does have some experience behind the wheel, the team will approach the first round as they would with any of their other cars, keeping in mind Self will be first out on the track.

“Mainly, the cautious is being the first out, so it’s no different than if any of the other cars were first out. You’ve got to gear accordingly to be first out,” said Self. “I’m not saying that I won’t screw up up there, so everybody might want to watch, but it should be OK if you don’t let the nerves get the better of you for the first run.”


gaydosh.jpgAfter sitting out Charlotte last weekend, John Gaydosh Jr. is returning to Pro Stock competition at his home event.

“I love doing this more than anything else. We’re happy to be here. We love doing this. We love NHRA and love racing Pro Stock,” said Gaydosh. “This is our home track. We’re two hours away from here. I’ve run this race so many times and run up here at the Pontiac events. I love racing here.”

Gaydosh returns after a long week of working to prep an engine he had in his shop. Gaydosh was leasing an engine from Gray Motorsports earlier this year but parted ways with them following the Indy event.

“This is one of the engines I purchased from Barry Grant about six years ago,” said Gaydosh. “It’s been sitting in hiding because we’ve been leasing motors from the Grays. Now that we’re not with that program, I had to hurry up and turn this one around and get something ready for this race. I didn’t have time to dyno it. It’s never been started, so we’re just going to be here and just go at it and have some fun.

“Gary Stropko and I have put in a lot of late nights to put this motor together, and I can’t thank him enough for doing this and getting us ready.”

Unfortunately for Gaydosh, he was unable to make either session today due to some challenges in the pits. Gaydosh missed the first session due to a missing starter that the team had to retrieve from a shop two hours away, and he was unable to make the call after someone stole his golf cart.


Chris McGaha had a tough start to his weekend, experiencing severe tire shake on his first attempt and coasting to a 22.647 that placed him 16th on the sheets after Q1. McGaha has raced at Maple Grove Raceway three times, and with the history of weather troubles at this event, he noted that this is the first time he has ever seen sun on the track, so it was a bit of a guessing game for the first round. Unfortunately, for McGaha, his team guessed wrong, and tire shake was the end result.

Between runs, McGaha said he felt confident he had the right tune-up for Q2, and that proved right. As the first car to run downtrack in the second session, McGaha ran a 6.593 to move into the top half of the field.


During the second round of qualifying, fans may have wondered if the scoreboard in the left lane was stuck on 6.60 after that number came up over and over and over in the middle of the session. Matt Hartford kicked of the 6.60 parade with a 6.600 that improved on his earlier 6.612. Right behind Hartford, Greg Anderson repeated the 6.600. Hartford had the better speed, 209.95 to 2009.82, giving Hartford the eighth spot in the order and Anderson the No. 9 slot. Finally, Alex Laughlin nearly matched the two cars in front of him with a 6.608.


Fans who walk by Hector Arana Jr.’s pit this weekend will notice not one, but two bikes out, which, considering Arana had run both his usual Buell and the EBR in Indy, may lead some to believe he will be doing so again. That is not the case, though.

“We ran that bike for the first two runs in Indy. We were hoping it was going to be good, and I was going to stay with the bike, but it’s a new bike, so we don’t have it dialed in like we do [the Buell]. After two runs, we couldn’t get downtrack fast enough, so we went back to the old one,” said Arana. “We just have this bike on the road with us, so people can look at it, little kids can sit on the bike and take pictures, and we’re doing just a couple of little things to it while we’re on the road. We’re on the road, and we’re not in the shop, so we have it with us and are tinkering on it when we have spare time.”

It makes sense that Arana would stick with his old bike, considering the recent success he has had with it. In the four most recent events, Arana has recorded one runner-up finish, two semifinal finishes, and a No. 1 start, and he enters this weekend ranked third in points.

“We’ve got a fast bike, I feel good, my driving’s been good, and I’m ready,” said Arana. “I’m having fun. I love riding this bike, so anything I can do to go as many rounds on it.”


scotty.jpgScotty Pollacheck enters this weekend still seeking his first win in the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks, and with the continuous progress his team has made throughout the season, Pollacheck is optimistic about his chances to nab that elusive Wally this year.

“We keep finding little things where we’re like, ‘Hey, we just learned something here. This works a little bit better than that worked,’ and we decided to implement all that stuff. It seems like we’re going the right direction, getting a little more consistent and a little bit quicker and are moving up the stat sheet a little bit. If we just keep doing that, everything will fall into place,” said Pollacheck, who made this year’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs and sits seventh entering this weekend. “Our big thing all year is we really wanted to first of all get everybody and everything to work together, and right from the get-go, it’s been really good with all of that stuff.

"The bike started out fast, and we’ve made progress in getting faster and getting me better and more used to it and getting the tune-up better. Our big goal really is to win a race and, of course, finish as high as you can in the points. I think if you win a race or something like that, that will definitely take care of the points. We really want to get a win for everybody over there. You know, for Jim and Greg [Underdahl] and Gary and Karen [Stoffer] and everybody and Suzuki Extended Protection and all the people that help us out. Just at my shop at home at Quality Tire, there’s 14 of us, and everybody there’s always excited when I leave, saying you know, ‘Do good,’ so we want to do that for them. My wife and kids really enjoy it and pay attention, so there’s a lot of people that would definitely get a lot of satisfaction and everything out of it if we win a race. There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle.”

Pollacheck has had a solid overall 2017 campaign with the Suzuki Extended Protection team, which he joined this year after Jimmy Underdahl elected to take a step back. Pollacheck enters Reading with a 13-11 round-win record, and he has advanced out of the first round at nine of the first 11 races, including recording four semifinal finishes.


smith2.jpgAfter a strong start to his Dodge NHRA Nationals when he placed No. 2 in the order for Q1 with a 6.86, Matt Smith was unable to make a pass in the second session, clicking his ’17 Victory off shortly after launching. Smith turned the bike off out of an abundance of caution, noting that the oil pressure light never came on when they started the bike, and when the light remained off after staging, Smith elected to click it off rather than risk wounding his engine.

The good news for Smith is that his pass earlier in the day kept him in the top half of the field. Smith is sixth entering Saturday.


therat.jpgThough Matt Smith’s run didn’t quite go according to plan, Smith had reason to smile after the second session because the two other bikes running out of his stable this weekend had strong passes in Q2. Smith’s wife, Angie, improved on her 6.93 in the first session, posting a 6.89 that has her eighth, and Ron “the Rat” Tornow made a huge jump in performance after a 7.32 in Q1. On his second pass of the weekend, Tornow powered to a 6.953 at 192.00 mph, both career bests for the Pro Stock Motorcycle newcomer. Tornow made his class debut last weekend in Charlotte and just missed the field, recording a best of 7.13 at 186.33 mph to finish 17th. With just 16 bikes on the property, Tornow was guaranteed a starting spot this weekend, but his first run in the sixes and over 190 mph, Tornow isn’t just sneaking into the show. At the end of Friday, “the Rat” is 11th.


The Mopar Mega Block Party kicked off race weekend Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pa. The special Mopar event included an autograph session with Mopar stars like Allen Johnson, car displays, and a home-run derby. 

Mopar Funny Car driver Matt Hagan was a among those who took part in the home-run derby.

NHRA on FOX broadcaster Davie Rieff, left, was the derby winner and joined with Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson in accepting $2,500 checks to the Infinite Hero and Make-A-Wish organization on behalf of Mopar fans.

Top Fuel star Leah Pritchett unveiled her special Mopar 80th anniversary paint scheme at the Block Party,

Elite Motorsports ace Erica Enders welcomed Brian "Lump" Self to the driving part of the team, replacing Vincent Nobile, who has bowed out for the season. Self has long been a big part of the Elite's team on the mechanical side as well as a team test driver.

Angie Smith, who is part of the Countdown field in Pro Stock Motorcycle, took some time to get herself dialed in before her opening qualifying pass.

Mopar-backed racers and event dignitaries Leah Pritchett, near lane, and Matt Hagan met up for a rematch of their exhibition race at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals in special-edition Dodge Demons. As was the case in Denver, Pritchett emerged victorious.

The Hanna Motorsports Jet Funny Cars capped the first day of qualifying with exhibition runs, and they put on a great show. Ken Hall and Rich Hanna recorded matching 5.838s at over 271 mph, crossing the finish line side by side.


The Dodge NHRA Nationals is the second of six events in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and comes on the heels of a frantic opener last weekend at the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Charlotte. For the first time in 11 years, all four top seed entering the Countdown iwere stripped of their No. 1 spots by the time that event concluded as early-round losses plagued many of higher-ranked drivers in all four classes. In Top Fuel and Funny Car combined, only one of the eight top-four seeds made it to the semifinals, and three of the eight lost in round one.

D_Kalitta.JPGDoug Kalitta's first win of the season vaulted him into the No. 1 spot in Top Fuel as the veteran driver and 43-time national event winner renews his quest for a first season championship. Kalitta has finished in the top 10 in all 20 of his campaigns with three second-place finishes, including last season. In Charlotte, Kalita's win boosted him four spots, past seasonlong frontrunners Steve Torrence and Antron Brown, who both lost in round two, and Leah Pritchett, who fell in round one. Kalitta's teammate, Richie Crampton, who made his first start of the season in Indianapolis, was runner-up to Kalitta and could well play the spoiler role throughout the Countdown's remaining five events.


Driver Initial Seed Charlotte Result Current Position Change
Steve Torrence 1 E2 2 -1
Antron Brown 2 E2 3 -1
Leah Pritchett 3 E1 7 -4
Tony Schumacher 4 E2 5 +2
Doug Kalitta 5 W 1 +4
Brittany Force 6 SF 4 -2
Clay Millican 7 E2 6 +1
Terry McMillen 8 E1 8 0
Scott Palmer 9 E1 9 0
Shawn Langdon 10 E1 10 0

R_Hight.JPGRobert Hight was the lone driver from Funny Car's top five to reach the semifinals, which gave the former world champ the inside track to another title. Points leader Ron Capps and his Don Schumacher Racing teammates Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr. all stumbled in Charlotte-- Hight took out Hagan in round one -- and it was Hight's teammate, sixth-place Courtney Force, who rose to the challenge to meet him in the final, which gave her a three-spot jump to third place. Indy winner J.R. Todd continued to look good, reaching the semifinals, which jumped him from eighth to sixth place.


Driver Initial Seed Charlotte Result Current Position Change
Ron Capps 1 E2 2 -1
Robert Hight 2 W 1 +1
Matt Hagan 3 E1 5 -2
Jack Beckman 4 E1 7 -3
Tommy Johnson Jr. 5 E2 4 +1
Courtney Force 6 RU 3 +3
John Force 7 E2 8 -1
J.R. Todd 8 SF 6 +2
Tim Wilkerson 9 E1 9 0
Cruz Pedregon 10 E1 10 0


T_Gray.jpgRookie sensation Tanner Gray was already pretty much a lock for the Auto Club Road to the Future award as the season's top first-year driver, but the 18-year-old phenom obviously has his eyes on a bigger prize after winning the Countdown opener in Charlotte to take over the Pro Stock points lead. Unlike the nitro classes, the Pro Stockers pretty much stayed true to form with the cream rising to the top and less position changes below. Former world champ Greg Anderson reached the final against Gray but still slipped one position to third while top seed Bo Butner, who lost to teammate Anderson in the Charlotte semi's, also fell one spot to second. Reigning world chsamp Jason Line added a third KB Racing car to the top four as he also reached the semifinals.



Driver Initial Seed Charlotte Result Current Position Change
Bo Butner 1 SF 2 -1
Tanner Gray 2 W 1 +1
Greg Anderson 3 RU 3 0
Drew Skillman 4 E2 5 -1
Jason Line 5 SF 4 +1
Erica Enders 6 E2 6 0
Jeg Coughlin 7 E2 7 0
Vincent Nobile 8 E1 8 0
Allen Johnson 9 E1 9 0
Chris McGaha 10 E1 10 0


E_Krawiec.JPGEddie Krawiec's second straight win on the tour boosted him into the No. 1 spot in front of L.E. Tonglet in pursuit of his fourth world championship. Tonglet had the misfortune in Charlotte of having to run his teammate, reigning world champ Jerry Savoie, in round two, but fortunately for him the loss only cost him one position. Krawiec's Harley-Davidson teammate, Andrew Hines, was runner-up in Charlotte, bumping him up two spots to fourth as he chases what would be a sixth season championship. Hector Arana Jr.'s semifinal finish kept him in third place while Savoie's final-four finish actually dropped him a spot behind Hines,


Driver Initial Seed Charlotte Result Current Position Change
LE Tonglet 1 E2 2 -1
Eddie Krawiec 2 W 1 +1
Hector Arana Jr 3 SF 3 0
Jerry Savoie 4 SF 5 -1
Matt Smith 5 E2 6 -1
Andrew Hines 6 RU 4 +2
Scotty Pollacheck 7 E2 7 0
Joey Gladstone 8 E1 8 0
Karen Stoffer 9 E1 9 0
Angie Smith 10 E1 10 0