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Dodge NHRA Nationals Saturday Notebook

23 Sep 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Reading

Preview | Features | Photos | Results

QUALIFYING ROUNDS RECAPS

savoie2.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (1:10 p.m.): No one was able to better Hector Arana Jr.’s 6.834 from yesterday, so he will head into the final session as the No. 1 qualifier. However, there was improvement by some riders, most notably reigning world champion Jerry Savoie, who had the best time of the round with a 6.853 that moved him from 10th to No. 4 in the order. Scotty Pollacheck, who was the top runner in Q1, had the next best run at 6.880. Arana rounded out the quick three with a 6.880. Those were the only three riders to run in the 6.8s, but there many 6.9s put on the scoreboards, the best of which was LE Tonglet’s 6.908.

anderson.jpgPRO STOCK Q3 (1:25 p.m.): The KB Racing trio of Bo Butner, Jason Line, and Greg Anderson swept the qualifying bonus points for round three. Butner, who retained the No. 1 qualifying spot with his 6.55 from yesterday, tallied three points thanks to his 6.567. Line was next-best with a 6.574, followed by Anderson, who was five-thousandths behind Line with a 6.579. That was the best run of the weekend for Anderson and moved him from ninth to sixth entering the final session. Another driver who was able to improve his position in the third session was Alex Laughlin, who entered Q3 10th and finished it in seventh, clocked a 6.590 on his third run of the weekend.

shoe.jpgTOP FUEL Q3 (1:45 p.m.): Five-time event champ Tony Schumacher grabbed the three bonus points for the best run of the session with a 3.736. Points leader Doug Kalitta and former Countdown top seed Steve Torrence both ran 3.744 for second and third, but Kalitta will get the extra bonus point based on his superior speed, 333.41 to 325.92. The speed is the fourth fastest in class history; Kalitta tied the second-best speed, 333.66, on his second run Friday. Speed record holder Brittany Force also continued to look good, running 3.754 after Friday passes of 3.758 and 3.731; only she, Kalitta, and Scott Palmer have made it down the track on all three passes.

lindberg.jpgFUNNY CAR Q3 (2:15 p.m.): Rookie Jonnie Lindberg made a 3.895 blast at 331.53 mph, five mph better than he’d ever run in Jim Head’ Toyota, and had the best run of the round until the final pair when Friday leader Robert Hight raced past him with a 3.877 to further add to his points lead. Matt Hagan had the third-best time of the session with a 3.927. With one qualifying session remaining, Hight continues to lead the field with his Friday-night 3.844.

scotty3.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (3:50 p.m.): Scotty Pollacheck shot to the top of the order, earning his first career No. 1 start when he powered to a 6.822 on his fourth attempt of the weekend. Pollacheck, who was also the leader after Q1, just edged out reigning world champ Jerry Savoie for the top spot. Savoie clocked a 6.824 in the pair in front of Pollacheck, bumping Friday leader Hector Arana Jr. off the top spot. Savoie’s teammate, LE Tonglet, also improved in the final session, wheeling his Nitro Fish-backed entry to a 6.864 that put him in the seventh position for eliminations. Hector Arana Jr. slipped down to third when he was unable to better his 6.83 from yesterday.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Scotty Pollacheck vs. Andie Rawlings; Matt Smith vs. Joey Gladstone; Eddie Krawiec vs. Kelly Clontz; Andrew Hines vs. Ron Tornow; Jerry Savoie vs. Lance Bonham; LE Tonglet vs. Angie Smith; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Charlie Sullivan; Karen Stoffer vs. Steve Johnson

line2.jpgPRO STOCK Q3 (4:10 p.m.): For the fourth straight session, a KB Racing car posted the quickest time. Jason Line, who paced Q2, was once again the leader in the final session, wheeling his Summit-backed entry to a 6.562. Bo Butner, who was low of the first and third sessions and held on for the No. 1 starting spot, ranked second in round four with at 6.567. Points leader Tanner Gray tallied the final qualifying bonus point of the final session after he finished with a 6.590. Gray’s run was one of four 6.59s that came up on the scoreboards during the round. Drew Skillman (6.595), Greg Anderson (6.598), and Allen Johnson (6.599) had the others. John Gaydosh Jr.’s struggles carried into the final session, and unfortunately for him, he was unable to better Val Smeland’s 6.81, leaving Gaydosh on the outside of the field.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Bo Butner vs. Val Smeland; Chris McGaha vs. Erica Enders; Allen Johnson vs. Kenny Delco; Drew Skillman vs. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; Jason Line vs. Alan Prusiensky; Alex Laughlin vs. Matt Hartford; Tanner Gray vs. Larry Morgan; Greg Anderson vs. Brian Self

brittany.jpgTOP FUEL Q4 (4:40 p.m.): Brittany Force, whose Monster dragster has been the most consistently quick car on the grounds all event long, saved her best for last, running 3.730 to set the quickest time of the session and become the fourth different driver to lead a session this weekend. Her previous runs were 3.758, 3.731, and 3.754, making for a quartet of runs within three-hundredths of one another. Steve Torrence (3.773) was second best while crowd favorite Dom Lagana clocked a third-best 3.776 to go with earlier runs of 3.762 and 3.809 that show his Nitro Ninja may be a force on Sunday. Clay Millican held onto the No. 1 spot and will open Sunday with a bye run.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Clay Millican vs. bye; Antron Brown vs. Richie Crampton; Brittany Force vs. Wayne Newby; Tony Schumacher vs. Scott Palmer; Doug Kalitta vs. Audrey Worm; Dom Lagana vs. Shawn Langdon; Steve Torrence vs. Terry Haddock; Leah Pritchett vs. Terry McMillen.

capps.jpgFUNNY CAR Q4 (5:15 p.m.): Reigning world champ Ron Capps grabbed three big bonus points with the best run of the final qualifying session, a 3.901 that edged field leader Robert Hight’s 3.907 for the honors. Jack Beckman had the third-best pass, a 3.936. Hight stayed atop the field with his gangbusters Friday pass of 3.844, a solid three-hundredths in front of No. 2 qualifier Matt Hagan’s 3.874. Hight and Hagan had the only two cars to make full passes in all four qualifying sessions.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Robert Hight vs. Mike Smith; Courtney Force vs. Bob Tasca III; Jonnie Lindberg vs. John Force; Jack Beckman vs. Cruz Pedregon; Matt Hagan vs. Jeff Diehl; J.R. Todd vs. Tim Wilkerson; Ron Capps vs. Jim Campbell; Alexis DeJoria vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.

Complete Saturday recap: Millican, Hight, Butner hold onto top spots in Reading; Pollacheck gets first pole

FEATURES

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Clay Millican said that tuner David Grubnic planned on taking no prisoners in the Countdown, that every run would be a full-on assault on the timers, and that promise was evident Friday as the Doug Stringer-owned Great Clips/Parts Plus dragster ended up on the pole after day one with a 3.699, the only 3.6-second run of the day. That pass came in Q2, after an early full-out pass was lost to tire smoke at half-track.

“We intended on going to No. 1 in the first session because we want every bonus point we can get,” said Grubnic, who has accumulated nine so far in the Countdown, second only to Doug Kalitta’s 10. “We had the best 60-foot and best 330-foot time of anyone on that first run and we just got a little too aggressive after that and got the tires loose. It was disappointing but not surprising because we’re going to push the limits of the racetrack on every run in the Countdown. These cars are all so tightly bunched that we feel like we have to swing for it every run.

“Believe it or not, Grubby was highly disappointed in that [3.69] run. He felt that the car should have run 3.67, and he’s very good at picking his number; he could have been a bracket racer.”

Millican, who already has three No. 1 qualifying berths this season, would love to stay No. 1 as, with just 15 cars entered, No. 1 would get a first-round bye Sunday. Coming in off a strong semifinal finish at the Countdown opener in Charlotte last weekend, that would go a long way towards his goal of climbing to the top of the standings.

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schumacher.jpgTony Schumacher, who won this race five times, most recently in 2014, thought it should have been him and not Clay Millican standing atop the field after Friday. He opened his qualifying account with a 3.747 that was the second-best pass of the opening session, and his mike Green-tuned U.S. Army dragster was on a sizzling pass in Q2 – almost three-hundreds better to the 330-foot marker – before mechanical issues reared their ugly head. He ended up coasting through the traps with a powerless 4.24 at 189 mph.

“This is really frustrating,” said Schumacher. “We have such a good car, but little things just keep holding us back especially in these Friday night runs when everyone is going for the No.1 spot. I didn’t know what happened. I was on a great run and then it just shut off. We found out that a head gasket blew and the car shut itself off as a safety precaution. It did what it was supposed to do. If it didn’t shutoff, we would have a much bigger problem, so we’re happy about that. We have a good car and should be able to go out and win some races. It’s just frustrating for all of us.”

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pritchett.jpgAfter a dominating regular season in which her Todd Okuhara-tuned Papa John’s dragster scored four wins, two runner-ups, and eight semifinal finishes in 18 events – and just one first-round loss -- last weekend’s first-round exit at the Countdown opener in Charlotte was not only disappointing to Leah Pritchett, but also concerning as her normally reliable gold charger smoked the tires on its final two qualifying and then in the first round against Wayne Newby and slipped four spots, from third to seventh.

"Timing is everything and our second first-round loss of the year wasn't how we expected to start the Countdown," Pritchett said. "It was nothing you'd want to write to Mom about."

Fortunately for Pritchett she didn’t lose a lot of ground points wise as frontrunners Steve Torrence and Antorn Brown bowed out in the next frame, but there was still plenty of concern in the pit area.

"The most frustrating part about it, beyond the loss itself, is we smoked the tires on our qualifying runs Saturday and [the first round] made three straight runs that we've done that. That's something this team has never done in its existence.”

The brows continued to furrow Friday after she smoked the tires, albeit further downtrack, but then rebounded with a fine 3.741 in the second session to finish the day in the No. 5 spot.

"Fifth is a good spot for us,” she said. “I guess the most important thing for us is the progression that we were looking to make after Charlotte. It feels like this is a completely different race car.”

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Audrey Worm’s official Top Fuel debut was cut short after her Q2 burnout Friday when one of the front steering arms bent during the burnout. 

According to her father, John, the team believes that the suspension may have been damaged during one of her licensing runs when the front wheels shook violently as she was backing up from her burnout under a high idle, then exacerbated on her burnout here.

“The idle was so high that it ripped the wheel right out of my hands,” she said. “I must have weakened the a-arm. When I was backing up yesterday I couldn’t steer it very easily so I knew something was wrong and I told them I was shutting it off. Everyone agreed it was a good decision.”

Scott Palmer, who’s been giving the fledgling fuel driver some overall tips, provided the Leverich team with some spares to put the car back together for one planned pass today to get into the field.

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It’s looking like 2016 all over again for the Rapisarda Racing Top Fuel team. Last year the Australia team came to the United States at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for a very limited season, but ended up racing at the season’s final seven events, with regular driver Wayne Newby running five (Indy, Charlotte, St. Louis, Las Vegas, and Pomona) and former world champ Larry Dixon two (Reading and Dallas). Highlighted by Newby’s un to the semifinals in Charlotte.

They came to Indy again this year, with each subsequent race based on their success at the previous, as defined by patriarch Santo Rapisarda. They qualified at Indy and went to Charlotte, where they upset Leah Pritchett in round one, so here they are in Reading again, this year with Newby still behind the wheel

“Charlotte was a good race again for us,” said Rapisarda’s son, Santino, who tunes the car with his brother, Santo Jr. “That second-round race [a 3.79 to 3.82 loss to Brittany Force] was really close. We gave her a pretty good race.”

They opened their Friday account with a tire smoker, then detuned for Q2 and ran a 3.87 to solidify a spot in the field.

“We backed it up quite a bit just to make sure we got down the track,” said Santino, who added with a smirk. “That was a good run for a Funny Car; now we’ll get it to act like a dragster.”

As far as whether the team will go on to St Louis again after this event, the answer was the same as it was Indy. “If dad lets us.”

One thing on their side is that they’ve been extremely easy on parts, getting nine runs on one engine before removing it out of caution last night.
 

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As impressive as Robert Hight’s 339.02-mph qualifying pass was Friday night – it broke the incoming track speed record by more than five mph – Hight couldn’t help feel disappointed that he didn’t crack the 340-mph barrier that’s been in his sights.

It was a classic good-news bad-news situation for the former world champ and tuners Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham. On the one hand, the red, white, and blue bruiser picked up nearly 51 mph from the 660-foot mark to the 1,000-foot timers; the bad news is that the 660-foot speed on this pass -- 288.03 mph -- was a good six mph slower than their best speed. Had they put this back half together with the front half of their 294-mph pass (which came on the barrier-breaking 3.79 pass in Brainerd in mid-August), they’d have cracked the barrier here. (For the record, Hight “only” ran 292.27 on his class-best 339.87-mph pass earlier this year in Sonoma.)

“It shows how much horsepower we’re making; if we can ever put the two halves together you’re going to see well over 340 mph,” he said. “We’re gunning for it.

“Another positive is that we got five [qualifying bonus] points, and that’s what you have to do, pick up points,” Hight added. “We’re taking it run-by-run. It’s going to be really hard to have six really good races. You’re bound to have [bad] one. You don’t want a bad one, obviously, but if you can get a lot of those qualifying points, it’s going to make up for having a bad race.”

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tj.jpgThe Dodge NHRA Nationals holds a special place in the heart of Tommy Johnson Jr. as it was here, in 1999, where he claimed his first of what are now 14 Funny Car victories. When Johnson won his first Funny Car crown, at the wheel of the Joe Gibbs-owned Interstate Batteries entry, he already also owned two national-event Top Fuel wins and a score in the Alcohol Funny Car class. 

"It's always been a great race for me," said Johnson, who also won the event last year. "I won my first Funny Car race there in '99. Then to do it again last season, it went on to set our championship charge. I always look forward to coming back here. It's such a great race, performance wise so to be able to win the race twice now, it's been a lot of fun."

Johnson and crew chief John Collins enterred the Coutndown last weekend in Charlotte in the fifth spot, and climbed one spot by winning in the first round. They started last year’s Countdown in seventh and got all the way to second place on the strength of two wins and two runner-ups.

"We obviously didn't go as far as we wanted in Charlotte, but it was a positive race for us," he said. “Our main focus in the regular season was to be better and be seeded better. I feel like you have to be in the top five and we’ve done a good job of being there. What cost us last year so starting so low. Last year I didn’t think I would be that big of a deal, but in the end you see how big of a deal it is. Mentality-wise, we’re on the right track. I feel like we can win the championship. We’ve done all the right things to put ourselves in position to do that.

“You have to get off to a good start to have any shot,” said Johnson. “You have to get off to a good start at the first two to three races to put yourself in position. It’s all about going rounds in the Countdown. We rarely beat ourselves and we make the other team have to beat us. As a driver, you have to have confidence. It’s a lot easier to do your job when you have confidence in your car and your team. All season they’ve been great, and these next six weeks are make or break. You have to be focused. One mistake can cost you.”

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diehl.jpgJeff “the Surfer” Diehl is about as far away as he can be from the tasty waves of the West Coast as the popular independent runner and wife Leeza continue their extended season. Their appearance this weekend marks their 15th race of the season, three more than they ran all of last season with the return to his West Coast roots still to come.

Diehl sat out both of Friday’s qualifying sessions, but that wasn’t the plan.

“We started it yesterday [before Q2] but it blew oil all over the side of the trailer,” he explained. “One piston was dead so we changed it real quick, but I don’t have my regular guys here and we didn’t make it in time.

"It's OK," he said with a grin, "We'll just be top five in this [Q3] session."

Diehl had qualified at 12 of his first 15 event this year and is still looking for his first round-win; he scored five last year, including a semifinal finish in Seattle.
 

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Bo Butner enters Saturday as the No. 1 qualifier after a great 6.55-second pass that was nearly two-hundredths quicker than the rest of the field. Butner made the run in the first round of qualifying yesterday, and he admits it was a little quicker than he expected.

“That was even surprising for me because we made a very, very good run compared to the rest of the field, and it’s kind of shocking. Don’t get me wrong, I had a very fast car last week in Charlotte, so that shouldn’t surprise us,” said Butner. “[Yesterday] was a good day. It was a good day for all three KB cars. We have room for improvement, which is what we’ll [try to do today]. We did the best we could, and I’m very happy with my team.”

One thing that many people, including Butner, has been talking about so far this weekend is the weather, which is significantly different from years past with a sun-drenched track and air temps in the 80s. For Butner, he feels like the warmer temps vs. the cooler ones typically seen here are a benefit to him and his KB Racing teammates, Greg Anderson and Jason Line.

“Our cars seem to like a little hotter, greasier track than the other teams, so we’re very excited to race,” said Butner.

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If one were to strictly look at stats on a sheet of paper, it may appear as if things have been going pretty well for Drew Skillman lately. After all, he won the biggest race of the season, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but Skillman and his team have been struggling a bit since making a change in their engine combo prior to Indy.

“We tested it for a day [before Indy], had some issues, they fixed it, went to Indy, put it in, and really never were on pace with it at Indy,” said Skillman. “We thought we kind of had a handle on it, took it to Charlotte, and were just lost. That place is really hard to race on. It’s a really good place to test, but when you get that many cars on it, it [gets a little trickier], so we just weren’t quite ready for that. We tested the next morning, changed a bunch of stuff, we thought we knew what we needed to do, and first pass in testing was perfect — it made a really, really nice run. We ended up making three more after that, and they were all nice, and we put it back up in the trailer and came up here.”

On his first run here in Reading, Skillman had the second-best time of the round behind polesitter Bo Butner. Skillman’s second run was a little quicker than his first and on-pace with the top cars. However, Skillman says that though he is keeping pace with the top entries, they are still struggling a bit with the tune-up.

“We blew the tires off our first run, but so did everyone else luckily. We did OK. Bo was the only one who made a decent hit,” said Skillman. “Then last night, we missed it again. We spun again but not nearly as bad as we did the first time, so we have some work to do this weekend as well. We’ve just got to keep up with it. We’re fifth right now, and we’re definitely going to improve right now. The weather is definitely better.”

This is only Skillman’s third time racing at Maple Grove Raceway, meaning he has very limited runs on the track, so he is definitely looking forward to getting more track time and preparing for tomorrow, when he hopes he can tally his first round-win in Reading.

“Before this, I had made four laps at this racetrack total,” said Skillman. “First year I was here, I made one qualifying session. I was No. 1 qualifier and shook first round. Next year I came here and was No. 16 qualifier and shook first round, so we had horrible luck at this place, but I think we’re turning it around now.”

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J_Gaydosh.JPGAfter thrashing through the week to get an engine ready for the weekend, John Gaydosh Jr. was excited to make his return to competition yesterday, but then he had one of “those” days. It seemed that anything that could go wrong did yesterday, and the end result was Gaydosh missing both sessions.

“Yesterday wasn’t a good day,” said Gaydosh. “We had the wrong starter for this engine. It was mismatched, so I couldn’t get it to start. We had to send someone to New Jersey to pick up the right starter for this engine. He got here at 5:05, a little bit too late to make the last round, but that’s OK.

“In the middle of all that, somebody decided to take a joy ride on our golf cart. They stole our golf cart from the back of the trailer. One of the guys who came up here to watch, he was walking through the pits with his 9-year-old daughter, and she said, ‘Daddy, that’s our golf cart,’ and the two guys jumped off of it and ran. We got it back, but not without a little drama yesterday.”

The good news is Gaydosh got the golf cart back, and he has the correct starter for the engine, so he is looking forward to a much-better day today.

“I’m hoping today we make two good passes, get in the show, be ready for tomorrow, and we can go a couple rounds tomorrow,” he said.

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laughlin.jpgAfter making a pair of 6.60 passes yesterday, Alex Laughlin was able to improve during the third round of qualifying, clocking a 6.590 that moved him from the bottom half of the field up to the top half, and he enters the final session ranked seventh. Though Laughlin improved, he says he still has not yet made a perfect run down the Maple Grove Raceway quarter-mile this weekend.

“We ran a 6.60 both passes yesterday, and I know for a fact that they weren’t stellar runs, but we’re making some crazy horsepower on the top end. The car moved around a little bit, and when it does that and you’re having to actually drive the car, it’s easy to miss a shift, and so I hit the chip once in both rounds of qualifying yesterday. I said if we could get the car to go straight and work as it should, it’s going to be on fire,” said Laughlin, who finished Friday in the No. 10 spot before moving up to seventh in the third session. “That was a lot better run [in Q3] even though the conditions are worse, and we still improved. It wasn’t a flawless run, so I think if the conditions are comparable for Q4 and we just keep improving like we are, then we’ll keep moving up.

“It’s really awesome to be able to come out and be in a part-time car, unload the car, and it’s just laying down some awesome passes. I’m just really thrilled with that car. I love being here, but I don’t like running bad, so to show up with all these other guys that have been running the whole season and start qualifying in front of them and running in front of them, I’m just thrilled. It’s awesome.”

In addition to running his Pro Stock entry this weekend, Laughlin also entered Top Alcohol Dragster. Laughlin had a solid overall effort in qualifying, placing fifth on the sheets, but unfortunately for Laughlin, he had troubles in the opening round when his car lost fire after staging, and he lost to Wayne Morris.

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johnson.jpgThere is an old adage that states that even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry. That perfectly fits Steve Johnson’s efforts so far at the Dodge NHRA Nationals. Sure, Johnson intended to come into Saturday with a different engine in his Suzuki, but he didn’t intend to have done so after blowing up his other powerplant in Q1 and then having to sit out Q2.

“We are consistently looking for a better way to build the mousetrap,” said Johnson. “I know that might sound weird and it might sound cliché, but we’re not going to outspend these guys. They’re all doing a great, great job making fast motorcycles, and we’re not going to outspend them. We don’t have the resources, but we can change the way we do things. Clearly, that’s not working, so we were in the process of changing our other engine and was going to use it on Saturday. We had no idea that this engine would blow up on Friday. We were caught not ready, so we couldn’t make Q2. We’re a way better team than to lose an engine and miss a round. That was horrible, but I just had no idea that $40,000 engine would blow up. We’re ready today, and hopefully what we tried will produce a great result.

“This is our No. 2 engine, but hopefully we were trying to make it No. 1. What racers always do is they usually have three engines: one’s their fast one, they have a backup, and then the third engine they’re always trying to make better than their first engine. When it becomes better than the first engine, the first engine becomes the second engine, and then the second engine now becomes the engine that you try to figure out how to go faster. We just do that with two engines. If that made any sense. It’s a great way to explain to the fans how the sport tries to move forward in the engine department. I didn’t invent it. I just learned from smart people.”

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Considering their success so far this season, some people might be surprised to see the White Alligator Racing entries of Jerry Savoie and LE Tonglet in the bottom half of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field right now, but there is a reason for that.

“We’re trying some different things, and yesterday I broke the transmission second round, so we’ll see after this third round,” said Savoie. “If you don’t try things, you’re not going to move forward, and everyone else is trying things. If you’re going to stay with the Harleys and the Hectors, you have to move up, so we’ll be alright. We feel confident.”

Like many others, the WAR team is also trying to sort out the weather conditions this weekend, which are vastly different from anything they have experienced previously.

“You know, I’ve been here six years, and this is the first year we’ve had sunshine. I didn’t think this part of the country actually had sunshine,” said Savoie, with a laugh. “It kind of throws you a curveball, but Tim [Kulungian] is a smart guy. We’ve got a great crew and information from two motorcycles, so we should be OK. When you can share info between two bikes it kind of gives you a direction. They both don’t run the same tune-ups, but when you make a change and advance timing on one and retard timing and one shows promise and the other doesn’t, that gives you the direction to go in. We feel confident.”

Also adding to the confidence level is the fact the team had a similar experience to this in Brainerd, where the end result was a team final in which Savoie defeated Tonglet for the Wally.

Said Savoie, “You know, when I ran Brainerd, we tried the same thing, and we qualified kind of bad, and then the last session, one of the Lucas Oil guys came up to us and said, ‘Hey, are you guys OK?’ I said, ‘Why? Do I look like I feel bad or something?’ ‘You know what I mean.’ I said, ‘Well, we’ll see after this one,’ and we moved up, and I ended up winning the race, so don’t ever count us out."

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tornow.jpgYou may be hard-pressed to someone in the pits this morning with a bigger smile than Ron “the Rat” Tornow. The Pro Stock Motorcycle newcomer is riding high after a great Friday outing that included his first six-second pass and first over 190 mph.

“We’ve been struggling with weird gremlins, and we finally got everything working on that pass and went down straight and hit all the shift points, and when I got to the end and they told me it went a 6.95, that was great,” said Tornow. “The best part about it was down there everybody is so nice. All the crew chiefs were coming up, and all the other racers were coming up and congratulating me. It was the first time I had run a six at an event, so it was very exciting.”

Tornow made his Pro Stock Motorcycle debut last weekend in Charlotte, and it fulfills a dream of his to race in NHRA.

“I’ve always wanted to race Pro Stock Motorcycle ever since actually coming to Maple Grove. We came here back in the mid-1980s, and back then that was when John Myers and Dave Schultz were running,” said Tornow. “We had come up and watched it, and I said, ‘That’s what I would really like to do,’ but it’s really expensive to do this.”

After achieving his first goal of just getting his license in 2000 after saving up to go to George Bryce’s class, earning the license in his first time at the class, Tornow kept his license active by going back to the school a couple of other times while also trying to put together funding. In the interim, Tornow continued to race locally — he started racing street cars in college and eventually moved into motorcycles, most recently riding a Top Gas Kawasaki that can run 8.2s.

Tornow entered Bryce’s Star Racing Riders Challenge two years ago in hopes of using that to get to Pro Stock Motorcycle. That didn’t quite work out for him, but it did light a fire, and Tornow began looking for ways to make it happen. He found a way when he went to Norwalk earlier this year and started asking around about leasing programs. Tornow found the solution after talking with Matt Smith, who said he had a bike Tornow could lease. The pair then put together a plan to run Charlotte last weekend and Las Vegas in October. However, when things didn’t quite go according to plan in Charlotte, Tornow worked with Smith to run this weekend.

“We went to Charlotte last weekend, and we had a couple of problems with a sensor and an air gauge, so I ended up only getting two passes. The debut didn’t go like we had hoped,” said Tornow. “This is close to my house. I’m from Pittsburg, so it’s only four hours, but initially we hadn’t talked about doing this event. Matt and I talked at the end of Charlotte, and after how things went there, he said he’d be OK if I wanted to do this event because the bike was available. We decided to come out and do this one, and things are going much better this time. Every run we’re getting better, and it’s really been exciting, especially that [Q2] pass.”

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scotty1.jpgScotty Pollacheck shot to the top of the qualifying order in the final session, earning the first No. 1 start of his career, and it came as a bit of a surprise considering that not only did he ousted reigning world champ Jerry Savoie form the pole, but the 6.822 run came after a mad thrash in the pits.

“We blew up a motor on that last run [in Q3],” said Pollacheck.” My team got this spare one in, got us up to the line, and we made the No. 1 pass. Oh my God, I can’t believe we knocked Jerry off. What an awesome, awesome team, though. Love those guys.”

Pollacheck’s previous best starting spot was No. 2, a position from which he started three times during the 2013 season.

PHOTOS

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Saturday was a complete sellout at the Dodge NHRA Nationals as every seat at Maple Grove Raceway was purchased for the final day of qualifying.

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The packed pits gave evidence of the overwhelming crowd on hand for the event, the second of six in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

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Funny Car star Jack Beckman, left, and NHRA’s Alan Reinhart taught some fuel-racing basics to the fans at the popular Nitro School segment, which was hosted at the Mopar display.

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Top Fuel teammate Richie Crampton and Doug Kalitta, along with former world champs Allen Johnson and Andrew Hines.

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Joe Morrison did a long, smoky exhibition burnout in his 134 Fuel Coupe Willys, much to the delight of the crowd.

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Mopar representative Bruce Hazelden, center, congratulated Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett after they split this weekend’s Dodge Demon exhibition races. Pritchett won yesterday’s match, and Hagan rebounded today, edging Pritchett for the win.

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Mello Yello's Al Rondon congratulated Top Fuel low qualifier Clay Millican on his fourth No. 1 berth of the season.

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Saturday concluded with another exhibition by the Hanna Motorsports Jet Cars, and once again drives Ken Hall and Rich Hanna (pictured) put on a great show with side-by-side 5.8-second runs.


PREVIEW

C_Millican.JPGClay Millican grabbed the No. 1 spot Friday with a just-missed-the-track-record 3.699 in Doug Stringer’s Great Clips/Parts Plus dragster, a run that might not be challenged today given the day’s hotter forecast, but the lineup of talent behind him may change that. Charlotte winner Doug Kalitta was just a few ticks behind on a 3.704 charge at 333.66 mph (which is not only top speed of the meet but tied Brittany Force's national record), and seasonlong frontrunner Steve Torrence is third with a 3.720. Brittany Force’s 3.731 came at just 314 mph, indicating there might be more Monster to be unleashed while Richie Crampton’s 3.76, which was only good for the No. 9 spot, nonetheless came with a speed of just 282 mph.

R_Hight.JPGRobert Hight’s dizzying 339.02-mph blast that carried him to the Funny Car pole in just 3.844 seconds – both track records – similarly might be out of reach as it was a full three-hundredths quicker than Matt Hagan’s next-best pass. A whopping 13 Funny Cars qualified in the three-second range Friday, but with just 16 cars on the grounds, the odds of the long-awaited all-three-second field seem a little slim; the record is 15 cars in the threes, which came at last year’s Auto Club Finals, where the 4.029-second bump spot set another record. Jeff Diehl, who did not run Friday, has run 4.021 and Jim Campbell has been in the threes, just not in Jim Dunn’s car yet.

B_Butner.JPGA pair of KB Racing entries sits atop the Pro Stock sheets entering the final qualifying rounds today. Bo Butner is the provisional No. 1 qualifier after posting a 6.554 in the first session that even surprised him a bit. Butner’s teammate, reigning world champ Jason Line, is No. 2 after he posted low e.t. of the second round, 6.563. Tanner Gray rebounded from a rough first pass to grab the third spot with a 6.565. One of the more impressive entries of the first day was the Mopar of Allen Johnson, which was among the quick three in both sessions on Friday, the only driver to earn bonus points in both rounds. Johnson ran a best of 6.572 to finish the day fourth. Drew Skillman, Chris McGaha, Erica Enders, and Matt Hartford round out the quick eight. There are 17 Pro Stockers in Reading this weekend, though only 16 currently appear on the sheets. John Gaydosh Jr., who is returning to competition this weekend, had a tough Friday and was unable to make the call for either round of qualifying. He’ll look to make the field today.

H_Arana_Jr.JPGHector Arana Jr. is halfway to his second No. 1 start of the season after he wheeled his Lucas Oil-backed entry to a 6.834 in the Friday evening session. Points leader Eddie Krawiec is in the No. 2 slot with a 6.841, followed by Scotty Pollacheck, who turned heads when he paced the first round of qualifying with a 6.850. Andrew Hines, Karen Stoffer, Matt Smith, Joey Gladstone, and Angie Smith enter Saturday in the top half of the field. In a bit of a surprise, the two White Alligator Racing entries, which combined for seven wins in the first 11 events, were not among the quick eight on Friday. Regular season dominator LE Tonglet finished the day ranked ninth when he posted a best of 6.896, and reigning world champ Jerry Savoie is right behind him in 10th with a 6.899.