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NHRA Northwest Nationals Sunday Notebook

Antron Brown, Robert Hight, and Drew Skillman close out the Western Swing with Wallys at the NHRA Northwest Nationals.
05 Aug 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Seattle

Features | Photos |Ladders | Results

ELIMINATION ROUNDS RECAPS

salinas3.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND ONE (11:20 a.m.): Mike Salinas became the latest to inflict damage on Shawn Langdon’s countdown hopes, using a holeshot to down the Kalitta Motorsports pilot in the first round of Top Fuel racing. Both ran identical 3.821-second passes, but Salinas’ superior .029-second reaction time got it done. That was just one of two big upsets in the first round as Terry McMillen took down points leader Steve Torrence with a blistering 3.725 pass. That’ll help the Amalie Motor Oil machine stay firmly in the Countdown to the Championship race. The run is second only to Brittany Force’s 3.724 run for best in the session. 

Second-round matchups (lane choice listed first): Antron Brown vs. Mike Salinas; Brittany Force vs. Mike Salinas; Doug Kalitta vs. Terry McMillen; Leah Pritchett vs. Tony Schumacher

capps2.jpgFUNNY CAR ROUND ONE (11:55 a.m.): After back-to-back races without a round win, Ron Capps got back in the win column by defeating Tim Wilkerson in the first round. That will book him a date with Tommy Johnson Jr. for the third race in a row, this time in the second round. All the favorites took home wins, with Robert Hight running low e.t. of the round (3.897). Hight will face his boss in the second round in John Force, while Courtney Force will take on Jack Beckman. Alexis DeJoria got a big round win in her race to get into the Countdown by beating Jonnie Lindberg, and she’ll face Matt Hagan. 

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Robert Hight vs. John Force; Courtney Force vs. Jack Beckman; Matt Hagan vs. Alexis DeJoria; Ron Capps vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.

aj2.jpgPRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:10 p.m.): Allen Johnson pulled off a substantial upset, scoring just his fourth round win of the season by defeating Greg Anderson by .004-second. Chris McGaha also pulled off a mini upset from the No. 9 spot, besting Jeg Coughlin Jr. to advance to round two. Drew Skillman will receive a second-round bye for the 13-car field

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Tanner Gray vs. Allen Johnson; Jason Line vs. Erica Enders; Drew Skillman vs. Bye; Bo Butner vs. Chris McGaha

mcmillen.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND TWO (1:31 p.m.): Terry McMillen is headed to the semifinals for the second week in a row after taking down Doug Kalitta. His 3.804-second pass won’t set any records, but it makes his Countdown berth just a little bit safer. He’ll race Leah Pritchett in the semifinals, while Clay Millican gets a crack at defending champion Antron Brown after running low elapsed time of the round (3.769). He’s running close to a bracket car right now; his last three runs are: 3.766, 3.765, and 3.769. That’s not too shabby. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Clay Millican vs. Antron Brown; Terry McMillen vs. Leah Pritchett

tj.jpgFUNNY CAR ROUND TWO (1:43 p.m.): For the third week in a row, Tommy Johnson Jr. send the defending Funny Car home early. Johnson Jr. defeated Ron Capps with a 3.957-second pass, setting up a Don Schumacher Racing showdown in the semifinals, as he’ll face Matt Hagan in the next round. On the other side of the bracket, it’s all John Force Racing. That’s because Robert Hight took down the boss, John Force, with the best pass of the session, and Courtney Force got past Jack Beckman when “Fast Jack dropped a cylinder late. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Robert Hight vs. Courtney Force; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Matt Hagan

enders_0.jpgPRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:50 p.m.): After losing all seven head-to-battles against him in 2016, Erica Enders ran her 2017 record against Jason Line to 4-0 with a solid 6.595 that was quickest of the round. She’ll take on her reaction-time rival Tanner Gray, who beat Allen Johnson with a 6.584, giving her lane choice. Two of the tour’s most recent winners, Drew Skillman and points leader Bo Butner, will square off in the other semifinal.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Erica Enders vs. Tanner Gray; Bo Butner vs. Drew Skillman

antron.jpgTOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:45 p.m.): For the 85th time in his career (and fourth race in a row), Antron Brown will race for a Top Fuel Wally. He’ll be opposed by a driver going for a Top Fuel Wally for just the second time in his career: Terry McMillen. The Extermigator crew took down Leah Pritchett in the semifinals with a 3.822-second pass; that won’t be good enough for lane choice thanks to the blistering 3.781 thrown down by defending champion Brown, but it’s McMillen’s first trip to a final round since 2016 in Gainesville. Brown was able to get by Millican in the semi’s with an advantage on the track and the tree. 

hight3.jpgFUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:51 p.m.): It’s a rematch of the Denver final, as Robert Hight and Tommy Johnson Jr. will face off for the NHRA Northwest Nationals Funny Car Wally. Hight took down Courtney Force with a session-best 3.905-second pass. Sound familiar? It should; that’s been the case in nearly every session this weekend. Johnson Jr. is looking for his first win since the third race of the season (Las Vegas). He’s runnered up twice this season, including the Denver final two weeks ago and Chicago, which preceded the Denver event. Hight is looking to bag his second Wally of the season, adding to the Denver Wally he picked up. 

skillman2.jpgPRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:55 p.m.): A pair of red-lights decided the final-round combatants as Drew Skillman advanced to his fourth final of the season on points leader Bo Butner’s first red-light of the year. On the other side of the ladder, Erica Enders collected her 250th career round and reached her second final of the year on Tanner Gray’s foul start. Skillman will have lane choice based on his 6.60 to 6.63 performance advantage.

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LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES RESULTS: Kim Parker (pictured) scored her first career win, defeating reigning national champ Joey Severance to claim the Wally in the Top Alcohol Dragster class. Jay Payne, tuned by two-time world champ Jonnie Lindberg, collected his first win since the 2014 U.S. Nationals and the 44th of his career when he defeated Steve Gasparrelli in the Alcohol Funny Car final.

Justin Lamb had the chance to become the 25th double winner in NHRA history but had to defeat two of the Northwest’s best to do it, and was denied in both final rounds, falling to Jeff Lane in the Super Stock final and to Jody Lang in the stock money round.

Final-round results for Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competition at the NHRA Northwest Nationals: 

ALCOHOL DRAGSTER
Kim Parker def. Joey Severance 

ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
Jay Payne def. Steve Gasparrelli

COMP
Brian Hyerstay def. Ryan Warter

SUPER STOCK
Jeff Lane def. Justin Lamb

STOCK
Jody Lang def. Justin Lamb

SUPER COMP
Randy Beck def. Greg Taylor

SUPER GAS
Dan Davis def. Gene Kelly 

SUPER STREET
Tom Brown def. Larry Miner 

TOP DRAGSTER
Andy Morris def. Kyle Seipel 

TOP SPORTSMAN
Don Sefton def. Bryan Warr

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TOP FUEL HARLEY FINAL: Ken Boyer, near lane, took down the Mickey Thompson Tires Nitro Harley champion Jay Turner for his first-ever Wally to close out the season by running a 7.888-second pass. That came while Turner had traction problems with his bike after grabbing an advantage on the tree in his sixth final of the year. 

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PRO STOCK FINAL (3:50 p.m.): Drew Skillman, near lane, eked out his third victory of the season, besting Erica Enders by just .0006-second as both drivers ran 6.60 elapsed times. Skillman’s third win ties him with Bo Butner and Tanner Gray for most victories in the class this season.

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FUNNY CAR FINAL (3:55 p.m.): Robert Hight, near lane, got back into the winner’s circle for the second time in three weeks by taking down Tommy Johnson Jr. again. The Funny Car looked a whole lot more like a bracket car during its eight runs at Pacific Raceways, running solidly in the 3-second range all weekend long. The win is the 250th in the Funny Car category for John Force Racing; it’s also the third for JFR this season. 

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TOP FUEL FINAL (4 p.m.): Antron Brown, near lane, got his fourth Wally of the season on a holeshot by beating Terry McMillen off the tree by .02 second. He was slower down the track by .004, but managed to bag his 65th Top Fuel Wally with a .016-second margin of victory. A great-side-by-side drag race got Don Schumacher Racing back in the winner’s circle and bookended the Western Swing with wins for Brown.

Sunday recap: Brown, Hight, and Skillman end Western Swing with victories.

FEATURES

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Last week, the first episode of the new Top Gear America program aired on BBC America, with three-time NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel champ Antron Brown as one of the three hosts, joining actor Bill Fitchner, center, and journalist Tom “Wookie” Ford.

The initial episode, which can be viewed for free if you download the BBC America app, included a number of car reviews but was highlighted by the trio’s trip to Mexico, from which they drove VW Beetles offroad back to the United States. Filiming took four days and had to be distilled to fit the program, giving Brown a whole new appreciation for the crafting of a TV show.

“It was very, very interesting because you know all the hard work you put into it and how many hours it took to film, then you see it cut down and spliced together, I was amazed,” he said. “You can’t fit everything, but there were a lot of cool parts that made it and some that were left out. Overall, it was awesome, and the chemistry between us, even though we’ve only been together a short time, is very good and brings across the passion we all have for cars. The show’s not scripted in what we say, just in the amount of time we get to do it, so what we say all comes from the heart.”

Brown is looking forward to the airing of future episodes, including segments where he drives a Lamborghini and some side-by-side All-Terrain Vehicles, and, in a segment with Fitchner, chronicles the history of the Sport Utility Vehicle, starting from an ’51 GMC Suburban all the way to today’s models.

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foe.jpgClay Millican and the Stringer performance team is flying the colors this weekend of the Fraternal Order of Eagles on the Great Clips/Parts Plus dragster. The partnership is an offshoot of a relationship that team owner Doug Stringer formed with partner Todd Braun in their NASCAR endeavors.

The F.O.E. was founded in Seattle in February 1898 by six theatre owners who met to discuss a musician’s strike. After settling the matter, they agreed to form “The Order of Good Things.” As their numbers grew, they adopted the bald eagle as their official emblem and changed the name to the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The non-profit organization promotes unity to make life more desirable and donates more than $10 million a year to local communities and recently helped open a $25 million diabetes research center at the University of Iowa.

With 800,000 members nationwide, the F.O.E. hopes that its involvement with NHRA and exposure generated by the car will further its noble cause.

“It’s a pretty cool organization, and we’re proud to help them spread the word,” said Millican.

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_NDA8216.JPGSteve Torrence will pull up to the starting line this morning to race Terry McMillen with his fifth pack of clutch discs installed into his dragster. That’s because he’s used up four so far this weekend, one in each of his four qualifying sessions. Don’t worry if you’re a fan of the Capco Kid, he’s got plenty more where that came from.

Torrence, and co-crew chiefs Bobby Lagana, Richard Hogan and the rest of the crew, insert a new pack of clutch discs for every pass the Capco Contractors dragster makes. That’s right: Every. Single. One. That’s the nature of the beast; a necessary evil, as Torrence calls it. The Top Fuel points leader was fighting the clutch disc package all last season, and once the team figured it out, they’ve been mighty consistent. 

“You know how fickle these things are,” Torrence said in between signing autographs and taking pictures for heaps of fans before becoming the provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday night. “You change one disc and everything’s a whole world different.”

He tries not to worry about that too much these days. With business booming for the Capco gang back at home, coming out to the drags is a vacation. Yep, it’s fun watching Steve-O pound the pedal for (almost) everyone else, too. So after a so-so run in the first qualifying session, one where Lagana said the boys “screwed up,” Torrence wasn’t sweating it.

“To be honest I don’t know (what the problem was,” Torrence said after grabbing the No. 1 spot after two runs. “I’ve had more fun this year than any year in the past, and they’ve kinda kicked me out of the crew chief’s lounge. I just go out there and drive the car and let those guys worry about it. And with the confidence I’ve got right now, it’s continuous with every other member of that team. They don’t make mistakes often, and when they do, they fix ‘em really quick. I wasn’t too worried about it.”

Why should he be? The team has given him every reason to believe at this point. 

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Mike Salinas isn’t likely to run a career best when he matches up against Shawn Langdon today, but the San Jose, Calif. native continues to impress in his limited schedule this season. After running a career-best 3.779-second pass in Sonoma a week ago, the Scrappers Racing crew continues to build for the future; one that likely includes a full season in 2018. 

“We’re getting better, we’re getting better,” said Salinas. “We found something, and the car is responding really good. We’re inching up, inching up. We’re going to have a bracket car if we keep working the way we are.”

A trip to Salinas’ pit area, a must-do if you haven’t already, is like one to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for a drag racing fan. Everything makes it clear that Salinas, to quote Jurassic Park’s John Hammond, “spared no expense.” The motors, starter, and cabinets are polished shinier than the bald heads of the oldest racers this writer will refrain from mentioning.

And that’s without even getting into the hot rod the Scrappers crew is bringing to the track on a semi-regular basis. Salinas qualified No. 9, a very respectable mark for a driver who is making his fifth appearance this season. That means he’s burning his Auto Club Road to the Future eligibility this season, but he’s got bigger plans.

“There’s 1,440 minutes in the day,” said Salinas. “If you don’t live every one like it’s your last, then what are any of us doing here?”

He plans on building a shop in Indiana during the winter and basing his team there next season. 

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haddock.jpgTerry Haddock has been a welcome addition to the tour this year, competing in nine of the first 15 races with his self-funded Top Fueler. He’s qualified at all but one of the events, and even though he was docked points for oildown penalties early in the season, he still sits a respectable 12th in the points standings. With strong performances lately, he’s definitely turned a corner in his career and his personal life after his marriage dissolved.

“We got that round win there in Denver [over Shawn Langdon] and we ran good in Sonoma in the first round, so we’re making progress,” he said. “I know I’m not the smartest guy out here and certainly not the richest, but I try real hard; it takes a lot of hard work to do this without a sponsor. Running good lately has really helping heal the [emotional] wounds. Last year I admit my head wasn’t in the game. It was a rough year but I’ve got my head out of my [rear end] now.”

Haddock will skip the next few races, and while the tour is in Indy he’ll be in England for 12 days to tune and drive Bob Jarrett’s Funny Car. “It’s a great car; it’s been the world champion over there, and I get to go through the car and make it the way I want it, then we’ll test it and run at Santa Pod [Raceway]," he said. "I’m really looking forward to that.”

Haddock's Sunday in Seattle ended early as officials were forced to shut his dragster off after the burnout, during which a brake component broke.

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It was a case of another Saturday night, another thrash for Tim Wilkerson’s Levi, Ray and Shoup crew after their Ford Shelby Mustang erupted in fire after a barrel-valve problem allowed nitromethane to spray onto the headers.

"It blew the end out of the barrel valve," said Wilkerson. "It's kind of an anomaly. When it did that, all the fuel that usually goes down the main fuel line ended up spraying out the side of the barrel valve. Unluckily for us, instead of the thing just dying, it died and all that fuel caught on fire because the headers were so hot.

"I saw the big spray and boom all at once. The whole inside of the cockpit was on fire, so I really couldn't see anything but fire. I knew it was a fuel fire because it happened so quickly and went out so quickly.”

Two weeks ago in Denver the team had to work all night to switch to a backup chassis after a Q4 wheelstand. This time the team elected to sit out the final session to go over everything with a fine-tooth comb in preparation for a first-round meeting with reigning Funny Car champ Ron Capps.

Wilkerson has enjoyed great success in Seattle in the past, winning the event three straight years, 2009-2011.

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force_0.jpgWith eight victories, John Force is far and away the winningest driver in event history, and his national event history at Pacific Raceways stretches way back to 1988 and the old NHRA Fallnationals which was held late in the season, just before the World Finals.

Force collected wins in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2014 and also has two runner-ups. He has a .733 winning percentage in elimination rounds at the track, tied for the fifth highest at any track at which he has competed. Only Richmond, Va. (.815); Brainerd, Minn. (.787); Topeka, Kan. (.745); and Sonoma, Calif. (.741) are higher among active tracks. He is 20-8 in 28 first-round matchups in Seattle.

Force has also experienced woes in Seattle. He failed to qualify at the event in 2008, one of four times that troubled season that he did not make a field. He’s qualified at every event from the 2009 season to present.
 

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headers.jpgIf you walked by Cruz Pedregon’s pit during the weekend and thought his engine sounded and looked a little weird during the pre-race warm-up, you were not mistaken. Crew chief Aaron Brooks bolted on a pair of Top Fuel headers for the warmup – but, obviously, not the run -- but there’s a method to his madness.

Brooks, who has a deep background in Top Fuel, has noticed that the EGT (exhaust gas temperature readings) at idle that he was used to seeing on his computer screen varied wildly in Funny Car compared to the tightly-grouped readings he was used to seeing on his dragsters. Because crew chiefs will utilize these EGTs as a tuning aid, perhaps to calm an overly hot cylinder, they’re a crucial piece of the puzzle.

“Because Funny Car headers are so long and have a lot more backpressure, the idle temperatures are really scattered,” he said. “We’ve been struggling with dropped cylinders so I thought this was one way I could get a better handle of what the actual idle temperatures are.”

The Snap-on team, clinging to the tenth and final spot in the Funny Car Countdown field, believes it finally has found its footing, with a series of good outings after a tough early-season go.

“I told Cruz it would probably take 90 runs to get this combination where we want it from scratch,” he said. “Friday was run No. 90, so here we are. We’ve had some good events – Englishtown, Topeka – but screwed up in eliminations and I really feel like we could have won in Denver. Lately it’s dropped cylinders that is killing us, even though we’re still making good seven-cylinder runs. Hopefully we’re getting closer to getting it figured out.”

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The slightly-less-famous-than-it-used-to-be, “all for one, and one for all” slogan of the “Three Musketeers” can be slightly transformed for our purposes on race day at the NHRA Northwest Nationals. It’s shaping up to be a five-car race for one spot in the Funny Car Road to the Countdown, so let’s call it “Five for one, and one for all.”

Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? Anyway, the five in question (from 10th to 14th) are: Cruz Pedregon, Jim Campbell, Jonnie Lindberg, Del Worsham, and Alexis DeJoria. Pedregon gets Courtney Force in the first round today, Campbell lines up against Tommy Johnson Jr., and Worsham faces Jack Beckman. 

Those are three very tough matchups, but you’ll notice I didn’t mention the Swede nor the driver of the Tequila Patron car. That’s because they’re facing each other in a very, very important matchup. Neither made it out of the first round in Sonoma, as Lindberg battled fuel pump problems and DeJoria fell to J.R. Todd during his magical weekend. 

DeJoria doesn’t have a round-win during the Western Swing, while Lindberg has just one win since taking a couple races off around the midway point of the regular season. Both drivers desperately need to go rounds during the final three races of the regular season, making this first-round bout an important one. This is their first-ever meeting against one another. Here are their qualifying times, side-by-side from each session. 

Q1 (DeJoria/Lindberg)

4.046/4.559)

Q2
3.975/4.053

Q3
3.963/4.134

Q4 
3.963/3.988

That grabbed DeJoria the No. 7 seed and Lindberg the No. 10 spot.

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After Allen and Roy Johnson’s impressive string of wins and final-round appearances at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals ended early – a flat rear tire Sunday morning forced a last-second change to untested rubber – “We knew we were beat before we even left the trailer,” said Roy – the Marathon Petroleum team has been battling back to prove they also can run at sea level, and their outings during qualifying in Seattle were impressive.

Adam Hornberger-led team improved on each of its first three runs – from a 6.646 to a 6.617 on Friday then a 6.601 Saturday morning, and the blue and white Dodge Dart was on pace to improve once in Q4 before the car got loose and A.J. was forced to abort the pass.

Before he had to step off the gas, Johnson’s Dart recorded the third quickest 60-foot clocking of the session.

“The car was getting ready to do a doughnut,” Johnson admitted. “Looking back at the time slip, we were one-hundredth faster than we’ve been all weekend and we were out of the groove. We were on a run, that’s for sure. I think we can keep that exact setup in it for tomorrow and if we can keep the car going straight, we’ve got something for [first-round opponent [Greg Anderson].”

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strong.jpgLast year, Aaron Strong won the Northwest Nationals, his hometown event. The victory would have been an especially glorious one had he won it in front of his hometown fans, but rain late Sunday ended the day early and forced the conclusion to be moved to a month later at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

Strong is at Pacific Raceways this year, but he’s not here to defend his event title. After losing his primary sponsor, he sold his trademark green Chevy to Elite Motorsports owner Richard Freeman – whose engines he had been using – over the winter and put his Pro Stok dreams on hold. He was on hand this weekend visiting with his old peers and still soaking in the adulation of those who were here last year to witness the magic.

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tan.JPGTanner Gray grabbed pole position heading into race day, while teammate Drew Skillman snagged what may be an even more favorable position in the No. 2 slot. Gray will receive a solo shot down the race track in the first session, and Skillman will race Steve Graham in the first round. The winner of the that race gets a bye into the semifinals. 

Regardless, the duo that split the first two stops on the Western Swing is looking to snag the third trophy after meeting in the final round. Given the way their cars are running; and how the two are hitting the tree, that’s a very real possibility. Gray and Skillman are No. 2 and No. 3 in terms of reaction time behind Erica Enders and have two of the best cars in the field right now. 

“It starts back at the engine shop, and they’re making good power, and the crew chiefs have learned to run the cars better and better each place we go to,” said Gray. “We just learned something off that run right there. It’s been a lot of build up to this. A lot of ups and downs, and finally we’re very consistent and we can win everywhere we go.”

Gray grabbed the Sonoma Wally, while Skillman won in Denver after taking home the Wally from Chicago. Now, it’s time to see who can bring home the bacon in Seattle before we pack up and move to Brainerd in two weeks. 

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chrismcgaha.JPGWhen Chris McGaha steps up to run Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the first round today, know that he is running for the opportunity to (maybe) race his (sort of) teammate. Okay, let us explain. Bo Butner will race Steve Graham in the first round, and Graham is running one of McGaha’s engines on what McGaha calls a “unique rental deal.”

So, there you go. If McGaha and Graham run against each other in the second round today, it’ll mean there was a huge upset in the first round, and that there will be a sort-of-kind-of team battle in the second stanza. That’s the kind of fun we’re all about in NHRA Drag Racing. As for how McGaha stacks up against Elite Motorsports power? Well, hear it from him.

“If you’ve got enough power, you can just back up, have a soft gear box and just kinda toss the ball out there and let it go. It almost acts like you don’t care what kind of transmission you have if you have enough power. Some days it feels like I’m close, and some days I feel like I feel like I’m pretty behind.”

McGaha has made it out of the first round in back-to-back races, but he’d like to solidify his spot in the Countdown to the Championship in the Emerald City. The Texan is currently in ninth place with 593 points, ahead of both Allen Johnson and Alan Prusiensky. Getting past Coughlin Jr. and Butner is a big ask for any driver, but maybe McGaha has the power to do it.

PHOTOS

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Jay Turner received the spoils of victory after clinching the inaugural Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley championship.

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Mickey Thompson Tires hosted a racer appreciation barbecue for the Top Fuel Harley racers Saturday night.

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Turner also led the traditional Sunday-morning kickoff SealMaster Track Walk, as fans were allowed to traverse the actual racing surface at Pacific Raceways.

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Former world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. was one of a handful of drivers who were acknowledged for clinching their spots in the Countdown to the Championship.

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Sonoma winner Robert Hight and the auto Club team were introduced as the Funny Car low qualifiers.

salinas.gifMike Salinas rode out a wild top-end fire in his Top Fuel dragster in a losing second-round race with Top Fuel champ Antron Brown. (animated gif)

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Event winners, from left, Drew Skillman, Robert Hight, and Antron Brown celebrated their victories.

PREVIEW

Here are the brackets for today's elimination rounds:

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