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AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals Saturday Notebook

Robert Hight took the Funny Car pole at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, while Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle) went to the top at Gateway Motorsports Park.
22 Sep 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
St. Louis

Preview | Features | Results | Photos

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

chip.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (2:37 p.m.): Part-time Harley rider Chip Ellis made one of the best runs of the season in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a 6.764 to take over the top spot after three rounds of qualifying in St. Louis. Ellis jumped to the top spot while teammate Andrew Hines also found the 6.7s with a 6.782 to secure the top two spots in the field. Surprisingly, none of the Pro Stock Motorcycle riders were able to run over 200-mph although Matt Smith came extremely close. Smith made the third-best run of the round with a 6.824 on his EBR entry and set top speed of the event at 199.61 mph. All 16 riders in the field are in the six-second zone including Ryan Oehler, who is on the bump spot with a 6.979.  

enders.JPGPRO STOCK Q3 (2:56 p.m.): As much as any other class, the Pro Stock crowd benefitted greatly from the cooler and more dry air that settled over Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday afternoon. There were significant improvements across the board, and when the dust settled, Jeg Coughlin Jr. reaffirmed his hold on the top spot with a 6.496 at 211.76. Coughlin is the only driver in the 6.4s, but he’s got plenty of company since teammate Erica Enders was second-quickest with a 6.508 and Jason Line also picked up a qualifying bonus point with a 6.513. Line also re-set the top speed of the event at 212.79 in his Summit Camaro.

steve3.JPGTOP FUEL Q3 (3:40 p.m.): Steve Torrence struck back in the penultimate Top Fuel qualifying session with a 3.708-second pass, securing three bonus points for the Capco Contractors Top Fuel Dragster team. Clay Millican came in right behind Torrence with a 3.713 to earn a pair of points, keeping the Top Fuel leader from moving too far ahead the Great Clips / Parts Plus squad, while Torrence’s father, Billy Torrence, laid down a 3.717 to round out the top three from the first round. Blake Alexander was next in line with a 3.75, coming in .033 behind the top of the pack. Luigi Novelli remained on the bump with a 4.01.

robert2.JPGFUNNY CAR Q3 (4:09 p.m.): Teams took advantage of terrific conditions to put on a stellar show during the third Funny Car qualifying session. All but one flopper made it down the strip for an average e.t. of 4.023 seconds, topped by Robert Hight with a burst of 3.908. That was an improvement on his 3.925 from the second qualifying session. Matt Hagan remained on the bump spot with a 4.103, while Jack Wyatt are on the outside of the field looking in. Jack Beckman is holding down the quick-half of the field with a 3.929 and will race John Force in the first round if positioning holds into race day.

tonglet.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q4 (5:24 p.m.): Chip Ellis is not a part of the Countdown to the Championship, but that didn’t prevent him from locking up the top spot in qualifying for the 17th time in his career. Ellis ran a 6.764 on Q3 Saturday and backed it up with a 6.788 in Q4, which was the best run of the round. Two Suzuki riders flexed their muscles with LE Tonglet making the second-best run of the round with a 6.812 and Steve Johnson also earning a bonus point after a 6.832 best. There was a lot of shuffling in the back of the pack with Joey Gladstone making his way into the field with a 6.896 while Karen Stoffer and Kelly Clontz were the two non-qualifiers in the 18-bike field.

Round one pairings (lane choice first): Chip Ellis vs. Mark Paquette; Andrew Hines vs. Ryan Oehler; LE Tonglet vs. Jimmy Underdahl; Eddie Krawiec vs. Joey Gladstone; Matt Smith vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Steve Johnson vs. Angie Smith; Hector Arana Sr. vs. Jerry Savoie; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Angelle Sampey

butner.JPGPRO STOCK Q4 (5:38 p.m.): The running order at the top of the Pro Stock field did not change during the final qualifying session although Jason Line banked three qualifying points thanks to a 6.514, the best run of the round. Line remained third in the running order behind Jeg Coughlin Jr., who qualified No. 1 for the 26th time in his career. Coughlin was second-best in the round with a 6.516 and Bo Butner also picked up a point after a 6.519. Alan Prusiensky came into the final session outside the field because he hadn’t made a full run but quickly corrected that with a competitive 6.587 to put his eCarMover.com Dodge Dart into the show. Tomorrow’s most interesting match-ups include Countdown contenders Greg Anderson against KB Racing teammate Deric Kramer and Tanner Gray vs. Chirs McGaha.  

blake.JPGTOP FUEL Q4 (6:20 p.m.): Steve Torrence snatched pole position away from Clay Millican with the last run of the evening. The Capco Contractors dragster ran a 3.765-second pass to bump Millican back to No. 2 while the Tennessean made a 3.713-second run in the lane beside him. That earned Torrence the No. 1 qualifier points, three bonus points and kept the two Torrence-driven dragsters on opposite sides of the ladder all in one fell swoop. Blake Alexander stepped up into the No. 4 spot with a 3.717, fitting in right behind Billy Torrence based on a speed tiebreaker. He’ll race a tough customer in Terry McMillen in the first round. The Top Fuel field is tight as Bill Litton holds the bump based on a 3.925 run. 

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Steve Torrence vs. Bill Litton; Clay Millican vs. Shawn Reed; Billy Torrence vs. Terry McMillen; Blake Alexander vs. Pat Dakin; Leah Pritchett vs. Scott Palmer; Tony Schumacher vs. Richie Crampton; Antron Brown vs. Doug Kalitta; Brittany Force vs. Mike Salinas

Round one pairings (lane choice first): Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Mark Hogan; Erica Enders vs. Charlie Westcott; Jason Line vs. Val Smeland; Bo Butner vs. Alan Pruisensky; Greg Anderson vs. Deric Kramer; Tanner Gray vs. Chris McGaha; Vincent Nobile vs. Fernando Cuadra; Drew Skillman vs. Kenny Delco.

capps_0.JPGFUNNY CAR Q4 (6:46 p.m.): A monster run by Robert Hight put the AAA Chevy Camaro back in pole position after Ron Capps snatched the top spot from John Force Racing. Hight ran a 3.844 to park his Camaro in the No.1 spot, that followed the stellar run (3.873) Capps made in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Courtney Force stayed No. 3 on the back of her 3.881 from Friday evening, but Tommy Johnson earned a solo bonus point thanks to his 3.896. The field was one car away from the quickest in NHRA Funny Car history as Dale Creasy made a 4.06 to make the dance. The NHRA record is a 4.029 bump spot.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Robert Hight vs. Dale Creasy; Ron Capps vs. Cruz Pedregon; Courtney Force vs. Jim Campbell; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Del Worsham; Bob Tasca III vs. Jonnie Lindberg; Tim Wilkerson vs. Matt Hagan; J.R. Todd vs. Shawn Langdon; Jack Beckman vs. John Force

C_Ellis.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER CHIP ELLIS: “It’s every racer’s dream to be able to ride one of those Harley-Davidson’s. It’s an honor and a privilege. I worked at Vance & Hines for five years and we have a good relationship. They needed to do some testing and they called me to ride their third bike and here I am. So far, it’s been pretty good. We’re trying some different stuff, on this bike, which I call “Old No. 3” and it’s working. I think you’ll see [teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec] them take some of the stuff from my bike and apply it to their bikes for the next race in Dallas.

“I always said I wouldn’t come back to Pro Stock Motorcycle racing unless it was with Vance & Hines. I wanted to be on a fast bike. I rode this bike last year in Pomona at the end of the year and it was fast. We’re in test mode but it’s still fast. Andrew Hines tunes the bike, the clutch and the fuel injection. All I do is pop the clutch and take it down Broadway. I’m happy to play a small part in the success of the team. Hopefully, they can use what we’ve learned and go on and win the championship because I can’t.”

J_Coughlin.JPGPRO STOCK LOW QUALIIFER JEG COUGHLIN JR. “It was close to Disneyland conditions for the Pro Stock cars. Almost 24 hours ago, we were up here with a 6.51, and we knew if the forecast was accurate for today we could improve. It’s great to run in the 6.4s and to be one of the first cars to do it this year. Last night we had impeccable conditions. There was almost no sun on the track the entire day. Adhesion was killer, and our crew chiefs knew they could throw a lot at it. Today, we woke up to a higher barometer, and less moisture in the air and we knew those two factors would allow us to make more power and improve, and fortunately we did that.

“With that 6.49 in Q3, it was quite a shot heard around the pits. I felt really good about it. The front wheels were up in second gear and it was just screaming the whole way. Rickie Jones [crew chief] came on the radio and said we went 6.49 it made us all happy and it was great to do it in front of a huge crowd. This is the Countdown and all stops have bene pulled. We’re going to be aggressive on Sunday. It’s game day and there is no better spot to start than the first.”

R_Hight.JPGFUNNY CAR NO. 1 QUALIFIER ROBERT HIGHT: We were pushing. We don't get to run a lot of big numbers like that because the numbers just haven't been there, but this one has been. We could see in front of this that the numbers were falling and that a great number was out there, so we had nothing to lose. To be honest with you, the number that impressed me the most was the 3.90 we ran in the heat in the third qualifying session because we're not going to have Candyland conditions like we had in the fourth qualifying session. Knowing we could make that great run in the heat was really impressive to me. My car made great runs in all four sessions and that gives me a lot of confidence going into race day. 

FEATURES

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Blake Alexander returned to NHRA action after missing the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading by making a pair of stout passes in his Pronto Auto Services Top Fuel Dragster. He enters Saturday qualified No. 4 in the Bob Vandergriff Racing-fielded dragster on the back of a 3.76-second pass, .001 second ahead of Leah Pritchett and .025 behind Billy Torrence. 

That the team can take advantage of cool conditions makes it even more dangerous as the weekend goes on from two perspectives. One: Alexander is a candidate to steal bonus points from teams chasing a championship. Two: With the forecast promising great weather (for racing) all weekend, the Pronto Auto Services dragster has a great shot at ending up in the winner’s circle for the third time this season.

“We just want to get into the top five, so we have a shot at the big cars later,” said Alexander. “We had problems with our blower belts in Indy. We were just shredding them in Indy on every single run and not making it to the end of the track. It ended up costing us in the semifinals. We were the fastest car by a tenth going into that round, but our belt shredded at 2.3 seconds and that was it.”

It seems that problem has been resolved based on the performance the team laid down on Friday. Since qualifying is all about where things stack up for Sunday for a team without championship aspirations on the brain, the Ron Douglas-tuned car is just looking for its window. So far, the dragster has picked up e.t. just about everywhere it’s gone – as conditions have allowed. The entire field lost time at the U.S. Nationals thanks to hot and sticky weather. 

Alexander doesn’t exactly have an easy matchup if things hold. He’ll race Doug Kalitta in the first round unless some shuffling occurs during Saturday qualifying. Kalitta is qualified with a 3.801, an indicator of how tight the field is at present. Just our opinion: Some shuffling will occur. 

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Scott Palmer came within .003 second of reaching the semifinals at the Dodge NHRA Nationals a week ago. Palmer beat Tony Schumacher off the starting line by .003 second but fell behind the veteran racer down track by .006 second as body panels peeled off the CatSpot Cat Litter Top Fuel Dragster. 

“I got down there and everyone was around with the body coming apart, which obviously looked pretty spectacular, and the first thing I wanted to see was whether or not I got beat on a holeshot,” said Palmer. “I could tell it was a close race. The car is running so well, I know I’ve got to get better there. And I have been getting better the past few races.”

Palmer picked up .02 second on the reaction timer from his previous contest against Dom Lagana and averaged an .089 light during eliminations in Reading. That’s .009 second behind the class average, leaving room for improvement as race day looms at Gateway Motorsports Park. 

“I was sending Billy Torrence my reaction times all weekend, so what they’ve done to help me has helped,” said Palmer. “That was my biggest fear getting down there, not all the damage, it was losing on a holeshot.”

The damage has since been repaired in the form of a new body on the dragster. 

“That body was seven or eight years old, it was actually the body from when Khalid alBalooshi ran,” said Palmer. “The big teams sell them to everyone else for a reason – they don’t last forever. I’m a paint and body guy, I know how this works. The fact that you have raw fiber in the air for a few years, it starts to deteriorate.”

Palmer is currently qualified 10th with a 3.795. Antron Brown is a thousandth ahead and Pat Dakin is a thousandth behind. Great conditions offer an opportunity to improve Saturday.

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The Capco Contractors contingent of Steve and Billy Torrence has put itself in a position to succeed on race day by slowly backing down its tune up from session to session. Steve ran a 3.708 in the third session, following the 3.717 his father, Billy, ran a handful of pairings earlier. That’s fewer than .02 second behind current pole sitter Clay Millican, putting the Texans in striking distance of an eighth team Wally this season. 

Steve entered the race as the points leader after capturing his sixth Wally at the Dodge NHRA Nationals. He took home the St. Louis Wally a season ago, the only Countdown to the Championship win Torrence secured in a playoff that did not go as planned for the racer. So far, things are going according to the script for Steve, who leads the class in e.t. average (3.791) and is sixth in reaction time average (.073).

Billy racing only helps his cause. The elder Torrence is fourth in average e.t. (3.800) and is an even better leaver (.072), albeit in a small sample size. Using Billy as a blocker is something the Capco teams plans to use to their advantage when possible during the rest of the Countdown. After bad luck bit the team at the NHRA FallNationals a season ago, Torrence plans to leave as little to chance as possible. 

The team is up against a tough challenger in Millican and tuner Dave Grubnic. The Great Clips / Parts Plus team has already accumulated eight of a possible nine qualifying bonus points this weekend and is chasing the No. 1 qualifier in the final round. The lion’s share of the points come on race day, but Torrence knows as well as anyone that every point matters. That’s the way he’s racing – and the entire team hopes that pays off in the form of the big trophy at the end of the year. 

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Courtney Force is chasing her 12th No. 1 qualifier of the season, just one shy of her father’s single-season record. John Force snagged 13 poles in 1996 in 19 races. The 16-time time champ also won 16 times that season in what was truly one of the greatest Funny Car campaigns of all time. Adjusted for a 24-race campaign, Courtney needs to qualify No. 1 at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals and at the remaining four races this season to match her father’s mark. 

That’s a tall task, but her incredible 3.881-second burst certainly set her up for success. New crew chief Brian Corradi joining Dan Hood and the Advance Auto Parts team has elevated the red Chevy Camaro, but Force’s driving ability has risen to a new level, too. That’s shown up in improved reaction times (Force has picked up .007 second this season) and in her handling down track.

“Having Corradi come on the radio and say that number, especially in that left lane which was pulling me hard to the outside,” said Force. “I was just hanging on right there. There was a lot of pressure to keep it in the center of the groove and make sure I didn’t let it drift too far to the outside. Thankfully we were able to get it done.”

For now, that’s job well done for Force, who’s got a solid lead over No. 2 qualifier Ron Capps (nearly two-hundredths of a second). She’ll chase more bonus points on Saturday, if not necessarily bettering the time she ran on Friday. After a disappointing outing at the Dodge NHRA Nationals, the team remains just 25 points out of first place. 

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Del Worsham did not leave the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals with a good feeling in the pit of his stomach. So, he did what many drag racers do: Spent more money to go to another drag race. As such, Worsham brought his Funny Car to the AAA Insurance Midwest NHRA Nationals. 

“We’ve got the really, really good stuff,” said Worsham. “Nothing but the best. I was pretty sad about our outing in Indy, I think we should have done better than that. I went to Norwalk and Cordova, Ill. and ran great, but then went to Indy and laid an egg. So, that’s why I’m here. I’ve gotta redeem myself.”

So far, so good for the Worsham family. The veteran Funny Car racer / tuner ran a 4.075 in the first qualifying session and followed that up with a 4.001 to get him into the field in the No. 12 position. There are 11 racers in the field with 3-second passes, and Worsham is right on the bubble with his almost-a-3-second-run pass. 

He gets two more cracks at the track this afternoon. Following his great performance in stellar conditions in Sonoma and Brainerd, don’t count him out.

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Ron Capps didn’t make the quickest pass in the third Funny Car qualifying session, but he continued an incredibly consistent weekend. He’s one of four racers to make three 3-second passes, joining Robert Hight, J.R. Todd and Tim Wilkerson as leaders in the consistency clubhouse. The NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car has been quick, too. 

Here are the averages of those four drivers through three qualifying sessions, sorted from quickest to slowest. 

Hight: 3.93

Capps: 3.932

Wilkerson: 3.942

Todd: 3.948

The second qualifying session just might end up being the best of the weekend in terms of performance available, but the final will almost offer an opportunity for all four racers to improve (or at least defend) their qualifying position. Capps is just a thousandth behind Hight in terms of qualifying time (3.908 to 3.909), while Wilkerson and Todd are separated by .004 second in the No. 6 and No. 7 positions. 

Yes, racers can win from anywhere in the field, but there’s no reason to spend time at the bottom of the pack when the No. 1 qualifier wins slightly more than 20 percent of the time in the Funny Car category. Courtney Force currently holds pole with a 3.881-second pass. It’s going to be difficult to knock the Advance Auto Parts racer off her perch, but never say never. 

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On Friday in St. Louis, reigning world champ Bo Butner ran a 6.536 in his Butner Auto Camaro that was good for the No. 6 spot in the stacked field. Had Butner run just .02-second quicker, he’d have challenged Jeg Coughlin Jr. for the provisional pole. That’s the sort of close competition hat Pro Stock drivers have come to expect lately. It’s also why nine different drivers have been able to win at least one event in the first 18-races of the season.

“You just can’t make any mistakes; that’s what it comes down to,” said Butner. “If I had made a perfect run, I probably could have run 6.516 and I’d be leading this field. I didn’t so I’m sixth. If I had really done a poor job of driving, I might have run 6.55 and I’d ben int eh bottom half of the field. And by poor job, I mean missing a shift by 50-rpm or driving the car a little bit out of the groove. These aren’t’ big mistakes.

“We haven’t had the kind of year we’ve wanted to have coming off a championship but it’s not over yet,” said Butner. “I think we've been to a final or two there. St. Louis is close to home, and I have a few of my kids going. As I'm getting older, I want to spend more time with my family, and this is going to be a good race. It's going to be very tough for the rest of the Countdown – I kind of thought we'd have to get to the semis or finals at every race. But you never know what's going to happen. If you're lucky enough to get tied up with one of the higher up guys and beat them early, it just makes up rounds. Heck, I was happy to go one round last week and just gain a little bit of distance from the guy at the bottom. But we still have a shot, and I'm not giving up.”

Butner also competed in Stock Eliminator in St. Louis but lost early. Fiancé Randi Lyn Shipp suffered a similar fate with his C/SA Firebird.  

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Drew Skillman has made it known that the 2018 season will be his last in the Pro Stock class, at least for the foreseeable future. Skillman plans to scale back his participation, returning to his roots in Super Stock and Stock while he spends more time focusing on his expanding role in the family business, Skillman Auto Group.

“I have enjoyed racing in Pro Stock but it’s time to make some changes,” said Skillman, who has 14-career national event wins, including seven in Pro Stock. He was also the winner of the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future award as NHRA’s top rookie driver in 2015. “I need to spend more time at home and that means more sportsman racing. I can pretty much stick close to home and race whenever time permits.”

Skillman won the Stock title earlier this year in Denver, but he’s winless in Pro Stock. Last week, he was a runner-up to Vincent Nobile in Reading. Skillman lost the final on a holeshot, and was none too pleased with his .042-second reaction time.

“You can’t have that kind of a light in Pro Stock; you just can’t,” he said. “I knew as soon as I left that I missed it and at that point there is nothing you can do. I definitely had a better car, I just didn’t get the job done. I do have some unfinished business in Pro Stock this year; I want to win at least one more race. I’ve got five shots to do it and I’d like to think I can get at least one of them.”

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greg.JPGThe good news for Greg Anderson is that he ran 6.527 in his Summit Camaro on Saturday, but that is.031-second off the pace set by rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. Anderson was not happy with the performance of his KB Racing entry following last week’s Countdown opener in Reading, and he admits some of the mechanical issues have followed him to St. Louis, an event that he won last season.  

“We left Reading just a few days ago knowing that we had some thinking to do before coming here to St. Louis,” said Anderson. “We needed to nail down what went wrong in Reading, and we certainly hope that the progress we've made in that area is going to show. It's a tight turnaround when you have back-to-back races like this, but we have a very capable team, and we know how to rise to the challenge, just like we do. Last year in St. Louis, we qualified No. 1, won the race, and took over the points lead. I still have every reason to believe that we'll have our ducks in a row and be up for the challenge of repeating what we did there last year. We're going to rebound from Reading.”

Anderson has only begun eliminations from the bottom half of the field at one event this year. He was the No. 9 qualifier in Brainerd and he still managed to reach the semifinals. Anderson has another attainable goal this weekend in St. Louis. Should he successfully defend his Pro Stock title from a year ago, he’ll reach the 800-round win plateau. Anderson’s career record currently stands at 796-333 in 447 events as a pro racer. Only John Force, Warren Johnson, and Tony Schumacher have scored as many as 800 round wins in a career.

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Ninth in the field after the first two rounds of qualifying, Jerry Savoie knows there is work to be done if he is to add a third St. Louis title to his resumé. Savoie ran a best of 6.908 on Friday and he knows that with a dramatic improvement in weather conditions on Saturday he’s likely to run much quicker, but the bigger concern is his Tim Kulungian-tuned White Alligator Suzuki.

“We have an issue with my bike and we just can’t lock it down,” Savoie said. “We put my engine in LE’s [Tonglet, teammate] bike and it hauls, but if we put his engine in my bike it doesn’t want to run. We know we have an issue, but we just can’t seem to find it. It’s most likely an electrical problem but those can be really tricky to find. We just keep looking for answers. I love racing here in St. Louis and we need to have a good weekend to stay in this [championship battle].”

Savoie also addressed a recent published report that suggested that he’s planning to scale back next year, at least as far as his personal schedule goes. With a thriving business at home, he intends to race in perhaps half of the 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle events although he plans to keep the team on track on a full-time basis.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it would be a good idea for me to cut back a bit,” said Savoie. “I’ve been out here seven years and I’ve done a lot; far more than I ever thought. I just have a lot of other things on my plate and I can’t make it all work. I have three bikes and I’d still like to run two of them full-time. We’re talking to a couple of people so we’ll see how it all works out. In a perfect world, I’d have two-full time riders and then we could pull the third bike out for me anytime I wanted to come race.

“I’d also like to maybe go race in Europe,” Savoie said. “I have a lot of customers over there and it would be great to be able to show them what we do with the bikes. That’s just one of the things I’d like to in this sport. I have no intention of leaving, but I do plan to make some changes.”


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Following the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Hector Arana Sr. remained in Brownsburg for more than a week while he put the finishing touches on a new chassis for his EBR-bodied bike at the Lucas Fab Shop. Arana struggled throughout the summer months to find some consistency and figured that some new pipe would give him a wider tuning window. Arana got the bike finished in time to make last week’s Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading but he struggled to get a handle on the new piece and did not qualify. With no time to test, Arana returned to his old bike for this week’s race.

“We have an electrical gremlin in the new bike and I don’t have the time to fix it right now so that’s why we’re riding the old one this week,” Arana said. “I’ve got a whole new wiring harness on the way and that will go in the bike next week. Last week in Reading, the bike was missing and bucking as soon as I let the clutch out. It wasn’t a lot of fun to ride and I never made one good run.”

Arana’s luck did not significantly improve on Friday in St. Louis when he lost his first qualifying run due to a timing system malfunction. Arana’s bike bogged badly yet the scoreboard showed a 6.87-second elapsed time. The run was quickly discounted, as was the even-more suspect 6.72 that appeared on the board one pair later when Jimmy Underdahl ran. In Q2, Arana rode to a 6.982, which is the bump spot entering Saturday’s two runs.

“I don’t know what the first run would have been but it wasn’t anything great,” Arana said. “We’ve had a rough couple of weeks but to see my son [Hector Jr.] win the first race in the Countdown made it all worthwhile. If we’re going to have bad luck, I’d rather have all of it on my side so he can go out and race for the championship. I’d like for neither of us to have bad luck, but if it’s got to be someone, I’ll take it.”

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Matt Smith doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on wins and losses so his frustrating final round loss to Hector Arana Jr. a week ago isn’t likely to have any long-term effects on the two-time champion. For Smith, what matters most is that he’s firmly in the battle for the Mello Yello championship and he’s got arguably the best bike in the field. Smith’s S&S-powered V-twin has been a competitive bike all season, but his performance took a significant step forward in Brainerd when he debuted one of the new EBR body. It’s the same body that enabled Arana Jr. to become the first member of the Denso 200-mph Club in Gainesville. Smith was able to get the pricy (reportedly $25,000) carbon fiber bodies thanks to a sponsorship from Richard Freeman of Elite Performance.

“I’d feel a bit better about it [200-mph] if I hadn’t hurt my best engine last night,” said Smith. “I had a bearing on the crank go bad and that’s something I’ve never had happen with this engine. I could tell that something was wrong so I was ready to shut off before the finish line but it shut itself off. We took the engine apart and I could fix it here if I had to, but I’d rather wait until I get back to my shop. The engine we put in is pretty good, but it’s maybe a hundredth of a second and a half a mile-per-hour slower. I haven’t really checked the wind today but if we had a big tailwind you could see a 202-203 mph speed. And, there’s three or four bikes that could do it.”

Smith has ridden almost every type of bike available in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class and while he says that his old Victory Bagger was the most comfortable, he’s more than happy to have the EBR body work underneath him.

“The big thin about this EBR body is that it’s fast, and I haven’t even had a chance to test and to work on it,” Smith said. “I haven’t touched the air box and there is a lot to be gained in there in terms of shape and design. It’s already fast but it can be faster. I am in a good spot now. Since we debuted this bike we’ve been fast and I still haven’t found the best tune-up. To be where we are; with a really fast bike, with five races left in the Countdown. I’ll take it.”

PHOTOS

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Fans sold out Gateway Motorsports Park to watch NHRA Drag Racing on Saturday. 

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And with views like this, it's not hard to see way. 

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Angelic Denso Spark Plugs

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Shirley Muldowney signs for fans at the Mello Yello Powerhouse.

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Ron Capps always makes time for the fans, posing both for photos and ... for photos. 
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The AAA Stage has been busy all weekend and will continue to be busy ... all weekend. 

PREVIEW

C_Millican.JPGNobody ran quicker than Clay Millican on Friday night, and it wasn’t much of a contest. The 3.692 that popped up on the board was just the 26th 3.60 of the season and the first since Millican ran one at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals nearly two months ago. Sufficed to say, that sort of performance is rare but it only matters to Millican so much as it got him three points. He’ll have a chance to get the rest of the qualifying points Saturday by doing what he failed to do in Reading: Go low in every session. Steve Torrence will have something to say about that. 

C_Force.JPGCourtney Force is enjoying a career season and you don’t need to look much deeper than the 3.881-second pass she made to close out Friday as an indicator. That run was nearly two hundredths better than current No. 2 qualifier Ron Capps’ pass and earned Force three valuable points after a disappointing first-round exit in Reading. Conditions are set to be even better for Saturday qualifying, so expect crew chiefs to at least ponder taking a swing at that number late this afternoon. Especially the Robert Hight-driven / Jimmy Prock-tuned machine. 

J_Coughlin.JPGJeg Coughlin Jr. added five bonus points to his total on Friday in St. Louis and claimed the provisional pole thanks to a 6.516 best in his JEGS.com Camaro. As impressive as Coughlin’s performance was, he knows that there are more points available on Saturday and with significantly cooler temperatures at Gateway Motorsports Park, his spot atop the field is far from secure. While Coughlin was quickest, his advantage over the rest of the field is slim at best with the top eight qualifiers all separated by less than .03-second. On driver to watch today would be Drew Skillman, who was a runner-up last week in Reading but currently sits 11th in the standings. Given the opportunity to make a solid run, Skillman should be able to take his Gray Motorsports-powered Camaro into the top half of the field.

E_Krawiec.jpgAfter two runs, the three Harley-Davidson Street Rods of Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, and Chip Ellis occupy the top three spots in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field but none of their positions are secure. A significant temperature drop and a shift in wind direction has NHRA’s two wheel racers excited about the possibility of adding more members to the Denso 200-Mph Pro Stock Motorcycle Club. Currently, Hector Arana Jr. and Eddie Krawiec are the only riders to officially card a 200-mph top speed although Matt Smith, Hines, Ellis, Angelle Sampey, and Hector Arana Sr. have all come close. The starting order also figures to be shuffled as teams make the necessary adjustments to deal with the overcast skies and cooler temperatures.