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AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals Friday Notebook

05 Oct 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Dallas

Preview | Features | Results

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

smith.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (2:10 p.m.): Championship leader Matt Smith added three bonus points to his total after leading the first qualifying session at the Texas Motorplex. Smith, using a new engine for the last four events of the Countdown, rode his EBR V-twin to a 6.876, 197.65 to lead the 16-bike field. Hector Arana Jr. was second-quickest with a 6.882 and reigning champ and defending event winner Eddie Krawiec was third-best with a 6.898 on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson. LE Tonglet, who lost in the final of the recent St. Louis event to Smith two weeks ago, finished the round in the No. 5 spot after a 6.915 on his Nitro Fish Suzuzki.

line.jpgPRO STOCK Q1 (2:31 p.m.): The KB Racing team cars of Jason Line, Bo Butner, and Greg Anderson ran the table during the first round of Pro Stock qualifying by sweeping the top three spots. Line, seeking his first win of the season, was low for the session with a 6.612 in his Summit Camaro while reigning champ Butner was just three-thousandths behind with a 6.615. Anderson posted a 6.618 to garner a single qualifying bonus point. Incoming points leader Tanner Gray was seventh-quickest for the round after driving his Valvoline Camaro to a 6.616, 208.91. The top half of the field is tightly bunched with just .015-second separating low qualifier Line from No. 8 seed Matt Hartford.

beckman.jpgFUNNY CAR Q1 (3:15 p.m.): Points leader Robert Hight returned to the driver’s seat of his Auto Club Chevy for the first time since his fiery crash in the final round of the St. Louis event and managed an early shut-off 4.611. The provisional top spot went to Jack Beckman, who wheeled the Infinite Hero Dodge to a 4.030. Beckman banked three qualifying points while his teammate, Tommy Johnson Jr. was third-quickest after a 4.062. Sandwiched between the two DSR drivers is Shawn Langdon, who drove to a 4.047 in the Global Electronic Technologies Toyota. Championship contender Tim Wilkerson finished the round in the No. 4 spot after a 4.072.

millican.jpgTOP FUEL Q1 (3:36 p.m.): Clay Millican moved three points closer to leader Steve Torrence after his strong 3.846 led the pack during Friday’s opening qualifying run at the Texas Motorplex. Millican is nearly eight-hundredths ahead of Billy Torrence, who was second-best with a 3.921 while Richie Crampton drove his Craftsman dragster to a 3.942 for the third spot. Warm temperatures made it tough for many of NHRA’s nitro team to get a handle on the track surface. Leader Steve Torrence, Atron Brown, and Doug Kalitta all shut off early.

krawiec2.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (5:42 p.m.): There was not much movement in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field after Friday’s second qualifying session, but Eddie Krawiec is not about to complain after adding three bonus points to his total. Krawiec was the only rider in the 6.8s with a 6.892 from his Harley Street Rod. Angelle Sampey was close behind Krawiec with a 6.906 on her Liberty Buell while championship contender Hector Arana Jr. also picked up a point after a 6.909 on his Lucas Oil EBR. Matt Smith, the St. Louis champ and Q1 leader, slowed to a 6.941 and Andrew Hines continued to struggle with a 6.963 best on his Harley-Davidson.

jeg.jpgPRO STOCK Q2 (6:06 p.m.): Unlike their two-wheel counterparts, there was a lot of movement within the Pro Stock field during Q2 including the top spot, which is now held by five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., who became the first driver to venture into the 6.5s this weekend with a 6.599. Coughlin leads a tightly-bunched group that includes his arch rival, Greg Anderson, who ran just a thousandth slower with a 6.600. Jason Line, the Q1 leader, is also in the mix, just two-thousandths back with a 6.601. Vincent Nobile also made a solid run with a 6.609 in the Mountain View Camaro. Val Smeland is on the bump spot with a 6.786. There are 18 cars attempting to earn one of the 16 available spots.

TJ.jpgFUNNY CAR Q2 (6:38 p.m.): As a whole, the Funny Car class put on a great show for the fans at dusk at the Texas Motorplex. A number of drivers ventured into the three-second zone including provisional leader Tommy Johnson Jr., who wheeled the Make-A-Wish Dodge to a 3.958 at 323.66 mph. Championship contender Tim Wilkerson continued to put his regular season struggles behind him. Wilkerson matched Johnson when he wheeled the Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang to an identical 3.958 but with a slower 3.15.64 mph speed to bank two qualifying bonus points. The third-best run of the round came from J.R. Todd with a 3.962 in the DHL Toyota. Bob Tasca III and Jack Beckman also found the three-second zone with matching 3.98s.

torrence.jpgTOP FUEL Q2 (7:24 p.m.): Under the lights there were massive improvements in the Top Fuel field including Clay Millican who distanced himself from the rest of the field with a thrilling 3.726 in his David Grubnic-tuned Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster. Millican added six points to his total on Friday after leading both sessions. Brittany Force and Steve Torrence, the top two drivers in last year’s epic Top Fuel points battle, tied for the second spot after two runs in Dallas after they both ran 3.781, but Torrence earned the higher spot with a 328.14 to 326.71 advantage in speed. Blake Alexander also earned a 3.7-second time slip after a 3.797 in Bob Vandergriff’s Pronto Auto Service dragster.

Friday recap: Millican, Johnson Jr., Coughlin, Smith grab Friday No. 1 qualifying spots in Dallas

PRE-RACE FEATURES

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Respected veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer, who parted company with Kalitta Motorsports after Indy, will be tuning the Kebin Kinsley-driven Road Rage Top Fueler this weekend, his first “official” work since the surprising split, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Roger Hennen Motorsports team.

The Texas-based team is still licking its would after a disappointing outing at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals where they failed to qualify just a year after nearly winning the event. It’s their first race since then, and they’re eager for redemption.

“We went from hero to zero, that’s for sure,” said Kinsley, who lives in nearby Arlington, just a half hour from Texas Motorplex. “We haven’t made but one full run this whole year, and that was in Houston on a run that got throw out because our oil filter hit the [timing box] at the finish line. This new track prep has really messed with out combination. We hurt a lot of stuff in Indy and just finally got Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

jimo2.jpgThe Hennen car is a former Doug Kalitta backup car and runs a Kalitta tune-up, so Oberhofer (right) should have no problem jumping right in with a car and combo he essentially created. In an interesting switcheroo, Hennen’s former crew chief, Donnie Bender, is now working with the Kalitta team.

“We’re excited to have Jim O working for us; we’ve had a long association with the Kalitta team -– they call us ‘the Kalitta outreach program –- so we’re happy for Donnie to get a full-time deal, too," said Kinsley. "Jim O has already looked at our stuff and we’ve been running it a little over center -- a little too much timing, a little too much timing, not enough clutch -– so we’ll make those changes and go out and see how it does.

“We want to model ourselves after Scott Palmer; he’s killing them with consistency and having a lot of fun doing it and he’s getting a few breaks along the way. That’s the way to do it.”

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leah.jpgLeah Pritchett has two goals in mind this weekend: Fight her way back into contention for the Mello Yellow championship in Top Fuel and pull out another, perhaps less daunting come-from-behind effort in her battle to win the SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown championship, which wraps up this weekend.

In Top Fuel, she sits fourth, 154 points behind leader Steve Torrence; not an insurmountable challenge considering that there are still hundreds of points on the table while she’s parked in third in the Factory Stock battle, just a single point behind co-leaders Stephen Bell and Arthur Coyne but also is riding a high after winning the last wto events, in Indy and St Louis,

"More than anything, not only am I pumped for this race, but proud of the journey of both these teams to get to the position we are I,” she said. “Everything we’ve been working towards comes to this weekend, in both categories.

leah-fss.jpg"Obviously for Factory Stock, we have an extremely solid shot at winning a championship being only one point out of first place. Our strategy is to continue doing what we’ve done, not play ladder games, just run as fast as we can every time, and ultimately the game plan is to win the race, which would win us the championship.

"Still in strong contention in Top Fuel. This race is huge because it holds a very strong potential to be a turning point in the Countdown. Same mindset, win the race. We’re coming into Ennis with a new front-half after noticing issues in St. Louis from an incident. I think this excites me more than the magnitude of the race because I know with new pipe, our crew chiefs will have their cooperative hot rod back. That brings a new level of confidence that I can’t wait to energize with in the car. At this point for both classes, we still cannot worry about what the competition is doing, and we will remain focused on our own path to being the quickest in every way."

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Former Top Fuel and Funny Car world champ Del Worsham will be running three cars this weekend -– two in Funny Car and one in Top Fuel -– but won’t be driving any of them.

Bill Litton will drive the Worsham dragster, as he has for 14 races already this season, while two new drivers, John Hale and Jack Wyatt, will drive his Funny Cars.

Texan Hale, who drove Jim Dunn’s car in 2015 and 2016 and last year made just one appearance, at the spring Las Vegas event in the late Steve Plueger’s machine, is excited to be in Worsham’s No. 1 car, the car with which Worsham won the championship in 2015. Hale will be bannering his burgeoning Best of Texas Barbecue Sauce company – a sauce made with his own secret recipe and soon to be in 165 Tom Thumb stores (a Texas-based division of Albertson’s) – on Worsham’s consistently quick Toyota-bodied machine.

hale.jpg“He called me last week and asked me if I wanted to drive the car,” said Hale, who last weekend in Denton, Texas, raced his nostalgia Funny Car to a runner-up finish. ““We had talked about it earlier in the year and he knows this is my home race, so we were able to put it together. It was too good an offer to pass up.

“It all goes back to this location and where my dream started,” he added. “Memories of hanging out under the tower on Friday nights watching guys like John Force, Al Hofmann, Kenny Bernstein, and Chuck Etchells. I dreamed about running here and running under that same tower. I also remember watching Del win a race here when he was a kid. Now, I’m excited to be back in one of these cars again and thankful I have the opportunity.”

Wyatt, who’s been racing Funny Cars since the mid-1980s (and Alcohol Funny Cars before that), competed in his own car two weeks ago in St. Louis, but failed to qualifying despite a career-best pass of 4.18. He’ll saddle up in Worsham’s second car but probably won’t make a pass until Q3 Saturday.

“We only have four crew guys, so we probably won’t run two cars in the same session, except maybe tonight,” said Worsham. “We’ll run Bill’s dragster and John’s Funny Car today, maybe  Q2, and see how that goes. We don’t have the crew to work on all three for the same session every run. We can control that in qualifying but if all three cars were to win first round Sunday … well, I guess we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.”

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Jack Beckman knows how to win a Countdown championship, and losing in the first round at the two opening events of the Countdown is not the way. 

After qualifying a strong fourth in Reading with a 3.93, he was upset in round one by Cruz Pedregon and slipped from sixth in points to eighth. A better 3.92 in St. Louis only got him to the No. 8 spot but the first-round results were the same as he fell to 16-time champ John Force and tumbled to eighth place.

"In most other forms of sports, a comeback is possible within the same event,”  preached the 2012 champ. “Boxing, baseball, football, you can be down and get back up and get back in the game. In drag racing, it’s totally different. If you go down early, you’re done for the event, and we’ve done that three races in a row. It has to stop. 

“If we want to have any shot at the championship, Dallas is our race. I thought St. Louis we needed to make it to the final round to get back into contention, and we didn’t win a single round, so that’s negative three rounds by my count. We’ve got to figure it out in Dallas. We stayed in St. Louis on Monday to test and made four runs. We did well, but that was St. Louis. Dallas is a different weekend, different weather, different race track. We have to be perfect."

And he was in session one, qualifying the Infinite Hero Dodge in the top spot with a 4.030. Maybe the start of that perfect weekend ...

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She’s not exactly down to her final strike in the bottom of the ninth, but Erica Enders knows that time is running short if she is to win a third Mello Yello Pro Stock championship. Enders enters the Dallas event in sixth place, 104-points behind leader Tanner Gray with four events remaining, the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals becomes almost a “must win” event. 

“We’re definitely further back than we prefer to be but those are the cards dealt to us,” Enders said. “Winning a championship is definitely an attainable goal, but we have to have a flawless remainder of the season. We’re not going to rely on anyone else and what their race day ends up being like. All we can do is control our own destiny and make our car run better on Sunday. The sky is still the limit for us. We’re not out of it. I’m sure a few people have eliminated us, but not us.”

Enders has enjoyed a solid season with a win in Charlotte and five more final rounds including one in Houston, the last time she raced in her home state. Enders held the points lead through the first 13 races, but Enders, hasn’t been out of the second round since that point. That includes two second-round losses to open the playoffs. She qualified second in St. Louis and third in Reading, but putting it all together on Sunday has been a challenge.

“We spent all day testing in Tulsa [Tuesday] and we feel confident we have a better set-up,” Enders said. “We’ve been qualifying well and when we get to Sunday we lose our footing. I do enjoy the pressure situations. I thrive under it and this team does, too. We’ve done well when my back is against the wall. I just have to keep my confidence up and my mindset positive.”

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A year ago, Eddie Krawiec ran the table in Dallas when he qualified No. 1 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field, set low elapsed time of the event, and breezed his way through four elimination rounds on Sunday to extend his points lead and set up a run to an eventual fourth Mello Yello world title. This time, things are different. Krawiec has dropped to third place after his shocking round one loss in St. Louis and a win in Dallas would be viewed as more of a necessity than a luxury. 

“Yeah, we sort of have our backs against the wall but it’s not the end of the world,” said Krawiec. “We’re still in this thing; I just can’t afford to have another bad race. That’s the bottom line. We need to win some rounds, and hopefully win the race. If we can pick up ground on the guys ahead of us that will be a big deal.”

Krawiec currently trails leader Matt Smith by 41 points and he’s 20 points, or one round, behind second-ranked LE Tonglet. Due to a schedule change, the Dallas race is No. 21 this year, not No. 22, with Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Pomona still to go. 

“I wouldn’t say we’re in a bad spot at all, and that also goes for Drew [Hines, teammate],” said Krawiec. “He’s still in this. Honestly, there’s about six or seven of us that could still win it. That’s what makes this time of the year exciting.”

As a side note, the Vance & Hines team will not run their third Harley-Davidson this weekend with part-time rider Chip Ellis. He will return in Charlotte and is scheduled to run the final three events of the year.

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vanetti.jpgAnthony Vanetti is racing in his first NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle event since the 2016 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but he hasn’t exactly been idle. Vanetti, an inside sales representative at Lucas Oil Products in Corona, Calif., has enjoyed a successful season in the NHRA Pacific Division Sportsman Motorcycle class, and now he’s back for a shot at the “big show” in Dallas.

“I can't put into words how excited I am to get the opportunity to be racing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series again,” said Vanetti. “It's been a long time coming to make it back and I feel like I have some unfinished business. I'd like to thank Lucas Oil and SpillVak for their support and for believing in me and I hope to make them proud.”

Vanetti will be piloting a Vance & Hines-powered Suzuki owned by Gary Tonglet and tuned by GT Tonglet. The team plans to compete at the remaining four rounds of the 2018 season in Dallas, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Pomona. The bike is backed by SpillVak and Lucas Oil Products.

In Friday’s opening qualifying run, Vanetti slowed to a 7.855 after it appeared that his bike didn’t shift into fourth gear.

“I’m lucky and blessed to say the least to pilot the Tonglet family Suzuki this weekend and the remainder of the Countdown events,” said Vanetti. “We had a planned test session that was rained out but being able to have GT Tonglet make the tuning calls, I’m comfortable and confident that we can make clean passes off the trailer and improve our performance each run.”

 

PREVIEW

S_Torrence.jpgSteve Torrence returns to the scene of the crime, where the theft of his long-awaited Top Fuel championship took place last year when a wicked top-end crash destroyed his points-leading racecar and robbed him of momentum and ultimately led Brittany Force to her first title instead. Torrence enters the event again as the points leader with a lot of redemption of his mind and even more momentum after winning the Countdown-opening events in Reading and St. Louis. If anyone is going to stop the determined Texan from putting a stranglehold on the title, they’ll have to do it here, on his home turf.

R_Hight.JPGMost of the questions about Funny Car points leader Robert Hight’s availability to compete this weekend after a jarring crash two weeks ago while winning the final round in St. Louis apparently were answered Thursday when the team made it known that, contrary to rumors floating in the pits, that he’d be healthy enough to compete and continue his pursuit of a second world championship. He’ll again face a tough challenge from hungry J.R. Todd, who seized the points lead with his win in Reading but lost it to Hight in St. Louis despite a semifinal finish. Countdown top seed Courtney Force has dropped to third after winning just one round at the last two events.

T_Gray.JPGIn Pro Stock, St. Louis champ Tanner Gray holds a two-round points lead over Reading winner Vincent Nobile as the sophomore sensation seeks to close out what will have been a short but spectacular two-year career by winning the championship. The Gray Motorsports Camaro already has six wins in eight final-round appearance this season and qualified No. 1 at two of the last three events. He’s going to be a handful here and another victory here wouldn’t be a surprise.

M_Smith.jpgPro Stock Motorcycle points leader Matt Smith appears to be all but unbeatable aboard his new EBR two-wheeler, racing from sixth place to the front of the pack on the strength of back-to-back final-round appearances and his win two weeks ago in St. Louis. Even though L.E. Tonglet’s Suzuki sits just a round behind him and defending event and season champ Eddie Krawiec is just two rounds back, Smith certainly appears to have momentum on his side as he guns for what would be his third world championship.