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AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals Sunday Notebook

07 Oct 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Dallas

Ladders | Features | Results

ELIMINATION ROUNDS RECAPS

cm-sun.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:35 a.m.): Low qualifier Clay Millican, second in points, had the best run of the round with a 3.744 in beating Richie Crampton but was joined in the .70s by his points rivals, third-place Tony Schumacher (3.747) and leader Steve Torrence (3.764). Blake Alexander impressed in Bob Vandergriff’s Pronto Parts dragster with a 3.758 while Brittany Force also flexed her muscles by resetting top speed of the meet at 330.07 mph on a 3.762 pass.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Clay Millican vs. Leah Pritchett; Brittany Force vs. Terry McMillen; Blake Alexander vs. Steve Torrence; Tony Schumacher vs. Antron Brown

hight-sun.jpgFUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (11:55 a.m.): Points leader Robert Hight, showing no ill effects of the broken collarbone he suffered two weeks ago, blistered the track with a 3.942 while Jack Beckman took down Hight’s teammate, former points leader Courtney Force, with a 3.969 to lead the performance parade. The rest of the winners were incredibly closely bunched with Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.981), J.R. Todd (3.982), John Force (3.986), Bob Tasca III (3.998), and Tim Wilkerson (4.007), and Cruz Pedregon (4.015) all advancing.  Johnson’s win, combined with Ron Capps’ loss to John Force, pushed him up one spot to fifth place and just one point behind Courtney for fourth.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Cruz Pedregon; Jack Beckman vs. J.R. Todd; John Force vs. Bob Tasca III; Robert Hight vs. Tim Wilkerson

delco.jpgPRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:15 p.m.): Veteran Kenny Delco scored just his third round win of the season and his first since going to the semi’s in Epping when he upset defending event champ Jason Line on a huge holeshot, 6.642 to 6.601, which was low e.t. of the round. The top six drivers in the points battle all advanced to round two while the bottom four of the top 10 all went to the trailer. Points leader Tanner Gray will cede lane choice to former world champ Greg Anderson in a monster second-round matchup.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Drew Skillman vs. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; Erica Enders vs. Vincent Nobile; Greg Anderson vs. Tanner Gray; Matt Hartford vs. Kenny Delco

stoffer.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (12:30 p.m.): Karen Stoffer, who has struggled badly all season, got a huge lift by beating points leader Matt Smith on a holeshot, 6.96 to 7.04, while rookie rider Kelly Clontz also pulled a huge upset over fourth-place Hector Arana Jr., whose Lucas Oil EBR bogged just off the line. Low qualifier Eddie Krawiec, third in points, posted a 6.890 while second-place LE Tonglet ran right behind with a 6.896.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Eddie Krawiec vs, Angie Smith; L.E. Tonglet vs, Angelle Sampey; Jerry Savoie vs. Karen Stoffer; Steve Johnson vs. Kelly Clontz

steve-sun.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:05 p.m.): The four-car semifinals will be comprised of the top four qualifiers, including points leader Steve Torrence, who raced to a 3.800 to beat Blake Alexander to win his 10th straight round of Countdown competition. Low qualifier Clay Millican again was quickest of the round with a 3.783 and will face off with U.S. Nationals champ Terry McMillen, who advanced with a 3.819. Tony Schumacher, third in points, will get his chance to slow down Torrence when they face off in the semifinals where Torrence has lane choice over Schumacher’s 3.817.

Semifinal matchups (lane choice first): Clay Millican vs. Terry McMillen; Steve Torrence vs. Tony Schumacher

tj-sun.jpgFUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (1:15 p.m.): Low qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. is a step closer to his first win of the season after posting a 3.937, low e.t. of the round, to defeat Cruz Pedregon. T.J. will take on fellow championship challenger J.R. Todd, who posted a 3.991 in ending Jack Beckman’s day. Points leader Robert Hight kept his lead intact by besting Tim Wilkerson is a rematch of their explosive final round two weeks ago and will take on Bob Tasca III, who beat John Force on a 4.02 to 4.00 holeshot. 

Semifinal matchups (lane choice first): Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. J.R. Todd; Robert Hight vs. Bob Tasca III

hartford.jpgPRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:25 p.m.): Matt Hartford, who earlier this season scored his first career Pro Stock win in Houston, remained perfect in Texas by beating Kenny Delco in their match and will have lane choice against points leader Tanner Gray, who used his left foot to beat Greg Anderson in a match in which they both ran 6.636. On the other side of the ladder, low qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. will choose his lane over Vincent Nobile after setting low e.t. of the round with a 6.616.

Semifinal matchups (lane choice first): Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Vincent Nobile; Tanner Gray vs. Matt Hartford

le.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (1:30 p.m.): LE Tonglet took full advantage of incoming points leader Matt Smith’s first-round exit to assume the points lead by beating Angelle Sampey and third-place Eddie Krawiec closed the gap on Smith as well by beating Angie Smith, and the two championship challengers will face off in a huge semifinal battle. On the other side of the ladder, veteran Steve Johnson will have lane choice against former world champ Jerry Savoie.

Semifinal matchups (lane choice first): LE Tonglet vs. Eddie Krawiec; Steve Johnson vs. Jerry Savoie

tmac-sun.jpgTOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:30 p.m.): Terry McMillen became Steve Torrence’s new best friend after stopping low qualifier and points challenger Clay Millican in their semifinal battle. Points leader Torrence increased his points lead and improved his Countdown record to a perfect 11-0 by beating third-place Tony Schumacher in the 33rd meeting between the two, the last four of which have gone to Torrence (though Schumacher still leads the series 18-15). Torrence will have lane choice based on his 3.77 compared to McMillen’s 3.81.

jrt.jpgFUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:35 p.m.): As it should be, the top two in points will square off in the final where points leader Robert Hight will try to fend off J.R. Todd and increase his lead to from 30 to 50 points. Todd raced into his fifth final of the year by besting low qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. with a 3.952 to earn lane choice over Hight, who ran 3.96 to end Bob Tasca III’s run.

tanner-sun.jpgPRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:45 p.m.): Tanner Gray and Jeg Coughlin Jr., who entered the Dallas event ranked first and fourth in the Mello Yello standings, will square off for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals Pro Stock title. Coughlin defeated Elite teammate Vincent Nobile, 6.619 to 6.634 to advance to the final. Gray had a bit of luck in his semifinal bout against Matt Hartford, the Houston champ. Hartford fouled, and a short time later, Gray’s Camaro went silent and he coasted to a 9.69 for the win. Coughlin is appearing in his fifth final round of the season while Gray will in his ninth final round.

savoie.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFNALS (2:55 p.m.): White Alligator Racing teammates Jerry Savoie and LE Tonglet will meet in the final round of Pro Stock Motorcycle. Savoie, a runner-up in Dallas a year ago, rode his Suzuki to a 6.92 60 7.00 win over Steve Johnson. Tonglet followed with a huge win against the Harley-Davidson of Eddie Krawiec, 6.88 to 6.94. Tonglet and Krawiec came into this event ranked second and third in the standings behind Matt Smith, who lost in the first round. Tonglet took over the lead with the win and will remain there regardless of the outcome of the final round.

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PRO MOD FINAL (3:35 p.m.): Jeremy Ray, near lane, runner-up earlier this year in his first career Pro Mod final in Norwalk, made good on his second chance, beating first-time finalist Justin Bond by just .005-second on a holeshot for the event win, 5.785 to 5.774.

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PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (3:43 p.m.): LE Tonglet, near lane, will head into the final three events of the season with he points lead after a clutch win in Dallas. Tonglet won for the fourth time this season and the 20th time in his career when he beat teammate Jerry Savoie in the final. Tonglet got off the starting line first with a .014 light and extended the lead to win with a 6.892 to Savoie’s 6.907.

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PRO STOCK FINAL (3:45 p.m.): Tanner Gray, near lane, extended his lead in the Pro Stock points battle by winning his seventh race of the season and his second in the Countdown to the Championship. Paired with five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the final round, Gray grabbed a six-thousandths of a second advantage at the start and held on for a 6.622 to 6.636 victory. It was Gray’s 12th career win in just 45 starts.

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FUNNY CAR FINAL (3:53 p.m.): Two weeks after being injured in a fiery final-round crash in St. Louis, Robert Hight, far lane, turned in a gutsy performance to win his 45th career win when he defeated points rival J.R. Todd in the final round, 3.955 to 3.984. Hight, who now has four wins at the Texas Motorplex, extended his lead in the Mello Yello Funny Car standings. Hight now has a 10-1 record in elimination rounds during the Countdown to the Championship.

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TOP FUEL FINAL (3:58 p.m.): Steve Torrence, near lane, remained perfect during the 2018 Countdown to the Championship with his third-straight win to put a near hammerlock on the Mello Yello championship. Torrence won his eighth Top Fuel race of the season when he defeated Terry McMillen’s Amalie Motor Oil dragster, 3.786 to 3.826. It was Torrence’s first Top Fuel victory in Dallas, his home track.

PRE-RACE FEATURES

shoe2.jpgTony Schumacher only has a few races left to collect another win and another championship for the U.S. Army, a partner who has ridden with him since 2000 and has been part of 83 of his class-leading 84 wins and all eight championships.

The only Schumacher victory that did not come wrapped in an Army uniform was his first, at this event in 1999 when he was sponsored by Exide Batteries, but he’s had enough career highlights at Texas Motorplex to fill a book. Other than his breakthrough win, 2014 stands out as it was at that event where Schumacher won twice, completing a victory on Saturday to finish out the previous weekend’s rained-out Countdown opener at zMAX Dragway then running the table during Sunday’s elimination rounds for another victory.

Schumacher, the winningest driver at Texas Motorplex with six career event titles, came into the event locked in a tight three-way battle with Steve Torrence and Clay Millican, 121 points behind Torrence and just 51 behind Millican. He started the Countdown with a runner-up in Reading behind Torrence but was upset in round two in St. Louis by part-time privateer Pat Dakin.

Schumacher, crew chief Mike Neff and the Army team enter final eliminations confident following a blistering final qualifying pass of 3.745, almost a tenth quicker than their previous three runs.

“The guys realized there was something a little strange going on with the water particles in the atmosphere and they made some changes before that run,” said Schumacher. “Mike and Phil (Shuler, assistant crew chief) just made a great call and said we were going to go after it. There was just no reason to go up and try to run in the .80s. We had to step it up and get some power up. It was a great car for the Army team. It sure helped to get us a good qualifying spot and lane choice. That was a good way to finish up our qualifying effort here and gives us some good momentum going into raceday.”

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Even sitting fifth in the championship behind runaway points leader Steve Torrence, Antron Brown and the Matco Tools teams are conceding anything as the three-time world champ keeps gunning for title No. 4, and a big outing today as the Countdown hits its official midpoint would be a huge boost for a team that has struggled this season to adjust its team roster following the offseason departure of crew chief Brian Corradi. They earned just one win, in Seattle, where they broke a yearlong victory drought, followed by a runner-up in Brainerd at the next event, but have won only four rounds in the last three events.

Texas Motorplex has provided Brown with a lot of great moments, including his first career victory in 1999 when he was riding a Pro Stock Motorcycle and two Top Fuel wins since, in 2012 and 2016.

“This place always has a special place in my heart because of my first race win in Pro Stock Motorcycles,” he said. “When we won our first [Top Fuel] championship in 2012, it was our turning point. We went out there and that’s where we really started our pull toward the championship. This race closes out the first half of the Countdown, so it’s another key race. We need to get our minds right and just go out there and try to go rounds and try to win the race.”

Brown enters eliminations and a first-round date with Doug Kalitta with a very consistent car after runs of 3.817, 3.810, and 3.814 on his final three passes.

“We’ve got a consistent car, for sure,” Brown said. “We’re trying to do more than that, honestly. We wanted to do a 75 (3.75 seconds) and it didn’t do what we wanted it to do. But, in hindsight, we got through all of our little hiccups and different deals that this car has been throwing at us and we’re just going to stay persistent about what we’ve been doing. We’re going to keep working hard and getting after it and tomorrow’s race day. I’m really confident in my team. We know how to race and we know what we need to do. We’re just going to keep our heads down and get to work. We’re racing Dougie first round, a guy we need to race, and we’re going to do what we know how to do and get after it and try to make it happen.”

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If not for Tommy Johnson Jr.’s last-run heroics in Q4, Bob Tasca III would have been wearing his first green low qualifier hat in more than six years. Tasca’s Eric Lane-tuned Motorcraft Shelby had grabbed the No. 1 spot from Friday leader Johnson with a sterling 3.95 in Q3 only to see the lead snatched at the last moment by Johnson’s unexpected 3.91. 

Qualifying No. 1 for the first time since the 2012 Bristol event would have been good tonic for a season that didn’t turn out the way Tasca hoped or expected, his first full campaign since 2014. Tasca won just one round in the first eight events and fought a series of frustrating body-damaging blower explosions. A runner-up in Bristol boosted him into the top 10, where he stayed through the Western Swing before back-to-back first-round losses in Seattle and Brainerd dropped him to 11th, where he stayed through Indy and didn’t qualify for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

A No. 2 qualifying effort at Indy showed that the team had turned the corner, just not in time, so the team set it sights on redemption and 2019.

After an aborted first run here Friday, the team fired off a 3.98 Friday night that qualified them No. 4, then stepped up in the heat Saturday with the 3.95.

“We put a brand-new blower on it for that run, and it really woke it up,” said Tasca. “It actually ran better than we thought it would – we were thinking it run .97 or .98 – but I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that again today. We have a great baseline and if we don’t go some rounds, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves.”

Tasca has a tough draw in Matt Hagan in round one. Hagan and team struggled through all four qualifying runs and wound up just 15th, but it’s a two-time championship-winning team.

“We’re not giving anyone anything,” said Tasca. “They’re going to have to outrun us to beat us.”

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John Force, the first NHRA driver to reach 100 national event victories, is poised to become the first to 150 wins, and Texas Motorplex would be a fitting place to mark what might be his final statistical breakthrough.

It was here, in 2007, that Force’s hall of fame career almost ended after a scary top-end crash during eliminations that left him with multiple injuries that ended his season. He left the track in a helicopter, underwent six hours of reconstructive surgery on his battered hands and feet, and spent a month at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas before returning to California for further physical therapy.

He hasn’t won at Texas Motorplex since 2005, when he earned his sixth win at the all-concrete super track but was runner-up to Matt Hagan in 2010 and to Cruz Pedregon in 2013. (Detail alert: He was in the Motorplex winner’s circle in 2012, after winning the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout after it was moved from Indianapolis to Texas due to weather.)
 
“I have said it before, but I want to win at the Motorplex before I retire, and I don’t plan on retiring any time soon,” said Force. “I have come close to getting another win here, but I really want to stand in that winner’s circle with a cowboy hat and just celebrate. I have a pretty good hot rod now and we will be ready.”

Force opens eliminations against Ron Capps. Force is 58-39 when facing Capps, but just  1-4 this year. His one win against Capps this season came in the final at Denver and secured his record 149th career victory.

Force scored his first of 149 wins in 1987 in Montreal and reached his 50th win in Gainesville in 1996 and his 100th in Houston in 2002. Win No. 125 was in Brainerd in 2007 just a few months before his accident.

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It's difficult to comprehend that it’s been almost a full year since three-time Pro Stock world champ Jason Line has hoisted the Wally trophy in the winner’s circle. He’s won at least one event each year since 2004 and had multiple wins in 11 of the last 13 seasons but has been stuck one win shy of a milestone 50th career win since Oct. 15, 2017, the longest drought of his 14-year pro career.

A fourth championship is not mathematically out of reach this early in the Countdown, but recent history does not reflect that a late charge is coming. He’s been past the second round just once in the last five events, but did qualify No. 3 two weeks ago in St. Louis, his highest ranking since Sonoma. That being said, Dallas has been kind to Line in the past. In addition to being the defending event champ, he also won at Texas Motorplex in 2013 and 2011, was runner-up behind teammate Greg Anderson in 2005, and has scored two No. 1 berths, most recently in 2016.

"I love coming to Dallas, and to come here as the defending event champion is something I'm proud of,” he said. “I want to win every race, but Dallas is the only one where you get a cowboy hat along with the trophy, and that's just cool. 

“We're in a good position right now with our Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaros – not great, but certainly good – because the last two races we've figured out a couple of things that have been ailing us. We just haven't had a lot of good fortune, but I keep saying all bad things must come to an end, and I still believe that. I'm hopeful for our team going into this race. We just have to keep working at it, and it will turn around."

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jeg1.jpgPro Stock low qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. sits just 70 points out of first place in the battle for the Mello Yello Pro Stock championship, looking up at three drivers -- Tanner Gray, Vincent Nobile, and Drew Skillman -- whose combined 321 races are more than 100 shy of Coughlin’s 426 events.

That’s a lot of race experience and, with five championship trophies already on his mantel, a lot of title-winning experience that the younger trio might lack, but Coughlin, one of the best to ever strap into a race car, isn’t taking them lightly.

“I’m not going to say my experience is an advantage or a disadvantage, but with Pomona being points and a half, we basically have 18 rounds of competition left and we’re back four rounds, so there’s a lot of racing still to go and we have the confidence that we know how to turn on win lights on Sunday,” he said. “I really like the momentum we have right now. Our recent history this year, from May to right now, proves we know how to make up ground and everyone knows we have the car and team to do it. All we need is a little on-track luck on race day and we'll be where we want to be."
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eddiek.jpgThe good news in the Vance & Hines camp was that Eddie Krawiec’s Street Rod scored the No. 1 qualifying spot, stealing some momentum from Matt Smith and making the reigning world champ a prohibitive favorite in eliminations, where he desperately needs an event win.

“We’ve been getting better each session, picking away at it,” he said. “We’ve been struggling in Sundays as it gets hotter and hotter, and I think we’ve finally nipped that. We’ve got such good competition right now – there are probably four or five bikes that could be on the pole – but I could really use a win today.”

The bad news in the V&H camp was that while Krawiec’s bike was screaming, teammate Andrew Hines qualified just 12th.

“I’d love to tell you we know the problem is, but we don’t,” Krawiec admitted. “The bike is being difficult. We think there’s a gremlin, so we’ve changed everything electrical on it and if it picks up first round, we’ve got a big pile of scrap sitting there because it’s so hard to diagnose where it comes from and what slows you down; it’s not even worth it.”

Regardless of that happens with Hines’ bike. Krawiec is focused on winning his third straight title at this event and taking home the trademark cowboy hat given to winners.

“As racers you have certain tracks you go to where you click, and everything works for me here,” he said. “If we can win again I guess I’ll have to get a bigger hat rack. I’m not really a cowboy, but I love wearing those hats.”

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sampey.jpgIt’s likely too little too late to contend for the Mello Yello championship but Angelle Sampey’s newfound horsepower is enough to convince the three-time champion that she is in a position to win the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals. Sampey qualified her Liberty Racing Buell in the No. 4 spot and picked up three qualifying bonus points along the way. She’ll begin eliminations with a tough round one battle against Scotty Pollacheck.

“We finally had time to do some R&D and some testing and we’ve been trying a lot of new stuff,” said Sampey. “It seems to be working in our favor at just the right time. I am excited that we are improving our performance on a regular basis now.”

In the previous 12 events, Sampey has qualified in the top half of the field just three times including a best of third in Norwalk. She attributes the performance improvement to additional horsepower found by engine builder and Pro Stock veteran Larry Morgan and his son, Nick. While the Liberty team is based in Georgia, most of the engine development is done in Morgan’s shop in Newark, Ohio.

“Qualifying third in Norwalk was a little misleading because we got rain at that race and qualifying was shortened,” said Sampey. “We just happened to make a good run. Now, I think our [power increase] is genuine. We have a bit of momentum going and it feels so rewarding. I’m very proud of the whole team for working so hard. We are having fun and it shows.”

The Pro Stock Motorcycle class has only raced at the Texas Motorplex 15 times but Sampey has appeared in a pair of final rounds. She was a runner-up at the track’s Spring event in 1999 and 2000, losing to Antron Brown and Matt Hines.

 

LADDERS

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