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CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals Sunday Notebook

Antron Brown returned to the winner's circle for the first time in a year by capturing the CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals Wally. He was joined in victory by Ron Capps and Tanner Gray in Seattle.
05 Aug 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Seattle

Features | Results | Ladders

ELIMINATION ROUND RECAPS

salinas2.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:25 a.m.): Mike Salinas made the best run of the first round (3.745) to get by Scott Palmer and to keep his Countdown to the Championship hopes alive. Richie Crampton did the same from the No. 10 position as he defeated Brittany Force in a tire-smoking matchup fit for a highlight reel. There were plenty of clean runs in the first stanza, as Clay Millican made a smooth 3.777 pass as did Antron Brown (3.796). Both of them will face dangerous Don Schumacher Racing racers. Millican faces Leah Pritchett again and Brown will take on teammate Tony Schumacher. Don’t go anywhere. 

Second-round pairings (lane choice listed first): Steve Torrence vs. Richie Crampton; Antron Brown vs. Tony Schumacher; Mike Salinas vs. Doug Kalitta; Clay Millican vs. Leah Pritchett

hight.jpgFUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (11:47 a.m.): Nobody went quicker than Robert Hight in the first round with a 3.95-second hit to take down Cruz Pedregon. That will shake up the Funny Car standings as Tim Wilkerson earned a valuable first-round victory to move him closer to the top 10 thanks to Bob Tasca III’s defeat at the hands of J.R. Todd. Countdown hopeful Shawn Langdon earned a victory against Jack Beckman while Jonnie Lindberg’s hopes of making the playoffs dimmed after falling to Ron Capps, who made the second-best pass of the first session (3.989). No one else tasted the 3s, though Wilkerson’s 4.001 came close.

Second-round pairings (lane choice listed first): Ron Capps vs. Matt Hagan; Tim Wilkerson vs. J.R. Todd; Robert Hight vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.; Shawn Langdon vs. Courtney Force

anderson2.jpgPRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:07 p.m.): The top five qualified cars all ran in the 6.54s, but none made a better pass than Greg Anderson. The former champ and current Pro Stock points leader smashed da 6.543 to defeat Steve Graham as one of the four K.B. Racing-powered Chevy Camaros to reach the second round of racing. Tanner Gray (6.546) made the second-best pass of the round and will race another K.B. Racing driver, Jason Line. The two have exchanged friendly barbs off-track and will get a chance to settle things on the dragstrip. The top six advance cars were separated by just .009 second, with only Vincent Nobile (6.594) and Bo Butner (6.601) as outliers. 

Second-round pairings (lane choice listed first): Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Vincent Nobile; Tanner Gray vs. Jason Line; Greg Anderson vs. Bo Butner; Erica Enders vs. Deric Kramer

leah2.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1 p.m.): Leah Pritchett got past Clay Millican this time around and will try to get by Mike Salinas to reach her fourth final round of the season. Salinas will have lane choice because he made the best lap of the session yet again. His 3.792 was his fifth-straight 3.70 of the weekend, proving he’s got an incredible tune-up in his Scrappers Racing Top Fuel Dragster. On the other side of the bracket is a very familiar matchup: Steve Torrence and Antron Brown. Steve-O gets lane choice in that heavyweight brawl, and he just might need it against his good buddy. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Steve Torrence vs. Antron Brown; Mike Salinas vs. Leah Pritchett

capps3.jpgFUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (1:13 p.m.): The only 3-second hit of the second round came from the NAPA Auto Parts / Pennzoil Funny Car driven by Ron Capps and tuned by Rahn Tobler. It came at a key time as he raced stablemate, and No. 1 qualifier, Matt Hagan. Capps’ 3.998 booked him a date with Tim Wilkerson in the semifinals. Wilkerson fought his way into the Countdown to the Championship already today and hopes to solidify his position. On the other side of the ladder is Courtney Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. after Force toasted Shawn Langdon by a mere .0002 second and Johnson beat a tire-smoking Robert Hight. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Ron Capps vs. Tim Wilkerson; Courtney Force vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.

tanner.jpgPRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:22 p.m.): After every single higher seed won in the first round, all but one of the higher seeds lost in the second stanza of Pro Stock. Tanner Gray was the only higher seeded racer to survive the second round of racing as he took down Jason Line to book himself a meeting with Vincent Nobile. Gray will get lane choice on the back of his 6.57, which is not quite the quickest lap made. That honor belongs to Deric Kramer, who defeated Erica Enders handily in his American Ethanol Chevy Camaro. Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Greg Anderson all fell from he top of the qualifying block to the joy of Kramer, Bo Butner and Nobile. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Tanner Gray vs. Vincent Nobile; Deric Kramer vs. Bo Butner

antron2.jpgTOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:15 p.m.): Antron Brown beat his good buddy Steve Torrence for the 25th time in 35 head-to-head meetings to reach the 90th final round of his Top Fuel career. The veteran racer will face Don Schumacher Racing teammate Leah Pritchett, who topped Mike Salinas as the San Jose, Calif. racer lost power down track. Brown will have lane choice over Pritchett as he chases his first Wally of the season in his second final round. Pritchett is looking for her third win and her first ever in Seattle — a place Brown has had plenty of success over the years. 

courtney2.jpgFUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:22 p.m.): Courtney Force will race for a Wally for the eighth time this season at the 16th NHRA event. She will not have lane choice after Ron Capps made a stout 4.002-second run, but that should be a terrific drag race after the Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro made a 4.011 pass of its own. Capps’ pass was a solo as TIm Wilkerson’s LRS Camaro sprung a leak at the starting line and was ordered to shut off. That will hurt on two ends for Wilkerson, who not only lost a chance to earn 20 points but also lost 15 points on an oildown penalty. Force took down Tommy Johnson Jr. in the semi’s by more than .05 second to stay on top of the Funny Car points. 

kramer3.jpgPRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:40 p.m.): Deric Kramer is headed to the fourth final round of his career in search of his second win. To get it, he’ll need to beat Tanner Gray. It’s the first meeting of the two Pro Stock racers in a final round and Kramer will get lane choice after making 6.565-second pass to dispatch a red-lighting Bo Butner. Gray defeated Vincent Nobile without much help from his clutch foot. If both racers stay green in the final, it should be a great race as both are at the top of the pack in terms of reaction time. Kramer was .009 second quicker in e.t. in the semi’s, he might need all of it to earn his second Pro Stock Wally. 

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LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES RESULTS: In addition to the action in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, racing also was contested in 10 categories of the Lucas Oil Series. Final-round results:

TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER
Shawn Cowie def. Joey Severance

TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
Chris Marshall def. Shane Westerfield

COMP
Brian Hyerstay def. Ralph Van Paepeghem

SUPER STOCK
Justin Lamb (pictured) def. Kory Alby

STOCK
Ryan Warter def. Randi Lyn Shipp

SUPER COMP
Greg Krause def. Steve Williams

SUPER GAS
Gene Kelly def. Robert Naber

SUPER STREET
Francesca Giroux def. Steve Beggerly

TOP DRAGSTER presented by Racing RVs
Steve Casner def. Andy Spiegel

TOP SPORTSMAN presented by Racing RVs
Bryan LaFlam def. James Rutherford

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MICKEY THOMPSON TIRES TOP FUEL HARLEY FINAL (3:07 p.m.): Tii Tharpe, far lane, who was on the verge of having to concede the 2018 championship to Doug Vancill, took advantage of Vancill's first-round exit by winning the event, defeating Mike Scott in the final, 6.31 to 6.45, to vault back into title contention with just one race, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, left on the schedule.

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PRO STOCK FINAL (3:39 p.m.): Tanner Gray, near lane, earned his class-leading fourth Wally of the 2018 season and ninth career victory in just 40 events when Deric Kramer turned on the red light for the sixth time of 2018. After a nightmare NHRA Northwest Nationals in 2017, Gray redeemed himself by leaving Seattle with the Wally in 2018. 

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FUNNY CAR FINAL (3:46 p.m.): Ron Capps, far lane, earned the 59th Funny Car win of his career and 60th overall, the first of which came right here in at Pacific Raceways. He edged Courtney Force to keep John Force Racing from sweeping the Western Swing and to put the NAPA Auto Parts / Pennzoil Funny Car in the winners circle after finishing second at the past two stops on tour. 

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TOP FUEL FINAL (3:50 p.m.): Antron Brown, near lane, captured his first victory in a year by beating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Leah Pritchett by just .004 second. Pritchett grabbed .01 second off the tree but Brown was .014 quicker down the strip, which was enough to end the drought for the Matco Tools / U.S. Army Top Fuel team and close the Western Swing on a happy note for DSR. 

T_Gray.JPGPRO STOCK CHAMPION TANNER GRAY: “It’s definitely a credit to the team. Equipment is everything out here -- drivers also play a part – but look at Deric Kramer. He didn’t have the equipment basically his whole career and comes in this year and you’re scared to race the dude now. In previously years if you were racing him in the final, you thought you had it made, but not anymore. He’s doing a fantastic job of driving. I never realized he was as good as he is on the Tree.

On the starting-line burndown and Kramer’s final-round red-light: “I expected him to stage a little quicker than he did because he’d been going in first in Sonoma and did it every run here, but I love that kind of stuff and I think he was OK with it. I didn’t know that he’d red-lighted until I got it into 3rd gear when I finally got the car pretty much straight. As we were staging it felt like I was a little bit pointed to the left and we’ve been doing big wheelies all day and did one again but wasn’t able to get wheel into it until it set the front end down and by the time it was over by the centerline.”

R_Capps.JPGFUNNY CAR CHAMPION RON CAPPS: “I’m in awe [of crew chief Rahn Tobler]; we’re just a good team together. This was our 24th win together since 2012, so it’s been a lot of fun. I don’t love losing, but if I’m going to lose it’s with him. Win or lose, through the down times and times like this, it’s just a lot of fun, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun together the rest of the year.

“[Courtney Force and team] have targets on their backs; there’s a reason they are the points leaders, with what Brian Corradi has done to that car and with Courtney’s driving. I told her and her team at the other end that they bring out the best in us. We’re trying to make up ground on them but you can’t do it when she’s in the other lane in the final. We’re just shooting to be as high as we can in the regular season and they’re going to be tough. I knew they were trying to sweep the Swing with an all-John Force win and I was on the bad end of two of them, in Denver and Sonoma, and, more than anything I wanted to end that for Don [Schumacher, team owner]. I know he was tired of hearing about it and reading about it.”

A_Brown.JPGTOP FUEL CHAMPION ANTRON BROWN: “This place has always been good to us, just the energy and the vibe and the fans and it always seems like when we get the Western Swing our team is hitting its stride. It’s no secret that we struggled at the beginning of the year but now we’ve got everything in the groove. Our main focus was just to get better every race.

“It’s been so long since I’ve won I wasn’t even thinking about winning [Top Fuel trophies] but now that we’ve got it, it feels pretty incredible and a testament to all of the guys I worked with in Top Fuel, starting with Lee Beard and then Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald and now with Mark and Brad [Mason].

“I’ve been very fortunate to understand what makes these cars go, so I’ve never been the driver who asks, ‘What wrong with my [car]?’ I understand what’s wrong with it and when you understand, you’re doing it together as a whole group. I never got discouraged.”

PRE-RACE FEATURES


torrence3.jpgTop Fuel points leader Steve Torrence hasn’t had many hiccups in his breakaway season, but the talented Texan says he will have  his mental game squared away today after red-lighting in the first round against Doug Kalitta last weekend in Sonoma. It was his first red-light since the 2013 Brainerd event and didn’t cost him his point lead –- and not much probably can –- but it still needs to be addressed.

“There’s no way to put lipstick on that one and making it look any better,” he said. “Sometimes you just make mistakes. It was a long Tree. I knew that when I hit the gas it was a crapshoot because I saw the light coming on as my foot was going down and maybe that I just caught it, that I met it coming on. I’ve driven these things long enough to just throw that out the window. The guys were super supportive and, in the end of he day we weren't going to win that round anyway. We went .77 and Kalitta went .74; he was .060 on the Tree so I'd have had to been .030 or better to even have a shot.

"They say if you don’t red-light every now and then you’re not trying hard enough, but that don’t make you feel any better about it. The only good thing was I got to be strapped back into this thing five days later with a chance to redeem myself.” 

He enters eliminations today as the No. 1 qualifier with a seven-round lead over Tony Schumacher and thinks he can hold onto the lead through the end of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, which offers a points-and-a-half windfall.

“With the way the points are at Indy, it makes it a very crucial event for us in trying to fend the guys off,” he said. “There’s still this race and Brainerd before we get there, so we could go in there with a better lead or close to breaking even, but I do feel confident that we can hold onto our lead. We’ll just see how the cards fall and what the Good Lord thinks.”

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At one point this summer, after his back-to-back wins in Topeka and Chicago, Clay Millican was just 25 markers behind points leader Steve Torrence. The last half-dozen races have not been as kind to the Doug Stringer’s Great Clips/Parts Plus team, which now finds itself in third place, 143 back of Torrence but just six points behind second-place Tony Schumacher.

“Our goal – 100 percent – is to start the Countdown in second place,” said Millican. “That’s our plan, our mini championship. I don’t think we can get to first. I’m not saying we’re not chasing Stevie, but our goal is second.”

Millican’s downward trend began at the race after his Chicago victory, when he red-lighted in round one in Richmond, where Torrence won the event. 

“Self inflicted injury,” he confessed. “I just screwed up. I knew I was hitting the pedal too soon. Your brain is going ‘it’s not time, it’s not time.’ That was only second red-light in 20 years in NHRA; I don’t think I had many more than that in IHRA, but it’s one that hurt us. In Norwalk we ran a supercharger one more round than we probably should have and got outrun by Leah [Pritchett]. Last week in Sonoma we smoked the tries when it shouldn’t have and we lost. Schumacher smoked the tires, too, and won his round.

“It’s like playing golf. It adds up. You miss a putt and you don’t think a lot about It until you’ve missed a few more by the end of the round.”

grubby.jpgMillican’s cerebral crew chief, David Grubnic, eavesdropping on the conversation as he bustled about the trailer, put it this way: “It’s that last little 2 percent that represents 98 percent of our problems. I’ve been preaching this for the last two months. Attention to detail in everything. Everybody has 95 percent of the puzzle. We all have these long things [chassis] and we’ve all got wheels and tires and engines. That’s the 95 percent. The remaining five percent of the puzzle represents the difference between 10th or first. When you’re in the top 5, it boils down to 2 percent that separates No. 1 from No. 5.”

After Brainerd, the team will head to the Don Schumacher Racing shop to get their dragster front halved, then take part in the pre-Indy test (a rarity for a team that never tests), where they’ll also be doing tire testing for Goodyear.

“We’re excited about that,” he said. “Grubby makes dang sure he gets [Goodyear] what they need but it also gives us what we need. We’re not trying to go as fast as we can go, just making sure we can go.”

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The Western Swing has only been swept once in Funny Car, when John Force did it 24 years ago, but his entire team is hoping for the next-best thing: a team sweep. With Force winning in Denver and Robert Hight scoring last weekend in Sonoma, there’s definitely a solid possibility they can pull it off again, as they did in 2014 when Hight won in Denver, Courtney Force scored in Sonoma, and the boss finished it off with a victory in Seattle.

In 2016, John Force won the first two legs but was upset in round one in Seattle by Tommy Johnson Jr.  Force also came close in 2003 by winning in Denver and Seattle (when the middle event was reversed) but fell short of another sweep when he lost in the semifinals in Sonoma to Gary Scelzi. In 1996, two years after his initial sweep, Force won in Denver, was runner-up to Cruz Pedregon in Sonoma, and then won in Seattle.

Hight, who was a semifinalist in Denver, might have the best chance at completing the sweep. He’s the defending event champ and, as his team did last year, they’re finding their groove just in time for the stretch run of the regular season.

“I think we’re peaking at just the right time,” he said. “We’re coming up to showtime and we know we’ve got a good race car. There are a lot of cars every week that can win, but we can’t afford to focus on what everyone else is doing. All we can control is what we do. For JFR, the key is to keep working as a team toward the common goal, which is another Funny Car championship. When you work together, the learning curve is way less for everyone.”

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wilk.jpgIt seems like a long time ago, but there was a period where Tim Wilkerson was unbeatable in Seattle. Wilk won three consecutive Northwest Nationals from 2009-2011 – beating a trio of past and future world champs in Tony Pedregon, Ron Capps, and Jack Beckman in the final rounds – and would love to add a fourth Seattle victory this weekend to supercharge his bid to make the top 10 and compete in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Wilkerson enters eliminations in the No. 11 position, just  28 points out of the top 10, chasing Bob Tasca III and, above him, Shawn Langdon. Wilkerson hasn’t been in the top 10 since the season opener, where a second-round finish ranked him sixth. He slipped as far as 14th at one point but a runner-up in Epping got him to 12th, and a round win in Denver got to No. 11.

The good news for Wilkerson is that he could race Tasca in round two, if both win their first-round races, Wilekrson against Richard Townsend and Tasca against J.R. Todd.

"We gotta make it to second round before we can start thinking about that," said Wilkerson. "There are no gimmes. These cars are all running well, and you've got to beat them all. Townsend is no pushover, they proved that they can run good. We just need to run our race, worry about our lane, and then whoever is tin the next round is who we're running.

“Everything is coming around with our car and our parts after we figured out what we'd been doing wrong procedurally in Epping,” he said. “The way the points are right now, I know I have to win rounds. When it comes down to it, if we're ninth or 10th in the Countdown it will be stupendous. But if not, it sure won't be from a lack of trying. I've got a good group of kids, and our problems are behind us because we've knuckled down and fixed them."

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Even though he races out of the KB Racing stable that boasts world champions Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and Bo Butner, Fernando Cuadra, competing in just the fourth race after a 14-year layoff, may not be a household name, but that certainly will change in the future.

cuadra2.jpgCuadra should soon be joined in the class by his sons, Fernando Jr. and Christian, as well as Julio Rodriguez, a championship engine builder and racer in Mexico’s Pro Stock equivalent. He’s collecting cars, including Line’s 2011 championship car, a Mustang, and the ex-Erica Enders Dart, though all will have KB Chevy power. Additionally, Cuadra’s fourth son, David, is going to be working through the Top Sportsman ranks will an eventual eye on Pro Stock as well.

“We have a lot of plans, a lot of things going on,” he said. “The whole thing for them is to learn the procedures. Top Sportsman is a good transition for them and then we’ll get them from using a transbrake and an automatic to a standard [manual transmission."

The Seattle event marks just the fourth event for Cuadra himself, and it’s been a mixed bag of reaction times, with some killer lights and some red-lights as he gets accustomed to Pro Stock power again.

“We’ve changed clutch pedals and linkage to get used to the clutch,” he said. “When you rev up the engine the clutch pushes back your foot, so first I was red-lighting, Then I was pushing harder [to hold the pedal down] and then I was late. These are all tricks that I didn’t know.

“I can cut the light consistently my way but then I affect the clutch. The guys told me, ‘Sit down and show me what you do,’ and they said No, no, no, no; you can’t do it that way.’ So I’ve been learning.”

Color Greg Anderson impressed.

“He can leave, he can drive, and I’m not lying, he did a better job of shifting the last couple of races than the team cans that have been racing all year long,” he said. “We could take a lesson from Fernando. He’s having fun, he’s paying attention, and he’s doing the job. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Cuadra, who funds his racing through his Corral Boots company, is also using racing as a proving ground for his footwear. Various members of the KB team are trying either shark- or ostrich-skin models as well as soles meant to handle oil and gasoline.

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wheel.jpgTanner Gray may not be leading the points in Pro Stock, but he’s still leading the way in Pro Stock in ways beyond his wins (tied for the season lead with three) and front-running reaction times. Gray worked with multi-discipline motorsports hero Max Papis and his Max Papis Innovations company to design a Pro Stock-specific steering wheel, and, in what has to be a coup for the youngster, his latest convert is six-time world champ Greg Anderson, who began using the new wheel in Denver,
 
"I didn't necessarily decide I needed a new steering wheel, but I saw this one and it definitely looked like something that work better and be more comfortable,” said Anderson. “It's lighter weight, it's a stronger piece, and it's aesthetically good looking – so maybe for the in-car camera it upped my image a little bit.
 
"I don't know that it changed my driving at all, but it's definitely more comfortable to the feel because we've just been using a generic racing steering wheel. This one is targeted towards what we do in a Pro Stock car, the feel of it, the buttons we use. It's exactly what we needed. Tanner did a good job.

“It’s beautiful. You have to get up on the wheel once in a while and then and it’s great to have a good one to get up on.”

LADDERS

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