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Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Friday Notebook

After two days of Sportsman action, the cars of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will take center stage today for one qualifying pass to kick off their weekends at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the final event of the regular season. Stay tuned to our notebook for news, notes, quotes, features, and photos.
31 Aug 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Indy

Preview | Features | Results | Photos

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

krawiec.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (7:27 p.m.): Moments after unveiling his special edition Mello Yello paint scheme, world champion Eddie Krawiec rocketed to the top of the qualifying charts in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a 6.825, 197.02. Krawiec, the defending U.S. Nationals winner, knocked Matt Smith from the top spot after Smith rode his EBR-bodied V-twin to a 6.850. Chip Ellis, aboard a Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, and Andrew Hines also earned bonus points with runs of 6.856 and 6.866, respectively. The U.S. Nationals figures to be one of the most competitive fields of the year and after one run, there are already 16 riders in the six-second zone.

tanner.jpgPRO STOCK Q1 (7:44 p.m.): Tanner Gray paced the field in Pro Stock after Q1 with a strong 6.603 from his Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro. In a class where most runs are just a few thousandths apart, Gray separated himself from the rest of the field by nearly two-hundredths over second-ranked Greg Anderson, who posted a 6.621, 208.75. Erica Enders finished the nighttime session in the No. 3 spot with a 6.623 in her Melling/Elite Camaro while Vincent Nobile wheeled the Mountain View Camaro to a 6.628, 208.04. The current bump spot is Steve Graham’s 6.735. By making his qualifying pass, reigning world champ Bo Butner clinched the final spot in the Pro Stock Countdown field.

fc1.jpgFUNNY CAR Q1 (9:25 p.m.): Defending event champ J.R. Todd is off to a good start in his title defense after powering the DHL Toyota to a field-leading 3.910. Bob Tasca III was next best, as he ran 3.928 in his Bob Glidden-tribute Mustang to earn three bonus points and cut his deficit behind 10th place Tim Wilkerson to just 21 points. Teammates Matt Hagan (3.943) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.948) gathered up the session’s final points and rank Nos. 3 and 4 on the sheets. Six drivers made three-second passes; seven if you include Bob Bode, who lost a career-best 3.981, his first three-second pass, when his Mustang nicked the top-end timers, disqualifying the pass. With her opening qualifying pass, Courtney Force clinched the top seed in the Countdown to the Championship field.

tf1.jpgTOP FUEL Q1 (10:01 p.m.): Mike Salinas will enter qualifying on Saturday in the No. 1 position after making a stout 3.756-second pass in his Tom McEwen tribute Top Fuel Dragster. The San Jose, Calif-based racer is fighting for his Countdown to the Championship life and he earned four points in defense of his position, a full .016 second ahead of Antron Brown in the No. 2 position. Scott Palmer and Leah Pritchett also earned bonus points, while Terry McMillen is on the bump spot (5.116) after the first day of qualifying at the Big Go.

E_Krawiec.jpgFRIDAY PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER EDDIE KRAWIEC: “I think that’s an awesome run for off the trailer especially for the conditions. It didn’t rattle. It didn’t shake and overall, I’m very happy with it heading into the biggest race of the year. Unveiling the [special edition] Mello Yello motorcycle, it was fitting for me to put it on the pole and for it to all work out in my favor. I’m excited to fly the Mello Yello colors this weekend. We’re located a mile from here, and we have a lot of family and friends here. To do this here is very special.

“I wouldn’t say we found something more. Honestly, this is the same engine I’ve had in my bike the last few races. It doesn’t hurt that our shop is a mile from here. A lot of our data is acquired here. That gives us an edge especially coming here. Two weeks ago, in Brainerd, we weren’t fastest or had the lowest E.T. You just need to consistently make good laps every single run. We refine our tune up every single lap and occasionally we try stuff. That’s why we have Chip Ellis riding our second bike. That’s merely an R&D effort. We want to educate ourselves for 2019 because we need to be better. We have to be conscious of everything that’s going on. We’re always working on something new.”

T_Gray.JPGFRIDAY PRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER TANNER GRAY: “I try not to do anything different than what we’d do any other weekend. This race is very prestigious but as a driver, you have to take it like you would any other race. The more pressure you put on yourself, the more prone you are to make mistakes. There is no point in extra pressure. We’ve just got to do our best and see what outcome is. This race is really cool for me because dad [Shane] won it in 2014. To win would be something really cool to check off on resumé. Whether you win a championship or not, you could always say you won Indy.

For me personally, it’s not a big deal going from day to night. That’s more for the crew chiefs. I just strap in and hold on. We get four runs in the heat so we’ll have data for Monday. The dark is not a big factor except I tend to hit the Tree a lot better at night. That’s what I have to deal with. I know my [reaction time] will slow up, but I’m not too worried about. We’re just going to try to lay down fastest run each and every time and try to gain points. We want to be No. 1 going into the Countdown. Greg [Anderson] has us by a round so the points are really big here. Any little points will add up in the end.”

J_Todd.JPGFRIDAY FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER J.R. TODD: “Listening to Todd [Smith] and Jon [Oberhofer, crew chiefs] they weren’t expecting to run that well, but as soon as they saw [Bob] Tasca run 3.92, Todd came back and made some adjustments. Whenever you see them do that it’s like they’re licking the chops.

“Three-second runs have been hard for us to come by until Brainerd where we went .97 in the semifinals and we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, then came here last week and tested and really well, better than we’ve run all season. The Friday night run is key because we know it’s going to be hot the rest of the weekend. I struggle at night driving; I was driving all around on that run and when I saw a 3.91 on the scoreboard, I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ It’s a testament to my ‘Yella Fellas’; they’re a bad ass group of guys.”

M_Salinas.jpgFRIDAY TOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER MIKE SALINAS: "We actually we would run lower to be honest. We threw the blower belt off at about 800 feet and ended up running a 3.74, but I think it had a 3.72 in it. This is my first U.S. Nationals and to be honest with you, this is amazing. This is like being a kid in a candy store, I’m just looking around like ‘wow.’ 

"Back in the Fremont [Raceway] days I could only dream of something like this. So, I’m just lucky to come out here and do something like thing, you know? These guys I’m racing against are the best and to be honest with you, just planning on this and working with Alan Johnson, Dough Kuch and the team has been awesome."

FEATURES

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The best chance of stopping Steve Torrence this weekend might come from the most recent winner in the Top Fuel category. That’s right: his dad, Billy Torrence. Not only does Billy drive the quickest car on property this weekend, boasting a 3.788-second elapsed time average (considering all Top Fuel runs quicker than 4 seconds), he also has one of the most consistent. 

Billy’s Capco Contractors dragster gets down the track quicker than 4 seconds 71.1 percent of the time it makes an attempt. That’s better than everyone on property not named Blake Alexander (75.6). The only other competitor close to Billy? You guessed it: His son, Steve-O (67 percent, 3.791 e.t.). 

These numbers come with a markedly smaller sample size than the rest of the competition, of course. Billy has made 24 successful laps this season compared to his son, who has made 66. That’s also true when it comes to average reaction time: Billy is the third best in the category (.070), while Steve is fifth (.074). 

All that is to say it won’t be a huge surprise if it ends up being an all Capco Contractors duel in the final round of Top Fuel this weekend. Of course, it should be noted Tony Schumacher is waiting in the wings with the third-quickest e.t. in Top Fuel (3.792) and a damn consistent car in his own right (62.7). If it’s true that the U.S. Nationals brings out the best in competitors, the Capco Boys better look out for Schumacher. 

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A Top Fuel driver comes top a national event with a handful of responsibilities other than getting behind the wheel of a race car. These vary, depending on what team you drive for. Some of them are more interesting, and more difficult, than others. Take decal application, for instance. If you, like us, never got the hang of putting stickers on LEGOs as a kid, you might not be cut out for this part of a driver’s job. 

Enter Blake Alexander and LoCo Cooker team member “Aussie Dave” – the two tasked with applying the Pronto Auto Services decal on the Bob Vandergriff Racing chassis ahead of this weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. The process is more complicated than you might have expected. 

First, Dave tapes the sticker to the dragster (the sticker comes sandwiched in between two pieces of paper). He then unpeels the half of the sticker facing the dragster and gets out a special tool to adhere it to the car. Dave slowly applies the sticker horizontally across the dragster to keep bubbles from appearing on the surface. 

Then, Dave peels the top half of the sticker off the dragster, leaving that portion completely applied. Next, the process is repeated on the bottom of the sticker. If there are any exposed bubbles, Dave uses a knife to puncture them before smoothing them towards an exposed edge. So, that’s it. Really simple. No big deal. 

It didn’t go very well at first, which is why “Aussie Dave” was called into service to begin with. Don’t worry, Alexander is focused on the driving aspect of the race. This is his first time racing at the U.S. Nationals in Top Fuel and he’s looking for his third victory of the season with a new sponsor on board. LoCo Cookers brass will be in the house this weekend. No pressure. 

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clay.JPGClay Millican took home the pole at the 2017 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but lost in the first round to eventual finalist Kebin Kinsley. The Tennessean didn’t get his Big Go weekend off to such a terrific start this year, as he got into a fender bender in the Indy area on Wednesday. No one was seriously hurt, but Millican hopes that’s the last of his bad luck this weekend. 

He hasn’t experienced much behind the wheel of his Parts Plus / Great Clips Top Fuel Dragster this season. Millican enters Lucas Oil Raceway in third place, just one point behind Tony Schumacher and with a car every bit as good as the U.S. Army racer. The team’s goal has been to enter the Countdown to the Championship in second place for the past five races, and it can make good on it with a good showing at the Big Go. 

“It should be pretty good, we stepped on the gas five or six times and I feel good about it,” said Millican. “What testing allowed us to do is step on the gas with that fresh front half from (Don Schumacher Racing).”

That puts him in a comfortable position as the Countdown to the Championship gets going. This is Millican’s first year driving a DSR-built chassis, having driven Brad Hadman-build dragsters up until this season, when the legendary builder retired. 

“Schumacher was amazing. We dropped the car off and they delivered it to the race track six hours later,” he said. “They were ready for us and everything, but still. That was amazing.”

Millican is averaging an e.t. of 3.8 seconds and makes it down the track 51 percent of the time. It’s worth noting he’s made many more successful runs lately than he did to start the season as the team adjusted to the new track prep rolled out by the NHRA. His improvement in form (seven-straight top-five qualifying spots) and proven ability to perform in cool weather makes Millican a threat when the Countdown begins. 

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Bob Tasca III enters the event 11th in Funny Car points, trying to claw up at least one more position to make the Top 10. He’s just 24 points behind Tim Wilkerson and 68 behind ninth-ranked Shawn Langdon, and with points and a half available here, that’s all well within reason.

Plus, Tasca may have a little Ford Indy mojo on his side as his Mustang will be flying a special paint red and white Motorcraft paint scheme this weekend -– to be unveiled during tonight’s lone qualifying session –- saluting Ford icon and nine-time U.S. Nationals winner Bob Glidden. It’s the paint scheme that rode on Glidden’s Thunderbird when he scored his final Indy win 30 years ago.

“He’s just such a hero to me, and it’s really special to be able to do this for Bob,” said Tasca. “I can’t hold his suitcase in the sport of drag racing but if I can do this, it’s a little thank-you from me.

“If you believe that there’s any magic in the racing gods, it makes us a dangerous team. The car’s running good, we’re qualifying well, and we’ve lost two heart-breaking races – in Seattle and Brainerd – by a hundredth or less. The bottom line is that we have to go one more round than Wilkerson. We can win this race as well as anyone.”

Tasca has yet to win the U.S. Nationals, but has been to the final round three times: in Funny Car in 2011 (runner-up to Mike Neff) and twice in Alcohol Funny Car, back to back in 2006-07, losing both times to Indy king Frank Manzo.

“We know what we have to do,” he said. “We’re in a position where we somewhat control our destiny in that if we have a good weekend, we knock in, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

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Bob Tasca III is isn’t the only driver this weekend rocking a retro paint scheme of a former Indy champ as Shawn Langdon’s Global Electronic Technology Toyota is wearing a scheme saluting the late Tom McEwen’s English Leather Corvette, which won this event in 1978 in one of Indy’s most memorable moments.

Pat Galvin (pictured third from right above), who was McEwen’s crew chief that weekend, has been aligned with Global owners Steve and Samantha Bryson throughout their brief but fast-rising time in the sport (and, in fact, introduced them to the Kalitta team) and serves on the board of directors of the company had no idea that the Brysons would choose to honor his and McEwen’s legacy with a special wrap.

goose3.jpg“I had asked Steve if we could put a Mongoose on the hood of the car to honor Tom, and he was OK with it as long as Connie [Kalitta, team owner] was OK with it, and he was," said Galvin. "My son Trevor works on the car so I asked him to send me a photo of the car but all he sent me was this tight close-up of the Mongoose on the hood. I asked him to step back and give me a shot of the whole car, but he wouldn’t. I didn’t think all that much of it.

“They yesterday [Thursday], they told me to be at the trailer at a certain time, so I was standing there, with my back to the trailer, talking to Darrell Gwynn, when they rolled it out and Steve said, ‘What do you think of the car?’ I turned around and couldn’t believe it. What an awesome tribute.”

Galvin’s name is listed on the car as crew chief and McEwen’s name is on the window (tip o' the helmet to actual tuners Nicky Boninfante and Kurt Elliott and Langdon). The car will be officially unveiled in tonight’s qualifying session. Top Fuel racer Mike Salinas is also sporting a McEwen paint scheme on this weekend’s 40th anniversary of the big win.

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The last two seasons have been a little like the Del Worsham Nostalgia Tour, as the 39-time national event winner shed the big responsibilities of corporate sponsorship with giants like Checker-Schuck’s-Kragen and DHL and big-team politics to return to his roots racing with his father, Chuck. He’d also like nothing more this weekend than to get reacquainted with the Indy winner’s circle. He’s been to the pinnacle of the sport before, winning the event in 2005 on a career weekend in which he also won the $100,000 payout for winning the Skoal Showdown bonus event for a rare Indy double, and got close to winning again in 2016, where he was runner-up behind Matt Hagan. He even came close to joining Indy’s exclusive dual-nitro win club with a runner-up in Top Fuel in 2011 during his tenure with the Al-Anabi team.

“Looking back on everything, it’s just kind of startling how much time has passed and how many things have happened over the decades, both good and bad,” he said. “We’ve seen the very top in Indy, back when we won the race and the Shootout in 2005 and took home close to a quarter-million dollars in one weekend. I’ll never forget that.

“The days when we first started, with just a little help from a few friends and whole lot of desire, were priceless too. Without all the learning and challenges we faced in the early ‘90s, I don’t think the CSK deal would’ve happened for us. We earned that the hard way. And then to grow that program like we did, with the fantastic people at CSK, well that was life-changing. To go on to race for Alan Johnson and win the Top Fuel championship, and then have the equal honor of racing for Connie Kalitta and winning a championship for him in Funny Car, it’s hard to put into words what all of that meant.

“I made it clear after I made the decision to go back to racing with my dad that it was a personal choice. I’d been to the top in both nitro classes, and I wanted to close that loop. It’s been a challenge, just like it was in the early years, and it gets frustrating when the car will throw us a few bones but then act up again. I haven’t stared at the data on the computer screen this much in decades. The last time I was this deep into the data I didn’t need glasses to see it.

“This year has been tough, in a lot of ways, and neither my dad or I like running in the back of the pack or struggling just to qualify. We know how to win, and we work at it hard enough to earn it. We’re coming to Indy to do the best we can. How good is that? Well, the best we can be is a team that can win any race, including the U.S. Nationals. We can absolutely do it, and I’m not heading into the race with the idea that it would be cool to make the field. I’m not counting myself out. I’m counting on myself to be solidly in the mix and we’ll give it everything we have to get back up on that winner’s circle stage with the trophy.”

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jeg.jpgGiven his recent success that includes three Pro Stock wins this season in Chicago, Bristol, and Sonoma, and his past success at Indy, there probably aren’t too many racers who are looking forward to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals with the same level of anticipation that Jeg Coughlin Jr. has. Coughlin was outside the top ten for the first eight races this season, but his recent hot streak has propelled him to the No. 5 spot and he’s already clinched his spot in the Countdown to the Championship.

“Not too many cars or teams have enjoyed the momentum we've built this summer here at Elite Motorsports,” said Coughlin. “It's been a good year and we're ripping and rearing to go this weekend. Most everyone knows [Indy] is the Super Bowl of drag racing. It's a race sponsors, team owners, drivers and crew personnel hold in very high regard so we place a lot of emphasis on this event. Plus, it's the last race of the regular season and it awards points and a half so we're all fighting for our playoff spot because the overall points will be reset come Monday night and the higher up you finish now, the better start you have for the Countdown.”

The Coughlin family has nine wins at the sport’s marquee event and Jeg Jr. is responsible for four of them. He won the Pro Stock title in 2000, 2002, and 2009, and claimed the Super Gas title in 1992, the same year he was crowned national champion. As a bonus, Coughlin is also a former winner of the popular Dodge Hemi Challenge, which is contested in Indy each year. The JEGS team is well represented in Indy with entries in Pro Stock, Pro Mod, Top Alcohol Dragster, Super Comp, and Super Gas.

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tucker.jpgThe Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has attracted one of the largest fields of the year in Pro Stock and it features the season debut of  Shane Tucker. The 33-year-old Aussie native has built a successful commercial facade company on two continents. Starting on the Gold Coast of Australia Tucker founded Auzmet Architectural and years later added a Dallas, Texas headquarters to take advantage of the U.S. construction boom that has done nothing but expand his companies reach and impact on the Dallas skyline. As a result, his dreams of competing for the Mello Yello Pro Stock title have been put on hold.

This weekend, Tucker will roll out his Auzmet/Structglass Chevrolet Camaro for the first time in 2018. While this will be the last race of the regular season for the full-time Pro Stock racers Tucker will be battling to get his racing legs underneath him and qualify for the biggest drag racing in the world. This will be Tucker’s fourth U.S. Nationals and he will be looking to improve on his previous best performance a No. 14 qualifying effort and tough loss to Shane Gray in 2014.

“I am an incredibly competitive person in everything I do,” Tucker explained. “I love racing and I grew up around it with my dad Rob. Getting the chance, even for just a few races a year to take on the best in the world is something I can’t pass up. We have also used our racing program to network with other businesses and have had a lot of success away from the track.

“Every time you come to Indy you get excited,” Tucker said. “Our rookie season we qualified No. 14 and had a tough race against Shane Gray. We have come back two more times in 2016 and last year and come close to getting into the race but the field is just so tough. Qualifying is so tough and these cars are so quick I love the competition and getting back together with the other drivers. We are going to give it our best but we also have five more races after Indy.”

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Jason Line got a head-stars on his fellow Pro Stock racers at Indy, sort of. While most Pro Stock teams were just getting set-up, Line was making runs down the Lucas Oil Raceway quarter-mile behind the wheel of his ‘70 Buick Grand Sport Stock Eliminator car. Line qualified well in the 128-car field and then went to the class final in C/SA where he was out-gunned by Bobby Brannon’s new Chevy Camaro. The first round of Stock eliminations isn’t scheduled to take place until Saturday morning, so Line’s sole focus on Friday will be his Summit Racing Camaro Pro Stocker.

“I haven't won Indy yet, but right now my Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro is a car that could certainly win,” said Line, who is competing in his 350th event as a professional. He’s also sitting on 49-career wins. “I'm driving better, for the most part, and overall we've gotten progressively better with my car lately. We haven't yet been quite good enough to go four rounds in a row, but it's coming, and to get the 50th win of my career in Summit Racing's 50th year in business at Indy would really be something special. I'll also be racing my Stocker there, and that's always a lot of fun. No matter what, Indy is always an event that holds a lot of meaning and history, and this is one I really want to win.”

Line went to the final of the first two events of the season in Pomona and Phoenix but struggled after that with a string of early losses. He was ranked as low as tenth in the Mello Yello standings after Bristol but has recently regained early-season forum and has climbed to No. 7 following a semifinal finish in Brainerd.

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Last week, the Vance & Hines team announced that veteran rider Chip Ellis was added to their Harley-Davidson team as a third rider for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and a select number of Countdown races. Some opponents were quick to label Ellis as a “blocker” but the veteran insists that his primary role with the team is more focused on testing new components for the Countdown and the 2019 season.

“The boys have made a lot of changes to these bikes and there are a lot of things they want to try and they figured the best way to do that was by adding a third bike,” said Ellis. “They just asked me if I wanted to ride their bike and give them so data. No one ever said anything about being a blocker and I don’t expect them to. If I have to race either Andrew [Hines] or Eddie [Krawiec] it’s game on. I mean, I’d hate to cost either one of them a shot at a championship but I certainly don’t plan to lay down for either of them. That’s not what I’m here for.”

Ellis made his NHRA debut at Indy in 2004 on an S&S-powered Buell and immediately made his presence felt with by qualifying No. 1., and setting low elapsed time of the event. Ellis accomplished a similar feat in 2007 and in 2015, he went to the final of the “Big Go” before red-lighting against Jerry Savoie. Overall, Ellis has a 15-12 round-win record in 12 appearances at Indy.

Ellis hasn’t raced a bike of any kind this season, but he doesn’t expect to be very rusty ahead of his first runs at Indy. He is one of the most experienced riders in the field and he was hired based on his ability to quickly adapt to almost any sort of bike.

“It might take a run or two to get my timing down but I’m not too about it,” said Ellis. “It all comes back pretty quickly.”

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angie.jpgAngie Smith heads into the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals ranked eighth in the Countdown to the Championhip standings and while she’s yet to clinch her spot in the playoffs, there is an air of confidence in the Denso camp. Smith holds a 66-point advantage over 11th ranked Jimmy Underdahl so even with the unique points-and-a-half format at Indy, she’d have to yield more than two rounds to her opponents in order to get knocked out of the top ten.

“I haven’t spent a lot of time doing the math, but I think that as long as I qualify I’ll be okay,” said Smith. “Even if I go out early, everyone behind me would have to make it to the semifinals or better and what are the odds of that happening? Honestly, I just need to take care of business on my end. If I can qualify well and win the first round we should be all set. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”

Two weeks ago in Brainerd, Smith had one of her best outings of the year when she bolstered her spot in the Countdown by reaching the semifinals. Smith outran LE Tonglet in the first round and then defeated her husband, Matt, in the second. Smith’s shot at a second-career final round ended in the semifinals with an early red-light against Vance & Hines Harley rider Andrew Hines.

“That was so frustrating,” Smith said. “For the most part my lights have been good this year. That was only my second red-light. I know what I did though. After I beat Matt I let that get to me. I lost my focus and red-lighted. We looked at the run on video a few times and I know what I did, and I know how to fix it. I’ll know better for next time. I am excited because I know I have a good bike and I’ve been riding pretty well and I hope that translates to some good races during the Countdown. I don’t just want to be there. I want to be a factor.”

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There is rarely a dull moment in Pro Stock Motorcycle class and that’s especially true this weekend thanks to the epic points battle that is brewing ahead of the Countdown to the Championship. We know that the first six spots have been locked up and Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr., LE Tonglet, Jerry Savoie and Matt Smith will all be competing for the Mello Yello championship. Of the six, Arana Jr. is the only one who is not a former world champ is Arana Jr., but he’s one of just two riders in the field who have officially run over 200-mph. The real drama comes when it’s time to fill the final four spots this weekend with seven riders having a realistic shot at getting into the playoffs.

Scotty Pollacheck, Angie Smith, Angelle Sampey, and Hector Arana Sr. came into the U.S. Nationals in the top 10 but any one of them could be bumped from the field by Jimmy Underdahl, Steve Johnson, or Joey Gladstone, who are lurking in the 11-13 spots. Underdahl is just ten points behind 10th-ranked Arana Sr. so it’s possible that he could be in the top ten by the end of qualifying. Gladstone is in an interesting spot, not because he’s 36-points out of the top 10, but because he recently switched teams. Last week, Gladstone abruptly left the Stoffer/Underdahl team and joined the Liberty Racing team where he will ride Cory Reed’s Buell V-twin. Reed is still mathematically eligible to make the Countdown but has elected to forgo that opportunity in order to help Gladstone. Reed will not ride in Indy while Gladstone teams with Liberty rider Sampey.  It’s possible that Gladstone could bump Sampey from the Countdown but it would take a strange turn of events for that to happen.

For the record, the points structure at Indy awards 30-points for each round win. The maximum amount of points a pro competitor can earn in Indy is 195 including 20 qualifying bonus points, 150 for a win, ten for qualifying No 1, and 15 for entering the race.

PHOTOS

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Friday opened with Day 3 of racing for the Sportsman classes and the beginning of some eliminations rounds.

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With success sometimes comes hard work, as victory sometimes means a trip to the "teardown barn," where NHRA officials inspect some of the components to ensure compliance with the rules.

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Bob Tasca III, left, will unveil a special edition paint scheme Fridaynight in honor of late Ford hero Bob Glidden. Glidden's youngest son, Rusty, who was part of his dad's nine Indy wins, joined Tasca in the media center to talk about the relationship between the two Ford runners.

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The Mopar Hemi Challenge, featuring vintage Barracudas and Darts, is always a huge part of Friday at Indy as the beautifully restored and appointed muscle cars claw for the skies en route to mid-eight-second performances.

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Nic Williams had his '69 Camaro shipped to the U.S. from England in order to compete in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Williams finished qualifying  in the 129th spot, just outside the 128-car field, but he is likely to get in the field as an alternate and compete for the Stock Eliminator crown.

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Nostalgia is always a big part of NHRA's oldest event. On display in the concourse are a number of vintage race cars, including these Fords -- an EXP and a Fairmont -- that were campaigned by nine-time Indy Pro Stock winner Bob Glidden. His sons, Rusty and Billy, paraded them down the dragstrip later in the day.

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Roland "the Hawaiian" Leong, left, and Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, who together won Top Fuel at the 1965 U.S. Nationals, are just two of more than a dozen NHRA icons on hand as part of the NHRA Legends Tour that leads up to next yer's 50th anniversary Gatornationals.

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Mello Yello's Al Rodnon helped Eddie Krawiec pulls the wraps off to reveal a special Mello Yello-themed Harley that Krawiec will ride this weekend. Mello Yello also had special paint schemes on the Funny Car of Del Worsham (2016) and the Top Fueler of Antron Brown (2017).

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A tradition of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the annual COPO Camaro parade down the return road was an impressive sight.

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NHRA paid tribute to the memory of Bob Glidden, one of the most renowned and beloved drag racers in history, following the Pro Stock qualifying session.  Indiana state representative Randy Frye formally proclaimed Glidden as a “Sagamore of the Wabash” recipient, an honor only presented to those who have greatly contributed to Indiana’s heritage and presented it to Glidden's wife, Etta. Hendricks County, Ind., also made Friday, Aug. 31 “Bob Glidden Day.” 

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Jim Daniels won his third straight Mopar Hemi Challenge title and the $15,000 prize. [Story]

 

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Bob Tasca III pulled the wraps off his Bob Glidden tribute Mustang, then raced to a 3.928, good for the No. 2 spot.

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Shawn Langdon and the Tom McEwen tribute Toyota wowed the crowd with its wonderful lookalike paint scheme to McEwen's 1978 Indy winner.

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Jim Head also got in on this year's retro craze with this late-1980s paint scheme that rode on his Oldsmobile Funny Cars 30 years ago long before he handed over the reins to current driver Jonnie Lindberg,

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Juan Cantu's El Arabe jet dragster closed out Friday's action with a great fire and smoke show.

PREVIEW

S_Torrence.jpgSteve Torrence has all but clinched the No. 1 seed in the Top Fuel standings, but the real drama is at the bottom of the table. That’s where (ostensibly) three racers are battling for two spots in the Countdown to the Championship. Scott Palmer, Mike Salinas and Richie Crampton are separated by nine points from ninth to 11th place and have one more weekend to solidify their spots in a playoff position. Today is just their first opportunity to get acquainted with Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis – for Salinas, it will be the first time in his career. The Californian is making his U.S. Nationals debut in what is currently the biggest race of his life. No pressure. 

C_Force.JPGCourtney Force, who’s led the points nearly all season, will try to finish a couple of final pieces of business this weekend: locking down the No. 1 seed for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and joining her dad, John, and sister Ashley as a U.S. Nationals champion. She’s on the very verge of the former – a solid qualifying run today should pretty much do it – and after leading testing here last weekend, it looks like tuner Brian Corradi has a good handle on the Indy surface which anymore is more than half the battle. Ron Capps, who sits second, has slim hopes of getting the top seed but would love to have the other half with what would be his first Indy win s well.

D_Skillman.JPGThe field of 10 for the Countdown to the Championship is almost set so the sole focus for more of the Pro Stock drivers at Indy will be winning the sport’s marquee event. Of the 20 drivers entered in this year’s event, just five; Drew Skillman, Chris McGaha, Erica Enders, Greg Anderson, and Jeg Coughlin Jr., have won Indy before in Pro Stock. That leaves notables such as Jason Line, Tanner Gray, Bo Butner, and Deric Kramer in search of their first Indy wins. Given that nine different drivers have won Pro Stock events this year, it’s entirely possible that a new winner is crowned with Line and defending Indy champ Drew Skillman being the favorites. With 20 cars on the grounds, there will also be a battle just to make the field.

E_Krawiec.jpgWith 22 pre-entries, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class features one of the largest fields in any professional class at Indy so the battle just to make it to Monday’s final eliminations will be fierce. With so much talent in the field, it’s entirely possible that one of the tour regulars, or a rider battling for a spot in the Countdown to the Championship, will be a Monday spectator.  Points leaders Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec are coming off an all-Harley-Davidson final round in Brainerd. Speaking of the Countdown, there are only six riders who have confirmed their playoff spots. All told, there are ten riders competing for the final four Countdown spots including world champions Angelle Sampey and Hector Arana Sr. who are currently ninth and tenth, respectively. Those on the outside who need a big weekend to make the cut include Jim Underdahl, Steve Johnson, and Joey Gladstone, who recently made news when he left the Stoffer/Underdahl team to join Cory Reed’s Team Liberty squad.