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JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals Saturday Notebook

02 Jun 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Chicago

PreviewFeaturesPhotos | Results

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

A_Sampey.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (2:44 p.m.): Not many riders improved during Saturday’s third Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying session although the bump spot did change several times. Angelle Sampey started the session outside the field, bumped her way in with a 7.060, 189.66, and then was bumped out again by her teammate, Cory Reed, who tripped the clocks with a 7.038, 189.87. Sampey has only failed to qualify once in her career, and that was due to an injury. The quickest run of the round was made by Andrew Hines, who improved slightly from yesterday’s 6.862 to a 6.860 on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson. Matt Smith also found the 6.8s on his Victory Magnum with a 6.890, 192.52. Smith’s wife, Angie, also collected a qualifying bonus point after her 6.920, 190.89 run on her Denso Buell. Points leader Eddie Krawiec was expected to challenge Harley-Davidson teammate Hines for the top spot, but slipped to a 6.937.   

NDE_5970.JPGPRO STOCK Q3 (3:10 p.m.): Greg Anderson continued to set the pace in Pro Stock with a 6.601, 209.20 to lead the third Pro Stock qualifying session. Anderson has collected all nine available bonus points thus far at Route 66 Raceway. The only driver who was close was Tanner Gray with a 6.609, 208.91. Gray remains second behind Anderson in the qualifying order after last night’s 6.556 effort. Drew Skillman also picked up a bonus point after a 6.615, 209.07. Jeg Coughlin Jr. also ran a 6.615 to match Skillman, but did so with a slower 208.30 top-end speed. Summit Racing crew chief Tim Freeman, who is making his Pro Stock debut, also solidified his spot in the field thanks to a respectable 6.629, 208.39 run.

NDE_6052.JPGTOP FUEL Q3 (3:52 p.m.): The one bonus point earned by T.J. Zizzo doesn’t mean anything for his chances of making the Countdown to the Championship because the local racer won’t race enough to qualify, but don’t tell him that. Zizzo continued to make a great statement in front of his hometown crowd with the third-best pass of the third session, a 3.808-second pass behind Brittany Force (3.783) and Steve Torrence (3.789). None of the top three racers from the penultimate session moved up as the track warmed up under patches of sunlight, but tuners got more information that should help as the weekend progresses. 

NDE_4358.JPGFUNNY CAR Q3 (4:23 p.m.): A session riddled with tire shake had a few highlights, most notably for Kalitta Motorsports. J.R. Todd scored three bonus points with a 4.014-second run while teammate Shawn Langdon nabbed his first bonus point in a flopper with a 4.08 pass. Tim Wilkerson also scored a pair of points with his 4.055. Those were just about the only representative runs made in the session, as everyone else struggled with the track. Luckily for the crew chiefs, there will be one more crack at Route 66 Raceway later this afternoon. Bob Bode holds the bump spot with a 4.662 and John Lawson and Justin Schriefer are hoping to chase him down. 

JEGS AllStars Final Rounds: The Division 4 team won it’s seventh overall team title in the JEGS Allstars, holding off a late charge by the defending champs from Division 3. Division 4 racer Aaron Stanfield led the way with a win in Super Stock and four other South Division drivers reached the final round. The team from the Pacific Division claimed the alcohol portion of the JEGS Allstars thanks to wins by Joey Severance and Shane Westerfield.

Top Alcohol Dragster: Joey Severance def. James Stevens
Top Alcohol Funny Car: Shane Westerfield def. Doug Gordon
Competition: Frank Aragona Jr. def. Craig Bourgeois
Super Stock: Aaron Stanfield def. James Antonette
Stock: Ryan Mangus def. Joe Sorensen
Super Comp: Mike Robilotto def. Austin Williams
Super Gas: Ken Mostowich def. Jack Collier
Super Street: Phil Smida def. Don Garbinski
Top Dragster: Jeff Strickland def. Lynn Ellison
Top Sportsman: Lester Johnson def. Bob Gulitti

NDE_6088.JPGTOP FUEL Q4 (6:45 p.m.): A long and oft-delayed Top Fuel session ended the way as nearly every qualifying session this weekend: With Steve Torrence at the top of the heap. The Texan made a great (though not record-setting) pass of 3.746 seconds to earn three more bonus points and snag pole position at the race he won a season ago. Now he’ll try to win in Chicago for the second year in a row while racing against Luigi Novelli in the first round of action. Tony Schumacher (3.771) and Brittany Force (3.776) also earned bonus points and will provide stiff competition against Torrence on Sunday.

First round matchups (lane choice first): Steve Torrence vs. Luigi Novelli; Brittany Force vs. Kyle Wurtzel; Tony Schumacher vs. Billy Torrence; Clay Millican vs. Pat Dakin; T.J. Zizzo vs. Scott Palmer; Blake Alexander vs. Richie crampton; Antron Brown vs. Leah Pritchett; Doug Kalitta vs. Terry McMillen.

John Force collided with the wall in a scary moment midway through the final Funny Car qualifying session but was able to walk out of the car under his own power. You can see that run and an interview with the 16-time champ here. He plans to race on Sunday. 

NDE_6135.JPGFUNNY CAR Q4 (7:36 p.m.): Bob Tasca III snagged three bonus points for the best run of the final session of qualifying with a 3.981-second pass, helping him solidify his spot in the quick half of the field. That gets him a matchup with J.R. Todd, a tough customer and two-time race winner this season. So, that’s not much reward for a racer whose team is finally starting to get things all in a line. On the other hand, Matt Hagan and Ron Capps are on the top of the qualifying sheet and look ready to get healthy, as does teammate Jack Beckman who is qualified No. 3. 

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


PRO STOCK Q4 (7:40 p.m.): In the final tune-up before Sunday’s final eliminations, Greg Anderson was once again the quickest driver in the field with a 6.589, 208.17 to secure the pole position for the 98th time in his long career. Anderson also swept all 12 available qualifying bonus points by making the quickest run in each of the four qualifying sessions. Anderson’s rival, Jeg Coughlin Jr., made one of his best runs of the weekend, relative to conditions, with a 6.596, 207.94, which was second-best of the round. Resurgent Jason Line also garnered a bonus point thanks to a 6.599, 208.30 in his blue Summit Camaro.

Round one pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. David River; Tanner Gray vs. Wally Stroupe; Matt Hartford vs. Mark Hogan; Jason Line vs. Tim Freeman; Vincent Nobile vs. Chris McGaha; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Alex Laughlin; Erica Enders vs. Drew Skillman; Deric Kramer vs. Bo Butner

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q4 (8:03 p.m.): The big story in Pro Stock Motorcycle was not who qualified, but who didn’t. For just the second time in her career, Angelle Sampey will not be a part of Sunday’s final eliminations. Sampey headed into Q4 facing a 7.039 bump spot and could only manage a 7.086. The only other time she was listed as a non-qualifier was during the 2015 Las Vegas event when she suffered an injury and was unable to continue. Sampey’s teammate, Cory Reed did make the field in the No. 15 spot. At the front of the field, Hector Arana Jr. stole the top spot from Andrew Hines with a 6.852, 197.45 but Hines stole it back with a 6.849, 194.83 a few minutes later. The final bonus point went to Matt Smith after his 6.891 pass.

Round one pairings (lane choice first): Andrew Hines vs. Cory Reed; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Marc Ingwersen; Eddie Krawiec vs. Kelly Clontz; Matt Smith vs. Steve Johnson; Jerry Savoie vs. Greg Underdahl; LE Tonglet vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Angie Smith vs. Joey Gladstone; Hector Arana Sr. vs. Ryan Oehler.


S_Torrence.jpgTop Fuel low qualifier Steve Torrence: “It was a lot cooler yesterday and a lot later in the evening when we ran and it was pretty much optimal conditions to go out there and do what we did. I was a little bit surprised to see it [a 3.67]. I wasn’t real confident that it would stick. I saw a lot of cars that were capable of doing the same thing go out and smoke the tires. It is a huge confidence booster to go into race day and into the second day of qualifying to know that Richard [Hogan] and Bobby [Lagana] have a real good handle on the tune-up. I think that’s the most dominating performance we’ve had from our race car since Dallas of last year.
I think the race car we had last year was the best one we’ve ever had and this one is getting close to that.

“This makes me feel like I’m ten-foot tall and bullet proof. I’m not bragging at all but it’s pretty darn impressive when you go out and outrun the field by five-hundredths last night and three hundredths today. This class is very close. There have been races where it’s been as close as Pro Stock. That’s not something that you see very often and it makes you feel good going into race day. I’m pretty amped up.”

M_Hagan.JPGFunny Car low qualifier Matt Hagan: “We changed everything [since the beginning of the year]. We have different track conditions. We’ve had to regroup and make big huge wholesale changes to this Mopar Funny Car. Obviously, it’s take a few runs and a few races to get there. I really feel like we’ve closed the gap on Courtney [Force] now. We can go out there and throw down a good number if the conditions and the track is there. The confidence is there. We have more power than we need; it’s just a matter of how to pull it back and reel this car in and run the numbers that the track can handle.”

“At the end of the day, I’m very confident going into tomorrow but then again, it’s a fuel Funny Car so you never know what’s going to happen. I’m blessed to have that No. 1 spot for now. For everyone thinking those Chevies are running up front, we’ve got those Mopars going again. Give Dickie [Venables, crew chief] enough time and he’ll figure it out it’s just a matter of runs.”

G_Anderson.JPGPro Stock low qualifier Greg Anderson: “It’s not me. It’s the team doing this. There is nothing the driver can do to make it go low E.T. This is the fifth time I’ve done it this year but this is the first time it’s been a clean sweep. We’ve had low E.T. of every session. That’s a good feeling going into Sunday. We all know I’ve had a great qualifying car all year but haven’t quite been able to get the job done on Sunday. If I can’t get the job done tomorrow something it wrong. Something is seriously wrong. The horse is under me. It’s just up to me to ride it.

“I feel great going into tomorrow. The only thing I wish I could change is I wish we could race tonight because for some reason Sunday has been a little bit of a hiccup for me. That’s the way they wrote the rule book so we’re going to have to come back tomorrow and try again. My Summit Chevy is getting better at every race. If you can gain thousandths every weekend that’s a mile in this class. If I can go my job on the starting line tomorrow I’ll have a great chance of going the distance. There are 12 of the 16 cars that absolutely should win the trace tomorrow but only one can.”

 A_Hines.jpgPro Stock Motorcycle low qualifier Andrew Hines: “We had a good motorcycle today. I left the starting line with the exact same 60-foot time each session which happened to be my two best of the year. I got a hold of the starting line and the track is real good for us. It took a little bit of brain-scratching overnight to figure things out after our disastrous Q2. It’s a repeatable motorcycle and I can go out there with confidence to go out and attack the Tree. It’s always nice to leave here with a green hat even though my son stole it.

“We threw everything at it. We just kind of went back to some older notes and some new transmission ratios that we brought this weekend. It rides really smooth and really fast. It’s nice to get down the track really fast. It’s nice to run late at night. It’s a different scenario. It’s fun and the track was as tight as we could ask for. You could tell it was really good. We’re happy with the way our Street Rod is performing. My bike is good but we’re working to fix Ed’s bike but at least we have our Harley’s at the front.”

Saturday recap: Friday No. 1 qualifiers hang onto snag pole position on Saturday. 

FEATURES

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Blake Alexander got to the first Top Fuel final round of his career in Atlanta, but the second-year Top Fuel racer turned on the red light against Leah Pritchett, ending his weekend in disappointment. He’s no rookie (he drove for many years in a Funny Car), but he’s getting a new opportunity this season to drive in a very good race car fielded by Bob Vandergriff Racing. 

“I didn’t do a good job driving in the final and beat myself up about it, then I took some time to… you know, I’ll try to be better and be more prepared next time,” said Alexander, who wasn’t exactly ready to take a half-glass-full approach a few weeks removed from his loss. “It was good for my sponsors, they were really happy about it.” 

He’s racing a part-time schedule this season and will be in Norwalk next (not to get too ahead of ourselves), which offers its own set of challenges as he goes from his regular job back into a Top Fueler. Alexander drove part time in Del Worsham’s dragster last season after moving on from Funny Car, at least for now. The California native, who now makes his home in North Carolina, is still looking for that elusive first win, but he’s probably got his best shot at it driving with Vandergriff. 

“We were like two or three hundredths off in Atlanta, but I think we’re right there,” said Alexander, who entered Saturday qualified sixth. 

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Scott Palmer made an addition to his crew this weekend in Jason McCulloch, who recently departed John Force Racing. The former champion crew chief came at the recommendation at Capco Contractors Racing crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana, which is all Palmer needed to hear before pulling the trigger. 

“Hogan talked to Bobby and he called me and said Hogie thought it was a good idea and wanted to know what I thought,” said Palmer. “Obviously, I thought it was a great idea. I didn’t even know it was an option. (McCulloch) is like the rest of us, he loves drag racing, but you know, sometimes it turns into too much of a business. You have to remember, it’s somewhat of a business but it’s just drag racing.”

This is just another example in a long list of how well the partnership between Palmer and Steve Torrence’s teams is paying dividends. Palmer reached a final for the first time in a long time earlier this season, is running quicker and more consistently and now can count an experienced and talented crew chief among his own. 

“We’re just proud to be part of that process with their team,” said Palmer. “This should help take some of the work away from their team because they hold our hands and they do babysit us and they do put their heart into it. This should take some pressure away from them. I’d like to believe that if we go more rounds and win races that we can eventually repay some of the favor that they’ve paid us.”

That tells you a little bit about who Palmer is. At his heart, he wants to pay it forward, whether it be to Torrence or to another racer like himself down the road. He also wouldn’t mind winning one of these suckers one of these days. That might come sooner rather than later with someone like McCulloch on board. 

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Making a switch to the six-disc clutch isn’t exactly easy for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for a part-time team like Kyle Wurtzel’s. The team is planning on attending four NHRA races this year, including the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals and the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, where Wurtzel qualified and lost in the first round. 

“We put a six disc in it and we’ve been kind of chasing our tails trying to figure it out,” said Wurtzel, who’s getting help from Ron Douglas. “We’re going to set it up today to slide down through there and if we can run a 3.88-92 that’ll be fine because it’ll get us into the show and then we’ll try to step it up from there.”

That’s effectively the process right now for a team that just won’t put that many laps on the car over the course of what constitutes a full campaign. While other teams going through a similar switch, say Scott Palmer’s CatSpot team, gets six times as many laps, Wurtzel just… won’t. 

“Our biggest problem is that we’ll put 25 laps on the car in a year and other drivers will put that number of laps on it in a weekend of testing,” said Wurtzel. “It’s just a learning process. So, as long as we don’t tear up too much stuff this weekend we’ll be back out in Norwalk and then not again until St. Louis. We’ll probably do some match racing in between then, too.”

While other teams making the change, like Palmer’s and even Shawn Reed’s, aren’t necessarily testing, his point stands. It’s a tough decision to make if you want to stay competitive in NHRA Drag Racing. At some point, Wurtzel had to decide to bite the bullet. 

“My goal is always to try to remain fairly competitive as an independent,” said Wurtzel. “We want to run 3.70s so bad, and we felt we needed to make the change in order to have a good chance to do that.”

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Robert Hight has yet to win a race this season, but don’t count out the defending Mello Yello Funny Car world champion just yet. Oh, you… you hadn’t done that? That’s good. He’s finished as a runner up three times this season and, perhaps more importantly, owns one of the quickest (and most consistent) cars in the class. The only things keeping Hight from holding a Wally this season have been bad luck, Courtney Force and Matt Hagan. 

So, you know, usual Funny Car business. Hight’s average elapsed time this season a 3.923 heading into the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals, which is third-best in the class. Good conditions should help Hight and tuner Jimmy Prock out this weekend, even if warm days lie ahead in the four-race swing that starts in Chicago. He also likes the new combination the team put on the car ahead of the Chicago event. 

“We haven’t gotten a win yet, but we have a lot of new parts on this race car and we have a new engine combination,” said Hight. “We are learning now, and it shows a lot of potential. The new track prep makes it a little tougher for a car like us because we are out there trying to run low e.t. every run. We are going to adapt, and we will be right there in the mix throughout the summer and into the Countdown.”

The defending champ didn’t get his first win of 2017 until the Mopar NHRA Mile-High Nationals in Denver, the 14th event on the schedule. That doesn’t mean Hight wants to follow that exact blueprint this year, but everything seemed to work out just fine for the Auto Club of Southern California team a season ago. 

If Hight does pick up the Wally in Chicago, it will be his first. He has runnered up twice in Chicago and qualified No. 1 once, but never sealed the deal at Route 66 Raceway. 

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Cruz Pedregon entered the second day of qualifying in the No. 5 spot on the back of a 3.969. The two-time Funny Car world champion made that pass in the final qualifying session of the evening after shaking the tires in his first run on Friday. Pedregon has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance this season with crew chief Aaron Brooks and assistant crew chief Glen Huszar including grabbing a win at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.

“Yesterday we stumbled out of the blocks a little bit and spun the tires in the first run, but we figured out where we miscalculated in the first run and then we came back and made a nice 3.96 to put ourselves in the fifth spot,” said Pedregon. “So even with that slip up, we were able to get into the top half of the field. Today I think we can either improve or put a couple of nice runs together."

Even with that solid run, Pedregon sees an opportunity to improve on Saturday. A 3.96 has started to look a lot more impressive as of late in part due to the new track preparation procedure implemented by the NHRA. Still, with the cloud cover and cool temperatures, there should be room to at least stay on target if not step up. 

“I think with the cloud cover, there’s no direct sun on the track,” said Pedregon. “And a 3.96 isn’t a 3.86, you know? I think we’d be talking about something else then. Either way, I maintain that the conditions are the same for everyone across the board. We’ve been pretty good at being in the top three and getting those bonus points. We had a streak going where we had eight consecutive runs where we picked up bonus points.”

That’s helped Pedregon move into eighth place, just 41 points behind seventh-place racer and 2016 world champion Ron Capps. After clawing his way into the Countdown to the Championship a year ago, Pedregon is well on his way to locking up a playoff spot well before the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. 

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John Force has struggled this season, no bones about it. But a great pass on Friday night had the 16-time champion looking like his old self again. Force entered Saturday qualified sixth on the back of a 3.971, one of just six 3-second runs the former champ has made this season. 

“I love the fans and I love to drive this PEAK Camaro Funny Car,” said Force. “Out there tonight, I was like a little kid out there giggling on the burnout. I was thinking this is why I am out here; to have fun. I have a race car I can race with. It is going to have its struggles, but it has been a while since I was one of the last cars down the track.” 

While Force gets the opportunity to play cheerleader for his daughters Courtney and Brittany week in and week out, the former of whom has won two races in a row and the latter of whom is the defending Top Fuel champion, it doesn’t compare to getting it done yourself. 

“It was good to be running beside Courtney,” said John. “I watch her every week go low e.t. or winning races. I want to show her I still have the stuff. My race car thinks I am 20 years old and when I am in it I am 20. I will drive the shit out of it and win races.”

He’s looking for his first win since the 2017 Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, one of the longest such droughts in his career. Ending that drought is obviously on his mind, but just going rounds this weekend would go a long way towards improving the mind of one of the greatest racers in NHRA Drag Racing history. 

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He’s still winless on the 2018 season, but things are clearly looking up for Jason Line who snapped a frustrating string of five round one losses with a semifinal showing in Topeka two weeks ago. It’s well known that the Summit team uses a significant part of the regular season in order to test for the final six Countdown to the Championships races, but even Line admits that going more than a month without a win light is far too long.

“We might be testing, but that’s not why we’ve run as poorly as we have; I wish I could use that as an excuse but I can’t,” said Line. “We were certainly pointed in the right direction two weeks ago in Topeka, and we did some work in the race shop since then. We're figuring things out a little slower than we wanted to, and we still have a ways to go, but Topeka gave us something to build on.”

On Friday in Chicago, Line did indeed build on his recent success with a 6.560 best that has him ranked fourth. He is just .014-second off the pace set by teammate Greg Anderson.
 
“Weather can be a big variable in Chicago, and that could be our biggest challenge this weekend, but after Topeka, I think we're prepared for anything,” Line said. “It's a great facility and a nice racetrack there at Route 66 Raceway, and it would be really good to get a Summit Racing Chevrolet in the winner's circle.”

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There is an old adage in sports that winning is contagious and after his first win last month in Topeka, Deric Kramer is certainly hoping that it holds true for Pro Stock racers. Kramer has often stated that he felt that his driving skills were on par with the most competitive drivers in the class and that his longtime crew chief, Michael Hiner, was also a capable tuner. He had the opportunity to prove both points after entering a engine leasing agreement with the KB team that put competitive power under the hood of his new American Ethanol Camaro. Kramer entered the season with just six round wins to his credit and he’s now got 17 including his runner-up in Las Vegas and his win in Topeka.

“We finally won our first race in Topeka and I think that was the break we needed to continue our success,” said Kramer. “We've got some serious power thanks to KB Racing and now that we have our first win off our back, I think there are more to come real soon. We wanted to see just how good we could be this year and so far I think we’ve done well, or maybe even surprised ourselves a few times. Getting our first win has definitely been good for my confidence.”

Kramer made a less than perfect run on Friday, but he enters Saturday’s qualifying in the top half of the field with an eighth-best 6.582, 209.75.

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NDE_5926.JPGThe roster of former drivers making a return to the Pro Stock class in 2018 will expand by one member in Chicago with Tim Freeman making a one-off appearance behind the wheel of a Summit Racing Equipment Camaro run by the KB Racing team. Freeman, who currently works as an assistant crew chief for the KB team, is driving the same red Camaro that Rodger Brodgon drove in Houston. Jason Line also ran the car for several events before returning to his more familiar blue Chevy in Topeka. Freeman got his start racing as a teenager racing in Modified Eliminator in the IHRA series, and previously raced in Comp and Pro Stock Truck, where he won his lone national event title in St. Louis in 1998. He was also a finalist at the season-ending NHRA Finals in Pomona in 1998 and then again in Englishtown in 1999.

“I'm very excited,” said Freeman. “I licensed in Charlotte in April, right before the Vegas race, and it was different. It's been quite a few years since I raced Pro Stock, and it was a lot faster than what I was expecting. It was a lot of fun.”

Freeman sat out Friday’s opening qualifying run and struggled to get down the track during Friday evening’s prime session. He made a quick rebound on Saturday morning to safely make the field with a 6.629, by far the quickest run of his career.

“We fixed a few things from last night and made a pretty decent run there,” said Freeman. “It wasn’t perfect but for someone like me who hasn’t driven one of these things, it wasn’t too bad.”

Currently Freeman’s appearance in the field is scheduled to be a one-shot deal, but he wouldn’t be opposed to racing in more events in the future if the opportunity were to present itself..

“I'll drive at as many races as circumstances allow, and it's going to be great to make some laps this weekend,” said Freeman. “We're going to have a lot of fun doing this, and that's the main thing.”

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As the winner of three world championships and 42 national event titles, Angelle Sampey does not take kindly to losing so it’s been hard for her to hide the frustration of the first year with the upstart PSE/Liberty Racing team. Sampey and teammate Cory Reed went winless in 2017, but they’ve recently begun to turn the corner. A semifinal finish at the most recent Pro Stock Motorcycle event in Atlanta has Sampey thinking that her next win is likely to come sooner rather than later.

“I told Cory [Reed, teammate] and the rest of the guys on my team that after switching back to the Buells and my semifinal in Atlanta, I finally have my fire back,” Sampey said. “I’m ready to win. Last year, we were excited when we could get a round win and now I’m heading to each race knowing I have a chance to win it and that feels great.”

Sampey’s record at Route 66 Raceway is solid. She was a runner-up to Matt Hines at the inaugural event in 1998 and banked back-to-back wins in 2002-03. She also reached the final in 2001 and in her comeback season in 2016. In addition, Sampey was the top qualifier in 2001-02 aboard George Bryce’s Star Suzuki.

Sampey didn't get down the track on either of Friday's runs and she did not make enough of an improvement on Saturday to make the Chicago field. As a result, she will be a spectator on Sunday for just the second time in her career, which now spans 226 events. Sampey's only other DNQ came in Las Vegas in 2015 when she injured her foot in a pit-area accident and was unable to continue.

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For most racers, competing in 100 NHRA national events is a cause for celebration but for Scotty Pollacheck, it’s a reminder that he’s yet to go the distance in his Pro Stock Motorcycle career. As Pollacheck embarks on the start of his second hundred events in Chicago, he’s grown tired of being asked the question, ‘When are you going to win?’

“We haven’t quite got lucky enough to get over that hump, but at least we’re there,” Pollacheck said. “I think we’re really consistent right now, and we’re right up there with the faster people holding our own. It feels like we’ve got a shot at it every time we race. We’re making good passes and progressing, winning some rounds and just kind of keeping everything together.”

Joining forces with Jim and Greg Underdahl, as well as Gary Stoffer, was beneficial to close out last season as Pollacheck posted his first career No. 1 qualifier, adding four semifinal appearances in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship to finish a career-best fourth in points. Everything has stayed on course for Pollacheck and his team, allowing the longtime rider to settle into a rhythm quickly in 2018.

“We’ve kind of started out where we left off last year and kept in the same groove,” said Pollacheck, who finished . “Last year, it was a new program for Greg and us, but everything came together really well. We struggled a bit at the beginning of the year [2017], but we kept getting better and now we’re right there. This winter, we had a lot of information and knowledge and things to work on, so we could focus on the little things.

“I think you have to not let it overwhelm you,” Pollacheck said. “You have to look at it as every run is just one run. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first day in qualifying or Sunday in the final round. You can’t let everything else get in your way. You just have to go up there and make one good lap at a time and try to keep doing that. We’re just fine-tuning things now and that makes it easier for me to ride and gives me more confidence when I’m riding.”

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Hector Arana Sr. missed half the season last year after surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, but he hasn’t had a DNQ since the 2007 Sonoma race more than a decade ago but that streak has been in jeopardy for most of the weekend. After three runs in Chicago, Arana was ranked No. 19 but he dug deep and rallied with a clutch 6.930, 192.55 to not only make the field, but to earn a top-half starting spot and a round one match-up against Ryan Oehler.

Ironically, the fastest Pro Stock Motorcycle in the world, the sport’s only official 200-mph entry, resides in the Lucas Oil team pit area and it’s ridden by Arana’s son, Hector Jr. Both Lucas Oil EBR’s are nearly identical to each other but so far this season, his performance hasn’t shown it. Hector Jr has an average elapsed time of 6.878 through the first three races of the season while his father has an average of just 6.912. The key difference is in sixty-foot times where Hector Jr. maintains a quick average of 1.097 to a 1.115 for Sr.

“We’re trying to make these bikes as close as possible but its not as easy as it sounds,” said Hector Sr., who raced his son in the final of the 2014 Chicago event. “No two bikes react the same way and Hector [Jr.] and I have two different riding styles so what works for one bike might not work for the other. We use the same data to tune both bikes but there are differences. It’s tricky to find that balance. We had a long delay before we ran; they moved Pro Stock Motorcycle to the end of the day after Top Fuel and Funny Car and that certainly helped us a little. I think we would have gotten in the field anyway but that certainly helped.”

 

PHOTOS

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NHRA announcer Joe Castello takes new fans on a tour of the midway. 

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NHRA legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits signs autographs at the Mello Yello Powerhouse. 

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NHRA Legend Jeg Coughlin Sr. signs autographs at the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals.

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NHRA annoucer Alan Reinhart and Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster crew chief Jim Oberhofer talk Nitro at NHRA Nitro School.

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From left: Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon and J.R. Todd sign autographs for fans.

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Papa John's Pizza founder John Schnatter and Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel pilot Leah Pritchett took to the strip for another Charity Challenge to benefit the Infinite Hero Foundation Saturday. 

PREVIEW

S_Torrence.jpgSteve Torrence set both ends of the track record on Friday night and while track conditions may not offer another crack at those marks Saturday, the Texan can at least get his race day setup under control. The Capco Contractors machine is the second-quickest car in the Top Fuel category (3.758 e.t. average) and has also been one of the most consistent on the season. Oh, and Torrence is the points leader, if that's something you're interested in. He won the Chicago event in 2017, his first at Route 66 Raceway, after struggling at this event in previous years. He's looking to continue that positive momentum by getting the No. 1 qualifier Saturday. 

M_Hagan.JPGMeanwhile, Matt Hagan wants to get in position to earn his second victory of the season by securing his second No. 1 qualifier of the year. The Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger has been one of the quickest cars this season, but a string of inconsistent performance set the team back in recent races. The team put that behind them after a strong showing in Topeka despite falling short to current points leader Courtney Force. Hagan feels he's capable of running alongside the front-runners again and that's hardly a far-fetched assumption. 

G_Anderson.JPGGiven how well his Chevy Camaro has run this season, it's absolutely baffling Greg Anderson hasn't won a race yet this season. Yet here we are in the ninth race of the season and the red Summit Chevy is winless. He has the quickest car (6.577) and nothing to show for it yet. He's also chasing his __ No. 1 qualifier of the season. Given the favorable weather conditions, there's still a chance Anderson can be run down on Saturday by the likes of Erica Enders, whose car has been absolutely spectacular (as has her driving). 

A_Hines.jpgIt's an all Harley-Davidson show at the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycling qualifying sheet. Andrew Hines is the current No. 1 qualifier, but Eddie Krawiec is right behind him. They're tied on elapsed time, but Hines had the better speed which put the second-place finisher on the top of the field after the first day of action. The two have been neck and neck all season with Krawiec earning two of the three Wallys, but the pair owning matching elapsed times entering the Chicago event. That's going to make it tough for any opposing riders to catch up with the Harleys on Saturday.