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NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello Friday Notebook

The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series wraps up its three-race swing in Atlanta with the NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello.
04 May 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Southern Nationals

Preview | Features | Photos | Results

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

matt.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (3:23 p.m.): Weather conditions in Atlanta are significantly warmer and more humid than they were last week in Charlotte and as a result, performances were significantly slower. Matt Smith, who returned to his Victory Gunner entry after a much-publicized parting with partner Joe Riccardi last week, made the quickest and arguably most impressive run of the session with a 6.882, 196.13. Smith edged Liberty Racing’s Cory Reed, who ran a 6.889, 193.13. The third bonus point went to former Atlanta champion Eddie Krawiec, who rode to a 6.890. 195.05. After one run, there are already 14 bikes in the six-second zone including Melissa Surber, who failed to qualify last week. The bump spot is held by Jim Underdahl at 7.088.

2018_Kramer_Deric_Action.JPGPRO STOCK Q1 (3:48 p.m.): Deric Kramer, who came close to winning his first Pro Stock racer earlier this season in Phoenix, established himself as one of the early favorites in Atlanta by wheeling his American Ethanol Camaro to a 6.620, 209.07 to take the early lead in qualifying. Kramer was just six-thousandths quicker than his KB Racing teammate, Greg Anderson, who picked up two bonus points with a 6.626, 209.36 from his Summit Camaro. Kramer and Anderson currently enjoy a comfortable edge over the rest of the field since the third-best run of the round was Drew Skillman’s 6.650, 209.07. Several drivers did not make full runs including Bo Butner, Tanner Gray, Alex Laughlin, and Kenny Delco.

2018_Pedregon_Cruz_Action.JPGFUNNY CAR Q1 (4:34 p.m.): Cruz Pedregon raced to the top spot of the Funny Car field fresh off his first race win in four years. The Snap-On tools racer rolled to a 4.118-second pass, just beating out J.R. Todd (4.154) and John Force (4.159). That’s about how the first session went on a warm race track. Many drivers struggled to get down at all, as tire smoke at the hit and the 330-foot mark became the calling card of the first session of qualifying. Ron Capps had the worst of it, as his NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car quit as soon as his foot hit the gas pedal.

kalitta.JPGTOP FUEL Q1 (5:02 p.m.): The dragsters didn’t enjoy much more success than their Funny Car brothers, but Doug Kalitta managed to leg it down the track in 3.951 to claim the No. 1 qualifying spot after the first session. Only two cars got to the finish line quicker than four seconds (the second is the FireAde car driven by Leah Pritchett), and just 12 of the 17 listed made runs in the warmer of the two sessions scheduled for Friday. Every crew chief will have an opportunity to better on their first-session numbers when Nitro cars return later this evening.

2018_Krawiec_Eddie_Action.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (6:48 p.m.): Matt Smith led the Pro Stock Motorcycle field after the first run with a 6.882, and without a major sponsor, he decided to sit out the second run. Every other rider took a shot at Smith’s elapsed time and several came close, but Smith retained the top spot until at least Saturday. Eddie Krawiec came closest with a 6.884, 194.38 on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley Street Rod and Charlotte winner Jerry Savoie (6.891) and LE Tonglet (6.895) also picked up qualifying bonus points. The bump spot moved from 7.088 to 7.041 with 15 of 16 bikes in the six-second zone. Jim Underdahl opened the session on the bump and remained there despite a four-hundredths improvement.

greg.JPGPRO STOCK Q2 (7:04 p.m.): There were several notable improvements during the second Pro Stock qualifying session including a 6.593, 210.11 by Greg Anderson's Summit Camaro to take over the top spot. Anderson was one of several drivers who knocked Q1 leader Deric Kramer down to the No. 6 spot. Vincent Nobile, who spun the tires on the first run, improved to a 6.601, 209.46 and Tanner Gray also made a big improvement with a 6.603, 207.94 to earn a qualifying bonus point. Alex Laughlin and Drew Skillman also showed significant improvements over their first attempts with runs of 6.615 and 6.606, respectively. Charlotte winner Erica Enders did not get down the track with her Elite Camaro and in the most shocking development of the round, reigning champ Bo Butner is on the bottom of the qualifying chart after he had to abort his second-straight run.

hight.JPGFUNNY CAR Q2 (7:56 p.m.): The second session of Funny Car qualifying was the polar opposite of the first. Not only were there four 3-second runs, but nearly everyone in the field improved on their earlier marks. One of those racers was provisional No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight, whose pass of 3.952 got him one step closer to a green hat on Saturday night. He was followed by Cruz Pedregon (3.969) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.974). Courtney Force (3.987) also made a run in the 3-second range, while John Smith is currently holding down the bump spot with a 7.189.

clay.JPGTOP FUEL Q2 (8:49 p.m.): It took much cooler conditions, but Clay Millican turned up the heat with a 3.758-second, 331.12 mph (a track record) pass that earned him the provisional No. 1 qualifier position in Atlanta. He’s not the only one that made a big improvement in the second session, as Leah Pritchett (3.789), Brittany Force (3.799) and Doug Kalitta (3.8) also jumped up the field. Scott Palmer is holding down the bump spot with a 9.528-second run and will look to make an improvement during a couple of daytime runs on Saturday. Audrey Worm suffered a big explosion that caused her to sputter down the track in 6 seconds, and Richie Crampton also went through a bit of a boomer, though he made it down in 3.87 seconds.  

M_Smith.jpgPro Stock Motorcycle low qualifier Matt Smith: “I actually thought we’d get bumped to third or fourth [by sitting out Q2]. All in all, I made a good pass on my first run, but I also think I left a 6.85 or 6.86 out there. I went home [after Charlotte] and put a new engine together. Elite has been helping us with new parts and we’ve got a lot of potential. Basically, I’m just trying to save parts and pieces. I’m looking for funding. We have a top four bike and we’ve got a shot to win the championship.

“Last week was a rough week and we only had a few days to get ready for this race but it turned out pretty nice with us getting the No. 1 spot. My plan tomorrow is to make one pass; the morning session should be the best and I will be first pair out, so we should have the best air. The track is usually really goo on the first hit. Weather permitting, we should be able to put a good number down. My goal right now; I’m looking for points to stay in the top ten and I need [Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle] points so I have to qualify well. Not qualifying in Gainesville really hurt us. We’re trying to make up for that.”

G_Anderson.JPGPro Stock low qualifier Greg Anderson: “[A win] is definitely going to happen. We’re heading towards it. We’ve qualified No. 1 and when you do, it’s usually by a few thousandths. I’ve gotten a ton of bonus points because of the way my car has run. We’re one ne good race day Sunday away from the points lead. I’ve got to do a little better job on Sunday. We’re better than that and were going to show it here. I’ve got to stop making mistakes and we’ll be fine. I’ve got a great horse underneath me.

“In Q1, the track was not quite what we hoped for but it was prepped quite a bit better for tonight. It was a ton better than the first round. I hate to whine too much. Actually, it’s not a bad thing to have challenging race tracks once in a while. That gets the crew chief involved. If we always had a perfect surface, and perfect traction we’d all run the same. It’s as simple as that. Overall, the class is great. We have great competition and I’m having fun with it. It’s a he-man chore to win a race on Sunday. When we finally break through, maybe I’ll get a few in a row.

R_Hight.JPGFunny Car low qualifier Robert Hight: “Well actually leaving the pits, usually Jimmy Prock can give you an idea of what we’re going to run. But we changed so many things, but usually we don’t change so much unless we’re going to test. But this season we’ve been too aggressive. So, we decided we’re going to bite the bullet and make the changes. I’m pretty impressed with that run because it was in the left lane, especially since most of the other great runs came in the right lane.”

“We probably learned something that will help us down the road. It was a good run. We haven’t run that well in a couple races, so it felt pretty good to see that 3.95 pop up on the board. We’re just working on getting everything right at this point, and I think we’re making big strides right now. I think it’s going to be a few degrees cooler tomorrow, which I think will help us.”

C_Millican.JPGTop Fuel low qualifier Clay Millican: “The car is the quickest in the world, I’m pretty proud of that. We won’t keep that forever, but I’d love if we raced at night. Obviously as we moved later in the night I knew we were moving into the later part of the day we were moving into the Grubby part of the day. As I saw him leaning into the box I couldn’t tell if he was speeding it up or slowing it down, even though I was leaning forward against my chin strap on my helmet.”

“The elapsed time doesn’t surprise me, but what does surprise me is the speed. We were running the big elapsed times last year, but not so much the speeds. So, that’s pretty cool. This place has always been special to me because this is the first big race I ever went to without my momma and daddy going with me, so it’s always going to have a special place in my heart because of that.”

FEATURES

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There are a lot of interesting, thought-provoking narratives to unwravel during an NHRA season. “When will Tony Schumacher finally win in Atlanta” is not one of them. But, the veteran driver handles the question once a year with a lot of good humor that we assume comes with being the winningest Top Fuel pilot of all time.

“The problem with Atlanta is that track’s too long (laughs). I was winning there many times and the other guy passed me,” said Schumacher. “Seriously, though, this race is in the home area for our sponsor, Coca-Cola. It’s an important event because a number of their executives come out and see what our racing is all about firsthand. Guys like Al Rondon are smiling and excited to be a part of an extraordinary weekend.”

So, if Schumacher’s long streak of not winning at one track isn’t all that significant (one writer’s correct opinion), why tackle it at all? Because of the racer’s approach this time around. Schumacher possesses one of the best cars in the class right now and seems destined for a win. This very well could be the weekend he breaks through in Atlanta, which would mean a lot for the U.S. Army team.

“We seem to specialize in the absolute must-win events,” said Schumacher. “And for my entire career, there haven’t been many must wins in May. But, this year, it’s a little different. We are in need of win in a major way. It’s been over a year now, something like 26 races since we won the 2017 Gatornationals. That’s far too long for this U.S. Army team. We’ve had some chances to win since last year, but we haven’t sealed the deal.”

He brings up a couple of valid points. First, while every round win matters (yes, even in May) it’s hard for humans to put the same amount of importance on race seven as they do race 17. It’s just not going to happen. Second, that is a very long drought for this team. It’s his longest since going 36 races without a win between Las Vegas 2 in 2010 and Bristol in 2012 and his third longest overall. He once went 41 races without a win in Indy in 2000 and a Phoenix victory in 2002. He’s not eager to repeat that.

“We have to figure out how to finish the mission,” said Schumacher. “It’s time. I can tell you this: with this new energy surrounding this U.S. Army team, I go into every race thinking I’m going to win it. That’s just the way it is. Mike Neff (crew chief) has brought something out of every one of the guys working on my car. And he’s inspired me to be better. It’s a good-attitude team and I’m really looking forward to getting to Atlanta.”

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Scott Palmer is enjoying the best season of his Top Fuel career, boasting four round wins and a final-round appearance so far. He did not, however, have a great weekend at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. Palmer departed competition in the first quad of the weekend after qualifying in the bottom half of the field.

“We had an issue first round where we smoked the tires early,” said Palmer. “We stayed on Monday to test and found an issue in the fuel system and clutch and made some changes and it ran perfectly, so we think we’ve got it straightened out. It’s going from cool weather to hot weather with the six-disc clutch. We just need to figure out our hot-weather set-up.”

This is the CatSpot Kitty Litter team’s first year with a six-disc setup inside the Morgan Lucas Racing-built chassis, so it’s understandable that there are still some kinks to work through. While Palmer’s team gets tuning help from the Capco Contractors team fielded by Steve Torrence, that’s no guarantee of success as every dragster responds a bit differently.

“The six-disc should really help us (in Atlanta),” said Palmer. “We were too aggressive in the wrong place. We just had a few things we needed to change in warm weather. Charlotte was a tricky track, which makes racing, to me, more challenging, which is why we race: because it’s challenging. We’re still learning, we don’t have a lot of runs. We have knowledge from the Capco guys, but we don’t have actual runs ourselves.”

They also get help from runs made by Dom Lagana, brother of Torrence’s tuner Bobby Lagana. Dom ran in a brand-new piece of pipe with the exact same clutch setup as Palmer. That will only help get Palmer on the right path at the NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello.

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Clay Millican and the Great Clips / Parts Plus team own the national record for elapsed time (3.623 seconds), but in the weeks since crew chief David Grubnic has worked to slow the car down. That’s because the team has been anything but consistent and that’s one of the key ingredients when it comes to winning drag races. So, Millican is bullish about his chances this weekend thanks to his performance in Charlotte.

“During the last qualifying session in Charlotte we ran a 3.84 at 323 and we were high fiving each other just as much for that as the 3.62 run,” said Millican. “This was the first time it was running a 3.80 without coasting. There were no wet pipes, nothing like that. So, I am excited. We did it again in the second quad. I know that’s not the same as being consistent all the time, but that’s two steps closer to being able to do that all the time.”

Like Millican said, there’s still plenty of work to be done before he’s as consistent as Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher and Brittany Force, but that’s a step in the right direction. For now, that’ll do the trick. Millican’s only race win came in hot, sticky conditions at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol in conditions very similar to what will be raced in this weekend at the NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello.

“Grubby figured out how to do 3.62 and we can do that when the conditions are correct,” said Millican. “As hard as that was, we can go back to that and we want to be able to do that the same way we want to be able to run in the 3.80s when the weather gets hot. It’s pretty much from 60-foot to the 330 has pretty much been our trouble spot. I think we’re getting close.”

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There’s not much wrong with what Shawn Langdon and the Global Electronic Funny Car team has done so far this season. It’s Langdon’s first behind the wheel of a Funny Car and he has a 4-6 round record to show for it. That’s not too shabby, but he’s also the only Kalitta Motorsports driver without a Wally as Doug Kalitta (Pomona), Richie Crampton (Gainesville) and J.R. Todd (Vegas, Houston) have all parked themselves in the winner’s circle this season.

 “We are just going to keep doing what we have been doing,” said Langdon. “We are consistently learning, and I am beginning to feel more at home inside a Funny Car with this consistent seat time. We have had a bad string of bad luck, but that is part of the learning process.”

Langdon’s Funny Car is getting down the track at a clip of 3.95 seconds on average (including only runs quicker than 4 seconds). That’s right about the same pace as his teammate’s flopper, but the Global team has yet to enjoy the same consistency. While Todd’s DHL Funny Car is getting down the track quicker than 4 seconds 44 percent of the time, Langdon’s is doing the same on 29 percent of its passes. That will likely come in time.

“Everything is new: me driving the car and the guys working with me,” said Langdon. “We have nothing to hang our heads about; we have a great group behind the Global Electronic Technology Camry. We know the areas to address, so I am excited to get to Atlanta and hopefully get the car back to what we had earlier this year.”

It helps that Langdon is traditionally great at the starting line. A couple of tardy lights this season hurt his reaction time average (which sits at .0859 through six races), but he remains capable of beating anyone when the tree drops. It’s only a matter of time before the former world champion becomes the latest Kalitta racer to add to Connie Kalitta’s illustrious Wally collection.

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Jonnie Lindberg has gone through a little bit of turmoil to start the 2018 Funny Car season. He started out well enough, earning a round win against Courtney Force in Pomona, but following a wreck at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, the Jim Head Racing operation has been behind the eight ball. Lindberg has picked up two round wins since then, but he’s also failed to qualify once, and the car’s performance has been scattershot at best.

“We’ve tried some new stuff and we’ve had some motors blow up,” said Lindberg. “Then we burned the body off the car in Houston -- we’ve just had a little bit of a bad luck streak. Then I broke the chassis on my alcohol car in Charlotte and the trailer broke, so it’s just been a lot of bad luck lately. So, maybe we can get some good luck to come our way.”

A little bit of luck could help Lindberg quite a bit in a tough Funny Car field. The Swede didn’t get the best of the performance at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, but he feels they’ve made some progress with the tune-up.

“We just missed it in qualifying, you know? You think you have a good tune-up and then you missed it. It just sucked because a lot of the other cars sucked that weekend, too,” said Lindberg. “We could have run a 4.10 every run and won the race. That just feels bad.”

They’ve got a chance to turn things around in Atlanta.

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courtney.JPGCourtney Force finished third in the points standings in 2017 despite not winning a race, something of a bittersweet feeling. This year, she’s already earned a win and still has one of the best cars in the Funny Car category. She enters Atlanta in second place with 425 points (it’s never too early to count points), nine rounds wins and three out of six available No. 1 qualifiers this season.

“Job well done by my Advance Auto Parts team,” said Force. “I’m really proud of them. They have given me a fast hot-rod every single race. “I was able to pedal my Advance Auto Parts Funny Car in the Charlotte final round and keep it straight. I think I have that figured out and it was a handful on Sunday in Charlotte. I am looking forward to heading to Atlanta. We’ll be trying to get the whole package and take it all the way to the winner’s circle.”

Force has the quickest Funny Car in the sport (3.911 on runs quicker than 4 seconds) and it’s at least relatively consistent, too. Crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Danny Hood are getting the Advance Auto Parts Camaro down the track quicker than 4 seconds 36.8 percent of the time (class average is 28.3 percent). That’s not quite up to par with the heavy hitters from Don Schumacher Racing, but it’s trending in the right direction.

“I feel like we have some real momentum right now,” Force said. “We have a good hot rod and if I can continue to keep getting better as a driver we’ll continue to improve. We aren’t going to give up. Every race is a learning process and that process will continue this weekend in Atlanta.”

Force has never won in Atlanta, and she hasn’t won twice in a season since her four-win season in 2014. A similar display this year could point her towards her first championship; Funny Car appears wide open so far.

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Atlanta Dragway will always be a special place for reigning Mello Yello Pro Stock world champion Bo Butner since it is the place where he made his Pro Stock debut in 2015. Butner qualified No. 12 at that event and lost in the first round to Rodger Brogdon. Now 71 races and six wins later, Butner looks back in amazement at the last three years of his career.

“My first race ever in Pro Stock was in Atlanta, and I can tell you that I feel better pulling in the gates this weekend than I did that day,” Butner said. “I was still star-struck back then, and it was like fantasyland. I'm still very blessed to be able to do this, but we need to win rounds and races. That's my main goal. I won't be racing any Sportsman cars this weekend, just Pro Stock, and I'm hoping that will help us get back to where we need to be.”

Since Butner won the Mello Yello championship last season, he was invited to join teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line at the annual Champion’s dinner at Coca-Cola headquarters on Wednesday evening.

“That's definitely something I never would have imagined would happen,” Butner said. “It's fun, and that's a great group of people. Without them, none of us would be here doing what we're doing. The fact that they do this for us is really cool. Randi Lynn [Shipp, fiancé] and I had a great time.”
 
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In Las Vegas, Vincent Nobile won. In Houston, it was first-time winner Matt Hartford and last weekend in Charlotte, Erica Enders bagged her first Four-Wide win, that means that Jeg Coughlin Jr. should be the latest driver from the Elite Motorsports stable to win a Pro Stock race this weekend in Atlanta. At least that’s how Coughlin sees it.  

“The Elite team has certainly found its stride and it's been great to see my teammates win the last three races,” Coughlin said. “We definitely want to get involved in the fun and with the way our car has been running lately, we have a high level of excitement in this pit. Bottom line, you have to be near-perfect to win a race in this class. We're ready.”

The Jerry Haas-built Camaro that Coughlin began driving in Houston has helped fuel optimism for the five-time Pro Stock champ, especially after a pair of solid qualifying performances including a season-best No. 2 in Houston. Coughlin also made it to the semifinals at both races.

“We've all stepped up,” Coughlin said. “Obviously, our Elite crew chiefs; Rick and Rickie Jones, Mark Ingersoll, and Brian 'Lump' Self, have figured some things out and the crew guys on each car are executing very well. It feels so good to have competitive cars.”

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Vincent Nobile is racing in Atlanta without team owner Nick Mitsos and longtime crew member Ryan Priddy, who have taken the weekend off. The manpower shortage means the Nobile has to put in a bit more manual labor than normal, but he doesn’t mind the work.

“I’m used to working on these things so it doesn’t bother me a bit,” said Nobile, the winner of the Las Vegas Four-Wide race last months. “Between our guys and the Elite crew, we have more than enough help to run this car.”

On Friday’s first qualifying effort, Nobile was loose for most of the track but managed to stay with the run and finished with a seventh-best 6.668, 208.84.

“It was lazy in low gear and then it got really loose,” Nobile said. “It was a terrible run to tell you the truth. We know we have a fast car, we just need to make a clean run. We’ll just take some clutch out of it and go back up and try again. I’m not really worried. I think we just missed the set-up.”

 

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The Suzuki Extended Protection bikes that Scotty Pollacheck and Jim Underdahl not only look alike, but they are also similarly prepared with engines from Vance & Hines and tuning from team owners Greg Underdahl and Gary Stoffer. The two bikes, however, have not achieved the same level of performance. Pollacheck has qualified fifth and third at the first two events of the season while Underdahl has been the No. 12 and No. 16 seed in Gainesville and Charlotte. The big challenge, according to Greg Underdahl, is to close the performance gap between the two bikes.

“It’s not the rider, I can tell you that,” said Underdahl. “Jimmy has made some really nice runs but they’re just not as quick as Scotty’s. They’re riding styles are actually pretty similar. We found a carburetor problem on Jimmy’s bike and that’s the area we’re focusing on. We’ve made a few adjustments and found a few things that were wrong so I’d expect the two bikes to be closer this weekend.”

Underdahl, who raced sporadically last year, has appeared in two final rounds in his career including the 2010 Brainerd race and 2015 Englishtown event.

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Following his historic 200-mph run in Gainesville, Hector Arana Jr. experienced a big letdown in Charlotte. Arana made a pair of 199-mph runs on his Lucas Oil EBR at zMax Dragway, but he suffered a round one loss. Father Hector Sr. also ran over 199 during qualifying but suffered the same fate on race day.

“We want to get back out there and make amends,” said Arana Jr., who has 11 career wins. “We know the things we need to work on and we’re excited to get back on the track, regroup and show we will be on top. We definitely have good bikes with a lot of horsepower, so it’s applying that power to the starting line. My dad stayed and tested in Charlotte and we got a lot of things figured out, so hopefully we can redeem ourselves.”

With nearly 20 bikes committed to all or most of the 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle events this season, Arana understands that in order to make the top ten, he can’t afford too many early losses. He enters the NHRA Southern Nationals powered by Mello Yello as the 13th ranked rider in the class.

“Now’s the time where we have to start doing well and start figuring things out,” Arana Jr. said. “We have fast bikes, but the goal is consistency to make a fast pass every time. Dad learned a lot in testing, and hopefully we’ll be able to apply that going forward and capitalize. Two-hundred [mph] was something that we’ve been working towards for many years. When it happened, it was something that was out of the blue. The run before we went 196, so when we went 200 it was a total surprise. That just added to the excitement.”

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LE Tonglet has returned to Atlanta Dragway as the defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champion of the NHRA Southern Nationals. Since his Atlanta win over teammate Jerry Savoie last May, Tonglet has won four more NHRA events, but he’s winless on the young 2018 season. Last week, Tonglet got to celebrate in Charlotte after Savoie won the Four-Wide Nationals title. En route to the victory, Savoie made a pair of 6.7-second runs while Tonglet’s best was a 6.81 in qualifying.

“We just missed the tune-up or we’d have run right with Jerry,” said Tonglet. “On Jerry’s 6.76 run he had a 1.03 sixty-foot time and I had a 1.06 so that’s three hundredths right there. We just have to figure out a way to get my bike to calm down in low gear. We’ve been much too aggressive. I should have run at least a 6.78 or 6.79.”

Tonglet also admitted that his lack of an off-season fitness regimen has resulted in a ten-pound weight gain. At 155-pounds, he’s still one of the lightest male riders in the class, but it likely hampers his performance.

“I could stand to lose five or ten pounds,” Tonglet said. “I’ve always been kind of skinny but now that I’m older, it’s not as easy to stay in shape. I should work out but I don’t.”

PHOTOS

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John Force celebrates his birthday with a ride back to the starting line after a run in his Funny Car.

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Not every moment in a Funny Car is filled with excitement. Just most of them. Right, Bob Tasca III?

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Getting everything set up for qualifying action. 

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Yes, Ron Capps has done some modeling. No, he's not ready to hang up his fire suit yet. 

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"Big Daddy" Don Garlits spoke some words, signed some autographs and had a great time with fans at the NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello.

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Pro Stock Motorcycle racers signed autographs for fans prior to racing. 

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Courtney Force warms up her Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro. 

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Behind the scenes of the winningest driver of all time. 

PREVIEW

One class boasts incredible parity, and another has been dominated by a team from Texas. The 2018 season of the Mello Yello Drag Series is balanced by its classes in that way as the tour moves just outside of Atlanta to close its first three-week swing of the season. The NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello bring all four classes out for the third time this season, giving a chance for the first second-time winner in both Pro Stock classes while the aforementioned Texan looks to continue his winning ways.

S_Torrence.jpgNobody has done more winning in the last year than Steve Torrence. He has won 10 of the last 24 races on tour (41.7 percent) and leads the Top Fuel category by 77 points. Torrence trailed Leah Pritchett by 99 points and was in fourth place at this time a year ago. The Texan will be the first to tell you he wants to keep this momentum up during the Countdown to the Championship, but this is a great start towards winning his first Top Fuel world championship.

R_Hight.JPGThe Funny Car category has been wide open this year, but perhaps the best car to not get a win yet has been Robert Hight. He’s been quick (3.917 on 3-second runs) and consistent (48.6 percent of his runs are quicker than 4 seconds, second only to Matt Hagan) but Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock haven’t found Sunday success yet. There might not be anything to that other than bad luck, something the entire John Force Racing team can relate to at one time or another this year. But with the Funny Car program at JFR moving in the right direction, perhaps Hight’s time is coming.

E_Enders.JPGNo class in the sport is closer than Pro Stock, and it’s only going to get closer thanks to the resurgence of Erica Enders. She’s been a killer at the tree since she first got into a car and given the power Enders has been wielding over the last two races, it seems safe to say that she’s back for good after her Charlotte victory. That’s bad news for the rest of the class. Enders is now third in points, though the standings are tight from first (Bo Butner, 434) to 10th (Alex Laughlin, 316). That’s the parity Pro Stock has long been known for, and it’s exciting to see it blossoming in 2018.

J_Savoie.jpgThe same can be said in Pro Stock Motorcycle, where Jerry Savoie got his first win since Brainerd and LE Tonglet grabbed the pole in a get healthy weekend for the reformed White Alligator Racing. The two looked ferocious during the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, which is great news for the fans and bad news for everyone else in the field. In a class where the Harley-Davidson duo of Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec looked unstoppable in Gainesville, the resurgence of WAR can only mean good things.