Saluting his birthplace, country music star Willie Nelson, once said, “I’m from Texas, and one of the reasons I like Texas is because there's no one in control.”
Willie certainly had a valid point and through the first four events of 2019, his quote might also describe the balance of power in NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car racing. Reigning Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence has yet to win a race, which is shocking since he won a dozen last year. Funny Car champ J.R. Todd just banked his first title a week ago in Las Vegas. Torrence and Todd be the favorites this weekend in Houston along with Stevie Jackson, who lost in the Pro Mod final in Gainesville, but set the elapsed time record in the process.
The world champ has never won in Houston and hasn’t won yet this year, but Tipster knows how these things work. The minute we move him out of the top spot, he’s going to make us look foolish (Note: we don't need the help). What better way to snap out of a mini-slump than to do it at one of the two races in your homestate? We’re going to give the Capco boys the benefit of the doubt here.
Speaking of looking foolish, Tipster did not even have him ranked for the Las Vegas race and look how that turned out. Mea culpa. Honesrly, no one should have been surprised to see the Scrappers team score an early-season victory and it’s all but a given that it won’t be their last. There might just be a new Sheriff in Baytown and (gasp) he’s coming in from California.
He didn’t have the quickest car in Las Vegas yet managed to make it into the final quad where tire smoke ended his shot for a second win of the season. There is a lot to like about the way things are coming together this year at Kalitta Motorsports and Doug's crew is certainly doing their share of the heavy lifting.
A little redundant to keep harping on this but rival Top Fuel teams should continue to be grateful that Papa Torrence isn’t planning on racing a full season in 2019. Remember, he's already grabbed a win in Phoenix and just missed out on making the final quad last week in Las Vegas. And yes, he also happens to be a tough Texan so a win in Houston would be most welcomed.
Advance Auto Parts
When he took over the reigns of the Advance Auto Parts dragster, tuner David Grubnic noted, “Give me about four races and I’ll have a much better handle on this car.” Well, it's been four races and Grubby does indeed appear to have the 2017 champ headed in the right direction. Consequently, she also happens to be the defending event champion in Houston.
Put down some impressive numbers in qualifying in Las Vegas but that did not translate to success on race day but that’s the nature of four-wide racing. It’s reasonable and likely that we’ll see a much better showing now that the tour is headed back to Houston Raceway Park, where she won the Top Fuel title in 2017.
Firs the good news: Ran 3.77 and 3.79 on race day in Las Vegas to reach the final quad. The bad news: tire smoke prevented any chance of a victory. That’s hardly a reason to get discouraged. The Parts Plus team is solidly in the top ten after the first four races and if they happen to make a move, it will almost surely be in the upward direction.
Filling the final Tipster spot in Top Fuel was a huge chore since the field is stacked like MLB's American League East Division. How stacked? Antron Brown, Scott Palmer, Terry McMillen, Austin Prock, and Jordan Vandergriff didn’t make the cut this week. We elected to go with Crampton simply because he was so strong in Gainesville and his numbers in Las Vegas weren’t too bad either.
The reigning champ is now batting 1.000 at the last three Las Vegas races which is a great stat to remember for when we return to Sin City in October. Moving on to Houston, there is also good news since he’s again the defending event winner. The DHL team is starting to resemble the squad that did the most damage in the Funny Car class during the 2018 season.
Auto Club Chevy
After starting the season with two wins and a semi, he was probably due for a mulligan and it came in Las Vegas with shocking round one loss. Not to worry. He’s got a pair of wins here in Houston and has been to the final round at the last two events. It was strange to see him qualify No. 9 in Las Vegas, but that figures to be an anomaly as well. Almost guarantee he’ll be in the top four here.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
This week’s big mover is the Levi, Ray & Shoup team after a pair of great showings in Gainesville and Las Vegas. The working man's hero, Wilkerson remains living proof that talent and desire can often overcome a lack of budget . Year after year, he always seems to find a way to get the job done.
Infinite Hero Dodge
With a .018 light in the final quad, he had all three opponents on the ropes before tire smoke ended his chances for another four-wide victory. He’ll have a special wrap this weekend to represent the MD Anderson Cancer Center in memory of Terry Chandler so a win here would be especially meaningful.
With seven wins in ten final rounds, John Force loves Houston Raceway Park more than Texans love boots and pick up trucks. The 16-time champ is off to a great start this season and it’s more and more likely that win No. 150 is just around the corner. With so much prior history here, it would almost be fitting for it to happen in Baytown.
John Force isn’t the only one who has a Texas-sized love affair for the Baytown track. Capps has four wins in five finals here including victories in 2015 and 2017. It’s been a slow start for a a NAPA team that should (and almost certainly will) contend for the Mello Yello title. This would be as good a place as any to begin to turn the corner.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Finished the Four-Wide race in Las Vegas with the same Dodge Charger body they started with, which as odd as it sounds, represents progress. The Make-A-Wish crew also ran solid numbers and picked up a nice stash of points thanks to a runner-up finish. This team is better than most people think, and it’s not out of the question to think they’ll go on a tear soon.
Mopar Express Lane/Pennzoil Dodge
As a rule, four-wide events are so crazy that it’s not fair to call a holeshot loss a holeshot loss so we’ll let last week’s result go. Hagan hasn’t won in Houston since 2010 but, for some reason, The Tricky One just seems like that string will end here. The Mopar/Pennzoil team is absolutely overdue for some good fortune and a win at his dual sponsor's race seems like the perfect place.
Imagine leaving Gainesville with a new national record yet still feeling unfulfilled. That’s what Stevie Fast has had to deal with for the last month after losing the Gatornationals title on a holeshot. He’s going to arrive in Baytown with a chip on his shoulder the size of an Amarillo sirloin. Consider yourself warned.
The old adage about winning begets winning? Let’s see how that works out here. It took years for this guy to claim his first NHRA Pro Mod victory and we're willing to bet we won’t have to wait long to see him win a second title. Back-to-back wins are hard to come by in drag racing’s most competitive class but they guys seem more than capable.
We say this almost every week that Pro Mod hit the track but the consistency shown by this team is almost uncanny. In a class where a large number of runs are aborted before half-track, they almost always seem to make a full-pull. Almost everyone in Pro Mod has at least one DNQ per year, but the J4 crew were never qualified lower than tenth at any event last season.
Okay, so his much anticipated turbocharged debut didn’t exactly go as planned but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was King, N.C. for that matter. Remember folks, this is still Rickie Smith and when it comes to figuring out how to make a fast doorslammer work, he’s drag racing’s resident water walker.
AAP/Janis Superchargers Camaro
The reigning class champ struggled out of the gate when he was on the receiving end of Tutterow’s 5.67 run in the first round. Just qualifying for the Gainesville field was a major accomplishment but starting from the No. 15 spot was not a great way to begin a title defense. This is also a 5.6-second car and we're likely to see that this weekend.
Biehle Racing Mustang
Rolled out a brand new Mustang and made a pair of 5.69 runs in Gainesville which were career-bests. Of course, that was only good enough for the No. 5 spot. A close .003 red-light ended what started as a promising debut. There is a lot of potential here.
In Gainesville, he had the third-best car in qualifying with a 5.67 and almost topped 260-mph before suffering an unexpected round one loss. As we saw last year in Charlotte, this can be a dominant car. In fact, he’s one of about 17-20 drivers that have a legit shot to win this event. Don’t you just love Pro Mod racing?
Bond Coat Camaro
We’re contractually obligated to include at least one nitrous car on this list (actually, we aren't) and this is arguably the best one out there right now. Coming off a career-best 5.71, it will be interesting to see of the recent 25-pound weight reduction had any effect. Oh, and he also gets added consideration for being a Texan.