Robert Hight dropped jaws across the room as he called out red-hot Bob Tasca III for the opening round of Sunday’s Pep Boys NHRA Allstar Funny Car Callout during a ceremony in the Top Eliminator Club at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Hight, the runaway points leader and special event’s top seed based on a year’s worth of qualifying efforts, was widely expected to call out No. 8 qualifier Tim Wilkerson, who had lost in the first round at both events preceding the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, but went instead with Tasca, winning of two of the last three events.
If anybody thinks that any of these other seven drivers are easier than others or one of them's a gimme, you've got another thing coming. Funny Car has never been more competitive. The whole Auto Club team got together and tried to figure out what was the best strategy, and you know coming in No. 1 you have to have a you have an advantage, you get to pick you're going to have lane choice the first round, but I want to pick the guy that's been doing some winning here lately in Bob Tasca.
“Our cars are running very close as you saw last night and I get up to race that team. They get to race me and if you want to win this thing and take home the cash at the end of the day, you're gonna have to beat a guy like that, so we're gonna get it out of the way first round.”
“That's the way it should be,” said Tasca. “The two cars running as good as anyone out here the first round, get it over with and see what we can do. We'll see you soon.”
No. 2 seed Ron Capps, still wowed by Hight’s decision, then called out Wilkerson, the man who beat him at this track in the final round of last year’s U.S. Nationals.
“You should have seen all the drivers backstage when we heard that -- that was a big-time move. That's what this is all about, and it made everybody smirk and kind of look around at each other like, ‘Wow, this is big time.’ We had a meeting this morning and had our options, but I'm still hurting from last year's final round. We had lane choice. I was almost counting the trophy and we got Wilked. And it's been burning and he's one of my favorite guys out here, because you don't know what you're up against. He's a great guy, and sometimes he will do what he did in the final round last year.”
Wilkerson gladly accepted the challenge from his NAPA Auto Parts teammate.
“Hopefully I can get old Ron again and we can do the best we can,” he said. “Thanks to Pep Boys, a very special thing to be involved in this and everybody knows I'm a NAPA guy through and through. I have a NAPA Auto Center, so and then NAPA and I are close, and Ron, and I are close, but we put our helmets on, I'm kicking his ass.”
Matt Hagan also was looking for a little payback when he called out Alexis DeJoria, who defeated him in the semifinals of last year’s Auto Club NHRA Finals to end his championship bid, and also beat him two weeks ago in Brainerd.
“I think about last year and when I'm trying to win my fourth championship and we got loaded up in the semis and it cost me a fourth championship. We had put Capps on the trailer [in round two[ and did what we needed to do, and she went up there and loaded me up. So I want a little revenge from that and she outpedaled me last weekend and you know, the last race so we looking for a little payback with Alexis.”
“After last week, when we did a pretty good job, I felt like if anyone had a target on our back with Matt Hagan it was me,” said DeJoria. “We’ve got a good car, the team’s awesome. I mean, these guys are killing it but we have yet to win a race. Hell, we'd love to win this one. I'm really excited that Pep Boys is back out here doing their thing with a race within a race. It’s exciting for us. exciting for the fans, and it's on.”
That left two of the class’ old-time rivals, Cruz Pedregon and John Force with the fourth and final pair. Despite not getting a callout or being able to call someone out, Pedregon was ready.
“I was sitting there looking at all the opponents and for some reason, I did not feel like getting called out because that's going to bring out the devil on me,” he said. “But I think the fans are going to get a treat. John's car is running really good. I tell people all the time. John’s age really doesn't mean anything. I feared him as much as I did when I raced him when he was in his 40s and he was really good then, so I think it's gonna be a hell of a race. I want to thank the NHRA for seeing that there needs to be an all-star race, and this is an all-star group here and I’m just happy to be a part of it.
Force, the 16-time world champ, acknowledged the deep-staging battles that he and Pedregon have had this season, adding a little fuel to the fire.
“I really thought Hagan was gonna take me and make it Beauty and the Beast, but I got my buddy Cruzer. It's gonna be fun. They talked about that roll out seven inches. Cruz, you've done it to me. I've done it to you. When I go in this time. I ain't stopping.”
Sunday, Sept. 4
11:45 a.m.– Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout autograph session at the Pep Boys midway display
11:30 a.m.– Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout opening ceremonies
1:20 p.m.– First round for Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout. The driver who makes the quickest winning run in the opening round will pick their semifinal opponent.
2:45 p.m.– Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout semifinals.
4:55 p.m.– Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout final round
Television coverage of the Pep Boys NHRA All-Star Funny Car Callout will take place on Sunday from 4-5:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).