October, 4-7th, 2007

Richmond Va.


(photos courtesy Greg Gage)

Sunday Eliminations


Four-time POWERade Series champion Gary Scelzi punctuated a dramatic final Sunday in the Countdown to 4, the first round of the NHRA Playoffs, with a huge victory at the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park to claim one of the four berths in the two-race championship.

Scelzi jumped from sixth to second place with the win over teammate Ron Capps in the Funny Car final and he was joined in the winner's circle by Top Fuel's Doug Kalitta and Pro Stock's Dave Donnolly, who swept his way through the first round of the NHRA Playoffs with four straight wins to earn the No. 1 seed in Pro Stock's Countdown to 1.

"Things are just clicking for us right now," said Connolly, who has won five straight races overall. "It was nice to sweep the first leg of the Countdown but we have two races left (in Las Vegas and Pomona) so that's what we're concentrating on. This team will be ready. We tested for two days before this race and we have a long testing schedule to complete before we head to Vegas. The work is definitely not done."

Connolly's incredible winning streak in Pro Stock has now reached five races, which ties him for the second longest run in class history behind Bob Glidden's nine-in-a-row back in 1978-'79. Greg Anderson also won five straight in 2004, as did Ronnie Sox in '70-'71.

Capps secured the fourth and final berth in Funny Car with his semifinal win over Tim Wilkerson; Tony Pedregon and Robert Hight, first and third, respectively, will be the other two finalists in the Funny Car Countdown to 1. The hard-luck loser in Funny Car was Jack Beckman, who would have clinched a berth with either a Scelzi or Capps loss in the semifinals, but when both won his championship hopes were dashed.

The drama in Top Fuel played out in the first round when fourth-place Brandon Bernstein ousted fifth-place Bob Vandergriff to cement his position in Top Fuel's final four; the other three finalists in Top Fuel, in 1-2-3 order, are Larry Dixon, Rod Fuller and Tony Schumacher.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson will be the No. 2 seed and the Pro Stock final four was filled out by No. 3 Jeg Coughlin, who drove his way in with a first-round win Sunday, and Allen Johnson, who clinched the fourth and final Pro Stock berth when his teammate eliminated fifth-place Kurt Johnson in the second round.

The top four drivers who remain alive in the Countdown to the Championship will have their points reset in 10-point increments, from 3,030 to 3,000, before heading to Las Vegas (Oct. 26-28) and Pomona (Nov. 1-4) for the two-race championship, the Countdown to 1, that will determine the 2007 POWERade Series world championships.

The Funny Car final was, for all intents and purposes, the first round of the Countdown to 1 since both drivers had just clinched their positions and they were tied in points. The winner of the race would pass Robert Hight and emerge with 3,020 points after the reset and the loser would end up with 3,000.

Scelzi was second off the starting line by a hundredth but he soon zoomed by a tire-smoking Capps to take the win with a 4.956 at 306.60 mph in his Mopar/Oakley Charger to Capps' resigned 5.935 at 207.11 mph in his Brut Dodge.

"It was a great day," Scelzi said. "[Crew chief Todd] Okuhara made all the right calls. He's just incredible. [Former tuner] Mike Neff got us here and I don't ever want to forget that. Mike and I are very close and I hope I can help him learn how to drive a Funny Car. He means a lot to me, and then Okuhara has slipped right into that role. I've had three awesome tuners in my career -- Alan Johnson, Mike Neff, and Todd Okuhara -- and each one I love dearly.

"Before the final I told Todd, 'you know, we're in the Countdown deal already but it would be even better if we were second in the points.' The only way to do that was to win so I told him to hop it up. I said, 'put some more in there, you coward.' He started laughing and jumped in the box. Let me tell you, that thing was aggressive. That was probably the worst job of driving ever but we got the win light."

Scelzi improved to 4-0 in final rounds this year and 37-21 for his career. Capps drops to 3-4 on the season and 25-27 overall.

Doug Kalitta won his first Top Fuel race in more than a year by beating Melanie Troxel, extending his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one win to 10. He is fourth on that list now that is headed by John Force's streak of 21 consecutive seasons with a win. Kurt Johnson is next with 13, Angelle Sampey's is third with wins in 12 straight seasons and Whit Bazemore -- who hasn't won yet this season -- has won in 10 straight seasons.

After finishing 2006 on the losing end of the closest points race in history, Kalitta has endured the worst Top Fuel season of his career in '07. Some of that pain was erased Sunday when he broke through for his first victory in more than a year (Memphis, 2006), which came when he outran Troxel by three-hundredths of a second, 4.647 at 316.08 mph against Troxel's 4.649 at 316.45 mph.

"I was starting to wonder if we'd keep our streak alive," Kalitta said. "We've had a pretty tough year but we have Jon-O [Oberhofer] tuning the car now and he's doing a great job. The guys are all working hard, and Dick LaHaie has been helping. Of course, Connie [Kalitta, uncle] is there. It's been a struggle but we're getting through it."

Connolly's fifth straight win one was over early as he pasted Vieri Gaines at the starting line by .046 seconds and roared away for his 17th career win with a 6.671 at 206.95 mph in his Torco/Seelye Wright Chevrolet Cobalt. Gaines carded a 6.679 at 206.92 mph in his Kendall Dodge.

Shelly Payne-Anderson crash sequence

(photos courtesy Greg Gage)

DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Sunday's final results from the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorprorts Park. The race is the 21st of 23 in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel -- Doug Kalitta, 4.647 seconds, 316.08 mph def. Melanie Troxel, 4.649 seconds, 316.45 mph.

Funny Car -- Gary Scelzi, Dodge Charger, 4.956, 306.60 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 5.935, 207.11.

Super Stock -- Grant Lewis, Pontiac Grand Am, 9.197, 144.77 def. Russ Linke, Chevy Corvette, 10.217, 126.67.

Stock Eliminator -- Dan Fletcher, Chevy Camaro, 10.725, 115.31 def. Jeff Strickland, Camaro, 11.357, 113.30.

Super Comp -- Edmond Richardson Jr., Dragster, 8.903, 171.64 def. Chris DePascale, Dragster, 8.923, 158.58.

Super Gas -- Mike Ruff, Chevy Camaro, 9.927, 157.28 def. Tom Seemann, Chevy Beretta, 9.932, 161.11.

Pro Stock -- Dave Connolly, Chevy Cobalt, 6.671, 206.95 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Stratus, 6.679, 206.92.

Final countdown to 8 points

1. Larry Dixon 2,353
Tony Schumacher 2,285
4. Brandon Bernstein 2,278
5. Bob Vandergriff 2,231
6. Doug Herbert 2,209
7. Whit Bazemore 2,182
8. J.R. Todd 2,164
9. Melanie Troxel 1,083
10. David Grubnic 940
11. Cory McClenathan 923
12. Doug Kalitta 917
13. Hillary Will 849
14. Clay Millican 785
15. Morgan Lucas 666

Funny Car

1. Tony Pedregon 2,313
2. Gary Scelzi 2,299
3. Robert Hight 2,280
4. Ron Capps 2,279
5. Jack Beckman 2,267
6. Mike Ashley 2,212
7. John Force 2,191
8. Jim Head 2,082
9. Del Worsham 966
10. Tommy Johnson Jr. 896
11. Kenny Bernstein 859
12. Cruz Pedregon 844
13. Jeff Arend 824
14. Ashley Force 815
15. Tim Wilkerson 799

Pro Stock

1. Dave Connolly 2,525
2. Greg Anderson 2,391
3. Jeg Coughlin 2,246
4. Allen Johnson 2,238
5. Kurt Johnson 2,211
6. Jason Line 2,202
7. Larry Morgan 2,171
8. Warren Johnson 2,112
9. Richie Stevens 948
10. V. Gaines 922
11. Jim Yates 830
12. Max Naylor 745
13. Greg Stanfield 719
14. Kenny Koretsky 681
15. Mike Edwards 617

Saturday final qualifying


On the strength of his 45th career No. 1 qualifier Saturday at the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals, Tony Schumacher joined three other drivers in clinching their berths in the Countdown to 1, the two-race championship that marks the end of the NHRA Playoffs.
The Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals is the fourth and final race in the first round of the NHRA Playoffs, which will halve the field of eligible championship contenders from eight to four. There remains one spot open in the Countdown to 1 in Top Fuel, three in Funny Car and two in Pro Stock and those final berths will be set at the conclusion of Sunday's race, which begins at 11 a.m. ET.

The other drivers to clinch Saturday were Larry Dixon and Rod Fuller in Top Fuel and Tony Pedregon in Funny Car.

The fourth and final berth in Top Fuel will be the subject of a monster first round matchup Sunday between Brandon Bernstein's fourth-place Budweiser team and Bob Vandergriff's fifth-place UPS team. Bernstein enters the race with a 27-point cushion meaning Vandergriff would have to beat him and win another round (each round win is worth 20 points) to move past Bernstein and secure the fourth and final playoff berth.

"It's pretty exciting for our team," said Vandergriff, who qualified 15th with a 4.645 to Bernstein's 4.549. "I wish we could have qualified better but we're here and our destiny is in our hands now. You couldn't ask for more." Bernstein is 6-0 lifetime versus Vandergriff.

Also in play in Top Fuel is Whit Bazemore's Matco Tools teasm. Excluding national records, if Vandergriff beats Bernstein and loses in the second round, the door would be open for Bazemore to bump both Bernstein and Vandergriff by winning the race, but before that happens all eyes will be on the Bernstein-Vandergriff matchup.

"If you could write the script, you would put Vandergriff and Bernstein together in Round 1," Schumacher said. "That's going to be huge. Those two guys need to go to bed early and do their push-ups because this is a round that could define their careers. Me? I'm gonna go smoke a cigar."

Rounding out the top qualifiers Saturday were Funny Car's Tommy Johnson Jr. and Pro Stock's Jeg Coughlin, the latter of whom effectively put another round between himself and his nearest pursuer (fifth-place Jason Line) in the fight to make the fourth and final berth in the Pro Stock Countdown to 1.

In the race to make the Funny Car Countdown to 1, Ron Capps and Gary Scelzi have moved into a tie for the fourth and final berth (Scelzi owns the tiebreaker). As the 15th qualifier with a 4.901, Capps has the toughest first-round draw as he'll face No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight (4.790) in the opening round. Scelzi qualified eighth with a 4.849 and will race non-Countdown racer Del Worsham in Round 1.

Seven points out of fourth place, Mike Ashley qualified third with a 4.797. Currently third in the points, "Fast Jack" Beckman is fifth here with a 4.835.

Intent on holding onto his top-four ranking so he can advance to the final stage of the Countdown, Coughlin did all he could do in qualifying with a Round 2 blast of 6.645 at 207.27 mph in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt, the quickest and fastest run of the weekend in the class.

"We'll take every point we can get at this point," Coughlin said. "It's time to slit their throats and lock up one of these spots. We have to go rounds because any of the guys behind us could cause trouble if we don't take care of business. We need to come in here tomorrow and race smart, race aggressive, and turn on some win lights."

The monster match-up of Sunday's opening round in Pro Stock will feature No. 3 points earner Allen Johnson against sixth-place Kurt Johnson. A.J. qualified sixth with a 6.659 in his Mopar Dodge Stratus, while K.J. earned the 11th spot on the grid with a 6.681 in his ACDelco Chevy Cobalt.

Other Countdown to 1 hopefuls include Larry Morgan (eighth with a 6.663) and Jason Line (10th with a 6.671).

Friday qualifying


Fourth-place Brandon Bernstein's fight to hold onto one of the four spots in the inaugural Countdown to 1 got off to a great start Friday night as the second-generation Top Fuel pro earned the provisional low qualifier position at the second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals. The son of legend Kenny Bernstein blistered Virginia Motorsports Park with a 4.549 at 321.58 mph to outrun the four drivers looking to replace him in the final leg of the first round of the NHRA Playoffs. Tommy Johnson Jr. leads Funny Car with a solid 4.790 at 312.06, while scorching-hot Pro Stock points leader Dave Connolly showed the way in the factory hot rod class with a steady 6.649 at 207.24 mph.
"That was big," Bernstein said. "To qualify in the top half and get those extra points gives us a little bit of a cushion. But it's still going to come down to a round-by-round deal on Sunday. We just have to go rounds on Sunday and hope we go more than [Bob Vandergriff] goes and even Whit [Bazemore] and the others. They're all right back there."

The most notable of those drivers behind Bernstein's Budweiser team is of course Bob Vandergriff's UPS team, which entered the weekend needing to make up just 21 points. Hoping to make up two points in qualifying to get within a round going into Sunday, Vandergriff will now have to turn his attention to just getting into the field after breaking in his only qualifying pass on Friday. He'll enter Saturday's final qualifying sessions outside the field.

Whit Bazemore, who needs Bernstein to bow out early Sunday for him to have a chance at making the Countdown to 1 field, is second after Friday's lone qualifying session with a 4.574 at 321.42 mph in his Matco Tools rail. A lengthy rainstorm canceled the second session outright.

J.R. Todd, who is also chasing Bernstein, is third with a 4.592 at 317.64 mph in his Torco dragster, followed by points leader Larry Dixon, who is fourth with a 4.600 in his SkyTel dragster. Another Countdown racer, Doug Herbert, is next in fifth place in his Snap-on Tools car with a 4.606.

Johnson isn't a part of the Countdown but that didn't stop him from putting his Skoal Impala R/T on the provisional Funny Car pole with a 4.790 at 312.06 mph. Johnson's speed was the difference as John Force Racing pro Robert Hight also posted a 4.790, but he ended up second in his Ford after topping out at 307.58 mph.

"We sent our car in when Murf (McKinney, chassis builder) and all the engineers decided what needed to be fixed," Johnson said. "Our car was the first one to leave Murf's with all of the updates. They actually ended up making a lot of the jigs off of our car for everybody else's car. It wasn't a performance secret, so you want to share the safety stuff with everybody. We were more than happy to help everybody out."

The three drivers fighting to replace John Force in the Countdown to 1 field -- Mike Ashley, Ron Capps, and Gary Scelzi had mixed results Friday. Ashley was fifth in his Torco Dodge with a 4.905. Capps was all the way down in 12th with a coasting 8.727, while Scelzi finds himself outside the top 16 with a best of 11.762.

Considering he's won the last four races in a row, it surprised no one that Connolly has the quickest car in Pro Stock as his 6.649 at 207.24 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt got the job done Friday night.

"The run we've been on is kind of incredible," Connolly said. "Sometimes you just get those vibes you're going to have a good weekend. I got that feeling last week and we actually made some gains in testing. You can go out there and test for months and months at a time and just never really find anything, but we actually felt like we made some progress with our Chevy Cobalt and it showed on that run."

Connolly's teammate at Cagnazzi Racing, fourth-place points earner Jeg Coughlin, is second on the grid with a 6.661 at 207.27 mph. The other players in the Countdown to 1 chase showed well with Larry Morgan earning fifth place with a 6.674, Allen Johnson taking sixth with a 6.677, Kurt Johnson grabbing eighth with a 6.689, Jason Line ninth with a 6.704, and Warren Johnson claiming 12th with a 6.708.



The inaugural season of the Countdown to the Championship has already had its share of "thrill-of-victory, agony-of-defeat" moments and there are sure to be at least a couple more this weekend in Richmond, site of the fourth and final leg of the first round of the NHRA Playoffs, the Countdown to Four.
Fans will remember the last race of the regular season, the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa., for the amazing Cinderella run turned in by Top Fueler Doug Herbert, who leapfrogged three drivers - Cory McClenathan, Melanie Troxel and Dave Grubnic - with his first win in more than two years to clinch the eighth and final Top Fuel playoff berth.

Llewellyn vs Hines
Also at that last regular season race, Craig Treble survived as the last man in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field when Matt Guidera and the Mohegan Sun team ended the playoff bid of Chris Rivas - who had left the Mohegan Sun team midway through the season - one round short of bumping Treble. But Treble didn't survive a second bout with fate when his playoff life was again out of his hands at the final Countdown to 4 race for the bikes (Dallas). There, he could only watch helplessly as upstart Peggy Llewellyn beat the No. 1 qualifier (Chip Ellis in the semis) and three-time defending champ (Andrew Hines in the finals) en route to her first career win to earn the fourth and final Countdown to 1 berth that Treble had been precariously holding on to.

Del Worsham, Richie Stevens and Melanie Troxel, each of whom was in a win-and-in situation at the last regular season race in Reading, can attest to the consequence of what's at stake for the drivers on the Countdown to 1 bubble this weekend.

"I'm becoming more and more disappointed about not making the Countdown every week. Our destiny was in our hands," said Troxel, who was eliminated from contention with her first-round loss to Morgan Lucas at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, the last regular season race. Had she won that race, it would have set up a do-or-die matchup with Dave Grubnic for the last playoff berth in Top Fuel, but her loss opened the door for Herbert and he pulled off the miracle run.

All of which sets the table for the second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals, Oct. 5-7 at Virginia Motorsports Park. It is the 21st race in the 23-race NHRA POWERade Series season and the fourth and final race in the Countdown to Four, the first round of the NHRA Playoffs.

The championship field was set in dramatic fashion in Pro Stock Motorcycle - the bikes do not compete in Richmond - and finalizing the four-driver fields for the Countdown to One in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock figures to provide much of the same edge-of-your-seat theatrics this weekend.

Here is a list of the top contenders for the Countdown to 1 in each of the three categories competing at Richmond. Remember, the top four drivers in each category after the race in Richmond will qualify for the Countdown to One, the two-race championship at Las Vegas (26-28) and Pomona (Nov. 1-4).

[NOTE: Drivers earn 10 points for attempting to qualify, 1-8 points based on qualifying position and each round achieved in Sunday final eliminations is worth 20 points with a minimum of 20 going to first-round losers and a maximum of 100 going to the winner.]

1. Larry Dixon, Indianapolis, SkyTel dragster (3 wins) 2297 (+97)
2. Rod Fuller, Las Vegas, Caterpillar dragster (2 wins) 2252 (+52)
3. Tony Schumacher, Chicago, U.S. Army dragster (5) 2247 (+47)
4. Brandon Bernstein, Lake Forest, Calif., Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster (5) 2221 (+21)
5. Bob Vandergriff, Atlanta, UPS dragster (0) 2200 (-21)
6. Whit Bazemore, Eugene, Ore., Matco Tools dragster 2147 (-74)

1. Tony Pedregon, Detroit, Q Horsepower Chevy Impala (3) 2259 (+71)
2. Robert Hight, Anaheim Hills, Calif., Auto Club Ford Mustang (2) 2243 (+55)
3. Jack Beckman, North Hills, Calif., MTS Dodge Charger (2) 2213 (+25)
4. John Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang (3) 2191 (+3)
5. Ron Capps, Carlsbad, Calif., Brut Dodge Charger R/T (3) 2188 (-3)
6. Gary Scelzi, Fresno, Calif., Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger (3) 2186 (-5)
7. Mike Ashley, New York, Torco/Skull Gear Dodge Charger (3) 2176 (-15)

1. *Dave Connolly, Elyria, Ohio, Torco Chevy Cobalt (7) 2408 (+238)
2. *Greg Anderson, Charlotte, N.C. Summit Racing Pontiac GTO (7) 2356 (+186)
3. Allen Johnson, Greeneville, Tenn., Mopar Dodge Stratus (1) 2204 (+34)
4. Jeg Coughlin, Delaware, Ohio, JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt (3) 2188 (+18)
5. Jason Line, Terrell, N.C., Summit Racing Pontiac GTO (1) 2170 (-18)
6. Kurt Johnson, Buford, Ga., ACDelco Chevy Cobalt (1) 2159 (-29)
7. Larry Morgan, Newark, Ohio, Lucas Oil Dodge Stratus (0) 2138 (-50)

*Clinched berth in Countdown to 1

The biggest move at Dallas was made in Top Fuel by the UPS team as driver Bob Vandergriff Jr. corralled his 11th career runner-up to pull within striking range of the Budweiser (Brandon Bernstein), U.S. Army (Tony Schumacher) and Caterpillar (Rod Fuller) teams.

Gary Scelzi
In Funny Car, it's anybody's guess what'll happen as some of the biggest names in the sport knock heads in a high-stakes game of musical chairs. After his crash in Dallas, John Force will not compete so that opens up a spot, but there's still going to be two top-notch drivers who are going to leave Richmond with their 2007 championship hopes having been doused.

Tony Pedregon's the only driver that looks safely in. As for the others, Robert Hight's in pretty good shape, he may have to win a round to be safe, but as for Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi and Mike Ashley, they are all within two rounds of one another for the last two spots.

"This is exactly what NHRA wanted and it's pretty damn exciting," Scelzi said.

In Pro Stock, Dave Connolly and Greg Anderson have clinched their Countdown to 1 berths and the final two challengers to the category's dominant twosome will come from among the five drivers between third and seventh place.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5. Qualifying continues at noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6 and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals. Call Virginia Motorsports Park at (804) 862-3174 for ticket information, or check online at ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise one hour of qualifying of the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at 6 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Oct. 6. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Raceday, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 7. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of final eliminations beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 7



2006 National events

Winterational's coverage is here (Pomona)
CSK National's coverage is here (Phoenix)
Gatornational's coverage is here (Gainesville)
O'Reilly National's coverage is here (Houston)
Summit National's coverage is here (Las Vegas)
Thunder Valley National's coverage is here (Bristol)
Southern National's coverage is here (Atlanta)
Pontiac Performance National's coverage is here (Columbus)
O'Reilly Summer National's coverage is here (Topeka)

CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals coverage is here (Chicago)
K&N Filters SuperNationals coverage is here (Englishtown)
O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals coverage is here (St.Louis)
Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals coverage is here (Denver)
Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals coverage is here (Seattle)
Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals coverage is here (Sonoma)
Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals coverage is here (Brainerd)
O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals coverage is here (Memphis)
Mac Tools U.S. Nationals coverage is here (Indy)
O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals coverage is here (Dallas)
Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals coverage is here (Reading)
Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals coverage is here (Virginia)
ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals coverage is here (Las Vegas)
Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals coverage is here (Pomona)


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