NHRA Full Throttle coverage is presented by Sonny's Racing Engines.
November 10-13, 2011
(#'s courtesy NHRA and DRC)
Club NHRA Finals
WE'RE DEFINITELY NOT IN BAKERSFIELD ANY LONGER! (by Robert Wilson)
The race began on schedule and as the Pro Stock cars and bikes prepared for their first session, was even a little ahead of schedule. With a fairly low (a little over 2000 feet) corrected altitude the naturally aspirated engines in the pro cars and bikes were enjoying the good air to the point that 17 of them dipped into the 6-second zone, led by Andrew Hines at a very strong 6.82 - 197.54 mph pass. The cutoff for the top 12 was a tough 6.95, and only one of the 25 motorcycles that made the first session carded a less than competitive elapsed time.
1. Andrew Hines Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines 6.820 197.54
Stock got even better as the 20 cars established a provisional bump spot of 6.601,
just keeping sensational rookie story Mark Wolfe out of that elite club, as he
carded a 6.601 at 210.21, missing the magic mark by the difference in mile per
hour between himself and Erica Enders (210.87). Even the 17th racer on the list,
Buddy Perkinson, put down a
Mike Edwards Penhall/Interstate Batteries G 6.520@ 210.93
The good times appeared
to stop abruptly as the nitro Funny Cars came out, with the first five cars having
real trouble getting down the track. Especially problematic appeared to be the
right lane as nearly every car that tried to negotiate it ran into severe tire
shake. A few racers seemed to figure it out, including a surprisingly strong Jon
(not Ron) Capps,
That run seemed to open the performance floodgates - but in all honesty, it was the top ten cars running near the end of the round - and they were expected to run better than the earlier cars. Bob Tasca and Ron (not Jon) Capps joined Wilky in the 4-teens, while Force Racing teammates Mike Neff and Robert Hight showed they meant business with excellent 4.08 runs, both at more than 312 mph. The final pair of the round, the almost co-points leaders, Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan were almost anticlimactic as Hagan ran a decent 4.13, that was only good enough for the #5 spot, while Beckman spun the tires early and shut off.
1. Robert Hight
Auto Club Mustang 4.084 312.13
Of note was the complete
lack of breakage - at least of the visible sort - in the round and no time lost
due to oil downs or other troubles. Then came Top Fuel and that bubble burst rather
quickly as Aussie rookie Damien Harris blew up with a big fireball at 300 feet
and laid down a trail of oil and parts well into the shutdown area. Amazingly,
the Safety Safari
Oh for two. But again, a miracle as the track was ready to go in barely five minutes. As the lower ranked cars continued to run, no really good numbers came up on the scoreboards, other than Mike Ashley's first competition pass in Top Fuel (alongside Harris in the first pairing) at 3.97 - 305.91. It was finally bested by Cory Mac at 3.89 - 312.93, then really dropped down the charts when the Kalitta team (Doug and David Grubnic) put down side by side 3.85's to move into the #2 and #3 spots behind Morgan Lucas and his 3.83 - 317.87 clocking.
In fact, seven of the last eight cars down the track in the session ran in the 3.80's, only spoiled by Antron Brown's tire smoking pass, and led by Tony Schumacher's 3.827 at a top speed of more than 321 mph. Even though the round started slow and slippery, it kept getting better and by the end had established an initial 12-car bubble of 3.965. After that point though, things trailed off fairly quickly and there's got to be quite a few racers in the pits looking for some serious redemption tomorrow after a bad start today.
1. Tony Schumacher
U.S. Army Dragster 3.827 321.19
When the last pair of Top Fuel cars cleared the traps the grandstands, which had been only moderately sprinkled with spectators all day began to empty quickly. After an initial surge though, the remaining 1000 or so fans sat back to enjoy some pretty good Top Alcohol Funny Car and Dragster runs. For every out of shape, shaky, blower banging, cylinder dropping lap, there was an equally good run to offset it. Despite the pre-entry numbers, a total of 18 funny cars and just 15 dragsters made an appearance.
The first big hit in the flopper round was fired by Paul Gill as he laid down a strong 5.56 at a career best speed of just under 262 mph. A number of racers came relatively close to that mark but had to settle for 5.60's, highlighted by a side by side 5.6-second battle between John Lombardo Jr. and Jay Payne, a couple of longtime west coast rivals. But the best was saved for last as Roger Bateman, in presumably his last race for the YNot team, nearly matched wheels with Tony Bartone, just falling short as T-Bone carded a #1 pass of 5.55 to relegate Bateman's 5.59 to the #3 spot behind Gill. Still, it was quite an end to the session.
Tony Bartone Centre Pointe Collision Mustan 5.559 260.56
It took the third pair (actually a single and two pairs) of cars down the track before a representative TAD run was made, and it came double as McKernan and Taliaferro put on a pretty good match. Mark's very fast 275 mph speed was coupled with a 5.34 e.t., but he came in second to Megan's career best e.t. and speed of 5.330 at a hair under 270 mph (269.94).
This was followed by a pair of runs by blown cars (Perkins and Martin) that went nowhere, then the Texas A/Fuel gang started to assert their dominance, with Chase Copeland in Gene Snow's car putting down a strong 5.32 at more than 278 mph, only to be outclassed by Aaron Tatum's 5.253 - 271.68 pass. The next pairing was two of the best blown alky cars in the country and they didn't disappoint as Jim Whiteley aced out Chris Demke's 5.34 at a very good 5.33.
The matchup that everyone had been waiting for closed the round and this time it was really a bit of a letdown as Duane Shields dropped a cylinder early and labored to a 5.36 pass while Joey Severance stumbled to a troubled 5.74 at just 246 mph. Not a great start to a pivotal weekend in his career, but he has two more chances to get it sorted out tomorrow before eliminations begin on Saturday afternoon.
Aaron Tatum Tatum Motorsports 5.253 271.68
And that ended, for all intents and purposes, the first day of the AAA Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway. As we left the track the clouds seemed more threatening but the latest weather forecast is still predicting only possible showers tomorrow evening and a small chance of rain on Saturday. It may be a long, and somewhat difficult weekend weather-wise, but it's surely going to be interesting if today is any indication. Buckle up and hang on!
1. John Mihovetz BB/AT 7.27 6.083 -1.187
Preview is at the bottom of the page
POMONA, Calif. - 47th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, CA.
Today's activities feature the initial rounds of qualifying for all Professional and Sportsman classes. The first round of qualifying for the Professional categories is planned for noon today, followed by Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car at 2:00p.m.
Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. High 77F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph. Stronger winds in and below canyons and passes.
Thursday's Planned Run Schedule
We're definitely in the last lengths of the home stretch now, as the 22-race NHRA Full Throttle Series has finished it's long journey back and forth across the USA, ending fittingly enough where the 2011 drag racing season began at Pomona's Auto Club Raceway some eight and a half months ago. Millions of dollars have been spent competing, thousands of miles driven attending, and countless hours of sweat and toil expended chasing the dream that drives all the competitors from the top of the ladder - Top Fuel and Funny Car - down to the trenches of the Super Gas and Super Comp categories.
During this week's final event of the season, the Auto Club NHRA Finals, all but one of the season champions will be crowned in the pro eliminators, the lone exception being Pro Stock where Jason Line was annointed the victor two weeks ago during eliminations at the Big O Tire Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Get Screened America Pro Mod championship was also decided at Las Vegas, with Khalid Al-Balooshi declared the points champion in his nitrous-equipped '68 Camaro, outlasting Danny Rowe's supercharged combo for the title.
While the competitor entry numbers are down somewhat on the amazing totals from Las Vegas, due to restrictions NHRA puts on entry acceptance (ie, season point totals and grade points) the lists do contain some surprising numbers and names. With names like Karamesines, Kalitta Doug, not Connie) and Garlits (yes, Big Daddy... in a Stocker) on the list it's sure to be quite an event. As befits a season-ending race, an international flavour is in evidence, with Damien Harris and Peter Russo (Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively) in from Australia, Thomas Nataas from Norway, Todd Paton (TF) and Todd Lesenko (FC) from Canada, plus a scattering of Canucks (14 in all) in other categories.
As this race will determine not only event winners but World Champions also, it's difficult to separate the two factors so we'll just take a look at it from both viewpoints and try to meld our perspective on the favourites from both columns. Even though one pro category has already crowned a champion, Pro Stock, there's still a race to be run and the battle for the 2nd through 6th place finishes in that class is sure to be very tight. Pro Stock Motorcycle is down to just two competitors for the season championship, and that battle could be over almost as soon as eliminations begin.
Working our way through the list, let's start with Top Fuel. In the points battle, it's as much a fight between two very competitive teams, Al-Anabi Racing (Worsham and Dixon) and Don Schumacher Racing (Massey and Brown), as it is between the individual competitors. Did you notice that I left out one of the DSR racers? While there is an infitisemally small mathematical chance that Tony Schumacher could take the title, it's really beyond the realm of possibility so we've discounted him already. That leaves the title fight down to four racers, any of whom could take the big prize.
alone, Worsham and Dixon, both of whom grew up around fuel racing and have competed
in Top Fuel and Funny Car for a long time, could be considered the favourites.
Their opponents, Massey and Brown don't have nearly the experience at the top
end of the sport, but they've proved to be quick learners and both possess very
quick reaction times. And this weekend it's going to be so close that every little
bit is going to count. Reaction times, 60 foot times, top end speeds, qualifying
points, it's all going to be a factor and the final margin may be so close that
one or two points here or there could make the difference. Even the 20 bonus points
available for setting a new national e.t.
What other factors could come into play? The tuning battle between Alan Johnson, Jason McCulloch and Brian Husen (Al-Anbabi) versus the DSR braintrust of Mike Green, Mark Oswald, Brian Corradi, Phil Shuler, and Todd Okuhara will be huge. Truly a fight with all the money, brains and talent possible on both sides. With the top three in the points standings (Massey, Worsham and Brown) separated by less than 15 points, and Dixon just 44 points from the top, qualifying position points and first round matchups will be absolutely critical.
At this point I'm not going to pick anyone to win, but the odds definitely favour the top three and Dixon will need a good ladder position (i.e., having the opportunity to defeat the DSR cars early) to have any chance at the championship. But even if he can't be a factor in the title fight, Dixon will be focused on running as well as he can, winning as many rounds as he can and letting the points work themselves out. That will probably be the goal of all four of the contenders: run well first and foremost and worry about strategy second.
Of note is the sheer number of entries in Top Fuel for this race, with the 27 cars that showed at Vegas being topped here, as 28 drivers appeared on the pre-entry list. The only changes from the last event are Todd Paton in for Ike Maier in the Paton family owned car, Damien Harris in a second entry for Rapisarda Racing, and Mike Ashley (former Pro Mod and Funny Car racer) coming out of nowhere in a a Dexter Tuttle digger. Ron August is not on the list but Mike Strasburg is and brings the final tally to the aforementioned 28. Should be quite a show in qualifying alone.
The chase for the Funny Car championship is even tougher to predict as no less than eight racers still have a chance to take the crown. However, the last name on that list, Jeff Arend, is even further back than Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel, and the only way he can take the top spot is by having the top two (Hagan and Beckman) fail to appear (not terribly likely) and the next two (Cruz Pedregon and Neff) fail to qualify. Again, not too likely. So, let's look at the realistic title contenders, starting from the bottom (Capps and Hight) and working our way to the top.
Similar to the team vs. team theme of Top Fuel, the funny car championship chase features a trio of DSR racers (Hagan, Beckman and Capps) against a pair of John Force Racing competitors (Neff and Hight), plus one lone independent, and a real darkhorse in this fight, Cruz Pedregon. Trailing the leaders significantly, Hight and Capps could have their title hopes extinguished as early as the first round, even though Capps is on a bit of a hot streak, coming off his event win at Las Vegas.
The two racers in the middle of the "pack", Pedregon and Neff are less than two rounds of racing behind the leaders, but need to keep pace with them and find a way around them before the final round to have any hope of the title. Then we've got the leaders: Hagan in front of Beckman by the grand total of ONE point. No gap at all, no margin, no lead. By the time the first round of eliminations rolls around on Sunday morning, the picture could be a bit clearer, or even cloudier than it already is, depending on the distribution of qualifying points.
It's very difficult to pick favourites right now, as all six racers have had good runs and good stretches of runs since the countdown to the championship began after the US Nationals. And all have had their share of early round losses and bad laps. The two racers that have the experience of winning a championship, Hight and Pedregon might be given a small edge, but the sheer number of DSR cars in the chase (three) would seemingly favour them. But that number of racers may well work against the team, with one taking out the other, depending on how they place on the eliminations ladder.
This race is simply too close to call and I'm going to stay out of the fray at this point, other than to suggest (again, like before the last event) that my darkhorse pick to take all the marbles is Cruz Pedregon. He's the low man on the money totem pole, has got the smallest crew, the least stature with the media, but he's got the smarts, the will to win and most of all, he's been there with his own team many times over the years and stood up against the best-funded, best-tuned, best-crewed cars.... and won as often as not.
Two extra entries (over the Vegas race) at this event bring the total pre-entered to an even two dozen (24) cars and drivers. New/old faces on the list are Brian Thiel and Cory Lee, joining everyone else who appeared at Las Vegas. Again, the qualifying should be a show in itself, with Terry Haddock and Tony Pedregon, among others having one last chance to set the world on fire (or at least part of it...) in 2011.
As was stated in the opening to this piece, Jason Line was crowned the 2011 Full Throttle Pro Stock champion at Vegas and the points battle now is over the 2nd through 6th positions. While it appeared just a few weeks ago that Line's Summit teammate Greg Anderson, was certain to finish second for the season, a late charge by Mike Edwards has definitely thrown that idea into disarray. Going into Pomona, Edwards holds a 31-point lead over Anderson and seems almost certain to hang onto that lead for 2nd place with his strong showings in the last three races.
Assuming that situation holds true, then Anderson is very well positioned to stay in third place, being nearly 50 points in front of the 4th place racer (Vincent Nobile). But 4th through 6th (Nobile, Allen Johnson, and Erica Enders) are all within just a few points of each other and they could rearrange their standings several times through the course of the weekend. While none have a chance to catch Edwards for second place or even threaten Anderson for the 3rd position unless a miracle happens, they can still shuffle the points deck substantially.
For the event title, the conventional wisdom is that Edwards, Line, and possibly Anderson have to be considered the favourites. Unlike fuel racing, where a tuneup can go sideways very quickly, once a Pro Stock car hits on a good combination, they seem able to hold on to it and make it work for a while. That said, my money is on Edwards to hold his current advantage and take home another pewter wally to finish out the year.
Only one addition to the field here as Gary Gregory (Seminole, FL) is appended to the list. Newcomer to the class Mark Wolfe, who debuted in fine fashion at Vegas; qualified and matched wheels with Mike Edwards to the 1000 ft mark in a close 1st round loss, is back for more and looking to improve on his first effort. Erica Enders is still looking for that first win and it's going to come one of these days. Maybe this Sunday?
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, the season champion is almost certain to be Eddie Krawiec, as he holds a 69-point edge over 2nd place Hector Arana Jr. It would take an early, like 1st round, loss for Krawiec or failing to qualify to open the door for Arana Jr. to have a chance to overtake him. Neither scenario is likely and as with Mike Edwards in Pro Stock car, Krawiec is on a hot streak lately and not likely to lose his edge with the title on the line.
The two Top Alcohol titles are pretty much cut and dried also, with many-time (honestly, I've lost track - it's at least 15 times though) world champion Frank Manzo taking the honours in Top Alcohol Funny Car already. There could be some minor shuffling in the Top Ten, with current 3rd place racer, Calgary's Roger Bateman, at risk of being muscled out of that spot by Jay Payne. To do that, Payne would have to win the event though; anything less and the best he could finish is 4th.
In Top Alcohol Dragster, there's only one racer with a chance to unseat current points leader Duane Shields, and after falling short at Las Vegas in a first-round loss, Joey Severance has to win Pomona to take the title. Not just make the final round, but win the entire event to take the championship. A simple, but very difficult proposition. Jim Whiteley just dropped (as I was writing this) Severance to 4th place in the standings after taking a narrow come-fromn-behind victory over Joey in the weather-delayed final round at the Las Vegas Lucas Series race this morning.
Whiteley can't move any further up in the standings however as he's run the maximum number of points-earning events for the season and 2nd place (and 2010 champion) Bill Reichert is similarly done for the year. Now it's all up to Severance, who can move into a tie for 2nd with a semi-final finish at Pomona or take the title with a victory at the Finals.
Since I don't follow these categories as closely as editor Dean Murdoch does, I'll leave it to him to give you the details on who's a player and which racers have the best chances for event and world championship wins at this race.