November 9, 2011


Pomona coverage is here.

Speedzone Magazine 2011 Full Thottle coverage (presented by Sonny's Engines)

Mile High Nationals coverage (Denver)
Autolite Nationals coverage (Sonoma)
Lucas Oil Nationals coverage (Brainerd)




NW Nationals celebrates their 60th by honoring NW legend Gary Beck

Tickets for the 24th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals are on sale now. The race, which moves to the weekend of Aug. 5-7 at scenic Pacific Raceways just south of Seattle near the city of Kent, Wash., is the 14th of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. The race also returns to its original spot as the final stop of the grueling three-race Western Swing, which visits Denver and Sonoma, Calif., before heading to Seattle in a demanding three weeks stretch of racing.

Adult ticket prices start at only $41 and tickets for juniors and children are available for as little as $10. Tickets can be purchased by calling (800) 884-NHRA. Fans can select their exact seats if they choose to purchase their tickets online at www.NHRATIX.com. Motorhome and courtside club seating can be purchased by calling Pacific Raceways at (253) 639-5927.

The event will feature competition in three NHRA professional categories, including the 7,000-horsepower, nitro-fueled Top Fuel dragster and Funny Car classes, along with the 200-mph Pro Stock division. Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the event, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.

NHRA is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011 and while the action on the track promises to be thrilling, the action off the track should be just as exciting. Gary Beck, a two-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion and 1975 Top Fuel winner at Pacific Raceways, will be on hand to be honored as the NHRA legend of the event. Beck, who won championship titles in 1974 and 1983 and earned 19 race victories and 34 No. 1 qualifying positions, will participate in fan meet and greets and sign autographs throughout the weekend.


March 28, 2011

Interview with John "Bodie" Smith
Driver of the John Smith Racing Monte Carlo Funny Car

By Pat Welsh

SZ- Hi John, I'm Pat Welsh with SpeedzoneMagazine.com.

JS- Good to meet you Pat.

SZ- Tell me about the Brand-X Nostalgia Funny Car that you guys are running here this weekend? Did your Dad have a hand in building that car?

JS- My brother Mike drove that car here this weekend against Jon Capps driving the Jungle (Jim) car. I think it ran a 5.99 that first run. That's something my Dad built over the winter-he was building that Brand-X car and actually all the chassis work was done up at J. Ed Horton's Shop where I'm from. So all of us had a little part in doing it. I picked up the body and delivered it to the chassis shop, and we worked it out so that it could get down here to Florida. Dad put it all together with Bexar Waste. He pays for all that. So those guys took care of that.

SZ- Who built the body for the Brand-X car?

JS- That body came out of Georgia…Donnie Reeves he actually built the mold. J. Ed Horton mounted it and did all the tanks and tin work. It's actually a McKinney chassis.

SZ- Was that chassis from a former NHRA Funny Car?

JS- Yes that was my Dad's 2005 car. That car actually ran a 4.82 back in the day when they were running a quarter-mile. So those guys are doing that and my brother's working part-time on that deal. I help my Dad when I come here and I drive this. I also tuned for Stig Neergaard this weekend (Top Fuel). He ran some mid .90's with his car. And then Virgil Hartman, my father-in-law we were helping Fred Farndon (Top Fuel) put a tune-up on that car here and last year at Reading. I had too much going on so I brought Virgil in to help me with that.

SZ- You must be wiped out?

JS- Uhhh yea a little bit. And the next step is I got to take this Danish guy Stig…he's got to go to the Jacksonville Port and ship his car back on Monday. I'll drive home Monday evening and then Tuesday at 2pm I jump on a plane to go to Australia. I built a Funny Car and Top Fuel team for Mark Sheehan. I don't know if you've heard of him. He runs mainly on the west coast at Perth, Australia.

I went over there and spent pretty much the whole month of December over there. In January we ran the Top Fuel car so I'm getting ready to go back over for the last meet of the year.

SZ- Is that a good paying gig?

JS- Oh yea I wouldn't go if it wasn't! I wouldn't fly 35 hours if it wasn't!

SZ- Are you traveling by yourself?

JS- Yes. I've been by myself every time. That's the hardest part. The reason I do that is it's so expensive to get over there. It costs $3000 a ticket to get the family over there so it was over nine grand to get everyone over there. So it's not worth it to do it.

You know I was over there for Christmas - the first time I spent Christmas away from the family and that was tough. You don't want to spend Christmas away from your kids, especially a five and twelve year old. But we did it because the money was really good…Santa Claus had Christmas paid for even before it came which was good.

We're planning some more trips to Australia. Mark the gentleman I work for over there he's real pumped up. We've shown a lot of good potential to run 4.80's. They still run quarter-mile over there.

SZ- What tracks do you race on in Australia?

JS- He runs at Perth, he'll go to Sydney, and then Willowbank. There's only three or four tracks over there that they race at that are really good enough for the fuel cars. Perth is really good in the evening. The problem is they run in the summer so it's like Southern California or Arizona over there. It gets to 110 degrees there during the day. The track temperatures get to 145-150 degrees so it's a whole different atmosphere. People love racing over there just like here. It's growing. We're selling a lot of used parts but guys like Mark figured out that if I buy everyone's used parts I'm going to go as fast as everyone else. Now they're evolving into buying the new stuff…trying to step that up. Some of the other stuff that they don't have to have new all the time so it's a good parts business for me.

SZ- And then you're coming back to the United States for the Four Wide Nationals in Charlotte?


JS- Yes I'll be back in the states for Charlotte, then again in April I'm going to England to tune a Funny Car so I'm all over the place.

SZ- You're an international tuner.

JS- Stig's car is the car I tune in Europe on the FIA Circuit. I've been doing that for two years. I go everywhere!

And then I do have a full-time job. I work for my father-in-law Virgil at his plastics plant.

SZ- Hartman Enterprises?

JS- Yes Hartman Enterprises. I service all the machines there. If something breaks I fix it. I work in his machine shop, I build my own clutch levers…stuff that I know how to run I build it myself and put it in other guys stuff. I know it's not stellar but most of the guys I work for have a budget. They're not unlimited. And I think that's the hardest part: working for some of the guys that buy the guys…most everybody I work for buy used parts from somebody else. So I'm getting everybody's hand in there. But writing documents, carrying documents, make sure what you got…always write it down (referring to keeping documentation on used fuel parts).

SZ- You work in a real small, tight niche industry?

JS- I'm lucky right now. I've been taught by those two guys right there (pointing to Paul Smith and Virgil Hartman). That's pretty good experience. Virgil he grew up in California…he's from the California scene, ran alcohol Funny Cars with his son Richard and Rhonda. And my Dad you know where's he's been. It's all in the family.

SZ- How has your weekend been with qualifying for the 2011 Tire Kingdom Gatornationals?

JS- Well it was good on the first run till we went across the scales and we were ten pounds light. We ran a 4.15.

SZ- That would have gotten you solidly into the show.

JS- Yes a 4.15 299 mph that would have gotten us into the show. It's one of those things where the variance of weight between track to track varies a bunch and we're not a tour traveling team so we're not in the habit of weighing it (the car)…we should weigh it at every track we go to. So that's our plan from now on - to get a baseline to get an idea where the scales are at. But we were trying real hard today. We only made one run yesterday (Friday). We decided to make two runs today and the track is a little bit hotter and it just wouldn't take what we were giving it. We were trying to run really good on that last run and it had numbers to run a 4.16 or 4.17 and you know when you're a part-time team you don't have enough runs to educate yourself on certain racetracks and that's where we're at.

SZ- But you guys have a lot of experience with your Dad Paul Smith doing this for such a long time and you made a pretty good showing this weekend with the 4.15.

JS- Oh yeah we did. And it's disappointing. We could have been qualified 8th or 9th with that number we had with the .15. We'll kick it and he says (Paul) that he's going to Charlotte now to run the Four Wide Nationals so that will be the next time I'll be driving.

SZ- You ended up 18th in qualifying. How much does that pay?

JS- We get $3000. That will pay the hotel rooms and half a set of tires.

SZ- How is your wife and former Top Fuel driver Rhonda (Hartman-Smith) doing?


JS- Great. She's here this weekend she was backing me up at the starting line. Got the kids here too. Megan's twelve now and Dylan is five so it's a lot of fun. She (Rhonda) is bummed out because we didn't qualify. She gets more bummed out than I do. And she's bummed out that we didn't make weight. When we came here you're all fired up then you can't do anything about it. When you lose it down there at a scale that isn't right…even the Pro Mod guys. Tasca's run got thrown out. Lee's run got thrown out. Four or five Pro Mod guys…you normally don't have that many cars get tossed out of the track because of the scales. The wind's blowing twenty miles per hour, you're on an open scale, and to me I think you should have a window - five or ten pounds either way. And they say, "Look get your act together." Bring it back up the next time and put an extra ten pounds on it…I just think that's difficult. But a rules a rule. NHRA has their rule, we have to stick by it. We lost a run.

SZ- If you were racing on the NHRA tour full-time do you have the option of passing the scales?

JS- If you pass the scales you lose your run. You have to hit the scales. The problem is the scales vary from track to track - thirty to forty pounds. So I guess that's our deal…that's what we've been told by guys out here - Lee Beard and a couple other guys. We'll just have to pull the car out of the trailer just like it made the last run, hang everything on it, go weigh it, and see where we're at. That's what we're going to have to do.

SZ- John it was great talking to you and thank you so much for your time. Have a good time in Australia. I hope to be up at Charlotte. I'll stop by and see how you guys are doing.

JS- OK stop by and see us.

March 12, 2011

Interview with Melanie Troxel By Pat Welsh

SZ- Melanie how was your weekend? I am guessing not so good...
MT- - NOT GOOD (laughs). I can't sum it up any better than that! No we had a rough weekend with the Pro Mod and the Funny Car this weekend. We did all of our preseason testing and apparently we didn't get things as sorted out as we would have liked. So we'll stay and do more testing.

SZ -On Monday?
MT- We'll be here Monday with both the Pro Mods and I believe also the Funny Car. And I'll just keep making laps until I get these cars down the track.

SZ -Is the Funny Car a new car for this year?
MT- It's a front halved car that's been completely gone through and reassembled by Aaron Brooks the way he would like the car to be done. So even though it's not brand new it's the same back half of the car. For all intents and purposes for us it's a new car. Not that car we ran last year.

SZ -Has there been any major changes to the team over the winter?
MT- You know Aaron set everything up the way he'd like it to be on the car. We only have one crew guy returning from last year. So there's a lot more that's new over there than was the same as last year.

SZ- And the Pro Mod is a new car?
MT- Our Pro Mod car is the car we ran last year. You know with Bob Newberry tuning it that's new for us. We only get the three qualifying runs. We made two passes and we thought we had an ignition issue. Changed out all new ignition and it went out and just blew the tires off. Obviously we have more horsepower now with the new ignition than we had with the old one. So that's just kind of a mechanical issue that bit us in the butt. But we found the problem now and hopefully that's a good thing and we'll be ready to go at the next race.

SZ -What about your new sponsor Road Rage.com? Who are they and how's that working out for you?
MT- Road Rage.com is an online community for motoring enthusiasts. For anybody who goes to their local race track and races on a Friday/Saturday night to somebody who just likes their old street car they have and is very proud of it. It gives you a website where you can go and set up your own garage, post pictures of your race car or your street car, motorcycle, whatever it is that you like that runs on a motor. You can go there and brag about it, talk about it with people in chat rooms. You can challenge people and say hey my Nova ran the quarter mile in such and such. Who out there with the same setup can beat it?
It's just a place for people to go and hang out. It's been great having them on board both of the cars this weekend. We wish we could have done more for them you know qualified the cars and put on a better showing for them. But I still think we're getting the word out there. We're driving people to the website. Telling them where to go. Getting them to sign up and create their own garage and for everybody who signs up we're going to be doing a drawing a trip for four to Las Vegas and the person who wins that gets to be on my crew. So it's a great opportunity out there for the fans to get more involved and be a part of building that online community.

SZ -Is this just a one-race deal?
MT- I don't know whether Road Rage.com will be involved with the team or not. In the future we're hoping that they enjoyed their experience enough that they want to be involved in the future but the giveaway is a one-time only deal so people have got to hurry and go on there and try and be the winner.

SZ -It looks like your team owner Roger Burgess is trying to build a very solid team. What are your future plans with Roger?
MT- Roger plans on growing the race team. He wants to add more teams to it. We already have the four full-time Pro Mod cars plus the Funny Car. We want to grow that…add Pro Mod cars, add Nitro cars and really it's limitless. We'd like to get a lot more involved in the research and development side of the sport. Get into developing and manufacturing of engines and chassis. We already have a chassis shop and we're making in-house chassis.

SZ- Is that in Atlanta?
MT- Yes it is at R2B2 Race Cars. We've been making in-house cars but now we're setup to make Pro Mod cars and other race cars for the general public. So we're really set up for a lot of growth. We want to stay in that manufacturing side of the business and continue to make our race cars more competitive.

SZ- Did I hear that you have another position with the team?
MT- Yes I'm the General Manager of the race team. Overall of the Pro Mod and the Funny Car. I moved down to Duluth, Georgia about six months ago to be more involved. Not with that specifically in mind but to be more involved with the race cars and it's just kind of something that evolved. They're keeping me plenty busy between working with the team and driving two race cars. It's a handful.

SZ -Did you sell your tool company?
MT- I did before I moved down to Georgia I sold MTI so that I could focus on the racing. That was my plan all along.

SZ- Melanie thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it and good luck to you in 2011.
MT- Thank you.


Morgan Lucas takes time to talk to SpeedZone Magazine's Pat Welsh

Congratulations on the great start to the season, for both cars.

Dickie has already paid dividends.

SZ- Did your combination change from what you ran in 2010?
ML- I wouldn't say it changed a lot. I think we just kind of tweaked it. I try to stay out of that area as much as possible. Those guys know how to do their job. It's nice when you can trust people's decisions. You know when you have something that's working you don't want to change it a bunch you just want to make improvements. That way you can always step backwards.

SZ -What is it like being as young as you are, not only driving your car but running a two car Top Fuel team?
ML- I'm learning every day. This is something that's a fun experience for me to have this opportunity. It's a blessing. I'm lucky. You know my mom and dad worked really hard their whole life and I don't want to take advantage of this position. I like to do the best I can. Sometimes I worry about stuff I can't control. Sometimes I don't worry about stuff I can. But I'll figure it out. I'm getting better at it. It definitely would be nice to turn this into amazing business and an efficient business. But you know what? It's part of it. You just gotta learn. My dad had to learn from you know years and years of experience driving up and down the road and doing everything he had to do to make his family happy and to feed them. I came along and he decided to start an oil business and turned into a modern day Jed Clampet and this is where we end up. Living the good life and that's just the American dream. I think a lot of people just think it's going to fall in their lap. My dad's proof that hard work can make it happen.

SZ- What's the biggest challenge of running a two car Top Fuel team?
ML- Billing. Billing's always the hardest because there are so many invoices and statements coming in all the time. These things are part eaters.

SZ- Does your Dad and Mom play a big role in the everyday operation of the top fuel team, or do they let you run with it?
ML- No. I mean small decisions we do ourselves. Big decisions: Got to go through them. Make sure he's involved in it and he knows what's up. It's his race team in the end and I want to make sure he knows and feels good about it.

SZ- Do you have a full time shop on the west coast as well, or everything is based out of Indy.
ML- Not a race car shop. We have our Lucas Oil headquarters is out there. But our Geico/Lucas Oil race car shop is in Indianapolis and when we're not at the racetrack that's where we're at.

SZ- Do you play a role in the daily operation of Lucas Oil or is the race team enough on your plate right now?
ML- Right now the race team is my main thing. I'm starting to phase into the oil company and work and spend a lot more time learning about the family business.

SZ- Getting back to the professional side of drag racing, is the influx of foreign money coming into the sport? What about their involvement, buying companies, buying tuners and teams and owners in both Pro Mod and Top Fuel, is it good for the class and the sport in general?
ML- I think it's great. The sport needs to grow whether it comes from overseas or it comes from right here it's great with me. Plus the fact that they're spending money with American companies is a great testimony to the fact that they're willing to really do whatever it takes to be involved out here.

SZ- Is there any interest in a team like your self to head east to Qatar in the off season?
ML- If we ever had the chance and it was cost effective we'd be there in a heartbeat.

SZ- Do you see the NHRA going global?
ML- No. I don't know if we have the people in charge to make that happen. But I think it would be nice to see some people get together and make some decisions. I think it would be a really awesome experience and I think the thing that needs to happen first is a massive purse increase. We need to see some big money races and we need to see some progress in the marketing aspects of the sport but I think the future would be to go to places like Canada and I think Qatar and maybe even they have a great track over there at Santa Pod (England).

SZ- Do you see that happening with NHRA?
ML- I don't know. That's not up to me. I think there would have to be some changes in management to make something like that happen.

SZ- How much does safety play a role right now for the teams, or is the main concern still winning races and being the quickest and fastest, and let the safety aspect fall where it lies?
ML- Well in the end safety really means weight. If you put something on the car, if you put something on me as the driver it just adds weight to the car. Lighter cars perform better. So there's a cost benefit ratio. The crew chiefs have to decide what they want, how they want to do it, and some drivers are picky about safety stuff and the case I'm in I know the risk that's involved. What ever Dickie and Kurt want for this race team is what we're going to give it.

SZ- I saw last week you guys had a few tire issues, have they been a factor in the last year or so? Is it because of the track prep after the 1000 foot mark?
ML- Actually the main tire issue was just in the final (2011 Winternationals) and I just think the track was sprayed really tight, it had a lot of glue down track. We made a good lick from starting line to finish line and it just happens. Sometimes those little quarter-sized chunks will come out of the tire all the way around and yes you can't run the tire again. It's not like we're in any kind of instant, immediate peril. Goodyear does a good job. They take care of us. They respond to things like that happening because they don't want to have poor stuff reflect on their company and that's just the way it is.

SZ- What do you think of 1000' vs. 1320'?
ML- Hey we're going 320 miles per hour it's still fun. And I think the racing is closer now, reaction times are more important, the cars are more efficient. I think any fan that really likes side by side drag racing would be insane to say quarter mile was that much better. It might be the true core heritage of the sport and that last part of the racetrack was fun to drive but there's been a lot of explosions, a lot of bad stuff happens down there. I think at 1000' we still have oil downs but the catastrophic stuff is minimized.

SZ- What about the auto ignition and parachute deployment, there does seem to be a good number of cars stopping on the track and having to get towed off. What are your thoughts on that?
ML- I'm a firm believer that that setup has some definite pros to it but things that ring in my mind are the cons. There are a lot of things that I think hurt the show like car being stopped short of the track (turnoff). But you know what it's not really NHRA's final choice in that because they would probably like to reflect and listen to the race teams more but the insurance companies are breathing down their neck. They gotta do what they gotta do. At this point we're in their sand box. Whatever they think is best is what we have to do.

SZ- Won't an override deal make sense for cars that smoke the tires early or have issues where they are only going 100mph or less at the finish line?
ML- It happens so quick you're not going to be able to do anything about it. I think an override system would be nice but I think what really should happen is they should just monitor the driver and find who's doing what…more.

SZ- The re instituted the oil down penalties after what was a vey bad end to the 2010 season. Is this a far system for the teams, particularly the lesser funded teams? They are the teams that fill the fields as especially in the Top Fuel class full fields by full time teams just isn't happening.
ML- I think they're just doing what they gotta do for the show, for the fans. Last year in Vegas we put on a sad show with blowing up and oiling down everything. You know that's not what we want to do. We want to be better representatives of our sport as teams and watch what we're doing better and they're (NHRA) doing what they think is right.

SZ- Is PRO in favor of the new rules, or does PRO have a say?
ML- PRO's not in favor I'm sure, but we're not members of PRO any more. I think PRO…I would have to assume since it costs money for the teams that they're probably not going to be too keen to it. But I think everyone is on the same understanding that it's costing us money. It's costing us fans and that's going to cost us money.

SZ- They are even penalizing the sportsman racers, and those classes have not had a purse increase in now many year, a long time, I understand the rational but what are the answers to this? The sportsman oil downs are probably way more than 60% due to mechanical issues, not crew or driver error, I guess this is more of a rant then asking you for answers, but as the family is the sponsor of the sportsman racing there would seem to be the rationale that you would have some input.
ML- Again it goes back to payouts and things like that. You get guys that want to race those classes really bad but they have to make ends meet. Sometimes you don't have the top line parts or safety equipment. I think NHRA has a really tough job on their hands but I think nobody wants to oil down the track. Maybe there's a better way to contain them? Everyone needs to run a dry sump? I don't know. What I do know is nobody wants that to happen.

SZ- Is there a Lucas Oil representative on policy for sportsman racing?
ML- Yes there is. His name is Tom Bogner in Corona, California. He's our main drag racing marketing rep. But he wears a lot of hats. He gets to work on developing new oils for the racing teams. He gets to test some new products out. He does a lot of testing out there. But that's the way our company works everyone wears a lot of hats.

SZ- He works with NHRA's technical department on policy?
ML- Yes.

SZ- Thanks for your time Morgan and good luck the rest of the season?
ML- Thank you and not a problem at all.

February 24, 2011

Full Throttle 2011 preview predictions

Well 2011 is upon us. It promises to be one of the strongest seasons in a couple years in two of the four pro classes. Funny Car will as usual be the most competitive pro class (IMO) in the NHRA. Top Fuel has only been a two or three car race for a number of years. Pro Stock while competitive ET and qualify wise (the field separated by less than a tenth for 16 cars) has seen three or four cars wind up in the winners circle. Motorcycle will see that usual hitters.
Funny Car will be an eight-ten car battle with three Force car, four Schumacher cars, the Pedregon boys, Wilkerson, Tasca, Arend, actually the list goes on. Enough said about how tough the class will be. Top Fuel has at six-eight cars with legitimate chances for the title. There are three Schumacher cars, Larry Dixon, The revamped Lucas team, and the Kalitta's. Pro Stock has eight to ten cars) the usual Summit cars, Edwards, Allen Johnson, Shane Gray, Greg Stanfield and Ron Krisher.

The class that will see the return to competitiveness is Top Fuel.

It has been a script for over a half decade that has seen Tony Schumacher be the one to beat, and he didn't disappoint. From 2004-2009 he was unstoppable with Alan Johnson's tune up for all those years. In 2009 Johnson got his own team with Al-Anabi backing and started hi own run. He did not win in 2009 but was close, in 2010 he all came together as owner/tuner and driver Larry Dixon was dominant. He won last year, got a handle on the details, as everyone knew he would. While there is a good chance you will see him be the dominant tuner he was with the Army car, there is also a chance the technology has topped out and the other teams are close to catching up. Larry has a new TF dragster team mate, in Del Worsham, but he will have a few growing pains in the long skinny car, even with AJ's assistance on the tuning end. That input will put Worsham in the top ten enough for the countdown, and a dark horse for a top six finish.
Tony Schumacher's Army team will do everything in their arsenal to reclaim the title they lost, and they are the #1 Don Schumacher team (no matter what spin is put on team orders). Spencer Massey in the Fram Car has very aggressive tuner in his backcourt but it is not the Army car. Antron Brown also has very good tuners in his camp but again he is not driving the 'Army' of one.
Team Lucas, particularly Morgan in the #1 car will see the biggest improvement of any full time Top Fuel car, but then again it could not have gotten much worse than in 2010. He made the countdown and then fell on his face for five of the six races with a dnq, boomers and a total lack of cohesion. There seems to be a lack of capable tuners in Top Fuel for whatever reason, but is it a lack of good tuners or is it that team itself that is the root of the problem. Morgan is quite possibly the most competitive driver in the class, and the family's drag racing involvement puts a lot of pressure on the young owner/driver. There are huge expectations, and they have failed. But then the Drag Racing gods dropped a team manager/tuner/crew chief and stabilizing veteran in Morgan's lap and he jumped on it. Dickie Venables a long time veteran in the Force camp (the most stable team in Fuel racing) brought along Kurt Elliot and in the second race it turned in dividends. A top four qualifying effort and a semi final finish. He had a great test at Palm Beach three weeks ago and the promise of Morgan's best finish in Top Fuel. I see him finishing the regular season in fifth or sixth place, and fifth in the countdown. Morgan's team mate had an awesome year, but I don't see him repeated. He will finish in the top ten in the regular season, but will finish in ninth or tenth. The Kalitta's seem to be one or two breaks from a top three finish. There is huge potential, history, solid backing, but no real breaks. Remember 2008, it was Doug's year and then Tony shoe won the final race, set the record and won by less than a round. That seems to be the luck of the longest running full time owner in the class. Unfortunately I don't see it changing. A solid year, but no top three finish in the final standings. David Grubnic is a great team mate and will finish close to his team mate.
Brandon Bernstein is almost an enigma. Consistency seems to be their motto, but it is mediocre consistency. They are strong enough to be a threat, but not enough to put them over the top. A place in the countdown, but a 6th-8th place finish.
Bob Vandergriff is out full time in 2011 but with the competitiveness this year it won't be easy. He has proved he can run well, mid 3.80's -3.90's on a regular basis, is what I see. It will put him in the countdown but will it be enough for a top five finish, I don't think so. I see 7-10th.

Terry McMillen had a great full time rookie season, but still finished outside of the countdown. He had a great Palm Beach test, but will he end up in the countdown? He is on the bubble.

Top Fuel final standings

Top nine

1. Larry Dixon …the 2011 champ
2 and 3 too close to call
Tony Schumacher (I can't see the other Schumacher teams finishing ahead of Tony)
Spencer Massey (He is one of the best drivers, even though he is young, but can he overtake Tony, I don't think it is in the team orders)
4. Doug Kalitta
5. Morgan Lucas
6. Antron Brown
7. Del Worsham
8. Brandon Bernstein
9. Bob Vandergriff

10 -12 in no particular order (these three will battle for the final spot in the countdown)

Terry McMillen
David Grubnic
Shawn Langdon


Steve Torrence
Troy Buff
Terry Haddock
TJ Zizzo
Mike Strasburg

That's it for Top Fuel.

Nitro Funny Car

After John Force's reign of dominance ended six years ago, the Funny car class has been simply awesome. Yes, only three teams have reached the final podium (Force, DSR and the "P" brothers) but those three teams account for nine teams on the tour. Six other players are full time runners and two of them are legitimate contenders. Robert Tasca, and Tim Wilkerson will be around come the countdown. Jeff Arend, Paul Lee, Melanie Troxel, Jim Head and Brian Thiel are also full time competitors and will throughout the year cause havoc with the frontrunners. A number of others teams including Gary Densham, Bob Bode, Jeff Diehl, and Grant Downing will be out at times and both Densham and Bode are solid threats. Later this year a couple other teams will make debuts, as Steve Plueger is back in the game with Todd Lesenko and Steve Rajcic behind the wheel of two big show cars.
The big question is which team will be the last one standing the end of 2011.

We have had five different champions in the last six years, and this year there is a great chance another new champion could be crowned. With Ashley Force taking a hiatus to have her first child, Mike Neff is back in the third seat, and he is one of the guys who could be a new winner. The entire Force team is on even terms when it comes to having a solid chance. John likely wants one more title before he steps away, I just hope he steps away and does not drag it out his retirement. To win and retire would be cool, but even a top five finish and retirement would be okay in my books. Will he win again this year? It is smart money to on him, as no other Funny Car driver has more drive and commitment to the class then he does. I do however feel if a Force driver is going to win this year, it won't be John. Robert is my pick on the JFR team. Also, the youngest daughter Courtney is getting groomed to drive in the class, and will likely run a couple of events this year.

For DSR, Matt Hagan is looking to prevent a last race collapse like he did in 2010, and he is right at the top of the list as a favorite. He can man handle a Funny Car, is fearless and Crew Chief Tommy Delago is one of the most aggressive tuners in fuel racing. Jack Beckman has a new main sponsor this year and he wants to impress the new corporate partners. But while the driver plays the final role in being the champion, the crew chief and tuner play the most important role. Do Rahn Tobler and John Collins have the stuff to put Beckman of the final podium, I don't think so. But he will be in the top seven when the year is completed. Ron Capps has the crew chief with the right stuff, but John Medlin who is running the car right now has never been really named as the crew chief. Capps is excited to have him in his corner and there is likely no hungrier driver in the class than Capps. His best seasons were in 05 and 06 when he finished 2 and 3. He usually suffers through inconsistencies in a season so the hope is that Medlin will keep the car on track all year long, especially once they hit the countdown. I say he will be in the top five when all is said and done. Johnny Gray is the newest member of the DSR flopper contingent but he has lots of history in the class. He has not run the class in five years, and in that time he took a couple off and then took on the Pro Stock challenge. He did well, had solid resources behind him. But my guess is, the speed of the nitro cars called him back. Lee Beard is looking after his tune-up which has to be a good thing and he will benefit from it with a countdown spot and a top seven finish.
Cruz Pedregon and brother Tony seem to be the two top drivers who get the most talk heading into the beginning of the season. Why, because no one really know if they will run all year or not. Do they have a sponsor, a crew chief or the resources to run? Well Cruz tested at Pam Beach and ran well and Tony signed a deal with American Racing Wheels. Cruz is your true drag racer he eats sleeps and drinks the sport and will do anything to succeed. Last year and 2009 he fell off drastically after a championship 2008 season. I can tell you this he will improve from the last two years, but he won't finish in the top three when the last race is completed. Brother Tony finished 8th last year and usually improves the following year after a mediocre one. I am not sure he will improve this year though. The competition is so tough and there are so many teams with proven aggressive crew chiefs that I think he will be back in the bottom of the countdown teams, if he makes the countdown.
Tim Wilkerson is every blue collar fans ideal racer. He does so much of it on his own, as one of few owners/drivers/ and tuners. He came close three years ago, and in reality was the most dominant driver that year, but the second year of the countdown caused his downfall. Under the old points system he would have won. Can a single car team succeed in this new era? Unfortunately no! He will make the countdown again, but he won't be the 2011 champion. Bob Tasca Jr. is a single car owner driver but in reality he has parts info and support from one of his closest friends in the class, and that is John Force. The Tasca family has supported Force in the past and Force has taken the young car dealership magnate under his wing so to speak. He has a solid crew behind him with Chris Cunningham and Marc Denner calling the shots. A 4.0 et car and solid backing from Ford Quality Care and the family fortunes, gives a team confidence and that in turn will parlay them to the countdown again and possibly a top five finish.
That's 11 teams talked about and sort of handicapped. The trouble is there are five more full time teams in the class. They will have to have their best ever year in order to make the playoffs. Melanie Troxel and Jeff Arend have the best chance of doing that. Paul lee in the Jim Dunn Rislone backed car has a chance as well, but Mr. Dunn never seems to put it all on the line, and I don't see his way of thinking changing. No countdown for you!! Arend has more than enough backing and he has a solid crew in Jon Oberhofer and Nick Boninfante. A little luck, a more consistent round one result and he will be in the countdown. Melanie Troxel was born to race. The pedigree, the fearlessness, the drive and being a part of a well backed team all help greatly, but the nitro game is not the same as the Pro Mod game where her car owner has his roots. Crew Chief Aaron Brooks has the knowledge and has an aggressive side, but consistency is what is important in this the toughest Nitro class. I am not sure the team will be consistent enough to make the countdown.
Jim Head has the tools, resources and experience to make a countdown showing but he usually makes one good run (usually qualifying) and then falls off in eliminations. He is getting down to the twilight of his racing career and one solid year making the countdown is on his bucket list. I'm not convinced this is his year though. Californian Brian Thiel makes his full time debut in the Funny Car ranks and has Johnny West to guide him. Growing pains will prevail and they will struggle at times. He will finish out of the top 10 and will battle Lee, and Head and Troxel for the top 12.

Bob Bode is the best of the part timers and if he was to run the entire deal he would piss off a bunch of the hitters. He won a race last year and ran extremely well. Every race will see guys ahead of him in the standing look over their shoulder, but being a guy who will only run 16 or so races will keep him out of the playoffs.

The final results are:

#1. Robert Hight
#2. Matt Hagan
#3. Ron Capps
#4. John Force
#5. Mike Neff
#6. Johnny Gray
#7 Cruz Pedregon
#8 Bob Tasca
#9. Jack Beckman
#10. Tim Wilkerson

Fighting for the countdown spots but falling just short
Tony Pedregon
Jeff Arend
Melanie Troxel
Jim Head
Paul Lee
Brian Thiel

Then there is the best of the rest

Bob Bode
Jeff Diehl
Gary Densham

Pro Stock on Friday

Winternationals coverage is here


February 7, 2011

This week at Florida

Pro Mods (at Palm Beach) and Pro Stock (at Bradenton)

(Pat Welsh photos)

(Murdoch Monday recap)

While Burgess and the R2B2 test saw Melanie Troxel out with the fuel flopper (and not really ahving a lot of success, they were also in Roger's FIVE car Pro Mod team throughout last week.

The new 57 Corvette with a Personett tuned and built turbo (Eric Dillard the new shoe) ran a best of 5.88/255 and made a number of short track laps as well. Personnett Camaro also ran through the gears. The three blown Pro Mods, driven by Burgess, Troxel and Commisso were all put through the paces as well. They along with Danny Rowe, Ed Hoover and Mike Knowles were all shaking down their 2011 rides. The blown cars were testing the new OD rules and a 5.87/247 was the best lap turned in (Melanie Troxel).

Of note on Monday Courtney Force made two short orientation laps and Roger Burgess got behind the wheel of Mel's flopper.

Allen Johnson ran 6.498/213 on Monday for the first ever sub 6.50 lap in Pro Stock history. The Pro Stockers were at Bradenton FLorida

February 2-6, 2011

2011 PRO Winter Warmup
Palm Beach International Raceway
Jupiter, Florida
Feb 4-5, 2011

By Pat Welsh

Few drag racing events compare to a public nitro test session. They're laid back, informal events that this year brought the top teams of NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing to South Florida. In 2009 there was a similar event held at PBIR but open access to the pits wasn't granted to spectators. Instead fans were left to salivate in the grandstands as nitro clouds formed above the race car transporters. Not so this year.


Although teams had been here all week testing out various setups under super secret sessions this two day affair was open for the world to see. Gates opened at 4 pm on Friday and fans were hungry to get in for the first (well second if you count the previous week's IHRA Nitro Jam) cackling of nitromethane fueled motors. Two sessions of side by side runs were scheduled for each day.

On hand were all three Force cars (Mike Neff, Robert Hight, and World Champion John Force), all of Don Schumacher's cars including the anticipated return of Spencer Massey, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, and new DSR teammate Johnny Gray. Brandon Bernstein's Copart Top Fueler, Dom Lagana, both Kalitta Racing cars (Doug Kalitta and David Grubnic), Terry McMillen, Bob Tasca III, Cruz Pedregon, and Melanie Troxel in the unlettered In-N-Out/R2B2 Solara. Also here was Alexis DeJoria who was behind the wheel Jeff Arend's DHL Solara getting more laps after finishing licensing in November at Vegas.

The Alan Johnson Racing - Al Anabi teams of World Champ Larry Dixon and new (for this year) Top Fuel driver Del Worsham were packed up and ready to hit the road by Friday afternoon.

Considering that this event was still classified as "testing" you would think that cars would be making 60' squirts then shutting them off. Not so as teams were out to see how far the performance envelope could be pushed.

The highlight's of Friday's two sessions included a big fireball in the lights by David Grubnic, a 3.765 322.88 mph run from Antron Brown, a 3.771 324.90 mph pass by Tony Schumacher, and a 3.803 run for Spencer Massey in the Fram/Prestone dragster.

Terry McMillen made his career best lap. Sophomore crew memeber Marla Weidenaar is not the typical grease monkey

Terry McMillen in his Amalie sponsored Top Fueler was the first to admit that he's never tested before in his life. He presented a 3.882 early shutoff run.

In Funny Car the performance of the evening was from Cruz Pedregon. Running a red unlettered Solara body he ripped off a 4.040 310.48 mph pass in the evening session. Five other cars were under the 4.11 mark including Hagan, Hight, Force, Beckman, and Johnny Gray.

On hand was Courtney Force who watched carefully as the Force cars were running. She is, of course being groomed for a ride in a Force car. Bob Vandergriff's Top Fuel team pulled two transporters into the track late Friday evening but they didn't make any runs Friday or Saturday.

Saturday the crowd started to build at the gate around 3 pm and since PBIR runs a tight ship and everybody was in place the staff decided to open the gates a half an hour earlier.

Six Top Fuel cars made runs led by a 3.775 324.05 mph by Antron Brown, a 3.778 321.19 mph by Tony Schumacher, and a 3.788 306.05 mph run by Spencer Massey. Another notable run of the evening came from Terry McMillen who ran a 3.828 313.29 mph pass. Sitting out on Saturday were the Kalitta cars.

Funny Cars are obviously making strides on cracking into the three second zone at 1000' and John Force during the last run of the evening made a lightning quick pass of 4.037 313.80 mph. Dean Antonelli is now calling the shots on the tuneup for Force.

Jack Beckman 4.053 314.09 mph, Robert Hight 4.055 312.64, Mike Neff 4.062 310.13 mph, Matt Hagan 4.082 309.98 mph, Ron Capps 4.081 310.20 mph, Johnny Gray 4.083 307.09, and Bob Tasca 4.098 308.92 mph were all impressive Saturday evening.

Melanie Troxel, shaking down a new car, didn't make any runs to the finish line under power -- the team obviously sorting out the new pipe. She also made two 100' runs down the track in the new Pro Care RX Camaro and team owner Roger Burgess made one short pass in his Camaro.

Best overall runs per driver:

1 Antron Brown, Pittsboro IN, DSR-TFX 3.765 322.88 324.05
2 Tony Schumacher, Brownsburg IN, DSR-TFX 3.771 324.90 324.90
4 Spencer Massey, Brownsburg IN, DSR-TFX 3.788 306.05 315.64
5 Terry McMillen, Elkhart IN, McKinney-TFX 3.828 313.29 313.29
6 Doug Kalitta, Ypsilanti MI, Attac-TFX 3.836 319.98 319.98
7 Brandon Bernstein, Fairview TX, McKinney-TFX 3.843 317.27 317.27
8 Dom Lagana, Scarsdale NY, Hadman-BAE 7.150 97.36 97.36


Order after testing in Funny Car at the Palm Beach International Raceway Pro Winter Warm-up:

1 John Force, Yorba Linda CA, '10 Mustang 4.037 313.80 313.80
2 Cruz Pedregon, Brownsburg IN, '10 Solara 4.040 310.48 310.48
3 Matt Hagan, Christianburg VA, '10 Charger 4.051 311.70 311.70
4 Jack Beckman, Norco CA, '10 Charger 4.053 314.09 314.09
5 Robert Hight, Yorba Linda CA, '10 Mustang 4.055 312.64 312.64
6 Mike Neff, Brownsburg IN, '10 Mustang 4.062 310.13 310.13
7 Ron Capps, Carlsbad CA, '10 Charger 4.081 310.20 310.20
8 Johnny Gray, Artesia NM, '10 Charger 4.083 307.09 307.09
9 Bob Tasca III, Cranston RI, '10 Mustang 4.098 308.92 308.92
10 Alexis De Joria, Sacamento CA, '08 Solara 4.201 290.94 290.94
11 Melanie Troxel, Duluth GA, '10 Charger 7.573 87.05 87.05

Saturday's runs

Top Fuel


Left Lane Terry McMillen, Elkhart IN, McKinney-TFX 3.828 seconds at 313.29 mph
Right Lane Dom Lagana, Scarsdale NY, Hadman-BAE 7.150 seconds at 97.36 mph
Dom Lagana, Scarsdale NY, Hadman-BAE 4.01 seconds at 245mph

Right Lane Brandon Bernstein, Fairview TX, McKinney-TFX 3.934 seconds at 291.82 mph
Left Lane Brandon Bernstein, Fairview TX, McKinney-TFX 3.906 seconds at 303.78 mph
Right Lane Spencer Massey, Brownsburg IN, DSR-TFX 3.788 seconds at 306.05 mph
Left Lane Spencer Massey, Brownsburg IN, DSR-TFX 5.176 seconds at 136.14 mph

Left Lane Antron Brown, Pittsboro IN, DSR-TFX 3.775 seconds at 324.05 mph
Left Lane Tony Schumacher, Brownsburg IN, DSR-TFX 3.778 seconds at 321.19 mph


Funny Car

Left Lane Bob Tasca III, Cranston RI, '10 Mustang 4.098 seconds at 308.92 mph
Left Lane Bob Tasca III, Cranston RI, '10 Mustang 4.134 seconds at 305.42 mph

Right Lane Jack Beckman, Norco CA, '10 Charger 4.103 seconds at 303.57 mph
Left Lane Jack Beckman, Norco CA, '10 Charger 4.053 seconds at 314.09 mph
Right Lane Johnny Gray, Artesia NM, '10 Charger 4.084 seconds at 304.87 mph
Left Lane Johnny Gray, Artesia NM, '10 Charger 4.083 seconds at 307.09 mph

Right Lane Matt Hagan, Christianburg VA, '10 Charger 8.915 seconds at 77.05 mph
Left Lane Matt Hagan, Christianburg VA, '10 Charger 4.082 seconds at 309.98 mph
Right Lane Mike Neff, Brownsburg IN, '10 Mustang 4.070 seconds at 308.57 mph
Left Lane Mike Neff, Brownsburg IN, '10 Mustang 4.062 seconds at 310.13 mph

Right Lane Cruz Pedregon, Brownsburg IN, '10 Solara 17.207 seconds at 61.70 mph

Left Lane Ron Capps, Carlsbad CA, '10 Charger 4.081 seconds at 310.20 mph
Right Lane Ron Capps, Carlsbad CA, '10 Charger 4.103 seconds at 308.64 mph

Right Lane Robert Hight, Yorba Linda CA, '10 Mustang 4.102 seconds at 310.77 mph
Left Lane Robert Hight, Yorba Linda CA, '10 Mustang 4.055 seconds at 312.64 mph

Left Lane Melanie Troxel, Duluth GA, '10 Solara 7.573 seconds at 87.05 mph

Right Lane John Force, Yorba Linda CA, '10 Mustang 4.037 seconds at 313.80 mph
Left Lane John Force, Yorba Linda CA, '10 Mustang 4.092 seconds at 306.67 mph

Friday testing best runs

Top Fuel

1 Antron Brown, Pittsboro IN, DSR-TFX 3.765 322.88 317.49
2 Tony Schumacher, Brownsburg IN, DSR-TFX 3.771 324.90 324.90
4 Spencer Massey, Brownsburg IN, DSR-TFX 3.803 315.64 315.64
5 Doug Kalitta, Ypsilanti MI, Attac-TFX 3.836 319.98 319.98
6 Brandon Bernstein, Fairview TX, McKinney-TFX 3.843 317.27 317.27
7 Terry McMillen, Elkhart IN, McKinney-TFX 3.882 276.13 276.17
8 Dom Lagana, Scarsdale NY, Hadman-BAE No Time No Speed

Funny Car

1 Cruz Pedregon, Brownsburg IN, '10 Solara 4.040 310.48 310.48
2 Matt Hagan, Christianburg VA, '10 Charger 4.051 311.70 311.70
3 Robert Hight, Yorba Linda CA, '10 Mustang 4.063 311.27 311.27
4 John Force, Yorba Linda CA, '10 Mustang 4.072 310.20 312.50
5 Jack Beckman, Norco CA, '10 Charger 4.102 309.63 309.63
6 Johnny Gray, Artesia NM, '10 Charger 4.108 301.20 301.20
7 Alexis De Joria, Sacamento CA, '08 Solara 4.201 290.94 290.94
8 Ron Capps, Carlsbad CA, '10 Charger 4.228 242.19 242.19
9 Bob Tasca III, Cranston RI, '10 Mustang 4.282 228.** 228.**
10 Mike Neff, Brownsburg IN, '10 Mustang 5.29* 149.48 149.48
11 Melanie Troxel, Duluth GA, '10 Charger 8.414 82.06 82.06



During the week of private testing Tuesday through Thursday, teams spent most of the early days making 300 -660 foot laps.

The Lucas two car TF team ran only until Thursday for some reason, as Morgan is one of the owner/drivers who has make the biggest change. With only two races under their belt with new crew chief Dickie Venables at the end of 2010. The team overhaul through the winter and they made a number of laps up to Friday. With every lap Venables and co-crew chief, Kurt Elliot made subtle changes. The team made complete passes throughout the test and only had one engine let go, and that according to Morgan was his fault.

GEICO/Lucas testing wrap up (Courtesy Rob Gieger)

PALM BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 5) – After years of turning wrenches on Funny Cars, Dickie Venables has gone back to his roots as the head man tuning the GEICO Top Fuel dragster at Morgan Lucas Racing.

Venables, who spent his informative years at the racetrack working on rails, just put the finishing touches on a week-long test at Palm Beach International Raceway, and he busily filled his notebooks with run data to use once the season arrives.

"Every run we made down the track is valuable information," said Venables, a two-time NHRA champion. "I've been away from the dragsters for so many years. I had to get re-acclimated with what a dragster can take as far as horsepower and clutch application."

He said he also made sure he knows the capability of every part in his arsenal.

"We came down here with several things we wanted to test," Venables said. "And everything we've done has produced good information. Everybody seems to be pleased with the results. The car is running well and not hurting itself.

"We're testing clutch discs and I've been experimenting with the different superchargers. That way I know what a particular supercharger is going to do when I take it out of the cabinet."

With the car making consistent runs in the 3.80-second range, Venables said he was able to break each run down into different sections to shave a fraction of a second off here and there.

"Last year I really didn't have much opportunity to play with the car and tune on it," Venables said of his two races with the GEICO team at the end of the season. "At a test session there's not that pressure. You can take you time and make your decisions. Last year, I was making decisions trying to improve by tenths of a second, here I'm trying to improve by a hundredths."

It's been the kind of test that's got driver Morgan Lucas excited to roll the GEICO dragster to the line as soon as possible.

"Everything went just fine," Lucas said. "This was the smoothest test I've ever been a part of. I feel confident about what the GEICO car is going to do when we get to Pomona."

The NHRA Full Throttle Series season gets underway Feb. 24-27 at the 51st annual Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.






Numbers courtesy DRC.

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