stories written by Bob Wilson
(photos Bob Wilson and Bob Snyder)
Las Vegas Big "O" Nationals
Sportsman wrap up
Top Alcohol class reports follow the professional classes below
Bo Butner drove his Mustang to a 9.212 second, 146.97 mph pass to defeat Jeff Tueton in Stock Eliminator for his first win of the day, then came back around to race Lou Ficco for the Comp Eliminator title. Butners Cobalt went 8.540 seconds at 158.39 to hold off Ficco and secure the rare double win and add his name to the list of just 13 drivers in history to accomplish the feat.
Dan Fletcher scored his 80th NHRA National event win beating former Lucas Oil National Champion Larry Stewart in Super Stock. Fletcher, who has three championships of his own, clocked in at 10.476 at 122.98 mph in his Camaro to Stewarts 10.224, 125.95 with his Challenger.
Luke Bogacki and Steve Apted completed the list of winners as Bogacki out ran Greg Boutte and his K&N Filters entry in Super Comp while Apted won over Bouttes teammate Steve Williams in Super Gas for his first national event win of his career. Bogacki, who is still in the hunt for the national championship, went 9.081, 174.41 to Bouttes 9.087, 177.42. Apted posted a 10.052 second, 164.63 mph pass to Williams 10.047, 165.50.
Most of the racers competing this weekend will return to The Strip for the Short Line Express Gamblers Shootout next weekend before heading to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona for the season ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.
Sundays final results from the 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Bo Butner, Chevy Cobalt, 8.540, 158.39 def. Lou Ficco, Pontiac GXP, 7.010, 196.22.
Dan Fletcher, Chevy Camaro, 10.476, 122.98 def. Larry Stewart, Dodge Challenger, 10.224, 125.92.
Bo Butner, Ford Mustang, 9.212, 146.97 def. Jeff Teuton, Dodge Challenger, 11.133, 120.19.
Luke Bogacki, Dragster, 9.081, 174.41 def. Greg Boutte, Dragster, 9.087, 177.42.
Steve Apted, Chevy Corvette, 10.052, 164.63 def. Steve Williams, Corvette, 10.047, 165.50.
Sunday final elimination's
TOP FUEL - 1st round elimination's
The round comes to a merciful conclusion one hour after it started, with the much anticipated Brown vs alBalooshi match-up and this one is literally just dripping with drama. So much at stake for all the players at this table. Whew... you can't even make up this stuff as it's close to 330 feet, then the Al-Anabi car smokes the tires and falls back until Brown drops a bunch of cylinders before alBalooshi pedals and recovers to take a big lead... then fireballs it going into the lights. The verdict: alBalooshi 4.47 win, Brown 4.59 loss. Ugly, but effective and that decision certainly opens up a host of points chase possibilities.
TOP FUEL - 2nd round elimination's
Finishing off the round was the slowly developing Cinderella story of Tony Schumacher making another last ditch run at the points title with a very close win over a competitive Steve Torrence, by a margin of 3.84 - 324.67 to Torrence's 3.85 - 319.37 pass. Factoring in the reaction times yields a true win margin of barely a quarter car length to advance the ARMY car and keep Schumacher's chances alive.
Going into the semifinals, Brown leads the points by 70 points over Massey and 85 over Schumacher. However, Tony S. still has 40 possible points sitting on the table waiting to be scooped up if he can win the last two rounds of the race. It could end up being very interesting by the end of the day with Schumacher trailing Brown by just 45 points going into the final event at Pomona in two weeks time. Stay tuned!
TOP FUEL - 3rd round elimination's
Turning up the volume a whole bunch, the bigger and much badder brothers of the alky cars fired up for the second to last time of the day. Only one of the championship contenders remained for this round, but the first match showcased two cars that hadn't had much impact in the countdown chase. Bob Vandergriff continued his string of consistently good runs for the weekend, taking the first final round berth with his sixth good run in seven attempts, taking out Doug Kalitta's very close 3.854 - 324.75 with a slightly better 3.841 - 322.19. Making the race just that much closer was Kalitta's .009 reaction advantage, making for a winning margin of just two feet at the stripe.
Then it was down to Schumacher Vs alBalooshi, DSR Vs AJR, money Vs money, and Schumacher prevailed with a low e.t. matching (of his own low e.t. in qualifying) 3.773 coupled with a big speed of 326.24 to turn back the spirited charge of alBalooshi at 3.842 - 324.05 mph. With that win, Schumacher moved ahead of Spencer Massey into second place in the standings, just 65 points behind Antron Brown and with a chance to cut that margin by 20 more points with a final round win over Vandergriff.
TOP FUEL - Final round elimination's
He's also got the two quickest e.t.'s of the weekend, some of the best speeds, but Vandergriff has got down the track almost every time this weekend with a series of low 3.80-something passes with speeds in the low to mid 320 mph range. It's got all the makings of a classic race between two well-prepared teams and it starts with Schumacher taking a slight advantage at the green, but giving it all back and much more as he smokes the tires before the 330 timers and can only watch in frustration as Vandergriff streaks away to another of his patent pending 3.83 - 324 mph passes.
In a very fitting end to the day, Vandergriff goes for another jog back down the track from the top end, making it to almost the half track mark before being engulfed by his jubilant crew and corralled by the TV crew for another obviously emotional interview for a racer that very much wears his heart on his sleeve. For a team that trails the top operations in funding, they did another great job and were well rewarded for their hard work with the event win.
When all the tire smoke had cleared, Tony Schumacher was still 65 points back of teammate Antron Brown going into the final race of the season and solidly ensconced in second place in the Full Throttle standings. And after four days of hard work down here in the Southwest desert, that's a wrap from The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Next report on Thursday, November 8th from Auto Club Pomona Raceway in lovely downtown Pomona, California.
A real upset special came up next but Matt Hagan took care of a tiresmoking Jon Capps in the Worsham car with ease as a 4.21 at 298 mph easily covered Capps' shutoff 10-second pass. Another upset possibility did come true in the next pairing though, as Paul Lee in the Gary Densham car took out one of the Force conglomerate cars, that of Robert Hight, as Lee put down a steady 4.18 - 299 to come from behind for the win as Hight smoked the tires before the 300 foot mark and had to lift.
The number one qualifier, Cruz Pedregon, showed even more strength than he did last night in the final qualifying session when he ran 4.066 to take the #1 spot, as he laid down an even better 4.064 here to cover Bob Tasca's consistent, but losing, 4.13 at 307 mph. The next pairing featured one of the championship contenders, and Mike Neff kept his chances alive with a close 4.11 to 4.20 victory over the always-there Jeff Arend. Making the race even closer than it looked on paper was the slight starting line advantage that Arend recorded to make the margin at the finish line just two car lengths.
Keeping his very slim championship hopes alive was Johnny Gray as his 4.11 at 304.74 took out Tim Wilkerson's 330 foot effort that ended with the tires smoking and the throttle closing. Then the BIG race of the round was on tap, featuring arch-rivals Jack Beckman and John Force. The old man left first by .014, but Beckman overcame that advantage early and took a half car length win by a 4.115 to 4.152 margin. And the race to the championship continues with Beckman and Neff matching wins. Now the third man in that group making a serious challenge for the title came on deck to finish the round.
Ron Capps knew that he had to get the win-light or risk seeing Beckman open up an insurmountable lead if he went all the way to the final today so the pressure was squarely on him and crew-chief Rahn Tobler to make it happen. His opponent, Tony Pedregon, left first by a few thousandths, then faded just past half track as Capps motored down to a solid 4.10 - 310.77 win over the K-Love car's fading 4.62 at just 186 mph.
One round down now, with most of the favourites advancing, all of the championship contenders advancing, and the marquee match-up of the second round being Beckman Vs Neff, with "Fast Jack" holding lane choice by three thousandths of a second. In a preliminary bash to the main event, the two quickest racers of the first round, Cruz Pedregon and Ron Capps, face off.
FUNNY CAR - 2nd round elimination's
Then the big battle took center stage, as Beckman and Neff faced off. The two cars left almost together, stayed together for the first few hundred feet, then Neff lit up the tires and gave up the chase. Despite a cylinder out early in the run, Beckman's good 4.174 - 300.26 was more than enough to advance him to the semifinal. With that loss, Neff's chances for the title took a serious hit as he fell 68 points behind Beckman with 40 additional points available to Beckman if he advances to the winners circle.
In the next match, Ron Capps had a big mountain to climb, starting the day from the #8 qualifying position and now facing the low e.t. man Cruz Pedregon, and needing to win the race to keep pace with Beckman. He left first by a few hundredths, then outran Pedregon at both ends of the track, to take a 4.095 - 312 mph win over the Snap-On car's close 4.119 - 306.03 clocking. To make it an almost all-Schumacher semifinal (with the exception of Ms. Force), Johnny Gray took out teammate and outgoing Full Throttle champion Matt Hagan, by a 4.21 to 4.60 verdict, as Hagan struck the tires at half track.
will have lane choice over Gray in the semifinal round, while Force
has her pick over Beckman in the other match. And Beckman still has
a 23-point lead over Capps in the countdown standings.
The other two Schumacher racers, Johnny Gray and Ron Capps, met in the other pairing and Capps stayed close to Beckman with a very impressive 4.08 pass at nearly 312 pass to dump Gray's tiresmoking try. The gap between Capps and Beckman remains at 23 points and the final round could tighten that substantially or give Beckman a large cushion going into the final event on the Full Throttle tour in Pomona next month.
For the second round in a row, Beckman lights up the tires almost on the launch, pedals once then gives up and coasts to an 8-second pass for the loss. In the other lane, Ron Capps saves his best for last and cranks out an amazing 4.070 to tie for third best e.t. of the meet, and crosses the finish line with a big speed of 315.12 to put a big punctuation mark on his winning weekend. And that really is just a three point deficit for him going into AAA Auto Club Finals in two weeks.
The next match saw Jeg Coughlin ring up a near perfect light of .002, but it wasn't needed as Greg Anderson went into instant tire shake in the other lane, while Coughlin scooted to a 6.696 - 205.68 win. Another one-sided race followed as Rodger Brogdon shut off even earlier while Ron Krisher pounded out a 6.660 - 206.92 for the easy victory. At this point people are starting to point to the left lane and make disparaging remarks about it's lack of adhesive qualities. Let's see whether it's just a case of under-powered cars trying too hard before we condemn the surface.
In the next pairing, Erica Enders takes the win by nearly two car lengths over Kurt Johnson's cartoon car, but it showed that a car could get down the left lane, although Johnson's 6.73 was no match for Enders' best of the round (so far) 6.640. Things went back to same old, same old in the next match though, as J.R. Carr gave up early and let Mike Edwards run uncontested to the finish line with a winning 6.637 - 207.85 time.
The two best cars during qualifying ran in the next pairings and Jason Line led off by taking out hard-luck Shane Gray, by a 6.636 to 6.695 margin. Both cars left together and Gray gave it his best effort but fell well short of taking the win-light Then Allen Johnson put the hurt on one of the second-tier Mopars, as he let Deric Kramer get a four hundredths advantage on the launch, but caught and passed him early enroute to a low e.t. Of the round 6.630 - 207.85 victory.
Closing out the round were two more Mopars and Vincent Nobile kept pace with the faster cars as his 6.632 nearly equaled Allen Johnson's 6.630, and his good .027 light helped keep the Chris McGaha car more than a car length back at the finish line. Going into the second round, Line held lane choice over Warren Johnson, while Allen Johnson held it over Coughlin. And one very close match was shaping between Nobile and Enders, with Nobile having his pick.
PRO STOCK - 2nd round elimination's
Warren Johnson tried to do his namesake Allen Johnson a favour but wasn't able to get the job done against Jason Line, as both racers spun the tires hard off the starting line. Johnson shut off, while Line pedaled and got it hooked up well enough to stagger to the finish line with a 6.99 - 206.64 win over the coasting senior statesman of the class.
The two young guns of the class, Erica Enders and Vincent Nobile met in the third pair of the round and a small (one hundredth) startline edge for Nobile didn't hurt as they matched wheels all the way down the track, with Nobile putting a 6.649 on his scoreboard to Enders' very close 6.655 e.t. The true win margin was just five feet. And then there was one. One pair that is, as a pair of Mopars met in the last race of the round and it wasn't even close as Jeg Coughlin faded at half track and ceded the win to Allen Johnson's best of the round 6.630 to Coughlin's slowing 7.020 effort.
Going into the penultimate round, Vincent Nobile held lane choice over Jason Line, and could do Allen Johnson a HUGE favour if he could take out Line, virtually handing the Full Throttle championship to Johnson. The other match has Johnson taking on Krisher with the lane choice advantage in his pocket for that race.
PRO STOCK - 3rd round elimination's
Then the match that could realistically determine the 2012 champion in the class saw Allen Johnson leave side-by-side with Ron Krisher, then steadily open up a small but inexorable gap that worked out to half a car length at the finish line. Johnson's 6.631 also gave him lane choice by a few hundredths over young Mr. Nobile. Oh, and the small matter of the points standings? Johnson increased his lead over Line to 106 points and could increase it to a virtually insurmountable 126 with a win in the final.
PRO STOCK - Final round elimination's
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE - 2nd round elimination's
The old man takes the Arana battle, as Hector Sr. gets the win when Junior gets off the throttle early and coasts to a 9-second time. Karen Stoffer loses a heartbreaker in the next pair - by less than ONE foot - to Matt Smith, and in an absolutely shocking (NOT!) event, Eddie Krawiec cruises into the third round with a 6.96 to 7-flat win over Scotty Pollacheck.
Going into the semifinal round, the gap between points leader Krawiec and #2 Hines was 71 points and that pretty much wraps it up for Krawiec, especially if he can get to the winners circle later this afternoon. Krawiec holds lane choice over John Hall, and Matt Smith has his pick over Hector Arana Sr. And the beatings will continue until morale improves.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE - 3rd round elimination's
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE - Final round elimination's
Due to all the downtime on Friday afternoon, the Top Alcohol cars have seen their schedule changed and they will start elimination's just after 9:00 am today. That will give them lots of turnaround time as their second round will be around noon. The early start on what is still a fairly cold track - we saw 56 degrees on the burnout box readout at 7:30 - could lead to some tremendous performances and/or tremendous tire shake. If they can get the wheel speed up early without spinning the tires too hard then hang on for some incredible numbers.
The pro show will commence at 11:00 and if the crew chiefs don't get too greedy - but remember, this town was built on greed - there could be some similarly great runs on tap for the fuel cars and if the altitude numbers don't get too high too quickly, from the Pro Stock cars as well. Whatever the outcome, it's going to be a very interesting and entertaining first round for all the fast cars. Let's just hope the quickie patch job on the right lane from late yesterday afternoon holds up and that there aren't too many oildowns or mechanical malfunctions to slow or stop the show.
As we watch the tractors giving the track a quick pass or two, the altitude numbers come out at 3100 and the 9:00 track temp is reported at 74 degrees. Let's see just how fast these blown alky and injected nitro cars can go under these conditions.
Things went somewhat sideways in the next race as the Edmonton car of John Evanchuk shook hard and never recovered well enough to challenge Shane Westerfield's somewhat off-pace - by the standards of the first two pairs - 5.737 at 253 mph.
Things got back on the track with the next pair as Steve Gasparelli's 5.584 at 260.21 set the high water mark to this point for the round and he needed all of it to get past Keeter Ray's very close 5.606 - 255.10 losing effort. The remaining Canadian content in the field was eliminated after the burnout in the next match as Jason Rupert was forced to shut off the Synoil car, leaving Clint Thompson with a single that he took full advantage of to test his tuneup. A 5.581 - 259.26 came up on the scoreboards, his best of the weekend, and reset the best e.t. of the round.
Thompson didn't quite make it to the top of the hill after his run, forcing the next pair to shut off on the line after their burnouts. After a short delay and no small amount of confusion at the starting line, Jay Payne and Sean Bellemeur re-fired and staged without doing burnouts again, and Payne showed you don't need hot tires to make a hot run as he set a new low e.t. of elims, a 5.561 - 260.26 to bury Bellemeur's 5.83 pass.
The round closed with the top two qualifiers coming out, both choosing the left lane and having varying degrees of success. Whiteley faced Arizona underdog Charles McClaws and had to really work for her win, shaking the tires, getting close to the centerline, pedaling and wrestling it to the finish line with a well-earned 5.83 at 250.00 to handle McClaws' game try of 5.92 - 250.78 mph.
Tony Bartone followed in Whiteley's lane and showed everyone that he's here to win with a totally dominating 5.538 - 263.51 to take all the performance plaudits and leave Kris Hool far behind at the finish line. Going into the second round, which features seven of the top eight qualifiers, Bartone takes on Bellemeur with lane choice obviously, while Whiteley's troubled pass ceded those honours to John Lombardo. The closest match of the round could be Jay Payne (5.561) against Steve Gasparelli (5.584) in what might be the tightest race of the day. All in all, the Top Alcohol Funny Cars provided an awesome opening to the day of racing here in Las Vegas.
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR - 2nd round eliminations
That great race was followed by another barnburner as top qualifier Tony Bartone laid one down on Mark Woznichak with a 5.593 - 260.61 over a fading 5.82 at just 235 mph. Jay Payne joined the two big guns in the semifinals with a slightly slower winning time of 5.62 over Steve Gasparelli's close but losing 5.64 effort and the round closed with Shane Westerfield claiming the last semifinal berth over a redlighting Clint Thompson. The Oregon car of Thompson left far too early, with a -.137 reaction, and shut off right away, allowing Westerfield the free tuning pass at 5.67 - 253 mph.
When the four remaining cars come back for the third round, it's going to be Bartone with lane choice over Westerfield, and Whiteley having his pick over Jay Payne. Two very good races with the closest one expected to be the Whiteley vs Payne battle.
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR - 3rd round eliminations
The other semifinal saw Annie Whiteley vying for her first trip to a final round at an NHRA national event against many, many time winner Jay Payne. Whiteley took a solid .041 advantage at the starting line, then outran Payne by a 5.608 - 259.56 to 5.654 - 258.37 margin for the very popular winlight. Making the win just a little bit sweeter was her gaining lane choice over low qualifier Bartone in the final. An even bigger bonus could come in just a few minutes if her husband Jim could punch his ticket to the final in Top Alcohol Dragster.
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR - Final round eliminations
Whiteley got off to a good start with an .018 advantage on the lights, then matched Bartone in 60 ft times, and kept the lead until nearly the 1000 ft mark before the big Steve Boggs horsepower took over and powered Bartone to a .012 margin at the finish. A gap of just five feet, or about a third of a funny car body length. The numbers favoured Bartone slightly at 5.546 - 261.78 over Whiteley's valiant effort of 5.576 - 259.26. An absolutely great race that was only decided in the last few hundred feet. Great work by both teams!
The British Columbia-based blown alky car driven by Alaskan Ray Martin showed the exit to the injected fuel car of Aaron Olivarez with his best pass of the weekend, a 5.383 at 267.11 mph to take out the California car's 5.60 pass. The power switched over to the fueler side again in the next pair as Megan McKernan ran a very good 5.35 to take out the blown car of Utah's Cody Perkins, who left first but started falling behind at half track and lost by more than a car length with an off-pace 5.47 at 262 mph. It's difficult to write a run being "off-pace" when the numbers are that good, but compared to the high standards shown by the cars in competition, it truly is not what is needed to advance in eliminations.
Three pairs of injected cars ran next and Brazil's Sidnei Frigo took the first match over a tiresmoking Mark Taliaferro with a solid 5.34 pass, then John Finke took the next win with a 5.404 - 258.17 over a later leaving Don St. Arnaud, whose best of the weekend 5.398, coupled with the biggest A/FD speed of the meet at 270.43 mph, was all for naught as Finke put an .034 holeshot on him. The margin at the finish line was less than three hundredths of a second, or a little more than half a car length.
The only two 5.20-zone cars of the weekend came out in the last two pairs of the round, and Garrett Bateman nearly matched his 5.291 qualifying pass with a great 5.302 to drop Chase Copeland's 5.524. Then Jim Whiteley nearly did the same, with the best e.t. of the round at 5.283 and the best speed of the meet at 273.22 mph to put a game effort from Johnny Ahten on the trailer. The round didn't have quite the same impact as the awesome first round of alky flopper racing, but with six of the top eight cars advancing to the second round, and the three remaining blown alky cars all race against A/Fuel cars in that round, it can only get that much better as eliminations progress.
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER - 2nd round elimination's
The Canadian car left first with a full five hundredths advantage on the lights, then nearly matched e.t.'s with Bateman, giving away just three hundredths - 5.41 to 5.38 - to take the winlight by .017 of a second, or about one third of a car length. A very close, very hard fought match. An international pairing came out next, with Brazil's Sidnei Frigo, tuned by hired gun Tom Conway, took the measure of Megan McKernan's car, tuned by Jerry Darien, in a close 5.36 to 5.42 battle.
to the last pair of the round and the top gun on the property, Jim
Whiteley, did what he had to and put down a safe 5.356 - 270.75 pass
to take out a tire
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER - 3rd round elimination's
Jim Whiteley didn't miss a beat in the other match as he took out the last A/Fuel car, that of Sidnei Frigo, by a 5.305 to 5.364 count for a nearly car length win. Whiteley kept his top end speed in the 270+ range with his fifth such pass of the weekend and joined his wife Annie in the Top Alcohol final rounds.
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER - Final round elimination's
Whiteley's 5.340 - 270.70 was just enough to take out Severance's best effort of the weekend, 5.363 at 266.21 mph. Another very good show by two very good and fiercely competitive racing teams. Now it's on to Pomona for the coronation of Jim Whiteley as the 2012 Lucas Series National Top Alcohol Dragster champion.
Danny Rowe took the next winlight with a very good 5.89 pass over Pete Farber's redlighting 6.08 lap, then in the third pairing of the round, the points leader, Mike Castellana, took on his last challenger, Troy Coughlin, in a very important race. If Castellana won then it would give him the championship, but if Coughlin took the win it would still leave him two rounds to go to take the title. Nothing less than an event win would be enough for Coughlin to overtake Castellana's 40-point lead.
Coughlin left first by just nine thousandths of a second, then started pulling away until Castellana threw in the towel just short of the 1000 ft mark and coasted to a 6.40 - 185.84 loss to Coughlin's dominating 5.86 - 249 mph blast in his (almost) all-new turbo Corvette. And the chase for the crown continued. Donnie Walsh took the last win of the round over a redlighting Ray Commisso, by a 5.88 to 5.94 count, and moved past Rickie Smith into third place in the points standings. If Walsh could outlast Coughlin in elimination's then he could move past him into second place in the final standings. More drama still to come.
PRO MOD - 3rd round elimination's
The first pair of the round sees the low qualifier, Donnie Walsh, take out Leah Pruett as her car starts putting out a fuel fog at half track and slows to a 6.70 at only 159 mph against Walsh's winning 5.91 pass at a big speed of 251.58 mph. In the second and much anticipated match of the round, Coughlin keeps the beat going with an automatic win over a redlighting Danny Rowe. Just to show it was no fluke, Coughlin rips off a 5.903 at an even bigger speed of 253.14 mph. Rowe's slower 5.968 at 242 mph showed that he had the power to stay close but an -.063 redlight made the whole exercise academic.
round math is now even simpler, as Coughlin has lane choice and just
needs to put on the winlight once more to take two big trophies home
with him tonight.
And that was it for NHRA Pro Mod racing as the backer of the series for the past few years, Roger Burgess, finally called uncle and packed in his sponsorship of the class. With no apparent desire on the part of the NHRA to fund the series themselves, that could be it for the class on the big show stage for at least the time being. But we all know how nature abhors a vacuum and it's certain that somewhere, sometime, these cars will return to a prominent venue.
Saturday final qualifying and Pro Mod round one elims
5:30 PM - "End of qualifying - start of eliminations"
PRO MOD - 1st round eliminations
Then Troy Coughlin buried Mike Janis with a very strong 5.82 -253.75 pass over Mike Janis' tireshaking early shut off pass. The win kept Coughlin's hopes for the championship still alive. Despite a decided performance advantage, Rickie Smith changed the left lane fortunes by taking the only win of the round from the side of the track. He also had to win to stay alive in the title hunt, and caught a bit of luck as Donald Martin positively slept at the starting line, wasting a very good 5.91 pass with a .401 light. Smith took full advantage of Martin's snooze with an .044 reaction time, ran 6.04, then blew the engine at the finish line, and still finished more than a quarter second ahead of a losing Martin.
Low qualifier Donnie Walsh took the power back to the right lane with a 5.88 to 6.00 victory over Clint Satterfield. He slowed six hundredths from his best qualifier but still took the winlight by more than three car lengths over Satterfield's best pass of the weekend. Mike Castellana took the next win despite a medicore 6.27 time, but Jay Payne gave it away early by sashaying all over the track before lifting and gathering the car up before it crossed the centerline. A loss by Castellana would have put his grasp on the championship in jeopardy even though he entered eliminations with a sizeable lead over his nearest pursuers: Smith, Coughlin, and Walsh.
Leah Pruett kept the beat going for the turbo cars with a resounding 5.96 - 250 mph win over Dennis Radford's nitrous Camaro, and a match of blown cars to finish the round went to Danny Rowe over Canadian Kenny Lang. Six of the eight first round winners ran in the fives and one of the the matchups in the second round will feature Walsh against Commisso, with Walsh needing a win to keep in the championship chase. Rickie Smith will face Leah Pruett, without lane choice and he must also advance to stay in the chase.
The most important pairing of the second round will be Troy Coughlin versus Mike Castellana and the championship could come down to this match. If Castellana wins then everyone else can pack up and go home, but if Coughlin can take out Castellana, then all he has to do is win the event to take the (last?) Get Screened America Pro Mod championship. Anything less than an outright win will leave the title in Castellana's hands.
The next pair jumped solidly into the field with much improved runs, as Don St. Arnaud carded a 5.43 to move into the #8 spot, while Cody Perkins blasted out a very good 5.39 in his blown car to take over the sixth spot on the ladder. That put the A/FD's of Chase Copeland and Alan Bradshaw on the outside, looking in. Copeland came out in the next pair and got back in the show with a solid 5.44 for the #11 spot, while Johnny Ahten's 5.45 grabbed the #12 spot in the other lane. Those two runs displaced Todd Odom and Jackie Fricke, moving the bump spot it's starting point - just five cars ago - of 5.53 to the current mark of 5.475.
Another pair of cars went down the track and another pair were bumped out as Alan Bradshaw scraped back in by four thousandths of a second, at 5.471 to put John Finke on the outside and Ray Martin made his best run in a while at 5.384 - 265.53 to move all the way from #20 to number six on the ladder. Two of the most recent bumpees followed next and they, Jackie Fricke and Todd Odom, both clawed their way back into the show, at 5.46 for Fricke and 5.36 for Odom. At this point it was becoming nearly impossible to keep track of who was in and who was out and where the bump was.
As John Finke rolled into stage in an attempt to get back in the field, it was determined that Duane Shields was on the bubble at 5.466, but that only lasted as long as it took Finke to record an excellent 5.320 at 258.72 to go all the way up to the #3 spot. That put Shields out and he joined Randy Meyer on the outside until they had a chance to run and take back a spot for eliminations. Meyer made good on his try with a great 5.375 alongside Mark Taliaferro's 5.399 for the best side-by-side race of the round.
This brought the bumping possibilities down to just one: Duane Shields, and the local racer had one last chance to finish out his season as 2011 Lucas Series champion on a high note, but a lumbering 5.58 was nowhere near enough to get the job done. The last five runners of the round saw just one position change as Aaron Olivarez moved up seven spots from #14 to #7 with a 5.36 pass at nearly 269 mph. The only racer who stayed in the pits and passed on the session, other than Weyman, was Greg Hunter, apparently content to sit on his earlier 5.38 pass for the ninth spot on the ladder.
And that was it for an incredible session of Top Alcohol Dragster qualifying with the bump spot constantly moving down, racers bumping in and getting bumped out and just generally great performances to show how well these cars can run. The final tally was 16 cars at 5.453 or better and the first four alternates in at 5.471 or better. Just for the record: it's five blown cars against 11 injected cars tomorrow and none of the blown alky cars can meet before the second round of eliminations.
Final qualifying. (Yellow denotes Canadian teams and/or drivers)
Jim Whiteley J&A Service/Rator B/AD 5.266 272.83
The last hope to move into the field and upset someone's apple cart, Ross Stickler, likewise fell by the wayside with a much improved 6.001 at 238 mph, but still far back of Jason Rupert's 5.788 bump spot. From this point on all the runs were just going to shuffle positions on the ladder, not change any of the players for the big dance starting tomorrow morning. In the next pair, Rupert moved off that bump spot with a good 5.72 pass against Kris Hool's 5.75 in the other lane. That put John Evanchuk's 5.780 on the bubble.
But that only lasted for one pair as Evanchuk stepped up smartly into the 5.60's, with a 5.693 - 254.14 to take the #10 spot. Then Jay Payne delivered a real hammer blow in the next duo as his 5.590 at 259 mph pushed him up nine spots from #12 to #3 and pushed a bunch of people down one notch in the process. That was it for the big moves of the session as no one else improved by more than a few thousandths of a second and only Mickey Ferro (from #12 to #10) and Shane Westerfield (from #7 to #5) moved up in the order.
The top two qualifiers didn't improve either, but Annie Whiteley laid down her third good run of the event, backing up a first session 5.571, with a 5.639 and a last session 5.635 for the most consistent series of runs in the entire field. The top qualifier, Tony Bartone, by comparison only had one good pass, the #1 qualifying 5.570 and two aborted runs, including a last pass of the session 6.94.
Going into eliminations on Sunday morning, the favourite has got to be Whiteley with her series of great runs, but there's 15 other alcohol funny cars that can step up and give her a real battle at any given time. Let's not bet on anyone and see just how this all turns out.
And that's a wrap from The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on a Saturday night in late October. Tomorrow is eliminations day at the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals and it's sure to be quite a show so stay tuned to this website for the quickest, most up-to-date coverage available anywhere on the web.
Final qualifying. (Yellow denotes Canadian teams and/or drivers)
Tony Bartone Centre Pointe Collision Mustan 5.570 262.39
4:00 PM - "Where the rubber hits the road"
It wasn't until the fourth pair of bikes that someone did bump into the field, taking the 7.108 bump spot down a notch, with Redell Harris' 7.068 slotting into the #15 spot. He wasn't safe at that point, but in with a chance. The next two pairs featured the last of the unqualified bikes, and Michael Phillips came close to joining the party at 7.079, matching bubble sitter G.T. Tonglet on e.t. but losing the tie-breaker with a lower speed and the field for eliminations was set.
Four 6-second passes closed out the round but the only rider to improve, and that was just fractionally by .006 second, was Matt Smith, and no one changed positions for the final ladder pairings. The final pair of the round, Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines had much more at stake than qualifying positions, as they were contesting the delayed final round of the previous NHRA national event from Reading earlier in the month. Hines red-lighted by .003 to hand the automatic win to Krawiec and they remained in their respective qualifying positions at #1 and #4.
Final qualifying order
Eddie Krawiec Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines 6.902 195.11
Mark Wolfe takes his best shot at putting a second Ford into the field, but just falls short at 6.700, while Steve Kent cuts it even finer, as his 6.698 is just five thousandths of a second short of Gray's now solidified bump spot. From this point on, it's all about position and perfecting a race day tune-up - for the later rounds - as the conditions should be much better for tomorrow's opening stanza, scheduled just before noon.
Unbelievably, not a single car made a change on the ladder and everyone stayed in perfect lockstep as the final qualifying passes were made. Nobody ran quicker than their previous best either, with Ron Krisher (.004 slower) and Vincent Nobile (.006) coming the closest to repeating their best earlier runs. For the umpteenth time in the past six months, Allen Johnson took the three bonus points for the quickest run of the round, giving him 11 of a possible 12 points for qualifying. Couple that with the seven points earned for being low qualifier, versus the eight points Jason Line earned for qualifying position and the six points for best round e.t.'s and the math equates to an 86-point lead in the standings for Johnson going into the first round of eliminations.
Additionally, Johnson can't face Line, Enders, or Nobile before the final round as they're all on the other side of the ladder. It's too early for anyone to get overconfident but things could be falling very much his way with lane choice by a serious margin over Deric Kramer in the first round, a putative opponent of either Greg Anderson or Jeg Coughlin in the second round, and most likely Mike Edwards in the semifinals. If he does make the final round it won't much matter who he faces from the other side of the ladder as the championship could be virtually won by the time he fires for that last race of the weekend.
Final qualifying order
Jason Line Summit Racing Equipment Camaro 6.590@ 209.72&
TOP FUEL - 4th (final) round qualifying
With the Lucas run, the bubble of 4.09 held by Steve Chrisman burst quickly and put Brandon Bernstein's 3.970 on the hot seat. The next pair (Chrisman and Salinas) failed in their final attempt to get back in the show, and to add injury to insult, Chrisman pushed out the head gaskets and had a nice big fire going as he blazed through the lights. Looks like some more downtime in the offing. It turns out to be closer to 10 minutes for the second interruption to racing.
Third time lucky as despite the copious amounts of vaporized rubber trailing from the Bill Miller entry's tires, they kept the track dry and the next pair was able to light up and run. Almost lost in the tire smoke from Troy Buff's mount was the 3.86 - 320.43 pass by Brandon Bernstein to move from the bubble to the #12 spot. And what would fuel racing be without the de rigeur sound of cheap-ass car alarms droning in the distance? Wake up folks: it's 2012, not 1988. Two more "problematic" cars made it downtrack unscathed (McClenathan and McMillen) and now we're moving into the more competitive teams and things should start perking up, e.t. and entertainment-wise. With no more unqualified cars left to run, McMillen's 3.893 becomes the final bump spot.
Let's retract that statement for a minute as Zizzo and Millican both take a swing... and miss with tire smoke putting an end to their runs. Steve Torrence restores some balance with a great 3.823 pass at only 296 mph as he tossed the blower belt early to move up two spots to #9. Antron Brown's lost weekend continues as he makes a decent run alongside Torrence until the 900 foot mark whereupon he bombs the blower and throws a quick sheet of flame out the back of the car. The big screen shows the view from the end of the track and it's not pretty with a destroyed blower, missing belt and assorted other mechanical mayhem suffered by his hurt engine. He definitely won't have lane choice for the first round of eliminations tomorrow.
The first side-by-side 3-second run of the round sees J.R. Todd move up to the #5 spot with an excellent 3.803 - 324 mph lap beside Grubnic's early engine demise at 3.97 and only 252 mph. In the next pair Shawn Langdon nearly matched Todd's 3.80, but with a 9, while his opponent Khalid alBalooshi lights up the tires early and gets off the throttle quickly, but not quickly enough as the word from the top end is that it's going to be at least a 20-minute delay while the safety safari patches a hole in the track created by alBalooshi's spinning tires. Unbelievable! Shades of the old days and shoddy paving jobs, especially at a track as well-built and maintained as Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Doug Kalitta gets the honour of running in alBalooshi's tire tracks but keeps it stuck and makes the best run of the round with a 3.798 e.t. and the best speed of the meet at 327.11 mph. Bob Vandergriff ran beside him and ended up with three great runs in four attempts for qualifying with another consistent 3.83 - 322 mph pass. Finishing up the round were the top two qualifiers and one didn't disappoint as Spencer Massey nearly took the #1 spot away from Tony Schumacher, with a 3.776 pass, that obliterated The Sarge's up-in-smoke effort.
When the ARMY car tire smoke had cleared the field was set and points leader Antron Brown found himself all the way down to the #13 spot, and facing a first round match with the Al-Anabi car of alBalooshi, while Schumacher and Massey have bottom of the field dance partners to open eliminations. The points implications that came out of qualifying now have Brown just 93 points ahead of Massey and 122 points clear of Schumacher. Still a sizeable gap, but if Brown loses to the Al-Anabi car in the opening round, then all bets are off.
Final qualifying order
Tony Schumacher U.S. Army Dragster 3.773 324.20
With his back against the wall, John Force pulled another one out of his Castrol hat, and laid down a first-rate 4.108 to jump from #17 all the way to the middle of the pack in the #9 spot. That pushed Lee out of the field and put Alexis DeJoria (who had already run) on the bump with a 4.164 e.t. Getting a last chance to redeem his chances, Lee made it work for him with a solid 4.125 in the Gary Densham car, bumping DeJoria in the process. That put Bob Tasca in the #16 spot at 4.136, but with everyone still in line already qualified he was safe from expulsion from the field.
At this point the only suspense remaining was to see whether anyone could push Mike Neff off the top of the heap, and better his 4.070 e.t. from Friday. Matt Hagan took the first shot and came close with a 4.077 to move into the second spot, then Robert Hight did him one better with a 4.074 (and top speed of the meet 317.27) to push Hagan down one notch. When the second to last pair came up to the line it was almost dark and the feeling was that a really great run was in the offing. Ron Capps failed with a decent 4.19 at 301 mph, while Cruz Pedregon did the deed in the other lane with a new number one pass of 4.066 at 312.50 mph.
One last pair remained to run and Mike Neff was loaded for bear against Johnny Gray. But it all came undone with a large cloud of half track tiresmoke, while Gray shut off a little early to a 4.17 at just 285 mph. That finished qualifying with more of a whimper than a bang, and no major changes in the points standings heading into eliminations. Jack Beckman still holds the lead and is now one point further ahead of #2 Capps (24 ahead), but only 48 in front of Neff after qualifying.
The biggest matchup of eliminations could well be the second round tilt between Beckman and Neff, assuming that Beckman takes out John Force in the first round, and Neff disposes of Arend. On the other side of the ladder is Capps and his first round opponent is Tony Pedregon, then if all goes well, Cruz Pedregon in the second round. It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out, and the odds are that nothing will be settled tomorrow and the title fight will go down to the last race at Pomona in two weeks.
Final qualifying order (Yellow denotes Canadian Drivers)
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Tools Camry 4.066 312.50
Saturday's 1st qualifying session
12 Noon - "Pros and more Pros"
What really gets me wound up is the phoniness that permeates so much of the upper levels of professional sports, and in that regard, drag racing is certainly no different than any of the bigger and more "legitimate" sports. So when the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle situation gets to the point it has, where the groundswell of outrage over the inequity of the rules and lack of competition reaches the current crescendo, then I've got to react. Negatively. Very negatively.
Not to the point where I'll dig up the skeletons and display them online as the fearless editorialist for Competition Plus, Jon Asher, has in his latest missive aimed directly at the nabobs in Glendora. Go to Comp Plus and check out "Up Front: The Sellout Times Three".
So, with that off my chest, I will do my best to deliver factual, unbiased reporting on the Pro Stock bikes for the balance of the weekend. Just as I do for all the other classes, starting with Comp Eliminator, the category that gets an even shorter end of the stick than the Top Alcohol racers. If the schedules running late, then let's just chop the comp or alky or both. Now, without further ado, let's get into the second and final round of Comp eliminator qualifying.
With 19 cars better than the magic .50 below the index, and five of those more than .60 under, it's going to be a real battle to progress in this very tough and tight field. Good lights, quick runs, finish line management to avoid the dread CIC (competition index committee) adjustments that are generated by runs quicker than the -.50 number will be the key to winning rounds, and ultimately, the race this weekend.
As we start the session we're already 20 minutes behind schedule and not likely to make up that gap as the day progresses. Looks like your standard national event from that perspective. The first weather station report of the day clocks in with a 72 degree track temp, 64 degree air, and just under 3000 ft of altitude. And it looks like all the cars that will run are here for the session, with 31 cars in the staging lanes.
Defending world champion Lou Ficco makes a big move in the first pass of the session, going .64 under the index to jump from the #16 spot all the way to #4. The next pair sees both racers, Todd Patterson and Tom Mettler join the "60 under" club and move up several positions in the process. Two pairs later a couple of the heavy hitters in the category, Clint Neff and Jeff Lane, make big moves up the ladder, going .650 and .612 under the index respectively. Conditions must be working to everyone's advantage, as five of the first eight cars of the round have gone more than six tenths under the index, doubling the number of qualifiers to do so, with 23 cars still in the lanes.
Before the round ends, a total of ten more cars join the virtual logjam at the top of the ladder, with well over half of the 32-car field finishing qualifying with a pass at least .60 of a second under the index. Bo Butner kept his grip on the top spot at .683 under his index, but as an example of how tough the session was, many time champion David Rampy ran more than six tenths under and still ended up in only the #20 spot on the final list, which featured a full 32-car field.
The four currently non-qualified cars are coming out in the first two pairs and the first car across the finish line in this last session, Clint Satterfield, breaks into the field in the #15 spot at 6.08 and just 220 mph, bumping out Mike Knowles in the process, and moving Kenny Lang down to the new bump spot at 6.14. Knowles comes up in the next pair and fails to get back in, setting the field, but some positions could change before the session ends.
That shuffling starts in the next pair as Kenny Lang breaks out of his doldrums with a good 6.02 - 243 mph lap to move off the bubble and up to just the #14 spot.
By the time the first 6-second run of the day was recorded, by Steve Johnson at 6.994, the bubble had moved down to a 7.16 and was certain to drop lower with a number of "no time recorded" motorcycles still set to run. As the staging lanes thinned out and only already qualified bikes remained, the bubble stopped at a decent, but not great, 7.108 by Jim Burley. Showing the strength in the top half of the field, the last six pairs featured no less than ten 6-second runs, with four side-by-side six second battles.
In the second to last match of the round, Hector Arana Jr. pulled a major surprise with a new low e.t. of the meet at 6.912 to unseat the vaunted H-D team, but that joy only lasted long enough for Eddie Krawiec to make a run at 6.902 and set everything right for the chosen ones. Stuck in a bit of a rut was his teammate Andrew Hines, still back in the #3 spot going into the final round of qualifying this afternoon.
As the round worked its way to the higher qualified cars, some cars improved and some didn't, but the general trend was for slightly better numbers for most. The air was a little worse than the morning readings, as expected, at 3200 feet, but the track temp was still well below normal at just 86 degrees. Good conditions for the naturally aspirated cars, but even better for the fuel cars to follow.
The biggest move in the top half of the field was Vincent Nobile recovering from his first session DQ yesterday to move from the #10 spot last night to #5 this morning. In the final pair of the round, Allen Johnson stayed stuck on the 6.60 mark, at 6.606, but it was only good enough for the #2 spot as Jason Line leapfrogged him into the top spot, with a new track record e.t. and speed at 6.590 - 209.72 mph. In the process, Line gained a grand total of one point on Johnson and now sits just 86 points out of top spot in the standings.
It should be noted that if there are no further changes in the ladder in the final qualifying session this afternoon, that Line and Johnson can only meet in the final round, and if Johnson advances that far, no matter what happens in the final, it would be pretty much game over for Line and the Summit Camaro team. If your fancy turns to real long shots, then Erica Enders, with her single bonus point in that round, is "only" 132 points back of the leader now.
Tony Schumacher showed that the track did have some seriously sharp teeth as he ran in the first pair and nearly matched his low qualifying, track record pass from yesterday. Following him was everyone's sentimental favourite, Chris "The Golden Greek" Karamesines, but he lit the tires early and shut off. The first racer to step up in the round came next as Steve Torrence dropped into 70's, carding a very good 3.787 at 317 mph to move into the #2 spot, and back up his good earlier 3.807 pass.
Full Throttle points leader Antron Brown again smoked the tires and stayed in the #11 position heading into the final round of qualifying, while the bump spot stayed in the 4-second zone, finally settling on Steve Chrisman, of all people, at a slightly less than scintillating 4.094 - 272.94 time slip. For the balance of the round there were a few good runs interspersed with duets of tire smoke and even a blown engine from T.J. Zizzo when he tried to pedal it after losing traction.
After Massey's 3.787 pass for best of the round, the second slot on the session podium was claimed by the ever-improving Khalid alBalooshi at 3.804, and the third best of the round was the first pass of the session, by Tony Schumacher with a 3.807 elapsed time. Coupled with his very good e.t. alBalooshi set top speed of the meet at 325.69 mph as the Alan Johnson - Al-Anabi Racing ascension to the top of the performance heap continues.
A final interesting side note: if everyone stays in their current position at the end of qualifying, then Antron Brown would meet Shawn Langdon in the first round of eliminations on Sunday morning. If Langdon could take that round, it could put a very different complexion on the championship countdown. On the other hand, if Brown takes the win-light, then Langdon is out of contention and Massey and Schumacher would have to win their first round matches to stay in the title hunt.
Things don't get appreciably better in the next pair, as Tommy Johnson Jr. suffered a broken throttle cable after the burnout and the Steve Pleuger car was shut off behind the starting line. Josh Crawford took the resulting single pass and stumbled into the field at 4.37 - 282 mph for at least temporary possession of the #14 spot on a seven cylinder run. But with five cars still waiting to run without a time recorded, including some of the big hitters, his chances of staying in the field are somewhere south of slim and east of none.
In the next two pairs, a couple of 4.09's popped up, the first by Matt Hagan to get a time on the board and go from nothing to #3 on the ladder, while Jack Beckman matched his earlier 4.093 with an even better 4.091 to move up two spots from #5 to #3 and put Hagan down one spot in the order. Another excellent backup run was recorded next by Cruz Pedregon, as his 4.096 came close to his Friday 4.084 best and solidified his hold on the second spot.
Alexis DeJoria and Robert Hight redeemed themselves and moved into the field with side-by-side 4-teen runs, making Paul Lee's 4.190 the new bump spot for the now 16-car field. Courtney Force followed those performances with a very consistent 4.091, improving on her previous 4.093, and moved up two spots to the new #3 spot. Her joy was short lived however, as Johnny Gray singled in the next pair (his scheduled opponent Jon Capps decided to sit out the session) to an excellent 4.089 to drop Ms. Force to #4 as he took over the third spot.
Wilkerson and Pedregon closed out the round with a pair of tire smokers, igniting the hides at differing points on the 1000 ft surface. With just one qualifying session remaining, one of the biggest names in the sport, John Force, was sitting on the outside, and followed by five of the usual suspects below the bump spot. It could get quite interesting in that final session, and the jockeying for position on the eliminations ladder might make for some very calculated moves by the crew chiefs and team managers of the teams contending for the Full Throttle title.
The first all-Canadian (driver and owner) car in the field ran next and Don St. Arnaud wheeled his Edmonton A/Fueler to a stumbling 5.601 at 255 mph for a nervous #15 placing. Clearly, a run that was not likely to stay qualified for the balance of the round. Megan McKernan came up in the next pair and atoned for her mistake in yesterday's lone attempt, banging out a very good 5.35 at 268 mph in the Jerry Darien injected fuel car to move all the way up to #3 and move St. Arnaud down to the bump spot.
Megan's run looked weak by comparison after Jim Whiteley laid down an excellent 5.266 at a big speed of 272.83 mph, for low, top, and number one on the ladder. Just another example of why he is the 2012 Lucas Oil Champion. Ray Martin gave it his best shot to get the Hugh Ridley car back in the show, but a 5.616 didn't get the job done and St. Arnaud dropped out of the field when Aaron Olivarez put down a solid 5.44 in his A/Fuel car. Joey Severance had better fortune with his blown alky car and climbed from #14 to the fifth position with a strong 5.43 pass at 263 mph.
Going into the final qualifying session, the field ranged from Whiteley's awesome 5.266 to Chase Copeland's 5.534. There's three alternates in the 5.60's (St. Arnaud, Martin and Ahten), Cody Perkins who's only made one run at a weak 5.91, and the second Darien team car of Casey Grisel, that could step up at any time, and the probably too bent to fix blown dragster of Kevin Wayman. It's tough to call right now, but if the air improves a little and the track doesn't get much hotter, then we could see the bump spot end up in the 5.40's at the close of qualifying.
Three pairs into the session and the bump spot was already down to Wernhart's 6.088 and that wasn't likely to last with a non-qualified Tony Bartone pulling into the water box. Bartone didn't take any prisoners, blasting out a new low e.t. at 5.570 to just ace out Annie Whiteley's first session 5.571. While taking over the top spot, Bartone also brought the bump down to the 5.80 of Jason Rupert in the Geoff Goodwin - Synoil car. Doug Gordon was the next big improver, moving up from the #15 spot to #5, courtesy of a very good 5.64 lap after a previous 5.79 effort.
In the next pair, Rupert improved only marginally to a 5.78 from a 5.80 to stay on the bubble, while Mickey Ferro catapulted from #14 to #7 with a 5.69 - 251 mph run. None of the non-qualified cars remained to run and any other changes in the ladder would just be a shuffling of positions. Three of the last eight cars moved up from the 5.70's to the 5.60's and all of them (Gasparelli, Woznichak, and Lombardo) moved into the top half of the field. The two quickest cars of yesterday's first session slowed a bit today, but the first day #2, Clint Thompson, backed up his 5.59 with a solid 5.64, while Annie Whiteley failed to take back the top spot, as her 5.63 - 256 pass wasn't quite as quick as her first run of 5.571 - 259.36.
Going into the final session it wasn't looking good for the four cars on the outside of the field as none of them had shown the power needed to make the show. Wernhart blew an engine in the session and Russ Parker popped a blower while Stickler and Drake were simply down on power. One more chance for these guys to make the show, but it remains to be seen if any of them can step up a whole bunch to beat the 5.788 bump spot and force their way into the field.
Saturday 9:00 AM - "morning musings"
Comp eliminator racers saw their second qualifying session similarly moved to today, but they run at 9:45 and that second round will be it for comp qualifying. From there they go into the first round of eliminations at 5:30 today, right after final qualifying for Top Alcohol. Of course, all that could be subject to change depending on how many more oildowns the fuel cars have, or if there any crashes or other such major mechanical carnage.
While the various national/world championship scenarios will come into increasingly sharper focus as the weekend progresses, there have been only very minor changes in the standings after the first day of qualifying. The biggest gainer of the day was Allen Johnson in Pro Stock with six bonus points, followed by Mike Neff in Funny Car with three. In Top Fuel, two of Antron Brown's pursuers gained points; Schumacher with three and Massey with two, but with a more than 100-point gap between those two and Brown, the difference was negligible.
The most significant storyline with championship implications today is the battle between Al Kenny of Kingston, Ontario - currently leading the Super Comp national standings - and Stefan Kondolay of Chilliwack, BC, who's sitting just 33 points behind Kenny. They're both here in Vegas for this weekend's national event and next week's final Division 7 - Western Regional Lucas Oil series race. We'll let the editor work out all the points permutations as they run the 2nd and 3rd round of eliminations today. That's assuming that both racers advance to the later rounds tomorrow.
A quick look at the eliminations ladder for Super Comp shows that both Kenny and Kondolay are on the same side of the ladder, and Kenny's son Jason is also on that side of the field too, setting up some interesting possibilities in the later rounds. As it now stands, they would meet in the fourth round of eliminations, assuming that they both advance that far, but we'll have to wait to see how that turns out.
For now, the Stock and Super classes are running and the staging lanes are ebbing and flowing as the various classes are called to run. After two rounds of eliminations in Stock, Super Stock, Super Gas and Super Comp, that will be it for the sportsman cars until they're used as filler between rounds of pro eliminations on Sunday. The fast(er) stuff starts running just before 10 am today with Comp leading off, then into Pro Mod, then the four full pro classes, followed by Top Alcohol.
Before we sign off for this first report of the day, it should be mentioned that Chilliwack BC's Stefan Kondolay just suffered a very untimely breakout loss in his second round race in Super Comp, dealing an almost fatal blow to his world championship hopes. The breakout, on a 9.05 index at this altitude factored track, was by just .017 second. Close, but as the saying goes, no cigarillo, just an exploding cigar.
Friday round two
12th annual NHRA Big O Tires Nationals - Friday report - Part Two
Manitoba's Kenny Lang chopped five seconds off his first pass and got into the field with a decent 6.14 at 242 mph, while Donald Martin also made a similar gain, but moved all the way up to the #2 spot, bumping Pruett down one position, with a 5.917 - 244.12 pass. Dennis Radford joined the improvers club with a good 6.040 at 237 mph, but with all the other good passes being put down, only snagged the #12 slot. Rickie Smith did him one better with the other team car, clocking a 6.013 at nearly 240 mph, to bring the bump spot down to the 6.27 recorded earlier by Mike Knowles.
Despite a raft of 5-second times posted by the last four pairs of the round, only Danny Rowe and Troy Coughlin carded appreciable gains, with Rowe dropping into the 5.80's with a great 5.87 - 245.27 to improve over his first session 5.92 - 243.68 and Coughlin going into the 5's with a 5.98 versus his first session 6.06 e.t. The most consistent racer of the session was Pete Farber, who backed up his early 5.972 - 243.24 with a 5.971 - 243.46 time slip. Two sessions of qualifying done and just nine cars in the 5's and the bubble still held down by Mike Knowles' 6.27.
To no surprise Andrew Hines jumped up to near the top of the pack although he did not run what I expected, especially since his team mate was well in front of the pack. Hines laid down a 7 flat @ 191 after his earlier aborted run. He ended up #5 after day one. Karen Stoffer who also did not make a lap in round one ripped off a 7.04 to move just outside the top half (#9). Jerry Savioe also struggled in round one but went 7.06 in round two but it did not get him into the top 12. He is #13. Krawiec's 6.93 was more than enough to stay in the lead and the closest is Hector Jr. who improved to a 6.96. Matt Smith is #3 with a 6.98
Jason Line was able to recover nicely from his first session engine troubles and carded a solid 6.621 to put the Summit Camaro in the third spot, and two pairs later Erica Enders made a move up from #10 to #7 with a good 6.644 pass. The balance of the session saw no improvements, and the top two runners from the first round, Allen Johnson and Mike Edwards remained in those spots and recorded the best two e.t.'s of the round. At the end of the first day of qualifying, Kurt Johnson remained in the #12 spot at 6.674, with four cars in the 6.6's on the outside of the 12-car cutoff point.
The only championship ramifications were the six more bonus points earned by Allen Johnson, versus the single point for Jason Line, making the gap between the top two cars now 87 points. Erica Enders in the third position in standings is now 131 points out of the lead with her chances to overtake Johnson becoming slimmer by the round.
The session opened with a single pass for Jon Capps and he booted the Worsham Racing car to a very good 4.11 pass - a career best for Capps - to take over the #7 spot before things ground to a halt after the first pair of the session left some oily deposits on the track. Just what was not needed: a cooling track and more cleanup required. Things were put on hold for a few minutes before Tommy Johnson Jr. made another single and barely got to the 330 mark before shutting off.
More trouble for the next pair as Paul Lee is unable to engage reverse after the burnout and has slowly drive off the end of the track. He takes so long to make the turnout though that DeJoria is forced to shut off before staging due to the delay. They refuel her then she makes the run and cards a decent 4.191 that looked quicker than the clocks showed. The balance of the round sees more misses than hits, and the good ones by Tim Wilkerson (4.10), Tony Pedregon (4.09), Johnny Gray and Courtney Force (4.12), are outnumbered by the 8- and 9-second runs from some of the big hitters.
Halfway through qualifying, it's still Mike Neff on top at 4.070 and Bob Tasca in #12 at 4.136. So far, the only bonus points handed out to a title contender are the three points given to Neff for his first session low e.t. That moves him to within 51 points of leader Jack Beckman, and 28 points behind number two man Ron Capps.
Just two pairs into the round, David Grubnic and Steve Torrence laid down side-by-side 3.89 and 3.85 passes to bring some cheer to the rapidly dwindling crowd. Mike Salinas followed that performance with a decent, but early shut off, 4.18 at 224 mph that stood out among the raft of aborted passes. Then Kalitta's 3.80 flat came out of the blue alongside Morgan Lucas' instant ignition of the tires on the starting line. Some of the secondary players, such as J.R. Todd, Clay Millican, and T.J. Zizzo carded good 3.8 passes to secure spots in the top 12 - an increasingly important factor in qualifying success.
Making the Zizzo and Millican passes even more impressive was that they were side-by-side to the finish line, both cars running mid 3-teen speeds. And doing them one better was the next pair, alBalooshi and Vandergriff who served up a 3.83 and 3.81 respectively. Taking the silver star for the day (only trailing Schumacher's gold star winning track record in the first session) was Vandergriff who followed his initial 3.84 - 324.28 with an even better 3.81 at 323.97 mph.
The last two pairs of the round didn't get far before an overabundance of horsepower and a lack of traction put an end to their day. Falling to tire smoke were the three DSR cars of Brown, Schumacher and Massey, along with the second Al-Anabi car of Shawn Langdon. At the end of the round, the big gainers were Kalitta, moving all the way up to #2 from #12, and Steve Torrence from way outside the field at #18 up to #8. On the negative side, the championship points leader, Antron Brown, fell from #6 in the order to #10, while Chris Karamesines and Morgan Lucas fell out of the top 12 to the #14 and #15 spots.
None of today's runs had any real effect on the points race, with the only contender garnering any bonus points being Schumacher who picked up three points in the first session. Any real changes in the standings will happen on Sunday, but tomorrow's final qualifying positions could set up some very interesting matchups for the initial stanza on race day.
12th annual NHRA Big O Tires Nationals - Friday report (by Robert Wilson)
Then the quick numbers started coming, with 5.70's - and quicker - in bunches. Sean Bellemeur bumped Evanchuk down another spot and took over temporary top speed with a quick and fast 5.72 at 252.47, then the recent Texas Fall Nationals winner, Clint Thompson, blew everyone away with an excellent 5.590 at a booming speed of 259.01 to grab a firm hold on the top spot. Shane Westerfield tried hard to snatch the pole position away from Thompson, but his great 5.63 at 255 mph was only good enough for second place.
To this point, with 14 cars down the track we had eight cars in the 5.70's or better, and the early leader, Evanchuk, had been moved down to the #7 position. And there were still some seriously fast cars waiting to run. John Lombardo held up his end of the bargain with a solid 5.70 at 255.53, while Jay Payne was forced to shut off after the burnout. The final pair of the round, with Tony Bartone waiting to finish it up with a single, saw high country "neighbours" Kris Hool and Annie Whiteley face off, but it was all one-sided when the lights went amber: Whiteley with a new low e.t. 5.571 with a speed of 259.36 against Hool's slightly off-pace 5.83 pass.
Bartone finished out the round with a tire-smoking single of 9.51 to sit in the #15 spot at the end of the first qualifying session. Whiteley's great start to the weekend may be just what the YNot team needs to start the final series of races in their amazing season. Talking to Mike Strasburg, the tuner and advisor to the Funny Car side of the team in the staging lanes prior to the round gave the impression that they were all very focused on climbing to the top of their personal performance mountain and this might just be the weekend to achieve that goal.
Nine A/Fuel cars lumbered down the track with decent, but not spectacular times, before the first blown cars fired up. The best numbers of the first platoon of nitro burners were carded by rookie William Litton at a career best 5.46 at 250 mph, until Alan Bradshaw singled in the Canadian car of Doug Doucette and turned a season best of 5.36 at 259.36. The first two blown cars ran against each other by coincidence, and the two Canadian cars - both driven by Americans - didn't really light up the boards as Ray Martin (in Chilliwack NCs Hugh Ridley Dragster) tossed the blower belt early while Greg Hunter (ex Medicine Hat Alberta alumni, driving Calgary's Ken Gilmour owned TAD) put down a decent 5.45 at the best speed seen so far, 262.74 mph.
That was followed with Garrett Bateman being first into the 20's at this event, carding an excellent 5.29 at 262, while his erstwhile opponent, Megan McKernan, was forced to shut off after the burnout. The next blown car, that of Severance & Severance, failed to make much of a dent in the upper half of the field with a so-so 5.51, and saw his time drop to the #11 spot before the final pair staged to complete the session. Before that though, Mark Taliaferro put down a big speed of 269.51 and Brazil's Sidney Frigo moved into the #2 spot on the ladder with a 5.35 e.t.
The last pair saw the current and outgoing champion, Duane Shields, against the incoming 2012 champion, Jim Whiteley, and it resulted in a strange race. Whiteley shut off almost immediately and coasted to a 21-second e.t., while Shields blubbered to a 5.46 at 255 mph for the #6 spot after the first round of qualifying. Following post-race inspection, two racers, Alan Bradshaw (who ran 5.36), and Casey Grisel (who ran 5.56), had their runs disqualified. Usually this is fuel related; either too cool or too high a percentage of nitro. More info on their respective situations if it becomes available.
Pete Farber came close to unseating Tutterow from the top spot with a good 5.97 - 243.24, but Danny Rowe was the first racer who had what it took to take over the #1 spot, with a very good 5.926 - 243.68 mph effort to take over low e.t., and just miss taking top speed honours from Ray Commisso's earlier 244.21 blast. The penultimate pair of the session brought out the first really big e.t./speed of the day with Don Walsh firing a shot across everyone's bow at 5.841 - 253.85 to literally train length his competition.
Closing out the round with just the fifth 5-second pass was Mike Castellana at 5.97, and the provisional ladder showed just eight competitive elapsed times, as the 6.96 lap of Clint Satterfield sat in the #9 position. From there the field wound down to a very weak 11.04, with four cars even slower than that.
had been able to get down the track, the ludicrous disparity between
the H-D team and the rest of the field would have been even more ridiculous
Just as in Top Alcohol Dragster, two racers, Warren Johnson and Vincent Nobile, had their runs disqualified, but in Pro Stock racing this is almost always a weight issue. The teams cut everything so close to the minimum/maximum limits for every facet of the car that they sometimes run afoul of less-than-perfect or repeatable scales. Whatever the case, they both lost runs in what could have been some of the best conditions of the weekend, with warmer weather on tap for tomorrow.
The session played out in essentially two parts. The first five pairs saw just four 6.6-second runs, and none side-by-side, while the last five pairs ran nothing but 6.6-second runs, save for Jason Line's engine expiring pass in the final pair. That final duo also saw low e.t. and top speed recorded by - wait for it - Allen Johnson, at 6.600 - 208.42 mph. These are definitely not the numbers everyone is accustomed to seeing at the lower altitude tracks, but compared to the current track records of 6.594 - 208.84, they stack up very well indeed.
From that point on it was a virtual tsunami of teens, as pair after pair cranked out the coveted numbers until Courtney Force put her "Pretty in Pink" Ford into the 4.0-zone, with a great 4.093 - 312.71 to knock Head off the top of the pyramid. That in itself was somewhat surprising as three pairs ran before Force aced him out. The final three pairings of the round saw the volume cranked even higher as four of the six e.t.'s recorded were in the 4-ohs.
Best of the round was championship contender Mike Neff, with a brilliant 4.070 at 313.73 mph to finish the round in the #1 spot, while the final pair down the track saw the other two top dogs, Jack Beckman and Ron Capps, go side-by-side in the 0's with 4.093 and 4.098 clockings, respectively. The 12-car bubble after the session was established at 4.154, with two racers (Hagan and Wilkerson) in the 4-teens, but outside the Top 12. And to the disappointment of some of the crash-and-burn photographers, two of their favourite sons, Todd Lesenko and Terry Haddock, waited out the round and prepared to put on their act later today in the second round.
When things got going again, just one 3-second pass was recorded by the next three sets of cars, that being T.J. Zizzo with a decent 3.941 at 299.33 mph. Then Clay Millican and Khalid Al-Balooshi put down side-by-side 3.80's, but the Al-Anabi car blew up before the finish line and left a major mess in his lane halfway up the hill in the shutdown area. There was a small consolation in Millican running the best of the round so far, at 3.86 - 315.71.
Let's try it again and maybe it'll be a case of third time not-so-unlucky. In the first set after the second cleanup of the round, Grubnic went into almost instant tire smoke while Bob Vandergriff cranked out an excellent 3.844 at a big speed of 324.28 mph. The next four cars all overpowered the track at various points enroute to the finish line, but things finally came around when the last two pairs showed the way to the top of the ladder, with Tony Schumacher climbing highest at 3.773 - 323.66 mph, setting a new track record in the process.
At the conclusion of the round there just eight cars in the 3-second range, and the #12 car on the provisional bubble was Doug Kalitta at 5.09. Obviously, much, much more was to be expected in the later session today. And that's a wrap on a rather extended first round of pro sportsman and pro qualifying. Late news flash: the second session of Top Alcohol has been postponed until tomorrow morning and their first round of eliminations has been moved to Sunday morning. More news as it develops.
12th annual NHRA Big O Tires Nationals - preview
The 2012 season started nine months and 21 races ago, and now we're well into the homestretch with just this weekend's Big O Tires Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the season finale at Auto Club Pomona Raceway in two weeks time remaining on the schedule. While the NHRA championships in the two major sportsman categories, Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car are already decided, the four titles for the Full Throttle classes are still up for grabs.
With the countdown format narrowing the championship contenders to just the top ten in each class after the U.S. Nationals, the past four events have brought the title pictures into even sharper focus. Despite the theoretical possibility of a racer gaining as many as 300 points in the final two events by winning, low qualifying, having low e.t. of each qualifying session, AND setting the national elapsed time record at each event.... the odds of that happening are something in the order of winning the World Series of Poker.
Putting aside all the mathematically theoretical possibilities, the realistic chances to overtake the current points leader thin the contenders down to less than a handful in each class. Starting from the apex of the sport with Top Fuel, it can safely be assumed that a Don Schumacher Racing entry will take home the big trophy in two weeks time, as the top three cars are all from his stable.
Current leader Antron Brown holds a 104 point margin over 2nd place Spencer Massey, and is 136 points ahead of 3rd place Tony Schumacher. Just hanging on below that trio is the Al-Anabi car of Shawn Langdon in fourth place, 140 points behind Brown, and the last racer with any hope of taking the title, Brandon Bernstein in the #5 spot, 177 points behind the leader. Below that mark it's very much a case of "Do or Dunn" with the accent on DONE for the #6 to #10 racers, with the closest to the top being Morgan Lucas, 224 points adrift.
Qualifying position and consequent placing on the elimination ladder will be very important for all the contending cars, as an early round exit will seriously hamper their chances and if the leader, Brown, loses in an early round, then the entire points picture could change rapidly as eliminations progress. That same scenario could be critical to a racer's chances in all the professional categories this weekend. For an example, consider how Ron Capps went from a 102 point lead to a 23 point deficit in the space of just the last two events.
And speaking of Capps, he's the closest nitro burning contender to a current points leader, sitting just the aforementioned 23 points behind Jack Beckman. Only 54 points behind Beckman is the #3 Funny Car racer, Mike Neff. Below the third spot there's a huge dropoff to #4 Johnny Gray and #5 Cruz Pedregon, 191 and 193 points out of the lead respectively, and for all intents and purposes, eliminated from the championship picture.
Moving to Pro Stock, it's looking like it could be a first ever World Championship for Mopar racer Allen Johnson, as he's sitting 82 points in front of the Summit Camaro of Jason Line. But we've already seen how quickly a seemingly comfortable lead can evaporate with an untimely loss in the first or second round. Coming on strong since the middle of the season is Erica Enders and she's overtaken several cars since the start of the countdown, to move into the #3 spot in the standings, just 125 points behind Johnson.
The other Mopar, that of Vincent Nobile, sits well back in the #4 position, 177 points behind the leader and below him it's all over for Greg Anderson, with a 230 point deficit to the leader. Then we come to Pro Stock Motorcycle which has generated enough controversy to cover all the pro classes put together. With the seemingly insurmountable advantage given by NHRA to the official Harley-Davidson competitors, Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines, there's no doubt that one of them will win the championship. Going into the Vegas race, Krawiec sits in front of his teammate Hines by 17 points, with the #3 and #4 racers, the father and son duo of Hector Arana Sr and Jr. well back at 139 and 197 points behind Krawiec.
Despite it being somewhat of an orphan category in the eyes of NHRA officialdom, the ProCare RX Pro Mod Series is always popular with the fans and the turnout of racers for this event sees all of the top ten cars in attendance. Three of them have a decent chance of taking the season championship which will be decided this weekend. Points leader Mike Castellana sits just over 40 points ahead of Rickie Smith and Troy Coughlin and just below them are Don Walsh and Danny Rowe, a further 20 points back.
As was mentioned at the outset of this preview, the Top Alcohol Dragster championship has already been clinched for the first time by Jim Whiteley, while the Top Alcohol Funny Car title is remaining in New Jersey with Frank Manzo. In Comp eliminator, most of the contenders have competed at the maximum number of points earning events, but an interesting scenario sees #2 David Billingsley able to overtake the current leader, Bruno Massel, and win the championship by ONE point.... if he makes the final round at both Vegas and Pomona.
Just looking at the possibilities for the Competition Eliminator championship taxed my limited intellectual capacity, and trying to delve any deeper into the categories below that would take more effort and brain power than I have available so I'll defer to the illustrious editor, Dean Murdoch, to solve the points standings mysteries of Super Stock and Super Comp and Super Gas, etc.
The competitor numbers at this event show that The Strip can attract an awful lot of racers, despite the slow economy and currently insane gas prices in California. Adding all up the classes sees a total of 580 entries, with more than 100 in the Super Gas and Super Comp categories alone. Even the pro classes are overflowing, with 20 or more cars in all the pro and pro sportsman categories. Leading the way in that regard, surprisingly enough in light of the total disparity in the class, is Pro Stock Motorcycle, with 28 bikes on the entry roster.
An excellent weather forecast is on tap for the weekend, with temperatures scheduled to be in the low 70's (F) which should see track temperatures not much more than 100 degrees. With light winds and cloudless skies, the conditions will be nearly ideal for the racers and spectators.
In nitro Funny Car, there's two new faces, with Tommy Johnson Jr. back in a short wheelbase car, the Camaro of Steve Pleuger that Todd Lesenko wheeled occasionally last year. Paul Lee has also resurfaced in a two-race deal with Gary Densham, with the car wrapped in McLeod Industries livery. And the photographer's friend, Terry Haddock is in the pits and ready to rumble. "The Surfer' Jeff Diehl and Jon Capps are both out for the first time in a few months, and Josh Crawford is still looking for his first raceday start after last weekend's semi-successful outing at the California Hot Rod Reunion.
Pro Stock sees two new paint schemes, wraps actually, for the father-son team of Warren and Kurt Johnson as they've secured a two-race sponsorship deal with a video game company, and the two Washington state Ford exponents, J.R. Carr and Mark Wolfe are back in action for the first time since Seattle at the end of the Western Swing.
The Top Alcohol classes are liberally sprinkled with racers that rarely venture this far west. The obvious attractions of good weather at this time of year and the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, plus a state-of-the-art dragstrip make an irrestible combination for those wanting to compete on a national stage. The two car team of John Finke and Jackie Fricke from New York and New Jersey are two examples of that lure, overcoming the obstacles of two race cars and just one truck and trailer to be here. An international presence is provided by Sidney Frigo from Brazil, Don St. Arnaud from Canada, and two more Canadian cars, driven by an Alaskan (Spencer Martin) in the Hugh Ridley car from BC and Wyoming resident Greg Hunter in the Kenny Gilmour entry from Alberta.
Another pair of Canadian cars are competing in Top Alcohol Funny Car, with the Seattle national event winner, John Evanchuk, leading the way and Geoff Goodwin's Alberta-based car being driven by Jason Rupert from California. The highest placed Lucas Oil national points series racer entered, Tony Bartone, takes the Long Distance honours this weekend.
That's all from Las Vegas Motor Speedway today as sportsman time trials ran all day, with all the other categories scheduled to start at noon tomorrow. Our next report will be early tomorrow afternoon from the track.
Two recent sponsorship changes are highlighted with wraps on the trucks, trailers and race cars of outgoing Lucas National TAD racer Duane Shields and the #3 Top Alcohol Funny Car of Jay Payne. Peak Motor Oil has made a big splash with these two first-class teams and the results are quite striking. After many years of an orange look to his car, Shields is resplendent in his new all-blue look, while Payne has made the total transition to blue in a similar fashion.