The Top Fuel class has an entertainingly fierce championship fight on its hands following the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals near Dallas. The Funny Car class is having its power shifts. Allen Johnson has the huge target on his back among the Pro Stock drivers. And the always-rumbling Pro Stock Motorcycle bunch saw a new winner emerge at the Texas Motorplex from a final round that didn’t include a Harley-Davidson. John Force went backward in the standings Sunday, but during Saturday qualifying he earned in prize money what he would have pocketed if he were to win both the Funny Car and Top Fuel finals. As the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour moves to suburban St. Louis this weekend and the Countdown continues, here’s a peek back at what caught the eyes of Texas.
I WANT TO TALK ABOUT ME!! - Michael Ray finally won an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle race, and all accounts of it talk about the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team. That’s because Ray will go into the record book as the rider who snapped Eddie Krawiec’s and Andrew Hines’ 13-race winning streak. The NHRA has imposed a 10-pound weight on the Harley-Davidson bikes, but Ray said after his victory from the No. 8 qualifying spot that the penalty is “not that dramatic. It didn’t really do a lot.” That echoed the sentiments of the rest of the class. Ray said his triumph came at just the right time and the right place — and I did my job.” He beat Karen Stoffer, the six-time winner who was making her first final-round appearance this season. Ray had been runner-up to Krawiec in May at Atlanta. Until Sunday he and LE Tonglet (at Chicago) had been the only two riders other than Hector Arana Sr. and Jr. and the Harley-Davidson duo to make a final round.
SOUL-SEARCH ENDS IN VICTORY - Not qualifying for the Countdown ate at the core of Funny Car owner-driver Bob Tasca, so he challenged himself and his team heading into the Dallas. After winning Sunday, he said, “This weekend just kind of epitomized our whole season: Just keep fighting. Not making the top 10 was a lot of heartache for the guys on this team. I said to my team, ‘This will be a defining six races, because I want to see what we’re all made of, me included. Are we going to roll over and play dead these next six races? Or are we going to come out with some fire in us and take this thing to Pomona and let everyone know that we may not be in this year but watch out next year?’ I think this weekend was a defining weekend for our team, because we fought through some tough rounds, three motor changes in four rounds in this heat, and we put ourselves in a position to win. I did my job, and we’re leaving with the trophy.”
CROWDED AT THE TOP - Antron Brown rebounded from a dismal Charlotte race the weekend before, beating Spencer Massey and pulling even with him as the Top Fuel points leader. As temperatures approached 100 degrees even as evening set in, the DSR already had burned six Countdown hopefuls and were turning the heat on each other. That quieted the buzz after Shawn Langdon qualified No. 1 for the third straight week that Alan Johnson and the Al-Anabi/Toyota team had positioned themselves as the ones to beat in the Countdown. Brown ran his quickest time and fastest speed during eliminations to hand home-state favorite Massey his second straight runner-up finish at this facility where he became hooked on drag racing as a kid in Fort Worth. Brown said he fought his own Matco Tools Dragster as much as the competition Sunday: “It was throwing us fits where it was being really aggressive, like it was trying to run faster than we wanted it to run.” But he prevailed and promised, “It’s going to be some tough racing till the end. Everybody’s throwing haymakers. Everybody’s pushing the tree. Everybody’s running exceptionally well. It’s an all-out battle royal out there right now.”
HAVIN’ SOME FUN - Allen Johnson held off an equally red-hot Texas native Erica Enders for his fifth Pro Stock victory of the season, opening a 93-point lead on second-place Jason Line. While he knows that won’t be nearly enough to relax, Johnson did say, “Somebody who has won several championships called me before this thing ever started and told me, ‘Just enjoy it and have fun.’ That advice was very important. I’m up for this challenge, and I’m enjoying it.” He said his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger “was consistent. It was low in all four qualifying rounds, low in two of four rounds today, and got the job done. We’ve got a great crew that makes great decisions. We’ve got great power from Dad [Roy Johnson] and the guys at the engine shop. The driver, fortunately, did his job.”
Somebody who has won several championships called me before this thing ever started and told me, ‘Just enjoy it and have fun. – Allen Johnson
MAGIC NUMBER FOR DSR IS 7 - Antron Brown’s Top Fuel victory at Ennis, Texas, Sunday lowered to seven the “magic number” for Don Schumacher Racing to reach the 200-victory plateau. DSR has won 19 times this season – 11 in Top Fuel and eight in Funny Car. Just four events remain in 2012, so that gives DSR eight opportunities to hit the mark this year (two at each race, in the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes). The organization would have to sweep the nitro class victories at three of the remaining races and get either a Top Fuel or Funny Car victory at one other race. DSR swept both nitro titles at the same event three times this year — within a five-event span — at Bristol (Tony Schumacher, Capps), Denver (Antron Brown, Jack Beckman), and Sonoma (Brown, Johnny Gray). It missed the chance Sunday as Matt Hagan was runner-up to Bob Tasca in Funny Car.
100-GRAND BABY! IT’S DESTINY! - John Force got a knot on his head from trying to hold onto the 75-pound Traxxas Nitro Shootout trophy Saturday. But the pure joy of winning — and doing so at the racetrack that dealt him devastating injuries five years ago — and eased the pain. Earning the $100,000 winner’s share of the purse was a salve, as well. He said he plans to deposit the check into a John Force Racing employee bonus fund, but the jackpot from the inaugural Traxxas bonus race for the top eight Funny Car drivers boosted his career total in NHRA-related specialty-races to $1,160,500.
The $100,000 goes to my employees. I don’t take any of it. It is not about money for me it is about winning, the fans and the sponsors. – John Force
“The $100,000 goes to my employees. I don’t take any of it. It is not about money for me it is about winning, the fans and the sponsors,” Force said after defeating points leader Ron Capps in the final of the race that took place during qualifying.
The 15-time Funny Car champion said he was grateful that in this economic downturn, Plano-based Traxxas is sponsoring this event, which was supposed to take place at rain-plagued Indianapolis as a complement to the Traxxas Top Fuel Shootout. “Traxxas putting up that hundred grand is good for our sport. It is good to have money out here that can help the teams,” he said. “Courtney said, ‘Dad get that trophy!’ I’m thinking, ‘Kid, don’t put all that on me. I am just hanging in there. We got it and we’ll take it home.”
Said Force, “It’s just a built-in thing about me I have always been an underdog. I won a lot of championships but I have been an underdog my whole life. I always got beat up in school. Couldn’t play baseball and lost every football game. I was always fighting to get there.”
He had to carry the banner as his other three JFR drivers (including Robert Hight and Mike Neff) lost in the opening round of the bonus race. “When my people go down, especially Courtney, that is when the fight comes out. There is another person in here,” he said. “I don’t get mad at Ron Capps or Jack Beckman. I don’t play the game that way. They are my friends. I just get inside and think, ‘You can’t hurt my team like that.’ Then the fight comes. It is a great day, and we won.”
In 1999, Force won the single biggest payday in NHRA history — $210,000 — as he beat Bob Vandergriff’s Top Fuel dragster at the Winston Showdown at Bristol, Tenn. “They said, ‘You cannot beat the dragsters. Well I did. I was always there at the right time. I always joke that somebody up there likes me. It is like destiny, and it just falls on me. I won the 50th anniversary event [at Pomona]. There were so many big races that I was put into and I won. The Showdowns and the Shootouts were big. Then I won Winston championships and Powerade championships. Then I was like OK, now I have to win a Full Throttle championship. Then I win that. I won the first four-wide race. It is like destiny,” Force said. “I am struggling to win a championship. I want to win here, but maybe the Lord doesn’t want me to win at the Motorplex to keep me around for a while. I won today, and that was pretty awesome.”