Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: May 28, 2010
Atlanta didn't get its nickname, Hotlanta, without reason, and the weather for the 30th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals lived up to that sizzling sobriquet in spades, with three days of hot and muggy weather adding to the challenges that competitors faced at Atlanta Dragway.
On the heels of warmish events in Las Vegas and Madison, teams are getting an early look at just where they stand with their hot-weather tune-up even if, as Top Fuel winner Larry Dixon noted, "it's not really summer yet."
Even though it doesn't officially click over to summer until June 21 - right after the completion of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol - I can unequivocally say that things are plenty hot already, and not just on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, although that's a swell place to start.
Dixon and the Al-Anabi crew looked simply unbeatable in Atlanta, making seven laps within just a few hundredths of one another, and the only run outside of that range was the quickest of the bunch and placed the maroon marauder on the pole. They had the quickest or second-quickest run of all eight times they went down the track - including the best run of all four qualifying sessions - and were the only points leaders to reach the winner's circle.
John Force Racing remained red-hot with world champ driver Robert Hight again doing the damage, as he did in Madison. Hight credited a wholesale change to the tune-up on Sunday in Madison by crew chief Jimmy Prock as the turning point of their shell-shocked season, and "we haven't looked back since," said Hight.
Right now, there's a whole lot for him to look back on: The rest of the non-John Force Racing Funny Cars in the world. The Team Force cars sit 1-2-3 in the points after Hight and teammate Ashley Force Hood closed up the gap on team patriarch John Force. It was just another amazing weekend in Atlanta for Force Hood. Most of you remember that it was in Atlanta, just two years ago, where she claimed her first Funny Car Wally, beating her father in the final round, and that she almost repeated that effort last year before coming up short against Jack Beckman in the final. Force Hood, who also won in Atlanta in Top Alcohol Dragster in 2006, was the No. 1 qualifier this year but fell just short of her third Atlanta crown against Hight in the final.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.'s mighty yellow and black armada was reduced because brothers John and Mike, nephew T.J., and fiancée Samantha Kenny were competing at the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event in Norwalk. Brother Troy, who was competing in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Series, and family leader Jeg Sr. were the only ones with the champ in the Deep South and watched as Jeg deep-sixed the Pro Stock field for his milestone 50th Pro Stock win. He's only the fourth driver in NHRA history to get 50 wins in the factory hot rod class and just the ninth to do so in the Full Throttle classes, adding yet another gold star to his already impressive résumé.
Andrew Hines' Pro Stock Motorcycle win on the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley- Davidson pulled him to within 106 points of defending world champ Hector Arana and provided some salve for the former world champ's first-round loss in Madison and pushed him to 20 career wins. The final-round victory over Arana was Hines' second this year, the first coming in Houston.
The race turned out to be a great one, especially because - other than the heat and humidity - the weather cooperated despite forecasts for rain both Saturday and Sunday. All of us were glad that the water stayed in the air rather than fall to the ground, and everyone did a great job of working toward the goal of completing the event. On Sunday, that meant a 65-minute turnaround between rounds for the Full Throttle teams instead of their customary 75. Although that measure only saved a half-hour, I've been at plenty of events where we would have killed for an extra half-hour but instead sat through long weather delays achingly close to the event's completion.
Atlanta Dragway's staff already is anticipating its next big event, the very first NHRA Unleashed event, which will take place at their track over Father's Day weekend, June 11-13. Everyone at NHRA and Distrupt/ive Studios has high hopes and expectations for this unique series, which later this year will travel to O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis (Aug. 6-8), National Trail Raceway (Sept. 10-12), and Gainesville Raceway (Nov. 5-7). Atlanta Dragway has had successful Pinks events recently, and everyone is hoping to build on those successes with this new breed of door-car entertainment. To learn more, visit www.nhraunleashed.com.
On the same weekend when the action was hot and heavy in Atlanta, NHRA's West Coast Lucas Oil heroes were duking it out at Auto Club Dragway at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., at the JEGS NHRA Pacific SPORTSnationals. You can find a recap of the event on page 10, and we'll have complete coverage of the event, in traditional National DRAGSTER style, along with our extended coverage from Atlanta of the Lucas Oil action there and the Get Screened America Pro Mod Series, in next week's issue.
Those of us in Atlanta got to see a little slice of history when Pro Mod racer Michael Gullqvist became the first European in the 59-year history of NHRA to win a national event. His amazing story - a last-minute call to duty in the wake of a team - will be recapped in next week's issue as well.
It's going to be an issue jam-packed with coverage because in addition to the Southern Nationals and SPORTSnationals results, the Fontana event hosted portions of the delayed NHRA Arizona Nationals Lucas Oil coverage (Super Street and Top Dragster), which we also will present next week.
We've got eight national events - Topeka, Chicago, Englishtown, Bristol, Norwalk, and the new-look Western Swing (Seattle, Sonoma, and Denver) - packed into the next 11 weeks, so it's going to be all racing, all the time. Buckle up, race fans, the heat is on!