Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: October 8, 2010
Item C on National DRAGSTER's list of "do and don'ts" for aspiring reporters is to avoid clichés and trite sayings, such as "the racing is as hot as the weather," but I'm the boss here, so I get an occasional de facto free pass on some of the rules, including that one, especially when it's true. So, here we go: The racing is as hot as the weather.
After stepping off the airplane from Dallas - where the only "fall" at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals was in the event name - into record 111-degree heat in Glendora, Calif., saying that anything is as hot as this weather would seem to be a bit of a superheated hyperbole, but it's not.
You only have to take a look at the table of contents in this issue to see it's chock-full of just about every kind of racing that NHRA has to offer, and because we're nearing the end of the season for every league and series, it's all about winning time. All stops are literally pulled out because championships are on the line across the board, and it's now or never (cliché city!) for a lot of these teams.
In addition to our coverage of the Full Throttle classes in Dallas, we've got our extended coverage from the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals in Charlotte, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series coverage from Divisions 4 and 7, NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series coverage from Arizona's Speedworld Dragstrip, and NHRA Summit Racing Series Finals (aka E.T. Finals) coverage from Divisions 1, 3, and 5. You can also find a quick recap of winners from the JEGS NHRA Northern SPORTSnationals from National Trail Raceway near Columbus, Ohio, which we'll be covering in depth in two weeks, along with our Lucas Oil class coverage from Dallas, which we will have next week. Whew! Maybe the only thing hotter than the weather and the racing are our fingers as they scorch the keyboards trying to keep pace with all of this. The seasons may be winding down, but they're only picking up speed as they do so.
You should see my office. I've got stacks of results from various races, Post-it Notes, photoladen DVDs, crammed notepads, and expended pens littering my desk, and it's the same look through the editorial department. I pity the copyediting team, who not only have to switch from series to series and class to class but also follow the rambling paths created by the writers' cramping fingers as we work against the deadlines to pull everything together.
As you can read in our coverage from Dallas, none of the four points leaders were able to reach the winner's circle, which is a bit of a rarity. The invincible Larry Dixon was beaten on a holeshot in round two of Top Fuel by Shawn Langdon, ending a 13-round winning streak, and he had to watch as Tony Schumacher gobbled away at his lead and ultimately ended up in the winner's circle. Schumacher had been under ESPN analyst Mike Dunn's infamous "Do or Dunn" line entering eliminations, and "the Sarge" did what he had to do and no longer seems done. He's still more than 90 points back - more than four rounds - with three races (and 12 rounds) to go, so he still might be under that line come Reading and the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, but at least he's got some momentum now after being winless since Bristol.
Another reigning series champ, Pro Stock king Mike Edwards, also hadn't won since Bristol, and although he again didn't get the job done in Dallas, despite some fine driving in the early rounds, he was at least able to somewhat mitigate the gains of winner Greg Anderson by reaching the final and keeping second-place Anderson from chopping another 20 points from his lead. Nevertheless, Anderson was able to pare the lead from 27 to just 16, or less than one round.
It was a good weekend for No. 2s as Funny Car champ Matt Hagan beat points leader John Force and raced past Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman into second place with his third win of the season, and the incredible LE Tonglet won his third straight in Pro Stock Motorcycle by again beating points leader Andrew Hines in the final. Well, Hines beat himself with a red-light, making you wonder just how far inside the former champ's head the rookie sensation has gotten.
The wins from No. 2 drivers - and, in the case of Schumacher, No. 3 - appear to show us the first sign of a separation of the pack. In Top Fuel, it looks like a showdown between Dixon, Cory McClenathan, and Schumacher while Funny Car looks like it might boil down to Force, Hagan, Beckman, and Ashley Force Hood, who are separated by just 68 points. In Pro Stock, Edwards, Anderson, and Allen Johnson look to have the three horses to beat while the bike battle may well have been carved down to Hines and Tonglet, who have hogged all of the playoff finalround berths to date. That being said, we are only halfway through the playoffs, and we all know full well that drivers such as Brandon Bernstein, Doug Kalitta, Robert Hight, Ron Capps, Jason Line, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. are capable of jumping into the fray and creating havoc.
So now we turn our attention to the alwaysquick Maple Grove Raceway and its new date, where the expected chill in the air has teams champing at the bit (another cliché!) for a shot at the track. If the weather favors the event, we could see a wholesale changing of the NHRA national record books, and those 20 bonus points would sure look good in the balance sheet of any of the playoff contenders.
Three down, three to go ...
This week's doubleheader of Lucas Oil coverage also is rife with championship implications. A lot of drivers out there with good national event scores are looking to round out their scorecards on the divisional level.
This is the point in the season where we find out who's done the best job of managing their allotment of points-earning events and who spent theirs too soon. It seems like almost all of the hitters carefully plot and choose which events to attend, sometimes skipping closer venues to save up for a late run, if needed. Having that extra event or two in hand is invaluable as the points get impossibly tight and higher math degrees and crystal balls (and a little intuition) are required to sort out who has what left to improve on and where they might do it. Late-minute crosscountry trips to attack or defend positions are not unheard of this time of year and keeps all of us on our points-watching toes clear through to season's end.
The NHRA Summit Series Finals champions may now be crowned in four of the seven divisions, but, as we all know, that's just the beginning. These dedicated dial-in warriors battled all year for the chance to represent their home track at the Finals, and the fortunate few who emerged as winners now face the daunting - yet exciting - task of heading to Pomona for the national championships, to be held concurrent with the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals this November.
If you think the task of winning a division championship in front of your supportive cadre of teammates with everything on the line as the Tree counts down in the final is tough, try doing the same thing in front of tens of thousands of race fans in Pomona, where the wall of fans stretching down the left side of the track can be a pretty intimidating sight.
You'll notice that we've changed this year's coverage of the Summit Series Finals to more closely resemble that of our Lucas Oil Series coverage and hopefully give the events more of an "event" feel. After all, as important as the individual winners are, they're also part of the team championship battle, much like it is for the JEGS Allstars program.
Yeah, so as you can see, there's a lot of racing going on and still a lot more to come, and there's sure to be a series of red-hot finishes hotter than this weather coming just down the road.