Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: May 18, 2012
ATLANTA - You didn't need a crystal ball to predict what happened at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, just enough backstory on the 2012 season and a working history of this event. What unfolded at Atlanta Dragway, the seventh stop of the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule, seemed almost a natural progression from the six chapters already written in this year's history books.
Steve Torrence, a top-two qualifier at the previous two events and a semifinalist at the last three, finally scored a long-overdue Top Fuel victory at a race known for being kind to first-time Pro winners. Everyone knew that John Force Racing's six-event stranglehold on the Funny Car winner's circle had to come to an end, and not surprisingly, it was ended by Ron Capps, who a week earlier had stopped JFR driver Robert Hight's amazing four-race winning streak en route to a runner-up in Houston. Greg Anderson reached the Pro Stock final for the fifth time in seven races and, in a reversed-results rematch of last year's final, beat teammate Jason Line to once again dominate their sponsor's event. And for the fifth straight Pro Stock Motorcycle race dating back to last year's penultimate event in Las Vegas, a Harley-Davidson was in the winner's circle, with world champ Eddie Krawiec scoring his second of the season.
The victory for Torrence came almost a year to the day following his decision to form his family-run Capco Contractors team after completing a stint with car owner Dexter Tuttle at this race last year. Hiring veteran crew chief Richard Hogan proved an astute move by the former Top Alcohol Dragster world champ, and it took just 10 events for the duo to find the winner's circle, though the handwriting seemed to have been on the wall since they qualified No. 1 in Charlotte and No. 2 in Houston and reached the semifinals at both events.
Torrence's car looked solid throughout qualifying, earning bonus points in three of four sessions, with the second-best passes of the second - a 3.827 that carried him again to the No. 2 spot, behind Tony Schumacher's track record 3.815 in the same session - and third sessions and the best run of the final session. On Sunday, his 3.84s sent teammates J.R. Todd and Bob Vandergriff Jr. home early, and a 3.88 in the semifinals ended Brandon Bernstein's best outing of the season. Torrence then beat Schumacher in the final with a 3.89 after the Army car went up in smoke early to keep the seven-time champ winless in Atlanta and make Torrence NHRA's 97th Top Fuel winner.
"We've been working our tails off since last year at this race," said Torrence. "To kind of start the new team and get the first win here, that's a big deal for us. To go out here and go low a couple of sessions in qualifying and to run the way it has, that speaks a lot for Richard and the track prep here. These guys gave us a great racing surface, and Richard was the guy that hit the nail on the head this weekend, and I was the driver in the seat that benefited from it.
"The Army car has been the pinnacle for years, and Tony Schumacher is a machine. I knew that I had to be on my game, and Richard gave me the car to do it. It's a little intimidating, but going into that round, we had lane choice, and I knew I had a really good race car. I was confident in myself, and actually to be honest, I felt like I had a better race car than those guys today. We went out there, and everybody did their job. I've got a really good team and a good mom and dad to support us. Hopefully, this is the start of a lot of really good things."
Though Schumacher's Atlanta frustration continued, Capps' monopoly-busting victory over Hight ended his final-round jinx at Georgia's House of Speed. Capps had scored three runnerups in Atlanta - including in his first Pro final, in Top Fuel, in 1995 - but had not advanced past the semifinals since 2001. After a DNQ in Las Vegas earlier this year, team boss Don
Schumacher moved former world-champ tuner Rahn Tobler to Capps' NAPA camp, and the team has been on a roll, qualifying No. 2 and reaching the final at all three races since.
"When Don made the move and put me with Rahn and John Collins, I'm telling you it was just unbelievable," he said. "I'm having so much fun right now. I'm the luckiest guy in the world to be driving this car."
Unlike in Houston, where he could not stop Mike Neff from racking up JFR's sixth straight win, Capps was on his driving game in the Atlanta final and raced to a 4.16 to easily dispatch Hight's trouble-plagued 4.39 effort.
"I screwed up a little bit in Houston and didn't catch the car when it made a move, and that one hurt," he said. "I really felt like that was our race to lose. Here, it started to make a move in the final. That clutch came in sooner than expected, and I said, 'Come on, Tobler power.' I could hear Robert early, and I thought, 'Man, if he's next to me, it's going to be a great drag race, and I hope I left on time.' All of a sudden, that power came in, and away we went."
Capps joked that he had the world's quickest bracket car, and after a quartet of Sunday passes that read 4.148, 4.165, 4.164, and 4.166, one could hardly fault him. Capps, like Torrence, won from the No. 2 spot after qualifying a hundredth behind Hight's fieldleading 4.104.
"I just know we're going to throw down, and when it gets hot, a 4.16's probably going to pop up on the board. We ran like 30 of them in just three races. There's a bracket race here in a couple of weeks, so I think we're going to come back and dial in with a 4.15, and we'll go .16s all day. It's more than consistency. There are guys out here that are good drivers, but there are very few good racers as drivers. I learned a lot of that from Ed McCulloch, and I've learned so much already in three races from Tobler. He teaches you how to think ahead, how to keep everything the same around you. Everything is big-picture, and it's fun. Obviously, the biggest picture is a [championship] ring. I don't have one, and a lot of guys on my team, including him, have one or two or three, and we're looking to take a ring to NAPA headquarters in November. Hopefully, we can pull it off," said Capps.
Anderson, who missed his chance for a fourth Southern Nationals win at the hands of Summit Racing teammate Line last year, got 'er done this year, though Line was the early star, qualifying No. 1 for the fourth time this year; the duo was joined in the semi's by teammate Ronnie Humphrey, representing Summit's Genuine Hotrod Hardware line. Line took out Humphrey, and Anderson got away with one against No. 2 qualifier Allen Johnson, surviving a .063 reaction time against A.J.'s .011 to win when Johnson's Dodge shook hard.
Anderson then turned the table on Line in the final, beating him on a holeshot, 6.649 to 6.618, for his 73rd win.
"I don't know what happened [to Line]; I don't know what happened today," said a befuddled but pleased Anderson. "Earlier, it looked like it was going to be Ronnie Humphrey's day. He was absolutely driving the wheels off that car, the best he's done as a driver. I'm darn proud of him. At a Summit race, to have three cars in the semi's and two in the finals - it doesn't get any better than that.
"No telling what can happen during the rest of the year. It's going to get tougher as the year goes on, with so many cars that are capable of winning and going fast. Some of these guys, the way they can drive is amazing. And I'm not one of those guys. I just have to go out and be happy to get a .030 on the light and get a break. And that's what happened today. My car wasn't quite that fast, but I didn't make any mistakes. It takes a lot of luck to win in any class. It was kind of an 'un-normal' type of KB Racing win this weekend, but somehow, we hung in there on every run. I don't feel like I was the favorite son today, but I think I was the most fortunate son."
Until last year, the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team had hogged the Atlanta Pro Stock Motorcycle winner's circle three straight years, 2007-09, with Andrew Hines and Krawiec taking turns in the spotlight, but once qualifying got rolling this year, it was clear that the Harleys were going to have to deal with the dual Buells of Lucas Oil's Hector Arana Sr. and Jr., who matched them blow for blow. The father-son combo qualified 1 and 3, sandwiched around Krawiec, with Hector Sr. grabbing the pole by the narrowest of margins, 6.894 to 6.895; the top two both impressed in the heat with runs that didn't show on the qualifying sheets.
"I was very impressed with the 6.92 that we had in qualifying and equally impressed with Hector's [6.96] right after that," said Krawiec. "You look at that, and you know that those guys are busting their butts off over there, and my hat's off to them."
Arana Sr. looked good until he was knocked off by Michael Ray, who made his first final-round appearance aboard one of Matt Smith's Buells after knocking off Hines. In the final, however, Ray's 7.03 was no match for Krawiec's 6.90.
The victory was the third straight this season for the Harley team and, following Hines' win in Houston, the second straight since a 20-pound weight adjustment after Krawiec's first win.
"The goal of the extra weight that was added to our bikes was intended to bring us right back into the pack, not to make us noncompetitive," said Krawiec. "By the performances of the Hectors, I think you can see that was done." ND
coverage by Phil Burgess, John Jodauga, and Candida Benson
photos by Teresa Long and Marc Gewertz, with contributions from Auto Imagery and Bob Szelag