Two races down and four to go in NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship and it’s becoming more difficult to predict the title winners in all four classes because at the starting lights, it’s a crapshoot, writes Annie Proffit.
\A round winner never gets a free pass, is never coming from a lap down. A round winner has to earn that distinction four times on race day to gain a race-winner’s Wally trophy. That’s what makes NHRA drag racing so compelling; you never know who’s got the goods on any given day.
Take, for instance, the results of the first two Countdown races. In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta’s Kalitta Motorsports entry won the first race at Charlotte, then relinquished the points lead just a week later to former points leader and Reading race runner-up Steve Torrence (CAPCO Contractors).
Brittany Force (John Force Racing) won the race in Pennsylvania last weekend, moving herself from fourth to third in the standings, behind Torrence and Kalitta, as she beat reigning and three-time champ Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing back to fourth in the standings. Brown will be looking for his fifth Gateway title in six years and is only 51 points from the lead. That’s close.
But there are spoilers that could easily upset the current balance of power. It stands to reason eight-time champ Tony Schumacher (DSR) and 2017 four-race winner Leah Pritchett, also of DSR, should be able to break out of slumps and upend the points standings with a good run at Gateway’s dragstrip. There are 20 dragster entries for this race.
Although the third race of the six-race Countdown begins in September, race day is October 1 and Kalitta Motorsports’ vice president of operations Jim Oberhofer intends to wear pink throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. As one of 25 designated members of Real Men Wear Pink Campaign of Detroit he hopes to help raise at least $2,500 for the American Cancer Society as he honors his late wife Tammy, who succumbed to the disease. Race fans can donate at http://bit.ly/2xjAiNm.
In Funny Car, the ‘regular season’ momentum had swung firmly in favor of Ron Capps, with six victories in 18 events, but after the first Countdown race it appeared to have gone John Force Racing’s way. However, although JFR’s Robert Hight has indeed been surging with three recent wins, Capps responded last week with his first ever Wally earned at Maple Grove Raceway, and retook the points lead.
Although 2009 FC champ Hight is only eight points behind, he can expect to contend with more than just Capps. In particular teammate Courtney Force is coming on strong, having spent the first part of the year gaining No. 1 qualifiers but falling flat on race day. She was Capps’ runner-up at Reading and is 31 points behind brother-in-law Hight. Last year’s race was won by Jack Beckman, currently fifth in the standings, exactly 100 points behind teammate Capps. A total of 19 Funny Car entries are on the grounds, which could create issues for some contenders.
The title battle is just as tight in Pro Stock, and since NHRA has decided to give 1.5 points for the season finale in Pomona, the title could be in doubt until then. Bo Butner regained his points lead after losing it to winner Tanner Gray at the first playoff race. With victory in Reading, Butner now heads Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro teammate Greg Anderson, with Gray third after falling to Anderson in Reading’s quarterfinals. Behind fourth-placed Jason Line lies Drew Skillman, whose four victories show he has the goods to go all the way.
There are a total of 16 Pro Stock entries on the entry list for the Gateway race, with Brian Self again racing a third Elite Motorsports entry instead of Vincent Nobile, whose team elected to stand down for the balance of the season as they regroup for 2018.
Pro Stock Motorcycle looks for now to be a two-bike race after Eddie Krawiec of the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Street Rod team earned his third race win in a row to pull 71 points ahead of fellow five-race winner LE Tonglet of WAR Racing. Vance & Hines builds Suzuki engines for WAR, the team led by 2016 champ Jerry Savoie, currently in fourth place in the PSM standings.
Between the WARs is Hector Arana Jr who is yet to win his first Wally but who has been exceptionally consistent on his Buell throughout this 14-race PSM season to date. With fewer than 300 points separating P1 Krawiec from P10 Angie Smith (on a Buell), the PSM race is looking tighter than the race-win tally looks at first glance.
Warm weather in Pennsylvania was an anomaly last weekend, but despite this lack of autumnal cool, there were fast times (Hight turned another 339mph pass) in all four classes. This weekend at Gateway, too, promises excellent weather throughout the race meeting.
Brittany Force scores second win of the season
Hight, Millican, Anderson and Hines earn No. 1 qualifying positions at Midwest Nationals