NHRA season going out with suspense
This weekend marks the end of the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and the completion of the Full Throttle era in NHRA history. In a season that has been so very wide open (in all but Pro Stock Motorcycle, where the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson motorcycles have won all but one race with Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines riding), it’s a nail-biter as to who will take home the championship Wally trophies in Top Fuel, Funny Car and, to a lesser extent in Pro Stock.
We all know one thing about this weekend’s World Finals on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona dragstrip: Top Fuel belongs to Don Schumacher Racing, with only a very, very slight chance for Al-Anabi Racing’s Shawn Langdon to make the cut from fourth place and take out the DSR trio ahead of him.
Funny Car probably belongs to this super team as well, but John Force Racing’s Mike Neff is making hash of those plans by creeping up on leader Jack Beckman and Ron Capps. That duo are four points apart while Neff lies 88 points in arrears and would have to perform some Tony Schumacher-type magic to catch up to the DSR combatants.
In Top Fuel, Antron Brown holds the lead with teammate Tony Schumacher 65 points back and teammate Spencer Massey 70 points behind. Brown had a crappy race meeting at Las Vegas the final weekend of October, qualifying in the bottom half of the 16-car field and going out in the first round. Massey fell in round 2 and Schumacher went to the finals, leapfrogging the Fram dragster in the process and closing the gap to Brown.
If there’s anybody in this paddock that understands pressure, it’s Schumacher, winner of seven Top Fuel titles and aching for an eighth. Schumacher’s ability to perform under the most difficult circumstances has gotten him where he is today. Using the only canopy-equipped dragster in the field – and that canopy hasn’t been shown to be a performance-enhancing piece at all – Schumacher has been steady and fast throughout the Countdown to One playoffs and could easily cause his teammates conniptions this weekend.
All the media attention has gone to Brown’s attempt to become the first African American person of color to win Top Fuel and that’s a good way to get people that aren’t interested in drag racing to come out and watch. Since he came to the class from Pro Stock Motorcycle, Brown has been a great competitor – just as he was on two wheels. The former track-and-field star doesn’t place any emphasis on race in his dealings with this championship – other than emphasizing drag racing in all its glory – making his ascension as an African American a moot point.
All three of the Schumacher Top Fuel teams may share parts but they certainly don’t share setups, as each driver needs something different and each set of crew chiefs has their own direction. What works for Schumacher’s Mike Green might not for Brown’s Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald (the real Mark and Brian Show) or Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara for Spencer Massey. There are still secrets and that’s a good thing.
Looking at Funny Car, where Jack Beckman has four points on three-time runner-up Ron Capps, the story is similar – but maybe not. Early in the season, team owner Don Schumacher moved all equipment in Beckman’s trailer and shop area over to Capps, including crew chief Rahn Tobler, bringing in former Snake Racing Top Fuel co-crew chief Todd Smith to engineer the Beckman Dodge Charger flopper. Beckman and Capps have responded by staging a true duel between them ever since with Capps owning five victories and Beckman totaling three – Mike Neff’s Mustang has driven to four wins this year but he hasn’t had the consistency of the DSR boys.
During the summer I remarked to myself that Beckman could like win with a monkey tuning him; he’s that good. Truth is, Smith never had the opportunity until now to spread his wings and show his goods. Together this duo have thrived and now find themselves on the cusp of a championship, with only Capps’ huge desire to finally get rid of that “always a bridesmaid” tag standing between them and victory. That Tobler has Capps’ Charger running like a top is a given; the duo won at Las Vegas in the penultimate battle. Can Ron Capps finally show that NAPA “know how”?
Allen Johnson’s been knocking at Pro Stock’s championship door for so many years, but Ken Black’s Summit Racing team and Jeg Coughlin – along with Johnson’s individual foibles from time to time – have kept this Tennessee kid from taking the spoils. This year, after achieving six wins (including Las Vegas), all Allen has to do is qualify and he’s got the title. It’s a fabulous victory he’ll have over last year’s titleholder Jason Line (2 wins) and Erica Enders, who has notched four victories as she’s become Pro Stock’s first woman winner – ever.
As customary, the wins in Pro Stock are all over the Countdown entrants, with only Jeg Coughlin, Ron Krisher and Larry Morgan the sole non-victors in the Top 10 standings. The Dodge Avenger driven by Allen Johnson has been running like clockwork, thanks to his father Roy, who also prepares engines for fourth-place Vincent Nobile, a young racer from whom every NHRA fan can expect greatness for many years.
Pro Stock Motorcycle is Vance & Hines country and it’s been boring. Eddie Krawiec has nine wins; Andrew Hines has five. Only Michael Ray, riding an S&S V-Twin for Matt Smith Racing has won a race this year not riding for Harley-Davidson and he’s in seventh place, behind his team leader (the 2007 champ). The Arana family, with Hector Jr leading his father Hector have shown brilliance in qualifying but haven’t been able to seal the deal the way the Harley’s have and much of that is due to NHRA’s favoritism, which could end next year with new engine rules.
So there you have it – an exciting weekend on tap in Pomona, CA, the ancestral birthplace of NHRA drag racing, is upon us, beginning Thursday afternoon. While television coverage (especially on the ‘net at ESPN3) is excellent, there’s nothing like the feel, smell and sound of all this horsepower rumbling down the quarter-mile and 1000-foot dragstrip. I, for one, can’t wait for it to start – and wish it would never end.
By Anne Proffit