All month long, our racing guru David Scoggan is blogging LIVE from Lucas Oil Raceway! Check back here regularly for a dose of Dave’s wit and whimsy.
Well, THAT was an interesting six days. From a 6-hour delay in starting the event on Wednesday due to over-paranoia regarding soggy pit areas to a 10:31 PM Monday conclusion that sent everyone into sleep-deprived stupors, the 65th running of the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals had a little bit of everything that a drag race could offer.
Historic wins by Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel and John Force in Funny Car garnered the most attention. Kalitta, the nephew of car owner Connie “The Bounty Hunter” Kalitta, claimed his long-awaited first USN victory in a coasting match against final-round opponent Billy Torrence as both cars experienced problems down-track. Coincidentally, this was Doug’s 500th NHRA career start, so for the former USAC Sprint Car champion this could be considered his own personal “Indy 500” triumph! Force powered to his 151st career win and fifth USN victory in a 3.91/324 to 3.94/325 squeaker over Jack Beckman and, surprisingly, did not use any profanity in his winning interview. This was Force’s first Indy victory as a driver since 2002.
Alex Laughlin claimed his first USN title by winning Pro Stock over his Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders and Jerry Savoie, the alligator farmer from Louisiana, took his Suzuki to the Pro Stock Motorcycle win as opponent Andrew Hines and his dominant Harley-Davidson rolled out of the staging beams and received the dreaded “red light”. Order was restored in Pro Mod when Mike Castellana’s supercharged Camaro (that was hit with a rule change for “running too fast” in the last PM event at Norwalk) beat Rickie Smith’s nitrous Camaro in the final; Smith had carped for a rule change that resulted in him having the same .04-second advantage in qualifying at Indy that Castellana displayed at Norwalk — sweet justice!
Another success story in the face of oppression was Bill Skillman, who took his Ford Mustang Cobra Jet to victory over COPO Camaro-mounted Arthur Kohn in the SamTech Factory Stock Showdown final. Skillman and his fellow Ford competitors have faced an endless number of rule changes this year simply because they “built a better mousetrap” and it was great to see them once again overcome the pencil-pushers and crybabies. Longtime Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Jay Payne took the USN win over Chris Marshall and Megan Meyer scored the Top Alcohol Dragster crown when Troy Coughlin, Jr. fouled out by .003-seconds.
The weather played havoc with the event, from the delayed start on Wednesday to early morning showers on both Saturday and Sunday that created some VERY long days. When you have some 16-18 categories of cars (I stopped counting) and close to 1,000 entries, but you can only send two at a time, it’s a recipe for a convoluted schedule. Then factor in downtime for crashes, oil downs, track prep, commercials, etc., etc., it makes for numerous 15-hour days.
Cool, cloudy conditions did play a huge role in two historic milestones that hardcore drag racing fans have been salivating for. As I predicted before the event, the Top Fuel field was the quickest in the history of the sport, with a spread from Brittany Force’s 3.645 pole shot on Saturday evening (perhaps the greatest single session in TF history) to T.J. Zizzo’s 3.775 pass on Sunday evening that landed him in the 16th and final spot. The USN featured the 17 best TF cars in the country and they all delivered the goods — thank you, each and every one of you! Funny Car also produced a record-low bump spot, as Justin Schriefer’s 4.005 held up for sixteenth, meaning we missed an all-three second field by a mere .006-second (and if Blake Alexander had entered, it WOULD have been an all-3 field). Oh well, maybe we will get it in Pomona, but you still need 16 quality cars and we certainly had them here.
There were a couple of crashes that marred the event, the most violent and scary one involved Pro Mod raced Chad Green. As the final qualifying session began late Sunday night, Green’s Camaro got extremely loose, rolled and hit the guard wall upside down, then flew up vertically and (fortunately) landed on its wheels. Green was taken to the hospital for observation but was not seriously injured. During Monday’s FSS eliminations, Robert Falcone clouted the right lane wall with his COPO, but emerged unscathed. And, oh yes, “The Professor”, Warren Johnson, multi-time Pro Stock winner and World Champion, decided to have a little fun with his street-car Camaro that he was scheduled to race former crew member Greg Anderson in the much-hyped “Back to School” grudge race; on Friday, WJ decided to make a 300-foot burnout on his first test pass in the car, lost control of it and spun across the track, making wall contact and necessitating a rollback truck — “Back to School” was never again mentioned for the duration of the event!
Even with the glitches and problems, the 65th edition of the Big Go was still a fantastic event and every drag racing fan is counting down the days until number 66 occurs in 2020. Now, everyone get some SLEEP!