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Records Gone With The Wind In Atlanta

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 17 2009

Ashley Force Hood dumped her old man in Atlanta qualifying Friday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA).

Ashley Force Hood dumped her old man in Atlanta qualifying Friday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA).

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Commerce, Ga. – The weather conditions on Friday at Atlanta Dragway were a drag racer’s dream – cool temperatures, low humidity and unusually high barometric pressure.

That added up to some shattered track records for the Pro Stock divisions during the opening rounds of qualifying for Sunday’s Summit Southern Nationals.

The nitro classes, Top Fuel and Funny Car, were blazing fast too, but their speeds carry an asterisk because this is the first time the Atlanta races have been run at the 1,000-foot distance. The change was made mid-season last year in response to the death of Scott Kalitta at Englishtown. Pro Stock racers still run to the quarter-mile mark.

Ashley Force Hood, the defending Funny Car winner at Atlanta, booted her dad John Force from the top spot with an Elapsed Time of 4.073 seconds and a top speed of 310.05 miles per hour. Both were tops in her class and her speeds were the second-best anywhere since the 1,000-foot distance came into use. Only Del Worsham has been faster, running 310.41 mph at the Winternationals this year.

Force Hood agreed that the conditions at Atlanta were ideal, unlike other times at the track when conditions led to “frizzy hair” and slower speeds. “We knew we could push a little more,” she said. “The conditions were great. Hearing how great the Pro Stocks were running, we knew it would be a great session for Funny Cars. We just didn’t want that great chance to pass us by.”

Morgan Lucas had similar sentiments after taking the provisional No. 1 spot in Top Fuel, running an E.T. of 3.844 seconds and a top speed of 314.39 mph.

It was his first No. 1 since 2005, and his first No. 1 also came earlier that year at Atlanta.

Lucas said that not only were the weather conditions good, the track was better than before too thanks to some grinding of the surface.

“It goes a lot straighter than it used to, and the rubber is sticking really good,” he said, adding that the weather conditions reminded him of a good golf day.

One of the surprises in Top Fuel was the fourth-place effort by Bob Vandergriff, Jr., who was back in the division for the first time this year.

Greg Anderson set new Pro Stock track records for both E.T. (6.568 seconds) and top speed (210.93 miles per hour to grab the top spot in his class.

“We’ve never had conditions this dry and the barometer this high when we’ve raced here, and it’s cool to go along with it,” he said. “You’ve got conditions like you would get at a Gainesville or Houston here at Atlanta.

“We knew when we got here and checked the conditions that today would be a special day, a one of a kind day.”

Anderson needed a good day. The one-time north Georgia resident is off to a slow start by his high standards and is still seeking his first final-round appearance of the season.

“We came in here in a little bit of a slump or a funk,” he said. “I’ve been making mistakes driving the race car. It’s been good but not perfect. I need a good weekend where the car runs great and I don’t make any mistakes. So20far we’re two for two. I’m just one win away from turning my season around.”

Anderson said he benefited greatly from a test session this week at Charlotte where conditions were essentially the same as at Atlanta.

“It ended up being a great tune-up, an easy tune-up for the engine,” he said. “That’s how testing can pay off.”

  Anderson’s teammate Jason Line ended up third. Others in the top five provisionally include Mike Edwards in second, Allen Johnson fourth and Greg Stanfield fifth.

Andrew Hines broke the Pro Stock Motorcyle E.T. record set last year by Chip Ellis, who is without a ride this year. Hines’s elapsed time of 6.877 bettered the mark of 6.943 set last year. Michael Phillips, who sits 12th after Friday set a new mark for top speed at 195.08 miles per hour. Local rider Junior Pippin of C onyers, a former All-Harley Drag Racing Association star, had one of his best qualifying sessions in NHRA, posting the eighth best time.

Hines said the ideal conditions plus a bit of a tailwind made his bike a bullet on Friday. And the joy of setting a record will last at least a year, he said.

“The thing that’s really cool is if you’re looking at Dragster [the official NHRA publication] the next year coming into that event and see your name as the track record holder, that’s the part that’s really special,” he said. Eddie Krawiec, Karen Stoffer, Hector Arana and Craig Treble hold the top five spots heading into Saturday.

Notes:  John Force never seems to be at a loss for words. Sometimes what he says might be best labeled as foolishness. On Friday night at Atlanta Dragway, he made an unannounced stop in the media and was dead serious about the safety improvements that have been made at the shut-down area in the wake of Scott Kalitta at Englishtown last year.

He came on behalf of his fellow drivers to thank the NHRA, which owns the track, for the new catch fence.

 “In a time when people don’t want to spend, when I get down to the other end this morning I was really excited,” Force said. “It takes big bucks to do what they did.

 “I used to be here with a gut ache when my kid was running here last year because I knew the situation.”

Force said it’s unfortunate that it usually takes deaths and serious injuries to bring about significant safety improvements in racing.

“The only way we learn is when someone gets hurt,” he said.

Force said some drivers may not like the drawbacks that come with safety improvements, but he says that’s just too bad.

“Maybe you have to have a run-away freight train to realize,” he said.

He also said that there have been times recently when he seriously considered quitting the sport.

“I was almost to quit,” he said. “I was ready to take my kid and go home. I had had enough. We had gotten at speeds where it’s not safe. This is the time that we need to stop killing people.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 17 2009
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