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NHRA Notes: Anderson Is A Player Once Again

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 8 2010

Greg Anderson will be looking for three straight Pro Stock victories this weekend in Maple Grove. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Greg Anderson’s infamous mood swings are directly tied to his most recent NHRA elapsed time slip.

With back-to-back Pro Stock victories at zMax Dragway and Texas Motorplex in his log book, Anderson will roll into the 26th annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals today as Mr. Sunshine. Anderson’s victory over Mike Edwards in the final of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Super Start Batteries Fall Nationals 12 days ago pulled him to within 16 points – less than one round – of the reigning champion.

This weekend’s event at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa., is the fourth of the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. And Anderson, a three-time world champion, believes he is once again a player.

“I’m easy to read, aren’t I?” said Anderson, driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac GXP tuned by co-crew chiefs Rob Downing and Tommy Utt. “That’s what does it for me. Winning and running good is what I live for. It’s sad, I guess. But when I’m at the racetrack that’s what it’s all about. We have fun when the cars run fast. We have fun when we win races. When we don’t, it’s not that much fun. And shame on me for thinking like that. I’m wrong in thinking like that. To be able to do what we do, make a living doing what we do, we’re so fortunate to begin with I should be smiling whether I hit the wall first-round.

“But I’m not that way. I have to work on that, but when you win like this, the problem is gone. When I’ve got confidence, I seem to be a pretty decent racer. That’s my problem, that’s my issue. I have to work on that. Luckily, right now I’m on the high end of it.”

Anderson dispatched Edwards, driver of the Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac, despite losing the battle of the Christmas Tree. Edwards’ reaction time was 0.001-seconds to Anderson’s 0.014, but the latter went on to a winning quarter-mile pass of 6.585-seconds and 209.39 mph.

“People were probably ready to throw dirt on us a few races ago, but not anymore,” said Anderson, a four-time winner at The Plex. “We’ve come back and we’re a threat to win every race now. So we’re a threat to win a championship again, and that’s all I can ask.”

Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event at Maple Grove.

Burnout box proves troublesome: Billy Meyer’s Motorplex celebrated its 25th anniversary with Silver Wally trophies for the winners and plenty of off-track activities in and

Greg Anderson

around Ennis. On-track, the all-concrete surface’s burnout box proved troublesome as the weekend wore on.

Case in point was the disqualification of former Pro Stock world champion Jason Line, who had trouble with his burnout during a second-round match against Greg Stanfield. Line aborted his first burnout attempt after crossing the starting line. Jason cranked-up a second burnout but was DQed when he crossed the line a second time. It’s a rule that both Line and teammate Greg Anderson admitted they were not familiar with.

“I thought that was a rule for Sportsman classes,” Anderson said. “I didn’t realize it was across-the-board for Professional classes and everything. But it is. Can’t blame anybody but ourselves. Bad, bad deal. It really hurts. We got to brush-up on the rulebook.”

Anderson also detailed the problem with the water box/burnout area. “I don’t want to say anything bad about the racetrack,” Anderson said, “but where you pull up into the water box, there’s grooves and ruts. It needs to be re-ground there. The problem is you have the post-tension concrete, or whatever it’s called, where you’ve got cables running from the water box to the finish line. You can’t cut a section out. You can’t put another section in.

“It’s made for a great racetrack, but with all the cars that have done burnouts over 25 years they’ve worn a groove into the concrete. It’s kind of like a truck stop exit, if you’ve ever pulled off on an exit where the big trucks stop and you have ruts in the road. That’s kind of the way it is in the water box. You can’t make a straight burnout.

“I’ve talked to the track people about it and there’s not much they can do. I can’t even imagine how many millions of burnouts have been done in the same spot, and you’re going to wear a groove in the racetrack. I guess we’ve got to find a way to live with it.”

Tonglet thinking PSM championship: Rookie LE Tonglet finds himself in the improbable position of being the lone undefeated Countdown competitor through three of six events. Tonglet also has emerged as Andrew Hines’ ongoing nightmare, as the three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion has dropped the last three finals to the 20-year-old phenom.

“Last race (at zMax Dragway) Andrew said he had a ‘complex’ with me,” Tonglet, rider of the Nitro Fish Suzuki, said at The Plex. “He’s definitely thinking about it. For him to go up there and red-light (by 0.006-seconds), he had to be scared…not scared…but he had to feel the pressure. It’s just unreal.”

Tonglet is 44 points behind Hines, who has logged an NHRA-leading nine red-lights this season aboard his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod. The points-damage has been mitigated, however, while Hines has advanced to six consecutive finals.

For the record, the last NHRA rookie driver to win a world championship was Gary Scelzi in Top Fuel in 1997. “My dad (Gary) said he’s hungry for the championship and that we’re going for it,” said LE, younger brother of former PSM regular GT Tonglet. “We want to keep the momentum. We are the underdogs and we aren’t feeling the pressure.”

Cory Mac at crossroads?: Top Fuel veteran Cory McClenathan stands 69 points behind leader and two-time world champion Larry Dixon in a bid for his first title. That said, this weekend’s event at Maple Grove could be the turning point for Cory Mac, who also is under pressure from teammate Tony Schumacher.

“Dixon is within striking distance, and Tony is right on our heels. It’s going to make for an interesting last few events,” said McClenathan, who has finished second in the point standings four times during his 20-year career. “Everybody is trying to win a championship. Now each race seems to get more and more important. It’s certainly exciting for the fans, but really hard on the drivers.”

McClenathan is only 25 points ahead of Schumacher, the reigning and seven-time champion and his Don Schumacher Racing teammate. “The Sarge” trailered Cory Mac at the Motorplex in the semifinals, posting a 3.858-second to 3.836-second hole shot victory by 0.001-seconds – approximately seven inches.

“The fans are definitely getting their money’s worth this year,” said McClenathan, driver of the FRAM Dragster. “It (the Countdown) makes you try to step up to a whole new level, and that’s what we on the FRAM team need to do. We need to get out there, qualify well and go for every little bonus point we can get. On top of that, it looks like the weather is going to be good enough this weekend in Reading that it might be possible to set a national elapsed-time record.” That feat would earn 20 bonus points for the driver who nails it.

“We all know how fast Maple Grove Raceway can be if the weather conditions are right,” said McClenathan, who recorded his lone win at Maple Grove in 1997. He also was low qualifier there in 1992.

A total of 16 different drivers have claimed NHRA Top Fuel titles at Maple Grove since “Big Daddy” Don Garlits won the first race there in 1985. McClenathan is among four former Top Fuel winners entered this weekend. Dixon won the event last year, while Schumacher is a four-time winner and Doug Kalitta prevailed in 2002.

Hagan sky high on DeLago: Matt Hagan knocked off 14-time Funny Car world champion John Force in the final at the Motorplex, where the second-year driver and crew chief Tommy DeLago shared their first career playoff victory. Hagan’s third win of the season in his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T moved him into second place, 25 points behind Force.

Hagan, of Don Schumacher Racing, was quick to praise crew chief Tommy DeLago for the

Matt Hagan

tuneup that powered him to a winning 1,000-foot pass of 4.155-seconds and 294.63 mph. “He (DeLago) was watching video (Saturday night at The Plex) and I knew he was going to figure it out,” said Hagan, who qualified a disappointing 14th on the 16-car ladder. “He’s just an animal out there. I don’t know if he’s overlooked, but I definitely think he’s one to be looked at because he has no fear up there. If he thinks it’ll stick, he’s going to run that.

“I keep coming over the radio, I’m like, ’Dude, what do you think?’ And I’m trying to calm him down because sometimes he’s all over it. But he knows what he’s doing. He’s earned my trust in that car. I don’t ever think twice about what we’re going to do. And it goes down the racetrack most of the time.”

Burkart returns in one-off deal: Veteran Funny Car driver Phil Burkart Jr. will be competing this weekend for the first time since filling in for the injured John Force during the fall of 2007.

Burkart, a second-generation driver from Yorkville, N.Y., has signed a one-race deal to wheel Paul Smith’s Funny Car, which he has piloted at several match races during the last three seasons. Burkart won at Maple Grove in 2006 while driving for Del Worsham. This weekend Burkart will be flying the colors of two Keystone State companies – most notably Boninfante Performance Clutch Parts of Yeadon, Pa., which will receive title signage for its new VR750 Clutch Grinder on Burkart’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Sheetz Electrical Contractors of Harrisburg, Pa., also will provide support, as will Midtown Autoworld of Herkimer, N.Y.

“I’m extremely anxious to get back in a Funny Car and race,” said Burkart, 42, a four-time national event winner. “It seems like it’s been forever. I’ve been driving a lot of different cars over the past few years, just not at the top level of the sport.”

Smith and son John will tune the hot rod. The last time Burkart drove for the Smiths, they reached the final of the 2007 Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., and came within 0.09-seconds of taking the trophy. “It’s a good car, and Paul knows what he’s doing,” Burkart said. “I don’t think anyone will take us for granted. They know what we can do, and with the championship battles in full swing, we’re hoping to get in there and mix things up a bit.”

TV coverage shifts to ESPN HD: Beginning this weekend at Maple Grove, television coverage of final eliminations for the Countdown to the Championship will move to ESPN HD. Eliminations coverage for the penultimate race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 28-31) and the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., (Nov. 11-14) also will air on ESPN HD instead of ESPN2 HD.

ESPN HD will air two hours and 30 minutes of final eliminations coverage of the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals starting at 9 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday. In addition, Sunday’s final eliminations also will air live on the Web at www.ESPN3.com, starting at 11 a.m. (EDT).

Qualifying coverage and “NHRA Race Day” will continue to air on ESPN2 HD for the fourth of six championship playoff races. The two-hour qualifying show will air at 10:30 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday and the half-hour “NHRA Race Day” show will air at 10 a.m. (EDT) on Sunday.

Maple Grove Raceway Track Records

Top Fuel _ 3.816-seconds by Tony Schumacher, August 2008; 316.67 mph by Schumacher, August ‘08

Funny Car _ 4.109-seconds by Cruz Pedregon, August 2008; 302.41 mph by Frank Hawley, August ‘08

Pro Stock _ 6.583-seconds by Greg Anderson, August 2007; 209.88 mph by Anderson, August ‘07

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.897-seconds by Angelle Sampey, August 2007; 194.77 mph by GT Tonglet, October ‘01

– John Sturbin can  be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 8 2010
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