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Race Is Back On For The ‘Race-Within-A-Race’

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 21 2012

Ron Capps gunning for two victories in Texas this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Pope)

DALLAS – Courtney Force’s impressive rookie NHRA Funny Car season has produced her first pole, first victory and first Countdown to the Championship appearance.

Next up is Force’s first “race-within-a-race,” a format that traces its roots to the Texas Motorplex in Ennis. Led by top-seed Ron Capps, eight Funny Car drivers will vie for a $100,000 bonus Saturday in the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout during the 27th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals.

Originally scheduled during the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals near Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend, a series of weather delays forced NHRA officials to move the specialty race to The Plex and the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Fort Worth’s Spencer Massey won the $100,000 NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel cars on Sept. 1 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

The first-round pairings feature Capps against No. 8 fan vote/lottery winner Force, 24-year-old daughter of 15-time world champion John Force. Robert Hight, the 2009 world champion, will meet Jeff Arend while Jack Beckman will face Brut Force and Johnny Gray will battle Mike Neff.

Drivers qualified for the Shootout by winning races during the NHRA regular season. Courtney Force, however, was selected during a fan vote/lottery process. “It’s certainly a lot of pressure,” Courtney said during a media appearance with her dad Thursday afternoon at a local restaurant. “You’re going after two race wins, and the one

Courtney Force to take on Traxxas Nitro Shootout this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

race is pressure enough. So when they throw in a $100,000 prize for a race-within-that, it’s above-and-beyond.”

Additionally, Courtney’s Ford Mustang is sponsored by Plano-based Traxxas – makers of the Official Radio-Controlled Performance Products of the NHRA.

“It’s obviously a win we want to go after,” Courtney said. “I grew up watching my dad double-up and win both races (at the U.S. Nationals), so it’s something we want to go after. But it is my rookie season. Our goal was just to go out here and try to get qualified and now the fact that we’re in the Countdown, we don’t want to spoil it. We want to get qualified for the race to get after that championship. We need a good day Friday to get in the show – hopefully in the top-half for the race on Sunday – and then Saturday we can just focus on the Shootout.”

The AAA Texas Fall Nationals is Round 2 of the six-event Countdown to the Championship, with the top 10 drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle competing for Full Throttle Drag Racing Series titles.

Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T, won the Countdown opener at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., last Sunday to take a 73-point lead (2,230-2,157) over Neff and his Castrol GTX Ford. Courtney Force is seventh overall, 156 points behind Capps. John Force sits eighth, 158-points behind the leader but in full view of the big picture.

“You can get caught up trying to win a race (the Shootout) and forget to qualify,” said John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Mustang. “Friday night’s (second qualifying session) going to be critical under the lights, in the cool air, so the next day you can race. It gets tricky. You get lost trying to win that $100,000 and you forget about the Countdown and you could be in big trouble. But just to watch my kid evolve…I’m 63-years-old and I still get emotional. The next generation is taking over and that’s why I’ve got to win – my time is running out. I’m struggling to get in the game.”

Motorplex owner Billy Meyer, a former Funny Car driver, successfully lobbied Traxxas President Mike Jenkins and NHRA officials for the Funny Car portion of the event once it was rained-out.

“Absolutely. You always want something that adds excitement to the event,” said Meyer, who opened drag racing’s first stadium-style facility in 1986. “And the Shootout is a great idea. You see more cars run on Saturday because they’re qualifying and still get that competition of a true winner.”

NHRA’s inaugural bonus event –  the Winston All-Stars – was staged at the Motorplex in 1987. Legends ruled the revolutionary all-concrete surface as driver/tuner Dick LaHaie won in Top Fuel, Texas icon Kenny Bernstein topped the Funny Car class and Pro Stock superstar Warren “The Professor” Johnson prevailed in the Factory Hot Rod category.

“The Winston All-Stars actually was an event on its own in April,” Meyer said. “It was a non-points event you got into based on points from the year before.”

A four-time race-winner this season, Capps earned the top seed as the point-leader. The next six positions were filled by event winners and point standing positions  – John Force, Hight (Auto Club Ford) and Neff of John Force Racing; Beckman (Valvoline Next Gen Dodge), Gray (NTB/Service Central Dodge) of Don Schumacher Racing and Arend (DHL Toyota Camry) of Kalitta Motorsports.

The eighth and final spot went to Courtney Force after she earned 63 percent of the fan vote and then won a lottery drawing held at the U.S. Nats. Courtney posted her breakthrough victory at Pacific Raceways near Seattle on Aug. 5, when she defeated 2011 world champion Matt Hagan of DSR.

“It rained-out at Indy so they moved it here, and this is where I believe it ought to be,” John Force said. “I think there’s too much at Indy – trying to make the Countdown, trying to make Traxxas (Shootout), trying to win the race.”

Traxxas is the No. 1-selling brand of high-performance radio-controlled vehicles with skill levels ranging from entry level to expert and top speeds that exceed 100 mph. “When a company invests that kind of money they deserve to have a great crowd,” John Force said. “Dallas is a key market for NHRA and it is Traxxas’ home base. With them being here with all their customers and employees, they’ll have a ball.”

NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout rounds are scheduled for 12:45, 2:30 and 4 p.m. (CDT). The event will be televised on ESPN2HD during the 90-minute show on Saturday, starting at 10:30 p.m. (EDT).

Meanwhile, defending event winners for the season’s 19th national event are Bob Vandergriff Jr. (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Line, a two-time world champion, claimed his second win of the season Sunday in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. Line moved to within three points of leader Allen Johnson and his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger (2,209-2,206).

In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon of Al-Anabi Racing took advantage of No. 1 seed Antron Brown’s first-round loss to post his first career victory at the expense of seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher and his U.S. Army dragster. Massey, a four-time winner this season in the FRAM/Prestone dragster, is 10 points (2,170-2,160) behind “The Sarge,” his DSR teammate.

Andrew Hines, a three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion, scored his fifth win of the season when he defeated teammate Eddie Krawiec in a matchup of Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rods. Krawiec, the two-time/reigning world champ, leads PSM by 10 points (2,215-2,205) over Hines.

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

NHRA TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT

FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS (Saturday, 12:45 p.m.)

1. Ron Capps vs. No. 8 Courtney Force

2. Robert Hight vs. No. 7 Jeff Arend

3. Jack Beckman vs. No. 6 John Force

4. Johnny Gray vs. No. 5 Mike Neff

SEMIFINAL PAIRINGS (2:30 p.m.)

Capps-C.Force winner vs. Gray-Neff winner

Hight-Arend winner vs. Beckman- J.Force winner

FINAL (4 p.m.)

TEXAS MOTORPLEX TRACK RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.784-seconds by Brandon Bernstein, Sept. 2010; 324.05 mph by Spencer Massey, Sept. 2011

Funny Car _ 4.062-seconds by Matt Hagan, Sept. 2010; 309.63 mph by Jack Beckman, Sept. 2011

Pro Stock _ 6.553-seconds by Jason Line, Sept. 2011; 211.20 mph by Allen Johnson, Sept. 2011

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.828-seconds by Hector Arana Jr., Sept. 2011; 197.22 mph by Michael Phillips, Sept. 2011

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 21 2012
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