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DSR Heavyweights Keep Exchanging Blows

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 30 2012

Spencer Massey and his teammate, Antron Brown, are fighting great battle for Top Fuel title. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Don Schumacher Racing teammates Antron Brown and Spencer Massey remain in lockstep for the NHRA Top Fuel title nearing the mid-point of the 2012 Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. And for Massey, staging against Brown is like staring through the looking glass.

“Oh yeah, that’s going to be a car we’re going to be fighting with all the way down to Pomona,” Massey said of Brown and his Matco Tools/Aaron’s dragster. The teammates exited Texas Motorplex deadlocked for the points lead following Brown’s victory over Massey in last Sunday’s 27th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals in Ennis.

On cue, Brown and Massey qualified 1-2, respectively, for today’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., the third of six Countdown events. Brown earned his third No. 1 of the season and 32nd of his career via his Friday track-record 1,000-foot pass of 3.737-seconds at 326.79 mph.

“We share information, we all have the exact same parts,” said Massey, second-quick at Gateway at 3.752-seconds at 326.16 mph in the FRAM/Prestone dragster. “I mean, Don Schumacher Racing builds its own connecting rods, engine blocks, cylinder heads _ so whatever they have, we have. And the adjustments that we make, they know what we make. We know what they make. But that’s why Don Schumacher Racing, whenever we race each other, it’s some of the best racing you can see because the cars run so close.

“And there’s no gimmes _ no, ‘Hey, this guy needs a win’ or vice versa _ like happens in other categories. We race to race and it doesn’t matter if it’s a teammate or not. But when I race a teammate, I know they’re going to be right there. Antron is always one of the best on reaction time, so leaving the starting line I know I have to be on my game. But I can guarantee you that Matco car is going to be all the way down to the wire.”

The Countdown concludes with the 48th annual AAA Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., Nov. 8-11.

Brown posted his class-leading fifth win at The Plex in the car tuned by co-crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, who are matching wits with Massey’s duo of Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler.

“You know who you’re racing,” Brown said. “We’ve been going back-and-forth all year first and second in the points. We just edged them out (last Sunday) and it felt really good. It’s going to be a slugfest to the end. Everybody’s throwing haymakers. Everybody’s pushing the (Christmas) tree.”

Brown fell from the points-lead into fourth place following a first-round loss in the Countdown opener at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., on Sept. 16. Brown said his Texas win was a credit to his crew _ and a new clutch combination.

“It was so easy to get down when you go out there and you’re winning the first round in Charlotte and you break an input shaft,” Brown said. “And then on top of that it wipes out everything behind the motor plate back _ the bell housing, the clutch _ there was nothing we could use. Only thing that was still good was the rear end.

“We had to start (at the Motorplex) with a clutch that we never ran. The car was throwing us fits _ being really aggressive. It was trying to run faster than we wanted to run and my boys stuck with it. We kept on backing off and it still kept trying to run fast. In the semis, that’s when we got some peace of mind _ it did an A-to-Z back-off. Once it did that, you could see the smiles on their faces.”

Brown defeated David Grubnic, zMAX winner Shawn Langdon and Morgan Lucas en route to his matchup against Massey. Despite Massey’s 0.013-second advantage off the line, Brown prevailed at 3.898-seconds at 311.49 mph. Massey ran 3.945-seconds at 300.60 mph in a car he believes is fully capable of adding to his four wins this season.

“Our team has jelled,” said Massey, a resident of Fort Worth, Texas. “We don’t go out and make big moves, big adjustments, like having to change a whole combination. Todd is pretty conservative and he knows what it takes to get the car down the racetrack. But when it’s time to get aggressive, he gets aggressive. He is the man. I wouldn’t have any other crew chief.

“And you could say there’s a bit of a rivalry going on between these DSR dragsters right now. We all want to beat each other any time. As drivers, we always want to beat each other off the line. Obviously, I try to step my game up no matter who it is in eliminations. (Sunday) is our day to step-up and go rounds to keep our championship hopes alive.”

Bob Tasca III’s win over Matt Hagan in the Funny Car final at the Motorplex matched drivers who did not finish among the top-10 in points during the 17-race regular season, and therefore are not eligible for the Countdown. Enter the spoilers.

“I took Hagan back to his pit twice (last Sunday) on my scooter,” said Tasca, driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang. “And I said, ‘Matt, this really sucks _ excuse my language _ not being in the Countdown. But let’s make it miserable for everybody.’ He and I are on the same page. We’re going to go out there and run as hard as we can run. We’ll keep track of our own points and get ready for next year.”

Tasca ended a two-year winless streak at The Plex, while Hagan _ the 2011 world champion _ advanced to his second final on the all-concrete layout. Driver of the Aaron’s/Mopar Dodge Charger R/T fielded by Don Schumacher Racing, Hagan won at Billy Meyer’s facility in Ennis in 2010.

For drivers like himself and Hagan, Tasca said the Countdown is all about professionalism. “Absolutely. I think we’re more determined now than ever before,” said Tasca, whose crew labored through three engine changes in four rounds. “Starting the year out, I never thought I’d be the one outside looking in. I said this will be the most competitive Funny Car season of all time, and you’ll see big-name cars that don’t make the Countdown. You look at Hagan, the world champ not getting in. We got bumped out the last race of the Countdown. Hey, that which doesn’t break you makes you stronger.”

Tasca’s Fords are tuned by Chris Cunningham and Marc Denner. “I kept telling my guys, ‘Hold your heads high,’^” Tasca said. “We’ve got all the best parts in the world. We want for nothing and it’s just a matter of turning those knobs and giving yourself a shot and getting some luck. A lot of people may not admit it, but luck plays a much bigger role in this sport than anyone cares to say. But it’s putting yourself in a position to take advantage of that luck when it comes your way.”

NHRA has returned to Gateway and the St. Louis market following a one-year hiatus marked by a change in the track’s ownership. In 2010, six-time world champion Warren Johnson emerged as the Pro Stock winner. This weekend, Allen Johnson (no relation) leads the points-race in pursuit of his first title.

“Fortunately, we was one of three teams that tested here this year, so we got a little data in the bank,” said Johnson, who qualified second with a quarter-mile pass in 6.516-seconds at 212.76 mph in the Team Mopar Dodge Avenger. “We were here right before Chicago (in late June) and tested for three days. So the track hasn’t changed much. The starting line is very, very good; down track can be a little marginal.”

Johnson began the weekend with a 93-point lead over two-time/reigning world champion Jason Line, who qualified No. 1 at 6.496-seconds and 213.47 mph in his Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro.

“What we’re hoping for as the team out-front is a chance to set the national record and get 20 more points,” said Johnson, who posted his class-leading fifth victory at the Motorplex. “I can’t believe I’m saying that but we’re looking for every opportunity for points. That’s what we’re hoping. Being consistent adds dividends. I know from one round to the other the car’s going to be there, I’ve just got to be there with it. I’m up for this challenge. I’m enjoying it and I’m working at it.”

One week after Michael Ray ended the 11-race Harley-Davidson winning streak at Texas Motorplex on his GottSpeed Racing Buell, Karen Stoffer is determined to ride her GEICO Suzuki into the winner’s circle at Gateway.

“The conditions came to the Suzukis,” said Stoffer, Motorplex runnerup who qualified fifth here at 6.877-seconds and 193.40 mph on a bike tuned by husband Gary Stoffer. “It’s a little bit cooler, so it leveled the field a little bit. Still, if you look at the last session, a 6.89-(seconds) was the fastest Suzuki and the fastest Buell was 6.80, so we’re still miles and miles away.”

A six-time PSM winner, Stoffer’s most recent quarter-mile victory was scored at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., during the summer of 2011.

“We’re probably going to have to have one of the Buells or one of the Harleys in the second round,” said Stoffer, referring to the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rods campaigned by Countdown leader Eddie Krawiec and teammate Andrew Hines. “But the racing on Sunday happens on the racetrack, not on paper. Sunday, everybody’s got a shot and we’re going to try to do what we’ve been doing all year _ be consistent and make good passes and see where that lands.”

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 30 2012
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