Force Looking Brutal As NHRA Season Begins

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 8 2014

John Force began his quest for a 17th Funny Car championship by winning the provisional pole at the Winternationals in Pomona. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

John Force launched defense of his latest NHRA Funny Car world championship in record-setting fashion Friday, twice lowering the track record during the opening day of qualifications for the 54th annual NHRA Circle K Winternationals.

The winningest driver in NHRA history, Force recorded a 3.966-second pass on his second 1,000-foot lap down Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., to unofficially eclipse the track elapsed time mark he established in November at 3.995-seconds. Jack Beckman of Don Schumacher Racing set the national E.T. record of 3.986-seconds in October 2012 at Reading, Pa. NHRA national records become official at the conclusion of the race and are worth 20 bonus points.

Last time Brut Force held the national E.T. record was Nov. 11, 2006. In addition, Force piloted his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang to the national speed record at 324.12 mph – fastest speed ever recorded for a Funny Car at the 1,000-foot distance. The Funny Car national speed record is 320.66 mph set by Matt Hagan, the 2011 world champion for DSR, last November in Pomona.

“I knew I was going for a ride or I was going to the Burn Center. That was awesome,” said Force, the 16-time world champ. “A lot of good stuff is happening for John Force Racing lately. We aren’t done yet and this is getting to be way too much fun for me. That 3.96, let’s face it – something just goes down and something just went good for me. Sometimes the cards just fall your way. I’m going to keep fighting.

“I’m going on a quest to win another championship with one of our cars. I’m going on a quest to find sponsors. I’m going to work every day. When a motor is that good the first thing you do is get out and look underneath it to make sure it’s not leaking. When it’s fast, it’s fast. I have great people around me.”

Former world champions Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also were qualifying leaders at the season-opening NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event.

In the opening Funny Car session, Force covered the track in 3.983-seconds at 317.72 mph. “When you have a hot rod like this that (crew chief) Jimmy Prock has tuned and it flies like that it’s pretty exciting,” Force said. ”All the crew chiefs are working together. We have new sponsors here with PEAK Antifreeze and we have Auto Club up there and they just signed for five years. We needed to go down the racetrack. We wanted to give the fans a show and that 3.98 surprised me. I’ll take it.”

Before Force made his second historic run of the day JFR teammate Robert Hight, the 2009 world champion, and his Auto Club Ford made their first run into the three-second range at 3.996-seconds to move into the provisional No. 2 spot.

In Top Fuel, Brown’s 3.731-second pass at 326.00 mph in the Matco Tools dragster took the top spot away from defending world champ Shawn Langdon, who qualified second at 3.746-seconds and 328.70 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster.

“The track is phenomenal out there,” said Brown, who won the world championship in 2012 for DSR. “We just tried to make a run to get down the racetrack in the first run. The Matco team regrouped. We weren’t sure how far we could push it. They stepped-up the power level and gave it more clutch. It spun just a little on the starting line but recovered and ran a great number.”

Brown’s team, led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, posted their sixth straight run in the 3.7-second range going back to January testing in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Brown’s pole-sitting run was nearly overshadowed by DSR teammate Ron Capps, who qualified third in Funny Car despite a fiery engine explosion that destroyed the body of his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T near the finish line.

Capps completed a run in 4.014-seconds at 304.67 mph in the day’s second session before a mechanical problem just past the finish line detonated the 10,000-horsepower engine and ripped apart much of the carbon fiber Dodge body. A portion of the body went airborne before landing in the left lane, where it was hit by DSR teammate Beckman’s Valvoline Dodge, destroying the front of the 2012 world champion’s Funny Car.

The concussion from the blast also seemed to briefly stun Capps, who is starting his 20th season as a professional racer. But he was able to get out of the car and walk away. “I’m OK. That was pretty sudden,” Capps said moments after exiting the car. “Something came up and hit my helmet but Impact did a great job on the helmet and the (face) shield. I was covered by flames and something went across the shield but nothing got to me.

“These Funny Cars are fun to drive but that’s going to happen once in a while. To be honest, when I was a kid standing at the fence at Lion’s Drag Strip (a legendary track from 1955-72 in the Los Angeles area) I wanted to be a Funny Car driver because I saw guys like Snake (Don Prudhomme) and Don Schumacher blowing up like this, so I guess I asked for too much. But a helluva of a job by (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and the NAPA guys for a great run and it was an exciting shutdown. Hey, we’re in the show.”

Capps is the top-seeded DSR Funny Car going into Saturday’s final qualifying sessions at 1 and 4 p.m. before Sunday’s 16-car championship eliminations. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 11 p.m. (EST) Saturday.

“We’ll take it back and see if we can figure out what happened to it,” Tobler said of Capps’ hot rod. “It looked like it was running fine. I didn’t see a flash or any indication that anything was wrong until it happened. Most likely it either broke a (connecting) rod or something in the valve train.”

In Pro Stock, 2012 world champion Johnson powered his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger into the qualifying lead with a quarter-mile pass of 6.517-seconds at 212.53 mph. Johnson moved from fourth to first with his run in the second session, bouncing former teammate Vince Nobile and his Chevy Camaro from the pole.

“We missed (the setup) pretty horribly the first run and knew we had a little in the bank there if we could just get it through second gear,” Johnson said. “Crew chief made the right decision and the motor performed. We’d like to get in the 0.40s here; that would be a dream come true. But I don’t know if the weather will get any better (Saturday). If it gets just a tick better, you might see a 6.499 or something.”

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

Friday’s provisional results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 54th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel _ 1. Antron Brown, 3.731 seconds, 326.00 mph; 2. Shawn Langdon, 3.746, 328.70; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.753, 328.38; 4. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.761, 322.58; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.775, 321.50; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.781, 324.05; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.788, 322.73; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.808, 322.73; 9. David Grubnic, 3.830, 321.96; 10. Leah Pritchett, 3.843, 319.98; 11. Terry McMillen, 3.863, 322.58; 12. Troy Buff, 3.866, 303.50.

Not Qualified _ 13. Sidnei Frigo, 3.899, 312.57; 14. Brittany Force, 3.916, 279.15; 15. Clay Millican, 4.084, 249.76; 16. Steve Faria, 7.441, 81.87; 17. Scott Palmer, 8.246, 94.55; 18. Richie Crampton, 8.582, 89.46; 19. Steven Chrisman, 12.623, 70.60.

Funny Car _ 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 3.966, 324.12; 2. Robert Hight, Mustang, 3.996, 317.94; 3. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.014, 304.67; 4. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.040, 317.27; 5. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.046, 320.13; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.077, 316.01; 7. Chad Head, Camry, 4.079, 303.23; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.082, 314.75; 9. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.104, 309.06; 10. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.199, 289.20; 11. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.303, 236.46; 12. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.306, 244.43.

Not Qualified _ 13. Terry Haddock, 4.358, 224.77; 14. Bob Tasca III, 4.577, 194.63; 15. Jeff Diehl, 4.617, 182.85; 16. Jack Beckman, 5.409, 103.74; 17. Tim Wilkerson, 6.454, 113.40; 18. Cruz Pedregon, 6.531, 103.66; 19. Phil Burkart Jr., 7.955, 90.47; 20. Alexis DeJoria, 8.285, 82.74; 21. Bob Bode, 8.396, 73.27.

Pro Stock _ 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.517, 212.53; 2. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.528, 212.29; 3. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Avenger, 6.541, 212.39; 4. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.541, 211.79; 5. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.543, 211.53; 6. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.547, 211.79; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.547, 211.73; 8. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.549, 212.36; 9. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.554, 211.96; 10. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.569, 210.60; 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.573, 211.26; 12. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.574, 211.39.

Not Qualified _ 13. Larry Morgan, 6.576, 210.73; 14. Deric Kramer, 6.593, 210.05; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.634, 208.78; 16. Paul Pittman, 7.338, 143.05; 17. Shane Tucker, 9.059, 99.25.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 8 2014
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