Texas Motorplex To Host Countdown Doubleheader

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 19 2014

The Pro Stock car of V. Gaines barrel rolled down the track at zMAX Dragway in North Carolina last Sunday. Racing didn't resume after the wreck, but it will this weekend in Texas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

ENNIS, Texas – Re-routed into the Lone Star State, NHRA’s problem-plagued Countdown to the Championship will resume at the Texas Motorplex Friday with a weekend schedule that leaves no room for error.

The 2014 opener of NHRA’s six-race playoff for its professional categories ended with a thud Sunday at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., near Charlotte. Deteriorating track conditions in both lanes contributed to a massive wreck involving Pro Stock driver V. Gaines, resulting in a delay to patch-and-repair the racing surface. Before those repairs could be completed, however, rain almost mercifully put an end to the seventh annual Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals.

NHRA officials immediately opted to send the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series packing to North Texas, where the event will serve as the opener of a doubleheader featuring the regularly scheduled 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals.

“I think this decision made the most sense on all fronts,” said Robert Hight, the 2009 Funny Car world champion and a Countdown contender. “You have to look at everything, right – financial, logistics and then could Charlotte ever fix that racetrack so we could go back to it later. Probably not correctly.”

Gaines, 67, destroyed his Kendall Oil Dodge Dart Pro Stocker when it lost traction about halfway down the left-hand lane, hit the outside wall and rolled over four times before slam-dunking to a halt, wheels down. Gaines, owner of the Coors distributorship in Denver, was shaken but otherwise uninjured but the already suspect track surface took a visible beating.

Racing in the right-hand lane earlier, Hight defeated Chad Head during his first-round Funny Car matchup. Led by four-time world champion Greg Anderson, the Pro Stock contingent was the most outspoken about the left-hand lane’s unsafe-for-racing condition.

“But they (the lanes) were both a problem with the concrete coming up,” Hight said during a Media Day promotion on Wednesday. “Had we continued, I would have stayed in the right lane in the second round because I still had lane-choice.”

As it turned out, the rain made that point moot. Additionally, Hight pointed to a number of factors that convinced officials led by Graham Light, NHRA’s senior vice president of racing operations, to re-book into former Funny Car driver Billy Meyer’s all-concrete facility. Chief among the considerations is that the first four races of the Countdown are run in consecutive weekends before taking a 25-day break.

“There’s a lot of things to take into consideration in making this choice, and we didn’t have a lot of time,” said Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang fielded by John Force Racing. “NASCAR’s going to be in Charlotte (next month) and you don’t want to go up against them. Charlotte to Dallas is a haul. Our teams had to pack-up, travel here, get ready for this race and set up their whole (engine/clutch) combination, because it isn’t going to be the same as Charlotte. So I think NHRA made the right decision to come here and do it.”

Elimination rounds for the Carolina Nationals now will be run simultaneously during FallNationals qualifying. Top Fuel and Funny Car have three rounds of Carolina racing to complete while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle need to contest all four rounds from zMAX. Carolina eliminations for the continuation of Pro Stock’s first round and the first round of Pro Stock Motorcycle are scheduled to begin on Friday during the second qualifying session, set for 5:15 p.m. (CDT).

Carolina Nationals eliminations for all categories will finish on Saturday, as quarterfinal rounds for all categories will be held during the day’s first qualifying session (11:15 a.m.) and the semifinals will be run during the final qualifying session (2:15 p.m.). Those drivers who advance to the Carolina final rounds will get an extra run on Saturday scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Hight agreed the situation is confusing. Bottom line, however, is that he and point-leader John Force _ Robert’s team-owner and father-in-law _ are on opposite sides of the Carolina ladder and could meet in the final. That’s why Friday’s first qualifying session looms as huge.

“Without a doubt,” said Hight, whose five event wins this season have raised his career total to 34. “I think Friday’s going to be the most important Friday we’ve ever had because if you get off to the wrong foot here, you’re putting two races in jeopardy. I think the first run is going to be as important as we’ve ever, ever faced because we only have two shots at this racetrack before we go into eliminations and try to finish last weekend.

“This is one-third of the Countdown going down this weekend. Two of the six races, and it could be a disaster. It also could be really good if you hit it right on Friday and you get a good handle on this thing; man, you could start rolling and be up two races _ have two wins in the bag. That’s what we need. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Hight closed to within one round (worth 20 points) of racing of Force, the 16-time/reigning world champion and driver of the Castrol High Mileage Ford, by racking up qualifying points in Carolina. “I’ve already closed-up nine points on him just in qualifying,” said Hight, who has national event wins at The Plex in 2006 and 2009. “Went into the Countdown, he was 30 ahead of me. And going into Race Day I had knocked it down to 21. So these ‘little points’ you get in qualifying, they add up and that could be the difference in the end of winning the championship or not.

“That’s why I say Friday’s going to be big here. We need to come out here and get a good handle on this racetrack – also get some points. Because those ‘little points’ really add up.”

Hight raced to his first FallNationals victory in ‘06 from the No. 1 qualifying position. He took the title again in 2009 also from the pole en route to his championship. Hight has been the No. 1 qualifier here four times (2006, 2008, 2009 and 2013). Hight was looking for his third win in a row last year but was trailered by Brut Force during the semifinals.

“We’ve done pretty well in qualifying here,” said Hight, whose hot rod is tuned by Mike Neff. “I’m not too concerned with the heat (in the forecast) because we have a pretty solid hot weather tuneup. In Charlotte on Saturday we were the second-quickest Funny Car in both sessions and Mike Neff has a lot of confidence. I feed off that confidence.”

The weekend also will see additional star power, Texas-style. Fort Worth native Richard Rawlings, co-star of the hit reality TV series “Fast ‘N Loud” on Discovery, is scheduled to be on-site to watch the debut of the Gas Monkey Garage Top Fuel dragster. Rawlings and GMG have partnered with Denton-based Hennen Motorsports and owner Roger Hennen to field local Sportsman driver Kebin Kinsley for the team’s nitro debut.

In addition, three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Angelle Sampey-Drago is slated to end her retirement at this event. George Bryce’s Star Racing team announced the return of Sampey-Drago, winningest female in NHRA history and one of the sport’s most popular drivers, during the Carolina Nationals. Sampey-Drago will be making her first competitive appearance since 2008.

ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of qualifying highlights at 2:30 a.m. (CDT) on Sunday. The network will re-air 90 minutes of qualifying at 3 p.m. Sunday and conclude with three hours of coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.


2013 EVENT WINNERS _ Doug Kalitta, Top Fuel; Cruz Pedregon, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST VICTORIES _ John Force, FC, seven; Tony Schumacher, TF, five; Warren Johnson, PS, five; Cruz Pedregon, FC, four; Greg Anderson, PS, four.


Top Fuel _3.767-seconds and 325.53 mph by Shawn Langdon, Sept. ’13

Funny Car _ 4.052-seconds and 313.37 mph by Robert Hight, Sept. ’13

Pro Stock_ 6.550-seconds and 211.99 mph by Allen Johnson, Sept. ’12

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.828-seconds by Hector Arana Jr., Sept. ’11; 197.22 mph by Michael Phillips, Sept. ’11


Top Fuel _ 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Concord, N.C.

Funny Car_ 3.965-seconds and 324.12 mph by John Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock _ 6.464-seconds and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders-Stevens, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

TICKETS _ Call (800) MOTORPLEX (668-6775); tickets also available at www.texasmotorplex.com.

STANDINGS _ Unofficial point standings (top-10) for Mello Yello Drag Racing Series teams _ eliminations are on hold after the rain-delayed Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals _ and prior to the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex. Point totals for Carolina Nationals are not official until completion of that event on Saturday at The Plex.

Top Fuel _ 1. Doug Kalitta, 2,149; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,116; 3. Steve Torrence, 2,113; 4. Antron Brown, 2,112; 5. Shawn Langdon, 2,106; 6. Spencer Massey, 2,094; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 2,082; 8. J.R. Todd, 2,064; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,051; 10. Brittany Force, 2,043.

Funny Car _ 1. John Force, 2,162; 2. Robert Hight, 2,141; 3. Ron Capps, 2,126; 4. Alexis DeJoria, 2,104; 5. Matt Hagan, 2,090; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,084; 7. Courtney Force, 2,076; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 2,057; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,052; 10. Del Worsham, 2,043.

Pro Stock _ 1. Jason Line, 2,166; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, 2,130; 3. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,117; 4. Allen Johnson, 2,104; 5. Shane Gray, 2,093; 6. Dave Connolly, 2,090; 7. V. Gaines, 2,072; 8. Vincent Nobile, 2,069; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,042; 10. Jonathan Gray, 2,035.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Andrew Hines, 2,145; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,128; 3. Hector Arana Jr., 2,114; 4. Hector Arana, 2,091; 5. John Hall, 2,084; 6. Matt Smith, 2,076; 7. Michael Ray, 2,061; 8. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,052; 9. Angie Smith, 2,042; 10. Steve Johnson, 2,038.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 19 2014
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