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Force Vs. Schumacher Rivalry Arrives In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 14 2016
John and Courtney Force know who the main competition is: As always, it's the drivers from Don Schumacher Racing. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

John and Courtney Force know who the main competition is: As always, it’s the drivers from Don Schumacher Racing. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

ARLINGTON, Texas – NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoff season launches into its second half Friday afternoon at Texas Motorplex, where the Funny Car rivalry between Don Schumacher Racing and John Force Racing is, in a word…well, what is the word, Courtney Force?

nhra logo“I wouldn’t say it’s ‘bitter,’ it just makes us fight harder as a team,” said Force, a daughter of team-owner and 16-time world champion John Force. “It is frustrating because we want all three of our cars to be on top. We don’t like seeing DSR on top. We wish we were all 1-2-3 right now. We’ve got to hope for a better weekend.”

This weekend’s 31st annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals is Round 4 of the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and basically the last stand for JFR in its bid to overhaul DSR’s four-car juggernaut. Led by popular veteran Ron Capps, DSR drivers Tommy Johnson Jr., 2012 world champion “Fast” Jack Beckman and two-time world champ Matt Hagan occupy the first four positions in Funny Car points. The spread between Capps (2,368 points) and fourth-place Hagan (2,258) is an already comfortable 110 points _ over five rounds of racing.

John Force sits sixth with 2,230 points, 138 behind longtime rival Capps. Meanwhile, JFR’s Robert Hight is eighth (2,193 points/175 behind the leader) and Courtney Force is ninth (2,182 points/186 behind the leader) _ both basically eight rounds behind Capps with 12 rounds of racing remaining.

“Honestly, it’s a little frustrating for our team right now because we were second in the points for

Ron Capps leads Don Schumacher Racing into this weekend's Funny Car racing in Texas. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Ron Capps leads Don Schumacher Racing into this weekend’s Funny Car racing in Texas. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

like five races in a row before the Countdown to the Championship,” Courtney Force, driver of the pink Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS, said during a media session in advance of the event in Ennis. “Once we lost in the Countdown and started struggling a little bit _ that’s the frustrating part _ is seeing them kind of shuffle by me and dropping down.”

“Yeah,” said Hight, John Force’s son-in-law and the 2009 world champion, “I mean I guess we know now how they felt for a lot of years. It’s not where we want to be and it’s going to motivate us to work harder and get better because we can do this, OK? We have everything it takes to be where we need to be and win races _ we just got to get there. You’re not going to do it by anything but hard work.

“I don’t really look at who’s the strongest team out there; we judge ourselves by who’s on top and who’s running the best. I don’t look at that it’s a rivalry between us and DSR, it’s no different than us and Kalitta (Motorsports). Whoever we’re racing we want to beat. But for Courtney and I to win this thing, one of us would have to win all the races and then the other guys that are in front of us would have to stumble unbelievable. That’s what we came in here to do, is to win this race and turn things around.”

Reigning world champion Del Worsham (Funny Car), Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), two-time/reigning world champ Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were winners of last year’s event that will air on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) for the first time.

Professional time trials are scheduled Friday at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. (CDT) and Saturday afternoon at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. to set the 16-car/bike fields. FS1 will carry one hour of qualifying coverage Friday at 6:30 p.m. (CDT) and one hour of qualifying Saturday at midnight, with a repeat Sunday at noon. Sunday’s pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. (CDT), with Nitro class eliminations starting at 11 a.m. FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage Sunday starting at 1 p.m. (CDT).

Capps, who leads Johnson by 24 points, has advanced to the semifinals or better in the first three playoff races in his 10,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T _ a stretch that goes back to 12 of his past 13 races.

“Of course it’s better to be chased than be the chaser at this point,” said Capps, who has five wins and nine final-round appearances through 21 races this season. “But we’ve still got a long way to go. It’s nice we’ve kept up the consistency and I said to win a championship you’ve got to average a semifinal finish or better. We’ve had such a great season and we want to keep it going. We’re clicking really well as a team and it’s time to take advantage of it.”

Capps rolls into The Plex and its all-concrete surface off a final-round appearance at the most recent race at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., where he was trailered by Johnson. That sliced into his lead but Capps _ whose 50 wins are the most by a driver without an NHRA championship _ remains confident and motivated heading into the season’s stretch run. The native Californian has been the point leader for the past 12 events and advanced into the semifinals or better in each of the last seven races working with crew chief Rahn Tobler.

“For me, being close to winning (the championship) so many times has proven beneficial to me, being in these type of positions,” said Capps, who has finished second on four occasions (1998, 2000, 2005, 2012). “You have to look forward to that pressure and there’s not a minute that goes by without thinking about the race and how to be better. There’s a lot of things that can go through your head this time of year and you’re so embroiled in this points race and the pressure of it, but you get to do something pretty cool for a living and that needs to be enjoyed.”

Hight was short on sentiment in discussing DSR and Capps, whose resume features a series of battles with “Brute” Force and enough engine explosions to fill an NHRA promotional reel.  “To me it doesn’t matter who wins if we can’t win,” said Hight, driver of the AAA Texas Camaro SS. “I don’t root for anybody; I don’t even think of that. If we don’t get it all I’m focused on is what we have to do to get it back. Not who wins it.

“But without a doubt, you got to give it to Capps _ he’s won a lot of races, a good driver, been on good teams with (Don) Prudhomme and DSR. He respects the history and where the sport came from, definitely.”

Similarly, Courtney Force has developed an appreciation for the many matchups between her father and Capps. “I grew up watching Capps race my dad as a kid, so yeah, I know he’s been out here a long time and he’s done a lot for the sport,” Courtney said. “I actually had to race him when he was going for that championship a couple years back and beat him and it cost him that championship. And I didn’t feel good about it. I wanted to get that win for my team but at the same time to watch yourself and your team crush someone else’s dream right there, it’s unfortunate. But it’s part of the game.

“We’re all out there to win but he’s on a roll this season. He’s got a great team behind him and probably one of the best cars he’s had in his career. We’ll see what happens, but in my mind it’s not over yet. Our teams are running strong and the Kalitta cars as well. And it’s the Countdown _ some people crack under pressure so you never know how things are going to unfold.”

Defending Top Fuel event-winner Crampton is seeking his first win of 2016. But everyone is chasing point-leader and two-time/reigning world champ Antron Brown, the DSR superstar who has two wins during the Countdown and holds a 77-point lead over Doug Kalitta.

 The new, fuel-injected era of Pro Stock has been dominated by point-leader Jason Line, a two-time world champion, and Ken Black Racing teammate Greg Anderson. Line has eight wins and a 45-point lead on Anderson, a four-time world champ who has seven wins in 2016.

Pro Stock Motorcycle point-leader Andrew Hines is chasing his third consecutive world title and sixth overall via five wins aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Still, teammate/three-time world champ Eddie Krawiec has closed the gap to just 38 points aboard his V-Rod.

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AAA TEXAS NHRA FALLNATIONALS FACT SHEET

MOST VICTORIES

John Force, Funny Car, 7; Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel, 6; Warren Johnson, Pro Stock, 5; Cruz Pedregon, Funny Car, 4; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, 4.

TRACK RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.705-seconds by Richie Crampton, Oct. ’15; 329.18 mph by Dave Connolly, Oct. ’15

Funny Car _ 3.909-seconds and 326.32 mph by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’15

Pro Stock _ 6.457-seconds and 214.59 mph by Greg Anderson, Oct. ’15

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.744-seconds and 198.99 mph by Jerry Savoie, Oct. ’15              

NATIONAL RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.671-seconds by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car _ 3.822-seconds by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock _ 6.455-seconds by Jason Line, March ’15, Concord, N.C.;  215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Concord, N.C.

TICKETS

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

POINT STANDNGS 

Top-10 following the 32nd annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, the 21st of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1.  Antron Brown, 2,377; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,300; 3.  Brittany Force, 2,259; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 2,258; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 2,236; 6.  Steve Torrence, 2,214; 7.  Leah Pritchett, 2,188; 8.  J.R. Todd, 2,183; 9.  Richie Crampton, 2,159; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,136.

Funny Car _ 1.  Ron Capps, 2,368; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,344; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,275; 4.  Matt Hagan, 2,258; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,246; 6.  John Force, 2,230; 7.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,196; 8.  Robert Hight, 2,193; 9.  Courtney Force, 2,182; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,099.

Pro Stock _ 1.  Jason Line, 2,389; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,344; 3.  Vincent Nobile, 2,306; 4.  Bo Butner, 2,256; 5.  Shane Gray, 2,242; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,189; 7.  Allen Johnson, 2,160; 8.  Drew Skillman, 2,157; 9.  Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,115; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,104.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,341; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,303; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 2,289; 4.  Chip Ellis, 2,274; 5.  Jerry Savoie, 2,271; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,215; 7.  Cory Reed, 2,196; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,159; 9.  Matt Smith, 2,150; 10.  Hector Arana Jr., 2,149.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 14 2016
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