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NHRA Crown Chasers Have Eyes On Weather

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 14 2017

Funny Car driver Ron Capps is keeping track of the weather in Texas. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

ENNIS, Texas – Reigning NHRA Funny Car world champion Ron Capps admittedly has been monitoring Sunday’s forecast for North Texas with the passion of The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore.

“It’s funny how you start looking at so many little things,” said Capps, the class point-leader heading into Sunday’s final eliminations of the 32nd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. “We watch the weather like a 90-year-old lady who’s been retired for 30 years and is sitting around the house with nothing to do. I bet if you looked at my google search, I had “Ennis, Texas, weather search” a minimum of 50 times. I would check it daily, any time I had a moment.”

After two days of summertime-like 90-plus degree conditions, an overnight cold front was scheduled to bring thunderstorms and a 20-degree drop in temps prior to the 11 a.m. (CDT) start of eliminations at Texas Motorplex. Chief among the storylines will be resumption of a championship chase between Capps, of Don Schumacher Racing, and Robert Hight of John Force Racing.

The 2009 world champion, Hight rattled off a 1,000-foot run in 3.871-seconds at 332.84 mph to knock Capps off the provisional pole.

“I wasn’t expecting that run,” Hight said. “(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock just has a good handle on this car hot or cold. I saw the scoreboard light up down there and I couldn’t believe it ran a 0.871. It blew me away. That was a backbreaker and it was kind of a turning of the tables for the weekend for us. Capps was going to gain some points on us going into race day. As it turned out, we gained two on him. It all adds up in the end.”

Hight completed his pole-winning pass at 5:30 p.m. with the track temperature at 110 degrees _ down from 122 earlier in the afternoon.  Those temps figure to be a distant memory on Sunday, when a high of 71 degrees is forecast for 4 p.m.

More to the point, when eliminations begin at 11 a.m., the forecast calls for mostly cloudy conditions, wind and a temp of 64 degrees. If those “mineshaft” conditions materialize, Capps said, expect a major impact on the outcome and point standings during Sunday’s fourth of six races in the Mello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

“Sunday will absolutely see world-record conditions,” said Capps, who was bumped to No. 2 on the 16-car ladder after a best pass of 3.872-seconds at 329.58 mph from Friday night. “You’re probably going to see 340 mph. You’re probably going to see world records fall without a doubt. Probably fall four different times, that’s how good it’s going to be throughout the day.”

Hight agreed that the 340 mph barrier could be shattered here. “We’re talking serious changes (Sunday),” said Hight, driver of the AAA of Texas Chevrolet Camaro SS. “Sixty-four degrees is crusher conditions. When the track is that tight _ cold _ it’s going to shake (rear tires). You’ll see national records or close to national records _ as good as conditions as we’ve seen all year. We can really get after it in the middle of the track. You need to run 290 (mph) at half-track in order to get to 340. We’ve run 339 twice and ran 288 at half-track. I’d love to get it done and stop talking about it.”

Hight secured his eighth pole of the season and third in a row after winding up 14th on Friday’s time sheet following two passes down The Plex’s all-concrete surface with a best lap of 4.471-second at 191.00 mph.

“I thought AAA Texas was going to disown us. I joked that we never were going to race again on Friday the 13th,” said Hight, who moved to 10th in Round 3 Saturday at 3.975-seconds and 327.66 mph before “rotating the earth” on his final pass.

Also qualifying No. 1 were native Texan Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

The Capps vs. Hight rivalry features two premier tuners in Rahn Tobler and Prock, respectively. “I always say cool conditions like Sunday level the playing field,” said Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T. “It will level it for a lot of so-so crew chiefs who can run good and make it stick to the track. I always say the cream rises to the top in hot conditions and I always brag about Tobler. We always race good in those conditions.”

Capps said he was amped to see the forecast call for temps in the 90s for The Plex on Friday and Saturday. “So when it said 69 degrees on Sunday, I said, ‘Oh man…’ because we run a five-disc clutch and these other teams are running a six-disc and for whatever reason they run better speed. Speed will not get you a (national) record or 20 points. Speed won’t get you a championship. It’s E.T.s (elapsed time) and win lights.

“So yes, we watch the weather like crazy. I wish it was going to be 90 on Sunday, but I think we’ve closed the gap.”

Point-leader Torrence secured his first Top Fuel pole at The Plex, and third of the season, in search of his first Top Fuel victory at former Funny Car racer Billy Meyer’s playground. Torrence covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.682-seconds at 327.51 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster to set up an opening round match with Blake Alexander.

“It’s huge to perform in front of the hometown crowd and also show the guys working on the car that it’s all paying off,” said Torrence, a resident of Kilgore in East Texas. “We’re still that lone car competing against the powerhouses. They’re all lined up across from us in the pits and it motivates you. I like to kick butt and talk trash while we’re doing it. Any time you go up against anybody with all that data and all that stuff…we’re doing everything we can to stay ahead of ‘em. With this Countdown, you have zero room for error.”

The ladder includes Steve’s father, Billy, who qualified ninth and will open Sunday vs. Richie Crampton. If Steve and Billy Torrence both win their first-round matches, they will meet in the quarterfinals.

Eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher of DSR, the winningest driver Top Fuel history, wheeled his U.S. Army dragster into the second qualifying position at 3.692-seconds and 327.66 mph to earn a matchup against Terry Haddock. Three-time/reigning world champion Antron Brown of DSR is in third in his Matco Tools dragster. 

Point-leader Butner posted his fifth Pro Stock pole of the season and eighth of his career after a quarter-mile pass in 6.588-seconds at 208.94 mph in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevrolet Camaro. Ken Black Racing teammate Jason Line, the defending event-winner and three-time world champion, will start second after a pass in 6.622-seconds and 208.59 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro. Teammate Greg Anderson, a four-time world champ and second in points, qualified fourth.

Butner said he will go into his first-round matchup against Shane Tucker with a ton of confidence. “We have a very good car and I think we should be able to go some rounds tomorrow,” said Butner, a customer-with-benefits at KB Racing. “We’ve got a lot of goals set with Greg and Jason and myself. Our goal is to get the three KB Racing cars 1-2-3, in whatever order.

“They are strong, they are champions. But they brought me in and I don’t classify myself as a ‘customer.’ They definitely give me stuff probably better even than themselves. Jason said it’s never been where a ‘renter’ has been given the chance to win a world championship.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, point-leader Krawiec earned his fourth pole of the season and the 37th of his career with a quarter-mile pass in 6.860-seconds at 196.53 mph aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod. A three-time world champion, Krawiec will open eliminations against David Hope and his Buell.

“I want to be a points-hog and get everyone I can get,” said Krawiec, joining the chorus looking ahead to Sunday’s conditions. “I think it changes everything. You’ve got to throw everything out the window. The track is really good for how hot and greasy it is (Saturday). Ultimately it’s about making strong runs down the Motorplex.”

Krawiec and teammate Andrew Hines, a five-time world champion, switched from the V-Rod to the Street Rod chassis and body at the NHRA Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J., in June.  “We went back to the old chassis with the new bodywork at the U.S. Nationals (over Labor Day weekend),” Krawiec said.  “We were hoping to be innovative; instead we set ourselves back 15 years.”

FOX Sports 1 will air a qualifying recap Sunday from 1 to 2 p.m. (EDT), with three hours of live finals coverage to begin at 2 p.m.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations at the 32nd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, the 22nd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and fourth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence, 3.682-seconds, 327.51 mph vs. 16. Blake Alexander, 3.842, 314.46; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.692, 327.66 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 3.841, 309.42; 3. Antron Brown, 3.696, 329.91 vs. 14. Shawn Reed, 3.816, 324.67; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.704, 330.07 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.814, 318.32; 5. Brittany Force, 3.747, 324.90 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.813, 311.85; 6. Leah Pritchett, 3.748, 323.89 vs. 11. Scott Palmer, 3.778, 324.90; 7. Shawn Langdon, 3.748, 320.13 vs. 10. Clay Millican, 3.773, 323.58; 8. Richie Crampton, 3.749, 499.81 vs. 9. Billy Torrence, 3.771, 319.82. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Troy Buff, 3.974, 290.63. 

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.871, 332.84 vs. 16. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 4.138, 304.67; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.872, 329.58 vs. 15. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.118, 252.05; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.873, 332.34 vs. 14. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.992, 322.42; 4. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.873, 328.14 vs. 13. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.991, 324.51; 5. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.909, 326.95 vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.988, 328.30; 6. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.928, 331.94 vs. 11. Daniel Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.987, 311.13; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.930, 327.59 vs. 10. John Force, Camaro, 3.957, 327.90; 8. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.941, 323.43 vs. 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.947, 324.05. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jeff Diehl, 4.349, 282.24; 18. Robert Schwab, 6.203, 114.12; 19. Todd Simpson, 8.829, 76.28.

Pro Stock _ 1. Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.588, 208.94 vs. 16. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.730, 204.35; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.622, 208.59 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.691, 206.86; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.624, 208.04 vs. 14. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.682, 205.79; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.626, 207.27 vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.679, 206.67; 5. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.629, 208.49 vs. 12. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.659, 208.07; 6. Brian Self, Camaro, 6.635, 208.23 vs. 11. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.658, 207.43; 7. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.635, 207.78 vs. 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.647, 208.17; 8. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.636, 209.04 vs. 9. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.636, 208.78. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Val Smeland, 6.779, 203.98.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.860, 196.53 vs. 16. David Hope, Buell, 7.166, 185.74; 2. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.873, 194.35 vs. 15. Gunner Courtney, Suzuki, 7.120, 186.15; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.878, 195.87 vs. 14. Mark Paquette, Victory, 7.086, 186.67; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.879, 195.53 vs. 13. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.011, 191.59; 5. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.885, 194.07 vs. 12. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.007, 189.47; 6. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.887, 194.94 vs. 11. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.982, 191.16; 7. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.892, 194.16 vs. 10. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.957, 191.89; 8. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.900, 193.71 vs. 9. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.914, 193.10. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Lance Bonham, 7.196, 187.76. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 14 2017
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