Funny Car Countdown Could Be One For The Ages
Looking over the Top 10 in Funny Car for the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, it basically comes down to two teams.
It’s John Force Racing versus Don Schumacher Racing as the only multi-car teams going for the title.
When I say, JFR, I’m including Mike Neff, Robert Hight, Force himself, and his Ford affiliates of Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca.
DSR has Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, and Matt Hagan, all driving Dodge Charger Funny Cars.
The outsiders of those two operations are Toyota’s Jeff Arend, driving for Connie Kalitta and Cruz Pedregon, who claimed two FTS Funny Car championships in 1992 and 2008.
Speaking clearly from observation, it’s Mike Neff’s Championship to lose. He’s shown, in the midst of adversity, he can learn and overcome his shortfalls and reprieve his status back on top of the standings and keep himself there.
Neff has five wins in 2011 and three runnerups. His JFR teammate Hight has four wins, and team owner John Force won in Denver.
Having 10 wins as a group is something special as it means it has won over half the races contested.
Neff conquered Gainesville, Englishtown, Norwalk, Chicago and Indianapolis with runnerup appearances at Houston, Atlanta, and Topeka.
He’s having a phenomenal season considering he is the driver and crew chief on his Castrol Ford Mustang.
For Don Schumacher Racing, it appears Jack Beckman will lead the way, taking two Funny Car wins in 2011 with wins in Charlotte and Atlanta. He has runnerups at Bristol and Seattle. His fellow DSR teammates Ron Capps won in Sonoma and Matt Hagan has two runnerups at Pomona and Denver.
Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca have each had their moment in the sun this year. Wilkerson made a great surge in the Western Swing winning in Seattle and runnerup in the Sonoma.
Tasca has two runnerup finishes this season at Charlotte and Indy.
That leaves only Cruz Pedregon and Jeff Arend to speculate on their hopes of winning the 2011 Funny Car championship.
As mentioned earlier, Pedregon is a two-time Full Throttle champion. In 2008, Pedregon drummed his competition right out of contention when he mastered the dragstrip and took command of the Countdown, winning the final three races locking him as Funny Car champion.
Coming from behind is nothing new to Pedregon. In 1992, he earned his first Funny Car championship the hard way without the benefit of the Countdown. That season, Force was clearly on his way to attain his third championship, at the time only to have Pedregon go on a five race-winning streak (Brainerd, Indy, Reading, Topeka, and Dallas) literally stealing the Funny Car championship from Force’s grasp.
Jeff Arend and his DHL Kalitta team have to win and win big for the remainder of the season if Arend is going to have any chance of getting his name higher in the standings. He did at Houston back in March and has one other runnerup finish at Chicago this year.
After that are the spoilers and DSR has one of the best in Johnny Gray, who narrowly missed the Countdown, but did win Brainerd earlier this year. Melanie Troxel seems to find her way clear of problems and is now performing up to par in her IN-N-OUT Burger Funny Car they way she envisioned earlier this year.
Another one that could have his say in the championship is two-time champion Tony Pedregon, who missed the Countdown for the first time in 15 seasons. Jim Head and Paul Lee will be two drivers who can mix it up and put down a great elapsed time at any time, so don’t take these two for granted; they will each have their moment in the Countdown.
So how is all of this going to play out?
I see Neff continuing his winning ways, unless it’s his own teammate, Hight, who takes over. Could we see Force go on a hot streak and take his 16th overall Funny Car championship? It could happen.
Don Schumacher Racing has tons of championship knowledge on its teams. One in particular is Ron Capps, who has Tim and Kim Richards as his crew chiefs.
Kim led her Dad, Dick LaHaie, to the Top Fuel championship in 1987 and Richards took Joe Amato to five Top Fuel championships (1984, 1988, 1990-92). That is going to be the team to watch. They know what it takes and they have it. Keep your eyes on this bunch as the team to most improve.
Jack Beckman needs to add to his win total and hasn’t done that since Bristol in April. He’s come close with runnerups at Bristol and Seattle, though. He’ll be the first to admit that having wins is the only way to separate you from the field.
His crew chief, Rahn Tobler, has three Top Fuel Championships while at the helm of Shirley Muldowney’s dragster in the ‘80s and led the way for Cruz Pedregon in 2008 for his second Funny Car title. There’s plenty of talent on this team.
Matt Hagan narrowly lost the championship in 2010. He did win three races that season, but in 2011, has only mustered two runnerup finishes.
This is what makes the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship so interesting:
It’s the unknown. There are only 24 rounds of racing to determine this outcome and whoever wins the most, gets the biggest prize.
At the end of this NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, there’s a check for $500,000 to be given to the rightful titleholder at the Grand Ballroom at the Hollywood and Highland Center in downtown Hollywood, California.
If I know anything about drag racers, they are interested in two things: low ET and money.
That’s plenty of incentive to make this Funny Car Countdown to the Championship one for the ages.