Massey Wins Top Fuel, Sets Speed Record; Force Triumphs Wins 134t
The kickoff of the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle season at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona had plenty of interest, intensity and a feeling of high emotion as eliminations at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals prove it’s going to be another great drag racing season.
Top Fuel qualifying had Morgan Lucas heading the list of dragster entries with his time of 3.783/325.06 mph. In Funny Car, Robert Hight was the quickest of the field with his time of 4.060/216.52 mph. The Pro Stock class saw 2011 champion Jason Line dominant with his time of 6.535/212.23 mph.
All media eyes were on the new crop of rookies. Last year’s Pro Mod champion, Kalid alBalooshi, lost his first-round matchup against an impressive Clay Millican in Top Fuel. John Force dispensed with Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car, putting new crew chief Del Worham on the sidelines. Courtney Force was consistent and she won her first round over Bob Tasca. Mike Neff would later defeat her in the quarterfinals.
One of the major matchups in the first round was Funny Car champion Matt Hagan losing to Ron Capps in a classic Don Schumacher racing heads-up race. It was the same when Tim Wilkerson upset last year’s Countdown spoiler, Johnny Gray. Hight, a Pomona favorite, smoked the tires and the “beginner’s luck” for rookie candidate Todd Lesenko stayed true and he won his first professional round of NHRA racing. Pro Stock’s Jeg Coughlin didn’t miss a beat defeating Ronnie Humphrey from the No. 14 starting position after a year away from the sport.
The quarterfinals pairings would measure up with the final four in Top Fuel being Lucas, Antron Brown, Spencer Massey and Tony Schumacher.
Funny Car ‘s final four were Capps, Neff, Gary Densham and Force.
In an amazing bit of driving in the quarterfinals, Jack Beckman’s car was leading on his run until suddenly his car swerved over into Densham’s lane with speeds escalating up to 300 mph. Densham fortunately grabbed the brake hard and, resembling the Daytona tandem draft, bumped into the back of Beckman’s Dodge, causing significant damage to Densham’s Funny Car body. Repairs were made in 75 minutes, only to have Densham red light against Force in the semi-finals.
“We got pretty close that’s for sure,” said a relieved Densham. “Hey, it’s not Jack’s fault. Sometimes these things just happen. These cars are fast and powerful.”
From Beckman’s point of view, this is what he saw:
“It’s pretty easy to see we were thumping along looking at the finish line saying ‘OK, the clutch is locking up and we’ve got this thing home free,’” said Beckman. “All of a sudden, I’m in the other lane. I feel real bad about it and that our intention is to drive well, but to be safe about it. I don’t know if we got oil on the tires or what. I’ve never crossed a centerline like that. I guess I’ll being doing bodywork for Densham between rounds. “
Pro Stock’s final four were Jason Line, Greg Anderson, Coughlin and Mike Edwards.
The Ken Black Racing Summit Racing teammates of Line and Anderson had to fight it out with Greg barely pulling ahead at the finish line in a pair of super quick 6.54s. Coughlin won over a red-lighting Edwards, making the matchup an Anderson-Coughlin classic Pro Stock finish. Between the two, they have combined for 122 wins and eight championships.
Anderson claimed his fifth Winternationals title over Coughlin in the finals. Anderson out-paced his formidable Mopar foe running a time of 6.549 seconds/210.87 mph to Couglin’s 6.586/209.62 mph taking his win total to now 71 National event victories.
“I wasn’t the quickest driver out here today, but I was very consistent,” Anderson said. “We managed to stop the big yellow Mopar [of Jeg Coughlin in the final]. He sure came out swinging. You’re always aware of how good Jeg is driving. I’ve never been very good at tuning that kind of stuff out, but it worked today. The crew made great decisions, and here we are back in the winner’s circle again.”
The Funny Car finals were an all-JFR Ford Mustang show with owner, Force against teammate Neff. Neff was late off the starting line (.175) and ended up chasing Force, recording the quickest elapsed time of the event only to lose to his boss. Force, 62, won on a major holeshot with a time of 4.080 seconds to Neff’s swift time of 4.036 at 316.82 mph, claiming his sixth win at this event and 15th at this track.
“I got distracted and it sounded to me like someone was revving their engine up and at first I thought, ‘Is John over there revving his engine up?’” said Neff, who had the most consistent car with three consecutive 4.07s and a 4.03 in the finals. “And then I thought, ‘Am I revving the engine up?’ So, I started to pull back off the throttle to make sure that I wasn’t revving the engine up when the tree came down and I was late. I’m not blaming it on John. I mean, he definitely used his John Force tactics on me out there, but that’s just something you have to be able to deal with.
“I’m happy for John. He hasn’t won in a while and to have two Castrol Mustangs in the finals at the Winternationals is just a win-win situation. We knew that going up there (to the final round) so the pressure was off. One of the Force cars were going to win and that was really cool.”
The final round win was Force’s 134th National event win and was his 1,100th individual round win in a career of over 30 years.
“It’s a great start,” Force said. “You really want to perform. I know all those other kids on our teams and others, like Cruz Pedregon, the Schumacher teams, [Tim] Wilkerson, and [Bob] Tasca, those guys are going to win races, and it was just nice to get a win under my belt. Those boys are bad out there. To make that top 10 (Traxxas Shootout) is going to be tough. Somebody’s going to be left out, so I’m just going to keep fighting and keep my nose clean.
“Before the final, I said, ‘What are we going to do ‘Guido (Crew chief Dean Antonelli)?” He said, ‘We can’t race him the way we are, running .12 or .14. We’re going to have to go after it, and if it smokes the tires, we’ll go home.’ They were all over there, looking at the numbers, and it just went. It wasn’t quick enough to beat him. He was late, so I got the win. He told me something distracted him.”
In addition, Force is now the first entrant to the Traxxas Shootout at Indy with a chance to win $100,000.
Switching over to Top Fuel, Massey has declared his intentions for the Full Throttle Championship early with runs ranging from 4.78 to as quick as 4.74 in eliminations to win his seventh career race.
Massey, who finished second in the points standings last year, opened the new season in first place by outrunning Brown in the final round, his first at Pomona. Massey posted a 3.750 at 325.77 in his FRAM/Prestone dragster to hold off Brown’s charging Matco Tools fueler, which trailed with a 3.794 at 320.43 mph.
“Coming up a little short and ending up in second place last year made us that much more hungry and motivated to win a championship, so we focused this winter and acted like there wasn’t an offseason,” said Massey, who beat Steve Faria, Millican and Tony Schumacher in early rounds.
“It shows that they know what it takes to get the car down the racetrack,” Massey continued. “After the second round, we didn’t have any computer data, and (crew chiefs) Phil (Shuler) and Todd (Okuhara) tuned that thing like it was a Top Fuel car from 1968. They looked at the plugs, looked at the bearings, and it went 3.74 at 328 mph. It’s awesome to start like this and have the No. 1 spot going into Phoenix. This is my life dream, and we’re living it.”
Massey set the NHRA speed record with a run of 328.62 mph in 3.745 seconds - the second quickest pass in Top Fuel history - in the semifinals when Massey beat U.S. Army teammate Tony Schumacher.
Next weekend, the Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway start on Friday with the two first rounds of qualifying on Feb. 17 with eliminations on Sunday, Feb. 19.