What looked like a perfect day for racing took a turn for the strange, but fans only got to see it unfold after the Little League game ended.
“Oh, we’re gonna have a day,” Paul Page said early in the day’s race broadcast at Maple Grove. “You want action? We have it on and off the track.”
With storm clouds and blue skies intermixing with humidity and sunlight, horizon views -- “It’s such a beautiful track at Maple Grove,” noted Paul -- of splendor and challenge were oddly appropriate for this event. A fan of drag racing may never find a weirder weekend; things got so wacky even the track began to weep.
NHRA RaceDay Show
Current TV schedule: On the listing of television programs and times at the NHRA Web site, the current day’s NHRA RaceDay show is often omitted. Qualifying events appearing earlier in the day than this show (two on this Sunday as it happened at Reading) are listed as well as programs later in the day. Interestingly, the next event’s RaceDay show is listed. It’s not that one can’t dig around and find the time but unless a dedicated viewer, I am, one might not know where to look.
Match-ups to watch: Mike Dunn highlighted the battle of the auto parts’ catalogs with Jeg’s first round pairing with Ronnie Humphrey who was spending time with the Summit pits. Result? That Jeg won the event tells the tale.
Mike pointed out the unique first round pairing of top qualifier Antron Brown and Brandon Bernstein as the 16th. The Bernstein bust for the weekend ended with this lap.
Double the pleasure: Having two segments on the show with guests is a better format that was put to full use this weekend with Grandma and Antron Brown followed by the effervescent John Force. All three took their places standing among the crowd before being introduced on the dais.
Qualifying and Race Broadcast Shows
Uncharted territory: Referring to the race car/race team swaps in Team Force, Dave Rieff related the anxiety best by his comment, “Robert Hight is in uncharted territory.”
Bad points?: Warren Johnson’s points in his tenuous hold on 10th spot in the Pro Stock coming into Reading: a dastardly 666. Did that jinx his results for the weekend? No, as he won his first round, only losing to son, Kurt, in the quarterfinals, allowing the son to clinch a Countdown spot. Warren clings to the last peg to make the Countdown.
Biggest boomer: Ashley Force Hood’s fireball run on Saturday, exploding near the finish, meant she was at or near top speed when it occurred. Interestingly, reflecting nerves of steel, her main concern was protecting teammate Robert Hight’s ‘new’ car. Ashley going to a backup dragster certainly would not be the kind of change father, John, envisioned for the team.
But don’t count her out on race day; in his press statement, Elon Werner quoted Ashley thinking ahead: “(My crew) reminded me that a lot of drivers do well after a big blow up. Tony Pedregon won a race after a big explosion recently.”
She continued to stay positive on race day in spite of winning her first round but suffering a weight-related disqualification, a situation called, “an especially devastating turn of events.” Ashley’s constructive view was, “One detail just kind of got us. We can learn from what happened, and we know for next time how we can avoid that. That is the key way to learn. We are also turning that into a positive.” Great thinking!
On the other side of the coin, or lane in this case, something special happened, “a stunning turn of fortune” team spokesman, Todd Myers said, for the ‘first’ loser in their race: Kalitta’s Jeff Arend. “We got back to the pits after the first round, and we were all kind of bummed out because we were so close to winning, and then the (NHRA) came by and told us what happened. It was almost like we had won the event because everyone on our DHL team was so excited.”
Just like old times?: Austin Coil quipped, after a pregnant pause and scratching his chin, not having John Force now as his driver created one noticeable change: “It sure is quiet in our pit.” One has to admire how Force operates his empire. As one drag racing observer pointed out to me, “John Force is not sailing on yesterday’s wind,” meaning his financial management and team management decisions are made on information from the here and now, plus tomorrow, versus racing only what worked in the past.
Lesson for daily life: Force Hood, referring to tough times for her teammate Hight and his crew: “It has gotten them down but I have never heard him complain. I have never heard him mad. He knows that is part of drag racing, you are not always going to win.”
17th Qualifiers: A weekly recognition of the first dragster and team in each pro class to narrowly miss qualifying in the field of 16. (Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycles had exactly 16 entries): 17. Gary Densham, Impala, -1.490 (never in field); 17. Bob Benza, BNB Racing GXP, -0.041 (tied on speed, though)
Biggest surprise: Brandon Bernstein qualified 16th while Chris Karamesines qualified 14th with a respectable 4.02. Additionally in round one against the eventual event winner, “Karamesines keeps (Larry) Dixon honest as he was on a good pass” reported Fast News’ Rick Green.
Classiest sentiment: Allen Johnson not making the Sunday show elicited a comment from Mike Edwards, No. 1 qualifier for the umpteenth time this year: “I just feel terrible for Allen.” Drivers in all categories are super competitive otherwise they would not be in drag racing; the point is, most deeply care about opponents in their extended drag racing family.
Interesting technique: Last week I highlighted the new black and white images of the driver shown in a smaller screen displayed on the left of the bigger view. Now, when emphasizing a particular moment of the featured driver, a video follows in that same screen.
How to listen: Hight, in a replay of his Brainerd comments after Force announced the team swaps and change of dragsters, said, “John Force tells me to drive the truck, that’s what I’m driving.”
Detail catch: Ron Capps goes up in smoke off the line. Looks like he may have experienced tire shake. In the replay Mike Dunn, viewing the screen right along with viewers, immediately picks up and highlights that Ron had blown the supercharger, thus killing his run at the get-go. This one example illustrates how Dunn has developed into such an expert at interpreting drag racing for ESPN2 viewers; these details are critical for the enjoyment of the program for dedicated fans.
Grandma Brown: What other form of motorsports and television coverage would have recognized a personality such as Antron Brown’s grandmother, with her great wit and delivery, and brought her to the television audience? A good example of her humor was sitting in Antron’s top fuel dragster, she quips, “No shifting, it’s automatic, it goes straight; anybody could do this, even your cousin.” A knowledgeable observer said to me, “Antron Brown is an asset to NHRA as he adds diversity to a sport that traditionally does not have many black players. He is a winner and adds a great deal to drag racing’s image.”
36 minutes: No, this is not the new turnaround time for the nitro classes, but rather how late the race program taped replay started on Sunday night. In this case it was because of a Little League World Series game, which I watched to its conclusion and the beginning of the drag racing coverage. As it happened the announcers said this was one of the more entertaining matches they had ever seen; the enthusiasm of the participants, parents’ anguish, the tears of losing and winning -- it shares emotional elements from drag racing.
Best images: Two this weekend; the first followed the contrails flowing off the wings of top fuel dragsters during Saturday’s qualifying. The other was the expert camera work on the start line at a bumper level following Bob Tasca’s second qualifying run in his Mustang Funny Car. When he blows the supercharger, the camera is giving the viewer a unique view from underneath the dragster and the carnage that results. The odds are the terrific camera work creating this compelling television was handled either by Dana Sherman or Nelson Jones.
Interesting Gray numbers: The Johnny Gray-Roger Brogdon first round Pro Stock launch had each with the same reaction time, a .050. Both ran their best lap of the weekend with Gray winning the round. Kurt Johnson scored a .001 light in his first round hole shot win against Greg Stanfield. In the semifinals, Gray met Kurt Johnson and kept him from another hole shot win by running a fiendish .666 lap. For the Wally, Gray, this time racing Coughlin in a battle of reaction times, .013 and .012 respectively, watched Jeg win with the “quickest pass of the event” as Fast News noted.
The taped Brainerd Lucas Oil Sportsman Race was broadcast late Sunday afternoon. In addition to having some of the category finals run in fading sunlight, which added to the challenges facing a driver, an earlier scary and spectacular crash by a Super Comp dragster as it crossed the finish was shown. I’ve watched a lot of SC laps and never have seen such a crash. Dave Rieff and Bob Frey’s commentary made the broadcast terrifically enjoyable. Next Sportsman broadcast is Sunday, Aug. 30, at 11 a.m. EDT for the Maple Grove event.
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