Senior media columnist Phillip Gary Smith has covered drag racing and enjoyed the sport as a fan for more than three decades. Although he normally writes about snowshoe and ultra trail races in his native Minnesota, he also supplies readers of go2geiger.com with periodic reports on the media covering the sport of professional drag racing, with an emphasis on the NHRA series.
The marvelous Blu-ray "Car Crash King Edition" of 1974's Gone in 60 Seconds amps the now famous 40-minute car chase carnage to a new level, but a closer look renders a real movie surprise.
Ron Capps vs. Jack Beckman, Antron Brown vs. history – ESPN's major stories at the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas – left the final cards to be turned up at Pomona.
Records snapping like twigs on a path spawned upset teams, emotional upsets and old-fashioned drag racing upsets in a few damp hours on a chilly Monday morning.
Space No. 5 on a Monopoly board – Reading Railroad – comes from the train borrowing its name from this city hosting the nearby Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals.
If Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were alive now, here is what they could have discovered at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals:
The renowned expedition headed by these two master explorers left St. Louis on their incredible western journey in 1804, returning after a two year's exploration in 1806 to live there.
The NHRA last raced St. Louis in 2010, returning now with a year away, just like the expedition. The "rejuvenated raceway," as lead announcer Paul Page described the track, has a new 20-year agreement with the NHRA, which means the Midwest Nationals has a long-term home.
Fires are vital for comfortable camping at races now just like on the famous expedition west, though some of their campsites weren't quite as relaxed because of fears of attack.
Fire found its way to the race track, too. One of the ESPN features, "Weekend Wow Factors," displayed the fire bubbling beneath Jeff Arend's Camry during the first session of qualifying.
The other "Wows" included Tim Cullinan's JP Phillips' dragster kicking up center cones like roosters, Terry Haddock launching his Acme Toyota body high but failing to reach the St. Louis Arch's height, and lastly Courtney Force smacking her Traxxas Mustang into the wall like it was a toy.
Force's day, outlined by pit reporter Dave Rieff, began with having "to race Mike Neff; both have championship aspirations" besides her possible rookie of the year award.
Melanie Troxel was an able replacement for Mike Dunn, who was out dealing with a family matter. She said Force's car "hits the wall pretty harsh" as the scene replayed with the super slo-mo camera. Page noted it could have been worse: "Close call."
Reporter John Kernan caught young Force for comments as she recovered composure. "Frustrating. I'm bummed out on my driving. Think I tried to pedal too quick. It was over from there."
Page, in his final few races remaining in the ESPN broadcast booth, keeps coming up with some of his best material yet such as the Tequila Patron Upset Alert.
Troxel had good reason for her selection of former teammates Morgan Lucas over Shawn Langdon, in this week's edition: "Lucas' car really gets after it," but when his dragster smokes and slows, she explained, "Something was not right with that car."
The day's upset, though, belonged to Dale Creasy's Tek Pak Impala taking the round away from John Force's Castrol Mustang, a classic "David vs. Goliath," Troxel added.
Page dead-panned, "Should have been our upset alert."
Creasy's mother, Ruth, turning 70 but with the energy of a 40-year-old, quipped, "I was glad we just got in the show."
The "Around the Strip" segment covers the event like getting a quick note on Lewis and Clark destinations of Idaho, Oregon, and the Dakotas all at once.
Kernan uncovered a key mapping strategy for a long journey from championship contender Spencer Massey: his key to a successful race is "consistency. A-to-B, A-to-B."
Do that long enough, one will arrive at "X."
Rieff landed in Matt Hagan's Aaron's Charger pit where he discovered the team's motivation. "We're the champions," Hagan said. "Only four Wallys left. It would be embarrassing if we didn't win of those."
He got his chance, lining up against the strongest Funny Car of the weekend, teammate Jack Beckman's Valvoline Charger, which set the track's elapsed time record in qualifying at 4.049 seconds. Hagan's car was no slouch in third with a 4.061.
Veteran reporter Gary Gerould discovered in Beckman's pits they replaced a supercharger. They didn't like it and changed to another, adding a new ignition. "It worked flawlessly."
So why did Hagan hand the win over to Beckman with a light redder than Rudolph the Reindeer's nose? Like Meriwether Lewis shooting himself in the hip while hunting elk in 1806, Hagan shot his attempt. "I was antsy, and adding insult to injury, I blew it up."
One of the best uses of the helmet cam so far occurred with official starter Mark Lyle sporting the contraption; the other being the camera on the four-wheelers pushing the dragsters off the track.
Noting an oil trail on Arend's lane as he backed to the line, Lyle walked over, tapped Beckman's car and sent him down for a single.
Troxel noted this, too, with "Great view (of the action at the start) in helmet cam."
Page discussed "the joy of winning" as eliminations fired up. Winning became an even bigger topic this weekend with the Countdown to the Championship now deep in the race calendar.
With the pressure, do teams share data with one another? Troxel discovered yes, except when racing one another.
Mark Oswald, crew chief for Top Fuel championship contender and ultimate race winner Antron Brown's, allowed that "they go it alone."
Larry Dixon's Dote Racing dragster nearly upset his old Al-Anabi team when he cut a hot light and led Khalid al-balooshi to the line before finally realizing he lost. His helmeted-head in hand, bent over, a viewer could feel his pain.
ESPN replaying their lap showed Dixon's lead at every marker but the last.
"Oh, so close," uttered Troxel.
Her comment would work for the race at the top of the Top Fuel class for the championship, too. "The top six could win," she summarized.
Page quipped the group was so close it looks like Pro Stock wherein "Statman" Lewis Bloom, chimed in, "I like that reference."
Sometimes small things cause one to land, like Lewis and Clark, in "Camp Disappointment," though Clark found what is thought to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton there.
Take the subject of the Traxxas Extreme Power Session where Scott Pollacheck's squirming ride at Texas resembled hanging on the tail of an unhappy dinosaur.
He put it this way: "I held on for dear life."
As PSM class pioneer George Bryce covered the info leading up to the problem, Page correctly noted, "Good data even on bikes!"
Then viewers discovered the reason this was referred to as "a screwy situation. A screw holds the tire, and we had a failure."
The secret reason some Pro Stock drivers yank the parachute well prior to the finish line, so noticeable in the Tale-of-the-Tape camera shots? Troxel revealed this discovery in a great piece of commentary.
"They feel they drop a little weight" as the chute leaves its jacket, giving them a slightly lighter race car for those vital few feet at the line ... particularly in this class.
Troxel analyzed the chances of Jason Line's Summit Chevrolet at winning the Full Throttle championship for the class, delivering this strong opinion: "From my perspective, he's the only other one with a shot at the championship" besides the Mopar Dodge of Allen Johnson.
But the two in the finals, Johnson and the new queen of motorsports, Erica Enders riding in her GK Motorsports Cobalt carriage, battled to an amazingly close race.
"Gosh, almighty. I thought we had her in the lights," remarked a perplexed Johnson holding his two fingers together showing just how close it felt.
Lewis and Clark, returning to St. Louis after their epic journey this same week 212 years ago, wrote in their journal: "Fired three rounds as we approached the town and landed oppocit the center of the Town, the people gathered on the Shore and Huzzared three cheers (sic)."
Concluding the new Midwest Nationals, Page congratulated the enthusiastic fans, "We have a great crowd here (in St Louis); give them a 'Wow.'"
Brown recalling his "great drag race" finals (as Summit FastNews called it) could have been referring to this weekend of racing: "That was big!"
No shots or blasts on the river like Lewis and Clark celebrating their return from the Corp of Discovery Expedition, but Page pronounced the discoveries at this Countdown race as a center-hit on target:
"Incredible race day in St. Louis."
(Information courtesy of www.LewisandClark.com)
Lyrics from Joe Walsh's hit "Life's Been Good" echoed while the zMax Dragway's O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals raced through eliminations.
Francis Ford Coppola produced his epic Apocalypse Now, later adding 49 minutes of original footage creating essential new moments, re-naming it Apocalypse Now Redux.
A nightmare scenario for some teams is relieved with the postponement of the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus at Lucas Oil Raceway.