Indy event coverage
Top Fuel: Langdon over Torrence in Final AgainWritten by Brad Littlefield
5:25 p.m.: One could excuse Steve Torrence for having nightmares about Shawn Langdon and the maroon and silver Al-Anabi dragster in the coming weeks. One day after denying Torrence the $100,000 top prize in the final round of the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout, Langdon trounced him in the final round of the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
The drivers left together with Langdon getting a miniscule .052 to .053 edge, and the Mello Yello points leader never trailed. Torrence’s engine struggled at the back end while Langdon pulled away with a 3.818 at 320.97 mph to Torrence’s 3.907, 309.63.
“This race is big for our team,” said Langdon, who turns 31 years old tomorrow. “They gave me a great race car and did a phenomenal job. As long as I didn’t screw it up, I knew I’d have a shot at winning.
“I said yesterday that there have been two pressure situations for me: the first time I sat in a Top Fuel car and racing for $100,000. This was the third. We were racing in the final round at Indy against guys we knew were gunning for us. It’s the Indy final, and it’s the last race before the Countdown starts. It’s pressure, and as a driver, you just want to perform.”
Langdon advanced to the final round with consistently quick performances and holeshot advantages that narrowed the window for opponents to beat him. He ran 3.785, 3.847, and 3.822 in respective victories over Pat Dakin, Terry McMillen, and Doug Kalitta en route to the final.
Langdon is only the fourth different driver in the past 14 years to win Indy in Top Fuel. He has won Indy as a Sportsman racer, scoring in Super Gas in 2010.
“This race is so special with all the history behind it,” said Langdon. “This is the race that you always watched on TV growing up. I started coming here a long time ago as a Sportsman racer, and getting that first win was an incredible feeling. If you win Indy, you’ve done something.”
It is the eighth time that Alan Johnson has tuned the Top Fuel winner. Johnson, who lost brother Blaine as the result of a qualifying event in 1996, assisted in Jim Head’s 1997 victory and won with Gary Scelzi the following year. He then won five times in six years with Tony Schumacher between 2003 and 2008.
“With everything that the Johnson family has been through, it was very important for me as a driver to continue Alan’s winning tradition out here. I’ve never seen Alan so focused. He had a different mentality this weekend, and you could see that he wanted it bad.”
Team owner Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani was on hand for the double-up victory. The team announced a five-year contract extension yesterday assuring that the Al-Anabi Top Fuel teams will be a part of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for years to come.
“Al-Anabi Racing will go on, and I’m sure glad to be a part of it,” said Langdon. “We’re two for two this year with Sheikh Khalid at the track, so I should probably ask him to go to Charlotte. When he’s happy, everybody’s happy.”
Funny Car: Hight Continues JFR DominanceWritten by Candida Benson
5:21 p.m.: John Force Racing’s stranglehold on the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals continued when Robert Hight outlasted Jack Beckman to claim this year’s trophy. It was the third Indy win for Hight, and the third straight for his crew chief, Mike Neff, who won the last two years while pulling double duty as a driver and crew chief. The victory also snapped a 35-race winless streak for Hight, who last visited the winner’s circle at last year’s four-wide race in Charlotte.
“This is definitely the biggest win of my career,” said Hight. “You start doubting yourself. We won four in a row last year early in the season and then just went on a complete dry spell. I think I’ve only been to one other final, that was Topeka this year, and you just start wondering. Then, we make the big switch, John [Force] and I, and I go over and drive for the Castrol team with all the AAA stuff on it, and they were running good, they were winning, so you start doubting yourself. You start believing, ‘Man, am I the problem here?’ John went to the final in Sonoma, so all that starts wearing on you, and you start thinking about it.
“Mike Neff really changed things for me this weekend. He came in here, and yesterday when qualifying was over, we were only seventh, and it wasn’t our typical running good like we normally do. We get back to the pits, and Mike says, ‘We’ve got ’em right where we want ’em.’ I’m looking at him like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He says, ‘Listen, I’ve won the last two U.S. Nationals, and I didn’t qualify well. We didn’t do well in qualifying, but come Monday, we’re going to be fine. We will run good.’ To add to the pressure, you’ve got to go up there and race Cruz Pedregon first round, one of the toughest competitors out here. When his car’s on, he’s tough to beat. And you’re trying to stay in the top 10, so there’s just a million things going. I didn’t sleep last night, and right before first round in the staging lanes, Mike Neff came up to me and said, ‘Listen, regardless of the outcome, we’re in this together, and we’re going to do it as a team,’ and it was just like this weight lifted off my shoulders because I’m up there trying to do a good job for him and his team. They were doing well until I stepped into the seat, and I guess this is a perfect time to win.”
Beckman had the slight advantage on the starting line in the final, .048 to .059, but that really was the last thing that went right for the reigning Mello Yello world champion. A few hundred feet out, Beckman began hazing the tires, and that ended his chances because Hight went right down his lane, posting a 4.11.
The run capped a solid day of racing for Hight, who entered the race with a fair amount of pressure, needing to perform well to ensure he was part of the Countdown to the Championship field. Hight earned a spot in the playoffs when he powered to a 4.05 to defeat Cruz Pedregon in round one.
Hight dodged a bullet in round two when both he and Johnny Gray smoked the tires and had to pedal their mounts. Hight was able to get his car to recover better and score a 4.55 to 4.67 win. Hight then clocked a 4.11 against Del Worsham in the semi’s to his 17th career final.
Beckman rebounded well from his body-blowing explosion in yesterday’s NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout. The hard work overnight by his team paid off handsomely when Beckman posted low e.t. of eliminations, 4.019, in the first round against Chad Head. Beckman then clocked a 4.21 and 4.11 in respective wins against Jeff Arend and Tim Wilkerson.
5:06 p.m.: Mike Edwards, racing in the right lane for the first time all weekend, drove his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.637 to 6.620 holeshot victory over V. Gaines’ Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger in the Pro Stock final at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals by virtue of a .032 to .067 starting-line advantage.
It was the second Indy Pro Stock victory for Edwards, having won previously in 1998. It was also the second runner-up finish here for Gaines, who accomplished the same feat in 1997. In the most recent previous event in Brainerd, Edwards also defeated Gaines in the Pro Stock final.
Edwards' driving was the difference in his latest triumph; he won on holeshot decisions in the second, third, and final rounds. He is only the 15th Pro driver to produce three holeshot wins at an NHRA national event and the first to do so at Indy.
Following the win, Edwards was asked about how it compared to his first and only other Indy Pro Stock win in 1998. “This win was pretty good,” said Edwards. “Just about as good as the other one in 1998. My birthday is tomorrow, and we’re going to start celebrating a day early.
“With this team, the car has been very good. And when we lose, most of the time it’s from me giving it away. If you keep running good and keep giving yourself opportunities, that’s all you can ask. We made some nice runs today, but in the semifinal, we were very, very fortunate to get past Greg [on a holeshot] because we missed the tune-up on that run. And then racing my buddy V. Gaines again, with the Brainerd final, this was two in a row. It was great to race him again.”
After having lane choice and picking the left side for the first three rounds, Edwards lost lane choice for the final to opponent Gaines, who put him on the right side. But he said that this presented no major problems. “I thought that the lanes were really equal,” said Edwards. “There were some good runs out of the right lane. The only issue we had is that we hadn’t been over there all day. So I wasn’t really sure what we might be getting into. We just kind of adjusted for it a little bit.”
Like everyone else at the event, Edwards was stunned by the fact that three of the drivers in the semi's, including himself, clocked identical times of 6.640s. “This weekend was some of the best Pro Stock racing that we’ve seen in a long, long time, especially at the U.S. Nationals,” said Edwards. “It was simply amazing. It’s just anybody’s race anymore. You never know what’s going to happen. To win today, I’m just so pleased. I want to give all my thanks to my Lord and Savior. And I also want to thank Interstate Batteries and I Am Second, and it was great to win the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals because Roger Allen and his Chevrolet team are so great.”
Edwards has often talked about replacing himself with another driver, but he was asked if he had changed his thinking after his three holeshot victories. “I enjoy working on the car and the challenge of making it go faster, and I also enjoy the driving on days like today,” Edwards said. “It’s tough, but I love the challenge. When I’m working on the car between rounds, I’m not worried about my driving. It’s not coming into my mind. When I can’t do it anymore, maybe I’ll go home. But I guess not just yet."
The only downside for Edwards was seeing his 150-plus point lead shrink down to 30 points with the reconfiguration used in the Countdown to the Championship format. “The Countdown is bad for only one person, and that’s me,” said Edwards. “It hurts to give up the big lead that we had, but we’ve fought this hard this long so we’ll see who can tune the best, drive the best, and who can run the best race.”
This is the sixth victory for Edwards for the 2013 season and the 40th of his career. Edwards also produced his 13th No. 1 qualifying performance of the event, which was the 54th of his career. Edwards will begin the Countdown to the Championship as the top-seeded driver in the Pro Stock category.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hall Scores on NHRA’s Biggest StageWritten by Kevin McKenna
5:01 p.m.: Second-year rider John Hall, who won his first NHRA national event title just two months ago at the inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, fulfilled for what most drag racers is a life-long goal after riding his Viper Motorcycle Co. Buell to a final-round win at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Paired with teammate Matt Smith in the final round, Hall gave up a slight starting-line advantage but made a quicker run to win by a 7.03 to 7.06 count.
“I actually never thought I’d win a Wally, not because I didn’t have the talent, but I never thought I’d get the opportunity,” said Hall. “Last year was a learning year, but this year, I made some changes, and obviously, it has worked out well for me.
“After the semifinals, we went back to the trailer and did our regular turnaround," said Hall. "We still use Matt’s tune-up because there is no lack of trust in this team. His bike fell off a little, and I got the win. It was just a great deal to have both Viper bikes in the final.”
Hall almost did not race this year until he got an offer to join Smith’s team just weeks before the season opener in Gainesville. In eliminations, Hall had to face a pair of world champions; he battled Eddie Krawiec and LE Tonglet en route to his second final round of the season. After qualifying 15th, Hall upset No. 2 qualifier Krawiec in the opening round and then took a holeshot win against Michael Ray in the second round, 7.15 to 7.11. A 7.00 in the semi’s was enough to beat Tonglet’s off-pace 7.25.
Smith, the 2006 Indy winner, had perhaps the toughest road to the final round of any Pro competitor at Indy as his side of the ladder featured fellow world champions Andrew Hines and Hector Arana Sr. Against Hines, Smith took a convincing 6.99 to 7.03 win. A round later, Smith stopped Arana’s Lucas Oil Buell with a perfect .000 reaction time and a 6.99. Smith was also involved in perhaps the best race of the day in the semifinals as he held on to defeat Scotty Pollacheck by just three-thousandths of a second, 7.018 to 7.019.
Starting-Line Emphasis Paying Off for alBalooshiWritten by Brad Littlefield
4:45 p.m.: In four meaningful rounds this weekend between the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout and the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Khalid alBalooshi had no worse than a .071 reaction time with a best of .032. Maligned during his rookie year for his performance at the Tree, the Al-Anabi driver has made great strides of late.
In fact, he helped his team win the opening round on a holeshot with a solid .040 light.
“It’s all him,” said crew chief Jason McCulloch. “I haven’t changed a thing on the car. He’s just sitting up in the seat a little more and doing a really good job.”
“Every time I drive, I try to do my best at everything,” said alBalooshi. “Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been in a better position than last year. [Reaction times] have been missing for a long time. I’m killing myself to try to be .070 to .040 every time.”
alBalooshi reached the semifinal round and will begin the Countdown to the Championship that he didn’t qualify for last season in the No. 5 seed. He left with Steve Torrence in the semifinal round before smoking the tires.
"It was instant driveshaft,” said McCulloch. “It locked up [the clutch] at 2 feet. It's the 'Big Go-Home.' "
"I’m hoping for something good in the final," said alBalooshi. "I’ll be up there rooting for Frank Manzo in Alcohol Funny Car and for our teammate in Top Fuel."
4:45 p.m.: This was the fourth consecutive semifinal-round finish for Greg Anderson this year, and though he is satisfied with the progress that he’s made from earlier this year, he feels it’s time to step up. Both Mike Edwards and Anderson ran identical 6.640 e.t.s with Edwards getting the decision on a quicker leave. “We’ve made gains recently, and we feel that we’re capable of running with the best Pro Stock has to offer, but we just haven’t shown it yet,” said Anderson. “We need to qualify No. 1 or win a race, but we haven’t managed to pull that off up to this point. I’ll take my light [.023] any time, but it wasn’t enough to beat Mike Edwards’ .012. We did a good job, but he did a great job. It’s as simple as that.”
Mark Ingersoll, the co-crew chief for Jeg Coughlin Jr., said, “We started off good this weekend and made some changes in an effort to get better, which I think we did. We’ve also benefited from our previous testing in St. Louis. It was a good weekend overall, but we still need to get better. Having three cars run the same elapsed times in the semi's shows just how close this class is.”
4:00 p.m.: In a semifinal round that exemplified the parity in Pro Stock with three of the four cars running identical elapsed times of 6.640, Mike Edwards’ Chevrolet Camaro and V. Gaines’ Dodge Avenger emerged with wins to advance to the Pro Stock final at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
Edwards took the first contest against Greg Anderson with his .012 to .023 starting-line advantage proving to be the difference as both drivers registered their 6.640 clockings. Gaines then turned the tables on holeshot artist Jeg Coughlin Jr. by leaving first with a perfect .000 light with Coughlin cutting a .042 and then pulling away to take the 6.637 to 6.640 victory.
This will be a rematch of the recent Brainerd Pro Stock final, which Edwards won. Gaines also had a .000 light during eliminations at that event.
With his quicker elapsed time, Gaines will have lane choice over Edwards in the final. Edwards has a Indy win credit, having won in 1998, while Gaines will be seeking his first victory here, having scored a runner-up finish at NHRA’s premiere event in 1997.
Pro Stock Motorcycle Final: Hall vs. SmithWritten by Kevin McKenna
3:55 p.m.: Viper Motorcycle Co. teammates John Hall and Matt Smith will race for the Pro Stock Motorcycle title at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Hall, who won his first NHRA race earlier this season, earned a spot in the final after he defeated LE Tonglet, and Smith, the 2006 Indy winner, defeated Scotty Pollacheck.
Hall, who has been racing in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class for just two years, posted a 7.006 for the win after Tonglet’s Nitro Fish Suzuki bogged badly on the starting line. He will enjoy lane choice against Smith.
Smith earned his spot in the final by riding to a close 7.018 to 7.019 win over the Sovereign-Star Buell of Pollacheck. The final margin of victory between the two bikes at the finish line was just .003-second.
It’s Beckman, Hight in Funny Car FinalWritten by Candida Benson
3:51 p.m.: We are guaranteed a first-time season winner in Funny Car because Jack Beckman and Robert Hight (pictured), neither of whom have been to a winner’s circle this year, have advanced to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals final round.
Like Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel, Beckman has the chance to add the Indy Wally to his NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout win yesterday after he bested Tim Wilkerson in the semi’s. Beckman led the match with Wilkerson wire to wire, leaving first by .014 and outpacing Wilk, 4.11 to 4.12.
Mike Neff won the U.S. Nationals the last two years while pulling double duty as driver and crew chief. This year, his plate is a little less full because he is only serving as a tuner, but he still seems to have the Indy magic, guiding Hight to the final. Hight clocked a 4.11 to easily turn on the win light against Del Worsham’s 4.18.
Beckman’s 4.11 was .002-second quicker than that of Hight in the semifinals, so the reigning Mello Yello world champ has lane choice for the title round.
Traxxas Shootout Rematch Slated for Top Fuel FinalWritten by Brad Littlefield
3:47 p.m.: Yesterday, Shawn Langdon and Steve Torrence battled it out for $100,000 in the final round of the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout in Top Fuel with Langdon and the Al-Anabi Racing team pocketing 100 large. Today, they’re set for a rematch in the final round of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
Both drivers have won this event in the Sportsman ranks but never as a Professional. Torrence captured the Top Alcohol Dragster title in 2005, and Langdon won in Super Gas in 2010.
Torrence opened the semifinal round with a 3.870 that trounced Khalid alBalooshi, who smoked the tires. Tuners Alan Johnson and Brian Husen made adjustments to the timing map on Langdon’s dragster after seeing their teammate go up in smoke.
Langdon packaged a .046 reaction time with a solid 3.822 in the heat to defeat Doug Kalitta, who went 3.848. Langdon will enter the Countdown to the Championship as the No. 1 seed. He has a chance to double up on his Traxxas Shootout victory.