2014 Preseason Testing
Testing Seat Time a Big Benefit to CramptonWritten by Kevin McKenna
7:32 p.m.: Rookie Richie Crampton won't admit that he's completely prepared for his official NHRA Top Fuel debut in Pomona, but after running back-to-back 3.80's in the GEICO dragster, he's feeling far more comfortable than he was before arriving in South Florida for this week's nitro test session.
"Running 3.80, which is obviously my personal best, is a great thing, but I'm also happy that I got to run side-by-side against other cars because that's something that I hadn't had a chance to do before now," said Crampton. "That is a big deal when you're trying to learn about staging one of these cars."
In his native Australia, Crampton drove almost everything from Super Comp to Top Alcohol Dragster and even a Pro Mod car, but he admits that none of them compare to a 320-mph Top Fuel car.
"Nothing can really prepare you for this," he said. "It's a huge step up from even an A/Fuel dragster. I've spent a lot of time talking with Morgan [Lucas, team owner]. I ask a lot of questions, and he's been good about giving me information. We struggled a little bit early this week, but it's started to come around today, and that makes me a lot more confident."
Testing Wrap: Brown and Force are Saturday's StarsWritten by Kevin McKenna
7:12 p.m.: After finishing second in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel standings last season, Antron Brown (pictured) appears poised to make another title run in 2014 after driving his Matco Tools dragster to an impressive 3.737 during Saturday afternoon testing in South Florida. John Force also appears poised to defend his title after his 4.013 led all Funny Cars.
Brown made the quickest run of the day and was followed by teammates Tony Schumacher and Spencer Massey, who ran 3.787 and 3.795 respectively. The only other driver to make a full run on Saturday afternoon was Bob Vandergriff Jr., who wheeled his all-black dragster to a 3.842.
"I'm ecstatic that we ran this well, especially since this is a whole new combination for us. We're running the six-disc clutch for the first time, and it looks really promising," said Brown. "We tested it last year, but we didn't run it in competition. Now, we made the decision to use it in Pomona. It's a good combination, and it's really smooth. The car seems really stable, and that's a big deal for us.
"We ran 3.73 but we needed to. The Al-Anabi cars are over there running 3.72, so we had to do something just to keep them honest. You're gonna need to make those runs this year in order to have a chance."
As the last driver down the track, Force posted a 4.013 to edge Del Worsham, who had earlier run a 4.014, and Robert Hight, who also made a full pass with a 4.019. After posting a pair of 4.05-second runs yesterday, Worsham's performance was perhaps the most impressive. He got shut off after his burnout and then re-fired.
"I'd be ready to go to Pomona even if our cars didn't run as well as they did," said Force. "This track is tricky, but we managed to figure a few things out, especially with our Funny Cars. Robert and I both ran 4.01, and that's great, but you have to remember that [Del] Worsham also ran 4.01, and yesterday, Capps ran 4.00, so all that means is that we're in the game."
Most of the nitro teams that participated in the South Florida event are now done testing and won't burn a drop of nitro until the opening qualifying session of the Circle K NHRA Winternationals Friday, Feb. 7. There are, however, a few teams that will stay over tomorrow and Monday for a private test and a couple that are reportedly headed to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the week before Pomona.
Saturday's Best Runs
Antron Brown, 3.737, 325.87
Tony Schumacher, 3.765, 327.27
Shawn Langdon, 3.773, 325.22
Spencer Massey, 3.794, 321.04
Richie Crampton, 3.808, 323.97
Khalid alBalooshi, 3.809, 302.21
Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.842, 301.81
Terry McMillen, 3.877, 293.98
Steve Torrence, 7.575, 79.79
Brittany Force, 8.907, 54.51
John Force, 4.013, 318.84
Del Worsham, 4.014, 318.17
Robert Hight, 4.019, 316.97
Matt Hagan, 4.041, 321.81
Courtney Force, 4.077, 315.49
Bob Tasca III, 4.084, 314.39
Alexis DeJoria, 4.085, 297.61
Chad Head, 4.102, 311.85
Jack Beckman, 4.111, 309.77
Tommy Johnson, 4.315, 229.55
Cruz Pedregon, 4.456, 204.73
Saturday Testing Update: Schumacher and Force LeadWritten by Kevin McKenna
4:18 p.m.: The first of two "official" sessions just concluded here during the South Florida test session as NHRA's nitro stars took one final opportunity to prepare for the season-opener, which is less than three weeks away. If there is one driver who can't wait to get to Pomona, it's former NHRA Mello Yello champion and last year's runner-up Antron Brown, who set the pace with a 3.75 in his Matco Tools dragster, and teammate Tony Schumacher was not far behind with a 3.765. Schumacher also posted the fastest speed of the session at 327.25 mph. Not to be left out, third DSR driver Spencer Massey was also entrenched in the 3.7s with a 3.794 in his Battery Extender dragster.
Richie Crampton, one of the frontrunners for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award, continued to get a feel for Morgan Lucas' GEICO dragster with a solid 3.808 run. Khalid alBalooshi also posted a 3.80, and his Al-Anabi teammate, world champion Shawn Langdon, overpowered the track and smoked the tires early.
Terry McMillen (pictured), testing a new clutch package on his Amalie dragster, clocked in with a 3.87 while Shawn Langdon, Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, and Bob Vandergriff Jr. all shut off early with either tire shake or tire smoke.
The Force team appears to be ready for the official start of the season after making several strong runs this weekend. Reigning champ John Force made the best Funny Car run with a 4.036 to pace the Saturday afternoon session. Courtney Force also managed to avoid the tire shake that has plagued many teams with a very competitive 4.07. Matt Hagan (4.08) and Chad Head (4.10) also made representative runs.
No Canopy for Massey but That's TemporaryWritten by Kevin McKenna
2:32 p.m.: Spencer Massey has made 14 runs this week during testing in South Florida, but the Battery Extender dragster that he's racing this weekend is most likely not the same one that he'll be racing in Pomona in three weeks. The car that Massey is testing this week does not have a canopy, but fans in Pomona are most likely to see him in the same canopied car that he raced in last season.
"Our original plan was to test both dragsters this week, but that changed because we fought the track so much this week," said Massey. "We only went down the track in four of our first 13 attempts, and it's hard to learn much when the car is shaking and smoking the tires. This car is set up for a canopy, and it's a good car, so we want to get some data on it."
After several early shutoff attempts, Massey drove to a 3.79 on Friday, which gave his team a big morale boost.
"We could have backed the car down and tried to run 3.90s, but how can you learn anything like that?" said Massey. "I'm just happy to be back in the car and making runs again. I know it hasn't been that long since Pomona, but I want to drive, and if I'm out of the car for more than about two weeks, I start to get the itch. This week has been good for me."
DeJoria's Team Test Body Burst PanelsWritten by Kevin McKenna
1:57 p.m.: Alexis DeJoria's Tequila Patrón Toyota is sporting burst panels on the sides of the body as crew chiefs continue to look for ways to vent pressure that often accompanies an engine explosion. The new panels, which are being described as a prototype, were designed by DeJoria's crew chief Tommy DeLago with the help of team owner Connie Kalitta.
"This was an idea that we originally worked on when I was with Schumacher Racing," said DeLago. "We tested some things on [Matt] Hagan's car, and we used a slow motion video to check pressure points. When I got here, I sat down with Connie, and he agreed that we needed to keep it going. The panels we're using here were made by Aerodyne, and it's still a work in progress. The biggest challenge is making sure that they stay attached to the car and obviously, making sure they vent enough pressure to keep the body intact. It's also hard to test them because you can't intentionally cause an explosion.
"On our first run yesterday, we only went to half-track because we wanted to see what the panels would do," said DeLago. "On the second run, it went 4.10, and everything looked good. We'll probably continue to make a few changes, especially to the way they are mounted."
NHRA Tech Department representatives, who are present for this weekend's test session, are continuing to monitor the progress of the test.
South Florida Testing: Saturday UpdateWritten by Kevin McKenna
12:55 p.m.: NHRA's nitro teams got off to an early start as testing continued on Saturday in South Florida. For many, this will be their final day of testing before making the long trek west for the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, which begins in less than three weeks.
Full runs are still a rarity as teams deal with cool temperatures and a lot of tire shake, but Khalid alBalooshi posted a 3.77 to lead all Top Fuel racers, and 16-time world champion John Force drove the Castrol High Mileage Mustang to a 4.05 to pace the Funny Car field.
Behind alBalooshi, Antron Brown recorded the second quickest Top Fuel run of the day thus far with a consistent 3.81. Tony Schumacher (pictured) and the Army team haven't had much success during their week-long stay in South Florida, so their early-shut off 3.90 at just 291.01 mph had to be a welcomed relief. Terry McMillen also made progress with a new clutch set-up when he drove his Amalie dragster to a 3.86 at over 316-mph.
A day after Ron Capps blasted to a 4.00 to lead the Funny Car pack, Force and teammate Robert Hight have been the only drivers to approach those numbers with runs of 4.05 and 4.07, respectively. Most other attempts have been aborted early primarily due to tire shake in the first 100-feet.
Drivers will have open testing until 1 p.m. local time and then will return at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. for a pair of scheduled sessions that include side-by-side runs.
Langdon, Capps Emerge asTesting LeadersWritten by Kevin McKenna
6:53 p.m.: After a full day of testing action in South Florida, Shawn Langdon and Ron Capps (pictured) emerged as the leaders in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively. Langdon, the reigning NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champion, clicked off a string of 3.7s in his Al-Anabi dragster, including a best of 3.726 to pace the field, and Capps nearly made the first three-second run of 2014 with a 4.003 in his Rahn Tobler-tuned NAPA Dodge.
"I know it's only testing, but after winning the championship, the last thing you want to do is come out and struggle early in the season," said Langdon. "Thankfully, that hasn't been the case so far for the Al-Anabi team. We've made some really good runs today. I think we're all pretty happy with what we've accomplished so far. At least we have a reason to feel good heading to Pomona."
Langdon's teammate, Khalid alBalooshi has also been particularly impressive with back-to-back runs of 3.756 and 3.750. alBalooshi also recorded the top speed of the day with a 328.70-mph blast.
Antron Brown also seemed to find a solid combination late in the day when he wheeled his Mark Oswald and Brian Corradi-tuned Matco Tools dragster to a 3.735, 325.37 pass. Earlier, Brown had run a competitive 3.770, giving his team a measure of consistency.
In the Funny Car class, most drivers were able to find the 4.0-second zone, and Capps almost ran in the threes on his second run. After carding a 4.044 earlier in the day, Capps put some distance between himself and the rest of the field with his 4.003 blast.
"Up until today, we've all struggled down here, but we figured a few things out," said Capps. "We still don't race in these conditions, but this tells you what kind of a mentality that [crew chief Rahn] Tobler has. He wasn't going to give up until we had this figured out. I'm pretty sure that someone will run quicker here tomorrow, but for now it's just nice to put a couple decent runs in the bank."
The Force team also looked strong with John Force and Robert Hight turning in matching 4.039-second runs during the day, and Courtney Force wasn't far behind with a 4.067 run in her Traxxas Mustang. Courtney also shaded Capps for the top speed in the Funny Car class with a 320.51-mph blast.
Top Fuel Best Runs
Shawn Langdon, 3.726, 325.37
Antron Brown , 3.735, 325.37
Khalid alBalooshi, 3.750, 328.70
Spencer Massey, 3.770, 320.58
Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.817, 322.42
Brittany Force , 3.824, 317.87
Terry McMillen, 4.391, 181.64
Tony Schumacher, 7.558, 81.74
Richie Crampton, 7.807, 74.08
Steve Torrence, 9.222, 76.10
Funny Car Best Runs
Ron Capps, 4.003, 320.28
John Force, 4,039, 319.37
Robert Hight, 4.039, 315.56
Del Worsham, 4.056, 315.93
Jack Beckman, 4.061, 312.06
Courtney Force, 4.067, 320.51
Bob Tasca III, 4.067, 314.46
Matt Hagan, 4.072, 304,67
Alexis DeJoria, 4.108, 311.27
Tommy Johnson Jr., 4.134, 299.93
Chad Head, 4.170, 279.21
Cruz Pedregon, 7.790, 89.25
Capps' 4.04 Tops Early Funny Car TestingWritten by Kevin McKenna
5:07 p.m.: Ron Capps wheeled his NAPA Dodge to a 4.044 on Friday during preseason testing in South Florida. After struggling earlier in the week, Capps and crew chief Rahn Tobler decided to swing for the fences and were rewarded with the quickest elapsed time of the week thus far.
"We've been struggling just like everyone else," said Capps. "No matter what we tried, it's wanted to shake the tires, and finally Rahn just said, 'Let's try to run 3.98 and see what happens.' Obviously, that was a much better run."
Del Worsham also overcame some early struggles to record a 4.058 in the Kalitta Motorsports DHL Toyota, and DSR teammates Jack Beckman and Matt Hagen also found the 4.0s with runs of 4.061 and 4.098, respectively.
Tommy Johnson, who is returning to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series behind the wheel of Terry Chandler's Make-A-Wish Foundation entry, posted a competitive 4.13.
Other drivers who made runs included Chad Head, Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria, Bob Tasca III, and reigning NHRA Mello Yello champion John Force.
Al-Anabi Cars Dazzle in Friday Top Fuel SessionWritten by Kevin McKenna
4:52 p.m.: The Al-Anabi dragsters of reigning NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champion Shawn Langdon and Khalid alBalooshi set the pace with a pair of strong 3.75-second runs during Friday's test session in South Florida. alBalooshi drove to a 3.755, 327.41, and Langdon was just a thousandth behind with a 3.756, 325.37. Langdon also ran a 3.75 earlier in the day, displaying the sort of consistency that helped him win seven races and 54 elimination rounds last season.
"That's the advantage to driving for Al-Anabi and having the expertise of Alan Johnson and [crew chief] Brian Husen," said Langdon. "We messed with a couple of things this winter, but it was really just some fine-tuning. For the most part, we felt like we had a good handle on what we were doing, so we just decided to refine that until we move on to the next project.
"When you are the defending champion, you're always concerned about how you're going to do the following year, but I still feel like we're at the top of our game. Those runs are a nice confidence booster for all of us."
The Al-Anabi dragsters were followed by Antron Brown, who posted a 3.770 in his Matco Tools dragster, and Spencer Massey, who drove the Schumacher Electric car to a 3.790. Other notable performances included a 3.81 by Bob Vandergriff Jr. and a 3.89 by Brittany Force.
Hight Encouraged by Early ResultsWritten by Kevin McKenna
4:11 p.m.: While many of his rivals have struggled to maintain consistency during the preseason test, Robert Hight, far lane, is reasonably satisfied with the performance of his Auto Club Ford. Hight has posted several full-power runs, including a 4.09 during Friday's first session. All told, Hight has been down the track under power in five of eight attempts.
"It's been tricky here because no matter how hard you try to duplicate national event conditions, there is always going to be something different," said Hight. "We don't have 400 Sportsman cars here to put down rubber, and everyone who is here is using the same tire compound, and that just requires a different set-up. That being said, we're doing OK."
Hight and his Force Racing teammates, John and Courtney Force, are testing several new components this week. Hight is also excited about the prospect of working with crew chief Mike Neff for a full season.
"We're trying a lot of new stuff, mostly blowers and clutches," said Hight. "The clutch discs don't last forever, and typically you want to finish the season with the same batch you started with, so that's a big thing for us. We've typically run one set blower opening, and now we're playing with that a little, and so far, we're getting good results. It changes the power curve, and that requires a different tune-up."
Last year, the Force team underwent a major shakeup halfway through the season when Hight's longtime crew chief, Jimmy Prock, moved to John Force's car, and Force's crew chief Neff began calling the shots on Hight's car. The Force team could have reversed the change this winter, but Hight acknowledges that after John won the championship, there was little reason to do so, and the move was not seriously considered.
"Zippy [Neff], he's very smart, and he figures things out in a hurry," said Neff. "I'm excited to work with him all year. We have the same team that we had for the second half of last season, and that's a big deal for me. I suppose we could have made another change, but we didn't have to. We have three cars in this camp, including Courtney's, that are all capable of winning the Funny Car championship."