2015 Preseason Testing
Massey Closes Testing with Another Big SpeedWritten by Brad Littlefield
After making a stunning run off the trailer in testing on Tuesday, it was only fitting that Spencer Massey brought the house down with another huge run under the lights at the close of the PRO Winter Warm-up.
Only four cars were able to make the final hit. While Ron Capps, Doug Kalitta, and Antron Brown each lost their respective battles with the racing surface, crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler dialed the right knobs to send Massey on his second 330-plus-mph pass in as many days.
Massey kept the flames lit all the way down on a 3.741, which is the quickest pass of the day, at a booming 332.02 mph. His rail was going 292.01 mph at the eighth-mile mark.
Teammate Antron Brown topped testing for the week with his 3.720, 324.36 pass on Wednesday. Jack Beckman, who skipped the last attempt due to minor body damage on his earlier 4.003, led all Funny Car drivers for the week with that run.
Following are the best runs during Saturday testing:
Top Fuel Best Runs
Spencer Massey, 3.741, 332.01
Tony Schumacher, 3.745, 318.92
Antron Brown, 3.772, 321.59
Larry Dixon, 3.783, 322.88
Doug Kalitta, 3.803, 324.75
Leah Pritchett, 3.811, 314.17
Dave Connolly, 3.817, 284.69
Shawn Reed, 4.237, 276.92
Funny Car Best Runs
Jack Beckman, 4.003, 321.58
Chad Head, 4.054, 314.53
Tommy Johnson, Jr., 8.054, 75.09
Ron Capps, 8.451, 81.71
Matt Hagan, 8.550, 81.56
Beckman Lowers the Boom with a 4-flatWritten by Brad Littlefield
One run after Jack Beckman improved upon his best performance of the weekend by a half-tenth, the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger outdid itself with an outstanding 4.003 at 321.58 mph. Beckman was going 273 mph at the eighth-mile mark.
Crew chief Jimmy Prock, who last night described his trials during testing as “another Palm Beach beatdown,” may have been playing rope-a-dope, because he’s landing haymakers in the 12th round.
Beckman’s teammates failed to get down the track once again. Chad head, who missed the previous run after having to fix the firewall on his Toyota Camry, ran a strong 4.054 at 314.53 mph.
Doug Kalitta led the dragsters with a 3.780. The Mac Tools team made that run beside Larry Dixon, who was right with them with a 3.783, 322.88 in the Casedhole Solutions dragster. The next-best run belonged to Dave Connolly, who went 3.817 at only 284.69 mph when he lost an engine early.
Select teams will make another run at 7:30 p.m. Beckman, who suffered minor body damage on his 4.003, will not be among them.
DSR Funny Car Drivers Praise Charger BodyWritten by Brad Littlefield
The aerodynamic qualities of the 2015 Mopar Dodge Charger R/T body have been validated by the 320-plus-mph runs being made by Don Schumacher Racing teammates Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, and Tommy Johnson Jr., and the crew chiefs can vouch for the strength of the construction done at Roush Composites. The drivers, however, can’t stop raving about the visibility.
“The design really improved how much of the track we can see from the cockpit,” said Capps. “The first time they dropped it down on my, I could see things in front of and next to me that I wouldn’t have been able to see with the other body.”
Hagan made the initial runs with the body during testing in Norwalk and Indy last season. Now, all four DSR Funny Cars are outfitted with it. The reason for the increase of visibility is the windshield and greenhouse being moved back from the previous version. In addition to bringing the front of the canopy area closer, the doghouse that is constructed above the supercharger is significantly smaller.
“Between the windshield being so far out there and having a doghouse that’s a couple inches taller for the driver to see over, there was a pretty small area that we could look through going down the track,” said Johnson. “The new body really opens that up.”
Of the prospect of going back to the old-style body, Beckman says, “It would be like using an air tool and going back to a manual ratchet. It’s a matter of quantity, because the other one is the backup until more get produced. I’ve used the air tool, and I don’t want to go back to the ratchet. It’s night and day.
“I think it’s going to prove beneficial for groove management. I think being able to see lower and sooner is going to help us react quicker when the car is moving around.”
Beckman Steps Up in First SessionWritten by Brad Littlefield
The first official Saturday session of the Pro Winter Warm-up was highlighted by 2012 Mello Yello Funny Car champion “Fast Jack” Beckman recording his best run of the week by a half-tenth when the Jimmy Prock-tuned Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger rocketed down the drags trip to a 4.031 at 321.04 mph. Beckman was going in excess of 270 mph at the eighth-mile mark.
Beckman was the only one of the four Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car entries to get down the track with Ron Capps (8.596), Tommy Johnson Jr. (11.005), and Matt Hagan (11.385) each struggling to negotiate the racing surface. Hagan, for what it’s worth, was in midseason form with a .027 light.
Antron Brown had the best run of the Top Fuel contingent with a 3.772 at 321.50 mph. Beside the Matco Tools dragster was the Gumout entry driven by Leah Pritchett, who held her own with a 3.819, 315.93.
Spencer Massey was able to drive through some early tire wobble and clicked the Red Fuel dragster off early on a strong 3.794 at only 288.27. Larry Dixon also made a nice lick in the Casedhole Solutions dragster with a 3.811, 321.65.
Reed Goes from Water to Top FuelWritten by Brad Littlefield
Three-time Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series Pro Mod champion Shawn Reed had never been down a drag strip before December, and now he’s attempting to earn his competition license in one of the fastest-accelerating machines on land in Barry Paton’s Top Fuel dragster.
“I’d never been down a drag strip in my life,” said Reed. “I went to Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School to get my Super Comp license on Dec. 23 and hopped in this thing.
“This is fast fast. I shook the tires twice the other day and thought, ‘Man, I don’t have enough Excedrin to kill this headache.’ It’s fun, though. It’s a trip. I go 200 mph on the water, so you’d think I’d have a clue about what fast is. You step on the throttle, and I think your eyeballs go all the way around in a loop and come back.”
The Lake Tapps, Wash., resident played with the idea of driving a Top Fuel cars years ago after a conversation with Paton’s son, Todd, who works for RacePak. After striking up a friendship with 2014 Automobile Club Road to the Future Award winner Richie Crampton, he became much more interested.
“I have a RacePak computer, and I started talking to Todd about doing it 4-5 years ago,” Reed recalled. “I should have done it then. What really motivated me was my buddy Richie Crampton. I got in the hospitality area in Seattle, and I met Brian Swift – blower guy – and Richie when he was doing the clutches. We all started texting back and forth after that.
“I didn’t want to do Top Fuel boat. I thought I did, but there were two wrecks this year and two broken backs. I’d rather pay and do this.”
Reed made his first full pull earlier and is one more away from meeting his license upgrade requirements. [UPDATE: Reed completed the process with a clean 4.237, 276.96.] After that, we may see him at some point on the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
“I’m one run away from getting my license, and we’ll see what happens,” said Reed. “I’ll try to get enough money together to compete at some national events and get some seat time. That’s what we’re hoping for. I didn’t know any of these guys except Todd and Barry until three days ago. They’ve all been great.
“This is cool. If I won three million dollars in the lotto, I would use it to go Top Fuel dragster racing for one year. I’d give it all to somebody and say, ‘Let’s get some badass parts and do this for a year.’ I’d be the most broke lotto winner after that.”
Schumacher, Head Lead Saturday Open TestingWritten by Brad Littlefield
During an open test that left many teams struggling to find traction on Saturday, reigning Mello Yello Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher made it look easy with a strong 3.745 at 318.92 mph before he and the U.S. Army team did the regular maintenance and then took a break until the scheduled 4 o’clock run.
The next-quickest run by a Top Fueler belonged to Doug Kalitta, who went 3.803, 325.75 on his third attempt after a pair of tire-smokers. Leah Pritchett ran her quickest e.t. of the week at 3.811 seconds on her initial hit. Three-time drag boat champion Shawn Reed made his first full pull while licensing in Barry Paton’s dragster to the tune of 4.167, 252.33. Spencer Massey, who made the quickest run yesterday, did not make any runs.
With Ron Capps sitting out until the scheduled runs, his three teammates went 0-6. Matt Hagan (three), Tommy Johnson Jr. (two), and Jack Beckman (one) all smoked the tires with Johnson running the best between them at 8.05 seconds. Chad Head found the sweet spot in his new Toyota Camry with a 4.095 at 310.98 mph.
The schedule runs for the PRO Winter Warm-up are at 4, 6, and 8 p.m.
Trial by FireWritten by Brad Littlefield
Weeks before his Top Fuel debut, Pro Stock transplant Dave Connolly shot massive flames out of the right side of the C&J Energy Services dragster due to a broken connecting rod when he stepped on the throttle during Saturday testing. (Robert Grice photo)
Kalitta Takes One for the TeamWritten by Brad Littlefield
Doug Kalitta and the Mac Tools team are the only one of four Kalitta Motorsports teams that opted to test this offseason. Top Fuel teammate J.R. Todd and Funny Car teammates Alexis DeJoria and Del Worsham will make their next runs during qualifying at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals.
“We’re trying to get back to where we were,” said crew chief Jim Oberhofer. “We ran very well last year and started having consistency issues at Indy that made the car not happy all the way through the Countdown. It was pretty user-friendly until then. We made a few adjustments here and there this offseason where we felt like it was giving us grief. J.R.’s car is similar to ours, so we looked at it to try to see where we were different.”
Kalitta is also testing parts, the data from which will be beneficial to all four teams.
“We’re running A.J. [Alan Johnson]’s new manifold,” said Oberhofer. “We’re trying a bunch of different things in the bellhousing. We also changed fuel-line manufacturers. We’re running Brown & Miller [Racing Solutions] lines, which are a nice piece, and adjusting the fuel system because it’s a slightly bigger size.”
Kalitta has run well in testing with a 3.75 test but also had experiences of tire smoke, excessive clutch wear, and dropped cylinders.
“It’s been a mixed bag of results,” said Oberhofer. “We made an early shutoff that was on a mid-3.70, and we went 3.75, but it was an ugly 3.75 – the parts didn’t look great, and neither did the clutch. We’ve got good data so far. If you think you’re going to come down here and blast off some big numbers, no problem, you’re kidding yourself.”
Hagan Fine-tuning Offseason ChangesWritten by Brad Littlefield
Reigning Mello Yello Funny Car champion Matt Hagan has had a week of testing that Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger crew chief Dickie Venables has described as “just OK.” Running a five-disc clutch this week, Venables made some changes prior to today that reverted back some to their tried-and-true combination.
Hagan made his best run of the week with a 4.058 last night and smoked the tires on his first attempt this morning.
“We were trying to make more power this winter and have been able to get the power level up, and we made some improvements to the clutch we ran last year in order to keep it from wearing too much,” said Venables. “What we’re trying today is different from yesterday.”
Hagan’s combination this week is closer to what he will begin the season with at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals than what he used in testing during December when he ran an incredible 3.954, which is quicker than the quickest official run in competition.
“We had the six-disc in it when we tested in December,” said Venables. “We smoked the tires the run before and didn’t even take the engine apart after the run. We were trying to find our way with the primary weight. We made an adjustment, and it got all of it.”
Though he recognizes the virtues of the six-disc clutch and teammate Ron Capps performed well with it in competition at the final two events of 2014, Venables has a few reasons to stay put.
“It needs more testing,” said Venables. “It’s definitely better on a good track, but I don’t know what it will do yet on a 115-degree track. I have two years’ worth of data with what I got, and I we have enough clutch discs to run it for the whole year. We’ll test the six-disc some more after Phoenix.”
Venables is undeterred by the instances of tire smoke this week. The struggles that the Funny Car contingent have endured getting off the starting line led fellow DSR crew chief Jimmy Prock to lightheartedly coin the phrase “Palm Beach beatdown” to describe his week in South Florida.
“It makes me not worry so much about making big changes when it goes out there and smokes the tires,” said Venables. “The track makes big swings. I don’t think the track temperature has been up to 100 degrees yet, and the rubber is somewhat thin with the small amount of cars running on it, so it’s a pretty small window between spinning the tires and sticking it to make it shake.”
Undeterred, Venables said, "If Pomona started tomorrow, I’d feel solid about it."
Massey, Capps Steal the Show Under the LightsWritten by Brad Littlefield
The sun dropped and the stands filled to provide a header-flame-lit showcase for some of the premier Top Fuel and Funny Car teams in their final test session of Friday in preparation for the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Spencer Massey and Ron Capps wowed the crowd with impressive runs.
Massey and the Red Fuel team made not only the best run of the day but his best run since he began testing in South Florida on Tuesday. It is the quickest pass of the week other than Antron Brown's 3.720 on Wednesday. The Todd Okuhara- and Phil Shuler-tuned rail reached the eighth-mile marker in 2.999 seconds at a pace of 293.22 mph before it sped through the traps to a 3.723 at an astounding 332.26 mph.
No one even came close to Massey in the final session. In fact, the next quickest run was made beside him by teammate Tony Schumacher, who recorded a 3.793 at only 305.70 mph.
The Funny Cars had trouble adapting to the racing surface throughout the day, but they truly saved the bets for last. Following a trio of tire-smoking runs by Tommy Johnson Jr., Chad Head, and Jack Beckman, Don Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Capps and Matt Hagan reeled off great runs beside one another.
Capps made the best run of the day and his best run of the week with a 4.023 at 321.42 mph. he was quicker than Hagan at every increment despite the reigning Mello Yello champion’s respectable 4.058, 321.42.
For Capps, who is using a brace on his right arm at this event following surgery to reattach his tricep muscle, the performance wasn’t a surprise considering crew chief Rahn Tobler’s back-to-square-one approach that preceded their earlier 4.16 effort in which the early numbers indicated a high-3.9-second run.
“Instead of crutching the car early, he changed his mind-set back to Las Vegas at the end of the year,” said Capps. “Tobler put it back the way it was. He re-did the slide valve, so he only wanted me to take it to the eighth-mile on the earlier run, but it was right with some of our runs that were 3.98 to 3.99.”
Following are the best runs made by each driver during Friday of the PRO Winter Warm-up:
Top Fuel Best Runs
Spencer Massey, 3.723, 332.26
Doug Kalitta, 3.753, 324.05
Antron Brown, 3.757, 318.84
Larry Dixon, 3.758, 321.65
Tony Schumacher, 3.793, 305.70
Dave Connolly, 3.795, 287.41
Leah Pritchett, 3.853, 287.05
Shawn Reed, 5.003, 145.53
Funny Car Best Runs
Ron Capps, 4.023, 321.42
Matt Hagan, 4.058, 320.05
Chad Head, 4.079, 309.49
Jack Beckman, 4.083, 305.91
Tommy Johnson Jr., 9.421, 71.73