People, Places & Racing News

SCHUMACHER, WILKERSON STRETCH POINTS LEADS AND OTHER NHRA NEWSMAKERS

NEWS NUGGETS

SCHUMACHER, WILKERSON DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM FIELD AFTER MEMPHIS: With only three races remaining in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, both Tony Schumacher and Tim Wilkerson have slowly pulled away from the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes after both picked up wins at last week’s O’Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals in Memphis.

Both drivers entered the Countdown to 1 playoffs in Charlotte leading their respective categories. It was Schumacher’s 53rd career win at the event (followed by a runner-up finish in Dallas) and the Memphis win helped build his lead in Top Fuel. Wilkerson’s first-round loss in Charlotte bumped him from first to fifth in the Funny Car standings. Two races and two wins later (Dallas, Memphis), Wilkerson has regained the top spot with a 72-point lead over second-place Jack Beckman heading into Richmond.

Though the top spots in all four categories remained the same following Memphis, with Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle defending world champions Jeg Coughlin and Matt Smith still leading the points in their respective categories, both saw those leads diminish drastically as the Countdown competition closed in on the leaders.

Pro Stock’s Mike Edwards was able to drive his Young Life/Penhall Pontiac GXP past runner-up Jason Line to collect his second win of the season and second at Memphis Motorsports Park. It also shot Edwards from ninth to fifth in the point standings, just 69 points behind leader Coughlin.

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Craig Treble grabbed his first Wally of the season and first win since joining Don Schumacher Racing in late August. But it was Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson rider Eddie Krawiec who made the most noise, picking up his second runner-up finish in three races since the start of the Countdown to 1 playoffs and moving to within just 42 points of leader Smith in the standings.

AUTO CLUB ROAD TO THE FUTURE AWARD BATTLE TIGHTENS UP BETWEEN FIVE ROOKIE CONTESTANTS: With five rookie drivers in the four professional categories, this year’s Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award consists of the most talented drag racers to ever compete for the prestigious award.

Junior Pippin (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Rickie Jones (Pro Stock), Mike Neff (Funny Car), Bob Tasca (Funny Car) and Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) are all competing for the award, which recognizes the top rookie competitor in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and offers a $20,000 prize and traditional trophy, being presented during the NHRA’s annual championship awards ceremony on Monday, November 17 at the spectacular Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.

The nominees not only vary in the classes and vehicles that they race in each week, but also in age, with the youngest being Jones (21) and the oldest Pippin (55). The 2008 winner will join the ranks of such past winners as Tony Pedregon (1996, Funny Car), Ron Capps (1997, Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (1998, Top Fuel), Melanie Troxel (2000, Top Fuel), Brandon Bernstein (2003, Top Fuel) Robert Hight (2005, Funny Car) and Ashley Force (2007, Funny Car).

SCHUMACHER WINS THIRD-QUARTER DRIVER OF THE YEAR AWARD: Beating such drivers as NASCAR’s Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and reigning Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, as well as Indy 500 winner and 2008 IndyCar champ Scott Dixon and runner-up Helio Castroneves, Top Fuel-defending champion and current points leader Tony Schumacher was voted third-quarter Driver Of The Year 2008 this past week.

Schumacher won every NHRA POWERade Series Top Fuel event during that quarter, which ended September 14, including his 53rd career win which moved him past Joe Amato for all-time Top Fuel wins.

“It’s an honor to be singled out for this award,” said Schumacher. “Of course, I wouldn’t be in this position that I’m in right now if I didn’t have the best team that’s ever been assembled in the history of the NHRA.”

A total of 15 eligible drivers scored points in the third-quarter voting.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

VIRGINIA NHRA NATIONALS, VIRGINIA MOTORSPORTS PARK, OCTOBER 10–12: Making its fourth stop in the Countdown to 1 playoffs, the NHRA POWERade Series returns to Richmond, Virgina, before the final two races of the season. Defending event winners include Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel); Gary Scelzi (Funny Car); and Dave Connolly (Pro Stock).

ACDELCO LAS VEGAS NHRA NATIONALS, OCTOBER 30–NOVEMBER 2: Making its second stop of the season in Las Vegas, drivers in all four professional categories will fight it out at the fifth and next-to-last race of the Countdown to 1. Defending event winners include Rod Fuller (Top Fuel); Tony Pedregon (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle). 

AUTOMOBILE CLUB OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NHRA FINALS, AUTO CLUB RACEWAY AT POMONA, NOVEMBER 13–16: The 2008 season ends where it started, in sunny California, and the Countdown to 1 comes to an end as POWERade world champions are determined in this final race. Defending event winners include Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel); Robert Hight (Funny Car); Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock); and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

HE SAID, SHE SAID

UP IN SMOKE: After riding a wave of momentum that began in Denver and included five final round appearances, 28 round wins and two Wallys, Funny Car driver Jack Beckman’s surge came to an end Sunday during the second round of eliminations when the Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger smoked the tires early in the run—a rare sight to see from such a dominant team.

“We’re not sure what happened,” Beckman said. “It stings. We had a golden opportunity there. The other side of it is we did ourselves a lot of good taking Tony out first round, so we’re leaving here second in points.”

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

4: The number of points separating second place driver in the Funny Car standings, Jack Beckman, from fourth place driver Tony Pedregon, making the race for the second spot (just 72 points behind leader Tim Wilkerson) one of the closest in the Countdown to 1 playoffs heading into the final three events.

DID YOU KNOW…

…that John Force Racing drivers John and Ashley Force, Robert Hight and Mike Neff will be featured on the news-magazine show "E:60," which will air on ESPN. "E:60" reporter Michael Smith will explore many subjects with the first family of drag racing. CLICK HERE to visit the site.