COUNTDOWN HISTORY MAY BE REVISITED AS SERIES HEADS TO VIRGINIA: It was a story for the history books entering Sunday’s eliminations round at last year’s Virginia NHRA Nationals. Teammates Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps both entered the day out of the top four spots and out of advancing to the championship rounds of the inaugural NHRA Countdown to the Championship Countdown to 1 final round. With their championship hopes and their entire 2007 season resting on a mere four passes down the quarter-mile strip, Scelzi and Capps knew that every round win could be the difference between competing for the NHRA POWERade world championship or not.
With Countdown contenders Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Mike Ashley and Tony Pedregon falling in the first two rounds, the two Don Schumacher teammates met in the final round, with Scelzi driving past Capps for the win. The final-round appearance was enough to secure both drivers a spot in the Countdown to 1 that year. Fast forward one year later and many 2008 Countdown contenders hope to find that same success as the NHRA POWERade Series heads back east for the Virginia NHRA Nationals.
In one of the tightest battles for the POWERade world championship, the top four spots in the Funny Car points standings are separated by a mere 76 points, or just four points shy of a runner-up finish. Funny car points leader Tim Wilkerson has bounced back from his first-round loss in the opening race of the Countdown to 1 in Charlotte to back-to-back wins in Dallas and Memphis. A win in Virginia would propel his Levi Ray & Shoup Chevy Impala SS ahead of the field and current second-place driver Jack Beckman.
In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher has built his points lead in the Countdown to 1, picking up two wins in three final-round appearances in the playoffs. Though it seems all but sure that Schumacher will finish the season with his sixth POWERade world championship, the fact that crew chief Alan Johnson will leave the team at season’s end to start up a Top Fuel/Funny Car team of his own, the question has to be asked, is this the final championship run for this famed Top Fuel dynasty?
The Pro Stock world championship is still up in the air, with only 63 points separating first place and defending world champion Jeg Coughlin from fourth place and three-time world champion Greg Anderson. Countdown contenders Coughlin, teammate Dave Connolly, Allen Johnson and Jason Line are among the select few who have found the winner’s circle at Virginia, making it’s anybody’s race in Pro Stock.
NHRA, FULL THROTTLE UNVEIL NEW SERIES LOGO FOR 2009 SEASON: Reaching another milestone in the transformation from the NHRA POWERade Series to the NHRA Full Throttle Series, NHRA and Full Throttle unveiled the new series logo this week for the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Series. Full Throttle and the NHRA collaborated to create a signature logo design that brings together the essence and personality of the brand and the sport in an iconic way.
“This logo represents the next generation of NHRA Drag Racing,” said Gary Darcy, NHRA senior vice president-sales & marketing. “Our partnership with The Coca-Cola Co. has been one of the longest and most enduring series sponsorships in all of motorsports, and we are confident that aligning NHRA with Full Throttle is a move that makes enormous strategic sense for the future growth of both brands.” For more on the NHRA Full Throttle Series, visit www.nhra.com.
ASHLEY FORCE TO RECEIVE JIM MURRAY MEMORIAL FOUNDATION AWARD: Funny Car sophomore driver and Countdown contender Ashley Force will receive the 2008 Female Athlete of the Year Award from the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation at the 10th anniversary Tribute to Living Legends of Sports and Media awards dinner at the Beverly Hilton hotel, Thursday, October 30. Other honorees joining Force at the awards dinner include Olympic gold medalist and boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, Los Angeles Times sports columnist Helene Elliott and legendary sports photographer Howard Bingham. For more information on the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, as well as the awards dinner, visit www.nhra.com.
PRO STOCK’S GRAY AND JOHNSON FORM TWO-CAR ALLIANCE FOR 2009: Pro Stock contenders Johnny Gray and Allen Johnson have formed a two-car team alliance for the 2009 and 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series seasons. The new alliance will allow the two teams to work together as one while still racing under separate banners. Gray will continue to run the SKI Racing Dodge Stratus, and Johnson will carry on with the Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus.
“I’m glad to have Johnny and his whole team join forces with us,” said Johnson. “I think it’s a good marriage. Johnny and I are a good matchup both in our personal business lives—where I’m in the oil business and he’s in the crude-oil business—and in our racing experience. He brings a lot to the table, and I see good things for both of us next year.”
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, Virginia, 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 comes to an end 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
300-PLUS MPH WITH A CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER: Funny Car points leader Tim Wilkerson isn’t shy about his “David vs. Goliath” status. The single-car team owner, who’s made a career of knocking off multi-car teams round after round, has accepted the fact that most didn’t expect this out of his Levi Ray & Shoup Chevy Impala team.
“Knowing that a lot of people didn’t think we could do this really motivates me and the guys,” said Wilkerson. “When we race these champions we have to have the right attitude. We stop treating them like there’s no way we can beat them. These are the guys you want to beat, so that’s how we live it.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
1: The number of round wins Greg Anderson has had since the start of the Countdown to 1 playoffs. Anderson entered the playoffs in the top spot in the point standings with five for five in final round appearances and 32 round wins, but has struggled to get past the first round in the past three races. Anderson has never won at Virginia Motorsports Park.
DID YOU KNOW…
…that two of the three winningest drivers at Virginia Motorsports Park are also the winningest drivers in NHRA history? John Force (126 career wins) and Warren Johnson (96 wins) both have four wins at Virginia Motorsports Park. Top Fuel pilot Cory McClenathan is the third driver on the most wins list with four victories at the track.