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The latest update as of July 14, 2017

15th annual MOPAR Rocky Mountain Nationals - Day Two

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Near the end of the first round of pro qualifying, the big show cars of Bruce Litton (TF) and Gary Densham (FC) faced off in a matchup not seen since the days of the Winston Challenge, back in the late '90's. This year marks the 15th consecutive Rocky Mountain Nationals (every one of them) for Litton, but in quite a surprise, considering his consistent performances over the years, he barely turned the tires before backfiring the blower in a big way.

Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the images.



The latest update as of July 14, 2017

15th annual MOPAR Rocky Mountain Nationals - Day One

This weekend finds us on the other side of the mountains as we're in Edmonton, Alberta, attending the 15th annual MOPAR Rocky Mountain Nationals at Castrol Raceway. It's a beautiful sunny morning here after a serious storm blew through the area in the early evening yesterday. Despite some unsettled storm cloud conditions in the area, the forecast is for gradually warming, sunny weather for the balance of the weekend. The event will be similar to previous editions, with one very major change, the switch in sanctioning bodies from IHRA to NHRA. It will be interesting to see what Rob and Kim Reeves do to keep up the tradition of an exciting, entertaining, and always unpredictable event. Stay tuned all weekend for updates direct from the track.

It's Friday morning here at Castrol Raceway and the pits are abuzz with activity as the racers prepare for the start of time trials at noon. The (really) fast cars have more time to get their tuneups in order as they won't run until 7:00 tonight. By that time the grandstands should be nearly full, and the atmosphere will almost certainly be as supercharged as many of the engines in the staging lanes.

It's been exactly one year since I last attended a drag race and the anticipation for this one has been building in me for the past few weeks. Making it extra special is that this will be the 15th edition of this race, and the 20-year anniversary of Castrol Raceway (formerly Budweiser Motorsport Park and before that, Labatt Raceway). Looking back through my records yielded the info that this is my ninth time up here for this event and every one has been a unique experience. And I'm sure this year will be no exception.

With things relatively cool and quiet right now, it's the perfect time to cruise the pits, catching up with old friends, making some new ones, and if I'm lucky, finding out where Dean parked the "Red Rocket" (aka: the SpeedZone "staff car"). More news later here and much more on the Northwest's premier source for drag racing news: SpeedZone Magazine.

6:00 PM Update

Armed with a mandate from Dean Murdoch to provide coverage of Top Fuel, A/Fuel, AA/Fuel Altered, and Nitro Harley, I marched through the pits, notebook in hand and camera slung over a shoulder. As many racers were busy prepping for either a test pass in the afternoon heat, or waiting for the cooler evening air of the first qualifying session, it was difficult to gather some of the information needed to adequately report on the various classes.

Nevertheless, we came away with a well-defined idea of just how the fuel altered racers are organized, how the class is structured, and most important of all, just what the ethos of the category brings to drag racing. My views are influenced by some of the true old guard, as three of the senior statesman in AA/FA have some very definite ideas of what constitutes a true fuel altered and how the class should be structured and run.

Their views are not shared by all of their brethren, as younger racers, and those who don't have an appreciation of just how drag racing has evolved over it's nearly seven decades of existence. However, the old adage of "be careful what you wish for" was never more appropriate than it is now with the entire class on the verge of a major upheaval in the rules package, the elapsed times, and speeds, and most importantly for the longevity of the category. If some of the racers that want limits removed and rules relaxed have their way, the class could soon be as de-populated as some of the big show pro classes that NHRA is desperately hoping to keep alive.

And the powers that be truthfully view any of the so-called nostalgia categories as nothing more than a quaint anachronism, or simply another class that gets in the way of a streamlined, homogenized product. While some may view the old guard as fighting a battle as futile as trying to hold back the tide, the fact is that without some restraints on the development of the category that the racers will quickly become their own worst enemies. Can you remember how the Pro Gas or Super Modified or Econo Dragster classes got started, and where they've gone since?

We'll be reporting on all the nitro burning categories with the exception of Nostalgia Funny Car, and by the end of the weekend, should have a much better sense of just how relevant they are for today's race fans and just what the outlook is for their respective futures. Before we sign off from this report, here's some images of the racers and cars that I'm writing about.

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Here's two views of Andy Beauchemin's latest project, an outlaw fuel altered (see the earlier report on the class)

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Two views of Ron Hope's famous "Rat Trap"

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And here's the guys who have made it happen for so many years, more than 150 (!!!) of them in fact.
Left to right, it's Dave Hough, Randy Bradford, and Ron Hope.

Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the images.



The latest update as of June 03, 2017

Shaping up to be a B/AD weekend at Mission Raceway Park

Not much to report this morning, other than three great passes by Shawn Cowie at Mission Raceway over the past two days. He's leading a (very) short field in Top Alcohol Dragster with a very strong 5.22 - 275.90 run yesterday afternoon. That came on the heels of an almost unbelievable 5.29 at just 224 mph on Thursday. The 5.29 pass was his second of the day, following a very early shutoff 5.47 at 194 mph. He's got two more qualifying passes today, then two rounds of eliminations on Sunday which could see him dip into the 5-teens if the weather and tuneup cooperate.



The latest update as of May 20, 2017

Top Alcohol and Top Fuel News from the Heartland

It's waaay past time to start posting again, and I'm bursting to break the silence with some really BIG and B/AD news. Shawn Cowie, the Surrey, BC national contender in Top Alcohol Dragster finally unleashed all the power in his Norm Grimes tuneup and blasted to the top of the field at the NHRA Heartland Nationals with a fantastic 5.217 at 275.00 mph in the second qualifying session. Great performance and possibly one of the top ten quickest ever blown alcohol passes in drag racing history. More news on that later..... but not that much later!

1:00 PM UPDATE

And the hits just kept on coming. This weekend's Heartland Nationals may truly be one for the history books with other- wordly numbers lighting up the scoreboards on an almost continuous basis. The performance parade started last night when Robert Hight cranked out the best Funny Car speed in history at 337.66 mph. That lasted less than 24 hours before it was obliterated during today's second qualifying session when Matt Hagan carded the best e.t. and speed ever at 3.802 and 338.85 mph. That pass came just five pairs after Courtney Force's short-lived best ever e.t. for nitro floppers at 3.815. Where is it going to end? Just when you thought 3.70's weren't that far away, and 340 mph was simply science fiction, those miletones might be shattered this weekend.

In case you thought the awesome numbers are just coming from Funny Car, there were four sub-3.70 runs in the second Top Fuel session. Followed by a career best e.t. for Edmonton's Kevin Boyer at 6.287 on his Top Fuel Harley. Then a new high-water mark for Northwest Pro Mod standout, Shane Molinari, who qualified third in a very tough field at 5.759 - 258.32 (top speed of the meet.... so far). And a final shoutout to Top Fuel's ultimate "hard-triers" as Terry McMillen and Scott Palmer both ran in the 3.70's (first time ever for Palmer) to hold the #8 and #9 spots in the field going into the final qualifying session later this afternoon. Stay tuned!



The latest update as of February 21, 2017

These short months really fly by.... just like the longer ones

Even though I'm still working on the Winternationals report and photos, the next event on the calendar is fast approaching. The NHRA (no sponsor yet) Arizona Nationals is set to start in just three days. Including the "Spring Training" test session at Phoenix's Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park at the beginning of the month, that will be three events in just four weeks. And I'm still working on getting all the coverage done on just one of them. Time to kick into high gear and git 'er done.

One thing that has been slowing me down is wading through the FOX network television broadcast of the Winternationals. It's been slow going because it's hard to watch more than half an hour or so at a time (thank someone for inventing the PVR) without zoning out. For all the hype surrounding the changeover last year from ESPN to FOX, the broadcasts have gone backwards in my oh-so-humble opinion. The reasons are simply myriad, starting at the very top with Ken Adelson (Vice- President, Executive Producer, and Chief Content Officer - he must have a huge desk to be able to put a sign on it with all those titles) dumbing down the show in an attempt to appeal to a much wider audience than ESPN reached.

While the viewership numbers showed substantial increases last year, I have a difficult time understanding why. The show - yes, THE SHOW - the actual on-track action of supercharged nitro-burning race cars - keeps being interrupted by "educational" interludes, personality profiles, inane pit reports about the latest (insert something that has nothing to do with drag racing), and other such ephemera. And don't get me started on the "LIVE" broadcasts, as I'm more than two hours into the Winternationals coverage, and haven't seen the broadcast catch up to the actual event. I presume that we will see the final rounds broadcast live but to sit through nearly three hours of canned coverage to get to that point is really asking a lot of a serious drag racing fan.

That might be part of the reason I'm not enjoying the show that much: the serious drag racing fan is not the target audience and instead, the producers are aiming for a much larger, mainstream, viewership that will help sell the products (mostly non-automtive) that will provide the advertising revenue necessary to support the broadcasts.



The latest update as of February 12, 2017

NHRA Circle K Winternationals logo

Final eliminations at the 57th annual NHRA Circle K Winternationals

After three days of in-and-out weather, the Southern California Chamber of Commerce worked it's usual magic for eliminations day at the Winternats, with beautiful sunny skies, warm temperatures and some seriously competitive racing in all categories. With a live television broadcast scheduled to start at 1:00 pm (PST) on the FOX Network, sportsman eliminations started at 9:30 with the pros waiting in the wings until the traditional 11:00 am kickoff.

That first competition round of the 2017 season produced only one remotely close match in Top Fuel (Shawn Reed vs Troy Coughlin) and what may become a regular event: a bye run for the low qualifier. The e.t.'s for the eight winners were closely bunched between Doug Kalitta's 3.69 and Steve Torrence's 3.75, giving hope for a much more competitive quarter-final round. Things were no better for the fuel funny cars as the closest encounter of the round saw Del Worsham pound Robert Hight by more than a quarter of a second. With six cars in the 3-second zone, the second round looked like a better bet for some side by side competition.

Pro Stock, despite it's lack of excitement - even after all the well promoted rules changes --- to be continued later today



The latest update as of February 11, 2017

Day Three of Qualifying goes off with... only a few hitches

While the day dawned with no further rain, the track drying process was long and tedious, dealing with the overnight accumulation on Parker Avenue, the infamous "weepers" on the top end, and the cool, cloudy weather, all working against the track crew. The scheduled 8:15 am start time morphed into a nearly noon race start, as the drying operation was briefly halted by a short, intense shower at 10:00 am, with the track nearly ready to rock at that point.

With that setback handled, the inevitable condensation of the schedule occurred, and the usual suspects found themselves on the chopping block: Top Alcohol and Comp Eliminator. With the Comp field seriously short of competitors (only 12 entries), and no alternates for either of the Alky fields, NHRA's decision to dispense with the final qualifying sessions for the three categories, and proceed directly to eliminations in the afternoon, was easy.

The professional qualifying sessions scheduled for 1:00 and 4:00 went off like clockwork, with minimal downtime and no further weather-related delays. The oildowns that keep happening, despite the best efforts of NHRA and the racers to eliminate them, occurred several times as the fuel cars went through their paces. The first qualifying round of the day, number three, produced two infractions each in Funny Car and Top Fuel.

The culprits ranged from the bottom-dwelling Terry Haddock, and part-timer Gary Densham, to world champions Matt Hagan and Tony Schumacher. Not the most auspicious season starts for those aforementioned frontrunners, but business as usual for the strugglers. It is to be noted that just one incident of "debris or foreign matter" deposited on the racing surface took place on Friday, that being the BIG explosion by Bob Bode that left a trail of trash from well past the finish line to the last turnout.

Both fields of fuel cars were lacking a surfeit of entries, with Top Fuel featuring just 15 cars for the 16-car ladder, and Funny Car having two alternates; Jeff Arend and Gary Densham, to keep up the appearance of a competitive field. Pro Stock fared no better, with just a single alternate and the bottom three qualified cars well off the pace.

The same lack of close competition prevailed in the fuel fields, as the top 12 cars in each category were relatively closely bunched, with the bottom quarter of the field well off the pace, and not showing any possibility of quantum performance leaps on race day. With few serious prospects waiting in the wings for the traditional East Coast kickoff to the season at the Gatornationals next month, it could be another year of short fields and a shrinking lack of competition until the second round of eliminations at most races.

As qualifying drew to a close in the late afternoon, the #1 qualifier in Top Fuel, Leah Pritchett, put down a very strong 3.672 for her career quickest pass, and the 3rd quickest in Top Fuel history. That run overshadowed the strong performances of Doug Kalitta, who ran a 3.697 on Friday, an even quicker 3.686 earlier on Saturday, and a strong 3.693 in the last pair of qualifying to slot into 2nd place behind Pritchett.

In Funny Car, the 2016 World Champion, Matt Hagan, put down a 3.840 at 330 mph on Friday, then bettered it by recording an ET and speed identical to his national record holding times - to the thousandth of a second and hundredth of a mile per hour - with an awesome qualifying closing 3.822 at 335.57 pass as dusk descended on Saturday afternoon.

After a full season of the new rules package in Pro Stock, with the mandated change to wheelie bars, the switchover to electronic fuel injection (from 20th-century carburetors), and rev-limiters, bigger and better things were expected from the factory hot rods in 2017. After a test session in Phoenix last week and two days of qualifying at Pomona, the consensus from this vantage point is that not much has changed or seriously improved.

The Elite Motorsport team made the biggest off-season moves, with the cessation of their Mopar sponsorship (and Allen Johnson must still be chuckling/fuming about that development) and the ditching of their Dodges in favour of the brand they've had success with for many years, Chevrolet.

Both Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin showed the change was paying dividends with top half (#6 and #7 respectively) qualifying positions. However, at the top of the heap, as always - or almost always - was the KB racing team of Jason (#1) Line and Greg (#2) Anderson, both just a couple of hundredths ahead of the next racers on the ladder. And those seemingly minute differences are what show up as a bumper-width victory at the finish line in Pro Stock competition.

The only appearance of the Top Alcohol cars on Saturday was for the first round of eliminations, slotted in between the professional qualifying sessions. Leading off were the Funny Cars and the fast West Coast cars of Shane Westerfield, with a winning pass of 5.457 at 270 mph, John Lombardo Jr., winning with a 5.47, also at 270 mph, and Doug Gordon, also at 5.47 and 270, set the pace in the opening stanza.

The other standout joining them in the quarter-final round was 2016 World Champion, Sweden's Jonnie Lindberg, carding the second quickest e.t. of the round at 5.458. In an interesting turn of events, Lindberg was competing in Jay Payne's TAFC, with his own car apparently parked, and his new ride, Jim Head's fuel flopper, waiting to debut at the Gatornationals.

And why would Lindberg be in Payne's car? The first reason reported was due to Payne's lingering shoulder injury, but Competition Plus reported today that Jay has been served an indefinite suspension of his competition privileges due to a number of "on-track incidents" in the recent past (possibly in his Pro Mod?). There's got to be more to this story than has been reported so far, and I'm sure we'll read all about it soon enough.

Getting back to on-track action, Canada's quickest (by a bunch) Blown Alcohol racer, Surrey's Shawn Cowie, showed his number one qualifying, and career best, 5.241 wasn't a fluke, by laying down a very solid 5.287 to take out Canada's quickest and FASTEST (285.83 mph) Injected Nitro racer, Edmonton's Don St. Arnaud.

Overshadowing that performance was THE quickest blown alky racer in the world, Oregon's Joey Severance, with a new low e.t. of the meet, a 5.236 to blitz Bill Litton's solid 5.31 effort. Also staying in the hunt was Garrett Bateman with a 5.288, while perennial blown contender, Chris Demke, redlighted away his chances. Going into the second round tomorrow, the eight remaining cars feature three blown and five injected entries, with the two quickest being of the supercharged persuasion.

And that's the Pomona report for Saturday. Next update will be tomorrow evening after (hopefully the weather gremlins have left town) a full day of eliminations at the LA County Fairplex.



The latest update as of February 10, 2017

And we're off to the races.... until the weather intervenes


8:30 PM (Pacific Time)

Day Two of the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals was running smoothly until the weather window slammed shut just before 5:00 pm, halfway through the second qualifying session of Nitro Funny Car. With a handful of floppers and a full contingent of Top Fuel cars still waiting in the staging lanes, the decision to call it a day was made amid continuing rain showers and an increasingly marginal track temperature. An ominous sidenote to the official announcement was the sub-head of "Tomorrow Is Questionable".

A quick check of the Weather Network forecast for Pomona indicated a 40% POP (probability of precipitation) from dawn to dusk tomorrow, accompanied by temps that won't exceed 60 F during the day. Not exactly conditions conducive to harnessing the energy generated by very high-horsepower cars at the venerable Parker Avenue/LA Fairplex facility. And haven't we seen this scenario play out so many times over the 57 years that the event has been running?

The first time I attended the Winternationals, we had to endure near blizzard conditions all the way through southern Oregon and northern California, before hitting a major roadblock (snow-block) at the "Grapevine" leading into southern California. A nearly 200-mile detour out to the Pacific Coast and down through Santa Barbara eventually got us to the race on opening day. But the weather didn't let up entirely all weekend as unseasonably cold temperatures and intermittent rain made the entire event a very hard slog indeed.

This year's event might be another of those patience and endurance testing ordeals but we've seen marginal weather forecasts magically turn into decent and even stellar performance conditions more than a few times. Based on the numbers posted in all the classes so far, that could very well be the case again this year. But if the weather doesn't cooperate tomorrow, then Sunday's eliminations could be a real crapshoot with very little data for the tuners to work with at the beginning of the season.

With barely full fields in all the major categories, almost every racer in the pits will get to the first round, except for one unlucky Pro Stocker and two Fuel Funny Car racers. One of the well-sponsored racers in the latter cateogry, Cruz Pedregon, is currently outside the field with the distinct possibility of no more chances to get into the sweet sixteen. Over in Top Fuel, perennial hard-trier Terry Haddock was a no-show in the first, and only, qualifying session of the day. Not being ready to run in that opening session might well prove to be a $10,000 lesson for Mr. Haddock if the weather doesn't improve on Saturday.

There isn't enough time tonight to go through the qualifying performances but we'll be back at it in the morning and try to give our take on just who's running well and who isn't and what to expect for the balance of the event. Until then, a very big and heartfelt shout-out to Surrey BC's Shawn Cowie and the "Mundies Towing" team who sit atop the ladder in Top Alcohol Dragster with a career best 5.241 clocking in today's second qualifying session. Good on ya mates!

Shawn Cowie TAD

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