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The latest update as of September 6, 2010

"NHRA U.S. Nationals notebook - 11:30 AM UPDATE"

We certainly won't be doing any full-on reports on this race, but one of these years I will be there and will try to top the great stories that the late Pat Harden and the (not yet late) Jamie Clerf wrote about their Indy adventures a number of years back. One day....

This year's event has seen the usual performances by the usual suspects and some rather unusual and interesting appearances by racers that have been overlooked by the "big show producers". A few good news stories brewed and bubbled, then slowly lost their heat and flavour when the reality of modern day drag racing pushed them to the sidelines. Chris "The Golden Greek" Karamesines, Bob "Mad Dog" Glidden, even Don "Big Daddy" Garlits all failed to qualify in what might be their final attempts at glory at the Big(gest) Go that is Indy.

Thankfully, there's still a few great stories simmering and gaining heat as the rounds of eliminations go by. At this writing, we're about an hour from the semi-final round of Top Alcohol Dragster and the Canadian contender, Delta's Shawn Cowie is hanging in there, with lane choice over Chris "Goliath" Demke in the third round. And for the first time in quite a while, all four semifinalists are running blown alky combinations. No nitro? Yes, sir!

We'll update the Cowie story as soon as the next set of results come in from Drag Race Central, but the past hour has seen the ending of the last big underdog tale in Top Fuel, with the ousting of T.J. Zizzo in the second round, at the hands of Cory Mac. The Zizzo team, long-time top alky runners who started running Top Fuel eight years ago, and have competed on a very limited basis since then, qualified with career best numbers, then took out Doug Kalitta in a very tight race in the first round, on a holeshot no less, and gave Cory Mac a real battle to half track in their second round loss. Great show guys and hopefully it will lead to some more help from the Peak Antifreeze folks in the future.

The other Top Fuel story on my radar ended yesterday afternoon in the final qualifying session when Chris Karamesines dropped a bunch of cylinders near half track and slowed to a non-qualifying 4.39 time, "good" only for the second alternate position and the $3000 "thanks for coming" paycheque. BUT, and here's the big but, that really picks my but(t).... his first two qualifying passes, on Friday (3.927 e.t.) and Saturday (3.933 e.t.), both with speeds in the 310 mph range, would have have easily qualified him for eliminations today, in fact in the lucky 13th position.

Yes, there is a reason for the deletion of the non-top-12 qualifying times after the first or (in the case of Indy) second day of qualifying, but the injustice it can inflict on one of the legends of the sport has really got to hurt not only Karamesines and his crew, but his many fans, and race fans in general. Not to mention the writers and reporters who just thrive on this sort of thing. We all know the rules, but it still doesn't make it right or fair. However, like many things in life, that's just the way it is.

Among the other "hard triers" (an Aussie term - you can look it up if you can't guess what it means) in Top Fuel experienced varying degrees of success, starting with Terry Haddock's 4.01 (#15) qualifying performance in five (yes, he ran every session) attempts. Not so successful were Luigi "The Roman Candle" Novelli - and to be fair to him, he hasn't lit it up really badly for a year or two now, and Pat Dakin, who both failed to make the cut. Again, the 12-car cut on Saturday bit another veteran, as Dakin's first day 3.976 would have placed him 14th on the final roster if the run hadn't been deleted. Novelli, on the other hand, only made it down the track twice, on the final day of qualifying, and could muster no better than a 4.51 e.t.

There's so much to write about this race, from Bob Bode coming back down to earth after his first-ever national event win at the late race on the NHRA schedule in Brainered, to Glidden's attempt in Pro Stock, to Garlits running in Stock Eliminator, to the Hemi Super Stock cars failing to have an impact in Super Stock eliminator, despite the great performances from the 24 cars in attendance, to the unreal numbers laid down by Brad Personett's Brad Anderson TURBO hemi in Pro Mod. And much, much more. Stay tuned, we'll be back in a while after a quick lunch and some chores around the house.

"NHRA U.S. Nationals notebook - 12:15 PM UPDATE"

Cowie's in the final! Just in from Indy: Shawn Cowie slays the giant in the form of Chris Demke, cutting the light of his life (.015 reaction time) and running away with the race as Demke broke at the 300 foot mark. Not only did he win and run his best numbers of the weekend, at 5.295 - 270.32, but he's got lane choice over Marty Thacker in the final round for the win at the U.S. F%$^ing Nationals! It just doesn't get any better than that.

I'm loathe to mention this now, but I was expecting the Cowie team to bow out early, with more of the engine woes that have been biting them on a sort of regular basis lately, but thankfully that hasn't turned out to be the case. Not sure what has turned around for them, but they've got the car running strong all the way to the finish line for the past three or four runs, instead of hurting itself at the 1000 foot mark as has happened a number of times in recent months. One more time now and all the trials and tribulations will be in the history books, along with Shawn Cowie's name in the record books.

Just one problem in writing the fairy-tale ending: Marty Thacker. Very hard running car, very quick leaving driver. Absolutely one of the toughest opponents in the country, and very familiar with the Indy track and weather conditions. But the Cowie team fears no one and will give Thacker all he can handle.... and more? Stay tuned to find out in an hour or so.

Moving into the shorter, slower, fuller-bodied cars, the second round of Pro Mod eliminations saw the end of the road for one Canuck hopeful as Manitoba's Kenny Lang (the last IHRA World Champion in Pro Mod) shook, smoked and shut off against the BIG story in Pro Mod this weekend, Brad Personett. Lang had qualified solidly in the middle of the pack (#10) with a 5.98 pass, then got past the first round with a 5.99, but fell to the awesome turbo car of Personett in the second round.

Toronto's Ray Commisso did advance to the semifinals, from his bubble boy position in qualifying (#16), and despite being stuck in the sixes (6.04 and 6.05 in qualifying, another 6.04 in the first round and 6.02 in the second round) has advanced twice and is almost headsup, performance-wise against Joe Baker in the semis.

However, Brad Personett has the car that's really caught my eye this weekend. He may not make it back for the semifinals after leaving a huge trail of smoke from the finish line to the turnout at the end of the track. The Safety Safari did a small cleanup afterwards but Personett didn't leave a lot of fluids or parts behind and may be able to heal the wounds before his next round against Ed Hoover.

The big story though is the speed numbers he's running, starting with his second round 255.39, the fastest NHRA-legal speed ever for a Pro Mod. And remember, he's doing it with a combination no one else is running: a turbo. Of course he's only another couple of mph's and a tenth or so in e.t. from being legislated out of existence when the other racers protest his "unfair advantage" aka: building a better mousetrap. Innovation be damned, unless we thought of it first is the cry of most racers these days. So let's enjoy these incredible performances while they last.

What has really caught my eye about the Personett team is his second half numbers, from the 660 to 1320 foot mark, as they are so far ahead of the competition that it's almost scary to think what the car would do if they could run the first 1/8th mile as quick as the blown or nitrous cars. Here's some examples from qualifying. Oh heck, this is so good, let's just put all the data in and see how he stacks up against the best running blown cars in the field. And big thanks to Larry Sullivan of Drag Race Central for posting all the incremental times.

ROUND660 ET660 MPH1320 ET1320 MPHBackhalf ETBackhalf MPH

So just how does Personett stack up against the rest of the field. Look at his best numbers in the backhalf of the track, where the turbo car really shines. (It's truly scary to contemplate what this thing could do with a great launch and early incrementals - His best 60 foot time of the meet, so far, is 1.015 - not exactly stellar for this class of car, but a great number for a turbo car). The ONLY car in the entire field to run under two seconds in the second eighth-mile was Melanie Troxel, at 1.994 and Danny Rowe had athe largest speed gain of 56.55 mph, but both numbers were still demonstrably behind Personett's best performances. It would be quite interesting reading to see the dyno sheets from the Brad Anderson hemi under the hood of that '68 Camaro, wouldn't it?

Before I break for lunch, here's the final round pairings in the pro classes: Larry Dixon with lane choice over Cory Mac in Top Fuel; Ashley Force with the advantage over dear old dad, John, in Funny Car, and Greg Stanfield over Mike Edwards in the non-monkey driven door car class. With apologies to all the primates in the audience. And Jim Head and a hundred other nitro pilots too.

The next report will wind back to qualifying and see what happened to Garlits and Glidden, two of the winningest drivers in the long, storied history of the U.S. Nationals (17 Indy wins between them!). Yeah, I know it's the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, but it will always be Indy or the U.S. Nationals to everyone but the p.r. hacks and NHRA staffers.

"NHRA U.S. Nationals notebook - 1:55 PM UPDATE"

Whatever ailed the turboed Camaro in the second round was obviously solved for the semifinals, as Brad Personett overcame an Ed Hoover holeshot to win by a margin of..... 15 inches (or three thousandths of a second). Whew, and he did it with another 250+ mph speed and another 5-second pass. Even better: he's got lane choice over Joe Baker in the final. And the last Canadian car in the field, Ray Commisso, went out via the redlight against Baker in the other semifinal pairing.

Now for the big news: Shawn Cowie.... doesn't win the U.S. Nationals. His final round race against Marty Thacker went as expected on the starting line, with Thacker pushing the tree hard for an .003 reaction time, to Cowie's excellent .025, and stretched the advantage to .041 second at the 60-foot clocks, before Cowie reeled him in and pulled ahead just before 300 feet, increasing the lead to half track to a margin of .027, with identical 660-foot speeds, and still leading by one hundredth of a second at 1000 feet as the engine in the Mundie's Towing car went away yet again. Thacker pulled away at that point and took the victory by two full car lengths as Cowie slowed to a 5.488 at only 226 mph in a losing cause. Very close for four seconds, but ultimately, no cigar or trophy.

In the other alcohol category, a match of two real veterans, Jay Payne and Tony Bartone, saw Jay take his first national event win in quite a while over the quickest car of the weekend, Bartone, as the Big Noise from New York went into hard tire shake at the green and shut off.

The Pro Mod final followed almost immediately, and Brad Personett took an uncontested victory as his opponent, Joe Baker, failed to show. Brad ran it hard to half track, then put out the chutes and coasted across the finish line to a 6.001 at 221 mph clocking for his first national event win... at the U.S. Nationals. Wow, what a show by the one truly unique car in the Pro Mod ranks. It was a long time coming, but Bad Brad (times two) got the job done.

All that's left now is the Pro Finals and the bits still to be written about Garlits and Glidden. Still haven't had lunch though and it's time for a break. Back shortly with the final wrapup of today's story(s).

Before we could even post this update, the final results rolled in from Drag Race Central, and the princess beat the king, or beauty slayed the beast, or.... you get the picture: Ashley Force Hood beat her dad to jump from 8th to 4th in the "playoff" standings, while John held on to the top spot on the leader board, with a 60-point advantage over #2 Jack Beckman. In the final round, Ashley ran another consistent mid 4-teen, while John rattled the tires and shut off early.

In the other nitro category, Top Fuel finalists Larry Dixon and Cory McClenathan had a much closer race, with barely a car length separating them at the finish line, as Dixon tripped the win lights. Both cars almost hit 320 mph at the stripe, and Dixon increased his lead at every incremental timer in taking the win. Interestingly, the two combatants were the top two qualifiers, a situation that usually doesn't happen at Indy, or many other races for that matter.

The points standings in Top Fuel after this first round of the playoffs sees Dixon still in front, opening up the gap very slightly on Cory Mac from the 30 point margin going in, to 35 points after the race. Schumacher still occupies the third spot, but falls 85 points in arrears to the leader, while Shawn Langdon jumps all the way to #4 from the 7th spot, but trailing Dixon by over 100 points. It only takes a race or two of early losses to seriously put the hurt on a racer's championship aspirations, and now there's only five races to go in the season. Crunch time is coming up in two weeks time at Charlotte.

Oh, almost forgot: Greg Stanfield beat Mike Edwards in the Pro Stock final, proving that he can out holeshot the holeshot expert, with Edwards taking .084 seconds to launch (nearly comatose by his standards) as Stanfield cranked out an .020 light and held on for the half-car length win. In Pro Stock Bike, a side-by-side six-second battle, saw L.E. Tonglet defeat the favourite, Rod Hines. Chalk up a victory for Suzuki over the "flavour-de-jour" Harley V-Rod.

"NHRA U.S. Nationals notebook - 2:45 PM UPDATE"

As promised, here's the skinny on the comeback attempt of Bob Glidden in Pro Stock. It started a few weeks ago, when Jim Cunningham decided to try something different with his Pro Stock Mustang. He'd been trying to qualify for the past few years at NHRA races, following a large lottery win, but only broke into a field for the first time at Seattle's Northwest Nationals in July of this year. Having a small taste of the limelight led him to contact Glidden to try to make it a regular occurence of being able to race on Sunday.

With a lifetime of experience at making Ford's run, Glidden was an obvious choice as a mentor, and his role evolved to the point where it was decided to put Bob himself in the driver's seat for a serious, if not nostalgic, appearance at the U.S. Nationals. A test session at Martin, Michigan last weekend showed that Glidden could still get a pro stock car down the track and the work began in earnest to try to get Cunningham's Ford qualified at Indy.

Glidden knew that there remained a lot of work to be done on the engine to get things up to speed, so to speak, and with only a week to get it sorted, then five qualifying passes on the schedule, the odds remained very long that a spot in the top 16 was achievable. Starting with a respectable, but off the pace 6.782 at nearly 205 mph in Friday's first session, he progressed to a 6.74 and a 6.69 on Saturday, the latter run at an improving speed of over 206 mph. Even though they were in 26th place on the dance card, the gap to the 16th and final qualifying position was only six hundredths of a second. Not entirely out of reach with two more attempts on tap for Sunday.

The weather changed a bit on Sunday, not enough to really affect the top runners, but the Glidden - Cunningham went one step backwards, carding a 6.70 as they moved up to the #23 spot with the resetting of the field for the final day. (Only the top 12 cars kept their positions, while the rest of the field started off with no qualifying times credited). The final shot at making the Monday show came a few hours later and the weather had definitely changed, with the corrected altitude up over 3000 feet, the track temps up and the predictable result was an even slower 6.73 timeslip to put paid to their Indy aspirations for 2010.

Still, it was a great performance from a real veteran and legend of the sport, non-qualifying, but creditable nonetheless. With more seat time, dyno time and some chassis tuning, there might be a chance to become competitive for this odd couple of door car racing, but it remains to be seen if this is more than a one-off event. Frankly, it might be best if that was the case, so we can look back at Glidden's last hurrah coming under his terms, on his home track, in front of a series of standing ovations and an honest, more than respectable effort that just fell short due to time constraints. Good show all round, and one to keep in our memories.

Finally, we look at the Don Garlits attempt to qualify his Drag-Pak Challenger in Stock Eliminator. He's been running the car for the past two years after receiving the first one out of the factory in mid-2008 and he attempted to qualify at last year's U.S. Nationals, falling short of the 128-car field by 16 spots, with a 10.43 best (on an 11.30 index). He did get into the shorter (72-car) field at this year's Gatornationals, slotting into the 43rd spot with a better 10.36 e.t. Then at this year's Indy he got quicker again with a 10.27 best, but fell short of the bubble again, seven spots short of the 128-car cutoff, and falling in the first round of A/SA class eliminations due to a redlight.

It's difficult to predict whether Garlits will continue racing his new Challenger, or when he'll be out again, but while it's great to see him at the races, and driving something current and popular, seeing him not even qualifying, let alone contending for victories is difficult to take. It certainly must be bothersome for Don too, but on the other hand, at his age he's got to be happy just being at the track, and having fun in a very low-pressure situation compared to his Top Fuel days. And don't they seem so long ago?

We'll close off our Indy report with an observation on the 24, yes an even two dozen, SS/AH '68 hemi cars (Darts and Barracudas) that attempted to qualify in Super Stock Eliminator, then participated in the Hemi Challenge. Only 11 of them got into the 128-car field, and the top two ended in the #30 and #80 spots, with the other eight cars ranging between #91 and #124. Of course the SS/AH class eliminations, the Hemi Challenge, were nearly worth the price of admission, with big wheelstands, screaming Hemis and scorching e.t.'s and speeds - mid 8's at well over 150 mph in Super "Stock" cars. Reality set in during the regular eliminations as only two hemi cars survived the first round and the last contestant went out in the third round, ending the excitement factor for the spectators at that point.

After all this, you're probably dying to watch the U.S. Nationals on television, and for us Canadians, the show(s) will be broadcast on both TSN2 and the regular TSN network, all in high-def as usual. The earlier broadcasts are on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, September 8th and 9th at 11:00 AM (pacific) for two and a half hours each day; a total of five hours of Indy coverage. The shows (presumably the same content) will be broadcast on the regular TSN network next week, September 15th and 16th at 10:00 AM both days. Remember to set your PVRs. Now. Not "soon" as I sometimes do, then forget to set it at all. And miss the broadcast, usually remembering halfway through the workday with no way to set the PVR remotely or too late even if I could.

It's going to be a busy week at work but there should be a few more updates here as the week winds by, so stop in and check it out occasionally. You just never know.....

To see previous updates go to the What's Old page