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The latest update as of September 18, 2010

"News from Belle Rose, Charlotte and Bakersfield"

Let's start with the short and (not so) sweet report from the NHRA Division 7 Lucas Oil Series race at Bakersfield, California. While there's no Top Alcohol fields there this weekend, local Comp hero Rob Harrison (North Vancouver) hauled his J/Altered '05 Cavalier all the way down there and nabbed the top qualifying spot in the 20-car field. He laid down a very good 7.66 - nearly two thirds of a second under the index - and looked good heading into the first round of eliminations yesterday afternoon.

About the only way I can describe Harrison's first round race is to use the Drag Race Central report verbatim: "Well, that was weird! Both cars left before the green, Fitzpatrick gets the win for being too early later than Harrison. Huh?". Not much else you can say after that is there. Bet it's going to be a very long ride home for the crew after that episode.

Moving on to the other Lucas Series race, at Belle Rose, LA's "No Problem Raceway", the Top Alcohol fields are, to put it charitably, rather thin. With only five floppers and four diggers on hand, they've barely got the makings of an old-time Pro Comp field combined. In the racers' defence, the ones in attendance are all quality runners and the competition, as short-handed as it is, should be first rate.

"Top Alcohol Championship Permutations at Belle Rose (No Problem Raceway)"

In the dragster field, only Michael Manners, currently sitting at #10 in the nationals standings is in championship contention, and Steve Gasparelli, #5 and Tony Bartone, #10 in the funny car standings represent the flopper title aspirants. Since Manners has only competed at four Lucas series races so far this season, all his points from this weekend will add to his current tally of 411, which has him currently in #10 in the national standings. Unfortunately, he'll still be in tenth spot after the race today, as the #9 racer (Mike Austin) is 97 points ahead of Manners, with a maximum of 85 to be gained today.

Gasparelli, who's sitting in the #5 slot in the funny car standings, can't move up in the standings either, as he can earn a maximum of 53 extra points with a win this weekend to pull within 11 points of an idle fourth place Steve Harker. But that's far from a done deal as Gasprarelli doesn't even have lane choice in his first round match against Bryan Brown.

However, Bartone has the most to gain, as he's only competed in three Lucas series races this year, so any points he earns this weekend will add to his total. He's already surpassed the idle John Lombardo, Brian Hough and Sean O'Bannon (#6 through #8, respectively) and if he can win more rounds than Todd Veney, who's competing at the national event in Charlotte, could jump all the way to the #7 spot. If all the cards fall his way, he could even vault over Gasparelli into the #5 spot on the national chart.

"Top Alcohol Championship Permutations at Charlotte (Z-Max Dragway)"

Looking eastward, to Charlotte's O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals, two more top ten funny cars are in attendance, with numero uno Frank Manzo leading the pack in the top qualifying spot.... again. Surprise, surprise, eh? The only small ray of sunshine for his competitors is that he shook hard on his last qualifying pass and his first round bye run after posting the only 5.5 of the weekend on his first shot. Oh... I just noticed that he's gained the maximum number of national event points that he can earn for the season so his possible points improvement for the weekend is exactly zero.

The other top alcohol funny car competitor in the top ten at Charlotte, #9, Todd Veney, has already advanced to the second round of eliminations, but doesn't have lane choice against his quarter-final competitor, Mark Billington. Veney has, however, picked up 11 points already with his first round win and could gain as many as 43 with the event win, possibly moving him up the standings to the #6 position. In fact, just getting past Billington and advancing to the semi-finals would give him enough points to do that.

In the Top Alcohol Dragster field at Charlotte are four top ten runners, #1 Bill Reichert, #5 Duane Shields, #7 Monroe Guest, (and they qualified in the top three spots in the field) plus #8 Darren Nicholson, who qualified in the fifth spot in the 16-car - yes, a full field, but just barely - field. All four racers advanced to the second round and surprisingly, none of them will meet each other until the semi-finals, when all four could face off in a real battle royal.

Reichert can possibly gain 43 points this weekend, while his closest pursuer at this event, Duane Shields, is in line for a 54 point jump. He's already gained 11 points just by advancing to the second round of eliminations, and will move past Jim Whiteley into the #4 spot on the ladder with another winlight at Charlotte. Monroe Guest, on the other hand, with only four national events on his ledger so far, can garner a payload of the maximum 85 points, and could move up two spots to the #5 position. Just by qualifying for eliminations, he's passed an idle Marty Thacker and if he can reach the winner's circle he will overtake Whiteley.

Darren Nicholson's maximum points increase is 54 (and he's already up 11 points with his first round win) and if he can overcome the odds and win the event, he could pass Thacker also, and end up in the #6 position come Sunday evening. In any event, it appears that the top ten top alky dragster standings will undergo a wholesale change in the next few hours and the championship battle will get that much tighter as the season winds down. After today, there will be only four national and five divisional events left on the calendar for the top alcohol racers. Crunch time is here.

"File this one under D for ......"

One final note from Charlotte before we sign off the evening. In a real shock development, veteran Pro Stock racer Allen Johnson, was disqualified from the event following a random alcohol test on Saturday morning. Despite the zero tolerance policy instituted a number of years ago by NHRA, Johnson recorded a blood alcohol level of .027 (impaired driving is usually considered to be in excess of .050 to .080 in different jurisdictions) and was immediately suspended from the event, stripped of any points earned at the race, and faces a fine and further sanctions, possibly including a further competition suspension after this incident.

The part of this story that absolutely floored me was Johnson's statement, released shortly after the suspension was announced by NHRA, that detailed the circumstances surrounding the situation. He admitted having "several alcoholic beverages" during a late dinner on Friday evening, then agreeing to submit to testing Saturday morning - despite - and I repeat - despite having the option to delay the test for as long as 24 hours. Unless he had anything further to drink during that period he almost certainly would have passed the test at a later time, possibly as early as 12 hours after the original demand.

It's questionable whether Johnson was being brave, or foolish, and my money's definitely on the latter, in agreeing to an immediate test, when he almost certainly should have known there was a possible, albeit slight, chance that he might fail the test. The bigger question remaining in my mind is what if he was much closer to the impaired level and was allowed to compete in that condition? With approximately 20 hours between the 3rd qualifying session and the deadline for testing, and nearly 16 hours from the last qualifying session, if Johnson had deferred the test for the maximum amount of time allowed in the rulebook, he probably could have eliminated all the alcohol from his system before the 24 hours had passed.

BUT, and here's the part that really bothers me, he still would have been able to compete with a measurable amount of alcohol in his system, against competitors that were completely sober and unknowing of his condition. Can you imagine the situation the NHRA would be faced with if there was a serious incident and a susbsequent blood or breath sample confirmed that a driver was impaired, or with anything, even a trace of alcohol in his/her system? The fallout would be immediate, very damaging and likely long lasting.

Might I humbly suggest that in light of this situation with Allen Johnson - which fortunately for everyone concerned, was dealt with immediately, and fairly to all parties - that the association revisit the procedures and protocols for drug and alcohol testing of competitors and officials. The proactive stance that this would display would go a long way to repair the damage to the image of drag racing that's probably occured this weekend. And make no mistake, even though it was dealt with quickly and decisively, some damage was done the moment the failed test was announced.

Whew, that's enough for a Saturday night. After that, all I can say is "Sunday! Sunday! Be There!" Wherever there is. More news later today as eliminations progress at Charlotte and Belle Rose. To go directly to the top of the page, just click here.

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