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The latest update as of September 19, 2010

"10:00 AM - Another few paragraphs on the Allen Johnson suspension"

As the countdown to none (or is it one?) continues, the first round(s) of professional eliminations are underway at Bruton Smith's extra-wide drag strip in Charlotte, North Carolina. So far it's been a rather quiet weekend, save for the suspension of Pro Stock racer Allen Johnson yesterday for failing an alcohol breath test. Hard to believe that a professional racer could get themselves into that sort of trouble, but it happened. Here's the official statement from the NHRA (courtesy of NHRA Communications):

CONCORD, N.C. -- Pro Stock Disqualification: Pro Stock car driver Allen Johnson has been disqualified from the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, it was announced today by NHRA officials. Johnson registered a .027 reading on the alcohol breath analyzer during this morning's drug and alcohol test. NHRA has a zero-tolerance policy with regard to alcohol. Any driver or official discovered to have a measurable blood alcohol content during racetrack activities shall be immediately barred from any further involvement or participation in the event. Johnson is subject to further disciplinary action as provided for in NHRA's Substance Abuse Policy. (2010 NHRA Rule Book: Section 1.7)

That statement was published at 12:24 pm eastern time, and barely three hours later, an apologetic (gee, no surprise there, eh?) and contrite Johnson issued a followup statement. Here is what he said:

CONCORD, N.C. -- "I went to a late dinner last night with my family and had a few alcoholic beverages with my meal. I felt no ill effects from the alcohol I consumed. This morning, when I learned I had been chosen for a random alcohol and drug test by the NHRA, one of many I have taken and passed over the years, I took it immediately, even though I had 24 hours in which to take the test. Unfortunately, a trace amount of alcohol registered in my system, leading to my disqualification from the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.

"I fully support the NHRA's zero tolerance policy in regards to alcohol and I understand their decision in this matter. I would like to apologize to the NHRA, my fans and to my sponsors for any disappointment that I have caused. I love drag racing and I would never do anything to purposely disrespect the sport or its fans."

Late last night I weighed in on this subject further down the page. To save you scrolling down to find it, just click here and you'll be there.

"11:00 AM - Lucas Series implications at Belle Rose and Charlotte events"

Let's start with the simple stuff and work forward from there. At the Belle Rose Division 4 Lucas Series race, #10 Top Alky Dragster racer Michael Manners lost a very tight first round battle by the slimmest of margins (.013) on a hole shot to David Brounkowski. In so doing, he left a lot of points on the table, and only earned 33 of a possible 85 for his efforts. The result of his weekend's work is that he's still far down in the #10 spot in the standings, but if he's willing to travel and catches some luck over the next two months, just might be a darkhorse candidate for the championship crown.

On the funny car side of the Belle Rose show, low qualifier Tony Bartone automatically advanced to the semifinals with a bye run in the odd-sized five car field. He showed the rest of the racers that he's ready to rumble, backing up his top qualifying 5.57 with a 5.60 on his first round bye. It looks like he'll face Texas racer Steve Burck in the semifinal, with lane choice, while the other national contender, Steve Gasparelli gets the bye run into the final. With his first round win, Gasparelli has already gained 32 points and could garner a further 21 if he wins the event, but that would still leave him in the #5 spot in the standings, albeit only 11 points out of the #4 spot.

We'll update the Belle Rose points situation as the next set of results come in, but now let's turn our attention to the national event at Charlotte where six top ten racers remained in competition as today began. Taking a quick look at the funny car side - and it's only going to take a quick look - we see that Frank Manzo got his mojo back with a new low e.t. of the meet (and top speed, just for good measure) in a second round match against Red Deer, Alberta's Ken Webster. Manzo's 5.57 at 262 mph, overcame Webster's nice holeshot and solid, but overmatched 5.76 at a slowing 227 mph as he shut off when Manzo's freight train blew past him at half track.

As mentioned earlier, Manzo can't gain any points at national events for the balance of the year, as he's gathered the maximum of five wins already, but #9 Todd Veney dropped the ball in the second round when he broke on the burnout. Tough way to go, as his total gain for the weekend is exactly 11 points, still leaving him in the #9 spot, but hot on the heels of the #8 racer, Sean O'Bannon.

Shifting our sights to the dragsters, two of the top ten gang dropped out in consecutive matches in the second round of eliminations at Charlotte. First, Darren Nicholson was nearly perfect on the tree, redlighting by .001 second and handing the win to Ontario's Ken Perry. Then Duane Shields in a trouble plagued nitro vs nitro match against John Finke. Just like that: boom, bang, bing... they were done.

Advancing to the semifinals were the other two contenders, points leader Bill Reichert in a very close race over Mike Kosky, and Monroe Guest with an easy win over Dave DeAngelis. Guest also ran quick enough to gain lane choice over Reichert in the semifinal. Reichert has already gained 11 points this weekend and could double that number to 22 with a win over Guest in the semis, then add a further 21 points with the event win and could pull a total of 85 points clear of #2 Shawn Cowie before the day is over. Guest, on the other hand, has already passed Marty Thacker into the #6 spot, but he's stuck there behind #5 Duane Shields even if he wins this event.

I've factored in the points earned by Nicholson and Shields and updated the Top Alcohol Dragster points table near the bottom of this page. Just click on the link to go there. And if you want to see how the funny car points are changing, click here.

"12:00 Noon - Full Throttle Championship implications at NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals"

With four events left on the schedule after this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals, the title hopes of at least a few contenders will be dashed with an early round loss. There simply won't be enough points available to erase a deficit of much more than 100 points by the end of today's race. A first round loss at this point could be nearly fatal to a racer's title aspirations, and right out of the box today, as the final strains of the national anthem difted into the Carolina air, Shawn Langdon went down at the hands of "Hot" Rod Fuller and by the end of the first round of Top Fuel, found himself more than 150 points adrift of the leader. Not quite done, but getting close. And he was in the #4 position coming into this event.

Other Top Ten racers facing the imminent axe were #10 David Grubnic and #8 Morgan Lucas, both of whom went down in the first round and while not mathematically eliminated, they're on death row as far as title hopes go. Steve Torrence (currently #9) survived to meet Brandon Bernstein in the second round, but he's more than 170 points out of the lead and his hopes are fading faster every time one of the leaders win another round.

Speaking of the leaders, it's starting to look very much like a three horse race at this point in Top Fuel, with Larry Dixon leading the way by less than 50 points over Cory Mac and Tony Schumacher lurking just a few dozen points further back. A very important battle is looming in the second round between Schumacher and Dixon and if the Al-Anabi jockey can pull out the win, it would go a long way towards cementing his championship hopes. Conversely, the Sarge knows that a loss to Dixon at this point could be a very big wound in his armour and leave him in a rather deep hole to climb out of.

One more Top Fuel note: the winner of the second round match between Dixon and Schumacher gets to face low qualifier Cory McClenathan in the semi-finals, assuming that Cory Mac can get past Fuller in the second round. Stay tuned, this is really getting quite interesting. Final note: all three "middle of the pack" guys: Brandon Bernstein, Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown advanced to the second round, but with nearly 150 points between them and the lead, there chances of winning the championship grow dimmer with every winlight by one of the leaders.

On the funny car side of the ledger, the Force machine faltered in the opening round, as points leader John Force fell to..... Paul Lee in the Jim Dunn car. You know the saying: on any given day..... but the reality is that it came at a very bad time for the "old truck driver" and Big Jim must be chuckling all the way to the second round. I can almost imagine him thinking "My pile of crap beat his gold-plated hot rod.... ha, ha, ha" or something like that.

Despite the loss, Force is still leading the points, but he could be passed before the end of the day by either Jack Beckman or Matt Hagan if they reach the final round, or by his daughter Ashley if she can win the event. One racer that won't have a chance to do that is Robert Hight as he went down at the hands of Hagan and is probably stuck in the #5 spot (or lower) in the standings, 83 points behind John Force and possibly further behind the new championship leader if Beckman and/or Hagan can advance to the finals.

Big battles coming up in the second round include Ashley Force against Bob Tasca, where a win by Ashley would put a real hurt on Tasca. On the other hand, a Tasca win would vault him into the #5 spot in the standings, passing Robert Hight and putting him right in the thick of the championship chase. Beckman will most likely get past Paul Lee, but you just never know, likewise for the Matt Hagan vs. Jeff Arend tilt.

The final pairing of the quarter-final round pits red-hot (for this weekend anyway) Cruz Pedregon against his brother Tony and a win by T Ped is mandatory if he hopes to contend going down the stretch. He's already moved up two notches today to #8 on the points table, over first round loser Del Worsham and surprise non-qualifier Tim Wilkerson, but he's still more than 150 points out of the lead and must win every round possible to stay in the hunt.

The other top ten racers who are on the outs right now include Del Worsham, who's fallen to the bottom of the heap with his first round loss to Ashley, and Ron Capps, who redlighted against team-mate Jack Beckman and dropped one position in the standings to #7. Realistically, it's starting to look pretty much like only the top five racers have a solid chance to win the championship, and #5 Robert Hight might be almost too far back of the leaders after today's event. Again: stay tuned, it's going to get interesting.

"1:00 PM - Dominoes falling... into place"

Second round results in the Full Throttle categories at Charlotte's O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals have just come in and there's been an upset or two and some very tight racing by the championship contenders. In the second round of Top Fuel there wasn't a close race in any of the four pairings, with Schumacher and Brown smoking 'em early and often. Schumacher's loss was especially damaging, as it came at the hands of points leader Larry Dixon and now puts Schumacher more than 100 (108 actually) behind Dixon, and if Larry can win the event, nearly 150 points in arrears with only four races left. Do the math.....

Antron Brown's loss leaves him 159 points behind Dixon, with the potential to go almost 200 down by the end of the day.... and pretty much the end of his championship hopes at this point. The biggest battle remaining at today's race is the semifinal match between Dixon and McClenathan, with Cory only 45 points behind Dixon at this point. There's a possible 40-point swing in the offing today, so McClenathan could either pull within 5 points of Dixon or be 85 back going into the final quartet of national event races in 2010.

The other two top ten racers, Brandon Bernstein (currently #4) and Doug Kalitta (#5) face off in the other semifinal pairing, with both racers more than 140 points behind the leader Dixon. Whoever loses their match will be pretty long on odds to contend for the championship. Bernstein has lane choice, but that doesn't appear to be an issue today at Charlotte.

Farther back in the staging lanes, the nitro Funny Cars have completed their second round and the last Force car dropped out at the hands of Bob "The Third" Tasca. A very big win for the east coaster, and a big loss for Ms. Force Hood. Tasca would still have to win the event to leapfrog over Ashley into 4th place in the standings, but he's already moved up two spots into #5, passing Capps and Hight in the process.

The other big deal of the second round was Matt Hagan breaking and losing to Jeff Arend, to stall in the #3 spot, some 42 points behind current leader John Force. The expected happened in the Beckman - Lee tilt as the pet food car ran out of chow on the top end and fell to Jack Beckman in a surprisingly close race. With the win, Fast Jack pulls right into John Force's slipstream, only 24 points back, with the chance to take over the lead if he can win the event. All he has to do is get past Tasca in the semis and the winner of the Arend - Pedregon match in the finals. Doable, yes. Probable, probably yes, but you just never know.

Notice how I billed one semifinal match as simply "Pedregon". Well, I've got to give some props to the Brothers Pedregon as they put on a no-holds-barred, straight-up drag race in the second race. Cruz was the heavy favourite, based on performance, but Tony was fighting to stay in the countdown hunt. There was no suggestion or hint of any sort of "lay down" on Cruz's part, and he put down a winning pass to leave Tony in the #8 spot, 160 points behind Force at this time. With only four events left on the schedule his chances are pretty much down to slim and none.

"2:00 PM - Contenders and pretenders"

Semifinal results are just in from Charlotte for the Top Alcohol racers, and some people in Delta, BC must be happy as points leader Bill Reichert lost a very close race to Monroe Guest, outrunning him by .001 second, but leaving .007 later, for a margin of victory for Guest of something like three feet. Ooooweeee. The semi-final finish leaves Reichert still 42 points ahead of Shawn Cowie. The gap widened slightly, but Reichert did leave 32 points on the table and that may come back to haunt him in the final weeks of the campaign.

Mr. Guest moved into the final round against Canadian racer Ken Perry and holds lane choice by a scant .02 of a second margin, so it will be pretty much a heads-up affair in the final, with both racers running very similar times throughout qualifying and eliminations. As stated earlier, with only four national events on his record so far this year, Guest will add all points earned here to his season total, however, even with the event victory, he'll still be in the #5 spot in the standings behind Duane Shields. Still, that's a possible two position move upwards in one weekend, so Monroe is on a roll.....

There's not much to report on the flopper side, other than Frank Manzo still having serious tire shake problems, even though he advanced to the final with a really ugly 6.31 at 253 mph pass in the semis. Facing him in the final is Klamath Falls, Oregon racer, Clint Thompson, who's quietly laying down a series of 5.5 passes: 5.59, 5.58 and 5.58 in eliminations and not only has lane choice, but he has to be considered the favourite to take the event title. Howver, it is Manzo he's racing. Let's wait and see.

At Belle Rose, there's no news since the first round, and we may not be able to wrap up that side of the story until later tonight. But the results of the semifinals in Top Fuel have just come in from Charlotte. In a less than classic match, Cory Mac fell to Dixon by a 4.05 to 4.20 margin and Doug Kalitta took the automatic win over a redlighting Brandon Bernstein. That leaves Cory Mac trailing Dixon by 65 points now, and if Larry wins the final, the margin grows to 85 points.

Schumacher now trails by 128 markers and is fading out of the countdown round by round. Even though Kalitta is facing Dixon in the final, he's fallen six points further back (due to bonus and qualifying position points) and now trails Dixon by 145 points going into the final. To say that it's a must win for Doug is nearly the understatement of the year.

The Funny Car semis are done too, and it's going to be Beckman and Cruz Pedregon in the final. Bob Tasca fell to Beckman when his engine went south at half track and now trails the current leader, John Force, by only 85 points. If Beckman wins the final though, Tasca will be trailing the new points leader, Fast Jack, by 101 points. Not insurmountable by any means, but it's going to get tighter for all the contenders when the next race begins in Dallas just four days from now.

That's all for now, but we'll try to get at least one more short update done before leaving for my real job in about an hour. Until then: stay tuned.

"5:00 PM - All over for another few days"

Although this update is being written at 5:00 pm, it won't, in all likelihood, be posted until I get home from work at 1:00 am Monday. At least it's going to be a fairly quiet night here on the job for the first few hours which will allow me time to get a few updates written and the points standings tables updated. Let's dive into it straight away, with the Top Fuel results from Charlotte, where points leader Larry Dixon took out Doug Kalitta in the final in a fairly close (less than a car length) race.

Following the O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals, the points standings in Top Fuel are as follows (after 19 of 23 events):

1Larry Dixon2355
2Cory McClenathan2270-85
3Tony Schumacher2207-148
4Doug Kalitta2190-165
5Brandon Bernstein2172-183
6Antron Brown2146-209
7Shawn Langdon2134-221
8Steve Torrence2115-240
9Morgan Lucas2104-251
10David Grubnic2066-289

The biggest changes in the table were Shawn Langdon dropping from #4 to #7 and virtually eliminating himself from the chase. On the gainer side of the equation, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown and Steve Torrence each gained a spot, although the highest placed of that group, Kalitta, lost ground to points leader Dixon and sits in fourth place, 165 points out of the lead, and for all intents and purposes, out of contention for the championship. The race for that title has more or less devolved into a two horse race, with Cory Mac trailing by 85 points and third place Schumacher nearly 150 behind with just four races to go. The chase could get interesting if Cory and Larry match winlights, but it's going to take an early loss or two by Dixon to close the gap to the rest of the field.

1John Force2245
2Jack Beckman2241-4
3Matt Hagan2203-42
4Ashley Force Hood2192-53
5Bob Tasca III2160-85
6Robert Hight2157-88
7Ron Capps2123-122
8Tony Pedregon2085-160
9Tim Wilkerson2082-163
10Del Worsham2077-168

In sharp contrast to the virtual two horse race in Top Fuel, the fat fendered gang is almost as close knit as a race fan could wish for. With the top two contenders, John Force and Jack Beckman, in a virtual dead heat, with only FOUR points separating them, and Matt Hagan barely 40 points behind. With Ashley Force Hood right on his tail, in fourth place, but only 53 points behind her father, the competition during the final four events on the gold trail will be nothing less than intense.

Looking further down the points table, even the fifth and sixth cars are less than 100 points adrift of the lead, and the racers in the "slim and none" chance category only start with Tony Pedregon in 8th place. Looks like there's going to be some very tough, close racing in Ennis at the Texas Motorplex, starting in just a few days. Hang on, it's going to be quite a ride.

The Top Alcohol finals at Charlotte were a combination of predictable and awesome, starting with the Manzo - Thompson confrontation in the funny car final. Admitting that the clutch he'd been running all weekend had turned to junk, Manzo installed a completely new unit for the final round and nipped Clint Thompson by barely two feet at the finish line. Both ran within a few thousandths of their best efforts of the weekend and they left nearly identically, for a total win margin of six thousandths of a second in Manzo's favour. Great race, but that was only an hors d'oeuvre before the entree of the dragster final.

In a stunning display of "putting it all on the line - and then some!" Monroe Guest cut a perfect (.000) light in the final round of top alcohol dragster. That is never supposed to happen, not even on a qualifying or test pass, let alone the final round of a national event. But he did it, and needed almost all of it to hold off Ken Perry's slightly quicker blown alcohol car. The winning margin was five hundredths - about a car length - as both racers made their best runs of the weekend, and in the end, it was the holeshot that did it.

Guest had already advanced one spot in the points standings before the final, but his shot in the dark jumped him over Shields and Whiteley into the #4 slot on the national charts, just 84 points behind leader Bill Reichert, with two national and three divisional events remaining to attend to improve his point totals. It's looking like a tight battle for the national crown is starting to shape up for the dragsters, while the funny car title still appears firmly in the grasp of Mr. Manzo.

We're not sure why the semi and final round results from Belle Rose haven't come in yet, as it appears to have been six hours now with no updates on Drag Race Central from that location. Maybe later tonight or tomorrow morning we'll see how Bartone and Gasparelli fared and be able to finish the updates on the alky funny car points table.

That's all for this evening. Next update tomorrow.

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