Jay Turner Racing made a champion-quality comeback from their pre-Pomona trailer incident, filling both lanes for the Top Fuel Harley final at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. 2017 champ Turner didn’t budge an inch when the lights came down, while Tharpe went down the track for the win.
“When Jay armed the fuel system it cycled,” said Tharpe, explaining Turner’s starting line malfunction. “If he had hit it…boom!”
Number one qualifier Turner started raceday with an E1 win over Beau Layne, while Tharpe beat Mike Scott. Turner beat Randal Andras in the semi, while Tharpe had the tough draw in Pomona winner Doug Vancil.
After taking ten whole years off from the sport, Vancil—with the help of Mike Romine—returned to Pomona as if a day hadn’t passed. Despite the layoff, and now especially with Turner’s trailer accident, Vancil is an instant championship contender.
But Tharpe put a an .042 light to Vancil’s .076. Then Vancil bobbled and—despite a strong top end charge from Doug—Tharpe raced clean on “Maddy” to the round win with a 6.26 and set up the final with Turner.
“Best words I got are—this was done with a ton of hard work and heart,” Spevco president Tharpe said after the win. Thank you to everyone that it matters to…much love.”
What most will likely remember from this Phoenix event is the massive John Force/Johnnie Lindberg crash. In an accident eerily reminiscent of his 2007 crash in Dallas, Texas, Force won his second round race in Sunday’s 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals before an engine explosion sent his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Camaro careening into the Toyota of Lindberg
Significantly, he won two of his record 16 NHRA titles after that accident. “My struggles continue, but I’m a big boy, I’ll fix it,” said Force who is 11th in points. “Really glad to know that Jonnie Lindberg is okay. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I think I still have another championship in me. Depending on what the doctors say, I’m gonna come out and watch Robert test his Auto Club Chevrolet tomorrow and then get ready for Gainesville.”
Along the way to round four, Johnson defeated Robert Hight, Richard Townsend and Shawn Langdon. In the finals, Johnson had the reaction time advantage over opponent Courtney Force, but he hazed the tires early into the run. Despite his best efforts, Force was able to power to the win with her 3.834-sec pass.
A runner-up finish propelled Johnson, and Terry and Doug Chandler’s Make-A-Wish team from tenth to fifth in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series points standings. “The car out of the box was good,” said Johnson. “Then, we had the problems on Saturday with blowing it up big, but the guys rebounded and came back strong today. We had maybe a little luck the first two rounds but everyone was smoking the tires. We kept working hard and got those round wins and laid down a nice, solid run in the semis so I was confident going into the finals. I thought we had something for Courtney. But I’m just happy that the performance of the car is kind of coming back to us. We’re still new to the six-disc [clutch] and learning it. I think the guys made big strides this weekend.”
Hagan entered the NHRA Arizona Nationals as the most recent Funny Car event champion, and 2017 Phoenix winner. The points leader struggled throughout qualifying, making only one full pull, but felt confident in the team’s abilities to turn the car around and have a successful showing on race day.
Hagan powered the Dickie Venables-tuned Sandvik Coromant Dodge Charger R/T to a 3.910-second run in the first round of eliminations, easily defeating opponent J.R. Todd. The run, which held up to be second best of the round, earned Hagan the advantage of lane choice in round two.
Hagan drew eventual event champion Courtney Force, and he believes delays during the second Funny Car session were a factor in the team’s round two woes.
The Sandvik Charger put a hole out early into the pass. Shortly after, Hagan suffered an explosion just past halftrack and Force was able to drive into the semifinals.
Despite a round two exit, Hagan remains the Funny Car points leader leaving Phoenix. “We came in and tested in Phoenix and had a really nice session,” said Hagan. “We got here and the weather changed and we changed up some blower combos and some things like that, kind of making some more horsepower than we expected. We started trying to pull some of that back and then obviously, when you start doing that, it affects everything. You change one thing and it changes ten.
“All-in-all we went through first round and I was really impressed with Dickie Venables. In the first round there were guys smoking the tires and rattling up the tree and just couldn’t get down the track. He made some really big wholesale changes to get us where we went 91 [3.91 seconds] and ended up having lane choice out there for second round, but with the delays we already had our tune-up set up. Conditions changed and there just wasn’t a lot we could do. We’re going to roll to Gainesville next and do our thing.”
After qualifying second and making two bonus point-worthy runs on Saturday, Ron Capps and the Rahn Tobler-led NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car team were poised for a long day of going rounds on Sunday.
Capps, a three-time Phoenix Funny Car champion, started race day with 680 round wins, ranking him sixth on the all-time list among professional NHRA drivers. He was hoping to collect four more rounds to add to his impressive total on Sunday, but first he’d have to get through Tim Wilkerson, his round one opponent.
Wilkerson dropped a cylinder early into the run. Meanwhile, Capps drove the NAPA Dodge Charger to a straight and clean 3.908-second at 325.30-mph pass for the win. The run was the best of the round, and held up to be second best of race day.
In the quarterfinals, Capps faced Funny Car newcomer Shawn Langdon. Unfortunately for the NAPA team, Langdon took the lead almost immediately, and while Capps charged hard in an attempt to chase him down, he smoked the tires near halftrack and Langdon was able to take the win, ending Capps’ day early.
“We smoked the tires. It’s so unlike Rahn Tobler,” noted Capps. “He’s up there on the computer trying to figure out what happened. It’s part of adapting to our new six-disc clutch. It’s part of the growing pains, but we had such a great race car, and to have a chance of winning like we did, and have lane choice going back into round two, it’s been a very interesting weekend.
“It takes a little while for it to sink in because we really felt like we had a car that was capable of taking the win today. We’re disappointed. But we didn’t hurt any parts. The car is in one piece and we’re looking forward to Gainesville.”
Three-time Phoenix winner Jack Beckman had a strong showing throughout qualifying at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. He made ‘top three’ session-best runs during three out of four qualifying sessions, and earned lane choice over Richard Townsend, who was making his Funny Car race day debut in round one. Beckman was first to stand on the gas, but suffered an explosion early into the run. The parachutes deployed and the Dodge Charger came to a stop on the track. Townsend drove to the finishline and claimed the round win.
“The Infinite Hero team was going to stay and test tomorrow,” reported Beckman. “The reason we’re testing is not due to our first round explosion. We’re tracing the root cause of that and we will eliminate that. We’re testing because, even though I think we have a phenomenal and versatile car good in all conditions right now, we’ve still got some different parts and pieces, and some of our spare parts that we need to cycle through to make sure that we’re good to go for the hard push in the summer months. So, we will cross two more things off of our list before we leave here tomorrow afternoon. We will eliminate the cause of our first-round explosion and we will test enough things that we’ll roll into Gainesville with even more confidence.”
Steve Torrence powered his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing dragster to the Top Fuel victory with a run of 3.729 at 330.72 to take down Scott Palmer in the final round. After locking down a career-best eight victories in 2017, Torrence recorded a victory in Phoenix for the first time in his career.
In round one, Antron Brown was quick off of the starting line, but immediately encountered tire smoke. Lucky for Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel team, opponent Mike Salinas hit the gas early, activating the red light and fouling out.
The quarterfinals found Brown lining up next to rookie racer Greg Carrillo. Brown watched Carrillo take out teammate Tony Schumacher earlier in the day, and unfortunately for the three-time Phoenix champion, Brown would suffer the same fate. Brown hit the throttle and once again, was up in smoke before the Matco Tools dragster crossed the tree. Carrillo drove to the round win and into the semifinals.
“We got away with one there in the first round, and then we backed it off a little in the second round,” reported Brown. “We just can’t get on the right side of it right now. This Matco Tools/U.S. Army car has just been mean lately. We’re going to get it. It’s just going to take some time and putting laps down. We’re making good power; we just have to tame that beast down. Our main focus is to come back here tomorrow and test. Take it one step at a time and get back to our realm. Today should have been one of those days where we make a run to the final, put some pressure on it and move up in the points, but we let it slip away. We’ll go back and just keep working hard and try to get to where we need to be at.”
The last time Leah Pritchett had lost a round in competition at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park was 2015. The 2016 and 2017 NHRA Arizona Nationals Top Fuel champion was hoping to become the first Top Fuel driver in the 33-year history of the event to make it a three-in-a-row.
During qualifying, Pritchett ran a career-best speed of 334.15-mph during her 3.679-second Q3 pass, which was good for the No. 4 spot and lane choice versus Troy Buff on race day.
In round one, Pritchett was quick off of the line. She drove the Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster down the track in 3.679-secs, leading Buff the entire stretch of the track and earning a spot into round two.
Pritchett’s Phoenix win streak ended in the quarterfinals when she hit the throttle and experienced immediate tire smoke. Palmer made a relatively clean pass and was able to take the win.
“It wasn’t the weekend we were looking for, but there were some positives,” said Pritchett. “The feeling of a round win was much needed. It’s been a while and that’s what all the work is for. Those small moments that we get to enjoy going rounds. The roller coaster saga continues. When we were in the lanes for E2 for quite some time, the conditions changed more than what we were expecting and we adjusted for it trying to be as versatile as possible, but we were a little too much out of our spectrum.
“Coming out of Phoenix, having the know-how that we still do know how to get down the racetrack on race days, and be the quickest and the fastest is what’s going to propel us to Gainesville.”
After making three solid passes during qualifying, two of them session-best, Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team were poised for a long day of racing.
The No. 1 qualifier faced newbie Greg Carrillo in round one. Schumacher has a history of coming up short against Top Fuel rookies seeking their first round win, and the ‘rookie curse’ continued in Phoenix. Schumacher had the starting line advantage but started rattling the tires early into the run. The five-time Phoenix champion pedaled it, but the U.S. Army dragster immediately went back up into smoke, and Carrillo goes on to take the round win.
“We’ve got a great team and went fast,” said Schumacher. “We got a great race car, great team, we’re getting along excellent. It’s just one of those things that’s going to happen randomly throughout the season. You’ve got to look at the luck that goes on. Antron goes out, smokes the tires and gets a red light. We go out, pedal the car and would have beat most cars out there, and get beat by a car that just goes down the track. It is what it is. You can’t be angry; this is about my 500th race. And we’ve won 83 of them. We’ve won more than anyone in the history. But we’ve lost 400 plus. At the end of the day, this is not an easy thing to go out and do. We’ve got a great team. We keep our chins up. We’re happy with all the guys; they’re doing a great job. The car is performing as well as anything we’ve seen in a long time. It’s good to be here.”
In Pro Stock Car, Chris McGaha drove to the winner’s circle with a 6.529 at 211.59 run in his Harlow Sammons Chevrolet Camaro to defeat Jason Line in the final round. He secured his sixth career victory and first since winning the Four-Wide Nationals last season in Charlotte.
Saturday: Turner Takes Over in Phoenix
“Not so fast,” is what defending NHRA Top Fuel Harley champion Jay Turner might be saying. A trailer incident kept Turner from the season opener at Pomona, leaving the newly un-retired Doug Vancil looking like a world beater.
But Jay Turner Racing has unloaded and owned qualifying at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Tii Tharpe led on Friday, and the Bulldog himself took over on Saturday with a 6.26 at 216 miles per hour.
That’s not to say that Vancil isn’t right in the thick of it, right behind in second place with a 6.27 at 222. Tharpe is third with a 6.28 in what has been a stellar two days of Top Fuel Harley qualifying following a lackluster showing in Pomona. Eliminations should be equally spectacular.
Tony Schumacher will start race day from the No. 1 Top Fuel spot on Sunday morning. Cool temperatures and prime conditions gave way to another day of quick passes on Saturday at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, but no one could top Schumacher and his U.S. Army Top Fuel team.
Schumacher earned his 85th No. 1 qualifier during Friday’s opening session, leading the 19-car Top Fuel field with his record setting 3.649-second at 336.57-mph run. “It’s been an excellent weekend for the U.S. Army Racing team,” said the five-time Phoenix winner. “The U.S. Army car is extremely good and really consistent. Mike [ is comfortable. He’s calm and cool. He knows what the car is doing and he’s enjoying it.”
Schumacher collected an impressive seven bonus points en route to his sixth Phoenix pole, including closing out qualifying with another session-best effort.
“Mike backed it down on that [last] run and it did what it was supposed to do. The conditions for the last round should have produced a better run than we put up last night, but the track is just extremely good and it’s eating the cars up. They are blowing through the clutch. You hit the gas and it just chews that clutch up. Teams were trying, but they weren’t getting it done. We didn’t make the run we wanted, but we made a run quicker than everyone else did. We earned the three points, kept the number one spot and it was a great couple of days of qualifying. Now, we turn our focus to winning the race. I think tomorrow is going to be a great day. I think the fans are going to be the biggest winners. I think they are going to see an awesome race. NHRA and Mello Yello are doing a great job. This is the greatest show on earth and I’m excited to out here surrounded by an incredible U.S. Army team, ready to go get that trophy.”
Leah Pritchett qualified fourth. “The team put in some of the longest hours Friday night trying to figure out what was going on with the car,” said Pritchett. “They worked deep into the night. We had some new issues to deal with in Friday’s qualifying runs and the hard work to fix them paid off in Q3. We weren’t necessarily looking to put the strongest number on the board, it was more about just making sure everything was working right. As it turned out, we accomplished both. It’s a testament to this team’s ability to overcome adversity. This weekend didn’t start off the way we hoped it would, but everyone dug in and through great teamwork and leadership we are feeling good. We finally feel like we have our hot rod back.”
“Getting down the track today was the important thing and it ended up being one of the most impressive runs when you consider the track conditions were the hottest we’ve had all weekend. The good news is that its great preparation for what we expect on Sunday and provided us a baseline to start with tomorrow. There’s just a great feeling coming to Phoenix between the fans and finally getting back into our rhythm. We wanted to come back here and get a handle on our racecar first and foremost. Now, we can attack tomorrow trying to get it back into the winner’s circle.”
Antron Brown qualified eighth. “It was good to come out and go faster than we ever have speed wise Friday night,” said Brown. “Unfortunately, the run was just off a bit from what we wanted. We’ve been trying all weekend go somewhere between 3.69 and 3.70 in the U.S. Army/Matco Tools Dragster, but the track has been better than what we expected. When a track is this good, you you’ve got to give it all. It’s tougher than a slicker track, because this track here will break you down because it will get so tight. When it’s tight, it’s very edgy on the starting line. And the trick is to get off the starting line and once you make it 60 feet, it’s game on. I know (co-crew chiefs) Brad (Mason) and Mark (Oswald) are doing everything they can. Tomorrow it’s about being consistent. Going down the race track every time. With these conditions, everyone is going to push it and run hard, so we’re just going to try to be efficient and effective and see where it all shakes out.”
Friday’s top Funny Car qualifier Jack Beckman was third on Saturday. “I’m totally thrilled with our performance,” said Beckman. “We have such a good tune-up and it doesn’t matter if the track is hot or cool. For us to get down the track three out of four times is fantastic. We pushed it on the run that we smoked them, and I’m fine with that because sometimes you have to find what’s over the edge to know how far you can push.
“We’re racing Richard Townsend tomorrow. It’s his first NHRA start and I’m excited for him. I remember mine from 12 years ago.
“When they lower the hood on the car, it’s all about win lights and I’m looking to get four tomorrow.”
Friday: Tharpe Covers H-D Field after Q2
Spevco impresario and Jay Turner Racing teammate Tii Tharpe led the first day of Top Fuel Harley qualifying at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Tharpe’s 6.280 at 221.38 miles per hour nipped Pomona winner Doug Vancil’s 6.285 at 224.06. Defending class champion Turner was just a touch behind at 6.315.
The field is a whole lot tighter this week than two weeks ago in Pomona, where Vancil was clearly the class of the field after not competing for ten whole years. Turner and Tharpe didn’t compete in Pomona following a trailer incident on the way.
Ricky House was best of the rest with a 6.47, with eighth place Lyle Newton the only bike currently on the ladder out of the 6’s. Randall Andras sits just off the grid nearly 5/100ths behind Newton.
“We have two more rounds to do what Maddy says—’Kick it up!'” said Tharpe, referring to bike “owner” Maddy Lehman.
Tony Schumacher laid down a blazing 3.649-second at 334.65-mph pass powered in Q1, resetting both ends of the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park track records. The run not only became the quickest and fastest Top Fuel pass officially recorded at the Chandler, Arizona dragstrip, but also went down in the books as the fastest Top Fuel run in NHRA history.
As Schumacher waited to run in the final Top Fuel pairing of the day, his crew chief Mike ‘Zippy’ Neff watched competitor Clay Millican steal the speed record. Not to be outdone, Zippy turned up the wick and tuned the U.S. Army dragster to another impressive pass. Schumacher crossed the beams in 3.667-secs at 336.57-mph to earn three bonus points and reclaim top speed.
“This track is fast. This track has always shown good numbers. It’s the perfect storm. You have the right conditions; the track was good, it was smooth, they prepped it correctly, all this stuff happened and we have a car with good power,” said Schumacher, who leads the Top Fuel class in No. 1 qualifiers at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park with five previous poles.
“Everything is working right. We came here and we tested, we go to Pomona and run low E.T. every run so we are bringing a tune-up that’s already good. We’re able to fine-tune it with the air. I think the track was mid-70s, to the point where most cars were shaking. There was a 50-50 chance you were going to shake. You were either going to go shake or you were going to give it enough to fast. There’s really no in-between that.”
In Funny Car, Jack Beckman also raced to a hot start in the cold Phoenix temperatures making two bonus point-worthy ‘top three’ runs. Beckman started his weekend at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park by running a 3.895, the third quickest of Q1. In Friday’s second qualifying session, Beckman clocked a 3.845 at 332.43-mph in his Mopar-powered Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Funny Car, boosting him from third to the provisional No. 1 spot.
“We got one point for being third quickest of the first session which I thought was great, but then to come back and back that up, we actually tied Courtney [Force] for low E.T. and got it on speed. I like the fact that we were able to make back-to-back runs like that,” said Beckman of Terry and Doug Chandler’s Infinite Hero Dodge Charger tuning trio of Dean Antonelli, John Medlen and Neal Strausbaugh.
Content with Friday’s performance, the three-time Phoenix winner is confident in his team’s ability to translate qualifying success into a long Sunday of going rounds.
“When it’s this cold, the track gets so tricky. People always think colder means better, and it is to a point, but then it kind of tips over and the track gets so cold that the window for hitting that good run just gets really small.
“Usually if you have conditions like this you say ‘we won’t race in these conditions.’ Those hero runs on Friday night are kind of a throw away of data for crew chiefs because you won’t see those conditions again, but I think we’re going to see them tomorrow and again on race day. What makes me feel confident is we have great data that we’ll probably be able to use again in the next two days.”
After earning a win in Pomona to start the season, Matt Hagan currently sits in sixth in the qualifying as defending category world champion Robert Hight is seventh entering Saturday.