Force, Brown top Day 2 at PBIR

NHRA PRO Winter Warm-Up
when: January 17-18, 2014
where:Palm Beach International Raceway, Florida, USA

story and photos courtesy of NHRA and team reports

John and Brittany Force light up the night with different wheelbases. Gary Nastase photo

Defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world champ John Force and 2012 Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown put down the fastest runs in their respective categories during the final day of testing. The teams are preparing for the 2014 campaign and the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 6-9, in Pomona, Calif., the first of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events.

Force piloted his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a 4.013-second pass at 318.84 mph. The 16-time Funny Car world champion was second in Friday’s testing with a 4.039 but improved to post the second best run of the weekend. Force was pleased with his results but was quick to point out the strength of the Funny Car field. “I’d be ready to go to Pomona even if our cars didn’t run as well as they did,” Force said. “Robert (Hight) and I both ran 4.01 and that’s great but you have to remember that (Del) Worsham also ran a 4.01 and yesterday (Ron) Capps ran a 4.00 so all that mean’s is we’re in the game.”

Ron Capps’ 4.003 run on day one was officially the fastest run during pre-season testing in Funny Car. Worsham’s DHL Toyota Camry was second quickest with a 4.014 pass while John Force Racing’s Hight went 4.019. 2012 Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan was the fastest of the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car’s on Saturday, posting a 4.041 pass, the quickest run of the first session of day two. Courtney Force, Bob Tasca III and Alexis DeJoria also posted passes in the four second range. Chad Head, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson and Cruz Pedregon rounded out complete passes in Funny Car testing on Saturday.

Brown, the winner of four events in six final rounds in 2013, led the way in Top Fuel practice with a 3.737. Brown, like Force in Funny Car, was second after the first day of testing. “I’m ecstatic that we ran this well especially since this is a whole new combination for us,” Brown said in reference to a new clutch in his Matco Tools dragster. “We’re running the six disc clutch for the first time and it looks really promising. We tested it last year but we didn’t run it in competition. Now, we made the decision to use it in Pomona. It’s a good combination and it’s really smooth. The car seems really stable and that’s a big deal for us.”

Brown was followed by DSR teammate Tony Schumacher. Schumacher’s 3.765 pass was his best of the weekend. Defending Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon ran the fastest in Friday’s testing but finished third on Saturday with a 3.773. Langdon’s 3.726 pass on Friday held up as the fastest run of the weekend in Top Fuel.

Spencer Massey gave DSR three of the top five runs in Top Fuel with a 3.794 pass, good enough for fourth place on the day. Massey’s Battery Extender dragster finished fourth in testing on Friday as well.

Richie Crampton in the GEICO / Lucas ride. photo by Mark Rebilas

Richie Crampton, replacing Morgan Lucas in the GEICO / Lucas Oil dragster, posted his best run of the weekend with a 3.808 on Saturday. Crampton, who will run for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, was excited to get some passes in his new Top Fuel car. “It was a test session I needed, for sure,” Crampton said. “It was a good opportunity for things to settle in for me and the team. I needed a chance to make some of the rookie mistakes I’m going to make, and I’m glad I had the luxury of doing that down there. Running 3.80, which is obviously my personal best, is a great thing,” Crampton said. “But I’m also happy that I got to run side-by-side against other cars because that’s something that I hadn’t had a chance to do before now. That is a big deal when you’re trying to learn about staging one of these cars.

“Having had this test I can really mentally prepare myself for what’s next. I’m making so many runs in my head. I want everything to become second nature. I want to work on creating better reaction times. I’m figuring out how to block out all the other stuff and focus in on what I need to do to be better on the tree. I don’t want to hold up this team in any way.

“By the end of the week, I could feel the chemistry is there, the team is outstanding, and (crew chief) Aaron Brooks is making great horsepower. I was excited already but now I really can’t wait for Pomona.”

Langdon’s Al-Anabi Racing teammate Khalid al Balooshi posted a 3.809 while Bob Vandergriff finished Saturday with a 3.842. Terry McMillen, Steve Torrence and Brittany Force rounded out testing in Top Fuel, the latter lining her rail against her dad’s Funny Car for one pass.

John and Brittany Force light up the night with different wheelbases. Richard Shute photo

“I have raced all my daughters, I never knew if I would get a chance to race Brittan,” said the real papa John. “The pairings worked out so we could match up and they asked if we would consider running together. I wouldn’t race anybody else. I want to race my own teams at a deal like this. You want to put on a show for the fans. It was great. She said she couldn’t see me when we pulled up to stage because she sits back in that dragster with the canopy. We both flickered the bottom light trying to get shallow. I knew if she went (down the track under power) she would beat me. Even with that 4.01 or if I ran 3.98 if she ran a 3.80 she would have me. I tried to get after her on the light but she actually left on me. It was fun for the crowd. We had great racing all weekend.”

For the soon to be sophomore driver, racing her legendary dad came with its own pitfalls and challenges even before they took to the Palm Beach International Raceway track. “That was pretty crazy,” said Brittany. “Just running him that one time makes me think I could never be in Funny Car. We had about 100 pep talks. I was fine going up there. I don’t ever worry or try and think about who I am running. He had me so worked up about him being in the other lane. He was just trying to help me but it was a little too much. It was definitely fun and I want to do it again. I have to beat him. He beat me down there and it was pretty cool for the fans. I didn’t see him until we did our burnouts and then I saw him again when I shook and he shot past me. I was fun to be able to say I raced my dad.”

The Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster shook the Goodyears loose at about 200 feet as the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang Funny Car raced away to the finish line.

Below is a listing of the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories best performance from Saturday’s testing:

Top Fuel
Antron Brown, 3.737, 325.87
Tony Schumacher, 3.765, 327.27
Shawn Langdon, 3.773, 325.22
Spencer Massey, 3.794, 321.04
Richie Crampton, 3.808, 323.97
Khalid al Balooshi, 3.809, 302.21
Bob Vandergriff, 3.842, 301.81
Terry McMillen, 3.877, 293.98
Steve Torrence, 7.575, 79.79
Brittany Force, 8.535, 61.99

Funny Car
John Force, 4.013, 318.84
Del Worsham, 4.014, 318.17
Robert Hight, 4.019, 316.97
Matt Hagan, 4.041, 321.81
Courtney Force, 4.077, 315.49
Bob Tasca III, 4.084, 314.39
Alexis DeJoria, 4.085, 297.61
Chad Head, 4.102, 311.85
Jack Beckman, 4.111, 309.77
Tommy Johnson, 4.315, 229.55
Cruz Pedregon, 4.456, 204.73

EARLIER: Capps and Langdon Pace PBIR

Shawn Langdon. Roger Richards photo

Defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champ Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel and NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Funny Car veteran Ron Capps posted the best numbers on Friday’s pre-season test session in preparation for the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 6-9, in Pomona, Calif.

Langdon who had seven wins and three runner-up finishes in his championship season, set the pace with a category leading pass of 3.726 seconds during Friday’s test session. “When you are the defending champion, you’re always concerned about how you’re going to do the following year but I still feel like we’re at the top of our game,” Langdon said. “Those runs are a nice confidence booster for all of us.I know it’s only testing but after winning the championship, the last thing you want to do is come out and struggle early in the season. We’ve made some really good runs today I think we’re all pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished so far.”

No QRC races this weekend for Khalid al-Balooshi. Roger Richards photo

2012 Top Fuel world champ Antron Brown, who won four national events and reached six final rounds in 2013, followed Langdon with 3.735 second at 325.37 mph run in his Matco Tools dragster while Al-Anabi gold dragster driver Khalid al-Balooshi also made an impressive 3.75 second run. Balooshi’s gold Al-Anabi dragster is radically different from last year’s design. Created by Roland Sands Design, the new graphics feature gold images on a black background with a chrome finish on the top of the body.

Other notable performances included a fellow teammate Spencer Massey at 3.770, Bob Vandergriff at 3.817, and 2013 NHRA rookie of the year Brittany Force embarking on her sophomore season who’s best pass on Friday was at 3.824-seconds.

“We finished my rookie season on a high note with a semifinal finish at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona and then winning rookie of the year,” said Castrol Edge Top Fuel driver Brittany Force. “I made my first side-by-side Top Fuel run at last year’s [test event], so I want to come back and show all the Florida fans how much my team has improved.”

Capps, who is still seeking his first Funny Car world championship title, powered his NAPA Dodge to a 4.003 under the guidance of new crew chief Rahn Tobler on Friday’s testing. “Up until today we’ve all struggled down here but we figured a few things out,” said Capps, who won three events in 2013. “We still don’t race in these conditions but this tells you what kind of a mentality that [crew chief Rahn] Tobler has. He wasn’t going to give up until we had this figured out. It’s just nice to put a couple decent runs in the bank.”

Funny Car world champion John Force. Photo courtesy of JFR

Reigning NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car world champion John Force recorded an impressive 4.039 second run at 319.37 mph Friday in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang followed by teammate and 2009 world champ Robert Hight who also posted a 4.039 second run at 315.56 mph in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. “I am ready to get back into my hot rod,” said the 16-time world champ. “I took some time off, but now I am ready to get that 17th Funny Car championship. It won’t be easy, especially when you look at my drivers like Robert Hight in the Auto Club Ford Mustang and my daughter Courtney Force in the Traxxas Ford Mustang. They are hungry for their own championships. There will be some heavy hitters at the event, and it will be a great way to get the season started.

“PRO does a great job with this event and thanks to team owners like Don Schumacher, Bob Vandegriff, Bob Tasca and Connie Kalitta, we have a great show for people to see. The Al-Anabi Dragsters ran great tonight and my daughter Brittany Force made a good 3.82 second run in the Castrol EDGE Dragster.”

2009 world champ Robert Hight. Photo courtesy of JFR

“That run felt great. We have made a couple other runs in the 4.0s the past couple of days but with the fans in the stands and someone in the lane next to you it is just great to race. (Crew chief) Mike Neff and this Auto Club team have been testing a few things and we are focusing on the NHRA Circle K Winternationals. It has been cold here but we are working around that and seeing some good numbers,” said Hight, the 2013 Chevy Performance U.S. Nationals winner.

Meanwhile in the Don Schumacher Racing camp Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan also reached the 4.0 second club with runs of 4.061 and 4.072 respectively. Tommy Johnson, who is returning to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series behind the wheel of Terry Chandler’s Make-a-Wish Foundation car, posted a competitive 4.134 second pass. Other Funny Car drivers who made test runs included Chad Head, Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham and Bob Tasca III.

Top Fuel

1. Shawn Langdon, 3.726, 325.37
2. Antron Brown, 3.735, 325.37
3. Khalid al Balooshi, 3.750, 328.70
4. Spencer Massey, 3.770, 320.58
5. Bob Vandergriff, 3.817, 322.42
6. Brittany Force, 3.824, 317.87
7. Terry McMillen, 4.391, 181.64
8. Tony Schumacher, 7.558, 81.74
9. Richie Crampton, 7.807, 74.08
10. Steve Torrence, 9.222, 76.10

Funny Car

1. Ron Capps, 4.003, 320.28
2. John Force, 4,039, 319.37
3. Robert Hight, 4.039, 315.56
4. Del Worsham, 4.056, 315.93
5. Jack Beckman, 4.061, 312.06
6. Courtney Force, 4.067, 320.51
7. Bob Tasca III, 4.067, 314.46
8. Matt Hagan, 4.072, 304,67
9. Alexis DeJoria, 4.108, 311.27
10. Tommy Johnson Jr., 4.134, 299.93
11. Chad Head, 4.170, 279.21
12. Cruz Pedregon, 7.790, 89.25