NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
stories and photos by Tim Hailey
What can you say? Savvy tuning and expert riding carried LE Tonglet and the no-budget Tonglet team to the win at the Mac Tools US Nationals. A broken cam chain last time out in Brainerd broke the team’s only motor and seemed destined to keep them from making the trip to Indianapolis. But a borrowed head from fellow Louisianan Jerriod Blancharrd and some funding from Vance & Hines’ Fuelpak got the orange and black bike there and, ironically, propelled the 20 year-old rider to the final round win over Andrew Hines and the mega-budget Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines/Harley-Davidson team.
The day started with a rash of three straight red lights in the right lane, followed by a straight up loss by Michael Phillips to Jim Underdahl. “That was my fault,” Phillips said while packing up. “I made a gearing change and I shouldn’t have messed with it.”
Jim Underdahl beat Mike Phillips
All those with lane choice chose the left until number 2 qualifier Tonglet. “I had all good lights in qualifying in the right lane,” said LE. And actually, all the bikes in both lanes had to line-up between massive bald spots left by the car tires running ahead of them. Joey Desantis red lit against Tonglet, who ran 6.954 at 190. Those were both tops for the round until Hines ran a .92 at 191 against redlighting Wesley Wells.
Matt Smith goes -.002 red against Eddie Krawiec
After topping the charts everyday, Hines finally relinquished low ET of the round in E2, running a 6.92 to drive around Steve Johnson’s .011 light. Teammate Eddie Krawiec went 6.91over Matt Smith, who redlit by -.002. “I knew I had to push the tree against Eddie ‘cause he was running so strong,” said Smith, who joined a loud chorus of Buell campaigners to call for a rules change now to level the field with Harley and Suzuki.
The top qualifying Buell of Lucas Oil’s Hector Arana, always the spoiler in the Buell argument, left the line late against Jim Underdahl’s .012 and ran .007 slower to boot, advancing 24 year-old Underdahl to the semis.
Hector Arana comes up short against Underdahl
But Tonglet had low ET of the round, a 6.879 against Chip Ellis. Chip and tuner Blake Ritter had to swap in a fresh motor between rounds. Chip’s bike ran a decent but not quick enough 7.03 at 188 despite the team not really knowing yet what this motor wanted.
Ellis’ new motor was not good enough against Tonglet
The semis saw second generation racers Hines and Underdahl both hitting the tree hard before Jimmy’s bike broke a cam chain very early in the run. “We don’t think it hurt anything,” said Underdahl, somewhat pleased with a good weekend overall.
“Oh, just wait ‘til they get it home and take it apart,” warned Gary Tonglet. “That’s exactly what happened to our bike in Brainerd.”
But there were no troubles for the Fuelpak Suzuki in Indy. After dropping back .005 to Krawiec at the tree, LE ran 6.90 to drive around for the win, but gave up lane choice to Andrew.
Tonglet hit the tree hard in the final and moved out so quick it seemed he’d redlit. His .011 had Andrew’s .028 and accelerated smooth and steady. “My bike tugged, then spun all the way through second gear,” said Hines, who never had a chance.
Tonglet jumps out first in the final
Metairie, Louisiana’s Tonglet family joined Bossier City’s Greg Stanfield, the Pro Stock car winner, in a raucous Louisiana winners circle. “Where’s my little buddy?” proud father Gary asked while LE was detained by the Wally celebration.
“I’m so glad I decided to fly in for this one,” said LE’s brother GT. “I had to work all weekend. I flew to Brainerd for the race and we lost first round. I’m glad that didn’t happen here!”
At the post race interview, LE thanked his family, Blancharrd, Vance & Hines and Fuelpak for their help in the win. He was asked about and discussed his chances at winning the rookie of the year award, but National Dragster bike specialist Kevin McKenna pointed out bigger fish to fry. “Forget about rookie of the year. You may not know this yet but you’re second place in the championship!”
“If you’d told me in Gainesville that we’d win a race win a race this year I’d have told you you’re crazy,” said LE. “As long as that motor holds together and we keep making it to the next races, we’ll be pretty tough. But it’s race by race.”
It seems as though getting this over achieving racing family a second motor would be a wise investment for any business looking to associate themselves with the underdog in this televised, feel-good, David vs. Goliath story throughout the Countdown. Anyone?
For the top 12 locked into the field, Sunday was tuning day. The weather was warming up, promising to be hot for Monday’s race. For everybody else, Sunday was get-in-the-race day and the scorecard was 0-0.
One of those on the outside looking in was 68 year-old Joey Desantis. In the third pair down the track, Joey suddenly runs a stout 7.04.”We have a new motor in there and we didn’t want to lean on it ‘til today,” said Joey D.
LE Tonglet and Matt Smith
Gary Tonglet said the same thing yesterday about the motor in his boy LE’s bike, but by the end of the day it seemed they were starting to “lean on it.” LE ran a sweet 6.88 at 193 in Q4, then a huge 6.84 at 195 in the final session. “How about that?” asked LE, who despite being in the Countdown nearly missed coming to Indy after detonating a motor at Brainerd. Oh, they’re definitely leaning on it.
Also having a new motor to lean on and excited as all get-out is Redell Harris, who ran his second career 6.99 and his fastest ever 191 to qualify 13th. As noted yesterday, Redell replaced a Matt Smith motor with one from Junior Pippin. But Junior uses a Motec ECU and Matt (and thus Redell) uses Magneti-Marelli, so Matt had to tune the bike and gracefully lined Redell up. The first lap, the clutch didn’t lock up. The second, with Karen Stoffer in the other lane, was the gem. “She’s my lucky charm,” Harris said about Stoffer. “She was in the other lane when I ran the .99 in Gainesville. The Lord do work in mysterious ways.”
Junior Pippin and Redell Harris
Pippin and crew worked perhaps a little too hard on Redell’s behalf, and Junior failed to make the race. Also falling short was Angie McBride, David Hope, Mike Berry and Katie Sullivan. All but Sullivan were on Buells, prompting Pippin to launch an attack against the NHRA, Vance & Hines, and the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, as the lifelong Harley diehard often has since the NHRA gave the V&H Harleys overhead cams and 4 valve heads last year. Giving the Suzukis, mostly built by V&H, extra displacement this year only poured salt on Pippin’s wounds and further increased his “admiration” of Terry Vance’s political prowess.
Junior wants a displacement increase for the Buell’s S&S motors to 180 cubic inches, and he has all the math scribbled out of the many ways it can be done. Of course, damaging the overall Buell argument for the second year running is Lucas Oil’s Hector Arana. Hector qualified 4th with a 6.87, behind Eddie Krawiec (Harley), Tonglet (Suzuki) and Hines (Harley). That gives the illusion of parity, but it’s nowhere near what it was a few years ago. Matt Smith is 7th, with Shawn Gann the next Buell down the order in 11th.
The cruelest cut of the day came for David Hope and owner/tuner John Hammock. Behind on tuning because of mechanical issues, Hope launched a last round blast. As the bike veered left towards the center, Hope stayed tucked while leaning right and keeping the throttle twisted hard. That was good enough to get in for the moment, but Craig Treble bumped him out in the next pair. Hope’s ET tied Wesley Wells, but lost the spot on MPH. Hammock was thoroughly dejected.
Craig Treble and Jim Underdahl
Treble threw a Hail Mary thrash at the bike before the last round, changing gearing and everything to find the right mix. It worked.
Homeboy Wells’ Kendall Suzuki sported a brand new pipe built just this week by Star Racing. Somehow the U.S. Nationals isn’t the U.S. Nationals without George Bryce reminding us that it’s his birthday and he’s the same age as the race.
It’s also not like the U.S. Nationals with no Ringer’s Glove Battle and banquet, no Funny Car challenge on Sunday, no Cacklefest. Five rounds of qualifying were always long, now it’s VERY long.
Chip Ellis and Blake Ritter kept at it, trying to regain the 1.038 60 foot time they had in testing on the Harry Lartigue owned, Vance & Hines/Fuelpak sponsored Suzuki TL1000. And they are getting there, running 6.93 at 193 in Q5.
Count Ellis as a dark horse on raceday, along with Hines’ teammate Krawiec. Eddie’s quietly hanging out with his lovely wife Annemarie and their sweet new baby Kayden all weekend. He’s oozing confidence and ready to pounce if Andrew’s dominating bike falters. As for his team’s dominance, Eddie credits testing. “Everybody thinks we’ve been sandbagging, but really we’ve just been out here testing. We’ve worked hard and brought the bikes here ready to run. We haven’t had to touch anything.”
And on raceday, will anybody be able to touch them? See the ladder here.
When Pro Stock Motorcycles and Fuel cars share the same track, it’s kinda wrong to describe a bike’s performance as rotating the earth, but Andrew Hines’ record 6.81 in the second round of qualifying was damned impressive, if not unexpected. It’s always assumed the Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harleys hold back a bit until they need to turn it loose, and the Countdown to One is time. The weather was also pretty fine, 74 degrees but with a gusty wind, though not as bad as Friday’s wind. Andrew’s .81, with a 5 at a track record 195.17, capped off the round. Poor Matt Smith .93 in the left lane looked anemic by comparison.
Hines’ teammate Eddie Krawiec was second in the round with an .86 at 194, Hector Arana third with a 6.900, and LE Tonglet fourth with a .907.
Krawiec was confident of improving in Q3, though not as far as an .81. “An .83,” was Eddie’ prediction, but he double clutched and spun, ruining the lap while Andrew laid down a back-up for the .81.
Michael Phillips and crewman Red made an elective engine swap at the end of the day. “That’s my baby,” Mike said about the new motor. “We’re going after that .81.” Well alright!
Mike Phillips and crew
Michael’s brother Jerome’s condition improved slightly in a Baton Rouge hospital, but it’s still dicey of course.
Redell Harris made a non-elective engine swap after apparently breaking a crank in his Matt Smith-built S&S motor. Redell took the opportunity to give one of Junior Pippin’s motors a try.
Junior was making his first race in a while, his sponsor Piranha Z having been booted from setting up at national events due to some sort of heinous administrative crime.
PJ Harvey, Karl and Kim Klement
The NHRA’s U.S. Nationals and its vast, expansive schedule is always great for talking to people I haven’t seen all year. One of these is PJ Harvey, the founder/owner of the PJ1 brand of products and lubricants, including what used to be known as VHT. That was renamed PJ1 Trackbite, then sold by Harvey to Sherwin-Williams. “Paint the World” and everyone will have better 60 foot times.
I first met PJ over the phone and asked if he was aware of the rock star with the same name. “Yes, I sued her,” said Harvey. “I was PJ Harvey before she was.”
Last year’s feel-good experience at the Indy Mile Flat Track race was due in part to a rowdy band of merry makers led by Harvey. He’d taken JR and Mario Todd and Brandon Bernstein to dinner, then to the Mile to hang with Kenny Roberts and watch the races. The warm glow of dinner and drinks hung over the smiling group as they moved about the facility.
So on an incredibly beautiful Friday evening, there’s PJ watching Funny Cars make their first round of qualifying. “The people have finally arrived,” noted Harvey, pointing towards the mostly full grandstands. The weather was so perfect that anyone with a modest interest in the event just had to be there.
PJ’s interested in seeing how Eatmyink’s online broadcast catches on, and so are we.
It was also good to see bike owners and former Eatmyink team report customers Karl and Kim Klement. Knowing that I’m an artist type that sometimes lives in New York City, Karl seemed to be repeatedly trying to lure me into a political discussion. But the politics of the NHRA is about all I’m willing to weigh in on at this event, and not on this site . . . at least until my credentials are through for the weekend. Karl figures his rider Angie McBride has an 80% chance of winning Indy this year. You read it here.
Chip Ellis and LE Tonglet were both sporting tail section stickers for Fuelpak, the Vance & Hines fuel injection tuning box. LE’s was held on with little pieces of tape as the tail section sat on his trailer’s ramp. “Haha,” I laughed. “Is that gonna stay on?”
“They told me not to put it on myself, that they’d come by to make sure it was in the right spot,” explained LE. And who came around to position the stickers on the bikes? Terry Vance himself.
Chip was first out in the bike round and ran a decent 7.09 despite being upright in the saddle ‘til nearly half-track, then was later DQ’d. The bike recently tested at 6.93 with a 1.038 60 foot, so look for a big move from Chip, his tuner Blake Ritter, and the black Vance & Hines Suzuki.
LE laid down a great 6.98 at 187 lap for number 2 despite a flat acceleration curve in the middle of the track. LE reminded dad Gary that they’d removed timing to protect a new motor, hence the flat line on Gary’s screen. “Maybe it likes less timing,” laughed the elder Tonglet, still happy with the number.
Smart money (and I’ve never been accused of being smart with money) for the championship has to be on Andrew Hines. The Screaming Eagle Vance & Hines camp had to be seething to lose last year’s championship to Hector Arana, and Andrew’s reported imminent move to Pro Stock Car means another bike championship needs to happen now. And Hines started the weekend off right with a 6.97 for number 1.
On a shocking note, Michael Phillips’ always smiling brother Jerome is struggling in a Baton Rouge hospital. Jerome and his girlfriend were visiting her son in the hospital when her estranged husband burst into the room and shot them both. Jerome took one to the head and is reportedly in a coma, but responding to commands to move his limbs. Our best go to Jerome for recovery, and to Mike and crewman Red to put their Pistonator Suzuki into the winners circle here in his honor. Mike ran 7.04 at 189 for the fifth spot.