FUNNY CAR DRIVER TASCA READY TO MAKE A MOVE IN FULL THROTTLE COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFFS
In the world of NHRA Funny Car racing, Robert Hight’s amazing championship run from the 10th place points position in 2009 continues to be the one that each and every driver south of fifth place looks to for inspiration once the six-race Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin.
After barely qualifying for the playoffs that season, Hight got hot at the right time behind the wheel of his Auto Club Ford Mustang, won three races, and as they say, the rest is history.
Sitting in eighth place as the 2011 Countdown playoffs are set to begin at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, Sept. 15-18 at spectacular zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, N.C., Bob Tasca must feel deep down inside that his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang team has the potential to pull off the same kind of miracle playoff run. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
With a semifinal run at Brainerd and a runner-up finish at the world’s most prestigious drag race in Indianapolis, Tasca feels like his team is gaining momentum with each race and that a victory may be just around the corner. And a victory in the first round of the Countdown to the Championship would go a long way in closing the 90 point gap he currently sits behind series leader Mike Neff.
“The guys have a much better handle on the car,” Tasca said. “We had some crazy part failures in Indy that unfortunately none of us can control when those things go wrong. But we feel very confident. We went to the finals in Charlotte at the beginning of the season in the four-wide event. It’s a place we’ve done very well at. It’s a great place for us to kick off the Countdown.”
It’s also a place that’s close to home for Tasca’s crew. His race shop is based in the racing-crazy North Carolina city. And as far as Tasca is concerned, every little bit helps.
“That gives you confidence,” Tasca said. “Our guys get to sleep in their own beds at night. As simple as that is, maybe it’s a little bit of an advantage. At the end of the day, it’s another drag race. You can’t try harder than we already try. We go to every race to win.”
Tasca says kicking off the Countdown playoffs at zMAX Dragway is a good call.
“Clearly, zMAX is a tremendous facility,” Tasca said. “We have a lot of runs on it. We race there twice a year, we test there. I think all the teams have a pretty good handle on that track.”
Even though he posted a runner-up finish there in April during the VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, Tasca says everything about this race will be different. The teams will race in the traditional two-lane format, and there will be plenty of pressure. Playoff pressure.
“It was a long time ago, the four-wide event,” Tasca said. “These tune-ups, these race cars evolve. It’s not the same car. You don’t end with the same car you start with. I think the crew chiefs will look at data probably from a few races back that get us to similar conditions as what we’ll see the weekend coming up at zMAX. But when you race at a place like zMAX, I mean, the facility is incredible, but the racing surface is unbelievable. That’s what makes the difference with these race cars.”
In addition to Tasca and series leader Neff, other Countdown qualifiers in Funny Car are Hight, Four-Wide winner Jack Beckman, two-time champ Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, 15-time and defending world champ John Force, Jeff Arend and Tim Wilkerson.
In Top Fuel, former Funny Car driver Del Worsham enters the first playoff event as the top seed, ahead of hard-charging Antron Brown, who won five races during the regular season including the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Several other drivers also are among the pre-race favorites, including Spencer Massey, defending world champ Dixon and seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who is still looking for his first victory of the season.
Anderson will try to defend his world championship title as the top seed in Pro Stock. A five-win regular season has the driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac in a good position at his home track to kick off the playoffs. Anderson’s teammate, Jason Line, will be hot on his heels, as will 2009 champ Mike Edwards, rookie Vincent Nobile and Erica Enders, who is trying to become the first female to win a Pro Stock race in NHRA history.
Former world champ Eddie Krawiec is at the top of the pack in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, just ahead of red-hot defending world champ Tonglet, who led the two-wheel category with four victories in the regular season. A strong group of riders are pre-race favorites, including Karen Stoffer, who led the series for much of the season, three-time world champ Andrew Hines and rookie Hector Arana Jr., who claimed his first victory at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals two weeks ago. A pair of former world champs, Matt Smith and Hector Arana Sr., are also among those to watch in the category.
* SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16 and at 11:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17. Final eliminations begin at noon on Sunday, Sept. 18.
* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. Please call zMAX Dragway at (800) 455-FANS or visit www.zmaxdragway.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 11 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Sept. 17. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours and 30 minutes of eliminations coverage beginning at 10 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 18.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in six categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 9 a.m. on Sept. 16. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 9 a.m. on Sept. 17 and continue through Sept. 18.
• GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA’s popular Pro Mod touring series will make its ninth start of the 10-race 2011 season at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. The series features some of the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition. Qualifying starts Friday, Sept. 16 with sessions at 3:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. The final qualifying session is Saturday, Sept. 17 at 1 p.m., followed by the first round of eliminations at 3 p.m. Eliminations continue Sunday, Sept. 18 at approximately 3:30 p.m.
* ON THE WEB: Get live timing, scoring, multimedia and the latest news updates from every NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event on the Internet at www.nhra.com. Visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
NHRA FULL THROTTLE COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP POINT STANDINGS
Point standings (top 10) for NHRA professional categories following the 16th of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and prior to the first of six races in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs -
Top Fuel: 1. Del Worsham, 2,110; 2. Antron Brown, 2,080; 3. Spencer Massey, 2,070; 4. Larry Dixon, 2,060; 5. Tony Schumacher, 2,050; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,040; 7. Brandon Bernstein, 2,030; 8. Shawn Langdon, 2,020; 9. Morgan Lucas, 2,010; 10. David Grubnic, 2,000.
Funny Car: 1. Mike Neff, 2,110; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,080; 3. Robert Hight, 2,070; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 2,060; 5. Ron Capps, 2,050; 6. Matt Hagan, 2,040; 7. John Force, 2,030; 8. Bob Tasca III, 2,020; 9. Jeff Arend, 2,010; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,000.
Pro Stock: 1. Greg Anderson, 2,110; 2. Jason Line, 2,080; 3. Mike Edwards, 2,070; 4. Vincent Nobile, 2,060; 5. Erica Enders, 2,050; 6. Allen Johnson, 2,040; 7. Rodger Brogdon, 2,030; 8. Greg Stanfield, 2,020; 9. Shane Gray, 2,010; 10. Ron Krisher, 2,000.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,110; 2. LE Tonglet, 2,080; 3. Karen Stoffer, 2,070; 4. Andrew Hines, 2,060; 5. Hector Arana Jr, 2,050; 6. Matt Smith, 2,040; 7. Hector Arana, 2,030; 8. Jerry Savoie, 2,020; 9. Michael Phillips, 2,010; 10. Jim Underdahl, 2,000.
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