CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals Saturday Notebook

October 4, 2018 Published by

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As hard as it is to believe, it was at this race a year ago that three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brownlast visited the winner’s circle. This season’s pursuit has been hampered as the team shifted around responsibilities following the winter departure of crew chief Brian Corradi, and a runner-up a few races ago in Epping has certainly given the Matco Tools team a boost.

“We know a win’s just around the corner,” said Brown, who also won this race in 2016 and 2009. “We’re just one tab off here, one tab off there, but we’re getting all those dots aligned and pretty soon I think we’re going to go across that finish line and pull off a win. It’s been a challenging season and, for me, it’s making me a lot better, our team’s getting better, we’re all getting better together. I want to win so bad.

“The Countdown is coming and I see that we are going to peak at the right time. People don’t realize that we’re far from being a new team, but we’ve moved a lot of people on the team around at the beginning of the season. So I’m proud of where we’re at and how we’ve grown through all the struggles and challenges, and also through all the changes we’ve made to the car to make it better. We’re going to peak at the right time and I think we’re going to be deadly when the time comes.”

It’s been a busy week in the Northwest for Brown. He and good pal Steve Torrence splashed around in the mud at the DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie in a couple of turbocharged 4-cylinder Subaru Impreza STIs and on Thursday Brown threw out the first pitch at the Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field. His toss was pretty much on target, and he hopes to deliver another strike Sunday.

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With the third-best run of Q2, Tony Schumacher and the Mike Neff-tuned U.S. Army dragster extended their impressive streak of earning at least one qualifying bonus point for the 16th straight event, a feat that has so far this year earned them 54 points alone, worth almost two rounds worth of racing. No other Top Fuel team owns such a streak or points bonus.

Schumacher enters Saturday qualified fourth and though he’s not on top of the pack, it’s all in the process.

“Mike’s goal was not to go the fastest, but instead learn how to race on Sunday,” said Schumacher. “I think he learned a lot on those two runs that we needed to learn. What I’m most impressed with is that he said, ‘We got to make this change’ and we stuck with that plan.”

If he and Neff can win Sunday, “the Sarge” would tie fellow Top Fuel great Joe Amato with five Seattle wins. He rattled off four wins in five seasons –- 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 – during his run of six consecutive Top Fuel world championships and adding another Seattle win would be just the kind of boost he and his team need to continue their championship aspirations this season.

“We’ve won Seattle a lot of times,” he noted. “We’re second in points going to a race where we’ve won, then we’re going to go to Brainerd, where we’ve won, and then we’re going to Indy where we’ve won more than anybody. Then we get to the races that really count, and we know how to win when it matters. We have a good car and, most importantly, we have the confidence, now.

“We started the year with a crew chief who came over from Funny Car and he says, ‘Look, it’s going to take a little time.’ Well, it’s been a little time, we’re sitting second in the points and we’re running as well as anybody and better than most. We’re in a good place and we still keep making gains, we’re improving, and the most important races of the season are ahead of us.”

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The past is meeting the present this weekend for Ron Capps as his NAPA Auto Parts Charger is sporting a good-looking Pennzoil/NAPA combo scheme. It was at this event, 23 years ago, that Capps scored his first career NHRA national event win, on a Tuesday after a rain delay and in Top Fuel, not Funny Car.

“If you look at that firesuit I was wearing that weekend – which my parents bought for me — it only had a few patches on it, and one of them was Pennzoil. It was only a product deal, but it was a big thing for me to be able to go to [team owner Primm] and tell him I could get us some quality oil for free, so it’s all come full circle for us this weekend with this paint scheme. It’s such a cool scheme. It looks fast even sitting still.”

capps95.jpgPrimm reportedly picked Capps, then a relatively unknown and inexperienced Alcohol Dragster driver, over more experienced fuel pilots like Gary Beck, Andy Woods, Dannielle DePorter, and Bob Vandergriff Jr., and respected alcohol wheelmen Gary Scelzi and Jay Payne.

They went to the final in Atlanta earlier that year but lost to Cory McClenathan, but put it all together in Seattle, where he defeated McClenathan in the final round Tuesday following two nerve-racking days of rain delays.

All sentimental memories aside Capps and crew chief Rahn Tobler hve their eyes set on catching points leader Courtney Force. From a season low seventh place in Houston, they’ve clawed their way to second place with a runner-up last weekend in Sonoma, perfect timing as far as Capps is concerned.

“This is the time of year that we know we have to get into race form for the Countdown,” he said. “I joked about a month ago that we were over 300 points behind the points leader at that point and I said ‘You watch, we are going to be able to make a run for it.’ It would be three years in a row if we could get the points lead going into the Countdown. We made up a big chunk and we just keep collecting those Mello Yello points. On top of that, just getting a better feel for the car and we are starting to click and it’s the perfect time of year to do that.”

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Courtney Force hopes to follow the Western Swing success of her father, John, who won in Denver and teammate Robert Hight, who won last weekend in Sonoma, but for the second-generation phenom and current runaway points leader, trips to Pacific Raceways have yielded both boon and bust.

It was here, after all, that she scored her first career win in Top Alcohol Dragster back in 2009. The following year, a severe vibration caused a rear tire to explode just before the finish line in the same car.

Two years after, she scored her first career Funny Car win at this track, defeating current low qualifier Matt Hagan in the final round but two years ago she crashed heavily into the guardwall during eliminations, a shunt that nearly forced her to sit out the next event.

“I’m hoping it’s even now with that love-hate thing,” she joked. “I had a high in 2009 and a low the next year. Going out there and getting my first win in Funny Car in 2013 was definitely a high but then crashing (in 2016) was another low. So, I think we’re due for another high which I hope is our Advance Auto Parts team ending up in the winners’ circle again.”

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Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s goal heading into the Western Swing was to work his way into the top five in points by the time the tour left Seattle, and his win last weekend in Sonoma got the job done a race ahead of schedule.

Eight races into the season – through Topeka – Coughlin was outside the Top 10 but wins in Chicago and Bristol got him as high as sixth. A first-round loss in Epping dropped them back to seventh and Sonoma got them to their initial goal and he heads into Saturday qualifying in the No 1 spot.

“We’re pleased to be in the top five for sure,” he said. “And we’re closing in on fourth place [entering Saturday, he’s just 18 points behind Vincent Nobile]. But we also could have a poor outing and drop back a few spots so we need to stay vigilant and continue to work hard. There’s only three races left before the playoffs and we want to move up as high as we can before they reset the points.”

jeg-stock.jpgIn addition to his Pro Stock work this weekend, Coughlin is also wheeling his JEGS.com Dodge Challenger Drag Pak entry in Stock eliminator, adding to Coughlin’s enjoyment of the event.

“This is always a fun race,” he said. “You get all the fans from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and such, plus a bunch of Canadians making the trek from Vancouver and the rest of Western Canada and they are super pumped to see us perform. We’ll certainly do our best to put on another good show for them.”

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Jeg Coughlin is not the only Pro Stock driver pulling double duty as reigning world champ Bo Butner is competing in Super Stock in Bill Skillman’s Cobra Jet Mustang.

Butner, who made his bones in the Sportsman ranks, has 21 career wins, but 15 of them came in four different Sportsman classes — Comp (6), Stock (5), Super Stock (3), and Super Street (1) — and he also was the world champ in Comp in 2006. He’s hoping that getting back to his roots will help end a slump that has seen him lose in the first round the last three events and slip all the way to 10th in points.

“I’m very excited to get back into Sportsman racing,” he said. “That’s something that will help me in Pro Stock, too. It’s about having fun for me, and just my mindset. I drove two cars everywhere forever, and yeah, you want to win in every category you’re racing, but at least if you’re out in one, you still have a chance in the other. I’m not a big fan of downtime.”

Butner’s fiancee, Randi Lyn Shipp, is also competing this weekend in Stock as she also seeks her second win of the season, having scored earlier this year in Epping.

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498.jpgThe action was in the Pro Stock pits last night when Chris McGaha’s team protested the Elite Performance cars of low qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. and No. 3 qualifier Erica Enders. The Harlow Sammons team put up the required protest money to have NHRA officials check the cubic-inch displacement of the two engines. Both checked out legal, with more than a cubic inch to spare, and the Elite team pocketed the protest money.

“It’s been an ongoing deal for us,” explained McGaha. “They [NHRA] say it’s legit, and I’m absolutely going to take their word for it and put it behind me and go on.”

“I always try to take the positive in every situation and I’ll go ahead and choose to take this as a compliment because we’re running well enough,” said Enders. “Having said that, Greg [Anderson, the No. 2 qualifier] is between Jeg and myself, so their protest should have included him as well so it was pretty personal to the entire Elite Motorsports camp. They can continue to worry about us and we’ll continue to work hard and hopefully win some races.”

“I’ve raced for 30 years and been fortunate to win a lot of rounds and races and championships, but there’s still room for firsts, and that was a first to have an official protest from a competitor,” aded Coughlin. “A lot of people want to get bent about it but it’s really quite the opposite. It’s pretty flattering. You look at our track record that last 13 or 14 races and we’ve had a car in the final. It’s not something that just happened from Denver to Sonoma or Sonoma to Seattle. It’s actually quite humorous.”