Event #1–The 58th Annual Lucas Oil Winternationals from Pomona, California! Woo-hoo! Grab your nachos and cold beverages, kids, and welcome to the brand-new, cooler than ice, fresh-out-of-the-box Recliner Report! Over the next few minutes, (If you’ll hang in there with us) our crack staff of racing enthusiasts/journalists/beef jerky and Hostess Twinkie-eating lovers will recap the most recent Fox Sports 1 episode of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Racing Series. Sure, you may already know who won the races, but we try to bring you epic facts, comments, quotes, and weird stuff that often gets overlooked during a telecast. With 24 events taking place over the next few months, our hope is that you will read it, love it, tell all your friends, and eventually hold Recliner Report reading parties across the country the day following each tour stop. OK, so maybe no Recliner parties. Why? Well, because unless you have seven or eight La-Z-Boys in your home, your friends are going to have to bring theirs over to your house, and that’s tough when several of your buddies drive a Kia or Mini Cooper. Imagine seeing one of those on the freeway with a recliner strapped to the top…that would be nuts…but hilarious! Finally, if you’re wondering about the origin of the title, this little jewel is written from the comfort of the big leather La-Z-Boy while viewing the Fox coverage. Dude, it’s a tough life, but we’ll slug it out to bring the insanity to you after every event. So, let’s crank it up!
AND WE’RE OFF! So, after a show intro complete with really sweet dramatic music over a slo-mo shot of Clay Millican in the midst of his 322.04 mph-quickest run in NHRA history, announcer-deluxe Dave Reiff gave us a few morsels of what was to come, including Brittany Force’s defense of her 2017 Top Fuel crown, Dave Grubnic’s move to join the Millican camp as Crew Chief, and even a teaser regarding a “…spirited war of words” between Pro Stockers Alex Laughlin and Tanner Gray, which all stemmed from some 2017 fireworks that took place between the two. Sounding pretty dang good so far!
WE’RE JUST OUT FOR SOME FRESH AIR-On “Walk 1000 With Brittany Force”, the defending series champ took a stroll on the track with Amanda Busick, and we learned some cool out-of-the-box info about her life outside the camera lens. For instance, she mentioned that after earning the 2017 title, she and her team “…celebrated in the Winner’s Circle, and we carried it on for three days”, then witnessed sister Courtney who was “…bawling her eyes out” in joy for her sibling. Finally, she experienced a moment that until today might not have ever seemed possible. Seriously, no one could picture this. It simply would never take place. So, what was the big deal? Father John had absolutely nothing to say. Nada. Dude couldn’t talk, falling to his knees as she raced across the finish line. Her comment? “I’ve never seen him speechless.” Needless to say, that silence probably didn’t last too long…
AND THEN, SILENCE–Moments later, the entire show tone changed as Reiff uttered, “And Brittany the champ is in the wall.” A horrible 1st-round crash while in the midst of her run against Terry Haddock brought her car to a grinding stop, as well as silencing the huge crowd in nanoseconds. Following a journey that took her to both sides of the track while enduring a fiery 360-degree spin and a pounding of retaining walls, Force was conscious and alert while being lifted into the track ambulance. A huge amount of credit goes to the NHRA Safety Safari crews, all of which were at her side in seconds. Those guys and gals are the absolute best. Also, props to Reiff, who let the pictures speak for themselves by providing only the necessary commentary and not “overtalking”, showing much respect to Brittany, the Force family, and shocked viewers. Dave, you are the man.
TRUE LOVE–Minutes later, an interview with the Force family patriarch showed everyone a side that few ever see. Of course, John has a love for his children like none other, but it showed through even more as he quietly commented, with voice cracking, “She (Brittany) knows the drill. She knows it’s out there. I’ve been waiting for that to come for years. I’ve seen it happen to too many. No, you never get used to it. It takes your breath away.”
JUST BLOCK IT OUT–When asked how it would be possible for him to focus on his own upcoming first-round Funny Car battle, Force responded, “Same way I’ve done it for 40 years. Just turn the switch off. Like I told Courtney, ‘You gotta worry more about Courtney, because you don’t want to take emotion out there. It’ll get you in trouble.’ You don’t know how bad I want to go to the hospital. But I can’t. And mom’s with her, and I’m just going to pray that she’s OK, and she will be. She’s Force. She’s tough.”
“WHADDAYA THINK ABOUT THIS WEATHER?”–Nice aerial of the gorgeous SoCal landscape from the show’s Chopper Cam. While surveying the view, Reiff, alongside host Tony Pedregon, commented that temperatures were 70 degrees and sunny. Absolutely perfect. Meanwhile, the Recliner Report staff is enduring 39-degree, cloudy, kinda-rainy and slimy stuff. Argghh. Anyone know how much to rent a place in Pomona?
YOU CAN’T COME IN!–Bob Tasca is back! And he’s bringing everything Ford with him. Dude bleeds the brand, and after taking time away from the track, he returned with a vengeance while leaving viewers, well, wondering just a bit. When discussing multiple trips to Michigan to monitor all aspects of car development, Tasca excitedly reported, “I’ve made so many trips to Detroit, they either had to say yes or file a restraining order against me and not let me back to Dearborn again.” Cool. Here’s hoping the Ford folks said “Yes”. Like, quickly.
GOT YOUR HOMEWORK?–Something epic taking place at each tour stop this year: Nitro School, a time for fans to witness legends and current stars such as Don Prudhomme and Robert Hight, both who were shown on a stage being interviewed and sharing interesting race info with spectators. Not sure about you, but these guys never showed up at our school. Would’ve been epic to visit the cafeteria and see if they would try the Salisbury Steak. Dude, at our school, the squirrel population dipped on those days. Coincidence? Just sayin’…
A TALENTED TRIBUTE–While being dedicated to active servicemen and women in all branches, the paint job on Paul Gladden’s Top Fuel ride is totally tricked out. You know what? To call it a paint job is just downright rude on our part. Let’s try again. We’re talking a hand-airbrushed, Sistine Chapel-quality masterpiece that just happens to be on the side of a 300-mph land rocket. Complete with intricate designs of military hardware the entire length of the black and white rail, Gladden pilots a gorgeous tribute to those who give all of us the freedom to spend weekends enjoying these racing events. Gotta give it up for Paul, as well as Chuck B Designs, the creator of this magnificent work of fast-moving art.
ME? WORRIED? NOPE–Leah Pritchett joined Reiff and Pedregon in the TV booth following her first round exit, calling it the “penalty box” for leaving the competition early. Though some hosts might have publicly huffed their displeasure at her description of his office, Reiff smiled at the camera, raising his hands as if to say, “Well, watcha gonna do?” Nothing bugs the guy. He’s one cool cat on the air.
THE OLD SWITCHEROO–The Top Fuel matchup between Antron Brown and Steve Torrence brought to light a couple of interesting facts. Before 2017, AB led the head-to-head matchup 20-1. However, Torrence reversed the trend last season to the tune of 5-4, including wins at three of his eight 2017 events, all coming against…you got it. AB.
NOT HIS FAVORITE SHADE OF TREE–The 2018 record? 1-0. Brown took the season opener between the pair after Torrence decorated the Christmas tree with a big ‘ol red light. But, no worry. These two will definitely see each other again.
FEELIN’ LUCKY, PUNK? Speaking of Torrence, the TAPCO Texan now has a new look under his helmet, as the longer hair and goatee have taken him in an entirely different direction. Dude looks…well, dangerous. Gunslinger. The Recliner Report staff is stoked, mentioning that Steve could play a bad-dude-guy-type in an Eastwood western. Nice.
HOW’S THE GAS MILEAGE? Commentator Bruno Massel did a quick comparison of two versions of the Chevy Camaro he happened to see on site, including the newest ZL-1, which can be purchased for about 60,000 bucks, and Robert Hight’s 2017 California Highway Patrol version driven at last year’s Winternationals, which needless to say, costs just a tad bit more. Anyway, with a 376 cubic-inch V-8 that creates 620 horses and produces an 11.4, 127 mph quarter-mile time, the showroom version sounds pretty sweet, until compared to Hight’s ride, which edges out the public model with a measly 10,000 hp. But, Robert and the gang also have to completely change his motor every 1000 feet. Also, does Hight’s ride come with cruise control, remote start, and a rear hatch that can be opened simply by waving a foot underneath? Heck no! Dudes, we have a winner!
HOW ABOUT A MILKSHAKE WITH THAT?–Vincent Nobile edged out Deric Kramer in their Pro Stock battle by 15 ten-thousandths of a second at the finish line. The super-slo mo cam showed both cars at the moment that Nobile crossed first. There couldn’t have been more than a couple of In ‘n Out burgers between the two at that moment. Well, OK. Two burgers and one french fry…but only one. It was tight.
KABOOM!–Ever shot a roman candle? Yeah, pretty sweet, right? So, what if you could strap a seat on the back of one of those fireball-blasting beauties and give ‘er a ride? Yeah, one the size of an El Camino? Would ya take it for a spin? Then, welcome to the Top Fuel Harley division, NHRA-style. These guys can travel the distance in 6.33 seconds at 221 mph, all while having absolutely zero protection if they personally say hello to the asphalt following a crash…man, we thought riding a bull in the rodeo was scary. Fugeddaboutit.
IT’S ALL GOOD, DUDE–Speaking of the Harley division, Doug Vancil took the final-round victory over Rickey House, and following his Wally-winning 220 mph effort, Vancil provided what was perhaps the understatement of the event, or maybe the year, when he humbly stated, “It’s running pretty good.” Man, what’s he gonna run when he’s got it locked in? This was the first event of the year, so there should be lots of potential mechanical glitches and bugs, right? Man, Vancil is one heckuva pilot.
CAN YOU FIX MY CAR?–How about this scene: you’re heading to the finals at a nationally-televised racing event. The tuner for your ride? Your opponent. Yep, the guy you’re facing for the prize money, the big moolah. Question: are you even going to let him within 500 feet of your car, or for that matter, your trailer, dog, crew…heck, would you even want him in the same county? Well, defending Pro Stock champ Bo Butner wouldn’t mind one bit. Why? His teammate, driver extraordinaire Jason Line, was also his tuner for the final! Yep, the guy lining up in the opposite lane in a quest for the trophy was also responsible for making sure Butner’s ride was as prepped as possible! Man, just try to name another sport where your competition has hands-on influence regarding how well you can perform. Sort of like asking Tom Brady to air up your team’s footballs before the Super Bowl…anyway, Line’s tuning talent, along with with Bo’s driving skills, resulted in Butner taking the title. You gotta give credit to Line. That dude has integrity. Big-time.
MOOOOO!–Following his victory over Robert Hight in the Funny Car finale, Matt Hagan, feeling the joy of victory while hopping out of his car at the top end, walked over to the Fox 1 cameraman, looked deep into the lens, and, holding it with both of his huge hands, gave the glass a gentle shake. This is the same country boy that raises cows for a living. Cows. Big ones. See, if he wanted, Hagan, while experiencing the extreme joy and adrenaline rush that follows an event win, could’ve easily turned that high-dollar picture-taker into an Instamatic in nothing flat. Note regarding the future for all Fox race cams: beware of guys with bazookas for arms who raise cows and get excited when they win. Be vewy, vewy careful.
GOT A COUPLE OF BUCKS?–Jim Oberhofer, crew chief for Doug Kalitta, might find his wallet a bit lighter next week, even though his mosh-pit celebrating wild bunch teamed up to defeat Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel Final. Oberhofer clued viewers in by commenting, “That was probably the ugliest damn day of racing I’ve ever had and come away with a win. That was just hideous. Probably gonna get a payroll deduction for all the crap we tore up today, but oh well.” Man, the staffers were rolling on the ground after that interview. Sweet.
RUN AWAY!–Finally, the starting line moshpit/punchfest/free-for-all that takes place between crew members after every Team Kalitta win was in full swing (Sorry. Just had to say it!) Sunday, and Bossman Connie had the best seat in the house…on a golf cart…far away from the insanity. What was he probably thinking? 1)”Hey, isn’t it cool that we won the Wally?” or 2)”If they start heading my way, how fast can this cart go? Them boys are nuts!”
So, there you go! The Winternationals are officially in the books, and from all of us at the Recliner Report, thanks for giving us some of your time, and for hopefully not throwing your nachos at the screen in disbelief of all our silliness. We hope you were digging it and that you will come back for our next installment following the next tour stop in Phoenix. Until then, keep reclining!