THE RECLINER REPORT!
Stop #5–The 2018 SpringNationals, Royal Purple Raceway, Houston, Texas
Big hair. Big oil wells in everyone’s front yard. Big longhorns grazing in big neighborhoods. It’s all part of the legend of Texas. (Everybody scream “Yee-Haw!” right now!) Sorry, to break it to ya, folks, but the closest cow to Royal Purple Raceway this weekend was about five miles up the interstate, resting over the edges of a big dinner plate at a local steakhouse. Grubbing on it was a “moooving” experience. Just sayin’.
But, there were big speeds, big new racing surfaces, big crowds, and big times had by all, and after watching the Fox 1 Sports coverage of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Racing Series held at the Baytown raceway, we learned a bunch of big stuff, such as Jeff Diehl’s Monday plans to surf after oil tankers, Tommy Johnson’s interpretation of Michael Jackson’s famous Moonwalk dance, and a guy who flew in from China just to hang out with his race buddies. Let’s nitro!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE COLOR, BABY? HOPIN’ IT AIN’T RED!–Fox 1 provided some sweet graphics describing the Christmas tree to folks tuning in. Fans were given a quick lesson regarding what the racers see at the starting line, and the split second reaction times that can instantly determine the race winner. Simply put, green good…red bad.
HARSH REALITY–Dudes, there are a couple of truths in life we may not want to admit, but dig it, they’re here to stay. 1) No person on Earth truly knows what’s in the Salisbury Steak that schools serve to unsuspecting kids. 2) Fox 1’s Bruno Massel has by far the best hair in the business, (American Crew Forming Cream is his weapon of choice) and 3) John Force’s streak of qualifying for 221 consecutive NHRA Funny Car Eliminations had to come to an end at some point. Unfortunately, number three came true following Saturday’s qualifying, and The Champ served as the biggest cheerleader ever for his teammates during Sunday’s finals. Still, the Salisbury mystery will never be solved, and Bruno’s hair is always epic. Recliner Report staffers were bummed with jealousy all weekend over his locks. Three words: Amazon Prime Delivery.
FORGET SURFIN’ USA…I CAN HANG TEN ANYWHERE!–Jeff Diehl ain’t a one-trick pony. Dude loves his music, (Check out the RATT sticker on his ride), his land rocket, and cruisin’ the waves, no matter when, where, or how. His Monday plans following the race? Tanker surfing. Yup. Diehl plans on following the petroleum tankers that constantly flow in and out of the Houston area, leaving a four to eight-foot surfable wake that can be ridden for as long as he can board it, possibly 20-30 minutes! Most racers? Heading back to the shop to fix parts or study charts, but our guy’s getting board behind the boats. Epic!
10,000 HORSEPOWER? THAT’S NOTHIN’ TO THIS RIDE! Tommy Johnson Jr. joined Amanda Busick for the “Walk 1000 Feet” at the NASA facility just down the road in Clear Lake. During their visit, he shared that as a young driver, he had no idea of the amount of work, dedication, and commitment that was essential to becoming a top-level racer. Deemed “…one of the nice guys” by the legendary Don “Snake” Prudhomme, the pair share the same birthday as well as a great relationship. Johnson won in Las Vegas on their birthday during his first year driving for Prudhomme, which was a dream come true for Tommy, who long considered Don a childhood idol. Johnson also recalled his first-ever round win in Houston against none other than drag racing’s legendary Shirley Muldowney in a 1990 pedalfest. Another cherished memory is being one of five members of the “Four-Second Club”, as well as the “300-Mile-Per-Hour” club, all alongside Kenny Bernstein, Prudhomme, Eddie Hill, and Joe Amato. Wonder if they have a secret handshake…Along the way, we learned about his fear of heights, the proposal to his fiance (Getting married at season’s end) in a vineyard during last year’s Western Swing, and his love and appreciation for Terry Chandler, who died in 2017 due to brain cancer. According to Johnson, Chandler gave him a driving opportunity after he sat on the sidelines for about five years, wondering if he’d ever have another chance. “It was like I was driving…almost for my mom” he commented. As part of the “Make A Wish” foundation, the lessons learned from watching the children who participate have taught him that, “When you’re at the track and you’re struggling…it’s really not that big of a deal when you see what they’re going through and what they’re fighting. At the end of the day, our struggles are nothing.” Finally, we witnessed Johnson’s possible victory dance, which included his versions of the Moonwalk and an interesting interpretation of the initial moment astronaut Neil Armstrong hopped onto the moon’s surface. Dude’s setting himself up for “Dancing With The Stars.” Anyone out there have the show producer’s home number?
DUDE, WHERE YOU BEEN? Roger Brogdon hadn’t graced a racetrack in two-and-a-half years. No worries, bro. Having never driven a fuel injected Pro Stocker, Brogdon took down Jason Line in their Round 1 showdown. Wait a minute. Isn’t racing at 200 mph supposed to be tough? Phooey. Sounds like anyone can do it…yeah, and our staffers say they can stop eating Cheetos and Twinkies if they put their minds to it. Seriously, Brogdon’s got some epic skills.
MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH–Erica Enders defeated Vincent Nobile with the benefit of a holeshot in their first-round Pro Stock matchup, but thank goodness for finish line timing lights. Her margin of victory? Eighteen ten-thousandths of a second. It takes longer to think the words “Eighteen ten-thousandths” than to travel that distance. Even the Mello Yello Slo-Mo Camera said, “Dude, I don’t have a clue” when it was time to determine the winner. This wasn’t a razor-thin win. Instead, this was thinner than a razor-thin, super-thin razor that was sliced down the middle, then cut…you get the idea. Dudes, that finish was tighter than a staffer’s belt after lunch around here…
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE–Royal Purple was the site of what Dave Rieff deemed, “The Royal Purple Rumble” or the “Baytown Throwdown”, a 2017 dust-up between crews from Gray Motorsports and Elite Motorsports. Following a video highlighting “pleasantries” exchanged last season between Pro Stock drivers Alex Laughlin and Tanner Gray, a second video showed the crews from the opposing sides holding their own version of Wrestlemania in the pit area, and these fellas don’t mess around. You’ve seen baseball players “go at it”, which means an initial conversation about someone’s family member, followed by posing, flexing, and the occasional rubbing dirt on each other. Racing teams don’t waste time chit-chatting. They go. Hard. According to Dave Rieff, “It was on like Donkey Kong.” Since that time last season, cooler heads have prevailed. But, it ain’t summertime yet, complete with 600-degree track temps, meaningful wins, and standings points on the line. Just sayin’…get your popcorn ready!
KINDA WEIRD, BUT…—Roger Brogdon’s last race two-and-a-half years ago featured a first-round win against Jason Line, the same guy he defeated this year in Houston in the initial round. His next opponent that day was Erica Enders, who strangely enough, Roger found himself running against Sunday. But, Brogdon’s day ended following a victory by Enders. Still, that’s kinda weird…
HOW ABOUT SOME BUTTER WITH THAT POPCORN?—During Amanda Busick’s Top End interview with Erica Enders, the Fox 1 camera captured a blur breezing behind the pair, which as it turned out, was the car belonging to Tanner Gray, who had just redlighted in his Round 2 matchup with Matt Hartford. Moments later, video showed Enders not exactly showing displeasure over Gray’s misfortune at the line, as she danced a little jig. Enders, powered by Elite Motorsports, appeared to be feelin’ it for Hartford (Also an Elite guy) and his victory over Gray and Gray Motorsports. Umm…remember the “Rumble At Royal Purple”? Make sure you have a cold drink handy alongside your popcorn. This could get interesting…
A BOMB ON TWO WHEELS—You gotta give it up for the guys in Top Fuel Harley. Running on 98% nitro with 1,000 horsepower, they hit 200 mph from a standing start. No revving of the motor at the starting line. They’re idling till the green light goes off. Oh, and they also need a parachute to help them slow down following a run. Additionally, the drivers wear a spine protector and a Kevlar vest to protect their chests while leaning directly over their engines. Dudes, Kevlar is also used to make bulletproof vests…yikes. According to commentator Tony Pedregon, the bikes are “…scaled-down, two-wheel Top Fuel cars.” When asked by Dave Rieff if he would consider hopping aboard one of those babies, Pedregon simply said, “Not exactly.” Dude is wise…very, very wise. Let’s be serious. Kevlar. Parachutes. 98% nitro. Any takers? Good gosh…
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY…–You gotta give Amanda Busick a lot of props. This steely-nerved reporter did the “DHL Pit Dance” during her interview with J.R. Todd as the Funny Car pilot and his crew busily prepared for their semifinal matchup. Busick swerved, scooted and glided her way through the fast-moving mechanics during the conversation, all while asking insightful questions of Todd regarding the memories of his 2007 win at Royal Purple just days following the death of close pal Eric Medlen, whose demise rocked the racing world. Give Amanda credit for getting so much more than the usual “I wanna thank my sponsors driverspeak” that takes place with so many lesser-talented reporters.
WHY NOT?—Just a totally random thought from our staffers. This is the creativity that takes place while these goofballs are in the midst of a sugar rush. Most racers have stickers from every sponsor known to man plastering every possible inch of their rides, and for good reason. Simply put, sponsors pay, drivers display. Just for fun, though, why not have a fuzzy dice sticker in a really prominent spot? Even better, why not hang a real pair during the last event of the year in Pomona? Let’s say someone’s out of the running, but still wants to have a little fun anyway. Epic.
DUDE GOT SOME SERIOUS FREQUENT FLYER MILES–Don Schumacher was hanging out Friday like always, just doin’ business. Oh, and by the way, he was in China. Nope, not China, Texas. (You can look it up!) We’re talking that little spot in Asia. Anyway, on Sunday, Schumacher was hanging out again, doin’ his usual business…in Baytown. Wow. Dude’s going to experience some serious jet lag for awhile. It may not hit immediately, but man, when it does…he might sleep for a week. Hope he wasn’t in the middle seat surrounded by a crying baby on one side and a talkative compost salesman from Olathe, Kansas on the other…Ouch.
DUKIN’ IT OUT–Epic interview between Fox 1 commentator Tony Pedregon and brother Cruz. After growing up with the usual wrasslin’ and wranglin’ that takes place between siblings, the Funny Car-loving fellas found themselves facing each other in 1997 at the Houston track, all with the event title on the line. With Tony racing for JFR and the Cruzer hanging with Joe Gibbs Racing, the matchup was the first-ever between brothers in the final of a nitro event. Unfortunately, the Cruzer’s motor “grenaded”, giving Tony the victory in what would be the only occasion they would compete for a trophy. With tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Tony commented, “I almost felt bad for Cruz,” to which the older brother replied, “Hey, you gotta get your licks in whenever you can.” Cool stuff.
I’M TELLING YOU—YOU’RE GONNA WIN—Matt Hartford’s win over Erica Enders was special for several reasons. First, he wasn’t even supposed to be racing this year after losing his sponsorships, but a last-minute deal from Elite Power came together to place him behind the wheel. Also his first-ever championship win, the victory over Enders, came despite owning an 0-7 record against the Texan. Finally, he became the seventh Pro Stocker to win an initial Wally at the Houston track. We’re betting he’s gonna want to come back to that little raceway in Tejas. Best of all, Hartford gave the credit to everyone except himself, even dedicating the trophy to wife Amber, who he praised, saying, “…you told us we were going to win.” Cool cat.
THE DROUGHT IS OVER–J.R. Todd was 0-4 versus Robert Hight in previous head-to-head matchups. The important word here is… “was”. No mas. Todd took down Hight to win the Wally in the car previously driven by Scott Kalitta, who in 2007 won his first-ever title at, where else? Houston.
AND IN THIS CORNER–Todd’s win set off a Kalitta starting line mosh pit celebration that can only be described as…well, it may not be possible to accurately describe it. There were more bodies flying on that track than a WWE Royal Rumble. Not exactly sure, but there may have even been cold drink vendors from the stands flying in there along with the guys selling popcorn and cotton candy joining in the fun. Needless to say, it was HUGE, and humans were sailing everywhere. Give Fox 1 reporter Bruno Massel big love for completing his post-win interview in the midst of that insanity, but Massel is jacked and could’ve taken care of himself if needed. He probably could’ve dropped a figure-four leglock on someone if necessary, one that would’ve made Ric Flair proud! Woooo!
SHE’S FORCE TOUGH–Brittany Force was expected to come flying out of her rail with excitement following her final-round victory over Terry McMillen in the Top Fuel category. However, the eight-time winner seemed strangely subdued after her exit from the cockpit, but as it became quickly apparent, with good reason. Her interview with Amanda Busick revealed a very emotional champ, one overwhelmed following the events that have surrounded her and the JFR team this season, beginning with her vicious season-opening crash at the Winternationals. With voice cracking and eyes pushing back tears, she finished the interview in her typical professional style before sharing a cool moment with father John. That girl’s tougher than boot leather. Epic.
So, Houston is now in the rearview mirror, and it’s a quick turnaround before the NGK Spark Plugs Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in North Carolina. The staffers just bought a new case of Nacho Cheese Doritos, and bean dip is on the horizon for the upcoming weekend. Till then, keep reclining!