THE RECLINER REPORT!
Stop #6–The 2018 NGK Spark Plug 4Wide Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Charlotte, NC
Aaah. North Carolina. Beautiful country where the folks are laid back, front-porch swingin’ is an art form, and each morning is greeted by soft sunshine that gently awakens the locals from a night of deep slumber. Uhhh…that was until this past weekend, when 40,000 hooves of horsepower thundered into the place, creating havoc that could be heard and felt at least six states away. Seriously, a cardinal, the state bird, was found wandering the streets of Dayton, Ohio (Three states away!) mumbling, “I dunno, I was just sitting there in my casa, checking out the scenery, and BOOM! Dude, it was like an earthquake on steroids! I got out of there ASAP with my hearing and my life!” Yep, the zMAX Nationals rolled into town, and for a weekend, thanks to the Fox Sports 1 Coverage of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Tour, it was ON!
THE WORM HAS TURNED–Audrey Worm launched her career with her first-ever round win, taking out defending champ Brittany Force and Scott Palmer. Worm, the #16 qualifier, advanced despite losing her parachute at the end of the run. At that point, the immediate question on the minds of many folks was, “Dude…she’s never been this far. She gonna have enough parts to make it to the next round, and will her volunteer crew have the time to make the turnaround?” Yeah…kinda important questions…
TODD TURNAROUND–In the 2017 season, J.R. Todd had a total of three round wins in his first year of Funny Car, and a big zero in the number of finals reached. This season? Mucho change-o. Dude already has eight round wins, two finals, and two event wins. Our staffers did hours of research to determine the cause of the flip-flop, and after some serious stat-crunching, have nailed down the specific reason: it’s J.R.’s new beard. Hey, do the math. No beard, no wins. With the beard, two wins after only six races. Todd better not accept a sponsorship from a razor company. If he uses the product, he could be back to being a spectator on Sundays. Congrats to our staffers for all their efforts. Geniuses, I tell ya. Einsteins.
OK, WHAT NOW?–Finally! We were 40 minutes into the telecast before enjoying the first run of the finals in which all four racers crossed the finish line without some sort of explosion, a car losing a part, or someone hitting a squirrel that was sprinting frantically across the lanes. Technically speaking, it was nuts out there. However, during that same run Jim Campbell was really late off the line, causing commentator Tony Pedregon to deliver an epic explanation of Campbell’s tardiness out of the gate: “Jim Campbell must’ve been waving at somebody up in the stands.” Moments after his comment, a Recliner Report staffer was rushing to grab a wet rag needed to wipe off the milk and Fruit Loops he blew all over the 4K big screen after laughing so hard at Tony’s observation. Epic!
POP-A-TOP, AGAIN–Matt Hagan has to be considering the possibility of running in the first-ever Funny Car convertible from now on at all zMax events after blowing the lid off his ride during his first-round effort. Unfortunately, this wasn’t Matt’s first boomer, as the segment “Tales From The Strip” showed. Hagan’s history at the Four-Wide began in 2010, when both he and Jeff Diehl suffered major explosions, losing their car bodies in the process. Then, in 2011 and 2012, Hagan again felt the breeze on his helmet visor after going topless during runs. But, everything changed in 2013 after Matt’s fortunes reversed with his win at Charlotte. At the end of that day, he held the Wally received after taking the trophy at the same track that on so many occasions had been a nightmare.
THESE GUYS ARE GENIUSES–Again, the Cheetos-stuffed brains of Recliner staffers were put to work in search of a reason for Hagan’s troubles, and as always, the goobers came through. The difference? Matt won in 2013 because he drove a yellow car. Yup. All the boomers took place in dark-colored rides. Hey, these Recliner boys are brilliant, huh? But, just to be safe, from now on, Hagan can drive a rainbow-colored Hyundai if necessary. Just go with the bright stuff.
OH YEAH? BUT CAN YOU DO THIS?–The Hagan situation brought back memories of the John Force explosion earlier this year in Phoenix, when The Champ was forced to guide his shattered, on-fire land rocket to a safe stop while traveling at a speed that would cause the everyday driver to…well, who knows? There’s not a one of us out there that would even have the first clue of what to do in that kind of situation. Watching the Force video of the Phoenix fireball, Tony Pedregon drove the point home when he stated, “You still have to drive the car. He’s probably still doing 250 miles-per-hour-plus at this stage.” 250! That’s like…freaking fast! Hey, love him or wonder about him, Force can deliver the mail…even when it’s on fire.
STILL FUNNY AFTER ALL THESE BOOMS–After showing the “sheer carnage” of Hagan’s ride, Amanda Busick visited with the Virginia farmer, asking him about his reaction during to his horrific event. Matt commented, “Hell, it seems like we have a little bad luck now and then. We love all these fans supporting us, and if nothing else, it was a helluva show for ‘em anyway.”
SHE SAID A LOT WITH A LITTLE— “Stat Guy” Lewis Bloom had the interview of the show when he visited with the legendary Shirley Muldowney, and the “First Lady of Drag Racing” can still bring it when it comes to quotes. When asked what it means to be a legend, she replied, “I’ve been here a long time.” We also learned that she believes her success can be attributed to her being a little ahead of her time, and that she feels the doors are open now for any driver, female or male, to be successful. When asked by Bloom about the racers she roots for, Muldowney named Erica Enders, (A woman she believes to be the greatest lady driver ever) and “…my guy Matt Hagan”. However, the classic moment occurred when Lewis posed the question as to who would win a final battle against “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. Muldowney simply smiled and said, “So long, Don.” Mic drop!
DUDE WAS ON FIRE! Yep, Tony Pedregon is going to be here all week, and he reminds you to tip your servers. Pedregon and host Dave Rieff were commenting on Kurt Benkert, the nephew of Pro Stock driver John Gaydosh. Benkert, the former quarterback at the University of Virginia, recently signed a free agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons, and after Rieff wondered out loud how long the draft actually takes, (Three full days) Tony replied, “They’re still drafting, four days later.” TP, you need your own sitcom after this weekend. Sneaky funny!
WALKIN’ IT WITH AMANDA!–If there were ever a WWE tag team wrestling duo that was composed of NHRA drivers, it would have to be the pair of Greg Anderson and Jason Line, though we’re not exactly sure either would be cool with putting on the tights them ‘ol wildmen of the ring prefer to wear. You hardly ever see one without the other, and though they might seem to be opposites in every way, the tandem obviously work well together, having combined for 137 national event wins and seven championships as parts of the Summit team. Taking a 1000-foot walk with Amanda Busick, Line admitted that he once forgot to leave the starting line at Charlotte’s four-wide track, not realizing that the “jerk” who wouldn’t stage was him, and Greg stated that his favorite win was his first-ever, which took place at Bristol in 2001. Amanda then went “Newlywed Game” on the pair, asking them to share some inside scoop on each other, and needless to say, both enjoyed the contest. Greg pointed out Jason’s ability to be stubborn, but admitted that Line’s unwillingness to quit helps him also. Line responded that Anderson makes him a better driver because, “…he forces me to do things, in a good way, otherwise he’s gonna whip ya. So, you have no choice. Either that or you take your beating.” Next, pulling out cards with their names on either side, Busick played the “Who Is Most Likely To…?” game with the guys. The rule? After hearing her question, both had to show the card with the name that they felt would most likely fit the bill. As it turns out, both believed that Anderson would be most likely to get a tattoo, to be questioned by the FBI, and to be the most romantic. Line? The pair agreed he would lose on a holeshot to Erica Enders, and would be the most likely to try and talk himself out of a possible speeding ticket from a policeman. Finally, Anderson was very sure that he would be the winner of the pair on this particular Sunday, commenting, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner” while strutting (And smiling!) across the finish line. Cool stuff.
IT’S ALL IN “THE FAMILY”–Audrey Worm’s advancing to the semis in Top Fuel was one of the weekend’s top stories, simply because of the good vibes shared with her by other teams. Composed of many fewer resources than other camps, the rookie racer and her team have obviously earned the respect of many in the racing world, as indicated by the number of crew members from other teams that pitched in to help Worm prepare for the upcoming round, including folks from Team Tasca, CatSpot, and from Antron Brown’s crew. Reporter Brian Lohnes spoke with team owner Bob Leverich, who agreed that the prep work was “the biggest thrash” the team had ever endured. After Worm’s rail suffered a broken crankshaft, Leverich stated that the help “…just showed up”, and despite the fact that many of those in attendance had never laid a hand on the car previously, the “pit ballet” taking place to prepare Audrey’s ride was the ultimate in cool and good sportsmanship. Oh, and Worm wasn’t exactly sitting in her air-conditioned trailer enjoying the few minutes off between rounds. Instead, only her legs could be seen on camera, as the rest of her body was under the car prepping it for the upcoming event. That lady is EPIC!
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE–However, Worm’s day came to a close minutes later following her burnout, when her ride wouldn’t go into reverse by itself. Though NHRA rules allow teams to guide a car back to the starting line, a crew member gave the “Shut ‘er down” signal midway through the push back to the starting line. Still, Audrey got mad love and respect from everyone involved. She’ll be back. Bet on it.
COINCIDENCE? HMMM…–Brittany Force visited the TV booth to provide guest commentary following her first-round exit. While in the studio, Force’s dad and her sister Courtney, along with Tony Pedregon’s brother Cruz advanced to the Funny Car final round of four. So, we’re betting that Rieffer, Tony, and Lewis will have about 24 cousins, aunts, nieces, and maybe some racer’s pet Miniature Schnauzer wanting to hang out and provide commentary next week in hopes that their relative will make the final pair in a specific class. Gonna get crowded in there…just make sure that someone brings Rieffer a Monster Ultra drink! Dude loves ‘em!
DUDE…I FEEL BETTER!–Leave it up to John Force to keep everyone laughing. When asked by Amanda Busick if making his first final round of 2018 was a relief, he cracked, “Boy…I think God forgave me for whatever I’ve done…” The guy could cause a bunch of pro comics to roll with laughter with his thoughts alone…
PUT ME IN, COACH–Cruz Pedregon is a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan. No, that’s wrong…that’s a not-even-kinda-close description. He’s actually a freak for the Bay Area Bombers, and it’s easy to see when checking out his driver’s helmet, which is a replica of the Raider headgear. It goes beyond epic. It’s just bangin’.
CHOMP–You gotta be a tough guy to work as a farmer. Now, try raising alligators for your crop. We’re not talking radishes…hey, nothing against radish farmers…just sayin’. But, Jerry Savoie’s victory in the Pro Bike class left the 59-year-old in a pretty emotional state. Sharing with Amanda Busick how tough it is to get to the final in any event brought the Louisiana speedster to an almost speechless state. These guys love to win, and it always feels good.
BLESSED BY THE BEST–Despite owning the second-best elapsed time in the final four, Erica Enders used an .014 reaction time to give her a hole shot win. Now, the Texan owns her 23rd career victory and the title of second woman to ever take a four-wide title. Hey, Shirley Muldowney gave her the official okey-dokey earlier during her interview with Lewis Bloom. Yeah, we’ve all heard the Nike phrase “Bo Knows.” So does Shirley.
BAY AREA BLITZ–Breaking a 92-event winless drought with his Funny Car victory gave Cruz Pedregon’s crew their first shot at a “We’re kinda new at this, but let’s do a semi-mosh” gathering at the starting line. Meanwhile, The Cruzer hopped out of his ride at the top end with his Raiders helmet on display, realizing that he had just broken a tie he held for Funny Car wins with none other than Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. Wonder if Cruz slept with the headgear on that night…
TOP FUEL TANGO–Dudes, if you’re within 15 feet of Stevie Blaze Torrence after a Top Fuel victory, you’re gonna get hugged, high-fived, chest bumped…just saying you gotta be careful and protect yourself. He gets amped. Hey, and his crew is getting mosh-ier (Is that a word? Heck, yeah!) by the victory. Small in number but big on effort, these boys are getting lots of practice. Back to Steve: he almost took out Amanda Busick in his excitement at the top end. That young lady has got to make sure her health insurance is all paid up, just to be on the safe side…
So, this zMax event had it all. Legends in attendance, mini-moshes, sorta moshes, car bodies flying, and an alligator farmer. It was more fun than stocking two family-size bags of Cheetos and a case of Twinkies in the pantry, and that’s saying a lot. Each week in the NHRA is totally unpredictable, but that’s what makes it so dang cool. The only sure thing? Hotlanta…next week. Till then, keep reclining!