Stop #7–The 38th NHRA Southern Nationals, 2018, Atlanta, Georgia
Aaaah. Atlanta. Ground Zero of “The South”, complete with southern belles and gentlemen, slow drawls, and a laid-back lifestyle full of quiet evenings sitting in the backyard with a favorite beverage, just enjoying the quiet, peaceful lifestyle.
But then, some folks showed up and kinda spoiled the tranquility. OK, so they didn’t just knock gently on the front door. They sorta put their fist through it, then drove some serious horsepower through the house. Dudes, it got nuts, and for three days, it was ON.
Yep, the NHRA rolled into Atlanta, and it meant business. And, Fox 1 Sports was there to document the event as part of their 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Tour coverage, and with the weekend’s theme being “Women of Power”, the ladies didn’t disappoint.
Ever since Shirley Muldowney, the “First Lady of Drag Racing” won the Spring Nationals Top Fuel category at Columbus, Ohio in 1976, becoming the first woman to win an NHRA Professional event, women have steadily moved into the once almost-entirely male-dominated sport. Hey, it was only a matter of time. See, our staffers took a few minutes from eating Cheetos to do a quick headcount, and they learned that out of a world population of roughly 7.6 billion folks, 3.7 of those folks are ladies, (This is what can be accomplished when staffers are bribed with an extra bag of Flamin’ Hots!) so it was just a matter of time before these talented females became huge players in the sport. So, now that the nitro has cleared, it has become obvious: women are here to stay in the NHRA. (Took hours to come up with that rhyme!)
So, let’s head out to Hotlanta, where we saw a victory dance that resembled a match-ending move from the WWE, heard about a driver more comfortable face-first on the floor of his transporter, and celebrated a really special Funny Car anniversary. Let’s get Trackin’!
ANTRON & TONY’S BIG ADVENTURE–Top Fuel category began the day with two big surprises, as AB dropped his 3rd consecutive first-round matchup, and Schumacher fell to Bill Litton in his initial trip down the lanes. As Dave Rieff commented over the camera shot of a dejected team owner walking away from the starting line, “No words needed to express Don Schumacher’s feelings.” Rieffer was right on the money.
SHE’S GONNA BE ON THE CASE–Audrey Worm, the pilot of the OutRunPD (Parkinson’s Disease) Top Fueler, and who also works for the Pennsylvania State Police, had to put her detective skills to work in route to her fourth-ever event. See, a break-in of her rig allowed thieves to make off with several items, including a supercharger, pistons, and the team scooter. Imagine the high-speed TV conversation that will take place if they are ever caught, pistons in hand, while burning down the freeway on her scooter: “Yeah, let’s go to Channel 37’s Chopper Dave, who’s flying over the scene. Dave, what’s it look like down there?” Ummm…it looks like it’s gonna be over fast. Let’s hope Audrey gets back what’s rightfully hers, and soon. She’s running in support of relatives who have been affected by this horrible disease.
I’M NOT GONNA’ DO NUTHIN’–Leah Pritchett has been on the road for three consecutive weeks at NHRA events, but don’t expect her to get home, pack her bags, and hit the road again for some rest and relaxation. Pritchett mentioned to reporter John Kernan that as soon as is possible after arriving at her house, she’s “…putting the boat in the water on the lake, and they are not coming off it until next Sunday night.” Those of you trying to call Leah for any reason, ummm…fugettaboutit. You’ll be going straight to her voicemail.
YOU MIGHT WANT TO PUT THE WINDOWS UP…–Top Fuel’s Scott Palmer is a fan of toys. Nah, we’re not talking Legos or one of those goofy Rubik’s Cubes either. Scott loves him some drag boats, along with a Studebaker that runs on nitro. Yup, you heard right. Nitromethane. Man, you talk about giving new meaning to, “Honey, can we go for a Sunday afternoon drive through the country?” Sounds good, but it’s probably not going to take very long…
YOU MAY NOT BELIEVE THIS, BUT…
Riddle: Before Sunday’s Eliminations, which Funny Car driver had not won a single round through the first six events?
Answer: Bob Tasca. Yep, it seemed far-fetched, but we learned that the Rhode Island native hadn’t crossed the finish line first all season, until he finished ahead of Robert Hight in their first-round battle to end his winless streak. Bet there was a serious sigh of relief in that cockpit making the turn into the Top End.
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU…“Stat Guy” Lewis Bloom brought out the big guns again, coming up with a little-known fact that seems too bizarre to be true. Jeff Diehl’s last five starts at the Spring Nationals have all ended in losses to Courtney, Ashley, and John Force, the last two being to Courtney, who he faced in Round One. Diehl again found himself on the losing end, but displayed some seriously strong driving skills after rounding up his runaway Funny Car that had gotten itself into a real predicament. After Jeff reeled his ride back to the straight and narrow, Dave Rieff commented, “I don’t know how much more sideways you can get a car as Jeff Diehl. If you were at the top of the racetrack you could read the sponsors on the side of that machine.” Dude has major-league driving skills…
OH, IT’S YOU AGAIN, HUH?–Lewis Bloom then brought us another “Are you kidding me?” stat when he reported that the first-round matchup between John Force and Ron Capps was their 92nd. In the history of the NHRA, only Force and Cruz Pedregon have battled one-on-one more often. As of October 2017, the duo had faced off on 103 occasions. Incredible!
THIS SHOW JUST KEEPS DRONING ON AND ON…–The new Summit Aerial Cam is killer! Fox 1 used a drone to hover over the action from the end of the track, and we saw race angles previously never shown. It felt like being in a hotel overlooking the facility, just without the room service…and the guy in the room next to you who blasts his TV on the Home & Garden Network while he showers. It’s no fun to be forced to listen to a 30-minute lecture on Gardenias. Yuck.
THIS GUY’S GOT TWO-FER SKILLS!–Atlanta in 2012 was a pretty dang good year for Pro Stock driver Drew Skillman, as he doubled up that day by winning Wallys in both the Super Stock and Stock divisions. And between rounds he sold popcorn, soft drinks, and cotton candy in the stands to hot and thirsty fans. Dude was busy! OK, so no grandstand sales, but the guy must’ve been ready for a nap at the end of that weekend.
A COOL CAJUN CONVERSATION–Angelle Sampey made her professional debut in 1996, and later that season, Maple Grove was the site of her first-ever event win. Now, with a total of 42 victories, and the winningest female driver in all of motorsports, she’s back after time away from the asphalt, and the Louisiana girl spent a few moments with her compadre Amanda Busick, as the two went for a stroll on Busick’s “Walk 1000 Feet” segment. Sampey talked about being a mom and the impact she has on the future of her daughter, making sure to always tell her little pal that anything is possible for women. A Cajun raised to know that, “…there’s no one better than us, and we are better than no one”, she retired in 2010, knowing without a doubt that there would be no returning back for her because of her desire to be a mom, even though she did miss the adrenaline rush of competition. However, her return in 2015 was fueled by her desire to show her daughter what she could accomplish, and that hard work can make dreams come true. At this point, the conversation sorta “flipped” after Busick asked Angelle to demonstrate her victory dance should she cross the finish line first to win an event title. Sampey gladly obliged by lining up with a dance partner, (Who appeared from off camera) then after commenting that “..we’ve been practicing”, proceeded to launch the partner onto the track with an over-the-shoulder toss that would’ve made the WWE’s Undertaker grin in evil delight. Angelle then pointed directly into the lens, stating, “I didn’t come here to dance.” The partner limped off down the track. Amanda backed away…quickly, with a look of, “Wow. I’m glad this girl and I are buddies!” on her face. A word of advice to fans at future races: be nice to Sampey, and don’t ever accept her invitation to a dance unless you have plenty of personal life insurance. Dude…
I WANNA BE FIRST!–We witnessed several firsts during the event, including Bill Litton’s first-ever round win, a huge victory over Tony Schumacher, as well as the initial semi-final round for Mike Salinas, and also the first shot at a Top Fuel title for Blake Alexander. Good stuff. Racing can be totally unpredictable. Anyone can succeed on any given week. Independents have the same possibility for success as the mega-teams, and each event can be filled with surprises. It’s sort of like your local weatherman. You might think the guy or girl’s prediction is a pretty sure thing, but better not bet your farm on the possibility. You could end up farmless…
A VERY PRONE PEDREGON–John Kernan reported walking into the transporter of Cruz Pedregon, only to find the Funny Car pilot flooring it inside his rig. Actually, he was face-first on the floor of the trailer, as a pinched nerve in his back forced Cruzer to place himself in the only position that made his aches and pains feel better. And when does Pedregon feel the worst? When he’s in a sitting position. OK, let’s do the math. Cruz is sitting…in a rocket traveling over 300 mph…leaving the starting line while experiencing enough G-forces to push someone through a wall. So…just what could be so bad about that? Dude is nails.
SO, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?–Erica Enders joined Dave Rieff and Tony Pedregon in the TV booth, and Pedregon posed the question to the Pro Stocker that if given the choice of driving a Funny Car or a Top Fueler, what her choice might be, and her answer was immediate. Because of a shorter wheelbase, her belief that they are harder to handle and more of a challenge for her, she responded with Funny Car. “It’s that element of danger that you just can’t live without” commented Tony, and Erica wholeheartedly agreed. Some folks see a challenge and run away screaming, while others smile and step in the direction of the possibilities. Well, it’s not like Enders is already working in a 100% safe environment to begin with. Dang, she’s driving 200 mph while sitting just feet away from enough horsepower to light up Chicago…
HEADS-UP!–Eddie Krawiec is now 17-1 in head-to-head matchups with Scotty Pollachek after taking his 45th event title with a win over the fellow competitor, placing him squarely in the second spot for total event wins in the Pro Bike category behind only…Harley teammate Andrew Hines. The pair will definitely be duking it out for the top spot during the remainder of their careers, as Hines is only three wins in front with 48. And who at the starting line was the happiest for “Steady Eddie”? You got it. Hines. Cool cat.
GIMME A MELLO YELLO!–The difference at the finish line between Pro Stock finalists Vincent Nobile and Tanner Gray was one, maybe two cans of Mello Yello laid out end-to-end, but Nobile walked away with the Wally. The actual time difference? .0007 of a second, but who’s counting? After his 12th career victory, Nobile also gave the gold guy a shower with the soda, so a kitchen sink with some dishwashing liquid was in order, otherwise the trophy was gonna be kinda yucky on the ride home.
SISTER ACT–Courtney Force must love anniversaries, because her victory over Matt Hagan in the Funny Car final came exactly 10 years after sister Ashley won her first event at the very same track. With the win, Courtney took over the points lead, as well as setting up the possibility of a situation in which women could win both the Funny Car and Top Fuel categories at the same event, which would be the 2nd-ever moment in NHRA history that had occurred, after Alexis DeJoria and Leah Pritchett accomplished the feat at Brainerd in 2017.
DOUBLE THE FUN–Leah Pritchett then held up her end of the bargain with Courtney following her win over Blake Alexander in the Top Fuel final. After Blake red-lit at the start by -.006 of a second, Leah also brought a huge smile to the face of team owner Don Schumacher as she ended a 14-race, Top Fuel win drought that extended back to 2017 at Brainerd. Lots of hugs and handshakes by the Schumacher crew at the starting line, but no mosh pit. Dang it. Those things are pretty darn sweet. Following her acceptance of the Wally, Pritchett commented, “We’ve got our Wally. I’m gonna tell you what. We’re gonna celebrate tonight.” Dudes, from the look on her face, you could tell one thing: She. Was. Serious. Oh yeah. Remember, she’s on the boat till Sunday night. Some serious chillin’ to get done…
Speaking of chillin’, the NHRA will take some well-deserved time off before heading to America’s Heartland in two weeks. Topeka, all we can say is get ready. If you’ve got any farm animals within shouting distance of Heartland Motorsports Park, better get ‘em some noise-cancelling headphones, or you might be sending the bunch to a animal psychologist for some trauma therapy. It’s gonna get loud! Until then, keep reclining!