Motorsports Recap And Behind The Scenes Access

Nitro News From Norwalk-It’s The Recliner Report!


Stop #12–Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Summit Motorsports Park, Norwalk, Ohio


Ever looked at someone and thought, “Man, that guy’s got the perfect job. He’s doing exactly what he wants, he loves what he does…he’s livin’ the life!” Yep, it’s true. Some folks are living out their dreams on a daily basis, but believe it or not, sometimes even they need a bit of break. Sounds crazy, but it’s true.


So, hearing that a professional drag racer needs an occasional breather can cause some fans to think, “Huh? A break? From traveling to cool places, signing autographs, meeting adoring fans, all along with driving amazingly cool cars at incredible speeds? Dude…seriously?”


Yep. Totally seriously. Racers need the occasional pit stop from the race that is life, (Man, that sounds like something you’d see on a bumper sticker) and after four straight weeks of road-doggin’ it across the country, you might think they’d just be going through the motions.


Uh-uh. No way. Not in the NHRA. All the folks associated with the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Tour bring their “A” games each week, and this weekend’s event at Norwalk was no exception, as proven by the Fox Sports 1 coverage. There were stories galore taking place, including first-time winners, horses flying in planes, and cows that now feel free to negotiate “bovine benefits” at home! So, off we roll!


THIS GOES HERE, THAT GOES THERE–Lots of guys had paper routes back in the day to make a few extra dinero for comics, baseball cards, or maybe to buy the latest album from a fave band. Terry McMillen? Dudes, he was into hot rods from the get-go, ‘cause at the age of 13, he was tossing two routes just to buy a 1932 Ford, complete with a hemi, one that was being sold by a neighbor. Did he get it? Yep, but he wasn’t able to drive it…for three years until he reached the legal age of driving at 16. But, T-Mac used the wait time wisely, according to reporter John Kernan, “…taking the car apart and putting it together a number of times.”


LOOK INTO MY EYES–Reigning Top Fuel champ Brittany Force suffered her eighth 1st round loss in 12 events, falling to McMillen, but if anyone has the will to figure it out, she and her crew are going to do whatever it takes. In her top end interview with Amanda Busick following her run, the look in Brittany’s eyes wasn’t, “Oh, woe is me”, but rather, “Get ready guys, ‘cause I’m coming back. Just a matter of time.” This California kid doesn’t love to compete. She LOVES it.


CAN I SEE SOME ID?–Though both lost their first-round matchups, Luigi Novelli and Chris Karamasines brought their Top Fuel talents to Norwalk. Care to guess the total of their ages combined? C’mon, don’t run to Wikipedia, just give it a shot. OK, here goes: 161. Yup, Novelli, known in racing circles as “The Rod Father” is 75, while Karamasines, “The Golden Greek”, clocks in at a sprightly 86. OK, they lost. How many folks do you know who, even at the age of 25, would be willing and able to drive 300-plus? That number is pretty dang low. You’ve heard it before: when you love what you do, it’s not work. Dude…


WHICH TIE SHOULD I WEAR?–Let’s be honest. When most folks hear the words “Financial Planner”, a few things come to mind: sitting behind a desk, spreadsheets, ledgers, crunching the numbers, all done while wearing a suit and tie. Now, maybe that’s true, but Top Fuel pilot Kyle Wurtzel might tend to disagree with you just a tad on the purpose of the duds he wears on weekends.  “Yeah, sure” he says, “I’ve got the double-breasted version. But check out my other suit. It’s my firesuit, and no, I don’t wear it on the freeway while driving home.” Love it when folks don’t just break the mold, but shatter it into 10,000 pieces of horsepower.


FLYING THE FOUR-LEGGED SKIES–Man, some of the staffers were losing their minds after last week’s Thunder Valley fiesta. No, they had plenty of Twinkies, and yes, the bean dip was plentiful, (The jalapeno version, also!) but something was missing: The “Walk 1000 Feet” segment with Amanda Busick never took place, and one of the guys came close to crumbling. He stumbled around until Wednesday, mumbling over and over, “Walk 1000, where did it go? Walk 1000, where did it go? Walk 1000…” You get the idea. Finally, one staffer figured out that handing him a bag of Cheetos to hold onto seemed to bring him back to reality. Thank goodness one bag remained in the pantry. Anyway, the crew was glad to see the return of the segment, and during his “Walk 1000 Feet” with Amanda Busick, we learned a ton about the one and only Doug Kalitta. Meeting with Amanda at the Kalitta Charters facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the pair walked the runway while we discovered that Doug began drag racing in his late 20s, long after getting his pilot’s license at the age of 16. Remarking that some folks picture him as more of an accountant type, (Though he does love math) he also flies around the country shipping, of all things, horses, and when showing Busick the plane used to transport the four-legged critters, he commented that “As soon as you get to the top step, you can definitely smell, or know, what we do with this airplane.” Though willing to strap himself into a 300-miles-per-hour land rocket, Kalitta drew the line at jumping out of one of the 48 planes owned by the group, but, he still takes risks, as we saw when he climbed on a unicycle to show us what his victory dance would entail, and the dude was bringing it! Of course, one of the staffers had to be a goofball and comment, “Hey, you think he can do a wheelie on it? That’d be cool.” Man, some guys just need to stay behind locked doors out of the public eye…


SHHH! DON’T TELL ANYONE–John Kernan went mysterious on us with his report that the Matt Hagan camp would be staying in Norwalk on Monday to test, “…something that’s totally new. They never tried it before. Totally different from what they’re running right now, and if all goes well, we’ll probably see it in Denver this summer.” Later, we found out the scoop from the Virginia farmer himself. Yeah, we’re gonna tell you. Stay tuned!


JUST ONE MORE BITE, PLEASE–Hagan’s first-round victory over Tommy Johnson, Jr. found the Virginian leading by nine ten-thousandths of a second. How far ahead was ‘ol Matt? Try five inches. Yep, you already know what the staffers did after hearing that info. They headed straight for the Twinkie table to find out how many that would take, and after some serious mathematical engineering, learned that the distance equaled approximately one Twinkie, plus one bite (A small one) of another. Needless to say, no one at MIT has ever contacted any of these goobs to discuss admission.


I GOTTA FACE WHO?–So, there are those moments when even a victory can cause a driver to think, “Awww, crud.” Sounds nuts, but just ask John Force, who scored a first-round Funny Car victory over Jim Campbell, only to set up a showdown between himself and…you got it, teammate Robert Hight. That’s one of those times when Force probably thought, well…we’re not really sure, but we’re willing to bet it’s not printable. Hey, this is a family mag.


I NEED 30 WEIGHT, PLEASE–Amanda Busick’s interview with Bob Tasca took place at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, a beautiful facility honoring a man that’s more than a legend in the world of automobiles. Along with Tasca, the visit featured a special guest: Henry Ford III, and what a nice guy! Ford praised Tasca’s efforts while acknowledging the company’s history with drag racing, as well as his personal love of the sport. Following the interview, one of the staffers, (Of course, with a mouth full of Cheetos) wondered out loud, “Hey, you think he has to be there at 7am to take his car in for an oil change like I do? Man, if I don’t, I’m in line behind, like, 25 people. It takes most of my day, man!” Sorry. We just let him out occasionally for walks, and that’s only if he’s given a handful of breadcrumbs to leave behind so he can find his way back to the office. On one occasion, he ate ‘em…and finding him later that night was brutal.


CALGON BATH BUBBLES, TAKE ME AWAY!  Ever been in a situation that requires you staying as far back as possible? Below are three examples of reasons that would cause someone to think, “Hey, maybe I need to hang back just a bit”:

1-A fire truck racing down your street with lights blazing.

2-While driving on the freeway, you’re passed by multiple police cars chasing after an on-the-lam suspect.

3-Bob Tasca at the top end following a loss.

Well, it happens that in this case, more than likely in this case it was number three, which took place following Tasca’s loss to J.R. Todd due to problems at the starting line in the first round of Funny Car. As it turns out, Tasca was seen on camera as being slightly ticked off because he had no clutch pedal, that, “…went straight to the floor” and telling his crew, “That’s not how we’re gonna win here today.” Bet that pedal works next time…


WOULDN’T IT BE COOL IF…–Cruz Pedregon joined brother Tony and Dave Rieff in the TV booth following his first-round Funny Car loss. The staffers love the Cruzer, from his Oakland Raiders driver’s helmet to his independent spirit. Dude always says what’s on his mind. And, as always, one of the staffers showed what it means to have absolutely no brain when he commented, “Man, wouldn’t it be sweet to have Cruzer sit with us during one of the broadcasts? He could clue us in on all the inside scoops…it would be killer!” When he reminded that hosting Pedregon meant that he wouldn’t he able to race that weekend, the staffer just sat and looked confused for the remainder of the telecast. Give him credit, he was trying to make sense of it all. Maybe by Wednesday he’ll figure it out. We just go on with our lives…


THAT ONE’S ON ME–You gotta give Tony Schumacher credit. No matter how you feel about “The Sarge”, he owns his actions. Following his Round 2 loss to Blake Alexander. Following Dave Rieff’s comment that Schumacher was “…asleep at the switch” when the light turned green, causing him to leave late, Schumacher stated, “It was all my fault…you can’t blame it on the guys who did an amazing job. (His crew) I’m out.”


ON THE ROAD AGAIN–Robert Hight has found himself a road warrior. Hight and his daughter Autumn have been on the road for the last four weeks during the various tour stops, and following stops in Washington, D.C., Busch Gardens in Virginia, and the JFR shop in Indianapolis, (Where Autumn loves to hang out with the guys) you might think the kiddo would be ready for home. Nope. Though Robert is jonesing for some chill time at the casa, his daughter is ready for more pavement. Would be amazing to bottle that kind of energy…


YOU, TOO, CAN HAVE A NEW BODY–The Matt Hagan Mystery Experience has been solved! Hagan spoke with Amanda Busick regarding a new body design that he would be testing in Norwalk on the Monday following the race, saying, “It looks amazing. It’s freakin’ awesome.”


A YUMMY VICTORY–Erica Enders sent staffers running again to the Twinkie table following her semi-final win over Bo Butner. Enders finished 54 ten-thousandths ahead of Bo, which translated into a 20-inch difference, and it was determined that five of the cakes was the correct distance. At least this bunch can dress themselves…


GOING FOR THE GOLD–Not only did Eddie Krawiec win a Wally for his final round Pro Bike victory over Jerry Savoie, he also took home, according to Dave Rieff, a golden ice cream scoop to boot! Turns out that awarding the scoop is a Norwalk tradition, and following his win, Eddie now has a trio of the utensils to feed his sweet tooth. Krawiec’s win was his third this season, giving him a pretty darn good average when you consider this is the sixth bike event of 2018.


NOPE, NOT GONNA SAY IT–Though they may not be on each other’s Christmas card lists this year, Tanner Gray and Erica Enders have shown their professionalism since an earlier spat during the season. Gray’s victory in the Pro Stock category gave him a 2-1 edge in their head-to-head finals matchups, as well as a 5-4 advantage overall. Though what is said behind closed trailer doors may be just a little different, both are channeling their emotions into amazing track matchups. Rivalries are cool, but hot cars are mucho better than heated comments. Cool stuff.


HEY, CAN WE CHEW THE CUD A MINUTE?–Matt Hagan’s cows, currently hanging out in Virginia, might want to send a “bovine representative” to hoof it on over to Matt’s front door once he returns from Norwalk. After Hagan defeated Courtney Force in the Funny Car final, it’s a pretty good bet that he’s going to be in good spirits, or, as a staffer commented, “…a great moooooood”, so this might be the right time to negotiate a new contract. The rep for the group could ask for 1) more hay, 2) a later bedtime, or 3) extra naps during the day. Hey, more food or naps? That would be udderly delightful!


HARD TO PUT INTO WORDS–Blake Alexander’s victory in the Top Fuel final was his first ever, and before the 105th different category winner had even turned into the top end, he was standing in the cockpit to break out a cool dance version of “The Floss”, which to staffers, was reminiscent of Pee Wee Herman’s get-down to “Tequila.” Pee Wee can bring it, and Blake’s solo dance party was just as epic. Though previously very reserved in earlier interviews, his emotions poured out with Amanda Busick, and after initially finding it difficult to share his exact feelings, his screams of joy caught on camera moments later spoke volumes. This guy wanted it…bad. Epic.


Now, it’s time for a bunch of tired racers, crew members, team owners, track announcers, Fox Sports 1 reporters, and Safety Safari folks to head for home sweet home! It’s time for some serious R&R before cruising up to Epping, New Hampshire for the NHRA New England Nationals. Epping, the nitro is headed your way in two weeks, so until then, keep reclining!



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