Motorsports Recap And Behind The Scenes Access

A Blast From The ‘Nats! It’s The Recliner Report!



Stop #18–Indy. U.S. Nationals. ‘Nuff said.


Nothing else describes what took place on Monday at the 64th U.S. Nationals. Not even a staff snack table stacked with extra bags of flamin’ hot Cheetos and more Twinkies than the law should allow compared with all the action, interviews, and the mosh that took place at Indiannapolis during the Fox 1 Sports AND Fox coverage of the event! By show’s end, staffers sat dazed, amazed, and crazed from all the storylines that unfolded right before our eyes. Dudes, this was six hours of coverage well spent watching, and like the racers, we’re glad there’s a week off till Maple Grove, ’cause our brains and cholesterol levels couldn’t take another event in only six days! So, let’s light it up!

I GOTTA TAKE OUT THE TRASH   A staging lanes interview with Tommy Johnson revealed that TJ lives only three miles from the track. Pretty dang cool. He sleeps in his own bed, stays in a nice, calm routine…all good, yeah? See, this could really help when the racing gets a little tense. Between rounds, he could hit the local market and do the grocery shopping for the week, visit the dentist for his yearly cleaning and x-rays, or scoop out the gutters to get the leaves that have ’em all gummed up. By Sunday afternoon, his “to do” list is done. It’s a win-win! Lucky dude…

TAKE A BITE OUT OF THIS! Howz this for “Nickname of the Year”? Terry McMillen has been dubbed “The ExtermiGator” because of the huge green critter that adorns the side of his Top Fuel ride, the crew shirts, and “The Chomp” motion adopted by friends, fans, and T-Mac himself. McMillen proceeded to back up his new nametag with a quarterfinal win over Steve Torrence, taking out last year’s Indy champ.

WAIT A MINUTE…WHO QUALIFIED?  Blake Alexander. Terry McMillen. Billy Torrence. Doug Kalitta. All four Top Fuel pilots qualified for the semis. All four are killer behind the wheel. And, all four qualified no higher than ninth in the category ladder. Hey, you might get extra points for being the top dog in qualifying, but rankings mean nothing on Eliminations Day. Anyone can bring home the Wally.

COOL CAT…HOT TEAM  Rob Wendland, crew chief for Terry McMillen, was the subject of a real behind-the-scenes look at the goings-on during a weekend with “The ExtermiGator”, and dang it Fox, we need more of those segments! Wendland is a super-calm cat under pressure, as one scene showed him finding, diagnosing, and solving a potentially disastrous problem involving metal shavings located inside the motor. Dude never lost his cool, fixed the GatorMobile, and moved on. He’s the perfect balance for McMillen, who needless to say, can be a bit exciteable at times, and his calm, focused, and positive attitude about his crew, his driver, and his expectations are the perfect recipe for success! Huge props to T-Mac for allowing Fox to go deep inside the trailer with cameras. In a time where sports teams keep inside info more secret than nuclear launch codes, it was ultra-cool to be able to go behind the curtain.

WHOA. DIDN’T SEE THAT COMIN’  This week’s “Behind the Visor” was truly a show highlight. Tony Pedregon sat down for a face-to-face with John Force, and in a matter of only a couple of minutes, we got deeper inside the 16-time champ’s noggin than anyone’s been in a long time. Why? Pedregon simply asked the right questions, and dude, did he ever get answers. When Force was asked if his age had slowed his reflexes in a way that has caused some of this year’s on-track incidents, Pedregon was met with a resounding, “Not at all”, followed by Force’s description of his efforts to keep himself physically and mentally sharp. During their moments together, Force revealed the following: 1) He’s spent his career trying to earn the respect of fellow racers. 2) He believes that he doesn’t have Don Prudhomme’s respect, saying that the Snake, “…looks at me like I’m a dummy.” 3) He believes that not feeling love from his idols such as Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, and the late Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen really hurts. 4) He lives racing, saying, “I don’t golf, I don’t fish. I race. I love racing to the point of being stupid.” 5) He also revealed, “Next to the lady at the donut shop in Yorba Linda and the guy at the cleaners, I don’t have any friends,Tony. Why do you think I stayed down there (At his shop) hanging out with Eric Medlen, hanging out with you? ‘Cause I ain’t got no friends.” 7) Not holding back, he commented to Pedregon, “I’ve heard the good things you’ve said about me, and I’ve heard the stuff where I got thrown under the bus, but that’s your job.” Man, this talk was so brutally honest that all bean dip eating on the part of staffers came to a complete halt. Heck, that didn’t even happen while they were recently watching the latest TV gossip on the Kardashians that these goobs dig so much. Following the segment, one of the staffers even raised a Twinkie in a toast to Pedregon, and several dudes followed. Simply put: Best. Pedregon. Interview. Ever.

RUN FORREST, RUN!  You gotta give Tony Schumacher big props. The 10-time event winner sat down with Amanda Busick and Brian Lohnes to reflect on his 22-year career at “The Big Go”, and even after being knocked out in the first round, “The Sarge” had nothing but positive vibes about the event, even while saying, “It’s days like these (Losing in 1st round) that hurt so bad, because we’ve had such good luck here.” Give the dude credit. Just try interviewing an athlete who suffered a crushing loss earlier in the day. Then, run as fast as possible as members of his “posse” chase you and your camera crew through the parking lot. These NHRA cats are pretty dang cool, even when they’ve got to be boiling inside.

YEP, DADS…YOU MATTER  Amanda Busick’s “My Journey” segment with Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett ranks up there in the “Dang, this is pretty freaking amazing” categories in regards to interviews. Leah had us hooked from moment one, revealing, “I think I’ve been searching for approval from my father my whole life. When I started racing, it wasn’t because I loved it, it was, ‘Don’t make my dad mad.'” Her first memories involved watching her dad race on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and while her older sister Lindsey was also a racer and Leah liked the sport, it wasn’t a love in her life, as her desire revolved more about being with her dad and working on the car. Pritchett reported her mom as being an incredibly positive influence on her life, always telling Leah that she could be successful. The defining moment came when she learned to love racing for herself, saying that’s when her journey began. After deciding in 2010 that she was going to finish college and not be involved in racing, her announcement of the decision on Facebook led to a request from car owner Roger Burgess, who asked her to drive a Pro Mod ride. After accepting his invite, she eventually drove herself into a Top Fuel license and a call from Don Schumacher. Going deeper, Leah commented that she has always felt a satisfaction in proving others wrong, mostly her dad, who stated to her that she, “…wasn’t as good as the boys. I’d never make it, and that pushed me.”  The interview continued to become more emotional, as she revealed, “It would be so cool if he could be at the line. Right now he doesn’t go to the races, but cooler than that…if he could be on the line when we won a championship.” Leah feels that the biggest misconception people have about her is that she’s “…mad all the time”, which she states is not anger, but intensity and her desire to go rounds, and though happy for her own success, a real feeling of pride comes over her when thinking about, “…what a lot of people have done behind me to get here.” On this occasion, Cheetos were raised in her honor by all the staffers, including the guy who never leaves the sofa in the back of the room. He actually sat up. We think we saw a tear, but he says he rubbed his eye after eating a handful of the flamin’ hot variety. Liar…

OH YEAH. THERE’S THIS STORM…LE Tonglet is living proof that the NHRA isn’t all glamour and glitz. A Metairie, Louisiana firefighter by day, (And night) he had much more on his mind than just the Nationals, as a tropical depression was taking dead aim on his native state, and always in his thoughts was the possibility that he would have to hit the highway early for a 12-hour trip back home to be a first responder to save the lives of others if needed. Dude is nails…

NO SULKING WITH THIS STAR  Richie Crampton, the ace Top Fueler who earlier in the day was not only knocked out of a possible Indy title but also any chance of making the Top 10 Countdown list, was shown assisting J.R. Todd in the pits by helping Todd pack his Funny Car chutes in prep for the final round. Again, in a day where some disappointed athletes sulk like a 2-year-old who doesn’t get a pre-nap snack, Crampton’s desire to help a teammate be prepared is like, well, freaking amazing. I’m telling ya, racers have a selflessness that no other sports can even touch. No, not even you folks that are pretty good at cornhole. I know, I know, I’m gonna catch a lotta flak for that one, but I have to say what I feel…

HEY, LET’S GO RIDE A BOMB!  The quote of the weekend goes to super-amazing “Stat Guy” Lewis Bloom, who commented that riding a Nitro Harley resembles, “Riding a bull, but that bull at least has an off switch if you need it.” Bloom nailed it. Riding a motorcycle fueled by nitro? Thank you, but, like…heck no. They weigh around 1,000 pounds, are supercharged, and create around 2,000 horsepower. The driver (Or missile launcher) sits above the motor with no padding, chin just a few inches above the powerplant. The rider wears a Kevlar vest, ya know, just in case the engine explodes, and…they use a parachute to slow down and eventually stop. Dude. Sounds like hanging on to a nuclear missile would be safer…at least, until it hits the target. But until that moment, geez…

FIREFIGHTER AND FUTURE LEGEND  LE Tonglet ruined Eddie Krawiec’s desire to go back-to-back in his quest to win the Nationals. Tonglet’s second victory at Indy, it was his 19th win overall. Oh yeah. Don’t think that being the U.S. Champ is “just another win”, as LE could be heard screaming in joy through his helmet just after exiting at the top end. Dude may have needed to burn it back to Louisiana to help his fellow folks, but if that ride took place, it was a whole lot sweeter.

CAN HE EVEN SHAVE YET?  Jeg Coughlin was 3-0 in previous Indy final rounds. Make that 3-1, as Tanner Gray added the first blemish to Coughlin’s record with his holeshot victory, as the 19-year-old became the the 19th racer to have double digit victories…and the teenager is only in his second year of racing. Gray’s victory also gave he and father Shane the added distinction of being only the second father-son combo ever to win at Indy. The other pair? Warren “The Professor” Johnson and son Kurt. Tanner is 19 years old. That’s not even…like, 20.

OH MY MOSH!  One word: MOSH. Dudes, the starting line fiesta held by all members of the Kalitta clan was the stuff that should’ve made the Sportscenter Top 10. Following J.R. Todd’s Funny Car win, we saw every Kalitta family member, crew member…heck, there may have been pretzel vendors from the stands leaping on top of that human mountain. Hikers would’ve needed ropes to climb that monstrosity. The smartest guy in the bunch? Connie, who sat smiling in his golf cart…far, far away. A back-to-back winner, Todd was all smiles during his interview, of course because of the win, but here’s betting he also was thrilled not to be anywhere near the melee taking place at Mosh Ground Zero. There are some crew members with serious asphalt burn running around the Kalitta camp right now…it was brutal.

CHOMPIN’ FOR A TITLE  One half of a front wheel. Six 1,000ths of a second. That was the difference at the finish line between “The ExtermiGator” Terry McMillen and Doug Kalitta, as McMillen picked up his second career win, but more importantly, the forever-lasting title of “U.S. Nationals Champ.” Oh, and by the way, he qualified 13th. That’s kinda like…a bunch less than being at the top of the ladder. Known for his energy in front of the camera, Terry’s post-race convo with Amanda Busick lived up to his reputation, but towards the end, his thoughts became more difficult to express, and were appropriately described by commentator extraordinaire Dave Rieff, who stated, “…words being replaced by tears. The emotions are overcoming Terry McMillen.” As always, the Rieffer paints pictures with words, and on this day, T-Mac etched his name on the wall of Indy Champs.

Okey-dokey! The “Big Go” is ovah, but the memories and moshes remain. Now, the gang has a week off to recuperate before Pennsylvania and Maple Grove come callin’! Till then, don’t rub your eyes after eating flamin’ hot Cheetos and keep Reclining!








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