Diamond Cellar Classic

Porsche, Ferrari, Camaro square off for GT crown at Lime Rock

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Having won the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona and the inaugural North American Endurance Championship in 2012, Magnus Racing hit two of GRAND-AM’s three biggest targets in the same year. They can achieve the third career target this weekend if they hold onto the Rolex Series’ GT points lead and secure the title.

Indeed, the team known as much for its hilarious press releases and excellent snark – a refreshing break from the stuffiness that permeates most of racing – is all business this weekend at Lime Rock as drivers Andy Lally and John Potter enter with a four-point lead in the No. 44 Porsche GT3 Cup over Scuderia Corsa Ferrari driver Alessandro Balzan.

The deficit between the two was halved after a post-race results change following the last round at Monterey, when the No. 31 Marsh Racing Corvette and No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup were demoted positions for contact. That elevated Balzan, who co-drives with Leh Keen in the No. 63, to third place and within four heading to Lime Rock.

There was drama on the final lap at Lime Rock a year ago. Lally’s team miscalculated its fuel amount by a mere fraction which left that car sixth; Balzan finished third a year ago with co-driver Johannes van Overbeek. Adding fuel to the championship fire is the fact Scuderia Corsa is bringing in “JVO” as a ringer this weekend, to a second car with co-driver Paul Westphal, to aid Balzan’s title charge.

That sets the scene for the two main title protagonists. If they both manage to muck it up, Stevenson Motorsports will be there waiting and like Scuderia Corsa, it too has added a second car for this race.

Stevenson’s pair of Robin Liddell and John Edwards – the latter one of the sports car stars of the year – have won a class-high four races but the highs have been offset by four finishes of eighth or worse. As a result, the No. 57 Camaro drivers enter the weekend 11 points in arrears of Potter and Lally, and would need a win with Magnus finishing seventh or worse to eclipse that mark.

Helping Stevenson’s cause is its second car with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, GM factory drivers in the American Le Mans Series’ Corvette C6.R program, who will be in the No. 75 Camaro this weekend.

AIM Autosport Team FXDD, the defending GT class champions with Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato, can steal the title but at 16 points back, they’d need a lot of help to do so. It’s Assentato and Anthony Lazzaro who have the shot this weekend in the No. 69 Ferrari F458 Italia, with Segal in the team’s No. 61 R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport car with Alex Tagliani.

The GX class will likely be decided first; Dr. Jim Norman needs to complete the 30-minute minimum to score enough points to uphold his 11 point lead over Joel Miller. That would give the BGB Motorsports Porsche Cayman driver the title in a class Mazda helped to create, and a class that will go away after this race.

1. John Potter/Andy Lally, 313
2. Alessandro Balzan, 309
3. Robin Liddell/John Edwards, 302
4. Emil Assentato/Anthony Lazzaro, 297

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
(Getty Images)
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski