Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Dickerson primed for success with rare 2-year deal in place at NWR

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Two-year deals in open-wheel junior series racing are about as frequent as 30-degree weather in San Diego. They occasionally happen, but it’s usually once in a blue moon, at best.

Luckily for San Diego native Dakota Dickerson, he got that “30-degree weather day” equivalent to kick off this month, with confirmation of a two-year deal coming with Newman Wachs Racing.

Newman Wachs Racing starred during its four-year run in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship from 2006 through 2009, with drivers such as John Edwards, JR Hildebrand, Simona de Silvestro, Jonathan Summerton and Markus Niemela among those who raced for them. Edwards won the 2009 title in the last year of Champ Car Atlantic, before the series came back to life under a new promoter several years later.

NWR however dipped off the radar in the years since. Team co-owner Paul Newman died in fall of 2008 and Eddie Wachs only carried on as a team owner into the following year. But the opportunity to come back arose following the USF2000’s launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, and NWR is one of the marquee teams entering the championship as a result.

In Dickerson, a past Team USA Scholarship winner and Mazda scholarship recipient who made big strides over the course of his first USF2000 campaign this year with Afterburner Autosport, the team has found a driver they can grow with who already has experience.

And Dickerson has the peace of mind knowing he’ll be set for two years, with USF2000 this year and Pro Mazda set for 2018, in the new Tatuus PM-18.

“Yeah, I know, it’s awesome. Especially this early in my career. It’s really nice,” Dickerson told NBC Sports. “The credit goes to the team for believing in me and wanting to put something together like this. A large portion of it, too, is the fact the USF 2000 Pro Mazda chassis going to be the same, so if we’re putting all our time and resources into developing the USF car, it just makes sense to go up and do the Pro Mazda car together, as well.”

Dickerson met team manager Brian Halahan in August when the team announced its return plans. He visited the shop following the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, met Wachs, and clicked rather instantly. He was signed following a successful private test.

While Dickerson, who turned 20 on December 2, was in his early teen years when NWR was racing in Atlantics, he paid attention to their pedigree.

“When they were in Atlantics, I was running go-karts and one of their Atlantic drivers, Markus Niemela was a good friend,” Dickerson said. “So it was kind of weird to hear their name when I was 12-years-old and now getting to run with them.

“And everybody in the series, since Newman Wachs is running in the Atlantics, they told me a bit about their background and it all kind of clicked and made sense.”

Dickerson’s first season in USF2000 turned a corner starting at Lucas Oil Raceway end of May. He had an eighth place on debut in a crash-marred season opener in St. Petersburg but only finished better than 13th once in the next five races. From Lucas Oil through the end of the year, Dickerson was 12th or better in 10 straight races, with a best stretch of fourth in Toronto race two, then two fifths and a sixth at Mid-Ohio. He ended ninth in points.

“A lot of it was a learning process. I didn’t get to spend as much time with the Afterburner team as I would have liked to in the offseason,” Dickerson explained.

“So we were learning a lot together throughout the season and a lot of it clicked, a lot of things started to come together. We brought on a driver coach, Barry Waddell, and he was real helpful at Mid-Ohio and kind of just getting me used to running with this team. A lot of it just came together in the last half and I think a lot of our success was due to that.”

The new, wider Cooper Tires on the new USF-17 car will require a bit of adapting but Dickerson seems to have a good handle on it.

“The tires are a lot wider, a lot more mechanical grip,” he said. “It seemed like it was hard to tell between whether it was the brakes that were more efficient or the tires in general. But overall, just so much more grip overall with the new tires, the bigger tires. I don’t know what’s different with the compound, but just a lot more grip.”

Dickerson should be the team leader as Newman Wachs plans to run at least three cars, engineered by Alan O’Leary, look set to tackle the series next year.

“We can get after it now. We’ve taken care of the logistics for the next two years and it’s just nice to focus on the driving aspect for as much as we can and I’m really excited to get preseason testing going.”

NHRA shocker: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.
In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.
It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since the Charlotte race in 2008, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent and consecutive 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.
“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.
“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans.”

As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):

Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.
Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.
“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”
Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.
Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.
“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”
Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.
Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.
“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”
Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.
Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.
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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:
TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2.
Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703,
322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926,
313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.