Author: Jerry Bonkowski

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ARCA releases 2016 schedule; Mobile out, Madison (Wisc.) returns

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The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will have only minor changes to the 2016 season, the sanctioning body said Wednesday after revealing next season’s schedule.

The biggest change is Mobile, Alabama is off the schedule, to be replaced by a return to Madison, Wisconsin.

As ARCA enters its 64th consecutive year of racing, the schedule will once again feature 20 races for the third consecutive year, starting at Daytona International Speedway on February 13 and ending on Oct. 14 at Kansas Speedway.

ARCA 2016 sked



All told, there will be nine races on short tracks, eight on superspeedways, two on dirt and one on a road course.

“We are pleased to announce our full and complete schedule,” ARCA President Ron Drager said. “We feel we have once again put together a schedule that highlights the diversity of the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. We are excited for the start of the new season.”

Other changes include:

* The annual Chicagoland Speedway race will be moved to Thursday night, Sept. 15, kicking off the opening weekend of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

* The road course race at New Jersey will be moved to Saturday, May 28, rather than its previous Sunday afternoon date.

* The annual dirt race at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in Illinois will shift from an afternoon to an evening race.

* The series will mark milestone events with the 75th series event at Toledo Speedway and the 99th and 100th races at southern Indiana’s Salem Speedway.

* The series will have companion races with all three of NASCAR’s pro touring series, as well as one weekend as the undercard for the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway in July.

* As for the return to Madison, Drager said, “It was important for us to schedule a race in the Menards market. Last year, we did not have a race in either Minnesota or Wisconsin and this year, we decided to go back. We are definitely looking forward to racing again at Madison and the upper Midwest.”

* The annual awards banquet takes place Dec. 12 in Indianapolis.

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NHRA: With 5 titles already, Andrew Hines just starting to hit stride

andrew hines Bike photo
(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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Winning NHRA championships is becoming old hat for such a young guy like Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Andrew Hines.

At 32, Hines is the first racer in NHRA history to compile five championships in any pro class at such a young age.

He won his first PSM title at the age of 21 (2004) and followed that up with additional crowns in 2005, 2006, 2014 and a little over a week ago earned his fifth crown in the season-ending AAA Finals at AAA Raceway in Pomona, California.

Hines, who passed No. 2-ranked Angelle Sampey on the PSM all-time wins list with his 42nd career victory at Pomona, has come a long way in a relatively short period of time on his Screaming Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley Davidson.

“In the beginning of my career, I came in really as a true, true rookie,” Hines said on a recent NHRA media teleconference. “My first year in 2002, I think I made eight full runs on a Pro Stock Motorcycle before I went to Denver my first season. I ran that half a year there in 2002 on the Suzuki, and Harley decided they wanted a two-bike team in 2003, so I was still in the learning phases of that.”

Hines finished seventh in his first season with Harley and second overall season in PSM in 2003.

Then came 2004.

Andrew Hines
Andrew Hines

“After (2003) it was like a landslide, you know?” Hines said. “We had three championships come in a row, real easy. I shouldn’t say really easy (but) really quick. We won some good races there through those years and just had consistency back then, too.

“I look back on it now and there’s a lot of stuff that I was doing wrong back then, not focusing on the tree, focusing on who I was racing in the other lane and doing things like that, giving away rounds on red lights. We had a few mishaps with race engines back then, obviously with growing pains.

“So those three championships, I was young, and I still say I was naive back then, because I didn’t really know any better. I won a championship, won a second one, won a third one and was like, hey, what’s going on here? This is happening really fast!”

Hines almost earned a fourth straight title in 2007, but one mistake cost him another championship.

“’07 was the first year of the countdown format. … I entered Las Vegas as the number one seed and went to Las Vegas and won that event, and I thought I was looking pretty good again,” Hines said. “I had about a 40-point lead when I got to (the season finale in) Pomona.

“I lost my focus and I threw that race way on a red light; I believe it was second round. I will never forget that. I turned the throttle and rolled backwards out of the beams. It wasn’t because I let the clutch go early, it was because I wasn’t doing any proper procedures on the starting line, and I backed out of the stage lane.

“That was tough, and ultimately that cost me a championship, because had I gone probably one more round, I might have been able it take out the guy that won the race.”

Coming up short in 2007 was devastating to Hines. He lost the ability to win championships. Call it an edge or advantage, but whatever it was, Hines no longer had it.

And he didn’t get it back for seven more years, finally earning his fourth crown in 2014.

“I just got in a funk after that (2007),” Hines said. “I was still able to win races but, man, at the end of the year I would start getting that pressure on me, and I would crumble.

“In 2010, L.E. (Tonglet) and I were battling for a championship, going to almost every final together in the (Countdown to the Championship) and same thing in Pomona, I messed up and had another red light, so I didn’t learn from my past experience on that one.

“But this year I brought the mentality back. I did the same thing last year (when he won his first championship since 2006), brought the mentality back that I’ve got to forget about what people can say or people want to think. I’ve got to go out there and prove I can win rounds, and that’s going to ultimately lead to winning races, and hopefully championships.

“So the pressure from those situations, I learned from that and converted that into a positive focus for me and it worked out great last year and this year, and I was able to push through those hard situations and figure out how to get my team at getting another Wally (race-winning trophy) on Sunday.”

Given his young age, there’s likely a lot more races and championships to win in Hines’ future. But he also envisions a day where he may go from two wheels in PSM to racing upon four wheels in Pro Stock.

“Right now I’m loving what I do, I grew up around motorcycle drag racing and always a fan of drag racing in general,” he said. “Not a lot of people know, but I hadn’t really intended to riding a motorcycle. We were going to go down the Pro Stock Truck route years ago, and we were really, really close and unfortunately, that class was cancelled.

“So back to motorcycles, because we had a bunch of parts laying around the shop. So like I said, I have the passion for four wheels, just got to find the right opportunity, I guess.”

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Courtney Force and Graham Rahal tie the knot in spectacular wedding

Graham and Courtney wedding
(Photo courtesy of Courtney Force and Graham Rahal official Twitter accounts.)

Two of motorsports’ biggest entities have merged into one.

We’re talking, of course, about this past Saturday’s wedding of NHRA drag racing star Courtney Force and IndyCar star Graham Rahal.

Thanks to a great report by Cathy Kightlinger of, the newlyweds were married Saturday on the picturesque edge of a cliff at Dos Pueblos Ranch in Santa Barbara, California.

“Courtney arrived for their wedding in a 1929 Bentley, owned and driven by longtime Rahal family friend Bruce Meyer, a vintage and historic car collector and Petersen Automotive Museum board member. Courtney wore a dramatic Galia Lahav Haute Couture dress,” Kightlinger wrote in her blog.

While both Courtney and Graham make their living driving fast, their chariot to and from the chariot was a bit slower in pace, namely, a 1929 Bentley.

“There were 10 bridesmaids, including two of Graham’s sisters, Michaela Hatcher and Samantha Rahal, all wearing royal blue dresses,” Kightlinger wrote. “Courtney’s sisters, Brittany Force and Ashley Force Hood, were her co-maids of honor and Graham’s brother, Jarrad Rahal, was the best man. Graham’s two youngest sisters – Isabella and Ava Rahal – served as flower girls.”

Courtney is the daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, while Rahal is the son of three-time IndyCar champ and 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal.

To congratulate the newlyweds, who embark on their honeymoon to Fiji this Saturday, here’s a photo essay of Twitter and Instagram posts:

Even Amy Reimann, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fiancée, got into the congratulations. And then Courtney responded by giving Amy a pre-wedding suggestion of her own.

Graham also got into the act to give some advice to Junior:

On a personal note, we still think fondly of an interview we had earlier this year with Bobby Rahal, who attended the NHRA event at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

The elder Rahal, a native of suburban Chicago, had two classic lines related to his son’s upcoming betrothal.

* “No, I’m not nervous because I don’t have to pay for that wedding,” he said with a laugh. “I called John up and left a message on his voicemail that this was going to be the most expensive wedding in Southern California in 2015.”

* When asked if he imparted any advice to his son, Rahal said he told his son about Graham’s gregarious  father-in-law: “I told Graham, “You do realize you’re marrying John, too, right?”

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NHRA: Driving like he did 10 years ago has Ron Capps excited about ’16

ron capps 2015 car shot
(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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If 50 is the new 40, then NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps — who hit the half-century mark back in June — is back driving like he did in the prime of his career.

It was 10 years ago – when Capps was 40 – that the Carlsbad, California resident finished second in the Funny Car standings to teammate Gary Scelzi, at the time the closest season differential (8 points) in NHRA history.

After finishing eighth in 2014 and sixth in 2013, Capps rebounded to finish fourth in this year’s standings. It was his best season showing since 2012, when he came in as runner-up for the fourth time in his career.

His performance this season was also Capps’ third top-4 Funny Car finish in the last seven seasons, adding to promise of a continued career resurgence in 2016 for the long-time NAPA-sponsored driver.

Capps performed outstanding in the six-race Countdown to the Championship. Including Sunday’s performance in the Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, Capps finished the season by reaching the semifinal round in each of the last five races.

ron capps 2015 head shot

That, too, bodes well for next season.

“Yeah, our NAPA Dodge has been very solid the last part of the season,” Capps said in a media release.

Capps said his recent success is due primarily to veteran crew chief Rahn Tobler finding something that has definitely picked up his 2015 Dodge Charger Funny Car’s performance.

“Tobler and the NAPA guys have worked hard all year and they’ve been seeing that pay off,” Capps said.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Capps was essentially discovered by legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme. He’s gone on to amass 45 wins in his career: 44 in Funny Car and 1 in Top Fuel.

Two of those wins came this season.

And while Capps once again fell short of earning his first career NHRA Funny Car championship, he definitely has the car and the team behind him to eventually reach that goal.

“I’m excited more so for Pomona than I have been for a long time,” he said prior to this weekend’s season finale. “We don’t have a chance to win the championship but Tobler has found a lot of little things that has helped and we’re already excited about 2016.”

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NHRA: Some of the best memories that made 2015 season so memorable

2015 NHRA champs (from left): Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock).
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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With the 2015 NHRA season now in the books, it’s time to celebrate some of the great accomplishments and achievements that took place during the 24-race season.

Here are some of my favorite memories of the season, in no particular order.

After you’ve read through this, I’d welcome YOUR favorite memories of the 2015 NHRA season:

* Erica Enders was nothing short of amazing with her penchant for near-perfect reaction times. It was that prowess that not only helped her win several races, but also led to her winning her second consecutive Pro Stock championship. You go, girl!

* Antron Brown’s second Top Fuel championship in four years was a thing of beauty, especially with the way he began the six-race Countdown to the Championship with three straight wins. Through it all, Brown never lost his composure or became over-confident. He and his team were paragons of getting the job done in the trenches. Congrats to AB!

* We saw a change in the NHRA’s top office, as Tom Compton abruptly retired after 15 years. Long-time NHRA executive Peter Clifford was tabbed to replace Compton and has already made a number of strategic hires and continues to bring about change within the sanctioning body that will only make it stronger going forward. While I wish Tom well in retirement, I look forward to seeing the changes Peter makes to make the sport more visible and popular.

* NHRA announced that it was ending its more than decade-long relationship with ESPN one year early (contract was due to expire after the 2016 season) and would have all 23 races in 2016 televised by either Fox Sports or Fox Sports 1. That Fox will televise NHRA races in more reasonable time slots – rather than the previous penchant to televise late at night or the wee hours in the morning – should help in attracting new fans or bringing back old fans.

* At the age of 66, 16-time Funny Car champ John Force continues to amaze. Yes, he is not used to finishing seventh, or having just two wins all season, as he did in 2015. But given all the changeover Force and his four-team operation had to begin the season, particularly with the change from Ford to Chevy and Castrol to Peak, it was inevitable there would be growing pains. With continuity back and not having to spend time chasing sponsorship, look for John to have a significantly better season in 2016. And don’t rule out a 17th championship.

* After years of trying, Del Worsham finally captured his first career Funny Car championship this season. Any championship is a noteworthy accomplishment, but Worsham’s crown this year was historic. Adding to the Top Fuel title he won in 2011, Worsham joins retired veterans Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi as the only drivers in NHRA history to win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car in their respective careers.

* What can you say about 32-year-old Andrew Hines other than he’s amazing? Hines also made history in 2015, winning a second straight Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, but more importantly, becoming the youngest driver in NHRA annals to earn five championships in a career.

* Speaking of Pro Stock Motorcycle, my hat’s off to Jerry Savoie. The 53-year-old Louisiana alligator farmer essentially took three decades off from racing to build up his thriving business. Once things were solid, he came back to play on the NHRA circuit and his performance this season was outstanding. He gave Hines a real run for the championship and almost pulled it off.

* Alan Johnson Racing was dealt a devastating blow when it had its season funding pulled by primary sponsor Al-Anabi Racing just a couple of weeks before the start of the 2015 campaign. To its credit, AJR soldiered on, including winning the season-opener at Pomona, California. The team essentially raced race-to-race from a financial standpoint, pulling together piecemeal sponsorships for each event. But the well ran dry at the most inopportune time, and AJR was forced to suspend operations at the start of the Countdown to the Championship. Driver Shawn Langdon was able to pick up a ride in the Countdown with Don Schumacher Racing, including winning Sunday’s season-ending race. That means Langdon bookended a very trying season with wins to start and end the 2015 campaign – and still managed to finish a very respectable sixth place in the final standings.

* The winningest driver in Top Fuel history, Tony Schumacher (78 wins), looked to earn his ninth championship, but it was not to be. Teammate Antron Brown was just too strong, and Schumacher ultimately finished second. Two bright spots in Top Fuel were Richie Crampton, who finished third, as well as the return to full-time racing of Larry Dixon, who finished fourth.

* “Fast Jack” Beckman did everything he could to try and earn his second Funny Car championship in four years. He gave eventual champ Del Worsham a strong battle during the Countdown, but ultimately finished second to Worsham. Perhaps the biggest highlight of Beckman’s seven-win season was how he swept through the U.S. Nationals.

* It was also good to see Tommy Johnson Jr., make a huge comeback, finishing third in the final standings. On the flip side, one of the sport’s rising stars, Courtney Force, had somewhat of an off year, failing to qualify for the Countdown (still managed to finish 11th).

* In Pro Stock, it was good to see the resurgence of veteran drivers including Greg Anderson and Larry Morgan, as well as the upstart performance of young drivers such as Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman (finished fourth and fifth, respectively).

* In Pro Stock Motorcycle, we also saw strong performances throughout the season from several drivers, most notably Karen Stoffer, Chip Ellis, Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana Jr.

There were so many more highlights during the 2015 season that, as is usual, one season is now over – and it’s less than three months before the new season begins.

There will be off-season testing, rule changes, team personnel changes and looking back at what worked – and what didn’t – for every team this past season, and how to make things even better in 2016.

I don’t know about you, but the off-season has already been too long (just one day). I’m ready to go racing again. Let’s hope the season-opener at Pomona comes quick!

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