Jerry Bonkowski

NHRA winners Sunday at Denver (left to right): Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photos, videos courtesy NHRA)

NHRA: John Force, Tony Schumacher earn first wins in over a year

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It was like old times in Sunday’s final round of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver.

For the first time in over a year, the two winningest drivers in nitro fuel history reached the winner’s circle.

John Force, winningest driver in NHRA annals, earned his 144th career Funny Car victory, while Tony Schumacher, winningest driver in the Top Fuel ranks, earned his 81st career win in a dragster.

Also earning wins at the Morrison, Colorado track were Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Force (3.965 seconds/319.45 mph) defeated daughter Courtney (3.963/314.75) in the Funny Car final. Not only was it John Force’s first win since June 2015, it was also the seventh of his career at Denver.

“I didn’t have a monkey on my back, it was a gorilla,” Force said in a NHRA media release. “I needed this real bad. I told Courtney I love her, but I am giving this everything I’ve got.

“Let’s face it, we’ve been getting beat up lately by the Schumacher and Kalitta teams. It’s a great day to come here and look like we know what we’re doing.”

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At 67, the elder Force becomes the oldest driver to win a NHRA Funny Car race.

“Let’s face it, the competition is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Force, who became the first Funny Car driver to ever break the four-second barrier at Bandimere Speedway. “It’s tough to race my little girl there and it was a close one. I can do this game. I love it. I don’t have anywhere to go. I am going to keep doing this. I want to keep building this sport.”

As for Schumacher, he won for the third time in his career at Bandimere, notching his first win since early July 2015 (at his home track, Route 66 Raceway, in suburban Chicago).

Schumacher (3.802 seconds at 324.28 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown (5.199/144.75) after the latter slowed at half-track in the final round to earn the victory.

“To win one of these trophies you have to beat some bad dudes, and we beat a bunch of them today from Doug Kalitta to Antron Brown,” said Schumacher, who outran Kalitta in round one, top qualifier Steve Torrence in the quarterfinals and Clay Millican in the semis to advance to the final round meeting with Brown. “I’ve enjoyed great moments in racing during my career, but coming back from a huge deficit when people have counted you out like we have done this weekend is the most satisfying to me.”

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But there was good news for defending series champ Brown, even in defeat: he remains in the lead of the Top Fuel standings, holding a 57-point edge over second-ranked Doug Kalitta.

In Pro Stock, Johnson (6.982 seconds at 197.34 mph) won for a record seventh time at Bandimere (along with three other runner-up finishes), defeating Vincent Nobile (7.037/196.82).

“We stunk the place up all weekend during qualifying,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t have given us a one percent chance to win all weekend. The magic up here is just on our side for some reason.”

Johnson becomes the first driver other than points leaders Jason Line or Greg Anderson to win a Pro Stock race this season. Line and Anderson combined to win the first 13 races of the 24-race season.

https://youtu.be/V-t0GeWTKbY

“I am sure I am speaking for everyone in the pits, but to break that juggernaut is big,” Johnson said. “We might have got a break or two along the way, but I guess that was that mountain magic. It was great to win here for all the great Denver and Mopar fans and to get the win on live TV on FOX.”

Sunday’s race was a milestone in NHRA history as it marked the first time in the sanctioning body’s 65 years that a race was televised on national network television (FOX TV).

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines (7.134 seconds at 188.33 mph) became the winningest two-wheel rider in history, earning his 45th career triumph, defeating teammate Eddie Krawiec (7.148/187.21).

In addition, it was Hines’ third win of the season.

https://youtu.be/NAcEDV9T5U4

“Coming back to win on the mountain, it means a lot,” Hines said. “My team has had my motorcycle really dialed in right now. It is our third final in a row and I am just riding the wave. I don’t think I’ve ever put eight runs like that together in a weekend. The bike is such a joy to ride right now.”

The annual “Western Swing” continues next weekend (July 29-31) at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Tony Schumacher; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  Clay Millican; 4.  J.R. Todd; 5.  Shawn Langdon; 6. Richie Crampton; 7.  Brittany Force; 8.  Steve Torrence; 9.  Doug Kalitta; 10.  Scott Palmer; 11. Chris Karamesines; 12.  Bill Litton; 13.  Terry Haddock; 14.  Rob Passey; 15.  Leah Pritchett; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  John Force; 2.  Courtney Force; 3.  Robert Hight; 4.  Del Worsham; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Matt Hagan; 7.  John Hale; 8.  Ron Capps; 9.  Jack Beckman; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Todd Simpson; 12.  Chad Head; 13.  Cruz Pedregon; 14.  Jim Campbell; 15.  Jeff Diehl; 16.  Tim Wilkerson.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Allen Johnson; 2.  Vincent Nobile; 3.  Jason Line; 4.  Greg Anderson; 5.  Bo Butner; 6.  Alex Laughlin; 7.  Erica Enders; 8.  Chris McGaha; 9.  Shane Gray; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Richie Stevens; 12.  Drew Skillman; 13.  Deric Kramer; 14.  Matt Hartford; 15.  Alan Prusiensky.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Eddie Krawiec; 3.  Jerry Savoie; 4.  LE Tonglet; 5.  Angelle Sampey; 6.  Chip Ellis; 7.  Cory Reed; 8.  Matt Smith; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  Shawn Gann; 11.  Tyler Fisher; 12. Karen Stoffer; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Michael Ray; 15.  Scotty Pollacheck; 16.  Hector Arana.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS:

Top Fuel: Tony Schumacher, 3.802 seconds, 324.28 mph  def. Antron Brown, 5.199 seconds, 144.75 mph.

Funny Car: John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.965, 319.45  def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.963, 314.75.

Pro Stock: Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.982, 197.39  def. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 7.037, 196.82.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.134, 188.33  def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.148, 187.21.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.788, 321.19 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.832, 320.74; Clay Millican, 3.821, 316.23 def. Terry Haddock, 4.284, 286.80; Antron Brown, 3.870, 308.28 def. Rob Passey, 4.396, 208.91; Steve Torrence, 3.843, 321.35 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.089, 297.02; Richie Crampton, 4.113, 280.37 def. Bill Litton, 4.178, 280.49; Brittany Force, 3.829, 317.05 def. Terry McMillen, 5.684, 125.96; J.R. Todd, 3.844, 318.62 def. Scott Palmer, 4.019, 282.78; Shawn Langdon, 4.288, 194.97 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.877, 181.45;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.840, 317.05 def. Langdon, 3.831, 316.90; Millican, 3.857, 313.80 def. Force, 4.204, 271.95; Todd, 3.841, 322.11 def. Crampton, 3.862, 312.57; Schumacher, 4.083, 275.73 def. Torrence, 4.381, 194.49;

SEMIFINALS — Schumacher, 3.839, 319.90 def. Millican, 3.841, 317.49; Brown, 3.826, 307.86 def. Todd, 3.915, 274.05;

FINAL — Schumacher, 3.802, 324.28 def. Brown, 5.199, 144.75.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.047, 316.45 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.078, 301.47; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.972, 315.42 def. Jim Campbell, Toyota Camry, 5.964, 126.59; John Force, Camaro, 4.001, 312.35 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 6.219, 94.02; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.024, 317.12 def. Todd Simpson, Camaro, 4.411, 230.57; John Hale, Charger, 4.303, 240.64 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.324, 232.71; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.992, 320.58 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 5.846, 123.67; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.039, 318.62 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, Broke – No Show; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.041, 306.40 def. Chad Head, Camry, 5.001, 158.93;

QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 4.038, 310.98 def. Hagan, 4.050, 317.64; C. Force, 4.016, 315.56 def. Johnson Jr., 4.032, 315.71; Hight, 3.997, 322.81 def. Hale, 4.161, 289.38; Worsham, 4.052, 317.42 def. Capps, 4.399, 213.27;

SEMIFINALS — J. Force, 4.005, 316.60 def. Worsham, 4.054, 315.78; C. Force, 3.937, 322.04 def. Hight, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — J. Force, 3.965, 319.45 def. C. Force, 3.963, 314.75.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 7.000, 197.13 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 7.026, 195.62; Allen Johnson, Dart, 7.000, 196.59 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 7.047, 197.74; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.995, 197.22 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 7.054, 195.73; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.945, 198.47 def. Richie Stevens, Dart, 7.033, 195.85; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 15.319, 55.23 was unopposed; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.025, 196.22 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.992, 198.12; Erica Enders, Dart, 6.970, 197.42 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 7.989, 188.31; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.959, 197.94 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 7.049, 195.14;

QUARTERFINALS — Nobile, 7.031, 196.50 def. Laughlin, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.998, 197.25 def. McGaha, 7.020, 196.24; Johnson, 7.000, 196.53 def. Enders, 7.006, 195.62; Line, 6.977, 197.57 def. Butner, 6.979, 197.86; SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.986, 196.42 def. Anderson, 6.968, 197.19; Nobile, 16.014, 52.83 def. Line, Foul – Red Light; FINAL — Johnson, 6.982, 197.39 def. Nobile, 7.037, 196.82.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Cory Reed, Buell, 7.234, 183.49 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.278, 184.09; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.204, 185.89 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.320, 182.26; Chip Ellis, Buell, 15.210, 93.84 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 7.204, 183.49 def. Hector Arana, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.230, 184.09 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.285, 183.82; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 7.234, 184.77 def. Tyler Fisher, Suzuki, 7.284, 182.90; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.213, 184.90 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.370, 179.85; Matt Smith, 7.251, 183.67 def. Angie Smith, 7.314, 180.00;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 7.221, 184.35 def. Sampey, 7.299, 184.35; Tonglet, 7.304, 182.33 def. M.Smith, 16.874, 44.19; Krawiec, 7.245, 184.37 def. Ellis, 7.317, 183.42; Hines, 7.234, 184.77 def. Reed, 12.995, 60.23;

SEMIFINALS — Krawiec, 7.218, 186.23 def. Savoie, 7.227, 184.42; Hines, 7.151, 187.34 def. Tonglet, 7.228, 184.90;

FINAL — Hines, 7.134, 188.33 def. Krawiec, 7.148, 187.21.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 1,145; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 1,088; 3.  Steve Torrence, 982; 4.  Brittany Force, 953; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 916; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 800; 7.  J.R. Todd, 799; 8.  Clay Millican, 681; 9. Richie Crampton, 660; 10.  Leah Pritchett, 553.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,120; 2.  Courtney Force, 998; 3.  Jack Beckman, 976; 4.  Matt Hagan, 881; 5. (tie) Robert Hight, 877; Del Worsham, 877; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 855; 8.  John Force, 821; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 793; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 733.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 1,548; 2.  Greg Anderson, 1,466; 3.  Bo Butner, 955; 4.  Allen Johnson, 885; 5. Vincent Nobile, 758; 6.  Drew Skillman, 753; 7.  Chris McGaha, 661; 8.  Shane Gray, 658; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 613; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 595.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 742; 2.  Andrew Hines, 633; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 534; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 500; 5. Chip Ellis, 386; 6.  Hector Arana, 375; 7.  LE Tonglet, 364; 8.  Matt Smith, 290; 9.  Steve Johnson, 268; 10.  Michael Ray, 262.

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Red-hot Ron Capps ready to claim 50th career win this weekend in Denver

2016_Ron_Capps_Action (1)
(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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Rock group Van Halen had a big hit album with “5150,” which – hard as it may seem to believe – was released 30 years ago.

Now there’s another “5150” in the works that’s ready to be released at this weekend’s Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver.

And NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps is ready to sing that tune.

Capps, who turned 51 on June 20, comes into Denver seeking perhaps the biggest milestone of his career: his 50th career Funny Car win.

Ergo, 5150.

And if he hits that number – whether at Denver or in the next several races – Capps is also seeking yet another milestone: No. 1, as he’s never captured a NHRA Funny Car championship in his 20 years of racing in the class.

Could that first one be in the cards this year for the Don Schumacher Racing driver?

There’s little question that the Carlsbad, California resident has been the hottest driver in the Funny Car ranks this season, having won four races in his NAPA Dodge Charger — including three wins and one runner-up in the last four races — and sits atop the points standings heading into Denver.

He’s also the second-winningest driver in Funny Car history – which is celebrating its 50th year of competition in 2016 – behind 16-time champion and 143-race winner John Force.

Racing at Bandimere presents some tough challenges, starting with its altitude (5,800 feet above sea level). High altitudes rob engines of speed and horsepower.

But Capps predicts that given the way this season has gone for not only him, as well as the overall and ultracompetitive Funny Car category, we could see some potential track record times, including Funny Car runs under four seconds for the first time in Bandimere history.

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Capps took part in a recent NHRA teleconference previewing this weekend’s race. Here are some excerpts of that interview:

Q: Have you ever had a stretch of races like these past five events?

CAPPS: “No. I’ve said it the past few weeks, there have been some really great race cars that I’ve gotten to drive and some really great crew chiefs in my career so far and at times I’ve had a car that you feel you could roll into the track and set low E.T. every round. But I’ve never had a car that was this consistently as good as we have been here with (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and the guys. You sometimes grow accustomed to watching from afar, maybe another team go on a hot streak. We saw with Del (Worsham) what he did in the Countdown (last year). We saw what (Jack Beckman crew chief) Jimmy Prock did starting in Sonoma last year. And you go back with what Snake (Don Prudhomme) did with the Army car.

“Certain cars at certain times just are dominant. When you stand back and look at it and you see every chance that car rolls up there it has a shot at setting low E. T. of that session. I’m not sure I can say I have had that in the past, or for as long as we have had this car. It is neat to be driving the Funny Car that is doing that. And on top of that the Funny Cars are so exciting right now, not just to watch but to drive. More than they ever been as far as I can tell you in my career.”

Q: What is the morale of the team knowing they are part of the baddest Funny Car on the planet?

CAPPS: “It is funny. I get really nervous about the word dominant. You hear people throw that out the past few races about us. I get really nervous about it, it makes me cringe. I know from being on the other side of that, all the other Funny Car teams, that is just motivation. It has always been that way for me and my team. When we are on the other side of it and behind a little bit and we are trying to catch up to someone who has really hit their stride. That can be insulting at times for other teams. I’m very careful about it. One of the first things (former team owner) Roland Leong taught me is to treat the people on your way up the ladder the way you want to be treated on the way down. In this business, as most, it is going to be up and down the ladder. You want to make sure you don’t say the wrong thing.

“But the thing is, I love the way our team was so disappointed in the way that we weren’t the absolute quickest car of one or two of those rounds in Chicago. That shows me they are still hungry even though the car is as good as it is. But even more so, pulling around the staging lanes and being the last pair or one of the last pairs, and hearing on the radio and hearing the announcer announce, each run is a track record has been lowered and lowered. And sitting in the car knowing that I have got a really, really good chance at lowering that even more and taking the three qualifying points and possibly heading up to the press room as low qualifier at the end of the session. It is a great feeling and a little bit of you wants to hopefully have the same feeling later on in the Countdown. You don’t want to use it all up right now but we are just trying to enjoy the moment.”

Q: How tough is the Funny Car category this year?

CAPPS: “That is what it that more impressive from New England on. Every year we talk about the competitive nature of the Funny Car class and when you stand in Pomona and before Q1 at the beginning of the year and you look at the list of Funny Car entrants and you say, my gosh there are going to be more than ten wanting to make the Countdown. Which leaves out some big named, big sponsored teams that won’t event make the Countdown – let alone who you are battling for a championship within the top ten.

“It is as competitive as it has ever been. It has left me speechless at times and you stand back and you say this is as competitive of a year I’ve ever seen in Funny Car. For us to be running as good as we have been and winning as we have been, it just impresses me more. I love the fact the guys, especially Tobler, that he has put in to get what we have got right now. It is neat to see that confidence but you certainly don’t want that confidence you don’t want that confidence to turn into cockiness at all.

“Everybody is staying pretty grounded and it is a tough thing to do. I got to tell you, there is a little bit of you that wants to hold your chest out a little bit and you have to have that nature and you strive to be as good as we are right now and yeah everybody is going to catch up and last week it showed. It is going to be tough down the stretch but you have to have a little bit of that swagger. I watched it last year and we battled down to the championship last year. Del and Prock and Beckman and those guys were running down the championship, throwing blows by blows. One would set lower, the other would come back and knock his time down and better it. You have to have that swagger and feel it but you don’t want to rub it in peoples face.”

Q: Have you started thinking about the championship yet or take it step by step?

CAPPS: “Every time with these last few wins and low qualifiers, when I’m up in the press room the championship word comes up. The only time it comes up in our vocabulary is when we spent Saturday in Chicago, we sacrificed E.T. a little bit and not getting low qualifier there and what Tobler did was he had to work in another clutch disk into our program to have our clutch the way it is and tune-up the way it is to last through the end of the year. Otherwise we were going to come up short.

“Anybody that doesn’t understand that on a mechanical side, it is like taking a high end chef and taking away two or three of his master ingredients and telling him to go into a contest. You are at a disadvantage. We did that on Saturday and he was very happy. Now we feel much better, it was a big picture move where we had to sacrifice a little bit but now he has learned and we have plenty of clutch disks to run the end of the year. That is when we talked about the championship within our team, the word championship, we needed to make sure we could get through the Countdown which is obviously the most important part and have the same tune-up that we have now.”

Q: In Chicago you hit 600 round wins. Can you wrap your head around that number yet?

CAPPS: “No. Everybody in the staging lanes was giving me a hard time about it. That is a lot of wins. Obviously I’ve been driving a Funny Car since 1997 with Snake, and that is a lot of round wins. It didn’t hit me at first when they showed me that. I got back to the trailer and I was getting my fire suit off and I started think, you start counting in your head, that is a lot of round wins, that is impressive. It shows you the amount of talent that I have been around all this time.

“The depressing part of it is, and I don’t know what the number is, but John Force’s numbers will always seem to make any other Funny Car’s drivers numbers pale in comparison. While for a second you feel pretty good and then you look where John Force is at, it sort of sets everything into perspective, being the winningest Funny Car driver ever. It sort of takes the sting away.”

Q: How impressive would it be to continue the hot streak and sweep the Western Swing?

CAPPS: “We strive to do that and every team will tell you that. We almost pulled off the East Coast Swing. It is my home, coming through Sonoma, we ran pretty good last year in Denver. I don’t think there has been a three second run Funny Car in Denver so I know that is going to happen. That is going to be quite exciting to see.

“We have a couple of goals, obliviously to sweep the swing is on the front of our lobes right now. But I got to tell you the stride that we are looking for is getting through there and Brainerd, and through Indy and keeping the points lead to have that bonus of 20 points going into the Countdown. That is the big goal of the NAPA team right now. I think if we can go and concentrate on each run and maybe win a couple of the west coast swing races we can keep that point lead.”

Q: Do you definitely think we will see a three-second run in Denver?

CAPPS: “Yeah, without a doubt. Unfortunately we are going to be, we are first in points, so we are going to be the last pair of the first session, so we may not be the first to do it, but without a doubt, I would put everything in my bank account that the track record will fall the first day of qualifying and it will be three-second runs.

“We won’t be the first since we won’t be the first in line but there is going to be for the Denver fans this year a lot of the best Funny Car races that we are ever going to see. Going up there with the way these cars drive now, they are a bit of a handful with these new exhaust headers but I for sure see the cars incrementally move early it will put them in the three second zone. It will make them without the downforce we are used to it will make them more of a handful and more fun. It will put a lot back in the driver’s seat and I think the fans will love to more than ever.”

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NHRA: Can Jeg Coughlin Jr. go from third career hiatus to yet another Pro Stock title?

Coughlin in car
(Photos courtesy Team Jegs)
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There’s no question Jeg Coughlin Jr. is one of the most successful drag racers in NHRA Pro Stock history, with 58 national event wins and five national NHRA championships.

But, as late broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, now you’re going to know the rest of the story about Coughlin – and it’s a unique story indeed.

Twice during his 20-year Pro Stock career, the Ohio resident has taken a hiatus from racing to either spend more time with his family or deal with his burgeoning auto parts business.

When he returned from those layoffs, Coughlin would ultimately go on to win yet another championship each time:

* He missed most of 2006, only to return and win the championship in 2007 (his third) – and then again in 2008 (fourth).

* He sat out all of 2011, came back to finish ninth in 2012 and then went on to win his fifth championship in 2013.

jeg coughlin car shot

For the third time in his career, he took another break from racing in 2015. He missed most of the season until he was lured back to drive in a handful of races for Elite Motorsports.

Now, Coughlin is hoping to come back from his respite to win yet another championship.

So far, so good.

Coughlin comes into this weekend’s Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado, ranked ninth in the Pro Stock standings.

This is a very important race for Coughlin, who drives the Magneti Marelli Dodge Dart. First, he wants to do well because the race is sponsored by Mopar, which is one of his primary sponsors.

“I love Denver and I’m busting with pride to represent Mopar, Dodge, and Magneti Marelli throughout the weekend,” Coughlin said. “We do our best to put them in a positive spotlight every race, but we know this one is really big for them, so it makes it vitally important for us.”
But Coughlin also knows success at Denver won’t be easy for him nor most of the other pro drivers. With the city being a mile above sea level, Pro Stock cars – as well as their Top Fuel and Funny Car counterparts – perform differently in the light oxygen than at all other NHRA tracks and events.
jeg coughlan body pic

“Denver is a tough race for a lot of reasons,” Coughlin said in an NHRA media release. “We’ve still got work to do on the performance side of things.”

Second, Coughlin hopes to further improve upon his hopes to secure a place in the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs that begin six races from now, following the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis.

“We’ve got some strong races coming up with the Western Swing, Brainerd (Minn.), and Indianapolis, and we really need to be on our best behavior,” Coughlin said.

But there’s also good news heading into Denver.

“Our confidence is building in the engine shop, our confidence is building at the track,” Coughlin said. “It’s never too late for that to happen.”

Coughlin comes into this weekend ninth in the Pro Stock standings. Admittedly, he’s struggled through much of the season, as has his teammate, Erica Enders, who won the last two NHRA Pro Stock championships.

Much of the problem for both drivers has been adapting to a new fuel injection system in Pro Stock cars for 2016, so much so that if the Countdown were to start today, Enders would not qualify, as she is currently ranked one spot below the cutoff, in 11th place.

That’s why it’s important for both Coughlin and Enders to kick off the three-race “Western Swing” with strong outings in the rarified air of Denver.

“If there’s ever a time to put our best foot forward, this is it,” Coughlin said. “We’re also looking at the start of the Western Swing, a pretty vital time to prepare for the Countdown to the Championship.
“The work put in by this Elite Motorsports crew has been phenomenal to see. There’s little doubt these guys have an unparalleled passion for winning, and I can see why they won the last two championships with my teammate Erica Enders. We’re still finding our way, but everyone knows it’s time to mash the gas and make a move. We’ll be ready.”

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NHRA: Leah Pritchett returns to site of first career race win; can history repeat itself?

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(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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NHRA Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett plans to go mountain climbing this weekend, looking for the elusive Wally.

The Indianapolis-based driver will be making her fifth appearance this season for Don Schumacher Racing in this weekend’s Mopar Mile High Nationals in Morrison, Colorado (a suburb of Denver).

That’s where the mountain climbing comes in: Pritchett and the rest of the NHRA pro drivers will be racing at more than a mile above sea level on one of the most challenging drag strips in the country.

And who’s Wally?

Pritchett and every one of her fellow drivers will be looking to take home a winner’s trophy – known as a “Wally”, named after NHRA founder, the late Wally Parks.

Bandimere Speedway, which plays host to this weekend’s event, not only has a long history with the NHRA, it also has a history with Pritchett.

It was at Bandimere that the Southern California native won her first career NHRA race: at the age of 9, behind the wheel of a Junior Dragster.

She then came back to win again at Bandimere in 2002 at the age of 13, the last time she raced at the Colorado track on any level until this weekend.

“Bandimere holds a special place in my heart because it’s the very first place where I won an NHRA Wally when I was 9 years old,” Pritchett said in a media release. “I’ve only raced Jr. Dragsters at Bandimere. I’ve been a spectator at Bandimere national events and worked on a Nitro Funny Car (Melanie Troxel) there in 2011.

“I’ve made a lot of hits on that track (in Jr. Dragsters) and to be able to finally get back on that track means a lot. I thought that opportunity wasn’t going to happen, but now I feel like I’m on top of the mountain by getting to race on the mountain.”

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Pritchett’s two wins at Bandimere are part of an incredible run that saw her win 37 Junior Dragster races – on the local and national competition levels – in eight years.

Of course, there’s quite a bit of difference between a Junior Dragster and its Top Fuel counterpart:

* A Junior Dragster is powered by a five-horsepower motor and the chassis is under 150 inches long.

* A Top Fuel dragster is powered by a 10,000 horsepower motor and has a 300-inch chassis.

If you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s a 9,995 horsepower difference between a Top Fueler and a Junior Dragster.

Pritchett, now 28, has had a bittersweet season thus far in the Top Fuel ranks. She began the season with high hopes and expectations, including full sponsorship by Quaker State.

She then won her first Top Fuel national event just two races into the season (Phoenix).

Things were definitely looking up – until April 11, that is, when team owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. unexpectedly and suddenly announced his retirement from the sport, closing the doors on Bob Vandergriff Jr. Racing, costing a number of employees their jobs.

As a result, there went Pritchett’s ride, there went her sponsorship and there went her chances – at least temporarily – for a chance at more wins and potentially a Top Fuel championship.

But Schumacher stepped up and offered Pritchett a part-time ride and she’s made the most of the opportunity, including reaching the semifinals at the most recent race two weeks ago at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.

And as she prepares for her return to Bandimere Speedway after a 15-year absence, Pritchett not only has defied the odds by missing just one of the first 13 races in this season’s 24-race schedule – she’s also still very much in the running for the Countdown to the Championship.

“At beginning of the year when I was going to run the full season, Bandimere Speedway was at the top of the list of tracks that I was looking forward to racing,” Pritchett said.

She’s ranked 10th in the standings, the last potential qualifying spot for the Countdown.

If she can hold on to that spot or improve her standing between now and the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend, she could turn what has been a trying season into a potential Cinderella finish.

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LEAH PRITCHETT:

Pts Events Wins Rup Semi Qtr 1st rd Poles DNQ W/L

2016: 10th 12 1 0 2 3 6 0 0 11-11

Career: 57 1 1 5 9 37 0 6 26-52

* Best Time, Speed: 3.736 sec. (2015, Englishtown), 329.19 mph (2016, Houston), (both with Bob Vandergriff Racing)

* Last event Joliet, Ill., July 8-10: Qualified No. 9, lost in semifinals to Antron Brown

* A year ago at Denver: did not race

* Top Fuel career at Denver: Wins 0; Runner-ups 0; Poles 0

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NHRA: Steve Torrence ready to climb mountain again in Denver for another win

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(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence is picking up where he left off.From four years ago, that is.

The Texas native had his best season ever performance-wise in 2012, winning the first three races of his Top Fuel career. Unfortunately, he struggled during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff and finished ninth in the final standings.

Torrence wouldn’t win again until last year, when he reached the winner’s circle at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado (a suburb of Denver).

Torrence is now looking to make it two wins in a row at Denver, which is where the NHRA national tour finds itself this weekend for the 37th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.

“I’m not bragging on ourselves, but we’ve had one of the best cars in Denver the last few years,” Torrence said. “As far as our gameplan, we’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing.

“We have a good baseline (for Denver) and we’re not going to deviate from that.”

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NHRA Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence

But there’s more: Torrence is also looking for his third win of 2016, which would tie the number of wins he earned in 2012. And there are 11 races remaining for Torrence to do just that.

In addition, Torrence is ranked a solid third in the Top Fuel point standings heading into this weekend.

Much of the upswing in Torrence’s performance this season is the affiliation with 15-time NHRA Top Fuel champion crew chief and team owner Alan Johnson, who is also working with and has likewise led Brittany Force to two wins this season, as well.

As a result, Torrence not only has gone on to two wins under Johnson’s watch, he also has one runner-up showing and has qualified a class-best No. 1 six times in the first 13 races of 2016.

“I think as far as me making strides, it’s the confidence this team has given me,” Torrence said in an NHRA media release. “I’m just confident in this car and this team does their job flawlessly. I cannot give them enough credit for giving me the confidence to drive this car.

“Everybody has been together a minimum of two years and that cohesiveness has been a huge part of it. Richard (crew chief Richard Hogan) is more confident than ever and Alan (Johnson) is just the best in the business. To have him at your disposal for consulting or a question or advice, that’s a huge benefit.”

While Torrence is taking things one race at a time, he’s also well aware that not only will he likely make the six-race Countdown for the Championship, he’ll also be going for his first NHRA Top Fuel crown.

“We’ve been digging deep and working as hard as we can,” Torrence said. “We’re in a fight for a championship and everything you do has to count moving forward.

“You can’t stand pat and sit idle to win a championship in this class. The parity is better than it has ever been. We’re trying to get up there and close that gap and maybe open up the gap with the people behind us. The higher you start in the Countdown, the easier you make it on yourself.”

NOTES: Sunday race, which kicks off the annual “Western Swing” (Denver, Sonoma and Seattle) marks the first time in NHRA’s 65-year history that the semifinals and final round will be televised live on national network television (FOX).

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MOPAR MILE-HIGH NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT: 37th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, the 14th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.

WHERE: Bandimere Speedway, Morrison, Colo. The track is 10 miles west of Denver, just north of the historic town of Morrison. From Denver, take Interstate 70 west to C-470 and travel south to the Morrison Road exit. Take Morrison Road west to Rooney Road and go north to the track.

COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 5,860 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, July 22-24

SCHEDULE:        

FRIDAY, July 22- LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 5 and 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, July 23- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4 and 6:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, July 24 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION:      

Friday, July 22, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 8 p.m. (ET).

Saturday, July 23, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 11:30 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, July 24, FOX will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 3 p.m. (ET).

2015 EVENT WINNERS: Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; Jack Beckman, Funny Car; Larry Morgan, Pro Stock, Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST VICTORIES: Bob Glidden, 7, PS; Joe Amato, 6, TF; John Force, 6, FC; Allen Johnson, 6, PS; Warren Johnson, 5, PS; Matt Hines, 4, PSM

TRACK RECORDS:            

Top Fuel – 3.791 sec. by Larry Dixon, July ’15; 326.95 mph by Brittany Force, July ’15.

Funny Car – 4.015 sec. by John Force July ’15; 318.39 mph by Force, July ’14.

Pro Stock – 6.877 sec. by Allen Johnson, July ’15; 201.01 mph by Shane Gray, July ’15.

PS Motorcycle – 7.169 sec. by Eddie Krawiec, July ’15; 187.96 mph by Hector Arana Jr., July ’15.

NATIONAL RECORDS:    

Top Fuel – 3.676 sec. by Brittany Force, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car – 3.862 sec. and 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.;  215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.

TICKETS: For tickets, call (800) 664-UWIN (8946) or purchase online atwww.bandimere.com.

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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 1,056; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 1,054; 3.  Steve Torrence, 912; 4.  Brittany Force, 896; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 803; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 746; 7.  J.R. Todd, 725; 8.  (tie) Richie Crampton, 603; Clay Millican, 603; 10.  Leah Pritchett, 521.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,068; 2.  Jack Beckman, 942; 3.  Courtney Force, 892; 4.  Matt Hagan, 828; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 803; 6.  Robert Hight, 799; 7.  Del Worsham, 796; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 760; 9. John Force, 699; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 697.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 1,472; 2.  Greg Anderson, 1,392; 3.  Bo Butner, 898; 4.  Allen Johnson, 773; 5. Drew Skillman, 717; 6.  Vincent Nobile, 666; 7.  Shane Gray, 619; 8.  Chris McGaha, 610; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 580; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 530.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 639; 2.  Andrew Hines, 505; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 471; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 428; 5. Hector Arana, 344; 6.  Chip Ellis, 333; 7.  LE Tonglet, 289; 8.  Steve Johnson, 258; 9.  Matt Smith, 235; 10.  Michael Ray, 228.

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