Track speed marks fall as Route 66 Raceway becomes one of fastest on NHRA circuit

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When Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., opened in 1998, it was considered state of the art, the first National Hot Rod Association racetrack with surround, bowl-like seating.

During this past weekend’s record-breaking O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, the suburban Chicago track became one of the fastest racetracks on the NHRA circuit.

Numerous track speed records were set over the four-day event. Most notable were four Funny Car drivers that covered the 1,000-foot racing surface in under four seconds for the first time in track history: Ron Capps (3.988 seconds at 320.28 mph), along with Bob Tasca III (3.988, 316.97), Jack Beckman (3.983, 319.52) and Del Worsham (3.999, 318.99).

Other notable achievements included:

* 15-time Funny Car champ John Force posted his best Route 66 career time of 4.010 seconds at 316.67 mph.

* Morgan Lucas set a track record for Top Fuel qualifying on Saturday (3.737 seconds at 322.19 mph)

* Steve Edwards set a track record in Pro Stock at 6.542 seconds at 210.64 mph, his 10th No. 1 qualifying position of the season.

Rain was an impediment at times during the weekend, but not an insurmountable obstacle as hometown favorite Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won their respective categories in Sunday’s final eliminations.

Of particular note was Schumacher’s winning finish, the 72nd NHRA event win of his career. Rather than wait to see if the track would have a post-race fireworks display, Schumacher wound up giving an impromptu one of his own.

No sooner did he cross the finish line to win the Top Fuel event, the 8,000-horsepower motor in Schumacher’s dragster exploded in a fiery blast. While neither he nor anyone else was injured, it provided one of those “ooh, aah” moments that put a memorable cap on the event.

“It’s always great to have a hometown win here in Chicago,” said Schumacher of his fourth career win at Route 66, and which also put him back atop the Mello Yello Series Top Fuel season standings.

Schumacher was especially concerned that Millican was so hungry for his first career Top Fuel win.

“When you look back in Top Fuel history, whenever anybody gets their first win, it’s against me,” Schumacher said. “But I told myself today that this is not going to be an ongoing trait. We’re going to stop it right here and now. I don’t care when or if Clay wins a race, but just not today. Not here at my home track.”

The NHRA continues this coming weekend with the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, from July 4-7.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”