NHRA: Tony Schumacher, John Force, Larry Dixon set Bristol track records

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Track records continued to fall Saturday during the final day of qualifying for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.

Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher set a elapsed time track record for the second straight day on Saturday, fellow Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon set a speed track record (331.04 mph), and John Force also set two Funny Car track marks.

After the track and fans waited out a rain delay, both 8-time world champ Schumacher and 16-time world champ Force qualified No. 1 in their respective categories, along with Erica Enders in Pro Stock.

Final eliminations begin at Noon ET on Sunday at the track located across the street from Bristol Motor Speedway.

Schumacher set a track record for quickest elapsed time during Friday’s qualifying, then re-set that mark one day later on Saturday with a 3.745-second pass (at 326.08 mph) in the early evening.

It was Schumacher’s third No. 1 qualifying mark of the season, his fourth at Bristol and 79th of his career. He will face Troy Buff in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

“That was a great run but it doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Schumacher said in a NHRA media release. The Chicago-area native is seeking his sixth career win at Bristol.

“We’re going to be racing in 90-degree temperatures (Sunday),” Schumacher said. “It’s going to be up to the crew that gets down a difficult track and not just throwing horsepower at it like we just did.”

Doug Kalitta qualified No. 2 (3.750 seconds at 329.50 mph), while Shawn Langdon qualified third (3.767 at 322.42). Spencer Massey qualified fourth while Dixon will start fifth.

In Funny Car, Force set track records for elapsed time (3.978 seconds) and speed (323.43 mph), also under the lights, to claim the No. 1 qualifying spot for the first time this season and in his career at Bristol, and the 153rd No. 1 of his career.

“What’s really good to see is the team grow,” said Force, who will face Terry Haddock in the first round. “Jon Schaffer was groomed as crew chief under Mike Neff for the last four or five years. He didn’t have a clue but earned this shot. We rallied a bunch of kids. This is what I dreamed of doing.”

Two-time and defending world champ Matt Hagan qualified No. 2 (3.996 at 322.04), while Jack Beckman qualified No. 3 (3.966 at 319.60).

In Pro Stock, Enders paced her class with a run of 6.632 seconds at 207.59 mph. She’s looking to repeat last year’s win at Bristol.

“It was definitely a long day,” Enders said. “We went out there and we knew that the air got better and that the racetrack was in the best condition it’s been all weekend. We went after it but still was conservative. My crew chiefs did a great job.”

Greg Anderson qualified No. 2 (6.646 at 206.67) and Chris McGaha qualified No. 3 (6.647 at 206.67).

SUNDAY’S FIRST ROUND PAIRINGS:

Top Fuel: 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.745 seconds, 326.08 mph  vs. 16. Troy Buff, 3.961, 300.86; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.750, 329.50  vs. 15. Terry McMillen, 3.897, 315.86; 3. Shawn Langdon, 3.767, 322.42  vs. 14. Pat Dakin, 3.885, 310.98; 4. Spencer Massey, 3.768, 326.63  vs. 13. Leah Pritchett, 3.861, 319.60; 5. Larry Dixon, 3.769, 331.04  vs. 12. Clay Millican, 3.812, 318.17; 6. Antron Brown, 3.770, 320.66  vs. 11. Richie Crampton, 3.805, 318.47; 7. Dave Connolly, 3.778, 323.81  vs. 10. Steve Torrence, 3.791, 324.75; 8. Brittany Force, 3.787, 316.82  vs. 9. J.R. Todd, 3.790, 318.62. Did Not Qualify: 17. Chris Karamesines, 3.976, 300.53; 18. Cory McClenathan, 3.993, 302.35; 19. Jenna Haddock, 4.232, 219.36.

Funny Car: 1. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.978, 323.43  vs. 16. Terry Haddock, Toyota Solara, 5.156, 159.85; 2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.996, 322.04  vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Solara, 4.521, 263.77; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.996, 319.60  vs. 14. John Hale, Charger, 4.227, 294.31; 4. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.006, 322.58  vs. 13. Chad Head, Camry, 4.121, 303.23; 5. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.025, 314.90  vs. 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.109, 307.72; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.027, 318.32  vs. 11. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.070, 306.33; 7. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.046, 316.82  vs. 10. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.052, 305.91; 8. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.048, 317.49  vs. 9. Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.049, 318.02. Did Not Qualify: 17. Paul Lee, 6.321, 273.83.

Pro Stock: 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.632, 207.59  vs. 16. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.743, 203.86; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.646, 206.83  vs. 15. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.739, 205.82; 3. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.647, 207.02  vs. 14. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.714, 204.60; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.651, 207.82  vs. 13. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.691, 205.85; 5. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.652, 206.89  vs. 12. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.686, 206.64; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.653, 206.45  vs. 11. Richie Stevens, Dart, 6.685, 206.16; 7. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.654, 207.27  vs. 10. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.666, 205.85; 8. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.656, 207.30  vs. 9. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.659, 206.35. Did Not Qualify: 17. Alan Prusiensky, 6.771, 203.19; 18. Dave River, 6.835, 202.48.

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Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”