(Photo courtesy NHRA)

NHRA at Kansas: Line (PS) wins 5th, Kalitta (TF) 3rd, Hagan (FC) 2nd

1 Comment

Pro Stock driver Jason Line and Top Fuel pilot Doug Kalitta continued to dominate their respective drag racing classes, taking home victories in Sunday’s finals of the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

Line is the hottest driver in the entire sport, earning his fifth win of 2016, the 42nd of his career and his first career win at Kansas.

It was also Line’s eighth final round appearance in as many races thus far this season. Line (6.664 seconds at 207.85 mph) defeated teammate Greg Anderson (6.687 at 207.02) for the second straight race.

Line was also the No. 1 qualifier for the race.

“It was the perfect weekend,” Line said in an NHRA media release. “It was an exciting weekend for me and we didn’t mess it up. It’s a big deal to me. It’s nice to win at someplace you’ve never done well. I really can’t stop smiling right now. There were times I had good cars here but didn’t drive well. This weekend everything came together.”

Kalitta, meanwhile, won his third consecutive Top Fuel race of the season, defeating defending 2015 Top Fuel season champ Antron Brown.

Both drivers lost traction early in their run, but Kalitta was able to hold on despite a relatively slow run of 5.452 seconds at only 238.85 mph.

“It’s a seat of your pants kind of deal and you try to stay off the centerline and not hit the wall,” Kalitta said. “I think I had it more sideways than I’ve ever had a Top Fuel car before. It finally straightened out and we were fortunate to get the win.”

Brown (5.687 at 298.60) was faster but he also lost traction, allowing Kalitta to pass him approaching the finish line.

“It’s one of those deals you take what you can get as quick as you can do it,” Kalitta said. “I don’t think my car ever hooked up. It was exciting. These wins don’t come easy, that’s for sure. I am just real happy to do it here at Topeka.”

It was Kalitta’s 41st career win, his second at Topeka and he also increased his lead to 95 points over second-ranked Brittany Force in the Top Fuel point standings.

This is the first time Kalitta has won three races in a row in his Top Fuel career.

“We’ve got momentum,” Kalitta said. “We want to just keep doing what we’re doing and hope it lasts as long as it can go. This is a really good car, and a really good team.”

In Funny Car, 2014 season champ Matt Hagan continued his recent resurgence, earning his second consecutive win of the season, the 20th of his career and his first career triumph in Topeka.

Much like Kalitta’s match with Brown, Hagan (5.724 seconds at 179.09 mph) lost traction in his final round run against teammate Jack Beckman (6.560 seconds at 146.75 mph), who also lost traction.

“It was wild,” Hagan said of the final round. “It’s important to put everything in perspective. We set world records for (elapsed time: 3.862 seconds) and speed (335.57 mph, both marks coming Friday during qualifying) and then to come back out here to win this race is a tribute to my guys and their hard work. My butt was puckered pretty good on that last run.”

The NHRA National Event Tour skips next weekend and returns June 3-5 with the NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H.

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

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Matt Hagan; 2.  Jack Beckman; 3.  Courtney Force; 4.  Tim Wilkerson; 5.  Robert Hight; 6. Alexis DeJoria; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8.  Del Worsham; 9.  John Force; 10.  Bob Tasca III; 11. Brian Stewart; 12.  John Hale; 13.  Chad Head; 14.  Ron Capps; 15.  Dale Creasy Jr.; 16.  Cruz Pedregon.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Allen Johnson; 4.  Shane Gray; 5.  Bo Butner; 6.  Alex Laughlin; 7.  Erica Enders; 8.  Vincent Nobile; 9.  Aaron Strong; 10.  Chris McGaha; 11.  Deric Kramer; 12.  Drew Skillman; 13.  Jeg Coughlin; 14.  Dave River; 15.  V. Gaines; 16.  Mark Hogan.

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

FINAL RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Doug Kalitta, 5.452 seconds, 238.85 mph  def. Antron Brown, 5.687 seconds, 298.60 mph.

Funny Car — Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 5.724, 179.04  def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 6.560, 146.75.

Pro Stock — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.664, 207.85  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.687, 207.02.

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

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Clay Millican, 3.783, 320.74 def. Terry McMillen, 3.984, 245.58; Tony Schumacher, 3.748, 327.90 def. Luigi Novelli, Broke; Richie Crampton, 4.033, 218.72 def. Terry Haddock, Broke; Brittany Force, 3.707, 326.24 was unopposed; Doug Kalitta, 3.795, 287.23 def. Rob Passey, 14.800, 34.25; Steve Torrence, 3.800, 324.12 def. Smax Smith, Broke; Shawn Langdon, 3.915, 242.71 def. Scott Palmer, 3.940, 311.70; Antron Brown, 3.723, 319.82 def. J.R. Todd, 3.767, 322.96.

QUARTERFINALS — Torrence, 3.770, 324.59 def. Langdon, 4.037, 248.84; Kalitta, 3.796, 325.61 def. Millican, 6.533, 89.42; Crampton, 3.781, 317.34 def. Schumacher, 3.782, 320.20; Brown, 3.753, 315.64 def. Force, Foul – Red Light.

SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.757, 329.10 def. Torrence, 3.840, 314.46; Brown, 3.784, 313.95 def. Crampton, 9.335, 76.58.

FINAL — Kalitta, 5.452, 238.85 def. Brown, 5.687, 298.60.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.935, 325.45 def. John Hale, Dodge Charger, 4.086, 314.53; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.943, 325.69 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.065, 313.15; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.933, 327.19 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.311, 239.19; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.943, 324.44 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.004, 305.29; Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.963, 321.81 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.188, 268.06; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.953, 327.27 def. John Force, Camaro, 3.951, 328.70; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.006, 319.60 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 9.397, 79.86; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.926, 329.67 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.242, 229.90.

QUARTERFINALS — Wilkerson, 3.972, 324.44 def. Worsham, 5.624, 141.82; Beckman, 3.956, 316.75 def. Johnson Jr., 4.045, 309.34; Hagan, 3.942, 323.81 def. Hight, 3.963, 325.37; C. Force, 3.961, 324.05 def. DeJoria, 3.981, 318.69.

SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.936, 324.20 def. Wilkerson, broke; Hagan, 3.951, 324.05 def. C. Force, 10.747, 80.24.

FINAL — Hagan, 5.724, 179.04 def. Beckman, 6.560, 146.75.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Erica Enders, Dodge Dart, 6.718, 205.19 def. Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.655, 208.20 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.748, 204.66 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.693, 207.24; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.653, 207.91 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.746, 205.07; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.645, 207.66 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.789, 205.32; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.683, 206.57 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.777, 202.42; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.647, 208.30 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.905, 198.67; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.653, 206.89 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.696, 205.76.

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson, 6.676, 207.02 def. Butner, 6.716, 199.37; Gray, 6.664, 207.15 def. Laughlin, 6.719, 206.48; Line, 6.661, 207.85 def. Enders, 6.725, 204.98; Anderson, 6.660, 206.61 def. Nobile, 6.738, 205.26.

SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.670, 207.43 def. Gray, 7.725, 135.16; Anderson, 6.672, 206.67 def. Johnson, 7.317, 144.18.

FINAL — Line, 6.664, 207.85 def. Anderson, 6.687, 207.02.

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

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Doug Kalitta, 710; 2.  Antron Brown, 615; 3.  Brittany Force, 580; 4.  Steve Torrence, 557; 5. (tie) Clay Millican, 440; J.R. Todd, 440; 7.  Richie Crampton, 418; 8.  Tony Schumacher, 403; 9. Shawn Langdon, 346; 10.  Terry McMillen, 310.

Funny Car: 1.  Courtney Force, 601; 2.  Jack Beckman, 589; 3.  Tim Wilkerson, 554; 4.  Matt Hagan, 511; 5. Robert Hight, 510; 6.  Ron Capps, 504; 7.  Del Worsham, 485; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 451; 9.  John Force, 448; 10.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 404.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 942; 2.  Greg Anderson, 816; 3.  Bo Butner, 614; 4.  (tie) Allen Johnson, 465; Drew Skillman, 465; 6.  Chris McGaha, 427; 7.  Vincent Nobile, 346; 8.  Erica Enders, 341; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 339; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 327.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

Leave a comment

In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

Arrow McLaren Racing SP Photo
Leave a comment

McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500