Outside the Lanes: Randy Cunningham's Barcalounger-view of ESPN drag racing coverage

Arizona Nationals

This week’s installment features a family feud, racers making really funny noises, and the “pucker factor.”

Are you ready to rumble? We learn that the “Marquee Matchup” of the day features John Force versus 23-year-old daughter Courtney in the first-round of Funny Car eliminations. Facing his 132nd different opponent, “The Boss” has 1,100 round wins while Courtney has one. We see the high-speed rivals as they arrive together at the staging lanes, sharing a scooter driven by dad from the pit area.

NHRA fans? They’re heart-healthy--John Kernan interviews John Force, asking, “Are you going to take it easy on your little girl?” His answer? “Everybody’s asking me that. End of the day, I love that kid, I love all my kids, but she’s got to earn her way, and I’ve got the points lead. I want to hang on to it if I can, and I told her to go up there and be respectful. If you win, be humble, and if you lose, get back to your fans. They’ll get your mind right, they’ll get your heart right. They’ll make you happy. They’re your heartbeat.”

Something in the nitro? Viewers learn an interesting statistic regarding Shawn Langdon after two races teamed with Alan Johnson. During his time with Morgan Lucas Racing, Langdon took part in 69 races, qualified number 1 on one occasion, and posted a low E.T. of 3.826 with a top speed of 318.9. After two races at Al-Anabi, he already has one number 1 qualifier, a better E.T. (3.754) and a better MPH. (323.12) Mike Dunn notes, “He’s definitely got a hot rod underneath him.

Inside the mind of John Force--Dave Rieff interviews Courtney Force, asking, “You get to race the reason we have this class, and it is so competitive. It is your dad. Are you going to give him any slack at all?” She replies, “No, not at all. This is a family sport and I grew up in it. So, hopefully I learned a trick or two, and maybe I can use it against him, because I know his routine. I know what he does. Either I’m going to go up and do my same routine and try to not screw anything up and get down there. Or, maybe I will mess with him a little bit. He tried to mess with me during qualifying, so we’ll see.” Rieff ends the segment with, “Oh, she’s in his head, and I like it.”

That’s like…really fast, dude--Tony Schumacher’s 1999 run at Phoenix, the first ¼ mile run at over 330 mph, is highlighted, then compared with Spencer Massey’s 328 mile-per-hour effort last week at Pomona on a 1000-foot run, when Massey set a new national speed record. “That thing never let up,” said Massey. “Sometimes the G-force will be really strong through the middle and start letting up towards the end. On that run, there was no letting up. It was hanging on for dear life all the way to the finish line.”

Bringing the smacktalk—After being asked, “Do you ever talk any smack with your famous dad?”, Courtney Force replies, “Dad does a lot more than me. I told him, ‘I can’t believe you’re bumping me down in qualifying.’ He was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna beat you. I’m going to do better than you. My car’s gonna be better than yours.’ I’m like, ‘What the heck? No, I’m going to be better.’ We just kinda go back and forth, but we have fun with it.” Cutting back to the booth, Paul Page comments, “I think that’s wrong. I think you oughta report him to someone to somebody.”

Antron Brown and his band of sound effects—After being asked to describe what happens in the cockpit during a run, Antron Brown sits at an imaginary starting line. His hands extended on a pretend wheel, Brown mimics the idling car, saying, “Puh, puh, puh, puh, puh, puh.” Then, a moment of silence before recreating the launch from the line by throwing his head backward, his wide eyes appearing to pop out from their sockets. Yelling at top volume, he imitates the 8,000 horsepower engine that sits mere inches behind him. His body rocking back and forth in the cockpit, he crosses the imaginary finish line while doubled over in the seat. Then, rubbing his eyes, he coasts to a stop before announcing with a pumping fist, “A 3.74? Woooooo!!!!!!! That’s what I’m talking about! That’s what I’m talking about!”

Ron Capps brings the noise--Similar to Brown, Ron Capps is asked to recreate what takes place in his Funny Car during a run. “You roll up there and you’re staging the car “, he states, making a “Puh, puh, puh” noise that eerily resembles the noises from Brown’s make-believe Top Fuel engine. Then, with both hands grasping the imaginary steering wheel, Capps lets loose with a sound (though not as loud as Antron) of his engine firing on all cylinders. Crossing the finish line, he pops the chute with his right hand, mimics the motor slowing, then turns off the track at the top end. A final “Urrr” along with a pretend pull on the handbrake brings his Funny Car to a halt, and with a smile, Capps’ run is complete.

And the Oscar goes to…Moments after the performances by Brown and Capps, Paul Page muses, “Woah. Two seriously crazy dudes there on what the run is like for them.

Don’t bother me, I’m busy!" Through the eyes of dual on-board cameras, Mike Dunn compares the focus of Alexis DeJoria and Jeff Arend during their runs, saying, “You want to keep that thing right in the middle of the groove, working that steering wheel, making sure you get to the finish line as quick as you can, and once you get there, you’d better pull the parachutes and get ‘er stopped’ because that is also very important.” An outstanding view of the controlled chaos taking place at 300-miles-per-hour.

That’s unfortunate---Speaking with Lori Force, Dave Rieff asked, “How are the girls different in your eyes?” Her reply? “Let’s see. I think Courtney is more chomping at the bit for this. Ashley was more calm about it. I don’t think Courtney is. She is definitely more like her dad, unfortunately for the both of them.

Show me the money! While both Force family members wait in the staging lanes, Page wonders out loud what type of data both drivers will receive from the Mike Neff run just before their matchup, and who will get the data first. Mike Dunn laughs in response, “That’s hard to say, right? Probably the boss, I would imagine. The guy that writes the checks will probably get the info."

No snoring allowed--A shot of John Force in the staging lanes, eyes closed. Page comments, (with classical music playing in the background) “Back in the staging lanes you’ve got a 1,100 round wins and 15-time champion. How do you face a big matchup? You take a nap. Get a little oxygen. Nice going, John. Sleep well."

Advice from Ashley—John Kernan asks Ashley Force, “Have you given Courtney any advice?” She replies, “I told her to just enjoy it. This is a fun moment. People make such a big deal out of it. I’m sure they’ll race plenty more times this season, but I told her to not let dad get in your head. He doesn’t mean to do it, he loves his drivers to death, but unconsciously he does get in your head because he wants to give you all this advice and he wants to tell you this and that. I told her to just stick with your team, don’t let dad get in your mind, he’s just the same driver as any other driver. She’ll do fine. She’s excited. It’s dad I’m worried about. It’s nervewracking as a father now being a parent. You’re worried about your kid over there. You want to beat them. You want them safe, and when you’re next to them, you don’t know what’s happening over there. It’ll be a fun race, whatever happens. One of our teams is going to the next round.”

An “Aha!” moment--Kernan then questions Jacob John, Ashley’s son, “What about you? Do you have a favorite?” Though the toddler remains silent, mom Ashley answers for him, saying “Auntie Courtney. I don’t know, it’s a tie. Grandpa John, Auntie Courtney. Whoever is there is his favorite when they’re asking him.” Perhaps Jacob John’s real thoughts are revealed moments later when mom pulls up his sweatshirt to reveal a t-shirt with Courtney’s name on the front. Jacob John, ever silent, simply looks into the camera.

Oh, no. Not again--Matt Hagan falls to Todd Lesenko, the second time in two weeks the defending champ has failed to move past the first round. “That’s huge,” announces Page. “I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration he must be feeling now.”

Stay classy, Matt—Hagan’s first act after exiting his vehicle? Walking over to shake hands and congratulate Lesenko on his victory. Very cool.

Won, then done--Interesting info from Lewis Bloom (the “Stat Guy”) lets us know that after winning the Funny Car championship in 2008, Cruz Pedregon took four races to get a first-round win. Pedregon also finished 12th in the points during the 2009 season.

See ya! Courtney Force leaves dad at the starting line to take a victory in their first-ever matchup. “Look at that!” screams Page, “Just like with Ashley, Courtney Force beats her dad in their very first matchup!”

She knows The Force well--Gary Gerould asks Courtney, “What are you thinking now, young woman?” Her reply? “I’m so excited. I know my dad’s staging routine and I know he doesn’t like to be the first one to go in on that second bulb, so I sat there and I waited a little bit. I didn’t want to mess him up, but I thought, ‘Well, I know him best, and I’m gonna stick it out for a little bit’, so then I went in after him and tried to leave on him, but I didn’t see him down there. I got a little loose at the other end, but I made it from A to B, it was exciting. I always want my dad to win, but if I can kick his butt, then I’m happy too.”

It’s a date! Viewers learn that Erica Enders made her first career start at Phoenix in 2005, but lost in the first round to her boyfriend, Richie Stevens. Mike Dunn quips, “It worked out all right. They’re still together.”

The dynamic duo--We learn from Mike Dunn that Warren Johnson was the first driver in the Pro Stock category to crack the 200-mile-per-hour barrier, while his son Kurt led the way when it came to elapsed time, being the first in the class to run in the 6’s.

Now that’s a fire! A matchup between Shawn Langdon and Morgan Lucas resulted in a 300-mile-per-hour rolling bonfire onboard Lucas’ Top Fueler. Mike Dunn reported seeing a cylinder going out, causing head gasket issues followed by breather tube troubles, resulting in oil being thrown out onto the headers. According to Paul Page, “That was some money we just saw go up in flames.”

TV coverage? It’s tweet--Lucas’ fire resulted in a 37-minute delay to clean up the track, leaving Tony Schumacher and Doug Kalitta, the next competitors in line, cooling their heels while waiting their turn. Lucas took a moment to contribute to Twitter, stating, “…maybe the fireball will give us some TV time.”

A Massey Milestone--Spencer Massey’s first career round win? It took place at Phoenix in 2009, where he defeated Mike Strasburg.

Did you know you were going 673mph?--Mike Dunn’s dissection of Massey’s monster 328.62 mph run at last week’s Winternationals created some amazing statistics, including the fact that Massey was traveling at 160.7 yards per second during the lap. Also, based on the acceleration that takes place during a run, Massey would have been traveling a whopping 673 miles per hour if his 8,000 horsepower motor had lasted for a one-mile burn.

Winnin’ those Wallys--Jack Beckman may want to make Firebird Raceway his home track. Owning a 15-2 round record at Phoenix, Beckman’s three wins in three Finals appearances is reason enough for him to check out the Arizona area for a good deal on real estate.

Dunn’s Wow factor! Round 2 in Funny Car found Courtney Force running a career-best 4.099, 306.95 mph effort against Todd Lesenko, prompting a huge, “Wow! Look at that run!” from a genuinely-impressed Mike Dunn, who later added, “Running fast when no one could hardly get down the racetrack! That’s what’s amazing! That’s probably the worst track conditions crew chief Ron Douglas has had to face since he started in Eliminations with that team, and he gives her a 4.09 elapsed time. Are you kidding me?” The win gave Courtney her first-ever semifinal berth against none other than Robert Hight.

Anyone got a guitar? Ron Douglas pointed to his boss as the source of Courtney’s success, saying, “It’s the braintrust that John Force put together. Having Medlen (John) back and Dickie (Venables) back, it’s like the Blues Brothers, we’re putting the band back together. We love it.”

How about a little smooch? Greg Stanfield wins “NHRA major sponsor tie-in of the race” honors for his comments to Gary Gerould when asked about what it took to rein in his Pro Stocker after his Nitrofish ride got “…big-time loose” at the end of his quarterfinal run. Gerould queried, “How tough is it to hang on, to keep your foot on the throttle?” to which Stanfield replied, “It’s all about full throttle, Gary. I gotta tell you, there’s a little pucker factor out there, she’s a little loose.”

Not you again! The “Stat Guy” reports that Tony Schumacher found himself 0-7 in final round action during the 2011 season, with three of his losses courtesy of teammate Antron Brown. Ouch.

Ladies making an impact--On the heels of the Courtney Force semifinal run, viewers learn of other key moments in the Funny Car class that involved women. The first woman to qualify for an event was Shirley Muldowney in 1971, while in 2008 Ashley Force Hood became the first female to win an event. During the same year, Melanie Troxel not only became the first woman to qualify at number one, she also won in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.

Double the fun--For the first time ever, John Force Racing started both Funny Cars in the finals of the first two events of the 2012 season.

I promise to give you my best…really!--Standing at the top end following Jason Line’s semifinal win over Greg Stanfield, Greg Anderson was asked by Gary Gerould about his confidence level going into the Finals versus his teammate. Anderson replied, “Well, I was until he (Line) just made that run. Obviously I need to have a talk with my car tuner, and you know who that is over there,” said Anderson, pointing in the direction of Line. Gerould then asked Line what he planned to tune Anderson’s car to for the final. “14.20 at around 80 miles an hour or so,” cracked Line, before feeling the splash of bottled water sent his way by Anderson.

Family feuds were everywhere! For the first time ever, each final round paired teammate versus teammate in all three classes. This was noted by the “Stat Guy”, who confirmed the information after a consultation with Bob Frey.

- Randy Cunningham

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