Texas plot-twisters change circumstances for St. Louis race

Michael Ray celebrates his NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle victory Sunday at the AAA Texas Fall Nationals, south of Dallas. It was his first in the series, and it ended the Harley-Davidson team's 13-race winning streak. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)


The NHRA had no lone star this past weekend near "Big D," but this Dallas race did dished out some results that add drama to the Countdown as it heads to suburban St. Louis this weekend. Here's the recap of the AAA Texas Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex, at Ennis.

 

Destination: Winners Circle - Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle)

Biggest Winner of the Weekend - John Force -- Although the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang owner-driver lost in the opening round of eliminations Sunday, his big moment was Saturday. He earned $100,000 in winning the Traxxas Nitro Shootout bonus race for Funny Cars -- twice what he would have won for the event victory.

Up-Down Index - Top racers making improvements, ones headed the wrong direction/having bad weekend -

UP:

Spencer Massey / Antron Brown - They're tied for the Top Fuel points lead with four races to go. Massey took the lead when he beat Tony Schumacher in the quarterfinals. But Brown beat Massey in the final to regain at least a draw with his DSR mate after falling from the lead to fourth place the previous week, at Charlotte. Massey was runner-up at his home track for the second straight year.

Michael Ray - The Pro Stock Motorcycle winner halted the Harley-Davidson team's winning streak at 11 races this year, 13 overall. He said the rules weren't a factor in his first NHRA victory: "I'd like to say [the new rule] is a huge help, but it just goes to show that hard work [pays off]. I think it just shows that right now if you’re coming out here and putting in the work, you can go home with a win and take a big swing in points, like we did. It was just the right time at the right place, and I did my job. And (tuner / fellow rider) Matt Smith did his job). I left on Andrew [Hines, in the semifinals], and I just outran him."

Bob Tasca - The Funny Car winner, who failed to qualify for the Countdown (as did Sunday runner-up Matt Hagan), said, "This weekend just kind of epitomized our whole season: Just keep fighting." He added, Not making the top 10 was a lot of heartache for the guys on this team. I said to my team, 'This will be a defining six races, because I want to see what we're all made of, me included. Are we going to roll over and play dead these next six races? Or are we going to come out with some fire in us and take this thing to Pomona and let everyone know that we may not be in this year but watch out next year?' I think this weekend was a defining weekend for our team, because we fought through some tough rounds, three motor changes in four rounds in this heat, and we put ourselves in a position to win. I did my job, and we're leaving with the trophy."

 

Allen Johnson - In winning the Pro Stock trophy (and a Cowboy hat, like the other winners Sunday), the tenacious Tennessean opened up a 93-point lead on second-place Jason Line.

DOWN:

Robert Hight - The AAA Insurance Ford Mustang driver struggled mightily in qualifying and had to try to upset No. 2 qualifier Tim Wilkerson but lost in the first round. He and crew chief Jimmy Prock planned to stay Monday at Ennis and test. "The key for our success," Hight, who seemed unstoppable in spring but is ranked No. 5 with four races to go, said, "is to qualify in the top half and control our own destiny." He also lost in the first round of Saturday's Traxxas Shootout. But winning four straight races early in the season gives him some perspective. "We are not out of this championship Countdown yet by a long shot," he said.

Shawn Langdon - It's erroneous to say the No. 1 Top Fuel qualifier had a poor weekend. However, he appeared on the verge of making up a 19-point deficit to leap from third place to first, yet he slid back to fourth place, 41 points off the pace, as Spencer Massey and Antron Brown made the most if their chances Sunday.

 

Most Notable Qualifying Occurrence -

Most Notable Elimination Occurrence -

Biggest Controversy -

No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana Jr. said, "I've crossed the scales 10 pounds heavier and it hasn't affected our tune-up or anything. I've done it. I haven't seen a difference. So I don't see why it should be a difference on them."

Matt Smith told Competition Plus' Tracy Renck, "NHRA told us all year long that they [Harley-Davidsons] do not have a performance advantage, yet they are changing the rules like they are for next year. Obviously, they know more than what they are telling everybody else. Regardless, they got paid to let this happen this year by Harley-Davidson. Just flat honest, there is no other reason they would have done what they did to the class this year. For them (NHRA) to add 10 pounds, they are just justifying that they can say that they did something. That's all they are looking at. That 10 pounds is going to do nothing to them. The only way that Harley-Davidson and Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines are going to lose a race this year is either on a parts failure or they screw up. That's it. They will sweep the whole year unless one of those two things happen."

Said Hector Arana Sr., "That team right there is excellent. They've got excellent crew chiefs and management. It won't take them long at all [to catch up]."

Runner-up Karen Stoffer, someone Krawiec has named all year as a threat, knocked him off in their semifinal -- on a holeshot. But she didn’t dwell on what effect the rule might have had on this weekend's results. "That Harley team is phenomenal," Stoffer said. "They've been dominant all year, and they work hard on their bikes. I don't care if it's Eddie or Andrew or one of the Aranas, anytime you take somebody out on a holeshot, the driver feels good. You're always on your game against them. Normally, they're cutting teens and 0s against me, so that was just a fluke Eddie threw that down right there," she said after becoming the first non-Harley rider to beat the defending series champ twice this season. It also put her in the final round for the first time since the second Charlotte race last year.

But winner Michael Ray said, " Ten pounds, speaking for our bike, it's not that dramatic. If you look at how good [crew chief] Matt Hines and that Screamin' Eagle team does at tuning those bikes in the first 60 feet and 330 feet, it didn’t really do a lot. It was just at the right time at the right place, and I did my job."

Best Promotion -

Most Memorable Quotes of the Weekend -

"I want to win here, but maybe the Lord doesn't want me to win at the Motorplex to keep me around for awhile." - John Force

"Went out testing January 16. I crashed the bike, tore it up. And after that, everything we do, the bike's not responding to nothing we do to it. Whatever you can buy to put on these bikes, I done bought everything brand-new and put on it. It's just not responding to nothin' I'm doing to it, so I don't know. It's like somebody got this thing witchcraft or something." - Michael Phillips

"It's funny. After leaving my dad [the "Don" of seven-team Don Schumacher Racing], I'll bet you Alan [Johnson] does not want to put the canopy on or give credit in any way, shape, or form to my dad for being part of that. But eventually he's going to want it. When people start getting over their little 'I don't want to do it because he did it,' they're going to put it on because it is flat the safest car out there -- and it's bad-ass-looking." - Tony Schumacher

 

Down the Road -

At The Back Gate

Millican won more rounds than Bob Vandergriff, who earned the No. 10 position they were fighting each other for at the U.S. Nationals, the final race before the fields were set. Millican won 10 rounds, Vandergriff eight. But Millican lost 70 points to oildowns.

"That's nobody's fault but our own. We won enough rounds to be there, but we're not," the Parts Plus/Hope4Sudan Dragster driver said during qualifying at the AAA Texas Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas. "We won more rounds than Bob did, but he did a better job of keeping his motor clean. The man got in and we didn't. I'm hoping he does good, since he's the man who beat us out of it. We did shoot ourselves in the foot, but nobody did it on purpose. Some of it was driver error, and some of it was we had a weird mechanical issue that we have since found."

Oildown penalties were not new to Millican when he started racing in the NHRA. "IHRA's the one who came up with these oildown penalties to begin with," he said. Strangely enough, oildowns actually have helped Millican in the past.

"I can remember back in the IHRA days, we won and we left the race losing points," Millican said with a laugh. "Luckily that year it didn't cost us a championship. On the flip side of that. the IHRA used to take oildown penalty money and give it to the team that had the cleanest year. And we won that before. So I've been on both sides of this oildown penalty thing."

For now, the affable Millican said, "It's not one of those things that even got me down at all, to be honest with you. We knew where we were at. It's disappointing, but I ain't letting it eat at me. Now we can look at it as, 'Go out there and try to win a race.' Points don't matter. It's all about winning races. When it's all said and done, it's all about winning races."

# # #

 

 

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