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Outside the Lanes - By Randy Cunningham

Your eyes and ears for ESPN broadcasts of NHRA events
One minute into the broadcast—Mike Dunn says that of all the folks advising Courtney Force about her first race, she should take advice from Ashley. Gary Gerould highlights the newest Lucas Racing tandem of Morgan Lucas and Brandon Bernstein, who is now racing for the first time without his dad’s supervision. John Kernan discusses the Matt Hagan title defense, and notes his very difficult first-round matchup versus Ron Capps.
Eight minutes into the broadcast—Following Dave Reiff’s reminder of the big personnel changes at Al-Anabi Racing, the following stats were highlighted: the combination of Larry Dixon and Del Worsham, resulted in 838 races, 1,075 round wins, 95 race wins, and 4 championships. The tandem of Shawn Langdon and Khalid alBalooshi? 69 races, 59 round wins, 0 race wins and 0 titles. Following the graphic, Mike Dunn states, “Alan Johnson can make winners out of pretty much anybody.”
Nine minutes into the broadcast--A graphic teaser: “Why do engines explode?”
13 minutes in—Dunn details Terry McMillin’s expensive explosion at the 2011 U.S. Nationals. After breaking down what took place in just seconds, Dunn reveals that a cast steel rocker arm was to blame. The solution? A $280 billet made from a single piece of steel, one much stronger that could have saved the team $50,000 in parts as well as a spot in the Countdown.
21 minutes in—Paul Page revisits Alexis Dejoria’s eye-popping trip down the track in which the rookie’s on-board camera caught her wide-eyed expression and total concentration while experiencing a four-G run. Page labels it, “…the greatest onboard video ever! Look at her eyes! Look at that focus!”
27 minutes in—“Stat Guy” Lewis Bloom presents a telling piece of research. Of the Funny Car drivers who won a champi
35 minutes in—We learn that Tony Schumacher was 0-7 in final rounds in 2011. Unreal.
44 minutes in—Gary Gerould asks Gary Densham, who made his pro debut in 1971, “What brings you back to this sport?” Densham’s reply? “The teams are great, fans are great, and there’s so much comraderie between teams. We get to mix with the fans. They’re with us when we’re terrible and when we’re great, the competition is incredible. It’s something I can’t live without.” Little did Densham realize how prophetic his comraderie remark would be.
51 minutes in—After Cruz Pedregon failed to qualify for the 16-car field on Saturday, the Stat Guy wonders aloud if anyone has ever won a championship after starting with a DNQ? His answer? Jeg Coughlin, who took the Pro Stock title in 2002.
52 minutes in—While Del Worsham waits in the staging lanes, Mike Dunn says crew chiefs get even more nervous than drivers because “…they have about 8 million things to think about, changes, and watching the track and so forth.”
54 minutes in—Dave Reiff interviews Worsham, who confirms Dunn’s observations. Reiff mentions to Worsham, “You look kind of lost.” Worsham replies, “I am. I’m in a whole new situation right now. First round is first round, no matter what you do, and…I can feel butterflies.”
5 minutes in—John Kernan asks Matt Hagan if he has any concerns about his first-round matchup against Ron Capps. Hagan replies, “When you’re paired 8 and 9 like this it’s going to be a battle, and it’s going to come down to who makes the right calls up here with these crew chiefs.” Hagan later adds, “Hopefully we’re going to start this year off right, but you never know. We got a tough battle with Capps. He’s a champion, he just hasn’t got the ring yet. We just gotta dig deep now.”
57 minutes in—While John Force is strapped into his car, Dave Reiff mentions that it has been 188 days since Force’s last round win, which took place on August 7, 2011 in Seattle . Reiff comments, “Can you imagine what’s going on in that mind right now?” Cutting back to the broadcast booth, Paul Page replies, “Well, that’s a tough question. Look at who we’re talking about. Who has any idea what goes on in the mind of John Force? At anytime, including John!”
1 hour, 2 minutes in—Courtney Force drives around a fading Bob Tasca, scoring her first-ever win with a 4.20, 309.27 effort. Mike Dunn adds, “…and the crowd goes wild!”
1 hour, 5 minutes in—the Stat Guy notes that Courtney is the first member of the Force family to debut with a win Funny Car competition. While Ashley’s first ever run ended with a loss to Robert Hight in 2007, John lost on a hole shot to Gordie Bonin in 1979 at Ontario .
1 hour, 6 minutes in—Gary Gerould asks Courtney, “What are you feeling right now?” Her reply? “That was seriously unreal. I’m shaking right now I’m so excited. This is something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time.”
1 hour 7 minutes in—An on-screen graphic details John Force’s record versus that of Alexis Dejorian. While Force has totaled 588 races, 1,096 round wins, 214 finals, and 15 championships, DeJoria lists five races to her credit, along with 0 round wins, finals, and championships. races, 0 on everything else—The Stat Guy adds that while Force is 6-6 versus daughter Ashley, his margin against other all other women drivers is a gaudy 13-0.
1 hour, 13 minutes in—Matt Hagan loses to Ron Capps in the first round. The record for defending Funny Car champs over the past six years at the Winternationals is now 1-6 record.
1 hour, 14 minutes in—Gary Gerould asks John Force, “What are you more satisfied about, your win or Courtney’s?” Force excitedly replies, “Just to watch my baby girl go down there…I want her to feel that feeling that I feel. We’ve done all we can do. We made the show and that was critical. But to watch her go down through there…she got her a win light. I want her to know that feeling that guys like Capps and Beckman we live for! Man, she got a taste of it. I know she’ll be screaming tonight. Right now she’s trying to be cool.”
1 hour 17 minutes in—John Force gives Ron Capps a kiss on the cheek. Moments later, Paul Page observes, “We’ve all been on the receiving end of that. Nah, he just loves the sport.”
1 hour 35 minutes in—Viewers learn that Erica Enders and Grace Howell both running on Sunday that this event marks the first time for two women to run in the same Pro Stock field.
1 hour, 40 minutes in—Larry Dixon visits Mike Dunn and Paul Page in the booth. He acknowledges, “I’m not running this weekend, this year probably, just because all the good rides and good teams are locked up. There’s not a chance. I’m ready to go, it’s just pretty late in the game. I feel like Peyton Manning on the sidelines, just without that 28 million dollar bonus waiting on me. Alan and the team put out a release. We agreed upon it. They just want to leave the past in the past and move forward. The last piece of the puzzle is for me to find something great, so I’m really looking at this as a great opportunity for me to strengthen my spot in the NHRA world.”
1 hour, 55 minutes in—The Stat Guy announces that while Top Fuel has been in existence since 1963 at Pomona , Larry Dixon is the only driver to win back-to-back events, both in 2002 and 2003.
2 hours, 7 minutes in—Gary Densham mentions to Dave Reiff that he took wife Joanne on a Caribbean cruise, something that he thought he would absolutely hate. However, he changed his mind, saying, “David, drivers have such short attention spans that cruising is the only way to go. You go to sleep, wake up in a different port, see the city, rinse, repeat. “
2 hours, 9 minutes in—Beckman darts into Densham’s lane, narrowly avoiding disaster in a harrowing too-close-for-comfort moment. Larry Dixon, still in the booth, states, “Wow, wow, wow, wow. Gosh, that was close. That’ll get your attention.”
2 hours, 10 minutes in--Gary Gerould observes, that Densham got out, looked at the nose and said, “Wow, that was scary.” Densham adds, “We were both on a really good run. I saw Jack out there. I was just ready to lift, trying to save some parts, then there he was. I tried jerking it back and he came over. Obviously it didn’t work out well for either one of us. Yeah, that was close. That was really, really close. I hope we can fix it.” Beckman adds, “Yeah you know what they say about drag racing—it’s a non-contact, non-drafting sport. I don’t know what happened. We’ll look at this thing and see if there’s some oil on the tires. It just made a right hand turn, and I was just hoping that Gary wasn’t that close to me. From the video it looks like he was. I apologize to Gary and his crew.”
2 hours 11 minutes in—Following the Densham/Beckman comments, Dixon adds, “Hey, we’re in LA. There’s traffic, right?”
2 hours 19 minutes in—John Force talks about the differences between daughters Courtney and Ashley. “Two different personalities. Ashley’s like her momma. Drives like me, but calm and cool. Courtney’s a lot more. Ashley was an introvert. Courtney’s an extrovert. You can see the difference. “ Back in the booth, Mike Dunn comments, “I can’t believe he knows the different between introvert and extrovert.”
2 hours, 30 minutes in—The Stat Guy reports that Jeg Coughlin has wins in six different classes. Bloom reports that Coughlin plans on racing his Dodge drag pack stocker sometime later in the season, saying, “He’s going for seven.”
2 hours, 30 minutes in-Reinforcing his earlier comment regarding team comraderie in the NHRA, Densham’s crew works to repair the front fender of his damaged car, alongside crew members from the Schumacher and Clay Millican camps who stopped by to assist.
2 hours, 42 minutes in—After Densham’s crew rolls out his car to the staging lanes, Jack Beckman autographs the tape covering the damaged fender in two places with the line, “Jack Beckman was here…and here.”
3 hours in—Mike Neff, who finds himself facing John Force for the Winternationals title, states, “It’s nice to be racing my boss in the final. He’ll be happy next week.”
3 hours, 2 minutes in—A comment from Dave Reiff, who notes that the final four in Pro Stock, including Mike Edwards, Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line, and Greg Anderson, have combined for 11 Pro Stock titles, including every one since 2004. Reiff asks, “Did the cream rise to the top here today, or what?”
3 hours, 10 minutes in—The hiring of Mark Lyle from Division 6 to replace starter Rick Stewart means that since 1955, only three men have toed the starting line, including Buster Couch, Stewart, and Lyle.
3 hours, 18 minutes in—Greg Andersen wins Pro Stock. “It’s a blast to drive right now. I love to see that yellow car (Coughlin) back, he had a heckuva day. The Pontiac regime’s almost coming to an end. We’ve got Camaros coming down the road, and I’m looking forward to that. It’s gonna be fun. To lock horns with a big Dodge, put him on the trailer in the final, and it’s yellow on top of that, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
3 hours, 22 minutes in—Viewers learn that this is the first time Neff and Force have raced each other in a final.
3 hours, 22 minutes in—The Stat Guy tells viewers that in final-round matchups against his team, Force has a 14-15 record against his “hired assassins.” Interestingly, when Force wins the Winternationals, he goes on to win the championship.
3 hours, 23 minutes in—Force runs a 4.08 to defeat Neff. Paul Page says, “He lays down the gauntlet. The Force is back! Is he looking ahead to a 16th championship?”
3 hours, 24 minutes in—Force states, “For me it’s really kind of special. My braintrust, most of it’s back together. John Medlen is the one that put everything back in line for me with the Eric Medlen Project. When I lost John it was a big chunk out of me. When I lost Austin Coil, it was a big chunk out of me. The moons are right, I’ve got a trophy and I’m going to give it to all the guys in my braintrust. I got me a hot rod again.” This is Force’s 1,100 round win.
3 hours, 27 minutes in—Spencer Massey takes the Top Fuel crown, but didn’t know he won. “I really didn’t. I tried to look up at the scoreboard when I passed by to see the win light, but I couldn’t really tell. I saw a 70-something. I went around the corner until I saw the reaction, and we got the win. This is unbelievable. To finish on a note like we did last year by four thousandths of a second and getting second place. Now, to come out and leave the Winternationals number one, that’s awesome, baby!
Randy Cunningham