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

Welcome to four-wide racing at ZMax Dragway! With double the horsepower on the starting line, even the TV is shaking this week!
This week, Matt Hagan goes boom, John Force plants a kiss on a competitor, and Spencer Massey goes really fast while playing with model cars!

A once in a lifetime event! Spencer Massey steamrolled his way to a 328.78mph effort in qualifying, the fastest run in history. Wow! Unbelievable! We just witnessed an event that probably won’t ever happen again!

Ummm…sorry ‘bout that. Tony Schumacher just said, “Hey, Spencer. Dude, you gotta check this out” before dropping the hammer in his first-round elimination run, posting a new speed record with his 330.23mph liftoff. The Sarge was blowing it up at the 1/8 mile, posting a speed of 287mph.

Can’t fight the power. Dave Reiff put the power in perspective with his NHRA/NASCAR comparison. Doing the math, we learned how four Top Fuelers dealing 8,000 horsepower totaled 32,000 ponies in one launch. Compare that to 43 oval track racers bringing the noise with 750 horses each for a total of 32,250. Four-wide racing? It’s some nasty stuff, folks.

That looks painful. Does it hurt? Gary Gerould interviewed Jason Line regarding his confusion at the starting line over the multiple Christmas trees and blue LED lights that helped drivers pre-stage and stage. The number one qualifier, Gerould mentioned that Line was very unhappy with his performance. Line’s first response? “Stupidity is a painful thing, Gary.”

L-O-S-E-R--In the midst of Jason Line’s interview regarding his Christmas tree mix-up, Allen Johnson suddenly appeared in the camera eye behind Line, forming an “L” with his hand and pointing at Line. Jason turned, saw the prankster, and to his credit, laughed while continuing to answer Gerould’s question.

Ummm…that’s the wrong way, dude. What made Johnson’s appearance even funnier? He made the “loser” sign letter with his left hand, causing it to appear as a backwards “L” to the audience and to Line.

Oh, come on! Antron Brown has no first-round losses in the past 31 races. Boy, seeing his name across the elimination ladder has got to cause guys to just say, “Really? Seriously? What time is my flight home?”

I got your record…right here! Spencer returned the land speed record favor to Schumacher, reclaiming the lead with a 330.55mph run in his first round. What’s in the water at Z-Max?

Let’s put the roof down--Paul Page and Mike Dunn walked through Matt Hagan’s weekend with the rancher himself. Hagan, in true form, stated, “We’re at the bottom right now…we have to see if we can dig our way back to the top.” When asked about the monster explosion that decimated his car body and engine, Hagan stated, “Everything sounded great. The motor sounded great. The next thing I know, I’m driving a convertible out there. It was a wild ride.”

Working as a unit--Hagan was asked, “What do you think makes John Force Racing so good?” His reply was simple: “They work as one. It’s not four cars out there. It’s one. One united team.”

Words just aren’t enough--The “Sounds of the Strip” feature, where Page and Dunn go silent while viewers hear various sounds at the track, can best be described in one word when listening to four cars perform a burn out at the starting line: “Geez.”

A tale of two teams--In the first five races of 2011, the team of Larry Dixon & Del Worsham had only one Round 1 loss, along with 23 round wins and three event wins. In contrast, the 2012 tandem of Shawn Langdon & Khalid Balooshi have seven Round 1 losses, five round wins, and no race wins. An interview with Langdon heard him state, “We go by the motto that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Paul Page’s response back on camera? “Well, they must be plenty strong right now.”

He’s baaacckkkk--One hour and thirty-two minutes into the show and we have our first John Force sighting! (Last week was awfully quiet, as The Boss didn’t appear until Robert Hight’s final round win at the end of the show) Talking with Dave Reiff, Force is in rare form, saying, “Everybody thinks that me and Schumacher we got a feud. No, we aint. We’re doing this because we love it. He’s invited me to go fishing…so he can use me for bait. I know how he thinks. No, we need him in this sport, and they need us. But, we need the Pedregons…Tasca’s in there with that Ford. Castrol, God bless ‘em, they keep me in this game. I’m in heaven. Let me tell you something. When you see a 4.01 or a 3.99, like John Medlen goes, it still gives me goosebumps. It’s awesome racing here at four-lane, and this old man might get a win. I’ll sucker-punch him…I’ll do something.” No word on who will get sucker-punched.

It’s a rocket ride, man! Antron Brown details what it’s like to go for a ride in his Top Fueler. “The best way I can describe a Top Fuel car launching is that when you’re sitting inside that cockpit, it’s going, ‘Puh, puh, puh, puh’ and it’s rocking back and forth and side to side. Once you hit that throttle wide open, the butterflies extend fully and it out gets all that nitro in there, you feel this sensation in your belly getting really light and you feel yourself floating up. It floats you up at first where the tire hooks up and the car just curls up and your feel yourself going backwards and back and back. Then all of a sudden it feels like somebody hit you in the back with a sledgehammer. BOOM! Then all of a sudden you feel this rocket taking off, and just when you think you’re at your wit’s end because you can’t see and your vision gets tunneled at 150 feet, then all the power comes in and the clutch engages, and you go from being like this (sitting up straight) to being like this (forced down into the seat) where your head is down and your eyeballs are trying to roll into the back of your head. Everything’s going shaky, blurry, blurry, shaky, blurry, then all of a sudden it just clears up and you get beamed through this tiny hole like you’re in Star Wars, and you just went into warp drive. Then, before you know it, you’re hitting the parachutes and you’re at the end of the run. Intense, crazy, but we live for it every day.” Paul Page comments, “Do you hear the love and the passion? That’s probably the best description I’ve ever heard of a run.”

Let me explain—Talking with Dave Reiff, Dave Connolly talked about the reason he never even left the starting line in his first-round elimination run. “It’s pretty simple. I know the rules along with everybody else. When all the cars are pre-staged and the first guy goes in and stages, you have seven seconds. Unfortunately in our pair, we didn’t have seven seconds. I got video proof of it, and discussed with Graham Light himself. Apparently he was a little closed-minded on my side of the situation, so unfortunately we didn’t have a chance of going out there and racing, and seeing what this car could do. It’s just hard for me to swallow, because we’ve got the great folks at IDG here, and I’ve gotta go and explain to them why we don’t have an opportunity to run second round.”

Hey—got the time? Following the Connolly interview, the “Geico Track-Tionary” spot defined the term “timed-out”, describing that after the first driver stages the car, all other drivers have seven seconds to stage their cars or face elimination. With four cars at the starting line, Connolly’s car was highlighted, while an ESPN timer ran overhead. When the amber light came on, the network clock showed 6.45, prompting Mike Dunn to comment, “Maybe Dave has a little bit of a beef.”

That’s news to me—Dave Reiff added to the interest level of the Connolly situation when he stated, “I talked to Bob Brockmeyer. He’s the guy that’s in charge of the timing system. He told me a couple of things. He said perhaps someone clicked the stage light ever-so-briefly, very microscopically, that started that seven-second process early. Additionally, he also told me that there was some intentional gap left in that seven seconds, not only when the tree comes down, but in the seven seconds as well. It’s random as well. They say they intentionally put that in. Now that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that, but that is the offer of explanation from Bob Brockmeyer.”

VROOM! Here’s betting Spencer Massey loved playing with Hot Wheels. While lying on the ground underneath his Top Fueler in the pits, Massey detailed how a hole shot win is won, using two Top Fuel model cars lined up side by side in an imaginary race. A perfect explanation for all the visual learners in the audience, performed by a kid at heart. Sweet. By the way, great ground-level camera work. Let’s all bring Spencer a Hot Wheels car to add to his collection.

Strike the pose—Gary Gerould spoke with Antron Brown at the top end, asking him about facing teammate Spencer Massey in the final round. Brown replied, “It’s gonna be a tough one, it’s gonna be one of those battle royals. I’m gonna see if I can bring out my old Hulk Hogan pose on ‘em.” (Performs a classic Hogan pose, yells “Yeaaahhhh”, then walks off laughing)

Inside the squared circle--Matt Hagan, describing the four seconds inside the cockpit of a Funny Car, stated simply, “You feel like you’re wrestling an alligator in that thing. “

Aren’t RVs supposed to be fun? Jack Beckman talked about being strapped inside his car at over 300 miles per hour, saying that his experience resembles, “A Winnebago with a crosswind with a flat front tire. You really gotta get after it.”

Dancing and punching--Jim Oberhofer, crew chief for Doug Kalitta, while being interviewed by Dave Reiff, was asked about facing three Don Schumacher entries in the Top Fuel final. (Brown, Schumacher, Massey) “Well, I could whip their ass on a dance floor, I’ll tell you that, and maybe even in a fistfight, we could do that, but we gotta race on the track and I’ve got a lot of respect for all of those guys over there.” Paul Page adds that Oberhofer is a ballroom dancer. Good to know.

Kissing, John Force style---Following the Oberhofer interview, a video of John Force and Ron Capps at the top end was shown. In slo-motion, Force kissed Capps just to the right of Capps’ lips. Mike Dunn was to the point: “Aw, man!” Paul Page added, “I’ve been there. Not…not all that cool.” No word on why the event took place. Maybe next time ESPN can pull out their ultra slo-mo camera. OK, maybe not.

Ka-boom! Speaking of the ESPN ultra-mo camera, the Matt Hagan qualifying explosion is detailed during the “Weekend Wow Factor” segment as the car disintegrates before our eyes. Incredible photography. Best of all, Hagan walked away unscathed.

He ain’t heavy, he’s the Cruzer--Cruz Pedregon, speaking with John Kernan, stands tall when asked about facing the John Force and Don Schumacher race teams in the Funny Car final. Speaking of lining up the heavy hitters, Pedregon states, “You know, I was thinking, I’m a pretty big heavy hitter too. I’m six foot, 210, something like that. We can hold our own here.” Pedregon later adds, “You know, I don’t want to scream the little guy syndrome anymore. We’ve got a good team here. Lee Beard heads up the team, and I like our chances.”

Ouch—The Pro Stock found Erica Enders at the top end believing she had won the final, only to learn she finished second to Greg Anderson. “I was told I had won. All my guys were yelling on the radio, ‘We finally did it, we finally did it.’ I guess it’s mass confusion, kinda like this whole deal. But either way, I couldn’t be more proud of my guys.”

Party pooper--Dave Reiff provided the explanation for the Enders’ premature post-Pro Stock party when he reported, “Apparently they had a malfunction because at the bottom of each one of the scoreboards it shows the lanes 1, 2, 3, and 4, and everybody here in the grandstands, everybody at the starting lines saw Lane number 1 come up as the winner, so I believe that’s where the confusion started.”

Can I be in your club? Robert Hight joined the “Rare Air Club” with his Funny Car victory, the fourth in a row for the “Top Gun” from John Force Racing. Hight’s win placed him in company with Kenny Bernstein, Cruz Pedregon, John Force, and Don Prudhomme on the all-time longest win streaks in the Funny Car category, where Prudhomme leads with seven consecutive victories. The last driver to win four races in a row? Father-in-law John, who accomplished the task 12 years ago.

Do you know how fast you were going, son? Spencer Massey obliterated his own first-round speed record with a blistering 332.18 pass in the final, setting a new national speed mark to take the Top Fuel win on a track measuring 110 degrees. This guy talks to his motor before every race. Apparently they communicate pretty well. No couples therapy needed here.