RACING

Five things we learned at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals

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With the playoffs on the horizon, the action intensified at the Lucas Oil NHRA National Championships as the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series tour made its annual stop at the rustic Brainerd Int’l Raceway. Here are five things we learned.

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About this so-called slump that Steve Torrence and the Capco team have been this year? It’s never been as bad as it looks. Yes, it took Torrence 15 races to get his first win, but in the meantime he has racked up 24 wins and at no time this season has he been ranked below No. 4 in the Camping World rankings. It’s a record that most of his rivals would gladly trade.

Torrence admitted, however, that he had multiple discussions about returning to last year’s combination in a bid to replicate the success formula that led to four titles. In the end, he decided it was a bad decision and opted to stay the course. Now, that seems like a moot point.

“I don’t question my guys,” Torrence said during his interview with the media centre. “They brought us here. I had the same guys together for all four championships, and I’m not going to tell them what they’re doing isn’t working. What kind of message would that send? I have complete confidence in them, and when the countdown [to the Championship] starts, we’ll be there.

Any discussion of climaxing too soon falls on deaf ears when it comes to Bob Tasca III and his current streak of three wins in the last four races. Tasca understands the often streaky nature of NHRA nitro racing, but he has every reason to believe he will continue on his current trajectory and be a contender not only at the upcoming Dodge Power Brokers NHRA US Nationals, but also the all-important playoffs. of six races that follow.

When Tasca returned to the sport four years ago, he was determined to build a winning team, and while it may have taken longer than expected, he is currently pleased with the results, especially after five final rounds at the last six events, including the two races in hot and cool weather.

“If you remember a while ago I got fired,” Tasca said. “In 2013 Ford pulled out, and it wasn’t going too well for Tasca Racing. They were debuting their GT40 [endurance racing] program, and they let us all go. I remember being at Ford headquarters and seeing a wall with all the champions on it, and I wasn’t there. It was disappointing. I could have packed it, but we left it at that. Ford gave me a second chance. Getting Mike Neff and Jon Shafer was a big turning point, but you don’t just snap your fingers and see the results. You see that right now with Doug Kalitta and Alan Johnson. It takes time. It’s not instant pudding. Nobody can guarantee a championship, but we have a chance to achieve it.

To suggest that the Brainerd event was a wild ride for the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing series presented by D-Wagon would be an understatement. There was drama, controversy, a pair of familiar winners, and enough chatter to last an entire season.

Ricky Smith won the race and closed the gap on incoming points leader Kris Thorne. On Saturday, Thorne scored his own victory by taking home the top prize in the inaugural D-Wagon Pro Mod Shootout, but this event was not without controversy. Before the race, the Pro Mod riders at Brainerd decided to add some fun to the event by using a coin toss to determine the pairings for each lap. This decision seemed to suit everyone except Smith, who opted out of the game and forfeited his shot at the large bonus at stake. This decision obviously did not sit well with his competitors, many of whom turned to social media to give their opinion on the situations.

On the track, there was a burst of 5.7 second runs and plenty of great side-by-side racing, and the Pro Mod class proved to be a big hit with the large and enthusiastic Brainerd crowd.

As Smith missed a chance to fill his wallet, he moved within 25 points of Thorne as the series heads into the home stretch. Smith has threatened to retire almost every year for more than a decade, and he finally insists he’s serious this time. Weather or not, it turns out to be the case, there’s no denying that Pro Mod racing is much more entertaining when “Trickie Rickie” is around.

Think the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series is all about mega teams and big-money sponsorships? Guess again. The Lucas Oil NHRA National Championships featured outstanding performances from some of the most dedicated independents in nitro racing. The first is the always sparkling Krista Baldwin, who struggled in Friday’s early qualifying sessions but finished the week with a career best (by many) 3.811 at 319.52. Baldwin has driven a Top Fuel car for just over a year, and it didn’t look out of place for a day.

And then there’s Bobby Bode, who was officially introduced to NHRA fans earlier this year in Houston when he nearly beat Matt Hagan in the NHRA SpringNationals final. Bode beat two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon in the first round and had a great shot to beat Ron Capps in the quarterfinals. Bode’s team had a problem in the pits and barely made it to the start line, then couldn’t race because Capps smoked the tires. As frustrating as it sounds, one gets the feeling that Bode is being tagged for stardom in the Funny Car class.

Finally, how about Dale Creasy Jr. A veteran who pulled off many upsets over the years, he came close to scoring another when he shot a career-best 3.967 in the first round against Bob Tasca III. Creasy would have won at least half of the first-round clashes with his performance, but came out short with Tasca’s dominant 3.891.

There are enthusiastic fans at every stop on the NHRA Camping World tour, but there’s something wonderfully different about the crew that call Brainerd Int’l Raceway home each August. The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals are famous for many things, but none more significant than Brainerd’s “Zoo”, the sprawling 200-acre campground that surrounds the facility. “The Zoo” is home to all sorts of debauchery, including a non-stop parade of homemade vehicles that include everything from rolling bar stools to pirate ships. There is also a huge fireworks display on Saturday night that rivals even the well-known Norwal experience. This year, attendance at the “Zoo” has been bolstered by the reappearance of a large contingent of Canadian fans, who have been largely absent for the past two years due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In some ways, Ron Capps has become the zoo’s de facto mayor, as the campground seems to have more than its fair share of fans supporting Team NAPA. Again, every Pro rider and Sportsman is welcomed with open arms to “the Zoo” as the NHRA continues to be the leader in fan interaction among major motorsports.

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