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The latest update as of February 28, 2016

Carquest Auto Parts Nationals

Carquest Nationals News for Sunday - Day Three - Final Eliminations

12:30 PM UPDATE

With the traditional 11:00 am start for the first round of Top Fuel, the nitro burners got a chance to show what they could really do under the best weather/atmospheric conditions of the weekend. A low air temp of just 72 F, coupled with a track reading of only 96 F and corrected altitude under 2500 ft, gave the tuners a window to really open up the horsepower floodgates.

Showing that they were ready to throw everything at the track, in the first pairing Courtney Force bombed Shawn Langdon with a low e.t. of the meet 3.723 at nearly 326 mph to set the bar higher than Doug Kalitta's 3.741 top qualifying effort. Courtney's stay at the top of the charts only lasted until Kalitta erased her number in the third pairing with an even better 3.716 - 328.22 to take out both top marks. As the round continued, five of the winners improved on their best qualifying marks and only one oildown, that of Leah Pritchett (for the second race in a row), interrupted the session.

Quickly moving on to Funny Car, the hits kept coming as Courtney Force equalled her top qualifying 3.930 e.t., and improved her best speed to 326.79 mph in a first round dismissal of Terry Haddock. But those great numbers only occupied the top rung on the ladder for three more pairs until JFR teammate Robert Hight punched out new event bests of 3.905 at 327.11 mph. Those marks held up for the rest of the round as only one of the seven winners failed to break into the 3's (Tommy Johnson Jr. at 4.003), while one of the losers (Alexis De Joria) also broke into the 3-zone.

Also of note in the round was Jeff Diehl's new career bests of 4.037 at 303.37 in a losing cause to Ron Capps. Making the whole exercise somewhat academic was Diehl's redlight. And in what may be some sort of record, John Force ran his fifth consecutive 3-second pass of the weekend to defeat John Hale. With teammate Robert Hight on the other side of the eliminations ladder, and daughter Courtney not scheduled to meet him until the semi- finals, it oould be a big day for the Yorba Linda gang. On the other hand, the Don Schumacher crew has exactly the same setup for their three cars remaining in eliminations.

Pro Stock saw the EFI'd contingent finally post some decent numbers after a tough weekend for the naturally aspirated racers. Six of the seven winners in the first round (only 14 cars qualified) improved on their best qualifying numbers, and two of them, Jason Line and Bo Butner, dipped into the 6,50's. Leading the way in the last pair of the round was low qualifier Butner, as he notched the best numbers - so far - of the event at 6.590 - 209.30.

It would be nice to expect the racers to equal or even improve on their first round performances but as the afternoon sun takes over and raises the track temperature and adjusted altitude it's going to take some fancy tuning to stay close to the great numbers posted in the first round. Stay tuned as we come back later in the afternoon with later round results.


The latest update as of February 13, 2016

CircelK Winternationals

Top Alcohol Qualifying closes with some great performances and tight fields

The final qualifying session for the alcohol cars took place at 10:00 am with a much cooler track than the racers faced during yesterday afternoon's second session. The air temp was down a few degrees and the adjusted altitude was nearly 600 feet lower and it showed up quickly as quite a few much-improved runs were in evidence. By the time the smoke had cleared, the bump spots (academic in the clase of the dragsters) had dropped by several seconds and the top half of the respective fields tightened substantially. And in the Funny Car class, Jonnie Lindberg's awesome 5.42 pass at just 262 mph was quick enough to leapfrog over John Lombardo Jr. into the top spot.

There was no change on the top rung for the dragsters as Don St. Arnaud held onto his position with an earlier career best 5.181 e.t. There were a few serious challenges to that number as Garrett Bateman picked up nearly two tenths and rocketed to a 5.22 at 273.72 to jump into the #2 spot for most of the session. It didn't last though as Gord Gingles upped his personal best once again with a 5.214 - 277.15 to push Bateman down a notch to #3. Nearly matching that best e.t. of the session was St. Arnaud who showed his consistency with a great 5.22 at "just" 283.25 mph.

Another car that lives on consistent performances is world champion Joey Severance and he ran another mid-5.20 to show he was primed for some good runs in eliminations. Two other noteworthy numbers were those of the "Golden Greek's" (Chris Karamesines granddaughter, Krista Baldwin, who rewrote her career bests with a 5.26 at nearly 275 mph, and a best (so far) of the weekend 5.30 - 271.19 from Shawn Cowie. Despite that great pass, Cowie ended up in the #10 position, as the first nine cars were on the board at 5.28 or quicker. An interesting sidenote is that the top 11 qualifiers all clocked a 270-mph - or better - speed on their qualifying passes. Anchoring the barely full 16-car field was Derek Milanesio at 5.70, but the #15 qualifier (Bill Litton) was a quarter second quicker at 5.44 seconds.

The alcohol funny cars were down a man as heavy hitter Tony Bartone took a heavy hit himself yesterday, tagging the wall and putting the car out of commission for the balance of the weekend. As the final session started, Bret Williamson occupied a very weak bubble spot at 6.093, and as expected, it didn't last long. Clint Thompson finally got a full pass, at 5.57, alongside Steve Gasparelli's so-so 5.88, to move the bump down to 6-flat. And that only lasted until Williamson jumped back into the field with a solid 5.68 and that finished the bumping with Gasparelli holding down the #16 spot with his 5.88 pass.

The first big number of the session came courtesy of Mike Doushgounian in the Miner Bros entry, with the third 5.40 of the event, at 5.498. Joining him in the "40" zone was Mike Gordon as he pounded out a great 5.46 at 268.81 to move up to the #2 spot - temporarily - until Jonnie Lindberg closed alcohol funny car qualifying with a 5.421 to take over the top of the ladder. Despite another great pass at 5.47 - 271.73, John Lombardo Jr. dropped down to the #2 position. The field as a whole tightened up considerably, with four cars in the 5.40's and the next seven in the 5.50 range. There will obviously be some very tight matches after the first round of eliminations.


The latest update as of February 11, 2016

BIG numbers from the first session of Top Alcohol qualifying at the Winternationals

5:00 PM UPDATE

As I predicted in this morning's (see below) update in this space, the conditions were nearly perfect for the blown alky and injected nitro racers at Pomona this afternoon. First out of the lanes were the Funny Cars and the two best cars from last season, Jonnie Lindberg and John Lombardo Jr, led the way with the only 5.40 passes of the session. Taking top spot was Lombardo with an excellent 5.46 at 271.35, while Lindberg was close behind at 5.48 and 259 mph. The two racers were matched in the final pair and obviously saved the best for last, putting on a great show for the fans. Looking at the incremental numbers revealed that while Lombardo was quicker to 60 feet, Lindberg took over at that point and was in front until almost the 1000 ft. mark before falling back in the last few hundred feet.

The gap between the number one and three cars was a full tenth, as Brian Hough's very good 5.57 pass for the #3 spot was well back of the number 1 and 2 cars. The top half of the 16-car field was anchored by the other Swede, Ulf Leanders, in at 5.64, nearly a tenth of a second ahead of the #9 car. With another qualifying session on tap for tomorrow and a final one Saturday morning, the also-rans should be able to sort out their problems and tighten the field quite a bit.

It didn't take long for the fireworks to start when the dragsters began running, as in the second pair Don St. Arnaud turned a career best e.t. of 5.181, coupled with the second fastest speed in the history of Top Alcohol, 285.05 mph. He certainly picked up right where he left off at the end of the 2015 season, and then some, as he put a huge number up on the board for the rest of the field to shoot at. In the very next pair, fellow Canadian Gord Gingles, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, notched his own career bests at 5.234 - 276.35 mph. Incredible stuff and what a way for those racers to start the season.

The first blown car came to the line in the second to last pairing of the round as Shawn Cowie tried to match wheels with Duane Shields. Unfortunately, it wasn't even close as Shields pulled out a half-tenth lead in the first 60', and kept stretching it all the way down track until he lit up the boards with a third best of the day 5.236 at 271.13, to leave Cowie's vey good 5.349 - 270.70 well behind at the finish.

Closing out the round were the top two cars in the world championship chase from 2015, and Joey Severance just nipped arch-rival Chris Demke, 5.255 to 5.263. Demke did card a bigger speed at 275.11 over Severance's 272.39, but as we all know, it's elapsed time that wins races and takes low qualifying spots. The only problem for the final pair was that they took the #4 and #5 spots on the preliminary ladder.

With one out of three qualifying sessions in the books, I can hardly wait to see what everyone - especially the top cars in each category - can do for the rest of the weekend. You really do have stay tuned to Drag Race Central or this space to see what develops.


11:00 AM - The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series kicks off at Pomona

Sportsman qualifying is already underway at Auto Club Raceway at the Pomona Fairgrounds. The first really loud cars will hit Parker Avenue in the late afternoon and we'll finally - after three months of silence - get to see, hear, and read about Top Alcohol again. Following them tomorrow at 1:00 pm will be the Pro classes and it will all culminate with final eliminations on Sunday afternoon.

The weather doesn't appear to be a factor at this time, much like last year's event, with temperatures in the mid-80's today and holding near that mark throughout the weekend. With some cloud cover expected on Friday and Saturday. The track temps shouldn't be too high to affect traction, and relatively low humidity (no more than 30%) should play into the hands of the tuners. With the previous week's "spring training" having taken place just a few hundred miles east, with similar weather conditions, the racers should be able to hit the ground running and post some big numbers right away.

In Top Alcohol Dragster, there's a very pronounced imbalance for the choice of induction, with just three blown alky entries, versus thirteen injected fuelers. However, two of the three blown cars were in the finals at this race last year (Chris Demke and Shawn Cowie), and the third one, Joey Severance, lost in the semi-finals but went on to win the world championship. In other words, three very strong and capable cars to battle the nitro guys. With no changes in the class rules over the winter, the fuel cars will not have any advantage, and if the air temps stay on the high side, the supercharged contingent will be in a very good position to repeat last year's successes.

On the Funny Car side of the alcohol pits, there's 19 cars entered, with the majority being from the West Coast, primarily California. There are, however, two Swedish cars in the field, including last year's world champion Jonnie Lindberg, and an Australian (Steven Ham) who currently makes Ohio his home. Also in the mix are newly-licensed Fuel Funny Car driver, Brian Hough, and Clint Thompson from Oregon. Last year's finalists were the aforementioned Lindberg and Hough, with the Swede taking the win, low e.t. and top speed, and top qualifying spot as he started a very successful season.

With an emphasis on Canadian content, we'll be watching all the Canuck and Northwest Division cars throughout the weekend, with a close eye on Delta's Shawn Cowie in the "Mundie's Towing" entry, and Edmonton's Don St. Arnaud. At last year's edition of the Winternationals, St. Arnaud blasted his way into the NHRA record books with a new speed mark at 285.35, and low e.t. of the meet enroute to the #1 qualifying position, at 5.221 seconds. Making that performance even more relevant, at the season-ending World Finals, Don ran an even quicker low e.t., at 5.186, and again set top speed at 284.99 mph. The team obviously has a handle on the track and one can only wonder what he'll do for an encore.

Another Canadian injected fuel car, from the frozen wasteland of Manitoba, is the "Bull" entry of Gord Gingles. The team usually runs in the midwest and this marks the first time they've come out to the Winternationals, although they did run at the Finals two years ago. With a car that can easily run low 5.30's and 270-mph plus speeds, Gingles should qualify but a late-round appearance is not really in the cards.

British Columbia's Shawn Cowie is also in the mix but he's spent the last two years trying to maintain that consistency that saw them winning national events and contending for the championship back in 2011. His last outing at last year's season-ender saw the Mundie's team crank out a very strong 5.28 at 272 mph in the second round, before losing to the all-conquering Severance in the semis. That's got to be something they can build on coming into the 2016 season.


The latest update as of February 7, 2016


Spring Training at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix

Nitro Spring Training

The nitro portion of this year's pre-season testing wrapped up yesterday afternoon at Phoenix's Wild Horse Pass track. After several years of pre-season testing at Florida's Bradenton International, the decision was made to shift westward this year. Logistically, with the Winternationals taking place next week just 300 miles west; financially, saving the cost of teams hauling from their home bases to Florida, back home, then all the way west to Pomona. and finally, perforamance-wise, with Phoenix being a national event track with their event scheduled just three weeks after the testing week.

While there weren't that many teams present, the quality of the performances was second to none. With very favourable weather conditions that saw high temps in the low 60's on Wednesday through to Saturday's mid 70's (17 to 25 C), and virtually no humidity, the cars were able to unleash all their horsepower on the obviously well-prepared track.

Leading the way in Funny Car was Tommy Johnson Jr's out-of-this-world 3.874 pass yesterday that for at least five days will stand as the quickest in the history of Funny Car racing. However, with similar weather forecast for next weekend's NHRA season-opening Cirlce K Winternationals, that mark may not last too long. And if Johnson doesn't erase it, there's at least five other drivers in the hunt for the top of the performance pinnacle.

Joining the "Make-A-Wish" driver in the 3.80-range during the four-day test session was Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman at 3.880, backed up with a pair of 3.89 passes, and two of the John Force Racing team cars. Robert Hight was very quick at 3.885 and fast (329.34 mph) while teammate Courtney Force clocked in at 3.890 - 323.19. Team leader John Force was close behind with bests of 3.912 and 3.914 for the week. The other two DSR cars, those of Ron Capps and the previous holder of the "quickest" crown (at 3.879), Matt Hagan, were not far behind the pacesetters with respective bests of 3.91 and 3.96 during testing.

In addition to the four DSR and three JFR cars present, the Kalitta camp appeared with 2015 World Champ Del Worsham and Alexis de Joria in her newly re-wrapped "Tequila Patron" car. Both drivers ran well into the 3's, but failed to equal the performances of the two dominating teams. Independent racers Tim Wilkerson and Chad Head also dropped into the 3-second zone, while veteran Cruz Pedregon never made a full pass, settling for a 4.14 best for the week.

Finishing licensing during testing were Jim Campbell in the Worsham Family race car, while Oregon's Brian Hough upgraded his Top Alcohol FC license to nitro FC, courtesy of the Tim Wilkerson team. Hough completed the procedure in fine style yesterday with a great 4.015 - 316.01 pass that was absolutely the ride of his life. Another nitro novice, Troy Coughlin Jr. jumped all the way up from Pro Mod to Top Fuel in the DSR "Red Fuel" car (Shawn Langdon's ride) and completed licensing with a very strong 3.853 - 321.81 pass to become the second member of the Coughlin clan, after his grandfather Jeg Sr. (who was present for the occasion) to hold a Top Fuel license.

And that's where today's update ends, as there just isn't time to cover the Top Fuel side of the test week, other than to report that Tony Schumacher's new "ARMY" car led the way with an awesome 3.683 pass and Dave Connolly put the only 330-mph speed on the board for the four days. We will be back tomorrow with the Top Fuel report and much more, including what's going on with NHRA's television coverage in Canada, and the latest from the IHRA.


The latest update as of January 27, 2016

Post Vacation Update - What A Long (and not so) Strange Trip It's Been

It's been almost four months since Gail and I set sail from Vancouver for the South Seas. We spent the first 25 days on a cruise ship, visiting Southern California, Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, and New Caledonia, enroute to Sydney, Australia. Then it was a whirlwind three weeks seeing the sights in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane, with sidetrips to the Hunter Valley, The Great Ocean Road, the Barossa Valley, and Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.

The pace slowed somewhat when we flew up to North Queensland and stayed in Cairns for seven weeks, with lots of trips to Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas, Cooktown, the Atherton Tablelands, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef. Our stay there saw us right through Christmas and New Year's and it was certainly a different Christmas than we'd ever experienced before. Palm Trees and "Chrissy" Trees side-by-side. The day after New Year's we were on a plane again, this time flying further north to Singapore.

After an overnight stay there we boarded another cruise ship for our first look at Southeast Asia, stopping in Bali for three days, followed by Komodo Island (yes, the place with the dragons), Phuket (major party town in Thailand), Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, then back to Singapore. But wait: there's more! We decided to extend our trip by another week for some much needed rest at a beach resort near Ao Nang in Thailand. It was the perfect way to finish off the vacation before we made the long trek home.

That last day was quite a tour-de-force, starting with breakfast in Bangkok, followed by lunch in Hong Kong, and finally, many hours later, dinner at home in North Vancouver. We went from hot and humid in Bangkok, to very cold in Hong Kong, and finally, the usual west coast winter weather in Vancouver.

It's now two and a half days since we got home and the suitcases are still open (but nearly empty) on the floor, the laundry is almost done, the refrigerator is nearly back together (long story there) and everything else is back to normal. Except for the bank account; that's on life support at the moment. If it was a race engine, it would be so lean that parts would be melting and/or exploding by now. Usual deal here though. More news as the week progresses.


The latest update as of November 25, 2015

Two months on the road and one lousy update?

It only took two months to get around to an update this time, but it's been that long since I've been in front of a windows pc. One that's situated in the middle of the lobby at the Cairns City Library in Far North Queensland (Australia). It seems like such a long time since I left Vancouver, and so far away in distance and memory that it's difficult to even think about what it's going to be like returning to winter weather in Canada in late January. But that's still two months down the road and in the meantime I've got a luncheon date up the street at one of the many sidewalk cafes here in Cairns.

Not sure when the next update will be or when I'll get around to uploading some pictures from this adventure, but there will be some time available to do so during the next five and a half weeks we'll be here in Australia. Cheers!


The latest update as of September 29, 2015

Where did the last eleven months go?

Another retirement card

The older you get, the quicker the time goes. I've been hearing that refrain for years, but now I'm truly living it. It seems like there's just not enough time in each day to get everything - some days anything - done. People think that retirement gives you all the time in the world to relax and watch the days slip by. WRONG! Every one of them seems filled with more tasks than I can do, and I keep wondering how the heck I ever got anything accomplished when I was still working.

That all changes today as we start a 25-day cruise from Vancouver to Australia. You might think that sounds like a slow, boring way to travel. Au contraire; with some nicely spaced port calls, and a walking track around the Promenade Deck that never ends, the time will quickly slip into the wake that follows the ship across the Pacific. Then the real fun starts, with three weeks jaunting around the south end of Australia, seven weeks in north Queensland, and finally, a few weeks in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Updates will be as sporadic as ever, but I will try to get something posted on here on at least a semi-regular basis.

Click on the pic for the larger version


The latest update as of November 3, 2014

Where did the last week and a half go?

It's difficult to comprehend where the last ten days went. While I was on that epic road trip, the days all seemed to blur one into the next, but as soon as I got home, everything quickly ramped up to warp speed. Especially after a two-month absence. Back to work, back to the normal day-to-day routine, and the days just flashed past, like road signs on the freeway at 85 mph.

There's still lots of blanks in the (MORE) Xcellent Adventures blog, but it's roughed in now and the pictures will be coming shortly. Once I sort through sort approximately 1000 shots snapped in-car, out of the car, on the bus, on the street, and in the hotels. Lots of variety and even a few decent ones to look at. Then, the words to go with them. All I have to do is dredge up the details from the old memory banks and fill in the gaps on the adventures page.

With the drag racing season drawing to a close - or at least winding down until next spring - in the northern hemisphere, there will be time to get into the 20,000 plus pics from the six races I attended on the road trip. While they can't really be posted online without permission from NHRA or on the website that used my services, ie. SpeedZone Magazine, at least a few shots may show up in the Daily Pic section and other places on Northern Thunder.



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