NHRA Nationals preview

  • Herald news services
  • Wednesday, April 1, 2009 1:25pm
  • SportsSports

LAS VEGAS — Two popular drivers in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series — Tony Schumacher and Ashley Force Hood — are each riding a wave of confidence into this weekend’s NHRA Nationals (April 2-5) at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Both were able to reach the winners’ circle at Houston Raceway Park last weekend and in the process, put to rest nagging questions that were revolving around their 2009 campaigns.

Six-time NHRA Top Fuel world champ Schumacher was able to power his U.S. Army dragster to victory behind a crew chief not named Alan Johnson. Schumacher was led by the tuning efforts of new crew chief Mike Green and a stable of new faces turning wrenches in his pit area.

It was a very satisfying win for Schumacher, who moves into second place in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship standings. On his way to the final, he was able to defeat Larry Dixon, who is driving Johnson’s new dragster for the Al-Anabi Racing team, in a much-anticipated semifinal meeting.

“Everyone knows we don’t have AJ (Alan Johnson) anymore, and people said we couldn’t win without him, so we had to dig deep, and I love ‘suck it up’ moments — bottom of the ninth, bases loaded — and that’s what we had all day,” Schumacher said. “It’s still early, but we want to be up there at the top. I love having everyone chasing us. I can’t wait for next weekend to arrive.”

Schumacher has four wins at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in his career — one coming at the spring race and three in the fall. Dixon is a three-time winner of this event and also has one in the fall. Other past Vegas Top Fuel winners in the field include defending event champ Cory McClenathan, Brandon Bernstein and Doug Kalitta. Current Top Fuel points leader Antron Brown, who powered the Matco Tools dragster to a win at Phoenix and runner-up finish at the season-opener in Pomona, is still looking for his first win at The Strip.

In Funny Car, Force Hood proved that her win last year in Atlanta was no fluke. At that event she defeated her father — 14-time champ John Force — in the final round, raising some speculation that her proud Papa may have made her path to victory a little smoother than perhaps another rival. At Houston last Sunday, there was no doubt as Force Hood defeated her one-time driving coach, Schumacher Racing’s Jack Beckman, in the final.

Yes, indeed, in that round the student became the teacher.

“Our first win was against my dad [in the final], and we’ve had some people ask me, ‘Do you think your dad gave it to you?’ and it’s heartbreaking because we know my dad would never give away any round-win,” said Force Hood, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. “So to be able to race against another team’s driver in the final and win it where no one can have any doubt, we’re maybe a bit more cheerful than after that first win. It’s been hanging over our head, and it feels good

to get past that.”

With her second-career victory she moved into third place in the point standings, and is in a good position to keep the momentum going. She has some good memories of racing at The Strip as she was runner-up at this event last year to Tim Wilkerson and was runner-up at the 2007 fall event here to Tony Pedregon.

Funny Car points leader Ron Capps is a two-time winner at LVMS and started hot this season by winning the first two races. Other drivers to watch in the 7,000 horsepower category include defending world champ Cruz Pedregon, a two-time winner in Vegas and his brother Tony, a three-time winner at The Strip. Gary Densham, Force Hood teammate Robert Hight, the elder Force and Beckman are all past winners at Vegas.

The race, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD, will also feature competition in the 200 mph Pro Stock category. Greg Anderson has six wins at The Strip in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP, while defending world champ Jeg Coughlin is a four-time winner in his Chevy Cobalt. Ron Krisher, who won at Houston last weekend, claimed an LVMS win in 2002. Other Pro Stock favorites include two-time Vegas winner Kurt Johnson, recent national speed record setter Mike Edwards (212.03 mph) and Jason Line, who has won two races this season and is the current points leader in the category.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 9:30 am. and 12:30

p.m. on Friday, April 3, and 9 a.m. and noon on Saturday, April 4. Final

eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on Sunday, April 5.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 3. NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, will air at 8 a.m. on Sunday, April 5 also on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will feature three hours of eliminations coverage at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 5.

LUCAS OIL SERIES: The NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in eight categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on April 2. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on April 3.

ON THE WEB: Get instant results, multimedia and the latest news updates from every NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event on the Internet at

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