Tulsa: Round eight preview

Racers Prepare for a Crew Chief's Race in Tulsa Late August heat will present unique challenges at Skull Shine Sooner Nationals Aug. 22-24 Norwalk, Ohio -- When the race teams pull into Tulsa Raceway Park they will face weather conditions...

Racers Prepare for a Crew Chief's Race in Tulsa

Late August heat will present unique challenges at Skull Shine Sooner Nationals Aug. 22-24

Norwalk, Ohio -- When the race teams pull into Tulsa Raceway Park they will face weather conditions they have yet to see this season. Though the mercury has climbed into the upper 90's at multiple Knoll Gas Nitro Jam events this season, the hot, dry Oklahoma air will present each race team with a specific choice...take the conservative route or swing for the fences. It should provide for a very interesting weekend.

There is a razor-thin line between putting the right amount of power to the track and rattling the tires. IHRA crew chiefs will be walking that fine line, some with the added pressure of dealing with the championship points chase.

The Torco Pro Nitro Top Fuel points chase is shaping up to be a two-man battle, but don't tell that to defending world champion Bruce Litton. Following his semifinals loss to Spencer Massey at the Northern Nationals in Michigan, Litton, an Indianapolis resident, fell out of the points lead, now trailing Massey by 40 points (two rounds). Mike Strasburg (112 points behind) and Bobby Lagana Jr. (116 points behind) are also in the mix.

"Spencer and I are neck and neck, but look right behind us," Litton said prior to the Northern Nationals. Bobby Lagana is right there, Mike Strasburg is in the hunt and Terry McMillen, coming off a win in Grand Bend, has some momentum. I can't worry about Spencer, can't worry about Bobby, can't worry about anybody else. I have to worry about my race car, my race team and concentrate on qualifying and going rounds. If I do my job the points race will take care of itself."

Massey (Fort Worth, Tex.) has had a dream season in this, his Top Fuel rookie campaign. He won the first two events on the 2008 schedule before knocking off Terry McMillen in the final two weeks ago in Martin.

"It's a dream come true, this is something that's just unbelievable," Massey said from the winner's circle at US 131 Motorsports Park. "With three races left I guess we're 41 points in the lead so we are kind of controlling it. They're the ones that will have to catch up to get us. We just can't do anything stupid and beat ourselves. We don't have the fastest car, but it's consistent."

Terry Haddock (Woodville, Wash.) leads the Torco Pro Nitro Funny Car points chase after his semifinals appearance in Martin. On the heels of his victory in Grand Bend, Haddock will be looking to put himself in the driver's seat with a strong showing in Tulsa. He currently has 481 points with Paul Lee, at 439 points, sitting in second. Haddock, however, has a distinct advantage over the other competitors near the top of the points standings. Haddock has been to every 2008 IHRA national event and qualifies for the 41-point season-ending bonus awarded to every professional driver who competed at each event on the schedule.

Matt Hagan, sitting in sixth place with 359 points, is the driver nearest to Haddock who also qualifies for the 41-point bonus.

Kenny Lang (Grande Pointe, Mb.) built a large early-season Torco Pro Modified points lead with a pair of national event victories. That lead, however, has been slipping away ever since. Surprisingly it is a pair of nitrous-powered drivers who are putting the heat on Lang atop the standings.

After three seasons of supercharged dominance in IHRA's Pro Modified class, Mike Castellana and Jim Halsey are changing the perception that nitrous Pro Modifieds cannot compete with their supercharged brethren on the IHRA circuit. Castellana ran the quickest nitrous Pro Mod pass in history at the Northern Nationals, a 6.000 pass during Saturday qualifying. Halsey ended up winning the event. Castellana sits in second in the points standings with 430, just 47 points behind Lang's 477. Halsey checks in third with 402 points.

The nitrous drivers made quite a statement at the Northern Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park. Castellana and Halsey qualified 1-2, the only time a pair of nitrous cars have been at the top of the qualifying sheet this season, and Halsey ended up winning the Ironman. Castellana had a solid weekend as well, taking home $20,000 for runnering-up at the $100,000 Torco Pro Modified Shootout.

Castellana is pleased with how his Reher-Morrison engine, with Speedtech Nitrous Systems nitrous has been running in the summer heat...especially at the top end of the track.

"The last couple of races I've had comments from some of the blower guys saying they've never had a nitrous car pull away from them on the back end of the race track," he said. "That's what we've been able to do. I don't think there is any difference, right now, in the back end."

Laurie Cannister (Johnstown, Ohio) is almost to the point where she can look at IHRA national events as a victory lap, celebrating the 2008 Alcohol Funny Car championship. Cannister grabbed her fifth Ironman of the season in Martin, knocking off Paul Noakes in the final round. Cannister will enter the Sooner Nationals with a substantial lead in the points chase. Her 759 points puts her 204 in front of second-place Rob Atchison while Noakes is 209 back.

Cannister can clinch the 2008 Alcohol Funny Car championship if things fall her way in Tulsa.

Jeff Dobbins (Wilmington, N.C.) let the Torco Pro Stock points lead slip from his grasp when he red-lit in the semifinals at the Mopar Canadian Nationals. By stopping Pete Berner in the final round in Martin he was able to take it back. Dobbins has 508 points this season and will be looking to build on that lead in Tulsa.

Frank Gugliotta (Mt. Airy, Md.) has other ideas. He sits in second with 435 points and has his Bob Yoak-owned '07 Mustang running strong. Gugliotta had the points lead heading into the last race, but he was out-run in the first round by Berner. He knows he has to stick to his knitting.

"After I won in Grand Bend I said I don't like to have the lead at this point, but I don't like being 3 ½ rounds out of first either," Gugliotta said. "That's an awful lot of ground to make up, especially against a great driver like Jeff Dobbins. But you never know, anything can happen."

Gugliotta is looking forward to racing at Tulsa Raceway Park.

"The weather shouldn't matter if the track is good, and the track was very good last year," he said. "If it's as good as it was last year it shouldn't matter how hot it is. The air won't be very good but a good track can make up for that."

He also knows he has some pressure on him heading into the Sooner Nationals.

"I have my back up against the wall," Gugliotta said. "It's going to be a dogfight between the top four guys and we all have to step up our games. It's going to be a shootout the rest of the way."

-credit: ihra

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