Crandall: Round three preview

Dallas Raceway provides backdrop for third leg of Nitro Jam tour Typically, the drivers are the stars of the Nitro Jam professional drag racing series. In a little over a week, however, it is the track that is going to take center ...

Dallas Raceway provides backdrop for third leg of Nitro Jam tour

Typically, the drivers are the stars of the Nitro Jam professional drag racing series.

In a little over a week, however, it is the track that is going to take center stage.

Dallas Raceway and its streets of concrete will provide the backdrop for the third leg of the 2009 Nitro Jam tour as the world's best drivers descend on Crandall, Texas next week for the Amalie Oil Texas Nationals May 29-31 at the track known in racing circles simply as the "Concrete Palace."

It is a dream that is years in the making for track owner Kenny Barnes, who wanted to create one of the most modern, top-of-the-line facilities in drag racing.

And after years of blood, sweat and tears, that dream is finally going to become a reality as the track is set to host its first national event next week.

"This has been a big project, but things are finally starting to turn around and I can't wait to get this event up and running," Barnes said.

Headlining the Amalie Oil Texas Nationals will be three professional classes of racing including Top Fuel, Pro Modified and Elite Motorsports Pro Stock, along with the always popular sportsman racing.

TOP FUEL

One name has dominated the headlines early in the 2009 Top Fuel season -- Bruce Litton.

With one win and a runner-up finish in the first two races of the year, Litton begins the season with two straight final round appearances for the fifth time in his career, the first since 2002.

"We try to do the best we can at every race. The Rock was kind of tough on us, we broke some parts, but we were tickled to get to the final round and be runner-up," Litton said. "The car is running great, but there are several teams out there that can close the gap on you in a hurry."

Litton knocked off Bobby Lagana Jr. in the season opener before losing in the championship round of the Spring Nationals last month to rookie Del Cox who closed the gap considerably on the 2007 series champion with his first victory.

With the win and the strength of two straight No. 1 qualifier bonuses, Cox has jumped to second in the Top Fuel point's battle, two points behind Litton's series topping 204 markers.

"I knew they were going to be in the hunt all year, but they aren't the only ones. There are several cars in the thick of things and there are still a lot races left to go," Litton said.

Baton Rouge runner-up Lagana is third with 132 points, followed by defending Nitro Funny Car champion Terry Haddock (127) and Lagana's teammate Paul Lee (123).

Dallas' tricky surface should provide a tough test for the drivers of the fastest cars on the planet and promises to shake things up before the weekend is out.

"It is exactly the same kind of situation as Baton Rouge with having no data on the track, but the only thing this time is that it is brand new," Litton said. "It kind of makes you foam at the mouth with what we have seen in photos and the racing they have already had down there. It is an awesome track and the person who learns it the fastest is going to win."

But for a former series champion and longtime veteran of the sport, Litton has plenty of confidence going into next week's race.

"I have pretty much had the same guys for years, they have always worked well together and this is the same car that won the championship in 2007 and was runner-up last year so we have high expectations for it," Litton said. "We just have to learn how to run it. It tells you want it wants, you just have to understand it.

"We go to every race looking to do as well as we can. You just have to first qualify and then qualify well then from there you just take it round by round."

PRO MOD

For Pro Modified drivers Ed Hoover and Kenny Lang -- the time to strike is now.

With the season about to kick into full gear, Hoover and Lang find themselves second and third in points respectively and the two veterans know that with summer quickly approaching, the time to make a move is now.

"We have never been in a position like this so early in the year and we are definitely excited about our chances this season," Hoover said.

While Hoover is currently searching for his first championship, Lang is looking for his second straight. And with the talent between the two, it should make for an interesting battle as the season progresses.

"We have got a good hot rod this year. We worked hard over the winter, we tried some stuff that I wanted to try and so far it is working well for us," Hoover said. "It is a five-second hot rod during the daytime. In Rockingham we had some great numbers in the early rounds and with the new track down in Texas we hope to repeat that or maybe even do a little better."

And a chance to contend for a title would be especially sweet for Hoover, one of the innovators of the class.

Hoover not only won the very first Pro Modified race back in 1990, but he also holds the distinction of claiming the largest Pro Mod purse in series history last year and has also tasted victory at a dozen different tracks over his 19 year Pro Mod career.

But one thing that has eluded the 15-time national event winner is a championship -- and the long-time veteran hopes to put himself in the perfect position to chase down that elusive IHRA crown next weekend in Texas.

Hoover is a two-time national event winner in the state of Texas, taking a pair of victories at San Antonio Raceway in 2005 and 2007.

But to pull off a win Hoover will have to contend with defending series champion Lang who currently sits just 13 points behind Hoover and his team.

"We are definitely excited to have the lead this early in the year, we just have to hang onto it," Hoover said. "We have the equipment and crew to go after the championship and we really feel this is the year to do it."

Hoover currently sits in second with 146 points, 26 markers behind Commisso. Lang is third with 133 points while Rockingham winner Tim Tindle (114) and Tommy Gray (105) round out the top five going into Dallas.

"With a new track it is a whole new ballgame. The surface looks great and from a few people I talked to who tested down there it is going to be fast and should provide some great racing," Hoover said. "If it is prepped right, and the IHRA has always done a stellar job, it will come around. It may take a few rounds to get it broke in, but it will come around.

"We have a fast hot rod and are looking forward to the race. A new track and new fans should make for an exciting weekend."

ELITE MOTORSPORTS PRO STOCK

Cary Goforth began the season with hopes of contending for a win and maybe even making a late run at the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock championship.

He didn't know it would all happen so fast.

Goforth stunned the field last month at the IHRA Spring Nationals winning his first career Ironman and in the process found himself atop the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock standings, 32 points ahead of the man he beat at Rockingham, defending series champion Pete Berner.

"I haven't come down from the clouds yet. And it was a double whammy for us getting the points lead," Goforth said. "Talking to dad the other day, he has won two championships and we talked about how overwhelming it all is and he was right, being in this new position is a bit overwhelming."

But it wasn't until Goforth was on his way home that his accomplishments truly sunk in.

"It clicked when I was at the other end of the track and I got all emotional, but when I was coming home and all the calls started coming in from friends, family and peers -- that is when it really sunk in. We realized then how big of a deal it was," Goforth said.

While Goforth is without a doubt still reveling in the sudden success, he can't get too comfortable just yet as next week's Amalie Oil Texas Nationals promise to shake things up in the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock standings as over two dozen cars -- including 19 of the top 20 in points -- will be on hand to try and master the brand new Dallas Raceway.

"It is hard to explain. No matter what sanction you are running with, when you look at the semis and finals you see the importance of leaving first. If you leave second, you are second at the stripe," Goforth said. "These drivers are as good as anybody on the planet and everybody is so close and the level of competition is so good in IHRA Pro Stock right now."

Included in that list is a completely intact top 10 ready to challenge Goforth's lead.

Goforth reached the Pro Stock summit with a win and a semifinal appearance in Baton Rouge, but defending champion Berner is right on his tail. Mardi Gras Nationals winner Jason Collins is third with 146 points, while the incredibly fast Frank Gugliotta (134) is fourth and long-time veteran John Montecalvo (131) is fifth.

Rounding out the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock top 10 are early surprise Mark Martino (100), teammates Richard Freeman (81) and J.R. Carr (81), Dean Goforth (78) and Bob Bertsch (77).

All of the top drivers will be out in full force next week trying to claim an Ironman at the brand new facility.

"I am excited because it is new and it is another place close enough for family and friends to come to," Goforth said. "I have no concerns about it being a so-called green track. When you have Jim Weinart prepping the track you don't have a problem. As far as I am concerned he is the best out there. No, my only concern is if I can let my foot off the clutch.

"The track will be in top shape. It is less than three hours from our house and we are just looking forward to the whole deal. It looks like a top notch place."

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Bruce Litton , Bobby Lagana Jr. , John Montecalvo , Ed Hoover , Tommy Gray , Paul Lee , J.R. Carr , Terry Haddock , Kenny Lang , Richard Freeman , Mark Martin , Frank Gugliotta