Martin: Round seven preview

IHRA Stretch Run Starts at Northern Nationals Aug. 1-3 at US 131 Motorsports Park Championship hopefuls cannot afford to wait with just four events remaining on 2008 IHRA Nitro Jam schedule NORWALK, OHIO (July 22, 2008) -- The 2008 IHRA ...

IHRA Stretch Run Starts at Northern Nationals Aug. 1-3 at US 131 Motorsports Park
Championship hopefuls cannot afford to wait with just four events remaining on 2008 IHRA Nitro Jam schedule

NORWALK, OHIO (July 22, 2008) -- The 2008 IHRA professional points chases are heating up, and with just four events remaining on the Knoll Gas Nitro Jam schedule the time is now for championship hopefuls.

The Torco Northern Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Mich. will play a large part in determining who will end up at the top of the heap when all racing is completed this season. Aug. 1-3 IHRA's biggest stage will host one of its most critical races.

"There aren't a lot of races left, so there aren't a lot of points out there to be had," current Torco Pro Nitro Top Fuel points leader Bruce Litton said. "With four races left, now is the time to make a move. It isn't 'do-or-die' time yet, but it's getting close. This is when you simply cannot afford to make a big mistake because you could end up putting yourself in a hole you don't have time to dig your way out of. Now is when those butterflies start flying around a little more than usual."

Litton, the defending IHRA Top Fuel World Champion, speaks from a wealth of experience. For years he was in position late in the season to secure a world championship. He finished second in the season points standings three times (2002-04) before finally breaking through last season. He knocked off J.R. Todd to win the Top Fuel Ironman last season in Martin and fought it out with T.J. Zizzo down the stretch...clinching the championship by winning the season finale, the IHRA World Finals in Rockingham.

This season things are different. Where Litton came from behind to win what was a two-driver spring to the finish last season, this year there are six Top Fuel drivers with legitimate shots at the world championship. Litton leads with 499 points, but rookie Spencer Massey is right on his tail with 497 points. Bobby Lagana is also firmly in the mix, sitting third with 445 points while Mike Strasburg is fourth in the points chase with 438. Kevin Jones and Terry McMillen, both with one event win this season, are also in the hunt with 354 and 351 points respectively.

"There are so many good teams and so many good cars this season," Litton said. "Every single round is huge. The five Last Man Standing points make each evening qualifying session a big deal, and in the elimination rounds you can't take anyone for granted because if a car qualifies for the field it can go rounds. The eight-car field with the sportsman ladder really adds to the importance and excitement."

IHRA uses the "sportsman ladder" during eliminations, so instead of the #1 qualifier taking on the #8 driver, he must square off with the #5 qualifier. The #2 qualifier takes on #6, the #3 races #7 and the #4 qualifier goes up against #8.

"We're fixing to mix the Top Fuel points chase up a little bit," Terry McMillen, the winner of the Mopar Canadian Nationals, said. "We have four races left and our goal is to come out and get as many points as we can to see what happens with the points championship at the end. It's really tough and we certainly hope we have the opportunity to prevail."

Terry Haddock made a move to the top of the standings by winning the Torco Pro Nitro Funny Car Ironman in Grand Bend. After the season-ending injury to two-time defending World Champion Dale Creasy Jr., things are wide open. Haddock leads with 408 points with Creasy in second with 392. Steven Macklyn is third with 380 points while Rockingham winner Matt Hagan (374) and Budds Creek champion Paul Lee (344) are well within striking distance.

Haddock is thrilled to be in the points lead for the first time in his career, regardless of sanctioning body.

"This is a great deal," he said. "We really appreciate IHRA giving us a place to race. This is just incredible. The points standings were real tight before Dale got hurt and this tightens them up a little more. We really miss Dale and wish he could be out here."

Now that he has the points lead, Haddock knows he has his work cut out for him.

"I've been driving a fuel Funny Car for 12 years," he said. "I've put my heart and soul into it. Is it going to get easier from here on out? No, because everyone out here has the same goal and they all work so hard. We're all out here late at night when things are broken, we sleep 15 guys in a hotel room and we're all out here scrambling to get things done. So it's definitely not going to get easier."

Kenny Lang won back-to-back events earlier this season to build a large points lead, but a number of drivers are making mid-season charges to bring Lang a little closer to the rest of the pack. Lang's 90-point lead is comfortable, but there are plenty of points left on the table.

Tommy D'Aprile, driving the Mel Bush-owned 1968 Firebird, cut into Lang's lead by reaching the semifinals in Edmonton before advancing to the finals in Grand Bend. Though he remains in search of his first career national event victory, D'Aprlie's recent hot streak put some pressure on Lang.

Defending World Champion Scott Cannon Jr. also has Lang in his sites. Cannon is 106 points back with 344 points, but has yet to hit his stride this year. Last season Cannon claimed 55 total "Last Man Standing" points during qualifying and, at times, appeared to be unbeatable. With one of the stronger teams on the circuit behind him, Cannon's 106-point deficit could disappear quickly.

Two-time champion Mike Janis, who won world titles in 2001 and 2004, is just 10 points behind Cannon and could make a run at the top of the standings before all is said and done as well.

Laurie Cannister has dominated the Alcohol Funny Car class this season, driving her Kalbones Grillin' Sauce '99 Camaro to four wins in five events heading into Grand Bend. There, however, she proved to be human by falling to Larry Dobbs in the semifinals. This marked the first time in 2008 she had not been to a final round, but her points lead heading to US 131 Motorsports Park will still be significant.

Cannister leads the class with 647 points, well in front of three-time World Champion Rob Atchison who sits in second with 480. Paul Noakes, who won in Grand Bend behind the wheel of Terry McMillen's Amalie Oil InstiGator, is third with 457. This is the first season in the InstiGator for Noakes, who feels like he is finally getting comfortable in his new car.

"I'm just starting to figure the car out and it's not as easy as you would think to go from one Funny Car to another," Noakes said. "The guys keep working on the car, they keep changing it to make it the way I like it and that makes my job a lot easier."

Noakes is aware he has little room for error the rest of the season.

"We struggled at the first two races of the season and let Laurie kind of run away from us," he said. "We're just going to keep on our mid-season charge and hopefully we can catch up with that Kalbones team. But they are so strong and Laurie and that whole team does such a great job. But the race is on."

Frank Gugliotta found the Torco Pro Stock Winner's Circle for the second time in three events when he stopped Pete Berner in the final at Grand Bend Motorplex. He gave up the chance to make it three in a row when he decided to sit out the Rocky Mountain Nationals in Edmonton. Despite the points he left on the table by skipping the Edmonton event, Gugliotta's recent hot streak gave him the 2008 points lead.

Driving Bob Yoak's 2007 Mustang, Gugliotta slipped past Jeff Dobbins in the points chase with the win in Grand Bend, coupled with Dobbins' uncharacteristic red-light loss in the quarterfinals against Pete Berner. Gugliotta will head to Martin with 407 points in his pocket while Dobbins has rolled up 388.

Even though Gugliotta has the points lead he knows things can change in an instant.

"I have gotten close so many times," he said. "And I know it is not over until Rockingham when that final round goes past. This is a great bunch of racers and they're all dedicated. Trust me, they're working day and night."

The Torco Northern Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park will also feature a "race within a race" in the Pro Modified class as the top eight drivers in the class will square off for their share of the $100,000 purse. Mike Janis will be the #1 seed followed by #2 Scott Cannon Jr., #3 Kenny Lang, #4 Ed Hoover, #5 Chip King, #6 Jason Hamstra, #7 Mike Castellana and #8 Jim Halsey. Tommy D'Aprile and Quain Stott are the first and second alternates.

The sportsmen racers will have a special weekend as well as 32 sportsmen will do battle for their share of the $51,000 Moser Axle Mania purse.

"This is a very big weekend for our professional and sportsman racers," IHRA president Aaron Polburn said. "The Torco Pro Modified Shootout is always a huge deal and we always love the Moser Axle Mania. Moser brings a lot of people to the race from their facility in Indiana, which makes this one of my favorite weekends of the year."

The Torco Northern Nationals will begin Friday, Aug. 1 with two pro qualifying sessions including both nitro classes at 7pm. Saturday there will be two professional qualifying sessions as well as the Moser Axle Mania and Torco Pro Mod Shootouts, with the Night of Fire pro qualifying session starting at 7pm. Final eliminations are slated for Sunday, Aug. 3, beginning at 11am. For more information please visit nitrojam.com or us131motorsportspark.com.

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Laurie Cannister , Mike Janis , Bruce Litton , Chip King , Dale Creasy Jr. , Ed Hoover , Paul Lee , Mike Strasburg , Terry Haddock , Jim Halsey , J.R. Todd , Kenny Lang , Spencer Massey , Frank Gugliotta , Terry McMillen