Championships on the Line as 2008 Season Concludes in Rockingham Four of five professional world championships still up for grabs as IHRA heads to Rockingham for the World Finals Norwalk, Ohio (Sept. 11, 2008) -- Only Alcohol Funny Car driver...
Championships on the Line as 2008 Season Concludes in Rockingham
Four of five professional world championships still up for grabs as IHRA heads to Rockingham for the World Finals
Norwalk, Ohio (Sept. 11, 2008) -- Only Alcohol Funny Car driver Laurie Cannister can breathe easy. The rest of IHRA's professional drivers have a frantic weekend in front of them when the 2008 season comes to an end at Rockingham Dragway Oct. 17-19.
Cannister wrapped up her second career world championship, her first in an Alcohol Funny Car, when she chalked up a round win at the Amalie Oil North American Nationals at Epping Sept. 6. So the World Finals at Rockingham Dragway will be a victory lap of sorts for the Johnstown, Ohio, resident. For drivers in the four other professional classes, however, it will not be quite as laid back and relaxing.
Here is a look at the points chases and championship scenarios in the Top Fuel, Nitro Funny Car, Pro Modified, and Pro Stock classes. The following scenarios assume none of the drivers are assessed a Black Flag penalty, thus being docked 15 points.
Spencer Massey (Fort Worth, Tex.) took the drag racing world by storm this season. He went from making a licensing pass on Monday to hoisting an Ironman above his head the following Sunday when he captured the season-opening Amalie Oil Texas Nationals in San Antonio. Massey proved he was for real at the next event, the Spring Nationals in Rockingham, where he won his second career Top Fuel event in his second start.
Defending world champion Bruce Litton (Indianapolis, Ind.) has been right there with Massey all year. Terry McMillen (Elkhart, Ind.) also remains in the hunt. Massey comes to Rockingham Dragway for the World Finals with 797 points, having won four events this season. Litton sits second with 732 points while McMillen, with 666 points, also has a mathematical shot at the title.
All four are eligible for the 41-point season-ending bonus IHRA awards professional drivers who compete at each scheduled national event.
For Massey the task is simple. All he has to do is pick up 81 points and the championship will be his. There is the opportunity to earn a maximum of 146 points at an IHRA national event. To earn this many points, however, a driver has to show up (10 points), win both Friday and Saturday Last Man Standing bonuses (5 points each), qualify No.1 (16 points), win the event (90 points) and set a national E.T. record (20 points).
All Massey has to do to make sure Litton, sitting in second place, cannot catch him is move far enough ahead to where Litton, even if he took every point on the table at Rockingham, could not draw even. Massey will get 10 points for showing up, and if he qualifies on the bump spot he will earn nine more points to bring his magic number to 62. At this point even if Litton defeated him in the final round the 70 points he would earn for making it to the final would put Massey over the top.
Litton and McMillen need quite a bit of help. Should Litton run the table he would need Massey to lose before the final round. If Massey somehow out-qualifies Litton, earns one or two of the Last Man Standing bonuses, or wins a round it will force Litton to shoot for a national E.T. record to keep his hopes alive. If Massey qualified No.1 and captured one Last Man Standing, all he would have to do is win one round and the championship race would be over. With his entry points that would give him exactly the 81 points he needs.
McMillen is more of a long shot than that. All Massey has to do is qualify for the field or claim one of the Last Man Standing bonuses to close out McMillen.
Nitro Funny Car
Terry Haddock (Woodville, Wash.) is fighting to hold on to the Nitro Funny Car points lead while Matt Hagan, sitting in second place, has turned on the heat. His victory in the final round in Tulsa, two weeks after failing to qualify for the field at the Northern Nationals in Martin, put Hagan squarely back in the middle of the championship race.
The top four Nitro Funny Car drivers in the points standings are Haddock (631 points), Hagan (566 points), Andy Kelley (564 points), and Paul Lee (564 points). However, Hagan and Haddock are a little further ahead than it appears. They both remain eligible for the 41-point bonus for competing at each national event while Kelley and Lee have both missed events.
Again, there are 146 possible points on the table at IHRA national events. To clinch the world championship Haddock has some work to do. Like Massey, Haddock will have to pick up 81 points to mathematically eliminate Hagan. So if Hagan earns every point there is possible for him to earn, Haddock, assuming he qualified dead last in the eight-car field, will have to at least advance to the final round to clinch the title. If he makes it to the final, win or lose, the championship will be wrapped up.
Hagan has hope, but he will need help. If he were to qualify No.1 and win both Last Man Standing bonuses he would still need Haddock to stumble in the first round or not qualify. If Haddock did not qualify, Hagan would have to put up at least 75 points to tie Haddock at the top of the standings. If he were fortunate to qualify No.1 and win both Last Man Standing bonuses he would have to go to the semifinals. If he were able to do that he would win the championship by one point.
If Haddock were to qualify, even on the bump spot, a first-round win would eliminate Kelley and Lee from contention.
Kenny Lang built a big early lead, and has spent the majority of the season watching it fade away. Lang (Grande Pointe, Mb.) gave himself some breathing room with a victory in Tulsa, but he has some work to do to sew up the 2008 Pro Modified title. And he has to fight off two of the hottest cars on the circuit in the process.
Mike Castellana (Westbury, N.Y.) and Jim Halsey (Street, Md.) have taken over Pro Modified, especially during qualifying. The duo of nitrous cars has qualified 1-2 at the last three IHRA national events and both have been flirting with becoming the first nitrous Pro Mod driver to post a run in the five-second range. Castellana has been to the final round at the last three IHRA national events while Halsey has won two of the last three Ironmen.
Castellana has also won four of the last five Last Man Standing bonuses in IHRA competition. Though he has had the strongest car on the circuit during the last few months, Castellana has his work cut out for him. He trails Lang by 21 points, so he has to at lease make up one round and pick up bonus points somewhere else. If he out-qualifies Lang by two positions and picks up a round he will win the championship by one point.
Lang, however, controls his own destiny. If he can earn 126 points in Rockingham it will not matter what Castellana does.
Halsey has three national event victories this season, but missing a race could cost him in the long run. He will not get the 41-point bonus so all Lang has to do is go one round further than Halsey to close him out. He can also end Halsey's chances by winning both Last Man Standing bonuses and out-qualifying him.
Pete Berner (Crete, Ill.) has caught fire in the second half of the season. He reeled in and passed Jeff Dobbins by advancing to four final rounds in a row and winning two Ironmen in the process. Since the Edmonton race his Pontiac GXP has been the dominant car on the circuit and, looking back, some Pro Stock drivers may regret not making the to tow to Edmonton, where plenty of possible points were left on the table.
Berner enters the World Finals in Rockingham with a 25-point lead over Dobbins. Four drivers have a mathematical shot at the title, but Berner is in the driver's seat. If he picks up 122 points he will clinch the championship regardless of what anyone else does.
Dobbins (Wilmington, N.C.) has two national event victories this season. He can win the championship by picking up 26 points on Berner, so if he out-qualifies Berner by two spots, wins one Last Man Standing and goes one round further than Berner he will win the title. He can also win the title by grabbing both Last Man Standing bonuses and picking up one round.
John Montecalvo (Center Moriches, N.Y.) has an outside shot at taking home the championship as well. He trails Berner by 101 points, so he will need to win the event, find bonus points somewhere and hope it is not Jeff Dobbins he defeats in the final.
Frank Gugliotta is a long shot. All Berner has to do to close him out is earn seven points in qualifying to end his championship hopes.