Englishtown: Round nine preview



ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- There have been many surprises in the first half of the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season. There has been triumph, tragedy, powerful performances and upsets aplenty. Dominators of the past have struggled, while new faces have emerged to showcase their talents in the world's fastest motorsport. Rookies have been impressive and a diverse group of drivers have earned victories in each pro category.

As the season's first 17 races will set the stage for NHRA's first-ever championship playoff, the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship, all teams in each NHRA professional category have been working hard to earn one of the elite eight positions before the Countdown to Four begins at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, the world's most prestigious drag race. Only eight races remain in the regular season.

The contenders will continue to be separated from the pretenders at the ProCare Rx NHRA SuperNationals presented by R2B2 Motors, June 21-24 at historic Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. The $1.8 million race, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD, is the 10th of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

While all of the professional categories are featuring thrilling points battles in the Countdown to Eight, Funny Car promises to leave some heavy hitters out of championship contention and on the sidelines after race No. 17 at Reading, Pa. For example, entering the race at Englishtown, NHRA icon John Force is currently 17th in the Funny Car standings, nine positions and 117 points out of the cut-off eighth position.

Ron Capps has been the early season dominator in his Brut Dodge Charger, scoring three victories in five final-round appearances. After his victory in St. Louis and runner-up finish at Chicago, Capps holds a 140-point lead over the season's second-hottest driver, Robert Hight, winner of two races in four final-round appearances this season.

"We're leading the points, but we know it's going to be a whole new season in Indy (U.S. Nationals), so we just want to get into the Countdown to the Championship and still keep chugging along," said Capps, the defending event winner at Englishtown. "It's going to be an exciting season."

Extremely exciting, should Force get his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang firing on all cylinders and make a late season dash to qualify for the Countdown.

This season Force has endured one of the worst slumps of his career. Not only has his performance on the track been shaky, but his extended three-car team has had to work through the emotional aftermath of the death of teammate Eric Medlen in mid-March. After sitting out the Houston race to mourn the loss, Force remained positive after watching his incredible 395-race qualifying streak come to an end in Las Vegas in April. He then rallied to earn his only eliminations round victory of the season at St. Louis. He followed that effort with first-round losses at Topeka and Chicago and knows that he will need a couple of victories over the next eight races to secure his championship hopes.

"Every race (from now on) is critical, but I've been saying that for the last month," Force said. "We've always played the consistency game and, right now, we're just not consistent and we're not going to start winning until we get that back. We've got to find some answers and get back in the game."

Force has also been heavily occupied with training his 24-year-old daughter Ashley, a rookie this season in the 7,000-horsepower category. She is only the 10th female to compete in Funny Car and earlier this season at Atlanta she outran her father in a highly anticipated first-round meeting en route to a semifinal finish, matching the best previous outing for a female in Funny Car in NHRA history (Della Woods, 1985, Reading, Pa.). She also raced to a semifinal finish at St. Louis and now sits seventh in the POWERade point standings as she focuses on becoming the first female in NHRA history to win a race in Funny Car.

"There haven't been that many girls in Funny Car, so every little thing we do there will always be something new," said Ashley Force, a five-time winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster sportsman category and one of 42 women to win a national event in NHRA history. "You can't let that get into your head. It is not going to help you win rounds. It is not going to help our performance. It is better to just focus on what we are doing."

While Ashley Force has been getting her share of headlines lately with some milestone performances, another Ashley in Funny Car -- Mike -- also has seen his team move into the ranks of the quickest and fastest in the category. He has posted No. 1 qualifying positions at three events and raced to a runner-up finish in Atlanta. The fast-talking New York mortgage banker who moonlights as driver of his Torco/Skull Gear Dodge Charger on the weekends earned his first career victory at Topeka with much celebration and now sits in fourth place in the series standings.

With a veteran team led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and former NHRA Funny Car champ Mark Oswald, he has established track records for speed at three events this season, including the fastest Funny Car speed in NHRA history, a stunning 334.32 mph blast at Las Vegas.

"Winning in Topeka was huge, and I'll never forget it because it was my first Wally [event trophy], but, as a team, we all know that we can't rest on our laurels and let down at all," Mike Ashley said. "This team is a family, and we all know what has to get done to win. I think the win in Topeka just prepared us for what's around the corner, and it'll be tough, but a whole lot of drag racin' fun."

In Top Fuel, Chicago winner Larry Dixon is the active driver with the most victories at the track -- three -- including two in the last three years. Last year he was runner-up to Rod Fuller, the current series points leader. Doug Kalitta is the only other active driver in Top Fuel that has earned victories at Raceway Park. Kalitta won at the track in 2000 and 2003.

Interestingly, with all of the success that U.S. Army Top Fuel ace Tony Schumacher has had at nearly every NHRA track on the POWERade circuit, the four-time world champ has never claimed a No. 1 qualifying position nor advanced to a final round appearance at Englishtown.

Brandon Bernstein, J.R. Todd and Melanie Troxel have all earned victories this season and will be looking for more success on the track in New Jersey.

Competition in Pro Stock, where races are routinely won and lost by less than the blink of an eye, is getting tougher. Three-time POWERade world champ Greg Anderson has opened the season with five victories and sprinted out to a large lead in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO. However at Chicago a rare first round loss by Anderson opened the door for Jeg Coughlin to get the victory.

Coughlin and teammate Dave Connolly have both been in the hunt all season and join Anderson as pre-race favorites. Another driver to watch in the 200-mph category is Anderson's teammate, Jason Line, winner of the last three races at Englishtown.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith is the defending race winner on his Torco Buell and comes to the event as the POWERade Series points leader with one victory this season. However, Andrew Hines is the circuit's most recent winner and he may get some important track tips from his new teammate Eddie Krawiec, a former general manager at Raceway Park. Other favorites in the two-wheel category include Angelle Sampey, Karen Stoffer and Chip Ellis.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on June 22, and noon and 2:30 p.m. on June 23. Pre-race ceremonies are scheduled for 10 a.m. on June 24, followed by the first round of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the ProCare Rx NHRA SuperNationals presented by R2B2 Motors. Please call Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at (732) 446-7800. Tickets also are available at racewaypark.com or ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: On June 23, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 11 p.m. (ET). On June 24, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race news magazine show, at 11 a.m. (ET) and also will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Ron Capps , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Karen Stoffer , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line , Mike Ashley , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Eric Medlen , Chip Ellis , Rod Fuller , J.R. Todd , Dave Connolly , Eddie Krawiec