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Posted by: Brad Littlefield
Drivers in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series do not abide by the popular catchphrase that is used to promote tourism in Sin City. In their case, what happens in Vegas carries on to Pomona.

The stage is set for the 2011 champions to be determined in Pomona. Jason Line has officially conquered the Pro Stock crown for the second time in his career. Eddie Krawiec has some breathing room in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points over rookie Hector Arana Jr. The nitro classes, on the other hand, have thrilling conclusions on the horizon.

The top six Funny Car drivers are separated by 72 points after an event in which the field tightened with no top drivers capitalizing on the opportunity to distance themselves from the field. The Top Fuel class provided more of a preview of what’s to come with the three top-ranked drivers — Spencer Massey, Del Worsham, and Antron Brown — all reaching the semifinals and Worsham and Massey reaching the finals. Fourth-ranked Larry Dixon is only 44 points out of the lead.

The collision course between Worsham and Massey culminated in an epic bout that was decided by a thousandth of a second, and it revolved around two teams that were rallying around their leaders for different reasons.

Worsham and the majority of his crew hadn’t been in the position that they’re in before this season. They look to tuner Alan Johnson and crew chief Brian Husen, both of whom had been on six of the last seven Top Fuel championship-winning teams, and draw from their motivation and intense focus. Johnson, in particular, gives his team confidence that they have him on their side. He is the most successful active tuner in the fuel ranks with nine Top Fuel championships and four in Top Alcohol Dragster from 1990 to 1993 with his late brother, Blaine, driving.

“Alan Johnson is such a dedicated, motivated individual,” said Worsham. “He’s so good at what he does no matter what you’re doing with him. Whether it’s golfing, bowling, or whatever, he brings out the best in you. When I golf with him, I pick up five strokes. It’s unreal.

“He’s very motivational. You don’t want to let him down. He’s a great guy with a great family. I love his mom and dad. I knew his brother well. I basically talked him into going Top Fuel racing when I was a kid on my bicycle. It was like, ‘Hey, if we can do it, you can do it.’ ”

The Al-Anabi Racing team, for as serious and focused as they are when they’re racing, keep a loose, family atmosphere at the end of the day. Johnson’s parents, Everett and Agnes, are in their pits for the last three races of the year. They will also be hosting the 15th annual Blaine Johnson Memorial Golf Tournament in Santa Maria, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 16., a few days after the season-ending event in Pomona. Johnson’s sister, Pam, was there, too, helping promote breast cancer awareness, for which she is a survivor. Worsham was joined in Las Vegas by his dad, who was tuning the Todd Lesenko-driven Funny Car, and his wife and daughters, who were trick-or-treating in the pits.

Worsham is an excitable person, but I’ve never seen him as fired up after a win as he was in this instance. Two races after what might have been the most crushing loss of his career, losing on a holeshot to Massey in the Reading final while recording the quickest pass in Top Fuel history, Worsham redeemed himself with a good-enough .061 light to cover Massey in the final by a .001-second margin.

Worsham has the look of someone who is chomping at the bit for the chance to contend for his first title. He predicts that it will come down to the final round in Pomona and that the winner will be the champion. Coincidentally, his first race in competition was the 1990 NHRA Finals, at which Joe Amato beat Gary Ormsby in a Top Fuel final that determined the championship. When asked if he’s ready, Worsham said, “21 years of doing it, baby ... hell yeah, I’m ready.”

On the other side of the coin, or, in this case, a race decided by a scant .001-second, Massey and the FRAM team are rallying together for a championship push. The team bounced back from a surprise DNQ at the Phoenix event, after which they went to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to test that Monday in anticipation of this race.

Before the race began, the FRAM crew were informed by co-crew chief Phil Shuler that Tommy Okuhara, the father of crew chief Todd and car chief Scott, succumbed to pancreatic cancer early in the week. The Okuhara brothers learned their craft from working on race cars and engines at their father’s machine shop in their native Hawaii before Todd came to the mainland in 1993 to work on Roland Leong’s team and eventually ascend to the crew chief position at Don Schumacher Racing.

“He was diagnosed around the time when were racing here in April,” said Scott. “He was our biggest influence. We still use his advice even with the computers and technology that we have today. It’s kind of strange to be here right now because our family usually comes out here to Vegas and Pomona before we all go back to Hawaii for Thanksgiving.”

Holding off plans to hold services until the week after the Pomona event, Todd stayed focused on getting their dragster back on track. The team rallied around their quiet leader by working diligently and keeping the mood light. They shook off the Phoenix DNQ with a No. 2 qualifying position in a quick field that 27 cars tried to be a part of.

Massey had two drivers foul against him on Sunday, and his .056 light in the second round kept Rod Fuller at bay in a race between two cars that ran .008-second apart from one another. He put a hundredth on Worsham in the final but lost by inches. He leaves with a lead of two points over Worsham.

What may be the most competitive season of Top Fuel in history will conclude at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in two weeks. The fortunes of Worsham, Massey, Brown, and Dixon will be decided with each team digging deep for those extra thousandths of a second that can seal their fates.



The Fast Five

Like DSR teammate Spencer Massey, Ron Capps bounced back from a DNQ in Phoenix in a big way. The NAPA team tested in Las Vegas immediately after the Phoenix event, and the extra laps to sort out their problems and get a baseline for this event helped give crew chief Tim Richards the opportunity to put Capps in the winner’s circle. Capps qualified No. 1 and scored big wins over title contenders Jack Beckman and Cruz Pedregon in the second round and semifinals, respectively. With NAPA brass on hand to watch the event, Capps strapped a holeshot on Johnny Gray in the final and ran low e.t. of eliminations to score his second win of the season and keep himself in the running for a title.

Mike Edwards loves Las Vegas. Half of his four 2011 wins have occurred at The Strip at LVMS. The round-win that really propelled the No. 1 qualifier to victory was a 6.66 to 6.64 holeshot win over Greg Anderson in the semifinals. Edwards had a .001 light. It should be noted that Edwards, a historically good leaver who has struggled on the Tree since his in-house engine program helped give him a top-tier car over the past four years, has three holeshot wins vs. one such loss in 2011. He left first in a 6.64 to 6.66 decision over Allen Johnson in the final round.

Eddie Krawiec
can sleep a little more soundly heading into the final race of the season now that a win along with a second-round loss by Hector Arana Jr. has given him a 69-point lead. Krawiec relied on his Vance & Hines/Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson to overcome holeshots by David Hope and LE Tonglet in the first two rounds. He took care of business against Hector Arana Sr. in the semi’s to set up an all-Harley final against teammate Andrew Hines. Krawiec was more than a half-tenth quicker than Hines on the Tree and won a 6.93 to 6.99 contest comfortably.

Johnny Gray has been in each of the last three final rounds. The Service Central driver made things exciting when he pitched all but the nose of his body off during Saturday qualifying due to a series of events that likely began with a broken intake valve. It was the second time the team had to switch bodies during the event in Las Vegas this season – they swapped shells after the car hit a foam block on the centerline during qualifying at the spring event. Gray made three runs between 4.12 and 4.15 heading into the final. Gray put a hole out at the hit in the money round. His 443 points earned during the Countdown events is the most in the class. The next most is the 376 points earned by points leader Matt Hagan.

Three champions were decided at this event. Pro Stock champ Jason Line, Get Screened America Pro Mod champion Khalid Balooshi, and Super Comp champ Gary Stinnett all locked up their respective classes. It’s Line’s second title and the sixth for Ken Black Racing. Black, who lives in Las Vegas, has seen his drivers, Greg Anderson and Line, score titles in consecutive seasons while he has battled courageously to recover from a stroke suffered two years ago. Balooshi won the first two events of the season in his Speedtech-backed nitrous entry and fended off blown challenger Danny Rowe. Stinnett built a big lead, and he clinched his second consecutive Super Comp title when Aaron Kinard lost in round four.


Special Awards

Stats of the race:
If Johnny Gray had qualified for the No. 10 spot in the Countdown to the Championship, he would currently be in the No. 5 position and just 35 points out of the No. 1 spot heading into the season-ending event in Pomona.

The last Funny Car driver to follow a DNQ with a win before Ron Capps was Tony Bartone, who followed a Denver DNQ with a Seattle win in 2008. Bartone happened to win in Top Alcohol Funny Car at this event. Before Bartone, Mike Ashley was the last to bounce back from a DNQ with a win. Oddly, he did so twice in 2007, following an Englishtown DNQ with a Norwalk win and a Reading DNQ with an Indy win. Ashley was on the premises and ran a 3.91 while licensing in Dexter Tuttle's dragster during Monday testing. Capps’ last DNQ before the Phoenix event was in Topeka in 2007. One race later, he reached the final round in Chicago.

Crew chiefs of the race: Alan Johnson and Brian Husen guided Del Worsham to victory for the seventh time this season and the first time with the chassis they’re running; Tim Richards bounced back from a DNQ to score from the No. 1 spot; Terry Adams has shown particular aptitude for The Strip at LVMS in Pro Stock; Matt Hines put both Harleys in the final.

Best races:
Del Worsham vs. Spencer Massey, Top Fuel final: There was ample buildup between these two drivers in a race between the Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers two events after they staged the quickest side-by-side race in history in the Reading final. With a 40-point swing in points at stake between two title contenders with one race to go in the season, they staged a helluva race that Worsham nabbed by .001-second.

Jason Line vs. V. Gaines, Pro Stock round one: Gaines almost stole one with a .009 reaction time. The 2012 Full Throttle Pro Stock champion ran him down by half of a thousandth of a second.

Quotes of the race: “There will be a lot of Alka-Seltzer consumed by crew chiefs that weekend.” — DieHard Funny Car crew chief Tommy DeLago, regarding the wide-open Funny Car title going down to the last race of the season

“It’s like any other round except that "we’ll get ’em next week’ is kind of out of the picture.” — U.S. Army crew chief Mike Green, before a crucial first-round matchup against Antron Brown

“Some people are saying it’s over. [Expletive] no, it’s just starting to get interesting.” — John Force, after all three of his cars smoked the tires in the first round

 
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