Sunday, November 01, 2009


I was at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend for NHRA's Full Throttle series Countdown semifinal. In, what to me is the endlessly fascinating Funny Car class, Ashley Force Hood's go-or-go-home Saturday night qualifying pass set up what one writer described as "the weight-of-the-world on one race."

Force Hood, whose Ford Mustang has probably been the most consistent car all season with five No. 1 quals, struggled to 14th in the field. As Bob Frey immediately informed the spectators via the PA, that matched her up against teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight in Sunday's FIRST round. Since they came into the event 1-2 in points, well . . . it gave ESPN2 real "Reality TV."

"It’s not what you’d expect," Hight said when he and Ashley visited the media center. "You’d expect them to qualify well, just like our car, and for us to meet up in the semis or later. That’s what we’ve been doing . . . There’s probably not going to be a lot of sleep tonight."

Said Force Hood: "If Robert wins, I want him to win the race. We want one of us to win the championship."

The left lane -- Ashley's -- wasn't the place to be. A little before noon, Hight powered to a 4.114 second, 309.06 mph win over Hood's 4.338, 283.37 mph even though Ashley cut a little better light.

Somewhere, Danica Patrick was smiling. (!)

And, probably, the ESPN2 people, too. Because, a few minutes later, John Force beat Cruz Pedregon and, again as Frey alerted us, that meant John vs. Robert in the second round. Remember Indy?

Top Fuel went first, with Don Schumacher Racing teammates Tony Schumacher and Cory McClenathan racing. Cory won from the left lane. DSR guys Jack Beckman and No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan ran, with Fast Jack the winner. After a couple of others won from the left side, John smoked the tires and went over the center line for a DQ. When Del Worsham beat Tony Pedregon to dash his title hopes, Tony took to the PA to note that DSR allowed its drivers to compete heads-up. "If you look at my financial statement, I shouldn't even be here," said Pedregon.

All four classes go to Pomona in two weeks to finalize the titles. Hight beat Beckman and leads Hood by 105 points. Schumacher is plus one on Dixon, who lost to Spencer Massey.

Great quotes from the NHRA weekend:

Antron Brown, on Don Schumacher Racing buying the assets of his Top Fuel team, Brown's fourth ownership change in about a year: "It feels great to be wanted."

Larry Dixon, explaining he meets fans from Australia, Hawaii, Japan and other places in Las Vegas: "You don't get that at Richmond."

Alan Reinhart, after Force Hood said she didn't know how father John had handled racing's stresses all these years: "Have you looked at him? It shows."

Those who appeared on-air in costume last weekend lost credibility and gave away the honored title of journalist. I now consider them to be actors who dress-up and play a part. They should now be disqualified from membership in any professional journalists' organization.

The American Media, October 31, 2009: On MSNBC, a professional Democratic strategist was allowed to be moderator of a panel discussion with political journalists.

Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. EDT, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

November 4 -- Mark Kent (GM Racing manager). Panelists: Bob Pockrass, Dave Argabright. Plus, World of Outlaws championship leader Donny Schatz.

November 11 -- Robby Gordon. Panelists: Bill Fleischman, Jim Pedley. Plus, Dave (The King) Wilson.

November 18 -- NHRA Funny Car or Top Fuel champion. Panelists: Mark Armijo, John Sturbin.

[ Mark Kent news nugget Thursday . . . ]