Photos: Courtesy of John Force Racing and Al-Anabi Racing
The PRO Winter warm-up at the Palm Beach International Raceway was just a preview of coming attractions for the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season.
The unusually cool conditions for the south Florida track had track officials rescheduling the times to 3 and 5 pm on both days with temperatures ranging from the mid 50s to the high 60s instead of the balmy 80 degree weather normally adaptable to the site.
The Top Fuel stage was shared by defending champion, Shawn Langdon of Al-Anabi Racing, and Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing after nearly matching the NHRA National record (3.701 ET) with runs of 3.726 seconds, and 3.735 seconds, respectively, with identical speeds of 325.37 mph on Friday’s opening day of testing.
“When you are the defending champion, you’re always concerned about how you’re going to do the following year but I still feel like we’re at the top of our game,” Langdon said. “Those runs are a nice confidence booster for all of us.”
“I know it’s only testing but after winning the championship, the last thing you want to do is come out and struggle early in the season. We’ve made some really good runs today. I think we’re all pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished so far.”
Brown, who won four races in 2013, was the most consistent of the dragster crowd recording a time of 3.737 seconds on Saturday.
“I’m ecstatic that we ran this well especially since this is a whole new combination for us,” Brown said in reference to a new clutch in his Matco Tools dragster. “We’re running the six disc clutch for the first time and it looks really promising. We tested it last year but we didn’t run it in competition. Now, we made the decision to use it in Pomona. It’s a good combination and it’s really smooth. The car seems really stable and that’s a big deal for us.”
Another Al-Anabi Racing dragster driven by Khalid al Balooshi sped to an impressive time of 3.750 seconds on Friday, at a booming velocity of 328.70 mph – top speed of the meet, as such.
On Saturday, Tony Schumacher earned an elapsed time of 4.765 seconds at 327.27 mph. Fellow Schumacher driver, Spencer Massey ran a consistent 3.770 and 3.794 second passes for his two day tally.
Rookie contender, Richie Crampton, in his debut under the Morgan Lucas Racing banner created a couple of tire shake rounds before showing a time of 3.808 seconds on Saturday.
With the cooler conditions on Friday, the Funny Cars were pushing the 3-second barrier only to get so close.
NAPA Dodge driver, Ron Capps set the pace on Friday for the Don Schumacher organization running the quickest elapsed time of the weekend on Friday evening with a run of 4.003 seconds, 320.28 mph and led both initial day testing sessions with an earlier time of 4.044 seconds.
“I’m really happy for (Rahn) Tobler,” Capps said. “Everyone was pretty much beating their heads against the wall the past few days and all the guys here at the track worked so hard to get this track in great shape. It tells you what kind of mentality Tobler has. He stuck to what he wanted to test on this NAPA Dodge and he wanted to get it right before we went to Pomona and we were able to do that.”
Crowd favorite and defending 16-time Funny Car champion, John Force was spieling out quick ETs faster than he could talk in Saturday testing. The Yorba Linda, Calif., resident was strong as ever as the Force camp reeled off times of 4.036 and 4.013 seconds, the quickest of the day for its leader, while teammates, Robert Hight produced times of 4.039 and 4.019 seconds on Saturday with Courtney Force running times of 4.067 and 4.077 seconds, respectively.
“This is awesome to be back with drag racing fans. We won the championship last year and this was the first time for these folks in Florida to celebrate with us. That 4.03 this morning was a great run for this Castrol team and Robert has been running in the 4.0s and so has Courtney. We are all testing different things and then the brain-trust will get together and look at the data and ended up running a 4.01s at the end of the day,” said Force.
Sharing the fuel coupe spotlight with Force and Hight on Saturday was Del Worsham in his DHL-sponsored Kalitta Racing Toyota Camry running a time of 4.014 seconds, 318.17 mph, and the second quickest Funny Car pass of the day.
Matt Hagen was the quickest of the Don Schumacher group on that day with his Saturday pass of 4.041 seconds, at the fastest Funny Car speed of the weekend, 321.81 mph.
“Dickie (Venables) and Mike (Knudsen) are making some serious horsepower, 321 is getting it done,” Hagan said. “It’s great to end on a good note after a real struggle for most of the week. The track and the teams worked their tails off getting it right and we got some data to work off of. It’s been pretty productive. We put on a great show for the fans and at the end of the day we’re here to entertain the fans.”
The biggest spectacle of the weekend was a dream comes true for John Force.
With a quirk in the staging ladder providing the opportunity for father, John to race his Top Fuel daughter, Brittany in a first time affair was the weekend’s biggest attention-getter.
Not only that, but it was Force’s quickest ET of the weekend at 4.013 seconds. Unfortunately, for the younger Force, she experienced the dreaded tire shake on the run.
“I have raced all my daughters. I never knew if I would get a chance to race Brittany. The pairings worked out so we could match up and they asked if we would consider running together. I wouldn’t race anybody else. I want to race my own teams at a deal like this. You want to put on a show for the fans. It was great,” said John Force.
“She said she couldn’t see me when we pulled up to stage because she sits back in that dragster with the canopy. We both flickered the bottom light trying to get shallow. I knew if she went (down the track under power) she would beat me. Even with that 4.01 or if I ran 3.98; if she ran a 3.80 she would have me. I tried to get after her on the light but she actually left on me. It was fun for the crowd. We had great racing all weekend.”
For the soon to be sophomore driver racing her legendary dad came with its own pitfalls and challenges even before they took to the Palm Beach International Raceway track.
“That was pretty crazy. Just running him that one time makes me think I could never be in Funny Car. We had about 100 pep talks. I was fine going up there. I don’t ever worry or try and think about who I am running. He had me so worked up about him being in the other lane. He was just trying to help me but it was a little too much,” said Brittany Force.
“It was definitely fun and I want to do it again. I have to beat him. He beat me down there and it was pretty cool for the fans. I didn’t see him until we did our burnouts and then I saw him again when I shook and he shot past me. It was fun to be able to say I raced my dad.”
Top Fuel and Funny Car categories best performance from Friday’s testing:
1. Shawn Langdon, 3.726, 325.37
2. Antron Brown, 3.735, 325.37
3. Khalid al Balooshi, 3.750, 328.70
4. Spencer Massey, 3.770, 320.58
5. Bob Vandergriff, 3.817, 322.42
6. Brittany Force, 3.824, 317.87
7. Terry McMillen, 4.391, 181.64
8. Tony Schumacher, 7.558, 81.74
9. Richie Crampton, 7.807, 74.08
10. Steve Torrence, 9.222, 76.10
1. Ron Capps, 4.003, 320.28
2. John Force, 4,039, 319.37
3. Robert Hight, 4.039, 315.56
4. Del Worsham, 4.056, 315.93
5. Jack Beckman, 4.061, 312.06
6. Courtney Force, 4.067, 320.51
7. Bob Tasca III, 4.067, 314.46
8. Matt Hagan, 4.072, 304.67
9. Alexis DeJoria, 4.108, 311.27
10. Tommy Johnson Jr., 4.134, 299.93
11. Chad Head, 4.170, 279.21
12. Cruz Pedregon, 7.790, 89.25
Top Fuel and Funny Car categories best performance from Saturday’s testing:
1. Antron Brown, 3.737, 325.87
2. Tony Schumacher, 3.765, 327.27
3. Shawn Langdon, 3.773, 325.22
4. Spencer Massey, 3.794, 321.04
5. Richie Crampton, 3.808, 323.97
6. Khalid al Balooshi, 3.809, 302.21
7. Bob Vandergriff, 3.842, 301.81
8. Terry McMillen, 3.877, 293.98
9. Steve Torrence, 7.575, 79.79
10. Brittany Force, 8.535, 61.99
1. John Force, 4.013, 318.84
2. Del Worsham, 4.014, 318.17
3. Robert Hight, 4.019, 316.97
4. Matt Hagan, 4.041, 321.81
5. Courtney Force, 4.077, 315.49
6. Bob Tasca III, 4.084, 314.39
7. Alexis DeJoria, 4.085, 297.61
8. Chad Head, 4.102, 311.85
9. Jack Beckman, 4.111, 309.77
10. Tommy Johnson, 4.315, 229.55
11. Cruz Pedregon, 4.456, 204.73