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DI RETURN ROAD: NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

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On a day when Don Schumacher Racing claimed its 300th career win (and then 301st moments later), it’s worth noting that things haven’t been easy for the drag racing superpower in 2018.

Zero Funny Car wins in three months might as well be an eternity for Don Schumacher Racing, especially considering its stout four-car lineup.

The same can be said for Top Fuel, where Leah Pritchett’s win in May was the only triumph for a trio that have 11 world championships.

Combined, it has meant zero double-up wins for DSR through 10 races. That changed on Father’s Day, when Ron Capps broke through in Funny Car and Tony Schumacher followed in Top Fuel, with both drivers winning for the first time this season.

Capps’ victory was oozing with storylines, starting with the 2016 world champion dedicating the victory to the late Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, who tragically passed away last week.

After winning eight races last year and five the year prior en route to the world title, Capps didn’t have a win in 2018. Courtney Force, who still managed to stretch her points lead this weekend, has been rattling off wins, while DSR’s last Funny Car victory was Jack Beckman’s in Gainesville in early March.

Capps showed signs with a final-round appearance in Chicago and nobody expected him to go much longer without a win, but the team had not found the perfect mix of performance and good fortune this year.

To deal with changing track conditions, their team has gone back to a five-disc clutch, but even that transition hasn’t been easy. All that was negated on Sunday, when Capps ousted Bob Tasca in a great side-by-side duel with a 4.234 at 296.37 mph in the final round, giving team owner Don Schumacher his 300th career nitro win.

“(Crew chief Rahn) Tobler looked so down on himself (on Saturday morning). We didn’t run well the night before, and he just had that look,” Capps said. “Those are the times you have to play cheerleader, and that’s what I think my job is. I said ‘Tobler, you’re going to find it today. Today is going to be like tomorrow (Sunday). You were the bar for the last three years. You were the one who went out and made other crew chiefs want to retire in these hot conditions,’ and he did. He found that clutch disc problem and away we went.”

It could be sign of what’s to come in Funny Car, which means things are about to get really good.

And if Schumacher has his winning swagger back in Top Fuel, watch out. It’s the first win since Mike Neff joined the team as crew chief to start the season, as the eight-time world champion went 3.946 at 313.58 in the final round against first-time finalist Mike Salinas.

It was the 150th final round in Schumacher’s incredible career, but it had been 31 races since he had been in the winner’s circle.

That’s a pretty big number when it’s the likes of Schumacher, but he had believed his team has been close all season. Are we preparing for a championship duel that includes points leader Steve Torrence, Clay Millican and Schumacher? If so, sign us up for that.

“We have had little things bite us this season, but we knew we had to overcome adversity and we knew we had a great car that was capable of winning,” said Schumacher, who has six Bristol wins. “I’m proud of my team for sticking to our plan, and I know our team is going to be a factor for the rest of the season.”

CAN’T-MISS NEWS

THREE IN A ROW FOR JEG: Jeg Coughlin Jr. has gone from the longest winless stretch in his marvelous career to being unstoppable.

His Pro Stock win on Sunday against Greg Anderson – a classic JEGS vs. Summit Racing duel – gave him two Pro Stock wins in three races in that category, which are sandwiched between a Super Comp win in Virginia.

That gives the standout three straight winning weekends, which is about as resounding of a response as possible to drought that had stretched back to 2014.

“There were some trying times,” Coughlin said. “I’ve been blessed with an amazing career and have worked around some of the brightest crew chiefs, engineers, engine builders, car chiefs, etc. We’ve got a lot of great things to show for it.

“But No. 1 with us is our family; we’re very close and we have a great time together, on and off the race track. I work with my three older brothers and all their families back home in Delaware, Ohio
at JEGS.”

Coughlin shared the winner’s circle with his father on Father’s Day, a touching moment that sums up this impressive stretch. Anderson kept the points lead with his 100th No. 1 qualifier and plenty of consistency, but he still has yet to win in 2018, which almost doesn’t seem possible.

But Coughlin and his Elite Motorsports team have turned into a dominant force in recent weeks, making strong runs in the heat on Sunday.

With a track record that now includes 60 Pro Stock victories, Coughlin was never lacking in confidence. But getting back on the winning track is the situation every driver craves, and Coughlin is now firmly back in the hunt for another world championship.

“I was guilty of saying, when we won Chicago, it almost felt like my very first win ever. … Our competitors and a lot of our fans have seen what we’ve traversed through, and it’s been fun to see that tide turn for us. We’ve always hoped and dreamed of being in this position,” Coughlin said.

ALBALOOSHI QUELLS RETIREMENT TALK: It had not been mentioned within Pro Mod circles, but apparently Khalid AlBalooshi, a former world champion, had retirement on his mind, if only because he wasn’t sure if he could still win in the class.

Well, that talk will at least have to wait a little longer, as AlBalooshi knocked off Todd Tutterow in the Pro Mod finals, going 5.924 at 247.38 mph in his Camaro. It was a Bahrain 1 Racing versus Al-Anabi Performance Racing matchup in the finals, with this round going to Bahrain. Rickie Smith, who tunes AlBalooshi’s car was notably excited on the starting line after the win, perhaps knowing how much it meant for the veteran to get back on track.

“I’ve been thinking about retiring recently and wondering if I could still compete in this class, but finally I got a win again and it feels amazing,” AlBalooshi said. “I just came out here and had fun and this is definitely a good way to get some momentum heading into the rest of the season.”

AlBalooshi jumped to third in points as well, trailing Smith and points leader Mike Janis, who had another solid weekend.

BRISTOL QUICK-HITTERS: A few more notables worth mentioning from a boiling Bristol weekend:

– We’ve shown Bob Tasca’s hard-luck moments this season in this space, from blow-ups to mangled parts, but he’s always kept his head up and predicted better things were coming. That happened in Bristol, advancing to the final round against Capps and nearly winning his first race since 2012. He also jumped into the top 10 and it could be a sign of what’s to come for the Rhode Island native.

– Mike Salinas made his own jump into the top 10 thanks to the first final round of his career. He couldn’t knock off Schumacher, but it’s always great to see new (to the class) drivers make this kind of run.

– Tutterow being in a Pro Mod final surely isn’t a shock. But doing it out of the No. 16 spot, well, that’s pretty darn impressive. It seems like these kind of conditions are where Tutterow thrives. He’s driven everything and done it well, and Bristol was the latest example.

– Tim Freeman picked up his first round win in Pro Stock in 12 years. Kudos to him.

– Lastly, good to see Tommy Lee is doing well after that tumble into the sand trap during qualifying.

FURTHER VIEWING

Green Walks Away After Crash
It many respects, it’s been a great rookie season for Pro Mod driver Chad Green, advancing to one final round and earning a No. 1 qualifier in a loaded class.

But this is one area Green hopes to be finished with. He got loose well past the finish line during eliminations against Danny Rowe, hit the wall, flipped over and then skidded into the sand, all while Rowe did an excellent job avoiding Green.

It’s the second crash for Green through the first six events this season, and this certainly wasn’t a conventional one, as it happened far past the finish line.

Green was okay and out of the car fairly quickly, and word is he’ll have a new car ready to go for this weekend in Norwalk.

Happy Birthday, Army!
Now this is how you celebrate the Army’s birthday and open up the event at Bristol. Watch and enjoy.

Drag Illustrated Live Episode
Make sure you check out Episode 103 of the weekly show with Wes Buck. Last week was memorable, but also bittersweet, as Buck talked with Don “The Snake” Prudhomme about his dear friend, Tom McEwen, who passed away last week. Prudhomme shared some amazing stories about “The Mongoose” and the incredible impact he has had on the sport. It was a tough week for the sport, there’s no doubt about that. McEwen was a certifiable legend in every respect and Prudhomme was the perfect guest to explain why.

Winters’ Wild Run!
Green didn’t have the only wild ride in Pro Mod this weekend. Though not as severe, Doug Winters turned on a dime in qualifying, and luckily avoided some major damage.

Music To Your Ears
The annual cacklefest at the Hot Rod Reunion at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green is always an amazing sight and sound.

Just take a listen to this. Some serious goosebumps.

ON SOCIAL

Congrats, Bristol Winners!

Father’s Day
There were a bunch of great Father’s Day posts, so many so you could probably have a story just displaying all of them. It speaks volumes about the family aspect involved and that is so prominent when it comes to drag racing, both with racers and with fans. It’s days like this where it makes you proud to be involved with the sport.

This one summed it up perfectly.

It’s Bristol, Baby
Is there another track that makes for amazing photos like Bristol Dragway? For me, it’s a neck-and-neck race between Thunder Valley and Thunder Mountain at Bandimere when it comes to awe-inspiring photos and videos.

 

A post shared by Antron Brown (@antronbrowntf) on

Cool Factor Personified
Love this shot of Cruz Pedregon at Bristol from Mark Rebilas.

 

A post shared by Mark Rebilas (@rebilasphoto) on

Absolute Focus
A great shot exemplifying the focus of Pro Mod standout Danny Rowe, who had another solid weekend with a trip to the semifinals.

So Hot, Don’t Care
There were a lot of tweets this weekend that had this theme this weekend: Sweltering heat, still plenty of fans.

That was pretty cool to see.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It’s pretty wild to think this four-race stretch ends this weekend in Norwalk. Once this NHRA season gets going, it really moves along at a blur. The good news is there’s been plenty to enjoy, dating back to the NHRA’s return to Richmond, which was a fantastic event. Bristol was brutally hot, but an impressive weekend all the way around. Before you know it the Western Swing – and then the World Series of Pro Mod – will be here, so make sure to take a minute and take it all in. That goes for other series out there as well. So many of them are doing great things, and it’s so important to enjoy the moment.

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