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Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals Friday Notebook

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QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (4:16 p.m.): The annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals figured to be one of the fastest races of the season for Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors and the first qualifying session of the weekend did not disappoint. Hector Arana Jr., fresh off his win in Denver, another 200-mph time slip to his collection with a 200.11 pass. Arana Jr. is second on the sheet with a 6.803 elapsed time, second to Eddie Krawiec’s 6.780, 198.76 best. Krawiec’s Harley-Davidson teammate, Andrew Hines, was third-quickest after a 6.837. Joey Gladstone also ran a 6.837, his best run of the season, but was bumped to fourth place after Hines ran a slightly faster speed.

bo.JPGPRO STOCK Q1 (4:33 p.m.): Bo Butner, Deric Kramer, and Erica Enders made the quickest runs of the first Pro Stock season to earn qualifying bonus points. Butner, the reigning world champ, wheeled his KB Racing-powered Camaro to a 6.558, 201.37 to lead all qualifiers. Butner has not been the low qualifier at any event so far this season. Kramer, who was the top qualifier last weekend in his home event in Denver, drove his American Ethanol entry to a 6.560, 201.50 and Enders drove to a 6.569, 211.10 in her Melling Camaro for the third spot. Enders also has the top speed of the meet to this point with a 211.10 mph run. The top half of the field is separated by just three-hundredths with Drew Skillman eighth at 6.588-second. 

cruz2_0.JPGFUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (5:23 p.m.): Cruz Pedregon took his Snap-On Tools Toyota Camry to the top of the Funny Car field after the first round of qualifying with a 4.032-second pass. The Cruzer must be encouraged by picking up three points in the first session after a trying weekend in Denver turned positive for the veteran racer. He’s followed by the last two Funny Car champions, Ron Capps (4.044) and Robert Hight (4.051). Then the most recent race winner, John Force, and his former protégé, Bob Tasca III, are tied with 4.086 runs. Jeff Diehl is holding the bump spot with a 6.383. 

clay2.JPGTOP FUEL ROUND 1 (5:49 p.m.): Clay Millican absolutely annihilated the field with a 3.801-second run to score three points and head to the top of the Top Fuel heap. He got past Toyota drivers Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta, who both ran 3.855 side-by-side. Brown earned the No. 2 spot thanks to his superior speed. Those were by far the best runs of the session as many dragsters struggled with tire smoke in the first session of action. They will all get another shot at Sonoma Raceway later in the evening. Mike Salinas and Leah Pritchett each ran in the 3-second range, and Richie Crampton is at the bottom of the 14-car heap with a 5.365. 

andrewhines.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (6:58 p.m.): It didn’t take long for the Pro Stock Motorcycle field to produce an all-six second field during Friday’s second qualifying run. Midway through qualifying, it takes a 6.992 in order to make the 16-bike field. Kelly Clontz is currently on the bump spot.  A shift in wind direction kept performances in check, but there were still four riders in the 6.8s including early leaders Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Hector Arana Jr., and Matt Smith. Krawiec was quickest with a 6.871, 193.85 to take the three bonus points followed by Smith at 6.886, and Hines at 6.895. After the session it was also confirmed that Krawiec and Hines had officially locked up their spots in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

greg2.JPGPRO STOCK Q2 (7:22 p.m.): Unlike the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, there was a lot of movement in Pro Stock with ten cars eclipsing Bo Butner’s class-leading 6.558 from session one. No one ran quicker than Denver champ Greg Anderson, who wheeled his Summit Camaro to a 6.515, 211.16 to get a leg on another pole position. Anderson leads his teammate and Denver runner-up, Jason Line, who was just a tick behind with a 6.517, 211.03. Tanner Gray’s 6.531, 210.90 held up for the No. 3 spot. Butner, who led after the first run, was bumped back to eighth but eventually landed in the fourth spot with an improved 6.538, 211.89. Butner also has the top speed of the event so far with a 211.89.

courtney2.JPGFUNNY CAR Q2 (8:42 p.m.): Courtney Force picked up a full two-hundredths of a second to earn the provisional No. 1 qualifier spot on the back of a 3.91-second blast. She carried the entire John Force Racing operation on her back as teammate Robert Hight suffered an explosion in the second qualifying stanza. Hight blew the burst panel right off his Auto Club Chevy Camaro but was otherwise unscathed. Jack Beckman (3.929) and Bob Tasca III (3.95) followed Force to pick up the rest of the bonus points, while Hagan (3.956), Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.998) all carried the Don Schumacher Racing flag to the top half of the field.

leah.JPGTOP FUEL Q2 (9:14 p.m.): Nearly every Top Fuel racer improved in the second Top Fuel session, including Leah Pritchett, who ran a 3.727 to move to the No. 2 position behind Clay Millican. Pritchett took home the Wally at the most recent event on tour in Denver and crew chief Todd Okuhara showed that was no accident by helping Pritchett make another incredible pass at sea level in Sonoma. Millican followed up his 3.801 in Q1 by improving nearly a tenth. Steve Torrence continued to struggle as he ran a 7.372 and is currently sitting in the No. 13 position. 

E_Krawiec.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER EDDIE KRAWIEC: “It definitely is a big challenge to come off the mountain [in Denver] to sea level. Here in Sonoma, you almost get your feet wet at high tide. It’s exciting because our motorcycles love good air and anytime we’re in Sonoma we have good air. Going from 300 to 400 [horsepower] and 7.1 to 6.7 seconds; it’s definitely a big change as far as timing and how you ride the bike. Off the truck we had a good clean run and then the wind turned around and that’s why you saw the whole class drastically slow down. It cooled off ten degrees but the wind killed us.

Tomorrow, the whole plan changes because of the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike battle. We have to focus on that $25,000 and not necessarily trying to run 6.7s. Tomorrow morning if the conditions are there you might see a couple of 6.7 runs but we have to make sure we get down the track and have a good tune-up. You can’t try to rotate the earth or make a call you’re unsure of.”

G_Anderson.JPGPRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER GREG ANDERSON: “It’s been a great day out here. I love racing in Sonoma. The weather forecast says 95-degrees and you come out here and it’s 75. I love racing in these conditions. It brings the cars to life and you’ve got a great track and great fans, and great scenery. Everything is just about perfect out here. We were a little off on our first run, but that was driver error. I shifted like I was still on the mountain. All that matters is that top of the heap for a day. We’ll try is again tomorrow. I don’t know what the weather is going to bring. It’s a crazy deal. We’re in a dogfight for the No. 1 spot but it’s fun like that. You bring everything you’ve got to the starting line and the car goes down the track and runs fast.

“After last week, I’m smiling more. It’s hard to win our here. There are so many cars that should win. I think I was the ninth different winner and there are going to be 2-3 more. It’s never been this good. It’s never been this tight. It’s hard on a driver. Sometimes, I think that’s why we race this class because it’s so ridiculously competitive. The good news is that I’m the only one who can sweep [the Western Swing]. That’s a lot to ask after you’ve had nine different winners. No one has two in a row, much less three.”

C_Force.JPGFUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER COURTNEY FORCE: “I feel like I let the car drive me a little bit during the first qualifying session. It started to wiggle a little bit and came loose at the top end so I was pointing the finger at myself. So, I knew during the second pass with conditions like this that it was the time to really shine. I knew that i had to be perfect on that run. I tried to keep the car straight as an arrow. Brian Corradi, Dan Hood and the entire team really did the rest.” 

“I was really excited, it felt amazing to do it for our sponsors and I was happy that it was able to stick. I saw my dad and teammate Robert Hight coming up and obviously Jack Beckman had a great run as well. When the car is pulling so hard with the positive Gs and then the parachutes come out and hit hard and deploy the negative Gs throw you forward hard, so you’re just waiting for the team to come on the radio to tell you what the number is cause you know it was a good one.”

C_Millican.JPGTOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER CLAY MILLICAN: “The coolest part of the run was that at the very last moment, (crew chief David Grubnic) leaned into the car and said it should run 3.70. And then it went 3.70 exactly. Then I went back and said, ‘you were right! It went dead-on with a zero.’ He looked at me like I have two heads. Now, Brian Lohnes knows what I’m talking because that’s a bracket racing term. He hit his number with a zero. Of course the last thing he said was that we could have gone 3.69 which would have been even better.”

“It was an incredible run. Whenever the crew chief can tell you exactly what the car is going to run he’s a happy guy because he makes all the bells and whistles work and that makes all the wrenches happy because everything is working the way it’s supposed to. So, now I hope it’s 90 degrees tomorrow. We’ve qualified No. 1 seven times and I know that doesn’t mean we’ll stick but, and these are awesome and cool, but I’d love to turn these into more wins.”

FRIDAY RECAP: Courtney Force goes low on Friday, while Clay Millican, Greg Anderson and Eddie Krawiec also take provisional poles.

FEATURES

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Tony Schumacher lost by .0001 second to Doug Kalitta in the first round of the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals but the performance of his U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster is not in question entering Sonoma. 

“We’re going to show up a little more aggressive,” said Schumacher. “We have a U.S. Army car coming to races that can win any of these races. We’ve had some bad luck and some timing where we would’ve beaten any other car but the one we’re racing, and that happens. But that always changes, and the key to a winning, championship team is knowing that – keeping your chin up, just being a machine every time.” 

Schumacher averages a 3.791 elapsed time, the best of any full-time racer in the Top Fuel category. He also gets to the other end of the strip successfully 65.5 percent of the time – that’s better than the 49.7 percent class average. He enters Sonoma in fourth place despite only one win to his name this season for one simple reason: Schumacher has gone rounds. 

His last win in Sonoma was 10 years ago, and that was his second-straight. He defeated Hillary Will in 2008 and Bob Vandergriff Jr. the year prior. 

“I love Sonoma,” he said. “We left straight from Denver to go to Sonoma because I love the place itself. I love the people, I love the fans, the stands are packed and huge and I can’t wait for the weekend. Like I said, Mike (Neff, crew chief) told me we’re going to show up and be a little more aggressive. We’re going to make our 60-foot a little quicker, get the car moving a little quicker, and just be more aggressive because we’ve got a car that can go down the track and now it’s time to win this championship.”

The 60-foot average for Schumacher is dead-on the average (.855) for the class – that’s not quite up to snuff with the quick racers in the class. Steve Torrence averages .846 to the 60-foot block, so that’s likely what Neff and company is aiming for. 

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Scott Palmer scored a major first-round victory at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals a week ago by defeating veteran racer Antron Brown. That moved Palmer back into a Countdown to the Championship spot and proved to the team that a new fuel system on his CatSpot Kitty Litter Top Fuel Dragster is working the way its supposed to. 

“It did exactly what it was supposed to,” said Palmer. “That was a big first round and it was a tough first round. Both cars went to the finish line and it’s tough to beat Antron Brown when he gets to the finish line. Then the second round, if someone had said you’re going to have to run a 3.79 in Denver to win the second round we would have laughed. But that’s what it would have taken. We went up there and ran another 3.89, so the fuel system is doing what it’s supposed to.”

Palmer failed to qualify in Norwalk and lost in the first round in the races sandwiching the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, which put the independent racer in a bit of a pickle. The Denver race may be a bit of a one-off, but that his dragster responded to changes is a big relief. 

“We’re back on track a little and now we just gotta take the gloves. It’s time to fight,” he said. “There are going to be some big-time hero runs for sure, but we’re going to try to run mid to high 3.70s. We want to run a high 3.70 this run and a mid-to-low 3.70 tonight for a qualifying position. We just need to put ourselves in a better qualifying position because we didn’t do a good job of that last week. There really aren’t any good draws out here anymore, I mean I wouldn’t love running our car because we get down the race track.”

Palmer qualified fourth in Bristol, his highest of the season, before falling into his mini-slump. He then qualified ninth in Denver, showing some resolve as Indy, and the Countdown of the Championship approaches. He holds a 10-point lead over 11th place racer Mike Salinas and trails ninth-place racer Richie Crampton by just 32 points. It’s going to come down to the wire. 

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Clay Millican climbed back into second place at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals and now trails Steve Torrence by 173 marks. The Tennessean doesn’t love his odds of taking over the top spot before the Countdown to the Championship begins, but he does hope to hang onto second when the points reset before Indy. 

“We definitely were looking last week to get back into second,” said Millican. “It’s 20 points each spot, so anything that you can gain is important so we’re looking to pick up anything we can before we get into Indy. It’s more mental than anything else. Anything can happen in those last six races. It’s a mental thing to say we’re in second place.”

Millican feels he just needs to get into the dance to have a shot at winning a championship but given how competitive the top five is it can’t hurt to qualify as high as possible for the annual playoff chase. 

“If you’re in the top 10 you can win,” he said. “Brittany Force showed us that last year. Hell, Robert Hight showed us that in the past. I want to win every race we go to, but I would be fine if we just won those last six races of the year. It’s just so awesome that we’re sitting in front of all these teams that are so much bigger than ours and even though it’s only by a little bit, you know? It’s a long way and a lot to do, but I do feel like getting through Denver is a big fricking deal.”

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John Force got his first win in more than a year when he captured the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Wally to kick off the Western Swing. That was a long time coming for the winningest Funny Car racer of all time, who has had a trying season through myriad explosions and other on-track incidents. 

Force remains resilient and the win has only infused the racer with more energy as he heads to Sonoma to try to sweep the Western Swing. Now more solidly in a Countdown to the Championship spot, it’s all about going for another win for the 16-time Funny Car champion. 

“I am fighting and I got tired of hearing me snivel to myself,” said Force. “My wife doesn’t even want to talk to me. I am working through rehab from my crashes to get out here to win races. I don’t know why I won that race but I have a lot more fight in my belly.”

Force might not know why he won that race, but his performance in the seat and the vast improvement of his Chevy Camaro has a lot to do with it (naturally). He’s now running an average elapsed time of 4.072-second with a bit of consistency mixed in (59 percent success rate). While Force’s reaction time has not been stellar this year, it was very good in Denver. If he can keep that up the rest of the season, the champ might be back. 

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cruz.JPGCruz Pedregon grenaded his Snap-On Tools Funny Car body on the first run he made at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals. The team rebounded by installing an old show car body onto his Don Schumacher Racing-built chassis in Denver, eventually reaching the second round before falling to John Force. 

That was at the very least a big moral victory for Pedregon, who returns to competition in Sonoma with “El Guapo” on board his chassis. The body was rebuilt at his shop in Brownsburg and while not as new as the brand-new piece he destroyed in Denver, it should perform better than the show car body Pedregon was forced to run during eliminations. 

Pedregon will eventually get another new body that is currently being mounted at his shop, but until then “El Guapo” will have to do. After the fire and makeshift body run at altitude, this Toyota body must look handsome to the Pedregon faithful indeed. 

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wilk.JPGTim Wilkerson took a big step forward at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals both towards staying in the Countdown to the Championship and in terms of forgetting all about the 2017 rendition of the Denver race. Wilkerson qualified ninth and scored a first-round win against Shawn Langdon, earning valuable points in his Countdown chase.

“We all know that you shouldn’t ever brag about your kid or your car, but we’re going to go there and do the same thing we’ve been doing the last two or three races, and hopefully we’ll shine,” said Wilkerson. “By the time we get to Indy and the U.S. Nationals, we’re hoping that we’ll be far enough ahead that the points and a half deal won’t make a difference.” 

Speed and e.t. hasn’t been the major gremlin for Wilkerson this year: It’s been consistency. That’s started to come around for the veteran racer, though. He now gets down the track quicker than 4.3 seconds 50 percent of the time, which is just a little better than the class average. He’ll need to improve on that to solidify his place in the Countdown, but Wilk is moving the right way. 

“What a nice car we have right now,” said Wilkerson. “You saw, first round of Denver – we were low e.t. of the round. I had a good car up there, and the train is coming. It’s a tight battle right now, but that doesn’t bother me a bit.”

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Now that the monkey is off his back with a much-needed win in Denver, the challenge for Greg Anderson becomes maintaining positive momentum heading into the final races before the all-important Countdown to the Championship begins in Reading. Despite his early-season woes, Anderson has been the point leader for much of the season and more than anything he wants to maintain that spot.

“Until last week, it was like we had forgotten how to win, but maybe this reminded us,” said Anderson. “The thing is, nobody in the class is going to do it by dominance this year. Nobody is going to roll into the Countdown to the Championship with a huge point lead. Everybody is able to win right now, and nobody is safe. You better learn how to get knocked in the nose and get back up off the mat, because that’s going to happen a lot for the rest of the season. If you want to win, you have to get up and get back in the game; you can’t quit, no matter how bloody your nose gets.”

With 91 wins in his career, Anderson has been a proven winner almost everywhere, but Sonoma Raceway has been one of his most successful tracks with five wins in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, and 2016. Anderson also has four runner-up finishes in Sonoma. Last year, he was the No. 3 qualifier and reached the semifinals.

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In his brief Pro Stock career, this much is obvious about Tanner Gray; he doesn’t take kindly to losing and he finds holeshot losses to be particularly galling. As one of the best “leavers” in Pro Stock, Gray has dished out far more punishment than he’s taken so far in his career, but last week in Denver, he took the worst of it against holeshot king, Jeg Coughlin Jr. Gray’s .031 reaction time wasn’t horribly late, but it paled in comparison to Coughlin’s .016 and with just two-thousandths of a second difference in performance, Gray had to settle for a quarterfinal finish.

“I’m looking forward to going back to Sonoma and it’s a place where I feel really comfortable,” said Gray, the defending Sonoma champion. “I’m definitely looking forward to racing there and try to do what we did there last year. I love where it’s located and it’s just an awesome facility. But we’ve been struggling with staying consistent with the race car. We need to do a little better job with that, so I’m looking forward to this weekend and keep trying to get more consistent.”

The first 14 races of the season have provided plenty of highlights for Gray, including two wins in June that put him in the points lead, but as a driver with championship aspirations there are areas where he hopes to see improvement on the Western Swing. He has just one round win since his event victory in Norwalk.
 
“We’ve won three times, but we want to have a car that’s capable of winning every race and that’s kind of where we’ve struggled,” Gray said. “At times we’ve had a good car, put it all together and won. It’s a matter of working out all the bugs and getting more consistent. I think we definitely can. Everyone on this team works together great and we’re more than capable of winning a championship. But it’s going to come down to who’s going to be the most consistent. There’s 8-9 other guys who are capable of winning the championship, so it’s going to come down to who’s got the most consistent car and driver combination.”

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It wasn’t exactly the way that Deric Kramer drew it up, but with four races remaining before the start of the Countdown to the Championship, it appears that he will be racing for the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock championship. Kramer missed the races in Epping and Richmond, but due to his impressive performances, he’s all but got a lock on one of the valuable playoff spots. With four races remaining, he’s 122-points up on 11th ranked Alex Laughlin.

“As long as I stay in the top ten, we’re on for all the rest of the races,” said Kramer. “Our original plan was to run about 18 races but we did well early and decided to add a few. Thankfully, we only missed two or I’d be sweating out the last couple of races to make sure we get in the top ten. We’re not exactly safe but I also think it would take a lot to get bumped out.

“It’s funny but when I think back to the start of the season, we had no intention of going to Gainesville but after we qualified No. 1 in Phoenix, I called KB Racing [engine supplier] and said, ‘Hey, would it be possible to get an engine for Gainesville?’ and they were all for it. They hooked us up and we’ve been on a roll ever since.”

Kramer also believes that making limited runs in Denver, will help his driving for the balance of the season. Typically, he’s made 15-20 test runs before the Dodge Mile-High Nationals. The difference in driving between Denver and sea-level tracks is significant, so Kramer doesn’t think his adjustment period will be difficult.

“Typically, I struggle the week after we get done with Denver because everything there is so much slower and my timing is off,” Kramer said. “This year, I didn’t test so I feel really confident, especially since we’ve made so many runs at the rest of the tracks this year. I’m getting a good feel for what it’s like to be a full-time racer.”

 

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It isn’t much of a stretch to suggest that this is the biggest weekend of Angie Smith’s Pro Stock Motorcycle career. While she continues to close in on a spot in the prestigious Countdown to the Championship, Smith is also a part of Saturday’s Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle, an exclusive eight-rider event that will pay $25,000 to the champion. Smith qualified for the field for the first time in her career and she will be joined by her husband, two-time Mello Yello champ, Matt.

“For once its nice to not be just ‘Matt’s wife,’” said Smith. “To the Harley boys, LE [Tonglet] and those guys it might not be such a big deal to be in this race but it is for me because I’ve never done it before. I’m really excited. I’m not about to take it for granted.”

Smith is happy to be a part of the Pro Bike Battle, but given the recent performance of her Denso Buell, and her past history at Sonoma Raceway, she believes she’s got an honest-to-goodness chance to win a few rounds, and possibly even contend for the $25,000 top prize.

“I have a shot; I really do,” she said. “I ran 6.7s here last year and this has always been one of my best tracks. I may not be able to run with Eddie [Krawiec] but I think I can get close to him. If I can run close to the fast guys and cut a good light, well, I’m just saying that anything can happen.

“Last week in Denver, I should have won the first round but it was my fault,” Smith said. “I ran Jerry [Savoie] in the first round and the bike got a little upset and I hit the shifter and went straight from second to fourth [gear]. I only lost by a thousandth and I lost more than that when the bike shifted.”

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hector.JPGIt wasn’t long after Hector Arana Jr. opened the Denso 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle club when NHRA insiders began to openly wonder, ‘What’s he going to run in Sonoma?’. Since Gainesville and Sonoma are historically two of the best markets for Pro Stock Motorcycle performances, it’s a fair question and heading into this weekend’s race, Arana Jr. has made three 200-mph runs so far while no one else in the class has been able to crack the double-century barrier. Arana’s best is 201.01 in Gainesville and he’s reasonably certain that he can improve on that this weekend.

“It all depends on the wind but I think we can do it,” said Arana Jr. “I’m not too sure how this weather compares to Gainesville but it’s going to be close. I know we’ve got the bike to do it and if everything else cooperates we should be just fine. I’d rather win the race but if we can make some more 200-mph runs, I’m okay with that too.”

Last week, Arana Jr. broke a long winless drought when he defeated Jerry Savoie in the final round. Both riders left ahead of the green light but Savoie was -.004-second red and Arana Jr. was -.002 on the Tree. For the record the incoming Pro Stock Motorcycle speed record at Sonoma Raceway is 199.88 mph by Matt Smith.

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All of the NHRA pros that make the annual trek from Denver to Sonoma for the first two legs of the Western Swing have to deal with a variety of variables not the least of which are two entirely different combinations for each facility. At 5,800-feet, Bandimere Speedway is by far the highest elevation of any track on the tour while Sonoma Raceway sits at near-sea level, which contributes to its reputation as one of the quickest tracks on the tour. The conversion from Denver to Sonoma tune-up is magnified for the Stoffer/Underdahl team, which fields four Pro Stock Motorcycles for riders Karen Stoffer, Jimmy Underdahl, Joey Gladstone, and Scotty Pollacheck.

“We have to change everything and we have to change it on all four bikes,” said team owner Greg Underdahl. “We change sprockets, ignition timing, wheelie bar height, and clutches just for starters. In Denver, we stack and extra clutch plate in the pack. It’s hard to spin the tire up there so we struggle to generate any wheel speed. Here, [in Sonoma] it’s back to reality where we throw almost everything at it and see who has the most horsepower. The good thing about four bikes is that we’re bound to get at least one of them right.”

In Denver, Pollacheck went to the quarterfinals while Stoffer enjoyed one of her best outings of the year with a solid semifinal finish. She qualified on the bump and knocked off low qualifier Eddie Krawiec and Steve Johnson before losing a close battle against Savoie in the semi’s.

PHOTOS

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Fans grab autographs from Toyota drivers at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals.

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Father and son hand out autographs to fans.

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Leah Pritchett and Jeb Allen answer fan questions at the Sunoco Victory Lane.

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Terry McMillen and his son, Cameron, get his Top Fueler ready to go.

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Hot rods adorn the grass at Sonoma Raceway. 

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Nostalgia cars stack the garage at Sonoma Raceway.

PREVIEW

The Western Swing reaches its second stop at one of the most scenic tracks in the country at Sonoma Raceway. The Countdown to the Championship is just a few races away and there are tight races for the final spots in every category from Top Fuel to Pro Stock Motorcycle. Stay tuned for the latest news, notes, quotes and results all weekend long. 

S_Torrence.jpgSteve Torrence locked in his spot to the Countdown to the Championship but is not counting his chickens before they’re hatched. The defending Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals winner would love to win back-to-back titles in wine country and extend his grasp on the Top Fuel points lead. He enters Sonoma with a 173-point lead over Clay Millican despite an early exit at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals. Torrence will look to bounce back in the Pacific time zone. 

C_Force.JPGA solid day in Denver ended with a team victory for Courtney Force. She lost in the semifinals to her dad, John Force, and enters Sonoma with a 210-point edge on second-place racer Matt Hagan. That’s great news for the Countdown-bound racer. Now her goal is to get her first Sonoma victory in the Nitro-burning class and to lock up her first No. 1 seed entering the Countdown to the Championship. The real drama is at the bottom of the field where five racers at battling for one spot. Keep an eye on Bob Tasca all the way to Jonnie Lindberg for some intrigue this weekend.

G_Anderson.JPGLast week in Denver, Greg Anderson became the ninth different winner in the first 14 events and that list currently does not include top ten contenders Jason Line, Drew Skillman, or Alex Laughlin. The list of champions and would-be champions only serves to illustrate that there is parity in the Pro Stock class and the old adage that anyone who qualifies can win is more true than ever. When it comes to Sonoma Raceway, Anderson has won five times in nine final rounds so he has to be considered one of the favorites while defending event champ Tanner Gray is also a leading contender following his recent win in Epping. In the battle for the top ten, Deric Kramer currently holds the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship while Laughlin is 11th, 122-points back. Counting the Sonoma race, there are four events remaining before the top ten is set for the six-race playoffs.

A_Hines.jpgThe Pro Stock Motorcycle class will take center stage this weekend with the return of the popular Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle on Saturday. The exclusive eight-bike field will include world champions Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith, LE Tonglet, and Jerry Savoie, as well as Hector Arana Jr., Scotty Pollacheck, and Angie Smith. In addition to the drama of the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle, the Sonoma race is also well-known as one of the best events for Pro Stock Motorcycle performances. Arana Jr. has already run over 200-mph on several occasions this year and it’s likely that the Denso Spark Plugs 200-mph Club could had several new members this weekend.


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