Welcome to 2017

winlightnews-comThe new season of NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is very nearly upon us – in fact, the first day of the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals is just 23 days away. Three weeks, friends. Only three weeks before we get to start racing for trophies. Are you ready?

Behind the scenes, for all of us in the world of PR and social media, big plans are taking shape as new connections are made, storylines are drafted, social media channels are tuned up, and a whole bunch of travel is booked. It’s an exciting and fun process, and the best part is that it’s only the beginning.

WinLight Communications has shifted gears for 2017 and is looking forward to representing Summit Racing Equipment-associated drivers in NHRA Drag Racing, including the KB Racing one-two punch of reigning Pro Stock world champ Jason Line and four-time series champion Greg Anderson, as well as 20-time Funny Car winner and all-around nice guy Tim Wilkerson.

Look for stories on the Summit Racing blog OnAllCylinders.com throughout the season, too, and you can get started by catching up on the Summit Racing-sponsored, Armed Forces Entertainment-coordinated trip overseas to visit troops during Operation Appreciation here.

Oh hey, if our partnership with Team Summit sounds familiar, it might be because we had the honor of working alongside respected PR veteran Joanne Knapp for three seasons (2013-2015) with the KB Racing guys. So, you know what? This year feels a lot like going home.

See you out there.

Kelly Topolinski
Twitter: @winlightnews
Email: kelly@winlightnews.com

Five-Time World Champ Jimmy DeFrank Humbled by Success, Grateful to Continue Racing Journey

Photos: Auto Imagery

NHRA Drag RacingThe 2016 season of NHRA’s Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series was another to remember for Super Stock racer Jimmy DeFrank, and he is more eager than ever to jump into a whole new year of doing what he loves. The pilot of the DeFrank & Sons Racing Chevrolet Cobalt accumulated a large amount of points towards the big trophy last year, and in the end, he and his team scored their fifth Super Stock world championship and 13th overall division title. In total, the Chatsworth, California-based racer heads into the 2017 season with 19 national event titles on his scorecard and 45 division wins.

At the heart of DeFrank’s team is a small but powerful group – he and his father, Jim DeFrank Sr., and longtime Crew Chief Davey Allison. The ’10 Cobalt flying the colors of California Car Cover, California Car Duster, and Golden Shine Car Care, brought in a total of 681 points through their combined efforts, and DeFrank was 88 marks ahead of his closest competitor at final tally.

Victory at the season opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona set the tone for the season. DeFrank’s eight claimed races for the year included trophies earned at division events in Fontana, Calif., and Woodburn, Ore., final rounds at the earlier Woodburn event and Sonoma national, a trip to the semifinals at both the Phoenix divisional and the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, and a quarterfinals finish at the spring Las Vegas division race.

Drag RacingStrong Start
Pomona has long been a favored race for DeFrank, a Southern California native who scored the very first win of his career at the NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in 1995, the season in which he made his debut as a Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competitor. In 2016, DeFrank earned his fifth Winternationals trophy at the NHRA season-opener with a final-round defeat of Fred Moreno.

“I truly believe that the first race did set the tone for us in 2016,” said DeFrank. “It’s always – well, at least it is in most cases – important to have a national event win when looking towards a national championship. At that time, we weren’t necessarily thinking about a championship, but that race did end up being a key factor. We always look forward to Pomona, and 2017 won’t be any different. That first race comes with less pressure than the rest, actually. We’re nervous and just trying to get back into the swing of things, but it’s not a points crunch. Towards the end of the season is where you start to feel the pressure.”

Overcoming Obstacles
The 2017 season will mark the 20th anniversary of DeFrank’s first Super Stock national championship, and the veteran driver will readily admit that no year in racing is perfect. He stresses the importance, though, of learning not to beat yourself up when you stumble and instead challenge yourself to do better the next time.

“This past season I made some mistakes in Boise, Idaho, at the Division 6 event, and then again at the Woodburn Division 6 race in July. I lost focus in a terrible fashion in Boise second round and in the final at Woodburn. I was late with .060 lights, and I was very mad at myself and worried that those two instances may cost us dearly in the big picture. As a team, though, we immediately put those races behind us and did not dwell on them. We just moved on to the next event, and I think that was very important.

“After we wrapped up the championship, I struggled again. I let the fire die down some, and that was absolutely a terrible thing to let happen. I was relieved that the points chase was over, and I did not give 100% at the last couple of races. That is not acceptable, and if I’m fortunate enough to win another championship in this way, I won’t let it happen again.”

Stopped in Sonoma
After starting the season with a win at the Winternationals, DeFrank had a milestone ahead of him. The Pomona victory was the 19th national event win of his career, and No. 20 was within reach. This past summer brought about a near miss at another favorite race for DeFrank, the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. There, DeFrank has three times visited the winner’s circle at the national level, and in 2016 he was charging towards another but fouled out in the final round.

“I struggled getting a good light in Sonoma, and then I pushed too hard in the final and it bit us,” admitted DeFrank. “It was my fault, but again, as a team we put it behind us and moved on to Indy. We felt thankful to even make it to the final round in Sonoma, and we lost to a good friend and one of the best drivers, Justin Lamb – so we were not upset. I was thankful for those 84 points and another great race at a great racetrack. We knew that race would be a keeper, but again, we left there hoping that losing that final wasn’t going to cost us in the big picture.”

Adrenaline at Indy
The annual U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis is the most anticipated race on the NHRA tour for both class and national event eliminations. DeFrank was honored to win the main event trophy in 2010 and score a final-round finish in 2015, and this past season, he left with the SS/BS class title and locked into a semifinals finish during eliminations on Monday to bring home even more points towards the championship.

“Indy is so exciting, and it is so special for Stock and Super Stock. It is the race that my dad always looks forward to more than any other the entire season,” said DeFrank. “It is our vacation, and we truly enjoy it as racers and NHRA drag racing fans. Indy is a race you work for all year long, to make your cars fast, and to also try to drive your best. We were very excited to win class as there were some great competitors in SS/BS with us, and then to make it to the semifinals in the big race was huge. We were let down to not make it to the final or win the race, but when we stopped and looked at the situation, we were thankful for those 83 points. As I said before, we learned this year to put those disappointments behind us and move right along to focusing on the next event. That, in itself, was a big deal for us.”

Cashing in at The Strip
The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is another racetrack filled with memorable moments for DeFrank. Las Vegas is where he scored the second national event double of his career with 2015 victories in Stock and Super Stock at the spring race. In all, the CEO of California Car Cover has reached six Las Vegas national event finals and has three national wins at the racetrack situated just outside of the glittering lights of one of the most infamous cities on the planet. It is also where he has sewn up more than one championship, and in 2016, it was again where the final results were determined.

“Just like it was in 2009 and 2012, the championship was decided in Las Vegas,” said DeFrank. “To tell you the truth, I was shocked when we finally sewed it up. I couldn’t believe it, and I’m still not sure it’s completely sunk in. We are beyond thankful that we were able to hang onto this championship and even get to race at all. I was nervous throughout the weekend, but I knew that we did try our best and that we still had a couple of races left to gain points if we needed to. When it was finally over and we had won, we were all so relieved and excited.

“I was actually sitting in the RFC [Racers for Christ] church service on Sunday morning when our competitors were racing in Las Vegas and Rockingham, and my dad came into church and told me. Yes, he did stay for the rest of the service, and it was the perfect place to be since we felt so blessed.

“I was very humbled to get to win this championship and stay ahead of some truly terrific racers. All the racers in the top 10 were equal, in my opinion, and we were just fortunate to make some good runs and get the breaks when we needed them.”

Drag RacingThe Game Plan
The DeFrank & Sons Racing team took a different approach to 2016, and that, says DeFrank, was a major contributing factor to the outcome of their efforts.

“This season was different in that we only ran one car,” said DeFrank, who has regularly raced in two categories on the NHRA tour, hopping between his trusty Super Stock Cobalt and the team’s Stock Eliminator ’69 Camaro. Although the two-cars/one-driver formula has brought measurable success, including two national event doubles (the Las Vegas double-up in 2015 as well as a two-trophy finish at the Winternationals in 2013), DeFrank felt it was necessary to scale back and zero in.

“At the end of the 2015 season, I was a touch let down because we struggled during the last handful of races in both Stock and Super Stock,” said DeFrank, who has claimed a total of four national wins in Stock Eliminator and 15 in Super Stock. “We were rushing around a lot to make runs in qualifying and eliminations, and that seemed to take away from our performance. It was like we had 90% attention on each car instead of 100%, and we started this past year determined to devote all of our efforts to one car.

“That’s similar to my business personality as well; I like to focus on one task at a time and then move on to the next. Most of the great NHRA champions will most likely disagree with me, but I prefer racing just one car. It gives me more time to look at everything and make those important decisions. Thankfully, my dad and Davey went along with that line of thinking, and it actually went okay in 2016. I have no idea if it will ever work again, but I think that we would all agree that it worked this time.

“I have to give credit to my dad and our crew chief, Davey Allison. They worked so, so hard to realize this goal and dream. We race in an equal three parts as a team, and we all won this together with equal effort and focus. We three have raced together since the first time I went down the track in 1995. We also focused on just one car when we went after championships in 2009 and then in 2012 towards the end of the season. I remember our friend, Jeg Coughlin, going down to one car and focusing on Pro Stock in a couple of his championship seasons, and it worked well for him. So thank you, Jeg, for that great example.

In Good Company
DeFrank is just the second driver in the history of the class to win five Lucas Oil Series Super Stock championships; Northeast rival and friend Peter Biondo was the first to accomplish the feat with his fifth Super Stock series title earned in 2014.

“I am so honored to be mentioned alongside my friend Peter Biondo because of both the person and the racing champion that he is. Peter is truly the best in our sport, yet he still takes time to guide his friends along the way,” said DeFrank, who finished No. 2 to Biondo in 2014 and battled against him for the title in 2000, 2001, 2006, and 2007, finishing not far behind his pal each time.

Division 7 Driver of the Year
At the conclusion of the season and in addition to achieving the Super Stock national title, DeFrank was awarded the Division 7 Super Stock crown and was honored as the division’s Driver of the Year.

“I was very humbled and honored to receive that award, and it meant a lot to me for Division 7 Director Mike Rice, his staff, and our peers to present that to our team,” said DeFrank. “That award wasn’t just for me – it was for my dad and Davey, too, because we put those round wins and race wins together as a team. We lose together and we win together, but we always have fun. I was proud to clinch a national championship for Division 7, and I hope that our division can win another one next year in at least one category.”

What’s Next
The only time DeFrank’s Stock Eliminator ’69 Camaro saw the light of day in 2016 was when friend Jeff Adkinson wheeled it at the final national event of the year. This coming season, at least tentatively, DeFrank has other plans.

“I’m hoping that my brother, Tony, will join us for a few races in 2017,” said DeFrank, who raced with his brother frequently in the early years of his career and trailed him by just one position in Super Stock points in both 2002 and 2003. In 2005, the brothers squared off in the final round at the Sonoma national event with Jimmy taking the win. Tony has six Super Stock victories in 10 final rounds and was undefeated in final round performances from 1993 to 2003.

“Other than hopefully seeing my brother wheel the Stocker here and there, we haven’t made any solid plans for 2017,” DeFrank continued. “We will probably race both cars, but we’ll try to trade off races with them so we are only racing one per event. It’s still open for discussion, though.

“Right now, I’m just grateful for what we’ve been able to accomplish. When I was standing up there on the stage at the banquet, I was still in shock. This is a very special feeling, and it is truly an honor. I always dreamed of winning a championship, and now to be able to say we’ve won five – it just does not even seem real. I am so very thankful to get to live these dreams and to do so alongside my family and friends.”

Five Keys to Championship No. 5
1. Tons of prayer power by all of us
2. Teamwork in equal parts and with equal focus between myself, my dad Jim, and our Crew Chief Davey Allison
3. When something bad happened, we thought about it, learned from it, then immediately put it behind us
4. Getting the breaks when we needed them
5. Strong focus and desire on racing, and expanding that focus and desire to the big picture of a championship when it became a possibility

Five Goals for 2017 and beyond
1. Have fun with family and friends
2. Chip away at the performance of our cars
3. Continue to learn consistency in driving style and with the runs we make
4. Get my brother, Tony, to some races
5. Win more races if we have the chance

Drag RacingIn Gratitude
“First, I have to thank God for the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful and loving family that even has the opportunity to race,” said DeFrank. “I’d like to thank my mom Loraine, for her love and prayer support; my dad Jim, who leads our race team, is very detailed with every single racing item, and makes all the big decision behind the scenes and at the track; my brother Tony, for his love and encouragement, for watching all business activities at California Car Cover when we are away, and for teasing me so bad when I lose that it makes me try harder the next race; our Crew Chief Davey Allison, for everything he does to help us be at the races and win – he did the best job he has ever done this year, and it showed as we all won this championship together; my mentor Jeff Taylor, who has been helping us win since I first started and has taught me so much – I don’t think we would have won this many races or championships if Jeff wasn’t in our lives; Tom Kerr; Steve Decker; Wally Bose; Bo Butner; Randi Lyn Shipp; Jeff Adkinson; Willie Evans; Jeg Coughlin; Kyle Seipel; Peter Biondo; Justin Lamb; and every person at Racers for Christ.”

DeFrank also thanks his sponsors, including California Car Cover Co., California Car Duster Co., Golden Shine Car Care, K&N, Red Line Oil, Phoenix Tires, RFC, Jeg’s, Jim Butner Auto, CFE, Pro Trans, Comp Cams, Jeff Taylor Performance, VP Race Fuels, and Biondo Racing.

Harlow Sammons Racing’s Steve Hinojos Swept Up in Thrill of Pro Stock

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Chris and Holly McGaha with longtime crew member and friend Steve Hinojos & wife Mandy

It started out so simple. Harlow Sammons Racing longtime crew member Steve Hinojos had been on course to attend Universal Technical Institute (UTI) to gain an education of a mechanical nature, but first his dad said he needed to get a job as he finished out the last two years of high school. The request was one that any father would make, but no one could have known quite how dramatically it would change the original plan.

The application process to UTI was already underway, and Hinojos was heading to the local grocery store to apply for a job as a bagger when his dad suggested another option.

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McGaha and Hinojos in the Harlow Sammons Racing pit

“He said, ‘Before you do that, run by this shop,’ ” Hinojos said, recalling that fateful day back in 2000. “My dad told me he knew a guy named Lester who was looking for help, and he said, ‘I might be messing up by sending you there, but I think you’ll like it better than the grocery store.’ So I ran by there and talked to Lester, and then he offered to show me around and introduce me to Chris and everybody. Of course, as soon as we walk into the engine shop I see hot rods everywhere. It was a dream.”

Hinojos started right away as a shop hand, cleaning up and pitching in with whatever task needed to be addressed. He finished out his junior and senior years of high school working at Harlow Sammons in Odessa, Texas, as many hours as he could, and he established a great bond with Chris McGaha, Lester’s son. When the younger McGaha decided to make a move and race in NHRA’s ultra-competitive and complex Competition Eliminator category, he presented a new deal to his friend.

“Chris said, ‘It’s totally up to you, and I’m not forcing you into any kind of decision. But you can go off to school and do your thing, or I can show you everything I know to this point. It could be me and you, or you could go do that deal and maybe get some hands-on time with the 25 other guys there to learn. I’ll leave it up to you.’ So I thought about it long and hard, and my dad said that I should do whatever I wanted to do and he would support me, so I stayed,” said Hinojos. “Chris showed me a few things, we built a lot of motors over the years, and when they started Comp racing, I tagged along.”

When the business side of things ramped up for Harlow Sammons, Hinojos put his efforts where needed, but in 2012 McGaha came to him again. After getting a taste of Pro Stock with Richard Freeman’s Ride and Drive program in 2011, McGaha knew where he was headed – and he wanted to take Hinojos with him.

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Hinojos on the starting line with Lester McGaha at the U.S. Nationals

“He said, ‘I have another life-changing decision for you to make,’ ” said Hinojos. “He told me he needed a full-time clutch guy for Pro Stock, but that I could share it with Lonnie, back at the shop, if I didn’t want to be with him all the time. I told him that if I was in, I would do it full-time because I wasn’t going to do it half-assed. He made the deal with David Nickens, we got the Dodge stuff all together, and we went to Houston for our first test. The rest is history.”

The climb was slow but steady as McGaha raced in 18 events in 2012 and 13 the following season before committing to a full-time program in 2014. That season, the team made the move from Dodge to Chevrolet with a purchase of equipment from former world champion and profoundly fast Mike Edwards. Those assets, combined with their growing experience in the factory hot rod category, gave them a fresh page on which to write their story. The team was like a sponge in 2014, in a constant state of education as their passion began to translate to success with a pair of low qualifier awards and their first top 10 finish.

It got even better in 2015, as McGaha and the Harlow Sammons Racing team, based out of their Southwest Performance & Machine engine shop in Odessa, collected two more No. 1 Qualifier awards before reaching their first final round in impressive fashion at the SpringNationals in Houston – at the very racetrack in their home state of Texas where they had their first test session as an independent team just a handful of years earlier.

Erica Enders won that day in Texas, and she beat McGaha again in his second career final – in Bristol that same season – but success would come fast and furious that summer. Hinojos was standing on the starting line in Sonoma when McGaha, the No. 1 qualifier, finally got the win light in a final-round battle with Jonathan Gray.

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Hinojos and McGaha, sharing that hard-fought first win in Sonoma 2015

“I’ve always played at sports – but I’ve never really been any good at it or been part of a winning team. I was pretty used to last place, and it never really bothered me, but I’ve always had the desire to win. Who doesn’t want to win,” said Hinojos. “So when we got that first trophy there in Sonoma, it was intense. I’ve never been part of a winning team in any way, I’d never won anything before that day, and to finally see it happen…. Wow. That’s all I can say. Wow.”

The very next weekend, the team was No. 1 again and proved the win was no fluke as McGaha defeated Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the Seattle final. They finished the season with a victory in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading to land a career best No. 4 in the Pro Stock championship points.

So far this year, McGaha and the team have established themselves as contenders. Twice this season, Hinojos has watched his friend and driver fly to the final round – at both Phoenix and the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. McGaha and fellow Chevy Camaro campaigner Drew Skillman are the only drivers other than the Summit Racing-backed KB Racing team to have been able to accomplish the feat in the new era of Pro Stock with electronic fuel injection (EFI) and the 10,500 rev limiters in place.

An exciting future stands ahead for the Pro Stock category and for the Harlow Sammons Racing team, but the events of the past will likely always be a motivating factor.

“I’m happy with what we’ve already accomplished, but yeah, it would be great to win more,” said Hinojos. “No matter what, I will never forget that first win. To be part of that was awesome. It was really special.”

Dream Shift: Elite’s Kyle Bates

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Crew man Kyle Bates is an integral part of the team, both on the road with Drew Skillman’s Chevy Camaro and back home in the Elite Motorsports engine shop.

When Kyle Bates was racing in NHRA’s Jr. Drag Racing League, he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. Like many kids just starting out, Bates saw Top Fuel in his future; but when it came down to it, the Oklahoma native found something even more exciting. Today, 26-year-old Bates is a key member of the Elite Motorsports team and their engine shop based in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. On the road, he is assigned to the increasingly quick Ray Skillman Chevrolet Camaro driven by Sportsman racer-turned-Pro Stock standout Drew Skillman.

“From the time I was 8 years old until I went to The School of Automotive Machinists (SAM Tech), I dreamed of working on a Top Fuel car,” said Bates, who raced Jr. dragsters from 8-16 years of age and then competed in the High School class at his local track.

“When I started to become more educated about engines, I realized that was just not the way I wanted to go,” he continued. “I knew I wanted to work on something more precise. Something that required more skill than just being fast.”

After graduating from SAM Tech, Bates began to work his way towards his new dream, the one in which he would play an active role on an NHRA Pro Stock team.

For several years, he put the craft he learned at SAM Tech to use as he pursued a real-world education, including two years with renowned engine builder Reher-Morrison.

“As far as the hands-on experience, they really taught me everything I know,” said Bates. “[Reher-Morrison] got me started and helped me become established with assembling engines, and during that time, I also had the opportunity to work with Rodger Brogdon’s team doing the clutch part-time. That continued when Rodger signed on with Elite Motorsports, and eventually Nick [Ferri, engine builder] was like, ‘Man, we’d really like to have somebody like you full-time.’ ”

Bates saw the situation as a win-win; he and his wife, Rebecca, are both from Oklahoma, and the Elite shop wasn’t but 40 minutes from where his family is based.

Bates soon got a powerful taste of success as Brogdon earned his first career win at Bristol in 2013 and then went on to win again in Reading, his first official event with Elite Motorsports.

IMG_5171“It was pretty awesome,” said Bates. “The win in Reading was my first race with Elite, and then Erica [Enders, Elite Motorsports driver] won Las Vegas and Pomona and the championship. It was unbelievable to be part of that. Then during the winter we signed a deal with Drew Skillman, and we went to the final round our first race as a team [2014 Pomona Winternationals]. I’ve been with Drew since he started, and that is true for all of us. Nobody has moved or changed, and we’re all very happy with how we work together. Things tend to go so smooth. This is home for me, as far as a Pro Stock team. I really like being here.”

While he enjoys his time on the road with Skillman and the rest of the Elite Motorsports team, Bates is learning all he can back at the shop under the guidance of Ferri.

Upon return from a race, the engine shop gets a game plan together, and then Bates digs in. In addition to disassembling and reassembling, he updates his notes, including tracking runs and parts. Although everything is a collective team effort at Elite, Bates is primarily responsible for engine assembly. Anyone in the shop can jump in at any time to help out anyone else, though. As he says, “I never know what I might be doing, but that makes it a great experience.”

Lately, Bates has been learning the business side of things as Ferri has introduced him to ordering parts and working directly with the manufacturers.

“It’s been exciting to start taking on more responsibility, because my end-goal is to be an engine builder and not an engine assembler. There is a big difference between the two,” said Bates.

“One of the major things that has been difficult for me is that I’ve spent my whole engine career learning how to move power up in rpm, not down,” he said, referring to the new rule for 2016 that mandated a 10,500 rev-limiter on their 500 cid engines. “You can’t just sit back and try to reverse-engineer things; it’s just not that simple. I also really want to get more involved in fuel injection, and Ben Strader and EFI University have really taken me under their wing. I think understanding fuel injection will be very important to my future, because in 10 years, we probably won’t work on anything with a carburetor.”

Bates explains Ferri’s teaching style as in-depth and different than anyone else he has ever worked with, and from his first day on the job, he was given a certain amount of trust.

“Nick has never been one to watch over my shoulder,” he said. “Jake [Hairston] gave me the tour and showed me how they wanted things done, and they let me go from there. There are six of us in the engine shop, and we all work very well together. They trusted in me then, and they still do.”

Skillman, who won his first Pro Stock race in St. Louis in 2015, has this year been one of the few drivers to really give the KB Racing/Summit Racing Pro Stock team of Greg Anderson and Jason Line a run for their money. Currently No. 4 in the points heading into the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston, Skillman was No. 2 qualifier last week at the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte and raced to the final round with one of the stronger cars on the property.

“We struggled with all of the [rule] changes in the beginning, and I was a bit distraught, but we’ve really pulled together as a team. I believe we will continue to move forward and, hopefully, [Elite Motorsports] will win more races and more championships,” said Bates. “I know we have a lot of work to do, but I think that with Nick, Jake, Richard Freeman [team owner], and everybody on this team, we can do it. I have no doubt we can get back to where we were.”

NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Notes

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Gray Motorsports crew man Jep Trammell with NHRA Pro Stock driver Shane Gray and the Valvoline/Nova Services Chevrolet Camaro (photo credit: Geiger Media)

Shane Gray, driver of the Gray Motorsports/Valvoline/Nova Services Chevrolet Camaro, made his best run of the year so far with a 6.602-second pass and top speed of 209.20 mph. The week before, in testing at zMAX Dragway, Gray recorded a swift 6.55 that indicated they were surely on to something.

“I will say I’m very proud of the team and the work they’ve put in this last month. They’ve been hard at it, and we are starting to have a lot of confidence in the race car,” said Gray.

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The Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart team, along with driver Erica Enders – the reigning Pro Stock world champion – continue to chip away at their mastery of the new Pro Stock rules and their own new program with a switch from Chevrolet to Dodge in the off-season. Following a trip to the semifinals in Charlotte, Enders is now tied for 7th in the Pro Stock points with Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr.

“We learned a lot this weekend,” Enders said. “We completely used this race as a test session for us. I’m glad we were able to learn some stuff, and we certainly made a move in the right direction.”

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Bo Butner, in the Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro, reached his second consecutive final round in his KB Racing-powered Chevrolet Camaro. It was the third final overall for Butner since joining the team last season.

“This four-wide is a tough deal. There’s a whole lot of thinking involved,” said Butner. “In the final, we did a good job. Jason (Line) just got by us. We are plenty fast and I was happy with how I drove in the final, so that’s a good boost going to Houston.”

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Ray Skillman Chevrolet Camaro driver Drew Skillman was one of the quicker cars in qualifying, and for the first time this season, he put Elite Motorsports in the No. 2 starting position. Skillman also had top speed on Friday after the single qualifying session on a strong 209.72 mph pass.

“We had a good weekend and are getting better every weekend we go out,” said Skillman. “The KB group have a little edge on us, but we’re gaining slowly but surely. We’re not sitting still; we’re progressing every weekend. I see a win in our future soon.”

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Skillman and Chris McGaha are the only two drivers outside of KB Racing to have made a final round this season. McGaha has been to two – here in Charlotte and also earlier this year in Phoenix. Both times Line was the victor.

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KB Racing made history in Charlotte when Line won the Four-Wide race. It marked the first time in history that an NHRA multi-car Pro Stock team won the first five races of the season. (Credit to NHRA Statistician Lewis Bloom for this fact).

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Australian drag racer Shane Tucker made his return to NHRA Pro Stock but was faced with many challenges leading up to the event. Primarily, a major issue on the dyno just two days before his season debut and then another that held them back from participation on the first day of the event. However, the determined Auzmet Architectural team rallied and made a solid A to B run on Saturday. A spoiled battery halted their final qualifying attempt, but in the first round of eliminations, they again went right down the racetrack, A to B. Tucker plans to run a limited schedule for the remainder of the season.

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After leaving before the tree was activated and throwing the three other opponents in his quad into confusion that resulted in the most tardy reaction times of year (and possibly ever in a single round), American Ethanol Dodge Dart driver Deric Kramer posted the Tweet of the race.

“Whoops!!!!” #ProStock #NHRA #FoxSports

Immediately followed by:

“Are there RBI’s in drag racing???”

Follow Kramer on Twitter: @DericKramer

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Summit Racing’s Jason Line Dominates With Four-Wide Win

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NHRA Four-Wide Nationals winner Jason Line and the KB Racing/Summit Racing team (photo credit Auto Imagery)

The 7th annual NHRA Four Wide Nationals presented by Lowes Foods was just another opportunity for the Summit Racing Pro Stock team to put their power on display, and they took full advantage of the current state of affairs. On Saturday it was Greg Anderson, driver of the red Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, basking in the glory as he earned the 82nd low qualifier award of his career, and on Sunday in Charlotte, it was points leader Jason Line’s turn as he bested them all in a four-across battle for the trophy.

It was Line’s first four-wide win and second final in the once yearly competition. It was also the 40th Pro Stock win of a career that spans 13 years, which ties the Wright, Minnesota-born driver with Pro Stock veterans Kurt Johnson and Mike Edwards for fifth on the all-time win list.

“As I get older, I realize how difficult it is to win these races, and it becomes more and more special,” said Line, who resides near Mooresville, N.C. “It’s very exciting to win at home, and it’s tough to win the four-wide. I hadn’t before today, and I’ve never been very successful at it. I consider myself a middle-of-the-road driver, so to win this race is pretty gratifying.”

Line launched with gusto into eliminations in his Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, flying to a 6.555-second pass – the quickest yet in Pro Stock’s new era of electronic fuel injection – at a massive 211.86 mph. He and Delco & Perry Chevrolet Camaro driver Kenny Delco, who recorded a very respectable 6.609, 209.72, advanced from their quad. Mountain View Camaro pilot Vincent Noble (6.647, 210.05) and Kendall Oil Dodge Dart campaigner V. Gaines (7.223, 205.44) were turned away empty-handed.

In the second round, Line was again the top performer with a 6.568, 211.16. He and Elite Performance Chevrolet wheeler Drew Skillman, who moved ahead on a 6.617, 208.91, earned a ticket to the final. It was Delco (6.663, 207.98) and a tire-shaking Elite Performance Mopar Dodge Dart driver Erica Enders (11.597, 77.55) who were sent home.

The final round had four Chevrolet Camaros all in a row with KB Racing versus Skillman and Harlow Sammons Racing’s Chris McGaha. First off the starting line was Bo Butner, in the KB Racing-powered Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro, but Line was not far behind. He made up the difference efficiently for a 6.565, 211.33 win over Butner’s 6.591, 210.77. Skillman was 6.620, 209.43 at the finish line stripe, and McGaha recorded a 6.646, 208.68. In the record books, the results will be printed as Line winning the event, Butner the runner-up, and Skillman and McGaha semifinalists.

In the oddest and, perhaps, most confusing events of the day, Deric Kramer left the starting line before the tree was activated in the second round, leaving all three of his quad-mates somewhat stunned. The best reaction time of the three remaining drivers was a .121-second launch recorded by Chris McGaha. Greg Anderson clocked a .237, and Butner was a mind-blowing .566 at the tree. Kramer was immediately disqualified with no time to log, and Anderson succumbed to tire shake as he tried to recover from the slow start.

“It’s just tough, but’s fine if everything goes smooth,” said Line of the four-wide format that breaks the norm from every other race on the circuit and invites unusual outcome. “In the final, we all four had decent lights and it was a good race, so it was fun. But you never know what’s going to happen with this deal.”

Line’s victory at the seventh rendition of the unique event at zMAX Dragway was the fourth Four-Wide Nationals win for Ken Black’s Mooresville, N.C.-based KB Racing. Summit Racing teammate Anderson won the event in 2011 and 2012, and Sweden’s multi-time FIA Pro Stock champion Jimmy Alund won it in 2014 in a KB Racing-powered Chevy Camaro.

Even more impressive, though, was the fact that the win in Charlotte marked the fifth consecutive victory for Team Summit and the KB Racing team. According to NHRA statistician Lewis Bloom, no other team in the history of NHRA Pro Stock has ever won the first five events in a season.

“We take a lot of pride in this, because we probably had more changes to make engine-wise than everyone else did,” said Line, referring to the new rules for 2016, which include a change from carbureted engines to electronic fuel injection, but, more critically for KB Racing, a 10,500 rpm rev limiter. “We relied on good old fashion effort, and John Meanie [of Big Stuff 3] was certainly a big part of that, as well as the folks at Holley who got us up and running and off to a good start. It comes down to a lot of effort and making a lot of dyno pulls to understand the system.”

The next race on the 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour is the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston, April 29-May 1, 2016.

For full results, visit DragRaceCentral.com.

Photos: Jason Line’s Four-Wide Winner’s Circle

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V. Gaines Continues Quest for Answers as Season Rolls On

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Like V. Gaines on Facebook: facebook.com/vgainesNHRA

The new rules package for Pro Stock had V. Gaines and his Kendall Oil Dodge team working very hard in the off-season to prepare for 2016, and like many others, Gaines and his team – led by crew chief Clyde West – have experienced frustration in the process. However, as Gaines has a massive 451 races under his belt in the NHRA Pro Stock division, he and his team are familiar with the dedication required in order to make progress.

“I think we’ve come a long way [in regard to learning the newly mandated Electronic Fuel Injection system],” said Gaines, who has four wins in the category. “We feel comfortable, but we also know that we have a lot to learn. Most of that is in the engine shop to find out what makes the fuel injection happy. That’s going to take some time, because you can only do one change at a time. And it takes a lot of money as you make different parts, then sometimes have to throw them in the scrap pile and keep going. It’s difficult; just because a part doesn’t work in a particular application, that doesn’t mean it won’t work with other changes. There is a lot of dyno time going on in all the shops.

“We’re all anxious to try the next thing and get the next result, but then you get the disappointment because things don’t work. Sometimes when things do work, that opens up a whole bunch of new questions. You come to a test session or a track with 10 questions – but you leave with 20 more.”

Gaines has qualified in the No. 14 position in each of the most recent four races – including the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. He and his team tested at zMAX Dragway ahead of the Charlotte event, but the test session was cut short due to weather.

“We got a little testing in, but we needed more,” he said.

In the first session of qualifying for the main event at zMAX Dragway, Gaines had a bit of trouble and slowed to a 7.433, 204.98, but the second session, he improved to a 6.671, 206.99 in his Kendall Oil Dodge Dart. Although there was no further improvement in the third qualifying round nor a win light on Sunday, Gaines maintained a dedicated stance paired with a jovial nature. Known for the big smile behind an ever-present cigar, the Colorado resident has his priorities in order.

“You know, we haven’t been No. 1 qualifier yet, and we would really like to do that one of these days,” said Gaines. “But life is good. I’ve got lots of grandkids, lots of joy, and lots of life.”

The Next Generation of Anderson

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17-year-old Cody Anderson, son of NHRA Pro Stock racer Greg Anderson, was a crew member on Bo Butner’s car in Las Vegas two weeks ago. 

Pro Stock drag racing is very much a family sport, and proof of that can be found with a single walk through the pit area on any given weekend. Under the awnings in each individual camp are moms and dads, husbands and wives, kids, grandparents, cousins, and friends, and while the driver and crew are hard at work preparing their respective Chevrolet Camaros or Dodge Darts for the next run, some of those with a front row seat are actually catching a glimpse of their own future.

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Two of Shane Gray’s sons, Taylor and Tanner, with Cody Anderson in 2011.

Sometimes, those individuals are asked to help out here and there, perhaps rolling tires to the back of the pit or wiping off the front end of Dad’s car with a blue cloth. Or, sometimes, those young men and women are afforded the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat in the pit area for a few precious moments. And, sometimes, that feels right. Other times, it doesn’t.

The truth is, you just don’t know what the future holds – but it’s darn exciting for those around the next generation to consider the possibilities.

Cody Anderson, son of four-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson, got his feet wet working as a crew member on the Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro driven by Bo Butner two weeks ago at the NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas.

“Bo asked me to help him out, and so I decided to take him up on the offer,” said Anderson, who was assigned to the back-half of Butner’s KB Racing-powered Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro. “I’ve helped on Dad’s team before, but working with Bo and the guys was something I’d never really done. I worked on the rear-end and helped Darrel (Herron, crew chief), and it was a lot of fun. It’s a good group of guys.”

For Butner, having the younger Anderson on board for the weekend was a pleasure.

“I was going to be short-handed for Vegas, so I asked him if he’d like to help,” said Butner. “I made him a good offer, just to get him to do it, and it actually turned out very, very well. He learned a lot from Darrel, and I 100% trust Cody. He’s been around this stuff from before he was even born. It was a good weekend, and he’s more than welcome. Always.”

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Cody Anderson, in the driver’s seat, with friend Tanner Gray last year

Although 17-year-old Anderson’s future as an NHRA Pro Stock crew member, crew chief, or driver hasn’t exactly been decided, he is open to the possibility.

“I don’t know. That’s a tough question, but maybe someday,” said Anderson, when asked if he would pursue an active position in Pro Stock down the road. “I think I’d rather drive than work on the crew or be a crew chief. If the opportunity arises to drive a Pro Stock car, I’d take it.”

Greg Anderson Secures 82nd Career Pole with Four-Wide No. 1

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Summit Racing’s Greg Anderson earned the 82nd No. 1 qualifier award of his career at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals presented by Lowes Foods. Photo credit: Auto Imagery

The Mooresville, N.C.-based KB Racing team continued to flex their collective muscle during qualifying at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals presented by Lowes Foods. Ultimately, Greg Anderson had the quickest car on the property and will take the 82nd No. 1 qualifier award of his career into raceday at zMAX Dragway. It is his second pole of the 2016 season of NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

The four-time NHRA season champ held the top spot throughout qualifying, sealing the deal with a stellar 6.576-second pass at 210.41 mph in the third and final round.

“The boys did a great job matching the horsepower and the chassis to the racetrack,” said Anderson, who recorded a 6.577, 209.65 in the first session and a 6.587, 210.73 in the second round of qualifying en route to the No. 1.

“It doesn’t matter if you outrun someone on a particular run – you have to do it every time, and you have to be able to always do your best job,” Anderson continued. “We made two great runs today, and all three of our KB Racing Chevy Camaros are very fast and competitive. They’ve shown that they can adapt through changing conditions, and that’s what it takes to go rounds. My guys did a fantastic job of that today, so my hat is off to them.”

Driving the red Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, Anderson was the quickest of the pack in two of the three qualifying rounds for top marks. He acquired a total of eight bonus points, while KB Racing teammate Bo Butner, in the Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro, was quickest in the second round for three of his own. The third of the KB Racing cars – the blue Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro piloted by Jason Line – brought in four bonus marks; Drew Skillman earned two in the Elite Motorsports Ray Skillman Chevrolet Camaro; and Gray Motorsports/Valvoline/Nova Services driver Shane Gray scored a point in the final round for IDG, who is on board his Chevy at this event.

Notably, Skillman’s Ray Skillman Chevrolet held top speed honors after Friday’s session with a strong 209.72 mph pass. Line’s Summit Racing Camaro ousted his competitor’s perch in the second session with a 210.87, and he improved to a 211.10 – the only 211+ speed of qualifying – to maintain his stance.

The ladder in four-across format separates the drivers into quads instead of pairs. Anderson will race Auzmet Architectural Camaro pilot Shane Tucker – competing for the first time since Dallas of 2014, Harlow Sammons Racing campaigner Chris McGaha, and Marathon Petroleum driver Allen Johnson.

The two quickest drivers in Anderson’s quad will race the quickest pair in a quad that includes Butner, Deric Kramer and his American Ethanol Dodge Dart, Gray, and Elite Motorsports Magneti Marelli/JEGS Dodge driver Jeg Coughlin Jr.

Across the ladder, one quad includes three Chevrolet Camaros driven by Skillman, Pypes Performance driver John Gaydosh, Gas Monkey Energy’s Alex Laughlin, and Elite Motorsports Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders. The final quad is populated by Line, Kendall Oil Dodge pilot V. Gaines, Mountain View Camaro campaigner Vincent Nobile, and Kenny Delco in the Delco & Perry Camaro.

Anderson’s first zMAX Dragway No. 1 was earned last fall at the Carolina Nationals, but this weekend’s start from the top is his first Four-Wide Nationals pole. With the achievement, Anderson has now qualified for 304 consecutive attempted races – the most of any driver in Pro Stock history. The record was previously held by Warren Johnson.

“Anytime you get a No. 1, it’s fantastic,” said Anderson. “But to finally get this at the Four-Wide Nationals is just great. We made gains overnight, we upped our game and kept a little bit of distance. Tomorrow is a whole new day and a different set of circumstances. Anything can happen on raceday, but it’s a good feeling to get this No. 1 at what I consider my home track. It means a lot. If we can find a way to put our two Summit Racing Chevy Camaros – or better yet, all three of our KB Racing cars – in the final round tomorrow, we’ll be really happy. That would set up some good odds. I feel pretty great after today.”

For full results, visit DragRacingCentral.com