Two weeks from opener, Wilkerson ready to roll

Two weeks from opener, Wilkerson ready to roll

What a difference a year makes. 365 days ago, Tim Wilkerson was readying his troops and his equipment for the season opener in Pomona with more question marks than exclamation points in his head. He’d not only made the switch to a new chassis during the off-season, he’d moved from the familiar two-rail style to the newer three-rail configuration, and in addition, he was putting a sleek new Shelby Mustang on the car for the first time. If making changes can create challenges, Wilkerson had gone for the gusto.

This year, after a slow start in 2009 finally evolved into a successful campaign that featured two race victories, one runner-up result, and a fourth-place finish in the points, Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray & Shoup team are approaching the 2010 season with a different and more calculated approach. This year, it’s all about continuity and confidence, as the team aims to take the momentum they built during the second half of the 2009 season and translate that into a solid start to a long and successful 2010 Full Throttle run.

"We learn lessons all the time in this sport, or at least we try to, and that was probably one last year," Wilkerson said. "We just made a lot of changes, and those can be tough enough when you’re doing them one at a time, but they’re really hard to sort out when you’re doing multiple new things at once. We had to dig through it and keep our confidence up early on because it was a struggle. Once we started to find our groove a little, things got a lot better, and the car became our friend again. By midsummer last year, we were feeling like ourselves again, and we carried that right to the end of the season.

Tim Wilkerson scored back-to-back wins last season in Sonoma and Seattle.

"This year, the emphasis has been more on making sure we have some shiny new parts in the trailer and everything is serviced and ready to go so that we can hit the ground running in Pomona with the same confidence we had last fall. Same approach, same people, same stuff. That doesn’t mean everything will just fall into place because cars are cars, and they can go Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on you over the course of a single weekend, but I think we’re a lot better off than we were at the beginning of last year, just by having a better grip on things and because of the strong finish we had last season."

Never a big preseason testing fanatic (the LRS team made only a couple of days worth of runs in West Palm Beach, Fla., last year), Wilkerson’s version of spring training in 2010 has been more about "getting in shape" than it’s been about tune-ups. He and the LRS team spent half a week in Phoenix recently, but the vast majority of their on-track work was centered on further testing of the spec motor NHRA is investigating and developing. Once those laps were complete, the team made an on-track effort with its standard setup.

"We agreed to go out there and make some laps, trying out some stuff for NHRA and giving them the feedback they need on this deal, so it wasn’t a normal preseason test in that sense," Wilkerson said. "The benefit for us was just getting in game shape, if you know what I mean. You can’t simulate the effort it takes to make a lap, service the car, and get it back out there again, so it was good for the guys to be doing that work at a racetrack and getting back in rhythm that way. It’s like a football team running the plays, really. We’ll have that under our belts on the first day in Pomona, so that was very worthwhile.

"Then, we did have the chance to put our regular stuff back in it there at the end, just to make sure we still knew what we were doing and the car was happy. We might’ve stayed and made a few more laps that way, but the weather moved back in, and that was it. We’ve never been one of these teams that will go set up and run for days on end in January anyway because we’d rather spend our budget on winning rounds and races, and we’re pretty good at adapting on the fly, so I think we’ll be fine. We’re ready to go."

In preseason testing in Phoenix, Wilkerson helped NHRA test its spec engine.

The 2010 season won’t be completely without change for Wilkerson, as his team will soon take possession of its first ’10 Shelby Mustang bodies. The new ’10 Ford was developed to build on the aerodynamic advantages of the 2009 version, making it even sleeker and faster. Wilkerson’s new bodies are still in the process of being mounted and completed, though, so fans shouldn’t expect to see the ’10 Shelby in Levi, Ray & Shoup colors until Gainesville at the earliest.

"Our new bodies aren’t quite done yet, and with Pomona and Phoenix back to back this year, there’s no way to make that change between races," Wilkerson reported. "We’ll start the season with the same body we ran at the end of last year, and that will be fine for a couple of races. Once we get the 2010 Shelby Mustang on there, it should just give us one more reason to go faster.

"Looking back on 2009 and ahead to 2010, I’d have to say the switch to Ford and teaming up with the Tasca group have really been huge advantages for us. The people at Ford Racing are in this to win, and you can feel that dedication and excitement anytime you’re around them. They give us support in a lot of ways, but just having a company like Ford behind you means you’ve got an advantage over a lot of teams out here. I’m proud to have the blue oval on my firesuit, I can tell you that, and we hope to get our LRS Ford back in the winner’s circle a bunch of times this year."

Starting the year with continuity and momentum should give Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray & Shoup team a head start on the road to a successful season.
 

Force lays out multi-point future plan for JFR

Force lays out multi-point future plan for JFR

John Force

Responding to an unpredictable economy, drag racing icon John Force on Thursday outlined a plan to ensure both the competitive and financial viability of John Force Racing Inc. for years to come. The plan has been a work in progress for more than a year.

The cornerstones of Force’s initiative are a reduction in the number of cars the team will support next season in its bid for an unprecedented 17th NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car world championship, relocation of all JFR racing resources to its Brownsburg, Ind., facility, creation of new revenue streams through production of the BOSS 500 engine and the JFR chassis, and personnel consolidation.

“In this economy,” Force said, “I’m having to reevaluate my programs and my people to create a game plan for the future. It’s all about the Next Generation.

“I have invested with the IMG group, headed by George Pyne, to help look for new sponsorship opportunities, but I also know that I need to ensure that my current sponsors, primarily Castrol, in our 25th year together, Ford, Auto Club, BrandSource, and Mac Tools, are getting more value than they expect. We will continue to hit the media hard and work with them to make sure that our message along with our sponsors’ messages reach the fans.”

Whereas JFR has fielded four Ford Funny Cars the last three seasons, Force said he is parking, at least temporarily, the Drive One Mustang directed to a season-ending victory by 2008 rookie of the year Mike Neff.

His team’s 2010 lineup will feature only three Ford Mustangs: his own Castrol GTX High Mileage entry, the Auto Club Mustang in which Robert Hight will defend his Full Throttle world championship, and the Castrol GTX Mustang in which reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion Ashley Force Hood will try to become the first woman to win the Funny Car title.

Mike Neff, right, will step out of the John Force Racing team’s fourth Funny Car  this season and work with crew chief Austin Coil on Force’s Mustang.

The 126-time tour winner said that Neff, crew chief for Gary Scelzi when they won the 2005 Funny Car world championship, will join Austin Coil, the most successful crew chief in drag racing history, in support of Force’s bid for a 15th NHRA driving championship.

Bernie Fedderly, Coil’s partner for the last 17 years and one of only three crew chiefs to have won NHRA titles in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, will continue to be in the mix but will adjust his travel schedule after 30 years. He will also assume the new role of special projects manager at John Force Racing Inc. as well as contribute to the Coil-Neff alliance.

As Fedderly’s role changed, it opened the door to one of the most intriguing crew-chief partnerships in recent history. After winning the 2005 NHRA world championship as crew chief to Scelzi, Neff spent the last two seasons at the wheel of the Ford Drive One Mustang, earning 2008 rookie of the year honors before winning the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals last November at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Coil has won more NHRA races and more championships than anyone – including Force. The man who started as a line mechanic at a Chicago dealership enters 2010 with 16 championship trophies and 133 tour victories. Before joining Force in 1985, he won seven races and two NHRA championships (1982 and 1983) with his own car, the Chi-Town Hustler, driven by Frank Hawley.

Significantly, the makeover of Force’s team extends well beyond the crew chiefs. In fact, all but one crewmember will be new to the team with the start of the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 11-14, in Pomona.

In addition, the car itself will be new, front to back, utilizing JFR’s in-house chassis that Neff took to victory for the first time last year; the Ford BOSS 500 nitro engine developed by JFR’s John Medlen in conjunction with Ford Racing; and the new, sleeker ’10 Mustang body with new logos and new metallic paint featuring silver highlights that recognize the 25 seasons Force has shared with Castrol.

Neff’s crew chief, Medlen, will concentrate on managing The Eric Medlen Project, which will continue to focus on racing safety, as well as the in-house engine and chassis programs he helped create that will generate new revenue streams through production of the BOSS 500 engine and the JFR chassis. Medlen will also be available to team with crew chief Jimmy Prock and car chief Eric Lane to create a potent tuning triumvirate for the 2009 Funny Car championship Auto Club Ford Mustang team.

“I am dropping the fourth car for the 2010 season strictly as a business move,” Force said, “because in this economy, we haven’t been able to fund it properly through new sponsorship.”

After a long tenure with Don Schumacher Racing, noted racetrack expert Lanny Miglizzi, left, will join Dan Hood as JFR’s track specialist this season.

Moreover, to underscore the seriousness with which his teams are pursuing the 2010 title, Force has added track specialist Lanny Miglizzi to work with his crew chiefs and with son-in-law Dan Hood, who last year served as track specialist while developing as a backup for Fedderly in his role as inventory manager and personnel manager. The combination of Hood and Miglizzi also gives JFR more personnel to monitor the ever-changing track conditions as race cars compete throughout the day in Funny Car and Top Alcohol Dragster.

Miglizzi will also work out of the Brownsburg shop leading the JFR in-house clutch program. For years, he operated one of the sport’s most successful clutch-management businesses with his late father, Tony. He is widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable, detail-oriented experts in the field of track-mapping.

Another change is the consolidation of all race car operations in Brownsburg. The last of Force’s race cars to make the move from the West Coast facility in Yorba Linda, Calif., was his own Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford. Furthermore, the machine-shop operation, which previously was split between the two facilities, has been centralized in Brownsburg.  

Force’s attention has not just been focused on on-track performance. One of the strongest brands in motorsports has also been looking at ways to ensure that his corporate backing can weather the up-and- down economy with his teams.

“I’ve had to reevaluate everything from show-car programs to midway displays to help activate programs for the sponsors and help cut costs,” Force said.

“I’ve talked a number of times with Tom McKernan, the CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California, who helped keep the Auto Club profitable even in tough times, to help me reevaluate our JFR business plan,” Force said.

“Last year, I started talking with Brian Wolfe, who came over from Powertrain where he was instrumental in managing Ford’s mass-production capabilities. We talked about how to produce products in-house not only for our team but also to generate revenue by selling to other teams. I will continue to speak to Brian in this area as time permits because he is the expert. In Phoenix, I had the chance to speak with Jamie Allison, the new director of Ford Racing, and it was business as usual. We have to continue to be cost-efficient, but at the end of the day, Ford wants to win.

“One of my biggest losses was the recent passing of Bob Tasca Sr. He introduced me to Ford in 1997, and he wrote the book You Will Be Satisfied, about how to sell to the next generation of consumers. He was one of the icons with Ford, and I pray that I listened enough.

“I listen to these individuals because they’re successful in what they do, and with the 25th anniversary of JFR and Castrol and the continued growth of the NHRA, we need to know where we’re going for the next 25 years,” Force said.

“My priority right now is to execute this business plan and make sure existing sponsors like Castrol, Ford, Auto Club, BrandSource, and Mac Tools can activate trackside and elsewhere. I am investing in show-car trailers to help make that happen.

“It’s a tough economy, but these are exciting times, too, because of the way we are responding to the challenge. For me,” Force said, “the key word is ‘activate.’ We need to activate for our sponsors, but we need to activate for ourselves, too.”

 

NHRA extends K&N Horsepower Challenge contract

NHRA extends K&N Horsepower Challenge contract

NHRA has signed a contract extension with K&N Engineering Inc., locking in the company’s sponsorship of the popular K&N Horsepower Challenge, a lucrative bonus event for Pro Stock competitors, through the 2012 event.

The K&N Horsepower Challenge is a special race-within-a-race bonus program for the top Pro Stock drivers in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. The K&N Horsepower Challenge is contested during the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk.  The race features a special elimination pairing with eight Pro Stock drivers in the field: seven who accumulate the most points in qualifying during the 23-race Challenge series and one who is selected to the starting lineup for the event via a special fan vote.

As part of the K&N Horsepower Challenge, K&N will conduct a fan promotion during the running of the series and will present a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle to a lucky fan during the final of the K&N Horsepower Challenge. In the promotion, eight lucky fans will receive a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Summit Motorsports Park for the event, where one fan will be selected as the winner of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Each finalist will be paired with a K&N Horsepower Challenge driver during the pre-race ceremony and will be introduced on stage with the driver.

“We are pleased to extend the sponsorship of this important bonus event for Pro Stock racers with our friends at K&N Engineering,” said Gary Darcy, NHRA senior vice president-sales & marketing. “The K&N Horsepower Challenge certainly brings an increased level of excitement to the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.”

The winner of the K&N Horsepower Challenge will earn $50,000, and the runner-up will earn $10,000. The two semifinalists will earn $3,000 each, and the four first-round finishers will receive $2,500 each.

“K&N is committed to making the Horsepower Challenge the premier Pro Stock event at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park,” said Steve Williams, K&N Engineering vice president. “This year, we are paring up eight lucky fans with the top eight drivers for a chance to win a Harley-Davidson Street Bob motorcycle; all they have to do is go to KNfilters.com, vote for their favorite driver, and register to win.”

The K&N Horsepower Challenge features an overall purse of $145,000. In addition to the $76,000 K&N Horsepower Challenge, K&N also will award $69,000 in qualifying bonuses to quick Pro Stock qualifiers throughout the K&N Horsepower Challenge series. Low qualifiers earn $3,000 at each of the 23 events in the Challenge series.

Last season, Jeg Coughlin Jr. claimed his third title in the prestigious race-within-a-race bonus event.  Other past winners of the K&N Horsepower Challenge include Greg Anderson, Dave Connolly, Kurt Johnson, Warren Johnson, Darrell Alderman, Larry Morgan, Jim Yates, Bruce Allen, and Bob Glidden.

K&N Engineering has been a major NHRA contingency sponsor for many years and has been the title sponsor for several NHRA national events in the past.

K&N is in Riverside, Calif., and has more than 700 employees. Its 400,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facilities produce the world’s best air filters that are reusable. Besides creating the first reusable performance air filter, K&N also produces the Wrench-Off oil filter and complete replacement air intake systems, adding horsepower for most cars and trucks.

Koretsky, Stanfield team up in quest for Pro Stock title

Koretsky, Stanfield team up in quest for Pro Stock title

Kenny Koretsky

Popular Pro Stock team owner Kenny Koretsky will partner with driver/engine builder Greg Stanfield and Indicom Electric owner Greg Hill, focusing on a 2010 season they believe could be as bright as the familiar multicolored race cars that run under Koretsky’s Nitro Fish Apparel banner.

This alignment also includes Koretsky’s longtime friend/crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia and is the melding of teams that, as one, have everything necessary to challenge for the coveted NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series title.

“I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do this year,” said the gregarious Koretsky, aka "Captain Chaos." “In fact, I was contemplating sitting out the season when Greg Stanfield and I began talking. He is one of the best engine builders in the sport, and that is something our team has been without in recent years.

“As it turned out, Greg wasn’t sure if he was going to race in 2010 or just build motors. I’m happy we were able to work things out.  Greg had his best Pro Stock finish last year when he was fourth, so we definitely have a solid foundation to build on. ’Captain Chaos’ is going to race for the championship.

“We haven’t been able to put together a solid engine program,” Koretsky continued, “and now we’re associated with a very good one. The Nitro Fish/Indicom Electric Pro Stock team will be at all 23 races.”

Stanfield  is enthused about this opportunity.

“We’re excited,” he said. “It shouldn’t take long for us to get things working right. One good thing is Eddie has raced for a long time, and so have I.

“Pro Stock is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Stanfield continued. “Things have been improving for us each year, but we’ve never had the resources to really do the things I want to do. It’s a slow process because you have a lot of teams that have a lot of money, and they are working hard, raising the bar every day. It’s not only about the money; it’s about the work you need to do to keep up the performance.

Stanfield’s father taught him how to build engines. “He got me involved in racing,” he said. “He always built his own engines . . . so one thing led to another. I spend a lot of time in the shop. It is seven days a week for us.”

Greg Stanfield

Stanfield also has an impressive – and varied – resume that includes four Super Stock championships, a second-place finish in the 2001 Pro Stock Truck standings, and four top 10 Pro Stock finishes in the last five seasons.

“I’ve won races in every class I’ve raced in – Stock, Super Stock, Competition eliminator, Pro Stock Truck, and Pro Stock,” Stanfield added. “There aren’t many of us who have won races in that many categories.”

Guarnaccia said that the team will attend the preseason test session in Las Vegas (Feb. 4-6). “We’d like to start the season on a good note. This is our best opportunity to win races in about five years. Stanfield is obviously an excellent driver, and his motors put out excellent power. 

“He had his best Pro Stock season last year, and they should be proud of what they did against the tough competition. I’m hoping we can do better things for them.  With the horsepower they have, it’s a real good opportunity for all of us.”

Stanfield’s fourth-place finish was “one of the most efficient team efforts in Pro Stock,” said Hill. “Greg did a great job driving, and we fought our way through the season. 

“I think having Eddie as crew chief is a huge plus for our team,” Hill continued. “I respect him and think he’s one of the smartest tuners out there.  He’s dedicated to making the car go down the racetrack. I think this season is going to be a lot of fun.”

Ultimately, Stanfield hopes to give Koretsky his first Pro Stock national event victory and, perhaps, a taste of what it’s like to be involved in a championship race.

Potty Queen has openings

Potty Queen is looking for two drivers that are willing to deliver, pump and clean portable restrooms. In these positions the driver must be willing to do physical work as part of the job. Potty-Queen

Have interested parties apply at the address below or call Lee at (484) 614-1611 or John at (610) 587-8879.

For more information, click on the “Read more” link. More >

NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series to call ESPN2, ESPN2HD home in 2010

NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series to call ESPN2, ESPN2HD home in 2010

The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series will again be televised in 16 one-hour shows on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD, with coverage from select NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national events. In addition, the popular NHRA Sportsman Spotlights, focusing on NHRA’s member-track network, will air on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD as part of the race coverage.

The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series will air on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD on a tape-delay basis as part of NHRA’s relationship with ESPN, which enters its 10th year as the exclusive home of NHRA Drag Racing. All 16 telecasts will air Saturday or Sunday. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series has a long-standing tradition of serving as a highly competitive developmental arena for the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

Returning as anchor of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series telecasts will be longtime NHRA announcer David Rieff, who will be joined in the booth by popular NHRA announcer Bob Frey. Rieff has been involved for many years with NHRA coverage on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD. ESPN2 is available in 98.7 million households.

In addition to his race-coverage duties in the booth, Frey will host the popular NHRA Sportsman Spotlight segments, which will be featured within the race broadcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD. The segments will showcase unique and interesting stories from NHRA member tracks in each of the sanctioning body’s seven divisions. Frey’s schedule of appearances includes Atco Raceway in Atco, N.J. (Aug. 4, Division 1); Orlando Speed World Dragway in Orlando, Fla. (March 6, Division 2); the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional event at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis (April 24, Division 3); the JEGS NHRA Cajun SPORTSnationals at No Problem Raceway Park in Belle Rose, La. (March 20, Division 4); Cedar Falls Raceway in Cedar Falls, Iowa (July 31, Division 5); Portland Int’l Raceway in Portland, Ore. (Aug. 28, Division 6); and Kauai Raceway Park in Kapaa, Kauai (July 4, Division 7).

Complete 2010 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series TV schedule