Adam Sinclair

Adam Sinclair

Adam has been a race fan since the first time he went through the tunnel under the Daytona International Speedway almost 30 years ago. He has had the privilege of traveling to races all across the state of Florida (as well as one race in Ohio), watching nearly everything with a motor compete for fame and glory, as well as participating in various racing schools to get the feel of what racecar drivers go through every week.  

Adam spent several years covering motorsports for Examiner.com., where he had the opportunity to see the racing world from behind the scenes as well as the grandstands. He invites everyone to follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus, and looks forward to sharing his enthusiasm for all things racing with the readers of SpeedwayDigest.com.

Be sure to tune in for his sports talk program, Thursday Night Thunder, where he discusses the latest in motorsports news with drivers, crew members, and fans. The show takes place (almost) every Thursday at 8:00 pm EST on the Speedway Digest Radio Network. 

Contact Adam: Email  

  

 

 Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM) and Tequila Patrón earned its second consecutive FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) podium. On Sunday afternoon in China, the No. 30 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b (HPD) team of Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Ricardo Gonzalez finished second in the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai.
  
In its two FIA WEC races, ESM earned two podium finishes. In September, Sharp, Dalziel and Ed Brown finished third at the FIA WEC race at Austin, Texas’ Circuit of The Americas. The FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai marked ESM’s final race in the HPD ARX-03b prototypes. In May, ESM purchased two HPD ARX-04b coupe prototypes to be used in 2015.
 
It was an adventurous trip for the Florida-based team. The weekend opened with rain during the first two practice sessions. Saturday’s final practice and qualifying were dry but the shortest segments of the weekend. The first time the team had at-length on-track action was during today’s race which also proved to be challenging. The track lacked grip and throughout the six-hour event, the preferred racing line became very narrow.
 
The No. 30 team qualified in the sixth spot. In the opening minutes of the race, Dalziel leap-frogged from sixth to second before a full course caution for contact between an LMP2 and GTE car. The full-course caution period lasted 21 minutes.
 
The No. 30 team drivers ran approximately two hour stints and never fell below fourth place in class. Gonzalez dropped to third in his stint but remained strong. Sharp had some bodywork come loose during his two-hour stint. He pitted earlier than scheduled to make the necessary repairs. Sharp reached second before the final driver change to Dalziel with 40 minutes remaining on the race clock.
 
While running second, Dalziel needed fuel to complete the race. With 20 minutes remaining, the Scotsman pitted and the fast-working No. 30 team serviced the Tequila Patrón-sponsored Honda. It would be the seventh stop for the team. Despite the late-race fuel splash, the ESM team got Dalziel back on track without losing second place.

“I think racing FIA WEC in China was everything we hoped it to be," stated Sharp. "We wanted to come and learn. We were thrown so many curveballs this weekend. Fortunately, Ryan and Ricardo had driven here before, but as a team, we’ve never been to China, so everything was brand new for Ed, Johannes and me. We chased the setup with the car, tires and track. We learned so much both on- and off-track, including the logistics just to get us here."
  
The No. 31 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b started from the fifth position. David Brabham gained a spot and ran his two-hour stint in fourth position. Struggling with the same low-grip track issues, Brabham ran a strong and consistent stint before the No. 31 team cycled through the driver lineup.
 
Johannes van Overbeek ran a two-hour stint, pitting once for fuel and minor adjustments. He maintained a fourth-place effort before the scheduled driver change to Brown.
 
Brown, in his second FIA WEC race, ran a competitive stint before the final driver change to Brabham. In the closing 45 minutes, Brabham posted some of the quickest laps of the No. 31 team’s race. At the end of the six-hour race, the No. 31 Tequila Patrón HPD finished fifth.

“What a great experience for the team to be able to race in Shanghai," added Brown. "It was a tough week for track time because of the weather but both cars did awesome!"
 
On Friday evening, Tequila Patrón and ESM recognized Brabham and his 30-year motorsports career during a special reception. Brown, president and CEO of Patrón Spirits International, presented Brabham with a one-of-a-kind personalized bottle of Gran Patrón Platinum.

“I have to thank ESM and Tequila Patrón for helping to clear cobwebs out after seven months out of the seat! It was great to race with the team again," Brabham added. "We had a solid result considering it was the first time for ESM to race in China. It was tricky out there with a low-grip track, but we can be happy with second- and fifth-place finishes.”

More than a year of preparation came together over the weekend of October 17 & 18th at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, NC for J2Mayfield Racing at King of the Carolinas.  Finally, it was time to debut the ultra-secretive paint scheme and mascot that #TeamJ2 had assembled, and hopefully, defy the odds and bring home a victory. 

The debut went as expected – awesome!  The fan reaction for so many, was the highlight of the evening.  One man had a Mobil 1 jacket that he hadn't worn since Jeremy won the Pocono race over Dale Earnhardt.  After all these years, he finally got Jeremy to sign the jacket. He was so proud.  Another woman said she snuck a kiss on his cheek at Darlington one year. She said she didn't wash her face for a week after that.  There were stories like that all weekend long.

Fanfare aside, it was time to hit the track to get in some practice laps then qualify.  Mayfield reminded the team before strapping in, “We know it looks good off the track, let’s see how it looks on the track.”  And with that, it was time to get the J2 “TAKE IT BACK” car dirty and start a new chapter with Mayfield & crew.

At Thursday's practice, it was clear that something with the car wasn't quite right.  Jeremy had only been able to turn three laps in the car prior to Thursday, due to being rained out the previous trip to the track.  Although he got better throughout the evening, he ended up in the wall and the team had to spend the night and all day Friday addressing the damage.  Unfortunately there was no time to find the root cause of the problem, as that would have to wait until after the race.

But the debut was only part of the story.  The other part of the story, perhaps the biggest part, is the fact that only hours before arriving on the track, Mayfield & the entire team were thrashing away back at the shop – their new shop.  On top of preparing his dirt late model car, and his asphalt modified car for his race the following Saturday in Rougemont, NC for “The Fall Brawl,” the team was moving out of their shop in Mooresville, NC to their new shop in Denver, NC.

“Yeah, I guess you could say we were lucky to even make the race now that I think about what all we’ve had to do in the past month, but I’m not complaining.” stated Mayfield.  “Only a cancelled race would have stopped us from coming out here tonight.”

The team qualified 10th in a very strong field, despite experiencing the same control issues as Thursday night in practice.  The attitude of the car was visibly off from the start of the race, and it ended up in the wall on lap three.  By lap 10 the team had repaired the car enough for Mayfield to get back on track, but without knowing the problem that caused the wreck, the team decided to call it a night.

“Everything felt great through the turns, but on the straightaways it was pulling me into the wall, so I knew I was in trouble,” said a visibly frustrated Mayfield.  “I hit the wall hard enough to call a caution and keep us from moving on, that’s all I know for now.”

Head Engineer, John Ehrenreich, put things into perspective following Mayfield’s first return to dirt racing, “Jeremy looked & felt great out there, the car, the hauler & the new TAKE IT BACK apparel looked incredible.  You can’t expect to win every race, or even get the kind of finish you want.  Sometimes just showing up is enough to make a statement, and we definitely did that tonight.  It was so good to see Jeremy & Shana out here spending time with fans, laughing about the good old days while planning their futures in dirt racing & making new friends.  Who could ask for anything more?”

So what was wrong with the car?  As it turns out, the bird cage was completely locked up after the car sat idle for an entire season until the race.  Jeremy and the team are incredibly optimistic for our next race, the 6th Annual Race for the Kids, on November 13-15 at County Line Raceway in Elm City, NC.  Visit their website for ticket pricing, and join us for a fun-filled weekend of dirt racing!

In other words, this is only the beginning of a whole new chapter for Jeremy, J2Mayfield Racing, & the TAKE IT BACK movement.

 

After nearly a six-week break in the Koma Modified Madness series schedule, Mayfield & team were confident the extra time would pay off. John Ehrenreich (Air-In-Rike), Head Engineer at J2Mayfield Racing, ensured this car would push the envelope in design while meeting Mayfield’s standards for performance.

The extra work paid off with Mayfield qualifying 5th and informing the team the car was the best one to date. Unfortunately, an oil leak was discovered shortly afterwards forcing the crew to go to work and mandating the car start in the back of the field in the 17th spot.

“It was pretty frustrating to know we qualified 5th then had to go to the back of the field over something so minor, but that’s racing; I’m used to it,” said Mayfield prior to the start of the race.

At the start of the race, the car looked strong and Mayfield quickly advanced to the 12th position. At lap three, a caution came out with the J2 car restarting in the 11th spot. Mayfield battled it out for the next 50 laps, finally breaking into the top 10 just prior to the mandatory pit stop around lap 75.

Upon exiting pit road and re-starting in the 6th position, Mayfield radioed his team to inform them the car was still too tight and was going to come in to loosen it up if they get another caution. Around lap 90, another caution came out, giving Mayfield the window he was hoping for. The team made a track bar adjustment and had the J2 car back in time for Mayfield to stay on the lead lap.

At the re-start, Mayfield was in the 10th position and noticeably faster than before. “The guys were able to free the car up enough to allow me maintain the speed I needed in and out of the corners and it made a huge difference,” said Mayfield.

In the final 25 laps, Mayfield had taken the J2 car from 10th to 6th and proved they had a race-winning car once again. “There’s nothing to be upset about tonight. I saw us come together as a team in a way that hasn’t been there before and it shows me we’re on the right track. Like any other team, we just need more time together working out the kinks and the win will come,” said Mayfield.

Crew chief, Steve (Train) McCain agreed with Mayfield’s assessment. “We’ve got to remember we just raced Dirt Super Late Models last weekend on top of moving into our new shop while getting this car ready. I think all things considered, a 6th place finish is great. What I’m most impressed with is the way our team all pulled together tonight & steadily got the car better. That’s when you know you’re on the right track.”

If you missed the #TeamJ2 dirt debut, be sure to catch up by clicking here.

Next stop for #TeamJ2 is County Line Raceway in Elm City, NC on November 13-15 for the 6th Annual Race for the Kids. Ticket prices are posted on the County Line Raceway website.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little motivation.

For more than a year, Jimmie Hutto's beautiful AA/SA 1967 Camaro sat hidden away in a corner, waiting for just the right moment to be resurrected and returned to the dragstrip. But with each passing race weekend, that time seem to come and go until one day, Hutto found the drive to restore his ride and return to the racetrack. And the motivation? None other than his son, Justin Hutto.

"Justin races in Junior Dragster and he won his local track championship last year and he's been totally focused on going for a bigger championship in 2014," Hutto said. "We decided together that we would fix my car when we could do it right. And that is exactly what we did. It has been a great car all year and my new engine combination made all the difference. Once the car hits, all you have to do is kind of not screw up."

With his car up and running, Hutto returned to the dragstrip this season competing in IHRA's Division 4 where he won one race and managed to finish second in the division behind good friend Jimmy Hidalgo Jr., securing a spot in the IHRA's Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions. To add to the excitement, Hutto's son, Justin, also qualified for the final race of the year at Memphis International Raceway in the Summit SuperSeries by winning the Division 4 Team Finals.

With two spots in year-end championship tournaments locked up, Hutto and his son traveled to Memphis with one thing on their minds - visiting the winner's circle and bringing a world championship back to Houston.

While Justin Hutto fell out in the first round of his race, Jimmie Hutto managed to go four rounds ending in an exciting matchup against Kevin Locklear for the Stock championship. In the deciding round, Locklear held a slight advantage on the tree, but couldn't run the number with a 10.803-second elapsed time on a 10.78 dial at 119.24 mph, while Hutto ran a near dead-on 10.023 on a 10.02 at 131.34 mph to take the IHRA Stock World Championship, his first.

"It's just been an amazing year that has made all of the hard work worth it," Hutto said. "What a way to finish such an incredible season."

Hutto's amazing run to the finals included wins over two divisional champions from this past season, including Division 9 champion A.J. Currie in round one and Division 4 champion and familiar foe Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. in the semifinals. He also added a win over Division 3 runner-up Randy Eakins to reach the finals.

The matchup with Hidalgo was particularly exciting as Hidalgo entered the weekend as the winningest driver from the 2014 season, with two divisional championships in Super Stock and Stock, and was defending World Champion in Super Stock. With a spot in the championship on the line, Hutto got off of the line first with a .025 reaction time to Hidalgo's .042, and backed it up with a 10.025 on a 10.02 at 129.44 mph. Hidalgo ran a 10.532 on a 10.54 at 123.60 mph.

Championship runner-up Kevin Locklear, who earned his way into the tournament via a third place finish in Division 9, eliminated B.J. Bianchi, Kevin Riner and Scotty Duncan to earn his place in the finals.

With two cars in the team stable contending for a championship during the weekend, Hutto admits that it added to the stress of the weekend, but he also added that he and his son were very much up to the challenge.

"I am a commercial sales manager for a large tire company with a very demanding schedule, so I had not gotten much sleep arriving to the World Finals on Friday. And, of course, the battle with rain-forced schedule changes did not help either," Hutto said. "We had to stay on top of both the Stock and Junior Dragster competition and the Camaro was just amazing. It handled the weather changes well. It was deadly."

While Hutto and his son enjoyed quite a successful season on the track, he admits that it would not have been possible without the help of many. Particularly, his semifinal round opponent Hidalgo and veteran racer Jim Marshall, who arranged for him to have a car during the final divisional race of the season, giving him enough points to reach Memphis.

"In order for me to qualify as a Division 4 top finisher, I had the help of good friends. Jimmy Hidalgo Jr., who helped me make arrangements with current Division 1 champion Jim Marshall to compete with his car in Darlington, helped me earn enough points to get into the Summit World Finals," Hutto said. "I also really want to thank, first of all Jesus Christ and my late father, Jimmie Hutto Sr., who introduced me to the sport. Thank you to my crew chief, Walter Walker, for keeping me dead on and my son, Justin Hutto, for encouraging me to race for the championship. My sponsors Mike Trumble, Allen Sherman and all of the guys in the shop at Trumble Racing Engines, plus Dupree Tire Company, Ronny and Melinda Dupree, and Double T Transport.

"Please give my gratitude to Jim Marshall for loaning me a ride, Jimmy and Cooter Hidalgo for always being there for me and arranging the ride in Darlington, and Jim and Betty Hanig, my adopted parents. Jim has been my mentor and teacher of all of the workings of a big block Chevy. Also thanks to Hall family racing, Pollard family racing, Jim Cimarolli, Jimmy Arabie, and Womack family racing."

Now Hutto will enter the 2015 season as an IHRA World Champion, keeping the run of champions in Super Stock and Stock alive in Division 4.

"It is a fun division with a lot of good racers. We look forward to another exciting year next year," Hutto said.

It was confirmed today that Jonathan Bomarito, a driver with extensive history and success in Mazda-powered open wheel cars and RX-8 sportscars, will return to the Mazda SpeedSource team for the 2015 IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.  From 2010 through 2012, Bomarito amassed 13 podium finishes and four victories with Mazda.  His previous stint was also highlighted by his role on the 2010 ROLEX 24 at Daytona GT class winning team and the 2010 Grand American Road Racing Series Rookie-of-the-Year award.

"I feel as though I'm coming home to be back with Mazda," stated Bomarito. "It excites me to see what the future holds with SpeedSource and Mazda in the prototype class. This program has been about development, and I'm honored to come on board to add to this collaboration and watch it continue to grow. Its a great feeling to be back in the No. 70 car with Sylvain Tremblay. It all started for us when we won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2010. I can't think of a better way to kick off the 2015 race season. 

Bomarito will be one of the four full-time drivers in the Mazda prototypes.  SpeedSource owner/driver Sylvain Tremblay will focus more on team management, but will remain a third driver for the four endurance races; Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, and Road Atlanta. 

The racer in me only wants to drive," added Tremblay. "But the team owner knows that developing a program like the SKYACTIV-D Mazda Prototype requires every person to operate at their highest level.  Were thrilled to have Jonathan back with SpeedSource.  Im happy that I will remain as his co-driver as we both want at least another couple of Rolex watches.

Bomarito will partner with Tom Long, Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez.  The final pairings to be determined during pre-season testing.  Ben Devlin continues with the team for the four endurance races.

With Jonathan challenging for a GT championship this past season, we held off on making this announcement, but we had this wrapped up two months ago," commented John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. "Jonathan will be a great addition to the team as we continue our engineering development of the Mazda Prototype.  Jonathan is respected and loved by the team as well as Mazda fans.  Were happy to have him back in the family. 

The Mazda SKYACTIV Prototype will be in its second year of an ambitious five-year engineering development program in 2015.

Scotty Stillings is a five-time IHRA World Champion.

He won his first championships as a kid in the late 90s. His third and fourth titles came in the mid-2000s as he grew into a regular in the ranks of Super Stock. But it is his fifth title, won earlier this year at the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals at Memphis International Raceway, that stands as the most unique of his championship collection.

While every championship has its own unique set of circumstances, some won in the final passes of a season, others dominated from start to finish, it was Stillings' championship in Memphis that served as his first taste of victory in the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions, which has been deciding IHRA's sportsman champions since 2009.

"It is completely different, that is for sure," Stillings said. "I won my first championship when I was 18. It went down to the final rounds; if somebody won they won, if they lost, I won. In 2005 and 2006, I won Super Stock, but one of the years went down to the end and the other, I had a big lead.

"Every championship has its anxious moments, but the IHRA World Finals runoff is a really unique experience."

In that race, comprised of the best racers from the current season competing together to crown a true champion, Stillings found a groove, eliminating two divisional champions - including the defending IHRA world champion in the class - on his way to his fifth title and first in the Summit Tournament of Champions.

In the championship round, Stillings' matched up against veteran Pete D'Agnolo, but the race finished in anticlimactic fashion with D'Agnolo's car breaking during his run, allowing Stillings to take the victory. Stillings ran a 9.039-second elapsed time on an 8.89 dial at 129.24 mph in the final to D'Agnolo's 9.986 on a 9.48 at 114.65 mph.

"I hated for Pete to tear something up in the finals. That is never good," Stillings said. "I really think I was on the path of going dead-on again because the car was just on rails for sure all day."

In the winner's circle, Stillings reflected on his fifth title, a championship made all the more special with his family by his side.

"I had stepped away from racing a little bit with a family now and came back," Stillings said. "I have a three-year-old girl who is everything to me. Having my wife and daughter in this world championship winner's circle was way different in personal ways that make this championship win very special."

In addition to his big win over D'Agnolo, Stillings also recorded a monumental win over defending Super Stock World Champion Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. in the opening round. As a Division 4 double champion in Super Stock and Stock with a season-high five wins, Hidalgo looked like the man to beat in the class. But Stillings answered the call, putting together a .021 package in that first round tilt with a .013 light and an 8.898 on an 8.89 at 148.85 mph to take the win. Hidalgo had a 9.761 on a 9.75 at 137.72 mph.

"That was a great race. I had a .013 reaction time and ran dead-on while Jimmy had a .019 reaction and ran .01 above his dial-in. I got by him and then we battled the rain all over again," Stillings said.

Rain did prove an issue all weekend, with persistent rain showers pushing the two-day event into a third day. But on championship Sunday, Stillings found what he needed and put together five rounds of work with wins over Hidalgo, Gil Carty and Jake Sealey. Stillings had a bye run in the semifinals.

Championship runner-up D'Agnolo, who recorded three wins in 2014 on his way to the Division 2 championship, had wins over A.H. Adkins, Jeff Longhany, Aaron Allison and Tony Cowell on his way to the finals in Memphis.

"I have to commend IHRA for sticking it out. I have nothing but respect for the IHRA staff for working so hard to keep the event going," Stillings said. "The on and off weather drained it out of you. Once Sunday came, with clear weather, we got to focus and finish the race. The car was phenomenal and helped us get to the winner's circle."

As a whole, Stillings had a quiet season, with one win and a runner-up finish helping propel him to third in Division 3, the cutoff for making the tournament. But Stillings was able to overcome that slow start and put it all together in the final race of the season.

"We had some problems that just prevented us from getting any momentum going early in the year," Stillings said. "We considered going to the Darlington event there at the end to try and win our division championship, but I made a business decision to compete locally and just focus on tuning the car for the World Finals."

That decision proved the right one as Stillings had a tremendous outing in Memphis, ending with a fifth championship and putting Stillings among the most decorated racers in IHRA history.

"I want to thank my parents, Joe and Linda Stillings, my wife, Cynthia and daughter, Audrey," Stillings said. "Thank you to Approved Auto of America and all of its employees and my business partners, Jim Hutchens and John Hibbard. Thank you to sponsors Mickey Thompson, Autometer, APD Fuel Systems, ARP, Fel Pro, Clevite, Bruce Litton Trailer Sales, MSD, JEGS, Jeff Taylor Performance, Milodon, Moser, Coan Engineering, Afco Shocks, Smith Brothers Push Rods, Lucas Oil, Nitroplate, Manley, Leroy Marburger, Summit Racing Equipment and all the IHRA staff and officials. And most important, thanks to God."

The road to a championship is often paved with unexpected turns and tricky matchups.

Sometimes you find yourself matched up against a new racer you know little about, other times it is a former champion standing in your way. But what happens when you have to face someone a little closer in your life? Someone, say, you like to share your personal time with away from the racetrack? And what happens when that matchup comes in the semifinals of a race that determines a championship?

Ah, the dilemmas.

That is exactly the situation young Kevin Brannon found himself in during the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions presented by AMSOIL earlier this year when he matched up against his girlfriend, Ivey Hutto, in the semifinals of the IHRA's championship competition.

While not the most ideal of situations, Brannon put the relationship aside for seven seconds and bested Hutto to advance to the championship round. Once there, he defeated Chris Cadle in the deciding round to win the 2014 IHRA Top Dragster World Championship at the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals at Memphis International Raceway.

"I told her good luck and whoever wins it, earned it," Brannon said. "This was the fourth time we have had to run each other this year and we discussed that if it ever came down to the two of us, we don't take it easy on each other."

In that semifinal matchup, Brannon and Hutto were nearly identical on the tree - a .003 for Brannon to Hutto's .007 - as Brannon put together a 6.985-second lap on a 6.97 dial at 183.00 mph to get around Hutto's 7.098 on a 7.08 at 186.20 mph. So what was the discussion prior to their race? "Between rounds I tried to keep the talk as short and simple as I could," Brannon said with a laugh.

Once past Hutto, Brannon found himself matched up with Division 3 champion Chris Cadle in the championship-deciding round. Once again Brannon was spot-on on the tree, posting a perfect .000 reaction time paired with a 6.964 on a 6.97 at 184.47 mph to take the win. Cadle had a .010 on the tree and ran a 7.527 on a 7.55 at 173.41 mph in the runner-up effort.

"This was definitely different for me. There was a lot of pressure, but once you put a helmet on, you just try to focus and do what I know I needed to do," Brannon said. "I knew Chris (Cadle) was good, I have had to run him a time or two, so I know he is a good driver. So going into the final, I knew I had to step it up, so I tried to get on it as hard as I could."

With the fastest car all weekend long, Brannon put together four solid rounds on championship Sunday to take the win. In addition to his victories over Cadle and Hutto, Brannon also recorded wins over Clayton Roberts and Jack Trussell to reach the final. In his four elimination rounds, Brannon had reaction times of .004, .007, .003 and .000 on his way to his first championship.

"The car was pretty flawless all weekend. We had the fastest car there and it ran the numbers almost all weekend," Brannon said. "It was definitely working good, all I had to do was turn it loose."

Runner-up Chris Cadle had wins over Chad Traylor, Marty Dabney and David Johns on his way to the final.

On the season, Brannon had three wins at Carolina Dragway and twice at London Dragway en route to the Division 2 championship. Hutto finished third in the division, facing Brannon four times during the season.

"It was definitely a good year for me. We won three races, which is pretty amazing considering we only ran six," Brannon said. "We did well all over the place, won some big money bracket races, but this was my first win with the IHRA. I work at PAR Race Engines and my boss is a four-time Quick Rod World Champion. To say that I am a world champ like he is, that means a lot."

But most importantly, Brannon dedicated his victory in Memphis to his mother, who passed away right before Brannon clinched the division.

"I recently lost my mom and this is definitely for her and for my dad as well," Brannon said. "There are so many people that help us out. I also want to thank PAR Race Engines, Paul's Transmissions, Maddox Race Cars, Ivey Hutto Golf Carts, FTI Converters, Mickey Thompson Tires and the Lord for all of his blessings."

Brannon, who races out of Boiling Springs, S.C., will now enter the 2015 season as the IHRA World Champion in Top Dragster, a feat not even he dreamed possible when the season began.

"Who ever imagines something like this actually happening? I am so thankful and glad to have this opportunity," Brannon said.

Rickie Smith knows what he needs to do to wrap up a second straight NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series world championship. Mike Janis and Troy Coughlin also know that a major upset is still possible, and Coughlin has his own incredible comeback story to prove it.

 

Combined, it makes for a pair of thrilling storylines heading into the final event of the 2014 NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series this weekend’s NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

 

Smith currently leads Coughlin by 76 points and Janis by 77 points and only needs a first-round win to lock up a second straight title in the highly-competitive NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

 

“We just have to treat it like a normal race, make sure we go everything in the car and approach it the same way we always do,” said Smith, who has two victories in 2014. “I have to do my deal and see where we end up.”

 

Coughlin and Janis are hoping for a miracle finish and they plan on pouncing on any opportunity given to them, which would include Smith not qualifying or bowing out in the first round at the at Las Vegas event, which is presented by Aeromotive in 2014.

 

Coughlin has experience in the thrilling finishes, claiming his 2012 world championship in Las Vegas after he beat then points leader Mike Castellana in the first round. He followed that up by winning the event, which was enough to clinch a world championship not many thought he had a chance of claiming entering the race.

 

"We have a shot and that's exciting," Coughlin said. "We need a break for sure, just like we did two years ago, but if the stars line up just right we could pull this deal off. Obviously, it would be great if we could get Rickie in the first round so we would have a chance to beat him head-to-head like we were able to do with Castellana. That would be the dream scenario. There's really only so much you can control. What we can do is make sure we run to the best of our abilities.”

 

Coughlin has made a late charge into the championship mix, winning in Norwalk and Charlotte to make up for a disappointing start. Janis, meanwhile, also knows precisely what he has to do to claim his first NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series championship.

 

There is nothing about it that will be easy but Janis, who has one victory this season and also was the points leader for a brief time, is ready to put forth a memorable effort.

 

“We need to win and Rickie Smith needs to go out in the first round for us to win the championship,” Janis said. “It's very much possible and we are going to give it our best shot for everyone who supports Mike Janis Racing. The plan is to be the biggest thorn in Rickie's side that he has ever felt this weekend and swing for the fence every run."

 

Of course topping Smith won’t be simple. He has always performed well in pressure situations and comes off a recent victory this season at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Smith knows exactly what is on the line which means another impressive performance may be coming.

 

“It would be great to win two in a row, there’s no doubt about that,” Smith said. “It would be a pretty good accomplishment if we can get it done. This class has gotten really tough over these last two years. We’ve worked hard and it would be pretty sweet to pull it off.”

 

Featuring the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars with an extremely diverse collection of vehicles, including ’63 Corvettes, ’68 Camaros, ’67 Mustangs and ’68 Firebirds as well as late-model cars, the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series offers something for every kind of hot-rodding enthusiast.

 

Don't be late. Those three words were the only words being muttered by Top Sportsman racer Mike Koontz as he pulled into the staging lanes for the finals of the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions presented by AMSOIL.

Last year, Koontz lost in the finals of the IHRA's championship tournament with a sleepy .092 reaction time in a loss to Graham Foster. This year, Koontz was determined not to let that happen again.


"What can I say? I messed it up last year by being late on the tree. I knew I wasn't going to let that happen again," Koontz said. "I just kept telling myself 'don't be late, don't be late.' I knew if I could hit the tree, I was in the race."

Fortunately for Koontz, he accomplished his goal with a championship-worthy .013 light in the Top Sportsman final of the 2014 edition of the tournament. Unfortunately, he didn't get to see how the run would play out as final round opponent Calvin Snow took a little too much at the tree, going -.014 red to hand Koontz his second championship in IHRA's TOC.

"This championship is pretty awesome. It is hard to believe we are here again," Koontz said. "I wouldn't say this championship is any different, harder maybe. The first time you are just out there racing and seeing what happens. This time, the nerves are there as you are there to win it again. It is hard enough to make it into this thing, let alone get another chance at the championship."

Koontz's win in the Tournament of Champions capped a solid year for the veteran racer out of Warrenton, Virginia, with one win at the IHRA Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway earlier this year and a third place finish on the Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am Tour presented by AMSOIL. That third place finish was just enough to get Koontz and his bright red 2000 Chevrolet S-10 pickup into the show and a shot at the title.

"We had a pretty good season. We won down in Rockingham and just kept going from there," Koontz said. "Unfortunately, we really blew it in Pittsburgh. We needed to go a few more rounds to stay in second in the division, but we went out first round and fell to third. All in all, it was a good year. Last year we were second in the division, this year we were third. But this year, we also won the world. You certainly can't beat the finish."

With a spot in the Tournament of Champions in hand, Koontz traveled to Memphis International Raceway and went to work. He put in five rounds of work on a wet and wild weekend that saw weather push the two-day event into a third day.

"The truck ran great all weekend, but the weather - the constant waiting to make a run - that can take a toll on you," Koontz said. "When you are racing, you get into a groove. But when you have to wait, you end up spending too much time thinking instead of just going out there and running your race."

Despite the delays, Koontz put together a masterful afternoon that included wins over Cody Liwiski, Rube Allman and Jeff Southerland on his way to the final. He also received a bye in the second round.

His closest race came in the first round, when Division 6 racer Cody Liwiski pushed him to the limit. Koontz had a 7.476-second pass on a 7.44 dial at 182.75 mph in the matchup with a .007 light, while Liwiski had a 7.567 on a 7.53 at 179.71 mph with a .013 light.

In his other rounds, Koontz used an advantage on the tree in both rounds to advance to the finals. In the semifinals, Division 3 champion Southerland struggled at the tree with a .140 reaction time, helping propel Koontz into the championship round.

"The whole event went really well. We had a bye in the second round and after that, I did what I needed to do and took care of business," Koontz said.

Championship runner-up Calvin Snow, who finished second in Division 9 this season with one win, had wins over Steve McIntyre, Travis Housh and Steve Corker to reach the finals.

All together it was a tremendous finish for Koontz in recording his second career championship with the IHRA after winning the inaugural Summit Tournament of Champions back in 2009. Now, with another championship in hand, he is ready for another title defense with his us-against-the-world operation.

"It is just me and my wife out here taking on the world," Koontz said. "I really want to thank my wife for putting up with me and letting me do what I enjoy. I also want to thank the IHRA, Summit and all of the sponsors that help make this all possible. If it wasn't for them, we couldn't do what we do.

"We can't wait to see what 2015 holds."

In the thick of the battle to earn another NHRA Funny Car world championship, John Force raced to the qualifying lead Friday at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

 

Force powered his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to a 4.039 second pass at 318.54 mph to top the field, completing the pass alongside championship rival Matt Hagan, who entered this event with a 36-point lead over the 16-time champ. Jack Beckman, whose car is now tuned by former Force crew chief Jimmy Prock, was the top qualifier until Force’s run knocked him off.

 

“We got down there so we feel good about the run,” said Force, whose 10,000-horsepower machine is now tuned by John Medlen. “You’ve got to get every point you can. Hagan picked up points too. When it gets down to the end, points do count. He picked up a point the last session and I don’t want him to get another round ahead of me.”

 

Hagan sits No. 2 following a 4.044 at 318.02 in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger. Hagan, the 2011 Funny Car world champion, gained a point in the first session of qualifying and two in the second session to stay 36 ahead of Force. 

 

Beckman ran a 4.045 at 318.84, good enough for third after two sessions. His pass held until the Force/Hagan run that ended the day in Funny Car. This is the first race that longtime Force crew chief Prock is now involved with Beckman’s Infinite Hero Dodge Charger team.

 

Crampton, a winner at Englishtown and Indianapolis earlier this season, raced to the top spot in Top Fuel with a 3.764 at 322.42 in his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster. Crampton, who is in the running for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, is two sessions away from claiming his first career No. 1 qualifying position.

 

“It’s pretty exciting to leave here Friday night sitting on the top of the ladder,” said Crampton. “We’ve done that before but ended up getting bumped on Saturday. We’ll see how tomorrow pans out. I think we are going to have fantastic weather to lend itself to some great elapsed times. We will see how we do.”

 

Larry Dixon raced to the provisional No. 2 position following career best numbers with a 3.766 at 326.71 in the Casedhole Solutions dragster. The run came at an important time for Dixon, who was announced as one of two full-time drivers at Bob Vandergriff Racing next season. He is a three-time world champion.

 

Doug Kalitta was third with a 3.772 at 322.81 in the Mac Tools dragster. Kalitta, who led the Top Fuel points standings for most of the regular season, trails Tony Schumacher by 136 points with two races remaining.

 

In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens is racing for her third consecutive No. 1 qualifying position with her 6.647 at 208.01 in a Chevy Camaro. Enders-Stevens gained three points on series leader Jason Line and now trails by 32 going into Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions.

 

“I’m really proud of my team,” Enders-Stevens said. “Those baby points are going to matter. They’re very significant especially with as tight as Jason, myself and Dave [Connolly] are right now. We were really conservative the first session. If you look at our 60 foot time, we were ninth and then went straight to the top of the page. We’ll throw something at it tomorrow and see what happens.”

 

Reigning world champ Jeg Coughlin was second-quickest during opening day, piloting his JEGS.com Dodge Dart to a 6.653 at 207.69. Coughlin, who got off to a slow start during the Countdown this season, is looking for a third win on the season.

 

Line is third with a 6.555 at 207.59 in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro. His run tied him with third place Connolly, who ran an identical 6.555, but went 207.30 in speed, giving Line the lead.

 

Savoie, who recently secured his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win at St. Louis last month, ran a 6.946 at 192.55 on his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki to move to the top of the leaderboard.

 

“We struggled at the first of the year,” Savoie said. “Fuel injection is a really funny thing. It can help you and it can hurt you. Beginning of the year we were hurting and now it’s helped. It’s a good thing, we’ve been blessed.”

 

Michael Ray raced his Arrow M Ranch Suzuki to the provisional second spot with a 6.956 at 193.82. Reigning world champ Matt Smith raced his Stockseth Racing Buell to a 6.974 at 193.02 to claim the third provisional spot. Points leader Andrew Hines is fourth while Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec sits seventh. Krawiec trails Hines by 25 points for the championship.

 

Qualifying concludes on Saturday for the NHRA Toyota Nationals with sessions at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m.