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MEDIA MATTERS: GEICO’s Morgan Lucas Lights Night with Brainerd Top Fuel Win

18 Aug

“It was a dark and stormy night . . . .” The oft-used sentence found in the opening of novels ended a long and stormy day at Brainerd International Raceway, Minnesota, as favorite son, Morgan Lucas, driving the GEICO / Lucas Oil dragster, won the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in a fiery, dramatic finals pairing.

The thrilling and dramatic Top Fuel final made ESPN's Top Ten Plays of the Day as No. 5.

The thrilling and dramatic Top Fuel final made ESPN’s Top Ten Plays of the Day as No. 5.

In epic drama, Lucas won a pedalfest for the ages with the tough points-leader Doug Kalitta driving the Mac Tools Dragster in the other lane. Kalitta jumps off the line with a slight advantage and the confidence that comes with having bested Lucas more times than not. He goes up in tire smoke quickly; then Lucas joins in the slick-fest. Both pedal numerous times when Kalitta’s dragster loses power coasting to the line.

Lucas crosses the finish on fire less than a car length ahead of Kalitta

Lucas crosses the finish on fire less than a car length ahead of Kalitta

Lucas explained, “It got out there and the car kind of broke the tires loose. I saw Doug poke out, but I knew he was having problems, so I kind of blipped it to straighten it out. I got it cracked a little bit open, and I rolled it back down all the way and got it out there. I knew it was hurt but it’s the final, you’re not going to leave anything on the table; you’re going to go for it.

In the darkness the engine let go with a brilliant fireball like all of the celebratory fireworks exploding at once. “Then it lit up, and that was actually kind of cool too because my second thought after ‘Hell yeah we just won’ was ‘Man, this is going to make for great TV.’ ”

In the pits, preparing to race at Brainerd

In the pits, preparing to race at Brainerd

The track announcer said the lead changed at least three times in a thrilling finish that set the startline crowd jumping and hugging in the excitement.

“I love the people there,” Lucas said. “It’s definitely the most fun you can have at a racetrack, and it’s the race I’ve always looked forward to the most on the schedule. Of course it’s a special race for our family and for Lucas Oil as a company, but the people who attend this race are the ones who make that happen for all of us.”

The beautiful GEICO dragster piloted by Richie Crampton captured a Countdown slot at Brainerd

The beautiful GEICO dragster piloted by Richie Crampton

“Of course, you have a great race facility and a really awesome track surface that lends itself to top-notch drag racing. The staff there makes it perfect for us, and as racers we appreciate that a lot. But I keep coming back to the fans and the party out in ‘the Zoo’ and just the general good-time vibe that happens every year at BIR. It’s unique.” The Zoo is a friendly name for the on-site campground where the theme “Let the Good Times Roll” is a religion and sleep is postponed until returning to work on Monday.

Lucas sent No. 1 qualifier Antron Brown and his Matco Tools railer to the trailer in the semifinals after parking Steve Torrence’s Capco Contractors Dragster in the quarterfinals.

Lucas won the day by besting both the race’s top qualifier and the class points leader; one could say the GEICO / Lucas Oil dragster was truly on fire in wet, soggy, but after this win, beautiful Brainerd .

Earlier in the day . . . .

Earlier in the day . . . .

In a unique finish to a water-logged day, Top Fuel became the only pro class to finish. The Funny Car finals between John Force and Ron Capps will be held in Indy during The Big Go while Pro Stock needs to race the semifinals of Jason Line vs. Dave River and Jeg Coughlin vs. Vincent Nobile to get their final pair. If Line were to win, it would be his first victory at his “original” home track, yet technically winning the Brainerd race at Indy isn’t in the Minnesota lakes area, but it is doubtful Line would complain at all.

Lucas also won Brainerd in 2009 and 2012 after making his pro debut at this same track in 2004 by taking the seat of Joe Amato’s dragster. This is the young Lucas Oil executive’s tenth win in ten years. “It’s our second home up here.”

Rob Geiger, GeigerMedia Global, and Forrest Lucas celebrate Morgans big win.

Rob Geiger, GeigerMedia Global, and Forrest Lucas celebrate Morgans big win.

In earning the final pair, Lucas trailered Bob Vandergriff Jr., his first victim in a thrilling day for the oil titans that allowed his Lucas teammate, Richie Crampton, to capture a remaining slot in the Countdown to the Championship. Blowing up in the first and final rounds gave Lucas a bookend of fire for the day . . . a dubious award but worth it to win at his favorite track. “To do it at nighttime with no lights, it’s kinda cool. It’s one of those where you have to stick a feather in your cap.”

 

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MEDIA MATTERS: What Happens in Vegas: ESPN2 Broadcasts

31 Mar

No secrets allowed; ESPN2 is here. Broadcasting the SummitRacing.com Nationals from the luxurious The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the ever-seeing camera eye snatched losers’ pained looks, too-close-to-call finishes and general drag racing mayhem. When David Grubnic two-stepped his Bounty Hunter Special dragster in the fourth pass of second round qualifying attempts, the camera caught the legendary Conrad Kalitta’s pained grimace looking every bit like one of his hoard of 747s had crashed.

How Conrad Kalitta looks when he is happy; celebrating a Top Fuel win with Doug Kalitta

How Conrad Kalitta looks when he is happy; celebrating a Top Fuel win with Doug Kalitta

Instead, what the grimaced expression signaled was misery; misery and despair that could only be solved by replacing Grubnic. What that look also revealed . . . this wasn’t just a hot-collared call. The pot appears to have been boiling prior to this mistake; much like a coach telling a player not to do something, and then the player immediately goes out and does it anyway, Grubnic got the bench. The pot boiling beneath the lid finally blew the lid off. Then the team released a quick press release indicating “. . . a change of direction . . . ” for the Kalitta team. A hurried call made to young up-and-comer, J.R. Todd, gaming it at home on an off weekend, worked a deal that had him in the cockpit Saturday. Nothing revealed on the travel front, but if a flight couldn’t be found in time, Kalitta Air could certainly come to service.

Color commentator, Mike Dunn, called the start-line problem a racing deal: “These things happen.” Lead announcer, David Rieff, added that Kalitta, the patriarch of the sport is “one successful man.” Starting in the year 2000 with three 747s, he now owns more than 22 of those beasts along with other aircraft. His air freight company exceed $400 million in revenue becoming one of the world’s largest 25 airline companies. He owns it 100 percent, a self-made success story extraordinaire. When driving for a racer like Kalitta, on the drag strip since the late 1950s,  a mistake is not likely to set well at all.

GEICO Top Fuel driver, Richie Crampton, to test after new Kalitta driver, JR Todd, left on him big time (photo by Mark J. Rebilas)

GEICO Top Fuel driver, Richie Crampton, to test after new Kalitta driver, JR Todd, left on him big time (photo by Mark J. Rebilas)

Grubnic’s side of the story? “This has been going on a while,” he said to Dunn, referring to talks about him sitting out of the racecar perhaps becoming a crew chief. The odds favor the remark could also refer to Kalitta’s displeasure in the friendly Aussie’s ability on the track.

The first round matchup of Todd vs. the GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster piloted by newcomer, Richie Crampton became the Upset Alert, a gutsy call by Dunn as Todd had little experience in that racer and the outfitting of the seats and pedals all had to be done very quickly. Crampton had a miserable light. “I was dead late on the Tree,” Crampton said. “He ran an .82, which was a decent run. I’ve got a feeling we could’ve run a little better.”

Todd’s day ended in the second round though he had a decent run; benefiting was Steve Torrence in his Capco Contractors Dragster.

ESPN Sports Center carried the new national MPH trophy snatched by Courtney Force at 325; a one mph better record than dad, John Force, and a new track ET Record to go along with it. Unfortunately, Cruz Pedregon sent her home in the second round of eliminations without getting a backup time to secure the big speed trophy. The 16-time champion retains the record.

Alexis DeJoria's crew and other Kalitta Motorsport team members hit the jackpot in Vegas.

Alexis DeJoria’s crew and other Kalitta Motorsport team members hit the jackpot in Vegas.

For the second time this year, Robert Hight wheeled his Auto Club Mustang into the final round of Funny Cars but lost again to Alexis DeJoria’s Patron XO Cafe Camry in her second win of the year. She now has three Funny Car trophies. Earlier comments hinted at the good results when she said, “I feel really good about today.” She has been in the 2014 finals twice in four races thus far, sealing any questions if she is the real deal. The summer heat makes these beasts behave even more weirdly than normal, so her championship run won’t be easy as the season progresses. However, it is tough for all drivers. The Patron XO Cafe Camry has a decent shot to win the championship. Rieff summed it up with the two women starring in the weekend’s positive events: “The ladies are getting it done.” And DeJoria is a Kalitta Motorsports team member.

A championship burnout for Alexis DeJoria

A championship burnout for Alexis DeJoria

After only winning two rounds all year, Tony Shumacher’s U.S. Army entry passed Doug Kalitta’s Mac Tools Dragster in the track’s second half to take the win by a margin of victory that would just about equal Grubnic’s height: a little more than six feet. Kalitta Motorsports enjoyed a great day: one win, one final round and one new driver;  maybe a new crew chief with Grubnic, too.

Doug Kalitta at his Gator Nationals win (photo courtesy AP photo, LA Times "Sports Now")

Doug Kalitta at his Gator Nationals win (photo courtesy AP photo, LA Times “Sports Now”)

Veteran reporter Gary Gerould summed up the race in a comment he made at the broadcast’s opening: it’s a “. . . wacky weekend.” And a take-a-way lesson: don’t screw up a billionaire’s dragster dreams, or your jet will be parked.

 

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telling the story from every vantage point

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because anything is possible with Charisma

iHarmonizing Competition

Delivering Lessons Learned from racing and life

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