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SUNDAY MAY 14 2017 | THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL

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Heartland Park Topeka

Sports

KEVIN HASKIN

kevin.haskin@cjonline.com

Sponsors key part of HPT’s progress

Topeka track memorable for racing’s top sister act By Rick Peterson

rick.peterson@cjonline.com

The Force sisters, Funny Car driver Courtney and Top Fuel’s Brittany, are both looking for something to jump-start their 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series seasons. Heartland Park Topeka, site of this weekend’s Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals, could be just the place to make that happen for the daughters of NHRA legend John Force and the younger sisters of former Funny Car star Ashley Force Hood. “This is a track where I have a few special memories,” Courtney Force said. “One is being No. 1 qualifier alongside my sister Brittany for the first time (in 2014). That was a huge moment. It was really exciting for us and for our entire family. And then the following day, to go out and pick up the win for my team and at the same time having it be the 100th win for a female (in NHRA), was pretty amazing. “It was a really special time for me and obviously a great memory and an honor to be on that list with so many great females. So to

FILE PHOTOGRAPHS/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Brittany and Courtney Force — like their legendary father, John Force — have had a lot of success at Heartland Park Topeka. Courtney, driving the Advance AutoParts car below, said she has a few “special” memories from the track.

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For more coverage of the 2017 Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, visit our website. CJOnline.com

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Someone in charge of an auto racing facility seems like the most ideal person when MORE it comes to INSIDE knowing Heartland Park how to gain is stepping up traction. its game in 2017 A second with concerts, chance to other events. put on an Page 2 NHRA Nationals event Racers to will be the keep an eye best opporon during the tunity for Heartland the manageNationals. ment team Page 2 at Heartland Park Topeka Funny Car to promote driver Jack their remodBeckman eled comhitting stride in plex. 2017. Last year, Page 6 the NHRA event came Read a recap quickly. At of the previous first, HPT NHRA event in was not even Georgia. included on Page 6 the Nationals schedule. So for second-year owner Chris Payne, who took over the facility in early 2016, the task of putting on the Nationals, HASKIN continues on 4

Top 29 moments from 29 years of racing Sports

RICK PETERSON

rick.peterson@cjonline.com

Heartland Park Topeka has enjoyed many highlights since opening its doors in 1989, while also surviving rough times that threatened the facility’s very existence. HPT, which will host an NHRA national event for the 29th straight season next Friday through Sunday, continues to earn its reputation as one of the fastest drag strips on

the NHRA circuit. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series also made multiple appearances on the HPT road course, while many of racing’s all-time greats have visited the track in some capacity. Another huge moment came off the track, as current owner Chris Payne came on board in late 2015 to buy the financially troubled facility that had

been closed for the bulk of the ’15 season. With Heartland Park sure to add more memories this coming week, here are one guy’s top 29 moments in HPT’s 29-year history. John Force called his Funny Car win at Heartland Park in 2008 the biggest win of his career. That’s saying a lot

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WELCOME TO

2016 FILE PHOTOGRAPH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Hot rod legend John Force has had many memorable moments in Topeka. After all, he has more wins at Heartland Park than any other driver.

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THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL | SUNDAY MAY 14 2017

HPT stepping up its game for 2017 FACT SHEET

By Rick Peterson

WHAT: 29th annual Mendards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, the eighth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories — Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock — earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The race also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series. WHERE: Heartland Park Topeka. WHEN: Friday through Sunday, May 19-21

rick.peterson@cjonline.com

SCHEDULE

FRIDAY LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 3 and 6 p.m. MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:30 and 7 p.m. SATURDAY LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1 and Round 1 of eliminations at 4 p.m. MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m. SUNDAY Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m. MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m. NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES eliminations at 12:15 p.m.

TELEVISION

FRIDAY FS1 will televise one hour of pre-recorded qualifying at 10 p.m. SATURDAY FS1 will televise one hour of live qualifying at 2 p.m.. SUNDAY FS1 will televise three hours of live finals at 1 p.m.

Doug Kalitta 2016 EVENT WINNERS

Doug Kalitta, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock.

John Force MOST HPT VICTORIES

John Force, 9, FC; Scott Kalitta, 6, TF; Warren Johnson, 5, PS, Cruz Pedregon, 4, FC; Greg Anderson, 4, PS.

Brittany Force TRACK RECORDS

Top Fuel — 3.676 seconds by Brittany Force, May ‘16; 331.85 mph by Doug Kalitta, May ‘16. Funny Car — 3.862 seconds by Matt Hagan, May ‘16; 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ‘16. Pro Stock — 6.515 seconds by Erica Enders, May ‘15; 211.43 mph by Enders, May ‘15.

NATIONAL RECORDS

Top Fuel — 3.658 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Feb. ‘17, Phoenix; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn. Funny Car — 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka. Pro Stock — 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.

TICKETS

For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets

FILE PHOTOGRAPH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Courtney Force, left, will look to get a few more victory selfies when she returns to Heartland Park Topeka. She currently sits in seventh place in the points standings.

Forces: Sisters hope for Heartland magic Continued from 1

me, when I think of Topeka I think of the winner’s circle there and celebrating. It was a huge achievement for all of the females in motorsports but especially within the NHRA and looking at where it all started and see how far we’ve come today.” Brittany Force is still looking for her first win at Heartland Park, but her Topeka resume is also dotted with success. In addition to her No. 1 qualifying performance in ’14, Brittany also was the No. 1 qualifier a year ago, clocking a career-best 3.676-second pass, which at the time was the national ET record. “It’s always a good racetrack for us,” Brittany said. “I raced there in A-Fuel (Top Alcohol Dragster) and Super Comp, so there’s a lot of familiarity there. I’ve been down that racetrack more than the others.” Currently seventh in Top

Fuel points, Force is hoping for more good Topeka karma this weekend. “We’ve been off to a rocky start,” said Brittany, sixth in Top Fuel points last season. “We’ve been struggling a little bit and still looking for that first win (of the year). We got our first win in Gainesville last year so we were ahead of (this year), but that doesn’t mean we can’t make up for it. We have a whole season ahead of us. “I’ve been out here for five seasons. I’ve won three races (all in ’16), but I know I still have a long road ahead of me and a lot to learn. I know I’m going to make mistakes. I know I’m going to screw up and hopefully you learn from those (mistakes), but I know that there’s also going to be great things ahead, too. Hopefully there will be more wins and we’re looking for a championship. That’s what we ultimately want.” Courtney Force, also

seventh in points, has been dominant in qualifying, but has struggled on race day. “It’s been ups and downs for our Advance Auto Parts team,” Courtney said. “We’ve gotten a new sponsor on board with Advance, so for us we’re trying to do our best out here to make them happy. The last (four) races we’ve been No. 1 qualifier, which is a huge achievement. I think our struggle is finding that consistency on race day. “That’s the biggest thing, but honestly I’m not too worried about it. I feel like I’ve got a great team behind me and a good racecar and I think we’ll find (success) soon. It definitely feels good having a car that has the speed and the horsepower and can run these ETs that can keep up and or even surpass these other guys out here. We’ve just got to find that consistency to go rounds on race day and get us in the winner’s circle at the end of the day.”

Heartland Park Topeka owner Chris Payne and president/general manager Scott Gardner know they have a top-notch product with this weekend’s Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals. But they also know there’s no such thing as a perfect event, so even though last year’s Nationals showed a ticket sales increase of 14 percent and included record-breaking performances on the track in Payne and Gardner’s first year at the Heartland Park helm, HPT’s staff and the NHRA have tried to step things up for ’17. While the stars of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series (Pro Stock, Funny Car and Top Fuel pro classes) are still the stars of the show, like they have been since the track opened in 1989, organizers have added several other elements this year. “What we’ve done with the national event this year is take a really good product and then approach it as how do you make it better when you already have a great track?” Gardner said. In addition to the marquee classes, the J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series and Top Fuel Harley motorcycle category will also compete this weekend. “What we’ve done is we’ve brought in some special new feature classes this year, like the return of the Harley-Davidsons,” Gardner said. “We have them along with the Pro Modifieds, who go 240-250 miles an hour in door cars. Those are great things to add to our event.” Jet dragsters will also perform after Friday night’s qualifying while country singer Jerrod Niemann, a Liberal native, will perform a concert following Saturday night’s racing. “The idea behind the concert is not only that it’s a draw, but to draw new fans and younger fans,” Payne said. Garner said the goal behind the additions is to try to appeal to a wider audience. “We feel like we’ve added a lot more talent and a lot more reach out to people who have other interests,” Gardner said. “There’s always the entertainment factor. In our industry you always kind of battle trying to find a mix between the purists, who are the com-

petition people, and the entertainment people. I’ve always strived in my career, with the race tracks that I’ve ran, to have the best of both worlds. “You have to keep the competition, because that’s what drives the numbers and the performances, but at the same time you’ve got to have the entertainment factor. You’ve got to have the pomp and circumstance, whether it’s a concert at the end of the event or it’s adding the nitro bikes or it’s doing some stuff in the pit areas. Whatever it is, it’s always raising the bar one step higher to get more people to come or get more repeat customers.” Kicking off the event Thursday will be a downtown FanFest on Eighth Street, between Quincy and Kansas (2 p.m. start). Drivers Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Clay Millican (Top Fuel) and Troy Coughlin Jr. (Top Fuel) are scheduled to appear. Gardner and Payne said that HPT will continue to try step up its game in future years. “It’s like anything you do that you might enjoy,” Gardner said. “You like to go do it, but if it’s the same thing year after year, you might go, “Ahh, I’ve seen that thing four times and it’s fun and everything but I don’t want to spend the (money) to get in.’ “For us it’s always how do we make it better? It’s a challenge, it’s always a challenge, but you try to tighten up your shows so the fans don’t sit as long. You try to bring your stars up. There’s a lot of different ways to do it, and a lot of ways to go after it, but that’s the thing that we try for.” “We want to make the event so good that (people) would never think of missing it,” Payne said. “Getting through last year was successful and exhausting and really any of it is easy after that. This year is when we can really shine and control the pace and we can grow. “Luckily our product is pretty damn good,” Gardner added. “I always tell people that I do advertising with that it’s much easier to promote and market something a lot of people are interested in than going out and selling vacuum cleaners. We’re lucky when it comes to that.”

Brown, Capps among favorites to win at HPT By Rick Peterson

rick.peterson@cjonline.com

This weekend marks the 29th straight year of NHRA national events at Heartland Park Topeka, and I’ve been on hand for all of them. However, that first-hand knowledge hasn’t always paid off when it has come to picking winners. Undaunted, I’ll give it another try. Here are my five drivers to keep an eye on in each of the three pro classes this weekend: TOP FUEL 1. Antron Brown — The two-time defending series champ, Brown (Matco Tools Dragster) has qualified No. 1 three times at HPT and made it to the final round a year ago but is still looking for his first Topeka victory. This might finally be the year the 61-time national event winner (Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle) goes the distance. 2. Leah Pritchett — Pritchett won three of the first five races in the Papa Johns Dragster and is the Top Fuel points leader. Pritchett, who advanced to the semifinals at Heartland Park in 2013, finished seventh in the Mello Yello standings a year ago before this season’s breakthrough start. 3. Steve Torrence — Currently third in Top Fuel points, Torrence has won

2016 file photograph/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Top Fuel driver Antron Brown pours fuel into his dragster before the first run of the 2016 NHRA Kansas Nationals. two straight races and is coming off a third-place finish in last year’s series standings. Torrence appears poised for his career-best performance at HPT. 4. Tony Schumacher — The eight-time series champion and 83-time national event winner is back in the title hunt in his U.S Army Dragster, ranking second in points after finishing an uncharacteristic eighth in the ’16 Mello Yello standings. He was the 2010 winner at HPT and the runner-up in ’13. 5. Doug Kalitta — Kalitta is off to a somewhat slow start to ’17, ranking fifth in points, but the driver of the Mac Tools Dragster is

the defending champion at Heartland Park, where he has won twice, and is a 42time national event winner and a four-time series runner-up. FUNNY CAR 1. Ron Capps — The veteran driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger heads to Topeka on a three-race winning streak. Capps won his first Mello Yello championship last season and hasn’t missed a beat in ’17. Capps holds a 94-point lead over Matt Hagan, his Don Schumacher Racing teammate. 2. Matt Hagan — Hagan, the two-time series champion, owned HPT a year ago, setting national records

for elapsed time and speed en route to his first win at the track. With two wins already under his belt this season, Hagan has to rank among the top favorites as he attempts to double up in Topeka. 3. John Force — The king of Funny Car with 16 championships, Force also is the king of HPT with nine Topeka wins. Force, who turned 68 earlier this month, is third in series points this year after a fourth-place finish in ’16, and he won earlier this season at Gainesville. 4. Jack Beckman — Fast Jack, the 2012 series champ, was the runner-up to teammate Hagan last season and won at Heartland Park in ’12 and ’15. Currently sixth in points in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger, Beckman is still looking for his first win of the season. 5. Robert Hight — The John Force Racing president is fourth in points this season, finished eighth a year ago and you can never count Hight out of the hunt. Hight has won twice in Topeka and has also been a runnerup and a four-time No. 1 qualifier at the track. PRO STOCK 1. Greg Anderson — The four-time Pro Stock champion and the runner-up the past two seasons, Anderson holds a one-point lead in the point standings after a tough

weekend and first-round loss at Atlanta. Anderson, who won at Phoenix earlier in the year, has been the runner-up at Heartland Park the last two years and has four Topeka victories. 2. Bo Butner — In is third season of Pro Stock racing, Butner picked up his first career victory earlier in the year at Houston and is coming off a win at Atlanta. He is second in points. Butner was fourth in Pro Stock points a year ago when he advanced to the final round five times. 3. Jeg Coughlin Jr. — Coughlin ranked just 10th in Mello Yello points last season, but is a five-time series champion and a two-time Topeka winner. Coughlin is fifth in points this season and looking for his first victory. 4. Jason Line — After years of frustration at Heartland Park, Line posted his first victory at the track a year ago, en route to his third Pro Stock championship. Line won the seasonopening race of ’17 and is currently third in points. 5. Tanner Gray — Gray, who turned 19 last month, is one of the young stars of the Mello Yello Series, currently ranking fourth in points with a victory at Las Vegas. Gray is in his rookie season and will be making his first Pro Stock appearance at HPT.


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Haskin: ‘This year is when we can really shine’ Continued from 1

1990 file photograph/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Gary Ormsby, left, put Heartland Park on the map after becoming the first Top Fuel driver to break the 4.9-second and 295 mph barriers while racing at Heartland Park. After his death from cancer on Aug. 28, 1991, the main entrance was dubbed Gary Ormsby Drive in his honor.

Peterson: Major records have been broken at HPT Continued from 1

for a driver who has won 16 championships and an NHRA-record 148 national events. What set the victory apart from all others was that it was Force’s first win after a serious crash at Dallas in 2007 ended his season and put his career in jeopardy. “Coming back from that wreck, that race was key,” Force said. “It showed that I could still drive, that I could still cut it. “I knew even then my legs were still weak. I struggled just getting in and out of the car, but to get that win after a year of rehab was huge — to be there and hear those fans scream the way they did.” The win was Force’s ninth Topeka Funny Car national-event win, still a track record. Following his win, Force climbed the fence to mingle with the fans. “That was pathetic,” he said. “I couldn’t get back over it, but that was an emotional ride home.” In 1990, Gary Ormsby put HPT on the national racing map, becoming the first driver in NHRA history to break the 4.9-second and 295 mph barriers in his Top Fuel dragster, clicking off a pass of 4.881 seconds at 296.06 mph in the AC-Delco Heartland Nationals. Ormsby, who won the 1989 Winston Top Fuel championship, died after a battle with cancer on Aug. 28, 1991. Ormsby ran his final race at HPT, defeating Lori Johns in a match race. Ormsby will always be linked with Heartland Park, with the main entrance to the track named Gary Ormsby Drive after his death. “I ain’t saying I was real close to Gary Ormsby as an everyday buddy, but he was my (Castrol) teammate at the racetrack, and when I drove in and saw his name, that was amazing to me,” Force said. “That made me cry going in and I cried going out.” You could make the case that without Chris Payne there would be no Heartland Park Topeka. After the city’s failed attempt to buy the facility from former owner Raymond Irwin in 2015, the track was in desperate need of somebody to right the HPT ship. Payne and Todd Crossley officially took over as owners in early 2016 before

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1990 file photograph/the capital-journal

NHRA driver Joe Amato in 1996 became the first racer in the sport’s history to break the 4.6-second barrier while racing at Heartland Park Topeka. Payne became the sole owner prior to the current season. Payne added racing veteran Scott Gardner as president/general manager in ’16 and has made several improvements, including the resurfacing of the road course and the addition of a motocross course. Payne still faces obstacles, including an ongoing battle with Shawnee County over a tax bill in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Heartland Park appears to be on its most solid footing in many years. The 1993 Sears Craftsman Nationals at HPT delivered a double dose of history in the Funny Car class when Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler both broke the four-second and 300-mph barriers. Etchells became the first Funny Car racer to run in the fours with a 4.987 pass, while Epler recorded the first 300-mph run with a 300.40 pass. Just before the historic second qualifying session Castrol GTX Motorsports manager John Howell an-

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nounced the creation of the Castrol 4-second Club for Funny Cars, which would award $25,000 to the first driver in the fours. Force, who had run a 5.08 in the first session, offered to pay half of the $25,000, but never got a chance to take a shot at the cash, with a brake caliper breaking on Force’s burnout. History also was made in Top Fuel, with Cory McClenathan, born in Wichita, speeding to a then-record 4.762 in a second-round win over Ed “The Ace” McCulloch. The late Scott Kalitta posted a then-record 308.64 mph run in a finalround win over McClenathan. Courtney Force posted the landmark 100th NHRA professional win by a female in the 2014 Kansas Nationals, topping veteran Cruz Pedregon in the Funny Car final. It was Force’s first win at HPT. “It’s for all the girls out there who are in any type of sport, any motorsport,”

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Force said after her victory. “It’s an exciting day for us and it’s an honor to be No. 100 on a list of the legends. There’s just so many great names, and it’s really an honor to be a part of it.” The 2016 Kansas Nationals were an opportunity for HPT to show it was still a major player in drag racing. Matt Hagan helped make that happen, setting both ends of the national Funny Car record in Friday’s night qualifying session. Hagan clocked a time of 3.862 seconds at a speed of 335.57 mph as seven drivers topped 330 mph in the session. “It’s cool to hang onto something that goes that fast,” Hagan said. “It’s over with too quick, unfortunately.” In 1996, Top Fuel star Joe Amato became the first racer in NHRA history to break the 4.6-second barrier. Moments after Amato’s record run the late Blaine Johnson topped Amato with a run of

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and also adding other events, was formidable. “Everything is easy after that,’’ Payne said. “This year is when we can really shine, we can push the pace and we can really grow.’’ By name alone, that growth will be evident when the National Hot Rod Association professionals roll into HPT for the 29th consecutive year for their annual drag races May 19-21. Just the name itself, the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, indicates gains at the track. The title sponsor is the first for HPT’s biggest show since Dollar General in 2012. To reach that point, and the financial boost that comes with it, Payne first surprised NHRA administrative staff by expressing renewed interest in purchasing Heartland Park Topeka after a failed attempt by the city of Topeka to gain control through a bonding issue. “They really had moved on,’’ Payne said of the NHRA. “There was a phone call, literally at the last minute. … This event was off the schedule, and we put in a call after hours one night, probably about 10 o’clock, and it was agreed to try to work it out, but it had a very short window.’’ Past relations with Payne prompted the NHRA to approve his request. In addition, once the deal seemed right to Payne after he had previously dropped interest in purchasing the troubled track, HPT’s ties to drag racing tugged at his heart. It was a career decision made at a point when Payne had settled into semi-retirement. That changed in an instant after taking over the massive property, which was in dire need of a makoever. “We’re drag racers at heart. It’s not our sole focus, but it’s our biggest focus,’’ Payne said. “There was the time the NHRA was looking the other way, and I said, ‘Well, I’m looking in that direction too.’ Then the NHRA and I got together and we thought this was worth saving. “Some say it was a joint venture. They agreed to look at it and stay if I was involved, which put a little pressure on me, but in the same sense it was a pat on the back that they trusted me.’’ The mere addition of a title sponsor for the NHRA Nationals lends respectability and relevancy to both the facility and the event.

The deal with Menards is a one-year agreement. Still, that’s a nice start considering in 2015 the NHRA operated the vacant facility just to keep the Nationals event at HPT on the pro schedule. “Obviously, we’re new here, and (Menards is) new to the drag racing scene, though they’re fully involved with auto racing,’’ HPT general manager Scott Gardner said. “This is kind of our dip-our-toe to see how it is going to work out, but I think they’re very happy, and we are about the advanced sales. We totally believe and plan that it will be renewed after this event, but strictly speaking, it is for this year’s event.’’ Notes were taken last year on items to address. Efforts will be made to stockpile more bathroom and cleaning supplies, solidify the surfaces of parking lots and attempt to boost traffic flow. “Just being prepared and ready for the event, we’re a lot further ahead,’’ Gardner said. “The facility looks a lot better, and we’ve finetuned some things. We can always improve on things, but there are less things than before, and I feel comfortable in the team we have here.’’ As for the event itself, new attractions will include Nitro Harleys, Pro Modifieds and Jet Cars. Also, the NHRA professionals will have a week off before arriving. “That’s an advantage for us, a little fresher team on their side,’’ said Gardner, “and them coming in a little earlier than they normally would, that’s a positive.’’ Obviously, this is the biggest draw for HPT and a favorable impression is critical. To that end, weather makes a difference. Not only in how the schedule accommodates fans, since May is a rainy month in Kansas, but also in generating ideal track conditions. Last year, Matt Hagan set Funny Car time and speed records at HPT with marks of 3.862 seconds and 335.57 mph. “The challenge we have is the cars last year ran so very well on Friday night, setting the record and still holding the record at 335 mph,’’ Gardner said. “How do you match that? We hope the weather and the atmosphere is there, so we can match those runs.’’ The reference was to atmospheric pressure. Pressure on HPT, meanwhile, seems to be easing. Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin. haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

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FILE PHOTOGRAPH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Matt Hagan set Funny Car time and speed records last year at Heartland Park Topeka with marks of 3.862 seconds and 335.57 mph. Fast speeds are among the reasons that NHRA drivers keep coming back to Topeka.


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Capps, Torrence ride momentum Drivers coming off big wins at NHRA Southern Nationals on Atlanta Dragway The NHRA COMMERCE, Ga. — Ron Capps raced his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T to his third consecutive Funny Car victory this season on May 7 at the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ final tuneup before next weekend’s Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Park Topeka. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners in their respective categories at the seventh event of 24 on the NHRA Mello Yello schedule. Defending world champion Capps raced a 3.991-second pass at 317.79 mph in the finals to defeat Tim Wilkerson in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang. This is Capps’ second victory at Atlanta Dragway and 52nd of his Top Fuel career. “It’s a pinch-me moment,” Capps stated. “The car speaks for itself lately. This was probably one of the more difficult race tracks to navigate. You really had to be ready for two or three different sets of bumps. It makes for an exciting run but you’re just hoping, at the same time, that your car stays in the groove. Funny Car is just getting tougher and tougher.” Capps sailed past J.R. Todd, 16-time world champion John Force and Robert Hight, who set the track elapsed time record with his 3.880 pass in the semifinals, en route to the victory. Wilkerson faced rookie Jonnie Lindberg, Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan before seeing Capps in his first final-round appearance of the season. Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence piloted his Capco Contractors dragster to the winner’s circle in backto-back races after a 3.745 pass at 320.81 to defeat U.S. Army driver Tony Schumacher. This is Torrence’s third consecutive finalround appearance. “The race car I have right now is the best race car that I’ve ever had in my life,” Torrence said. “My driving is showing that I’m confident in it. The continuity of my team has what it takes to win championships. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder and a point to prove.” Torrence pushed past Smax Smith, Shawn Langdon and Top Fuel points

file photograph/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Ron Capps, front car, is riding some momentum after securing his third consecutive Funny Car victory of the season May 7 at the Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

file photograph/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence also picked up a win at the NHRA Southern Nationals, beating Tony Schumacher in the finals with a run of 3.745 seconds. Torrence topped points leader Leah Pritchett in the semifinals to make it to his third consecutive final-round appearance. leader Leah Pritchett before facing Schumacher in the finals. Schumacher defeated Brittany Force, Bob Vandergriff and Doug Kalitta before falling to Torrence.

During eliminations, Pritchett set the elapsed time track record with a pass of 3.699, while teammate Antron Brown set the track speed record of 329.91 mph.

Butner, who made his Pro Stock debut at Atlanta in 2015, powered his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevy Camaro to the second victory of his career after a 6.569 pass at 211.26 that bettered two-time world champion Erica Enders. Enders raced her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro to a 6.593 pass at 210.97 in her first final-round appearance since Las Vegas 2 in 2015. “You have to have a lot of trust in your car,” Butner stated. “I’m happy in this car and happy with this team. We’ve had the car to win with for the last year and a half. Now, it’s all just coming together, and I’m doing my job.” Butner defeated Wally Stroupe, Vincent Nobile and Jeg Coughlin Jr. before facing Enders in the finals. Enders lined up against Alan Prusiensky, defending world champion Jason Line and Tanner Gray en route to her final-round appearance. Lucas Oil Southern Nationals At Atlanta Dragway Final finish order (1-16) at the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. The race is the seventh of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. TOP FUEL 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Tony Schumacher; 3. Doug Kalitta; 4. Leah Pritchett; 5. Antron Brown; 6.Bob Vandergriff; 7. Shawn Langdon; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Terry McMillen; 10. Troy Coughlin Jr.; 11. Pat Dakin; 12. Chris Karamesines; 13. Smax Smith; 14. Scott Palmer; 15. Terry Haddock; 16. Brittany Force.

FUNNY CAR 1. Ron Capps; 2. Tim Wilkerson; 3. Robert Hight; 4. Matt Hagan; 5. John Force; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Courtney Force; 8. Dave Richards; 9. Chad Head; 10. Jonnie Lindberg; 11. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 12. Del Worsham; 13. Jeff Diehl; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Cruz Pedregon; 16. J.R. Todd. PRO STOCK 1. Bo Butner; 2. Erica Enders; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Jeg Coughlin; 5. Jason Line; 6. Chris McGaha; 7. Vincent Nobile; 8. Drew Skillman; 9. Greg Anderson; 10. Allen Johnson; 11. Alan Prusiensky; 12. John Gaydosh Jr; 13. Wally Stroupe; 14. Shane Tucker; 15. Mark Hogan; 16. Shane Gray. PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE 1. LE Tonglet; 2. Jerry Savoie; 3. Eddie Krawiec; 4. Scotty Pollacheck; 5. Andrew Hines; 6.Chip Ellis; 7. Joey Gladstone; 8. Hector Arana Jr; 9. Matt Smith; 10. Cory Reed; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Karen Stoffer; 13. Angelle Sampey; 14. Hector Arana; 15. Mike Berry; 16. Steve Johnson. FINAL RESULTS Top Fuel — Steve Torrence, 3.745 seconds, 320.81 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 4.061 seconds, 243.28 mph. Funny Car — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.991, 317.79 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.978, 316.60. Pro Stock — Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.569, 211.26 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.593, 210.97. Pro Stock Motorcycle — LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.843, 194.35 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 34.292, 20.68. Pro Modified — Mike Castellana, Chevy Camaro, 5.776, 249.21 def. Steve Jackson, Camaro, 5.772, 247.61. Super Stock — David Rampy, Chevy Camaro, 10.198, 129.23 def. Jeff Longhany, Pontiac, Foul - Red Light. Stock Eliminator — Jimmy Hildalgo Jr., Pontiac GTO, 10.849, 117.56 def. Jerry Emmons, Chevy Camaro, 10.526, 114.62. Super Comp — Luke Bogacki, Dragster, 8.914, 168.05 def. Tony Helms, Dragster, 8.888, 176.77. Super Gas — Ray Miller III, Chevy Camaro, 10.549, 117.60 def. David Tatum III, Chevy, Foul - Red Light. Super Street — Doug Wood, Olds Cutlass, 10.908, 133.50 def. Jeremy Hancock, Chevy Vega, 10.848, 138.34. Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com — Sandy Wilkins, Chevy, 6.722, 198.70 def. Vince Hoda, Chevy Camaro, 6.892, 198.15. Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs. com — Joe Fisher, Dragster, 6.391, 191.54 def. Kevin Brannon, Dragster, 7.729, 135.82. Round-by-round results TOP FUEL ROUND ONE — Bob Vandergriff, 3.786, 310.20 def. Scott Palmer, 8.759, 85.60; Leah Pritchett, 3.699,326.16 def. Terry McMillen, 3.772, 325.53; Clay Millican, 9.066, 69.21 def. Terry Haddock, Broke No Show; Tony Schumacher, 5.191, 139.36

def. Brittany Force, Broke; Steve Torrence, 3.753, 325.14 def. Smax Smith, 4.416, 269.56; Antron Brown, 3.702, 328.78 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.788, 304.67; Doug Kalitta, 3.760, 325.45 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.073, 263.00; Shawn Langdon, 3.754, 320.74 def. Pat Dakin, 3.939, 243.99; QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.755, 318.62 def. Vandergriff, 3.886, 299.53; Kalitta, 3.779, 321.81 def. Millican, 4.744, 158.63; Torrence, 3.746, 324.59 def. Langdon, 4.236, 209.82; Pritchett, 3.723, 327.11 def. Brown, 3.754, 329.91; SEMIFINALS — Schumacher, 3.758, 320.13 def. Kalitta, 4.089, 251.67; Torrence, 3.769, 324.83 def.Pritchett, 4.152, 267.11; FINAL — Torrence, 3.745, 320.81 def. Schumacher, 4.061, 243.28. FUNNY CAR ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.901, 326.79 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 9.859, 73.50; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.958, 312.93 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.928, 159.61; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.967, 273.94 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 5.657, 125.58; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.887, 323.81 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 9.262, 79.50; John Force, Camaro, 4.158, 227.15 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 5.032, 157.56; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.914, 325.22 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 4.383, 253.23; Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.648, 222.40 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 8.183, 79.27; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.882, 328.06 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.004, 319.29; QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 3.952, 320.89 def. J. Force, 3.960, 316.01; Hagan, 3.962, 313.29 def.Richards, 7.285, 88.82; Hight, 3.880, 320.81 def. C. Force, 5.508, 118.26; Wilkerson, 3.991, 313.22 def. Beckman, 4.665, 184.02; SEMIFINALS — Wilkerson, 4.426, 244.56 def. Hagan, 7.197, 110.13; Capps, 3.968, 318.77 def. Hight, 4.899, 161.07; FINAL — Capps, 3.991, 317.79 def. Wilkerson, 3.978, 316.60. PRO STOCK ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.589, 210.73 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.610, 210.21; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.564, 210.80 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 9.129, 100.35; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.629, 207.53 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, Foul - Red Light; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.545, 211.13 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.561, 211.00; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.560, 211.26 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 7.236, 144.03; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.573, 210.83 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 8.096, 132.84; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.537, 211.83 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.085, 193.82; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.550, 211.16 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.682, 206.95; QUARTERFINALS — T. Gray, 6.584, 210.70 def. Skillman, 6.607, 210.47; Enders, 6.578, 210.77 def.Line, 6.563, 210.93; Coughlin, 6.594, 210.41 def. McGaha, 6.575, 211.56; Butner, 6.563, 211.13 def. Nobile, 6.582, 211.23; SEMIFINALS — Enders, 6.611, 210.77 def. T. Gray, 6.600, 210.83; Butner, 6.583, 211.49 def.Coughlin, 7.342, 144.24; FINAL — Butner, 6.569, 211.26 def. Enders, 6.593, 210.97. PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.851, 194.27 def. Matt Smith, 6.892, 192.52; Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.886, 193.40 def. Angelle Sampey, 6.969, 189.28; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.811, 195.39 def.Cory Reed, Foul - Red Light; Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.860, 193.63 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.995, 195.65; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.877, 191.70 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.952, 190.70; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.844, 195.85 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.047, 186.51; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.821, 194.63 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, Broke; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.868, 193.96 def. Angie Smith, Buell, Foul - Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Pollacheck, 6.933, 190.24 def. Ellis, 6.915, 193.74; Savoie, 6.847, 194.86 def.Arana Jr, Foul - Red Light; Tonglet, 6.805, 196.13 def. Hines, 6.894, 193.77; Krawiec, 6.826,193.79 def. Gladstone, 6.960, 192.96; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.849, 192.80 def. Krawiec, 6.859, 193.24; Tonglet, 6.839, 194.60 def.Pollacheck, 6.889, 191.13; FINAL — Tonglet, 6.843, 194.35 def. Savoie, 34.292, 20.68. Point standings (top 10) Top Fuel 1. Leah Pritchett, 641; 2. Tony Schumacher, 627; 3. Steve Torrence, 592; 4. Antron Brown, 560; 5. Doug Kalitta, 486; 6. Clay Millican, 385; 7. Brittany Force, 347; 8. Terry McMillen, 301; 9.Troy Coughlin Jr., 295; 10. Scott Palmer, 244. Funny Car 1. Ron Capps, 633; 2. Matt Hagan, 539; 3. John Force, 490; 4. Robert Hight, 437; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 427; 6. Jack Beckman, 426; 7. Courtney Force, 405; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 329; 9. J.R.Todd, 326; 10. Jonnie Lindberg, 318. Pro Stock 1. Greg Anderson, 586; 2. Bo Butner, 585; 3. Jason Line, 515; 4. Tanner Gray, 496; 5. Jeg Coughlin, 495; 6. Chris McGaha, 421; 7. Erica Enders, 390; 8. Shane Gray, 382; 9. Drew Skillman, 360; 10. Vincent Nobile, 341. Pro Stock Motorcycle 1. Eddie Krawiec, 306; 2. LE Tonglet, 291; 3. Andrew Hines, 230; 4. Jerry Savoie, 204; 5.Scotty Pollacheck, 196; 6. Joey Gladstone, 188; 7. (tie) Steve Johnson, 136; Matt Smith, 136; 9.Hector Arana Jr, 126; 10. (tie) Angelle Sampey, 114. Karen Stoffer, 114.

Beckman finding his groove after changeups The NHRA Adjusting on the fly is nothing new for Jack Beckman, who has worked to adapt to personnel changes almost flawlessly during his standout Funny Car career. Bringing in a number of new guys to the mix, including two crew chiefs, were part of the changes for the 2017 season but the former Funny Car world champion has started to find his rhythm. Beckman finished as the runner-up at the recent NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in Charlotte driving his 10,000-horsepower Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T and is sixth in the loaded Funny Car class. It’s a good sign for a team trending upward, but Beckman now wants reward them with a victory, something he hopes can happen at the 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties Friday through

Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka. “I’m extremely happy with the way we’re settling into things, and how we’ve faced each round like we’re in the Countdown (to the Championship),” Beckman said. “As we accrue more data, it’s just going to get better, and we should be able to continue to raise the bar. Our short-term goal is to win the first race of the year and the next goal would then be to collect more trophies. We haven’t been the best car on any day yet, but we’re close to being there. I know we’re good enough to win.” Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s Topeka winners. The race will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including a live broadcast of the finals on Sunday at 1 p.m. The race is the eighth of 24 events during a 2017 season that brought plenty of new faces to Beck-

2016 FILE PHOTOGRAPH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Funny Car driver “Fast” Jack Beckman signs autographs for fans during the 2016 NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. man’s team, including Dean Antonelli and Neal Strasbaugh joining as crew chiefs with John Medlen, who was one of only three carryovers from ’16. With a completely different clutch configuration among the many changes, the team had to make adjustments and gather data

on the fly. That has made things difficult in some respects, but with only one first-round loss through the first seven events, Beckman has been thoroughly impressed with how quickly things have come together in a short time. “We’re starting to get to

the point where we have enough data with the sixdisc clutch to fall back on,” said Beckman, who has 24 career wins. “With not really any data for Charlotte, I think we did an excellent job. The team and crew have done a great job, and I think the guys know I’m continuing to work on my craft when I’m away from the car because ultimately it makes us better as a team. We set the standard high and there’s a lot of incentive to try to be excellent out there.” Racing at Heartland Park Topeka has often brought the best out of Beckman, who won the race in 2012 and 2015. The victory in 2012 help propel his world championship run, while the 2015 win was one of seven that season, with the team putting on a record-breaking performance that included five three-second runs. He’ll be challenged by the likes of 16-time world champ John Force and defending

world champ Ron Capps, the current points leader with three straight wins, but Topeka has repeatedly provided the backdrop for Beckman to do something special. “When we won there in 2012, we had just gone through a complete team change and we were just kind of licking our wounds, getting our feet back,” Beckman said. “That win put in our heads that we were good enough to contend for a championship. In 2015, it was just a barrage of three-second runs. It was really as close to a perfect weekend as you could have. Topeka can be tricky for drivers and crew chiefs, so if you win it’s definitely a feather in you cap.” Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday.


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Peterson: Lots of history on track Continued from 4

4.592 seconds at 312.02 mph. The main grandstand adjacent to the starting line at HPT is named after Johnson, who died later in 1996 in a racing accident. HPT closed out the 1995 season as the site of the quickest run in NHRA history, with the late Scott Kalitta recording a 4.66-second run during the Sears Craftsman Nationals. Heartland Park joined the NASCAR family in 1995, becoming the first road course for the then-Craftsman Truck Series. HPT hosted multiple trucks events at the track. A host of alltime NASCAR greats appeared at HPT in some capactiy in the 1990s, with the list including Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker and Jack Roush. Indy Car great AJ Foyt also appeared at HPT. Heartland Park caught the eye of the racing world when then-general manager Bill Kentling oversaw the construction of a temporary dirt track on top of the drag strip. More than 18,000 cubic yards of dirt was hauled in to build the track. A variety of dirttrack events, including the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, were contested during the two years that the temporary track was contructed. Scott Kalitta posted six national-event Top Fuel wins at Heartland Park, including two wins in 1995 and wins in five straight years from 1993-

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plagued event in the middle of the night. “The team really wanted to celebrate the win, and it was so late no place was open,” Capps said. “We ended up going to the truck stop on Wanamaker (which is no longer there) to celebrate.” I n May 1988, Heartland Park Topeka was chosen as the official name of the Lario Enterprises track. Groundbreaking was held the same month. In 1989, the Camel Grand Prix kicked off racing at HPT. Opening day attracted a crowd estimated at 25,000. In 2007, after Funny Car star Robert Hight crossed the finish line with a win in the second round of eliminations, his car exploded, causing significant damage. Hight’s John Force Racing crew miraculously got the car repaired enough in time to return to the starting line for the semifinals, but the decision was made not to run after a problem at the line. Hight wasn’t injured in the incident. The 1995 Western Auto Nationals was the first motor sports event in Kansas to be televised on network television (ABC). Prior to the 2017 season Heartland Park re-paved its 2.5-mile road course, hoping to rejuvenate interest and traffic for that venue. Shortly after Payne took over as HPT’s owner, a new motocross course was constructed at the facility.

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1990 FILE PHOTOGRAPH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Gary Ormsby ran his final race at Heartland Park Topeka, defeating Lori Johns in a match race. He died from cancer on Aug. 28, 1991, and the entrance to the track has since been known as Gary Ormsby Drive. 1997. Kalitta died in a racing accident in June 2008. Pat Austin won both the Top Fuel and Top Alcohol Funny Car titles in 1991, making him the first driver in NHRA history to win two classes at one national event. Heartland Park hosted the Sports Car Club of America National Championship Runoffs, billed as sports car racing’s biggest event, from 2006 to 2008. HPT built a permanent dirt track that opened April 21, 2001. The three-eighthsmile dirt oval currently

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hosts the Saturday Showdown Series and has drawn more than 100 competitors on race night on numerous occasions. Current NASCAR star Clint Bowyer, an Emporia native, won the Modified track championship on HPT’s dirt track before going on to become a winner in NASCAR’s three premier series. Local racer Darron Fuqua won the 2011 Modified championship while breaking Bowyer’s record for most feature wins in a season — 11. Australian David Grubnic

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posted his first career Top Fuel victory at Heartland Park in 2005. Grubnic was the first driver from outside North America to win an NHRA national event. Grubnic also won at HPT in 2012 and posted two of his three career wins at HPT. John Force Racing registered its 200th career win as an organization with Robert Hight’s Funny Car victory in 2011. Hight won two straight Topeka races, in ’10 and ’11. Eight-time Top Fuel world champ Tony Schumacher, the winningest driver in

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Top Fuel history, won for the first time at Heartland Park in 2010. NHRA Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson posted five Heartland Park wins in the 1990s, from 1992 to 1998. Funny Car star Cruz Pedregon has won four times at HPT, the first time in 1992, when he virtually wrapped up the first of his two championships in his rookie year in the class. Ron Capps posted the first of his three Funny Car wins at HPT in 1998, posting his final-round win in the weather-

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