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New Kids on the Winner’s Block

New Kids on the Winner’s Block

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Published by Phillip Gary Smith
New wave of drag racing at the professional level begin to take over the fields at these amazing 10,000 horsepower per racer events.
New wave of drag racing at the professional level begin to take over the fields at these amazing 10,000 horsepower per racer events.

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Published by: Phillip Gary Smith on May 02, 2013
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05/14/2014

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Media Matters: New Kids on the Winner’s Block Storylines opening the 25th O'Reilly Northwest Nationals broadcastmorphed to a conclusion altogether different.Why? Did the ESPN production crew, broadcasters and reporters misjudgethe race, fail to do homework, take in too much mountain air? Nope.The culprit is the sport, drag racing, winding through mystic brackets withserpentine pathways leading fortuitous drivers to that trophy, a Wally.Example: glancing at the Pro Stock qualifying brackets after the four qualifying rounds, it was oh-so-easy to realize the intriguing possibility of Greg Anderson’s Summit Chevy Camaro meeting the GK MotorsportsCobalt of Erica Enders in the quarterfinals, resolving on the race track whatwords had not.All they needed to do . . . clear that first round.Anderson dispatched Kurt Johnson’s Mark Christopher Auto Pontiac, eventhough he recorded a sleepy light on the launch.Ender’s opening round against veteran Ron Krisher’s Valvoline Pontiac— whose son, John, is about her age—was more mathematically interesting astheir Reaction Times were identical (.035) as were their speeds (209.56), butshe covered the distance quicker.Then in what ESPN announcer Paul Page calls “moments of pressure,”Anderson/Enders squared-off in the quarterfinals. “Every once in a while,(pressure) leaks out,” Page observed, fashioning drag racing broadcasts asthe most entertaining in motorsports.The incident creating such a hubbub—a photo showed Enders holding her first-victory Wally high—developed after the win over Anderson atChicago’s finals.
 
His distress revolved around the photo using his hauler as a backdrop.ESPN recounted the story while displaying the tell-tale image. Even though“It’s all over the internet,” Enders explained, I had not chased it down.Glancing at the screen, all I saw was a young woman with a trophy held highin front of a racing trailer.Anderson apologized for “bringing it to television.” ESPN producers musthave handed him kudos and cookies instead. Such fun, a racing controversyfor television audiences and race fans, can’t be bought.Why would one need to fake controversy anyway? The art of drag racing provides the real thing for free.Viewers have to love Enders’ bluntness: “It’s a damn shame I went red” intheir previous race in Sonoma, but not here, not today. Her lead over theentire quarterfinals lap gave clues the day’s outcomes might be historic butin a much different slant than Saturday night’s qualifying broadcast.A threat to sweep the Western Swing a historic twice, Antron Brown in hisMatco Tool Top Fuel dragster drove hard to be the first ever to capture thathonor.First-round found him in a double-highlighted race against inimitable ClayMillican’s Parts Plus machine. Viewers were reminded of Millican’sreputation for knocking off higher qualified teams as this pair was selectedfor the broadcast’s Marquee Matchup and also picked by color commentator,Mike Dunn, as his selection for an Upset Alert.The round was neither. Millican explained, “We (at least) made Antron stayhonest.” Brown’s focus on one-round-at-a-time came through as he calledthese rounds “like baking a cake, one (ingredient) at a time.”Spinning those big slicks well before he could escape those dastardlyquarterfinals, screams of disappointment from fans arose as Brown’shistorical possibility collapsed inwardly like baking an over-beaten cake.“Antron’s done!” exclaimed Dunn, not referring to cake but pointing out thedragster had lost traction “as they started to apply the clutch” against ShawnLangdon’s Al-Anabi dragster in the other lane.
 
Langdon courted a date-with-destiny, his first win, gaining the finals whenhe trailered David Grubnic’s Optima Batteries machine in the semifinals, prematurely starting the Aussie’s 50th birthday celebration.Tim Wilkerson quipped about his upcoming quarterfinals with Ron Capps’ NAPA Dodge Charger: “Capps next round? Duck Soup,” leading Dunn tocreate a whole new category . . . “(Call it) sarcasm Sunday.”The quarterfinals foiled Wilkerson’s Levi Ray & Shoup Ford attempt to winthis event for the unheard of fourth-straight year. Statman Lewis Bloom nosooner told us, “He’s tied with Whit Bazemore for most wins on the WesternSwing,” then Page lamented, “And there goes (Wilkerson’s) chances.”The broadcast alerted the audience to this possible outcome with the clueWilkerson swapped engines between rounds with “no extra time at the line,”meaning the team was pressed.Dunn noted, “All these streaks are getting broken in the second round.” Not quite; Pro Stock’s sweep-candidate, Allen Johnson’s Mopar DodgeAvenger, stayed on mission until a doomed meeting with friend and finals- bound Enders.Meanwhile the broadcast kept the point’s battle in the Funny Car ranks up-to-date after each round, graphically explaining teams remaining in the top10 through Indy’s date earn eligibility to compete in the Countdown to theChampionship.Teams just outside the elites are shown feverishly working on combinationsand power, pulling out all the stops like a concert organist engaging theGrand Ophicleide for absolutely the most force possible.The contrast of old vs. new, senior vs. young gradually became as plain asthe August snow remaining on Mt. Rainier. Glimpses occurred along theway like reporter Gary Gerould joking with Warren Johnson about gray hair after Johnson’s Pontiac GXP surprised Shane Gray’s TBC Retail Camaro inthe first round.

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