NHRA notebook: Gaines thrills local crowd

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By Michael Hicks

MORRISON — Vieri Gaines came back and gave the hometown crowd quite a show this past weekend.
The 65-year-old Lakewood resident wasn’t considered a favorite at the 33rd annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway based on his ranking in the 2012 points standings — he sat 14th with 383 points entering the three-day competition — but that didn’t stop him.
Gaines, who hasn’t won since 2008 in Phoenix and had only three previous Pro Stock victories, including wins in Dallas in 2000 and 2001, scored wins over Kurt Johnson, Larry Morgan and Vincent Nobile to reach the finals. And after his semifinal-round win over Nobile, Gaines played the role of a team player.
“I hope we get a Mopar in the winner’s circle and that will be fantastic,” Gaines said.
He got his wish when Allen Johnson assured an all-Mopar final with a win over Jason Line one race later. But that in turn may have been a detriment as well seeing that Johnson — third in the points standings entering the weekend —  had won at Bandimere three times since 2007 and lost in the finals last year after he fouled out against Mike Edwards.
Johnson, who previously in the day set a course record and was the top qualifier, won the finals in a time of 6.95 seconds. He rode to victory at 197.31 miles per hour.
“The pressure is on me. I know we got the best car and I’m the only one that can screw it up. The guys are working hard and hopefully we can bring many more wins this season,” said Johnson, who won his career-best third race this season and took over the points lead with the victory.
But even in defeat Gaines gave the fans their money’s worth.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON RULES MOTORCYCLES. Seven NHRA races, seven Harley-Davidson victories. Yes, they’ve been that dominant.
Even though Hector Arana, Jr. went into the elimination round as the top seed, it was Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidsons of points leaders Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines that squared off in the finals. Krawiec topped Arana, while Hines ousted defending champion Karen Stouffer in the semifinals.
The finals, however, was anti-climatic. Krawiec, the series points leader, received a freebie after Hines fouled out at the start line. To make matters worse, Hines had the faster bike in the finals, but it was not to be.
“Talk about a dream season. We never expected it to go like this,” Krawiec said of Harley-Davidson’s success in 2012. “To be honest with you this race shouldn’t have been ours this weekend. Not that you should always count yourselves out. We were a little down on ourselves. We were struggling on Friday and Saturday.”
QUITE THE FORCE. Her father John Force is a legendary figure on Funny Car racing, but it was 24-year-old daughter Courtney who was stealing the show at Bandimere. Almost.
Force, whose only previous career win came in the Top Alcohol Dragster division in 2009 in Seattle, reached the finals after wins over Tim Wilkerson, teammate Robert Hight and Ron Capps. Against Capps, she ran an elimination-round best speed of 295.79 mph.
In first Funny Car finals, Force battled top qualifier Jack Beckman. Beckman, who is fourth in the points standings, held off his female opponent by running his fastest speed of the elimination round — 293.79 mph. But that’s not to say he wasn’t impressed by the younger Force’s run to the finals. But he also was determined to win.
“After the semis I get a text from Dan Richey, you’ll appreciate this one. He said ‘Don’t be THAT GUY,’” Beckman said, talking about losing to Courtney Force in the finals. “I said ‘I want to be THE MAN.’ You can’t think about that stuff and let it drive you crazy. You just go put all of that out of your head and go up there and climb the tree and control the race car.”
SCARY RIDE. Paul Pittman won’t forget his first qualifying effort in the NHRA Pro Stock car division. The Bloomington, Minn., resident, in the opening qualifying round against top-seeded Allen Johnson, drifted toward the center line, hit the outside wall and then rolled his Aerofab Inc. 2010 Pontiac GXP across the track.
The veteran driver hit both walls again, catching the engine on fire.
Amazingly, he exited the vehicle unscathed. Pittman walked away under his own power. He was checked and released by NHRA emergency services officials, the NHRA said in a press release.
FOR THE RECORD. Hector Arana Jr. finished second in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle points race in 2011, won three times and qualified first seven times. But he doesn’t have to settle for anything but the best when it comes to the track record at Bandimere Speedway.
Arana Jr. tied Michael Phillips’ mark of 7.238 seconds set two years ago with a qualifying run July 20, the first of three days at the Mile-High Nationals. Then he broke it in the elimination round with a run of 7.237.
Allen Johnson shattered the Pro Stock mark with a run of 6.936 seconds in the semifinals of the elimination round. He beat Jason Line, who had previously topped the mark Johnson set in 2011, with a run of 6.948 in the first round. Johnson beat that by .003 seconds in the quarterfinals and then beat it again.