Editor’s note: This story replaces the one that ran in Motorsports on July 18, a story that previously ran in the Register.
SONOMA — The fastest two weeks of racing at Sonoma Raceway was to begin Thursday as divisional and regional teams from the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series compete in a doubleheader format that crams two weekends worth of racing into one.
In addition to cars from the five-state NHRA Division 7, teams from across the country are expected at Sonoma to take advantage of the opportunity to race twice within four days.
“We’re one of only five facilities in the nation to host a double-divisional race,” said Kyle Seipel, Sonoma Raceway’s drag racing manager.
Seipel expects 500 cars from as far away as Canada in 11 classes to roll up the quarter mile.
The lucrative weekend will also include Top Alcohol Dragsters and Top Alcohol Funny Cars at Sonoma for the first time in a decade. These cars are seldom included in single event divisional competition because of the expense of running them.
Jasmine Salinas often travels the country to race her Top Alcohol dragster at NHRA events on the Mello Yello national pro tour, where her dad races a Top Fuel dragster. The design consultant from San Jose is looking forward to this weekend, when she gets the rare opportunity to race close to home.
“Normally I leave my office in San Francisco on Friday night and catch a red-eye flight to the race,” said the 28-year-old, who races about 15 events a season. “This weekend will be great because I can drive to the track and there will be friends who can see what I do.”
Coming to Sonoma is also a bit of a homecoming for Salinas.
“Sonoma is the first place I ever saw a Top Fuel car and I thought the people who drove them were larger-than-life characters,” including Ashley, Brittany and Courtney Force, she said.
Last year, Salinas began working on her dad’s Top Fuel car, learning now to rebuild superchargers and to work as a team with the rest of the crew.
“I got a huge appreciation for what goes into a team,” she said.
Since getting her NHRA license at the drag strip last year in Gainesville, Fla., Salinas, who drove in Junior Dragster when she was in high school, is looking forward to honing her driving skills in a car with 3,000 horsepower. Having as much horsepower as five new Corvettes might seem like a lot to harness, but Salinas said her Top Alcohol car is more tame than the 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel machine her dad drives.
“My car is similar to my dad’s and it’s faster than the Sportsman and Pro Stock cars,” Salinas explained.
Even though her car may look like a Top Fuel machine, driving it feels much different.
“In my car, I feel the g-forces in the beginning and then it slows down at half-track,” she said. “When the Top Fuel car gets to half-track, you feel a second set of g-forces when the clutch is fully engaged, so you feel those forces all the way down the track.”
Although Salinas would like to move up to a Top Fuel car like her dad’s, she is in no rush to make that move.
“This year and next, I’m just looking to get more seat time,” she said.
Even though she may be at a disadvantage to more experienced drivers, Salinas said “every time we show up we want to earn the respect of our peers and we expect to win.”
Even if she doesn’t, Salinas acknowledged that “winning or losing, I’m still learning something every time I’m on the track.”
Qualifying was to begin Thursday at 8:30 a.m., with eliminations in the weekend’s first divisional on Friday. Top Alcohol qualifying is Friday afternoon and eliminations for the second divisional race continue through Sunday. Classes include Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Stock Eliminator, Super Street, Super Comp, Super Stock, Super Gas, Top Dragster, Comp Eliminator, Sportsman Motorcycle, and Top Sportsman.
Coughlin looks to continue Top Dragster streak
After consecutive victories in Indianapolis and Chicago over the last two weeks, two-time NHRA Division 3 Champion Mike Coughlin is looking to extend his Top Dragster winning streak this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.
Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio, is travelling across the country to take advantage of the potential to win twice in the same weekend during the NHRA Division 7 race for the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
“Between qualifying and eliminations, we made eight perfect runs in Indy and eight more perfect runs in Chicago,” Coughlin said, after the crew switched to a new supercharger after struggling earlier this season.
“We’re going to ride this wave as long as we can. There’s no reason to think we can’t have another great weekend in Sonoma. I’ve only raced there once but I know it’s a beautiful facility and we expect perfect conditions. If we continue to do our thing, we’ll have a good chance.
“Of course, we’d love to win a couple more trophies but even going deep into the elimination rounds at these two events would be awesome. It looks like it’ll take six rounds to win each race, versus the five we needed these past two weekends, but that’s great because there are more points up for grabs.”
Johnson wins again at Petaluma
Penngrove’s Chase Johnson relied on a borrowed motor, patience in the early laps, and a well-timed move on the race leader to win the King of the West/Fujitsu series’ sprint car race at Petaluma Speedway last Saturday night. The win is Johnson’s second career win in the series and his second consecutive victory on the 3/8th-mile clay oval.
Ryan Bernal sprinted to a multi-car length lead in the early laps from the pole before colliding with a slower lapped car, which forced him into the pits for repairs on the rear of the field at the restart.
Johnson stalked new leader, Billy Aton of Benicia, for several laps before diving under him in Turn 4 on lap 21 of the 30-lap race and then ran away from the field to win by several car lengths.
“I had to be patient for the whole race and wait for the right time to make the pass” as the field contended with a very fast, sticky clay surface. “When Aton hesitated in that corner, I knew that was the time to go,” Johnson said.
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