The 24th Annual Fram/Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway provided plenty of close on track racing action, and Oakdale native Brian Thiel was thick in the middle of it.
Thiel and his team battled from the get go.
His qualifying attempt on Friday resulted in an off-paced 10.759-second elapse time at only 67.72 mph. As soon as he hit the throttle, the car over powered the track and went up in tire smoke, causing him the abort the run.
His second qualifying effort, during the preferred night session, resulted in a very respectable 4.208 at 296.11 mph. Initially, this placed him in the No. 2 spot on the qualifying ladder. Unfortunately, his run was early in the session. Qualifying run order is determined by where you stood after the previous round of qualifying. This meant that Thiel was one of the first pair of cars down the track during this qualifying session, and most of the other heavy hitters were still to follow. In addition, the track conditions and weather conditions tend to improve as the sun goes down and this time was no different.
By the end of this all-important qualifying session, Thiel found himself in the 14th position. If you are not 12th or better, your times are thrown out and you must start from ground zero for the final two qualifying sessions on Saturday.
In Thiel’s case, that meant that he and five other drivers would come into the Saturday qualifying sessions with no official qualifying times. Conditions ultimately dropped Thiel down to the 16th spot. The good news; he was in the show. The bad news; he would be facing 15-time NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car season Champion, John Force, in the opening round of eliminations.
How did he feel about facing the famous John Force in the opening round?
“That’s who you want to race. You want to race the best and John is the best,” Thiel said. “Besides, I have little control over what he does or how he runs. All I can do is run my own race and give it all I can. Johnny (West) the crew chief thinks he found something in the last run and believes the car should run better.”
In their first elimination round match up, Thiel was able to get a slight starting line reaction time advantage on the 15-time champ, but it was only momentary. At about the 60-foot marker, his car lost a cylinder (each cylinder puts out a lot of pressure resulting in a high level of down force; if one does not work, that added down force is lost), causing the car to veer left very quickly. Thiel used his quick reactions to save the car, getting it pointed in the correct direction. Force quickly drove away to a victory, ending Thiel’s on-track racing day.
Ron Capps successfully defended his Fram/Autolite Funny car event title by defeating Tim Wilkerson with a 4.145 at 303.57 to 4.175 at 300.93 mph effort to take the division.
Oakdale’s Josh Crawford was also at the track with his Blue Max nostalgia AA Fuel funny car putting it on display, along with several other NHRA Heritage series drag racing cars, for the fans to enjoy.
Thiel and his team are heading to Seattle for next weekend’s NHRA Full Throttle Northwest Nationals. The Seattle event will conclude the 3-race Western Swing on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.