NHRA Indy event chock full of versatility
As the clock winds down to the opening salvo of the 50th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park this weekend, one of the overriding theme's of this year's NHRA POWERade classic may be "versatility."
Jason Line, the prohibitive favorite to win the 2004 NHRA Rookie of the Year Award as team driver for reigning Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson, is the latest sportsman racer-turned pro-turned sportsman racer again to toss his helmet into the ring.
Line has announced he'll be in the SS/AA Dodge Dart owned by fellow Minnesotan Randy Hopkins when the Mopar Super Stock Hemi Challenge, a special event that will assemble a stellar eight-car field of SS/AA Hemi-powered Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas for a $10,000 shootout, gets under way Friday afternoon.
Already this week, Ron Capps, the driver of Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Skoal Funny Car, made a successful debut in a Skip Barber Formula Dodge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when he qualified No.1 and finished first in his sportsman race Saturday, then captured fourth place Sunday racing against a formidable grid of Barber touring regulars.
Jeg Coughlin Jr., the two-time Pro Stock champion, announced earlier this summer that he would be combining his professional pursuit of a third U.S. Nationals victory this weekend with his efforts to win the Hemi Challenge.
Line, a three-time winner in Pro Stock this season -- including at the most recent national event in Memphis -- has a noteworthy résumé as a sportsman driver. In 1993, he won the NHRA Stock Eliminator World Championship along with that year's Division 5 Stock Eliminator crown.
Line's interest in the legendary factory-built Hemi racecars of the 1960s goes back a long way, and his entry in the Hemi Challenge was essentially a case of serendipity.
"It's an original factory car, and it's one of only 50 that were made," Line said of the Dart. "I've always had a thing for those cars. When I saw [Hopkins] at Brainerd, he said 'Why don't you drive it at Indy?' and I was joking around and said, 'I'd look good behind the wheel of that car.'
"With this being the 50th anniversary of Indy, this is going to be fun," Line said. "I've never driven a door-car that fast in Sportsman before. I went right from a 10-second car to a six-second car."
Hopkins' Dart runs on an index of 9.90 seconds, a system that helps to classify cars of differing horsepower and performance capabilities into an eliminations structure using a handicap starting system. But cars that compete in the same category, such as the SS/AA Hemis, race "heads-up" -- with no handicap start involved.
Of course, memories of Line's first trip down a quarter-mile during eliminations in a Pro Stock car muddy the excitement of his upcoming debut in a Hemi car. At last year's race in Columbus, he crashed in the first round of Pro Stock, totaling the team's No. 2 car.
"Hopefully, I won't make a fool of myself in Randy's Dart," he said. "If I do any damage to it, I can't afford to buy it."
Bill Stephens covers the NHRA for ESPN and ESPN.com.
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