At this moment, Jason Line must feel like he's on one of the world's biggest roller coasters. This wild and wacky thrill ride resembles your every day street sedan, but goes through its ups and downs at more than 210mph.
While the 2006 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Pro Stock champion has shown at times he's certainly capable of adding a second championship crown to his resumé, there are other times when he's trying simply to hang on as his season speeds sharply into a double-loop. The former head dyno operator for Joe Gibbs Racing on the NASCAR circuit hopes to turn his fortunes around in the hometown of his team owner Ken Black, who continues the recovery process after a recent bout with some health issues.
For Line, giving Black the Wally from the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, April 16-18 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, would be some very good medicine. It is something he and teammate Greg Anderson will try very hard to do at the sixth of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of event.
Line was impressive earlier in the season when he beat current category dominator and defending class champ Mike Edwards with a holeshot start in the final round at the tradition-rich Tire Kingdom Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway in Florida. He also showed his flexibility in racing to a runner-up finish at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway near his home in Charlotte, N.C. On the other side of the coin, he's suffered first round losses at the season-opening 50th Winternationals as well as last weekend's event in Houston.
It all totals to a third-place position in the point standings as the circuit heads to Las Vegas, a place where Line has won and his teammate Anderson has dominated with six wins since 2003. A welcome sight for the team, for sure.
“We've shown we have the potential to run with the best in our class, but we need to do it on every run,” Line said. “It's something we've been working on non-stop, and I believe we're making progress. It's just a matter of time before we get there, but it can't come soon enough for any of us.”
Line and the rest of the field are trying to catch the runaway locomotive that is defending world champ Edwards, who has continued his domination of the category this season. He has posted three wins in four final rounds in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP and raced to four No. 1 qualifying positions. His series lead now stands at 192 points over second-place Allen Johnson after a semifinal appearance and No. 1 qualifying effort at Houston.
“We're still chasing Edwards, and although he's a great guy and we like him, we're just tired of him having all the fun,” Line said. “We think it's about time we had some fun, but we want to earn the right to do so by beating him, as well as everybody else, and we're working hard to do just that.”
For several seasons, Line and Anderson were the class of the field in their identically prepared Summit Racing Pontiac GXPs. During a span from 2003-2006, the duo combined to earn four consecutive championship titles, 51 victories, 25 runner-up finishes and 59 No. 1 qualifying positions.
After such an amazing performance, which no doubt took incredible discipline, late nights working and much sacrifice for both drivers, one might think that getting up for yet another championship pursuit would take some major effort. Line says the team is still hungry. As hungry as ever.
“Motivation is certainly not a problem, and never has been,” Line said. “When we get to the shop each morning our common goal is to find a way to not only put ourselves back at the top of the page, but to keep us there at every race. We're paid to win and that is what we want to do.”
Other top contenders in the Pro Stock category include Team Mopar's Johnson, currently second in the point standings, along with Houston winner Jeg Coughlin, who has regained his form from last year in the regular season when he won seven races in his JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt. Greg Stanfield and Bob Yonke also have recently formed a partnership and proved to have a solid working relationship as both drivers are anchoring spots in the Full Throttle top 10.
In Top Fuel, Cory McClenathan has led the point standings early on with two victories in his FRAM dragster. The rivalry between seven-time champ Tony Schumacher and two-time champ Larry Dixon has intensified, as each driver seems determined this year to add to their championship trophy collections. Doug Kalitta has returned to the championship hunt with three runner-up finishes, and Antron Brown is proving that his first two successful seasons in a 7,000-horsepower dragster was not a fluke as he is currently fourth in the point standings in his Matco Tools dragster.
John Force headlines one of the best feel-good stories of the season, as he has returned to championship form in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang. After enduring one of the worst competitive efforts of his career in 2009, the 14-time world champ is off to a hot start with two victories this season. His longtime rival, Ron Capps, also is running well in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Force teammates Ashley Force Hood, and defending world champ Robert Hight, are also among the pre-race favorites, as well as Houston winner Matt Hagan in the DieHard Charger, Jack Beckman in the Valvoline/MTS Charger and Bob Tasca in the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang.