For nearly eight months and 17 events, every NHRA Pro team has been focusing and putting all their resources into grabbing one of the 10 spots in NHRA's Full Throttle Countdown To A Championship playoff.
With Mike Edwards locking down the sixth spot in the Pro Stock field, he can now turn his focus to the six-race run that will determine the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock champion, which he hopes begins with a victory at the first stop, the NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at zMax Dragway outside Charlotte this weekend.
For Edwards and his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team, his spot in the playoffs has been secured for the last three races, allowing him and his team a chance to fine tune a few areas of the operation, which he hopes gives them an advantage in the chase for a second NHRA Pro Stock title.
"Things have not gone perfect for us as a team since we clinched our spot; meaning we haven't picked up any more Wallys," Edwards admitted. "If you look at the last race, the U.S. Nationals, we had a fast car in each qualifying session, but did not have that same consistency in eliminations, which has been what has slowed us come Sunday each event. We have used every waking hour, which has not included much sleep, working on the car, engines, and every aspect of the team. As a group, we feel confident we have everything in place to make a run again this season."
To Edwards, this trip to Charlotte feels similar to the 2009 journey. It was also the start of the Countdown and that year Edwards came in and dominated the field to kick start his run to the championship. "As a team, we have discussed that everything is in place just like 2009, and we need to capitalize on this opportunity to come out in Charlotte and be the best car and grab the early momentum and use that to our advantage the following three weeks at races in Dallas, Reading, and St. Louis."
With the points adjusted for the Countdown to One, Edwards sits in the sixth spot, trailing points leader Allen Johnson by 70 points and second place Jason Line by a mere 40 points.
"If we can come out these next six races and do what we did in 2009 during the course of the Countdown when we won the Pro Stock championship, I know we can reach that ultimate goal we sat at the beginning of the year," said Edwards. "The entire team is focused and ready to go out and do all we can to win the championship."
Charlotte is the first of four consecutive weeks of competition for the NHRA Pro Stock field. The tour heads to Dallas, Reading, Pa., and St. Louis, in the span that will go along way to crowning a champion. The six races close with stops in Las Vegas and closes in Pomona, Calif.
Since its inception, the Mac Tools NHRA U.S. Nationals has been the center-piece of the drag-racing world and holds a special place in the sports lore. The one single event holds so much drag racing history - from its early days in the 1950s and 60s, helping create some of the biggest names in the 1970s and 80s, to the last two decades rich caveat of stories - with the 58th annual trek to the NHRA showcase event, every single competitor knows that it is the one stop that can make you a true drag racing legend.
With all the spotlights on the tour stop at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Mike Edwards and his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team knows this is truly the event you want to put your best performance at the forefront.
"So much emphasis has always been put on this one race," he said. "When I was lucky enough to win the event in 1998, it brought so much to my team that it is hard to describe. To the world of drag racing, the U.S. Nationals is like the Super Bowl, or in other forms of racing the Daytona 500 or Indy 500, it just has a little bit more meaning than the other stops on the NHRA tour."
To try and capitalize on the importance of the moment, Edwards and his team have been going non-stop since they lost early in Brainerd.
"We came back to the shop, kind of took an inventory of where we were at and what we needed to accomplish and went to work, making sure everything was fresh and we had no issues," he added. "Then we have spent quite a few days at the local track in Tulsa making laps trying to find that extra little advantage that might get us into the winner's circle come Monday."
As much of the focus in on the biggest prize in drag racing, Edwards continues to look at the bigger picture, the NHRA Pro Stock championship. With a spot already secure in the NHRA playoff, Edwards can focus on one thing at the U.S. Nationals, and that is winning.
"That we already have our place in the playoffs that start at the next race in Charlotte; we don't have that added pressure of trying to make that field as well. We can swing for the fences at Indy and go for broke, because we know come the next race, the field will be leveled and then the pressure will truly begin to mount as we try and win a second championship.
"It would sure be nice heading into the playoffs with a second Indy trophy sitting nicely on my mantel at home."
The U.S. Nationals offers a different approach in qualifying and eliminations. Unlike the other 22 stops on the NHRA tour that features four qualifying sessions, this event allows the drivers five qualifying rounds, with a single Friday night and then two Saturday and the final two Sunday with eliminations on Monday.
"With that added qualifying and eliminations on Monday, it makes for a marathon weekend in Indianapolis because you are trying to find the right combination over a four day period and the conditions in the Midwest can change overnight and make for a whole different strategy," Edwards said. "And we know that we have to come out of the gate fast and not stumble because of possible weather from Hurricane Isaac rolling into the area during the event. It is imperative to make a solid lap Friday night and then see what happens the next two days to get everything lined up for a run through eliminations on Monday."
In recent trips, Edwards has come close. In 2008 he reached the semifinals, and backed that up in 2009 with the same performance. In 2010, he took it a step further by reaching the final before falling to Greg Stanfield. Last year, he made it four straight trips to at minimum the final four. During that run, Edwards has held the No. 1 qualifying position in 2009 and 2010.
"We know we can run fast at Indy, and have always performed well throughout my career," he said. "We have come close the last four year, and have just missed getting that second trophy. I know I have the best team in Pro Stock and with all them focused on this one goal this weekend; I know we are more than ready to work our tails off to leave with the Wally."
Edwards sits in fourth place in the NHRA Pro Stock standings with the U.S. Nationals the last event to earn points before the NHRA Countdown To A Championship six-race playoff begins.
With one of the major goals for the season secured with a spot in the NHRA Countdown To A Championship playoff, Mike Edwards and the Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team can turn their focus to the bigger prize, the NHRA Pro Stock championship.
"When we earned our spot in the playoff in Sonoma, it allowed us to check off one of the goals for the year," Edwards said. "That is one of the bigger goals because if you do not make the playoff, you have no shot at the championship, which all of us are out here racing for.
"There's a lot pressure to get that spot as early as possible, so you can talk a little breath for one, and then start looking at your program and where you need to improve. It is hard to make changes when you are trying to earn that spot; but now, we can maybe try a couple things and see if the car responds in a positive direction and not hurt in the long-term program."
With the tour heading to the northwest, in the last of the three-race Western Swing, the trip to Seattle has always been one of Edwards' favorite journeys on the tour. It might have to do that it is one of the tracks that he's had the most success over his career. Edwards holds a .750 winning percentage at the track and three victories in 1996, 1997, and 2009.
The trip to the northwest also brings on end to the NHRA Western Swing, where Edwards has picked up a second round finish in Denver and followed it with a final four showing in Sonoma. Carrying the special K&N wrap on his Pontiac, Edwards wants to wrap up the grueling three week run with a fourth title in Seattle.
"That we achieved one of the goals of making the playoffs in Sonoma, now we are focused on getting the best race car we can have and go into the six-race dash with as much momentum as possible," he said. "That all starts this weekend in Seattle, where we can get on a streak and hopefully carry it to the end of the season and a second NHRA Pro Stock championship.
"We came into these three races with a plan to work on being more consistent each run down the track and that philosophy has really shown in qualifying, but not as bright in eliminations," Edwards said. "Now we need to continue that approach in Seattle and hopefully grab our third trophy of the season."
Edwards enters the event in fourth place, trailing the points leader by just over 200 points.
Mike Edwards will once again carry a new look for the final two stops on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Western Swing beginning in Sonoma this weekend and the following weekend in Seattle, as the 2009 NHRA Pro Stock champion will bring back the graphic design to recognize his partnership with K&N Filters.
"It's been great to represent K&N for the past three seasons as a partner with our race team," Edwards said. "Our marketing partnership has grown during that time and for the second year we have put together a program for Sonoma and Seattle to allow K&N to have a major representation on our Pontiac in its home state. As a team, we are proud to be associated with such a reputable company and be a major component in K&N's strategic plan of marketing its products in the drag racing arena."
The Pontiac GXP will be decked out with the K&N logo prominent on the door, with the company's distinct color stripes running the length of the car, all on a black canvas provided by 1320 Wraps by Fineline.
"K&N continues to support the Pro-Stock class in many ways. We feel this is the premier professional category that use our products in competition", said Steve Williams, vice president at K&N Filters. "We just completed the K&N horsepower Challenge and are looking forward to the last couple of races of the western swing with Mike and his team flying the K&N colors.
"The competition is so close between all the Pro Stock drivers and teams and that has produced fantastic racing within the factory hot rods the last few years," Williams continued. "Once again through our Engineering and Marketing programs we have worked closely with Mike and his entire team on a special design for Sonoma and Seattle and are looking forward to being in the winner's circle."
Edwards has the same hopes for the new look. "We will hit Sonoma and Seattle with the new design and plan to carry K&N to a couple winner's circles. As a team we are excited to do this for K&N and want to do them proud on the West Coast."
With the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway outside of the mile-high city of Denver, Mike Edwards knows he is going to one of the tracks on the tour he feels at home. He proved that in 2011, when he walked off with the Wally, his second on the mountain in his career.
"I don't know why I feel so comfortable at Bandimere, because it is such a unique race and makes you change basically everything you do to attack the altitude and lack of air," he said. "These engines love oxygen, which you don't have very much of when you are on the mountain at Bandimere Speedway and its 5,800-foot above sea-level facility.
"You would think that would make you hit sensory overload trying to be fast, but we go there and it is just a different feeling," he continued. "It has to be the great Bandimere family that owns the place. There's nobody that makes you feel at home more than they do."
The Denver stop is the first of three straight weekends that could help the Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team solidify their place in the 2012 Pro Stock standings and build that much-needed momentum heading into the final six events before the playoff-style Countdown to a Championship that closes out the year.
Though he has captured two wins thus far in 2012, Edwards knows the Western Swing through Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle, can be the difference in a championship run when the calendar changes to September and October.
"Many years this grueling trek west has made or broke many championship runs," said Edwards, of the 4,600-mile trip from the team's Oklahoma shop, said. "It truly is the biggest test we have during the season because each of the three venues is so drastically different and the travel doesn't allow for any of us to return to our shops and prepare for the next event. Everything is just on the fly and you better be able to make the right calls and keep ahead of the curve or this trip will swallow you up.
Even with the grind and travel of racing the Western Swing, Edwards's counts the three stops as some of tracks he loves heading to most.
"I have to say these three stops (Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle) are some of my favorite races on the tour though," Edwards admitted. "The setting of the facilities are all breathtaking and when it all comes down to it, the key is turning on the win light, so I accept the different parameters that are thrown at us and use them to strengthen the entire program.
And the first stop in Denver, trust me, we learn some things on the mountain that makes us even better for the rest of the season at sea-level."
Edwards enters the three-race Western Swing in fourth place in points, and can clinch his spot in the NHRA Countdown to a Championship spot during the swing.
It has been a busy 10 days for Mike Edwards and his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team since they won their fourth straight Bristol title in what is being labeled the closest final in NHRA history.
"It has been a whirlwind since I squeaked out that win light in Bristol," Edwards said. "It got the attention of some of the national media which is a major plus for the entire sport. Now it is back to business and to see if we can make it two straight."
With his victory, Edwards has found himself on the pages of many of the leading motorsports websites and magazines, as well as some local media, but he hasn't allowed that to deter him from what his goal is this weekend, repeating what he did in 2010, leaving with the NHRA Pro Stock Wally.
In Bristol, the team believes they found some small gremlins that had been hurting them since they captured the Las Vegas title early in the season. With that newfound knowledge, they hit the track for some heavy testing to see if they could step it up even further from that position.
"It seems crazy to think we just won an event and we are working even harder to be faster," Edwards said. "We know Allen Johnson has us covered pretty good in the e.t. department in Bristol, and were fortunate that I got the win, so we knew we had to hit it even that much harder so next time we might win by more than a ten-thousandths."
Edwards has had success at Route 66 Raceway outside Chicago over his career, walking away with two titles since the track opened.
"This is easily one of the premier facilities on the tour and if the conditions are right producing some really fast times," he added. "If what we gathered since Bristol has us on the right path, then I feel we should be in the hunt the entire weekend.
"Hopefully continue to improve our position in the points and gain that much-needed momentum before the K&N Horsepower Challenge in Norwalk [an all star race of the top eight qualified drivers from the previous season and through Chicago] and then the grueling Western Swing through Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle in three straight weeks."
Edwards enters the event in fourth place in the NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock standings after 10 events.
When Mike Edwards picked up what is arguably the closest victory in an NHRA professional class, and quite possibly in the sport's illustrious history, that was less then one-ten thousandths of a second when he captured the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol over Allen Johnson has caught the attention of national markets including Yahoo! Sports.
Follow the link to read the story and see the photo of how close it really was at the finish line. Also on NHRA's Facebook page, the sanctioning body has more on the record book victory.
When the win light came on for the 16th straight time at Bristol Dragway in Mike Edwards lane and earning him and his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team their fourth straight title at the event, the former NHRA Pro Stock champion, could not believe he actually kept the streak alive.
The victory came by route of how Edwards cut his teeth early in his Pro Stock career a holeshot victory over local-favorite Allen Johnson in the final round. With a near perfect .005-second light and his 6.674-second pass was enough to hold off Johnson's Dodge Avenger, which clocked a quicker but losing 6.661-second.
Adding up Edwards's 13-thousandths advantage at the start, and Johnson's equally better performance on the quarter-mile, the race was theoretically a dead-heat, but Edwards scored the victory by less than 10-thousandths of a second.
"I don't even know how you can describe something like [the final] in words," Edwards said. "Four zeros for the margin of victory. I just can't believe it. Sometimes, we struggle just a little bit, and then we come to this place [Bristol], and we do well.
"Sixteen straight round wins is unbelievable. I tell you, I wish we raced them all here. My guys did an awesome job this weekend. We weren't the fastest car, just the second fastest car, but we got the job done."
Edwards raced to his second win of the season by beating Larry Morgan, four-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Erica Enders, before reaching his second final round of the year, where he remained perfect.
"Hats off to Allen Johnson," Edwards said. "They did an awesome job too, especially in front of their home crowd. It had to be hard for him to lose a race like that.
"I can't explain it, but we just run exceptionally good here," he continued. "I wanted to win this race and make it four in a row so bad that we came here right after the last event in Englishtown and tested for two days. I've never done that at a track where we have our next race. I wanted it bad, real bad."
Edwards jumped to fourth place in the points standing with his victory.
This weekend, Mike Edwards is going for a rare feat in the world drag racing when he pulls to the starting line at the famed Bristol Dragway. In a sport where it is hard to win four rounds in a row, Edwards and the Penhall/K&N/Interstate team will be out to claim a fourth straight victory at the same track. Edwards, who captured the 2009, 2010, and 2011 titles, will put his three-time defending champ title and 12-round win streak on the line and try to pull off something only a select few have done in drag racing's 60-plus year history.
"Winning three times straight at anything is really hard to do, and then spread it over three seasons, that makes it seem almost impossible," Edwards said. "The great part is, we come in knowing we can make great runs down Thunder Mountains quarter-mile; and as a team we carry a little chip on our shoulder that nobody is going to beat us in Bristol. We need to come out swinging hard like we did the last three years and make this event a statement race for 2012."
On his path to the three wins, Edwards has taken a couple different paths. In the first two titles, he was the dominant a car on the quarter-mile, grabbing low e.t. of every session, the No. 1 qualifier, and walked away with the Wally each time.
Last year, he took a different approach. He qualified No. 2, and used a string of 6.70 runs and near perfect reactions to reach the final, and scored an easy victory when Erica Enders was forced to abort her run.
Edwards knows trying to achieve a fourth victory that it is going to take a strong performance from both the car and himself on the starting line to get his Pontiac back in the winners circle.
"Those three race weekends went better than any one could script," he admitted. "Would I love to have a fourth straight time in Bristol just like that; that is a resounding yes. I know it probably will not be the case and we will have to fight and work our tails off to walk away with the trophy again. I have a group around me that is not afraid to put that extra time and effort to make that happen and behind the wheel I will do everything I can to reach that goal."
Edwards enters the event in fifth place in the NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock standings, and trails Vincent Nobile by a mere 12 points for fourth place.
During his first 11 years in NHRA Pro Stock, Mike Edwards dreaded the annual trip to Englishtown and Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. The track was not kind to him, as he carded only three round wins, all those coming in 1998 when he was runner-up. He also missed the field on two occasions.
In the last four trips to New Jersey, the fortunes have swung the opposite direction as the Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries-backed squad has compiled 11 round wins, with a victory in 2010, runner-up in 2009, and bookended with final four finishes in 2008 and 2011.
"When you look at my record in those terms at this historic track, this place did not like me for a long time, and then all of sudden it changed and I have been on its good side," Edwards said. "That the track has been around for nearly as long as drag racing, maybe it forces all of us to pay our dues before it begins rewarding us with trophies. I just hope that it continues to grace us with good fortunes and possibly the Wally at the end of a hard-fought weekend."
Edwards and his Pontiac hope this even will start building the momentum they have been hoping for heading into the summer months of the NHRA Full Throttle season. He knows now is the time to turn start making consistent laps each time down the track and then turn those into victories.
"It is all well and good to be fast in qualifying and then come Sunday be consistent, but not strong enough to get over the hump into the final and have a shot at the Wally," Edwards said. "Since our Las Vegas victory, that is what we have focused on, being faster when it comes to eliminations. We think we have fixed a few things and straightened out a couple other areas that will allow us to reach that goal. Now we just need it to translate into a summer run."
Edwards comes into the event in fifth place in the Pro Stock standing, with nine races remaining in the regular-season, before The NHRA Countdown To A Championship playoffs begin.
When Mike Edwards and his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team pull into Heartland Park Topeka facility for the 2012 version, they will all know they have one thing in their corner that nobody else in Pro Stock will have this weekend - home-court advantage.
With the race shop just under 250 miles from the track, many family and friends of the entire team will be on hand. Edwards enjoys that setting because it gives him an opportunity to be at an event with the group of people that support him the most and possibly score an NHRA Wally.
"It is the closest track to the Tulsa area where all our family and friends live, so they make the couple hour drive north every year to be able to see us race in person," Edwards said. "That makes the Topeka stop a special place for all of us because it allows us to be surrounded by those who love and support us, which I believe, takes some of the pressure away. While you are focused on getting another Wally to drive back with the caravan on Sunday night, you are not consumed by everything and it might allow you to make the correct decisions and not second guess. On the flip side, it also adds a bit of pressure because you do not want to disappoint everyone that took time away from their lives to watch you race."
Whatever the formula is, it must work for Edwards and the team because they always seem to shine in the Kansas sun. Edwards has been the No. 1 qualifier the last three years to the facility and been part of a handful of finals at the track, capturing the title in 1999, from the No. 16 spot, and then in 2010 from the pole.
"I can say I have won this race from both ends of the spectrum," he said. "In 1999, that was one of those race days you could do no wrong from the starting line to making the right calls on the track. It meant a lot because I did something nobody before did, and that was winning from the No. 16 position." Then in 2010, Edwards qualified on the pole and marched to the final, only to use another starting-line holeshot to capture the victory over Allen Johnson, who upset Edwards the previous year in the money round.
"Topeka usually comes down to who does better at the start, because the track is very consistent throughout the weekend," Edwards said. "I just need to do my job like I did in the couple years I've won, and I can add to my Pro Stock trophy collection and have the biggest winner's circle photo with everyone coming up from Tulsa area enjoying the moment with us."
After missing the final at the last two stops on the Full Throttle NHRA tour, Mike Edwards and his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team, plain and simple, want to get back to winning events.
"The last two races have not unfolded as we had hoped coming off the win in Las Vegas," Edwards said. "We were strong during the four-wide racing in Charlotte, but it did not translate into a win. Then in Houston, we were close to where we needed to be, but came up short in the semifinals."
With it being a quick turnaround with only four days from finishing up Houston and the start of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, Edwards' strategy is to find the form that carried him to back-to-back victories in 2008 and 2009.
"We want to continue to make steady progress forward in Atlanta and start building some momentum as we head into the heated part of the NHRA schedule."
Edwards knows this is the time of the year that you better be on the top of your game because there is very little time to test and fix issues, with counting Houston, three races in four weeks.
The positive part is the next few events; they are all stops that Edwards has done well in recent history.
"We are hoping that Atlanta kicks off the run for us to get back into a comfortable position in the points chase and possibly a run at the top spot come time for the NHRA playoffs," said Edwards, who sits in fourth, 97 points out of the lead. "With Topeka, and stops in Englishtown and Bristol waiting in the wings, that are all tracks that we've had success in the past and only helps us know we can build some momentum heading into the summer events."
When it comes to the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, and specifically Pro Stock, Mike Edwards understands that the gap from being at the top and the bottom is such a microscopic distance. The 2009 NHRA Full Throttle champion and victor of three events in Houston can honestly say he has enjoyed the highs the sport can dish out, and then the true lows that comes from being in the class in some capacity for more than 20 years as a driver or a crew chief. Edwards knows the only way to be successful in the world of factory hot rods is hard work.
Edwards and his entire Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team know that the second you get overconfident or slack just a little bit, the entire field will pass you by in a blink of an eye and it will take years to get back to the top.
"I can't tell you how much respect I have for everything about Pro Stock," he said. "It takes a lot of commitment, patience, and a little racing luck to even make a dent in this class. It is easily the toughest group of racers in motorsports period and I am proud I get to pull to the line each race weekend against the caliber of competition Pro Stock offers.
"The difference between the top and bottom is so minimal that you can just look at the class right now, we have new drivers making an instant impact; veterans who are pulling out all the stops to be one of the best in the class; to others, who are the stalwart leaders of the class in performance; to those that can drive anything to the winner's circle; and then you have the Hall of Fame drivers who have made the sport what it is. There's 20 plus racers out here each week, striving to be the best every time down the track, and that is what has raised the bar to a level only us select few in Pro Stock understand."
To Edwards, who has captured 35 victories in his career, with 33 of those in Pro Stock in 56 final-round appearances in his career, has used his experience to help him continue to be one of the teams to beat each week. And heading to Houston, only helps with the confidence.
"We've had great success over my career at Royal Purple Raceway, and I look forward each year returning because this track has a lot of great memories," he said. "I would love to add to those with another win at Royal Purple Raceway."
As a team, Edwards knows they have put in the work to deal with the conditions that could be tossed at them in Houston and the next few months as the temperatures rise... "We've made several runs down this track and it can be extremely challenging when the sun is beating down on it," said Edwards, who is expecting temperatures in the mid 80s. "Our team was been working really hard on the hot weather set up. We made 22 runs in two days in Tulsa this week so we will see if we can take that data and apply it to this track.
My entire team is so focused on making good runs. That makes getting in the seat of the car a blast. They are all doing there jobs at such a high level it makes the one driving the car look good, but it is all the hard work in the engine shop, race shop, and at the track that is making this whole thing continue to gain the right momentum. We are trying to make sure we are ready when the Chase rolls around this year."
If you ask any racer, there is one thing floating around the track that all are pursuing. All know it is nice to have a fast hot rod, or being locked into the Tree, but the one thing they all want on their side is the good old friend called momentum. Having just that in your corner can do wonders for the other parts of the equation.
"When you have momentum on your side, everything seems to flow just a bit better, you have the confidence in what you are doing, and most of all, you feel like nobody can beat you," Edwards said. "That last part goes a long way in winning an NHRA Wally in my book."
Well if that is the one thing that makes a difference on a weekly basis on the NHRA tour, Edwards and the Penhall/Interstate Batteries/K&N team should feel real good heading into this weekend's Summit Racing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Edwards is fresh off his first win of 2012 when he scored the Pro Stock crown in Gainesville and moved to second place in points. If that is not enough to have the positive vibe in their pits, Edwards has claimed three of the last four titles in Las Vegas, including sweeping both the spring and fall races in 2011.
"As a team, we feel we have everything going in the right direction based on what we did in Gainesville, and the hard work we have put in since," he said. "It doesn't hurt that we have done so well at the Las Vegas event the last couple years.
"It makes you want to get back to that track and continue the run. It is always fun coming back as the defending champion, but being able to say we sweep both events last year, it gives all the confidence in the world that we can again make good runs in qualifying and be a strong player come eliminations."
Edwards knows what he has done in Las Vegas the last two seasons and his victory in Florida will put the bulls-eye squarely on him this weekend.
"Knowing that the other 20 Pro Stock drivers will be gunning for me and try to put an end to my Vegas run gives me and the entire crew an even more motivation to prove that strip of quarter-mile is where we shine the best.
"Hopefully Sunday night, we have our fourth Wally from Las Vegas, and second straight title of 2012."
Originally published August 2008
Mike Edwards remembers his Modified world championship and the end of the class …
Whether or not Mike Edwards ever wins another national event, or sets a world record, his name will be forever etched in the history books of drag racing. His accolades come not as a professional drag racer but as a dedicated sportsman racer.
In the class Edwards competed, dedication is an understatement for those who chased the titles throughout the United States and Canada.
One week a racer could be at the cutting edge of domination and the next week, with a swift stroke of the pencil, could be battling for their mere existence.
Edwards raced in the legendary Modified eliminator category, a division filled with a plethora of screaming small-blocks, four-speed mid-1960s Corvettes and first-generation Camaros. Running a close third were the Novas and Chevy IIs.
Since coming to the professional ranks in the early 1980s, Edwards has been a dyed-in-the-wool GM racer. That’s why it’s ironic that his inclusion into drag racing history is with a small-block Ford Maverick.
Edwards cherishes those old Modified memories and while he doesn’t dwell on his success in those days, he smiles when reminded he was the last driver to win a world championship in the class.
Mike Edwards – the last man to win an NHRA Modified eliminator world championship.
“Yeah it’s pretty cool, I guess,” said the soft-spoken Edwards, when the aforementioned line was uttered in his presence. “I never thought of it that way but I cherish those days. That’s my roots. I really came up through the ranks there. I’m still missing that class. I know we have Comp now too but I can’t help but miss it. It just seemed like back in the days that Modified class, everyone enjoyed it. I really cherish the time that I had to run that class.”
Edwards ran the Modified division with authority and a humble nature. His personality was non-confrontational, but the car he
drove was anything but a pushover.
He competed in the B/Super Modified, a pounds-per-inch division, which ran on a mid-to-low ten-second index. The former Arlen Fadely Super Stock & Drag Illustrated project car did battle with a 302-inch engine shifting a Doug Nash 5-speed transmission on a ten-and-a-half inch tire with a Maverick body.
Edwards said the Modified eliminator heavy-hitters hung out in the Super Modified division.
“If you showed up for Indy in C/Super Modified you better have a lot of gas because you’re going to go a lot of rounds,” Edwards said. “When they first came out with that class, they would let the canted valve Ford run C. We started dominating and they took it out and made us run A or B. I switched over to B and ran real good there but it seemed like the Super Modified were the best. That’s a ten inch tire and a 750-cfm carburetor. They weight over 3400 or 3500 pounds so it’s hard to hook those little things up.”
For Edwards, the moderately inexpensive class was a purists division that carried a lesser price tag than Comp eliminator and an opportunity to race against other stick shift racers since Super Stock was largely comprised of automatic cars.
“You could race pretty heavily, go to 8 or 10 races a year and it wouldn’t cost a whole lot,” Edwards recalled. “The whole class was just fun, the indexes were able to let you be real competitive back then. I just enjoyed running that class. There were a lot of good cars in [NHRA] Division Four, that’s the division I ran in.”
Edwards raced against the best of the best Modified had to offer and didn’t even have to go to the nationals to gain the experience.
“If you could win Modified in Division Four you were pretty hateful,” Edwards beamed. “I was fortunate to do that a couple times. That’s back when Bear Barrilleaux ran the old Volkswagen, he was so hard to beat.
“Then you had others like Dick Maris, David Nickens, you could go to Houston and just about fill a Modified eliminator event, there were that many cars there. I mean good cars, I miss those times. I’m just blessed and fortunate I had a chance to race back then.”
The rules makers in Modified eliminator could be downright brutal in maintaining parity as Edwards recalled. There was no formula in place such as the Competition Index Committee utilizes today. A good day on Sunday could obsolete a combination on Monday. Or on the spot, you were adjusted.
“If NHRA thought you had an advantage they would adjust you,” Edwards recalled. “I know Buddy Ingersoll, when he was running that turbo Pinto he got hit .15 in the staging lanes at Pomona. They didn’t know how fast the car would run. He just smoked everybody and they adjusted him right there on the line. Buddy had a turbo he would just turn it right back up. They took it to a point that he had the thing running on the edge and breaking the little old four-cylinder. He won a lot of races, though.
“That’s the fun part about Modified back then is you could build an off the wall car that could do something like that. That’s what made it fun.”
Modified provided the right setting for Edwards. This class was similar to Competition eliminator where drivers would qualify against their index and battle their way into the top thirty-two positions. The NHRA U.S. Nationals provided a unique challenge with class eliminations and an expanded 64-car field.
“It just seemed like in Modified everybody was competitive, I don’t know if it was just the way it was back then,” Edwards said. “There just weren’t any easy runs. That’s what made it such a good class I think. It was a bad day when they took that class away from us and for a lot of people. A lot of people, actually - I guess, quit racing. You know their cars wouldn’t be competitive in Comp; they had the opportunity to run Super Stock, that’s a great class, but when you build a car to run a class. You put all your time and effort into a class. It’s tough to move into another class so I regret it for me and everyone who was in that class. I cherished that class.”
Those who raced Modified didn’t take the elimination of their class in passing. In fact, in the midst of Top Fuel eliminations, the Modified fraternity staged a parade on the return road in front of the spectators.
“I was in the parade,” Edwards admitted. “If I wasn’t in the front, I was close to it.”
Modified was absorbed into Comp and Super Stock to make room for a then up-and-coming tend of Pro Gas, later renamed to Super Gas. This new style of indexed bracket racing signaled a changing of the guard in sportsman racing.
There were no tears or lamenting over what would no longer be, just a signal to Edwards the time had come to move up the ladder into the professional ranks.
“I was just disappointed,” Edwards said, recalling the slow ride down the return road. “I wasn’t sad, just disappointed more than anything. But I guess you look back and it was something they felt like they had to do. I don’t know the reasoning. I never got the reasoning. But hey it’s over and done with. It was tough for all of us.”
Edwards admitted that something had to go to make room for the index bracket racing crazy, but added Modified was the wrong place to cut.
“I would’ve looked another way because I’m telling you the blue collar fans loved Modified. Period.”
Mike Edwards admitted he had trouble the first couple of Pro Stock races this season getting his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Pontiac off the starting line.
The 2009 world champion fixed that problem Monday morning with a final-round holeshot victory over Greg Anderson at the Gatornationals.
Edwards had an outstanding 0.003 reaction time to defeat the faster Anderson. Edwards clocked a 6.566-second time at 211.30 mph to beat Anderson's 6.538-second effort. Anderson was hindered by a 0.070 reaction time.
"You have to go when you are in the finals, especially running Greg (Anderson) and those guys," Edwards said. "They are definitely the act of the (Pro Stock) class. He has been in all three finals this year, and we are fortunate to come away with the win, and my team did a great job. I didn't come here to take second, I came here to try and win. If I'm late, what are my chances? If I can get a good light and hopefully have a chance that is what you have to do. This was a great weekend for us. Hats off to the (NHRA) Safety Safari to come out here on Monday and get that track prepared like they did.I appreciate everything they do for us."
This was Edwards 34th NHRA Pro Stock national event win and his first at the Gatornationals.
"I'm pretty tickled about getting my first win at the Gatornationals," Edwards said.
By winning Monday, Edwards also halted an early-season victory parade by Summit Racing teammates Anderson and Jason Line, the 2011 world champ. Anderson won the season-opening Winternationals and Line was the Arizona Nationals champion.
During his post-race press conference, Edwards also took a moment to reflect on the passing of former Modified Eliminator World Champion and Pro Stock driver Buddy Ingersoll.
"My heart is saddened because my best buddy Mark Ingersoll (Allen Johnson's crew chief) his dad Buddy passed away Saturday night and he is a great friend of mine," Edwards said. "Mark is just like a brother to me. I have known him all my life. I'm going to miss him (Buddy) that is for sure."
Edwards beat Shane Gray, Ron Krisher, Ronnie Humphrey and Anderson to claim the Gatornationals crown. The first round of Pro Stock eliminations was littered with upsets, which wasn't lost on Edwards before he took on Gray.
"I was closing my eyes, I didn't want to see what was going to happen next," said Edwards when asked about all the favorites losing.
Mike Edwards and the Penhall/ K&N/Interstate Batteries team returns to the quarter-mile this weekend when the NHRA tour descends on the fabled Gainesville facility for the NHRA Tire Kingdom Gatornationals. The famed track has always played host to some of the fastest Pro Stock runs in the history of the class, and Edwards hopes to continue to be part of that.
During the 2011 running, Edwards became the first driver in NHRA Pro Stock history to eclipse the 6.4 barrier, when he clocked a 6.49 in the opening session. "It is a cool feeling to be able to say you were the first at something," Edwards said. "Being able to dip in the sub 6.5 range in the quarter-mile with a 500 cubic inch engine and all the other restrictions is just a great accomplishment and a point in my career that I am very proud of."
This weekends event might not wield the same kind of numbers with the weather forecast for the Sunshine State to have temperatures in the low 80s, which is not the perfect conditions to run record times or speeds. "These cars love cool air, just like anything that breathes," Edwards added. "Gainesville is known for record breaking times throughout its 43-year history. With the weather probably not going to cooperate with cooler temperatures, we made sure we were ready for that."
In the time between Phoenix and Gainesville, the team tested heavily at Tulsa Raceway Park in looking for ways to be successful on hot tracks. "We learned a lot in those several days of testing that makes us feel confident we are going in the right direction when we the track temperatures are hot," he said. "As a team we have worked extremely hard to get our Pontiac even faster and hopefully what we learned pays dividends when it really counts in Florida."
Many may have thought the best part of Mike Edwards' day came when he powered his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries Pontiac to a track record 6.536 and grabbed the No. 1 spot for the fourth consecutive time at the NHRA stop in Arizona, his 40th No. 1 qualifier in his career, and fifth overall at Firebird Int'l Raceway.
"There's something about the desert," said Edwards. "Our car seems to run really good here. I can't put my finger on why this happens, but we even ran well in the heat here last year. Anytime that you can qualify No. 1, it's really good for us. But we'll have to work hard to stay up there because Jason [Line] and Greg [Anderson] really came on strong in the final qualifying session."
Though the accolades on the track carry a special spot with Edwards, the truly best part of Saturday for him and the entire team was having the honor of hosting a group of young men in their pit area from the Young Life Capernaum Phoenix.
"These are some very special young men, that have some major challenges in their life," Edwards said. "But when you are around them you would never know it by the smiles on their faces and the joy they have inside and bring to everyone around them. It was truly an honor to have them with us today."
The Young Life Capernaum gives young people with mental and physical disabilities the chance to experience fun and adventure, to develop fulfilling friendships and to challenge their limits while building self-esteem through club, camp and other exciting activities.
"That right there is what motivates me every week at the track," Edwards confessed. "Those are kids who wear there love in the open and can only make you a stronger person knowing them. It was a humbling day to be with these young men."
Edwards opens eliminations against NHRA Pro Stock most prolific driver in Warren Johnson.
In Pro Stock, Edwards took the top spot away from Friday qualifying leader Jason Line when he powered his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP to a 6.536 at 210.80. The pass not only set the track record for time, but also secured Edwards his 40th career No. 1 qualifier, fourth consecutive at Firebird International Raceway and fifth overall at the track.
“There’s something about the desert,” said Edwards. “Our car seems to run really good here. I can’t put my finger on why this happens, but we even ran good in the heat here last year. Anytime that you can qualify No. 1, it’s really good for us. But we’ll have to work hard to stay up there, because Jason (Line) and Greg (Anderson) really came on strong in the final qualifying session.”
Edwards will face NHRA legend Warren Johnson in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
Mike Edwards is on pace to repeat what he did at Pomona, Calif., last November in the NHRA Finals -- lead the Pro Stock field.
The 2009 champion kept his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP atop the order Friday at the season-starting Winternationals with the 6.545-second elapsed time he registered in Thursday's opening session.
Jason Line raised eyebrows with a 212.19-mph speed on the Auto Club Raceway quarter-mile that eclipsed Edwards' 211.86 from Thursday and Ronnie Humphrey's 211.96 from Friday's lone session. But Edwards remained the leader with two more sessions scheduled for predicted cooler temperatures Saturday.
"We absolutely have the ability" to hold onto the lead, Edwards said. 'We've just got to go out there and do it."
Some of the field made gains Friday, and Edwards talked like he knows he has a handful of rivals who might be able to knock him out of earning his 41st career top-qualifier honor, his second at the Winternationals, and his fifth at this track.
Edwards was the only racer in the 6.54 range Thursday, but Humphrey and Allen Johnson joined him Saturday with identical E.T.s at 6.548 seconds. Line jumped from 12th place to fourth, and teammate Greg Anderson improved from eighth to round out the top five. And with a turn for the cooler, the field could be scrambled even further Saturday.
"These engines love cooler temperatures. They breathe that cool air and they like it," Edwards said. "It should be really good tomorrow. I think both sessions should be pretty good tomorrow. So if you miss it in the first one, you could possibly improve in the second session.
"Tomorrow's probably going to be the shot for us," he said. "Tomorrow, with what they're talking about weather-wise, everybody's needs to step up."
He said racing with one session per day, compared to the normal two-day, two-per-day qualifying format, is a change-up from the routine at most other Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events. But because it is the season opener, he said it might be a perfect opportunity to "regroup if you are behind coming into the season."
That might be the case this year for Edwards, who focused on treating the osteoarthritis in his back and recuperating from that treatment rather than fuss over his car.
Even so, he said, "I'd rather take two days and get it over with."
What he's hoping for by the end of the weekend is a sense of how he stacks up against the competition.
"Basically you just want to see how competitive you really are compared to the other teams. I feel like we're still plenty competitive, just going to have to make a few adjustments. We're racing the same car we did last year. I feel real comfortable with our car.
"We tried some things tonight [Friday], but they obviously didn’t work very good. So we can take them and throw them out the window," Edwards said.
The E.T. from Thursday he kept -- and that was good enough for another day.
Mike Edwards is glad miracles happen in life because without a miraculous intervention, he might not have run until three races into the season.
Edwards was cleared by doctors last Thursday to drive a car but was not cleared by wife Lisa to drive the team’s hauler to Las Vegas for testing. Lisa had seen Mike suffer through a 2011 season where pain associated with osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease of the lower back, was so much so that at times he had to be helped from the car.
A last minute offer of truck driver changed the game plan. The soft-spoken Edwards kept his plight within the team.
“Driving the truck was not an option, as Lisa has told me my truck driving days were over,” Edwards confirmed. “I really didn’t have a truck driver and my good friend Kip Rhoton [K&N display trailer driver] just happened to call me out of the blue about a week ago and I told him what was going on. He called me back within an hour and let me know he had my situation solved.”
Edwards drove his Penhall-sponsored Pontiac with a renewed vigor en route to the top spot in Pro Stock qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals on Thursday recording a 6.545 second elapsed time at 211.86 miles per hour. His run edged Ronnie Humphrey, who was second with a 6.561, 211.39.
Edwards, a devout Christian, immediately credited God for making a way.
“I guess He still wants me out here,” Edwards added. “We really didn’t expect to be out here for the first two events but it all worked out. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Mark Holbrook, who normally drives the Tire Kingdom display trailer, wasn’t scheduled until the NHRA Gatornationals to drive the company’s rig and immediately volunteered to be Edwards’ truck driver. Edwards said once the word got out of his plight, he received a score of offers from willing volunteers.
Thursday’s run was proof that he needed to be in Pomona.
“It was an awesome run and I am so proud of my guys,” said Edwards. “We had the objective just to go out there and finish like we did last year. We had the car set up like we ran it last year. It ran just like we expected it to.
“This is a great start to the season. I am so proud of my guys and this is a good day. This is something great to build on and I just thank the Lord.”
The pain almost became unbearable for Mike Edwards.
Edwards, the 2010 NHRA Pro Stock champion, admitted today he raced for the last few seasons with osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease of the lower back, and at the end of last season the conditioned had worsened to the point he considered relinquishing his driving role.
"The pain that I experienced last year was so severe there were times I could just barely get in the car to make a run. I cannot explain how much pain I was in during the 2011 season and it just reached the point of frustration," he said. "It was at that level where I couldn't really focus on anything but the pain. Everything I did was so uncomfortable and driving the car seemed to take it to a different level, where I was almost reluctant to let my foot of the clutch."
Over the offseason, Edwards underwent a German developed treatment referred to as Regenokine while in New York. The customized program of injections, dietary change, supplementation, and exercise optimization helped to aleviate some or all the pain. Edwards joined stick an ball athletes such as PGA legend Fred Couples and NBA superstar Kobe Bryant as those who have gone through the same program.
"I had tried steroid shots in my back, pain blockers, visited pain management specialist but nothing seem to take the pain away,” Edwards explained. “After much research we came across this treatment that was being conducted in Germany. Its success rate was high. NY Spine had just started offering the treatment late last year."
Edwards admitted his first treatment on December 12 provided almost instantaneous improvement. Two months later he confirmed he’s still pain free. Doctors gave clearance to drive again last month.
"The first thing the doctor told me was I if I wanted to continue racing I was not going to drive the truck between events, like I have done my entire career," Edwards added. "So, I have relinquished those duties and continue to do a few other things at the track that they want me to control."
The pain-free experience made a world of difference when Edwards began testing last week in Las Vegas.
"With 2011 fresh in my head and the pain, I was a bit nervous that first time I launched, but I was able to get out of the car and felt real good," he said. "After making 4-5 laps it was still good, and don't have the severe pain that I once had. My back is a little stiff, but if I continue with the therapy the doctor thinks that it will get better with time."
Edwards’ best 6.62 was near the top of the list of test runs for the event.
"Heading into Pomona, I have a different feeling on the year," Edwards said. "I'm looking forward to a great season. We have a great group of guys, incredible sponsors, and hopefully a fast hot rod."