Demke Locks Up NHRA TAD Title, Race Now is for Second Place
Severance's championship hopes were dashed by two disastrous DNQs – one at Norwalk, a race Demke skipped, and another at the Topeka regional that Demke eventually won. His focus now turns to locking down second place and fighting off a determined group of challengers led by Kansas veteran Randy Meyer, the top-ranked A/Fuel driver of 2014.
Meyer's team has excelled with three different drivers at the controls this year. Meyer himself has won three times in five finals, including twice at the national level – Houston and Brainerd. In four starts in Meyer's car, Shayne Lawson won three of them, including two national events (Topeka and Dallas) and the Tulsa regional, where he topped teammate Chase Copeland in an all-Randy Meyer Racing final.
Fourth-ranked Rich McPhillips is on pace to tie his highest finish ever in the national standings and a lock for his third Top 10 in a row. The Gatornationals and U.S. Nationals runner-up scored twice on the regional level (at his home tracks, Maple Grove and Atco) and narrowly missed a second East Region championship in three years when he came out on the wrong end of a tiebreaker with Jackie Fricke.
If Reichert hangs onto fifth place, and he probably will, it'll be his 11th Top 5 in a row, unprecedented in Top Alcohol Dragster history. The retiring five-time national champ didn't claim a national event win for the first time in a decade but did rack up a pair of North Central regional victories (Indy and Chicago) and winds up his distinguished career tied with Rick Santos (1997-2001) for the most championships in class history.
The 2011 national champ, Duane Shields, emerged victorious three times this year – all in Gainesville, despite the fact that that track hosts only two races, the Gatornationals and an East Regional. He won the rain-delayed Houston regional that was completed at Gainesville, swept that weekend by doubling up at the Gatornationals, and completed his points-earning season earlier this month with a win at the regularly scheduled Gainesville regional. Seventh in the standings with no more races to claim, he'll finish in the Top 10 for the eighth time in nine years.
Fricke, currently ranked number 7, truly had a breakout year in 2014. Runner-up at the East Region opener in Richmond, she drove Joe Cantrell's Tom Conway-tuned A/Fueler to her first NHRA title at the Lebanon Valley regional and scored again at the very next East Region race, at New England Dragway, to open a sizable lead in the East standings that she never relinquished. The many-time IHRA Super Comp national event winner also earned her first semifinal finish in national competition at the 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte.
Without attracting much attention, transplanted Englishman and former World Finals winner Michael Manners quietly holds down eighth place. For him, it's been all or nothing all year. Manners opened his 2014 campaign with seven first-round losses in a row and nine in the first 10 races, but went all the way to the final at the other two, finishing second to Demke at the Route 66 Nationals in Chicago and winning two weeks ago at Noble, Okla.
Mike Strasburg and Mark Taliaferro are still in the Top 10 despite running just seven races this year and being sidelined for months. In an odd twist, neither will compete again in the cars that carried them to Top 10 status. Strasburg, who now is Top Alcohol Funny Car star Annie Whiteley's crew chief, hasn't competed since earning his first national event win at Norwalk in Jim Whiteley's 2013 championship car that has since been sold. Taliaferro, who reached three finals in seven starts with crew chief Norm Grimes, has been out of action since a violent crash in the second round of the Northwest Nationals in Seattle.
Canadian Jeff Veale, rookie Mia Tedesco, and veteran Shawn Cowie sit just outside the current Top 10. Veale, 11th in the standings, completed the finest season of his nine-year driving career in 2014, running in excess of 280 mph numerous times, winning his first NHRA title at Richmond, and becoming the last driver ever to race his friend, Reichert. Tedesco, a heavy hitter in the Super classes completing her first year in an A/Fueler, collected her first alcohol win at the Bowling Green regional at the wheel of Dave Hirata's car and backed it up a week later with a strong semifinal showing at the U.S. Nationals. Cowie, always at his best at Las Vegas, where he's earned three of his career four national event victories, will crack the Top 10 if he qualifies at either Las Vegas or Pomona and will overtake Strasburg for ninth place if he wins a round at either one.