The six-event final dash to Championship glory began for NHRA’s Mello Yello Series Pro racers last weekend at fabulous zMax Dragway in North Carolina….
History was made on a few fronts, including Pro Stock’s Erica Enders-Stevens who earned a third straight victory to pass Shirley Muldowney on NHRA’s all-time wins list and a first ever all African-American Top Fuel final round featuring Antron Brown versus J.R. Todd. Del Worsham (fuel Funny Car) and Matt Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also scored timely victories.
Enders used a quicker reaction time to defeat the faster car of Vincent Nobile in the all Chevrolet Camaro final round and took a commanding lead in the Pro Stock points standings as she eyes a second consecutive world championship crown. She also tied female wins leader Angelle Sampey’s record for most wins by a female driver in a single season.
NHRA’s strong competitor diversity was showcased in impressive fashion by Erica Enders, who scored her third consecutive victory, seventh of the season and 19th of her career to pass NHRA legend Shirley Muldowney on NHRA’s all-time wins list.
While she has won the last three races relying on her quick reflexes and quicker reaction times at the starting line to get past many rounds, Enders is quick to give most of the credit to her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro crew, led by crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and team owner Richard Freeman.
“This is pretty incredible; it’s pretty surreal,” said Enders, who defeated V. Gaines, Chris McGaha and Allen Johnson in the first three rounds. “I feel like I’m in a dream. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a great group of guys. We have fun racing together. When I get in that car and close the door, there is not one single doubt that the car is prepared as well as it can be. It’s just up to me to drive it right.”
Antron Brown raced to a historic Top Fuel victory by outrunning rival J.R. Todd in the first final round to be contested by African-American drivers in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history.
Brown scored his fifth victory of the season and 36th of his career in Top Fuel and took over the points lead as he works toward a second series title. Brown left the starting line first and sped to a performance of 3.832 seconds at 311.56 mph in his Matco Tools dragster to finish in front of Todd, whose Jimi Hendrix Foundation dragster trailed with a 4.063 at 286.32.
In 2006, Todd became the first African-American to win a race in the Mello Yello Series and in 2012 Brown became the first black driver to win an NHRA world championship title, the first in a major U.S. auto racing series. Today, they met for the first time in a final round race.
“It’s pretty awesome when you look at that,” Brown said. “J.R. has been racing longer in Top Fuel than I have. You never think about things like that. We’ve always talked about (racing each other) it in the final one day. We both threw down on the tree and it was a great race. It just shows you what this NHRA sport is about. When I was a kid I got to come to this sport and was able to see guys like Big Daddy (Don Garlits) and Kenny Bernstein. It gave me that ray of hope because I could see what they’re doing because of all the access this sport offers. To be here racing in this sport so long, it is just a dream.”
Brown raced past Terry McMillen, Steve Torrence and Tony Schumacher to reach the final round. Even though he qualified sixth he put together a string mid-3.80 second runs and had the most consistently quick dragster of the day.
“When you come here, this is one of the racing capitals of the world right here in Charlotte,” Brown said. “This track is a stadium. It reminds me of one of those old, old coliseums, like this is where all the people gather to wait for the battle to go down, like the gladiators.”
He said his semifinal round victory over playoff top seed Schumacher was massive in the grand scheme of the Countdown, and a huge motivational win for his team.
“Once we got to the semifinals here today, we were like, ‘All right, we’ve got to go up against ‘The Sarge,’ our teammate whose a tough competitor,’” Brown said. “We’ve been battling back and forth all year long. The thing about it was if he took us out and he won the race, it would be a 70-point swing, so that was the crucial round for us right there to keep the points close so we could stay in the battle with him.”
In Funny Car, Del Worsham earned his first victory of the season and 27th of his career and vaulted into the points lead by outrunning event top qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round. Worsham powered his DHL Toyota Camry to a 4.086 at 307.16 to finish in front of Johnson’s Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger, which posted a 4.119 at 300.93.
“Funny Car is extremely competitive right now,” said Worsham, who also won at zMAX in Top Fuel during his 2011 world championship season. “With what the DSR cars have been doing, especially Jimmy Prock and Jack Beckman, leaving Sonoma I was thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’ We’ve made some changes, weren’t complacent and the team has worked hard and we pulled it off. [Team owner] Connie Kalitta has given us the best parts. These are the races we are going to need to win if we’re going to win the championship.”
Worsham entered the playoffs as the fourth seed, but his team’s consistency in the regular season – even though they didn’t earn a victory – was largely overshadowed by the stellar performances of the DSR cars of Jack Beckman, Johnson Jr. and Matt Hagan. He feels his team is ready to make a run for the championship, which if he were successful he would join Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi in a very exclusive club as owners of series titles in both nitro classes.
“I just want to be at Pomona and be in position to be the Funny Car champion,” Worsham said. “I know there’s only a short list of people who have pulled it off. I don’t want to get that far ahead right now. We’re looking forward to St. Louis.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending world champ Hines won this event for the third time, clocking a winning run of 6.880 at 195.11 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to Smith’s losing 6.910 at 192.49 on his Victory Racing Gunner. It was Hines’ 40th career victory in the two-wheel category.
“I won here in the spring at the Four Wide and that was my 39th win and it has taken us all this time go get back and get win No. 40,” Hines said. “That tells you how tough it is out here.”
Hines outran Chaz Kennedy, veteran rider Steve Johnson and top qualifier Jerry Savoie to advance to the final and get a great start on defending his series crown. He moved into the points lead with the win, and is 20 points head of playoff top seed and teammate Eddie Krawiec heading to round two of the playoffs.
“I’m not quite certain why, but zMax Dragway has been kind to me,” Hines said. “The first three or four times here I never got past the first round. My Harley V-Rod was running straight and true and putting up big speeds and it has done it consistently. We’ve had to figure out how to get a win on a tricky track but everything played out in our favor. We took a chance and changed a bunch of parts on our engine at mid-season looking for more power and consistency and it paid off.”
All Canadian Final in Pro Mod!
California’s Danny Rowe (who is a native of Calgary Alberta) raced to his first victory of the season in the J&A Service Pro Mod portion of the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway. It is the eighth of 10 events in the 2015 NHRA Pro Mod season.
Rowe, who was racing a new supercharged Agave Underground Tequila Corvette at this event put it to good use, powering past the competition from the No. 2 qualifying position. He outran Dan Stevenson, Jim Whiteley and Steven Whiteley to advance to the final.
In the final he defeated another Canadian, Whitby’s Ontario’s Eric Latino to earn his fifth career victory with a performance of 5.941 seconds at 245.09 mph. Latino trailed just slightly with a nice 5.950 at 244.92 in his potent Quality Plus Compressors/GESI supercharged. ’69 Camaro.
With the victory, Rowe moved to seventh in the points standings, 107 back of series leader Mike Janis, who was defeated in the opening round of eliminations. Janis is followed in points by Troy Coughlin and Billy Glidden.
Pro Mod Photos by: Roger Richards
The Lucas Oil Lowdown!
Duane Shields and Mickey Ferro led the list of Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series winners at the eighth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway.
Shields worked his way through the Top Alcohol Dragster field from the No.2 qualifying position, meeting up against Brandon Booher in the final. Booher laid down a nice light off the tree, but didn’t have enough to hold off Shields as he snuck by him near half-track clocking in at 5.318 seconds at 273.05 mph. Booher crossed the finish line at 5.444, 268.87 for his runner up finish.
The Top Alcohol Funny Car title was handed over to Mickey Ferro as 2014 National Champion Steve Harker left a bit too early at the starting line. Ferro battled his way through Swedish racers Jonnie Lindberg and Ulf Leanders in the opening rounds, Andy Bohl in the semis, and now sits a perfect 2-0 against Harker in final rounds.
Glen Treadwell picked up the easy win in Comp Eliminator as Frank Aragona Jr. flipped on the red bulb in the final round. Treadwell picked up his tenth win, denying Aragona the event double up. Less than an hour earlier, Aragona worked his way through six rounds of Super Comp to pick up his seventh win. He used a .008 reaction time at the tree and held off Scott Albrecht for the victory.
The Super Stock Wally trophy went to Chuck Gallagher for his seventh national event win. He had the reaction time advantage off the tree and clocked in at 8.251 seconds at 162.37 mph to defeat Brian Martel. Brad Plourd powered his Chevy II to the Stock Eliminator win as he defeated Kevin Helms in the double breakout money round. The two combine for 42 national event wins, with Plourd now the owner of 19 Wally trophies.
Mike Sawyer is making a late push for Super Gas National Champion, and helped his case as he picked up the trophy here in Charlotte. Jeff Burns got off the line first, but Sawyer was able to draw him in with a 9.975 second, 154.79 mph pass and a margin of victory of less than two feet.
Due to inclement weather at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals (Bristol, Tenn.) back in June, Super Stock, Super Comp, and Super Gas were also contested and completed over the weekend. Mike Saye and Emily Volkman got off the line side by side in the Super Stock final, but Saye pushed just ahead for his 15th win. Saye clocked in at 10.321 seconds at 122.43 mph to defeat Volkman’s 10.695, 121.39 pass. Jeff Burns picked up his first national event Wally trophy as he got off the line first and held on to defeat Michelle Furr in the Super Comp final. Ray Connolly dropped a .001 reaction time but that wasn’t enough to hold off John Taylor. Connolly broke out on the 9.90 index giving the win to Taylor for his third national event title.
Posted with files from NHRA Communications, Brett Lyons and Bruce Biegler
Photos courtesy of NHRA and by Gary Nastase & Bruce Biegler