NHRA’s fans and racers had to overcome some truly un-cooperative weather during last weekend’s NHRA Keystone Nationals in Pennsylvania….
Mother Nature took a major bite out of the event’s planned racing schedule for the annual Mello Yello series touchdown at scenic Maple Grove Raceway. Due to persistent rain, not a wheel was turned during either Thursday or Friday and in fact race cars did not hit the track at all until the afternoon on Saturday. In the end all the Pro fields were set based on a single qualifier but did conclude their program Sunday evening — however *Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Sportsman racing did not finish up until Monday.
In Top Fuel Antron Brown increased his 2015 Countdown to the Championship round record to 12-0 with his 7th victory of the season. Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners in their respective categories at the third of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship chase.
Brown drove his special edition all pink Matco Tools dragster to a 3.717 second pass at 328.46 mph victory over teammate and defending race winner Tony Schumacher. The win was Brown’s third-in-a-row, earning him the sweep of the first half of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. His 12-0 record is the best start in the history of the Countdown playoffs, surpassing Robert Hight’s 9-0 Funny Car start in 2009. The win gives Brown, the 2012 world champ, his 54th career victory (38th in TF), seventh of the season and first win at Maple Grove Raceway. Prior to this year, Brown finished with six wins in a season on four separate occasions.
“You don’t go into the Countdown believing you’re going to win the first three races,” said Brown, who extends his points lead to 94 over Schumacher. “That’s what you hope to do. Charlotte was tough, but this race was also tough because you go into eliminations without any runs down the racetrack. When we came out today, it was pretty much the first session of qualifying for us. Getting a good, clean run down the track helped us a lot and the track got about eight times better by the second lap.”
Schumacher, the eight-time and defending world champ, was looking for his second consecutive Reading victory. Despite the loss, Schumacher is still the winningest Top Fuel driver at Maple Grove Raceway with five victories. He sits 100 points ahead of third place Brittany Force, who fell to Schumacher in the semifinals.
Beckman, driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T, defeated Chad Head in the quickest Funny Car final in history, driving to a 3.910 at 326.79 holeshot win over Head’s quicker but losing 3.903 at 326.16. Beckman, the 2012 world champ, earned his 22nd career win and career-best seventh of the season. In addition, Beckman reset the national record in elapsed time for the third time this year after running a 3.897 in the semifinals, giving him a 20 point bonus.
“For us, it couldn’t have ended up any better,” said Beckman, who trails points leader Del Worsham by 16 points. “We went from six rounds out to less than one round. We’re not leading, but we’ve got a car that’s clearly able to win races and I think that the lead is within sight again.”
Head, driver of the Head Racing Toyota Camry, finished runner-up at Reading for the second time in his career, the previous coming in 2013. Head’s run in the final was a career-best in both elapsed time and speed. He defeated John Force and John Hale to reach the semifinals, where he had a bye run after John Bojec failed to make the call to the starting line.
Worsham, who won the first two events of the Countdown and entered this event with a 90 point lead over Matt Hagan, fell in the first round to Tommy Johnson Jr. Hagan also lost in the first round to Bojec.
McGaha picked up his third victory of the season in Pro Stock with a 6.492 at 213.64 holeshot victory over four-time world champ Greg Anderson in his Harlow Sammons Racing Chevy Camaro. The win was McGaha’s third career win, first at Reading and moved him to third in points, 104 behind points leader and defending world champ Erica Enders.
“This week has been really something,” said McGaha, whose former crew chief Brian Self left for Elite Motorsports this week and was replaced by Tommy Utt. “Having a crew chief shuffle and what-have-you, it’s a pretty big feat to overcome. You leave the house hoping you can win and knowing you can win, but actually doing it is another deal.”
Anderson was looking for his fifth win of the season in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro. He defeated John Gaydosh, teammate Jason Line and Larry Morgan to reach the final. Despite the loss, Anderson gained ground on Enders and sits 72 points back heading to Dallas.
Enders, who won the Countdown’s opening race at the NHRA Carolina Nationals, reached the second round before falling to Bo Butner.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines picked up his third win of the season and second in the Countdown with a 6.794 at 197.25 win over Chip Ellis on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Hines, the four-time and defending world champ, picked up his second win at Reading and 41st of his career, which ties him for second on the all-time category wins list with Angelle Sampey.
“That win light came on for the final and I was over the moon,” said Hines, who extends his points lead over teammate Eddie Krawiec to 89 points. “I know how fast Chip had been all weekend and all year. Luckily, we were able to dip into the 6.7’s with him and put up a nice, tight final round for the fans.”
Ellis was appearing in his second final of the season on his Pirana Z/Pippin Trucking Buell, also earning a runner-up finish at Indianapolis. He is still searching for his first win since Englishtown, N.J. in 2008. Ellis is now sixth in Pro Stock Motorcycle points.
The Lucas Oil Lowdown
Duane Shields and John Lombardo Jr. picked up wins in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car respectively at the 31st annual NHRA Keystone Nationals held at Maple Grove Raceway. Seven Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series categories were contested at the facility in eastern Pennsylvania with racers in the hunt for year-end divisional and national championships.
Shields, racing out of Boulder City, Nev., picked up his second career win at the event notching his 22nd National event Wally trophy. He got off the line first in the Top Alcohol Dragster final against Mia Tedesco and never trailed for the win. Shields clocked in at 5.4 seconds at 272.45 mph to defeat Tedesco’s runner up lap of 5.515 seconds at 259.61 mph. This marks back to back National event wins for Shields, who sits in striking distance of the National Championship at third place.
The Top Alcohol Funny Car title went to Lombardo Jr. as he knocked out the event’s No.1 qualifier in the final round. Paul Noakes had a slight starting line advantage, but tire shake forced him to shut it down as Lombardo blew by him with a 5.610 second, 269.78 mph winning pass. This marks the fifth career National event victory for the Brea, Calif., native.
Allyn Armstrong had a significant starting line advantage over Peter Luciano in the Comp Eliminator final and held on for the win. Armstrong, with nearly a one second gift at the tree, powered his Opel GT to a 8.704 second, 152.18 mph lap over Luciano’s 8.552 second, 155.06 mph pass.
It was a battle of firefighting twin brothers as Bryan and Byron Worner squared off in the Super Stock money round. Bryan jumped off the line first in his ’90 Camaro, but that wasn’t enough to overthrow Bryon in his winning 9.900 second, 129.07 mph ’96 Camaro.
Jim Boudreau scored his sixth National event victory with a win light over Peter Biondo in the Stock Eliminator final. Boudreau was out of the gate first, while Biondo was piecing together a great run but broke out by just .002 seconds on his 10.37 dial, handing the win over to Boudreau.
Tom Stalba and Jack Sepanek Jr. got off the line together in the Super Comp final and battled all the way to the 1320’ mark. Sepanek recorded a 8.943 second, 156.63 mph pass to narrowly defeat Stalba’s 8.947 second, 164.31 lap for his third National event win.
The Super Gas trophy went to Jason Lynch, the fourth of his career. He listed a 9.918 second, 169.91 mph pass for the victory as Mike Sawyer ran .004 seconds too quick on the 9.90 index.
Posted with files from NHRA Communications, Eric Lotz & Bruce Biegler
Photos by Dave DeAngelis and Gary Nastase
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