Still a Force to be Reckoned With!
Drag racing living legend John Force raced to his 136th career victory and with that has moved into position to earn a potential 16th NHRA Funny Car world championship title….
The sport’s all time winning driver won at the NHRA’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals held at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the 21st race of the season and third of six playoff events in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Force powered to his second win of the season with a final round performance of 4.097 seconds at 310.13 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, while defending world champ Jack Beckman trailed in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger with a 4.127 at 309.84.
With the victory, Force, 64, now trails series leader Matt Hagan by six points.
Force defeated rookie Chad Head, longtime rival Ron Capps and teammate Robert Hight along the way to his third win at Gateway. Hagan, the event’s top qualifier who entered the day with a 63-point lead over second place Cruz Pedregon, lost to Beckman in the second round. Pedregon also went out early with a first round exit, which opened the door for Force to move to the top of the points order.
“We’ve got a [points] race now, and I’m excited,” Force said. “I had a good day. The most important thing for me was to see the crowd. They filled the bleachers. To win a championship you’ve gotta live it every day, and I’m not chasing a championship. I’ve been chasing Corporate America and taking care of our sponsors. My wife [Laurie] set me straight this morning, ‘she said, what you need to do is win. We need John Force to get back to winning races.’ Hey, I can do that. I ain’t going to say I will win another race or a championship, but I’ll be in the fight with these kids.”
The runner-up finish put the still-winless Beckman in third place in the standings, 44 back of Hagan. Robert Hight is fourth overall, 48 points back in his Auto Club Mustang. Two-time champ Pedregon dropped to fifth, 83 behind Hagan.
In Top Fuel, Brown claimed his third victory of the season and 40th of his career by defeating Khalid alBalooshi in the final round. Brown covered the distance in 3.788 at 323.97 in his Toyota/Matco Tools dragster to take his second consecutive win at this track, and third overall. Runner-up alBalooshi finished in 3.833 at 319.98 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster.
Brown defeated Billy Torrence, Clay Millican and seven-time champ Tony Schumacher to advance to the final round. The effort ended a mini-slump for the defending world champion, who has not been in a final round since he won in Atlanta in early May. Since then he’s posted eight first round losses and a DNQ at the Countdown playoff opener in Charlotte.
“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling a lot more than what we had hoped to, and we had hoped we could have had a turnaround a little sooner, but we’re not going to go out without a fight,” Brown said. “The class is at an all-time high where everybody is running strong, but we just want to get back in the groove because it’s not going to be over until it’s over.”
Brown moved to sixth in the standings with the victory and now trails series leader Shawn Langdon by 102 points. Doug Kalitta and Spencer Massey, who both lost in the first round, are second and third, 33 and 35 points back respectively. Morgan Lucas is fourth overall, 45 points back and Schumacher is fifth.
“Our goal from here on out is to just go and race like it’s the last race out here, and we’re going to push really hard and hopefully go qualify top half again next weekend, and we’re just going to take it one round at a time,” Brown said. “If the next two races in a row we can creep up some points here and there, we can go into that last race in Pomona with a shot. That’s all we want is to have a shot, and it’s still in our scopes, so we’re not going to let that go, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens raced to her second consecutive victory at this event and scored the sixth win of her career by holding off Mike Edwards in the final round. Enders-Stevens used a reaction time advantage to claim her second win of the season, powering her Husky Liners Chevy Camaro to a run of 6.540 at 211.23 to finish in front of the quicker, but losing Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Camaro of Edwards, which posted a 6.532 at 212.36.
“This was a great day,” said Enders-Stevens, who beat Deric Kramer, Shane Gray and Rickie Jones to advance to the final round. “We had a consistent car in qualifying and a consistent car today. My guys showed their stuff, and we were able to get down the track when some other guys didn’t. I love St. Louis.”
Enders-Stevens, who missed six of the last eight races in the regular season due to lack of sponsorship, moves into fourth place in the points order with the victory, 60 back of Edwards, who regained the series lead. Jeg Coughlin is second overall, and Jason Line is third.
“This helped validate the faith that [new sponsor] Husky Liners had in me,” Enders-Stevens said. “They are pleased with what we’ve done, and that’s big because this deal only came together four days before the first [Countdown race] in Charlotte. Now we’re up to fourth in points, and I think we’re three rounds out of the lead, and we’re going to do our best to keep winning. This was a make-or-break weekend because if we had exited first or second round, the championship would have been out of reach. Now, the way we see it, this is our championship, and they’re going to have to take it from us.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith rode to his second victory of the season and moved into the series lead by outrunning LE Tonglet in the final round. Smith scored his 15th win of his career and second at this track with a performance of 6.887 at 194.52 on his Viper Motorcycle Company Buell, while Tonglet trailed with a 6.950 at 192.14 on his Nitro Fish Suzuki.
Smith, who finally grabbed another Wally after posting three consecutive runner-up finishes in his last three final round appearances, defeated 71-year-old Joe DeSantis, defending world champ Eddie Krawiec and Countdown rival Michael Ray on his way to the final.
“This was important because I’ve messed up so much here lately in final rounds,” Smith said. “I’ve had the best bike and gave it up. It has been one thing after another. I could have won five or six races this year. This time, I tried not to mess up. When we got to the final, I knew we had a better bike, and I took the win and the points lead. Now we just need to see what happens the rest of the year.”
Smith now holds a 75-point lead over both Lucas Oil Buell riders Hector Arana Sr. and Hector Arana Jr., who are tied for second place. Smith says he is lucky to be in this position, considering he nearly didn’t get to race today after falling ill last night.
“I got sick last night with food poisoning, and I had an IV in me,” Smith said. “I have to say thanks to the doctors here or I wouldn’t be here today. I was hurting pretty bad. My blood pressure was really low, and they told me that if it didn’t improve, I wasn’t going to race today. I drank water all night, and at 9 a.m., they checked me again, and I felt a lot better. I was lucky I even got to race, and now I made it to the winner’s circle.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship continues Oct. 3-6 with the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa.
Sportsman Summary — 4 First Time Winners!
Four racers picked up their first NHRA national event win this past weekend at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports park while a pair of racers returned to the winner’s circle after a long absence.
Kevin Stubbs, Benton, Ark., led the list for first time winner’s that included Will Carrell, Ardmore, Okla., Robert Irby, Collierville, Ill., and Lane Dicken, Long Grove, Iowa. Stubbs took on Britt Cummings, Hammond, La., in the final of Stock Eliminator, taking the early lead and holding of for the win in 10.425 seconds at 125.45 mph in his ’99 Camaro.
Carrell took the hole shot against Chris Sullivan, Virden, Ill., in Super Comp and won on a double breakout 8.893 to 8.868 on the 8.90 dial while Dicken needed every bit of his hole shot lead in Top Dragster to earn his first win running 6.891 at 183.59 against Philip Oakley. Dicken had a 0.031 second package to Oakley’s 0.048.
Rick Bowman, Solon, Iowa, had the better reaction time in Top Sportsman but Irby quickly made up the difference crossing the finish line ahead of Bowman in 7.106 seconds at 188.23 mph for the win.
Bill Rowe took the trophy in Super Stock and Marlin Snyder won in Super Gas returning to the NHRA national event winner’s circle after more than 10 years for Rowe and 20 years for Snyder. Rowe won over Bo Butner in his ’67 Nova when Bunter, Floyd Knobs, Ind., left early with a red light foul start. Snyder won in similar fashion as Luke Bogacki left early in this ’63 Corvette giving the win to Snyder in a ’73 Opel GT, his first since 1992.
Event Essentials: AAA Insurance Mid-West Nationals (Sep. 27-29th, 2013) Madison IL
|TOP FUEL||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Shawn Langdon||3.761|
|Top Speed:||Tony Schumacher||327.74|
|FUNNY CAR||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Matt Hagan||4.001|
|Top Speed:||Matt Hagan||320.20|
|PRO STOCK||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Allen Johnson||6.512|
|Top Speed:||V. Gaines||212.36|
|PRO STOCK BIKE||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Hector Arana||6.796|
|Top Speed:||Hector Arana||198.58|
|Top Dragster||Lane Dicken||6.891||183.59|
|Top Sportsman||Robert Irby||7.106||188.23|
|Super Stock||Bill Rowe||9.820||133.05|
|Super Comp||William Carrell||8.893||173.49|
|Super Gas||Marlin Snyder||9.862||160.63|
Rickie Smith Clinches NHRA Pro Mod Title
Veteran racer Rickie Smith took advantage of several early exits by most of his series challengers and captured the 2013 NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series world championship title Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.
Smith claimed his first season championship title in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series when he took the semifinal victory over event top qualifier Jim Laurita. He was ultimately denied the race victory in the final round as Mike Castellana pulled away for the win.
Smith, who says he will retire from the cockpit after this season, was emotional in the media center after being declared the champion with one race remaining on the Pro Mod season schedule. Smith leads second-place Castellana by 142 points and a maximum of 138 points is available to a single racer at each event.
“It’s been a long time since we won a championship, we won seven titles [IHRA Pro Stock and Super Modified] but the last one was in 1989,” said the 59-year-old Smith from King, N.C. “I’ve been doing this for 40 solid years. I drive my own truck and put my own awning up and it’s time to back off, be a crew chief and let these young guys do it. I am tickled to death to pull this deal off. I want to thank IDG for giving me this time to finish my career out. I want to walk away from this thing a champion.”
New York native Castellana outran newly-crowned series champion Smith in the final round to take his first victory of the season and fourth of his career. He powered his Al-Anabi Racing ’68 Camaro to a winning performance of 6.084 seconds at 194.72 mph to finish in front of Smith’s late model IDG Chevy Camaro, which slowed near mid-track.
Castellana advanced to the final round by scoring early round wins over Ron Muenks, Dan Stevenson and Robert Patrick.
Smith’s road to the series crown was opened when title challengers Mike Janis, Von Smith, Kenny Lang and Danny Rowe all lost in the first round and defending world champ Troy Coughlin lost to Laurita in the second round.
|PRO MOD||NAME||ET||MPH||CAREER WIN|
|Low ET:||Jim Laurita||5.820|
|Top Speed:||Troy Coughlin||249.67|
The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season concludes with the NHRA Toyota Nationals, Oct. 24-27 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Posted with files from NHRA Communications & Eric Lotz
Photos courtesy of Gary Nastase & NHRA