Drag racing’s two most lucrative annual “Shootout” events were part of the action at NHRA’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals….
Iconic Top Fuel racer Tony Schumacher and 2nd generation female racing star Courtney Force each collected $100,000 first place prizes last weekend at Indy.
On Saturday the fifth annual Traxxas Top Fuel Nitro Shootout became a Don Schumacher Racing intrasquad challenge during the 62nd annual NHRA U.S. Nationals event.
Each of DSR’s four Top Fuel dragsters won their opening round match-ups leaving DSR with the only cars racing in the semifinals.
In the championship round, Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team led by crew chief Mike Green with assistant Neal Strausbaugh powered to a run of 3.717 second at 328.86 mph to beat teammate Leah Pritchett and the Papa John’s Pizza team led by crew chief Todd Okuhara with assistant Joe Barlam. Pritchett’s engine gave out just before the finish line but still ran a 3.738 at a slowing 317.05.
The elapsed times in the finals counted toward qualifying and both teams posted their quickest times of the event with two more sessions scheduled for Sunday leading to championship eliminations of the U.S. Nationals the will begin at 11 a.m. (ET).
It is the sixth Traxxas Shootout title for DSR since the inaugural event in 2012, and third straight in Top Fuel where Antron Brown won a year ago, Schumacher in 2014 and former DSR driver Spencer Massey won in 2012.
“This is the first place I ever made a full pass and it’s been magic ever since,” said Schumacher, the eight-time world champion who has won the U.S. Nationals title a record nine times.
“I can’t say enough about Mike Green and Neal for what they’ve done. And my Army crew has stepped up and that made me drive like a champ. It’s truly awesome.
“Racing your teammates is the hardest thing on the planet because you know they all have the best parts like we do, and they’re all great drivers.
“This Army team is the best team on the planet.”
Pritchett and the Papa John’s Pizza team that didn’t exist until May when owner Don Schumacher debuted a fourth dragster, and the team led by crew chief and DSR director of racing Todd Okuhara upset Doug Kalitta in the opening round with a time of 3.781 seconds at 329.75 that is a career-best for Pritchett. She then defeated DSR’s Shawn Langdon and the Sandvik Coromant/Red Fuel Powered by Schumacher team in the semifinals to reach the championship round in her first Traxxas Shootout.
“Overall, it was a picture perfect day … except for the last 3.7 seconds,” she joked. “The progress this team has made is just phenomenal.
“You always hope to be in the final and then when you get there you want to win. My mindset all weekend was to take it one round at a time and not look ahead.
“I just really want to win this for my team and (team owner) Don Schumacher for getting us this far so quickly. And having ‘Papa John’ (Schnatter) here and all of his team from Papa John’s Pizza made it even better.
During Sunday’s schedule it was Courtney Force winning the Traxxas Nitro Shootout title for Funny Cars.
Courtney Force wrote her name into the Funny Car history books once again becoming the first female to win a Funny Car specialty race today at the 5th annual Traxxas Nitro Shootout at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Force racing in her first specialty race final round barely outran teammate and now three-time runner-up Robert Hight in an all-Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car final. Force’s winning time of 4.018 seconds was enough to hold off Hight’s 4.596 second run. Both JFR Funny Cars were powering down the track and shredding their blower belts from the enormous power created by the 10,000 horsepower motors.
“Dan Hood, Ronnie Thompson and the guys gave me a great car. My belt was shredding down there at the top end and I was just waiting for Robert to drive around me but we were able to get the win. For everyone at Traxxas, at Chevy, for Peak, for Monster, AAA and all our sponsors this was really a big win and the first time I have done this. This is so awesome for me and I just want to thank everyone at Traxxas and the series for having this, it’s a big win for the team,” said Force.
Force became the fourth different JFR Funny Car driver to win a specialty race joining her father John Force (8 wins), Gary Densham (2004) and Tony Pedregon (2003). John Force doubled up winning the specialty race and U.S. Nationals in 1993 and 1996 while Gary Densham scored the elusive double in 2004.
The Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, the No. 2 qualified Funny Car, started the day with a first round win over Alexis DeJoria in a close side by side race. Force was smooth and quick down the left lane and lit up the scoreboards with a winning elapsed time of 3.912 seconds at 327.66 mph over DeJoria’s 3.961 at 325.45 mph. This is the third time in four attempts that Force has advanced to the semifinals. The fifth year pro had never reached a final round in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout before today and she gave up lane choice to Matt Hagan in the semifinals.
In the race of the day, Force blasted to the finish line with a 3.926 second run at 323.58 mph and got to the finish line .002 seconds in front of Hagan’s 3.941 second, 324.83 mph run. The race set up the second all JFR Traxxas Nitro Shootout final round with teammate Robert Hight. Two years ago John Force scored his second Traxxas Shootout win over Hight in the first all JFR Shootout.
Hight won his first round Traxxas Nitro Shootout match-up with Tommy Johnson Jr. with a 4.070 second run in the right lane. Johnson Jr. smoked the tires and Hight and the Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car pulled away getting to the stripe first. This was the first run on a brand new race car after his explosion in the last qualifying session last night. The team was looking for a baseline run and will step up the performance for the second round. Hight was scheduled to race Ron Capps in the semifinals but the 2012 Traxxas Shootout runner-up was unable to repair his Funny Car after driving it into the sand trap in his race against John Force.
In the semifinals Hight took a competition bye and ran down the left lane. His Auto Club Camaro appeared to be down on power as he crossed the finish line with a win light and a pedestrian 4.116 second elapsed time. He gave up lane choice to Force and had to settle at the end of the day with being the only three-time Traxxas Nitro Funny Car finalist.
Eight-time specialty race winner John Force lost to No. 1 qualifier Ron Capps right after his youngest daughter got the first round win. Force made a solid run of 3.956 seconds but Capps streaked by him with a winning 3.901 second pass. As Capps crossed the finish line it became obvious his parachutes were not deploying and the veteran drive ran into the sand trap and flipped his NAPA Funny Car. Capps emerged unharmed but his team evaluated his chassis and ultimately decided it was in the best interest of safety to pull out his back-up Funny Car and forgo his semifinal run against Hight.
Posted with files by Jeff Wolf, Elon Werner & Bruce Biegler
Photos by Bruce Biegler, Rick Schute & Brennan Shortall