NHRA Decides Multiple Champions at Las Vegas
Two of the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series World Champions have been crowned. Living legend Funny Car racer John Force and Pro Stock Motorcycle stalwart Matt Smith had title clinching performances during last weekend’s Toyota Nationals out at Las Vegas…
Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) also were winners at the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
In Funny Car John Force outran his daughter Courtney in the final round and claimed an NHRA-record 16th world championship while Matt Smith claimed his second career world championship with the victory as well.
In winning his third straight race, John Force went 4.062 seconds at 310.63 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to drive away from his daughter’s Traxxas Mustang, which finished in 4.085 at 319.22. It was Force’s fourth victory this season and 138th in his career.
“I’d like to scream and say, ‘Gee, it was me,’ but the truth is (crew chief) Jimmy Prock and the team he’s got around him is unbelievable,” Force said. “It’s a team effort and if there’s anything that I’ve ever done right in my life, it’s been the team effort. That’s what I’m really proud of, holding together when it looked like we were falling apart.”
Force beat Gary Densham, Del Worsham and Alexis DeJoria to reach the final round. The win, his fourth in Las Vegas, also wrapped up an all-around memorable weekend for Force, who was the No. 1 qualifier, broke the track E.T. record and claimed yet another world championship in his storied career.
“We’ve been having a lot of fun and I’m going to be around a while because I truly love it,” Force said. “Sometimes luck just gets on your side and we’ve been fortunate these past three races.”
In winning the Pro Stock Motorcycle race, Smith joined Force on the world champion’s podium to celebrate his second career title. He powered his Viper Motorcycle Company Buell to a final round run of 6.991 at 192.08 to beat Jerry Savoie, who went 7.050 at 190.19 on his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki. Smith, who has won the last three races, claimed his fourth win this season and 17th in his career en route to clinching the championship crown. His father, Rickie, also won the world championship in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series this season.
“This team has been awesome,” Smith said. “What else can you ask for? With me winning the championship and dad winning the Pro Mod championship it’s been great. I don’t want to sound too confident, but we’ve almost been unstoppable. We’ve been to 10 finals since Epping and have six wins. Those are amazing number for our team.”
Smith, who qualified fourth, went 6.979 at 192.17 to start eliminations with a win against Andrew Hines, and followed it up with round wins against LE Tonglet and Shawn Gann to reach the final round. Smith, who won for the first time in Las Vegas, also won the world championship in 2007.
“It’s pretty elite company to do that,” Smith said of his second championship title. “We pulled this off and it’s just great.”
Brown, the defending world champion in Top Fuel, moved to second in the points standings by powering his Matco Tools dragster to a run of 3.782 at 324.51 in the final round against Clay Millican, who went 3.822 at 322.50 in his Parts Plus dragster. Brown claimed his fourth victory this season and 25th in his career, and trails points leader Shawn Langdon by 102 points heading into the final event.
“We struggled in the middle of this year, but what I’m proud of the most is the way we just kept our heads down and never gave up,” Brown said. “We just put our head down and worked harder. We just kept on digging.”
Langdon, who was the No. 1 qualifier, lost to Millican in the semifinals but still holds a commanding lead in the points race in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Brown, who beat Bob Vandergriff, Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein to reach the final round, knows it will take something special at the final event in Pomona to earn a second straight championship.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Brown said. “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got. We’re going to try and go for those qualifying points and qualify in the top half. Our team knows that we’ve been losing some crucial qualifying points and in Pomona that’s what we’ve got to go for, and we’ve got to take it one round at a time and give it everything we’ve got.”
Pro Stock’s Gray picked up his first win in more than two years and third of his career with a holeshot victory against V. Gaines. Gray, who moved to fourth in points, posted a winning time of 6.699 at 206.89 in his Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro, and his quicker .032 reaction time overcame Gaines’ quicker, but losing Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger, which finished in 6.698 at 207.46.
“The team needed a day like this,” Gray said. “I got a big boost of confidence today and it’s amazing what winning will do. It lets you know that you are still capable of doing this and anytime you can win a round on a holeshot I think you’ve done something special.”
Jeg Coughlin extended his points lead in Pro Stock by advancing to the semifinals before falling to Gaines. He now holds a 71-point lead over second-place Jason Line. Mike Edwards is 80 points back in third, while Gray trails Coughlin by 84 points.
“I’m looking forward to Pomona now,” Gray said. “I think we’ll be even tougher now. These cars are getting more and more difficult to run and the driver is so important now. The Countdown escalates everyone’s performance two notches.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will conclude its 2013 season Nov. 7-10 with the Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California.
Defending Champ Prevails
Troy Coughlin picked up his second win of the 2013 season in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race is the final in 2013 for NHRA’s popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series.
Coughlin, the 2012 world champion in the class, also earned his fourth career NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series victory by taking his turbo-powered JEGS.com Chevy Corvette past Danny Rowe in the final round with a run of 5.913 seconds at 248.34 mph. Rowe and his supercharged Agave Underground Tequila Camaro went 5.975 at 242.63 in the championship round.
It topped off a strong display in eliminations for Coughlin, who finished second in the points standings. After qualifying No. 2 with a 5.922 at 245.99, Coughlin claimed a victory in the first round over Dan Stevenson by going 5.918 at 245.72 on Saturday.
Coughlin’s Sunday started with a weekend-best pass of 5.889 at 246.75 to move into the semifinals, where he knocked off Mike Knowles with a run of 5.902 at 247.29.
Event Essentials: NHRA Toyota Nationals – Oct. 24-27th, 2013 (Las Vegas NV)
|TOP FUEL||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Shawn Langdon||3.761|
|Top Speed:||Shawn Langdon||327.98|
|FUNNY CAR||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||John Force||4.011|
|Top Speed:||John Force||319.98|
|PRO STOCK||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Mike Edwards||6.632|
|Top Speed:||V. Gaines||208.26|
|PRO STOCK BIKE||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Hector Arana||6.930|
|Top Speed:||Adam Arana||193.18|
|PRO MODIFIED||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Todd Tutterow||5.876|
|Top Speed:||Todd Tutterow||250.69|
|TA Dragster||Jim Whitely||5.330||271.02|
|TA Funny Car||Frank Manzo||5.632||259.66|
|Super Stock||Cody Lane||14.16||84.66|
|Super Comp||Brad Plourd||9.069||152.40|
|Super Gas||Terry Keddington||10.04||161.98|
Exits with Style – Manzo & Whiteley Repeat!
Reigning NHRA Lucas Oil Series national champions Jim Whiteley and Frank Manzo, who have said for months that this will be their last season, clinched championships with victories at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Whiteley his second straight in Top Alcohol Dragster and Manzo his eighth in a row and 17th overall in Top Alcohol Funny Car.
Whiteley and archrival Chris Demke finished 1-2 in last year’s final standings, again in this year’s standings, at Indy, at this race, and even in qualifying for this race, which was the only time Whiteley didn’t come out on top. He was second to Demke, 5.29 to 5.30, but quicker in all four rounds, starting with a 5.28 (low e.t.) against Las Vegas’ Duane Shields in round one. Demke beat Jeff Ashwell in that round with a 5.32 and kept his deteriorating championship prospects alive with a 5.40 second-round win over Dan Mercier, who, unbeknownst to Demke, who thought he got left on, had red-lighted.
“There was only a remote chance anyway,” Demke said. “I knew it was a slim-to-none-deal coming in.” Whiteley’s 5.32 win over Don St. Arnaud one pair later made official what to many was already a foregone conclusion.
With another championship secured and only a few runs left in his Alcohol Dragster career, Whiteley maintained his focus in the semifinals against Mark Taliaferro, 5.34 to 5.41, and especially in his latest final-round showdown with Demke. “Races like that are what it’s all about,” said Whiteley, who prevailed, 5.33 to 5.34. “Demke and those guys pushed us all year.”
Demke’s Operation Solutions/Peen Rite dragster ran a 5.36, 268 in a semifinal win over Ray Martin and picked up a couple of hundredths to a 5.34 at 269 in the final, matching Whiteley’s semifinal numbers. Unfortunately for him, Whiteley picked up a hundredth from the semi’s for an eight-foot margin in the lights. “I couldn’t see him the whole way down and thought there was a chance, but we’re going home with our tails between our legs again,” said Demke, who has two wins in seven career finals against Whiteley. “But it’s still been a great rivalry.”
Whiteley enters the final weeks of his TA/D career with 24 career victories in 30 finals, seven straight Top 5s in the national standings, championship runner-ups in 2008 and 2009, and the 2012 and 2013 titles. In just seven full seasons, he has become the fourth-winningest driver in class history. “There isn’t anybody better than [crew chief] Norm Grimes and this group I’ve had,” Whiteley said. “This is a great way to go out, but this is it. I’m done.”
So is Manzo. Like Whiteley, he had the title all but mathematically clinched before the race but slammed the door on it with a decisive win. Manzo, who had tested at Las Vegas but never raced there, had low e.t. of every round but the first, when he made his best run of the weekend, 5.53, a tick behind Tony Bartone’s 5.52.
“The last few months, whatever this new car tells me to do, I do,” he said. After making it to August without a national event win for the first time since 2004, he’s won four of six, this one with a 5.63 in the final against No. 16 qualifier Bret Williamson, who was up in smoke early.
The championship was still technically in doubt when eliminations began, and contenders Shane Westerfield, John Lombardo, Bartone, and Manzo all survived the first round. Just making the show was an accomplishment; the bump was an event-record 5.69, and the first four alternates, including returning veteran Steve Harker, all ran 5.70-flats.
Bartone beat Westerfield with a 5.68 in round two to eliminate Westerfield from championship contention, and Jay Payne did the same to Lombardo two pairs later with a blower-banging 5.61. In between, Williamson, who had upset No. 1 qualifier Annie Whiteley in the first round, beat Von Smith, interim driver for Rick Jackson’s Centre Pointe team, who won the last two times he raced in Alcohol Funny Car – five years ago at Indy and Dallas.
By the time Manzo closed the round against Steve Gasparrelli, the only driver with even an outside shot was Bartone. The only 5.5 of the day, a 5.58, dispatched Gasparrelli and a 5.62-5.66 semifinal win over Bartone locked up number 17. “Normally, we’d have it wrapped up by June or July,” Manzo said. “But this wasn’t just about the championship – we came here to win a race.”
Williamson won a wild one over Payne in the other semi, 6.39 to 10.63, to reach his first final since the 2001 Winternationals and the fourth of his career, including one in the ’80s, one in the ’90s, and one in the ’00s. Opposite Manzo’s consistent 5.63, he didn’t get away with a second tire-smoking leave in the final.
“We made a few good runs and a few OK ones,” said Manzo, who, though he threatens to quit every year, really seems to be doing it this time. “I’ve only been here in January and never raced here in the heat, but this place is great. I wish I’d come here years ago.”
Dan Fletcher and Peter Biondo added to their national event win list as Fletcher, Churchville, N.Y., scored his 87th overall and his 16th in Comp Eliminator and Biondo his 47th and 15th in Stock. Fletcher got the starting line advantage in his Cobalt and held off the charge from Ralph Van Paepeghem, Garden Valley, Idaho, for the win. Fletcher clocked in at 8.197 seconds at 161 mph to Van Paepeghem’s 7.042, 178.
Biondo faced off with Mark Kirby out of Bakersfield, Calif., who advanced to his first final round but ran too quick as Biondo, Maspeth, N.Y., took the win in his Camaro. Biondo ran 10.722 at 112 mph to Kirby who clocked in at 11.282 in his Duster on the 11.30 dial in.
Super Stock and Super Gas saw first time winners in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series winner’s circle as Cody Lane won in Super Stock and Terry Keddington took the Super Gas trophy back to Bluffdale, Utah. Lane, North Bend, Wash., beat out Jack Bystrom, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., in his Chevy Cavalier when Bystrom left early with a red light start by just 0.001 seconds. Keddington drove his Corvette to a double breakout win over Kevin Kleineweber. Both had good reaction times as Keddington got the advantage (.005 to .014) and held on for the win.
Avon, Indiana, racer Brad Plourd picked up the win in Super Comp and his 16th national event win overall, defeating Tommy Phillips, Forney, Texas. Phillips had the better reaction time but Plourd ran better at the strip posting a 9.069 second pass to Phillips’ 9.083.
Posted with files by: Bruce Biegler, NHRA Communications and Eric Lotz
All Photos by: Marc Gewertz