Thrilling Funny Car Finale @ NHRA Norwalk

In a thrilling side-by-side all Mopar brand  final round duel, NHRA Funny Car driver Johnny Gray picked up his fourth win of 2013 with a victory against Ron Capps at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park…..

Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, the 13th of 24 in the 2013 season.

In the championship round, both Gray and Capps powered their Dodge Chargers to identical times of 4.103 seconds, but Gray posted the quicker .061 reaction time to win by .006. Gray’s Pitch Energy Charger went 314.02 mph in the final round, while Capps, who was making his 400th career start, had a run of 314.09 in his NAPA Auto Parts Charger.

Gray is now a perfect 4-0 in finals in 2013, picking up his seventh career victory in the process. Gray outran Alexis DeJoria, Chad Head and defending Funny Car world champion Jack Beckman to reach the final round against his Don Schumacher Racing teammate.

Johnny Gray is now a perfect 4-0 in NHRA FC final  rounds this season.

Johnny Gray is now a perfect 4-0 in NHRA FC final rounds this season.

“Everybody said it was back-and-forth all the way down the track, and it was just a great drag race,” said Gray, who won for the first time in Norwalk. “You just can’t say enough for what my crew does for me and (Sunday) was my day. We came to Norwalk and the car never missed a step. When I get a race car like this, it’s really hard to screw it up.”

After a series of frustrating races, Gray’s team replaced the entire front half of his 8,000-horsepower Funny Car heading into Norwalk and the move paid off in a major way. Gray, who qualified No. 4 and went as quick as 4.047 during eliminations, climbing back to second in the points standings.

Matt Hagan maintained the points lead in the super-tight Funny Car class, while Capps, the No. 3 qualifier, climbed to fourth.

“We struggled pretty good for about three races,” Gray said. “We were getting a little frustrated because we threw everything but the kitchen sink at the car and it just wouldn’t respond. Now it’s going right down the race track and doing everything we want it to do. (Crew chief) Rob Wendland just does an awesome job.”

In Top Fuel, alBalooshi claimed his first victory of the season and second of his career, knocking off No. 1 qualifier Doug Kalitta in the final round in his 8,000-horsepower Al-Anabi Racing dragster. AlBalooshi covered the distance in 3.935 at 271.30 to knock off Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster, which went 4.215 at 268.54.

Since losing 12 straight times in the first round to open his career a year ago, alBalooshi has responded with three final round and three semifinal appearances. AlBalooshi also secured the seventh spot in the Traxxas NHRA Shootout (the eighth spot will be determined by a fan vote).

Kahlid alBalooshi won in Top Fuel for the 2nd time in his career.

Kahlid alBalooshi won in Top Fuel for the 2nd time in his career.

“The last race I lost in the first round last year was at this track, and this week I won my first trophy (in 2013) at this track,” alBalooshi said. “I’ve been looking forward to this race for a long time, especially when I was in Englishtown in the final with our teammate (Shawn Langdon).”

Langdon jumped past Tony Schumacher for the Top Fuel points lead, while alBalooshi maintained his sixth position. Kalitta jumped up to fourth with his first finals appearance of 2013. AlBalooshi beat defending world champion Antron Brown, Chris Karamesines and Clay Millican to reach the final round, going as quick as 3.811 and as fast as 320.97.

“From the first week when Shawn won the first race, I’ve been thinking, ‘Oh, I need to be in the Traxxas Shootout. I need to be in the Traxxas Shootout,’ ” said alBalooshi. “I keep seeing, ‘Oh, there’s only one opening for the Traxxas Shootout, only one.’ When I made the final I knew that whoever won, it would be done, and I’m lucky to finish this deal.”

Edwards, the current points leader in Pro Stock, claimed his fourth victory in 2013 and 38th for his career by knocking off defending world champion Allen Johnson. Edwards’ Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro posted a 6.616 at 209.56 while Johnson slowed to a 15.969 at 52.46 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger.

“I just could never get a handle on this place, but it sure feels good to finally come here and win a race,” said Edwards, who posted his first win in Norwalk. “Hats off to all my guys for another tremendous job this weekend. We made a really nice run in the final, and we were very proud of that. I just hope we can keep the wheels on this thing and keep the momentum going.”

Mike Edwards extended his lead in NHRA Pro Stock points.

Mike Edwards extended his lead in NHRA Pro Stock points.

Edwards, who set the track speed record of 209.92 in qualifying, beat Mark Hogan, Rickie Jones and two-time Norwalk winner Vincent Nobile to advance to the final round and earn lane choice against Johnson. Johnson jumped back to second in points with his sixth finals appearance in 2013.

“Having lane choice was huge, very huge for me,” Edwards said. “I had a car that could really go down the right lane, and when we got lane choice for the final, that really helped.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith claimed his 14th career win and first since 2011, a span of 34 races. Smith went 6.954 at 192.44 on his Viper Motorcycle Company Racing Buell en route to the victory against Scotty Pollacheck, who had a final round time of 7.008 at 191.16 on his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell.

The day got even sweeter for Smith as his father Rickie Smith won in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

“It’s been a hard road to get back here,” Smith said. “I was off on my tune-up a little bit, but we changed motors this morning and it got a little better each round. We’ve been fast on this bike and it was just awesome again (Sunday).”

Smith, who beat Hector Arana, Michael Ray and teammate John Hall to reach the final round, moved to third in the points standings with the victory. Hector Arana Jr. remained in first and Ray closed the gap in second, while Smith becomes the fourth different winner in the class through Pro Stock Motorcycle’s seven events.

“This is the way the class should be,” Smith said. “Anybody can win at any time right now. We’ve been the most consistent (team) right now, but anybody can win. It’s so easy to lose that final round, but I was good on the tree all weekend.”

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues July 19-21 with the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver.

Event Essentials:  Summit Racing Equipment Nationals  (July 4-7th, 2013) – Norwalk Ohio

TOP FUEL Name ET MPH Career Win
Winner: Kahlid alBalooshi 3.935 271.30 2nd
R/UP: Doug Kalitta 4.215 268.54  
Low ET: Shawn Langdon 3.752    
Top Speed: Doug Kalitta   327.74  
Bump Spot:   4.021    
FUNNY CAR Name ET MPH Career Win
Winner: Johnny Gray 4.103 314.03 7th
R/UP: Ron Capps 4.103 314.09  
Low ET: John Force 4.021    
Top Speed: Courtney Force   319.67  
Bump Spot:   7.547    
PRO STOCK Name ET MPH Career Win
Winner: Mike Edwards 6.616 209.56 38th
R/UP: Allen Johnson 15.96  52.46  
Low ET: Allen Johnson 6.592    
Top Speed: Mike Edwards   209.92  
Bump Spot:   N/A    15 cars
Winner: Matt Smith 6.954 192.44  
R/UP: Scotty Pollacheck 7.008 191.16 14th 
Low ET: Michael Ray 6.912    
Top Speed: Michael Ray   194.77  
Bump Spot:   7.025    
Winner: Rickie Smith 6.103 240.77  
R/UP: Mike Castellana 6.159 238.60  
Low ET: Mike Castellana 5.878    
Top Speed: Clint Satterfield   245.77  
Bump Spot:   6.236    
LUCAS OIL Sportsman:        
Sportsman Winners: Name ET MPH  
TA Dragster  Dave Hirata  18.93   22.40   
TA Funny Car Kris Hool 5.658 256.84  
Competition Robert Bailey 6.676 199.11  
Super Stock John DiBartolomeo 9.293 138.64  
Stock Randi Lyn Shipp 10.84 119.60  
Super Comp Luke Bogacki 8.934 155.90  
Super Gas Ray Connolly 9.914 155.63  
Top Dragster Vince Musolino 6.712 198.64


Two in a row for “Trickie Rickie”

Rickie Smith won his second straight race in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Series, took over the points lead, and shared a special moment with his son and Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Matt Smith at the seventh annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. The race is the sixth of 10 races in 2013 for NHRA’s popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series.

Rickie Smith stayed red-hot in his nitrous-injected IDG Chevy Camaro, beating Mike Castellana and his nitrous-injected Al-Anabi Racing Camaro in the final with a time of 6.103 seconds at 240.77 mph. Castellana finished with a 6.159 at 238.60.

Wily Rickie Smith scored in Pro Mod class racing.

Wily Rickie Smith scored in Pro Mod class racing.

Rickie Smith then shared the winner’s circle with his son Matt, as he won for the first time in 34 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle. It also marked the first time they have ever won an event together.

“It’s been a heck of a day and we worked pretty frantic the entire time,” said Rickie Smith, who was also the No. 1 qualifier. “I figured both of us may shake in the final and these cars are a handful, but once I got to around 1,000 feet I felt pretty good. When I didn’t see him, I wasn’t going to lift.

“I’m fortunate to have been blessed during my career. It’s hard to pull these wins off at the same time, and it’s just a major accomplishment to do this with my son.”

The second straight victory also sent Smith into the points lead as he jumped defending world champion Troy Coughlin, who lost in the first round in his Chevy Corvette.

The King, N.C. native’s road to victory started with a 6.010 at 239.40 in a first-round win against Chris Juliano. He followed that up by going 5.924 at 243.85 against Danny Rowe and advanced to the final round by powering past Von Smith with a 5.933 at 242.80.

The next NHRA Pro Mod Series race takes place on Aug. 28-Sept. 2 at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

Sportsman Class Upsets!

At the wide-open Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, Dave Hirata broke through for his first national event victory in 13 years and Kris Hool earned his second career title. Seven of the eight semifinalists in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car – everyone but superstar Frank Manzo – had combined for one NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national event win since the turn of the century. Hirata, who last scored at the rain-delayed Englishtown race in September 2000, won Top Alcohol Dragster with an 18-second pass when No. 1 qualifier Ray Martin red-lighted in the final, and Hool ran a consistent 5.65 to take out Fred Tigges in Top Alcohol Funny Car.

Hirata was the only Top Alcohol Dragster driver still around for the semi’s who’d ever won a national event before, though by that point Martin clearly was the favorite. Martin, at the wheel of Hugh Ridley’s blown-alcohol dragster, had low e.t. of both qualifying sessions – matching 5.34s – and low e.t. of each of the first two rounds, back-to-back 5.39s against Canadian Jeff Veale and 2011 event winner Marty Thacker. With his second teen light in a row, Martin defeated ever-improving Robin Samsel on a semifinal holeshot, 5.47 to 5.42.

Hirata qualified just 15th but upset the most accomplished driver in the field, five-time world champ Bill Reichert, in the first round Saturday afternoon, 5.56 to a tire-shaking 5.67. He won all three rounds Sunday at the starting line, starting with Ken Perry in round two on a holeshot and his only run all weekend that would have been quick enough to advance, 5.46 to 5.42. To reach his first final since the 2007 U.S. Nationals, Hirata won the other semifinal match with a 5.54 when rival Brandon Booher red-lighted by the smallest detectable margin, .001 second, nullifying a quicker 5.42.

TAD winner Dave Hirata

TAD winner Dave Hirata

Martin had another .01 light in the final – unfortunately for him, it was a -.012, voiding his 5.50 and handing the win to Hirata, who collected his first Wally since the 2000 season, when he won three times (Atlanta, St. Louis, and Englishtown) and appeared in five finals.

Hool qualified No. 3, behind heavy hitters Tony Bartone and Manzo, who tied for the top spot with 5.594s (Bartone won the tiebreaker on speed, 262.33 mph to 259.91), and had by far the best car all weekend. His final-round 5.65 actually was his slowest run of eliminations. Every other one was between 5.61 and 5.64, highlighted by a 5.61 semifinal win over Manzo, who was coming off low e.t. (5.57) in the previous round. Hool opened eliminations with a 5.64 against John Bojec and took a come-from-behind win over early season point’s leader Dan Pomponio in the quarterfinals, 5.62 to 5.71.

Tigges shut off to a 6.21 in the opening round against 2009 Norwalk runner-up Chris Foster, who banged the blower, and made his best run of the event, 5.65, in a second-round decision over Lance Van Hauen, who had taken out Bartone in the first round when Bartone got over the centerline.

Tigges idled down track on a semifinal single when Paul Noakes was shut off at the line with an oil leak following a between-rounds thrash. Both drivers had one previous final-round appearance, both against Manzo. Tigges, whose other final came in a barrage of 5.50s at the 2011 U.S. Nationals, cut a .015 light in the final and was ahead by a full tenth at the 60-foot mark but shook the tires and had to lift.

With the win, Hool, who was coming off five consecutive first-round losses, leaped back into the top 10 with his second career title and first since Brainerd in 2011. Martin is up to fourth in the Top Alcohol Dragster standings and has been to at least two fewer races than all three drivers ahead of him – Jim Whiteley, Chris Demke, and Rich McPhillips.

Robert Baily and Luke Bogacki added to their national event win totals as Baily grabbed his ninth and Bogacki his sixth.  Baily ran down Brian Browll in the final of Comp Eliminator with a 6.676 second lap at 199.11 mph as Browell clocked in at 7.285, 183 mph.  Bogacki took the Super Comp title when Tom Hunter broke out with an 8.889 second run on the 8.90 dial.  Bogacki ran 8.934 seconds at 155.70 mph.

Jeff Pittman and Vince Musolino each captured their first NHRA national event wins this weekend.  Pittman ousted Marco Abruzzi in Top Sportsman with a 0.008 second reaction time and a 6.717 second lap at 182.35 mph.  Abruzzi who has won the last two national events clocked in at 6.835, 203.34 mph.  Musolino was also 0.008 on the tree with a 6.712 second pass on his 6.70 dial for the win and the Top Dragster trophy defeating the quicker JB Strassweg,  6.548, 203.00.

Other racers visiting the winner’s circle this weekend were Ray Connolly who led from start to finish in Super Gas over Steven Fields for his second win in a row, John Di Bartolomeo went seven rounds for the Super Stock win over Lenard Mattingly, and Randi Lyn Shipp had a 0.003 reaction time and a 0.014 package in Stock to beat out Ryan Richardson.

Results courtesy of NHRA Communications & Eric Lotz

All Photos by :  Steve Embling and Brennan Shortall

To view DragRaceCanada’s Norwalk Event Photo Gallery – click :  HERE