The Big Wait is over – champions crowned
The Big Wait was worth it for followers of NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing, as Tony Schumacher won his ninth career Top Fuel title at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, breaking a tie with Big Daddy Don Garlits, who unfortunately couldn’t be there to cheer on the driver – he did so from home where he lauded Schumacher and his team for their use of an enclosed cockpit (something Garlits checked out decades ago).
In Funny Car, Mike Neff scored his second straight Nationals Wally for John Force Racing, giving that team a boost heading into the Countdown to One six-race playoffs to anoint new 2012 champions. Teammate Courtney Force had the No. 1 qualifier mark but fell in the quarter-finals to Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver Johnny Gray when she smoked the tires midway down the 1,000-foot dragstrip. Neff’s Ford Mustang defeated Tim Wilkerson’s similar machine in the finals, both drivers holding the distinction of both tuning and driving their racecars – no easy feat. With this result, Wilk made the Countdown, but his oil-down cost him 10 points.
Pro Stock driver Erica Enders has been on a roll of late, the first woman to win in her category and, coming into the Nationals a three-race winner this year. She, along with Courtney Force was top qualifier in her class – marking a first for the series which is currently touting this as a “year of the woman”. Quite frankly, I thought that every year in NHRA drag racing (that I’ve worked) has been a “year of the woman” with outstanding drivers in every class, but silly me. Enders fell to co-crew chief Dave Connolly, who earned his third U.S. Nationals victory; it was a difficult pill for Enders to swallow as this was a driver’s meeting with equal equipment.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Harley-Davidson’s V-Rods continue to rule. They haven’t lost a race since 2011, but this weekend the win light went to Andrew Hines, who’s been racing at Indy since 2002 but still didn’t have a U.S. Nationals Wally in his trophy case – until Sunday. Hines was suitably excited to have, once again, beaten a Buell, this one ridden by Hector Arana, who had engine failure shortly after the hit. Teammate and point leader Eddie Krawiec fell to Arana in the semi-finals when he uncharacteristically fouled out.
Pro Mod went to Brad Brand, who customarily tunes the R2B2 team cars for Leah Pruett and team owner Roger Burgess; the latter was unable to compete last weekend and handed the ride to Brand, who only qualified 17th. As first alternate, Brand got the nod when other competitors opted for an ADRL competition held the same weekend and he made the most of the opportunity.
The second weekend of U.S. Nationals competition was notable for the disappearances in early rounds of several championship contenders: Top Fuel sensation Steve Torrence was knocked out in the first round by JR Todd; Doug Kalitta fell to Brandon Bernstein when he hazed the tires; John Force smoked ’em in the first round in Funny Car; F/C point leader Ron Capps couldn’t handle the left lane and fell to teammate Matt Hagan (last year’s champ didn’t even make the playoffs in 2012); and Jack Beckman didn’t make it past the first round when a $5 part broke on his engine (!).
Four-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin was out in the first round, as were reigning champ Jason Line, former champ Mike Edwards and another four-time champion, Greg Anderson. Last year’s winner, Greg Stanfield fell to Allen Johnson in round one.
With what would have been a long weekend to begin with – starting the Wednesday before Labor Day and continuing (as it had been scheduled) to Labor Day Monday – stretching to an extra two days of competition, the NHRA Full Throttle teams have only a few days to march on to Charlotte and zMax Dragway, where the Countdown to One begins in earnest for all four racing categories.
Hopefully they get better weather conditions for competition than they did at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Indiana.
By Anne Proffit