Photos: Courtesy of the NHRA
The rain-delayed Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals finished up on Monday afternoon in what turned out to be one of the wackiest NHRA weekends in a long time.
In addition to the rain, numerous oil downs delayed qualifying runs; and three separate explosions and accidents, one of which put Antron Brown in a backup car after a major crash Friday night, while Tim Wilkerson and Jack Beckman’s Funny Car engine explosions caused irreversible damage to their flopper shells, kept everyone breathless.
When the clouds finally departed on Sunday evening, the first round started at 7 p.m. But after running five pairs of Top Fuelers with tire slippage, tire smoke and a near catastrophe, the NHRA decided it was a lost cause and waved off eliminations until Monday morning.
Robert Hight parlayed crew chief Mike Neff’s hard charging tune up in negotiating an extremely tricky Atlanta Dragway to win the Funny Car portion of the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals. It was Hight’s fourth win of 2014, third in a row in his sixth consecutive final round and now 33rd overall Funny Car win.
Hight was racing teammate Courtney Force for the first time in a final round and there was history to be made no matter who took the win light. The youngest Force was chasing the 100th win by a female NHRA pro competitor. Hight, who won his 300th round win with a victory over Bob Bode in the first round, was trying to extend his final round streak and move up in the all-time Funny Car win list. He is now only one win behind Cruz Pedregon (34) and two wins behind Don “The Snake” Prudhomme (35) out of 5th and 4th place, respectively.
“It’s kind of funny that Courtney and I have never raced in final. Usually the boss (John Force) hogs it and he’s in there with the other one. Actually, the first non-John Force all JFR final was Eric Medlin and myself, otherwise it had always been John with one of his other teammates. So, it’s pretty cool, you know, it would’ve been a big win for Courtney but we have a lot of momentum, we want to make some history here,” Hight explains. “This is six straight final rounds. I’ve never done this and six out of seven (races). I’ve won three in a row a few times but I want to win four or even five in a row. I want to see where we can go. We got to take it one round at a time and that’s what we’re doing, it’s a total team effort.
“Mike Neff has a calming effect on me; you have a lot of confidence as driver with him out in front of you. Last night, when everything was going on with the starting line and cars weren’t making it down the track and crew chiefs were making rash decisions decide what they were going to do, Mike Neff was Mr. Cool. He stood back and said ‘I think the track is getting better every round with every pair that runs. We’re not going to do anything until it gets to our turn then, then we’re going to see what we’re faced with,’” said Hight.
This was the 42nd all-JFR final round and it assured the 230th Funny Car win for John Force Racing. This was the 14th straight race in which the JFR team has had a least one of its Fords in the final round. Courtney Force was the sixth different teammate Hight has opposed in a final round joining John Force, Neff, Eric Medlen, Ashley Force Hood and Phil Burkart Jr.
Spencer Massey completed the first round of racing on Sunday, approximately eight hours late due to persistent rains. Shortly after Massey won a pedal-fest against opening round opponent J.R. Todd, NHRA officials called the event due to challenging track conditions.
“That was wild,” Massey said. “You win first round and you go back and the guys typically start thrashing getting ready for second round but we didn’t have that here. They got to rest between first and second rounds which typically isn’t the case.”
The Top Fuel Schumacher Electric machine took to the track on Monday against Clay Millican and DSR teammate Antron Brown before facing Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta in the final round.
“That is not an easy day of racing,” Massey said. “When you race a DSR teammate in the semifinals and Antron had such a great race car we knew it was going to be tough. It was tricky out there for sure but these guys pulled together and we got the win.
It wasn’t Spencer’s first career Monday win. He also scored a Monday Wally trophy at Maple Grove Raceway in 2011.
“I was thinking about that this morning actually,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe that’s my thing. I’d take a Wally every day if they gave one out. Atlanta Dragway is actually a special place to me. I got two wins in the (Top) Alcohol dragster here in 2007 and 2008 so it’s great to be back in the Winner’s Circle here again.”
It was the Battery Extender’s first event title since last season in Brainerd, Minn., and Spencer’s 15th career title.
Antron Brown clearly had the quickest car of eliminations, recording a time of 4.74 seconds in the quarterfinals and grabbed the points lead away from Doug Kalitta by seven. Kalitta was the No.1 Top Fuel qualifier with a track record ET of 3.73 seconds. Steve Torrence maintained his record of semi-finals appearances making it six in the last seven races, keeping him third in the points tally.
The strength of Jeg Coughlin Jr. and the JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge team was on full display Monday at Atlanta Dragway.
Coughlin and his team bounced back from a “comedy of errors” earlier in the weekend, and the five-time Pro Stock champion scored his 57th career victory in the ultra-competitive class.
Coughlin capped the race and the weekend against four-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson in a battle of two of the sport’s best. After both were stellar on the Christmas Tree, Coughlin sped away with a pass of 6.558 seconds at 211.63 mph to edge Anderson’s 6.588 at 212.13 mph.
“He was doing one heck of a job behind the wheel today and was sawing the Tree down,” Coughlin said. “We knew we’d have to be on our best behavior in the final. It was a great win for us.”
The victory was Coughlin’s first of the season after winning the 2013 Pro Stock championship.
“Winning the championship was fantastic, and we really felt like we had a ton of momentum coming into 2014,” Coughlin said. “To see some of the pit falls we’ve been through, we wanted to pull our hair out, but as a team we said, ‘Listen, we need to be patient, we need to double-check each other, and we need to do as good a job as we can getting this car to go straight and be as efficient as it can, and results like today would have the opportunity to happen.’ ”
Coughlin started the day in a matchup with teammate Johnson, but the race ended quickly when Johnson’s Dodge Dart struggled off the starting line. Coughlin’s pass was 6.636 seconds at 210.87 mph, and it put him against Erica Enders-Stevens in the second round.
Enders-Stevens won the most recent race in Houston, and was the No. 1 qualifier in Atlanta, but Coughlin had an immediate advantage of .044-second with a .026-second reaction time and was never behind. Enders-Stevens’ run was 6.533 seconds at 209.52 mph while Coughlin advanced to the semifinals with an improving 6.551 at 211.30 mph.
“We had an extremely tall mountain to climb,” Coughlin said. “We redistributed the car a little bit against Erica. She was low for the round, and we knew they’d be tough. I felt like we’d have to get a couple hundredths out of the gate to keep us out in front and fortunately we were able to get that and get the car much happier.”
Coughlin got off the line first again against Jason Line in the semifinals, and his pass of 6.548 seconds at 211.33 mph held off Line’s 6.554 at 212.16 mph.
That set up the epic battle with Anderson, and Coughlin savored the Wally after the win.
“This is one of the marquee events on the NHRA tour,” Coughlin said. “As a kid I remember coming here and watching my dad and later coming to watch my brother John race. Atlanta Dragway has always been a place where you want to do well. Fortunately, we’ve had great success here.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Eddie Krawiec was the dominant racer all weekend in Pro Stock Motorcycle, racing to victory as the No. 1 qualifier over teammate Andrew Hines with a final round performance of 6.806 seconds at 197.45 mph on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley Davidson. It was the first win of the season for Krawiec, a three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion.
“We’re happy to be back and winning,” said Krawiec, whose team had to make major changes to its engine program after off-season rules adjustments. “Going into the first year of the race, we were respectable but missed the tune-up on Sunday. We went to Charlotte and ran to what we were expecting but still hadn’t finished our R&D process and all of the new components we’d been working on all winter long. We weren’t totally happy and felt we needed more performance because we thought we’d have to be spot-on the tune-up to run with everybody. We went back to the shop and really put forth the effort.”
It was Krawiec’s third career win at Atlanta Dragway. He sits second in points behind runner-up Hines. Hines was in his second final of the season, taking victory at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte last month.
Up next for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing tour will be the Kansas Nationals from Heartland Park Topeka on May 23 – 25.