Photos: Courtesy of NHRA, JFR Racing/Gary Nastase
The biggest news out of the Kansas NHRA Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, in a sea of exciting racing, was clearly Courtney Force taking the 100th win for women. Dodging rain showers which once again cancelled Friday night’s second session and delayed Saturday’s qualifying by a couple of hours, the event turned into an all-Force nitro front row after both Force sisters qualified No. 1 in each of their respective categories of Funny Car and Top Fuel, injecting another first for women and siblings alike into the NHRA record books.
Qualifying was just the beginning of Courtney’s stellar weekend of racing. She won the Funny Car title at the Kansas Nationals in the Traxxas Ford Mustang, securing the 100th victory for female professionals in the premiere NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series. After coming so close to victory last weekend in Atlanta, she finally defeated Cruz Pedregon this week to take the exclusive ‘Pink” Wally for John Force Racing.
“This is huge. You could see the emotion on my face after I lost last weekend,” said an expressive Force. “It is a big deal and it is a milestone for women. Every girl out here wanted to get it. I was crushed after last weekend because I thought to myself that opportunity will never come again and that chance to get 100 will be gone forever. I am still trying to soak it in right now.”
The win was not without some self-inflicted drama. Force admitted that nerves and pressure were at an all-time high as she rolled her Ford Mustang Funny Car up to face the two-time Mello Yello Funny Car champion, Pedregon. As she tried to give herself every starting line advantage, she inadvertently lit the pre-stage and stage bulbs before Cruz had a chance to pre-stage. This racing faux pas weighed heavily on Force both before and after she ran.
“I almost screwed up on the starting line. I almost failed at my job,” said a shaken Force. ”I was so nervous and the pressure was through the roof. I was pulling up to the starting line and all I was thinking was Cruz got a hole shot on Robert (teammate, Hight). I didn’t want to lose on a hole shot, too. I screwed up and rolled it too much and lit both bulbs before he was even staged. I left when I needed to. I apologized to Cruz and I sure as heck wasn’t trying to screw him up. I screwed myself up. Luckily, we got away with it today.”
This was Courtney Force’s first win in three final round meetings with Cruz Pedregon to whom she lost in the final at the last race of 2012 at Pomona and the first 2013 race at Las Vegas. It’s the second time she has gone wire-to-wire for a win as the No. 1 qualifier. She also won from No. 1 at Pomona in 2013. This was the first time in her career that she has achieved back-to-back finals. It was the 231st Funny Car win for John Force Racing and continued a streak of 15 consecutive final rounds for the team and now four wins in a row.
C. Force was the No. 1 qualifier, set low ET (4.009) and Top Speed (322.96) on the way to her fourth career win which ties her with sister Ashley Force Hood. The Traxxas Ford Mustang driver defeated Dale Creasy Jr., Jeff Arend and Tommy Johnson Jr. to reach her final round race with Pedregon.
For Cruz Pedregon, taking out red-hot Robert Hight in the first round helped him achieve milestone of his own–taking his 500th round win on that holeshot victory and becoming the 14th different NHRA driver to attain that goal.
“I’m sure the 500th win is something we’ll look back on fondly, but right now it’s difficult to celebrate after a tough loss in the final,” Pedregon said. “That final was extremely disappointing, but on the bright side, we’re headed in the right direction.”
Don Schumacher Racing’s Top Fuel pilot, Spencer Massey, took home his second Top Fuel win in just six days. Massey and his team, led by crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler, started the week by winning Monday in the rain-delayed Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event near Atlanta and added the title at Topeka by eliminating DSR teammate Tony Schumacher in the first round. They also beat Terry McMillen and Brittany Force before getting past reigning Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon of Al-Anabi Racing in the final round.
It is Massey’s 16th national event title and the sixth in Top Fuel over eight events to give DSR a total of 225.
Massey earned his second Top Fuel victory in a row defeating defending world champion Shawn Langdon in the final round. Massey sped to a performance of 3.871seconds at 314.02 mph in his Schumacher Electric dragster to Langdon’s Al-Anabi Racing dragster slowing time of 4.278 seconds at 233.68 mph. Massey, who won at Heartland Park for the second time in three final rounds over the past four years, moved up two spots to third in the Mello Yello championship standings to third. DSR teammate Antron Brown, who lost in the first round, was able to hold the No. 2 spot and trails points-leader Doug Kalitta by 30 points
“I went to (crew chief Phil Shuler) before the final round and reminded him the sun was out just like the run before,” Massey said. “We didn’t want to beat ourselves. We wanted to go down the track and make them beat us. When you can beat Alan Johnson’s race car, especially with a good leaver like Shawn Langdon in the seat; that’s saying something. You’re racing a championship-caliber team every time you race an Al-Anabi car.”
“Whenever you get your momentum going, everything seems to fall into place. I like these races that are back-to-back-to-back. When the summer months come along and it gets hot, that weather works well with our tune-up.”
The Ft. Worth, Texas driver will have a chance to sweep the first three-race swing on the 2014 NHRA schedule as the series heads to historic Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. next weekend. Massy won the Englishtown race in 2011.
Brittany Force qualified in the No. 1 position on the Top Fuel ladder for the first time of her young career skirting J.R. Todd by a slim margin to run 3.746 seconds, 329.75 mph to take the dragster pole position.
Dodge Dart driver Allen Johnson raced to his second victory in three years and third straight final-round appearance at the NHRA Kansas Nationals, defeating teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in a repeat of last year’s all-Mopar final at Heartland Park Topeka. Flipping the results from his runner-up finish against Coughlin at the venue in 2013, Johnson drove to his class-leading third victory of the season, third overall at Topeka and 23rd of his career.
Following on the heels of Coughlin’s win in the rain-delayed NHRA Atlanta event on Monday, Johnson’s triumph is the second in less than a week for Mopar Dodge Dart drivers, and third overall since Johnson inaugurated the new Mopar Dodge Dart Pro Stock body with a win in its race debut at the NHRA Gatornationals in March. Counting Johnson’s victory at Phoenix in his since retired Dodge Avenger, Mopar Pro Stockers have accounted for four wins in the eight 2014 NHRA events held to date.
Johnson, who moved up to second in the Pro Stock standings with his win now trails leader Erica Enders-Stevens by 85 points. On Sunday he used a 6.676 elapsed time at 206.95 mph to defeat Larry Morgan to begin eliminations and a time of 6.637 seconds, 207.21 mph to best Shane Gray in the quarterfinals. Johnson’s quick reflexes proved the difference against points leader Erica Enders-Stevens in the semis. The pair posted identical runs, Johnson with a time of 6.657 seconds, 206.32 mph and Enders-Stevens with a matching 6.657 ET but with a faster speed of 206.51 mph. Johnson took the holeshot win with a quicker .022 reaction time to his opponent’s .046 to set up an all-Mopar showdown with Coughlin.
Coughlin, hot off his Atlanta victory, dispatched Rodger Brogdon, Dave Connolly and Vincent Nobile to reach the money round. Johnson, the overall 2012 Pro Stock series champ, was once again first out of the gate with a .028 to the .048 reaction time posted by Coughlin, the defending series champ. Johnson never trailed, recording a time of 6.663 seconds, 207.18 mph to Coughlin’s 6.664 elapsed time at 207.05 mph to earn his third Topeka Wally trophy, following victories in 2009 and 2012.
“What a great relief when you get to the final with your teammate,” said Johnson, who combined with his 2010 runner-up at Topeka now, has five final appearances in the last six years at the venue. “You feel like you’ve won either way. Any time I’m in a final with Jeg, it raises my IQ about 50 points, because he’s that good. It makes me want to be better to race him and gets me up for the challenge.
“We’ve been struggling just a little bit. We finally got a handle on Jeggy’s car at the last race, and in the second round today we got a handle on mine. This team just keeps battling. It doesn’t matter what it is, every single run we’re just attacking the car, and that’s just the way this team is. To have half the wins this year (in the class) in our camp is a pretty good feeling.”
With his runner-up spot, Coughlin moved to fourth in the Pro Stock standings. Jason Line is third leaving Johnson in second and Erica Enders-Stevens still leading.
The famous Old Bridge Township Raceway Park is next for the Toyota Summernationals on May 30-June 1.