Photos: Courtesy of NHRA
The Sunday of the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals at the zMAX Dragway had completed the first rounds of eliminations in Top Fuel and Funny Car, and Pro Stock competition was three pairs in when the pairing of V Gaines’ Dodge Dart racing against Allen Johnson saw both cars experience tire shake, moving around the lane. Johnson dove to the centerline clipping the 330 feet block and then not knowing his opponent was disqualified, Gaines raced onward to the finish line.
As his speed increased down the quarter-mile suddenly he went violently out of control and crashed past the finish line rolling over four times in his round win over Allen Johnson. He was uninjured in the incident, checked out by the NHRA Safety Safari and will be allowed to use a replacement car for the continuation of eliminations in Texas.
“Nobody made it down that left lane so I was fully prepared to let out of it the minute it did anything stupid,” said Gaines who came into the Countdown eighth in points. “I was going right down the middle of the groove and everything was good. I knew I was ahead of Allen (Johnson) and then, boy, it just went. It just took a left turn on me and there was no correcting. It was just gone.
“I’m sad to lose the new car but we’ll come back from this,” Gaines said. “We’re here to fight in the Countdown. It was a hard way to get twenty points but we’ll get our (Dodge) Avenger out and do what we can.”
Then upon track inspection, NHRA officials saw problems with grip of the track surface and then to make matters worse, it started to rain forcing postponement of the event.
Eliminations will now be completed concurrently during the qualifying sessions next weekend at the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex due to time constraints of the teams now having to travel over a thousand miles to Dallas.
“It’s unfortunate when you’re dealt these cards, it’s sometimes a hard decision to make,” said NHRA senior vice president of racing operations, Graham Light in an ESPN2 interview. “The rain today and in the afternoon, it’s no decision there; you just can’t run. So we postponed today. Then we looked at what our options were and as we get into this time of year, we kind of box ourselves back into the corner where we have to get these events in before the (Auto Club NHRA) Finals, obviously for our awards ceremonies and winter is coming to certain parts of the United States. Also, we’re at the start of four in a row. So looking at the logistics of getting from here to Dallas and being set up and being running on Thursday just really made it impossible to run on Monday. Some of the teams have sponsor commitments and personal driver appearances. In fairness to the teams to get from here to Dallas took tomorrow off the table. We looked at the schedule and after Dallas, we run St. Louis and Reading and that puts us into October. We thought about coming back after Reading, well that happens to be the weekend of Charlotte’s (Sprint) Cup race.”
In the first round of eliminations, Shane Gray, Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line and V. Gaines all won their opening Pro Stock rounds.
“The main thing is that everyone is okay,” said U.S. Nationals champion, Gray, who defeated Richie Stevens in a tire chattering first round race of 6.911 seconds. “We’ll pack up today and move on down the road to Dallas at the end of this week and finish up. The Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaros are ready to get this Countdown started; it’s just going to start up a little later than we anticipated. We like going to Dallas, and it’ll be good to get there and finish what we started.”
Jason Line set Pro Stock low ET of the event during the first round of eliminations with an ultra-quick 6.533 time at 210.93 mph in the left lane. “When we do get to finish this race, my Chevrolet Camaro will be ready,” said Line, who won the rain-delayed Lucas Oil Nationals that were supposed to be completed in Brainerd but were instead contested two weeks later at the U.S. Nationals. “Maybe that will work out for us again.”
Four first-round Pro Stock pairs remain, including Erica Enders-Stevens vs. John Gaydosh; Jonathan Gray vs. Rodger Brogdon; Vincent Nobile vs. Larry Morgan; and Dave Connolly vs. Shane Tucker including the entire elimination field of the Pro Stock Motorcycle category.
Top Fuel quarterfinal pairings are J.R. Todd vs. Spencer Massey; Billy Torrence vs. Tony Schumacher; Steve Torrence vs. Leah Pritchett; and Morgan Lucas vs. Khalid
There were multiple upsets in the in the Top Fuel first round as Morgan Lucas beat No. 1 seated Doug Kalitta. Spencer Massey took out No. 2 Antron Brown , and Al-Anabi teammates raced each other with Khalid alBalooshi taking out No. 3, Shawn Langdon. Leah Pritchett overturned Brittany Force by two-thousandths of a second (.002) on a slight hole shot. That consequence is leaving an open door for Countdown contenders, No. 4, Tony Schumacher, No. 5 Steve Torrence, who made swift work of U.S. Nationals champion, No. 8 Richie Crampton and No. 10, J.R. Todd to be selected for quick advancement up the standings.
“We’re going to move to Dallas with five races left in the Countdown and we’ll be ready,” said Antron Brown, who has won five event titles this year and last year failed to make the field in Charlotte. “We definitely can say we’re off to a better start in the Countdown than we were last year. We’re motivated and hungry right now – we’re starving right now. Trust me; it will be game-on when we get to Dallas.”
The quarterfinal pairings in Funny Car are Dave Richards vs. John Force; Bob Tasca III vs. Ron Capps; Robert Hight vs. Jeff Arend; and Matt Hagan vs. Tim Wilkerson. .
“It’s going to be pretty interesting to see how we do this in Dallas, with three rounds left to run while we’re also qualifying,” said Funny Car driver, Tim Wilkerson after defeating Jack Beckman. “When we do the Traxxas Shootout at Indy you have to weigh whether winning a round in that is more important than making sure you get qualified for the U.S. Nationals, because that’s two different approaches in terms of staging the car and the tune-up, especially if you’re not well up on the sheet. We’re definitely going to have a lot going on next weekend, with two races in one. At least we got that round win today, so we’re a part of it next weekend too.”
Likewise in Funny Car, points makers would make advances when Jeff Arend defeated Del Worsham, John Force won over daughter, Courtney, and the most significant was the No. 1 qualifier, Alexis DeJoria being thumped by Dave Richards in a tire spinning round.
“We got our second No. 1 qualifier of the season and picked up those crucial bonus points so the weekend wasn’t a total loss,” said DeJoria who most recently added ‘first woman to win three Funny Car races within a single season’ to her long list of accomplishments. “But unfortunately we were plagued by that No. 1 qualifier curse. It was just like back in Atlanta earlier this season when we were the top seeded qualifier, and then on Sunday, lost in the first round,” said DeJoria. “This was not the way we wanted to start out the Countdown, of course, but it is what it is; it just wasn’t our day today. We’ll be alright; we have a strong team and a fast, consistent car. We’ll move on to the next race and work hard to make sure we remain a strong contender for the series title.”
Due to the unexpected change of racing locations, Dave Richards and Leah Prichett won’t be able to contend next weekend because of limited budget constraints with sponsor commitments to other races.
With one round of Pro nitro eliminations complete, fans attending Sunday’s event at zMAX Dragway are entitled to a 50 percent credit for a one-day ticket to either NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event at zMAX Dragway in 2015.
Next weekend will be the 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex on September, 19 – 21.