Photos: Courtesy of NHRA Media
On a broiling Sunday afternoon with track temps close to 140 degrees, Tony Schumacher did his own version of the Top Fuel Texas Two-Step, winning both the rain-delayed Carolina Nationals and Dallas’ NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex.
Saturday’s win brought Schumacher to the rare NHRA milestone – a 75th Top Fuel win, with Sunday’s victory netting him No. 76. The wins vaulted him from fourth place in the Mello Yello standings to first with a 106-point lead.
Courtney Force wrangled through a tough Funny Car grid to win her sixth career Wally, while Dave Connolly took out his Gray Racing Pro Stock rivals and Andrew Hines corralled the Lone Star Pro Stock Motorcycle field.
Charlotte winners were Tony Schumacher, Matt Hagan, first-time winner Jonathan Gray, and Eddie Krawiec.
Tony Schumacher, who is now calling Austin, TX home, had his U.S. Army/Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel team marching him straight to victory lane defeating J.R. Todd in Sunday’s AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals finals and on Saturday taking down Khalid alBalooshi in the makeup for the Charlotte race.
Schumacher Racing’s crew chief, Mike Green, put together back-to-back wins for the Sarge and opened up a 106-point lead in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship with four races remaining.
Schumacher opened Sunday’s elimination rounds by beating Leah Pritchett with a pass of at 3.817 seconds at 320.97 mph. In the second round, he raced past Bob Vandergriff with a lap of 3.854 seconds at 320.05 mph. In the semifinal, Schumacher triumphed over Troy Buff, which advanced him to his fourth Top Fuel final of the season, where he surged to his fourth victory of the season with a lap of 3.891 seconds at 318.62 mph over J.R. Todd. The victory was earned at the same racetrack where “The Sarge” earned his first career Top Fuel victory in 1999.
“This ranks right at the top – right at the top,” Schumacher said, Top Fuel’s most prolific driver. “I’ll tell you what; I don’t know that it has ever been done before. I don’t know that anyone has ever had the opportunity. We’ll see a rainout and we’ll run a final round somewhere else, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this where you’ve actually had to dig that deep, that many times in a row. We are in the lead and we have to stay ahead now. We are going right to St. Louis and then right to Reading. It’s brutal. There’s no time for a break, no time for rest, but with that being said, with the fantastic momentum that we have going right now, I don’t want a break. I want to dominate. I want to leave Reading with a couple-hundred-point lead and go to Vegas and close the deal. That’s how we roll. We have a team absolutely capable of doing that. We won seven straight rounds this weekend, and I think it says a lot about where we are right now.”
Never before had the NHRA run two events in one as the Carolina Nationals continued in Ennis, and that extra race was a tremendous task asked of the drag racing crews.
“It’s an unbelievable situation,” said Schumacher. “We’ve won two races in less than 24 hours. My family drove up, I won a race, we went to dinner, went to bed, came back, and won another race in under 24 hours.
“We have a 100-point leading going into two more back-to-back races. It’s brutal pressure. Going into with this much momentum places that pressure on other people. Some will be able to handle it; some won’t.”
Steve Torrence is second in the points behind Schumacher by 106 points. Doug Kalitta, who started the Countdown to the Championship as the No. 1 seed, sits third with 107 points in arrears. Defending world champ Shawn Langdon is in fourth and Todd, who entered the playoffs in 10th, climbed to fifth in the standings.
Courtney Force and her John Force Racing/TRAXXAS Funny Car team rebounded from an early exit last weekend in Charlotte winning the pole in Texas; and on Sunday won the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals. She defeated Tony Pedregon, teammate Robert Hight, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Del Worsham en route to her first victory at the Texas Motorplex. She has officially moved up to the No. 4 spot in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship point standings.
“I looked at the ladder and thought, ‘Man, I could be bumping into my teammates from second round through the semis,’ and I wasn’t about to have a weekend like last weekend in Charlotte when my dad took me out in the first round,” said Force, a three-time winner this season. “It felt good to go some rounds out here today and end up in the Winner’s Circle. Thank you to (crew chiefs) Ron Douglas and Dan Hood for giving me a great race car in the heat and getting me down the race track on every run, and on both sides of the track; in the right and the left lane. I’m very proud of my team and glad that we could get this win for TRAXXAS in their home state of Texas. It was just focusing on a round at a time.”
In the second round Force took on her brother-in-law, Robert Hight, the No. 2 seed in the NHRA Mello Yello point standings, but the 26-year-old driver took the win, posting a 4.161 elapsed time at 305.49 mph, the second quickest elapsed time of race day while Hight ran a time of 4.214 at 300.80 mph.
“Second round going up against Robert,” said Force. “My main goal was to get qualified, get in the top (of the field) and hopefully we’re on opposite sides of the ladder. Unfortunately, I qualified No. 1 and still had to race a teammate in the second round. Luckily for us we were able to go around and get that win, because that was a huge win for us. Obviously they are our biggest competition even though they are my teammates. They’re definitely our biggest competition out here because they’ve got great race cars and they’ve got fast ones for sure. They’re keeping it consistent and that’s the hardest thing to break so I’m definitely proud of my team to come out here and make some great laps, especially in the heat of Texas. I think that’s a huge accomplishment that I think my guys need to take a lot of credit for. They’re keeping it consistent, and that’s the hardest thing to break, so I’m proud of my team to come out here and make some great laps – especially out here in the heat of Texas.”
Her father, John retains the Funny Car points lead by 45 over teammate Hight. Matt Hagan is in third and Ron Capps and Alexis DeJoria are tied for fifth.
Gray Motorsports continued to shine at this weekend’s NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex, putting an exclamation point on an exceptional weekend. Dave Connolly drove his Chevrolet Camaro to a final-round victory over teammate and No. 1 qualifier Shane Gray, driver of the Gray Manufacturing Chevrolet Camaro. It was Connolly’s second victory of the season in his fourth final round, and the triumph moved the Mooresville, N.C.-based driver up from No. 8 to No. 2 in the Pro Stock standings with four races remaining in the 2014 Countdown to the Championship.
“You know, I’ve been very blessed,” said Connolly, now a three-time winner at Texas Motorplex. “I’ve had a lot of great opportunities, but I’ve got to say that racing with Gray Motorsports is one of the best opportunities I’ve had. It’s pretty incredible to race with such a great group of guys, and the whole family – the friendship we’ve created over the course of this year is unbelievable. We’re out here having fun, and it couldn’t be better. The engine shop is giving us a lot of power, and we’re trying to utilize it the best we can out here. We definitely like the direction we’re headed right now.”
On race day, Connolly got past an easy opening round when Shane Tucker broke, but he had his work cut out for him in the second act when Allen Johnson ran a 6.607 with the quickest mile per hour of the round, 210.47. Connolly was predictably on his game and launched well ahead of AJ with a stout .005-second reaction time and closed the door with a 6.603, 209.33 at the finish line stripe.
The win was rewarded with a semifinals meeting with Charlotte winner, Jonathan Gray, and although his familiar opponent was first to leave the starting line, Connolly got the win with low elapsed time of the round, 6.616 seconds, 209.85 mph to 6.651, 207.21.
In the final, both Connolly and Shane Gray had respectable reaction times (Gray was .039 at the tree to Connolly’s .028), and they raced side-by-side down the quarter-mile dragstrip to put matching 6.61s on the scoreboard, both at just over 210 mph. Connolly’s ET in his Chevy Camaro, however, was just a touch quicker for the win, 6.616 to 6.617 seconds, respectively.
Connolly made history in Dallas: the victory, the 25th of his career in Pro Stock, tied him with two-time world champion Jim Yates as the 10th winningest driver in the class. Connolly has logged 46 final rounds (including the 4-Wide Nationals final in 2011) and is now tied with Texas Pro Stock legend Lee Shepherd for 11th all time in Pro Stock finals.
“We have a great team, and we’re very happy with how things turned out here in Texas. There are still a lot of races left, though. We’re going to keep our eyes on the prize and dig deep.”
With the victory Connolly is now 43 points behind leader Jason Line, with Shane Gray third, Enders-Stevens fourth and Jonathan Gray fifth.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Andrew Hines secured his fifth Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the season with ease, as his opponent Steve Johnson was unable to make the finals due to mechanical issues with his Suzuki. Hines notched his first Dallas win and 37th of his career with his performance of 7.571 at 186.54 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. With the victory, he moves into the points lead over teammate Eddie Krawiec.
“We changed a bunch of stuff, hard parts, key strokes in the computer and it finally all came together in that last qualifying session,” Hines said. “It got better and better and we are starting to see the results and the E.T. on the board. I’ve been to three or four engines and this one finally responded.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs continues with the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis, Sept. 26-28.