Photos: Courtesy the NHRA
As the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship reaches its halfway point with three races down, the racing is heating up with some of the most exciting competition of the year. All of the teams upped their game this weekend, while a few faces truly shown.
Courtney Force is clearly ready for her first Mello Yello Funny Car championship, with back-to-back wins in Texas and at Sunday’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals may be the ticket. Antron Brown is making up for lost ground in the Top Fuel chase, while Pro Stock’s Dave Connolly made it two in a row for himself and four in a row for Gray Motorsports, while Jerry Savoie became a first time NHRA winner in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Courtney Force made quick work of Bob Tasca, Del Worsham, 16-time champ John Force and Matt Hagan to get her second win in the Countdown and her fourth Funny Car win of the season, a record for a female Funny Car driver. She moved from the No. 4 spot in the Mello Yello points to the No. 2 position, right behind her father with her win in St. Louis. It was her seventh career victory. She has now been to five final rounds in 2014, thirteen overall.
“I think the good news is at least our team is making the right moves at the right time, right here in the Countdown to the Championship,” said the enthusiastic Force. “It was tough going up against dad; I didn’t want to race him, but all I thought about was how he took me out in Charlotte and he didn’t feel bad, so I thought, ‘Alright, we’re going for it!’ Our Traxxas team got the win.”
She is now 7-6 to her father in eliminations. This is the fifth time they have met up this season, but the first time in St. Louis. The 26-year-old left with a .051 reaction time to the veteran driver’s .099 and got a hole-shot win in the semi-finals.
“It made me sick to my stomach, to be honest,” said a sincere daughter and driver at JFR. “Normally it’s kind of fun, but for some reason this time I could tell on his face, obviously, he’s in the points lead, he’s worried about Matt Hagan passing him and me and Robert. So I saw the look on his face and I felt bad. Nobody likes to get beat on a hole-shot and I didn’t want to do that to my Dad. I did roll in on him and I went after it. I wanted to get the win and I’d rather get the points than get lane choice in the next round. That was where my mindset was at that moment”.
Force went up against Matt Hagan in her second final in a row. The Traxxas Ford driver has raced Hagan five times this season and picked up the last four wins against him. This was the second time they have met in the final round in Force’s three year career. Force posted a 4.094 ET, 313.44 mph to Hagan’s 4.121 pass at a speed of 309.77 mph to score the big win against him. She is now undefeated against Hagan in final round match-ups.
This is the first time a father and daughter have been No. 1 and No. 2 in Mello Yello Series point standings. John Force has 2344 with Courtney trailing him by 30 points.
“We’ve gotten things turned around at the right time,” said Force. “This is when we needed to have a consistent race car and I think that’s what we have. To have back to back wins in the middle of the Countdown and make a big move up into the points like that is just huge for us. We need to create a gap between us and everyone behind us and we need to pass dad if we want to win this championship. That’s what we have our eyes set on right now and dad is tough to beat, but a lot of these drivers are. Everyone is still so close in the points that every weekend it could change up so I’m definitely going to savor this moment when Dad and I are No. 1 and No. 2 in points.”
Antron Brown is rallying back into contention after winning five NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series titles prior to the Countdown to the Championship. Then the Matco Tools team was ranked second and only 30 points out of the lead but was plagued by aggravating mechanical gremlins that led to three straight-first round losses, including two in a row to start the Countdown.
In those two weeks, the Don Schumacher Racing team fell from second to eighth and 153 points behind DSR teammate and points leader Tony Schumacher.
A week ago their goal of winning a second NHRA Top Fuel world championship in three years seemed like a dream, but the Matco Tools team woke up the competition Sunday by winning its sixth title of the season and moving up to fourth place to cut its deficit of Schumacher to 80 points after the U.S. Army driver and current point leader lost traction and his first round to Terry McMillan.
“This was a big day for us,” said Antron, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion. “We came to this race and knew our backs were against the wall. The last four races, we’ve been working hard but no matter what we did our car was just not cooperating. But we got it back. Now, our car, we’re close, we’re competitive and we pulled off this win.”
Antron defeated reigning Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon in the championship run. Antron’s time of 3.844 seconds at 315.42 mph covered Langdon’s 4.035 second run at 279.38 mph.
He marched through eliminations taking out Brittany Force, Terry McMillan, No. 3 in points, Steve Torrence on a hole-shot and Langdon in the finals.
“St. Louis has always been a turning point for us,” said Antron, who won for the 47th time in his career and 31st in Top Fuel to give DSR its 236th event title. “When we come to this race, it seems the more pressure that’s on us and the more our backs are against the wall, the more focused our team gets on what needs to get done.
“We just had to do what we needed to do today and it worked out to get us back into that fighting mode. With three races left, we’ve just got to keep pushing and doing what we’ve been doing because it’s still anybody’s championship out there.”
Antron expects the Gateway victory to springboard the team forward into being a top contender when the series moves this week to Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa. It’s where Antron set the NHRA Top Fuel elapsed record of 3.701 seconds two years ago that still stands. It’s also where he recorded his personal best speed of 328.78 mph on the same run.
Dave Connolly took his second consecutive Pro Stock win in a photo finish over series points leader Jason Line. Connolly’s Chevy Camaro clocked a 6.562 second pass at 211.53 mph in the money round to edge Line’s Summit Camaro at the finish line, which posted a 6.565 at 211.66.
Connolly defeated Chris McGaha, V. Gaines and top qualifier Erica Enders-Stevens en route to the fourth win in a row for the Gray Motorsports Pro Stock team, which includes victories by his teammates Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray.
With the win, Connolly cut Line’s points lead to 26. He says that final round meeting was a huge one to win. “It’s a two-for-one,” Connolly said. “If Jason would have won he’d be up by three rounds. Instead we cut it back to one. We’ve got to stop him from going rounds.
“It all starts from the top with this team – Johnny Gray and his sister, Terry, Shane Gray and his wife Amber – they’re all great folks, and I’m just having a blast racing with everyone on this team,” said Connolly, who won the Midwest Nationals as a driver in 2007, was runner-up in 2008, and won it as a co-crew chief standing behind the car in both 2012 and 2013. “It’s going to be tough for us to keep going to the finals, but you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get. Today was one of them. Beating Jason in the final was huge. I know we were both up there giving it our all and trying to take each other’s heads off. We all want this championship, every one of us on this team. We’re all pulling in the same direction, and we all want this bad. We’re a fairly young team, and we’re doing the best we can. If it works out, great – but if it doesn’t, we know we’ve given our all. We’re out there racing to win each round, and at the end of the day, hopefully it’s enough to bring home the championship.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
It took him four years, but Louisiana Alligator farmer Jerry Savoie earned his first career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory by outrunning series points leader Andrew Hines in the final round. Savoie rode his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki to a winning performance of 6.871 seconds at 196.53 mph, while Hines’ Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson trailed with a 6.881 at 193.57.
It was the third final round appearance of the season for Savoie, who just barely missed his entry in the Countdown. He defeated Craig Treble, John Hall and Hector Arana Jr. to advance to his fifth career final.
“We had a good bike all weekend,” said a smiling and satisfied Savoie, who became the 43rd different PSM winner/rider in the history of the sport. “It’s all good. Drag racing is a family thing. It’s amazing that the whole Pro Stock Motorcycle pit area was so happy for me. I always said if I ever won one of these I would retire. Well, I lied.”
With the runner-up finish Hines increased his series lead to 57 over second place Eddie Krawiec.
Now the NHRA rolls into Reading, Pa., for the ultra-quick NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway next weekend on Oct. 3 – 5.