Englishtown’s NHRA Toyota Summernationals has long been an event characterized by incredible feats of speed and lasting legacies. Names like Big Daddy Don Garlits, Jungle Jim Liberman, Don the Snake Prudhomme, and the King of Speed, Kenny Bernstein graced the record books at E-Town, and this year, on the 50th Anniversary of the Summernats, Antron Brown, Matt Hagan, Greg Anderson, and Jerry Savoie add their names to the roster as respective class winners at the historic track.
Brown was filled with emotion and excitement after winning the Top Fuel title on his home turf and Matt Hagan dominated, repeating in Funny Car. Anderson drove past his competition in Pro Stock and Savoie put a gator chop on the Pro Stock Motorcycle field.
Emotion and reflection seemed to temper the normally enthusiastic Antron Brown after he won his 50th NHRA National event title on Sunday near his hometown track at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, where he was introduced to drag racing as a toddler. His first Top Fuel win at the NHRA Toyota SummerNationals before scores of family members and friends also moved him to 10th on the list of most professional event titles in the sport’s history.
The 39-year-old Brown won twice at the track in Pro Stock Motorcycles but adding the Top Fuel Wally made for quite a happy day.”To win for the 50th time and at your home track in front of your family, friends…you couldn’t write a better script. It’s a dream come true for this Chesterfield kid,” said Brown. After losing in the first round the last three times he raced at Englishtown, Brown dominated this weekend. He started Sunday as the No. 1 qualifier for the third consecutive race and the 40th time in his career.
“We just wanted it. We’ve tested the wheels off that Matco car and we’re reaping the benefits of it,” he said. It marked the third win in nine Mello Yello races this year and allowed him to extend his points lead to 118 over Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Tony Schumacher. “I put everything about what this race means to me aside, and that’s what the team did. We treated it like any other race. We had to remind ourselves that every round. (Crew Chiefs) Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald would say to me, ‘AB it’s just another round.’ ”
The reigning NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champions continued to display their championship-caliber form throughout the 2015 season and proved it again on Sunday. After qualifying fourth in an ultra-quick Funny Car field filled with 3-second times in qualifying on Friday night, Matt Hagan and the Mopar team worked their way through a tough eliminations day en route to their third event title of the season and 17th of Matt’s career while reclaiming the Funny Car points lead. Hagan, led by crew chief Dickie Venables, opened Sunday in most impressive fashion by unleashing a 4.035-second lap at 308 mph to knock out John Force’s 4.131-second effort. “It’s nice to be able to go out here and run so strong and be able to defend the title that we won last year,” Matt said. “What’s really cool is with Dickie Venables, winning two races earlier this year, and he said we have a little points lead here so let’s go try something new and he put the six-disc clutch in and went into learning mode. “Everything just started clicking here this weekend. We’ve been getting better at every race. We were able to beat a lot of really tough race cars out here. I think Funny Car is the most competitive class out here and it just gets tougher and tougher every weekend.”
One of the toughest pairings of the day was the semifinal round when Matt was paired against DSR teammate and then points leader Ron Capps. Capps’ Dodge slowed to a 5.91-second lap while Matt posted his second 4.124-second effort of the day.
The closest race of the day came in the final round when the Mopar team faced off against Alexis DeJoria. Matt’s run of 4.132 seconds, 299.53 mph pass edged out DeJoria’s 4.138, 297.09. “We went through some tough battles today. With John Force in the first round and then two of my DSR teammates and Alexis, who is doing a great job out here, in the final. It was a good race out there.”
Old Bridge Township Raceway Park has always been a favored facility for Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson, and this weekend his Englishtown success continued as he pulled off the trifecta. Anderson first powered to the No. 1 qualifier position, went on to take over the points lead with a semifinals victory on Sunday, and finished the weekend by winning the trophy at the NHRA Toyota Summernationals. It was the sixth win at Raceway Park for Anderson. “It’s been a great weekend,” said Anderson, who earned the 76th No. 1 qualifier award of his career on Saturday before scoring his 76th NHRA Pro Stock win on Sunday. “Our Chevrolet Camaro was great right off the trailer. I mean, I made eight great runs in a row between qualifying and raceday. A chimpanzee could have driven my car today – it was just awesome. It’s been a long time since I’ve won here in Englishtown, and it’s good to be back. I hope to be back many, many times.”
Anderson won his first round meeting with Val Smeland, the 72nd different driver he has raced in eliminations. His powerful 6.493-second pass at 214.28 mph would hold as low elapsed time of eliminations. He powered ahead in his red Chevrolet Camaro for a time 6.503 seconds, 214.11 mph to 6.549, 213.43 win over Bo Butner second round. In the semifinals, Anderson continued to flex his horsepower recording low ET of the round for the third consecutive run, clocking a 6.499 seconds, 214.14 mph to send V. Gaines home on his pass of 6.531 seconds, 213.43 mph. With the points lead already in his possession, the Mooresville, N.C.-based Anderson was fired up and ready to race Allen Johnson, a driver he has raced many times in the past and against whom he held a 39-18 advantage. In previous final rounds Johnson was 3-2 against Anderson, but on Sunday in Englishtown, the score was evened as Anderson saw the win light flash in Anderson’s lane with a time of 6.504 seconds, 214.31 mph to his opponent’s 6.537, 213.87.
“I say it all the time, and I’ll say it again – there is no win more important than the last win,” said Anderson. “Every win I find a way to get is the most important one I’ve ever had. That win is why we do this. It’s a great feeling when you’re able to accomplish it because it’s just so darn competitive in this class. It’s so hard to win, but that’s why you feel so fantastic when you are able to do it.” This season is shaping up to be one of Anderson’s best in a very long time. In addition to the monumental victory, the No. 1 qualifier award earned in Englishtown ended a dry spell that began after his most recent previous No. 1 earned at the Seattle race in 2011. Taking over the top spot in the Mello Yello Series standings was also something that the KB Racing-powered driver had long been missing. The last time Anderson held the points lead was midyear in 2012 at the Summit Racing NHRA Nationals in Norwalk “It’s going to be a great battle as we go forward, and I feel very good about our chances and our future – but it certainly isn’t going to be easy,” said Anderson. “The best part is that I truly believe I’ll be part of the championship chase this year; that I’ll be fighting at the end. I look forward to the battle.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie earned his second career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory when second-time finalist Jim Underdahl turned on the red-light in the final round. Savoie rode his Suzuki to a 6.794 at 197.71, earning his first Wally since St. Louis 2014. Savoie advanced to his sixth career final by racing past Joe DeSantis, series points leader and local favorite Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana Jr. in the first three rounds. With the win, Savoie ties with LE Tonglet for eighth in the points standings. “The driver goes from zero-to-hero but I’m not a selfish person, this goes to my crew,” Savoie said. “Those guys worked really hard. The biggest thing is Vance and Hines. You’re running against a group of guys that want to win really bad, like I do, and to give you the power and tell you, ‘You have to find it, but it’s there,’ and you have to compete with them? Great company!” The 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series continues with the NHRA New England Nationals next weekend on June 12-14 in Epping, N.H.