The Funny Cars stole all the attention, producing 30 three-second passes at the NHRA AAA Midwest Nationals. The brightest of the pack belonged to Del Worsham and his high-flying Kalitta Racing team, turning back reigning champion Matt Hagan in an another close side-by-side final. Antron Brown won his second race of the Countdown, continuing his St. Louis record streak of winning at Gateway Motorsports Park, running it up to four consecutive years (2012-15) taking down Dave Connolly in the Top Fuel finals.
Drew Skillman won his very first Pro Stock race after an illustrious sportsman career that prepared him very well and ended up defeating his own Elite Motorsports teammate, Erica Enders, in the money round. Hector Arana, Jr. raced his father, Hector, Sr. in the Pro Stock Motorcycle finals with the son coming out with a win and a marriage proposal.
The success that Antron Brown has been enjoying at Gateway Motorsports Park for the last four consecutive years could be summed up simply by saying this: “Just two words: truly blessed,” he said Sunday in the press box after winning.
On a hot streak, Brown won again for the second time in the second of six events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“When they brought this track back [in 2012], they brought it back better than ever,” he said. “It was incredible.
“To get a win here, to go four rounds, it’s just an incredible day and makes you kind of speechless thinking about the type of team I have. They just do an incredible, incredible job and they’re marching right now.”
Brown fought off Terry McMillan, Shawn Langdon, Billy Torrence, and lastly Dave Connolly in the finals. Brown reeled off consecutive low 3.70 passes and, against Connolly, used his best time of the day of 3.721 seconds, 322.88 mph to hold him off with his great time of 3.753 seconds, 328.94 mph.
The win for Brown and the Matco Tools team led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald is their sixth in 20 events this season. It ties the most Antron has won in one Mello Yello season, and he has done that five times.
The victory is the 10th of the year and 264th since 1970 for Don Schumacher Racing. The combined total of wins this season (14 in Funny Car and 10 in Top Fuel) are the most ever won in one season by DSR.
Brown, who has won 53 Mello Yello races including 37 in Top Fuel, extended his championship points lead 77 over DSR teammate Tony Schumacher, who lost in the quarterfinals.
“We’re just off to an incredible start,” Antron said. “It’s just crazy how tough it is out here right now and it just feels good to sneak out of here with another win. You have to push it to the next level every round. I got my butt kicked by [Gateway runner-up Dave] Connolly in Indianapolis and that woke me up. After that, I’ve just been going to work, putting my head down, and my boys have been pushing me. We’ve been doing it round by round and we’re just going to see how long we can ride this roller coaster.”
Del Worsham approached the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals in nearby St. Louis, hoping to continue his winning streak that he started in Charlotte. After 30 three-second runs from the Funny Car field over the weekend, Worsham stood out, becoming the first to run all race day in the three-second zone and had a total of seven passes in the sub-4.0-second arena over the weekend and quickly became the one to watch.
The No. 2 qualifier, Worsham reestablished the NHRA Funny Car National elapsed time record, lowering it down to 3.899 seconds with his one percent backup of 3.935 seconds from earlier Saturday. For Hagan, although quicker, running a time 3.883, he and Mopar Dodge team didn’t back it up and Worsham walked away with the 20 bonus points. Worsham is now one of just four drivers to own the National ET Record in both Top Fuel and Funny Car categories, aligning with drag racing legends, Kenny Bernstein, Mark Oswald and Danny Ongais.
“In my 25 years of racing, I do not think I have ever run a car that is this predictable,” said Worsham. “The team I have works so hard, and Connie Kalitta provides everything that we need to run well. I am so happy for Connie, and thankful for this entire DHL Toyota Camry team.”
Worsham marched through the tight-knit field defeating Tony Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, and Cruz Pedregon before claiming his 29th Funny Car win over Hagan.
Hagan didn’t go down easy, posting a time of 3.983 seconds, 324.20 mph, but Worsham’s Kalitta team were ready for their starting line mosh-pit antics, outrunning Hagan with their own quicker time of 3.964 seconds, 320.13 mph, but it was costly as his engine exploded just as he crossed the finish line.
“It made a hard dart to the right, I had full input on the wheel to the left, and it went ‘ka-boom!’ right before I got to the finish line,” said Worsham. “It blew up, the dash came up, and fire went back there. Luckily, in today’s racing, the chutes deployed themselves and slowed it down right away.”
With the win and the national record bonus, Worsham moves to a five round, 90-point advantage ahead of Matt Hagan with four races remaining and a 116-point lead over Tommy Johnson, Jr.
Pro Stock rookie Skillman raced his Ray Skillman Chevy Camaro to his first career victory when he defeated his teammate Erica Enders at Gateway Motorsports Park. It was a rematch from the final in Indianapolis, which Enders won. In this matchup, Skillman powered past Ender’s Elite Motorsports Camaro, which lost traction early in the run, with his winning pass of 6.529 seconds at 211.63 mph.
“This is my fourth time to the finals and I knew that Erica has been insane on the Tree,” said Skillman. “A little luck came our way and we got it done this weekend. I lost the first three finals, but I don’t know how you can get frustrated when you get to a pro category for the first time and have the kind of year we’re having. This is not normal. I’m just very excited to win this today. I have a great team.”
Skillman drove by V Gaines and a pair of red lights from Derik Kramer and Allen Johnson before matching up with his teammate, Enders.
Skillman ran a 6.529/211.63 mph pass in the final with his Chevy Camaro. Enders, who was seeking her fourth straight event victory, was first off the line with a 0.003-second reaction time, but her car went hard left immediately while Skillman cruised down the track.
“It takes luck, especially with Erica,” said Skillman, the No. 4 qualifier. “She’s the best out here in Pro Stock, and she’s proven it over and over again. I’m just honored to have a chance to win, and we got it done this weekend.”
Enders, who was in her fourth consecutive final round, increased her series lead to 113 markers over Greg Anderson.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Hector Arana, Jr. raced to his second Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the season when he defeated his father, Hector Arana, Sr., in the finals in St. Louis. Arana Jr. raced his Lucas Oil Buell to a winning pass of 6.860 seconds, at 196.50 mph to his father’s trailing run of 6.932 at 195.03, also on a Buell. This is the first career win in St. Louis for Arana Jr. The win moves him to 34 points behind Andrew Hines and caps a significant week for the racer.
“This has been a great week; I don’t know if I could ask for anything more,” said Arana Jr. “On Monday, I pulled the trigger and asked my beautiful girlfriend (Nicole Nobile, Vincent’s sister) to marry me and to get this win is just icing on the cake. I tell you what, that is a bittersweet win. I watched my dad win in the semis and I said to myself, ‘I have to win’ so we can see which one of us can take home the Wally. I want to see him win and of course, he wants to see me win, but at the same time, I want to beat him. We also needed this to move forward in the points.”
The third of six rounds of the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs is next weekend at the NHRA Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.