Brown and Enders Hit Championship Jackpots in Las Vegas

NHRA Las Vegas Winners Circle

Antron Brown in Top Fuel and Erica Enders in Pro Stock started the 2015 coronation of champions at the Toyota NHRA Nationals, both claiming their second NHRA world titles on Sunday on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  At the end of the day, it was Doug Kalitta winning his third race of the year against Larry Dixon in the Top Fuel finals.  Robert Hight won over a super-quick Funny Car field, taking down a tire smoking Tommy Johnson, Jr. in his money round.

Now a two-time Pro Stock champion, Enders defeated Bo Butner to continue her Las Vegas winning streak and Andrew Hines won over a red lighting, Jerry Savoie in the Pro Stock Motorcycles.

TOP FUEL

Doug Kalitta NHRA Las Vegas

For Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta, his crew chief, Jim Oberhofer didn’t like the way his dragster was responding to changes and on Friday night decided to switch cars, going to a backup chassis proving instantly more consistent in Saturday’s qualifying, and the change put them on the path to victory.

It was Kalitta’s third win of the season, his 38th of his career, beginning his race day defeating Steve Torrence first round, Richie Crampton in the quarterfinals, and repelled champ, Antron Brown in the semi-finals by .0005 of a second or a half inch margin of victory after Kalitta laid down a time of 3.774 seconds, 322.73 mph.  It was his first third round appearance since Norwalk back in July.

As the finals approached, Larry Dixon smoked the tires, almost immediately propelling Kalitta down the track.  Near the finish line, Kalitta’s car started dropping cylinders, blowing the injector sideways, but reaching the line first over Dixon for the win running a time of 4.239 seconds to Dixon’s 8.100.

Antron Brown World Championship NHRA

“It was a good day for us,” said Kalitta, who moved from 10th to sixth in the points standings with the win.  “As we were going rounds, once we got past Antron, which was an incredibly close race, I was feeling good for the finals.  Not sure what happened there in the final.  It was a lucky win for us, but we’ll take it.  It was the last race for the Mac Tools ‘Wrenching for a Cure for Breast Cancer Awareness’ paint scheme, making the win even more special.  It’s Vegas and anything can happen.”

Kalitta advanced in the standings less than one round from the top five.  Tony Schumacher is second while runner up, Dixon is now third.  With only 56 points separating third to sixth right now with Richie Crampton in fourth, and Brittany Force in fifth, this is the where the battle remains in Top Fuel.

For the champion, Brown, it’s his second Top Fuel Mello Yello championship and was humbled by closing it out in Las Vegas with one race to go.

Doug Kalitta NHRA Las Vegas

“When we got to Vegas the door was open and it feels good to shut the door on this 2015 season and get it over with,” said Brown, who won a career-best seven titles this year and the 14th World championship for Don Schumacher Racing.  “It’s just so awesome to get it done and not be a nail-biter.  This is the best story we have in our whole career.”

FUNNY CAR

Robert Hight NHRA Las Vegas

While all eyes were on title contenders, Del Worsham and Jack Beckman, it would be Robert Hight stealing some of their thunder, winning the Funny Car portion of the Toyota Nationals over Tommy Johnson, Jr.

“It’s really a bummer to me to not be in the points chase this late in the year,” said Hight, who is now a five-time winner at LVMS.  “We’re not used to that. It drives you because you want to be there.  It makes you dig deep so we’re not in the same position next year.  We got a win out of it.  Del Worsham’s a good friend of mine.  I’m pulling for him to win the championship, but Auto Club pays me to win races, and luckily, we got the job done today.”

Hight marched through eliminations beating drivers, Gary Densham, points leader, Del Worsham, and Ron Capps before meeting Tommy Johnson, Jr. in the finals.  Hight earned his second win of the season and 36th of his career, powering his Funny Car Chevy Camaro past top qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Dodge.  Hight ran a time of 3.955 seconds at a speed of 323.97 mph after Johnson lost traction.

With the win, Hight moved past Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Cruz Pedregon on NHRA’s all-time Funny Car wins list.  He moved from eighth to sixth in Funny Car points.

“It’s good to be in Las Vegas.  This hasn’t been the season that we have been looking for with the Auto Club Chevy.  We have been working hard and it is coming together,” said Hight from the Las Vegas winner’s circle stage.  “This has been a tough week for John Force Racing.  Our Monster Energy rig crashed in Missouri on the way here.  The whole John Force Racing team pulled together and got that Monster rig here.  That was a big win.  This is just a bonus.”

The NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car title is still up in the air with leader, Del Worsham holding a 38-point lead over Jack Beckman with now the showdown going to Pomona to decide just who will win Fuel Coupe class once and for all.

“The DHL team has continued to perform at the highest level; Robert just barely outran us there,” said Worsham, the winner of three of the last four races.  “Our ultimate goal is still in our control.  We plan on going to Pomona and working hard on achieving the title.”

Beckman won in 2012 by two points over Ron Capps, so going into Pomona with just two rounds behind is in a situation that he is familiar with knowing what it’s going to take to make a comeback.

“If there’s any silver lining it’s that Del lost that round,” said Beckman.  “We’re still two rounds out.  It’s real simple.  We need to out qualify him at Pomona, we need him on the same side of the ladder as us, and we need to beat him early.

Robert Hight NHRA Las Vegas

“You want to talk about having to be perfect to win the championship and maybe that’s what the fans deserve to see.  We will do everything we can to go to Pomona and be perfect and as flawless as a nitro Funny Car team can be.”

Worsham leaves Las Vegas with a 38-point advantage over Jack Beckman.  Tommy Johnson Jr. is 97 points behind.

PRO STOCK

Erica Enders NHRA Las Vegas

Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders seems to be able to do anything she wants behind the wheel of a Pro Stock race car.

Enders won her second consecutive NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship on Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, clinching the title in the second round, and then won the NHRA Toyota Nationals with a perfect reaction time in the final round.

Enders became the 33rd driver in NHRA history to win multiple championships and the ninth in the Pro Stock class.  She’s also the first back-to-back champion in NHRA since 2011-12, when Eddie Krawiec won the Pro Stock Motorcycle title.

Enders is the first to win consecutive Pro Stock titles since the legendary Jeg Coughlin Jr. accomplished the feat in 2007- 08.

“It’s just an incredible day,” Enders said.  “I’m kind of speechless.  Vegas has always been really good to me, and it’s nice to keep our streak going with now 22 consecutive round-wins.  It’s mind-boggling.

Erica Enders World Championship NHRA

“We came into the weekend and everyone was talking about the championship — what we have to do, crunching points and all that.  My crew chiefs (Rick and Rickie Jones, Mark Ingersoll, and Brian Self) and I decided we weren’t going to talk about that and just take things one round at a time. Our goal was to make it 22 [in a row].  It’s an incredible thing to accomplish.  The streak we have here is incredible.  I’m excited to be part of such a great group like Elite Motorsports.”

Enders has won the last four national events and the last two K&N Horsepower Challenge races in Las Vegas, running her consecutive round-win streak here to 22.

Her 20th consecutive round-win clinched the championship.  Greg Anderson, Chris McGaha, and Drew Skillman were the only Pro Stock drivers with a chance to extend the points battle to the season-finale in Pomona, Calif., in two weeks, but Anderson lost to Vincent Nobile and McGaha fell to Bo Butner.

Therefore, when Enders knocked out Shane Gray with a round-low pass of 6.596 seconds at 209.39 mph, Enders had the championship locked up.

“After watching my teammate Vincent beat Greg second round, I got excited, of course, because I knew what could happen,” Enders said.  “Then I thought, ‘We have to win this round.’ I fire the car, pull into the waterbox, and all my guys are jumping around, clapping, and I’m just trying to get my composure and get my heart rate down.”

Enders then beat teammate Skillman in the semifinals when Skillman left .004-second too soon, setting up a final-round match with Butner.

“I knew it was going to be a tough race against a drive like Bo, who I know is hungry for his first win,” Enders said.  “To be able to cap the second championship off with another win in Vegas is just crazy.”

Erica Enders NHRA Las Vegas

The victory was her ninth of the season and 21st of what is becoming a hall-of-fame career.  She has won 15 of the last 45 races she’s entered with the Richard Freeman-owned Elite team.

“Finally I feel like I’m home with this group of guys,” Enders said.  “I couldn’t have dreamed up a better crew.  We truly get along, we have such great chemistry, and most importantly, we have fun together.  That’s why we’re so successful on the racetrack.  Horsepower doesn’t hurt, but we don’t have the biggest budget.  We get it done because of the people.  It’s been a long road, but I’m glad to be where I am.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

Andrew Hines NHRA Las Vegas

Andrew Hines earned his fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle victory of the season and third in the Countdown, powering his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson past Jerry Savoie’s Suzuki in a final round with major title implications.  With the win, Hines increased his series lead to 46 over the hard-charging Savoie.  The championship in the two-wheel class will be decided at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in two weeks.

“The biggest thing was that final round battle between one and two in points,” Hines said.  “We’ve been running neck and neck all weekend long.  I was in damage control all day and I was lucky enough to turn on a few win lights.  That final might’ve looked pressure packed, but I was calm and confident.  I knew I needed a good race.  The team was able to make the motorcycle go quicker in the final and we got the win.”

Andrew Hines NHRA Las Vegas

The 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship concludes Nov. 12-15 with the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (Calif.).

 

About Jay Wells 321 Articles
Jay Wells, 61, is a veteran motorsports public relations and marketing official. He spent 33 years at the track working with NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, and NHRA series' before retiring in 2009. He began writing for RacingJunk.com in September of 2013 covering the NHRA and NASCAR circuits with post race coverage along with feature and breaking news stories. Wells resides in Mooresville, North Carolina. Follow Wells on Twitter @ jaywells500.
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