It was Brittany Force and Tim Wilkerson who became the first repeat nitro winners in their respective Top Fuel and Funny Car categories in the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello season, battling it out in the one-of-a-kind NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at the Bellagio of dragstrips, the zMAX Dragway.
Jason Line continues his competitive climb to the top driving his Ken Black Summit Racing Chevrolet with his third Pro Stock win in the EFI era, and Andrew Hines rode roughshod over the Pro Stock Motorcycle with incredible ETs all weekend for the two-wheel class.
It was a great performance for John Force Racing’s Monster Energy Top Fuel team right from the start of eliminations in that you weren’t going to beat Brittany Force on this Sunday. She laid down a low Elapsed Time of 3.734 seconds in the opening quad and her tuner, Alan Johnson and crew chief, Brian Husen kept her on target, giving the 29-year old young lady the quickest ride every round and she proved it with her right foot.
It may have taken her 75 races before breaking through at the Gatornationals for her first career NHRA win; it would only take two more races to get her second.
In her final round quad, she marched through Clay Millican, Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta to win, running a 3.764 seconds, 319.98 mph pass to reach the finish line first, but didn’t know if she had won and coasted to the turn off area.
“I didn’t see [the win light] and didn’t even know we won until they pulled me in to where all the FS1 cameras were. I asked them to make sure. I said, ‘Did we win?’ So I didn’t even know until I got out of the car and that was very exciting. No one could probably see, but we thrashed to get up here and I didn’t think we were going to make it up to the lanes in time to run here,” said Force, who has raced to three final rounds in the last four races. “Our belts got pulled back when they put the car back together and we had to unbolt the car and then re-buckle me in and I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. But we did and I guess it’s good because under pressure we all figured it out and got the car down the track.”
She became the first repeat Top Fuel winner of 2016 after the first five events have been completed and felt she owed her JFR crew a big salute for their diligent efforts led by Alan Johnson and crew chief Brad Husen.
“I just want to say thank you to Alan Johnson and Brian Husen and the entire team because I am just so proud of everyone,” added Force. “That is just incredible to know that Alan Johnson and Brian Husen can put a car together that is that consistent every single run and run like that. It’s insane and I am so proud to be teamed up with them. It really shows and it really builds my confidence up for the season. The season is still getting started but we are definitely off to a really good start.”
Force became the first female professional racer to win in the 4-Wide format and has raced to three final rounds in the past four races, winning 12 rounds and extending her points lead to now 63-points over Antron Brown, who was runner-up in all three elimination rounds to the dominant Force.
“People say that the first win is the toughest and it was because it took me till my fourth season. My second one came easier but I wouldn’t say easiest because it is still tough. These guys on my team are the hardest workers that I have seen and they have dedicated everything into this car. Now I get to celebrate with them in the winner’s circle,” added Force. “To be the first female, that is pretty awesome.”
Like Force, Tim Wilkerson came to race and led the way, putting down low ET every round proving that his Sunday’s run wasn’t any fluke, now taking the fourth position in the Mello Yello Funny Car points standings. It was his second Funny Car victory of the year and 20th overall in his 20-year career.
The 4-Wide prognosis was noted that in Funny Car, staging was a priority. Trying to get four cars to start up in approximate time and staging of the other drivers can either make or break the race. Wilkerson’s viewpoint is to just run your own race and if you’re doing it right, then the other teams will have to pick up the pace to match you or become a problem for the rest of the drivers.
“We go up there and hit the gas and see what happens,” Wilkerson said. “It’s just racing. If you get beat, you go home and try again next week. It’s a marathon. We have 24 races. Next race has a different challenge. I think they did a really nice job on all of these lanes this weekend. I think you could win out of any one of ‘em.
“I had a very good car. We don’t come here to chase girls and drink beer, we are here to kick some butts and go home. Me and [assistant crew chief] Richard Hartman are of the same philosophy and that’s why we communicate so well with each other. He has been a great addition to our team and he did a great job up there [on the starting line] today.”
He rocketed to the front of the Funny Car pack in the first round, matching low elapsed time of the event after making a pass of 3.934 seconds to equal No. 1 qualifier Alexis DeJoria’s run. He again led the way in the semi-finals quad running 3.993 seconds before taking down Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps and Matt Hagan in the finals with his better ET of 3.967 seconds. Now, with Wilkerson winning the 4-Wide Nationals, it’s means something special to him.
“I got this off my bucket list,” Wilkerson said. “I’ve been in the finals at this one twice, so I am really happy to get it done. I am excited about it. The whole year has really been exciting; especially with the new TV package and the way everything has been going. My buddy Brittany (Force) has won twice, so that’s really cool, too. I was happy to see her win. The Four-Wide is really a neat deal, especially since I won.”
Robert Hight is the current points leader with an eight-point lead over Ron Capps, followed by John Force, Wilkerson, and Courtney Force in fifth.
The NHRA 4-Wide Nationals was just another opportunity for the Summit Racing Pro Stock team to put their power on display, and they took full advantage of the current state of affairs. On Saturday, it was Greg Anderson, driver of the red Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, basking in the glory as he earned the 82nd low qualifier award of his career, and on Sunday in Charlotte, it was points leader Jason Line’s turn as he bested them all in a four-across battle for the trophy.
It was Line’s first 4-wide win and second final in the once yearly competition. It was also the 40th Pro Stock win of a career that spans 13 years, which ties the Wright, Minnesota-born driver with Pro Stock veterans Kurt Johnson and Mike Edwards for fifth on the all-time win list.
“As I get older, I realize how difficult it is to win these races, and it becomes more and more special,” said Line, who resides near Mooresville, N.C. “It’s very exciting to win at home, and it’s tough to win the four-wide. I hadn’t before today, and I’ve never been very successful at it. I consider myself a middle-of-the-road driver, so to win this race is pretty gratifying.”
Line began his day with Low ET of the meet, flying down the track at 6.555 seconds along with a booming speed of 211.86 mph – the quickest of the season under the new electronic fuel injection system (EFI).
In the second round, Line was again the top performer with a pass of 6.568 seconds, 211.16 mph and in the finals was proven invincible winning over Drew Skillman, Chris McGaha and Bo Butner in a fellow KB Racing Chevy. With everything depending on who would be the first to the stripe, Line flew by the 4-Wide competition running a time of 6.565 seconds, 211.33 mph to win in his North Carolina backyard.
“It’s just tough, but fine if everything goes smooth,” said Line of the 4-wide format that breaks the norm from every other race on the circuit and invites unusual outcome. “In the final, we all four had decent lights and it was a good race, so it was fun. But you never know what’s going to happen with this deal.”
Even more impressive, though, was the fact that the win in Charlotte marked the fifth consecutive victory for Team Summit and the KB Racing team. According to NHRA statistician Lewis Bloom, no other team in the history of NHRA Pro Stock has ever won the first five events in a season.
“We take a lot of pride in this, because we probably had more changes to make engine-wise than everyone else did,” said Line, referring to the new rules for 2016, which include a change from carbureted engines to electronic fuel injection, but, more critically for KB Racing, a 10,500 rpm rev limiter.
In just five races, Line has built a 102-lead over KB Racing teammate, Greg Anderson in the points. Bo Bunter, Drew Skillman, and Chris McGaha follow him in rounding out the top five.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Andrew Hines continued his mastery of the 4-Wide Nationals in Pro Stock Motorcycle and held off top qualifier Eddie Krawiec, Chip Ellis and Matt Smith to take the victory, his third in a row at this event and his sixth zMAX Dragway victory. Hines clocked a 6.844 at 194.42 on his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, while Krawiec finished in 6.849 at 194.44 on his Harley to take runner-up honors. It was points leader Krawiec’s fourth consecutive runner-up finish at this event.
“It’s great to come in here at the 4-Wide and get another win so we have our team going in the right direction,” Hines said. “I’m happy to get a win this early in the season. When you get that off your back you can sit back, relax and focus on racing the rest of the season.”
Hines became the third driver in NHRA history, joining Greg Anderson and Hight, and first in the bike class to finish second in both of the first two quads and then win the race. In the opener, Hines finished second to Jerry Savoie, but in front of Brian Pretzel and Jim Underdahl. In round two, Hines trailed Krawiec, but finished in front of Savoie and Michael Ray.
“This race track just agrees with me, I feel very comfortable here,” Hines said. “It is almost a calming effect it has on me with everything that is going on up there because it makes me focus that much more.”
With his 43rd career victory, he is closing in on the 44 official victories that the late Dave Schultz won during his career.
“Thanks to Dave and all that he did for the sport, he was one of the pioneers of it all,” Hines said. “Thanks to him we have a great field right now and all of Pro Stock Motorcycle is very stout. We have bump spots that are setting records. It’s awesome to be involved in the class right now.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues April 29-May 1 with the NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway near Houston.
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