It was an encore performance in all three professional NHRA classes with Doug Kalitta winning in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan scoring in Funny Car, and Jason Line racing into his eighth consecutive final round and fifth win of the season.
Qualifying on Friday was a show all into itself, producing National ET records in both Top Fuel and Funny Car with Brittany Force and Matt Hagan putting the mark just out of reach of everyone else for the rest of the weekend, although many tried.
It was another first for Doug Kalitta, winning his third consecutive NHRA Top Fuel race of the 2016 season at the NHRA Kansas Nationals, collecting his 41st career win and his fifth final round appearance in the season’s first eight races.
It wasn’t an easy path for Kalitta, having to beat Rob Passey, a hungry Clay Millican, and a Pomona rematch with Steve Torrence in the semi-finals to land against Antron Brown in the finals in a revenge match for beating him last week in Atlanta.
Both teams were loaded for bear pushing the envelope a little too far with both drivers going up into tire smoke right off the line. Kalitta hit his pedal once, twice and on the third time corrected his direction, accelerating to the finish line first.
“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the final,” said Kalitta, appearing in his 85th final round. “Fortunately, I got there just a little quicker than Antron. It was exciting and these wins don’t come easy, I’m just real happy to do it here. It was a little surprising in the finals there when it smoked the tires, but we’re just happy to get the win. All the little things just keep adding up. I was probably more sideways than I’ve ever been in a Top Fuel car today and kept going. I straightened it out and I was just real fortunate to get this win.”
Brown’s Matco Tools dragster was charging hard at the finish but came up short by a few feet. It was the fifth consecutive time the team has reached at least the semifinal round of competition.
“The track looked like it was better and we weren’t trying to run slow, we were definitely trying to do better,” said a smiling Brown. “I was just trying to give it all we’ve got. I just didn’t keep my car straight enough in the groove to really get back on it sooner. To lose out there by two tenths [of a second], it breaks you down. We’ve worked so hard and all the guys have worked really hard for this one and we just wanted to bring it home.”
Kalitta extends his points lead to 95 over Brown in the Top Fuel race and takes over the NHRA National speed record at 331.85 mph
In other Top Fuel news, Brittany Force rewrote the record book in Friday night qualifying, lowering the elapsed time National Record to a remarkable 3.676 seconds, 325.45 mph. The unusually cooler and cloudy conditions produced mineshaft conditions with crew chiefs licking their chops in anticipation.
“The conditions were amazing out there on Friday night at Heartland Park Topeka. We had great track conditions and we know that is not an easy task. Many of these teams laid down some solid numbers. We had two great back-to-back three-second runs that were career bests for me, so we’re really excited to have had such a great start to this weekend. I posted a career-best speed in Q1, followed by my new career-best ET in Q2. Those runs put us in the No. 4 spot and it really shows how quick the competition is here this weekend. I think it’s going to be a fast weekend here at Heartland Park,” added Force.
Just when Matt Hagan began to turn around his season after winning at Atlanta last week, he came to Heartland Park Topeka determined not to back off and his crew chief, Dickie Venables, seemed to have been waiting for this opportunity for a little while. The Mopar team went out and dominated the entire NHRA Kansas Nationals weekend. He started on Friday when he ripped an earth-shaking pass, taking the No. 1 starting spot in Funny Car, but did it convincingly, setting the National ET record of 3.862 seconds at a booming and National Speed record of 335.57 mph making the weekend one for the history books.
Then in eliminations, he marched through the Funny Car field by first beating Dale Creasy, Jr., moving on to a very tight race against Robert Hight in the quarterfinals. He took on points leader, Courtney Force in the semi-finals, turning his run into his third sub 4-second pass of the day. Hagan completed three of four runs between 3.942 and 3.951 seconds before the final-round pedal fest.
Now in front of a live TV audience on FOX Sports 1, from all appearances, the fans were going to get a major-league match up against the same guy he beat in the finals in Atlanta, Jack Beckman.
Only the two Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car teams came to the finals loaded up for a low ET and ended up with both teams smoking the tires.
Hagan pedaled his 10,000-horsepower Dodge at least half a dozen times before crossing the finish line to earn his 20th career event title and first at Heartland Park Topeka.
“It was wild,” Hagan said of the final round. “It’s important to put everything in perspective. We set world records for E.T and speed, and then to come back out here to win this race is a tribute to my guys and their hard work. My butt was puckered pretty good on that last run.
“It was one of those deals where it was ‘oh no, oh no, oh no’. I don’t know how many times I hit the fuel pedal but it was a lot. Sometimes you’re just thinking ‘don’t blow up’. To see the win lights come on all day, I’m just tickled about the job Dickie Venables and all our Mopar/Rocky guys are doing.”
His weekend moved the Mopar Dodge team from ninth to fourth in the Mello Yello standings. Courtney Force is still the leader 12 points ahead of Beckman.
“When you have a fast racecar like we did, it’s hard to pull it back when the sun comes out like it did. We had been laying down some great numbers all day, and I didn’t expect to have to pedal the racecar like I had to. The race wins will turn into championships if you win enough of them and that’s what’s really important for us. Back-to-back wins, I’ve only done it one other time, so that’s pretty special in itself. It just shows how good you’re doing, how well everyone is working together. We have to carry this momentum into these next races.”
Making news was the semi-finals matchup between Tim Wilkerson and Jack Beckman. Wilkerson left the line under full power when suddenly his Ford Mustang Funny Car spun around in a series of spins, backing into the outside wall in his lane before proceeding forward into the other lane punching the wall head on bursting his fuel tank.
“We still don’t know what happened. From the tracks here, it looks like the car probably broke an axle or scooped a hub out because it was going along and just made a right turn,” said Wilkerson. “After it made that turn, the car hit the wall and got itself in its own oil with one tire still spinning. The car was like a top going in circles.”
In Pro Stock, Line captured his fifth win of the season in his eighth consecutive final round appearance, outrunning teammate Greg Anderson in the final round. Line finished in 6.664 seconds at 207.85 mph in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro, while Anderson’s car trailed with a 6.687 at 207.02. It was Line’s first Topeka victory and the 42nd win of his career.
“It was the perfect weekend,” said Line, who outran Mark Hogan, defending world champ Erica Enders and Shane Gray to advance to the final from the No. 1 qualifying spot. “It was an exciting weekend for me and we didn’t mess it up. It’s a big deal to me. It’s nice to win at some place you’ve never done well. I really can’t stop smiling right now. There were times I had good cars here but didn’t drive well. This weekend everything came together.”
Now Line finds himself in uncharted ground.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues June 3-5 with the NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H.