The Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. kicked off the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship with a bevvy of upsets and lots of jostling of positions in the points standings.
Antron Brown had the most consistent race car of the day, powering past J.R. Todd in the finals to win while Del Worsham saved his best run of the day to turn back Tommy Johnson, Jr.’s best Funny Car effort in the fuel coupe finals.
Erica Enders-Stevens stole the show in Pro Stock, taking out Countdown dark horse Vincent Nobile in the finals. Andrew Hines continues the Harley-Davison Screamin’ Eagle road to the championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle defeating rival Matt Smith.
Antron Brown won his fifth Top Fuel race of the 2015 Mello Yello season at Charlotte’s Carolina Nationals and, it being the first race of the NHRA Countdown, he now takes the points lead after beating J.R. Todd in the finals. He now has a nine point leader over Don Schumacher Racing teammate and defending champion, Tony Schumacher, with five races to go.
“The drivers always get all of the credit, but we’re just one small part of the equation,” said Brown. “This goes to our whole DSR organization, all of our crew chiefs and all of our Matco guys that work so hard. The track was changing and getting hotter but the track still got better. All the credit goes to our team, what they do week in and week out.
“There is nothing like being up there for the final and you see your teammate Tony [Schumacher] and he says ‘Go get ’em, AB’ and that’s what he did in the staging lanes. We went up there and were able to bring it home for DSR.”
Antron’s category-best fifth win of the season pushes his career total to 52, which includes 36 in Top Fuel surpassing drag racing icon “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.
The Countdown veteran understands the importance of opening the playoff strongly. He beat Terry McMillan first round, then slipped by Steve Torrence in the quarterfinals. Got by teammate Schumacher in another close race in the semi-finals and ended up going against J.R. Todd in the final round.
In the long history of the NHRA, this race had significance as being its 800th Top Fuel race dating back to 1963 with, whom else, but Big Daddy Don Garlits winning the first at the Winternationals.
The finals had Brown crossing the line first running a time of 3.832 seconds, 311.56 mph to Todd’s pass of 4.063 seconds, 286.32 mph.
“You want to start off strong because it’s a sprint now,” exclaimed Brown. There are six races for the championship. Do the math. That’s 24 rounds of racing left and the more rounds you win, the less other people have to catch you. Our main focus is one round at a time. We just let the chips fall where they fall and we will give it all we have.
“I’m going to open it up a little bit. I’m usually cool, calm, collected. I’ve been in a lot of high pressure situations, nothing normally gets to me. Today first round, for the first time throughout any Countdown we’ve ever been to I was thinking about what was at stake. I never do that. I just race.”
Del Worsham, driver of the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car, earned his first win of the season towering over the Carolina Nationals field with elapsed times in the low 4-second zone that couldn’t be matched when it counted the most.
Worsham proved as the car to beat throughout qualifying running 3.993 seconds earning him the second starting position taking on Dave Richard first round. After beating him, he raced reigning Funny Car champion, Matt Hagan and in a tire smoking affair winning the quarterfinals with his slowest time of the day at 4.235 seconds.
He was paired against John Force in his Jeff Gordon tribute car in the semi-finals and narrowly got by to move on to Tommy Johnson, Jr., the No.1 qualifier for a final round.
Worsham showed why his Kalitta Racing team was ready for the weekend laying down at time of 4.086 seconds, 307.16 mph against Johnson’s 4.119 second time.
Victory meant jumping from fourth to first retaking the points lead. It is the first time he has lead since Charlotte’s spring race. He is the only driver in zMax Dragway history to win in both Top Fuel and Funny Car classes.
“It was amazing to win, especially now that we are in the running for the Championship,” said Worsham. “I think all those losses during the season really set the tone for this final round. We wanted to set the tone of the final and we did. I am so proud of this entire DHL Toyota Camry team. Jon O, Nicky, the TRD support all came together for greatness today.”
The defending Pro Stock champion, Erica Enders, won at zMax Dragway for the first time, taking down Vincent Nobile on a holeshot in the final round of the NHRA Carolina Nationals on Sunday, and in doing so, she continued to pile up impressive numbers for her career and for her outstanding 2015 season taking seven wins.
“That is pretty neat,” Enders said of winning in Charlotte. “Back when I drove for Cagnazzi (Racing), this was one of the facilities that they had never won at. It was obviously a goal of ours. Coming in this weekend, I had runner-upped three or four different times here, a couple at the Four-Wide Nationals and one at the regular race. This was actually the place where the win lights malfunctioned and we thought we got our first win against Greg Anderson, but then they were like, ‘Sike, you don’t get it,’ and took the trophy over to him.
Now stretching her already large point lead to 83 over Greg Anderson is exactly the direction her Elite Racing team wanted to show the Pro Stock class what’s in store. In winning on Sunday, she passed her drag racing hero, Shirley Muldowney earning her 19th career win and third in a row.
“Yeah, it’s pretty incredible,” Enders said. “My PR guy was telling me some stats on the way down the hallway and that is pretty surreal. I feel like I’m in a dream. I just don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a great group of guys and to work for such an awesome team owner. We have fun together and that is what makes it so cool. We are able to be successful and have fun. Nobody said that you had to be miserable while you are doing it.”
She beat V Gaines, Chris McGaha and Allen Johnson before taking on surprise finalist, Vincent Nobile. She cut a fast light (.012) running a time of 6.581 seconds, 210.15 mph to Nobile’s quicker time of 6.575 seconds winning by .004-thousandths of a second.
“It’s a true blessing, and to be able to pass Shirley — it was crazy in Indy to tie her. Angelle is a friend of mine, lives about 20 minutes from my house (in New Orleans). She is by far the winningest female (41) in NHRA drag racing, so it’s definitely cool to put my name alongside of theirs, a true honor.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending world champ Andrew Hines won this event for the third time, clocking a winning run of 6.880 at 195.11 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to Matt Smith’s losing 6.910 at 192.49 on his Victory Racing Gunner. It was Hines’ 40th career victory in the two-wheel category.
“I won here in the spring at the Four Wide and that was my 39th win and it has taken us all this time go get back and get win No. 40,” Hines said. “That tells you how tough it is out here.”
Hines outran Chaz Kennedy, veteran rider Steve Johnson and top qualifier Jerry Savoie to advance to the final and get a great start on defending his series crown. He moved into the points lead with the win, and is 20 points ahead of playoff top seed and teammate Eddie Krawiec heading to round two of the playoffs.
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship continues next weekend with round two of the playoffs at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis on September 25 – 27.