READING, PA – (Oct. 9) – NHRA Funny Car’s John Force and Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon both widened their points leads and edged closer to world championship titles by racing to victories on Sunday at the 29th annual Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the fourth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
For the 28th time in his legendary career, 15-time champion, John Force won back to back races taking the Funny Car title. He outran rookie driver and former John Force Racing crewman Chad Head in the final running 4.106 seconds to 10.002 seconds. After winning from the No. 1 qualifier position for the first time since the 2004 Auto Club NHRA Finals, Force gave quick credit to not just his Castrol GTX crew chiefs but the entire John Force Racing team of crew chiefs and crewmen.
“This is a good race car,” said a jubilant Force. (Crew chiefs) Jimmy Prock and Danny DeGennaro have things really going. Robert (Hight) told me that this was a great team when I came over here. What is most exciting is the team work. The other crew chiefs are all trying to win but they are also helping us when we are headed to the semi-finals or the finals. They were up on the starting line rooting for me and you could see the sincerity. Back at the trailer the crew chiefs are going over the computers and Robert is showing me the videos so I can see anything that can help me on staging.”
“To get this win meant a lot to me. They all mean a lot. I have a good hot rod. What we have right now is consistency. Jimmy Prock likes to swing for the fence and that scares me sometimes. When he is hot, he is hot,” said Force.
In Friday’s qualifying, Force made all the news headlines rocketing to the No. 1 spot recording a run of 3.987 second s, becoming the seventh Funny Car driver to eclipse the 3-second barrier and was on the verge of resetting the NHRA National Elapsed Time Record, since Force was only a thousandth of a second away from equaling Jack Beckman’s mark of 3.986 seconds set last year at this track.
In Sunday’s race, Force played it smart and defeated Jeff Arend, Cruz Pedregon and Ron Capps en route to his seventh final this season. HIs winning time, 4.106 seconds, was the slowest elapsed time he recorded all weekend. Force had the quickest elapsed time every time his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang ran down the track with the exception of the third qualifying session. Force’s average elapsed time was 4.083 on race day when the track temp climbed every round.
Force went into the race five points behind Matt Hagan and came out 65 ahead (2457-2392) with only two races remaining.
The No. 2 qualifier, Shawn Langdon began his winning ways on Sunday by smoking the tires in the first round against Leah Pruett and appeared to have lost when her car had problems, and Langdon was able to get the round win. He got the most of his lucky break and defeated Bob Vandergriff, Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown on his way to the winner’s circle. Langdon has six wins in 10 final-round appearances in 22 races this season.
“First round, we were just trying to make a good, safe run,” said Langdon. “I pedaled the Al-Anabi car five or six times. I could see Leah out there in front of me, and then her chutes came out. I’m trying to get this thing to recover, and it is all over the race track. I got back to the pit, talked to Alan (team manager Alan Johnson) and Brian (crew chief Brian Husen), and they said, ‘well, we won’t have to worry about that anymore because the car won’t smoke the tires the rest of the day.”
“That’s what it did. We definitely had a little bit of luck there, and you need that on Sunday. If we had that much luck, I think it was meant to be for us to win today. That just shows how great this Al-Anabi team is; to be able to come back like that. We took advantage of the opportunity. It was a great job for this whole team; it’s a critical time to get that win right now.”
In the finals it was the 2012 champ, Antron Brown against the current Mello Yello Top Fuel points leader, Langdon. The Al-Anabi driver posted a time of 4.779 seconds at a speed of 323.81 mph to Brown’s competitive time of 3.809 seconds in taking his sixth win of 2013.
Langdon has definitely stretched his lead over Doug Kalitta in the Top Fuel ranks with consistent runs all weekend and now has mounted a total of 2.441, 83 points ahead of Kalitta and 85 away from Spencer Massey.
He was the fourth different Top Fuel winner in as many races with Morgan Lucas winning Charlotte, Doug Kalitta in Dallas, and Antron Brown in St. Louis.
Jeg Coughlin drove his pink, for breast cancer awareness, and yellow JEG’s Pro Stock Dodge to the win and extended his lead in that category.
It was his 56th Pro Stock National Event win and fourth so far of the season. Adding to his point total, he moved ahead of Mike Edwards by 45 points, 50 ahead of Jason Line and his teammate and last year’s champ, Allen Johnson, who is 73 points in arrears.
Jeg Coughlin Jr. took command of the Pro Stock points lead with a brilliant performance in winning on holeshots in the semifinals and final, beating Johnson & Johnson Racing teammate Allen Johnson in the final round with a .004-second reaction time.
“Sometimes you live and die on your starts, there’s no question about it,” said Coughlin. “We just had some off runs the last two weeks and didn’t get away with it. I think the thing that fired me up is following my son, Jeg III, play in the Ohio state district golf tournament. He was looking to advance to the state finals. It was an event, kind of like the Countdown (to the Championship), where it’s all on the line. A bad hole or two can make it tough.
“As I was keeping his stats for him, I was just getting more and more fired up by watching his drive and dedication. I told him after that, ‘Man, this weekend is going to be just fantastic for me because you’ve got me fired up.'”
Coughlin’s “worst” reaction time Sunday was .032 seconds, but he also had lights of .022 and .012. The .012 came against No. 1 qualifier Jason Line in the semifinals after Line had lane choice with a quicker pass in the quarterfinals.
But thanks to Coughlin’s head start of .029 seconds (Line was .041 on the Christmas Tree); he was able to hold off Line’s pass of 6.607 seconds at 210.01 mph with his slower run of 6.615 seconds at 208.39 mph.
Johnson, the No. 2 qualifier who had one of the quickest cars Sunday, had lane choice, too. But Coughlin’s near-perfect reaction time got him ahead, and he won with a pass of 6.616 seconds at 208.75 mph, holding off Johnson’s quicker 6.588-second run at 209.39 mph.
The two holeshot wins give Coughlin 91 for his stellar career, the most in Pro Stock history.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Matt Smith has all but locked up his chances to grab his second Pro Stock Motorcycle championship and now has both Hector Arana, Jr. and Hector Arana, Sr., 125 and 127 behind, reaching his seventh 2013 Final round appearance, ironically in only the last nine events.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, point leader Matt Smith zoned in on his second world championship by beating defending world champion Eddie Krawiec in the final round. Smith rode his Viper Motorcycle Company Racing Buell to a winning performance of 6.936 at 193.32 to earn his second straight victory, third this season and 16th in his career. Krawiec went 6.965 at 190.43 in the final round on his Vance & Hines Screamin-Eagle Harley Davidson in his second final round appearance during the Countdown.
“I can’t say enough about our crew,” Smith said. “We hurt our good motor (Saturday), but things worked out for us. All in all, we beat big competitors in the semifinals and finals, extended our points lead and I’m really happy right now. This thing’s not over yet. I’m still looking at every round as just 20 points.”
The King, N.C. native, who won his first world championship in 2007, and his second career win at Maple Grove, beat Michael Ray, John Hall and Chaz Kenney to reach the final round.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues Oct. 24-27 with the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.