Photos: Courtesy NHRA
For Funny Car racer John Force, time only matters on the track as the 65-year old driver added to his legacy by winning his 140th NHRA National event, and first ever at Norwalk, at the NHRA Summit Equipment Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park over the July 4th weekend.
Joining Force in the Ohio winner’s circle were Antron Brown, Erica Enders-Stevens and Andrew Hines at this fan-favorite track.
John Force is still raising the bar after all these years, and Sunday’s victory pushed his Castrol JFR team into the No. 2 position in the Mello Yello Funny Car point standings.
“This win today was special to me,” said a grinning Force. “I had come to Norwalk decades ago for the Night of Fire events and match races but never won the NHRA event here, and I want to win every race. I just couldn’t get a NHRA national event win here and I won them all with the exception of Epping, so I really wanted this win.”
Going into race day, John Force’s Funny Car Mustang had qualified second with a thundering 4.016 second run at 322.04 that set the track speed record at Summit Motorsports Park. Crew chief Jimmy Prock and the rest of the team knew just how far they could push the track conditions without overpowering the track.
“That Jimmy Prock, I gotta give it to him,” said Force. “He works with the whole brain trust and calls were being made today and they were being made right. Jimmy always swings for the fences and we started out the season killing ‘em and setting national records. Then all of a sudden, our choke got stuck and had five straight first round losses but he made some changes and good calls today and now we’re back on track,”
In his four rounds of eliminations, he defeated Tim Wilkerson, Chad Head, nemesis Cruz Pedregon, and in the finals, Ron Capps
In the final round, John knew Capps would be tough as these two have battled it out a total of 73 times with 16 of those matchups in final rounds. Despite John’s 9-7 record against Capps, he wasn’t going back down one bit and be denied a long awaited victory at today’s race.
Both cars left the starting line with nearly identical reaction times but by mid-track, as the smoked cleared the win light in John’s lane illuminated and the scoreboards told the rest of the story: 4.113-second pass to Capp’s 4.135 performance.
“Good day and great weekend for John Force Racing but luck is a big part of this game. I’m just glad I could share it with the fans and my family. But when you’re happy and the heart’s right, the mind does everything right,” said John Force.
Runner-up Capps explained what happened to his NAPA Dodge in the finals.
“We didn’t expect it to slow down against Force so Tobler started looking at the computer right away to see what happened,” said Capps “The car just moved to the left down there. It was another close race but we raced well today. What’s so neat about the sport of drag racing is you wake up on a Sunday morning and it doesn’t matter where you qualified, you know there is uncertainty of where you’ll be at the end of the day; whether you’ll be in your rental car heading to the airport early in the afternoon or you’ll be standing at the starting line getting for the final round at the end of the day.”
Capps’ third runner-up finish at the Norwalk track in the past four years helped his team move ahead of DSR’s Tommy Johnson Jr. and his team by one point in the NHRA Funny Car standings. Robert Hight is still the runaway leader with 178-point lead over J. Force.
Antron Brown in his Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster scored his fifth NHRA event win of 2014, impressing the corporate Matco staff on hand at their home track in Norwalk. It was announced earlier this week that a Matco Tools sponsorship extension agreement was signed with DSR and Brown through the 2017 season.
“It’s our primary sponsor Matco’s home race,” Antron said. “They’re right down the road in Stow. The president of Matco, Tim Gilmore, was here and the vice president of marketing John Green and their families were here with all our Matco distributors and we just knew we needed to win this race and that’s what makes it special.”
The win capped off an outstanding weekend for the Matco Tools team after qualifying third for Sunday’s eliminations. Before earning his fifth win in 13 races this NHRA season, the team clocked their best pass of the weekend, a 3.756-second lap at 324 mph in the opening round of eliminations.
“It’s just been a true blessing to be at this racetrack this weekend,” Brown said after this 30th career Top Fuel win and 46th including NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle wins. “This racetrack was incredible all weekend long. The competition right now in Top Fuel is just so tough, when you have four cars run 3.75 in the first round, that just tells you how tight and how crazy tough it is just to win a round, let alone win a race.”
But it wasn’t an easy day for the team who closed to within less than three round wins behind Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta. After warming up his dragster for the final round against reigning Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon, Brown and the well-trained crew members noticed a problem with the dragster after excess smoke was coming from the engine.
“Coming up to the final round, all I can say is our team definitely went through some adversity and were Army Strong,” Brown said. “We had a main bearing problem before the final. The boys caught it after we warmed up because the car was smoking badly.
“They were able to take it down, loosen everything on the car and we only had 15 minutes to get up there. It was crazy. It was crazy how focused our boys were and the communication was unparalleled.”
It was the first career win for Brown at Norwalk, who now has wins at all but four NHRA tracks (Bristol, Epping, Reading and Topeka). The team also scored the event win near Chicago last weekend, marking the second time they’ve won back-to-back titles (Charlotte, Houston) in 2014.
He will enter in his 300th career race when the NHRA Mello Yello series reconvenes in two weeks near Denver for the Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway where Brown is a two-time Top Fuel Denver champion.
Pro Stock driver, Erica Enders-Stevens drove to some impressive numbers for her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro team at Norwalk. She won her class-leading fourth win of the season, the 10th of her career and the 199th win for Chevrolet in Pro Stock.
She capped off a perfect weekend of being quickest in all eight rounds, covering qualifying and eliminations which pushed her points lead to 241, the biggest of the all the four pro classes.
But perhaps her proudest number was .015, as in her reaction time in seconds in the final round against Dave Connolly. That allowed her to get a quick lead, and her pass of 6.632 seconds at 210.14 was more than enough to send her to victory lane.
“I’m proud of my team,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve got to get my job done and not think about any of the negative things. We were able to do that today, and a big reason is because we have a really fast, consistent race car.”
Enders-Stevens also exorcised some personal demons that have plagued her over the last few races. Every NHRA driver has lost on holeshots in their career, but Enders-Stevens was determined to not let that happen this weekend, especially after grabbing the No. 1 qualifier.
The pole winner hasn’t won in Pro Stock since the U.S. Nationals last year with Mike Edwards behind the wheel, but Enders-Stevens and her team wanted that streak to end in Norwalk.
“When we got it I was like, ‘All right, it’s our job to bust it,’ ” Enders-Stevens said. “I’m just glad we could get it done, and that’s a big part of this game. Having a positive mental attitude and focusing on the things you want and not dwelling on the negative things or the distractions on the outside.”
And she joined Sampey (41 victories) and Muldowney (18) as the only females with double-digit wins.
Enders-Stevens missed on getting the 100th victory by a female in NHRA, but she’d love to give Chevrolet its 200th win in Pro Stock.
“That would be very cool,” Enders-Stevens said. “The 100th win for females is very significant and we were 99 and 101, so we missed it by a little, but 200 for Chevy would be very cool. We certainly have the hot rod to do it, and I’m driving better.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines claimed his third win of the season and fourth victory at Summit Racing Motorsports Park, riding his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a performance of 6.901 at 193.96 in the final round against Hector Arana’s Lucas Oil Products Buell.
“It was a lot of little things that needed to fall into place to finally come around today,” Hines said of his new bike at Norwalk this weekend. “Without the help of everybody on the crew, we wouldn’t be able to get where we are. We struggled in the semis. But I was able to outrun Hector and to get around him was big. The fourth win light was definitely the prettiest one of the day.”
Hines, a three-time world champion, beat John Hall, Jim Underdahl and Steve Johnson to reach the final round, and increases his points lead with the victory. His fellow Sreamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate and event’s No. 1 qualifier Eddie Krawiec remains in the second spot, while Hector Arana Jr. is third.