Rookie Spencer Massey collected the first NHRA Top Fuel win of his career to highlight final eliminations at the United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway outside of Chicago. Massey was joined in victory by Tony Pedregon (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock), and Matt Guidera (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Massey beat Antron Brown for his breakthrough win, and Pedregon, the defending event champ, held off Ashley Force Hood for the win. The Pro Stock final between Coughlin and Mike Edwards featured the top two drivers in the points, and Coughlin extended his lead over the hard-charging Edwards. Guidera defeated Eddie Krawiec for his win at the event, the 10th race on the 24-event 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule.
Massey, one of the front-runners for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award given annually to the season’s top rookie, upset low qualifier Brown in a quick final round, 3.856, 308.35 to 3.870, 301.54, to add to an already impressive résumé. The victory was especially pleasing to team owner Don Prudhomme because the event sponsor, United Association, also sponsors their race car.
“We’ve been needing to do good and go rounds, and this is an awesome place to do it,” said Massey. “This is the first NHRA race that the United Association has sponsored, and for us to win our first race here, you couldn’t write the book any better. So for U.S. Smokeless, United Association, and Don Prudhomme, I’m happy to get my first NHRA Top Fuel win here.
“This whole season has been a dream. I’ve been watching NHRA racing and wanting to drive a Top Fuel dragster in the NHRA since I was 4 years old and saw my first race. I watched Don Prudhomme win his last Top Fuel race in Dallas in 1994, and now he’s high-fiving me in the winner’s circle. That’s unbelievable.”
Massey, who had scored three times in Top Alcohol Dragster and won the IHRA Top Fuel championship last year, reached the second NHRA Top Fuel final of his NHRA rookie season by taking Prudhomme’s Donnie Bender- and Todd Smith-wrenched U.S. Smokeless dragster past fellow Texan Troy Buff, Terry Haddock, and, in a rematch of his losing Topeka semifinal clash, former Prudhomme driver Larry Dixon, to reach the final round.
Although he didn't win, Brown regained the Top Fuel points lead he twice has held this season by beating Topeka runner-up Clay Millican in the semifinals to reach his fourth final this season, ninth of his Top Fuel career, and his 34th overall. Prior to beating Millican, Brown, the low qualifier in Mike Ashley’s Brian Corradi- and Mark Oswald-tuned Matco dragster, had defeated Luigi Novelli and Rod Fuller.
After two Funny Car runner-ups this season, Pedregon was never headed as he won this event for the second straight year and ended a drought stretching back to last year’s Brainerd event, and he did it in wire-to-wire fashion from the No. 1 spot. In a battle for second place in the standings, Pedregon won his eighth straight round here easily when Force Hood smoked the tires. The victory is the 41st of Pedregon's career.
“We had a lot of drama in our pits,” said Pedregon. “We had to change a motor, and once they were done with the motor, they were changing front tires. Our car was so good in qualifying, and it gave me a lot of confidence going into race day. It’s not often that I would say [Ron] Capps is going to have to be a pretty bad cat to beat us, but I really felt that with the way the car was running. Dickie [Venables, crew chief] and I went over a little strategy, and we had some signals that were going to let me know what I was up against. He gave me the thumbs-up, so at that point, I just hoped that the motor wasn’t any different from what we’d been running with those other runs.
“We had good conditions, and we had tough opponents all day. This race was a lot less expensive than winning last year, and that’s a good thing with this tough economy. I’m glad we were able to pull it off with Quaker State. Semifinals, getting to some final rounds, that’s good, but it’s really all about winning. We feel confident that we’re going to make the Countdown, but we gotta keep doing the work to stay there. [This is a] great track, a great facility, and the sun came out, it went away, it rained, you name it, and the track hung in there, and we were able to execute today.”
Pedregon had qualified his Quaker State Chevy No. 1 with a 4.079, and Venables kept feeding the coals Sunday with a sizzling string of 4.0-second performances, beating points leader Capps with a 4.093, Robert Hight with a 4.096, and brother Cruz Pedregon’s Advance Auto Parts Toyota with low e.t. of the meet, 4.062, to earn lane choice for the final, the 70th of his career and his third of the season.
Force Hood, runner-up last weekend in Topeka to Capps, reached the fourth final of the season with her Dean Antonelli- and Ron Douglas-tuned Castrol Mustang by racing through a Ford-thick side of the ladder after all six Mustangs in the field advanced to round two, four of them on her side of the ladder. After besting Jack Beckman in round one with a 4.085, Force Hood kept the heat on with a 4.071 to trailer Bob Tasca III and a 4.078 to beat teammate Mike Neff in the semifinals and reach her ninth Pro final.
Points leader Coughlin was gunning for his fourth Pro Stock win of the season with the Jegs.com Cobalt and was hoping to avenge his semifinal loss a week earlier to Edwards in Topeka, but with the way that Edwards was running throughout the event, he probably never expected the win to come via a red-light in the final. Edwards was .021-second too early and handed Coughlin the win, the 44th of his Pro Stock career and 57th overall.
“We qualified third, Greg Anderson was a couple thousandths ahead of us, and Mike was in the zone there a couple hundredths ahead of both of us, and that’s the way it’s been the last couple of races,” said Coughlin. “Mike’s been fast the entire 2009 season, and he’s just taken some time to get the finesse down. He’s got it right now. He’s in a great position to win a lot of rounds and win some races, and I feel fortunate to be here right now.
“We just want to get out and race well. We’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of finals this year and to be in some key money rounds where the car has gotten out of shape or we’ve had to abort the run, so it was our goal coming into this race to take a step back and get this car as ironed out as we could and try to be a little more efficient getting the car down the racetrack, and I believe we accomplished that.”
Coughlin had worked his way past racers on both ends of the driving spectrum, beating rookie Ryan Ondrejko in round one and class veteran Warren Johnson in round two before eking out a .005-second semifinal victory over Anderson to reach his 74th Pro Stock final, 92nd overall, and third straight at this event. Coughlin also won this race in 2007 and scored twice at the fall event at Route 66.
Edwards had recorded his sixth No. 1 qualifying berth and was trying to win for the third time this season and 17th time in his Pro Stock career, but a failing air gap on the clutch triggered the final-round foul. Edwards’ ART/Young Life Pontiac was the quickest in three of four qualifying sessions and in all four eliminations rounds as he handled red-lighting Ronnie Humphrey, Johnny Gray, and Kurt Johnson with runs of 6.626, 6.633, and 6.638 to earn lane choice for the final, the 34th of his career. K.J. gave it a valiant try with a big semifinal holeshot, but Edwards squeezed by to win by .001-second.
Guidera only qualified 10th in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field but had the best bike of race day, especially through the late rounds to the final, where he defeated reigning season champ Krawiec, 7.096, 181.79 to 7.189, 179.66, to collect his fourth win with the Mohegan Sun Buell.
“That was one hell of a final,” said Guidera. “I had a great bike all day. It really came around on Saturday. Before that, we were struggling. On Friday, I was 14th, and I wasn’t qualified heading into Saturday. Then, we couldn’t get the valve springs off the bike. We had to change engines, and we worked until about 1:30 in the morning, went back and got a couple hours sleep, and came back on Saturday. We made some drastic changes to our tune-up, and we finally hit the sweet spot.
“On Saturday, we were third-quickest, so I knew I had something to work with on race day. On our 6.99 pass in the second round, I rode the wheels off of it. Still, it wasn’t an easy weekend. I had to run Craig Treble, and that’s never fun, but luckily, my bike was a bit quicker than his.
“I don’t think I snuck up on anybody this weekend. We just sucked so bad on Friday, and it left us in a big hole. On Sunday, I left nothing on the table.”
Guidera, runner-up at this event three years ago, had not been past the second round in the five Pro Stock Motorcycle races this season but worked his way to his seventh final round in impressive fashion as the quickest rider in the second and semifinal rounds. Guidera, who last visited the winner’s circle at last year’s Sonoma event, rode to the final from the No. 10 qualifying spot by beating a pair of former Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil champs, Treble and Steve Johnson, in the first and third rounds and Michael Phillips with the only six-second pass of eliminations, a 6.997, in the quarterfinals.
Krawiec, who won the world championship last year aboard his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley without winning a single event, was riding a two-event winning streak entering the event, having scored in Atlanta and Madison. In the first race with an extra 20 pounds of weight added to his bike per NHRA rules, Krawiec struggled and qualified just ninth, but he trailered David Hope, low qualifier Doug Horne, and teammate Andrew Hines with runs of 7.110, 7.094, and 7.143 to reach his ninth final. Krawiec leads the points, 51 ahead of Hines, who moved into second place at this event.
Saturday: Rookie Horne grabs first No. 1; Brown, Pedregon, Edwards also tops in Chicago
Friday: Brown, T-Ped, Edwards, Horne first-day leaders in Chicago