Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals Sunday Notebook

News, notes, quotes, and photos from race day at the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, race eight of 24 on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
21 May 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
topeka

Features | Photos | Results

ELIMINATIONS ROUND RECAPS

Brittany ForceTOP FUEL ROUND ONE (11:39 a.m.): Brittany Force set a new national speed record (333.66 mph) and booked lane choice against red-hot Steve Torrence in the second round after topping Luigi Novelli. It was Force’s first escape from the first round since beating Larry Dixon in Las Vegas four races ago; Force fell to Torrence in the second round. Antron Brown ran the quickest pass of the round (3.691) but had a surprisingly tight contest against Kebin Kinsley after getting off the line a bit tardy (.105 to .060). Clay Millican, Leah Pritchett, Doug Kalitta, and Shawn Langdon also advanced to the second round. 

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Tony Schumacher vs. Clay Millican; Brittany Force vs. Steve Torrence; Leah Pritchett vs. Doug Kalitta; Antron Brown vs. Shawn Langdon.

Courtney ForceFUNNY CAR ROUND ONE (12:10 p.m.): Courtney Force ran the second-fastest speed in history, 338.68 mph, and the fourth-quickest e.t., 3.821, to highlight the opening round and defeat Tim Wilkerson. Force’s teammate, Robert Hight, was right there with a speed of 338.09 mph on a 3.833 pass to beat Dale Creasy Jr.  The event now has been host to the four quickest e.t.s and six fastest speeds in class history. In the round’s biggest upset, Bob Tasca III beat John Force by just .003-second on a holeshot, 3.930 to 3.907.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Matt Hagan vs. J.R. Todd; Del Worsham vs. Jack Beckman; Courtney Force vs. Ron Capps; Robert Hight vs. Bob Tasca III.

Johnson
Tommy Johnson Jr. backfired the blower and rode out a small fire in his first-round loss to Del Worsham. (animated gif)

Jason LinePRO STOCK ROUND ONE (12:10 p.m.): All three KB Racing cars advanced to round two, led by low qualifier Bo Butner, whose 6.556 was quick for the round. Jason Line was right behind him with a 6.557 at top speed of the meet, 211.10 mph. Greg Anderson  didn’t get an e.t in his victory on a bye run when Alan Prusiensky was a no-show.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Bo Butner vs. bye; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Allen Johnson; Jason Line vs. Vincent Nobile; Tanner Gray vs. Greg Anderson

Steve TorrenceTOP FUEL ROUND TWO (1:40 p.m.): Steve Torrence needed a holeshot to sneak past Brittany Force in the second round by just .005. The hottest driver in Top Fuel beat the Monster Energy driver by .014 off the line, and it took nearly every bit of it to move the Capco Contractors driver into the third round. That books him a matchup with Clay Millican, who snuck past Tony Schumacher in an explosive second-round contest where both drivers struggled just to get down the track. There was no such problem for Leah Pritchett, who ran a round-low 3.708 pass to face teammate Antron Brown in the semi’s. She’s looking for her fourth Wally of the season. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Steve Torrence vs. Clay Millican; Leah Pritchett vs. Antron Brown. 

Clay Millican
Clay Millican won a wild second-round race over low qualifier Tony Schumacher. Schumacher’s Army car smoked the tires then backfired the blower while Millican pedaled the throttle no less than six times and nearly crossed the centerline in trying to stay ahead of Schumacher. (animated gif)

Jack BeckmanFUNNY CAR ROUND TWO (1:55 p.m.): Jack Beckman made it to his third semifinal in the last four races, defeating Del Worsham, and will have lane choice over teammate Matt Hagan, who backfired the blower in beating J.R. Todd and slowed to a 4.01. Ron Capps, winner of the last three events, ran his unbeaten streak to 14 rounds in beating Courtney Force. Robert Hight will take on Capps after avenging the first-round loss of his boss, John Force, to Bob Tasca III.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Jack Beckman vs. Matt Hagan; Ron Capps vs. Robert Hight.

Vincent NobilePRO STOCK ROUND TWO (2:05 p.m.): Vincent Nobile got the most surprising win of the round as Jason Line went -.034 red against him, fouling out to his former teammate. Jeg Coughlin Jr. collected career round-win No. 599 and will face low qualifier Bo Butner, who had low e.t. of the frame (6.557), in the semifinals. Rookie sensation Tanner Gray rounds out the final four after beating Greg Anderson on a holeshot, 6.575 to 6.568.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Bo Butner vs. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; Tanner Gray vs. Vincent Nobile.

Antron BrownTOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (3 p.m.): Antron Brown reached his 80th career Top Fuel final by beating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Leah Pritchett in a tight semifinal matchup. He edged her down the track by .003-second after taking her down at the Tree by .051-second. Steve Torrence stretched his round-winning streak to 11 by cruising past Clay Millican. His pass of 3.718 seconds eased past Millican’s 3.822 as Millican’s car blew at the finish line. Torrence has only beaten Brown once in 22 tries; that’s a record he’ll have to reverse if he wants to take home his third-straight Wally. 

Ron CappsFUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (3:03 p.m.): Ron Capps reached his fourth-straight final and ran his unbeaten string to 15 straight rounds by defeating tire-smoking Robert Hight to reach his 103rd career Funny Car final. He’ll have lane choice over teammate Matt Hagan, the No. 1 qualifier, based on his superior 3.908 to 3.918 semifinal performance. Capps, winner of three-straight events, has never won four in a row.

Jeg CoughlinPRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (3:05 p.m.): Jeg Coughlin Jr. notched his 600th career round-win in spectacular fashion, holeshotting low qualifier Bo Butner with a near-perfect .001 reaction time and winning, 6.576 to 6.569. Coughlin’s margin of victory was a narrow .002-second. Tanner Gray reached the second final round of his rookie campaign, taking an easy 6.577 victory after Vincent Nobile shook the tires. 

Shawn Cowie
LUCAS OIL SERIES FINAL RESULTS:
Shawn Cowie (pictured) won for the second time this year in Alcohol Dragster as the Charlotte champion defeated class rookie Rachel Meyer with a 5.21 to her traction-plagued effort. John Lombardo Jr., who earlier in the event became just the second driver in Alcohol Funny Car history to record a 5.3-second elapsed time, defeated tire-smoking Annie Whiteley in the final round to claim his seventh career win.

Jason DeForrest captured his third career Super Stock title, defeating Pete Peery in a double-breakout battle, while Jeff Lopez prevailed over Randi Lyn Shipp in a double-breakout Stock final to collect his fifth career Wally.

Austin Williams was .009 on the Tree and 8.907 on the timers to beat James Repka in the Super Comp final for his 11th career win. Jim Repka also was on the losing end of the Super Gas final when Roger Warren ran a near-perfect 9.901 to force Repka into a 9.88 breakout. Afton Swanson was the winner in the Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs class, chasing down Larry Piper for her first career win with a 6.202 on a 6.20 dial.

TFH final
TOP FUEL HARLEY FINAL:
Mike Scott, near lane, upset points leader Jay Turner in Top Fuel Harley, driving around Turner’s .009-second advantage at the Tree to pick up the Wally. He beat him by a mere .005-second thanks to a 5.323 pass vs. Turner's 5.337 run. Scott entered the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals, his third race of the year, in 11th place.

Pro Mod final
PRO MOD FINAL:
Class rookie Stevie “Fast” Jackson, near lane, runner-up two weeks ago in Atlanta in his final Pro Mod final-round appearance, made good this weekend, defeating two-time season winner Mike Castellana in the final, 5.79 to 5.85. The race was not as close as those numbers would indicate because Jackson got a huge .039 to .102 starting-line advantage.

PS final
PRO STOCK FINAL:
Tanner Gray, near lane, joined his father, Shane, and grandfather, Johnny, as a Topeka winner after Jeg Coughlin Jr. left .051-second too soon and red-lighted in the final. Gray sealed the win with a 6.580. Shane won Pro Stock in Topeka in 2011, and Johnny captured Funny Car honors here in 2013.

FC final
FUNNY CAR FINAL:
Ron Capps, far lane, won his fourth-straight race for the first time in his career, taking down Matt Hagan in the final with a 3.924 second pass. The defending world champion extended his round- win streak to 16 and continued to look unbeatable while winning from the No. 7 spot and solidifying his spot atop the Funny Car standings. 

TF final
TOP FUEL FINAL:
Antron Brown, far lane, ran his career record against Steve Torrence to 22-1 by beating his good friend in the final to collect his second win of the season with the Matco Tools dragster. The win, which ended Torrence’s two-race victory streak, is the 47th in Brown’s Top Fuel career and 63rd overall.

Sunday recap: Ron Capps wins fourth in a row as Antron Brown and Tanner Gray each capture wins in Topeka. 

FEATURES

Tony Schumacher took advantage of excellent racing conditions on Saturday afternoon to set a Heartland Park Topeka elapsed-time record (3.660), joining Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown on the track's record sheet. Brown set the national speed record (333.16) earlier in the day. 

That’s not the only thing the two drivers have in common. All of the DSR Top Fuel cars have canopies, which makes for interesting driving conditions and decisions when in the cockpit. 

“The canopy is excellent, they’ve gotta be out on you quite a bit for you to be able to hear [opponents in the other lane],” said Schumacher after clinching the No. 1 qualifier spot. “And when they are out quite a bit you are uncomfortable. One of two things are happening: You’re either getting your butt whipped or your car is not performing.”

Tony Schumacher
When that’s happening, it opens a list of decisions for drivers that must be made in an extremely short period of time. Schumacher made his record-setting pass in fewer than four seconds, and the decisions he’s about to lay out happen in a mere fraction of that. 

“That’s something people don’t take into account, and fans can’t possibly measure,” Schumacher said. “When you’re behind someone and you’re getting all that horsepower dumped into your lap, you’re trying to decide was I late, is the car doing bad, should I be shutting it off? There’s a lot of things going through your mind.”

That’s in addition to some interesting quirks offered up by the Topeka track. Drivers have spent the weekend complimenting its smooth surface, but Schumacher said it’s not without its interesting attributes.

“Here’s a great example of a racetrack that you have to shut off at 1,000 feet, that’s the end of the race, but you’ve got a finish line 320 feet past that we used to race to and scoreboards another couple hundred feet past it,” the Army driver said. “So, you’re looking at these monster scoreboards trying to decipher where the finish line is. It’s one of these things you discuss as a team, where the finish line is because so we’re going into the next day with a full slew of parts that we would have blown up had the driver not done his job and shut off when he’s supposed to.”

Schumacher takes on Pat Dakin in the first round of eliminations. 

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Doug Kalitta
Today’s first round marked a milestone for Doug Kalitta as he competed in his 1,000th round of racing. Kalitta is just the ninth driver to reach the milestone.

The round was a successful one for Kalitta, who beat Scott Palmer to boost his record to an impressive 601-399 win-loss mark in 448 race-day starts. He’s collected 42 wins, 46 runner-ups, and 79 semifinal finishes. He’s also been the No. 1 qualifier 47 times and has failed to qualify just seven times in 456 starts.
 

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Matt HaganBy now you’ve probably seen Matt Hagan’s record-setting Funny Car run from the third qualifying session at Heartland Park in Topeka. If not, we’ve got you covered. But what does 338.85 mph and a 3.802 second pass feel like in the seat of Hagan’s Mopar flopper?

“This is as extreme as it gets,” said Hagan. “I mean, 330 mph and you’ve got a steering wheel between your lap, you know? That’s craziness. It’s not even that it’s 330 mph; it’s that we’re doing it in 1,000 feet. I’ve never done two or three flips on a dirt bike, but it can’t be close to this.”

Blasting off at that speed understandably draws comparisons to rocket ships, but Hagan likened the experience more to floating in space than to liftoff.

“You would think going that fast it would be planted and it would be stuck, but it’s almost like the car starts to float,” said Hagan. “It’s one of those things where you’re almost afraid to touch the car too much because in a Funny Car you usually have to drive ‘em no matter what but you’re almost afraid to because you don’t want to upset this thing.”

Despite running back-to-back runs of 3.802 and 3.806 seconds (338.85 and then 335.98 mph), Hagan said it’s tough to tell just how fast he’s going when in the car. Once you get to a certain speed, it’s all a matter of degrees. 

“I know the difference between a four-flat run and a 3.80 run, but it’s one of those things where a little bit slower run, even a 3.90 run, it kinda feels planted and stuck and you can do anything you want to in there with the wheel and it’s digging and you’re still pinned in the seat,” said Hagan. “But on one of those runs it’s so loose, so early, and so fast that’s kind of how you know you’re on one of those real good, quick runs.”

Hagan is the No. 1 qualifier and will face Jack Wyatt in the first round of eliminations. 

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Ron CappsIf you discount his shocking failure to qualify at the spring Las Vegas event last year, it would be tempting to look at the 2016 Heartland Nationals as one of the low points in Ron Capps’ run to his first season championship. 

It was here where Capps suffered his only first-round loss of the championship campaign, losing to Robert Hight in round one. Even though he had qualified just No. 8, the team recorded its first 3.8-second run of the season.
 
"After we lost last year, Rahn [Tobler, crew chief] told us how happy he was with the way the car ran and how encouraged and excited he was for the next race at Epping,” he said. “We unloaded our NAPA Dodge three or four days later at Epping and set the track record, qualified No. 1, and won the race. When we were celebrating the championship at Pomona we all felt like Topeka was the turning point for us.”

After winning at Epping, Capps won in Englishtown, where he took the points lead that he would never relinquish.
 

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Tim Wilkerson has seen the best and the worst that Topeka has to offer. After all, it was at this event in 2004 that he scored his first national victory, behind the wheel of Alcohol Funny Car, and, of course, it was at this race last year where he car took a hard right turn on the launch in his semifinal race with Jack Beckman and smacked into his guardwall, then completed what was a 270-degree spin and crashed head on into the guardwall in the other lane.

Tim Wilkerson
"I had a really good day, and I thought we had a good car there last year until we had our little mishap,” he said. “But we're over that, and everybody knows we're in it for the long haul. We don't ever give up. If we get beat in the first round three races in a row, you know that we could come back and look like [Ron] Capps the next weekend and go on to win the next three. Everybody out here knows that's our goal."

Wilkerson has struggled at this event with a best of just 4.53 in qualifying No. 15 and drawing No. 2 qualifier Courtney Force, who ran 3.81, in round one.

"We have all new clutch stuff, and I think we're just fighting it," said Wilkerson after qualifying. "I'm happy to be in the field, anyway, as lousy as my showing has been so far. But I'm optimistic that I know what's up, and [Sunday] is going to be a whole different day – the sun is going to be shining. There are no good draws, and I'm sure that Courtney isn't looking at the sheet going, 'Oh good, we get to race Tim Wilkerson.' There isn't a bad lane out there, and [our car] is showing signs. The clutch is acting better every run. I'm really excited, to tell you the truth. We'll see what happens."

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Bo Butner
After nearly two seasons of frustration, the hits are coming fast and furious for Bo Butner. He scored the first Pro Stock win of his career – after seven runner-up finishes – earlier this year in Houston and added a second title two weeks ago in Atlanta, where he was the No. 1 qualifier for just fourth time in his career, then added another No. 1 this weekend, pacing the Topeka field with a 6.540.

For all his earlier struggles, it’s remarkable that he’s the season’s first two-time winner in Pro Stock, especially because his supremely successful KB Racing teammates, Greg Anderson and Jason Line, kicked off the season with a win each at the year’s first two events. Butner insists that his teammates are as happy for him as he is for himself.

“We’re a very good team, all three of us, and we’re very supportive of each other,” he said. “On any day, any of us can win, so we’re happy about that, and with three cars we try something different on each car.”

But no envy from his teammates?

“Well, Greg’s an animal, and he just loves to win,” he said with a smile. “Jason is more like a bigger brother who’s proud of me.”
 

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Jeg Coughlin
Jeg Coughlin Jr., whose career résumé is chock full of highlights, is just three round wins away from adding another impressive entry. With 597 career win lights, he’s on the verge of joining nine other drivers is the exclusive 600-win club.

In Atlanta, Top Fuel racer Doug Kalitta reached round-win No. 600 to become No. 9 behind all-time leader John Force (1,274 round wins through Atlanta), Warren Johnson (874), Tony Schumacher (793), Greg Anderson (731), Kenny Bernstein (682), Larry Dixon (678), Ron Capps (643), and Antron Brown (637).

Coughlin is currently tied with 10-time champion and Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, who also registered 597 wins during his career.

Some other Coughlin facts: 

Coughlin is not only a five-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock champion but also claimed the NHRA Super Gas championship in 1992.
 
He has won at least one NHRA national event at 24 different facilities making him the all-time leader in that category. (The only current venues on the NHRA Mello Yello tour where he has not won are the tracks in Norwalk and Epping.)

He’s also the only driver to win national event titles in seven different NHRA categories (Pro Stock, Comp, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas and Top Dragster) and the only professional racer in history to win a national event title from all 16 starting spots. 

PHOTOS

Track Walk
The SealMaster Track Walk gave fans the opportunity to walk a quarter-mile in the shoes (okay, tires) of their favorite drivers just minutes before the metal machines hit the asphalt. 
Tony Schumacher
Tony Schumacher passed a refreshing Mello Yello to a fan during the No. 1 qualifier driver announcements before eliminations on Sunday.
Bo Butner
No. 1 Pro Stock qualifier Bo Butner flicked a his autographed low qualifier green cap into the crowd during the pre-race ceremonies.
Clay Millican
Clay Millican and Terry McMillen help fans (okay, broadcasters and writers, too) remember their names by donning nametags ahead of their tongue-twisting first-round matchup.
Doug Kalitta
Brian Lohnes interviewed Doug Kalitta after the Top Fuel veteran competed in his 1,000th round. Kalitta defeated Scott Palmer to boost his record to 601-399 overall.
Winners
Event winners Antron Brown, Ron Capps, and Tanner Gray celebrated their victories amid a shower of confetti.