The second half of the 2016 Countdown to the Championship kicked off this weekend at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, and when the dust settled at the end of today’s eliminations, one title contender continued to pull away from the pack, and the championship picture in the other three classes got a little more crowded with early exits by leaders and big wins by some who had fallen back in the first half.
Here are today’s highlights:
1. Brown all but clinches third title
If the fat lady was beginning to warm up after Antron Brown’s win in Reading, she is now beginning to sing after another impressive run by the two-time, defending world champion. Brown was the class of the Top Fuel class all weekend, qualifying No. 1 and driving to victory, giving him a 150-point lead heading into the final two races of the season.
2. Krawiec takes points lead
After regaining his winning form last time out in Reading, Eddie Krawiec collected a second straight win, and that combined with an early exit by Andrew Hines lifted Krawiec into the points lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
3. Hagan puts himself back into contention
After slipping down as far as sixth in the standings after just one round-win each at the first two Countdown races, Matt Hagan has been surging recently, beginning with a No. 1 start and semifinal showing in Reading. He continued that surge today when he outlasted points leader Ron Capps to win his fourth race of the season, a victory that moved him up to third in points.
4. Big weekend for Gray Motorsports
Though realistically out of the championship chase this season, Gray Motorsports showed it isn’t going to just concede defeat and lay down as the season draws to a close. The final featured a pair of Gray-powered entries, with Drew Skillman besting Alex Laughlin, and Shane Gray advanced to the semifinals, giving the group three of the final four cars left standing in eliminations today.
5. A dogfight among Countdown contenders
There were several high-profile matches among Countdown runners across all four classes today, beginning with a huge second-round contest in Top Fuel that paired points leader Antron Brown and second-place Doug Kalitta. In Funny Car, points leader Ron Capps faced a couple of big challenges from the drivers chasing him in the standings, first against Jack Beckman in the second round, then Matt Hagan in the final. Drew Skillman isn’t fighting for a Pro Stock championship, but he did those who are a huge favor when he ousted points leader Jason Line in round two. LE Tonglet did the same in Pro Stock Motorcycle when he topped Andrew Hines in a thrilling second-round race decided by .0002-second, and Eddie Krawiec moved to the points lead and slowed Jerry Savoie’s surge when he won the final.
After collecting her first No. 1 qualifying position at the last race in Reading and then sizzling to a career-best 3.698 to qualify No. 2 here, Leah Pritchett and her Papa John’s team seemed hotter than a pizza oven and ready to make a charge up through the points standings. Good fortune seemed to be following her in round one, too, where she beat Scott Palmer despite a wild ride and a 3.955 that was more than two-tenths slower than every other winner in the round.
“We were trucking along, and we’re ahead, and then all of a sudden, it makes a hard move, going left, left, left,” she said. “I had the steering wheel cranked to 3 o’clock, but it’s not coming back. I had to pedal it, and it knocked the blower off.”
Fortunately for her, Palmer could not match his 3.92 qualifying pace, and she eked out the win at a coasting speed of 232 mph. Her luck ended in round two against Steve Torrence when the gold car lost traction and slowed to a 4.17. The loss, combined with J.R. Todd’s win in the same round, dropped her from seventh to eighth in points.
When Brittany Force, third in points, lost in the second round to J.R. Todd, she knew that she wouldn’t finish the day in the same positon as the pair behind her was fourth-place Shawn Langdon and fifth-place Tony Schumacher, both within 20 points of her score. Langdon took the win, demoting “the Sarge” to spectator on a holeshot, 3.756 to 3.751, and moving into third place.
Position damage was limited to that as Steve Torrence had a chance to overtake her if he had won the final but lost to Antron Brown. Force came into the event 118 out of first and left 191 back.
Richie Crampton, whose 2016 Countdown efforts have been a disappointment, led the first session with a 3.741 and ran a sixth-best 3.759 in the final session, giving him hope for a chance to run up the points. Crampton started the Countdown ninth, dropped to 10th in Charlotte after a first-round loss, zoomed up to eighth in St. Louis by reaching the semifinals, then dropped back to ninth in Reading with another first-round exit.
Facing No. 2 points runner Doug Kalitta in round one and a chance at points leader Antron Brown in round two, Crampton and the Lucas Oil team could have cut into their advantages, but it was not to be as he smoked the tires.
“It’s been a really tough year,” he said. “Everyone is saying that I skipped the traditional sophomore slump last year [when he won five times] and I’m getting it this year.”
Crampton will get an assist at the final two races of the season when team owner Morgan Lucas brings his dragster out for the Las Vegas and Pomona events, which should give crew chief Aaron Brooks additional data for a strong finish.
J.R. Todd reached a milestone at this event, competing in his 150th race, and almost ended up with his 10th win. Todd and the SealMaster team looked good throughout the event, qualifying No. 4 with a 3.723, a number he matched in round one to defeat Troy Buff and nearly matched with a 3.724 in defeating Brittany Force in the second round. Todd’s drive for his second Dallas win ended against points leader Antron Brown in the semifinals.
Steve Torrence’s long-shot chance of winning the championship unraveled when Doug Kalitta was unable to stop points leader Antron Brown in round two, and his hopes for a race win almost unraveled in the same round when his blower belt started shredding even as he was staging his Capo Contractors dragster for his race with Leah Pritchett. Fortunately for Torrence, he was blissfully unaware of the fact and powered to the win, the blower belt hanging in there until just before he crossed the finish line.
“I didn’t know it because I don’t have a radio – I don’t want to talk to anyone while I’m driving – but they said it was shredding as I was staging,” he said. “I’m just glad it held on long enough to get the win.”
The team was unable to figure out what caused the problem – one it has experienced a few times this year – so it opted to just change out the entire engine before facing Shawn Langdon in the semifinals. Although Torrence lost the final to Brown, he moved up one spot in the standings to fifth, just six points behind Brittany Force.
Things probably couldn’t have gone much better for Antron Brown. The incoming points leader qualified his Matco Tools dragster No. 1 and then not only won again – his third score in four Countdown events – but boosted his points lead to 150 markers, giving him an almost insurmountable lead heading into the season’s final two events.
Brown, who had the quickest car in the second and fourth qualifying sessions, again had the quickest car in a dazzling first round where seven of the eight winners (the exception being Leah Pritchett’s blower-banging win) ran within .016-second of one another, from Brown’s 3.709 to Shawn Langdon’s 3.725, with an average winning elapsed time of 3.718. Brown’s first-round pass also was low e.t. of eliminations. It was a truly dominating victory.
“It’s still anybody’s game,” Brown said generously after beating Steve Torrence in the final round. “We could go to Las Vegas and go out first round, and our lead could go down to 50 points. Our main focus is to stay humble, keep our head down, and continue to do the hard work that’s gotten us here."
A key moment in his win – and perhaps his season – came when he faced his closest points rival, Doug Kalitta, in round two and soundly defeated him, 3.72 to 3.76.
“When you race that Kalitta team and Doug – I call him ‘the quiet Assassin’ – they compete at a high level, and it can go either way,” he said. “This class is so tight and vicious, you don’t know if you can win the first round, let alone the second. I just put my head down, and my guys gave me a great car. If we lose that, our lead is down to 50 points. That was huge for us, but we’re still not done yet. We’ve got to keep on digging and doing what we do if we want to bring this championship home.”
With the victory, Brown has won six of the last 10 Countdown events in the last two seasons.
“When the pressure gets up, that brings the best out of our team,” he said. “Our team thrives on pressure. Some teams might crack or fold, but for us, it just dials our knob up even more. We all feel it.”
Jack Beckman’s dream of another Funny Car championship looked a little brighter when he knew that he had points leader Ron Capps in round two, but it likely ended with his painful loss to his teammate on a 3.96 to 3.93 holeshot.
“It’s not over until it’s over, but for all intents and purposes, that was our season,” said Beckman. “Holy moly, this was big. Be careful what you wish for, right? If we won, we kick the can down the road, but now we’re 111 points or about six rounds back with only eight rounds left, and it’s not like they’re not going to not qualify in Las Vegas … like they did earlier this year [at the spring event there], right?
"I went to the very first NHRA national event here in 1986. My buddy from the Air Force and I drove 500 miles one way to see that race. I raced my first national event here in Super Comp in 1998, then I raced my first nitro Funny Car race here in 2006. And with all of that, I've had zero success here. I have never left here with a trophy.”
Ron Capps had a wild run to the final round, punctuated by a fiery second-round victory over points rival Jack Beckman. That 3.96 to 3.93 holeshot win significantly boosted Capps’ hopes of a first championship, especially after second-place Tommy Johnson Jr. also lost in that round.
“You hate to oil down the track, but the points were worth legging it down there,” said Capps. “It was running fine and then just started spinning the tires. Rahn Tobler’s tune-up hasn’t done that in a long time, but I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t see Jack, and it was like a 300-mph burnout at that point, and you’re just hoping you get there, and then, kaboom, it was as big an explosion as we’ve had. It burned me pretty good, but it was all worth it."
Although Capps did not walk away with the event win, he did increase his points lead over Johnson from 24 to 64 and, in the process, became the 15th driver in NHRA history to reach 100 final rounds (98 in Funny Car, two in Top Fuel).
Former high school quarterback John Force came into the event proclaiming the need for some Hail Marys to lift his team back into title contention, but those hopes were intercepted by red-lights that trailered both him and daughter Courtney, in the first and second rounds, respectively. Papa Force went -.131 red against Alexis DeJoria and dropped from sixth to seventh place in the standings, and Courtney double-stepped the throttle and fouled to Matt Hagan but nonetheless moved past Tim Wilkerson into eighth place.
Despite the setbacks, Force vows to continue fighting. “We won’t stop until we walk into the banquet and we know where we stand,” he said.
“Oh boy, here we go” was probably a common sentiment in the Funny Car pits after the final eliminations ladder was drawn up Saturday night as four of the top five points earners -- leader Ron Capps, second-place Tommy Johnson Jr., third-ranked Jack Beckman, and fifth-place Del Worsham -- were all on the same side of ladder, meaning that things were either going to get a whole lot more complicated or a whole lot one-sided.
All alone on the other side of the ladder was fourth-place Matt Hagan, who – in typical farmer fashion – made hay while the sun was shining, letting them duke it out while he made his way to the final and, with a holeshot victory over the survivor, Capps, into the winner’s circle, the 22nd of his career. With the win, Hagan pulled into third place, just 88 points behind Capps.
“That was a huge round; it’s just unfortunate that we’re facing him so late in rounds,” said Hagan. “In Reading, I had him in the semi’s, and he spanked me on the Tree, and this time, I was able to get a little payback. I actually try to minimize everything out of my control and just focus on leaving on time, keeping it in the groove, and turning on the win light and let the rest take care of itself. We can’t worry about who might mess up or how many rounds someone might go; we just need to do the best job we can and turn on as many win lights as we can.
“We had to get through some tough cars and had a little luck with Courtney [Force] red-lighting [in the second round], but hopefully we can keep this ball rolling in the Countdown. This is the fiercest competition I’ve seen in my career, and it’s only going to get tougher and tougher. [As a driver] you’ve got to bring it, your crew chief has to look at different things he can do, and your crew guys have to be on everything. We’re still in this championship hunt, but you can see [Capps] can taste it. He knows he’s just gotta do well at two more races. The guy is a champion at heart, even if he doesn’t have the ring yet. I have great respect for him.”
After a series of frustrating races since returning to Pro Stock competition, Shane Tucker’s team got a bit of a boost when he tallied his first round-win of 2016, using a perfect .000 light to stop Reading winner Vincent Nobile on a 6.67 to 6.66 holeshot.
“Aw man, I’ll tell you, I’ve been struggling on my lights so bad,” said Tucker. “Vincent is a good mate of mine, and I just feel so bad for those guys. They’re running for a championship. We’ve been struggling so bad with this car, and it’s starting to come around. I finally got my act together. I’m shattered for Vincent. I know he’s running for a championship, but that might have been a really good job of red-lighting or not, I’m not sure.”
The win, which was aided some by changes to the clutch pedal to help Tucker’s reaction times, was a nice way to celebrate the birthday of Tucker’s dad, Rob.
“It’s my birthday today in Australia. It’s not a birthday here today — it’s tomorrow — so to get that win was awesome,” said Rob.
Allen Johnson’s weekend came to an end in the second round against Greg Anderson when his car made a move toward the wall, forcing Johnson off the throttle.
“It just went left off the starting line, and I fought it all the way down the track and just couldn’t get it back,” said Johnson, who earned his 450th round-win when he bested Kenny Delco in the first round. “It sort of reminded me of Gainesville ’99, about the spot I was in, and she was making a couple of big moves there, so I thought, ‘You know what, we’ll race at Vegas with this car.’ It was on the verge of swapping ends. We didn’t get after it enough on the starting line, and that’s when it usually goes left. I just fought it all the way down and couldn’t get it back.”
When Johnson returns to competition in Las Vegas, he will also be reunited with dad Roy, who missed this weekend’s event due to being inducted into the East Coast Drag Times Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
“He’s only missed two or three races since I’ve been racing Pro Stock in 21 years, so anytime he’s not out there in front of me, it does feel a little weird,” said Johnson. “He’s having a big weekend this weekend for himself, and hat’s off to him for all that he’s done for drag racing and being able to get that Hall of Fame appointment. Just sorry we couldn’t be there to celebrate with him.”
With just this event and two others remaining in the 2016 season, points are at the top of everyone’s minds, and there were several big races with points implications today. One of the biggest came in the second round when Shane Gray and Bo Butner lined up beside one another. Entering the round, Butner led Gray by just 14 points, making it a race for position. Gray came out on top in a 6.62 to 6.69 contest, and the round-win moved Gray around Butner and into fourth in the standings.
Not only did he lose a position, but the early exit, of course, means Butner is still seeking his first Pro Stock win.
“I come every weekend thinking that’s the day, but now we’re in a pretty good points chase,” said Butner. “Every round counts, and I’ve got to gain some ground on the guy in front of me, and maybe somebody can catch these two crazy guys I race with, so let’s get it done.”
For just the sixth time this season and second in the Countdown, neither Greg Anderson nor Jason Line were in the final round, and that had them leaving Dallas feeling somewhat disappointed despite the fact the duo still holds a sizable advantage in the standings. Line is 114 points ahead of third-place Vincent Nobile, and Anderson is ahead of the Reading winner by 88.
“That was a tough one to take there,” said Anderson, who lost in the semi’s after watching his teammate fall in the second round. “We need both Summit cars to do as well as they can. I think it’s going to take a double-team effort I think to hold off these kids. These guys are good and they’re close, and these races are all thousandths apart. We need every point we can get for both of these cars so we can go into Pomona with two chances to win.”
Texan Alex Laughlin couldn’t have asked for a much better weekend behind the wheel of his Gas Monkey Chevrolet. Racing in front of a large group of friends and family, Laughlin drove to the final round before coming up short against Drew Skillman when his car slowed a bit to a 6.70. Laughlin, who was among the pacesetters in every round of qualifying and ran consistently in the 6.6s during eliminations, attributes his success this weekend to his team, which gave him a car capable of winning.
“My car’s been running great, my crew chief has had this thing on absolute kill, so if we don’t win this whole thing, hey, it’s going to be straight-up my fault, not his,” said Laughlin, after one of his early wins today. “I’m hoping to get that cowboy hat at the end of the day.”
Though he was unable to get the cowboy hat that is awarded to winners of this event, Laughlin still has nothing about which to hang his head because his great weekend included taking down several tough competitors, including title contender Greg Anderson in the semifinals. It was the first time in five meetings this year that Laughlin was able to turn on the win light against Anderson.
“I’m just so speechless right now,” said Laughlin, of that big round-win. “Just running against Greg is an absolute honor, to be out here with these guys I’ve watched my whole life. Man, to put him on the trailer, gosh my voice is going out because I was screaming so much in the car after turning the win light on. I’m just so happy to be here. Thanks to all our sponsors: Gas Monkey, Havoline, and everybody. This is for them.”
Drew Skillman isn’t afraid to admit that the 2016 season has been a major struggle for his team, and it extends beyond simply adapting to the new EFI program. No matter what they have tried in various areas of the car, it has seemed as if they just can’t get his Ray Skillman Chevrolet Camaro to do what they want it to do.
“We have struggled so badly with this race car,” said Skillman. “We were lost, and going into the Countdown, that’s the worst time of the year to be lost.”
Though not ready to admit they are out of the woods just yet, Skillman and his team certainly made strides this weekend, applying what they learned in testing last week, and that, combined with some solid driving on Skillman’s part, helped them land in the winner’s circle for the second time this season.
“We had some luck on our side this weekend. I drove decent, and the car at least went. We’re going the right direction, I think,” said Skillman. “We need to test again. We’re going to get back out there. We’re going to hit these last two races hard, so that’s where we’re going to go.”
After qualifying No. 9, Skillman got the better of Chris McGaha in the opener, then used a .016 to .043 reaction-time advantage to top points leader Jason Line, 6.64 to 6.63, in the second round. It was Skillman’s third win against Line in five meetings this season.
“It’s simple: I have nothing to lose, whatsoever, so if I’m red, I’m red. Whatever happens, it doesn’t matter at this point,” said Skillman, when asked about his success against Line. “I can’t win the championship, but I can get better, so we’re just going to hang it out and see what happens.”
Skillman then got around Shane Gray in the semi’s, 6.67 to 6.68, before spoiling Alex Laughlin’s dreams of winning his hometown event, besting the St. Louis champ in a 6.66 to 6.70 final-round bout.
“That is a best-case scenario as a team, having me and Alex go head to head,” said Skillman, of racing a fellow Gray-powered entry in the title round. “This was huge for morale; that’s the biggest thing. Morale is everything when you have a group of guys who give up everything. I mean, they give up their family life, financial — it’s a big investment for everybody. All of our employees help us out, and it’s just so important to have forward momentum anytime you’re racing.”
Skillman’s big day also gave him a big boost in the points standings, lifting him to sixth. At 185 points behind Line in the standings, Skillman’s championship hopes are realistically gone, but he is less than four rounds out of third heading into the final two events.
In what is turning out to be a regular occurrence, the first round once again featured the Aranas, Hector Sr. (pictured) and Hector Jr., lined up against each other, and as has been the case in most of the matches this season, dad came out on top against son. This was the sixth meeting between the Aranas this season — three of which have been in the Countdown to the Championship — and Hector Sr. has won five of them. Though Hector Jr. got off the starting line first in this latest race, nabbing a nearly five-hundredths advantage, Hector Sr. rode around him and got the win, 6.87 to 6.95.
After recording his career-best e.t. during final qualifying yesterday, Joey Gladstone made the fastest run of his young Pro Stock Motorcycle career, powering to a speed of 194.10 mph in a losing effort against Andrew Hines.
“We’ve been working very hard to get this bike set up for my rider weight and for my riding style, and these guys have been great,” said Gladstone. “The bike owner, Joe Riccardi, has a lot of faith in me, and Greg Underdahl is really mentoring me and teaching me about body position, which is so critical on these bikes. Other than that, everything seems to be coming together for us, and we couldn’t be happier. First-round loss doesn’t matter. He went a 6.81, and we didn’t really have anything for that. Overall, the bike’s 60-footing a lot better than it was at the beginning of the weekend, and we’re going into Vegas really strong and ready to get closer to the top half of the field at Vegas.”
Though he ended up not needing it because he outran Cory Reed, Matt Smith cut a perfect .000 light in the opening round. Smith was pleased with the win but acknowledged the 6.89 he put up vs. the 6.92 of Reed was not a perfect run.
“Yeah, perfect on reaction time but not perfect on the racetrack,” said Smith, who bowed out against Jerry Savoie in the following round. “I missed the tune-up a little bit. It stumbled out there in 4th and 5th gear, but, you know, you’ve got to be perfect. Cory’s an up-and-coming rider for Pro Stock Motorcycle, and he’s got a great future ahead of him."
Chip Ellis may not have won the race today, but his team most definitely scored a moral victory. After struggling most of the weekend with ongoing mechanical problems that caused his Buell to shut off, Ellis and his team got to work after qualifying yesterday and continued until 3 a.m. today, essentially completely reworking the bike to try to fix the gremlins. Though Ellis did not make competitive runs, he did get to the finish line under power on both passes, first clocking a 7.16 in the first round against a red-lighting Melissa Surber, then posting a 7.48 in a losing effort against Angelle Sampey.
“Today, we started from scratch,” said Ellis, who acknowledged what he called a tantrum yesterday that was borne out of a very high level frustration from a motorcycle that wouldn’t cooperate with anything he and his team did. “It was like a brand-new motorcycle all over again. We put asterisks besides all the changes we made, and just in the clutch alone, there were 16 changes. Between that and all the electronics stuff we did, I think we’ve got it and are ready to move on. I’m ready to get out of Dallas — it hasn’t been good to us.
“We’re heading in the right direction. It’s been a tireless effort to try and get this bike turned around. When we got back to the trailer [after round two], my crew chief, Lon Moyer, and I just looked at ourselves, and we’re just spent. The good news is the bike does look like we solved the problem due to the way our clutch looked. We blew through the clutch that last run, and we haven’t been doing that. That shows that we’re making power again when the bike’s taking off. I’m just ready to get some more runs under our belt and get this thing dialed in. It’s back. We’ve got power. We’ve got a fast motorcycle, and we’ve got a great team of individuals working on it. We just have to get a couple more laps and get our clutch deal figured back out now that we’re starting over.”
One of the people somewhat pulling for Chip Ellis today was Angelle Sampey, a good friend of Ellis’ who trailered him in the second round.
“I’m just so happy that Chip got down the track,” said Sampey. “He’s a great guy. He’s been dealing with a lot, and fortunately for me, he didn’t have a good run either, and I got the win light.”
That fortunate feeling of Sampey stems from the fact that she, too, had a bit of a problem on the run against Ellis and slowed to a 6.92, while the top-running bikes were in the 6.8s.
“I’m a little frustrated right now because I don’t know why the bike slowed down,” she said following the pass. “I felt like I did a better job driving it that time, so I don’t know what’s left in it. We’re going to have to go back. I don’t know if they’re going to want to change engines or what they’re going to do.”
When the 2016 season began, Eddie Krawiec dominated the class and looked almost invincible, then the tides shifted a bit, and his teammate, Andrew Hines, positioned himself as the one to beat this season. After slipping and winning just one round in the first two Countdown events, Krawiec has once again swung momentum back in his favor, following up his strong Reading showing with another winning outing in Dallas. With Hines exiting in the second round, the win became especially valuable because it allowed Krawiec to move to the top of the standings.
“Like I’ve said, I try not to focus on the points, and the way that I look at it is if you just do your job, you go out, you win races, you win rounds, and you can win championships,” said Krawiec. “I’m just trying to stay really focused and race my own race and try and get the job done on Sunday. That’s the key, four good, green lights and have a good, consistent motorcycle under you. My crew chief, Matt Hines, and Andrew both — Andrew was tuning on my bike after he went out — did a great job. To have a good group of individuals standing behind you like that speaks volumes.”
After being among the quickest three bikes in every qualifying round, including having the best time of Q2, and qualifying third, all the pieces came together today. Krawiec’s Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson was again solid, and Krawiec was once again good on the Tree, leaving first in all but one contest. Krawiec began with wins against Karen Stoffer and Hector Arana Sr. After watching LE Tonglet edge his teammate by less than a thousandth in the second round, Krawiec left no room for Tonglet to repeat, cutting a .005 light and piloting his Harley to a 6.90 to defeat Tonglet’s 6.94. Krawiec then earned his second straight Wally when he won the rematch of last year’s event final, turning a .031 to .120 lead at the Tree into a 6.88 to 6.85 holeshot win against Jerry Savoie, the No. 1 qualifier and defending event champion.
“Anytime you’ve got to race [Savoie], you’ve got to be focused,” said Krawiec. “As a matter of fact, you have to be focused for just about anybody out there. When you look at this category as a whole right now, it’s some of the best racing that there could be. You see LE came up from nowhere and took Andrew out, then I’ve got to run him, and we run almost neck and neck with each other. You have to be on your game every single round here, no matter who you’re racing and who’s in that other lane.
“It’s about staying focused on race day, stepping it up when you need to. You can’t be .05 or .06 on the Tree anymore and expect a round-win; that’s luck. You need to be in the .02s and .03s at the latest. Against LE in the semi’s, he’s knocked me out quite a few times, and I tell everybody that I’m not a .00 racer, but I went after it pretty hard against him, and I came up .005. I didn’t take him lightly. He’s knocked me out a few times this year, and, well, hopefully I’m paying him back for all of those now.”
Heading into Las Vegas, Krawiec has a 17-point advantage over Hines in the standings. Savoie’s long day lifted him to third, 49 behind Krawiec. Angelle Sampey (-60 points) and Chip Ellis (-97) round out the top five.
“We’re going to have a heck of a gunfight rolling into Vegas and Pomona here,” said Krawiec. “I told Joe [Castello] a couple of weeks ago that I thought it would be clear leaving Texas on who was going to be fighting for a championship. Honestly, I think it just got even more confusing because now you have a four-way deal. I never thought it was going to be like this, but ultimately, all the fans are going to win, and they’re going to see a good ol’ gunfight rolling into Vegas and Pomona.”
Sean Bellemeur, who scored his first win at this event last year in the Bartone Bros., entry, successfully defended his event championship by defeating John Lombardo Jr. in the Top Alcohol Funny Car final round. Lombardo was, however, able to prevent Jonnie Lindberg from clinching his second straight season championship by defeating him in the semifinals.
In Top Alcohol Dragster, Bradley Thompson scored his first win in just his second start, getting the victory on Shawn Cowie’s final-round red-light. Thompson’s debut came at this event last year, where he failed to qualify.
AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals final-round results:
Top Alcohol Dragster
Bradley Thompson def. Shawn Cowie
Top Alcohol Funny Car
Sean Bellemeur def. John Lombardo Jr.
Keith Hall def. Dick Maris
James Caro def. Norvell Bowers
Rusty Hall def. Bobby Brannon
Jeremy Demers def. Gary Stinnett
Christopher Best def. Heidi Robison
Chase Huffman def. Tom Phillips
Jeff Koron def. Danny Nelson
Scooter Hampton def. Roger Massey
Race fans jammed Texas Motorplex to see champions crowned at the fourth of six events in the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Prior to the start of final eliminations, race fans took part in the traditional SealMaster Track Walk, traversing the actual racing surface that would soon harness more than 20,000 horsepower in round one of Top Fuel. NHRA stars Brittany and Courtney Force, Erica Enders, and Melissa Surber were joined by the grand marshal, Olympic gold medalist Michelle Carter in leading the procession.
Joey Severance, who last week became the first NHRA champion crowned in the 2016 season, was acknowledged for winning his second straight Top Alcohol Dragster championship.
The crew from the legendary Blue Max of the late Raymond Beadle and Harry Schmidt were honored during the pre-race ceremony as part of NHRA’s 50 Years of Funny Car celebration. Track owner Billy Meyer, center, and former Funny Car champ and current NHRA on FOX analyst Tony Pedregon, far right, joined them for this photo.
Saturday night’s Drag Racing Association of Women auction, always a highlight of the event, raised nearly $40,000 for the benevolent association, which helps injured racers and their families. Bob Frey, left, and Brian Lohnes were the emcees.
The event winners, from left, Antron Brown, Matt Hagan, Drew Skillman, and Eddie Krawiec, celebrated beneath a hail of pink confetti in the Texas Motorplex winner’s circle.