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Dan is the man

15 Jun 2016
Kevin McKenna, National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report

Dan Northrop won the Super Gas national championship in 2000, and his most recent national event victory had come just a year ago in Englishtown, so it wasn’t the least bit surprising to see him headed into Sunday’s final eliminations at the NHRA Summernationals with a chance to double up.

Northrop, part of the ISC Racer’s Tape team that also includes his brothers, Dave and Tim, made it to the final round in both Super Comp and Super Gas. He is the fourth driver this season to reach two final rounds, joining Dan Fletcher (Pomona), Jeff Strickland (Gainesville), and Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. (Atlanta). Of the four, only Strickland pulled off the memorable feat, winning the Stock and Top Dragster titles within minutes of each other. Like most other drivers with a shot to double, he went home with a split. Northrop’s first final round was in Super Comp, and he admittedly botched it with a late .061 reaction time, which was all Heather Fetch needed to claim her second national event title in a double-breakout contest.

“I choked,” said Northrop. “The Tree came on, and I didn’t let go of the [transbrake] button. I wish I could tell you why. Coming back down the return road, I was not real happy with myself, but I realized I still had another final to run. I was upset, and I couldn’t put [the loss] out of my mind, so I just got angry and aggressive.”

Still steaming from his Super Comp loss, Northrop focused on the Super Gas final, and this time, he came out on the winning end of another double-breakout match against another tough opponent, John Labbous Jr. Northrop’s willingness to be aggressive showed on his time slip with a .008 reaction time.

“I wasn’t about to give it away a second time,” he said. “Labbous is one of the best racers out there, but I consider myself one of the best as well, so I was expecting a good close race, and we got one.”

After the win, Northrop also admitted that he hasn’t raced his Chevy Vega in Super Gas trim since last year’s Englishtown race. Instead, he has concentrated on big-money bracket events and has done quite well for himself, including a $25,000 victory at Atco Dragway.

“This weekend was the first time I used the throttle stop in a year,” Northrop said. “I still enjoy Super Gas; I just don’t have a lot of time to do it. When I got here this weekend, I used the same [settings] on the throttle stop that I used last year, and my first time shot was 9.88. After that, I was good to go. I also think it’s funny that this junker, an old ’75 Vega with who knows how many thousands of runs on it, keeps winning and winning. It’s been a really good race car.”

Northrop lives just outside of Philadelphia, and he considers Atco Dragway in South New Jersey to be his home track, but he’s also quite familiar with Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Northrop has raced in Englishtown since he was a teenager but was not prepared for the strong crosswinds that made it extremely challenging to dial his two race cars from run to run.

“This was crazy,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The win was gusting like crazy. We had to adjust the throttle stop just about every run. After a while, you just have to give up on crunching numbers and rely on your instincts."

The run of the event: If this were put to a vote, David Barton’s 8.256 during qualifying for the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown would win by a landslide. Barton not only made the sport’s quickest Stock eliminator pass in Englishtown, but he also won his second straight title and entertained the crowd with several bumper-dragging wheelstands.

Based on his performance in Englishtown, Barton believes that later this season, he can attempt to become the first Stock eliminator driver in the seven-second zone, a nearly unbelievable feat considering that only a handful of Super Stock racers have ever been that quick. The eight-second barrier was broken just four years ago, when Don Fezell drove his Cobra Jet Mustang to an 8.95 at zMAX Dragway.

“That 8.25 was a great run, but the car is set up for the Factory Stock class,” said Barton. “If I put it in FS/AA, the quickest class in Stock, I can take almost 200 pounds out. That should put us real close to the sevens, and if we get some really good air, maybe at the Dutch Classic [Division 1 National Open], I think we can do it.”

The race of the event: They don’t happen often, but heads-up, no-breakout races in Super Stock and Stock are still a favorite of fans and racers, especially when they feature a pair of evenly matched race cars. That was the case in round two of Super Stock when Bob Bagley and John Kunsak squared off in a heads-up FSS/F battle with their matching 427-cid COPO Camaro entries. Kunsak was first off the starting line by six-thousandths of a second, but Bagley was first to the finish line, 9.559 to 9.558, in a race decided by .017-second, barely a fender length, at the stripe.

In case you missed it: Is there anyone else who believes that the Stanfield family will likely have a fifth national championship to celebrate in the near future? At this point, it seems almost certain that third-generation driver Aaron Stanfield will eventually win a national championship, joining his father, Greg, who claimed four Super Stock titles between 1990 and 1994.

Aaron has been on a tear this season with back-to-back Super Stock wins at the Division 4 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events in Belle Rose, La., and Dallas. The versatile 22-year-old, who made his debut in Pro Stock in 2014, also reached the final round of Top Dragster at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston, and now he has visited the winner’s circle again with a Top Dragster victory at last weekend’s event at Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park. As a result of his early-season heroics, Stanfield is ranked No. 2 in Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs and No. 3 in Super Stock.