A year ago, I used this space to write about how Dan Northrop went to Englishtown and successfully defended his 2015 Super Gas title. Northrop hadn’t raced with a throttle stop in a year but that didn’t stop him from defeating John Labbous Jr. in the final round. Now, in perhaps the ultimate example of history repeating itself, Northrop won his third-straight Summernationals Super Gas crown, and ironically, he once again defeated Labbous in the final. Nearly two decades removed from his lone NHRA national championship, Northrop remains one of the sport’s premiere super class drivers.
“I wish there was a race here every week in Super Gas with the same competitors,” said Northrop. “This is my home track and I’m here all the time with my family and friends. Winning three-straight was the goal coming in here. I’ve actually won this race four times. I won Super Comp in 2000. It’s tough to do but it happened. The electricity [win light] was on in my lane so it’s all good.
“I ran John in the final here last year and beat him but then we raced in a $20,000 [bracket] race in the fall in North Carolina and he beat me, so I wanted to return the favor again. He’s having a heck of a year; I’m glad I’m not chasing points.”
Northrop got a bye run into the final, which was obviously a key component of his victory. He also used a pair of near-perfect reaction times in the early rounds to slip past Ed Alessi Jr. and Rich Price. Northrop’s Chevy Vega runs nearly 20-mph slower than Labbous’ Corvette, but he was somehow able to trim the finish line margin to just .0009-second to win the final.
For Labbous’ the Englishtown race was a classic example of losing the battle but winning the war. Coming off a double in Charlotte and another win a week earlier in Epping, he has racked up 648 points in Super Gas and is more than 100 points clear of the competition. Labbous would never say this, so I’ll do it for him; barring an outright miracle, he will be the 2017 NHRA Lucas Oil Super Gas champion. Labbous has a great chance of winning the title even if he doesn’t score another championship point, but with three chances left to improve on the divisional side and two more opportunities to pad his total at national events, there is a very strong chance he’ll eclipse the 700-point mark before he’s done.
“I don’t know about that,” said Labbous, when asked about clinching the championship. “I do not ever take anything for granted. I know I said that I wanted to come out of this [Eastern Swing] deal with about 640 or more points and I’ve done that, but I just don’t know if it will be enough. I’m just going to assume it’s not and go out and try to win the next one. I do feel good about what we’ve accomplished so far, though.”
The best of the rest: Last winter, former Comp champ Frank Aragona Jr. made a deal with team owner Charlie Greco, and bought the E/DA dragster that Doug Doll Jr. drove to the 2016 Lucas Oil Comp championship. The purchase immediately paid dividends for Aragona, who won his eighth career national event and first Comp race since 2013 when he defeated Pete Hanratty’s A/DA in the final. Aragona lost .11-hundredths to Competition Index Control penalties before the final but needn’t have worried since Hanratty, who was down .09-second, fouled. For Aragona, the win was extra special since he lives in Freehold, N.J., just minutes from Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, and he had never won his home event.
Second-generation racer Tim Fletcher drove to his second national event win when he claimed the Super Stock title over Herbie Null. Fletcher was almost unstoppable with a .009 light in the final and a 10.165 on his 10.15 dial against Null’s .027-over 9.997. Fletcher’s first win came in Stock and this one came behind the wheel of a family heirloom; the ’69 Camaro that his late grandfather, Tom, bought new in 1969. The car has carried his father, Dan, to the lion’s share of his 99 career wins and it is recognized as the winningest race car in NHRA’s 66-year history.
The incomparable Peter Biondo, who made his first trip down the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park dragstrip on a big wheel when he was a young child, picked up career win No. 52 when he drove his ’69 Camaro past fellow Englishtown regular Russ Linke in the final. Biondo won with a 10.372 on his 10.37 dial after Linke broke out by three-hundredths. Biondo’s path to the final included a number of tough opponents, including fellow national champion Lee Zane, Ed Bednaz, and Joe Lisa. The seven-time national champion has now won his home event five times since 2002.
After winning the 1993 Englishtown event in Super Gas and the Comp class in Reading in 1997, Kevin Robb returned to the winner’s circle by winning Super Comp in Englishtown. Robb made it to the final where he squared off with Shawn Fricke. Robb won on a holeshot, 8.92 to 8.911, after taking a .027 to .054 lead at the start. In the quarterfinals, Robb stopped recent Epping champ Rich Dorr, and he also trailered low qualifier Steve Martel.
Northrop wasn’t the only driver to repeat last year’s Englishtown victory. Jeff Brooks also made a return appearance in the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park winner’s circle after wheeling his unique six-second ’51 Henry J to the win in Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs. Brooks was solid on both ends of the track, including a .05-over 6.84 in the final round against Ronald Reigel, who slowed to a 7.236 from his 7.07 dial. In addition to his back-to-back Englishtown wins in Top Sportsman, Brooks has three runner-up finishes in Super Comp and Super Gas to his credit.