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Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Sportsman Champion Highlights

Josh Hart successfully defended his Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Top Alcohol Dragster title, and Sean Bellemeur won his first Indy title in Top Alcohol Funny Car to lead the list of NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series champions at NHRA’s oldest and most prestigious event.
10 Sep 2018
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
News
Josh Hart

Josh Hart successfully defended his Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Top Alcohol Dragster title, and Sean Bellemeur won his first Indy title in Top Alcohol Funny Car to lead the list of NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series champions at NHRA’s oldest and most prestigious event. Hart and Bellemeur shared the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis winner’s circle with David Rampy (Comp), Dennis Steward (Super Stock), T.C. Morris (Stock), Joe Hessling (Super Comp), and Devin Isenhower (Super Gas). 
    
The Top Alcohol Dragster class featured one of the biggest and most competitive fields of the year, and Hart was in the thick of it with a solid No. 2 qualifying effort. In eliminations, Hart wheeled his Advance Auto Parts dragster to wins against Richard Bourke, Robin Samsel, and Jeff Veale before topping Dan Page in the final, 5.271 to 5.460. Hart’s slowest run in eliminations was 5.326 and none of his opponents were able to run within a tenth of him in eliminations. [video]
    
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Bellemeur tested a new car for team owner Tony Bartone during the Indy test session, and that experience proved to be valuable when he returned a week later and claimed the biggest win of his career. The No. 2 qualifier, Bellemeur drove his Hussy-backed Camaro to victories against Jay Payne, Doug Gordon, and Gary Pritchett, who was driving Jonnie Lindberg’s 2016 championship car. After a string of 5.5s, Bellemeur won the Top Alcohol Funny Car final with a 5.821 after low qualifier Chris Marshall slowed. Marshall, the winner in his last three events, including the CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle, had the quickest car in Indy with a best of 5.492. Bellemeur has now won a combined six national and regional events this year. [video

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Tii Tharpe raced to a Top Fuel Harley title in a winner-take-all final by defeating Doug Vancil at the biggest race of the year. It doesn't get any better than that and it kept the Mickey Thompson Top Fuel Harley title in house at Jay Turner Racing as the boss picked up the title in its inaugural running in 2017. [video]

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Leah Pritchett took down teammate Mark "Cowboy" Pawuk in an all-Don Schumacher Racing final round for her first Factory Stock victory. The racer pulled double-duty by wheeling her Top Fuel Dragster, but did her best work behind the wheel of her Drag Pak Challenger. [video]
    
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The tally is now 98 and counting for Sportsman icon Rampy, who won Indy for the fifth time in his career. Using his usual conservative approach, Rampy managed to get to the final round of the 54-car field of Comp having lost just .02-second off his index to Competition Index Control penalties. Along the way, Rampy drove his Skillman Auto Group A/EA ’32 Bantam to wins against Randy Jones, David Dupps Sr., former champ Craig Bourgeois, and low qualifier Raymond Martin. By comparison, Greg Kamplain, Rampy’s final-round opponent, lost .14-second from his index, which might help explain his -.004 red-light in the final. [video
    
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Steward won his second national event after a final-round win over Dale Hulquist. Driving an FGT/L ’64 Plymouth owned by former track operator Carl Weisinger, Steward plotted his way through the huge 128-car field of Super Stock to win drag racing’s most significant title. After a little luck in his round-two race against 1988 Indy winner Mike Town, Steward took over with a combination of steady driving and a consistent race car. He matched his dial in a round-four win over Larry Hodge and also beat Venice Perno and David Barton before Hulquist fouled in the final round. [video]
    
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Stock champion Morris delivered a quarterfinal win over West Coast racer Brent Calvert and also ended Joey Shipp’s chances for an Indy double with a 10.981 on his 10.97 dial. Appearing in the first national event final of his career, Morris didn’t yield to the pressure and was solid with a .034 light and a 10.971 on his 10.96 prediction. He didn’t need it after opponent Jerry Emmons fouled in his B/SA Camaro. A round earlier, Emmons won a dramatic heads-up B/SA battle against Larry Hill on a holeshot, 10.18 to 10.17. Emmons has previously won 15 national event titles, including the 1994 Indy crown. [video]
    
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Hessling, the Top Dragster winner of the 2015 JEGS NHRA Northern SPORTSnationals, made it to the Super Comp final, where he faced one of the toughest opponents imaginable, four-time world champion Gary Stinnett. Hessling left first and then closed the door with a near-perfect 8.903. Stinnett, attempting to win Indy for the third time, wasn’t far behind with an 8.912. Hessling, who had one of the fastest cars in the field with a top speed of nearly 190 mph, also beat 1982 Super Gas world champ Steve Eckard in the semi’s. [video]
    
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Isenhower’s breakthrough win at Indy was hardly a surprise. He’s a regular at Indy and has won several of the track’s biggest events. Late in Super Gas eliminations, Isenhower buckled down and produced a .005 light and a 9.921 in his quarterfinal win against Jack Collier and a 9.920 in the semifinals against Charlie Kenopic, who broke out. The final pitted two of the North Central Division’s best when Isenhower took on Steve Hoyt. What should have been a competitive battle ended early when Hoyt slowed to a 10.271 and Isenhower lit the win light with a 9.907, narrowly avoiding a disastrous breakout run. [video]