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The Sports Report: Feels like the first time

Retired U.S. Army veteran Don O’Neal fulfills his 20-year quest to win an NHRA national event title with a Top Sportsman win in Charlotte
02 May 2018
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report
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oneal2.jpgThree years ago, Don O’Neal bounced his then-new Chevy Monte Carlo Top Sportsman car off the retaining wall at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis. The car was damaged but repairable and O’Neal emerged unhurt. A lesser racer might have second-guessed his decision to race in the Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs.com class, but as a 20-year U.S. Army veteran, O’Neal doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. Instead, he regrouped, rebuilt, and persevered and that effort finally paid off at the NGK Spark Plugs Four-Wide Nationals, where he claimed his first national event title.

“I never did [think about quitting,” O’Neal said. “I think we’ve all had those moments where we wonder what the hell are we doing. I’ve just ever had a moment where I’ve wanted to turn away from this and not wanted to compete. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, not even another form of motorsports. I could have stayed in Super Comp I guess but I’ve had more success in Top Sportsman than I ever did in a dragster.”

O’Neal was a runner-up in Super Comp at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in 2000 and he won his first Lucas Oil Series title last year at the Division 3 event in Indianapolis. In Charlotte, O’Neal was solid throughout the four-round race with wins over Fredrick Perkins, Canadian Gerard Millette, and JEGS Allstars champ Mac McDonald before facing current points leader Sandy Wilkins in the final round. O’Neal gave up a hundredth at the starting line but made up the difference to win with a 6.903 on his 6.89 dial while Wilkins ran .03-over his dial.

oneal3.jpg“Sandy one of the best in the business and he was racing at his home track,” said O’Neal. “I’m [originally] from North Carolina but this is  his track. For me to beat Sandy in the final poetic. We even shared a moment in shutdown area. To be honest, I was not planning on being 30 [on the Tree] in the final. All weekend, my car was awful; carrying front end. I looked around for Sandy and he was never there. We was not where I expected him to be so I gave the gas a couple of rips, and the win light came on. 

“This weekend checked the block in being able to finally win a national event Wally,” said O’Neal. “I have been chasing a Wally for over two-decades, for [wife] Diane, my owners, sponsors, and my family who were in attendance. They all have continued to support this crazy life.

The best of the rest: Frank Aragona Jr., the 2007 Comp national champ, claimed his 11th career win and second of the season when he stopped Al Ackerman in an all-Division 1 final. Aragona got the final round nearly unscathed with just .03-second of CIC penalties and sealed the win with a (-.582) 7.378 to easily cover Ackerman’s (-.417) 7.983. Aragona, who also won the Comp title in Gainesville, and last Fall’s Charlotte event, got a big scare in the semifinals when he raced David Rampy. In the closest battle of the day, Aragona stopped the five-time national champion by just two-thousandths of a second. Having competed in five events, Aragona is the current leader in the Comp standings.

Anthony Bertozzi has competed in six events this season in Super Stock and he’s already won three of them giving him the upper hand on what could be a second national championship. Bertozzi began the year with a Division 2 Lucas Oil Series win in Orlando and also won the Division 7 race in Las Vegas. In Charlotte, Bertozzi drove his SS/AS Grand Am to a final round win against Bryan Worner. Bertozzi defeated fellow national champ Mike Saye in the semifinals and then cruised to his 19th career national event win after Worner fouled by four-thousandths in the final round. Bertozzi also raced in Top Dragster, where he recorded a round two finish.

oneal4.jpgThomas Fletcher earned win No. 107 for the Fletcher family when he wheeled his father, Dan’s COPO Camaro to the Super Stock title. Fletcher, who also won the 2009 Reading event, had his work cut out for him with a tough ladder that included races against Aaron Allison, Ed Longhany Jr., Ken Miele, Dick Kincaid, and in the final, James Williamson. Fletcher dodged a bullet against Miele’s Cobra Jet Mustang when he ran a 10.442 on his 10.44 dial after Miele slowed. Fletcher held on and won the final with a solid run after Williamson missed the Tree in his J/SA entry.

For the last few years, Jonathan Anderson has been among the best Super Street drivers in the Southeast Division but lately, he’s begun to master the tough Super Comp class. After winning the JEGS SPORTSnationals in Bowling Green last year, Anderson struck again at zMax Dragway with a final round win over two-time national champ Sherman Adcock Jr. In a double-breakout final round, Anderson drove to an 8.891 to hold off Adcock’s 8.880. Anderson also claimed a couple of tough late round wins over Franklin DiBartolomeo and reigning Super Gas national champ John Labbous Jr., who doubled-up at the 2017 Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

oneal5.jpgThe Super Gas winner’s circle featured a first-time champion in Ken Griffiths, who also had a tough draw when he tangled with six-time national event winner Steven Furr in the final. On Sunday, Griffiths first had to get past national champion David Tatum III, which he did with a 9.912. Later, he stopped Top Dragster champ Holden Laris, who was looking for his first-career double. In the final, Griffiths got off the starting line with a .040 light but managed to win after Furr fouled by five-thousandths.

Shortly after his semifinal loss in Super Gas, Laris returned to race in the final of Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com and he emerged with his second-career national event Wally after stopping Larry Roberts in the final round. Laris was able to cruise to the title after Roberts ran into problems on the starting line resulting in a late light. Earlier in the weekend, Laris stopped former national champ Jeff Strickland and Lindsey Barker, a multi-time national event winner and the wife of past Top Sportsman champ Jeffery Barker.