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The Sports Report: Anthony Bertozzi makes history at JEGS SPORTSnationals in Columbus

Coming off a near-sweep of the JEGS Speedweek doubleheader in Columbus, Anthony Bertozzi is well on his way to a second NHRA world championship. Oh, and he also won a million dollars this month (sort of).
23 Jul 2020
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report

If not for a slight lapse in his final round battle against reigning Top Dragster world champ Danny Nelson during last weekend’s Division 3 Lucas Oil Series event at National Trail Raceway, Anthony Bertozzi might well have engineered a clean sweep of JEGS Speedweek. Bertozzi missed his dial in on Friday night and Nelson was quick to take advantage of it. Two days later, Bertozzi returned to claim the JEGS SPORTSnationals title. He now has five SPORTSnationals wins, more than any other driver.

“I made a little mistake against Danny and it cost me,” said Bertozzi. “I thought I was holding a couple of hundredths and I wasn’t. He rolled up on me and I dropped him. That was a poor choice. I just messed up the finish line but that’s easy to do in Top Dragster. It’s crazy how fast these cars are and when you look at the final round; we ran it in the dark and it was hard to see down there. I just made that one mistake. The rest of the weekend went my way.”

On Sunday Bertozzi lit the win light five more times behind the wheel of his ProCharger-equipped dragster including a tough round one match against Andrew Waddle. With a top speed in excess of 220-mph, Bertozzi found it difficult to judge Waddle’s 170-mph entry but survived the round. He went on to win the event over Mike Coughlin and his JEGS.com dragster.

“I love the ProCharger but it’s not always easy to dial, especially when the weather gets hot,” Bertozzi said. “In the first round, I tried to give that one back. I missed the finish line and took the stripe by just two-thousandths. That was after I killed about 35-mph. That was just a mistake that came out the right way.”

Bertozzi has never been one to tally points. Seriously, that’s an understatement. He rarely clicks on the standings tab at NHRA.com. In fact, he once famously told a fellow racer, “I’m pretty sure NHRA will call and let you know if you win.”  Disregarding his own advice, Bertozzi couldn’t help but check the standings after winning nine of ten possible rounds in Columbus. Not surprisingly, he’s got a commanding lead in the battle for the Vortech Superchargers Top Dragster world title, but in this year of uncertainty, he’s taking nothing for granted.

“I know I’ve had a good start, but I can’t tell you if I like my chances or not,” said Bertozzi, who was the Super Stock world champ in 2002. “At points meets, I’m going to take a second-round loss no matter what. The big thing in national events. I’ve got three more chances to have one good finish. Then again, this year is so strange due to the coronavirus its hard to say what it might take to win. I’d just hate to see some guys not have a chance because we canceled too many races. I’d love to win a second championship, but I don’t want to do it that way.”

As if his near-double wasn't enough, Bertozzi kicked off the month of July with an even more impressive feat when he won a million dollars. Well, sort of. More accurately, Bertozzi provided the winning car for the SFG Million event held in Michigan. Longtime friend Steve Sisko drove Bertozzi’s Chevy Nova to the largest payday in the sport’s history. Sisko banked $400,000, which he split evenly with Bertozzi.

“I was at my house in Virginia Beach cooking dinner and I watched the whole thing on the internet,” said Bertozzi. “My daughter, Brittany, was there and she came home and handed me a nice big check. If you know me, you know I don’t do this for the money but it’s still a big accomplishment. I couldn’t be happier for Steve. When he started driving my cars, he always told me, ‘I know I’ve got a big win in me.’  I never doubted him for a minute.”

When it comes to hired drivers, Bertozzi certainly has an eye for talent. He’s provided the winning vehicle for many successful racers including world champs Peter Biondo, John Labbous Jr., and Joe Santangelo, as well as bracket racing aces Kenny Underwood, Tommy Cable, and the late Jim Harrington. Generous to a fault, Bertozzi enjoys watching his friends succeed even more than he savors his own victories.

“Peter [Biondo] drove for me quite a bit and when he started to cut back on his schedule, he mentioned Sisko as someone I should consider,” said Bertozzi. “Steve’s always been a good racer and he just needed a chance to prove himself. What he did in Michigan was amazing, not just because he won the race, but he drove the last six rounds with a broken ring and pinion. It’s amazing that it held together. I feel like Jimmy the shoe [Harrington] was riding along with him. Jimmy was my mentor, and also had a big influence on Steve. My only regret is that I wasn’t there to see it happen live. The best part was seeing how many people reached out to Steve after the final and they were all genuinely happy for him. That’s how you know you made a good investment.”