News and Notes from final eliminations day at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway. Notes, quotes, photos, videos, and more!
UPDATED THROUGHOUT THE DAY
Wow. Just wow.
That was the reaction of most of the fans in St. Louis when Brittany Force ran the third fastest speed in the history of Top Fuel with a 337.66 mph blast in her round one win over TJ Zizzo. Force, who lost her qualifying streak at eight-straight races when Mike Salinas took the pole, retaliated with low E.T. of the meet with a 3.641 elapsed time. It was easily one of the best runs of the season in Top Fuel and the St. Louis crowd reacted accordingly
Not surprisingly, Monster crew chief David Grubnic was a bit nonchalant about Force’s performance.
“I just twisted knobs and punched in some numbers,” Grubnic said. “Actually, it ran a little quicker than what we were looking for, but we’ll take it.”
The first pair of the day gave an indication of the sport of performance expected on Sunday in St. Louis as Antron Brown made his best run of the weekend by six-hundredths with a 3.708 to easily take care of Spencer Massey, who is once again filling in for Pat Dakin. Massey made a respectable run with a 3.845, but trailed Brown’s Matco Tools dragster at every increment.
If anyone thought there was a chance that Scott Palmer would take a knee for Billy Torrence in their round one match, they can think again. Palmer gets a lot of help from the Capco team and he’s extremely loyal to the Torrence family and their crewmembers, Bobby and Dom Lagana but when they meet on the starting line, the gloves come off.
Palmer ran a 3.767 in his opening round race against Billy Torrence, who turned on the win light with a 3.748. Palmer even left the starting line first by a slim margin, resulting in a very narrow .003-second margin of victory at the finish line stripe.
It didn’t take long for the first domino in the Top Fuel points battle to fall after Charlotte winner Josh Hart, who is not in the Countdown to the Championship, took out Justin Ashley, who came into the event No. 3. Ashley was 74 points back when he arrived in St. Louis, but with leaders Brittany Force and Steve Torrence both advancing, he’s got an even tougher mountain to climb.
Hart now has his work cut out for him with a tough quarterfinal race against Brittany Force. He’s a tenth behind, but doesn’t seem the lead bit concerned.
“We’ll just go up there throw the kitchen sink at it,” said Hart. “My hot rod is just as good as her’s so we’ll see what happens.”
Alex DeJoria left first and had a sizable lead over Bob Tasca III in the first pair of Funny Car, and appeared to be well on her way to a victory until her Bandero Tequila Toyota knocked the tires loose near half-track and she was forced to lift.
Tasca, still very much a player in the battle for the Camping World Funny Car championship, no doubt breathed a sigh of relief after he took the win with a 3.92.
Not that Ron Capps and his NAPA team would consider taking Chris King lightly, but just to make sure they went for the jugular with a 3.855, 333.41 that held for low elapsed time of the round. Capps knew going in that if he won the first round, he’d face a tough challenge in round two with the winner of the John Force vs. Robert Hight battle so the prospect of lane choice was definitely a consideration.
“That quick and fast,” said Capps. “This is a great track but the lane are tough here for a Funny Car. They make you test your driving. Guido [Dean Antonelli] and [John] Medlen and I talk about it. We saw Hagan get in trouble out there and knock the tires loose. When I got to that spot, it torqued up like a bull and I dragged it back. When you look at the ladder, it’s murder’s row out there so you’ve got to try and get lane choice.”
From the things you never expected to see file: Robert Hight’s crucial round one battle against teammate John Force was over before it started when Hight made a rare misstep. Hight, who came into the St. Louis event just 72 points back in the points battle, had a chance to make up ground against his boss but double-stepped the throttle and could only watch as Force’s Peak Chevy turned on the win light with a 3.970.
Inevitably, speculation began immediately that team orders were in place but neither driver would conform or deny any such thing occurred. Hight declined to speak with NHRA top end reporter Jamie Howe, but Force chimed in with the following when asked if he and Hight had talked before the race.
“I can’t control what goes on up there,” said Force. “We didn’t have a conversation. I just told him I loved him and he’s the best shot I’ve got out here. I want to win, too. I have a job to do for Peak and Chevy. I don’t know what happened but he’s still the best in my book.”
Both of the Harlow Sammons entries advanced into round two when their opponents dumped the clutch too soon. Mason got a free pass into round two after Troy Coughlin Jr. fouled by six thousandths and a few moments later, father Chris also advanced on a foul when Deric Kramer red-lighted.
The McGaha’s have raced several times this season and they’d be happy to do so again today since they are on opposite sides of the ladder and cannot race until the final round.
Matt Hartford lost his opening round race against Rodger Brogdon’s RoofTec Camaro, but he’s thankful that he still has a race car after a few tense moments near the finish line. Hartford’s Total Seal Camaro drifted close to the centerline and he wrestled to bring it back. Near the 1,000 foot mark, the car made a violent move, but Hartford quickly caught it and got the chutes out in time to prevent what could have been a disaster.
Nothing has been decided in Pro Stock after the top five drivers in the points battle; Greg Anderson, Erica Enders, Kyle Koretsky, Dallas Glenn, and Aaron Stanfield each made it to the second round of eliminations. Glenn and Stanfield came in well behind the leaders so they’ll need to make up some ground but in this case, a round one loss would have been nearly impossible to overcome.
A day after winning the Best Engineered Car award at the NHRA Midwest Nationals with his Mountain Motor Pro Stock Camaro, J.R. Carr had an unfortunate encounter with the World Wide Technology Raceway guardwall. Carr got loose near the finish line and tagged the right
Lane wall losing the passenger side door and decklid. Thankfully, he was able to get the car stopped quickly and keep the damage to a minimum.
Earlier in the weekend, Carr was the low qualifier with a very quick 6.227 and he was well ahead of opponent Bill Niri when the incident occurred. Carr also won the most recent NHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock exhibition held at the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd.
For the second straight year, Aaron Stanfield has been crowned the champion in the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown. Stanfield came into the penultimate race with a sizable lead over rival David Barton but the possibility of late season drama ended in round one after Barton launched into a big wheelstand and had to lift against Scott Libersher’s COPO Camaro.
For good measure, Stanfield moved on to the second round with a win against Kim Shirley but not before he shared his thoughts on a second championship in the new era Factory Hot Rod class.
“It was a long hard fight. We struggled a bit but turned it around a little at this race,” said Stanfield. “I can’t thank my dad [Greg] and uncle [Mike] and my crew along with [team owners] Joe and David Janac for everything they do for me. Winning two [championships] in a row is a dream come true. This class is very special to me.”
Unlike last year, where Stanfield dominated with five wins in six races, there has been parity in the Factory Stock class this season. Stanfield has a win, but so does Barton, Jesse Alexandra, Chuck Watson II, John Cerbone, and Stephen Bell.
Josh Hart ran his win streak to six straight rounds after a holeshot win over points leader Brittany Force in round two. Hart got a slight lead at the start, .061 to .092, and held on for the win by five-thousandths of a second, 3.792 to a quicker 3.767. For Force, who rocked World Wide Technology Raceway in the opening round with a stunning 3.64, the bigger issue was a dropped cylinder that cost her Monster Energy dragster a shot at the victory.
Hart was rather subdued following his groundbreaking win in Gainesville earlier this year but he’s since come out of his shell including some recent comments directed at his biggest competitors. In short, he’s exactly what the Top Fuel class needs right now.
“This is almost as good as winning the race last week,” said Hart. “We wanted to prove it wasn’t a fluke in Charlotte. The R&L Carriers dragster is running great right now and we’re going another round.
With Brittany Force on the sidelines, Steve Torrence and the Capco team were quick to pounce with a 3.709 in their quarterfinal win against Antron Brown who hazed the tires. Torrence entered the event 21 markers behind the Monster dragster and lost a few more during qualifying, but he now trials by just four points and the door is wide open for the reigning and three-time champ to retake the lead heading into the final stretch of the Countdown to the Championship.
“At this point in my career I don’t think about points,” said Torrence. “We just go into every lap and take it as it comes. With Brittany going out ahead of us we need to capitalize and see if we can take advantage of the opportunities we get.”
Later, car chief Bobby Lagana chimed in with his traditional wit.
“It’s like George Michael says you’ve got to have faith sometimes,” Lagana observed.
The semifinals of Funny Car is set and it includes Bob Tasca III, Cruz Pedregon, John Force, and Matt Hagan all of whom are in the running for the world championship.
The marquee match of the quarterfinals featured the class’ two winningest drivers, John Force and Ron Capps. Force rolled his Peak Chevy deep into the staging beams at the last season and Capps admitted it distracted him. The end result was a 3.97 to 3.92 holeshot win for Force who moved a step closer to his 17th NHRA championship.
Capps, being the standup guy that he is, made no excuses for his performance. He took full responsibility for the loss.
“It [the deep stage] definitely threw me off,” said Capps. “Just add me to the list. We saw what he did in the first round and it worked. You know he’s going to do it but sometimes you get so focused on your own lane. I don’t think I’ve ever had a light that bad in eliminations. It hurts bad right now. I’m better than that. You don’t have the luxury of making another lap like the NASCAR guys do to make up for a mistake. I have two weeks to think about it.”
The Midwest Nationals is shaping up to be a great event for the Harlow Sammons team as Chris and Mason McGaha are both in the semifinals and can’t race until the final round. Chris took care of business in the second round when he defeated Rodger Brogdon with a 6.580. A few moments later, Mason scored a win over Greg Anderson that might ultimately have a huge effect on the points battle.
Mason left first with a .023 light and scored a holeshot win over the HendrickCars.com Camaro, 6.569 to 6.564. Less than two full years into his career, McGaha has begun to earn a reputation for taking out some of the class’ biggest names. He’ll have a chance to add to that in the semi’s when he takes on Erica Enders. Chris will face off against Dallas Glenn as he looks to join Warren and Kurt Johnson in a father-son Pro Stock final.
A bit of tire smoke and a big boom from Leah Pruett’s Okuma dragster sent Mike Salinas to his second final round of the season but with a 3.713, it isn’t as if he couldn’t have gotten there with a good side-by-side race. Team boss Alan Johnson noted that Salinas staged a bit deep in his quarterfinal win against Tripp Tatum, but improved his performance in the semi’s by staging shallow. Even so, Salinas was able to hit the Tree with a very competitive .038 light.
“I’ve been working on stuff,” Salinas said in reference to his starting line driving. “I’ve got some help from a few drivers out here.”
So what’s the best advice he’s gotten? “Be calm. Be happy,” Salinas joked.
Salinas will take on Steve Torrence in the final. Torrence reclaimed the points lead following his semifinal win over Josh Hart, who hazed the tires at mid-track.
LUCAS OIL SERIES WINNERS
Competition Eliminator – Joey Arrowsmith def. Brett Speer
Super Stock – Robert Cruzen def. Ricky Decker
Stock Eliminator – Ryan Montford def. Wes Neely
Super Comp – Nick Isenhower def. Vernon Rowland
Super Gas – Jeremy Mason def. Jason McClure
Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers – Larry Demers def. Curt Fredrich