Our regular readers will likely recall The Sports Report story we published last February with two-time NHRA world champion Anthony Bertozzi. The story highlighted Bertozzi’s well-known generosity toward others and the amount of enjoyment he gets from watching his teammates win.
Fast forward to this week’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, where Bertozzi showed that one can indeed have their cake (ice cream) and eat it too, as he not only earned a win for himself but also got to share the winner’s circle with his teammates, Joe Santangelo and John Labbous Jr.
Bertozzi nearly pulled off the second double of his career with a win in Super Stock and a runner-up in Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers. Meanwhile, Labbous scored in Super Comp, and Santangelo earned the Stock title. The Bertozzi team ultimately went home with three NHRA Wallys and three of the coveted Summit Motorsports Park custom ice cream scoops, making for an extremely successful weekend.
“I’ve been racing for a long time, and I can honestly say I’ve never had a weekend like this one,” Bertozzi said. “I did double up once in Epping, and I’ve had some of my teammates win that same race I won, but I’ve never brought four cars to the races and had all four in the final, and then come away with three wins. That made it a pretty special day.”
While the wins were front and center, Bertozzi also couldn’t help but think of the one that got away, the Top Dragster final against Al Kenny. A fellow world champ, Kenny made things extremely difficult for Bertozzi with a perfect .000 reaction time. The end result was a narrow loss that disrupted an otherwise perfect weekend.
“How about ‘Big Al’ with a triple-oh light? Then, he shuts off to go one over. That’s hard to beat,” Bertozzi said. “He sort of stopped the show as far as our chances of a sweep. It would have been nice to get that fourth win, but you can’t look at what you lost, but rather appreciate what you won.”
Although they race in different classes, Bertozzi, Labbous, and Santangelo function as a team, sharing data relative to track conditions, weather changes, and anything else they think might be helpful to one another. Bertozzi subscribes to the theory that there is no such thing as too much information, and his teammates are happy to oblige.
“We stayed in contact all throughout the race,” said Bertozzi. “I do crazy amounts of homework, and we put our heads together before each run to come up with a plan and to see if we agree on what each car will run. Most times, Santangelo is the Guinea pig because he’s in Stock, and they’re usually first to go down the track.”
When it comes to his Super Stock Grand Am, Bertozzi generally doesn’t worry about much. He considers it to be the most consistent car in his fleet of nearly 20 race cars, and as such, it’s his favorite car. Bertozzi also believes it’s fitting that he won his landmark 25th career NHRA victory behind the wheel of the former JEGS machine.
In the Norwalk final, Bertozzi actually left five-thousandths ahead of the green light, but by then, the race was over because fellow world champion Ricky Decker had already fouled. Bertozzi and Decker were two of the seven former or current NHRA world champions competing in Super Stock at the event, making it one of the most competitive fields of the year.
“It sucked that we had to run the Top Dragster final first because I wanted to go out first in Super Stock,” Bertozzi said. “My Super Stock car is almost always dialed, but I thought I was at a disadvantage in the dragster, especially since I was one of the slowest cars there. In the final, I could look up and see that Al was catching me really quickly. He was perfect on the Tree and probably running dead-on, so I don’t think there was much I could have done.”
Santangelo, who won the Norwalk Comp title in 2015 and returned a year later to win in Stock, added a third title when he won the Stock final over Don Belles. Santangelo, wheeling Bertozzi’s wheelstanding ’69 Camaro, won for the 18th time in his career after Belles fouled by .014-second.
As for Labbous, he’s been one of the hottest drivers in the entire NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series this season with multiple wins in Super Comp and Super Gas. The 2017 world champ, Labbous lost in round three of Super Gas but went the distance in Super Comp, driving one of Bertozzi’s dragsters to a win against first-time finalist Alison Prose, who fouled. Labbous now has nine national event wins, including a double at the 2017 spring Charlotte event.
Labbous and Santangelo also won the most recent NHRA national event in Epping, although they did so in different classes. Labbous earned the Super Gas title, and Santangelo was the Super Stock champion. Labbous also shared the feelings of many racers in Norwalk during the final round when he held up a sign that read, “4U Kyle,” a reference to longtime racer and promoter Kyle Seipel, who passed away on June 21 following a battle with cancer. His loss was felt by nearly everyone, including longtime friend Bertozzi.
“I like to think Kyle was a big part of this win,” Bertozzi said. “When we got here, we all said we needed to win one for Kyle, and we got three. I think he would have been proud. It seemed like he was talking to me every round. In the Top Dragster final, I could hear his voice telling me what a dumb [expletive] I am.
“This reminds me of when Labbous was closing in on the Super Gas championship [in 2017]. Kyle was on the phone telling him, 'This ain’t elementary school. This is your final exam. Get your [expletive] head out of your ass and go finish it.’ He had a great way of motivating people. I’d give anything to have a recording of that call. If not for the passing of Kyle, this would have been an even bigger celebration. It still hurts, but I think it meant a lot to get three wins for him.”