Tony Schumacher and Troy Coughlin Jr. pulled off stunning final-round upsets to win in Top Fuel and Pro Stock at the Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals and were joined by red-hot Robert Hight, who won again in Funny Car, on a wild and warm Sunday at Pacific Raceways.
Schumacher, who had scored just five round-wins in the season’s first 12 events, added four more in one day by taking the Maynard Family rail to victories over Scott Palmer, Shawn Langdon, and Justin Ashley, and then an upset final-round win over tire-smoking low qualifier and points leader Brittany Force. Schumacher's last win was harrowing as well as the car's automatic shutoff system sensed trouble and killed the engine and dumped the parachute before the finish line, and he coasted to the win.
The win was Schumacher's fifth in Seattle and the 86th of his career, breaking his longstanding tie with Pro Stock great Bob Glidden for fourth place on the NHRA all-time professional wins list.
"I was literally coasting to the win, willing that finish line to get there," he said. "I had no idea what had happened to her; all I know is she wasn't there."
Schumacher’s road to his 155th career final was fraught with peril, and the Maynard Family machine defeated Scott Palmer with a 3.85 when almost every other winner was in the 3.70s, then beat Shawn Langdon on a 3.82 to 3.79 holeshot. His semifinal battle may have been the toughest as he deftly recovered from early tire smoke to beat an equally tractionless Justin Ashley to win with a 4.48.
"We've been struggling, you know — mostly on straight tracks (laughs) — until this race, and we finally figured out how to go 1,000 feet. The early numbers have been destroying us. We made a big change in Denver. We've had a lot of awful luck, and this was the perfect time. Joe and Cathi Maynard buy the team, we have a group of people who are excited. We come in qualified third, but you look at that ladder. You've got Justin Ashley, Brittany, Shawn Langdon. Are you kidding me? This is not an easy one to win."
Force, who had stunned everyone by blasting down a hot track to a 3.75 in the heat of the final qualifying session Saturday, didn’t let up much on Sunday, bettering her qualifying time with a 3.74 in round one to trailer Jim Maroney, then ran 3.79 to beat Josh Hart and 3.82 to defeat Denver winner Leah Pruett to reach her 33rd career final.
Hight won his second of three races on the Western Swing, following up his Denver win with another victory, this one the 59th of his career and his sixth this season, matching a career-high. Hight and the Jimmy Prock-tuned Auto Club Camaro took a tight final-round victory over J.R. Todd’s DHL Toyota, 3.975 to 3.978.
"We weren't the best car in qualifying; the four-flat that we ran yesterday and was the quickest in the heat, so we had some confidence coming in," he said. "I think we had low e.t. every round today, and up until a couple of races ago, we didn't have the best 130-degree track combination."
Hight, who won 10 of 12 rounds available on the Swing, saw his championship hopes also boosted by the early exit of third-place Ron Capps — at Hight’s own hands in round one — and second-place Matt Hagan, who was beaten by Hight’s team owner, John Force, also in round one. After Hight defeated Alexis DeJoria and Force bested Tim Wilkerson, the teammates squared off in the semifinals, where Hight took the win light with a 3.97.
"These three races we've gained big, big points, because going into the Western Swing, I think we were 21 points ahead, so it was anybody's game, and now we have a 228-point lead. If we just stay steady, we're gonna go into this Countdown [to the Championship] No. 1, and that can be a big deal because every point counts, but I'm gonna make a prediction right now: We're gonna need to win four or five more if this Auto Club Chevy wants to be the champ at the end of the year."
Hight’s championship hopes benefitted from the early exit of third-place Ron Capps — at Hight’s own hands in round one — and second-place Hagan, who was beaten by Hight’s team owner, John Force, also in round one. After Hight defeated DeJoria and Force bested Wilkerson, the teammates squared off in the semifinals, where Hight took the win light with a 3.97.
Todd, who won the Top Fuel title in Seattle in 2015, only had to beat two drivers to reach the final, the 41st of his career, as his side of the ladder had a bye run in the semifinals due to the eight-car field. To get there, of course, he had to beat the No. 1 qualifier, Bob Tasca III, which he did when Tasca’s Ford smoked the tires. Before that, Todd had dispatched Blake Alexander in a tight 3.95 to 3.99 first-round bash.
Coughlin, an eight-time winner in NHRA’s Sportsman-racing ranks, had been to three Pro Stock finals — as recently as this year’s Phoenix event — and been turned away each time, and many didn’t figure him to beat teammate and points leader Erica Enders, whose red Camaro had been quicker all day, especially after she left first by .006-second. Coughlin fought back and took the win by an infinitesimally small margin of one ten-thousandths of a second (.0001-second) to join his famous uncle, Jeg, who won this race 20 years ago, as a Seattle winner.
“I could hear her, and I knew she was close," he said. "I wasn't looking out my window. I was just trying to get to the finish line and make sure I'm pulling the cogs [gears] as right as I can and keep it in the groove and just trying to stay focused on my tasks.
"I have to give all the credit to my Elite Motorsports team," he added. "They've been working that hard and to have a Pro Stock car make that many good runs in a weekend in the heat is extremely impressive. What an honor to win today. What a great place to win. I'm tickled to death.”
Coughlin had qualified the familiar yellow and black JEGS Camaro in the No. 4 spot then raced his way past Fernando Cuadra, rookie Camrie Caruso, and low qualifier Greg Anderson, who shook the tires against Coughlin.
Enders, the 2012 Seattle winner, was competing in her 70th career final (68 of which have come in Pro Stock), and most figured her to add to the previous weekend’s Sonoma victory, especially after Enders ran a pair of steady 6.59s in the first two rounds to advance to the semifinals, where she dispatched teammate Aaron Stanfield for the seventh time in eight races this season.