Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals, AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Sept. 19-21, 2014 at Texas Motorplex, Ennis, TX, USA
photos by Tim Hailey with reports from NHRA and others
Andrew Hines came out on top of an ugly day of eliminations
Andrew Hines secured his fifth Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the season with ease at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals Sunday at Texas Motorplex, as his opponent Steve Johnson was unable to make the finals due to mechanical issues with his Suzuki. Hines notched his first Dallas win and 37th of his career with his performance of 7.571 at 186.54 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. With the victory, he moves into the points lead over teammate Eddie Krawiec. “We changed a bunch of stuff, hard parts, key strokes in the computer and it finally all came together in that last qualifying session,” Hines said. “It got better and better and we are starting to see the results and the E.T. on the board. I’ve been to three or four engines and this one finally responded.”
Tony Schumacher and his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster team are rounding into championship form as he raced to his second victory in as many days. Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) were also winners in their categories at the second of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Schumacher, who won the delayed Charlotte event here on Saturday, defeated No. 1 qualifier J.R. Todd in the finals for his 76th career Top Fuel win. Schumacher posted a winning run of 3.891 seconds at 318.62 mph to Todd’s trailing run of 4.134 at 251.49 in his Optima Batteries dragster. With the back-to-back wins, he moved into the championship lead, and holds a 106-point advantage over second place Steve Torrence.
Schumacher defeated Leah Pritchett, Bob Vandergriff, Troy Buff and Todd to claim his sixth win at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. “It’s an unbelievable situation,” said Schumacher. “We’ve won two races in less than 24 hours. My family drove up, I won a race, we went to dinner, went to bed, came back, and won another race in under 24 hours.
“We have a 100-point leading going into two more back-to-back races. It’s brutal pressure. Going into with this much momentum places that pressure on other people. Some will be able to handle it; some won’t.”
Doug Kalitta, who started the Countdown to the Championship as the No. 1 seed, sits 107 points behind Schumacher in third. Defending world champ Shawn Langdon is in fourth and Todd, who entered the playoffs in 10th, climbed to fifth in the standings.
In the Funny Car finals, Force recorded the 11th win by a woman in 2014, when she defeated Del Worsham in the finals. Force powered her Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car to a winning time of 4.227 seconds at 301.07 to Worsham’s trailing run of 4.309 at 285.65 in his DHL Toyota Camry. Force, who remained fourth in the points order, was the No. 1 qualifier at the event and this marks the second time this season she has won from the top position.
“It was great to qualify No. 1, but I still knew I was possibly going to have to race one of my teammates in the second round when I looked at the ladder,” she said. “Luckily for us, we were able to get that round because that was a huge win for us. Obviously, [they’re some of] my biggest competition, even though they are my teammates. [My dad and Robert might be] my biggest competition out here because they have great race cars. They’re keeping it consistent, and that’s the hardest thing to break, so I’m proud of my team to come out here and make some great laps – especially out here in the heat of Texas.”
Force suffered a first round loss at the opening event in the Countdown and knew the team needed a strong performance at this race for her to secure a championship. “We definitely needed to make a turn for the better,” Force continued. “We needed to go some rounds today if we still wanted a shot at the championship. After the loss in Charlotte it felt like the No. 1 spot was drifting further away. It was almost a good thing he (John) went out a little bit early here, and he wasn’t creating such a huge gap for us to [potentially] reach that No. 1 spot. We’ve made a huge move up and we’re still in the hunt.”
Her father John retains the Funny Car points lead by 45 over teammate Hight. Matt Hagan is in third and Ron Capps and Alexis DeJoria are tied for fifth.
In Pro Stock, it was a rematch from the final in Indianapolis as Connolly faced his Gray Motorsports teammate Shane Gray. This time Connolly got the better of Gray with a run of 6.616 at 210.05 in his Charter Communications Chevy Camaro to the trailing run of 6.617 at 210.73 in the Gray Manufacturing Camaro. This is the second win of the season for Connolly, the 25th in his career, and marked the third consecutive Pro Stock win for Gray Motorsports.
“I’ve been very blessed with a lot of great opportunities and I would have to say this is one of the best,” said three-time Texas Motorplex winner Connolly, who defeated Shane Tucker, Allen Johnson and Jonathan Gray to advance to the final round. “Great group of guys, the whole family is. The comradery we have and the friendships we have grown over the year is unbelievable. We are out there having fun and running into each other in semifinals and finals and could not be better. We are avoiding each other first few rounds and early and it is a win-win when we make it to the final and there is Gray Motorsports on both the doors.”
With the victory Connolly is now 43 points behind leader Jason Line, with Shane Gray third, Enders-Stevens fourth and Jonathan Gray fifth.
EARLIER: 1 Down, 1 to go for Krawiec in Dallas
Eddie Krawiec rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to his third consecutive Pro Stock Motorcycle victory and moved into the series lead. He earned his 26th career win by posting a performance of 6.888 at 193.49, to hold off Johnson’s Suzuki, which finished in 6.917 at 193.29. “You want to do well at every race you go to and you want to be prepared,” Krawiec said. “The key for us I think was rolling off the truck with great momentum, and making good runs down the track. That is what I have done with my Harley the last couple of laps and making good clean straight runs . Work on your setup and tweak away at it. I think I’ve got an awesome motorcycle and it has been great to do. I’m excited.”
Krawiec also powered to his seventh No. 1 qualifying position of the season and the 21st of his career with a run of 6.841 at 194.83. He will face Freddie Camarena in the first round of eliminations. “One of the hard things is trying to keep up on your clutch program. You have to keep up on the track with the weather changes. As a rider, you need to stay on your game,” said Krawiec. “All these guys make fun of me at the shop because I have this pile of hats you get for being No. 1 qualifier, and they say, ‘He’s a hoarder! He’s a hat hoarder! That just shows you how good our team is and how consistent we are.”
Don Schumacher Racing swept the nitro categories as Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), and Matt Hagan (Funny Car) took home titles in the delayed Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals Saturday at Texas Motorplex. Schumacher recorded his 75th career victory in Top Fuel when he powered his U.S. Army dragster to victory over Khalid alBalooshi’s Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Schumacher had a winning time of 3.866 seconds at 318.77 mph to take his second Carolina Nationals win and move into the playoff points lead.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Schumacher said. “It is the first race in the Countdown even though we had to move it, it doesn’t really matter. In reality, fantastic timing, we took over the points lead, I don’t know where we are but we are in the lead. If we can maintain and stay ahead of these guys for five more races, and I know we have the car capable of doing it, we’ll be there to force the issue.”
Schumacher entered the Countdown to the Championship as the fourth seed in Top Fuel, but first round losses by Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown and Shawn Langdon propelled him into the points lead. “Textbook: one, two and three go out and you are sitting there in fourth, the best case scenario would be ‘wow those guys are out, we have to go close the deal,’” Schumacher continued. “We have to make up those points as we can. So often you see the guys up front go out and you make a mistake; but if you want to win a championship, as good as the cars are, you better leave nothing on the table and absolutely dominate.”
JR Todd earned his second consecutive top qualifying position in the Countdown playoffs from his Friday night run of 3.761 at 317.87 in his Optima Batteries dragster. He will face Morgan Lucas in the first round of eliminations. “To come back here and back up that No. 1 from last week shows that it wasn’t a fluke, I suppose,” Todd said. “It was definitely tricky today with the heat. We’ll come into race day with that 3.86 we ran in the heat, and I think that’s what it’s going to take to go some rounds tomorrow.”
On the strength of his Countdown opening win, Tony Schumacher takes the Top Fuel points lead and will face Leah Pritchett when eliminations begin. Doug Kalitta qualified second and will face Troy Buff, and Bob Vandergriff, who qualified third, will face Terry McMillen.
In Funny Car, Hagan defeated rival John Force for his second victory of the season and 12th of his career. Force fouled at the start in his Ford Mustang, giving the automatic victory to Hagan, who posted a 4.200 at 297.17 in his Rocky Boots/Mopar Dodge Charger. “My guys busted their butts today, I’m so proud of them,” Hagan said. “To see my guys sweating and working so hard, it makes me so proud of them. They are a great group. I wouldn’t trade Dickie Venables for any crew chief out here. The guy is smart, he is methodical, and this is only our second year together and we still have a lot of growing to do.”
With the win, Hagan moves from fifth to third in points, only 11 behind Robert Hight who is second in the standings. “Dickie was able to put a car under me that went down the track every lap,” Hagan said. “We wanted those bonus point, you’d love to see yourself go out there and scoop up all the points that you can but you have to be smart and what Dickie did today was smart. He went out there and raced.”
Courtney Force earned her fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals following her track record setting performance on Friday. She raced to her seventh career No. 1 with a performance of 4.039 seconds at 314.90 mph in her Traxxas Ford Mustang. Her most recent No. 1 qualifying position came in Sonoma, an event she went on to win after defeating her father John in the final. “It feels good to have the Traxxas Ford Mustang back in the No. 1 spot, especially back here in Texas,” said Force who has two No. 1 qualifying positions at the track. “I’m very proud of my team for giving me a very good racecar this weekend. Definitely hope we can continue it tomorrow throughout race day.”
Force hopes a victory tomorrow will put her back in championship contention. “We didn’t have such good luck last weekend in Charlotte so we are definitely looking to turn things around,” said Force, who will race Tony Pedregon in the opening round. “We can definitely use the points to climb our way back up there to battle it out for this championship because I definitely think we still have a chance at it.”
In key opening round matchups, Funny Car points leader John Force will race Jeff Arend, Alexis DeJoria who qualified second will face Jeff Diehl, and Matt Hagan who won the delayed Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals will face Bob Tasca III.
In Pro Stock Car, rookie driver Jonathan Gray recorded his first career win in his third career final. Gray defeated series points leader Jason Line with a performance of 6.589 at 209.10 in his Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro. “It’s huge, it is big for all the guys back at the shop and all the guys at Gray Motorsports,” Gray said. “They are doing a phenomenal job, all the guys in the engine shop. I’ve got a really good group of guys. I’ve got to thank my wife and kids for their support and my mom and dad for being so supportive. I can’t say enough and such a good deal.”
Adams Performance customer Shane Gray in the Indy final against teammate Dave Connolly
Gray’s brother Shane claimed the No. 1 qualifying position with his run of 6.566 at 210.08 in his Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro during the third qualifying session. This is his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the year and his first since Sonoma. He will race John Gaydosh in the opener.
“We had a great day and the weather dried out this morning and what a run it made, we didn’t think it would pick up that much for sure,” Gray said. “Tomorrow is a new day and we will try to go out and put on a good show for the fans. Going to go out and have a fun day of racing tomorrow and be proud of the outcome of it.”
EARLIER: NHRA Doubling Down in Dallas
Hector Arana Jr. led Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying with a run of 6.855 at 194.63 on his Lucas Oil Products Buell Friday for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex. “We made a swing for the tune-up and nailed it right on the head,” said Arana Jr. “We went right to the top in Q1. There was actually a little more we wanted to do, but we had to be conservative because we were going into round one of eliminations. We took away a little bit, and it stayed consistent on the line. I actually got lucky. The bike didn’t want to shift, and I kept pushing the button. Finally, when it hit the rev limiter, I was able to plug it in the next gear and stay ahead of him for the win.”
H2 then lost round 2 of the rain-delayed Charlotte race on a holeshot to Star Racing’s Chaz Kennedy and watched as Eddie Krawiec took over the top spot in Dallas qualifying.
Hector Arana Jr.
Courtney Force raced to the Funny Car qualifying lead while J.R. Todd (Top Fuel) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) led their respective categories during round two of the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs near Dallas.
Force set both ends of the track record in her Traxxas Ford Mustang with a 4.039-second pass at 314.90 mph. She has three No. 1 qualifying positions this year and six in her 65-race career. This season alone, the 26-year-old has posted top speed in eight of 17 races and has the fastest speed in Funny Car history at 1,000 feet of 325.37 mph (Las Vegas). “Going into this race I was confident that we had a good car,” said Force. “To go out there and go to the No. 1 spot with our Traxxas team and run a number like that, is a good weekend so far. We still have tomorrow and it is going to down since we are running later in the day but I’m excited and proud of my team.”
The Motorplex is the site of Force’s second ever career No. 1 qualifying effort. Earlier this season, she won the 100th NHRA pro race by a woman at Topeka. She has a total of five career wins, the most by any woman in Funny Car history.
“We’ll be focusing on keeping this car consistent and picking up bonus points round after round, that’s going to be our main goal tomorrow, but also to qualify in the top half so I don’t have to face my teammates in round one like I had to do last weekend. Our focus is the Countdown, this is race two and we definitely need to turn things around this weekend,” said Force.
Last weekend in Charlotte for the Pep Boys Carolina Nationals, Force qualified in the top half of the field, but unfortunately got paired up with her father in the first round of eliminations. She was ousted by the 16-time champion after making her best pass of the weekend beside him.
“I think this Traxxas team got things pulled together since last weekend. Although we went out in the first round, I took it as a positive after seeing what we ran. It was our quickest pass of the weekend in Charlotte,” said Force.
“We need consistency; to not make little mistakes, keep this car dead shallow, that’s my job going up there round after round. Luckily not having to worry about it tomorrow I can continue to go in shallow next to these guys because I won’t be competing in elimination rounds from Charlotte. Our Traxxas team is looking to pick up points throughout qualifying and stay consistent so we can continue to be consistent on Sunday,” said Force.
“It definitely drives a little bit different than what I’m used to, but little changes can feel like a whole lot,” said the 26-year-old whose team introduced a new Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car to the competition beginning in Indy. “For the most part I like it. Ever since it went down and made some good runs, you really can’t dislike a car. It’s been good to me so far. It’s been a lot more consistent than what we’ve had in the past. It definitely gives our team a whole new outlook and a big boost of confidence.”
John Force’s 8,000 horsepower Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang thundered down the iconic Texas Motorplex. This weekend’s race is also a “Double Header” and the 16-time NHRA Mellow Yello Champion has the potential to “Double Up” this weekend and win two Wallys, as he races to a potential 17th NHRA world title. With last weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals finals scheduled to be run this Saturday, and the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals eliminations on Sunday, John Force is ready to be victorious and make history.
By the end of today’s qualifying sessions, John Force ended up in the top half of the field, sitting in the number five spot with a strong 4.081 second run at 314.24, the second quickest run of the first round of qualifying.
It was on Force’s first qualifying run that he turned in his best performance of the day, as he was lined up with teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight. Both of their nitro-fueled Mustangs charged off the starting line, with John motoring right on down the track, crossing the finish line first with a solid 4.081 second run at 314.24 mph. This stout opening pass put the reigning NHRA Funny Car champ in the No. 2 spot. He also picked up two additional NHRA Mello Yello bonus points.
During the second session, the weather conditions began to cool down and the track conditions improved. Crew Chief Jimmy Prock, who likes to swing for fences and really hop up the already potent Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang, wanted to make sure he didn’t get too aggressive and overpower the concrete surface of the Texas Motorplex.
“We saw Courtney (Force) run a 4.03 right before us on that second session and so we don’t want to run the same, we want to run quicker, but we didn’t get away with it. We know where we’re at for tomorrow, as we are running the eliminations from the Charlotte race and it’s the beginning of the Countdown. I have to get my frame of mind right back there; it’s the way I set up my goals. My goal is to win Charlotte and now I get to do that tomorrow. I’m excited but I wished we could have ran it off at Bruton Smith’s track, he built the “Bellagio” of drag strips, but there was a little hiccup but they’re the best in the country in racing and what they invest in and we’re all proud of them. We wish we were there with them but we’re going to give the Charlotte show right here in Texas,” said John Force.
Force’s Funny Car was on a strong run as his Mustang catapulted off the starting line, but just past the 300-foot mark, it began to lose traction and then suffered mechanical issues. The 8000-horsepower BOSS 500 engine went silent and the time was a less than stellar 6.729 second run at 97.77 mph.
“We weren’t going after a track record, we were just trying to run what we thought it would run and for some reason, it smoked the tires on that spot on the track which it’s never done before. The clutch also didn’t wear like we wanted it to and it messed the run up,” said Jimmy Prock.
With two more qualifying runs tomorrow, along with eliminations for the rescheduled NHRA Carolina Nationals, the Castrol GTX High Mileage team will be ready and so will the winningest driver in NHRA history.
“Everything that ever went wrong for us was in Dallas in 2007 and all my bad luck went with it. So yeah, I got good luck when I came here (Texas Motorplex) with Traxxas, winning it in 2012 and again this year at Indy. So tomorrow, I’m going to try and win Charlotte in Dallas, Texas,” said John Force.
The AAA Texas Funny Car driven by Robert Hight was focused today on getting down both lanes and setting up a race day combination for tomorrow’s qualifying and simultaneous elimination rounds. Due to the postponement of the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals Hight will race Jeff Arend during the third qualifying session.
“There is a race to win tomorrow. We got down the track both runs today so we will look at the lanes for tomorrow and we have lane choice. I am excited about hopefully getting the first win of the Countdown but Jeff Arend will be a tough opponent,” said Hight, the provisional No. 9 qualifier on Friday.
In the first round of qualifying Hight was the fifth quickest Funny Car posting an elapsed time of 4.101 seconds. In the second session Hight’s AAA Texas logoed Ford Mustang Funny Car stepped up in elapsed time, 4.088 seconds, but slipped back a few slot in the qualifying order.
In Top Fuel, Todd raced to the qualifying lead with a track record time of 3.761 at 317.87 in his Optima Batteries dragster. If the time holds, it will be Todd’s second consecutive No. 1 position in the Countdown playoffs. “We were a little aggressive in Q1 and Q2,” said Todd, who was the No. 1 qualifier last weekend in Charlotte and will meet Spencer Massey in the quarterfinals of the delayed Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals tomorrow. “I felt there were a couple more cars that were going to run better than what we did, but you can never count out Connie (Kalitta, team owner) and James (Oberhofer, crew chief) and they are always loaded for bear when the conditions call for it and the track’s definitely good here this weekend.”
After two qualifying sessions, Brittany Force drove her Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster to the 17th quickest time today. The 2013 NHRA Auto Club Rookie of the Year is looking to rebound this weekend after a tough first round loss last weekend, and is primed to go rounds this Sunday.
“It was definitely difficult going out in round one in Charlotte, as it was the first race of the Countdown. But at this point, the Castrol EDGE team has no place to go but up, and that’s exactly our attitude this weekend. I really believe that having a positive attitude is extremely important and I’m confident we’ll fight our way back up the ladder,” said Brittany Force.
In the opening session, Brittany’s dragster experienced a mechanical problem at the hit of the throttle and put a cylinder out. Wisely, Brittany immediately shut down the engine, as raw fuel was coming out of the exhaust pipes. The run was a disappointing 9.083 second run as her race car coasted across the finish line at 48.77 mph. It had Brittany in the No. 19 spot, but the always optimistic Brittany knew her crew, led by Todd Smith and Dean “Guido” Antonelli, would be able to tune-up the Castrol EDGE Dragster for the second qualifying session.
When it came time for the second session, Brittany’s crew was still trying to get a handle on the changing weather and track conditions. As the Christmas tree flashed green, Brittany’s Castrol EDGE Dragster fired off the starting line but got into trouble around the 660-foot mark and could only manage a 4.319 second run at 186.95 mph.
“It’s been a tough day, it’s been a tough few races but I told my guys that we will keep a positive attitude and when that happens, we work better as a team and the car just runs better. On that last session, my Castrol EDGE Dragster was a handful when I hit the throttle. It was probably one of the wildest rides I’ve had in my career yet, it was insane. I know my guys made some changes to the steering from last week and they tightened it up a little bit, so I probably over-steered on that run. I have to put more pressure on the steering wheel to get the car to do what I want but once it starts going, look out, it’s all over the place,” Brittany Force.
Gray led Pro Stock qualifying with a run of 6.577 at 209.88 in his Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro. Gray will meet Erica Enders-Stevens in the second round of Charlotte eliminations. Other Charlotte Pro Stock first round winners today included Dave Connolly, Jonathan Gray and
Vincent Nobile. “We wanted to make a couple of runs and see what happens,” said Gray. “I don’t think we were swinging for the fences by any means, but it all came together and it made a nice smooth run down there. It actually felt a little bit slow it was so smooth.”