MORE NASTY WEATHER HALTS RACING - As storm clouds moved just before noon à la Friday's scenario, the NHRA Safety Safari worked feverishly to clean the track following top qualifier and hometown favorite Tony Schumacher's massive engine explosion in the fourth pairing of the day. As soon as they finished their work, Antron Brown sped right down the right lane in Schumacher's path and defeated Morgan Lucas with the quickest pass to that point, a 3.820-second E.T.
Spencer Massey held off Terry McMillen in a close side-by-side race, then Doug Kalitta eliminated Clay Millican by five-thousandths of a second in a hurry-up match as wind gusts propelled paper and debris from the top of the tower.
The wind repeated its eerie whistle that punctuated the ominous stillness Friday night. And the NHRA ordered the grandstands and vendor areas evacuated at 11:58 a.m. because of threatening weather.
As a precaution, all racing activity was postponed, just before the rain came down in sheets and lightning pierced the sky.
MAJOR UPSET OF ARMY DRAGSTER - Tony Schumacher, from the Chicago suburb of Long Grove, said Saturday night he knew his "neighbor" and first-round opponent T.J. Zizzo, of Lincolnshire, was plenty capable of pulling off an upset.
And he was right -- but Schumacher contributed to the No. 16 qualifier's improbable victory against the points leader and seven-time champion with a massive and fiery explosion.
As Schumacher blasted down the right lane, something let go in the U.S. Army Dragster, sending him across the finish line trailing a gigantic fireball.
Public-address announcer Bob Frey expressed it best: "That's about as devastating an explosion as we've seen in Top Fuel this year."
Schumacher was unhurt, and Zizzo, a part-time, low-budget racer, advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time this year in four races and for only the sixth time in his career.
Zizzo, who drives the Peak/Herculiner Dragster, paid tribute to "our all-volunteer team. We try our hearts out." He said his weekend has taken so many sudden twists, from flipping pancakes at the start, now getting his first round-win. "What a great day," he said after posting a 3.872-second elapsed time at 311.20 mph.
The concussion spoiled Schumacher's hope of earning back-to-back victories (after winning at Bristol two weeks ago) and presenting his dad and team owner, Don Schumacher, a Wally statue on the day the elder Schumacher learned he has been elected to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame's Class of 2013.
But Tony Schumacher took the stunning disappointment in stride.
He said that although "I don't want to lose to anybody," he would be content to be a spectator Sunday.
"This is the greatest sport in the world," he said after collecting his thoughts.
Moreover, he said he'll be cheering for Zizzo.
"I hope he wins the race," Schumacher said. "They made a good, commendable run. They did what they had to do to beat us."
STARTING WITH HOLESHOT UPSET - Dave Grubnic dealt Brandon Bernstein another disappointment in the opening pairing of eliminations, upsetting the MAVTV/Lucas Oil Dragster driver on a holeshot. Grubnic ran a 3.842-second elapsed time at 316.45 mph to Bernstein's quicker and faster 3.834, 318.99.
EAGER FOR FIRST VICTORY -Shawn Langdon, in the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster, was the first with lane choice to pick the right side. It paid off, as he used a stout 3.829-second pass to knock off Bob Vandergriff. He said
BREAK-OUT ROUND - Hillary Will won her first round in six races this year in the Dote Family Dragster, extending Khalid alBalooshi's winless streak in the Al-Anabi Dragster to 11 races.
HE 'BLOWED-UP,' TOO - In another chance to show off in front of the hometown crowd, T.J. Zizzo looked a lot like his first-round opponent Tony Schumacher at the finish line. His Peak-Herculiner Dragster blew up at the top end of the racetrack, and he crossed the left-lane finish line with a rooster tail of flames. Meanwhile, Will -- like Zizzo a former IHRA racer and winner --moved onto the semifinal round with a 3.858-second time at 311.05 mph.
ANTRON MARCHES ON - Doug Kalitta had knocked Antron Brown out of action at the previous three races. But Brown had defeated his Kalitta Motortsports teammate, Dave Grubnic, twice this year before they met in this quarterfinal match-up. Brown made it three victories over Grubnic to earn a meeting with Shawn Langdon. "That was awesome there," Brown said of his 3.801-second, 323.04-mph performance against Grubnic.
TORRENCE BY ABOUT TWO FEET - Spencer Massey and Steve Torrence were 1-1 in head-to-head meetings this year before this pairing. And they were almost even at the finish line, as well, but Torrence nosed out Massey, 3.833, 320.36 to Massey's 3.836, 323.27. "That round right there is probably he biggest round of the day," Torrence said. "We're not messing around. We're trying to get round wins and win this race."
LANGDON BRACKET RACING TO SEMIS? - Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster driver Shawn Langdon reached the semifinal round for the first time since the Gatornationals, taking advantage of Doug Kalitta's mechanical troubles immediately after the launch. Langdon has the car running consistently, for he posted a second 3.82-second E.T.
NO REASON WHY ARMY CAR GRENADED - Tony Schumacher still wasn't sure late in the day what caused the engine in his U.S. Army Dragster to explode and catch the car on fire toward the top end of his first-round run against No. 16 T.J. Zizzo.
But he knew it was plenty frightening.
"Man, that was pretty scary," Schumacher said shortly after climbing from his seriously wounded race car. "I can't say that I felt something with the car before the engine let go. To be honest, we seemed to be on a good run. But then it all went bad in a real hurry."
Schumacher was seeking a second straight victory and a chance to make his father Don's day even more memorable after the early-morning surprise announcement that he had been elected to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame's Class of 2013.
The happy news for the seven-time champion driver was that he retained his points lead, despite losing in the first round at his Route 66 Raceway "home track" for the third time in his past four visits.
He is a three-time winner at this facility but not since 2008. He was pragmatic about the startling result and said he isn’t even all that worried about his place in the standings.
"Things like this happen – that’s just racing," Schumacher said. "I'm sure my guys will dissect what took place and then make sure we're good to go for the race in Norwalk (Ohio) next weekend. We just need to turn the page from this weekend and not get caught up with where we're at in the points. That has a way of taking care of itself.
A TALE OF TWO DREAMS - Just as much as Hillary Will struggled in the Dote Family Dragster, opponent Steve Torrence sailed through the run in his Torrence Family / Capco Contractors Dragster. He posted his third consecutive 3.8-second E.T. to gain a spot in his third final round in five races. This final will be against Antron Brown. He had beaten Tony Schumacher at Atlanta and Brandon Bernstein at Englishtown, so he has won the only two final rounds he has reached. Will had a cylinder out right at the launch and tried to pedal the car. However, Will -- one of four women in the pro semifinal round (along with Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car an Erica Enders in Pro Stock) -- shut it down early, knowing she could not catch Torrence.
BARELY IN - Antron Brown squeezed into the final round by 22 inches, or four-thousandth of a second, edging Shawn Langdon with a 3.794-second run at 321.04 mph to Langdon's 3.803, 319.37.
ANTRON DELIVERS - Antron Brown brought Don Schumacher a Top Fuel Wally statue to add to his cigar-celebrated day.
It might not have mattered that final-round opponent Steve Torrence red lit and disqualified himself by one-hundredth of a second in the Torrence Family/Capco Contractors Dragster. Brown sent a message that he is ready to contend for a championship with his stout 3.784-second, 322.88-mph pass on the 1,000-foot course for the $50,000 winner's share of the purse.
"It feels awesome here in Chicago. We love this race track. It feels good to get this for the boss. Don Schumacher . . . being inducted into the Hall of Fame, this is for you, Boss. We love you," Brown said after earning his third event title here but the first in Top Fuel. He won twice in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category.
"This is incredible, and all of the glory goes to God," he said after climbing from his car. "That is my Christian brother over there,” he said, pointing to Torrence.
'THAT WAS ME' - No. 1 qualifier John Force reminisced a bit Saturday night when he thought about facing No. 16 qualifier Terry Haddock, who had oiled the track and caused a delay of about 40 minutes in the final qualifying session.
"Sad for a kid like that," Force said, empathizing. "He's on a budget. He really is a good racer. That was me years ago. I know a lot of guys complain: 'You shouldn't let guys like that come in. They got problems.' NHRA always reminds me and a few others that was us a few years ago, learning our trade. It's just sad it cost him money. He made the race, didn't he? He really is a good kid, and he works hard."
BEWARE YAPPY DOG - Points leader Robert Hight got a significant round-win as he beat always-tough Cruz Pedregon to advance. On his mind also was NAPA Dodge driver Ron Capps, his closest challenger in the standings who had advanced to previous six final rounds. Capps entered this event just 73 points behind him. Following his victory, Hight said, "We've got to stop Capps. He's like a little dog, yapping at your heels."
Johnny Gray, Capps' Don Schumacher racing teammate, also talked about dogs after defeating Hight's teammate, Mike Neff. Gray, driver of the NTB/Service Central Dodge, said, "It's a dogfight up there with Neff."
BITTERSWEET VICTORY - In a rematch of the Bristol final two weeks ago, Ron Capps and Alexis DeJoria met -- technically -- for the second consecutive round. This time DeJoria won, ending Capps' final-round streak at six races. But she wasn't entirely happy with her 4.320-second victory as Capps struck his tires early in the run and wound up with a 4.728-second E.T.
"I'm happy I won for the team," she said after exiting her Tequila Patron Toyota Camry and going straight over to Capps to apologize for "double-bulbing" him at the starting line. "I'm really careful about the stuff I do, but I went too far and put it on the high side before he staged. I'm not happy about my actions right now," DeJoria said.
BUMMER - Capps was a bit subdued following the streak-busting run. "It's a bummer. We knew they'd be tough. They gave us a good run in Bristol," he said. Capps said he would simply have to start another streak, adding, "We've got a great hot rod. Life is good."
WILKERSON PREVAILS - A battle of Illinois drivers opened Funny Car eliminations. Tim Wilkerson, of Springfield, held off Dale Creasy, of nearby Beecher. Wilkerson allowed as how he was lucky to win and carry the Illinois banner. Alluding to Chicago-area resident and No. 1 qualifier Tony Schumacher's stunning first-round Top Fuel loss, Wilkerson -- who's from this state and qualified No. 2, said, "You saw what happened to Tony Schumacher, That could've been my fate."
DSR WINS - AND LOSES - Don Schumacher Racing's Dodge Funny Car drivers just kept beating up on one another. Jack Beckman, in a Schumacher Electric-branded car this weekend, handed Matt Hagan and his Die Hard-backed entry his sixth opening-round loss. That meant a DSR racer would advance to the semifinal, but that's because Beckman's quarterfinal opponent was yet another teammate. This time he met Johnny Gray. The envelope, please . . . The DSR driver moving on was . . . Jack Beckman, with a 4.099-second pass that was quickest of the round.
LUCK, REALLY? - Alexis DeJoria said, "I'm definitely lucky to be in the semis." But surely a tune-up from savvy crew chief Del Worsham that's coming around is more the reason than luck. "Kalitta Motorsports is doing it right now," DeJoria said, adding her stock line: "I'm super-stoked."
She had to be extra-super-stoked after finding out that she will face her friend and rookie-of-the-year competition, Courtney Force with a trip to finals at stake.
'DOIN' IT' - DeJoria is correct -- Kalitta Motorsports "is doing it" in the Funny Car class, for Jeff Arend also advanced in the DHL Toyota Camry. His winning 4.162-second E.T. was within six-thousandths -- six-thousandths quicker -- than DeJoria's winning time. He'll go against Beckman in the semifinals.
IN SEMIS AGAIN - In an all-John Force Racing Ford Mustang quarterfinal match, Courtney Force, in the Traxxas car, beat her brother-in-law and company president, Robert Hight, in the Auto Club entry, to claim her third semifinal berth and second n the past three races. She will face on-track rival and off-track pal Alexis DeJoria. "She's got a great race car right now, but we've got a pretty strong one, too," Force said. "I hate going up against her, but we've got to get our game face on and go out and try to win for our sponsors." Force won their only other meeting, in April, in the first round at Houston.
CURIOUS MIX - Three-fourths of the Funny Car semifinal field Sunday afternoon was composed of drivers who were ranked ninth, 10th, and 13th in the standings entering this weekend. Jack Beckman and ninth-place Courtney Force.
HUNCH WAS RIGHT - Courtney Force said this weekend that she thought she had a strong chance to reach a final round before the year was over. She might not have thought it would happen so soon, but she carried the John Force Racing banner to the end of the line -- defeating Alexis DeJoria for the second time in as many meetings and joining Pro Stock's Erica Enders for a sort of Ladies Day final-round showcase. (Cassie Simonton will race for the Top Alcohol Funny Car trophy on the sportsman side of the action.) This marks the second straight Funny Car final round that has featured a female. DeJoria challenged Bristol winner Ron Capps. Courtney Force registered a 4.123-second E.T. at 305.49 against DeJoria's 4.191-second time but faster speed, 306.88 mph.
DHL DELIVERS - DHL Toyota driver Jeff Arend advanced to his first final round of the season for Kalitta Motorsports, knocking off Jack Beckman, DSR's lone hope in the Funny Car class. It also was a close semifinal. Arend won with a 4.106-second E.T. to take lane choice over Courtney Force in the final round. Beckman countered with 4.213, 292.71.
OH WHAT A FEELING - Jeff Arend found a way to celebrate Canada Day. He won in America.
Arend defeated first-time finalist Courtney Force.
"It feels great to give the new Toyota Camry its first-ever win," he said after turning in a 4.131-second elapsed time at 309.20 mph that narrowly defeated Force's 4.454, 272.67 on the 1,000-foot course.
"We've just gotten better and better since Gainesville," Arend said. "This DHL team was awesome today. We only had 60 minutes between rounds [because of the three-and-a-half-hour rain interruption], and I think our guys had the fastest turn-around between rounds of anyone out here today. That DHL team I have turned my car around faster than some of those Top Fuel cars that go back up there. It gives you a lot of confidence when you can go out there and win like that."
Arend was making his first final round of the season and second in a row at Route 66 Raceway. He was runner-up here last year.
LINE NOT INVITED TO SECOND ROUND – The higher qualified cars in seven out of eight instances got an invite to the second round party. The lone uninvited guest was point leader Jason Line, who lost on a holeshot to Larry Morgan. Morgan got the best of a tardy Line (.153) and led him to the stripe by a 6.678 to 6.625 margin.
Morgan’s victory was his fifth round win of the season and first since the Houston event back in April when he beat Erica Enders in the first round.
STILL RUBBER CRANKING IT OUT – Qualifying and eliminations might be considered two different procedures but for Allen Johnson they both have the same result. Johnson belted out low elapsed time of the opening round with a 6.618 in beating Jeg Coughlin Jr. AJ was the quickest car in all four qualifying sessions.
YES YOU DID – V. Gaines, the likeable driver of the Kendall Pro Stock Dodge Avenger beat Greg Stanfield on a holeshot in the first round. Said Gaines over his in-car audio, “Whoa” in surprise when told he’d scored a 6.649 to 6.642 victory. Headed into the match, Stanfield held a 10-2 advantage.
THE WINNERS INCLUDE – Those favorites advancing past the first round included Rodger Brogdon (Ronnie Humphrey), Erica Enders (Kurt Johnson), Greg Anderson [Ron Krisher] and Vincent Nobile [Shane Gray].
I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR – Summer might have come in like a lion but it could only whimper next to the roar of Erica Enders and her Chevrolet Cobalt. On a weekend where five female drivers reached the quarter-finals, Enders held her own by scoring low elapsed time of the second round with a 6.607 in beating Vincent Nobile.
Enders credited her performance on the strength of an extensive test session in Rockingham, NC. There the temperatures hovered close to 100-degrees.
“We gained some good experience of what we saw here,” said Enders. “This is a huge payoff for us.”
WHEN RUBBER CRANK MEETS GLUE – Greg Anderson continued his domination over No. 1 qualifier Allen Johnson. Anderson had won four straight races over Johnson before the Mopar won in Topeka. Anderson scored a round win in Englishtown and added another one this weekend with a holeshot victory, 6.634 to 6.612.
V. MEANS VICTORY – V. Gaines entered this weekend having only reached the quarter-finals as a best performance. This weekend has been the exception as Gaines outreacted and outran Larry Morgan to advance to the semis. Gaines reached the quarter-finals in Topeka and Bristol.
THE STREAK CONTINUES – Mike Edwards scored his sixth consecutive round win dating back to two weeks ago in Bristol. Edwards ran a 6.629 which was more than enough to take out a red-lighting Rodger Brogdon.
HERE WE GO AGAIN … - Greg Anderson has stated publicly dozens of times that he doesn’t want to be the driver who ends up losing against Erica Enders when she scores the first female Pro Stock victory. Guess who he gets in the final?
Anderson ran a 6.637 to upend Mike Edwards in the semis. As fate would have it, Enders ran a 6.622 to not only end Gaines’ Cinderella bid but also gain lane choice in the finals.
“I am cool, calm and collected,” said Enders, who has reached one final round this season and lost it to Anderson. “I’m excited for this to happen.”
SHE'S THE FIRST - Erica Enders finally got the best of Greg Anderson, and in doing so, earned her place in drag racing history.
Enders was slightly quicker than Anderson off of the line and crossed the stripe first, winning by a 6.627 to 6.641 margin.
This was the margin Enders had long desired and Anderson considered kryptonite.
“I think if I could have planned it I would have asked to run Greg in the finals,” said Enders. “He made it very clear that he didn’t want to lose to me and he’s a very competitive guy, I love him to death but I couldn’t wait to beat him.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
SUNDAY IS A NEW DAY – Karen Stoffer had all kinds of issues as she grenaded an engine in her final qualifying attempt on Saturday. As she put it, “We put a hole in the motor and there was oil everywhere.”
There wasn’t even a wisp of smoke as Stoffer thundered to a 6.985, 190.51 to beat fellow Suzuki rider Steve Johnson.
A TALE OF TWO DOMINATORS – This season, if you haven’t been an Arana or a Screamin’ Eagle, chances are you’ve been a distant second sometime or another. Hector Arana Jr. was the top runner in the first round with a low ET of the round 6.921, 191.81 to pull away from Mike Berry. His father, Hector, was the slowest of the quartet with a 7.005 to beat Michael Phillips. The Screamin’ Eagle Harley Davidsons of Andrew Hines [6.934] and Eddie Krawiec [6.944] defeated Scotty Pollacheck and Matt Guidera respectively.
GANN WINS FROM SECOND-HALF – Shawn Gann, who qualified No. 11, advanced to the second round over Michael Ray. Gann used a 7.073 for the win. He was the only second-half qualifier to advance to the second round.
MOVIN’ ON – L.E. Tonglet [Angie Smith] and Chip Ellis [Matt Smith] advanced to the second round.
THE KID FLEXES HIS MUSCLES – Hector Arana Jr. was the quickest bike of the second round as 6.954 was more than enough to do away with Shawn Gann. His run barley edged out his dad’s 6.955, a run in which Hector Sr. beat Karen Stoffer.
THE PARITY STATEMENT – The second round featured four Buells, two Suzukis and the two Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidsons. When the smoke cleared, it was two Buells, a Harley and a Suzuki.
ONE HARLEY DOWN, ONE TO GO – Andrew Hines will be the one to go forward while defending series champion Eddie Krawiec will go home. Hines took out Chip Ellis while LE Tonglet took out Krawiec on a holeshot, 6.993 to a 6.971.
UNBEATABLE – L.E. Tonglet extended his streak of consecutive round wins at Route 66 Raceway to eleven when Hector Arana. Tonglet went through the motions with a winning 7.02.
At this point in the game, Tonglet isn’t getting away from the routine.
“We’re keeping the same routine in the trailer, doing the same things.”
On the other side of the ladder, a resurgent Andrew Hines took out Hector Arana Jr.
SLAYING THE UNDERDOG - Andrew Hines spent the days hanging out with Harley-Davidson execs. On Sunday evening, he gave them something to cheer about.
Faced with a seemingly unbeatable opponent Hines didn’t have to beat the perfect Tonglet as he beat himself with a .004 foul start.
Past series champion turned crew chief Matt Hines knew the win was coming following extensive testing last week.
“Made test runs in Indy and we found things,” Hines said. “We made lots of runs, it was the bike and not him.”
With the victory, Harley-Davidson continues its total race day dominance.
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