No. 1 qualifier and points leader Tony Schumacher went out of Sunday's O'Reilly NHRA Route 66 Nationals in a first-round blaze of glory, and Spencer Massey lost in the next round.
Their Funny Car teammates beat up on each other at Route 66 Raceway, Jack Beckman eliminating Matt Hagan, then Beckman beating Johnny Gray before losing to eventual winner Jeff Arend. Fellow Funny Car racer Ron Capps was an opening-round dropout.
So it fell to Antron Brown, in the Matco Tools/Aaron's/Army/Toyota Dragster to slather the icing on boss Don Schumacher's piece-o-cake day. It was a day which began with his surprise news that he was selected as a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame's Class of 2013.
And Brown delivered. He 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’s a tough race track there. We're pushing so hard in this class, and it's such tight racing," Brown said. "There are so many cars running strong right now. This might be the toughest year ever for Top Fuel in terms of competition. That match-up against Shawn Langdon (in the semifinal) was like a final round.
"We're running E.T.s neck-and-neck, winning by 10 and 12 inches at 320 miles an hour," he said. "And when you go out and get a race win like this right now and the competition we had to go through, it's just remarkable.
"The team's doing a great job and it’s all worth it, all worth the blood, the sweat, the tears," he said. "This weekend that's what it was -- all the rain, the heat like a sauna . . . I'm 10 pounds lighter. It just feels good to knock one out of the park again."
Brown has made no secret that he has his eyes on the Countdown to the Championship already.
"It feels good to gain some points and get going, because the Countdown is around the corner," he said. "We have six races left, and it feels good to get some momentum going before the Western Swing and Indy and the Countdown. It's crucial right now.
"There are some hot races in the Countdown, and this was a hot one, but yet we still had some good track conditions to put up phenomenal numbers out there. It just feels good to get this win for the team, for all of our boys, Mark and Brian [crew chiefs Oswald and Corradi], I mean my hat's off to them. They did a great job, and I was just a nut behind the steering wheel."
Brown has sliced Tony Schumacher's lead to just three points as the series moves to Norwalk, Ohio, next weekend.
Brown said he understood that Torrence wanted to do the same in his third final round in five races. And he empathized for the Kilgore, Texas, native.
"You have to be right on the tree. I did the same thing a few weeks ago on the tree, so I know what he is going through. He's a great guy with a great team," he said.
This 250th career race for Brown yielded his 33rd overall victory and second this season in five final-round appearances. His previous triumph came in February at Phoenix's Firebird International Raceway.
"All of the Matco Toyota team just worked their tails off. It feels great to get a win out here because they are few and far between. The fans were the real stars out here today. To sit through the [rain] delay of about three and a half hours] and stay out here for us, coming to our transporter after every round. They are what drives us, and they are our fuel."
And his plan is to deliver for them, too.
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