The NHRA Top Fuel points battle that has been brewing for much of the season has carried over to the inaugural AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. At the end of Friday's qualifying, once again it was Antron Brown wrestling the edge away from Spencer Massey.
The two were tied atop the leader board coming from last Sunday's AAA Texas Nationals, near Dallas. After the first session their Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher had the tentative No. 1 position. But Brown used a single qualifying bonus point to sneak ahead of Massey.
Then they really slugged it out in record-setting fashion.
Massey stormed back in the second qualifying session, driving the FRAM/Prestone Dragster to the quickest and fastest pass of the weekend at 3.752 seconds, 326.16 mph on the 1,000-foot course. His joy lasted for a just a few minutes, for Brown upstaged him in the Aaron's Dream Machine/Matco Tools Dragster two pairings later.
Brown blasted to a career-best 3.737-second elapsed time that is third in Top Fuel history at a track-record 326.79-mph. It was a significant leap from his earlier 3.817, 321.04 that left him third after the first session and sixth by the time he pulled to the line for his second run.
"It's the way you want to start," Brown said of his opening day at St. Louis in the third of six Countdown races. "You have to, after you see Spencer with the FRAM car. They laid down that 75 with a 2. That's when you know it's good."
He indicated he knew conditions were conducive for some eye-opening passes also when he saw the Kalitta team of Dave Grubnic and Doug Kalitta jump into the top five. And he credited the Gateway personnel, saying, "We ran the third quickest run in Top Fuel history on a track that hasn't been run on in two years. That's just incredible."
Brown said that at Indianapolis, "we started seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. We went 2.11 to 330 [feet], so we ran the number we knew we needed to do to run a low sub-.70. And here we pretty much got everything. Hats off to Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald], our two crew chiefs, and the Matco-Aaron's boys.
"That run was not the prettiest run, by far," Brown said, "but when it got to the asphalt, it came up and was starting to do left-or-right and to the inside. If it was straight it could be better. But I'm pretty stoked about it."
It was a wilder ride an anyone might have imagined.
"My shield fogged up before I hit the gas. And I could not see one thing [about] where we were going," Brown said. "But we managed to get 'er down through there. I just couldn't be more happy - very blessed to be on this team."
He described the run this way:
"When I stepped on the gas, that car did not hesitate to leave. It picked up and took off. When I stepped on the gas, I felt instant wheel speed, felt the back of the car go up and the car was moving forward. You could feel it right after the 60 foot [mark] where it hunkered down -- and the car never stopped accelerating all the way down the racetrack. I thought, 'This is a serious run.'
"Just when I went through the traps and I popped it, I took a little peek up at the scoreboard and saw that .73. Underneath my helmet, I was like, 'Yeah, boy!' I felt like Flavor Flav. I was just so stoked, because the boys have been working so hard. After Charlotte [with a first-round loss and a fluke mechanical failure], we kept on believing. Lord knows we just believe. We're just beside ourselves, and we're riding that wave."
Brown said that his impaired vision might have been a blessing. "Sometimes that's what you need to do, because when you can't see you drive the car like you're supposed to. You keep the steering wheel straight and let it do what it does. If I had seen everything that car was doing, I'd probably have been all over that racetrack.
"That car was going so fast it wanted to do everything but go straight," he said.
Tony Schumacher opened the event for the dragster class by setting the track elapsed-time mark at 3.793 seconds in the U.S. Army Dragster , while his DSR/Army mate Brown in the Matco Tools/Army Dragster posted the track speed record at 321.04 mph.
Shawn Langdon, who is seeking his fourth consecutive No. 1 qualifying position, went into the Friday night session in the tentative No. 2 spot after an entertaining side-by-side pairing with Schumacher.
By the end of the opening day, Schumacher had dropped to fourth and Langdon sixth, while the Kalitta Motorsports duo of Grubnic and Kalitta quietly jumped into the mix at third and fifth, respectively.
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