NHRA Mopar Mile High Nationals
By Jon Asher, Bobby Bennett and Jim Samuel; Photos by Roger Richards
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SUNDAY FINAL - TODD BECOMES FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN TO WIN IN TOP FUEL
Scelzi, Connolly and Hines also claim victories at Mopar Mile-High NHRA
(7-16-2006) -- Rookie J.R. Todd upset Tony Schumacher Sunday afternoon at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals to score his first NHRA POWERade Series Top Fuel victory in just his ninth career start.
Todd, who with the victory becomes the first African-American to win an NHRA Top Fuel title, never trailed in the race at Bandimere Speedway,
dismissing the three-time series champion with a performance of 4.906 at 291.63 mph in his Skull Shine/Torco Race Fuels dragster to Schumacher's
4.966 at 306.33 mph in the U.S. Army dragster.
"You never expect to get your first NHRA win by outrunning Tony Schumacher in the final," Todd said. "I didn't even know how to act down
there. I was stunned. To beat that team straight up is almost
unbelievable. They were talking about me being the first
African-American to win in Top Fuel but out here it's all equal, especially when the helmet goes on."
Gary Scelzi scored his first Funny Car win of the season to join Todd in the winner's circle of the $1.5 million race, the 13th of 23 in the 2006 season. Pro Stock winner Dave Connolly and Pro Stock Motorcycle victor Andrew Hines also won in their categories to close out a weekend that ended with three new POWERade points leaders.
Ron Capps was the only POWERade points leader to retain his top ranking through the weekend although his first-round loss to Bob Gilbertson allowed second-place runner John Force, who lost in the quarterfinals, to gain a round on him. Doug Kalitta took the Top Fuel points lead from Melanie Troxel, Line emerged with the Pro Stock lead and Hines moved in front of Angelle Sampey to regain the series lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Prior to this weekend, four-time champion Gary Scelzi had never even reached the final round at this event. Now Bandimere becomes the 19th different racetrack where he's won a race as he took care of Cruz Pedregon with 5.132 at 301.94 mph in his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger to
Pedregon's 5.820 at 202.82 mph in his Advance Auto Parts Chevy Monte Carlo.
"This is a tough place to race," said Scelzi of his 33rd career victory."This weekend was the hardest we've ever had. The track temperatures were higher than anywhere we've ever been, including last year in St. Louis. To get through all that and win my first race here, especially with it being a Mopar race, it's pretty special.
"It's been a long time since I've won. You get that feeling like you're the weak link, and that's not a good feeling to have. Mike Neff (crew chief) and Jim Jannard (Oakley founder) stayed behind me and kept me pumped up. I got to the final and I just decided I wasn't going to let Cruz take it away from me."
Connolly became the first three-time winner this season in the Pro Stock
class and he's moved to within 51 points of the POWERade lead. Since a DNQ in Bristol, Connolly has won three times in four finals and gone from 12th to third overall.
Top qualifier Line had the better car in this final, but Connolly's .008-second reaction time delivered a .05-second holeshot win.
Connolly's 7.173 at 193.07 mph in his Skull Shine Chevy Cobalt was more than enough to hold off Line's 7.141 at 194.13 mph in his Summit Pontiac GTO, which was made irrelevant by his .093-second late start.
"If you had told me six races ago that we'd be a couple rounds out of the lead I wouldn't have believed it," Connolly said. "But ever since Atlanta when Tommy Utt came on board we've just taken it to a different level. Plus, Greg [Anderson] has stumbled a little and that's given us
all a chance to catch up."
Defending back-to-back series Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Hines
finally recorded a win this season in his third final-round appearance. Hines gave up a .058-second head start to Guidera, but his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson made up the gap by mid-track and he cruised away for the win in 7.435 seconds at 179.97 mph to Guidera's 7.566 at 176.63 on his Rocklin Motorsports Buell.
"We had an absolutely dismal qualifying effort but what a Sunday," Hines
said. "The team did such a great job making the adjustments and my V-Rod went right down the track every pass today like it was on a rail. I was hoping this race would be the turning point of our season and it's looking like it really might be."
The NHRA POWERade Series continues with the Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, July 21-23 at scenic Pacific Raceways near Seattle.
Sunday's final results from the 27th annual Mopar
Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. The $1.5 million race is the 13th of 23 in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series:
Top Fuel -- J.R. Todd, 4.906 seconds, 291.63 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 4.966 seconds, 306.33 mph.
Funny Car -- Gary Scelzi, Dodge Charger, 5.132, 301.94 def. Cruz Pedregon, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.820, 202.82.
Pro Stock -- Dave Connolly, Chevy Cobalt, 7.173, 193.07 def. Jason Line, Pontiac GTO, 7.141, 194.13.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.435, 179.97 def. Matt Guidera, Buell, 7.566, 176.63.
Competition Eliminator -- Dean Carter, Dragster, 7.412, 179.21 def. Richard Freeman, Pontiac GTO, 10.365, 84.73.
Stock Eliminator -- Ryan McClanahan, Pontiac Firebird, 11.061, 124.27 def. Scott Burton, Firebird, 11.471, 115.50.
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