NHRA’s version of a weeklong campout, this event is a popular stop due to the area’s recreational opportunities. Avid fishers often spend the days before the event trolling the area’s many lakes for walleye, bass, and northern pike, and a huge on-site campground provides nightly camaraderie for racegoers who sit around fires discussing the day’s action. 





Local favorite Johnson, Pedregon and Smith also earn victories at Brainerd International Raceway

Tony Pedregon won his fourth Funny Car title of the season when he stopped Jack Beckman in the final round.
Tony Schumacher raced to his fourth consecutive victory and ninth of the season Sunday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, and moved within two of all-time Top Fuel wins leader Joe Amato's longstanding record of 52 victories.
Tony Pedregon, Kurt Johnson and Matt Smith also earned victories in their respective categories at the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event, the 16th of 18 events in the Countdown to 10, NHRA's regular season. The Countdown to 1, NHRA's six-race championship playoffs, begins Sept. 11-14 at zMax Dragway at Concord, near Charlotte, N.C.
Schumacher powered his U.S. Army dragster to a performance of 3.865 seconds at 310.05 mph to outrun Cory McClenathan's FRAM dragster, which trailed at 3.900 at 306.74 in the final round. Schumacher earned his third win at the scenic Minnesota dragstrip by defeating Rod Fuller and Doug Kalitta in the early rounds.
"These guys are amazing and this is the best team I've ever seen together, just like (John) Force and Amato's teams in their time," Schumacher said of his 50th career victory. "It's unbelievable. Not only have we won a lot of races, but we've won some of the most difficult races with so much pressure. And for whatever reason, I feel like I am driving my best right now. We've got a great team and a great car and the whole package has come together. I don't want to be the weak link in our team so I am working harder than ever. When you have the car that's supposed to win, that's a lot of pressure. I was even nervous in the first round today even though it was a bye run. Now we head to Reading (Pa.) and the pressure will be even bigger, with people asking how we are going to win five in a row."
Pedregon took his fourth Funny Car win of the season at the starting line in his Q-Horsepower Chevy Impala when final round opponent Jack Beckman fouled in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Stratus. Pedregon's 40th career victory and first-ever at BIR moved him into second place in the season point standings, 141 behind series leader Tim Wilkerson.
"This is the toughest Funny Car era to be racing in, so bad luck on my part," said Pedregon, who beat veteran Jim Head, Melanie Troxel and 14-time world champ Force to advance to the final. "This is my first win at Brainerd and I'm really happy to win here. Every round today was a big challenge to me and the toughest was racing John Force. He's a great competitor and it was a tough race like I thought. There's never a dull moment racing him. Our car preformed well today and we had great conditions. I'm just happy to win a race here today and give great entertainment to all these great fans."
Local favorite Johnson, a native of Virginia, Minn., earned his third Pro Stock victory of the season and 39th of his career with a win over Dave Connolly. Johnson's ACDelco Chevy Cobalt ran 6.671 at 207.05 in the final to hold off Connolly's Charter Communications Cobalt, which clocked a 6.696 at 206.29. It was Johnson's fourth victory at BIR in front of his hometown fans. He in the first three rounds he beat Jim Yates, Mike Edwards and Jeg Coughlin to advance to the final.
"This was a super-great day today," said Johnson, who lived in Minnesota for 18 years before relocating to the Atlanta area. "We were a little behind at first and kept working on it and the car kept getting faster and faster. We had to make some small changes today but overall our Chevrolet was pretty flawless. We get pumped up to race here with all of our friends and family that come out and it does add some pressure, but you just have to perform. Once I get inside the car it's really easy to focus."
With the victory, Johnson moved within 56 of leader Greg Anderson, also a Minnesota native and the event's top qualifier who lost in the second round to Connolly.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith overcame a bout with Kidney Stones to claim his third win of the season and ninth of his career. He rode his NitroFish Wear Buell to a 6.973 at 188.60 in the final, but ran unopposed as Angelle Sampey's Rush Racing Products Buell broke on the starting line.
"To win the race was amazing," said Smith, who beat Jim Underdahl, Craig Treble and David Hope in earlier rounds. "We debuted a brand new bike this weekend and it ran great. To be the No. 1 qualifier and win the race, that says it all. It was a really fast bike. We'll get these kidney stones cleared up and be ready for Reading."
Three drivers clinched their positions in the Countdown to 1, including Cruz Pedregon in Funny Car, Allen Johnson in Pro Stock and Chip Ellis in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with the 24th annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, Aug. 14-17 at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.




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Sunday's final results from the 27th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. The race is the 16th of 24 in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel -- Tony Schumacher, 3.865 seconds, 310.05 mph def. Cory McClenathan, 3.900 seconds, 306.74 mph.
Funny Car -- Tony Pedregon, Chevy Impala, 4.238, 288.89 def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, foul.
Pro Stock -- Kurt Johnson, Chevy Cobalt, 6.671, 207.05 def. Dave Connolly, Cobalt, 6.696, 206.29.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- Matt Smith, Buell, 6.973, 188.60 def. Angelle Sampey, Buell, broke.


Top Alcohol Dragster -- Brandon Lewis, 5.292, 270.64 def. Aaron Tatum, 5.330, 263.36.
Top Alcohol Funny Car -- Mick Snyder, Ford Mustang, 5.614, 256.45 def. Paul Anderson, Dodge Charger, 7.555, 159.19.
Competition Eliminator -- Arnie Martel, Chevy Roadster, 8.300, 120.82 def. Frank Cervelli, Dragster, 7.265, 152.54.
Stock Eliminator -- Brett Speer, Chevy Nova, 10.498, 119.10 def. Gene Mosbek, Plymouth Savoy, 10.186, 128.43.
Super Gas -- Brina Splingaire, Chevy Corvette, 9.882, 156.06 def. Bill Goldammer, Olds Cutlass, 9.841, 162.45. .
Super Comp -- Rick Bowman, Chevy Corvette, 8.920, 173.09 def. Brina Splingaire, Dragster, 8.936, 176.84.


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Ashley Force, Greg Anderson and Matt Smith also claim No. 1 qualifying positions at Brainerd International Raceway

Tony Schumacher will attempt to win his fourth consecutive race and ninth overall Sunday from the No. 1 qualifying position.
Tony Schumacher will attempt to win his fourth consecutive race and ninth overall Sunday from the No. 1 qualifying position at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Ashley Force, Greg Anderson and Matt Smith also were No. 1 qualifiers and will lead their respective categories into Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations at the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event, the 16th of 18 events in the Countdown to 10, NHRA's regular season. The Countdown to 1, NHRA's six-race championship playoffs, begin Sept. 11-14 at zMax Dragway at Concord near Charlotte, N.C.
Schumacher continued to have the fastest Top Fuel dragster in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, as he claimed his fifth No. 1 qualifying performance of the season and 66th of his career with his 3.864 second run at 312.21 mph from Friday. With the 15-car field, Schumacher will get a first-round bye run and then will have to face the winner of the Brandon Bernstein-Rod Fuller first round match.
Ashley Force scored her second career No. 1 qualifying effort in as many races.
"It’s a good spot (to be in) and more importantly the car is running great," Schumacher said. "Today we went out there and found the limit. The first round single tomorrow doesn’t matter. We want to win the race and to do that you need to win four rounds. Obviously we’re not worried about the first round, that's the easy one. It’s the other three rounds that we’re worried about. We’re in a beautiful place and the sun’s going to be out and it’ll be a little slippery and the driver is going to come into play and it’s going to be fun. That’s what I wake up for. There’s a little gladiator in all of us."

Schumacher holds the record for most consecutive victories in Top Fuel, winning five in a row in 2005 in his U.S. Army dragster. Only two other drivers have won four or more consecutively in the category, including Cory McClenathan (1997) and the late Scott Kalitta (1994). If Schumacher wins tomorrow, he will continue his streak that started back in early July in Denver. He followed that win with victories in Seattle and Sonoma, Calif.
Greg Anderson's Friday evening provisional was strong enough to hold up on Saturday.
You can’t get complacent," he said. "Winning the last three races doesn’t matter now. You have to forget about the Western Swing. You have to focus on this race, every round. There are guys out there who would like to win one race, so to win five in a row is pretty tough. You can’t get caught up in trying to win four in a row, or five in a row. You have to stay focused on winning the round you are running. When we finally get beat, then we can talk about how many we were able to win in a row."

Force claimed her second-straight No. 1 qualifying performance in Funny Car with her Friday run of 4.110 at 299.40 in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Force becomes only the third female in NHRA history to post back-to-back No. 1 qualifying efforts in professional category racing. Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey have logged multiple qualifying streaks in their careers.
"It's great to be No. 1 but we really hope to win some rounds tomorrow," Force said. "We've struggled at the last few races even though we've been qualifying well. We just haven't had any luck. I'm happy about being No. 1 but I'm trying not to get too excited. This is the best qualifying performance we've had at John Force Racing in a while. We're all in the top half of the field so hopefully we won't race each other until the late rounds."
Matt Smith battled kidney stones en route to a top qualifying position in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Pro Stock's Anderson earned his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 66th of his career based on his Friday performance of 6.679 at 206.76 his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. Fellow native Minnesota racers Kurt and Warren Johnson had the quickest cars during Saturday's two qualifying sessions and moved up to second and third respectively.
"Thank God for Friday," Anderson said. "We didn’t set the world on fire today and didn’t exactly build our confidence any. Perhaps we lulled the competition into a false sense of security and we’ve got them right where we want them for tomorrow. We’ll be alright. We knew the sun was going to be out today so we tried some things with the setup and just missed it because the racetrack didn’t go away as much as we thought it might. We did learn some things. We know where the edge is now. I am going into the first round thinking I’ve got the baddest hot rod on the planet. That’s the confidence I get from the crew I’ve got over there working on this car."
Smith, who has been suffering with kidney stones throughout the weekend, rode his Nitro Fish Wear Buell to a track record time of 6.958 seconds at 189.55 to claim his third top qualifying performance of the season and 10th of his career.
"I’ve been fighting a little bit of a kidney stone and it’s about to wear me out," Smith said. "We debuted a brand new bike here and I think we’ve got a good bike for tomorrow. We knew it was a good bike yesterday. On the second pass yesterday I did a bad job of riding and it still ran a 6.98. We tried a test deal today on the second run and it didn’t work out, so tomorrow we’ll go back to basics and we’ll be alright."

He says the plan is to race tomorrow, kidney stones or not.

"I will run somehow or another," Smith said. "I’ve been taking some Tylenol for the pain. I am going to the hospital tonight. Hopefully we can get it broke up tonight. I’ll spend some time in there if I have to."

Several drivers secured their positions in the Countdown to 1 following today's qualifying, including Cory McClenathan and Brandon Bernstein in Top Fuel; Robert Hight and Tony Pedregon in Funny Car; Jeg Coughlin in Pro Stock; and Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

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First-round pairings for professional eliminations Sunday for the 27th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, the 16th of 24 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.864 seconds, 312.21 mph vs. Bye; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.869, 308.00 vs. 15. Hillary Will, 4.546, 177.07; 3. Cory McClenathan, 3.877, 311.77 vs. 14. Luigi Novelli, 4.204, 269.13; 4. Larry Dixon, 3.899, 306.88 vs. 13. J.R. Todd, 4.027, 273.11; 5. Doug Herbert, 3.901, 306.60 vs. 12. Doug Kalitta, 4.013, 297.61; 6. David Grubnic, 3.910, 306.19 vs. 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.988, 290.88; 7. Antron Brown, 3.929, 306.19 vs. 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.984, 300.80; 8. Rod Fuller, 3.933, 308.71 vs. 9. Brandon Bernstein, 3.972, 303.16.

Funny Car --
1. Ashley Force, Ford Mustang, 4.110, 299.40 vs. 16. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.305, 285.83; 2. John Force, Mustang, 4.112, 301.27 vs. 15. Gary Scelzi, Charger, 4.291, 286.86; 3. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.119, 300.26 vs. 14. Melanie Troxel, Charger, 4.276, 290.32; 4. Del Worsham, Chevy Impala, 4.152, 291.01 vs. 13. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.242, 285.77; 5. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.176, 298.80 vs. 12. Tim Wilkerson, Impala, 4.233, 276.92; 6. Tony Pedregon, Impala, 4.178, 292.20 vs. 11. Jim Head, Toyota Solara, 4.226, 290.07; 7. Jerry Toliver, Charger, 4.190, 296.83 vs. 10. Cruz Pedregon, Solara, 4.226, 292.14; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.190, 293.86 vs. 9. Gary Densham, Impala, 4.209, 284.81. Did Not Qualify: 17. Tony Bartone, 4.375, 256.94; 18. Bob Bode, 4.393, 273.50; 19. Tommy Johnson Jr., 4.393, 267.91.

Pro Stock --
1. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GXP, 6.679, 206.76 vs. 16. Steve Spiess, Chevy Cobalt, 6.744, 204.05; 2. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.681, 206.39 vs. 15. Jim Yates, GXP, 6.738, 204.05; 3. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.684, 206.99 vs. 14. V. Gaines, Dodge Stratus, 6.729, 204.98; 4. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.688, 205.63 vs. 13. Rickie Jones, Stratus, 6.724, 204.42; 5. Jason Line, GXP, 6.691, 206.04 vs. 12. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.718, 205.29; 6. Justin Humphreys, Stratus, 6.703, 205.63 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin, Cobalt, 6.714, 205.35; 7. Ron Krisher, Cobalt, 6.704, 204.98 vs. 10. Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.710, 205.38; 8. Dave Connolly, Cobalt, 6.708, 205.35 vs. 9. Richie Stevens, GXP, 6.710, 205.44. Did Not Qualify: 17. Johnny Gray, 6.747, 204.73; 18. Greg Stanfield, 6.749, 204.70; 19. Danny Gruninger, 6.831, 201.76; 20. Mark Hogan, 7.212, 183.69.

Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.958, 189.55 vs. 16. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.274, 185.10; 2. Chris Rivas, Buell, 6.977, 190.22 vs. 15. Wes Wells, Suzuki, 7.173, 187.47; 3. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.984, 189.42 vs. 14. Junior Pippin, Buell, 7.132, 187.16; 4. Hector Arana, Buell, 7.019, 189.34 vs. 13. David Hope, Buell, 7.107, 186.07; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.021, 188.73 vs. 12. Mike Berry, Suzuki, 7.094, 186.18; 6. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.022, 191.08 vs. 11. Matt Guidera, Buell, 7.089, 185.41; 7. Chip Ellis, Suzuki, 7.026, 191.10 vs. 10. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.083, 190.38; 8. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.046, 188.52 vs. 9. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.053, 190.46. Did Not Qualify: 17. Joe DeSantis, 7.274, 184.83; 18. Buddy Robinson, 7.370, 181.35; 19. Angie McBride, 10.607, 77.12.


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Ashley Force's strong Friday performance put her in a good position for a second consecutive No. 1 qualifier.
Ashley Force raced to the Funny Car qualifying lead Friday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.

She covered the Brainerd International Raceway dragstrip in 4.110 seconds at 299.40 mph in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang as she goes for her second straight No. 1 qualifying position of the season and works to improve on her fourth place points position in the Countdown to the Championship with only three races remaining in the regular season. The Countdown to 1, NHRA's playoffs, begin with the NHRA Carolinas Nationals, Sept. 11-14 at zMax Dragway at Concord near Charlotte, N.C.

“We were real happy with that run,” said Force, who qualified just in front of her 14-time world champion father John, who posted a 4.112 at 301.27 in his Castrol Mustang. “You never know what the conditions will be like tomorrow. At least we don’t need to be standing back tomorrow. We can really push it. We know that we are pretty well in the field. We probably won’t get bumped from No. 1. We are just hoping to take the next step. We don’t just want to get the No. 1.
Tony Schumacher's top qualifying effort on a run he wondered whether or not it would hold.
Greg Anderson showed off for his firneds and family from his former native state.
We want to go rounds on race day. No. 1 is a great feeling, but it means nothing if on race day you can’t get past the first round. We are going to hope to change that this weekend in Brainerd.”

 She said her leading qualifying performance was so smooth it felt a little slower than usual.

“It really didn’t feel like it was going that fast,” she said. “The runs that are nice and smooth don’t seem as fast. That run was the clearest run I think I have ever made in that Funny Car on any pass. That is the kind of run we like.”

Tony Schumacher, Greg Anderson and Chris Rivas also were qualifying leaders in their respective categories at the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised on ESPN2HD Saturday (8:30 p.m.) and Sunday (7 p.m.).

Schumacher, who swept the famed Western Swing in the month of July, took the qualifying lead in Top Fuel with a 3.864 at 312.21 in his U.S. Army dragster as he tries to earn his fourth consecutive victory.

“That was a really great run,” Schumacher said. “We had an .830 60-foot time and when the car got to half-track, I knew we were going to the top spot. I didn’t know if it would hold because (Steve) Torrence and Cory Mac were right behind us, but I knew it was a good run.”

Local favorite Anderson, a native of Duluth, paced the Pro Stock lineup with a 6.679 at 206.76 in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP.

“On the first pass, Jason (Line, teammate) and I were both a little heavy on the clutch but on the second run, I got just about all of it,” Anderson said. “This track is fantastic and I happened to make a really good run. Hopefully what worked today will also work tomorrow because there are plenty of other teams out there who are capable of catching us.”

Chris Rivas paced the bikes during Friday's qualifying.
Line, from nearby Wright, was second overall with a 6.691 at 205.98 in his identially-prepared GXP.

“This is home for (me and Jason) and I know this race means a lot to him,” Anderson said. “He treats every race the same but I know that this ranks high on his to-do list. He really wants to win here. I've been fortunate enough to win here and would like to do it again. Hopefully, one of us can get it done this weekend.”

Rivas rode his G-Squared/Drag Specialities Buell to a leading performance of 6.979 at 190.00 in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

“We’ve been trying to solidify our spot in the Ringers (Pro Bike Battle) so we’re counting every point,” said Rivas. “That’s been a high priority for us lately but it looks like we’ve got it squared away. Now, our objective needs to be winning rounds on Sunday so we can get another Wally.”

Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. for Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations.


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Results Friday after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 27th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, 16th of 24 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.

Top Fuel --
1. Tony Schumacher, 3.864 seconds, 312.21 mph; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.869, 308.00; 3. Cory McClenathan, 3.877, 311.77; 4. Larry Dixon, 3.899, 306.88; 5. Doug Herbert, 3.901, 306.60; 6. David Grubnic, 3.910, 306.19; 7. Antron Brown, 3.929, 304.46; 8. Rod Fuller, 3.933, 308.71; 9. Brandon Bernstein, 3.972, 303.16; 10. Bob Vandergriff, 3.988, 290.88; 11. Morgan Lucas, 4.012, 294.69; 12. Luigi Novelli, 4.204, 269.13. Not Qualified: 13. Doug Kalitta, 4.394, 227.88; 14. Hillary Will, 4.714, 161.19; 15. J.R. Todd, 5.701, 117.67.

Funny Car --
1. Ashley Force, Ford Mustang, 4.110, 299.40; 2. John Force, Mustang, 4.112, 301.27; 3. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.119, 300.26; 4. Del Worsham, Chevy Impala, 4.152, 291.01; 5. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.176, 298.80; 6. Tony Pedregon, Impala, 4.178, 292.20; 7. Jerry Toliver, Dodge Charger, 4.190, 296.83; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.190, 293.86; 9. Gary Densham, Impala, 4.209, 284.81; 10. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Solara, 4.231, 292.14; 11. Tim Wilkerson, Impala, 4.354, 247.25; 12. Gary Scelzi, Charger, 4.370, 246.89. Not Qualified: 13. Tommy Johnson Jr., 4.409, 221.42; 14. Ron Capps, 4.448, 207.91; 15. Bob Tasca III, 4.771, 190.51; 16. Jim Head, 4.864, 166.48; 17. Tony Bartone, 4.901, 162.74; 18. Melanie Troxel, 4.959, 173.63; 19. Bob Bode, 4.997, 210.77.

Pro Stock --
1. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GXP, 6.679, 206.76; 2. Jason Line, GXP, 6.691, 205.98; 3. Allen Johnson, Dodge Stratus, 6.704, 205.63; 4. Kurt Johnson, Chevy Cobalt, 6.710, 206.39; 5. Richie Stevens, GXP, 6.710, 205.44; 6. Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.710, 205.35; 7. Jeg Coughlin, Cobalt, 6.714, 205.35; 8. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.718, 205.29; 9. Dave Connolly, Cobalt, 6.722, 205.01; 10. Rickie Jones, Stratus, 6.724, 204.42; 11. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.725, 206.99; 12. V. Gaines, Stratus, 6.729, 204.54. Not Qualified: 13. Ron Krisher, 6.729, 204.17; 14. Justin Humphreys, 6.738, 204.79; 15. Jim Yates, 6.741, 203.92; 16. Greg Stanfield, 6.748, 204.70; 17. Johnny Gray, 6.752, 204.73; 18. Steve Spiess, 6.754, 204.05; 19. Mark Hogan, 7.176, 182.87; 20. Danny Gruninger, 8.377, 104.54.

Pro Stock Motorcycle --
1. Chris Rivas, Buell, 6.979, 190.00; 2. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.985, 188.94; 3. Hector Arana, Buell, 7.019, 188.60; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.022, 189.36; 5. Chip Ellis, Suzuki, 7.040, 188.38; 6. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 7.040, 187.29; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.046, 186.90; 8. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.049, 187.31; 9. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.073, 188.57; 10. Matt Guidera, Buell, 7.089, 185.41; 11. Mike Berry, Suzuki, 7.094, 186.18; 12. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.098, 187.76. Not Qualified: 13. Junior Pippin, 7.120, 185.56; 14. David Hope, 7.137, 185.77; 15. Wes Wells, 7.182, 184.25; 16. Jim Underdahl, 7.295, 183.67; 17. Joe DeSantis, 7.397, 180.43; 18. Buddy Robinson, 7.474, 177.51.



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When the NHRA POWERade Series Countdown to the Championship was first announced in 2006, the motorsports world was forced to change its way of thinking about the world’s fastest motorsport.

Suddenly, teams that would never have challenged for world championship titles were possible contenders, and the previously solid leads larger, structured teams had stood on for years became a little shifty. In an instant, the hopes of some of the most elite racers in the world depended on something as fragile as a bubble – and bubbles burst.

The NHRA POWERade Series comes to Brainerd International Raceway Aug. 7-10 for the 27th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. While seven drivers can rest easy knowing their playoff tickets are punched, the event comes at a crucial juncture for the teams that have, including Brainerd, three more events to crack the Top 10 playoff fields in all four professional categories before the end of the regular season.

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools dragster, is hanging on to playoff contention by a mere nine points entering the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals – and Morgan Lucas, driver of the Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster, is ready to hunt him down in the comfort of his sponsor’s race, with the help of just-hired tuner Jimmy Walsh.

“It kind of goes back to that phrase ‘God hates a coward,’” Lucas said. “You know, we know we’ve got to be aggressive about getting the round wins and trying to make our own destiny, trying to basically block out (team Kalitta drivers) Dave Grubnic or Doug Kalitta. These are priorities for us. But you have to also go a level ahead. You have to compensate, but you’ve got to know there’s still a chance. You just basically have to put the extra work in. And as far as from the driving aspect, you know the team has put the actual work in.”

Only two Top Fuel drivers have so far clinched their spots in the Countdown to the Championship: Tony Schumacher, who has dominated the category with an astonishing eight wins so far this year, and Antron Brown, who surprised nearly everyone with his immediate success after crossing over from Pro Stock Motorcycle to Top Fuel just this year. The rest are in limbo.

In Funny Car, independent team owner/driver Tim Wilkerson is the only one to secure his spot in the Countdown. Wilkerson, who has won four events so far in 2008 with an alliance with team owner Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, is trailed by John Force Racing’s Robert Hight, who currently sits in the No. 2 spot. What’s been a surprise is the lack of success thus far by Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Car teams - currently, DSR’s highest-seeded driver is Ron Capps, and he’s in the seventh spot. Jack Beckman, driver of the Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger R/T is on the bubble at No. 10.

“I’ll give you a perfect example of why NHRA is ruining the drivers’ lives with this Countdown format,” Beckman said. “Our team, we went into Seattle in 10th place, won one round of racing, left in 10th place. (Under the) Pre-Countdown format, it would have been a completely disappointing weekend. We didn’t achieve our goals of making it to the final round and winning the race.

“Now that NHRA has implemented the Countdown and increased the level of excitement, now we’re starting to look at crumbs as being more important. In Seattle, we didn’t accomplish our goals. By the three cars behind us losing first round, we actually left with a bigger points lead. Then the exact same thing happened in Sonoma. Typically two second-round losses in a row would be a major letdown for any team like ours. But it actually was a small sense of accomplishment for us simply because we stretched our points lead in there. I think that’s the excitement that this Countdown generates.”

Excitement…or stomach aches, depending who you ask. In Pro Stock, three drivers have clinched their spot in the Countdown to the Championship – Summit Racing Equipment teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line, and Kurt Johnson, ACDelco’s son and protégé of Warren “the Professor” Johnson. Lately eyes have been on Dave Connolly, whose remarkable charge from parked to two trips to the winners’ circle has truly been astonishing. Connolly sits just 52 points inside of playoff contention entering the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines is the lone rider to claim a spot so far this year. Just behind him are Matt Smith, the defending NHRA POWERade Series world champion, Chip Ellis, Chris Rivas and Matt Guidera, who have each won at least one event in 2008.