Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
Tony Schumacher won his third race of the last four NHRA events and set a national record elapsed time of 4.441 seconds along the way to highlight an odd 19th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, which finished under alternate power after electricity to Maple Grove Raceway failed.
Schumacher squeaked by Jim Head, who was racing in his first final of the new millennium, 4.58 to 4.60. In Funny Car, Tim Wilkerson powered away from a tire-smoking Cruz Pedregon to take his second win of the year. Troy Coughlin blew a quicker E.T. and gift-wrapped Warren Johnson's record 92nd career win with a red-light start, and Michael Phillips beat Angelle Savoie to claim his first victory since 1995 in Pro Stock Bike
With a four-star general rooting him on from the starting line, U.S. Army racer Tony Schumacher didn't disappoint, holding off a game Head with a 4.584 at 315.56 mph to Head's competitive 4.603 at 322.65 mph. This was the 11th career win for Schumacher and the fourth of the year.
It was a perfect race weekend for Schumacher, who scored the maximum number of points a competitor can earn at one event by qualifying No. 1, winning the race, and setting a national record. Once an afterthought in the POWERade points, Schumacher is now 182 out of second place in the standings.
"It was a full weekend of racing, that's for sure," Schumacher said. "Not only did we run back-to-back 4.4-second passes and win the race, but I put her in the kitty litter twice. In Round 2 the top two elements of the wing delaminated and broke off so I had no downforce. Then in the finals the chutes didn't work. But who cares, we won and we feel great, especially since General Jack Keane was here to see it all happen.
"We can't wait for next year. Our crew chief Alan Johnson has this Army car tuned-up so well. It's good in the cold weather and it's good in the warm weather. We're set. I'm so glad for all the guys that stuck with us when everything was screwed up. Now we've won three out of the last four races and we're on top of the world. Go Army!"
This marked the fourth final-round appearance in the last five races for the red-hot Schumacher. The only time he was vulnerable was in the opening round when he smoked the tires of his U.S. Army rail and posted a 9.47. But his scheduled opponent, Doug Kalitta, couldn't answer the call after his motor backfired at the starting line.
After that lucky break, Schumacher turned on the afterburners, running a national record pass of 4.441 against Doug Herbert and a 4.449 versus Clay Millican to reach his 30th career final.
Schumacher's record run is the second quickest on the books. Kalitta posted a 4.428 one week ago at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago. However, Kalitta couldn't back his mark up to make it official. Schumacher removed all doubt by backing his pass up one round later with the 4.449 versus Millican.
The amazing number posted by Schumacher replaces Kenny Bernstein's 4.477, set June 2, 2001, in Chicago. It also awards him 20 bonus points in the POWERade standings.
Head's privately-funded dragster, using a tune-up suggested to them by Schumacher's crew chief, Alan Johnson, zoomed by Rhonda Hartman-Smith, Scott Weis, and surprise semifinalist Paul Romine. This was Head's first final in over two years. Overall, he has six victories in 16 final-round appearances. His last win came in 1997 at Memphis Motorsports Park. Top Fuel results
Wilkerson's final-round pass against Pedregon turned into a victory lap when his opponent smoked the tires at the hit of the throttle. Just for good measure, Wilkerson legged out a 4.869 at 317.94 mph to bag his third career victory. The win moved Wilkerson up to seventh place in the standings.
"What a way cool day," Wilkerson said. "I wasn't sure we'd win this morning like I did when we won Indy. Then, as we started racing, we had a few mishaps. I saw the cone come into my lane when I ran Jack [Wyatt, who hit the timing cone.] I thought to myself, 'Should I move over or should I hit it?' and I figured, 'Oh, just hit it.' It punched a hole in the body. Then the chutes didn't come out, so that run was a mess. On the second pass, it got ugly when it started mixing up cylinders. For the finals, we weakened it up, so that's why it slowed down. I guess we scared everybody we ran today, because they all smoked the tires.
"Winning for the second time this year, I guess you should get used it like it's no big deal, but it's still sweet. The team worked so hard and I can't thank them enough. And we wouldn't be here enjoying this if it weren't for Dick Levi. We're on a roll and we're going to roll right into Dallas."
The second half of the year continues to get better and better for Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray, & Shoup Pontiac teammates. This was the group's third final in the last five races and Wilkerson's ninth money round of his career. The U.S. Nationals winner was extremely consistent here, running low 4.8s to beat Jack Wyatt, Dale Creasy Jr., and No. 1 qualifier Gary Densham.
Pedregon had some fortunate twists along the way to his 44th career final round. The 1992 series champion, who was a runner-up earlier this year in Denver, began with a career-best 4.796 against Gary Scelzi but then struggled through a pair of tire-smoking duels to get his Advance Auto Parts Pontiac Firebird past Terry Haddock and Dean Skuza. Pedregon's 5.73-second win against Skuza came after his parachutes had rattled out of their packs.
After failing to qualify for this event in the two sessions that were run in between multiple rain showers, it appeared Whit Bazemore's championship dream would take a huge hit. But an equally inexcusable first-round loss by points leader Tony Pedregon kept Bazemore's Matco Tools team within range at 94 points back with three races remaining on the schedule.
The last time Bazemore had failed to qualify for an event was over one year ago in Memphis, Tenn. Castrol Syntec pro Pedregon, meanwhile, lost to under-funded journeyman Dale Creasy Jr., who hadn't logged an elimination-round victory since the same event in Memphis where Bazemore logged his last DNQ. Funny Car results
Warren Johnson added to his all-time record number of wins in Pro Stock with a 6.755-second, 204.76-mph victory over Troy Coughlin, who threw away a quicker 6.754 at 199.29 mph with a regrettable -.060 red-light.
Johnson stayed a perfect 4-0 on the season in final rounds and helped protect the second-place ranking of his son Kurt, who failed to qualify here, by taking out Kurt's biggest threat in the opening round. For his part, W.J. drew to within 118 points of Jeg Coughlin Jr., who stayed third behind Kurt Johnson and points leader Greg Anderson.
"I looked up from the track when I was about in third gear and I saw the win light and thought that looked pretty good," said Johnson. "We both actually left the starting line early, but he just left earlier. You have to realize that both of those Coughlin boys are awfully good on the starting line. You have to take your best shot and hope it comes out right.
"As far as the championship goes, I know I can't finish first or second in the standings. But I knew if I beat Jeg in the opening round, I could move closer to third and could help Kurt out from letting Jeg catch him."
Aside from the trophy round, Johnson's biggest win of the day might have been his victory over rival Jeg Coughlin in the opening session. Both men left with great reaction times, .003 for W.J. and .007 for Coughlin, then Johnson simply drove away for a 6.71 to 6.76 win. "The Professor" also beat Jim Yates and Larry Morgan, who red-lighted, to reach his record 142nd final.
Coughlin bettered Rookie of the Year Gene Wilson, veteran Mike Edwards, and low qualifier Greg Anderson with some great passes in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet Cavalier. He negated Wilson's .009 light with a .008 start, spooked Edwards into a -.007 red-light, and used a .016 to .039 holeshot to get a .0072-second win over points leader Anderson, the closest margin of victory all day. Pro Stock results
With plenty of help from the entire Vance & Hines operation, Phillips scored his first win in over eight years by outrunning the heavily favored Savoie. The 35-year-old Louisiana native clicked the timers in 7.133 seconds at 189.07 mph, well ahead of Savoie's 7.165 at 188.07 mph.
"I didn't get to the track until 10 a.m. Saturday morning," Phillips said. "I was trying to buy a new truck on Friday, and the sales guys were taking so long that I told my brother I wasn't going to go. I didn't want to make that long drive alone. One of my buddies came by and he told me to give him 15 minutes to get ready. He went home, grabbed some clothes, went over and closed up his barber shop, and jumped in the truck and made the drive with me.
"I called my old boss Harry Lartigue after the first round because I was having some clutch problems. Everybody thinks there is a lot of animosity between him and I but that isn't right. We just both wanted to do things our way. He gave me a pretty good tune-up over the phone.
"Angelle and I go back a ways. When she was first coming out to the track in 1995, I would try and help her out and teach her things. She knew I was always good on the tree and she knew I was going to be on my game."
Phillips, who began racing Pro Stock Bike part-time in 1992, rode his Calmes Motorsports Suzuki past Steve Johnson, Blaine Hale, and low qualifier Fred Collis, who jumped the start with a -.073 violation. His 7.125 versus Johnson was a career-best E.T. This was the fourth final of Phillips' career. His lone win came at the Houston event in 1995.
This was Savoie's fourth final of the year but her first for the U.S. Army team. She survived a terrible .077 light against first-round foe Tommy Grimes, who ran a 7.35 to her 7.07. She then got a free pass from a red-lighting Andrew Hines before running her best pass of the season, a 7.056 at 189.79 mph, against points leader Geno Scali. Pro Stock Bike results
Saturday's home page
Friday's home page (9/12/03 rain out)