O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals
Pro Stock Bike rider Karen Stoffer became just the seventh female to win a professional category at an NHRA national event Sunday when she raced to the winner's circle of the 17th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil in Houston. Stoffer beat Antron Brown by .0018 seconds, or about six inches, to take her first win in three final-round appearances.
Brandon Bernstein is a perfect 5-0 in final rounds since joining the Top Fuel class, despite the fact he's raced in just 13 events as a professional. Funny Car pilot Tim Wilkerson beat Jerry Toliver and season-long Pro Stock leader Greg Anderson downed teammate Jason Line to round out the trophy winners.
Bernstein will take his slightly off-pace 4.695 at 271.79 mph winning pass and never look back, keeping his stellar money-round elimination record intact. Final-round opponent Clay Millican had him at the starting line, .042 to .099, but several bouts of tire-spin down the track allowed Bernstein by for the victory. Millican ended up with a 5.032 at 238.81 mph.
The win helped Bernstein and his Budweiser team close to within 38 points of season-long points leader Tony Schumacher, who lost to Larry Dixon in the second round. Bernstein earned the maximum number of points a competitor can earn at a race without setting a national record, picking up 188 markers.
"To be five for five in final rounds is pretty stout," said Bernstein, who has one more point at this point of the season then he had one year ago. "Just racing to five finals in my first 13 races is stout. It says a lot about the performance of this Budweiser car and the level of commitment from the team. I can't say enough about how this car is performing.
"This was great to win here in Texas. My grandfather Bert is here and he's excited. He's been battling cancer so this is big for him. Plus, my mom [Donna Easom] finally got to see me win a race. She's been to the races several times but never when I've won. So that was cool. I had a lot of college buddies stopping by all weekend as well.
"We knew someone needed to step up and slow Schumacher down. It was fortunate to see Dixon beat him in the second round. I won't go as far as saying I was rooting for that team but I was glad to see their win light come on."
Low qualifier Bernstein started the day with a -.001 red-light gift from John Smith, before surviving a pedalfest with Cory McClenathan and overcoming a .015-second starting line deficit to Scott Kalitta. Sunday's final was the fifth of his 13-race career.
Racing in just his 30th NHRA event, Millican and his 104+ Octane Boost teammates reached their first career final round by beating Mark Kinsella, Doug Kalitta, and two-time and reigning NHRA champion Larry Dixon. Both Kalitta and Dixon smoked their tires, allowing Millican to win with a pair of 4.8-second passes. Top Fuel results
In Funny Car, Wilkerson ended an astonishing run of good fortune by Toliver to bag his fourth career win with a convincing 4.896 at 303.30 mph over Toliver's tire-spinning 5.081 at 277.03 mph.
Sunday's march moved Wilkerson from ninth to third place in the championship chase. He is now just two points out of second place and 87 behind leader Del Worsham.
"This is wonderful," Wilkerson said. "I actually thought I had a better chance of winning Las Vegas with the way we were running out there but this will work. Running Jerry in the final had me nervous. He had that luck running with him all day, plus he had [tuning consultant] Alan Johnson's full attention after the second round so we knew he was capable of a big number because he pulled one off in Pomona. We had to step on it a little bit.
"I'm glad to see Del on top of the points instead of some of the other guys out there. We had a tough race with him today and it was the turning point for us to get this win. Now we're chasing him in the standings and we're having a great time doing it."
Wilkerson was his usual steady self in his Levi, Ray, & Shoup Chevrolet Monte Carlo, securing his 10th final-round berth with victories over Bob Gilbertson, Eric Medlen, and points leader Del Worsham. The win over Worsham was accomplished by two-thousandths of a second.
Riding a lucky streak, Toliver raced to his 10th final round and second of the year by surviving three straight rounds where he lost traction at some point on the racetrack. His best run came in Round 1 when he beat Phil Burkart Jr. with a tire-hazing 5.05. Then he took a 6.17-second win over John Force when Force's Mustang stopped on the track, before downing low qualifier Gary Densham with a laboring 5.42, which prompted Wilkerson to ask the top-end crew if they'd found any of Toliver's lucky horseshoes.
Toliver used three Toyota Celica bodies over the course of the weekend. He damaged his primary Schick Quattro shell in a Saturday engine failure and buried his back-up in the top-end sand after Round 1. He finished the day in teammate Jim Head's Punisher body. Funny Car results
One of Anderson's few remaining goals was realized Sunday when he matched up with teammate Line in the Pro Stock final. Leaving nothing to doubt, Line was forced to shut his car off just a few hundred feet into the run and he could only watch as his boss post his fourth 6.73-second pass of the day in winning his 20th career race and fourth of the year.
Anderson, who earlier in the weekend clinched the No. 1 position in the King Demon Crown event, now has a 156-point advantage over Kurt Johnson. It's the largest lead in any professional category.
"That would have been a great final," Anderson said. "Jason left on me and was ahead at 60 foot but his car made a big move to the wall and he had to lift. Either way, we're both happy. Having both cars in the final removes all the pressure. I would be just as happy if he were standing here. We're a team.
"People said the second car would be a distraction but it's not. It's done nothing but help us so far. We'll see more and more of that team. He'll probably win the next race in Bristol the way they're running."
Anderson's Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am was clearly the quickest car at the track, easily pacing every elimination round as he dismissed Mark Whisnant, Larry Morgan, two-time NHRA champion Jeg Coughlin, and Line.
Following suit, Line's KB Framers machine was the second quickest of each session as he put Steve Johns, Dave Connolly, and Mike Edwards on the trailer. This was Line's first final-round appearance in nine professional starts. Pro Stock results
Overcoming a .023 to .039-second starting line advantage by foe Antron Brown, Stoffer had made up the difference by half-track and then held on to win her first national event by .0018 seconds, or about half a foot. In the lights, Stoffer posted a 7.159 at 186.38 mph to Brown's 7.176 at 186.05 mph.
Stoffer will share the special day with Super Gas winner Erica Enders, who also notched her first national event win Sunday. Overall, Enders and Stoffer become the 35th and 36th female winners on tour. This was also just the fourth time where two female racers won at the same event.
"Wow," Stoffer said. "I think that's the only way to describe this. To go from almost not being able to race to winning our first event is unbelievable. Geico Cycle-Gard stuck with us after Gainesville so we were able to stay out here. I'm so glad because we were running well and we didn't want to stop.
"All of the teams out here are so tough. We beat the Harleys back-to-back and then a tough Army team in the final. I think we've showed we can handle this level of competition and make a championship push. Why not? The way I feel right now anything is possible.
"I don't know if I've absorbed all of this yet. The fans were screaming and so many people told me they stayed to root for us in the final. One guy even missed a flight outta here. They say you never forget your first win and I certainly believe that's true. The feeling I have right now just keeps ebbing higher and higher. Like I said, 'Wow' is the word of the day."
In reaching her third final-round, Stoffer raced her Geico Direct Suzuki to big wins over heavyweights Craig Treble, GT Tonglet, and points leader Andrew Hines. Stoffer's slowest pass of the day was a 7.19 in the semifinals.
Starting the day as the No. 2 qualifier, Brown kept his U.S. Army Suzuki in the low 7.2-second range as he rolled past Josh Helvie, Shawn Gann, and reigning POWERade champion Geno Scali. This was Brown's 20th career trophy round. Pro Stock Bike results
Mike Ashley, driver of the Unique Performance/InfiNet Insurance-sponsored Pro Modified '67 Shelby GT 500E, collected his second career AMS Pro Modified Challenge victory by stopping 19-year-old Zach Barklage in the final round of Pro Mod.
The New York Mortgage Banker won from the No. 1 qualifying position, recording a 6.180 at 229.98 to outrun Barklage's 6.193, 232.59.
This marks the third career national event victory for Ashley and it came at the expense of Scotty Cannon in the first round and Mitch Stott in the semis. For his part, Barklage scored convincing victories over Von Smith and Ed Hoover.
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