Championship Drag Racing

NHRA Route 66 Nationals
Chicago, Ill.
(May 20-23)

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King Demon Crown

7th annual
NHRA Route 66 Nationals
Kalitta's 4.42, quickest-ever run, leads
Force, Line, Gann to winner's circle
By Rob Geiger,

Doug Kalitta ran the quickest quarter-mile of all-time to win the Top Fuel title of the NHRA Route 66 Nationals. Kalitta's 4.420-second clocking against Brandon Bernstein moved him to within 102 points of the POWERade championship points lead. This was the first time Bernstein reached a final and lost. The son of legend Kenny Bernstein took solace in the fact he set the national speed record of 333.41 mph earlier in the day.

Funny Car legend John Force beat new points leader Whit Bazemore for his 111th career win. Bazemore had posted the quickest and fastest pass ever -- 4.713 at 333.25 mph -- to reach the final. Jason Line beat boss Greg Anderson for his first win, while Shawn Gann ruled the day in Pro Stock Bike.

With all eyes on Bernstein, Kalitta stole the show when the race was up for grabs. The match-up was breathtaking with both cars leaving the line together. But just near half-track, Bernstein's front end began to climb skyward and he was forced to get off the accelerator to get back down to earth.

Doug Kalitta

"It threw the belt off just before the finish line and I was just hoping like heck I wouldn't see Brandon blow by me," Kalitta said. "They'd been running so well I figured he was right there. That team is so tough and you never know what to expect from them. Your mindset is that you have to tune it up and go for it because you know they're doing the same thing.

"This one's special because it gets us back in the hunt and it was the first one for my crew chief Rahn Tobler. Shirley [Muldowney, Tobler's wife] was also here this weekend, which makes this really awesome for all of us. It was an interesting day to say the least. I'm glad we got the last shot in there."

Kalitta might have been tough to beat as he screamed through the 660-foot timers at 283 mph and went on to post the 4.420 at 328.22 mph. Kalitta just missed backing up the mark to make it a national record by a paltry one-thousandth-of-a-second.

Bernstein no longer needs to call his father Kenny the "King of Speed" any more as he took over the moniker with a 333.41-mph clocking in his opening round win over Bob Vandergriff. The younger Bernstein got the official nod for the record by backing up his run in the semifinals when he beat points leader and defending event champ Tony Schumacher with a career-best 4.462 at 332.26 mph. The Budweiser Pro also beat Darrell Russell en route to the sixth final of his 16-race career.

The man from whom Bernstein took the speed record, Kalitta, nearly earned lane choice in the money round with a lightning-quick 4.465 against Scott Weis, just three thousandths of a second slower than Bernstein's mark. Proving he was the man to beat, Kalitta's Mac Tools rail also took out reigning series champ Larry Dixon and Atlanta winner Cory McClenathan, who red-lighted. Top Fuel results

With the favor squarely in Bazemore's court, Force came through for his record 111th win by holding on and powering through a 4.752 at 325.30 mph as Bazemore struggled to rein in his hot rod, which overpowered the track and turned sideways just past the starting line.

John Force

"We had a strategy," Force said. "We talked and knew that Bazemore was gonna be the points leader because he had the national record. So [crew chief Austin] Coil says. 'Go in shallow and we can get it and then we'll be in the lead.' I said, 'No, let's get the win,' because I know that you're on the edge when you run for the national record.

The victory moved Force up to second in the points, just 16 markers behind Bazemore, who took the lead from Del Worsham with the 20 bonus points he earned for setting a national E.T. record. Worsham is now 32 points out of the lead he held for the last six races. Only Force and Worsham have multiple wins this year.

Force overcame plenty of adversity to reach his record 171st trophy round. After a routine win over Phil Burkart in Round 1, the Castrol GTX crew could not get his Ford fired up in the pits for their pre-race burnout prior to a quarterfinal showdown with former teammate Tony Pedregon. The team managed to make it to the line in time but their car was clearly overmatched. However, as Pedregon streaked away for what looked to be an easy win, he crossed the centerline, handing the victory to his former boss.

"We had a little divine intervention against Tony [Pedregon] in Round 2. It was over for us. The car wouldn't fire and we had all kinds of trouble. I was hoping it would rain again. Then it started for the burnout and I did a big, ol' long one to try to spark it to life. That didn't work and Coil told me to shut her off. I said, 'Let's give her 100 feet.' Then I see Tony cross the line and I just got it down the track."

He then matched his career-best E.T. and posted his fastest pass ever against the man who replaced Pedregon, Eric Medlen, with a 4.721 at 329.50 mph, before eliminating Bazemore for the trophy.

Bazemore raced his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T to his 40th career final and second in a row by getting markedly quicker each session. He opened with a 4.85 against Ron Capps, posted a 4.76 against Tim Wilkerson, and the 4.713 opposite semifinal foe Tony Bartone. Funny Car results

The Pro Stock finale featured KB Racing teammates Anderson and Line against one another for the third time in the last four national events. This time it was Line getting his first win when Anderson jumped the start by .042-second, negating a quicker 6.826 at 202.33 to Line's slightly slower 6.840 at 202.48 mph.

Jason Line

"I wish he hadn't red-lighted but this is still a win for the team and we're all happy," Line said. "I was surprised, really, to see the light come on. I told him I was going to saw the Tree down and I did (with an .004 start). I think it was because I was really calm going into the final. I knew our team would win no matter what. It was great to get by Greg because I didn't think I'd ever beat him. I know he's happy for me.

"For a former Sportsman racer I can tell you it's an unreal feeling to win in Pro Stock. It's the ultimate for guys like me. I still don't know how to react because I don't know what I'm feeling right now. I just know it feels good."

Line's third final of the year and his brief Pro campaign started from the No. 1 position and went through Troy Coughlin, Steve Johns, and Dave Connolly. The KB Framers racer, a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, is 14-7 on the year.

The Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am team helped Anderson to his 34th career final and seventh of the season with wins over Mark Whisnant, "Tricky Rickie" Smith, and Warren Johnson. Anderson had the quickest car in Rounds 1 and 4 but was second to Line in Rounds 2 and 3. Pro Stock results

Just like Anderson, points leader Andrew Hines gave away the victory with a foul start, this one by a .035-second margin. The sting deepened when he cruised through the timers well ahead of Gann, 7.177 at 186.56 mph to Gann's 7.242 at 185.26 mph.

Shawn Gann

But Gann had put himself in position to win and he took advantage of the miscue, earning his third NHRA victory to move into second place in the title hunt, 53 behind Hines, who has led all season.

"I moved into second? I did not know that. Hey, that's a hot deal," Gann said. "We need to stay after it because I'd like to make a move. I usually have a stretch of late-round appearances every year but it usually starts later in the season. Maybe this win will get me started earlier.

"The Harleys have an obvious power advantage but you have to be there and be ready to take whatever happens. This is racing. You can red-light or break. You never know. We were there to take it when he red-lit just like he would've taken it from us if we had red-lit."

This was the second money round showing in a row for Gann's Mac Tools Suzuki and the 10th of his four-year career. He reached this one by outrunning Dave Feazell, Mike Berry, and Michael Phillips by .001 of a second.

Hines' Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod got quicker every round leading into the final, posting a 7.15 against Blaine Hale, a 7.12 versus a red-lighting Antron Brown, and a track-record 7.093 opposite Craig Treble. This was Hines' third career final and second of the season. Pro Stock Bike results

Mike Castellana scored a huge victory for the nitrous-injected Pro Modified fans as he drove his 1968 Camaro past Fred Hahn in the final round of the AMS Pro Modified Challenge. Castellana's winning lap was a 6.227, 225 and marked his second career NHRA Pro Modified victory. This was the fourth stop on the 10-race AMS Pro Modified Challenge tour.

Ian Landies, fresh off his first career win in Bristol, scored his second victory with an upset of the class' winningest driver, David Rampy, whom he edged by a mere .003-second in the final. Wally Krueger scored his first career win in Stock, driving his B/SA entry to victory over favored Shane Carr.

Both Super-class finales were decided by double breakouts as Nick Folk edged Charles Siegler, 8.887 to 8.849 in Super Comp while Todd Hickey scored his second career win in Super Gas, and handed Brian Smith his second runner-up, surviving the math in the finale, 9.886 to 9.878.

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