Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals
Reigning Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson tied his own class record for victories in a single season by claiming his 12th trophy of the year Sunday at Infineon Raceway. Doug Kalitta, Tim Wilkerson, and Angelle Savoie also claimed wins at the 17th annual FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals, the 15th of 23 events on the POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Anderson's victory moved him to within one of John Force's all-time mark of 13 wins in a year, which was recorded in 1994. In Top Fuel, Kalitta took a big chunk out of Tony Schumacher's points lead with his third win of the year. Wilkerson beat a red-lighting Force in the Funny Car final, while Savoie won the same way in Pro Stock Bike when her teammate Antron Brown jumped the gun.
The Top Fuel verdict was granted early as runner-up Dave Grubnic smoked his tires just off the launching pad. Kalitta quickly took advantage of his teammate's gaffe and streaked away to a 4.678-second, 315.05-mph win. Resigned to his fate, Grubnic drifted through with a 9.752 at 86.37 mph.
"Every time Jeff Gordon wins the NASCAR race here it seems like we win the NHRA race so I've been really anxious to get here every since he won that race," Kalitta said. "I love this place. It's definitely one of my favorite stops on the tour and that hasn't changed this year.
"I got my first win here in 1998 and then we had those three in a row in 1998, '99, and 2000. I wouldn't mind if we ran all the races here. Really, any of these so-called good tracks are good for this team. I guess our tune-up just wants a place where we can pound on the track."
Kalitta had little to worry about on his way to his 18th victory in 38 final-round appearances. The Mac Tools racer beat Steve Chrisman, Doug Herbert, points leader Tony Schumacher, and Grubnic by wide margins. His closest race was decided by more than two-tenths of a second.
Grubnic's third final-round showing of the last four events came after the Red Line Oil dragster carried him past Mitch King, David Baca, and Brandon Bernstein.
The victory helped Kalitta close to within 66 points of Schumacher, who entered the race 110 points up. Grubnic's recent surge has seen him move from eighth place to fourth in five races. Top Fuel results
For just the second time in his career, Force lost a Funny Car final with a red-light, repeating the same mistake he made in Dallas in 1997. This time Force's mistake was leaving .034-second before the green light flashed.
Wilkerson was there for the taking, hazing his tires late in the run and crossing in just 5.088 seconds at 282.72 mph. But his win counts the same as anyone else's and the friendly pro reveled in the warm reception he received in the winner's circle, which included high fives from Force himself and many other Funny Car drivers.
"That's the underdog effect," Wilkerson said of the adulation he gets from his peers. "We're just a single-car team fighting all these big teams and I think everyone out there appreciates that. They look at me and see a guy who works on his own car and I think they think that's cool. It sure makes it special for me.
"Force definitely had the car to beat this weekend. We're thankful he had a hiccup in the final. We had run right beside him all weekend so we knew how fast he was but we were always right there behind him so maybe he was thinking about us a little bit.
"We have radios but no one told me that he had red-lit. My car's slipping and sliding all over the place and I'm trying to keep it together and see through the clutch dust and it wasn't until I got way down there that I saw the win light. I got on the radio and said, 'Thanks guys, I look like an idiot out here.' "
A winner earlier this year in Houston, Levi, Ray, & Shoup's Wilkerson successfully closed the deal once again here in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo. None of his races were gimmes as he raced heavyweights Jerry Toliver, Whit Bazemore, Tony Pedregon, and Force. Wilkerson now has five career victories.
Just like last week in Seattle, Force needed some expert driving early in the day just to advance his Castrol Start Up Ford Mustang to the final round. This time it was during a Round 1 race against Bob Bode when the champ had his hands full. The pass started fine but he quickly drifted towards the centerline. When he corrected the problem his Mustang bucked sideways and it was all he could do to straighten it out and get it over the finish line. Force also beat Gary Densham and Gary Scelzi en route to his 175th title round.
Force bumped his POWERade points lead from 93 to 146 points at this event. His closest rival is now Bazemore. Del Worsham's first-round exit dropped him to third, 160 off Force's pace. Funny Car results
Anderson's workmanlike victory in Pro Stock helped him tie his year-old class record of 12 victories in a single season and puts him just one behind Force's all-time mark of 13 wins in a year, which he logged in 1994. This was the fourth consecutive victory for the reigning series champion and the second straight over Connolly.
After nearly identical starts, Anderson simply drove away from Connolly, improving his margin at every timer. The final numbers had Anderson crossing in 6.728 seconds at 205.51 mph ahead of Connolly's 6.758 at 204.98 mph. Anderson has won 28 times in his brief career.
"Thirteen wins is the next big hurdle to clear," Anderson said. "We want that record because it's the next thing to do. The other big records are years away. Warren [Johnson] has six championships and 90-something wins. Force has 12 championships and a hundred-plus wins. Even if I race like I have been we're a long way off from all of that.
"We're aiming to win half of the remaining races. That's probably a good number to shoot for and it should be attainable. Of course, we could get totally lost tomorrow and I could fall off this big wave we've been riding, but for now I'm enjoying the ride.
"I had no idea I was the first Pro Stock guy to sweep the Western Swing. To put your name next to Joe Amato and John Force and those other guys is something special. It's another feather in KB Racing's cap. I guess the fact these three races are so different is the reason we haven't seen it happen before in Pro Stock."
Anderson is the first Pro Stock driver to sweep the Western Swing and the sixth overall. He joins five-time champion Joe Amato (1991), 12-time champion Force (1994), Cory McClenathan (1997), and two-time champion Larry Dixon (2003) as the only professional drivers to win the consecutive races in Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma that make up the swing. Dan Fletcher is the sole sportsman racer to accomplish the feat, having swept the three events in his Super Stock car in 1994.
The Summit Racing Equipment-sponsored racer beat Jim Yates, Ken Koretsky, Steve Johns, and Connolly on the day. His best pass was the 6.699 he recorded in Round 1 when the bay fog was still hovering over the racetrack.
Connolly's fourth final-round experience in his Bullet Motorsports Cavalier came after victories over V. Gaines, Larry Morgan, and Anderson teammate Jason Line, who had the quickest car of Rounds 2 and 3. Connolly used a nifty .040 to .081-second holeshot to beat the Rookie of the Year candidate with a 6.736 to Line's 6.712. Pro Stock results
Brown will be kicking himself after squandering the best end of the quickest side-by-side Pro Stock Bike race of all-time with a one-thousandth-of-a-second red-light violation. The instant disqualification allowed Savoie to win her 33rd national event with a 7.066 at 184.52 mph against Brown's 7.059 at 186.51 mph.
"I usually don't run my mouth because I like to let the scoreboard do my talking for me," Savoie said. "But Antron and I have been talking stuff all weekend and it sure didn't stop today. We had a bet in the final and he lost so I just painted his fingernails pink in the winner's circle. I had to win because if I lost I would've had to wear his underwear, the dirty ones, so I was real motivated.
"Now we've won at every track except Brainerd and it's next so maybe we can put that one away in two weeks. We had a fabulous weekend here. I love it when we're No. 1 because my record shows that when I'm the No. 1 qualifier I usually go on and win the race. We had our best E.T. ever so we're running good.
"[The championship] is within reach. It's possible but is it probable? I don't know. I know from experience that you can lose a big lead late in the year. I'm not gonna worry about it. I'll just try to win each race we go to. I don't feel like I have anything left to prove."
The whole Pro Stock Bike weekend was painted olive drab as U.S. Army racers Savoie and Brown raced to the top two qualifying positions on Saturday and then successfully carried their momentum through to race day where they climbed opposite sides of the ladder to the money round.
Brown opened with the quickest pass of Round 1 then Savoie took over with the best passes of the next three sessions en route to the winner's circle. She even set a track record for elapsed time with a career-best 7.048 in the semi's, the quickest run ever for a Suzuki.
Brown's most interesting run came against points leader Andrew Hines in the third session. Brown's bike broke just off the starting line but his disappointment quickly turned to joy when he looked up and realized that Hines had jumped the start and was disqualified. Brown coasted to a stop near mid-track and accepted a big ovation from the crowd.
Although he didn't get the win, Hines actually padded his lead in the championship rankings to 169 points, an improvement of 23 points. Savoie's win helped her jump from sixth place to third. She is now 214 points off the lead. Pro Stock Bike results
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