Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
The largest race team in drag racing had its biggest Sunday ever as Schumacher Racing claimed an NHRA title and three event trophies in one afternoon at the 20th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. Top Fuel frontrunner Tony Schumacher claimed his second world title and ninth national event win of the year on the day. Teammates Gary Scelzi and Angelle Savoie also scored with Scelzi taking his third career Funny Car win and Savoie her 34th Pro Stock Bike title.
Not to be lost in the shuffle was Pro Stock winner Jason Line, who bolstered his Rookie of the Year campaign with a gigantic win over teammate and new champion Greg Anderson, who was bidding for the all-time single-season victory mark.
"We're committed to making this sport as good as it can be," team owner Don Schumacher said. "If I'm the one that brings it to the next level, then so be it. We've got a lot of great cars in our organization and we've had a chance to win three classes at the same race twice before, but to finally get it done is phenomenal."
For all the remarkable feats accomplished on the day, Schumacher should lead the parade after clinching his second NHRA title in the quarterfinals and then going on to win his ninth race of the year to put an exclamation point on his special day.
With a legion of the U.S. Army's top brass watching from both ends of the racetrack, Schumacher obeyed orders in the final against Bob Vandergriff and chalked up win No. 9 on the season with a convincing 4.475 at 329.99 mph. Vandergriff did manage to match Schumacher's start but his engine let go soon thereafter and he coasted through the lights with a resigned 8.206 at 99.48 mph.
With two races left on the schedule, Schumacher will now turn his attention to bettering the single-season Top Fuel win mark he now shares with Scelzi (2000) and Larry Dixon (2002).
"What an unbelievable day," Schumacher said. "We win the championship and we tie the record for wins in a season, it's awesome. I've been joking all weekend that if I pull this off I might as well retire because it won't ever get any better. I mean, how do you top this?
"The second round was huge. I went in to see Alan [Johnson, crew chief] before the round and I said, 'hey, this one's kind of important,' and he just smiled. Then we get up there and Doug [Kalitta] loses and we beat Brandon and just like that it was over. We stared the day thinking we just need to outlast Kalitta but then they said Brandon was in the mix too. I was like, 'great, they're adding people for us to beat.' But it all worked out."
Schumacher wasn't the No. 1 qualifier but he did have the quickest car of every round Sunday, posting a 4.48 against Scott Weis, a 4.46 in clinching the title against Brandon Bernstein, a 4.50 against Rhonda Hartman-Smith, who was racing in her second semifinal of the year, and a 4.47 versus Vandergriff. His career record improves to 20-23 when there's a trophy on the line.
Vandergriff raced his Hedman Hedders dragster to his seventh career final round, and first since the 2000 Phoenix event, by beating top-10 racers Cory McClenathan, David Grubnic, and Scott Kalitta, all of whom qualified higher than Vandergriff during time trails. Vandergriff had to do some driving to get there, winning pedaling contests against McClenathan and Kalitta. Vandergriff, the 2004 Rookie of the Year, has never won an NHRA race. Top Fuel results
Despite being a big underdog in the final, Scelzi came through with a huge victory that denied final-round opponent John Force the chance to clinch his 13th NHRA championship in Reading. As Force's Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang disappeared in a cloud of smoke just off the starting line, Scelzi's Hemi-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T powered away to a steady 4.853 at 308.29 mph to take the victory.
"I don't think anyone expected us to win that race including me," Scelzi said. "They had the car to beat and he was ready to win it all but when you're running those kind of numbers like he was, stuff in the mid-4.7s, you're right on the edge.
"We just ran as quick as we could safely. We didn't want to be stupid in the final just in case he smoked the tires by smoking them first trying to run something we hadn't run all weekend. [Crew chief] Mike Neff played it smart and we won. Look for that name, Mike Neff, to keep getting headlines. He's young and he's good. I'm glad he's my guy."
Scelzi had to run through a Murder's Row of drivers to reach his 45th career final round, beating Whit Bazemore, Gary Densham, and 2003 champion Tony Pedregon with a string of 4.8-second runs. A three-time Top Fuel champion who switched to Funny Car three years ago, Scelzi is now 3-4 in Funny Car finals.
Pushing hard to settle the points race as soon as possible, Force ran the quickest pass of the first three rounds in beating Jerry Toliver, Tim Wilkerson, and Del Worsham. The win over Worsham seemed pivotal at the time as the CSK pro is the closest to Force in the POWERade standings. Nevertheless, all Force needs to do now to clinch his 13th title is qualify for the Las Vegas race in three weeks. Funny Car results
In a race where Anderson could have set the all-time single-season victory record with his 14th win of the 2004 campaign, Line shocked everyone with a wire-to-wire job that moved him back into second place in the POWERade standings.
After a strong .029- to .062-second head start, Line simply drove away from his boss with a career-best elapsed time of 6.669 at 206.23 mph – the fourth quickest pass ever – to overshadow Anderson's 6.681 at 206.67 mph.
"No one can ever accuse us of not racing," Line said. "There are no orders on this team. That just shows what a classy guy Greg is. He's a great champion and a true drag racer. He never said a word except, 'good luck,' even though we all know how much he wants to set that record.
"To finally get back on my game is great. I was putting too much pressure on myself lately. We had a team meeting this week and the guys basically told me just to relax, that we're all in this together, and that I didn't need to torture myself. So we went back to having fun and this is the end result.
"Hopefully, this win gives our Rookie of the Year effort a big shot in the arm. I don't know how it can be anything but a good thing for us. I mean, I just beat Greg Anderson, which is something most people haven't been able to do in the last two years. That has to count for a lot."
Shrugging off an uncharacteristic streak of three first-round losses in a row, Line returned to the position of favorite to win the coveted Auto Club Rookie of the Year award with his sixth career final-round showing in his KB Framers Pontiac Grand Am. Line beat Mark Pawuk, Dave Connolly, Ken Koretsky on a holeshot, and Anderson to even his final-round record to 4-2 and his head-to-head final-round record against Anderson to 2-2.
Summit Racing Equipment racer Anderson looked like a machine Sunday, chugging past Kurt Johnson, Allen Johnson, and V. Gaines before bowing to Line in the final. Pro Stock results
The Pro Stock Bike final was worth the price of admission by itself as Savoie and Brown ran the quickest side-by-side pass ever in deciding a winner. In the end, it was Savoie moving past the late John Myers and into second place on the all-time victory list with a convincing 7.018 at 191.29 mph to earn her 34th career win. Brown's personal-best 7.047 at 184.35 mph just wasn't enough to beat Savoie.
"What an awesome weekend for the Army team," Savoie said. "Anytime me and Antron get to race with the trophy on the line it's all good. Last time we raced for it all was in Sonoma and I got to paint his fingernails because he lost the bet. This time everyone better bring their cameras to Las Vegas because he has to wear a little Angelle shirt all weekend long. You'd think he'd learn.
"We celebrated twice because they told me I ran a 7.04 when I first took my helmet off so I did all my interviews thinking I'd run a 7.04. Then my team got there and they said it was a 7.01 and we went crazy all over again. I only wish we'd been three thousandths of a second quicker and we would have set the national record."
After starting the day first and second in the field, the U.S. Army riders took care of business on opposing sides of the ladder to reach the second all-Army final of the year. Savoie dismissed Mike Berry, Geno Scali, and POWERade points leader Andrew Hines to earn a spot in the 53rd trophy round of her remarkable career. Brown rode past Kurt Matte, Craig Treble, and Steve Johnson to reach his third straight final and fifth of the year. Pro Stock Bike results
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