ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals
Back-to-back Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson became drag racing's single-season win leader with his 14th victory Sunday in the fourth annual ACDelco NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Anderson beat rookie teammate Jason Line with a 6.79 at 202 mph to break the tie he held with John Force of 13 wins each.
Anderson was joined in the winner's circle by Pro Stock Bike upstart Chip Ellis, who won in just his third professional start. Funny Car contender Gary Scelzi and Top Fuel frontrunner Doug Kalitta also scored in the penultimate race to the 23-event 2004 season. Both Kalitta and Scelzi occupy the No. 2 positions in their respective categories. Scelzi earned his victory by beating newly recrowned Funny Car champ John Force on a holeshot.
The Top Fuel final was emotional as Kalitta squared off with rookie Morgan Lucas, who replaced the late Darrell Russell in the seat of Joe Amato's dragster in the summer. This marked the first time Lucas was racing for a Pro-level trophy.
This time it was veteran Kalitta getting the win, his fourth of the season, with a wire-to-wire job. He left with a hundredth of a second advantage, .045 to .055, and never relinquished the lead, taking the stripe with a 4.530 at 329.02 mph to Lucas' 4.612 at 306.40 mph.
"What a great effort for this entire team," Kalitta said. "With [Dave] Grubnic winning the Budweiser Shootout, Scott [Kalitta, cousin] getting the No. 1 qualifier, and now me winning the race, it's hard to ask for much more than that. I've always wanted to win here, especially now that the Bud Shootout is being held here every year. It's nice to get it done. We're going on a family vacation so I can enjoy this for a couple of weeks.
"I knew Morgan would be tough. He might be new in Top Fuel but he has been racing quite a bit. I was late against Rhonda [Hartman] in the semi's and I didn't want to do that again in the final. I'm a big fan of Morgan and I know that team wants a win big time, and I can tell you they'll get plenty before they're done."
Kalitta stayed in the mid-4.5 second range all day, driving the Mac Tools rail past Gary Ormsby Jr., Doug Herbert, and Rhonda Hartman-Smith to reach his eighth final of the year and 40th of his career.
Lucas' seventh race as a professional proved to be lucky as he reached the final round for the first time in his brief career. Starting the day mid-pack, the Lucas Oil/Keystone racer beat former champions Larry Dixon and Scott Kalitta before taking a one-thousandth-of-a-second holeshot victory over Andrew Cowin in the semifinals, the closest Pro race of the day. Top Fuel results
Scelzi's third win of the year came against the same final-round opponent as the first two, 113-time winner Force, who succumbed to a stellar .020-second start by Scelzi and lost with a quicker 4.754 to Scelzi's winning 4.790 at 326.32 mph.
The victory moved Scelzi into a tie with Del Worsham for second place in the category during a year that most observers are pointing to as the best in class history. Force was trying to cap his championship-clinching weekend with another victory but it wasn't meant to be. Instead, three-time Top Fuel champion Scelzi bagged his 29th Wally.
"A couple of weeks ago I stayed with Force at his house because we had this radio deal to do and he invited me to just stay with him," Scelzi said. "We had an absolute blast, going out to TGI Fridays and hanging with fans and then trying to kick back at his house later that night. When we got out at the top end just now he said, 'Scelzi, I left the light on for you and then you just put the lights out for me.' He's the champ and I love racing him. It's one of the big reasons I switched to Funny Car.
"A lot of people didn't look for us to be this high in the points but we did and this team is staying together next year so watch out. If we hadn't stumbled for a period earlier this year we would still be fighting with Force.
"I'm still carrying this pin of Darrell Russell in my firesuit pocket. You can get jacked up some times but I reach in there and feel that button and think about him and it puts me in the right frame of mind. DR just won his second Funny Car race."
A bit of a sleeper at the start of the day, Scelzi and his Hemi Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T emerged from the No. 5 position and powered by Tommy Johnson Jr., Cruz Pedregon, and low qualifier Del Worsham to get another shot at Force. This was Scelzi's sixth final of the season and 46th of his career.
Championship trophy in hand, Force was having fun Sunday, beating Ron Capps and employees Eric Medlen and Gary Densham en route to his record 179th money round. The Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang has now carried the 13-time champ to 11 finals this year. Funny Car results
This was the fifth time that Anderson and Line have raced for an NHRA win and the third time in as many races that Anderson had the opportunity to set the single-season win mark.
When the lights flashed this time, the powerhouse Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac Grand Am would not be denied, carrying Anderson through the lights in 6.796 seconds at 202.52 mph, comfortably ahead of Line's 6.822 at 201.85 mph.
"Once upon a time this place was a nightmare for me," said Anderson, who has now won the last four races in a row at The Strip. "Now it's almost like I can't lose here. All the testing we've done over the years is paying off. I should just move here.
"I feel very proud to break any record John Force owned. We all know what he's done for this sport and to have a year better than one of his is really something. This is one of the big ones, in my opinion.
"We're going to live for the minute right now and enjoy this win and the rest of the year because it'll be a fight next year for sure. People were complaining earlier in the year that the class wasn't any fun with one car dominating but everyone has stepped it up and it's absolutely better now than it's ever been before."
Following their dream script, KB Racing teammates Anderson and Line impressed their locally-based team owner once again by racing through opposite sides of a tough ladder to challenge one another for the trophy. Top qualifier Line posted wins over Ben Watson, Dave Connolly, and Allen Johnson to reach his seventh career final, while Anderson bettered Kurt Johnson, V. Gaines, and Kenny Koretsky to earn a berth in his 45th money round. Pro Stock results
Considering his resume of successes on other circuits, it wasn't a huge surprise to see Ellis win a race. Nor was it shocking to see him dominate the day, considering he was riding one of multiple championship-winning crew chief George Bryce's latest creations.
Looking cool as the savviest of racers, Ellis handled former Bryce standout and three-time series champion Angelle Savoie in the final with a 7.191 at 179.92 mph to Savoie's 7.255 at 177.49 mph. Savoie tried her best, leaving with a .032- to .059-second headstart, but Bryce's horsepower kicked in at the top end and Ellis was able to ride around her for the win.
"Things are looking good," Ellis said. "The team gave me a great bike, and I needed it because it seems like I was late all day, but the bike would carry me. The team deserves the credit for this win.
"I've been fast here on a Funny Bike. I think we went 229 mph on this track, so I felt comfortable out there. The big difference with racing in the NHRA is the huge amount of fans and the big-time media coverage. I'm overwhelmed by it all. I've got people pulling me this way and that. It's crazy. I guess I'll just need to keep winning and get used to it.
"I wasn't really that nervous, which kind of surprised me. Just before the final George pulled me aside and said that people usually get nervous in the first round and the last round. He told me just to do what I do and not think about it. I knew my motorcycle was capable and I just blocked everything else out."
To get to the final, Ellis rode his G-Squared S&S Buell V-Twin past Chip Hunter, Antron Brown, and Shawn Gann for his first shot at an NHRA trophy.
Savoie continues to add to her legacy aboard the U.S. Army Suzuki, racing to her 54th career final in 119 starts by dismissing Michael Phillips, Mike Berry, and GT Tonglet.
The final POWERade championship yet to be decided will have to wait until Pomona as leader Andrew Hines bowed out in Round 1. However, Hines remains a virtual lock as he still holds a 117-point edge over No. 2 rider Brown with a potential of just 138 points left on the table. Pro Stock Bike results
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