Championship Drag Racing

Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals
Englishtown, N.J.
(June 19-22)

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Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals
Somber champs Schumacher, 'Wilk,' Anderson, Ellis crowned in E-town

by Kevin McKenna,

The mood was understandably somber and the winnerís circle celebration subdued as champions were crowned at the 39th annual Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, a day after the qualifying accident that claimed the life of popular Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta. Following a day of tears and tributes, Tony Schumacher, Tim Wilkerson, Greg Anderson, and Chip Ellis emerged as the champions in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.

The most poignant tribute of the day was during the opening round of Funny Car eliminations, where Kalitta was scheduled to take on Robert Hightís Auto Club Ford. As Hight staged in the right lane, members of the Kalitta team, many of them wearing their bright yellow DHL attire, stood silently on the starting line in the left lane while Hight slowly idled down the quarter-mile, receiving a warm ovation from the fans. 

During the abbreviated pre-race ceremony, Pro Stock champion Anderson spoke eloquently of Kalitta and urged the fans and his fellow competitors to ďwear a smile today because Scott wouldnít have wanted us to do anything else.Ē

Tony Schumacher

Schumacher extended his lead in the POWERade Top Fuel standings with his fifth win in 11 starts this year and his first in Englishtown, beating Brandon Bernstein in the final round on a holeshot, 4.58 to 4.56. The U.S. Army driver also became the first Pro to crack the 1,000-point mark this season.

ďIíve never been shy about saying that when you win against Kalitta, [Larry] Dixon, and Bernstein, that trophy shines because you know youíve earned it," said Schumacher. "Today, we were missing three of the greatest cars out there, but that doesnít mean that we were going to give up. Thereís not one of us out here who would have considered not racing today.

"This win is for our brave soldiers, and Connie [Kalitta] understands that because he flies home all of their comrades every week. He takes it to heart because he sees what is going on in the world. Today, I knew that someone was going to present a trophy to the Kalittas, and I wanted to make sure that it was going to be us."

After surviving a scare in round one when he hazed the tires against rookie Steve Torrence, Schumacher and his Alan Johnson-led team put the hammer down and reached the final round for the seventh time in 11 events this season.

After defeating teammate Cory McClenathan in the semifinals, Schumacher drove past Bernstein in the final, 4.58 to 4.56. Schumacher gained a significant lead at the start with a .034 to .081 reaction-time advantage.

Tim Wilkerson

Wilkerson also padded his lead in the Funny Car standings after downing rookie Mike Neff in a rematch of the Madison final, which also went Wilkersonís way. Wilkerson, who began the season with back-to-back round-one losses, won for the third time in the last seven races when he downed Neffís Old Spice Mustang in a thrilling side-by-side match. Wilkerson gained a slight lead at the start and held on for a 4.87 to 4.88 victory.

ďKnowing Scott the way I knew Scott, I know he would have wanted us to keep racing today," said Wilkerson. "We came to the track this morning with the intention of winning because thatís the only way you get through these kinds of things. We put our heart and soul into it and hoped for the best, and it all worked out. We had a good car today. Actually, it has made me look good all year long. This is a result of our alliance with Don Prudhomme Racing. I donít think that can be overstated.

"For all fathers, today was a tough day, but whoever said that life goes on was absolutely right. We all reflect on how tough and how fragile life is. In the coming weeks, I think that Connie will need all of us. Heís a pretty strong individual, but I think heíll need us, and weíll be there for him. I invited the whole DHL crew to join me in the winnerís circle, and Iím going to give them all a big hug."

Wilkerson, the No. 9 qualifier, defeated Bob Tasca III, Gary Densham, and Del Worsham to reach his 17th final.

Greg Anderson

Anderson grabbed his first win since the Houston event when he defeated Dave Connolly in a bizarre Pro Stock final. Both competitors ran into problems just off the starting line, but Anderson recovered, winning with a 7.57 elapsed time as Connolly coasted. The win is the 53rd of Anderson's career and his third this season.

"We had a great hot rod all weekend long, but everything changed Saturday afternoon when we lost Scott," said Anderson. "After something like that, I donít know how you can focus on your own project, but somehow we managed to get through it. I had one mission today, and that was to find a way to get that trophy and present it to Connie and Scottís family. It might not mean a lot to them right now, but it was the only thing that I could do. I know that whole team well, and my heart aches for them. Iím sure they will go on, but it will be a struggle. It was a great day for us, but it really means nothing.

"In the final, I think I felt like Scott Kalitta, pedaling a Funny Car. Iíve never had to experience that before. I still donít know what went wrong, but somehow I got through it. Somewhere up there, Scott is probably chuckling. All I know is that somebody guided that car down the track, and I donít think it was me."

The low qualifier, Anderson drove his Summit Pontiac to wins against Johnny Gray, Larry Morgan, and Mike Edwards to advance to the final. Connolly, who missed the first five races of the season, is now just 73 points behind 10th-place Warren Johnson.

Chip Ellis

Ellis, who reached the semifinals in four of the first five events this season, cashed in for the first time since the 2005 season after Chicago champ Chris Rivas fouled in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final.

Ellis, who has admittedly given away his share of wins on the starting line, was the beneficiary of some good fortune when Rivas fouled by a hundredth of a second on his Drag Specialties/S&S Buell. Ellis, who was winless in 2007 despite a third-place finish in the points, would have been a worthy opponent with a 7.040 on his Schumacher Electric Suzuki.

ďI have a lot of bad memories from last year, but Iím moving forward," said Ellis. "I should have won a race or two this year, but weíve come up a little short, but we got it done today.

"To be perfectly honest with you, I know what [G-Squared crew chief] George Smith is capable of. He is a great tuner, and Chris is doing a great job for him. Still, I believe that Iíve got the best tuner in Steve Tartaglia. Heís working with a bike that everyone says canít be competitive, but weíre right in it. If you knew how hard that man worked, youíd understand why our bike is so fast. Heís not afraid to work, and Iím proud to be working with him and the Schumacher team."

On a day when six-second runs were a rarity, Ellis set the pace with a 6.923 in his round one win over Joe DeSantis. He posted a 6.97 in round two against Steve Johnson and beat reigning POWERade world champ Matt Smith in the semifinals, 7.00 to 7.07, to reach his ninth final.

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