NHRA Carolinas Nationals
by Kevin McKenna, NHRA.com
Tony Schumacher ran his Top Fuel win streak to an unheard of seven races with a convincing win over Antron Brown at the inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals at the all-new zMax Dragway and in the process became the sportís winningest Top Fuel driver with 53 victories. Jack Beckman also gained the upper hand in the first race in the Countdown to 1 by driving the Valvoline/MTS Dodge to his third Funny Car win of the season. In Pro Stock, Justin Humphreys stunned the capacity crowd with an upset victory over a broken Kurt Johnson, and Steve Johnson backed up his Indy win two weeks ago by riding his Snap-on Tools Suzuki past Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle winner Eddie Krawiec to win Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Tony Schumacher ran his Top Fuel win streak to an unheard of seven races with a convincing win over Antron Brown at the inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals at the all-new zMax Dragway and in the process became the sportís winningest Top Fuel driver with 53 victories. Jack Beckman also gained the upper hand in the first race in the Countdown to 1 by driving the Valvoline/MTS Dodge to his third Funny Car win of the season.
In Pro Stock, Justin Humphreys stunned the capacity crowd with an upset victory over a broken Kurt Johnson, and Steve Johnson backed up his Indy win two weeks ago by riding his Snap-on Tools Suzuki past Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle winner Eddie Krawiec to win Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Schumacherís 53rd victory gives him one more title than five-time NHRA world champion and Hall of Famer Joe Amato. He entered the event with a 30-point lead over Brown and extended it to 46 points with the victory.
During qualifying, Schumacher and his U.S. Army team actually appeared vulnerable, struggling Friday before eventually landing in the No. 9 spot with a 3.879. "The SargeĒ returned to form on race day with a string of high-three-second runs, including a 3.88 in the final round against Brown, who wasnít far behind with a 3.92.
Said Schumacher, ďStarting ninth, youíre thinking, ĎYouíve got no lane choice. This is a brand-new track. Youíve got your work cut out for you.í A.J. [crew chief Alan Johnson] is thinking, ĎLetís get past the first round so we can go get
Of breaking Amatoís record, Schumacher added, "It will hit me later. I am very aware of it. I know how difficult it is, and I know how great Joe Amato is, but I also thought that I need to keep winning races so we can get another championship. As for the points, we knew that no matter how many we had, they were going to take them away when the [Countdown to 1] started. We knew we had to keep winning in these last six races, but I know I have a team thatís capable of doing that."
Brown, who entered the Countdown to 1 as the second seed, kept Schumacher within striking distance after wheeling his Matco Tools dragster to the final round for the fifth time this season. The former Pro Stock Motorcycle rider had a tough road to the final round that included wins against his teammate, Rod Fuller, and Schumacherís teammate, Cory McClenathan. In the semifinals, both Brown and McClenathan lost traction, but Brown recovered sooner to take a narrow 4.243 to 4.258 victory. Of the 10 drivers in the Countdown to 1, seven advanced to the second round of eliminations, making sure that the battle for the POWERade world championship wonít be decided anytime soon.
ďWeíve tried to race smart lately," said Beckman. "Last race in Indy and first round here, we tried to stage shallow because we thought lane choice could be a difference, and if it was, we wanted to maintain lane choice. I think now youíre seeing a little more strategy because every round is technically a little more important. Cruz had a really tough hot rod out there; theyíre going to win one yet this year. Thereís a litany of drivers who could win out here, so itís going to be interesting. Thereís only 10 of us who can run for the championship, but thereís sure a lot of spoilers out there.
"Weíve got 24 rounds [in the Countdown to 1], and we just won four of them. Iím thinking if you can go to the semiís every race, itís going to be very tough for cars to go around you, but you know youíre going to get popped first round once or twice; itís just the nature of nitro Funny Car. If you are in a position to win a race, itís huge. Itís huge for points, and itís huge for the guys who have busted their butts. This year, it may not necessarily go down to the last round of the last race, but I think at least now you could stumble and still be a factor in the chase. John Force isnít out of this deal by a long shot."
Two weeks after losing a heartbreaking final round to Robert Hight in Indy, Beckman beat Hight in the semifinals on a holeshot, leaving with an admittedly lucky .002 reaction time and running a 4.15 to hold off Hightís 4.10, the quickest pass of eliminations. Beckman also defeated Jim Head and Del Worsham on race day.
Pedregon grabbed the points lead for the first time since the
With five races remaining, Pedregon holds a slim two-point advantage over Beckman. The top five Funny Car drivers are separated by just 13 points.
ďThatís not the way we wanted to get our first win," said Humphreys, "but I came up six-thousandths short at Pomona last year, and that has been on my mind ever since. I saw Kurt was having problems, so I was moving as slow as I could. Kurt is my teammate now, and I was hoping that he could get his car started. Kurt was quicker than I was, so we knew we had to get after it a bit. My car was also hot, and when we knew we had a single, I really didnít worry about the leave. Thatís why it shook pretty hard in the final.
"As far as my deal with
Humphreys qualified 11th and got progressively quicker during eliminations with runs of 6.74, 6.71, and 6.70 in his wins over Rob Mansfield, Jim Yates, and Jeg Coughlin.
Johnsonís crew got his car started by push-starting it in the staging lanes, but NHRA officials quickly stepped in to remind Johnson and his crew that push-starts are not legal in Pro Stock. Johnson shut off the engine and attempted to refire it with the starter but was unable to get it started and had to watch from the starting line as Humphreys made a single for the win.
The early rounds of Pro Stock featured several marquee matchups, including an opening-round battle between Greg Anderson and Dave Connolly, which went to
"Iíve been racing longer than any of the motorcycle guys, but Iíve been trying a little different routine the last three races," he said. "Iím ready for whatever they throw at me now. Confidence is a scary thing. I am so proud of my lights. Iím proud of the team, but I can cut lights good.
"I didnít know that he red-lighted. I was tucked under the paint and looked over, and he was ahead of me. I thought, ĎHow the hell did he do that?í Then I saw my win light, and I figured out that heíd red-lighted. I was so excited that I didnít get the bike stopped in time and ran into the sand."
Johnson began the Countdown to 1 as the No. 8 seed but moved to second following his second consecutive victory. Using the same hot-weather tune-up that allowed him to win in Indy, Johnson battled past Angie McBride, Wes Wells, and Hector Arana to reach his 14th final.
The opening round of Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations was filled with upsets as Countdown qualifiers Craig Treble, Andrew Hines, Chris Rivas, Karen Stoffer, and Chip Ellis fell by the wayside. Krawiec, the winner of the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle in Indy, reached his first final of the season with a close 7.01 to 7.03 win over Angelle Sampey in the semifinals.
Sportsman racers who earned victories at the inaugural
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