2014 SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, Las Vegas
Pro Stock: Enders-Stevens Climbs to the TopWritten by John Hoven
A lot of money was on the line for Erica Enders-Stevens in the final; she had the chance to double-up in wins on the weekend. After claiming the $50,000 K&N Horsepower Challenge on Saturday, she found herself paired off with Jason Line with more than just a Wally on the line late Sunday night in Las Vegas. If she could win again, Enders-Stevens would earn a $25,000 bonus for the back-to-back wins.
Over in the other lane, Line had something special at stake as well. Summit Racing is not only the name plastered all over his car, helmet, and firesuit, but they also serve as the event's title sponsor.
At the starting line, the two drivers had identical reaction times, further adding to the drama. Down at the top end of the track, though, Enders-Stevens crossed the line first, with a 6.612, her best run of the day.
"I have a different mindset," she said of her new attitude this year. "It goes back to the people [I'm around] - for the first time since I raced with my family as a kid, and then in the Sportsman ranks, I'm having fun again. As a driver, it adds a lot of pressure when you have the fastest car, but I like that."
Along with her seventh career win in NHRA competition, the Texas native picked up a total of $100,000 for her efforts this weekend. It was the third consecutive year where Saturday's winner came back and did it again on Sunday.
Perhaps just as important as the money, Enders-Stevens moved into the Pro Stock points lead, making her the first woman in history to find herself atop the heap in the sport's elite doorslammer class.
"It certainly is very important to us, it keeps us going on this 24-race schedule," she said. "This is storybook ... we've gone a few years without sponsorship; there were definitely more lows than highs. It would have been easy to quit. This is definitely a highlight. Next to winning a championship, this is probably the coolest thing in the world."
Today's win also marked the 75th Pro Stock race victory for a Chevy Camaro. The first one came all the way back in 1970 at the first-ever Pro Stock race when Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins took home the Winternationals trophy.
Pro Stock Semifinals NotebookWritten by John Hoven
If you're going to put your car in the final round at a race, make sure you do it at the event sponsored by the name on the side of your car. Las Vegas native Ken Black has poured tons of money into his Pro Stock team over the last 10-plus years, and for much of that time, his cars have been flying the colors of Summit Racing.
He was guaranteed to see one of his two beautiful Camaros in the final today, when teammates Jason Line (pictured) and Jimmy Alund squared off in the semifinals. After Alund put up a red-light in the first round against Line at the last event, many onlookers were curious to see how things would play out this time around. Line and usual teammate Greg Anderson have always said they raced heads up, and there's no disputing what went down here. Side-by-side 6.64 runs made it super close at the finish line, and Line's .006 light gave him just the few inches he needed to pull out the win.
In the next pair, Chris McGaha threw away the quickest run of the entire weekend with a red-light. Erica Enders-Stevens was no slouch in her Elite Motorsports Camaro either. The two Chevys both went 6.61, but she escaped with the victory thanks to McGaha's foul.
The winner of today's final round will move into the Pro Stock points lead. If it's Enders-Stevens, she'll become the first woman in history to accomplish the feat.
Top Fuel: Schumacher Gets Back to the Winner's CircleWritten by Phil Burgess
Tony Schumacher scored his first Top Fuel win in his first final-round appearance since last June with the U.S. Army dragster, putting the brakes on points leader Doug Kalitta's win streak with a 3.79 to 3.81 final-round victory over the favored Mac Tools car. The victory is the 73rd of his career, 11 more than the next best driver in the class (Larry Dixon). It also qualified him for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout later this year in Indianapolis.
Schumacher's Mike Green-tuned black rail had qualified No. 5 with a 3.79, and after a serviceable 3.80 first-round win over Troy Buff, they escaped into the semifinals thanks in part to Schumacher's expert driving after his dragster lost traction against teammate Spencer Massey in round two. Schumacher deftly pedaled his way to a 4.86 win to trailer Massey, who smoked the tires early. The team rebounded strongly in the semifinals with a 3.812 at top speed of the meet, 327.14, but conceded final-round lane choice to Kalitta, who had blasted to a 3.78 in besting Steve Torrence in the semifinals. The final went convincingly to the U.S. Army team.
"The final round was fantastic, I could hear him the whole way," said Schumacher, who was racing in his 126th career Top Fuel final. "It was important for us to get this win. There's a lot of pressure early in the season to get a win and get into the Shootout for a chance to race for $100,000. I love the pressure. We're a high-pressure, adversity kind of team.
"We know it's tough out here, these guys are good. We had lane choice in the first round but didn't have it the rest of the day. To get this trophy, we had to go through some great teams, some great drivers. People who paid their hard-earned money saw two Top Fuelers separated by just thousandths of a second. It was phenomenal.
"I'm not angry that we hadn't won in a long time; I was disappointed, but I understand that you have to make leaps and bounds. Kalitta is running great, Antron is running good, the Alan Johnson [Al-Anabi] cars are going to be bad to the bone pretty soon. We have to keep forcing the issue."
Kalitta had struggled with its clutch in the first two rounds, charting runs of 3.84 and 3.83 to advance while others were running in the 3.70s, but crew chief Jim Oberhofer found the tune-up in the semifinals. Kalitta, winner of the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals two weeks ago, was gunning for his second straight and 35th overall win, which would have tied him with class icon "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.
Funny Car: DeJoria Claims Second Wally of 2014Written by John Hoven
Alexis DeJoria has never lost to Robert Hight, after she laid down a 4.026-second pass at 309 mph to take out the Auto Club Mustang. That runs her career record against Hight to a perfect 4-0. He had a slight advantage off the starting line, but his 4.08 at the top end just wasn't enough for the Patron XO Café Camry over the other lane.
"It was a good day at the office, especially with the Patron Spirits company located right here in Las Vegas," DeJoria said.
It was the fourth Wally of her career, having earned one in Super Comp, one in Top Alcohol Funny Car, and her first nitro Funny Car win earlier this season at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.
"This was definitely a grudge match [with Hight] coming off our win in Phoenix," she explained. "I was just in shock when we won there. It was gratifying and intense ... it was surreal. I don't think that one really hit me at first ... Today, my team gave me a good car and got me down the track first. I really appreciate them so much and all they give up to help this team go racing."
Starting from the 12th position on the ladder, she lined up with Matt Hagan in the first round. He was the provisional low qualifier on Friday and had looked like he might have one of the stronger cars on race day. Not so fast, though. "First round was tough against Matt; he's a hell of leaver," DeJoria remarked. "It was one of those races you definitely want to win, especially for your crew chief."
Next, she had to take out the Pedregon brothers, first Tony in the second round and later Cruz in the semifinals. Although that put her back in the final round for the second time in three races, she later admitted to being a bit down after a disappointing showing at the Gatornationals. "It was tough, but we just tried to shake that off," she said. "John Force even came over and told me not to let it get me down."
She has nothing to be down about tonight, having won her second race of the season – well, maybe there is one thing. "Unfortunately, we didn't get the double mosh pit on the starting line," she said, referencing teammate Doug Kalitta losing out to Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel final.
Despite seeing the Wally slip through his hands, Hight will leave Las Vegas with the Funny Car points lead.
Biondo Doubles, Wins Super Stock and StockWritten by Phil Burgess
Peter Biondo won in both Super Stock and Stock, marking the 29th time a driver has won in two eliminators at the same NHRA national event. It's Biondo's second time accomplishing the feat, having won previously in the same two classes in Columbus in 2005.
Seventeen drivers have accomplished the impressive feat since Pat Austin became the first, in 1991.
The other NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series winners were Joey Severance (Top Alcohol Dragster), Nick Januik (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Lou Ficco Jr. (Comp), Peter Biondo (Super Stock), Peter Biondo (Stock), Steve Williams (Super Comp), and Trevor Larson (Super Gas).
Pro Stock Round 2 NotebookWritten by John Hoven
Jeg Coughlin Jr., the 2013 Pro Stock champion, couldn't make it out of the second round today. What's really going to sting, though, is he lost on a holeshot to Jimmy Alund. The Swedish driver has had a lot of challenges with the Christmas Tree this year but seems to be on his game this weekend. At the top end of the track, Alund posted a 6.689 e.t. and had a margin of victory of just .002-second.
We're guaranteed to have a Summit Racing Chevy Camaro in the final round, too, when Alund will face teammate Jason Line in the semi's. Dave Connolly gave it a valiant effort but fell short in his pursuit of defeating Line in the second round. The blue KB Racing car used a 6.645 to dispatch the Charter Communications car.
Chris McGaha put the "cheeseburger motor" before round one (more on that in a few minutes), and it's paying dividends. He's now going to the first semifinal of his career after taking out Shane Gray with a 6.64 e.t. That wasn't enough for lane choice, though, in the next round. Erica Enders-Stevens (pictured) pushed her red Camaro to a thrilling 6.626-second pass, which was more than enough to take out Steve Kent.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first):
Jason Line vs. Jimmy Alund
Erica Enders-Stevens vs. Chris McGaha
Notes and quotes:
Jimmy Alund and the Summit Racing team made several key changes to his Camaro coming into the weekend. "Now, the car is more like my car when I drive it. The pedals and the clutch are more like what I'm used to. I couldn't figure out why I was doing this crazy stuff with red lights and couldn't cut a normal light. It's all starting to come to me now."
"He's a tough competitor," Jason Line said just before meeting up with Dave Connolly. "You have to go up there and be .020 (on the Tree) and hope you can outrun him. That's all you can do. Right now, the field is tight. It's been a strange, crazy day. It's been bizarre. It's kind of a chess match with the racetrack. We have a decent car, though, so I just have to do a go up there and do a good job."
"It doesn't take much to throw me off mentally," Line later joked, when asked if the long delay to start Pro Stock eliminations was tough mentally.
Chris McGaha had reported changing engines earlier in the weekend after it was eating valve springs. Before round one, they put it back in the car, though. "I fixed it," he said. "The engine guys and I did. I made the recommendation, and they agreed. We had a few issues with the other engine we had put in, so we put this one back in. It hasn't been eating valve springs anymore." As for the name of the engine, after talking about eating a big cheeseburger during the wind delay earlier today, McGaha has agreed this powerplant will now be known as the 'cheeseburger motor.'
Pro Stock Round 1 NotebookWritten by John Hoven
After a several-hour delay, Pro Stock racing finally got underway just before 4 p.m. local time on Sunday.
When the first pair pulled into the water box, Jimmy Alund (pictured) lined up in the Summit Racing lane, over on the left side of the track. If he was looking for a little extra karma from his sponsor, who also serves as the title sponsor for the event here in Las Vegas, it worked. The multitime European Pro Stock champion took out Vincent Nobile and earned his first NHRA round-win.
"To do it here in Las Vegas, in front of Ken Black, my wife is here, plus the Summit boys, it's just great," said Alund. "It was ugly, but it was a win. I take them anyway I can get them, I promise you."
V. Gaines shook violently when he let the clutch out against Shane Gray, and his day was done early. The KYMCO Chevy Camaro clicked the lights at 6.64 and was on to the second round, where he'll face Jason Line. The second Summit Racing Camaro used a 6.645 to dispatch Deric Kramer's American Ethanol entry when they met up.
Steve Kent drove around one of the toughest cars in the entire class: Allen Johnson's new Dodge Dart. Both drivers were rather conservative off the starting line. It was Kent's first win light since Denver of last year, but his 6.673 e.t. wasn't enough to wrestle away lane choice from Erica Enders-Stevens in the next round.
Chris McGaha put everybody in the class on notice when he posted low e.t. of the event in his opening-round win over Rodger Brogdon. Jim Yates gave McGaha enough power to run 6.627 seconds, their fifth impressive pass of the weekend.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first):
Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Jimmy Alund
Jason Line vs. Dave Connolly
Chris McGaha vs. Shane Gray
Erica Enders-Stevens vs. Steve Kent
Notes and quotes:
Shane Gray was still searching for words to describe race day in Las Vegas. "It's a weird day," he said. "It almost feels like a test session rather than a race."
Jimmy Alund was really pumped after claiming his first round-win, and it came with quite the explanation. "I knew it would be tricky, being the first pair out in the first round," said Alund. "It already shook in low gear. I put it in second gear, and it kept shaking. I tried to put it in third, and it dead-headed, so I was out of gear. I just rammed it into fourth gear, and it went because he hadn't passed me yet."
Coming off two straight national event wins, Allen Johnson had to be the surprise loser in the first round of Pro Stock. "The windy conditions got us," he said. "The motor sucked something in on the burnout and knocked a spark plug gap together on one cylinder. When I dropped the clutch, it was dead, I only had seven cylinders though about the first gear and a half. Then I guess the spark plug got enough heat in it, and it came back to life. It just killed the run."
Funny Car Semifinals NotebookWritten by John Hoven
Tire smoke ended the day of Cruz Pedregon. He entered the semifinal with lane choice over Alexis DeJoria in a battle of Toyota Camry-bodied rides. Almost immediately after leaving the starting line, though, Pedregon was hazing the tires and watching the Patron car zoom on by to a 4.090-second pass.
"We're still just getting started," DeJoria stated.
She wasn't satisfied with her performance on the starting line and will likely look to make some corrections before racing for the Wally later this afternoon.
"The last couple of rounds I've had the crappiest lights, and just now I was so close to red-lighting," she admitted. "We've been to the semi's before here in Las Vegas but never the final round, so we're so stoked."
In the other pair of the round, Robert Hight continued his charge from the 7th qualifying position. A 4.073-second lap over Ron Capps will give him lane choice in the final.
Final-round pairing (lane choice first):
Robert Hight vs. Alexis DeJoria
Notes and quotes:
Prior to bringing his Snap-on Tools flopper up to the staging lanes, Cruz Pedregon shed a little insight on what helped him reach the semifinals. "We're definitely going through motors. We still haven't found that sweet spot," said the former world champion. "We're just looking to get the motor live, and we'll be OK. It should run a mid-4.0 if everything comes together."
Jack Beckman, who lost in the second round, was still around watching the action during the Funny Car semi's. "Now that [Ron] Capps saw to it that I'm a spectator, I'm still a fan," he said. "I wish I was in the final round, but we'll fix that for Charlotte."
"It's huge, it's huge. Three finals in a row is pretty stout," Robert Hight said moments before strapping into his Mustang. "We have to seal the deal, though."
Top Fuel Semifinals NotebookWritten by Phil Burgess
Crew chief Jim Oberhofer called it before the semifinals, stepping up the Mac Tools car and propelling Doug Kalitta (pictured) to his best run of the day, 3.785 at 325 mph to easily beat a tire-smoking Steve Torrence for the second straight race. It's Kalitta's second straight and third overall final in four starts this season. He won the Gatornationals two weeks ago and was runner-up to Khalid alBalooshi at the season opener in Pomona.
Tony Schumacher will provide Kalitta's final-round opposition when the U.S. Army team makes its first final-round appearance since last year's Chicago event, which Schumacher won. Schumacher's Mike Green-tuned rail ran 3.81 at a booming, top-speed-setting 327.14 mph to defeat Antron Brown, who dropped a cylinder and slowed. Schumacher's speed is just shy of the 327.98-mph track record set here last fall by Shawn Langdon.
Final-round pairing (lane choice first):
Doug Kalitta vs. Tony Schumacher
Notes and quotes:
"We figured out our clutch problems, at least for that run," said Jim Oberhofer. "We did some pretty drastic things to get there, but it worked. A run like that ought to get it done. We'll stick with the right lane for the final."
"We've got a great race car; Mike [Green] and Neal [Strausbaugh] really have a handle on it," said Tony Schumacher. "It wasn't a .70, and we're going to have to run a great car in the final. We're still off; we'll have to go faster than that to win."
Pro Stock Still On HoldWritten by Phil Burgess
The 16 qualifiers in Pro Stock continue to patiently wait their first round of eliminations, which have been delayed due to a strong crosswind. Other categories, including Comp, Super Comp, and Super Gas, also have been sidelined until the wind abates, which is expected to occur sometime after 3 p.m.
The current plan calls for the first round of Pro Stock to be contested after the Top Fuel and Funny Car semifinals.