John Force won in Funny Car for the first time this year. Photo: Anne ProffittEnlarge Photo
John Force finally won his 133rd NHRA Funny Car race at Bandimere Speedway in the 32nd annual Mopar Mile High Nationals outside Denver, CO. The No. 5 qualifier took his Ford Mustang to the finals today after beating former protege Tony Pedregon, teammate Mike Neff and Jeff Arend, meeting nemesis Matt Hagan in the money round.
Although Hagan had the better reaction time (.012 seconds), Force raced around him to post a slower elapsed time of 4.361 seconds but a faster speed of 285.23 mph to Hagan's 4.328/274.83. Top qualifier Cruz Pedregon was gone after the quarterfinals when he lost traction against Arend.
After 249 days without a victory (his last win was at the finals in Pomona last November where Force earned his 15th driver's championship), Force copped to being distracted by all the other things he's doing in life. "Robert Hight told me to get back in the game. You're not living it, he said." When Force's body flew off the Mustang in final qualifying on Saturday evening, he had to recoup and come back from that downturn, listening to teammate and tuner last season Mike Neff, who said, "Get out there and fight like you want it.
"That shake-up last night was like the old days with [Austin] Coil. I just got my head back in the racecar. I really missed that winner's circle and just chased Matt Hagan all the way to the finish line," Force crowed.
The final round in Top Fuel was a battle of teammates as Spencer Massey beat Tony Schumacher for his third victory of the 2011 season. Massey was in his ninth career final round and fourth of the year, after working his way past Brandon Bernstein, Shawn Langdon (who fouled) and teammate Antron Brown. In the finals, Massey clearly had the quicker car while Schumacher remains winless for 2011.
Massey led from the lights with his .064 reaction time and posted 4.150/269.67 to earn the pewter Wally, awarded in NHRA's 60th anniversary year. Schumacher ran 4.255 and 266.95 for his runner-up result. Top qualifier Del Worsham lost to Antron Brown in the quarterfinals.
Massey, who took last year off after his team owner Don "Snake" Prudhomme closed shop at the end of the 2010 racing season, secured his fifth total victory in 10 final career round appearances and third of the year in five tries. In doing, he clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship that begins after Indianapolis.
"We're back with a full head of steam because we want to do well in this Western Swing. To win in a pedal-fest against Tony is something. He's the man," Massey declared. "It's unbelievable to beat the best. Knowing I'm in the Countdown is great; I'd like to be first or even second. If I'm in the top three, I guess that's okay. I'm hungry for a championship because I'm the new guy. I'm having the time of my life!"
GXP driver Mike Edwards secured his third victory of the year when quick qualifier Allen Johnson fouled at the start, allowing Edwards to claim ownership of the mountain for this year. Using the preferred left lane, Edwards vanquished Warren Johnson, Jason Line and Larry Morgan en route to the finals.
After qualifying third (Edwards was quickest on Friday), he used a 6.970 elapsed time at 197.65 mph to claim his Wally this afternoon, while Johnson beat the light by -.009 to relinquish his title of king at this mountain. Allen Johnson was the sole top qualifier to make it to the finals today.
Always the gentleman Edwards said of his win, "We got the Wally but he's (Allen Johnson) still king of this mountain. This is a unique place because we have to change everything from one end of the car to the other. Our guys did an awesome job," Edwards explained. His victory came from consistency: "We've been consistent all weekend but a tick behind Allen. We kept up with the track [changes] because you have to do that. You have to be consistent in this game and do your job on the start line."
Karen Stoffer earned her first Wally in four years! Photos: Anne Proffit
Pro Stock Motorcycle belonged to Karen Stoffer, often a bridesmaid but this time the winner with her Geico Suzuki, eliminating Shawn Gann, Gerry Savoie and Eddie Krawiec to face Michael Phillips in the closing stanza. Stoffer's reaction time was .001 slower than Phillips' but she powered past him in the quarter-mile to post 7.283 seconds at 182.58 mph. It was close with Phillips just a tenth behind in time and shy by a tenth of a mile per hour. Fast qualifier Hector Arana lost to Phillips in the quarterfinals.
incredibly, it's been four long years since Stoffer earned a victory in Pro Stock Motorcycle; her last win was at Atlanta in 2007. This victory gave her the points lead back as the tour heads into the second of three straight races called the Western Swing. "We've been struggling with mechanical problems the last few races and into Saturday's qualifying so it's been such a phenomenal time the last two days.
"The main goal we've had this year," Stoffer explained, "has been consistency. We have just been working to go rounds and get down the track. We knew if we did that we'd win races and get our Wallys." After three runners-up positions in 2011, "I didn't want to beat Eddie Krawiec, who has a record of nine finals without a win and I'm so glad not to do that," she giggled.
The NHRA now goes to Infineon Raceway Sears Point for the second of three consecutive races, with the third taking place in two weeks at Seattle. Del Worsham continues to lead Top Fuel with Massey, Larry Dixon, Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher trailing him.
In Funny Car, Mike Neff is the point leader (and has clinched a spot in the Countdown), followed by teammate Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon and Matt Hagan. Jason Line is the point leader in Pro Stock, with today's winner Edwards second, Greg Anderson, rookie Vincent Nobile and Greg Stanfield the top five. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Stoffer leads, followed by Krawiec, Matt Smith, LE Tonglet and Andrew Hines, all former (or in the case of Tonglet, current) champions.
Only the top 10 drivers and riders qualify for the Countdown to the Championship that begins following the NHRA's headline race, the Mac Tools US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.
© 2011 Anne Proffit