Antron Brown is ready to race. Photo: Anne ProffitEnlarge Photo
The 57th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals--also known as The Big Go--has been a five-day drag racing orgy of nitromethane and tire burning with twists and turns at every hit of the accelerator.
Even as the prime grandstand became the "Shirley 'Cha Cha' Muldowney observation deck, even as the dragstrip was renamed "Bob Glidden Drive", the action of today's racers took prominence and provided the pathos for which this sport is known.
Who would have thought seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher would be ousted in the first round?
Was it possible for John Force, the reigning and 15-time titleholder in Funny Car, to bow out in the same round?
Would you believe that three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Andrew Hines broke his Harley-Davidson V-Rod on the start line after burning out?
Yes, the results have been almost as strange as the weather here just outside Indianapolis, at Lucas Oil Raceway, once known as Indianapolis Raceway Park, then O'Reilly Raceway Park. For three days we had intense heat and humidity, debilitating for almost everyone--except the tuners who thrive on snarky weather. Then on Sunday, showers and cooler temps prevailed and now, on race day, the skies have been overcast, the wind blustery and temps haven't crested 70. The 30-plus-degree change had most every tuner hard at the computers trying to find the right combination - just to get down the track, much less win.
There was no respite for 2010's winners, either. Pro Stock's Greg Stanfield was out in the first round of eliminations, Pro Stock Motorcycle's LE Tonglet (the reigning champ) got soundly beat in the quarter-finals. Heck, Funny Car's 2010 winner, Ashley Force Hood is home in California with her newborn son, leaving that class wide open, for once.
Only 2010 Top Fuel and Indy champion Larry Dixon was still running after two turns on the dragstrip, having to work hard to beat Spencer Massey's better light in the quarters. He would go out in the semifinals, promising a new winner in Top Fuel.
The finals came down to this:
AntronBrown vs Del Worsham in Top Fuel, with two ascending drivers and teams battling to the be the best on the biggest battleground in professional drag racing. Theirs' was a classic battle in waning light, where Brown ran a 3.813 at 321.73 to 3.830 at 320.43. The result was Brown's third title at the historic track--he's won in both Pro Stock Motorcycle and Top Fuel.
"Words cannot describe how this feels," Brown said. "To come here and win at Indy--the biggest stage in drag racing--means so much. Winning twice in motorcycles was great, but it is particularly special to do it in Top Fuel and on drag racing's biggest stage. This is the most prestigious race on the schedule," he confirmed.
Brown enters the Countdown to One six-race playoff in second position, behind Worsham's, whose six race wins in seven finals better Brown's five victories this season. Spencer Massey lies third, 2010 champ Larry Dixon is fourth, seven-time titleholder Tony Schumacher holds fifth-place points. Doug Kalitta, Brandon Bernstein, Shawn Langdon, Morgan Lucas and David Grubnic also made the playoffs.
Funny Car featured a pair of Ford drivers: Mike Neff, the point leader against Bob Tasca III, whose grandfather helped propel Neff's team owner, John Force into the most successful driver of his time. Neff helped Force win his 15th title last year and is using that same car to kill the competition in 2011.
It was Neff first to the finish line today, securing his fifth win of the season, sixth overall and first US Nationals victory as a driver. "This is the race you always dream about and it's huge to win here. I'd never won here as a driver or a crew chief , so to be able to do it here as botrh was great. It probably hasn't even sunk in yet," an elated Neff said.
"I wasn't feeling very confident because we've struggled the last four races. I made some big changes this morning to take a shot at it," he said, referring both to changing the car and to the changes required for the huge temperature changes. "Once we were past the first round I felt better and after the second it felt pretty good.
"I don't want to get into the Countdown and suck because you've got to peak at the right time and not fall apart," Neff admitted of the pressure. "Everybody expects you to do good and when you fall off it's tough."
Neff's combatants in the Funny Car Countdown are Jack Beckman, Robert Hight, Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps and Matt Hagan (in a tie), John Force, Tasca, Jeff Arend and Tim Wilkerson.
Pro Stock continued to be a battle ground of Summit Racing giants as top qualifier Jason Line faced his teammate Greg Anderson for the Wally. Anderson prevailed for his sixth Mac Tools U.S. Nationals win over his teammate, taking his fifth win of the season and 70th of his career--that makes four wins in the past six races!
"I feel like it's my first and biggest win ever," Anderson exulted. "Every time it happens up here it's just special; it's just magic. I love this place and think some other racers might miss out on how important it is and what it means to race here."
Anderson locked into the No. 1 position with Line behind him followed by Mike Edwards, rookie Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders, Allen Johnson, Rodger Brogdon, Greg Stanfield, Shan Gray and Ron Krisher.
Two rookies went to the lights in Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hector Arana Jr rode his Buell against the brand new Hayabusa Suzuki of Gerry Savoie. Young Arana, son of the 2009 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, earned his first career victory in his second straight final round appearance. "It hasn't sunk in on me yet. This is the biggest race of the year and I won it in my rookie year," as did LE Tonglet last season. "For all my family, this is a hometown event and it just doesn't get any better than this."
2008 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Eddie Krawiec leads the standings, with Tonglet, Karen Stoffer, Andrew Hines, Arana Jr, Matt Smith, Hector Arana, Savoie, Michael Phillips and Jim Underdahl hoping for the title too.
© 2011 Anne Proffit