Antron Brown at Pomona - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
The Firebird International Raceway dragstrip outside Phoenix, Arizona is known to be tough on competitors. Nestled south of the city on a plain, it's desert pure and simple. The track has confounded regular NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series combatants for years and, when the event was held close to the end of the championship last year, had ramifications that rang through the following two races that closed the 2011 title chase.
This year, the Phoenix round returned to its traditional early season status, but still presented wrinkles throughout the weekend. There were no repeat winners from the first race at Pomona last weekend, and there were several prominent drivers--just as there were last October--that failed to make the field.
There were only 16 Top Fuel cars on the grounds at Firebird so everyone made the show, but in Funny Car, four drivers went home early. They included veterans Tim Wilkerson and Gary Densham, rookie Alexis DeJoria and Jeff Diehl, in his second full-time season. In Pro Stock, Grace Howell didn't make the show with her Ford Mustang and neither did veteran V Gaines with his Dodge Avenger.
By the time eliminations were final and the Valley of the Sun was growing dark, NHRA had two new Full Throttle point leaders in its three categories racing this weekend (Pro Stock Motorcycle's season starts at Gainesville, FL next month).
Antron Brown, who lost to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey at last week's Winternationals, picked up his first Wally of the season by defeating another teammate, seven-time champion Tony Schumacher. Making the finals by beating Terry McMillen, Massey (who didn't make the show here last year) and Shawn Langdon, the No. 1 qualifier, Brown put down a 3.793 at 319.82 to beat Schumacher's 3.813/318.17.
Now at the top of the Top Fuel standings, 32 points ahead of Schumacher with Massey third Brown said, "It was an incredible day. Even though the odds were against us, we dug down deep and believed in our Matco Tools boys. We took it one round at a time and really had to battle with these guys. Making the final round for the second race in a row is a real huge statement."
The finals in Funny Car were an all-Force affair. Robert Hight, fast qualifier in Pomona was the winner of the matchup with teammate Mike Neff. Hight beat fellow Ford Mustang driver Bob Tasca III, fast qualifier Johnny Gray's Dodge Charger R/T, and sister-in-law Courtney Force in her first semifinal appearance before putting Neff on the trailer at 4.139/307.02 to the tuner/driver's 4.168/309.91.
Robert Hight - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
His hole-shot win had Hight plenty wound up: "It's pretty exciting two weekends in a row having all-John Force Racing Fords in the final," he said. "You have to cherish that because you know that's not going to keep happening. It's tough to do. There's a lot of good Funny Cars out here, so to get into the Traxxas Nitro Shootout this year is a little relief." The winners in the first seen racers are in that show; last weekend's winner John Force bowed to his daughter Courtney in the first round.
The Pro Stock race seems to be falling KB/Summit Racing's way. Last weekend it was Greg Anderson taking home the Wally; this week it's reigning class champion Jason Line, who held off Anderson's Pontiac GXP in the finals 6.558 at 211.69 to 6.570/211.06 to win this race. Line beat last week's runner-up Jeg Coughlin in a Dodge Avenger, Erica Enders' Chevy Cobalt and Greg Stanfield's GXP to meet his teammate in the finals.
Jason Line - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
"I felt like a I had the best car at both races but we jut didn't get the job done in Pomona," Line said. "This was the first off-season we've had in a while without any tragedies and I think it shows in how we've started of the year. All in all, it was a great day and a great weekend." Line is one point behind Anderson in the point standings.
The NHRA Full Throttle Series continues its 23-race march to a championship in Gainesville, Florida with the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals on March 8-11.