The nitro categories at this weekend’s NHRA event at Sonoma were dominated by Don Schumacher Racing as both finalists in the Top Fuel and Funny Car finals all came from the Brownsburg, Indiana-based drag racing shop. The strong performance marked the first time since last year’s event at Brainerd that all four nitroburning finalists were from DSR.
Antron Brown beat DSR stablemate Spencer Massey to win the Top Fuel crown, while Matt Hagan lost traction and fell to Johnny Gray in the Funny Car final. Meanwhile in the Pro Stock categories it was more of the same as Allen Johnson rolled to the Pro Stock crown while Eddie Krawiec continued the Harley-Davidson blitzkrieg on the Pro Stock Motorcycle division, winning the make’s seventh title in as many starts this season.
Brown had to defeat a pair of his DSR teammate on the way to his fourth win of the year, but was never truly tested until the final. The former bike racer got a free pass in the opening round against Steve Torrence when Torrence lit the scarlet lamp on the tree, then he beat a tire-smoking Tony Schumacher in the second round.
A similar pass against Brandon Bernstein in the semifinal gave Brown the berth in the final, where he met up with NHRA Full Throttle points leader Massey. Massey also saw his last two competitors haze the tires before meeting Brown in the final, but Brown hung up a 3.814-second run to best the 3.826 carded by Massey. The win is the 35th of Brown’s career, but more importantly it knotted the two teammates atop the Top Fuel points lead.
"Those are three tough customers who are all serious contenders for the world championship,” Brown said. “There were no easy races today. We had to work very hard and stay focused all day long. It continues to be an unbelievable battle out there”
The DSR tuners really got the job done on the Funny Car side as they fielded three of the four semifinalists, with Gray and Hagan advancing to the final – Gray at the expense of teammate and top qualifier Jack Beckman.
The sixth qualifier, Gray beat Tim Wilkerson in the opening round and then trailered Gary Densham as neither foes could keep the rubber to the road against the Service Central-sponsored machine. The semi matchup with Beckman was a good one, but fortune smiled on Gray again in the final as Hagan smoked the tires in the final, giving Gray the chance to take his second win of the year.
“We had a great race car all weekend,” Gray said. “We struggled a little in qualifying, but I have a great crew and crew chief and they gave me a great race car today. I’d like to move up a little bit more and earn a few more points to start the Countdown with. I’m ready for the Countdown, we’ve got a great race car.”
John Force Racing needed a big day to keep its quartet of cars in the thick of the championship chase, but only Robert Hight was able to get out of the first round – and Hight fell in Round Two to top qualifier Cruz Pedregon. Hight’s win allowed him to actually widen in points lead over Ron Capps, who lost a pedaling contest to Densham in the opening round.
Johnson has been the man to beat in Pro Stock qualifying for the last two months of competition, but today he carried over his qualifying success all the way through the Sunday eliminations.
While the nitro guys struggled to get the power down, the Pro Stock guys had their cars working up and down the ladder, putting pressure on the drivers to get the job done on the starting line – leading to at least one red light run in each of the first three rounds.
Johnson responded to the pressure in the final, but as good as his .011-second reaction time was, he still trailed Greg Anderson early as Anderson cut a near-perfect .001 light. Anderson held the point early but Johnson’s Mopar-powered Dodge Avenger walked him down to take the win. The victory is Johnson’s fourth of the year and the 13th of his NHRA career.
“I can’t imagine winning two in a row and we’ve done it with earning maximum points,” Johnson said. “Every round of qualifying and eliminations we had the quickest car. It’s mind-boggling to me. We are getting in the championship mind set. I’ve never thought of myself as the best out here. So I have to start thinking that way and get my confidence up so we can get ready for the Countdown.”
Another week, another set of Harley-Davidsons in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final as the silver-and-black clad bikers simply outran all comers at Sonoma.
This time it was Krawiec getting the best of Andrew Hines in the final, Krawiec nipping Hines by less than two feet to earn his 16th career Wally. Krawiec dispatched Angie Smith in the opening round, then ended John Hall’s promising weekend in the second round. He ran down Hector Arana Sr. in the semi before meeting up with Hines in the final. Hines took out the other Buell of Hector Arana Jr. in the semi when the younger Arana red-lighted.
“You can’t make mistakes out here,” Krawiec said. “We’re focusing on round wins. You get enough of them and that will equal race wins and then enough of those will win championships. I just want to see win lights.”