FORCE, KALITTA, JOHNSON AND HINES WIN RAIN-DELAYED O'REILLY NHRA MID-SOUTH NATIONALS MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Thirteen-time Funny Car champion John Force raced to the lead in the POWERade Series points standings by winning the rain-delayed $1.6 million...
FORCE, KALITTA, JOHNSON AND HINES WIN RAIN-DELAYED O'REILLY NHRA MID-SOUTH NATIONALS
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Thirteen-time Funny Car champion John Force raced to the lead in the POWERade Series points standings by winning the rain-delayed $1.6 million O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals Monday afternoon at Memphis Motorsports Park. Force, who has been in second place for most of the season, defeated former teammate Tony Pedregon in the final round to move in front of Ron Capps in the series standings by 17 points.
Sharing the winner's circle with Force at the NHRA POWERade Series event was Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta; Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock; and back-to-back reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Andrew Hines, who moved back on top in his category by three points.
Until Monday, it seemed every time Force had a chance to make up some ground on Capps in the points race, he'd let the opportunity slip away. Not so in Memphis as he recorded his 121st victory in his 194th career final after Capps was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Pedregon.
After leaving dead-even with Pedregon, Force's Castrol GTX Ford Mustang covered the quarter-mile distance in 4.786 seconds at 318.24 mph -- the quickest and fastest pass of the weekend -- to easily better Pedregon's tire-smoking 5.048 in his Q Racing Chevy Monte Carlo.
"I ain't trying to play it cool here but let's not get too excited about being in the lead by a few points," said Force of his second win of the season. "The heat's still killing us. It just wasn't too bad today. I guess I ran a track record there in the final so that proves it. Today was good, I didn't see Elvis at 1,000 feet and we got the win. They still feel just as good as the first one did."
Kalitta's victory over first-time finalist and teammate Hillary Will was efficient, but by far his biggest win of the race was his second-round defeat of Tony Schumacher, who had been closing in fast in his U.S. Army dragster on Kalitta with five final-round showings in a row.
The Kalitta vs. Schumacher showdown could end up being a pivotal moment in the 2006 Top Fuel title chase as the two drivers have gone head-to-head for the fourth time in the last five races. This time Kalitta got the win to end Schumacher's incredible streak. Kalitta was able to pump his lead back up to 136 points over the three-time world champ.
"I've struggled here over the years to finally get a win here," said Kalitta, who posted a 4.604 at 313.95 in his Mac Tools dragster in the final round to defeat Will, who clocked a 4.644 at 312 in her KB Racing dragster in her first career final. "It was huge. It was a real close race with Tony. To have to run those guys and get by makes it more special to get that first win here at Memphis.
"We're coming out of here with a few more points than we came in with. It's really what we've needed to do, because we've been fading a little the last few races."
Line continues to have the best car in Pro Stock as his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO once again ran the quickest pass in the Pro Stock final. However, just as it was in Brainerd, Minn., one week ago, a better light by his opponent gave the trophy away.
Johnson had the quicker reaction time and powered his ACDelco Chevy Cobalt to a 6.718 at 204.42 to hold off the charging Line, who posted a quicker, but losing 6.703 at 205.38.
"I've never been able to win here on Sunday," said Johnson, a two-time runner-up at this event. "Maybe we should always race on Mondays instead. We're still figuring out a new car. We ran it at Brainerd and here, so it's only got a few passes on it, but it seems to be happy at the moment. It reacts well, goes fast, and runs quick.
"I want to win the next six races, but there are so many good drivers and crews out here. We're all human. We want to hit home runs every time up, but it usually doesn't work that way. You have to do the best you can and see what happens."
With the POWERade Series lead on the line, Pro Stock Motorcycle contenders Hines and Brown didn't get to race because Brown fouled at the start on his U.S. Army Suzuki by .006 seconds, his sixth red-light start of the year and third with the trophy on the line. It was Hines' second victory of the year and seventh of his career on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
"I saw Antron's red-light come on and everything just went blank," Hines said. "To come in here and get the win and get the POWERade points lead back is such an awesome feeling. I hope it's hot the rest of the year because we've done really well at the two hottest places we raced this year, here and Denver."
The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with the 52nd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Aug. 30-Sept. 4 at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.