ERIC MEDLEN'S PRESENCE DOMINATES WINNER'S CIRCLE AT O'REILLY NHRA SPRING NATIONALS Todd, Capps, Line and Sampey win in first POWERade race since the death of the popular Funny Car driver BAYTOWN, Texas -- Top Fuel sophomore J.R. Todd and...
ERIC MEDLEN'S PRESENCE DOMINATES WINNER'S CIRCLE AT O'REILLY NHRA SPRING NATIONALS
Todd, Capps, Line and Sampey win in first POWERade race since the death of the popular Funny Car driver
BAYTOWN, Texas -- Top Fuel sophomore J.R. Todd and veteran Funny Car racer Ron Capps dedicated their victories at the 20th annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil to close friend Eric Medlen, who lost his life March 23 after a testing accident.
The duo joined Pro Stock victor Jason Line and Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Angelle Sampey in an emotional winner's circle Sunday evening at Houston Raceway Park.
Todd's second Top Fuel win of the year and fifth of his 23 NHRA races lifted him to within 16 points of the POWERade lead, still held by "Hot Rod" Fuller, who lost in Round 1. This was his first win with new crew chief Johnny West, who joined the Skull Shine team two races ago.
Racing against an opponent who had never won more than a single round in a day, Todd stayed focused on his goal and got the win with a 4.603 at 313.80 mph over Hartley's 4.645 at 307.79 mph. Hartley's unsponsored car is now 10th in the championship rankings.
"I'm so glad March is over because it was the worst month of my life," Todd said. "I lost my crew chief (Jimmy Walsh) and I lost one of my best friends but at least I have this trophy to give to his family. I want to win every race I'm in but this one more than ever. I was wondering how long it would take me to win a trophy and give it to his family. I guess Eric was watching over me today."
Winning his second straight race, Capps powered into the points lead with tears in his eyes as his Brut Revolution Dodge Charger R/T carried him to his 24th career victory, this one over Cruz Pedregon, who had engine trouble during his pass. Capps might have been tough to beat anyway as he posted his third 4.86 of the day (he also had a 4.87), winning with a 4.868 at 307.93 mph to Pedregon's 5.025 at 270.97 mph in the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
"We're not mourning Eric's loss, we're celebrating his life today," Capps said as he choked back tears. "I miss him so badly. I didn't even want to race this weekend but Eric wouldn't have wanted it any other way. This trophy is going straight to John Medlen and I'm gonna have another one made for his mom."
Line's win gave KB Racing three victories in the first four events, stamping their dominance on the Pro Stock class once again at this early juncture of the season. Line is now second to his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO teammate Greg Anderson -- who won in Pomona and at Gainesville -- by 45 points.
This one was a nail-biter as Line gave up a huge .010 to .055 to Johnson's Mopar Dodge Stratus and chased him all the way down the track, passing him after the last timing cone to take the win by just 23 inches, or .0063 seconds, winning with a 6.661 at 207.75 mph to Johnson's 6.712 at 206.26 mph.
"That was close," Line said. "I saw him ahead of me at half-track and I thought we might be able to catch him because our cars make good speed, but it was so close at the finish line I didn't know if I had run out of track or not. I admit that I was concerned because I knew he treed me."
Overcoming a regrettable holeshot loss after qualifying No. 1 at the season opener in Gainesville, U.S. Army rider Sampey looked like her three-time champion self Sunday, racing past Shawn Gann, Peggy Llewellyn, Tom Bradford, and Treble to win for the 41st time.
Treble gave her a scare, leaving with a .015-second reaction time to Sampey's dead-late .084, but he soon encountered some sort of engine trouble, which allowed her to zoom by for the 7.046 at 188.91 mph victory.
"I knew my light was bad," Sampey said, "I just wanted to make sure it was green. There were what, nine red lights today, and I sure didn't want to give it up like that. I wore green underwear today and now I guess I better wear them every race because it looks like they worked."
Sampey's win was her second straight, third in five years and fourth in seven years at Houston Raceway Park, situated near her Mathews, La. home. It also marked the fifth consecutive year that a woman has won the race at Houston Raceway Park (Karen Stoffer won in 2004 and 2005).