History made at Gateway, Force and winners rejoice

History made at Gateway, Force and winners rejoice

John Force celebrated his 59th birthday today with his 1,000th Funny Car round win at the O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis. Force accomplished the historic feat with a first round win over Ron ...

John Force celebrated his 59th birthday today with his 1,000th Funny Car round win at the O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis. Force accomplished the historic feat with a first round win over Ron Capps.

John Force.
Photo by Bob Harmeyer.

"You can't win without a good crew, sponsors like Castrol, Ford, the Auto Club and Old Spice and crew chiefs like Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly," Force said. "Five hundred races (a milestone he achieved at Atlanta) just means you showed up a lot. But winning a thousand rounds, that means that at a point in time, we were pretty good."

Tim Wilkerson went on to win the Funny Car event. Rod Fuller, Kurt Johnson and Andrew Hines also came away with wins.

Rookie Mike Neff finally found some success, piloting his Funny Car to the final round versus Tim Wilkerson. But Wilkerson, who's had a strong start to the year with four number one qualifiers in a row, got the win light after a fantastic side by side race down the quarter mile. Wilkerson ran a 4.874 at 321.58 mph.

"I don't know what to tell you, the emotions are out of control," said Wilkerson. "It was all I could do at the other end of the track just to get out of the car. This gets the monkey off our back. My guys are just doing a terrific job working on the car and the track was good all day."

In earlier rounds Wilkerson defeated Tony Bartone, Del Worsham and Cruz Pedregon, while Neff eliminated Melanie Troxel, Mike Ashley and Robert Hight to reach the finals.

Rod Fuller captured his first Top Fuel trophy of the year by defeating reigning NHRA POWERade Series champion and current points leader Tony Schumacher in the final round.

"I kind of had a chip on my shoulder from what happened to me last year," said Fuller. "Leading the points all year long and losing to [Schumacher]. It's a great gratification when you beat him."

Fuller first defeated Cory McClenathan, David Grubnic and Doug Kalitta before meeting Schumacher in the finals. "The Sarge" took out Morgan Lucas, Alan Bradshaw and Hillary Will in earlier rounds. In the final matchup, Schumacher was faster off the starting line, but Fuller was quicker down the track with a 4.525 second run with a top speed of 328.70 mph.

Rod Fuller.
Photo by Bob Harmeyer.

"This race meant two really big things for me," Fuller shared. "I wouldn't have gotten this opportunity without the death of Darrell Russell. This trophy is going to Chris Russell. I had to fight tears down there, because this really meant a lot to me."

Fuller continued, "The other thing is my mom hasn't been in great health. She's never seen me win Top Fuel, and she was down there at the end when I got out of the car. What a great day. This takes those six prior wins, puts them all together and means more because I had my mom here and my dad and I got to embrace her at the end. I feel very, very blessed."

Kurt Johnson drove past Dave Connolly to earn his 37th career Pro Stock victory. Connolly had a sluggish .144 reaction time in the final, giving Johnson an insurmountable advantage. Johnson's winning 6.631 pass reached a top speed of 209.3 mph. Johnson also set a new track record for speed at 209.39 mph during qualifying.

"It looked pretty tough out there," said Johnson. "There was a lot of tire shaking and we've had our lifelong fill of tire shake for years. But the whole crew just came together and we did what we needed to do. That's what it's all about."

On his road to the finals, Johnson eliminated Todd Hoerner, Jeg Coughlin and V Gaines while Connolly defeated Ron Krisher, Allen Johnson and Greg Anderson.

Andrew Hines collected his second Pro Stock Motorcycle event in a row. Hines lined up next to Matt Smith for the bike's final round. The drivers got an even start off the light, but Smith couldn't make a complete pass and Hines drove to victory lane.

"Four races and three finals and two wins, it's just a tribute to how good my team is," Hines said. "They like being on top and they're giving me a motorcycle underneath me to be there a lot this year. It's so fun right now.

"This is a perfect way to go into a month-off swing," Hines continued. "It's going to be fun once we get to Chicago. Everybody else in the class is going to go home and do their homework. We're not going to slack off any bit, we're just going to enjoy this win right now and we're going to go out and have some fun tonight."

Defending series champion Smith eliminated David Hope, Chris Rivas and Eddie Krawiec earlier in the day. Hines also defeated Joe DeSantis, Karen Stoffer and Chip Ellis.

Teams now head to Bristol, TN for the O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Nationals at Bristol Dragway May 16-18.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Tony Bartone , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , David Grubnic , Cory McClenathan , Tim Wilkerson , Karen Stoffer , Melanie Troxel , Allen Johnson , Chris Rivas , Alan Bradshaw , Mike Ashley , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Chip Ellis , Joe DeSantis , Rod Fuller , Hillary Will , Dave Connolly , Austin Coil , Eddie Krawiec , Todd Hoerner , David Hope , Mike Neff