Gather the best drag racers from east to west in one place. Give them packed stands, cool temperatures and blue skies. Dangle the most coveted trophy in drag racing in front of them and hold on. O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis hosted "The...
Gather the best drag racers from east to west in one place. Give them packed stands, cool temperatures and blue skies. Dangle the most coveted trophy in drag racing in front of them and hold on. O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis hosted "The Big Go" this Labor Day weekend, the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Rising above the drama and intense competition, Tony Schumacher, Robert Hight, Greg Anderson and Matt Smith drove to victory lane to hoist the treasured Wally trophy.
Top Fuel took the stage first in earth shaking, awe inspiring fashion. Brandon Bernstein reset the track speed record during his win over Hillary Will, reaching a top speed of 332.67 mph. PowerAde points leader Doug Kalitta lost to David Baca on a hole shot with a .004 second margin of victory, approximately 24 inches in the photo.
Funny car offered its share of drama to start the day. Phil Burkhart squeaked out a first round hole shot win when Gary Scelzi was late off the line. In the next match-up Cruz Pedregon grabbed a hole shot win over Eric Medlen, who ended his run with a flash of fire, puff of smoke and in the sand. Medlen climbed out on his own power.
Take a quick breath. John Force came to the line with a double up bonus in the back of his mind after winning the Skoal Showdown on Sunday and may have glanced at the clouds for the skydiving briefcase. Force left the line way early and handed Jim Head an easy first round upset.
Another veteran, Pro Stock "Professor" Warren Johnson also fouled in the first round, this time handing victory to points leader Jason Line. Steve Schmidt pulled off a hole shot win over Kurt Johnson, winning by about six feet.
2005 Pro Stock Motorcycle U.S. Nationals champ Steve Johnson would not repeat after losing his first round match up with Paul Gast. Red lights eliminated Matt Guidera and GT Tonglet.
Cory McClenathan, Bernstein, Rod Fuller and Schumacher gained second round Top Fuel wins. David Grubnic spewed oil all over both lanes in his loss to Schumacher sending the Safety Safari to work and the fans to the concession stands during a lengthy clean up effort.
Whit Bazemore, Ron Capps, Jim Head and Hight took advantage of the clean track to pick up another win and move on.
The second round of Pro Stock got off to an ugly start when, in a losing effort to V Gaines, Ron Krisher's car made a hard left just past the finish line and barrel-rolled twice before scraping the wall trailing flames. The Safety Safari extinguished the fire and found Krisher unconscious at the wheel, though he did regain consciousness and got out of the car with assistance.
Krisher was later reported to be alert, conscious, mobile and responding to commands after he was airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. NHRA emergency services officials reported Krisher had only a minor burn to his left elbow and no other visible injuries.
Allen Johnson and Anderson grabbed wins after the long clean up, as did Dave Connolly in an exciting side by side race with Line that ended with a .006 second margin of victory.
To climax an exciting story two of the best in the business, Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein faced off in the Top Fuel final. The pair started down the track side by side, but Bernstein's machine mixed up some cylinders and opened the door for The Sarge to pull away.
Schumacher dedicated his win to crew chief Alan Johnson's brother Blaine, who lost his life in a freak accident 10 years ago at this event.
"There are a lot of reasons to win races -- the fans, your sponsors, the championship chase, whatever -- but today we raced for Blaine," Schumacher said. "My first Indy race was 10 years ago and I would've raced him in the first round if he hadn't died. To come back now and win with Alan as my crew chief, it was meant for that. This trophy is going on the Johnson family mantle. That's where it belongs."
With Kalitta's early exit, Schumacher gained ground in the championship chase, pulling within 54 points. "It was certainly a huge gain in the points for us. I saw Doug go out in the first round and that just doesn't happen very often. You can gain points in a hurry out here but you can give them up just as fast. We gave some up in Memphis so it was good to get 'em back and more this weekend."
Hight and Bazemore met for the first time in a Funny Car national event final in spectacular fashion. Battling to the finish, Hight's 4.737 seconds journey down the quarter mile edged out Bazemore's 4.756.
"I can tell you one thing, it hasn't sunk in for sure," Hight said. "This is unbelievable. If you only win one race a year, this is the one you want to do. I didn't think I'd ever get to drive one of these cars, let alone drive for John Force.
"What motivated me today was all three of our teams helping us and getting us to that final round. I didn't want to let them down. I knew all I had to do was concentrate and focus for about 5 seconds. Before the final, Austin Coil leaned in under the car and gave me the thumbs up.
"We drove 328mph in the final and it took forever to get the that finish line. I was trying to keep it perfectly centered, but it just took forever and ever to get there. But we did it."
Neither driver wanted to stage first in the Pro Stock final between top stars Anderson and Connolly. After a long wait Anderson moved up and Connolly finally followed. All the waiting was for naught though when Connolly jumped the gun and fouled handing Anderson his fourth U.S. Nationals win in a row.
"Man I needed a win so badly, and what better place to get it then Indy," said Anderson, who joined Bob Glidden and Lee Shepherd as the only Pro Stock racers to win four consecutive Indy races. "It's incredible in this day and age to win four in a row at the race where everybody goes all out to win. I feel very humbled and privileged.
Good friends, Smith and Sampey shared a hug before matching up in an anti-climactic Pro Stock Motorcycle final. Sampey fouled and gave Smith a victory no one could second guess. Smith was given the victory last year, only to have it taken away the next day after NHRA officials reviewed the tapes and found it clear Steve Johnson crossed the finish line first.
"No one's taking this one away," Smith said as he clutched his Wally. "I saw her red-light come on and I was like, 'Thank you, thank you.' I doubt very seriously I made a very good run because I was screaming my head off in my helmet. I don't even remember going through the gears.
"It's a dream come true. This is what we live for, to race and to win. Everybody wants to win Indy and we finally did it. I knew we had the bike to do it.
"I've tied dad [Pro Stock driver Rickie Smith] now. He has two NHRA wins and so do I. I told him, 'This one counts, this one counts.' What a deal. We even hurt our motor in Round 1 and it was barely hanging together all day, but it stayed together just long enough for us to get this trophy."
Five races remain for teams to chase the PowerAde Championships. They head east to Reading, PA for the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals September 14th-17th.