VOLUME XX, NUMBER 6 - JUNE, 2018
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ET DRAG RACING
Results compiled by Kay Burk
Photos by Chris Haverly
The heat couldn’t wilt the performances of the winners as Tony Schumacher was able to lock down his first Top Fuel victory of the season Sunday, June 17, at the 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) were also victorious at the 11th of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
With track temperatures reaching 143 degrees causing a tricky track surface (with a noticeable bump) for drivers and tuners, speeds were slower than normal, with the driving more challenging. The fans who stayed in the sweltering heat and sun deserve special recognition.
Tony Schumacher, the winningest driver in Top Fuel history and in the history of iconic Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway, conquered the most challenging conditions of the season and captured the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Thunder Valley Nationals event title for a record sixth time.
Schumacher, the record eight-time world champion, upped his record total of event titles to 84 and ended a winless drought dating back to the 2017 Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida. It also marked the fourth time in his career he has won on Father’s Day for the team owned by his father, the first coming in 2000 at Columbus, Ohio, and the most recent three here at Bristol in 2010, 2012 and 2018. Coming after Ron Capps’ 300th win for DSR, Tony gave his father the 301st win for the mega team.
From his No. 2 qualifiying spot, Schumacher opened with the second-best run of the first round, powering his way down the track in 3.917 seconds at 316.82 mph in beating a tire-smoking Terry McMillen. He then outran Pat Dakin in a close race in the second round, crossing the stripe in 4.028 seconds at 288.64 mph to Dakin’s 4.041 seconds at 298.14 mph. That earned a semifinal showdown with points leader and recent nemesis Steve Torrence. It was neck and neck all the way down the track with Schumacher pulling away at the finish in 4.038 seconds at 297.02 mph to Torrence’s 4.232 seconds at 253.33 mph.
In was almost a Cinderella ending for Mike Salinas. Salinas, Schumacher’s final-round opponent, was making his first career final-round appearance while “The Sarge” was making his 150th. Like in the first round, Schumacher and his first-year crew chief Mike Neff tuned the Army car for a strong run, and the driver and car delivered with a solid effort of 3.946 seconds at 313.58 mph while Salinas smoked his tires early and coasted across the finish line.
Salinas (near lane), Leah Pritchett’s first-round opponent, got a jump at the start on a holeshot and beat her across the finish line. Salinas’ reaction time was .062 of a second to Pritchett’s .092, which made the difference despite Pritchett’s superior run of 4.011 seconds at 287.72 mph to his 4.023 seconds at 295.53 mph.
“We definitely felt hopeful, felt good going into today after finishing with a strong qualifying effort,” Pritchett said. “It’s been a little while since we’ve been the first pair out. There’s no sugar coating it at all. The numbers don’t lie. I was the weak link within our team and I wasn’t able to get to the finish line first. Salinas had a jump on me out of the gate. I’ve been struggling with my reaction times all over the board and this weekend it got us. Our car was there. It was the quicker car in the best conditions of the day. When something happens with the car or the team, what I love the most about it is, whatever goes wrong or if we have a situation, someone takes responsibility for it and I take responsibility for this one.
“But, I tell you what, it’s not going to be pretty for whoever I line up against first at Norwalk. These things sting and I’m going to find my way around it and over it.”
Even though he lost to Schumacher in the semifinal, Steve Torrence extended his lead over Clay Millican to 110 points. Schumacher is now third.
It was another Father’s Day victory for Ron Capps, as the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T driver picked up his second consecutive NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Funny Car Wally and first trophy of the 2018 season.
The 2016 world champion defeated John Force, reigning world champ Robert Hight, J.R. Todd and Bob Tasca III on his way to becoming the most decorated Funny Car driver in Bristol Dragway history, with five victories at the picturesque facility.
Both Capps and Force entered the race weekend tied for the most Funny Car wins at Bristol Dragway, with four trophies each. Capps was quick on the throttle against the veteran driver, launching his NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge off of the starting line in 0.049-seconds and never trailing for the win.
“That’s a final round matchup,” said Capps. It’s a matchup for a championship, it always is. We didn’t have lane choice, we’re running John Force, and someone had just spilled oil in that lane, but typical (crew chief) Rahn Tobler, he put it right down the track, over the bump and it was just on a great run and set the tone for the rest of the day.”
In the quarterfinals against Hight, Capps was machine-like, gaining the holeshot start over his opponent. Hight was able to catch up early in the run, and the veteran drivers battled neck-and-neck until Capps was able to surge ahead and take the win with his 4.208-second run.
Capps made a clean pass against J.R. Todd in the semifinals, driving right down the groove to take the win and advance to his second final round of the season and second in three races. Capps has now run for the Funny Car trophy 112 times — second only to John Force in Funny Car career final-round appearances.
In the final, Capps quickly made up a small starting line advantage by Tasca and added to his lead all the way down the stripe, turning in a 4.242/298.93 to Tasca’s 4.300/286.98.
The victory earned Capps his 58th Funny Car win, 59th overall and a milestone 300th nitro event Wally for Don Schumacher Racing.
Tasca qualified fourth and bested Tim Wilkerson (4.133/303.09 to 4.183/289.82), Cruz Pedregon (4.233/292.90 to 5.757/126.33) and points leader Courtney Force (4.219/298.60 to 4.271/286.62) as he reached his first final round since Seattle 2013.
Courtney Force was No. 1 qualifier and got past Jonnie Lindberg and Tommy Johnson Jr. before falling to Tasca in the semifinal. However, she left Bristol with a 201-point lead over Jack Beckman.
With a victory in the Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, Jeg Coughlin Jr. scored three wins in the last three weekends. He won in Pro Stock in Chicago, followed that up with a Super Comp win in Richmond, and extended the streak to three with the Pro Stock victory here.
"That has a nice ring to it," Coughlin said of winning three weekends in a row. "Without question, since we've made some transitions within the (Elite Motorsports) team, we've been really fast - Erica (Enders) and I both. It feels great. Getting a Super Comp win in Virginia was really rewarding as well, and I'm very proud of that because it's some tough racing.”
His recent win streak comes on the heels of a long four-year drought in Pro Stock that ended in Chicago.
With no brakes and no chutes out, Tommy Lee couldn’t get stopped during his Saturday qualifying run and crashed into the catch net off the end of the track.
Coughlin, the No. 2 qualifier, started his day at Bristol with a solo pass in the first round. Tommy Lee crashed Saturday and couldn't make the call. Coughlin made a run of 6.719 seconds at 205.10 mph to get lane choice for Round 2 against Chris McGaha. As McGaha shook the tires, Coughlin sped to the semifinals with a run of 6.740 seconds at 205.26 mph.
Coughlin's semifinal race was over before he started as Drew Skillman went red by .025 seconds. Coughlin, who had a .025 light, was going to be tough to beat with a run of 6.750 at 204.51 mph that got him lane choice in the final against Anderson.
Coughlin blistered the Christmas Tree with a .018 light, getting him off the line first. He slowly pulled away and got the win light with a run of 6.709 seconds at 205.10 mph - beating Anderson's 6.741-second run at 205.07 mph.
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