Drew Skillman notched his first victory of the season after driving to a 6.627 at 209.23 in his Ray Skillman Chevy Camaro to defeat Erica Enders who ran a 6.655 at 207.37 in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro in the final. Skillman became the ninth different winner in Pro Stock in 13 events, earning his fourth career victory.
“We’ve struggled all year, but we finally put everything together and took things round-by-round,” Skillman said. “The Pro Stock division is so close now, but I definitely feel like we have finally gotten where we deserve to be with this win.”
Skillman qualified third and defeated Shane Tucker, Tanner Gray and points leader Bo Butner en route to his second final round appearance of 2017. Enders reached her third final round of the season after qualifying ninth and defeating Chris McGaha, Greg Anderson and Jason Line.
It was the fourth career victory for Skillman in 59 Pro Stock races.
“I’ve had a better car than I’ve been a driver all year. I finally showed up with what we had, and this one is for my team,” said Skillman, who last won in October 2016 at Dallas. “We got our stuff together and we’re back.”
Butner remains in the top spot of the Pro Stock standings after the semifinal appearance, while Anderson and T. Gray round out the top three. Skillman’s victory put him in eighth in the standings, while Enders now sits at sixth after her second runner-up of the season.
Chevrolet drivers have won all 13 Pro Stock races this season, led by Bo Butner with three victories.
Route 66 Raceway holds special memories for Enders, who reached her maiden Pro Stock final at the track in 2005 and where she claimed her first Pro Stock win in 2012. Enders, a two-time Pro Stock champion, advanced to the final round for the 38th time in 235 career events.
Enders dispatched reigning Pro Stock champion Jason Line (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS) and Skillman swept out points leader Butner (Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro SS) on a holeshot in the semifinals. In 2005, Enders lost to Line at Route 66 Raceway in her first Pro Stock final.
Chevrolet drivers swept the first-round of eliminations, with No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS), Vincent Nobile (Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro SS), Tanner Gray (Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro SS), and Kenny Delco (JCM Chevrolet Camaro SS) picking up the wins.
Anderson, who earned his second No. 1 qualifier honor in a row and 89th of his career, lost on a holeshot in the quarterfinals to Enders despite running low elapsed time of the round at 6.613 seconds.
Enders was the first woman in history to win a Pro Stock race in 2012 when she reigned supreme at Route 66 Raceway. Although she couldn't close the deal this time through, her third final-round showing of the season proves her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro will be a contender once the playoffs start.
“I definitely think we’re headed in the right direction,” Enders said. “Having said that, we have a lot of work to do on these hot rods – mine, Alex’s (Laughlin), Jeg’s (Coughlin Jr.) and Vincent’s (Nobile). We’re taking a team vacation to the Caymans, and when we get back we’re going to hit testing hard before the western swing and try to figure these Rick Jones Chevy Camaros out. But I’m so proud of my team. We’ve had a pretty slow car all weekend and they’ve continued to step up their game, and I drove OK today. I’m looking forward to going out west and see what we can accomplish.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
L.E.Tonglet (far lane) and Hector Arana Jr.
Points leader L.E. Tonglet secured his fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle victory in six events with a 6.835 at 195.99 on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki to defeat Hector Arana Jr. who ran a 6.878 at 193.29 on his Lucas Oil Buell in the finals. This is Tonglet’s first victory at Route 66 Raceway since he went back-to-back in 2010-11. He has now earned victories in all four of his final round appearances this season.
“We knew we had a good bike at the start of the season, but it was just a matter of getting tuned up as we learn more about the bike each week,” Tonglet said. “On Sunday our goal is to get win lights, so I’ve improved on being calm and staying focused to try and get the job done.”
Tonglet earned the No. 1 qualifier and defeated Cory Reed, Scotty Pollacheck and Karen Stoffer on his way to victory. Arana Jr. notched the second spot in qualifying, defeating Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith and Eddie Krawiec before earning his second runner-up finish of the season.
Krawiec remains in second following the semifinal appearance. Arana Jr. moves up to third with the runner-up, surpassing Pollacheck who fell to fourth.
"Not bad at all," Arana Jr. said. "You have to hand it to LE, he's been nearly perfect, but we are definitely right there. I really wish we could have brought the win home today for my dad but we gave it our best."
Teammate Hector Arana Sr. is recuperating from shoulder surgery.
"Overall, we are very happy and I was able to leave first in three out of four rounds so I'm getting my riding back also," Arana said. "The challenge of Pro Stock Motorcycle is that there always is something you can do better. No one ever leaves the racetrack saying they had a perfect day. It just doesn't happen. But that's what drives us."
The 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continues with the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway July 21-23.
PHOTO EXTRA SLIDESHOW
Sunday was about more than earning points or setting records, winning or losing for the DSR Funny Car teams. It was about Terry Chandler from start to finish, but as much as she loved drag racing she would have loved the final Funny Car while being a little disappointed her team didn't win. It came down to the best race of the day with Ron Capps' 4.026-second run at 319.67 mph edging Tommy Johnson's 4.047 at 319.90.
It was a career-best sixth win for Capps this season in which he has dominated the points standings.
Terry, who funds DSR Funny Cars, the Make-A-Wish car for Johnson and the Infinite Hero Dodge for Beckman, died on July 4th and was laid to rest Saturday in a private ceremony in New Mexico after a valiant three-month battle against brain cancer.
Before racing began, her Make-A-Wish and Infinite Hero teams were joined by her brother Johnny Gray's Gray Motorsports Pro Stock team along with the DSR family, NHRA racing community and many of the sport's most iconic drivers behind the starting line to honor Terry with a video montage created by NHRA and a moment of silence to honor her profound impact on hundreds of Make-A-Wish families and military veterans through the Infinite Hero Foundation.
Despite not winning the title for Terry, the day ended as it began: with tributes to her.
"You already knew how much she was loved, but people that had never met her before wanted to give their respects," Capps said.
Ron Capps (4.038/318.84) defeated Matt Hagan (4.088/313.58) in the semifinal.
"Before we started the car I saw her standing outside my car because I guess you just get so used to it and I had to shake my head for a second. You're not used to her not being here. Then I did the burnout and I'm like 'Oh my gosh, there's her car next to me' and it just was a strange race. I never did see TJ.”
The three John Force Racing Funny Car entries fell in the first round of eliminations. Robert Hight, who set both the elapsed time and speed track Funny Car records on the way earning the No. 1 qualifier spot for the second time this season in the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS, smoked the tires early on the hot racing surface. Courtney Force fell to J.R. Todd while dad, John, fell to Tommy Johnson.
The team owner was encouraging his teammates, however.
“We’re moving in the right direction, and it’s a long way to the Countdown,” John said. “I can’t say thanks enough to my guys. I know they’re bummed right now, but I don’t want them to take it home. I love them all. Let’s get ready and go to Denver.”
Owner, driver, and crew chief Tim Wilkerson wears many hats and holds all of the responsibility for his Funny Car team in his hands, but he has carefully selected and surrounded himself with a reliable cast of characters. His crew was at the ready to transition into a new Murf McKinney chassis following the Norwalk race two weeks ago, and in final qualifying at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Chicago, their hard work began to show signs of value. They hoped to build on that in Sunday eliminations at the very racetrack where Wilkerson claimed his first nitro Funny Car win.
Wilkerson made his best run of the weekend in the final session at Route 66 Raceway, blasting to a smooth and steady 3.943-second pass at a booming 332.26 mph.
"It's showing signs of life again," said Wilkerson.
On Monday after the Summit Racing NHRA Nationals in Nowalk, en route back to their Springfield, Ill., shop, the new car was picked up from McKinney in Indiana. Joey Serena is one of the Tim Wilkerson Racing team members who works at the shop and on the racecar on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour. He also drives one of the race rigs.
"We got home on Monday morning from the race, unloaded everything, went home and got some sleep, then came back that afternoon and started taking everything apart and swapping pieces," said Serena, who worked alongside teammates Dave Shaff, Rob Covault, and Drew Wenninger to complete the important task. "We divvied it up, they took the clutch area, wiring and stuff like that, I took the box and the motor area, and Drew took the front wheels, gas tank, and all that. By Wednesday, we had the new car all together, then we showed up early Friday [in Chicago] and unloaded the car to see what we might have missed. We wanted to figure out everything before we got out on the racetrack."
The team put their heads together and got their hands dirty, including crew member and Funny Car veteran Richard Hartman, who was optimistic regarding their new car.
"You know, the last two times we brought out a new car, it ran really well," said Hartman. "I think new pipe is always good."
Wilkerson lost his third-round match with Tommy Johnson Jr.
Out of the gate in Chicago, Wilkerson clocked a slightly troubled but not altogether unsettling 4.936 at 154.69.
Wilkerson drew No. 10 qualifier, Brian Stewart for the first round of eliminations. Wilkerson’s son, Daniel, is co-crew chief on Stewart’s Funny Car. Wilkerson’s 4.361/222.29 got the win when Stewart’s tires lost traction and he had to let up. Wilkerson won the second round against Jack Beckman, who had traction problems and then lost a cylinder.
Results compiled by Kay Burk
Photos by “Chicago Jon” Hoffman
Antron Brown and Clay Millican during qualifying.
Steve Torrence got past Blake Alexander in the second round and went on to the event win.
Steve Torrence took another step toward towards securing the No. 1 starting spot for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship when he beat close friend and three-time champion Antron Brown in the final round.
In winning for the fifth time in the last eight events at the wheel of his Richard Hogan-tuned Capco Contractor Top Fuel dragster, the 34-year-old Texan opened up a 101-point lead over second place Leah Pritchett with just five races remaining before the points are adjusted for the six-race Countdown. Brown, who has won the last two titles, is two points behind Pritchett.
It was Torrence’s second straight win over Brown, to whom he had lost 20 of 21 meeting before this season.
This time Brown got a narrow .002 edge (.046 to .048) off the starting line, but it wasn’t enough. Torrence stopped the timers in 3.779 seconds and Brown in 3.786. The margin at the finish line was .005 of a second.
The No. 4 qualifier, Torrence took out Scott Palmer in round one, stopped Top Fuel rookie Blake Alexander in round two, and got past T.J. Zizzo in the semifinals.
T.J.’s father, Tony Zizzo, was a Chicago-area racing legend. "We have purchased the right parts to do this well. There was a time when we couldn't afford those correct parts. So my dad and I made the investment on the correct parts," T.J. explained.
It wasn’t quite the Clay Millican feel-good story from Bristol, but it was pretty close as part-time racer T.J. Zizzo took his independent dragster to the semifinals at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals. It was the Chicago-area racer’s first event of the 2017 season, in fact, it was his first race in 10 months.
Over the course of the three rounds of racing for the second-generation driver, the “Rust-Oleum Rocket” was the second-quickest in the first round with a 3.793 against a re-lighting Pat Dakin, quickest in the second round with a 3.787 against Britany Force, and reset Zizzo’s personal best speed twice.
"The second round against Brittany was huge for our team," Zizzo said. "To beat the Forces was exciting. It was absolutely exciting. We just flat outran them, is what we did. That was a very, very proud moment in our team’s career."
In the semi-final he met Steve Torrence and it looked to be another close one until Zizzo lost a cylinder.
Clay Millican was having problems at Joliet; in fact, he almost didn’t qualify for the race.
On Friday, there were ignition problems that prevented the dragster from making a full pass down the race track. Millican was in the No.17 spot out of 17 Top Fuel dragsters. On Saturday during the third qualifying session, the car smoked the tires right off the starting line. Millican went into the fourth qualifying session not in the field. Crew Chief David Grubnic was confident he had a plan to get him qualified.
“Grubby tells me he had the dragster tuned to run a .78 or .80 and we would get ourselves qualified and not to worry about it. When I stand on the gas, at about 330 feet I had the biggest smile on my face! I thought: this thing ain’t running 3.80,” confessed Millican. And he was right. Millican ended up racing to an elapsed time of 3.739 at 325.22 mph and that put him in the No. 3 qualifying spot going into race day.
In Round One Millican raced Kyle Wurtzel. It was a close race, but Millican took home the win: 3.813/323.81 to 3.906/300.80. Round Two Millican came up against Shawn Langdon. Langdon had a slight starting line advantage but Millican captured the win: 3.888/314.61 to 3.909/309.91.
In the semifinals Millican came up against Antron Brown. The Parts Plus/Great Clips/University of Northwestern Ohio dragster smoked the tires, while Brown had a clean pass. Brown won the round: 3.784/325.53 to 4.689/154.64.
“Antron put a whooping on us. The tires got loose on the car and he killed me on the tree,” Millican said. “But it was another semifinal finish for us and I’m proud of how hard my team worked this weekend.”
Brittany Force celebrated her birthday Saturday with her seventh career No. 1 qualifier honor. On Sunday she won her first-round match-up but fell in the quarterfinals.
VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 7 - JULY 2017
DRAGRACINGOnline will be published on or around the 8th of each month and will be updated throughout the month.
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