race reports

NHRA Pros at Brainerd, Minnesota

DeJoria Gets First Win of Year; Hight Hits First 3.7


Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Charlie Anderson

Leah Pritchett piloted her dragster to her fourth Top Fuel victory of the season Sunday, Aug. 20, at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also victors at the 17th of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.


There were 16 entries in Top Fuel, 17 in Funny Car, 15 in Pro Stock, and 18 in Pro Stock Motorcycle for this event.



The Papa John's Pizza Top Fuel team and driver Leah Pritchett with crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam started the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season strong and are headed to finish it the same way after winning their fourth title of the year on Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.


The win came two days after they reset their world elapsed time record with a run of 3.640 seconds to earn their sixth No. 1 qualifying position through 17 Mello Yello events with the Papa John's dragster Powered by Pennzoil.


Pritchett, who won the first two events of the season and last at Houston in April, moved within 60 points of Top Fuel leader and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown, who she beat in the final round after Brown advanced to his fifth consecutive final. She is within 29 points of second place racer Steve Torrence.


Her four wins in a season ties legendary Shirley Muldowney for most nitro event titles in a season by a woman. Pritchett shares another piece of history: Alexis DeJoria won the Funny Car title marking the first time women swept nitro titles at the same event.

Antron Brown started the day with a stellar run, getting down the track in 3.695 seconds at 331.77 mph in beating Shawn Langdon. He then took out Brittany Force on a holeshot in the second round. His reaction time of .050 of a second enabled his run of 3.681 seconds at 332.43 seconds to get him across the finish line just ahead of Force, who had a run of 3.675 seconds at 332.75 mph but a reaction time of .060 seconds.


Neither Steve Torrence nor Antron Brown won Sunday’s, but the semifinal showdown between the two friends was perhaps the closest racing of the day.

Torrence got the starting line advantage, but his .014 edge wasn’t quite enough to hold off Brown’s booming 331.61-mph charge across the finish line that provided a margin of just .004 for the come-from-behind win. Torrence lost a cylinder at about half track.


Although Brown has an enormously lopsided record against Torrence (23-4), their rivalry has moved to a new level over the last two years.  Seven of their last nine meetings have come in final rounds in which Brown owns a narrow 4-3 edge.  Significantly, when they line up next to each other, it seems to stoke the competitive juices.


In their last five meetings, Brown’s average reaction time has been .054, which was his exact number on Sunday. However, over those same five races, Torrence’s average is .049.  Torrence came in with the best reaction time average overall at .062.  Brown was second best at .064.


Tanner Gray looks to be a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year honors as he racked up in fourth event win of the season. The last rookie to win four races in one season was Jason Line, who has been a mentor to Gray this season.


In the final Gray defeated points leader Bo Butner with a 6.610 at 208.04 in his Gray Motorsports / Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro. Butner, who has secured the No. 1 seed heading into the Countdown to the Championship raced a 6.629 at 207.85 in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevy Camaro.


“I’m not sure what my team has done but they’ve got a handle on this car the last few races," Gray said. "They got something going right for them over there. They’re making my job a whole lot easier and I’m just blessed to be able to sit in the driver’s seat.”


Gray defeated two-time world champion Erica Enders and reigning world champion Jason Line before reaching the finals. Butner defeated Doug Rivers, Gray’s father, Shane Gray, and KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson to get to his eighth finals appearance of the season.

Although she was unable to capture her third career Brainerd win at this weekend's 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Erica Enders says progress is being made with her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, as witnessed by her race day performance.


After qualifying with a 6.665-second quarter-mile pass at a top speed of 206.42 mph, Enders managed to improve her best time of the event twice on Sunday, first beating teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. with a 6.659 at 207.78 mph and then running a 6.648 at 207.66 mph in a close loss to Tanner Gray.


"We made some gains this weekend in regards to getting the car up and moving off the starting line," Enders said. "But we're still not running as well as we should. This team is used to winning championships. This team is used to contending for every race win. Anything less than that just doesn't measure up for us.


"It's really hard for our whole team to race like this. We are definitely behind the eight ball right now with all four of the team cars. We have to fix our hotrods and until we do it's going to be hard to expect different results."




Jerry Savoie, the Pro Stock Motorcycle reigning world champion, defeated teammate and points leader LE Tonglet in the finals for his second win of the season and eighth of his career. Savoie’s 6.846 pass at 194.80 on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki bettered Tonglet’s 6.910 at 194.02 on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki.


“The season has been really good," Savoie said. "I’ve had some misfortune a couple times and my riding hasn’t been like it should be. LE is solid as a rock so when you beat him it’s pretty rewarding. He’s taught me a lot and I’ve taught him some things and we thrive off each other. We bring out the best in each other and that’s what it takes to win races.”


Savoie faced Mike Berry, Angie Smith and Matt Smith before lining up against Tonglet in his third finals appearance of the season. Tonglet, who has five victories this season, raced past 2016 Rookie of the Year Cory Reed and five-time world champ Andrew Hines before facing his teammate.


Steve Johnson turned on the red light to get Tonglet into the second round where he defeated Cory Reed (6.850/194.77 to 6.961/190.00). In the semifinal Tonglet’s 6.869/194.63 was enough for Andrew Hines’ 6.952/195.79.

After securing his first No. 1 qualifier award in slightly more than two years, Lucas Oil Racing TV Buell rider Hector Arana Jr. had big plans for hoisting the trophy of the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals late Sunday afternoon. But a fading motor ended his day in the quarterfinal round, a result that didn't sit well with the fourth-ranked rider in the world.


"Our bike was running great on Friday but for whatever reason, she kind of went downhill from there," Arana said. "We ran the same motor all weekend. It was one of two new motors we brought here and it showed itself really well early on. Now we'll have to take it apart and see why it started going south on us.


"We didn't drop off a cliff, performance-wise, but it really started dragging between the 60-foot and 330-foot timers, which is where you do most of your accelerating. When you look at the data you can see it's down in that area. We'll just have to get home and go through everything and try to figure out why."

Cory Reed took the first-round win with a 6.944/190.03 over Scotty Pollacheck’s 6.960/191.54, but lost to Tonglet in the second round.




Top Fuel: 1. Antron Brown, 1,513; 2. Steve Torrence, 1,482; 3. Leah Pritchett, 1,453; 4. Tony Schumacher, 1,121; 5. Brittany Force, 1,052; 6. Doug Kalitta, 1,038; 7. Clay Millican, 1,014; 8. Terry McMillen, 722; 9. Scott Palmer, 649; 10. Troy Coughlin Jr., 576.


Funny Car: 1. Ron Capps, 1,383; 2. Robert Hight, 1,247; 3. Matt Hagan, 1,214; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 1,180; 5. Jack Beckman, 1,160; 6. Courtney Force, 1,012; 7. John Force, 954; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 792; 9. J.R. Todd, 788; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 664.


Pro Stock: 1. Bo Butner, 1,526; 2. Tanner Gray, 1,300; 3. Greg Anderson, 1,263; 4. Jason Line, 1,123; 5. Drew Skillman, 1,089; 6. Erica Enders, 1,044; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 1,006; 8. Vincent Nobile, 899; 9. Allen Johnson, 657; 10. Chris McGaha, 645.


Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. LE Tonglet, 874; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 690; 3. Jerry Savoie, 655; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 632; 5. Matt Smith, 581; 6. Andrew Hines, 529; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 528; 8. Joey Gladstone, 427; 9. Karen Stoffer, 408; 10. Angie Smith, 394. 


Along the way to the Brainerd Winner's Circle, Alexis DeJoria defeated Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon, John Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. Sunday’s victory was DeJoria’s fifth career Funny Car win and eighth visit to the final round.


The Patrón Funny Car pilot qualified 10th for the Brainerd event and started race day ranked 14th in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, 48 points out of the No. 10 spot. After defeating Tim Wilkerson in the first round of eliminations, DeJoria found herself in a Countdown-critical matchup with Pedregon. Both DeJoria and Pedregon are part of a fierce five-way battle for the coveted final NHRA Countdown Top 10 spot. DeJoria’s 3.883-second pass easily defeated Pedregon’s 4.505 and advanced Team Patrón to the semifinals.


DeJoria faced John Force in the semifinal round and once again, her expertly tuned Patrón Camry made another stout run (3.892) and ended the 16-time World Champion’s day.


The final round saw Team Patrón squaring off against Tommy Johnson Jr. Both drivers were quick off of the starting line but Johnson Jr.’s 3.933-second pass was no match for DeJoria’s 3.906.

Alexis drew a crowd while packing her ‘chute.


“I’m very resilient. That’s the way I was raised; you never give up,” DeJoria said after the win. “The last two years have been really difficult. Lots of ups and downs, injuries, no wins, we just couldn’t get up to speed. We’re fighting so hard out here. It’s the hard times that make the wins so much better. You really appreciate every moment.”


With the Brainerd victory, DeJoria has moved into the No. 10 Countdown spot and will go into the final event of the regular season defending her Countdown to the Championship berth opportunity, rather than chasing it. DeJoria has a 12-point lead over the 11th ranked Countdown contender.

Tommy Johnson Jr. began his day by besting Jonnie Lindberg on a clean pass when Lindberg smoked his tires, setting up a showdown between Johnson and Courtney Force in round two. Johnson turned on the win light again with a solid lap as Force's engine shut off shortly after leaving the starting line.


Johnson then beat Robert Hight in a wild semifinal race to reach the final round. Hight thought Johnson had turned on the red light and had trouble getting off the starting line, while Johnson lost traction and tried to keep the car off the wall as he pedaled and fishtailed down track to turn on the win light.


"It's another runner-up, which is frustrating, but at the same time it's a really good thing," said Johnson, who moved up one spot to fourth in the championship standings with Terry and Doug Chandler's Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T Powered by Pennzoil.


"We made a move in the points today, got ourselves in the top four and one of these days if we continue to run like that that runner-up's going to become a win.”



Auto Club of Southern California driver Robert Hight left Brainerd International Raceway on Sunday with the national elapsed time record, second place in the Funny Car points standings and his 400th elimination round victory after the NHRA Nationals.


But Hight, who turned 48 on Sunday, wanted more – much more.


A bizarre semifinal match Sunday resulted in Hight’s six-round winning streak coming to an end after an impressive weekend for him and his John Force Racing team.

In the fastest and quickest side-by-side run in NHRA Mello Yello history, Robert Hight of John Force Racing knocked Matt Hagan off the provisional pole Friday with the first Funny Car run to crack into the 3.7-second range. Hight, who has won two of the past three NHRA events, completed his run in 3.793 seconds at 338.50 mph to better Hagan's previous record of 3.802.


“I could tell it was running fast,” Hight said. “The clutch disc was boiling, and that’s the way Jimmy runs it. That’s how he wants to wear the clutch. It was hard to see, but I did see the 3.79 on the scoreboard, because we shut off at 1,000 feet, I had the chutes out, and I glanced up there but I didn’t know the speed.”


Hight also holds the Funny Car national speed record of 339.87 mph set recently at Sonoma Raceway.


And his first-round win at Brainerd over Dale Creasy was the 400th of his career.


But Hight was kicking himself for double-stepping in the semifinals, which eventually cost him a victory over Tommy Johnson Jr.


“It’s business as usual with this car lately,” Hight said. “I just screwed up. I did leave too soon, but I held the brake. I didn’t let go of the brake, so it didn’t go through the beams. I didn’t know that – I thought I red-lit.


“There’s a big yellow thing on the wall down there, and I looked and saw it and thought it was his win light on.”


Johnson struck the tires and started to pedal his car, while Hight thought the race was already over.


“Long Tree, and my foot moved,” Hight said. “I’ve got to do better. I cannot let this happen again. I’ve got to pay more attention and focus.”


Johnson’s pass was 6.875 seconds at 128.60 mph, while Hight coasted to a 9.806-second run at 78.40 mph.

Reigning Funny Car world champion Ron Capps made his 500th career NHRA start this weekend in central Minnesota becoming just the sixth NHRA racer to reach the milestone. Capps defeated J.R. Todd in the first round, but fell to Hight in the second.

Tony Schumacher, the record eight-time Top Fuel world champion who is the winningest all-time driver in his class with 83 event titles, beat Troy Coughlin Jr., in the first round to up his record number of elimination round wins to 800 before dropping his second-round matchup against Clay Millican.


That was quite the run Clay and his boys put together,” said Schumacher, a three-time Brainerd event titlist. “They’ve been running well. We were actually targeting a 67 (3.67 seconds) but had a little something go wrong with the clutch that we haven’t figured out yet. It would’ve won that race and put us in the semis.


“But, so far so good with our new car after its first six runs ever. It’s a championship-caliber car, in my opinion, and that’s our goal every year. This new U.S. Army car is fast, it’s consistent, and I think we’re headed to the right race with the right car at the right time.”

Brittany Force qualified No. 2 in Top Fuel on Friday, making a run of 3.685 seconds at a track-record speed of 333.16 mph. That speed was the third best in NHRA history.

Clay Millican and the Stringer Performance crew laid down two record setting runs. Millican came into race day qualified No. 5 with an elapsed time of 3.706 at 324.12 mph. In Round One, Millican raced No. 12 qualifier Chris Karamasines. With a track temperature of 88 degrees Millican made the second quickest run in NHRA Top Fuel history with a time of 3.655 at 330.23 mph and took the win. In Round Two, Millican came up against Tony Schumacher and the track heated up to 96 degrees. Millican ended up making the third quickest run in Top Fuel history at 3.658 at 330.47 mph. He then met Leah Pritchett in the semifinals and his day was done.

Terry McMillen didn’t have the race he had hoped for, yet the ‘small team with a big dream’ remains eighth in points with one race remaining before the playoff style Countdown is set. McMillen’s AMALIEⓇ Motor Oil XTERMIGATORⓇ Top Fuel Dragster fell short in an opening round loss to Scott Palmer after qualifying in the ninth spot.


“We certainly didn’t have the stellar weekend we were looking for to follow our success in Seattle,” McMillen said. “We sheared the bolts off of the blower pulley in the first round, so that certainly didn’t help our cause. We’re not going to take anything away from Palmer and his team. They ran some career best numbers this weekend and had a great run against us. They did what they had to do to stay right there with us to stay in the top ten.”


“We have had huge improvements in every aspect of our race program. I think it’s a real testament to our crew chief,” McMillen added. “Rob Wendland is doing a stellar job. He and Bob Peck (car chief) have done an outstanding job dealing with adversity to get this far. We’ve had mid-season crew changes that can add a dynamic to the team. Plus, when you start running harder, the life span on parts gets much shorter. We don’t have the depth of parts like the mega teams do. We’ve accomplished a lot - and we’re far from done.”

Scott Palmer defeated Terry McMillen in the first round, but then lost to Pritchett.




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