The best way to keep track of what was happening at Maple Grove Raceway and the National Hot Rod Association’s Auto-Plus Nationals was to write the results on a chalkboard and keep an eraser handy — especially in the Top Fuel class.
Rain made the schedule hard enough to keep up with. But the hardy drag-racing fans who came back for Monday’s conclusion of this fourth race in the six-event Countdown to the Championship received a special treat. They saw the quickest passes in the history of the sport, a surprise Top Fuel winner, a victory for John Force Racing, and the Pro Stock winner break a four-year drought.
BROWN STILL IN COMMAND – Top Fuel points leader Antron Brown left Reading with the national elapsed-time record that changed hands four times in the course of the race, including three times in back-to-back rounds. He also opened up a 104-point advantage over closest rival Spencer Massey as the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series moves in three weeks to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
About the only thing Brown couldn’t do in his Matco Tools Dragster was beat long-overdue class rookie Khalid al Balooshi in the final round. He smoked the tires in his 11th final of the season and posted a 9.818-second, 75.99-mph effort. Al Balooshi, the reigning Pro Modified champion, used a 3.910-second, 312.42-mph pass on the 1,000-foot Maple Grove Raceway course to earn his first Top Fuel Wally trophy.
Losing, Brown said, “is nothing to be disappointed about. No mixed feelings. We’ve just been firing off our best shots each round. There’s no reason to hold our heads down. We got a record, got an extra 20 points. All in all, it was a great weekend for points.”
What helped him pad that lead was a 20-point bonus for his 3.701-second pass at 328.78 mph in the semifinal round against Brandon Bernstein. With that, he reclaimed the national E.T. record he had at the end of Sunday’s rain-shortened activity.
At the end of the racetrack, when they told me our E.T., I didn’t even know we ran that quick, because I didn’t see the scoreboard. I was just in awe. I was stunned. – Antron Brown
When the event opened, the record belonged to reigning but retired-from-driving class champion Del Worsham at 3.735. Morgan Lucas rewrite that with a 3.733-second qualifying run. In Round 2 Sunday, Brown grabbed it with a 3.722. Rain halted racing with one more pairing to go. Shawn Langdon came out Monday morning and finished the round with a 3.712-second pass at 334.15 mph that was the quickest and fastest ever in beating Doug Kalitta (who had been fastest ever with a 331.45 in qualifying). But Brown trumped Langdon with the 3.701.
Brown said he was dumbfounded he regained the record — and its 20 points. “At the end of the racetrack, when they told me our E.T., I didn’t even know we ran that quick, because I didn’t see the scoreboard. I was just in awe. I was stunned. People thought I would be doing cartwheels and backflips, but I was just shocked. It hit me emotionally. It was a great hard fought battle all weekend.”
AL BALOOSHI SCORES FIRST DRAGSTER VICTORY – In a class and an event in which national records fell almost as often as the raindrops, with Top Fuel E.T. stunners in the 3.71- and 3.72-second ranges, the Wally trophy went to a first-time winner who was advancing with 3.9s. Moreover, it went to the No. 9 starter, a Countdown non-qualifier who had won only seven rounds before this event, a driver and who had lost in the opening round at the first 12 races of this rookie Top Fuel season. Khalid al Balooshi, who had promised week after disheartening week to keep trying his best, finally broke through with a victory in the Al-Anabi-Toyota Racing Dragster. Los Angeles-based Dubai native gave crew chief Jason McCulloch and the team its first victory since they won the Phoenix race last October 16 with driver Larry Dixon.
Al Balooshi said he felt like this could be his lucky race after opening eliminations Sunday by ousting Spencer Massey, the four-time winner and nine-time finalist this season who had led the standings on five separate occasions and is No. 2 in the standings.
Then he defeated another upset-minded driver, Ike Maier, who had sent No. 1 qualifier Dave Grubnic home in the first round. In the semifinal, al Balooshi beat Al-Anabi teammate Shawn Langdon, who’s in the thick of the Top Fuel title battle and had just set registered the fastest Top Fuel pass ever at 334.15 mph.
Then he had to face Antron Brown, the points leader who had raised eyebrows and lowered the E.T. mark to 3.701 seconds. Al Balooshi capitalized on Brown’s tire-smoking challenge and won with a 3.910-second, 312.42-mph pass on the 1,000-foot Maple Grove Raceway course.
I try my best, and I know everybody on the team tries his best. Finally I won the first one. – Khalid alBalooshi
“I try my best, and I know everybody on the team tries his best. Finally I won the first one,” al Balooshi said. “I have been waiting about this position for a long time. This is one of the small things I can give my team and [team manager] Alan Johnson. Every car is flying. Everybody’s close. I’m happy to do this one. Man, from the beginning of the week, if you keep watching it, every car in the qualifying . . . is looking to break the record. Everybody’s looking to run fast.”
NEFF STRATEGY WORKS – Mike Neff carried the John Force Racing banner into the Funny car final round and kept his championship hopes alive with an easy victory over Johnny Gray. That puts him within 54 points of new class leader Beckman with two races to go. Neff drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a 4.030-second, 317.94-mph clocking against Johnny Gray’s 9.305, 77.88. After the tuner-driver’s fourth victory this season, with an average E.T. of 4.029 seconds, he said, “It is nice to be alive for the championship. [Jack] Beckman and [Ron] Capps had a pretty good lead on us. We couldn’t give up any more ground. Realistically, we needed to win the next three races to have a shot at it. To get out of here with the win is big. We did all we could here. It feels good to make some forward progress.”
He said he marveled at the astonishing Top Fuel numbers, as well as the 3.9-second E.T.s by Funny Car drivers Beckman and Cruz Pedregon. “Those three-second runs were impressive. I just didn’t have that,” Neff said. “I made my career-best run, a 4.01, and I was pleased with that. But I didn’t want to take the chance in the final to try and run three seconds and smoke the tires. I decided to play it safe and make some solid runs and just try and get the round wins.
We haven’t seen conditions like this in quite some time. You saw the dragsters, and that was really impressive. – Mike Neff
“We haven’t seen conditions like this in quite some time. You saw the dragsters, and that was really impressive. It was really awesome to watch. What those guys were running is just unbelievable,” he said. “That showed you what the conditions were like out there.”
BECKMAN OVERTAKES CAPPS – After assuming the points lead for the first time this season, Schumacher Electric/Valvoline Dodge Charger driver Jack Beckman has a 23-point edge on Ron Capps (whom he beat in the second round Monday) and a 54-point lead on third-place Mike Neff, the Reading event winner. “We had a great weekend. The disappointment was that it could’ve been almost literally a perfect weekend,” Beckman said. “The problem is our car was so, so great this weekend that nothing but the trophy would’ve satisfied us.” He dominated qualifying, setting the national elapsed time record (3.986 seconds) that earned him 20 bonus points, and reached the semifinals. Beckman also surpassed his own national speed record at 320.58 mph, but that does not pay bonus points. “It will be interesting,” Beckman said of the final tow races of the season, at Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif. “It’s going to be a three-car showdown for the championship. All three cars seem to be running right at the right time.”
GAINES GAINS IN PRO STOCK – In Pro Stock action, V Gaines ended a 111-race winless streak. It was his fourth victory in 10 overall final rounds and his first victory in two finals this year. He won with a 6.515-second E.T. at 212.26 mph on the quarter-mile, as opponent Dave Connolly fouled out by one-hundredth of a second (.016).Gaines improved from ninth to sixth in the standings.
TOP FUEL PUTS ON SATURDAY SHOW – The Top Fuel class’ entertaining display in Saturday qualifying was only a harbinger of horsepower, especially because it came with some weird twists. Morgan Lucas set the national E.T. record in the GEICO /Lucas Oil Dragster but qualified second to Kalitta Motorsports’ Dave Grubnic, in the Rocky Boots Dragster. Grubnic ran a quicker E.T. than Lucas, but it wasn’t a national record because he didn’t make a run within the mandated one percent to validate the mark. Grubnic teammate Doug Kalitta ran alongside Grubnic and posted what at the time was the sixth-quickest and second-fastest in the history of Top Fuel (331.45 mph) in the Kalitta Air Dragster. But Kalitta had to start eliminations from the No. 4 position. Points leader Antron Brown has been saying that this competition is tough, and that just the first batch of evidence this race had to offer.
MASSEY STUMBLES EARLY- After his Todd Okuhara- and Phil Shuler-led Prestone/FRAM Dragster crew recovered from two nasty engine explosions in qualifying, Spencer Massey lost in the first pairing of the opening round to eventual winner Khalid al Balooshi. Just two races ago, Massey had a share of the points lead. Heading into Las Vegas for the penultimate race of the Countdown, Massey remains No. 2. “That’s a tough one to take,” he said. “We ran great, but we just got beat. It just shows how tough it is out here. Not very often do you post a 3.77 and not get a win light.”
TIM WILKERSON – The Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Ford Mustang owner-driver worked his way up from 12th to fifth during the past six races (and from 10th to fifth in the Countdown). But his failure to qualify at Reading mathematically eliminated him from championship contention. Wilkerson took it in stride. “We’ll go to Vegas and Pomona and do everything we can to win those races so that we can finish as high in the points as possible. No heads are hanging here. We still have nothing to lose. And you know, I went over to Johnny Gray’s and met a little boy, just the cutest little kid, and he has inoperable brain tumors. That puts everything in a different light. So we didn’t make the field at this race. That’s tough to take, but it’s really nothing when you put it in perspective.”
SILVER LINING FOR LINE – Jason Line didn’t leave Reading with a repeat Pro Stock victory or the national E.T. that would have sliced Allen Johnson’s lead by 20 more points. But he did reset his own national speed mark at 214.35 mph when he defeated KB/Summit Racing teammate Ronnie Humphrey in Round 2. His 6.482-second E.T. in a first-round victory over Shane Gray tied the second-quickest time in class history (his own). Line has the five quickest E.T.s in Pro Stock history.
HARLEYS HELD UP – All the racing finished Monday except the Pro Stock Motorcycle final round. With more rain showers moving into the Reading area Monday afternoon, the showdown between Vance & Hines Screamin Eagle Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec was postponed until the Big O Tires Nationals at Las Vegas in three weeks. Hines set the national E.T. record in the semifinals at 6.720 seconds.