Bob Vandergriff won his third Top Fuel race Sunday, but Hector Arana Jr. won his third straight. They joined two other two-time series champions — Funny Car’s Cruz Pedregon and Pro Stock’s Jason Line — in the winners circle at the O’Reilly Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway at Baytown, Texas, near Houston.
LIVING LARGE IN TEXAS – Top Fuel winner Bob Vandergriff had a simple strategy. “We kept letting everybody beat themselves,” Vandergriff said. Meanwhile, he said, “We kept pecking away at it and pecking away at it. They gave us enough chances to get it straightened out, and we made a really good run in the final for the conditions.” It was his first victory this season and third overall. “We made enough changes to get the car to the finish line under power,” he said after using a 3.904-second, 316.38-mph blast in the C&J Energy Services Dragster to easily defeat tire-smoking Shawn Langdon.
We kept letting everybody beat themselves. We kept pecking away at it and pecking away at it. They gave us enough chances to get it straightened out, and we made a really good run in the final for the conditions. – Bob Vandergriff Jr.
“They’d have had to make a real good run to beat us, and they didn’t. Either way, it was going to be a tough round for ‘em.” The Vandergriff stable expanded to three cars this past weekend, adding JR Todd to the mix with he and Clay Millican, and the team owner-driver said the extra hands came in especially handy with the NHRA and ESPN2 committing to a live broadcast. He said even the part-time crew members “have got more Wallys on their mantels than I have, from other teams they’ve worked with. All those guys know their way around the race car. We very rarely have any issues regarding maintenance.” Vandergriff continued his tradition of winning, then jumping from the car and running back up the track on foot to meet his crew.
CRUZ SWEEPS – Cruz Pedregon’s 32nd Funny Car trophy was his third from Houston but his first at this spring event in 21 years. He earned it in dominating fashion, as No. 1 qualifier with quickest time and speed for the weekend (4.086 seconds, 310.41 mph Friday). He became the class’ first repeat winner this season as he recorded his third victory in the past seven races (dating back to the final 2012 event). “I love live TV. I’m glad NHRA is doing it, but it made for some tense moments,” he said, referring to the abbreviated turnaround time and the trouble he discovered when warming up his Snap-on Toyota Camry for the final round against Tim Wilkerson.
“We had a spark plug wire that wouldn’t go onto the plug,” he said. Pedregon added he was shocked to reach the starting line and see Wilkerson (who had worried about his rather young crew keeping up the accelerated pace) ready to roll. And he said he was glad NHRA officials gave him a little extra time to get into place. “The track was challenging. We were doing things I hadn’t done ever with this car,” he said. “Wilkerson was a formidable opponent. It was pretty much anybody’s ballgame there.” Pedregon won with a 4.246, 296.96 to Wilkerson’s 6.914, 102.08.
LUCKY LINE GETS 30TH WALLY – In his first Pro Stock final this season, Jason Line scored his first 2013 victory. Luckily for the KB/Summit Racing Equipment Camaro driver, he launched first on opponent Shane Gray with a nearly perfect .007 reaction time and won although the two registered identical 6.589 elapsed times and 211-mph speeds. The march to his 30th victory began with a close call, as he defeated Matt Hartford by a mere .0002 of a second (two-10,000th-of a second) in the first round.
The Pro Stock cars were affected significantly by the condition of the track after heavy rain Saturday. Line said, “It was especially tough for us, because we’ve been a little lost lately. But today, it worked out. I’m not sure how. I’ll have to go back and look at everything to try to understand how it all worked out the way it did, but we’re happy.” He called his team “a work in progress” and said getting down the racetrack every time out “is something we haven’t done all year. It has been a fight. After awhile, you start to wonder if you’ll ever get to the winners circle again, so this feels really good.”
ARANA JR. RULER NOW – Less than a year ago, Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Hector Arana Jr. was calling himself a “peasant” who had to defer to the Harley-Davidson kings of the class, Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines. Since the NHRA instated rules aimed at performance parity, Arana is on the other side of the fence — and he’s enjoying it with his third consecutive victory this year. So three of his six total triumphs have come in this season’s three bike-class appearances on the schedule. He beat Sovereign Star Racing Buell racer Scotty Pollacheck, his closest rival in the standings and in the starting lineup Sunday, in the final round (6.912 seconds at 194.74 mph to 6.985, 188.54 on the Baytown, Texas, quarter-mile).
Arana was top qualifier and had low elapsed time and top speed of the meet (6.876, 195.39 in qualifying). He became the first since Matt Hines in 1998 to win at least the first three races of a season. The late Dave Schultz won the first four races of the 1991 season. “It was very exciting to seal the deal,” Arana Jr. said after his second straight final-round appearance at Houston. “This is the most nervous I’ve been, I guess trying to keep up that reputation and all the pressure. I’m handling it well. I’ve got to thank my crew. They’re doing an awesome job. Our bike hasn’t been the fastest every run on Sunday, but we’ve been the most consistent. That’s what wins races. Myself, as a rider, I feel like I’ve been pretty consistent, too. That combination right there, that’s lethal. We’ve been able to keep doing it.”
RAIN CUTS QUALIFYING IN HALF – For the second straight weekend, both nitro classes lost a full day to rain. Doug Kalitta led the Top Fuel field, and Cruz Pedregon was No. 1 in Funny Car for the second time in four races this year. It also was the second time this season Pedregon won from the top spot. While some adapted better to the conditions than others, 2012 Top Fuel event winner Morgan Lucas said, “It was an emotional roller coaster for everybody. We lost two runs Saturday due to all the weather, and it was frustrating to sit around. When you do your burnout and you notice the rain has literally washed 60 percent of the rubber off the racetrack, it opens your eyes. And your mind switches from reaction-time mode to get ready to pedal it and catch it right. A race like this is all about survival.”
LANGDON, AL-ANABI SHOW WELL – Shawn Langdon’s second straight and third overall final-round appearance of the season marked the third time in four years the Al-Anabi/Toyota team ran for the trophy at Houston. In 2010, Larry Dixon won for the Alan Johnson-managed team, and in 2011, Del Worsham beat teammate Dixon to win. “We just basically overpowered the race track, but we’ve learned from it. We’ve raced in the last two final rounds, and if we keep doing that, we’ll win one of them soon,” Langdon, the Winternationals winner, said. “Having that 55-minute turn-around for the live broadcast was pretty hard on the Al-Anabi crew guys. But 35 minutes after the semifinal, they had the car disassembled, put back together, warmed up, and ready to go to the final round.”
NO DSR – For the first time in 41 events, since the July 10, 2011 Joliet, Ill., race, Don Schumacher Racing had no cars in either the Top Fuel or Funny Car final.
EDWARDS STREAK OVER – Jeg Coughlin stopped Mike Edwards’ Pro Stock No. 1 qualifying streak at five races.
PERFECT LIGHT NOT ENOUGH – Hector Arana Sr. recorded the first perfect reaction time of his career in the first round against red-lighting Steve Johnson, but he wasn’t as quick at the Christmas tree against his next opponent, his own son, Hector Jr. His son got the jump on him and won on a holeshot (with a slower E.T.).
“I don’t think I ever had a .000 light [before]. The closest that I ever had was a .001 against Eddie [Krawiec],” Arana Sr. said. “That just shows you that don’t count me out yet. They’re thinking, ‘His kids are out here. The old man’s getting old. It’s probably time to retire.’ I still have it. I’ve just got to stay focused. That’s the hardest thing for me right now.” He said he’s eager to race Hector Jr.: “Right now for me, he’s the guy I want to race. He’s No. 1. He’s the best guy out there, so I need to race against the best so I can be the best.”
MAKING PROGRESS – Improving Alexis DeJoria posted her second semifinals finish in three events in the Tequila Patron Toyota Camry to climb back into the top 10 at No. 9 — in her adopted home state of Texas. “They’re knocking on the door,” Cruz Pedregon said.
A MONTH OFF – The Pro Stock Motorcycle class will be idle until May 31-June 2 at the Toyota Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J. The tour heads to Atlanta Dragway at Commerce, Ga., for the May 3-5 Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals.