Funny Car underdog Bob Bode stole the show on Sunday as he powered his way through the field on Sunday for his first career NHRA Full Throttle Series victory at the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, MN. He was joined in the winner circle by Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle). It was certainly a day for the ages for fans of the little guy, as three different competitors all had a shot at grabbing their first ever NHRA Wally’s, but only Bode emerged victorious. The Brainerd event marked the final opportunity for competitors to gain much needed points toward earning a position in the lucrative Countdown to the Championship, which begins at the next event at Indianapolis.
Larry Dixon kept his final round streak alive in Top Fuel, as he won his ninth straight final round, while also remaining perfect against opponent Cory McClenathan in final rounds. On his way to victory lane, Dixon also left Steve Torrence, Shawn Langdon, and Doug Kalitta in his wake.
“I feel fortunate,” said Dixon. “When I lifted (off the throttle), it popped … I got heat-treated a little bit … but I saw the win light.”
Bode began eliminations with a rout of Cruz Pedregon, 41.5 to 5.10, the in the second round grabbed a great holeshot defeat of Bob Tasca III, 4.14 to 4.12. In the semifinals, Bode bested a wheelstanding Tim Wilkerson to advance into the final, where he would meet Jack Beckman, who held a definitive performance advantage throughout the day. In a huge upset, however, Beckman struck the tires early, and Bode sailed on through to capture his first professional victory with a 4.53 at slowing 254.66 MPH.
“All of this is kind of like a dream I’m afraid I’m gonna wake up from,” Bode said. “I didn’t know if it would ever happen, but now that it did, I can’t believe it happened. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my entire life in the racing world. I have a wife and kid, wonderful things there, but the racing world, this is it.”
Coughlin nabbed his 52nd career Pro Stock victory in his third consecutive final round, defeating surprise finalist Shane Gray, 6.61 to Gray’s 6.65 after an oh-so-close -.001 red light. Coughlin edged Ron Krisher in the opening round, 6.612 to 6.619, Jason Line in roune two, 6.61 to 6.62, and mail order rival Greg Anderson, 6.60 to 6.64 to advance to the final.
“This is as close as we’ve been to the points leader all year,” said Coughlin. “That’s the way the playoff and the Countdown to 1 works. We’ve had that work to our advantage for a couple of years and had that work against us last year. This year, we were probably no way shape or form going to contend for our sixth world title, but we are.”
In a David vs Goliath Pro Stock Motorcycle final, first-time finalist Greg Underdahl had a shot at winning his first ever NHRA event, but just didn’t have enough for perennial favorite Andrew Hines, who not only won the event, but passes points leader Hector Arana to gain the No. 1 seed going into the Countdown.
“Big win,” Hines said. “I’ve never been No. 1 going into the playoffs so it’s nice to be in this position. Three or four races ago we were looking at the point and Hector had something like a 160-point lead and we just wrote it off that we wouldn’t make it there. Luck turned to our side, the motorcycle started performing better and Hector faltered a little bit and we capitalized on it.”
Doug Kalitta unseated Friday leader Brandon Bernstein and captured his second No. 1 position in the last four races with a great 3.842 at 305.49 MPH in his Kalitta Air dragster.
“We managed to get down both lanes today so I think the track is pretty good,” said Kalitta. “(Sunday) is supposed to be a little cooler so I think the fans are going to be in for a treat with the performances. (Team owner) Connie (Kalitta) won this race in 1985 and I’ve had some luck here as well, so hopefully we can have a good day.”
Ashley Force Hood was the only leader from Friday that maintained her position atop the field with her 4.102 elapsed time.
“We won the last race before the Countdown (to 1) last year, so we’re trying to start a little tradition,” Force Hood said. “We can move up to sixth (place in the Funny Car point standings) and we really utilized our qualifying here. It was only a handful of points but they might be the ones we need later this year.”
In Pro Stock, the Mike Edwards juggernaut powered to the top of the field on Saturday, running a 6.644 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries GXP to claim his NHRA-leading 11th pole position of the season.
“We’re not the man anymore, we’re just holding on and trying to be as good as we can. There are a lot of cars faster than us right now. We’re real fortunate to be No. 1,” Edwards said. “(Sunday), Pro Stock is going to be awesome. All the Full Throttle fans are in for some great side by side racing. I’m excited.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines improved upon his Friday performance with a 6.915 at 19.340 MPH to maintain his position atop the qualifying sheet heading into tomorrow’s eliminations.
“Everybody picked up (on Saturday),” Hines said. “Matt Smith picked up pretty good, he was right in front of me and when he was going down the track I’m like, ‘Oh he’s going No. 1.’ But as soon as I popped the clutch and felt my bike leave I’m like, ‘Oh he’s done.’
In Top Fuel, Brandon Bernstein grabbed the provisional pole in his Copart dragster, traversing the Brainerd course in 3.847 seconds at 302.97 MPH. It would mark Bernstein’s first No.1 qualifying position of the season if he remains atop the field.
“This is a great race for us to come on strong,” Bernstein said. “We’ve been right there the last four to six races and to be peaking right now is perfect, right before Indy and the countdown and then charge right on. We hope this is an indication that we’re going to be up there at the top and run for the championship.”
Bernstein is followed by Cory McClenathan, Morgan Lucas, Shawn Langdon, and David Grubnic in the top five after the rain-shortened single round of qualifying.
Ashley Force Hood currently sits atop the Funny Car field after one round with a great 4.102 at 302.55 MPH in her Castrol GTX Mustang.
“With all of the delays, and not knowing we were going to run, there was no time for me to talk to my crew chiefs about what we were going to run,” Force Hood said. “Suddenly we are going to run, and I didn’t want to bother the crew chiefs to ask them. I don’t need to know what’s in the tune-up; I just need to react to what the car is doing and get it A to B.”
The surging Allen Johnson sits atop the Pro Stock leaderboard going into tomorrows qualifying, and would stand as his third straight No. 1 qualifying performance if he can hold on to the spot. His 6.702 at 206.61 leads Mike Edwards, Johnny Gray, Ron Krisher, and V. Gaines.
“We made a really, really good run,” said Johnson. “We took our Denver momentum and our engine combination and improving on it a little bit. We’ll take that run and build on it for the next run and hopefully improve even more.”
Andrew Hines claimed the provisional pole on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley Davidson with a stellar 6.977 at 191.46 MPH.
“It was a nice, clean, straight run; that was a great start to the weekend,” Hines said. “We’ve done a lot of work over the last couple of weeks and completely tore apart every engine we have, so we have a couple of different combinations we can try this weekend. We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeves and think we can go faster.”