Factory Super Cars runner Stephen Bell, from Shreveport, Louisiana, went for a ride in the opening round of eliminations yesterday when fluid got under the rear tires of his 2015 COPO Camaro, sending him careening into the wall nose-first near the half-track marker. Bell slid t a stop and kept the car upright, restricting the damage to the front end of the car. Bell had qualified No. 2 with a 8.108 at 167.70 mph. After a brief delay to gather his senses, Bell climbed from the car unhurt and surveyed the damage. His opponent, Kevin Skinner, advanced on with an 8.15.
Later in the round, with the season championship on the line, Chuck Watson fouled out to Pennsylvania’s David Barton, handing the title to Barton.
John Force recorded a career-best 3.832 during qualifying to position himself second on the ladder for today’s eliminations. Force, who fell in the opening round last weekend at Reading, is trying to remain within reach of a 17th title — two points during Friday evening’s session and two more in Saturday’s third session helping his cause.
Lacking the consistency seen by teammates Robert Hight and daughter Courtney Force, Force’s crew chief Mike Neff and co-crew chief Jon Schaffer have been working with Jimmy Prock and Hight co-crew chief Chris Cunningham to turn the program around in the season’s final four races.
“I’d been struggling with my car, but bottom line, I made some good runs so far this weekend,” Force said. “I have a good race car. We won’t know until tomorrow what it will do though. We had the track record in ET there for about 15 seconds until Robert went out. We’re working together, my guys Schaffer and Neff are working close with Cunningham and Prock; that’s our new direction, so I’m excited about that.”
AAA-sponsored driver Robert Hight led this morning’s track walk, which allows the early-bird fans an opportunity to take a walk down to the 1,00-foot mark and back.
Top qualifier Clay Millican recorded the second-best run of the opening round of Top Fuel with a great 3.66, but in the second round struck the tires opposite of Dom Lagana’s Nitro Ninja dragster, ending what was otherwise a career highlight type of weekend.
John Force strapped a holeshot on daughter Courtney in the second round of Funny Car eliminations, .041 to .094, snagging a semi-final berth by a 3..91 to 3.88 count. Force will race points leader Ron Capps.
Doug Kalitta’s Mac tools crew had a lot of work on their hands after an opening round 3.84-second victory over Scott Palmer. Kalitta’s dragster leveled the supercharger at the stripe in a ball of fire. Kalitta turned around and ousted Brittany Force in round two, 3.71 to a 4.25.
Jason Line score low elapsed time of the opening round of Pro Stock, defeating Alan Prusiensky, 6.512 to a slowing 13.77. Line will race teammate Bo Butner in the semis after edging Deric Kramer in round two, 6.55 to 6.61.
Robert Hight will take on Jonnie Lindberg in the semi-final round of Funny Car after defeating Matt Hagan in round two with a 3.91. Lindberg will have lane choice after running 3.87, low for the round, in his Jim Head-owned Toyota.
David Barton (left) will have to settle for the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown championship this weekend, because he will not race for the trophy here after his Camaro spun the tires in his semi-final matchup with No. 1 qualifier Peter Gasko. Kevin Skinner (right) will represent the Ford brigade in a Ford versus Chevrolet final with Gasko.
In what has become a title bout for the ages, Troy Coughlin claimed the points lead in Pro Modified with a final round victory over Khalid al Balooshi, 5.79 to a 5.85. Coughlin, in his Steve Petty-tuned JEGS.com twin-turbo C7 Corvette, gained the advantage out of the gate on Balooshi’s Rickie Smith-owned and tuned Camaro and never looked back, in the process taking the points lead away from Mike Castellana, who has been on top of the standings since the season opener in Gainesville, Florida. Coughlin now leads the championship chase by 26 points, with one race remaining next month in Las Vegas.
Coughlin defeated Rickie Smith, Steven Whiteley, and Pete Farber to outlast what may have been the toughest field of Pro Modified cars ever assembled.
“Things are really good right now,” said Coughlin, the 2012 and 2015 Pro Mod world champion. “We came into this race a little more than two rounds behind in the points and now we’ve managed to flip it to where we actually have a little more than a round’s worth of a points lead going into the last race.
“This win was a total group effort. Crew chief Steve Petty, Kyle Pettis, Mike Rees, all of the guys on the JEGS.com team back at the shop, have done an excellent job keeping this car going. Mac Tools, Proline, Fuel Tech we couldn’t do it without those people and I couldn’t be prouder of everyone that helps us. They are the reason for our success.”
Steve Torrence drove to his 16th career Top Fuel victory and increased his lead in the Countdown with a final round defeat of Doug Kalitta, who trails him in the standings. With just .006-seconds separating them at the tree, Torrence drove his CAPCO dragster past Kalitta in a close race, 3.684 to 3.698. This was Torrence’s eighth win in 2017 and second final round in a row. He last won at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis last month. Torrence now leads Kalitta by 42 points.
“We got here by doing what we do all year long and doing it ourselves,” Torrence said. “We went out and we just took those guys out and put them back in the trailer. We’re leaving here with a bigger points lead and a trophy. You’re going to have to come in here and do everything you can to get every possible point because this thing could come down to one or two points at the end of the season.”
In Funny Car, Ron Capps took a solid step toward a second consecutive championship, earning his eighth victory on the season after edging out Jonnie Lindberg in the final, 3.87 to 3.90, after nearly identical reaction times. Capps defeated Jim Campbell, teammate Jack Beckman, and John Force en route to the money round.
“It was big for Tobler to really show that he can run in the cool conditions,” Capps said. “The season-ending race is points-and-half and the conditions will be cool after the time change. It’s going to be stout at Pomona. We know that. So we have to be able to run with those guys there.
“He’s the best racer, he’s so much fun to race with, I love his old-school mentality, he gave me the biggest compliment I’ve ever had working for him when he turned around to me after one of the rounds today in the pit area and I said, ‘great job, man.’
Greg Anderson defeated teammate Jason Line for his 89th victory and third of 2017 and did it on a holeshot, his 6.57 defeating a quicker-but-losing 6.54. Anderson was .030 to .059 on the tree. With the win, Anderson overtook teammate Bo Butner for the points lead by a mere three points. Anderson, Line, and Butner are all separated by just 76 points, or less than four rounds of racing.
It was just a dream weekend, and we gained a lot of points against some tough competition.
“You couldn’t have drawn it up better,” said Anderson, who was racing in the 148th final round of his career and 10th of the season. “It was just a dream weekend, and we gained a lot of points against some tough competition. The two Summit Racing Chevys in the final round – wow, it just does not get any better than that. Thank you, Summit Racing. Sorry it’s been so long, and thank you, Chevrolet.”
“It’s hard to win out here, but my racecar worked great all weekend,” said Anderson, who earned his second Gateway Motorsports Park trophy in his fifth final at the St. Louis-area facility. “I had a little issue – I was just a bit off, speed-wise – so even though the car was working great, I was getting passed by my teammates. I knew I was in deep in the final, and it would take a stroke of luck to win it. Everything just fell into place. I refused to look over all the way down the track. I couldn’t believe it when my win light came on.
“Jason had a great racecar all weekend, and I’ve got three runner-ups and a win in the last four finals. I’ve been telling people all year that you need to peak at the right time, and I believe I have. It’s all you can ask. It’s going to take finishes like that the rest of the way out to have a chance to win this thing, but this was a great day. We executed at the highest level. There are so many cars that can win it, and that’s what’s so great about NHRA Pro Stock racing. That’s why I love it.”
LE Tonglet also helped his cause in the Countdown standings in Pro Stock Motorcycle as he closed the gap to leader Eddie Krawiec with a final round victory over Vance & Hines rider Andrew Hines on what announcer Alan Reinhart would call “a little baby holeshot”, 6.792 to 6.790. Tonglet had earlier disposed of Krawiec himself and then ousted Matt Smith in the semis to advance to his seventh final round of the season (he’s won six of them). The 2010 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, this was Tonglet’s 16th career win and first here at Gateway.
“You’ve just got to stay calm and go rounds,” Tonglet said. “This is make or break for us. We felt that if we lost this race that our Championship hunt was over. We just haven’t been qualifying that great, but Tim (Kulungian, crew chief) figures it out by Sunday and it just hauls butt and we’re able to get round wins.”