NHRA O’Reilly Super Start Fall Nationals Event Recap
Words via NHRA Communications.
Tony Schumacher raced to the Top Fuel victory Sunday at the O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex.
Matt Hagan, Greg Anderson and LE Tonglet also were winners in their respective categories at the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoff event at the famed all-concrete dragstrip that sits just south of Dallas.
Schumacher scored his fifth win of the season and first in the playoffs by outrunning Shawn Langdon in the final round. Schumacher posted a performance of 3.838 seconds at 320.43 mph in his U.S. Army dragster to hold off Langdon’s Lucas Oil/Speedco dragster, which trailed with a 3.908 at 298.67 in his second-career final.
With the victory, Schumacher took advantage of a second-round loss by rival Larry Dixon and now trails the series leader by 94 points with three playoff races remaining in the season. Cory McClenathan, who lost to Schumacher in the semis, is second overall in the point standings, 69 behind Dixon.
“When Dixon goes out [like he did today], you absolutely have to rise to the occasion and win and put some pressure back on him,” said Schumacher of his fifth Texas Motorplex victory and 66th win of his career. “I wish we could have done this a race or two earlier, but we didn’t and Dallas is a great place to start. It’s the site of my first career Top Fuel win. We’re only down  points with three races to go. I’ve been down a lot further than that. What NHRA and Full Throttle did was to make it this way, make it last all the way to the end. I’m in a happy place right now. Not where I want to be yet, but a lot better place than I was at 9 a.m. this morning.”
Hagan made a major move in the playoffs by earning his third Funny Car win of the season. The Virginia cattle rancher powered his DieHard Dodge Charger to a 4.155 at 294.63 to beat series leader John Force, whose Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang lost traction near mid-track and finished in 4.491 at 203.74.
Hagan, who qualified 14th, took the long road to the victory by knocking off early round foes Jeff Arend, Cruz Pedregon and Ashley Force Hood to advance to the final. With the win Hagan moves into second place and trails Force by 25 points.
“I left the line and never saw [Force in the final],” Hagan said, “but I was listening for him and looking over. I about hit the wall because I jumped up out of the [roof hatch] while it was still moving because it was overwhelmingly exciting. Coming in here [qualified] 14th and having to do a pedal job just to get into the show — it’s great to get the win. We definitely stepped up and did what we had to do, because coming in 14th you have to wonder how long your day is going to be, but we had confidence in [crew chief] Tommy DeLago tuning the car.”
Anderson overcame a near-perfect reaction time (.001) from Mike Edwards to claim his second consecutive playoff victory in Pro Stock. Anderson pushed his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to a performance of 6.585 at 209.39 to drive around Edwards’ Penhall/Interstate Batteries GXP at the finish line.
“I had a big weekend last weekend and got myself back in the Countdown,” Anderson said. “Every race you go to is sudden death out here. If you have a really bad race you can knock yourself completely out of it. You just can’t make a mistake, and my team has been flawless for two races now and I’m so proud of them.”
Rookie Tonglet continued his hot streak in Pro Stock Motorcycle, winning his third consecutive playoff race over Andrew Hines. Hines fouled with a red-light start on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson and gave NitroFish Gear Suzuki rider Tonglet the automatic win.
Tonglet, who covered the distance in 6.972 at 187.94, cut Hines’ series lead to 44 points with the victory.
“For him to go up there and red-light, you know that he had to be thinking about the pressure,” said Tonglet, who defeated Angie Smith, Karen Stoffer and Eddie Krawiec in the first three rounds. “It’s just unreal. When I saw the red-light and knew I was the winner even before I reached the finish line was really great. I try not to think too much about the pressure, but it’s there. We were just happy to be in the semis, and the win just made everything all that much better.”
Larry Dixon claimed his seventh top qualifying effort of the year in Top Fuel by posting a track record time of 3.793 at 320.05 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. He will meet Scott Palmer in the opening round as goes for his third consecutive playoff victory.
“I really thought the two Schumacher cars that ran behind us would run better than that and I’m sure they did, too,” Dixon said. “We were just lucky to run a little quicker and get the pole. I’ve got a winner’s circle picture when I was crewing for Ed “the Ace” McCulloch in 1987 and I was with “Snake” [Don Prudhomme] when he got his last win in Top Fuel and Funny Car here, so I’ve got a lot of great memories from this track and we’re trying to make our own now.”
Tony Schumacher was second in his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.799 at 321.65 and will face Mike Strasburg, while Cory McClenathan was third in his FRAM dragster with a 3.805 at 321.58 and will meet Morgan Lucas in the opening round.
After failing to qualify for the second of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs last weekend in Charlotte, N.C., Tim Wilkerson made the necessary adjustments to get his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang back in form and it responded with a category-best performance of 4.079 seconds at 305.77 mph at the all-concrete Texas Motorplex.
“We have a new combination that we’re testing and obviously it’s working pretty well,” said Wilkerson, who won at the famed Texas dragstrip in 2008. “I don’t know if I know how to race it yet, and we won’t find that out until tomorrow, but I think I do. We’ll just see how things go. Hopefully, I can prove that we’re not as dumb as we looked last weekend. Hopefully, we can go some rounds tomorrow and get back in the [Countdown]. That’s what we need to do and if the right people lose maybe we can get right back in the middle of it.”
Wilkerson will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the opening round as he seeks to make up some ground in the championship hunt, while series leader John Force will face teammate and defending world champ Robert Hight in the first round. Ashley Force Hood was second in her Castrol GTX Mustang with a 4.100 at 307.72 and Jeff Arend was third in his DHL Toyota Camry with a 4.121 at 305.56.
Allen Johnson posted a 6.611 at 209.04 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to claim his fifth No. 1 of the season and 12th of his career. He will face four-time world champion Jeg Coughlin – who ran just quick enough in his JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt to sneak into the 16-car field on the last qualifying attempt – in the opening round.
“We don’t look at having to run Jeg Coughlin in the first round as a negative,” Johnson said. “Well maybe a slight little negative, but it gives me an opportunity to take out one of the contenders. We’ll take this number one and smile about it, and go for it and see if we can turn it into a win tomorrow.”
Pro Stock series leader and defending world champ Mike Edwards was second in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP with a 6.619 at 208.42 and Jason Line was third in his Summit Racing GXP with a 6.634 at 208.30. Edwards will square off against Richie Stevens, while Line will meet Warren Johnson in the first round.
Matt Smith rode his Al-Anabi Racing Buell to the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle order and earned his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season. He covered the distance in 6.923 at 190.89.
“We made a picture-perfect pass,” Smith said. “The rain cleaned the track and then we had six pairs of Funny Cars in front of us and they laid down so much rubber, I knew we had to go for it. When I saw how good the track was, I got my laptop and upped the rpm and did everything I could to lock that clutch up as fast as I could. I threw everything I had at it down low and it stuck. It didn’t shake or spin. It was really good.”
Eddie Krawiec took the second spot on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.924 at 195.03 and Friday top qualifier Karen Stoffer dropped to third overall with a best of 6.953 at 192.41 on her GEICO Powersports Suzuki.
Larry Dixon, an 11-time winner this season including the first two playoff events, covered the famed all-concrete dragstrip in 3.852 seconds at 308.85 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. If his performance holds through the final two qualifying sessions Saturday (11:15 a.m., 2:30 p.m.), it will be his seventh No. 1 position of the season and 47th of his career.
“It was really hot and it was a struggle to get down the track in the first session, then in the second session you get the sun off the track and that tightens it up and the cars got running,” Dixon said. “It was good, especially with our car running well. Alan [Johnson, team manager] and Jason [McCulloch, crew chief] hit it and got us some more of those bonus points, which we still need. Obviously, being at the back of the pack and getting to see what some of the other cars did or didn’t do helps them. They’re making adjustments as the session progresses, and it was just enough.”
Cory McClenathan was second in his FRAM dragster with a 3.881 at 311.56 and Brandon Bernstein was third in his Copart/Lucas Oil dragster, posting a 3.906 at 308.43.
Cruz Pedregon, still riding high following a win last weekend at Charlotte, paced the Funny Car order with a 4.129 at 299.26 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry.
“What we’ve recently achieved is just more consistency,” said Pedregon, the 2008 and 1992 Funny Car world champ. “It was kind of hard coming here [after the high of the Charlotte win], but on the other hand we wanted to get back to racing. We have a lot of challenges here. It’s very hot, very humid, and with hot track temperatures. I don’t think we’ve seen conditions like that all year. That made us forget all about Charlotte and get back to business.”
Jeff Arend was second in his DHL Camry with a 4.163 at 290.76 and Tim Wilkerson was the highest Countdown-eligible participant in the lineup, posting a 4.181 at 282.90 in his Levi Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang.
Allen Johnson got back on track in Pro Stock as he powered his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to a 6.632 at 208.04 to lead the 200-mph category. Last weekend at Charlotte the veteran racer was disqualified after failing a random alcohol test and fell from second to fifth in the Countdown standings.
“There is a sense of seeking some redemption for this race,” Johnson said. “I’m very focused, as is the entire team. The encouragement from the fans, from everybody—our fan base probably doubled this week. Family, friends, fans, even the NHRA folks have just been phenomenal. We’ve put ourselves in the position to where we feel like we have to swing for the fence on every run. But we feel very strongly that we still have a shot at this thing and we’re going to try to take a negative and make it a positive.”
Jason Line pushed his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to a 6.637 at 207.88 to hold down second place, while defending world champ and Countdown top seed Mike Edwards was third in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries GXP with a 6.654 at 208.14.
Karen Stoffer was quickest in Pro Stock Motorcycle, posting a 6.953 at 192.41 on her GEICO Powersports Suzuki.
“We’ve been getting the bike down the track pretty well recently, so it was a relief to be back in the no. 1 spot, where we haven’t been since the beginning of the year,” said Stoffer, who was the No. 1 qualifier at Gainesville in March. “We know we have the bike but we’ve had issues all year long. The boys have been working hard on the tune-up, but they’ve been working harder on the chassis, so it was good to hit it right off the bat and learning how to tune on a hot track.”
Eddie Krawiec, Steve Johnson, Andrew Hines and rookie LE Tonglet, the winner of the first two playoff races, completed the top five in the two wheel category.