Words and images courtesy NHRA/National Dragster

Jack Beckman raced to his first Funny Car victory of the season Sunday at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

David Grubnic (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also were winners at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.

Beckman used a quicker reaction time to defeat teammate Ron Capps in the final round with a performance of 4.158 seconds at 303.09 mph in his Valvoline/NextGen Dodge Charger. Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts Charger posted a quicker, but losing performance of 4.107 at 304.39.

Following the Las Vegas event in early April, Beckman and Capps switched cars and crews within their Don Schumacher Racing organization. Since then Capps has been to four consecutive finals and Beckman has struggled a bit, posting one DNQ, a first round loss and two second round losses.

“It’s a big win for us,” Beckman said. “We’re right back in the hunt. So much has transpired since Las Vegas. We switched cars, we switched trailers, and we switched teams. It’s great to know that we have a car that we can win with again. That was my 13th win, and I try to appreciate every win because you never know when it can be your last.”

With new crew chief Todd Smith making the tuning calls, Beckman drove past Alexis DeJoria, Mike Neff and Tim Wilkerson to advance to the final round. In the final, Beckman turned on both bulbs at once while staging against Capps. That put him in position to leave the starting line first, which he did with a near-perfect .004 reaction time.

“They [the NAPA team] were clearly outrunning us,” Beckman said. “When we saw them run 4.12 in the semis, we knew we couldn’t run that without stepping too far that the risk of smoking the tires was too great. Our strategy was to put a 4.15 in it and hope something happened with their car. I think I dodged a bullet on the starting line. I had a hiccup in staging in the final round that could have bit us. The irony is that I don’t know if we could’ve won any other way.”

Robert Hight, who lost to Capps in the semifinals, maintained his series lead, 179 in front of Capps. Beckman improved to fourth overall with the victory.

In Top Fuel, Grubnic edged Spencer Massey at the finish line to take his first win since 2006. It was his third career victory and his second at Heartland Park. Grubnic’s Candlewood Suites/Optima Batteries dragster posted a 3.893 at 319.07 while Massey’s FRAM machine trailed with a 3.910 at 309.98.

The native Australian who now calls Ennis, Montana home drove past Bob Vandergriff, Atlanta winner Steve Torrence and Brandon Bernstein to advance to the 16th final round of his career.

“My whole career has been ups and downs, but you have to go through these troughs to appreciate the peaks,” Grubnic said. “Today is one of those peaks. My first win came here in 2005, and it’s great to do it here again. Why we have success here in particular is beyond me, but we’ll take it where we can get it.

“It’s all about my crew guys, Conrad [team owner/tuner Connie Kalitta], and all the people who support Kalitta Motorsports. I’d be lying if I said going a long time without winning didn’t affect me. Seeing the win light in the final is like driving through a brick wall. You see all the bricks disappear, and then you just start smiling.”

With the runner-up finish, Massey regained the series lead, 12 points in front of seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher. Grubnic moved to eighth in the standings with the win.

Johnson raced to his second Pro Stock victory of the season and 11th of his career, powering past series points leader Greg Anderson in the final round. Johnson covered the distance in 6.587 at 210.54 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to hold off Anderson’s Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac, which trailed at a 6.696 at 210.21. It was Johnson’s second victory at Heartland Park (also 2009).

“The whole crew for the Mopar Dodge Avenger was just so strong and so consistent all weekend,” said Johnson, who outran Ronnie Humphrey, Ron Krisher and defending winner Shane Gray to advance to the final round.

“Today our mission was to be consistent and maintain lane choice,” Johnson added. “We did that until the final round and it just so happened that in the final the right lane turned out to be better than the left, and Greg shook the tires a little bit. So it worked right into the palm of our hands.  We’ve been after them [the Summit cars] for the last few races and finally got the win and gave them a run for the money. This Pro Stock battle for the rest of the year will be a knock-down drag out.”

Qualifying Recap

Antron Brown earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also will lead their respective categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.

No one improved on Brown’s Friday performance of 3.797 at a track record speed of 324.98 mph in his Matco Tools dragster. The best runs of Saturday’s two sessions were turned in by Top Fuel teammates Brandon Bernstein and Morgan Lucas, who posted the four quickest runs of the day.

“The two Morgan Lucas Racing cars went (3.82) today out in the heat, so that definitely set the bar,” said Brown, who earned his 30th career No. 1 and first since Oct. 2011. “We tried to step it up for that last session, but we just didn’t make it down. Tomorrow, we’re just going to go back, regroup, and do what we do. It’s race day. That’s when it counts.”

Brown, who earned his 30th career No. 1 and first since Oct. 2011, will face veteran driver Cory McClenathan in the first round of eliminations. Brown said with the extremely tough competition in the Top Fuel category, where he noted the top eight cars are separated by such a small gap, every point moving forward is critical.

“Our deal is to go out there and get round-wins so we can lock down a spot in the Countdown [to the Championship],” Brown said. “We’re trying to stay near the top and gain points and rounds in this tough Top Fuel class. That first round on Sunday is when you get started and set the tone. This team will stay poised and focused for that.”

In Funny Car, Pedregon took his third top qualifying effort of the season and 48th of his career based on his Friday track record performance of 4.406 at 315.56 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. He will face rookie Todd Lesenko in the first round.

“We’re ready to go,” said Pedregon. “We have to avoid mistakes tomorrow. If we can do that, then I like our chances. We’re focused on racing Todd Lesenko in the first round, and we’ll evaluate things from there. NHRA did a great job of prepping this race track. Even though the conditions are hotter, I think you have no one to blame but yourself if you smoke the tires. We’re going to try to be boring tomorrow. We’re going to try to be workmanlike and pound out four round-wins if we can.”

Should Pedregon win his opening round he will face the winner of the Courtney Force-Robert Hight pairing in the quarterfinals. Pedregon said Courtney had the best car on Saturday. In the heat of qualifying she posted a 4.109 at 310.13 in her Traxxas Ford Mustang.

“I was impressed with Courtney’s run today,” Pedregon said.  “So far, if you take away my run from yesterday, that is the car to beat. I like to give credit where it’s due, and that team really made a great run out there today in those conditions.”

In Pro Stock, Johnson claimed his third No. 1 of the season and 21st of his career by covering the distance in 6.618 at 207.85 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger. He will open eliminations against Ronnie Humphrey.

Johnson was second-quickest in both Saturday sessions, following Jason Line first and then Greg Anderson in the final qualifying round.

“We’ve got some great momentum right now,” Johnson said. “We’re stuck right in the middle of those two Summit cars in battling for that No. 1 spot. That’s our deal, to keep our Mopar Dodge Avenger out in front of those two Pontiacs. NHRA did an excellent job with the track preparation. We actually had a better 60-foot time in the afternoon session than we did in the first. That’s hats off to the crew. We’re getting a little better all the time and more consistent. I think that the track will be a little cooler tomorrow and that we’ll probably see someone reset the track record again.”