Schumacher took the points lead from his Don Schumacher Racing teammate, adding another chapter to their fierce-but-friendly on-track rivalry — giving a memorable birthday present to crew chief Mike Green.
Pedregon took pride in his so-called “No-name crew” helping make the right calls — and for hustling him back to the starting line after a clutch malfunction occurred after his burnout. After defeating Courtney Force in the final, he said, “Finally, we reached our potential.”
But Pro Stock winner Allen Johnson had maybe the most satisfaction this past weekend. He stretched his $50,000 K&N Horsepower Challenge victory earnings from Saturday to $100,000 with the winner’s share of the Sunday purse and a $25,000 double-up bonus from the NHRA. The Express Lane Mopar / J&J Dodge Avenger driver beat Erica Enders-Stevens in both final rounds.
Schumacher and Johnson took over the leads in their respective classes, and Courtney Foce regained the No. 1 spot. So each of the three classes have new leaders as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues April 19-21 with the Dollar General Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway at Concord, N.C.
Here’s a recap of the encouraging, funny, historic, and even shocking events from the fourth race of the season:
Schumacher Lauds Crew
After a close side-by-side race against fellow finalist and No. 1 qualifier Antron Brown, Tony Schumacher downplayed his own contribution to his 71st victory and praised his U.S. Army Dragster team. “I don’t know that we had the best car this weekend. We had a good car,” he said. “I didn’t drive amazing today. I didn’t have stellar lights. It isn’t like I did anything supernatural. The No. 3 qualifier said. “It’s those guys. Every now and then a drivers wins a race. But the majority of the time it’s the hard work. I don’t think the majority of the world can possibly comprehend how much it means to the driver how hard they work back at the shop day in and day out, not for the money but for the love of this game and for my sake.”
Gatornationals winner Brown, the only driver in the class to win at least a round at every race so far this season, missed his chance for back-to-back victories in the Matco Tools Dragster. But he said, “You can’t take anything away from the Army team. They deserve it. We are going crucial rounds. That’s what it’s all about. Me and Tony both had the cake, because we made it to the final. But he got the icing. We love the icing, and he got it from us this time. Next time we are going to make sure that we get the icing — and the cherry.”
Schumacher, the Phoenix champion, is the first repeat winner in the Top Fuel class. His winning run took 3.851 seconds at 323.27 mph. Brown clocked a 3.956, 299.60.
Cruz’s Belt-Tightening Pays Off
Independent Funny Car owner-driver Cruz Pedregon decided at the end of 2012 to serve as his own crew chief for the Snap-on Toyota Camry. The money he would save in salary would buy more or better parts. ‘What can I say? I needed the money,” he said. He also needed a victory, which came against Courtney Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang in the final round. She was the No. 2 qualifier; he started fifth. “I’m proud of our Snap-On Toyota team,” said Pedregon. “I was so impressed with our consistency and the way our guys handled our turn-arounds on 50 minutes. We said, ‘Let’s not get crazy out here. Let’s just race the track and be smart.”
But Pedregon’s first victory of the season and his 31st overall came not without drama. At the end of his burnout, he couldn’t get the car in reverse. He credited both the NHRA official who saw his wave his hand in distress and his team which dashed out to him and pushed the car back to the starting line.
“I was thinking about Richard Pryor saying, ‘Be cool . . cool . . . cool.’ I was a nervous wreck,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Aw, what way to lose a drag race.” Then, Pedregon said, he wondered whether to “pull over to make sure Courtney doesn’t run over me.” He said, “If I had seen her top [staging] light on, I probably would have just shut it off. You don’t want to ruin her day, either.” All of a sudden, it occurred to him that the crew was backing up the car so quickly that he just might have the chance to race for the $50,000 payout.
They took off, she lost traction, and he scored the improbable triumph (at 4.173 seconds, 298.40 mph) to move past Kenny Bernstein for sole possession of fifth place on the all-time Funny Car victories list. This second victory in the past five races lifted Pedregon to third in the standings. He is the lone Funny Car driver to have won at least one round in each of the season’s first four races and has won a round at each of the past six events – the longest current streak in NHRA nitro racing.
As for racing a second-generation Force in the families’ long-term rivalry, Pedregon called her a “great opponent” and said, “She definitely had me nervous. She kept us honest.”
Rematch in Pro Stock
Allen Johnson drove his Mopar Express Lane / J&J Racing Dodge Avenger to a winning 6.713-second elapsed time at 206.76 mph, as opponent Erica Enders-Stevens pushed in her clutch early and rode out a 10.200, 89.41 effort in her GK Motorsports Chevy Camaro in a rematch of Saturday’s K&N Horsepower Challenge final.
Allen Johnson Wins K&N Challenge
He was second to Mike Edwards in qualifying for the main event Sunday, but Saturday’s spoils went to Allen Johnson in his new-look Mopar Express Lane Dodge Avenger. The annual bonus race-within-a-race was among the top seven qualifiers during the previous calendar year, plus fan favorite Jeg Coughlin, who won the online vote for the final spot. Squaring off on a slick track following a Top Fuel session — a condition he characterized as “pretty much junk” — and said he and Enders “were both ready to pedal it and act like we were in Funny Cars. So that’s what we did.” Johnson won with a 7.188-seconds E.T. at 200.62 mph, over Enders-Stevens’ 9.602 / 110.96. It is the fourth time a Dodge has won the K&N Horsepower Challenge since it began in 1985. Johnson won the event in 2008. “Anytime you can stack up against the eight drivers that were in that thing, just to be there is an honor, and to beat them is an even bigger honor,” Johnson said.
Super Gas Crashes
No word has been released about the condition of Super Gas racer Derek Sanchez, driver of the Sanchez and Nolte ’33 Ford Roadster with big-block Chevy power. He was seriously injured Saturday night when his car hit the left wall as he raced in Round 2 of eliminations Saturday night, and he was taken to a nearby hospital. The NHRA statement read: “Derek Sanchez, 47, from Yuma, Ariz., was transported for evaluation after his ’33 Ford went out of control and crashed during the second round of Super Gas eliminations late Saturday. Sanchez was responding to commands from NHRA emergency services officials prior to being transported.”
Quote of the Weekend
Cruz Pedregon, saying he didn’t want to hold up Courtney Force while he and his crew struggled to back his car up from the burnout, gave a reasonable explanation, “When I race Courtney, I’m thinking’ of John. And Force ain’t going to take no stuff. He’d come over and smack me around a little bit. Even though we’re racing a -year-old girl, I’m thinking about her dad that’s a little bit of a nut job — in a good way.” After a round of laughter, Pedregon said, “Even though we race against each other, there’s nobody who respects John Force more than I do. And you can take that to the bank.”
Edwards Gives ‘Em What – 4
Mike Edwards earned his fourth straight Pro Stock No. 1 qualifying position. The owner-driver from Oklahoma took the I Am Second / Interstate Batteries / K&N Chevy Camaro to a 6.642-second E.T. in the quarter-mile. He had a full hundredth-of-a-second advantage over No. 2 qualifier Allen Johnson. His 208.26-mph speed was fastest in the Pro Stock class, for he was the only one in the 208-mph range. Edwards even set his best qualifying time in the weekend’s worst conditions but still had trouble shaking his disappointment in not winning the K&N Horsepower Challenge. He lost in the semifinal round to Erica Enders-Stevens. “I’ve been trying to win that thing for 12 years now. I just can’t,” he said.
Another Force Making History
Brittany Force took advantage Sunday of first-round opponent Doug Kalitta’s traction trouble to make team and Top Fuel history in the Castrol Edge Dragster. She became the first at John Force Racing to win a wound in a dragster, and she became the first Top Fuel driver in 42 years to win a competitive round in a Ford-powered dragster. The last to do so was the late “Sneaky Pete” Robinson, in the second round of the 1970 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. With her dragster powered by the Ford BOSS 500 nitro motor, Force qualified 11th.
Popular Top Fuel driver Terry McMillen reached the semifinal round, where he gave Antron Brown one of the day’s closest runs (3.878, 321.27 to 3.898, 323.58). The owner-driver of the Amalie Oil / UNOH / Motor State Dragster reset his career-best E.T. to 3.861 and reset his career-best speed twice last weekend, to 323.58 in that semifinal loss. With some help from Rapisarda Autosport tuner Lee Beard, McMillen was second-quickest after the first qualifying session.
He dropped to ninth Friday night. He had an engine explosion in Saturday’s early session. It was terrible timing, with an Amalie Oil rep attending, and special guests Parmalee, a country rock band in town for the ACM Awards and other appearances. So the team worked feverishly to prepare the car in short turnaround time — all while fans were stopping by to hear Parmalee play several of its trademark songs at the entrance to the pit. So amid the chaos, McMillen continued to improve.
DeJoria Makes Progress
Tequila Patron Toyota Camry driver Alexis DeJoria posted back-to-back round-wins for the first time since last July at Joliet. She defeated John Force and Robert Hight, setting up the possibility of the Funny Car class’ first all-female final round — against the third John Force Racing driver, Courtney Force. But Cruz Pedregon ended her outstanding weekend, and friend Courtney Force said, “She’s a great driver. It’s just a matter of time.” DeJoria improved to ninth place in the standings, marking her first time in the top 10.