With Antron Brown winning the Top Fuel trophy and Johnny Gray topping teammate Matt Hagan in the Funny Car final, Saturday’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals marked the fourth time this year Don Schumacher Racing has sent two nitro-class drivers to the winners circle.
It came on the heels of the team owner’s induction May 1 into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Ala.
Photos by Ron Lewis
Brown and Gray hoisted their Wally statues at Atlanta Dragway, near Commerce, Ga., along with Pro Stock winner Mike Edwards, and it mirrored their Gatornationals double-up achievement in March at Gainesville, Fla., that pushed DSR to the 200-victory plateau. Edwards, coincidentally, was runner-up that day. But he, too, earned his second victory of the season Saturday at this rain-delayed seventh event on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
Except for four pairs of Pro Stock cars that made passes before the previous weekend’s deluge, racers had to wait a week to see if Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), and Edwards could hold onto their respective points leads. They did.
Friday’s qualifying went smoothly, but a brief shower Saturday suspended eliminations for an hour and a half.
As the teams head to next weekend’s Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, Edwards owns a 26-point advantage over Jeg Coughlin. Brown, the No. 2 qualifier here, is No. 2 in points, five behind Schumacher. Gray improved from fifth place to third.
BROWN GETS SECOND 2013 VICTORY – Antron Brown earned his fifth Atlanta Dragway victory (three in Top Fuel, two in Pro Stock Motorcycle) and 39th overall (23rd in a dragster). It was his second of the season, as he reached his third final round in five races with the Matco Tools/Army/Toyota Dragster. “We like this place a lot. It was tricky this weekend. All of our crew chiefs definitely had their work cut out for them. All the teams were running phenomenal this weekend. It was a monumental deal for us to get this thing done,” Brown said after winning easily with a 3.801-second elapsed time at 321.35 mph.
Runner-up Brandon Bernstein lost traction in his ProtectTheHarvest.com / MAVTV Dragster and clocked a 7.105, 90.64 mph. Bernstein, who afterward said he had back pain “shooting down the leg and the numbness in my toes” and that “it wasn’t fun driving today,” recorded low E.T. of the meet with his 3.761-second semifinal victory over Shawn Langdon.
GRAY TOPS F.C. TEAMMATE – Johnny Gray joined Cruz Pedregon as a two-time Funny Car winner with a tune-up in his Pitch Energy Dodge from crew chiefs Rob Wendland and Rip Reynolds that he said was “good enough even I can’t screw it up. When they’ve got it reeled in, it’s a hot rod.” Gray defeated Magnetti Marelli Dodge driver Matt Hagan with 4.077-second E.T. at 314.17 mph to Hagan’s 4.160 / 309.49. Hagan’s top-qualifying time of 4.067 seconds was quickest of the weekend, and he advanced to his third final round in the past six events.
EDWARDS RUNS TABLE – Saying he “made a sweet run” in the final round against Shane Gray, Mike Edwards used his winning 6.595 / 209.14 in his Interstate Batteries / I Am Second / K&N Camaro to maintain his points lead and become a two-time Pro Stock winner this year. Edwards said, “The competition is amazing. Shane was on today. He did a phenomenal job. They’re definitely catching a fire.”
Gray took his second straight runner-up finish with a nearly perfect (0.001-second reaction time) and a 6.643 / 208.17 clocking in the Gray Motorsports Camaro. Edwards had low E.T. and top speed of the meet with his 6.583 / 210.57 that gave him six No. 1 starting positions in the season’s first seven races. “We’re going to have to keep digging,” Edwards said. “The season’s got a long ways to go. I hope we can keep it up.” He said he’ll try to follow Gray’s advice and eat “a big ol’ box of Wheaties” before the upcoming Topeka race.
MAYBE LIKE FATHER LIKE SON NEXT TIME – Only one half of the father-son combo of Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) in the finals won Saturday. But Johnny Gray said he’s hoping they can score a “family double” before he retires at the end of this season. “Our cars are running good enough I think there’s a real good chance we can do that this year,” he said. “That would be the absolute best way to end my career, to be able to stand on the stage with my son and both of us win a race. That would do it all for me.”
TOP FUEL CLASS OUTDOES ITSELF – Top Fuel track records fell in the first three rounds Saturday. Top qualifier Shawn Langdon broke the track E.T. record he had set the evening before when he beat Morgan Lucas with a 3.782-second run. But Brandon Bernstein registered a 3.761 for best of the weekend with his semifinal victory over Langdon. So he added insult to injury, eclipsing Langdon’s track-record E.T. by two-hundredths of a second. On the speed side, Langdon entered eliminations with the track record at 324.36, but Antron Brown started his winning day with a 324.98 mph. Before the round was finished, Kalitta had posted a 325.37. Kalitta improved that to 325.61 mph in the quarterfinals in defeating Tony Schumacher.
SO CLOSE . . . AGAIN – Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster driver Shawn Langdon, might not have known statistics were not in his favor Saturday. In the previous quarter-century at Atlanta Dragway, the No. 1 Top Fuel qualifier had won only three times. He led the field for the second time in the past three events. That marked the sixth time he has qualified No. 1 since the U.S. Nationals last September, more than any of his competitors in that stretch. But again, he advanced to the semifinals or better for the third straight race but didn’t win.
“We had a good-running car again today. The last couple of races we’ve kind of beaten ourselves by overpowering the race track. Today, we started off with the track record elapsed time in the first round and felt pretty confident in what we were doing. We just got a little too conservative in the semifinals. The Al-Anabi car still ran a 3.80, but that wasn’t enough. It was a good drag race. We just came out on the wrong end.”
EARLY END FOR FORCE TEAM – By Round 2 all John Force Racing teams were out of contention, as the team’s most experienced and its least experienced lasted longest in eliminations. Top Fuel rookie Brittany Force, in her Castrol EDGE Dragster, shook off a DNQ from Houston and a last-minute jump into the show and knocked out veteran Clay Millican. “Getting that win in the first round was exactly what this team needed,” she said. Langdon, one of her familiar competitors from their Super Comp days, halted her upset-minded plans in Round 2.
Brittany’s dad had his share of issues in Funny Car competition Saturday. He got a lucky break when class rookie Chad Head inadvertently triggered a red light and disqualified himself. “Chad Head is a good racer. His dad (Jim Head) is a good tuner. That Funny Car has been tough all year,” Force said. “They put up great numbers, and we were lucky to get that round win.”
Despite the blunder, Head ran the class’ best speed of the event (314.90 mph). And Force’s luck ran out in the quarterfinals against Matt Hagan. In staging, Force took a moment to adjust his position in the seat of his Castrol GTX Mustang just as Hagan was rolling his car into the staging beams. When Force realized he was on the clock with just seven seconds to prepare to launch, he quickly staged, then had his best reaction time of the weekend (.043 seconds). But he couldn’t parlay that into a victory. “I nearly screwed myself up against Hagan. I was trying to get up in my seat and when I looked up he was staged. I used almost all of my seven seconds. I wasn’t trying to screw anybody, but I almost screwed myself,” he said.
FUN WHILE IT LASTED – Reigning Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson lost in the opening round for the first time this season.
MORE THAN A SEMIFINALIST – Doug Kalitta’s scorecard will say he was a semifinalist. But his weekend was more glamorous than that. He wrote and rewrote the Top Fuel track speed record in Saturday’s eliminations in the Mac Tools Dragster, closing with a 325.61 mph. The No. 3 qualifier also recorded his 450th round-win, against nemesis Tony Schumacher. “The Mac Tools car has been strong all year, and we were running really great this weekend,” Kalitta said. “We’re a little disappointed that we went out in the semis, but we’ve been up near the top all season, and we just need to keep building on this momentum.” He’s fifth in the standings.