Race day is underway here at the JEGS Route 66 Nationals as racers try to punch their ticket to the winner’s circle. The weather is perfect, the rubber is hot, and the air is filled with the sounds of horsepower.
Don O’Neal has been putting a lot of work into his Top Sportsman program over the past few seasons and that has started to pay off in a big way. He earned his first national event win at Charlotte this year and a trip to the finals at the JEGS Route 66 Nationals this weekend. In that final round O’Neal squared off against Lester Johnson and turned on the red bulb right at the hit, but the race actually wasn’t over. As Johnson went down the track his Chevrolet experienced some kind of mechanical failure that ultimately led to him clipping a timing block and giving the win to O’Neal.
Three-time Top Alcohol Dragster champion Joey Severance has experienced a season full of ups and downs in 2018. Coming into the JEGS Route 66 Nationals he had struggled at Topeka and was hoping to bounce back and he did just that. Not only did Severance win the JEGS Allstars event, he also picked up the win for the Route 66 Nationals, giving him the first double up win during the Allstar weekend of his career and a nice payday to boot.
Scott Udenberg has been a Mopar man his entire life piloting several different Plymouth products in Super Gas over his career. When it came time for a new car Udenberg decided he wanted to go off the reservation a bit and commissioned Dave Stevens Race Cars to fabricate a unique car. Instead of your typical Super Gas Corvette or Camaro roadster, Udenberg had Stevens create a 2015 Challenger roadster with a body from Suncoast Race Cars that used 543 cubic-inches of Mopar power under the hood.
You’re going to have a real hard time finding anybody who has more fun drag racing than Clay Millican. His million-watt smile never leaves his face the second he rolls through the gates at the track, and it shines even brighter when he’s winning. Millican’s victory at the JEGS Route 66 Nationals gives him back to back victories, but more importantly, it gives his team a huge boost of confidence rolling into this four-race stretch of the NHRA season.
“It’s really crazy. It took me 19 years to get that first win and then less than a year to get the second and less than two weeks to get the third. I like that trend. This place is really special. I got my first Top Fuel experience in competition on this race track in 1998. I was the very first car to pull out on this facility. Shortly after that, I did a reverse burnout and got to meet [late NHRA Chief Starter] Buster Couch live in person. That was not my most favorite conversation. He said. ‘I don’t know when you did before you got your Top Fuel license, but you might think about going back to it.’ He did not like me doing a reverse burnout,” Millican says.
Matt Smith is a successful Pro Stock Motorcycle veteran for a reason, he will find a way to win even when things are tough. Earlier this year he had a partner back out of his racing program and put his season in jeopardy, but in true Matt Smith fashion he pulled out an old bike and has turned it into an event winner at Route 66 Raceway. Smith fought all weekend and the final was no exception. When most riders might have aborted the run, Smith went hammer down to earn his Wally.
“We had to ride the bike in the final. It went left and kept going and going. I almost gave up on it. I glanced over and didn’t see LE over there. I said screw it. Richard Freeman is buying me a new body so if we tear it up, we’ll just tear it up. I’ve hit the wall before in Englishtown. The only time I’ve ever had an accident the foot peg went through my foot and I was out for the rest of the year but I’m just out here trying to win a race so I was willing to do whatever to make it happen, ” Smith says.
Robert Hight’s race weekend thankfully wasn’t defined by his qualifying efforts. During all four rounds, he struggled to get his Camaro down the track on a clean pass and barely made the field in the 12th spot. When the racing counted Hight and his team answered the call by ripping through a tough Funny Car field like a chop saw and they were rewarded with the event victory.
“This is my fourth final of the year, but I haven’t won any races. But, last year we won the championship and didn’t win until Denver so I’m way ahead of last year. Also, how about my boss John Force? After all he went through this weekend that was pretty impressive. You’re just not going to keep a guy like him down. There is a reason he’s won 16 championships. You can see how much he loves what he does. He was going to race this weekend. No matter what. I’m really proud of that team for making the semis. Also, one week ago, my daughter, Autumn won her first Jr. Dragster race. When I got here I heard quite a bit about how she won before dad won. Seriously, it’s been a cool week. I won my first race but it’s just as exciting, or maybe even more exciting having your daughter win her first race,” Hight says.
Jeg Coughlin Jr. had the kind of race at Route 66 Raceway that you might have thought was created in Hollywood. At an event where his family’s company JEGS was the title sponsor, he drove like a man on a mission during eliminations crushing the tree every round, and laying down some impressive times along the way. To end his four-year winless streak Coughlin went through number one qualifier Greg Anderson who happens to be sponsored by Summit Racing Equipment.
“The JEGS Allstars yesterday was an unbelievable event and I watched every single round. It just fired me up. I wanted to be in every race car that went down the track. I drove today like a true sportsman. I was aggressive and stayed consistent. The team gave me a great car and we were low E.T. four rounds in a row and didn’t’ look back. I think we did it in grand style to break the ice. We’d like to travel across the way to Richmond and put a nice exclamation point on it next week.”