Brown, Capps, Anderson And Tonglet Sizzle in Sonoma
It was a big drag racing weekend at Infineon Raceway as more competitors clinched a spot in the NHRA Countdown to One. There are only three races remaining on the Full Throttle series regular season schedule (Seattle, Brainerd, and Indianapolis).
The Sonoma track, nestled among the vineyards and wineries, receives a stark contrast to the serene setting that only nitro injection can bring. At a Bruton Smith track, expect the best. The standing room only crowd verified that.
The second leg of the NHRA Western Swing carried with it another John Force record when he became the all-time leader as the No. 1 Qualifier in drag racing history with 139, breaking a tie with Pro Stock’s Warren Johnson. Force’s first was the 1986 at the Cajun Nationals at the now defunct State Capital Dragway in Baton Rouge, La.
As Force was taking the Funny Car pole on Saturday, Jeff Arend driving for Connie Kalitta’s DHL Toyota had a very rare DNQ. What really stings for this bunch is that there were only 17 cars attempting to qualify.
In 2011 we won’t be seeing a Western Swing clean sweep in any professional division. Of the three eligible drivers, Mike Edwards was on pace, reaching his second consecutive finals, only to have Greg Anderson have his say.
Here’s what happened on Sunday:
Tony Schumacher drove his U.S. Army dragster to his second consecutive final; however, he still couldn’t get to the finish line first in the finals. Last week in Denver, it was his teammate, Spencer Massey. This week in Sonoma, it was his DSR teammate, Antron Brown. Schumacher, Top Fuel’s most prolific driver, won his fourth pole of the season and it was his fourth final round of the year - still without winning a pewter Wally.
The one that I enjoyed seeing back in Sunday’s winner’s circle was Ron Capps and his crew chiefs, Tim and Kim Richards. By outrunning Tim Wilkerson in the final round, Capps moved around Force and Jeff Arend into sixth place in the Funny Car standings. He captured his second-consecutive Sonoma race (and third overall, having also won here in 1997).
“I knew coming into this race we had a good car,” said Capps. “You can qualify really well, even number one, but you can’t be too comfortable on Sunday when any little thing can cost you the race.”
Coming out of the third-qualifying position, Capps dispensed with Bob Tasca III, Don Schumacher Racing teammate Johnny Gray and Cruz Pedregon to advance to the final round. His 4.145-second, 303.57-mile-per-hour lap outdistanced Wilkerson (4.175 at 300.93 mph) to gain the Wally.
“We’re hitting our stride and doing it at the right time,” said Capps about the improvements, which have come in the last several races. “I have been saying for weeks what a great job Tim Richards (crew chief since the Atlanta race in May) has done and now everyone can see it.
For Richards, who has 78 career wins, it was his first trip to an NHRA winner’s circle since the 2007 Brainerd (Minn.) event when he was tuning Brandon Bernstein’s Top Fuel dragster.
“He’s just so focused and inspiring; I want so badly to do well for him,” added Capps, who spent much of his life in the Bay Area.
Brown, the 35-year-old New Jersey native and motorsportsunplugged.com contributor collected his third Top Fuel victory (in four final rounds) of the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season and moved into third place in the Top Fuel standings.
According to Brown, Sunday’s results were not a foregone conclusion, despite a solid qualifying session resulting in a number-three starting position (right behind Schumacher’s pole position and the third DSR dragster driven into the second spot by Massey).
“Racing Tony in the finals was a tough one,” Brown explained. “The Army car has been running on ‘mean’ lately. They’ve been strong every round the last few races. He’s my teammate, but he wants to kick my butt and I want to kick his butt every time we meet.
“After the round, at the top end, Tony came over, congratulated me because he’s a great sportsman, and, because he’s also a great competitor, said ‘We’ll get you next time.’ I answered, ‘I’ll be there, brother.’”
It was Brown’s third win against Schumacher this year, including a previous final-round contest in Atlanta. Additionally, he has now chalked up 28 wins in 58 final rounds, with 12 in Top Fuel, the remainder in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Two of the wins have come in this race.
“It always feels good to come out here and race,” said Brown, who was the last driver, in 2009, to sweep the three-race-on-consecutive-weekends Western Swing. “When we won in 2009, I woke up that Sunday morning feeling energized; it happened again today.”
He will head to next weekend’s 24th-annual NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways outside Seattle trailing Massey by 48 points – less than three round wins in the standings.
“We’re really jelling right now,” Brown said. “We are racing like we have nothing to lose; racing like each round is the last one. We are racing each round against the track and we don’t care who’s in the other lane.
In one of the closest races of the day, Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson combined a .043 reaction time and a 6.562-second; 210.28 mph pass to edge Edwards, who posted a .031 R/T and a 6.576-second, 210.14 mph lap, by an almost immeasurable two thousandths of a second.
It was Anderson’s third win of the season, 68th of his career and fourth at Infineon Raceway, setting a new record for wins by a Pro Stock driver at the Northern California quarter-mile.
“The final was exactly what we expected – a knock-down, dragged-out brawl,” said Anderson. “It seems like every time Mike and I lock horns we have a great race and today was no different. The outcome was decided by two thousandths, and although Mike’s certainly won his share of those encounters, today was our day.
“The fans got to see a great race and we can both leave here proud of our performance. I’m just happy that our Summit Racing team is the one standing here with the trophy.”
Reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion LE Tonglet looked every bit like a solid title contender again Sunday when he defeated Michael Phillips to win the FRAM/Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway.
It was Anderson’s third victory in three 2011 Full Throttle finals this year and his eighth in 10 overall.
“It took a lot of hard work,” Anderson said after the Autolite/Nitro Fish Suzuki GSXR crossed the finish line seven-thousandths of a second ahead of Phillips, 7.001 seconds at 189.76 mph to 7.016 at 192.63.
“I could hear him at half-track. Usually he runs quicker in the back half and I was waiting for him to come around me, but he ran out of track, thank goodness.”
The season hasn’t been as smooth as the Tonglets hoped, but they have shown the resiliency necessary to go all the way to the top. He moved closer with the win, sliding into third place in points with 567.
“We had no problems today. It was smooth sailing and that’s the way we like it,” said Tonglet.
The best race of the day in the Fram/Autolite Nationals goes to the second round Pro Stock battle between Allen Johnson and Jason Line. Combine the reaction times and elapsed times and you end up in an almost dead heat. Line ran a time of 6.564 seconds to Johnson’s 6.569 seconds and the reaction times (.023-.018) comes out to three-ten thousandths of a second (.0003) margin of victory. No one wanted to lose that round.
Up next is the 24th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals, which run Friday-Sunday at Pacific Raceways in Seattle, the third leg of the Western Swing.