Weather delays Sunday had moved racing into the early evening, and deteriorating conditions forced the postponement of action. NHRA officials called a halt to Sunday’s racing after three rounds of Top Fuel and Funny Car and one round of Pro Stock and scheduled completion for Monday morning.
by Phil Burgess, National DRAGSTER Editor
Cory McClenathan and Jack Beckman completed a Don Schumacher Racing sweep of the delayed final rounds Monday at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. McClenathan's win gives him the Full Throttle points lead in Top Fuel.
Weather delays Sunday had moved racing into the early evening, and deteriorating conditions forced the postponement of action. NHRA officials called a halt to Sunday’s racing after three rounds of Top Fuel and Funny Car and one round of Pro Stock and scheduled completion for Monday morning. More rain Monday delayed the final outcome, and the nitro cars didn't hit the track until 2:45 p.m. local time.
The quarterfinal, semifinal, and final rounds of Pro Stock will be run during qualifying at the 41st annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. The unfinished rounds will be completed during the second, third, and fourth rounds of qualifying for the event in two weeks at the historic Florida dragstrip. Lucas Oil Sportsman eliminations will be completed Friday, Feb. 26, during the Division 7 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event.Despite a cool racing surface (82 degrees) that had not been run on since the previous day, McClenathan collected his 32nd Top Fuel victory with a strong 3.813 at 316.67 to defeat Doug Kalitta, who shook and smoked the tires before recovering to a 4.73, 219.47 runner-up.
McClenathan, who won in Phoenix 20 years ago in Top Alcohol Dragster and has won two other times in Top Fuel (1994 and 1998), powered his Fram dragster past Mike Strasburg, Troy Buff, and a broken Steve Torrence with consecutively quicker blasts of 3.84, 3.82, and 3.81 to reach the final, the 58th of his Top Fuel career.
"The FRAM dragster has become a bracket car," said McClenathan. "[Crew chiefs] Todd [Okuhara] and Phil [Shuler] have got the car running well enough that we know whoever we're racing has to step up to beat us. Getting our car in stride this early is a big deal for us."
"We lost in Pomona, because we didn't take Doug Kalitta seriously when we raced him in the semi's. This time, they obviously took him seriously to run a 3.81, 316 on what was really a green track after the rain. After the run, I told Doug, 'We weren't taking you lightly,' and he said, 'We were throwing the whole trailer at it.' I expect that out of [car owner] Connie Kalitta."
Kalitta, runner-up at the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline in Pomona, reached his second straight Top Fuel final of the season by defeating Chris Karamesines, teammate Dave Grubnic, and Morgan Lucas with a 3.99 and two 3.98s.
Eliminations in Top Fuel were full of upsets. Independent runner Steve Chrisman notched a win against tire-shake-plagued Larry Dixon in the opening round, and Torrence put away No. 1 qualifier Tony Schumacher in the second round by virtue of a holeshot.
Sunday got off to a rough start in Top Fuel with rain interrupting the first round, which concluded with a crash involving Antron Brown. Brown was not injured in the accident, but a woman who was struck by a tire from Brown's dragster was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital that evening. NHRA is investigating the incident. The entire NHRA community is deeply saddened by the incident and sends its thoughts and prayers to the woman's family and friends.
Beckman got back into the win column in Funny Car for the first time since last summer when he drove his MTS/Valvoline Charger to a 4.12, 301.13 to defeat John Force, who shook to a 6.13. The two drivers engaged in a mini burndown before fully lighting the Tree, but neither got a substantial advantage from it at the green.
“We’ve had a lot of luck against John Force, and I don’t care what you say, that guy is still the man in nitro Funny Car,” said Beckman. “The fan in me is so happy to see him back in top form. The racer in me was glad they weren’t perfect against us in the final. But to go out beat those guys as dominant as they have been for both races this year is pretty cool.”
“The other cool thing is that you kind of want to make that statement early in the year that you’re a team capable of winning races. If you can go the final round and rack up a lot of points, that’s cool, but the trophy symbolized a lot of stuff, and when you get that trophy early in the year I think everybody on the team knows that we can be the best on any given day, and that’s the attitude that it’s going to take to run for the championship at the end of the year.”
With the exception of a semifinal pedalfest win against Tony Pedregon, past Phoenix champ Beckman wore out his opposition Sunday with remarkable consistency. Tuner Rahn Tobler dialed in the car with a pair of 4.13s to start eliminations after running a 4.13 during qualifying. Beckman turned away Bob Tasca III and teammate Matt Hagan before using his cunning in the cockpit to survive a tire-smoking affair against Pedregon.
Force opened his eliminations account Sunday by escaping with a narrow .001-second victory against Cruz Pedregon, then powered to low e.t. and a career-best 4.044 blast in round two to defeat Jim Head. Force reached the final by defeating his teammate, reigning world champ Robert Hight, with a 4.08 in the semifinals.
Second-round pairings in Pro Stock -- Mike Edwards vs. Greg Anderson, Allen Johnson vs. Jason Line, Ron Krisher vs. Greg Stanfield, and Bob Yonke vs. Rodger Brogdon -- will be contested during the second round of qualifying in Gainesville Friday, March 12; the semifinal pairs will run during the third round of qualifying Saturday, March 13; and the final round will be held during the final round of qualifying Saturday. The runs will occur during the scheduled qualifying sessions of the event, and the times posted on those runs will count toward qualifying for the event.