John Force won for the 136th time in his amazing racing career and with three races to go, is in position to fight for his 16th Funny Car world championship.
Force won the NHRA Midwest Nationals by defeating defending Funny Car champ Jack Beckman at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, IL near St. Louis.
Antron Brown in Top Fuel, Erica Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock, and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle were also winners.
Force powered to his second win of the season with a final round performance of 4.097 seconds at 310.13 miles-per-hour in his Ford Mustang, while Beckman trailed in his Dodge Charger with a 4.127 at 309.84.
With the victory, Force, 64, now trails series leader Matt Hagan by six points.
Force defeated rookie Chad Head, longtime rival Ron Capps, and teammate Robert Hight along the way to his third win at Gateway. Hagan, the event’s top qualifier who entered the day with a 63-point lead over second place Cruz Pedregon, lost to Beckman in the second round. Pedregon also went out early with a first round exit, which opened the door for Force to move to the top of the points order.
“We’ve got a [points] race now, and I’m excited,” Force said. “I had a good day. The most important thing for me was to see the crowd. They filled the bleachers. To win a championship you’ve gotta live it every day, and I’m not chasing a championship. I’ve been chasing Corporate America and taking care of our sponsors. My wife [Laurie] set me straight this morning, ‘she said, what you need to do is win. We need John Force to get back to winning races.’ Hey, I can do that. I ain’t going to say I will win another race or a championship, but I’ll be in the fight with these kids.”
The runner-up finish put the still-winless Beckman in third place in the standings, 44 back of Hagan. Robert Hight is fourth overall, 48 points back in his Mustang. Two-time champ Pedregon dropped to fifth, 83 behind Hagan.
In Top Fuel, Brown claimed his third victory of the season and 40th of his career by defeating Khalid alBalooshi in the final round. Brown covered the distance in 3.788 at 323.97 in his dragster to take his second consecutive win at this track, and third overall. Runner-up alBalooshi finished in 3.833 at 319.98.
Brown defeated Billy Torrence, Clay Millican, and seven-time champ Tony Schumacher to advance to the final round. The effort ended a mini-slump for the defending world champion, who has not been in a final round since he won in Atlanta in early May. Since then he’s posted eight first round losses and a DNQ at the Countdown playoff opener in Charlotte.
“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling a lot more than what we had hoped to, and we had hoped we could have had a turnaround a little sooner, but we’re not going to go out without a fight,” Brown said. “The class is at an all-time high where everybody is running strong, but we just want to get back in the groove because it’s not going to be over until it’s over.”
Brown moved to sixth in the standings with the victory and now trails series leader Shawn Langdon by 102 points. Doug Kalitta and Spencer Massey, who both lost in the first round, are second and third, 33 and 35 points back respectively. Morgan Lucas is fourth overall, 45 points back, and Schumacher is fifth.
“Our goal from here on out is to just go and race like it’s the last race out here, and we’re going to push really hard and hopefully go qualify top half again next weekend, and we’re just going to take it one round at a time,” Brown said. “If the next two races in a row we can creep up some points here and there, we can go into that last race in Pomona with a shot. That’s all we want is to have a shot, and it’s still in our scopes, so we’re not going to let that go, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens raced to her second consecutive victory at this event and scored the sixth win of her career by holding off Mike Edwards in the final round. Enders-Stevens used a reaction time advantage to claim her second win of the season, powering her Chevy Camaro to a run of 6.540 at 211.23 to finish in front of the quicker, but losing of Edwards, which posted a 6.532 at 212.36.
“This was a great day,” said Enders-Stevens, who beat Deric Kramer, Shane Gray and Rickie Jones to advance to the final round. “We had a consistent car in qualifying and a consistent car today. My guys showed their stuff, and we were able to get down the track when some other guys didn’t. I love St. Louis.”
Enders-Stevens, who missed six of the last eight races in the regular season due to lack of sponsorship, moves into fourth place in the points order with the victory, 60 back of Edwards, who regained the series lead. Jeg Coughlin is second overall, and Jason Line is third.
“This helped validate the faith that [new sponsor] Husky Liners had in me,” Enders-Stevens said. “They are pleased with what we’ve done, and that’s big because this deal only came together four days before the first [Countdown race] in Charlotte. Now we’re up to fourth in points, and I think we’re three rounds out of the lead, and we’re going to do our best to keep winning. This was a make-or-break weekend because if we had exited first or second round, the championship would have been out of reach. Now, the way we see it, this is our championship, and they’re going to have to take it from us.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship continues Oct. 3-6 with the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, PA.
Pro Stock Championship Point Standings
1. Mike Edwards 2,326
2. Jeg Coughlin 2,316
3. Jason Line 2,296
4. Erica Enders-Stevens 2,266
5. Shane Gray 2,261
Funny Car Championship Point Standings
1. Matt Hagan 2,336
2. John Force 2,330
3. Jack Beckman 2,292
4. Robert Hight 2,288
5. Cruz Pedregon 2,253
Top Fuel Championship Point Standings
1. Shawn Langdon 2,317
2. Doug Kalitta 2,284
3. Spencer Massey 2,282
4. Morgan Lucas 2,272
5. Tony Schumacher 2,245