Courtney Force raced to her second consecutive Funny Car victory in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs Sunday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Antron Brown inTop Fuel, Dave Connolly in Pro Stock, and Jerry Savoie in Pro Stock Motorcycle also were winners at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis, MO in the third of six playoff races.
Force outran championship rival Matt Hagan in the final round to move to within 30 points of the series leader, her dad, 16-time world champ John Force.
She raced past her father in the semifinals and then used a performance of 4.094 seconds at 313.44 miles per hour in her Ford Mustang to hold off 2011 world champ Hagan’s Dodge Charger, which trailed with a 4.121 at 309.77.
“It’s pretty awesome, for sure,” said Force who became the first woman in NHRA history to win back-to-back races in Funny Car.
“I’m proud of my guys for giving me a great race car,” she said. “We got things turned around at the right time. Right here at the start of the Countdown to the Championship is when we need to have a consistent race car, and I think that’s what we’ve got so far. To have back-to-back wins and make a move in the Countdown is just huge for us. We need to create a gap between us and everyone behind us and climb our way up to catch dad if we want to win this championship. That’s what we have our eyes set on right now.”
Courtney also defeated Bob Tasca and Del Worsham in earlier rounds. It was her fourth victory of the season and seventh win of her career. It is the first time that a father and daughter have held the top two spots in the points standings.
“Everyone is so tough in this class that I’m definitely going to savor this moment with dad and I at Nos. 1 and 2,” Courtney said.
Hagan moved to third in the points order with his second Countdown final round appearance. He sits 42 points back of the leader.
In Top Fuel, Brown put his team back in the championship conversation by racing past defending world champ Shawn Langdon in the final round. Brown pulled away in his dragster with a 3.844 at 315.42, while Langdon’s dragster slowed near mid-track and finished in 4.035 at 279.38.
“This was a big day for us,” said Brown, who defeated Brittany Force, Terry McMillen and Steve Torrence to advance to the final. “We came into this race knowing our backs are against the wall. We’ve just been struggling at the last four races. We’ve been working hard, but no matter what we do, our car wasn’t cooperating with us. We got it back. It didn’t do exactly what we wanted it to do in the last two rounds, but it was close, and we were competitive to actually pull off this win today.”
It was the third straight and fourth overall win at this event for Brown, who moved to fourth in the standings, 80 points back of series leader Tony Schumacher, who was upset by McMillen in the first round.
“St. Louis has always been a good turning point for us,” Brown said. “The more pressure that’s on us and the more our backs are against the wall, the more focused our team gets to do what we need to get the job done. It shows you how brutal this class is. All these Countdown boys are playing hard. We’re back in that fighting mode. With three races left, we have to keep pushing to do what we need to do.”
Langdon moved to second in the standings with the runner-up finish and now trails Schumacher by 57. Semifinalist Torrence is third in the standings 71 back of Schumacher.
Connolly took his second consecutive Pro Stock win in a photo finish over series points leader Jason Line. Connolly’s Chevy Camaro clocked a 6.562 at 211.53 to edge Line’s Summit Racing Equipment Camaro at the finish line, which posted a 6.565 at 211.66.
Connolly defeated Chris McGaha, V. Gaines and top qualifier Erica Enders-Stevens en route to the fourth win in a row for the Gray Motorsports Pro Stock team, which includes victories by his teammates Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray.
“The four wins in a row; that’s what’s most impressive to me,” Connolly said. “That tells you the depth of Gray Motorsports. I’m having a blast racing with them this year. We’re getting breaks and everything is going our way. This is a humbling sport; it can turn on you any time. We’re going to enjoy the wins as they come.”
With the win, Connolly cut Line’s points lead to 26. He says that final round meeting was a huge one to win.
“It’s a two-for-one,” Connolly said. “If Jason would have won he’d be up by three rounds. Instead we cut it back to one. We’ve got to stop him from going rounds.”
Louisiana Alligator farmer Savoie earned his first career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory by outrunning series points leader Andrew Hines in the final round. Savoie rode his Suzuki to a winning performance of 6.871 at 196.53 while Hines’ Harley-Davidson trailed with a 6.881 at 193.57.
It was the third final round appearance of the season for Savoie, who is not eligible for the Countdown. He defeated Craig Treble, John Hall and Hector Arana Jr. to advance to his fifth career final.
“We had a good bike all weekend,” Savoie said. “It’s all good. Drag racing is a family thing. It’s amazing that the whole Pro Stock Motorcycle pit was so happy for me. I always said if I ever won one of these I would retire. Well, I lied.”
With the runner-up finish Hines increased his series lead to 57 over second-place Eddie Krawiec.
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship continues Oct. 2-5 with the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, PA.
Just three races remain on the schedule.
Pro Stock Championship Point Standings
1. Jason Line 2,364 2. Dave Connolly 2,338 3. Erica Enders-Stevens 2,297 4. Shane Gray 2,256 5. Jonathan Gray 2,245
Funny Car Championship Point Standings
1. John Force 2,344 2. Courtney Force 2,314 3. Matt Hagan 2,302 4. Robert Hight 2,253 5. Ron Capps 2,218
Top Fuel Championship Point Standings
1. Tony Schumacher 2,337 2. Shawn Langdon 2,280 3. Steve Torrence 2,266 4. Antron Brown 2,257 5. Doug Kalitta 2,250
Pro Stock Motorcycle Championship Point Standings
1. Andrew Hines 2,400 2. Eddie Krawiec 2,343 3. Hector Arana, Jr. 2,256 4. Steve Johnson 2,253 5. Matt Smith 2,202