Antron Brown extended his mastery of Gateway Motorsports Park by racing to his fourth consecutive Top Fuel victory at the facility Sunday during the NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Del Worsham in Funny Car, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle also were winners in their respective categories at the second of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship event in Madison, IL near St. Louis.
Brown defeated Dave Connolly in the final round to take his 53rd career victory and his fifth win overall at the track with a performance of 3.721 seconds at 325.92 miles per hour in his dragster to Connolly’s trailing run of 3.753 at 328.94.
“There are two words: truly blessed,” Brown said. “When [track owner] Curt Francois and [general manager] Chris Blair brought this track back [in 2011], they brought it back better than ever. You can put a slew of runs together that are quick and fast, because you’re not worried about the track not being there. The class is so competitive right now that you’re going home if you throw out a high-.70.”
The win, his sixth of the season, extended his points lead over teammate Tony Schumacher by 77 points. Larry Dixon suffered a first round loss to Billy Torrence and is 159 points behind Brown.
“We have to keep marching right now,” said Brown, who beat Terry McMillen, Shawn Langdon and Billy Torrence in the first three rounds. “We had a 200-point lead in 2012 and almost lost the championship at the end. We’re off to an incredible start. Charlotte is usually our kryptonite, but we were able to get through there this year with a good start.”
In Funny Car, Worsham continued his hot streak by defeating Matt Hagan to earn his second consecutive victory in the playoffs. Worsham defeated top-qualifier Hagan with a pass of 3.964 at 320.13 in his Toyota Camry. Hagan ran a 3.983 at 324.20 in his Dodge Charger R/T. Worsham took the win in spectacular fashion as the engine on his yellow Toyota exploded as he crossed the finish line.
“It made a hard dart to the right, I had full input on the wheel to the left, and it went ‘ka-boom!’ right before I got to the finish line,” Worsham said. “It blew up, the dash came up, and fire went back there. Luckily, in today’s racing, the chutes deployed themselves and slowed it down right away. In my 25 years of racing, I don’t know if I’ve ever driven a Funny Car that made that many good runs. The team assembling it, the tune-up, and what [team owner] Connie Kalitta has given us here has been unreal. When I came back to Funny Car racing [in 2012], this is the dream I had.”
Worsham also earned 20 bonus points during the event when he set a national elapsed-time record of 3.899 seconds during qualifying. He now has a 90-point lead over Hagan, the two-time and defending Funny Car world champion. Jack Beckman, who entered the Countdown as the #1 seed carrying a ton of momentum, fell to fourth following his second-round loss to Cruz Pedregon. Tommy Johnson is third in the points standings.
Pro Stock rookie Skillman raced his Chevy Camaro to his first career victory by defeating teammate Erica Enders in the final round. It was a rematch from the final in Indianapolis, which Enders won. In this matchup, Skillman powered past Ender’s Camaro, which lost traction early in the run, with his winning pass of 6.529 at 211.63.
“This is my fourth time to the finals and I knew that Erica has been insane on the tree,” Skillman said. “A little luck came our way and we got it done this weekend. I lost the first three finals but I don’t know how you can get frustrated when you get to a pro category for the first time and have the kind of year we’re having. This is not normal. I’m just very excited to win this today. I have a great team.”
Enders, who was in her fourth consecutive final round, increased her series lead to 113 over Greg Anderson.
Arana Jr. raced to his second Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the season, beating his father Hector Arana in the finals. Arana Jr. raced his Buell to a winning pass of 6.860 at 196.50 to his father’s trailing run of 6.932 at 195.03. This is the first career win in St. Louis for Arana Jr. The win moves him to 34 points behind Andrew Hines and caps a significant week for the racer.
“This has been a great week; I don’t know if I could ask for anything more,” Arana Jr. said. “On Monday, I pulled the trigger and asked my beautiful girlfriend [Vincent Nobile’s sister, Nicole Nobile] to marry me and to get this win is just icing on the cake. I tell you what, that is a bittersweet win. I watched my dad win in the semis and I said to myself, ‘I have to win’ so we can see which one of us can take home the Wally. I want to see him win and of course he wants to see me win, but at the same time I want to beat him. We also needed this to move forward in the points.”
The third of six rounds of the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs is next weekend at the NHRA Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, PA.
Sunday’s race was the 20th of 24 scheduled for the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Pro Stock Championship Point Standings
1. Erica Enders 2,331 2. Greg Anderson 2,218 3. Allen Johnson 2,195 4. Drew Skillman 2,171 5. Larry Morgan 2,167
Funny Car Championship Point Standings
1. Del Worsham 2,327 2. Matt Hagan 2,237 3. Tommy Johnson Jr. 2,211 4. Jack Beckman 2,208 5. John Force 2,178
Top Fuel Championship Point Standings
1. Antron Brown 2,320 2. Tony Schumacher 2,243 3. Larry Dixon 2,161 4. Brittany Force 2,157 5. J.R. Todd 2,149
Pro Stock Motorcycle Point Standings
1. Andrew Hines 2,259 2. Hector Arana Jr. 2,225 3. Eddie Krawiec 2,208 4. Jerry Savoie 2,205 5. Matt Smith 2,167
The NHRA and Drag Race Central contributed to this report.