Motorsports

NHRA Wrap-Up: J. Force Gets 151st Win at U.S. Nationals

(Image/NHRA)

By NHRA Staff

John Force won his record-tying fifth Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Funny Car title on Monday, breaking a 17-year drought at the sport’s marquee event.

Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, Alex Laughlin in Pro Stock, and Jerry Savoie in Pro Stock Motorcycle, were also winners of final race before the 2019 Countdown to the Champion playoffs begin.  

Force beat Jack Beckman in the final round, 3.919 to 3.940, to capture the 151st win of his incredible career.

An emotional Force, who turned 70 in May— said he’s feeling his age, and wondering if he should have retired years ago, but was uplifted by finally winning Indy again.

“After I had my accident [in 2007], the doctors told me, ‘You’re done; you ain’t gonna race. You’re going to be lucky to walk,’ but I’ve never allowed anyone to ever tell me anything, and I fought to get back. Then I started hearing, ‘You’re 70, this thing is over,’ but it’s really how bad you want it. You do it because you love it and when you don’t do good, you do the best you can. There are a lot of guys out here with more talent than me that don’t have the budget or the right crew chief. I just happen to be one of the lucky ones.

“We won in Seattle, then had a clutch problem in Brainerd and lost in the first round, then come into Indy all of the sudden this car is running like a car should and I’m driving like you should drive it,” he said. “I know that one day I’ll have to retire, but I said it would sure be good to win another championship and it would sure be nice to win Indy one more time.”

Force was appearing in his ninth final in 40 trips to “the Big Go,” but he hadn’t won since 2002. He won four times in 10 years, between 1993 and 2002, but hadn’t reached the Indy winner’s circle since then. He lost his two most recent Indy finals, in 2010 against his daughter, Ashley, and in 2014 against Alexis DeJoria.

Force’s fifth Indy win ties him with Ed McCulloch, who won five times between 1971 and 1990, as the event’s winningest Funny Car driver.

Kalitta Earns First Career Indy Win

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Write it in stone: Doug Kalitta has finally won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

The second-generation nitro racer, whose famous uncle, Connie, won Indy 25 years ago, outlasted Billy Torrence in a weird final round to finally get the Indy monkey off of his back. Kalitta was making his 22nd start at Indy with the Troy Fasching- and Rob Flynn-tuned dragster still looking for his first triumph at the race despite 45 other career wins at tracks across the tour. 

Kalitta left on Torrence—as he does almost everyone—and was pulling away from Torrence at halftrack when both cars began to lose traction, then both fell silent and coasted across the stripe at just 212 mph. He became the third straight first-time Indy Top Fuel winner, the 30th Top Fuel winner in Indy history, and took over second place in the standings. What mattered most, of course, was finally getting that Indy win.

“I’m a real persistent guy; I never give up,” Kalitta said. “But it does make you wonder if you’re going to win it. After we got past the first round, I was thinking this was going to be a pretty good chance to win it.”

Kalitta began his run to the final round with his seventh holeshot win of the season—tying his own class-record mark from 2006—to defeat Clay Millican in a first-round bash in which both ran 3.721.

Laughlin Wins Pro Stock

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If you’re only going to win one race in a season, it might as well be a big one, and there is no bigger one than the U.S. Nationals. Elite Performance teammates Erica Enders and Laughlin met in the Indy Pro Stock final where Laughlin broke a 41-race winless streak in one of the most bizarre races of the day. When Enders left first by more than a tenth of a second, just about everyone at Lucas Oil Raceway Indy figured it was over, but Enders’ Chevy Camaro was wounded and she slowed to a 6.774, just enough to allow Laughlin to stick the nose of his Camaro in front, and sneak by for a narrow victory with a 6.64 in a race that was much closer than the numbers would suggest.

“I can’t even talk right now,” said Laughlin, who now has three Pro Stock wins in seven final rounds in his career. “I could see that I was pulling on her, and then I saw a win light. It’s been a long time since I’ve won one of these [NHRA Wally trophies]. Thanks to Havoline. They’ve been beside me since 2015 and I couldn’t do this without them. This is just unbelievable.”

“I knew that I had to be the best I could ever be in my whole life on the tree racing Erica. Whenever I staged I rolled in and the light flickered,” said Laughlin. “As soon as she staged and we both put it on the two-step, my bulb flickered again. I don’t have a whole lot of experience in finals. I’ve been to a few of them this year, but the pressure is on and I just about choked to be honest but she had some problems. I also didn’t drive well going down the track to be honest. I haven’t looked at the data, but I remember it well. With a little bit of luck and a little opportunity, we got it done.

“Brian ‘Lump’ Self, my crew chief, is huge for me because I am my own worst enemy, without a doubt. I beat myself up pretty bad when I don’t perform well and that guy is so confident in himself, and me and the whole team. He definitely lifts the morale and I owe a lot to him for this.”

Laughlin has been one of the leading contenders in the Pro Stock class for much of the season, and he entered Indy #2 in the class behind 2017 champion Bo Butner, but he was winless since the 2017 Bristol race.

Savoie Earns 2nd U.S. Nats Title in Pro Stock Motorcycle

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Jerry Savoie earned his second U.S. Nationals title after points leader Andrew Hines red-lit.

Throughout his career, White Alligator Racing Suzuki rider Jerry Savoie has had a knack for stealing the spotlight on NHRA’s biggest stage. The winner of the U.S. Nationals in 2015, Savoie also mounted an impressive performance during the 2016 playoffs to win the NHRA Mello Yello series Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. Savoie struck again when he topped points leader Andrew Hines in the final round to win his second Indy title. The race ended early on a red-light start after Hines’ Harley-Davidson FXDR apparently rolled out of the starting line staging beams, but in all honesty, he would have been hard pressed to keep pace with Savoie, who made the four quickest runs on race day to win his tenth career final round.

Savoie fought back tears when he described the feeling of being a competitive racer well into his 60s.

“When I started doing this, I said all along that I just wanted to win one race,” said Savoie, who also defeated Hines in the final for his first win at the 2014 St. Louis race. “You’ve got to realize at my age; I’m 60 years old. My day is coming. I only planned to be out here for a couple of years. I’ve been here for eight now. It’s tough. To all the armchair quarterbacks out there, if you think this is so easy, come and get you some. Also, after Sonoma, I was eating a piece of pizza and broke a tooth and my jawbone, and I’d made up my mind I wasn’t even going to come here. Finally, my wife told me to just go and have fun.

“Anyway, the Suzuki’s have been struggling lately but thanks to Vance & Hines and Tim [Kulungian, crew chief] they’ve been working on a couple of combinations and it paid off. We found the sweet spot and I maintained my composure all day and we made some good runs. The Harley guys, you can’t take anything away from them. They win races because they’re not only the fastest, but they are the most consistent. When I dumped the clutch, I saw Andrew’s red-light come on. I knew we had him covered. He was a little nervous. They tested here, and this is his home track so I’m a little surprised he didn’t run better.”

With seven wins in nine events and a 29-2 record in elimination rounds coming into Indy, not much had gone wrong for Andrew Hines this season, and the five-time Mello Yello series Pro Stock Motorcycle champion stretched his record to 32-round wins by beating Kelly Clontz, Scotty Pollacheck, and reigning champ Matt Smith. Despite the loss, Hines was able to lock up the top spot in the Countdown to the Championship standings.

NHRA Pro Stock Point Standings

  1.  Bo Butner               969  
2. Alex Laughlin 967
3. Jason Line 906
4. Greg Anderson 884
5. Erica Enders 853

NHRA Funny Car Point Standings

  1.  Robert Hight           1,481   
2. John Force 1,376
3. Tommy Johnson Jr. 1,269
4. Jack Beckman 1,259
5. Ron Capps 1,234

NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings

  1.  Steve Torrence         1,742
2. Doug Kalitta 1,184
3. Antron Brown 1,109
4. Brittany Force 1,108
5. Mike Salinas 1,071

NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Point Standings

  1.  Andrew Hines           1,126
2. Eddie Krawiec 882
3. Matt Smith 839
4. Hector Arana Jr. 743
5. Jerry Savoie 551
Drag Race Central and NHRA contributed to this report.
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