Wilkerson stops three Force teams
The 21st annual O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals was one of the most exciting events in the history of Memphis Motorsports Park. High drama, great side-by-side racing, pleasant weather, and championship implications made for an event that fans will remember for years to come.
Funny Car champion Tim Wilkerson spoiled a potential all-John Force Racing semifinals when he turned back family members John Force, Robert Hight, and Ashley Force in consecutive rounds. Like Wilkerson, Top Fuel titlist Tony Schumacher extended his points lead with a decisive final-round victory against Doug Herbert. Countdown to 1 players Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Craig Treble (Pro Stock Motorcycle) climbed up from the lower depths of the top 10 with their triumphant wins.
Schumacher's (pictured right) record round-win and event-win streaks may have ended with a final-round loss to J.R. Todd in Dallas, but his final-round streak is alive and kicking after advancing to his ninth straight final round in a season which has the rest of the class nearly ready to run for second. "The Sarge" left first next to Norwalk winner Herbert in the final round, and the U.S. Army dragster increased its lead over Herbert's SnaponFranchise.com/B.R.A.K.E.S. rail at every increment, 3.880 to 3.979.
"I think I did a good job of driving and Alan [Johnson] did a great job of tuning," said Schumacher. "When we smoked the tires [in the semifinals], Alan knew exactly what it was before we got back to the pits, and it got right down the track in the final. We needed that point lead. Of all the records this year, the one I don't want to set is losing the biggest points lead."
"I've always enjoyed coming to Memphis. We've won it before; we've crashed a few times. We've always performed well here, even when we've gotten beat."
Schumacher was good when he had to be and opportunistic when both he and Hillary Will smoked the hides in the semifinals. Schumacher, who made the quickest runs in both Saturday qualifying trials, was quick but not the quickest of either of the first two rounds with 3.88s in close wins against Rod Fuller and Doug Kalitta. When he spun the tires in the semifinals, so did Will, and the result was a win light in the U.S. Army team's lane, 4.22 to 4.47.
National DRAGSTER's Tricky Tipster wrote that Herbert's consistency was bound to pay off despite having won a paltry two rounds in the past six races, and the prophecy came true as Herbert reached the final round for the second time this season. Herbert ran 3.91, 3.95, and 3.90 in respective round-wins against Clay Millican, Todd, and No. 1 qualifier Brandon Bernstein. Herbert, the class leader in average reaction time, beat Bernstein with a holeshot, the same fashion in which he beat him in the final at the Norwalk event.
Tim WilkersonIt's (pictured right) safe to say that Wilkerson won't be getting a Christmas card from John Force Racing headquarters this year. As he did earlier this season in Denver, the Funny Car points leader turned back three of four JFR teammates en route to victory, his second consecutive and sixth of the season. Two races after a demoralizing first-round loss to Ashley Force in Charlotte, Wilkerson got her back in a 4.166 to 4.183 final-round decision.
"We were really behind all weekend because the track was better than we gave it credit for," said Wilkerson. "We had some dumb errors, too, like a puke tank line that came off in the final and cost us 15 points for oiling the track. It's a happy day, though. We won the race, and getting by the three Force cars was a tremendous opportunity to build our points.
"I heard I was down and out after getting whupped first round in Charlotte, and that motivates me. When I was a kid, I wrestled in high school. I wasn't very big or very good, and I sparred with this kid who was a state champion. My coach would say, 'When you wrestle with him, you don't even look like the same wrestler. Why don't you treat everyone else that way?' I've been thinking about that. When I race these champions, I don't go out there thinking we're going to get beat by them. All year, we've been racing everybody like it's the last race of our life."
Wilkerson has stood in the way between John Force Racing and history a couple times this season. In addition to preventing the first-ever all-JFR semifinals at this event, Wilkerson had delayed Ashley's first win when he stopped her in the final round at the Las Vegas event. The Funny Car points leader defeated Melanie Troxel in the opening round before dropping John Force and Robert Hight with runs of 4.18, 4.23, and 4.16.
Force, who qualified No. 1 for the third time in seven races, was infallible on her way to the final round. She ran a 4.12 against Bob Tasca III in round one, a 4.14 to halt a supercharger-exploding Gary Scelzi in round two, and a 4.17 to drive away from tire-smoking teammate Mike Neff in the semifinals. Her third final of the season moved her up to fifth in points and kept her lingering title hopes alive
Mike Edwards (pictured right) was triumphant for the second time this season. The driver of the Penhall/YoungLife Pontiac GXP hoisted the trophy at the end of the day after running a 6.702 at 207.27 mph in the final round against Jason Line, whose Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP spun the tires hard after garnering a small holeshot advantage. Edwards leaped from ninth to fifth in the points standings.
"Since this Countdown started, crazy things have happened in Pro Stock," said Edwards. "Teams that are better than our team have had problems like everybody else. We were fortunate to make two nice runs in the early rounds. We lost a handle on the track after that, but other cars lost a handle on it, too. It was a big win for us, and we give all our glory to the Lord because that's what our team is all about."
Edwards took a big gamble by setting up his own engine building program in the offseason, and it has paid dividends with two wins this year. Edwards was consistent throughout qualifying and found ways to win in eliminations, outrunning Johnny Gray in the first round, out-leaving proclaimed holeshot artist Dave Connolly in the second, and catching a break against tire-spinning Warren Johnson in the semi's.
"We're inching up," said Edwards, who maintains a long-term focus. "I never even thought about championship hopes; I'm just trying to win a round. The championship is out there, but we just want to try to improve. We're having an exceptional year. We're not in the upper-class of the Pro Stock teams, but our efforts are short of nobody's efforts."
Line recovered from a painful first-round holeshot loss in Dallas by climbing back into title contention with a strong outing. He survived a half-tenth starting line disadvantage against Kurt Johnson in the first round by running a great 6.618 at 208.36 mph. He followed that by defeating Steve Spiess, who took out teammate Greg Anderson in the first round, and No. 1 qualifier Allen Johnson en route to his sixth final of the season. He needed a big weekend to stay in title contention, and he got it; Line moved from fifth to second in the standings.
Craig Treble scored his first win of the season in his fourth race since joining Don Schumacher Racing aboard the Schumacher Electric/Albrecht's Fast Track Suzuki. Treble was overshadowed by the performance of teammate Chip Ellis during qualifying, but he was strong in eliminations and saved his best for last with a 6.985 at 188.57 mph in the final round. His opponent Eddie Krawiec grabbed four hundredths off the starting line but lost power shortly thereafter.
"Steve Tartaglia, Jason, Tom, and all the guys work so hard on this team," said Treble. "I made the four best 60-footers of my life today: 1.056, 1.055, 1.048, and 1.052. My best before this weekend was a 1.059. I don't know what Steve has done to this bike, but it's unbelievable. I felt bad for Chip. I think he's a better rider than I am. I may be a better racer on Sunday, and if we combine our efforts I think we can be a pretty tough dynamic duo."
"Harry and Joanne Lartigue are awesome people," said Treble of his former team owners. "They didn't cut on anything. I'm truly grateful for them, but it was just time to make a move after Reading. I was going to go out on my own before I got the opportunity with Don Schumacher. Don gave me this chance after Harry and I were completely done, and here we are, capitalizing on it."
Treble's third final-round appearance this season materialized from the middle of the pack with a Suzuki that was unfaltering with one 7.0-second run after another, complemented by his typical lightning-quick reaction times. The veteran rider pulled out some close wins against Michael Phillips and GT Tonglet in the first two rounds. Tonglet was riding a Matt Smith-owned bike that took out Treble's teammate Ellis in the first round, and he got revenge on Team Smith two-fold by following his win over Tonglet with a semifinal knockout of another Team Smith rider, Angie McBride.
Krawiec began eliminations from the No. 7 position and ran an eye-opening 6.968 at 191.35 mph in a first-round defeat of Hector Arana. He and crew chief Matt Hines stayed the course with a 6.971 in round two to gun down Dallas winner Chris Rivas. In a pivotal semifinal matchup, Krawiec got the win light against points leader Matt Smith, who fouled with a -.005 reaction time. Though winless in his second year as the rider for the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines/Harley-Davidson team, his frustration is alleviated some by leaving this event only 42 points out of first.
The Lucas Oil Sportsman champs were three-time 2008 titlist Arnie Martel (Comp), Sportsman great and four-class winner Edmond Richardson (Super Stock), and first-time winners Adam Davis (Stock) and Carl Shane (Super Gas).