Worsham, Brown, Coughlin, Krawiec collect victories in Madison
Del Worsham scored his first victory for the new Al-Anabi team and was joined in the winner's circle at the O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals by Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle), who all had previously scored victories this season. It only took new team owner Alan Johnson seven events to put both of his fledgling Al-Anabi/Alan Johnson Racing fuel teams into the winner's circle as Worsham followed Top Fuel teammate Larry Dixon, a winner in Gainesville in March, to the NHRA Full Throttle winner's circle.
The teams were racing not only to beat one another Sunday afternoon, but also the rain that threatened to cut action at Gateway Int'l Raceway short as it had during Friday qualifying at the event, the seventh of the 24-race 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
The Top Fuel final was a rematch of the season's second event, in Phoenix, and the result was the same as it was in February with Brown collecting the win, his fourth in the class and 20th overall, in impressive fashion, defeating Brandon Bernstein with a 3.85 at 318.02 mph – the fifth fastest speed ever at 1,000 feet – to Bernstein's 3.88 at 310 mph. The victory boosted Brown into the points lead ahead of Tony Schumacher.
"This was a phenomenal race," said Brown. "Any time you line up against [Brandon] Bernstein, you have to be on top of your game and we were. Rob Flynn is the crew chief over there and I know what he's capable of. He won this race last year with my [former] teammate, Rod Fuller. We figured that they would run a 3.85 or 3.86 and we knew we'd need to match that.
"Our team was getting better one step at a time. We were getting faster and faster. In the final, we decided to give it everything we've got. We took the wickerbill off so I knew it would run a big speed if it was stuck. Even so, I was surprised that we ran 318. That was big for us and I owe it to Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald]. They've gone from Funny Car to Top Fuel and they haven't missed a thing."
Brown, who reached his eighth Top Fuel final in less than a season and a half in the 31 races since switching from Pro Stock Motorcycle to begin the 2008 season, did so with a pair of 3.86s from Mike Ashley's Brian Corradi- and Mark Oswald-tuned DirecTV/Matco Tools dragster to beat Doug Kalitta and Cory McClenathan, then earned lane choice for his 41st career final with a 3.85 to 3.87 victory, driving past rookie Shawn Langdon's holeshot to win by a scant .005-second.
Bernstein, who had been denied in his last six final-round appearances and has not won since the 2007 event in Brainerd, reached his third final of the year with his Rob Flynn-wrenched Budweiser dragster and the 30th final of his Top Fuel career by beating Clay Millican and low qualifier Morgan Lucas with a pair of 3.90s, then turned up the wick in the semifinals with a 3.86 to deny rookie Top Fuel pilot Spencer Massey his second final-round appearance of the season.
Worsham defeated points leader Ron Capps on a holeshot in the final, 4.13 to 4.12. to earn his 23rd career victory. Worsham left on Capps in the money round, .044 to .081, and used his win to slide into second place in the standings behind Capps, who still owns a 119-point edge on the field..
Worsham, who hadn’t won since his victory more than a year ago in Houston in his family-owned team, powered his Aaron Brooks-tuned Toyota to the final round, the 36th of his career, by besting Jerry Toliver, Tim Wilkerson, and Tony Pedregon. The win was the first for tuner Brooks.
"This was a brand new team that came out running so well early that our expectations got so high and we had to sit back and realize that it's going to take a couple races, a couple runs, or maybe even a year to get this team running the way it did," said Worsham. "Alan Johnson, Aaron Brooks, Rod, they put this thing together and they have a tune-up that runs very well. This team was assembled to do well and to win and to win championships.
"This definitely ranks in the top five moments of my career. It's right up there with my first win in Atlanta. This team was built to win and I'm happy to do my part. Even though we had just 16 cars here, the quality of the cars is amazing. This is Pro Stock on nitro."
Season-long points leader Capps, who won the season's first two races and added a third Wally with a victory in Las Vegas, qualified No. 1 and Sunday ran 4.16 and a pair of 4.13s to defeat Terry Haddock and former world champs John Force and Cruz Pedregon to reach his 56th career Funny Car final with his Ed McCulloch-tuned NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger.
Pro Stock finalists Coughlin and Jason Line entered the event 1-2 in points and both were seeking their third win of the season in the money round, but the drama ended early when Line fouled out with a .002-second too-early leave, invalidating a 6.57 that was quicker than Coughlin's 6.58. The win was Coughlin's 44th in Pro Stock and 57th overall.
"We've really jelled together lately," said Coughlin. "This year we had one goal, which was to get more round wins and more race wins and that's exactly what we've done. We've been racing hard and racing smart. I lost a couple of finals but now I'm on the good end of it. I'm three and two in finals and I'm excited because we have a lot of our favorite tracks coming down the pike and we'll try to keep this roll going.
"Victor's team working extremely hard. We have some new items on the car that we wanted to test on Friday. We have a new engine that is the best that has ever come from Cagnazzi's shop. Obviously it rained on Friday and we didn't run it on Saturday but we put it in today. It was lazy down low but we gradually snuck up on it. It is running great on the top end and that's really exciting."
Coughlin, winner earlier this season in Phoenix and Las Vegas, reached the 73rd Pro Stock final of his amazing career and his fifth in seven starts this season with the Cagnazzi Racing/Jegs.com Cobalt by trailering Johnny Gray with a 6.622 then put together back-to-back 6.59s to beat low qualifier Greg Stanfield and longtime rival Greg Anderson, keeping Anderson winless through seven starts this season.
Line, who scored wins at the season opener in Pomona and again in Gainesville, opened his Sunday account with a free pass when former NBA player Tom Hammonds airballed the start with a red-light then eked his Summit Racing Pontiac past Kurt Johnson by a mere .006 in the second round, 6.57 to 6.58. Line reached his 27th career Pro Stock final (29th overall) by defeating upset-minded Justin Humphreys, 5.59 to 6.63.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle final pitted the series' two most recent winners, Atlanta champ Krawiec and Houston titlist Craig Treble, and Krawiec, who won the 2008 championship without winning a race, made it two straight wins on a 6.94 to 6.95 decision and stole the points lead from Matt Smith in the process.
"I had a lot of people tell me that once you get first win, they will come easy," said Krawiec, who was winless entering this season. "I didn't believe it but it has been true so far. I had a .009 reaction in the final and that wasn't exactly what I wanted but I needed it. I also had a .000 light against Angie [McBride] in the semi's so my average is probably pretty good right now.
"The final was tough. In my eyes, Craig is one of the best, if not the best rider out here. He bracket races a lot and it's not easy to beat him. This year, I think every bike race has been won from the No. 2 [qualifying] spot so I was pretty happy when we were second. We've got some momentum now and I just want to see us keep it going."
Krawiec reached his eight career final round aboard the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley by defeating first-time qualifier Bailey Whitaker and his RumBum teammate, Shawn Gann, in the opening two rounds with passes of 6.91 and 6.90, then denied Angie McBride her first career final-round appearance, beating the Nitro Fish Buell rider by combining a perfect .000 light and a 6.95 to beat her game 6.97.
Treble, a 13-time tour winner, used a mix of power from his Suzuki and good riding to reach his 28th career final round, outrunning Junior Pippin's Buell in round one, 6.94 to 7.02, then using a holeshot to beat incoming points leader Smith's Nitro Fish Suzuki, 7.02 to 6.99. Treble's semifinal clash with rookie rider Doug Horne was a rematch of their Houston final, with the outcome being the same, a win light in Treble's lane after a 6.96 to 7.03 duel.