Force Gets Back In The Fight At Gateway
MADISON, Ill. – John Force raced to his 136th career victory and moved into position to earn a 16th Funny Car world championship title Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the 21st race of the season and third of six playoff events in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Force powered to his second win of the season with a final round performance of 4.097 seconds at 310.13 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, while defending world champ Jack Beckman trailed in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger with a 4.127 at 309.84.
With the victory, Force, 64, now trails series leader Matt Hagan by six points.
Force defeated rookie Chad Head, longtime rival Ron Capps and teammate Robert Hight along the way to his third win at Gateway. Hagan, the event’s top qualifier who entered the day with a 63-point lead over second place Cruz Pedregon, lost to Beckman in the second round. Pedregon also went out early with a first round exit, which opened the door for Force to move to the top of the points order.
“We’ve got a [points] race now, and I’m excited,” Force said. “I had a good day. The most important thing for me was to see the crowd. They filled the bleachers. To win a championship you’ve gotta live it every day, and I’m not chasing a championship. I’ve been chasing Corporate America and taking care of our sponsors. My wife [Laurie] set me straight this morning, ‘she said, what you need to do is win. We need John Force to get back to winning races.’ Hey, I can do that. I ain’t going to say I will win another race or a championship, but I’ll be in the fight with these kids.”
The runner-up finish put the still-winless Beckman in third place in the standings, 44 back of Hagan. Robert Hight is fourth overall, 48 points back in his Auto Club Mustang. Two-time champ Pedregon dropped to fifth, 83 behind Hagan.
In Top Fuel, Brown claimed his third victory of the season and 40th of his career by defeating Khalid alBalooshi in the final round. Brown covered the distance in 3.788 at 323.97 in his Toyota/Matco Tools dragster to take his second consecutive win at this track, and third overall. Runner-up alBalooshi finished in 3.833 at 319.98 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster.
Brown defeated Billy Torrence, Clay Millican and seven-time champ Tony Schumacher to advance to the final round. The effort ended a mini-slump for the defending world champion, who has not been in a final round since he won in Atlanta in early May. Since then he’s posted eight first round losses and a DNQ at the Countdown playoff opener in Charlotte.
“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling a lot more than what we had hoped to, and we had hoped we could have had a turnaround a little sooner, but we’re not going to go out without a fight,” Brown said. “The class is at an all-time high where everybody is running strong, but we just want to get back in the groove because it’s not going to be over until it’s over.”
Brown moved to sixth in the standings with the victory and now trails series leader Shawn Langdon by 102 points. Doug Kalitta and Spencer Massey, who both lost in the first round, are second and third, 33 and 35 points back respectively. Morgan Lucas is fourth overall, 45 points back and Schumacher is fifth.