October 30, 2014

Elyria
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Home is where the win is

Connolly makes return to Norwalk a dream week

NORWALK — There’s no place like home.
Elyria’s Dave Connolly had a dreamlike run to the Pro Stock championship Sunday afternoon, beating Newark’s Larry Morgan in an all-Ohio final at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
Connolly finished with an elapsed time of 6.660 and a top speed of 207.11 mph to capture his second title of the season and the 11th of his career. And he did it on the track that he grew up on.
“Coming back to a track where I spent every weekend from the time I was 10 until I was 17, it’s very special,” Connolly said. “To win the race is just icing on the cake.
“It was a picture-perfect weekend.”
Also winning championships Sunday were Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel class, Mike Ashley in Funny Car and Andrew Hines in the Pro Stock Motorcycles.
The day started with Connolly getting an easy first-round victory over Warren Johnson — with Connolly’s 6.628 ET becoming the best time in the class for the entire event.
“That’s one of the best runs we’ve ever made,” Connolly said. “The last couple of races we had electrical problems and we have all the confidence in Tommy Utt, our crew chief. He finds the problem quick and doesn’t let it keep us down long. Come race day, he makes the smart call and knows how to win races.
“I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”
Connolly then downed Greg Stanfield in the quarterfinals, putting up an ET of 6.651 to Stanfield’s 6.709, which advanced him to an emotional semifinal matchup with teammate, friend and fellow Buckeye Jeg Coughlin. Connolly beat Coughlin, who hails from Delaware, off the line and cruised to an easy win when Coughlin’s car jumped out of gear and the veteran driver, seeing he was beaten, coasted past the finish line.
“The only thing that could have made this weekend better is if Jeg and I had met in the final round,” said Connolly, echoing his friend’s earlier comments.
“Obviously we’d like (the meeting) to be in a final round, that’s our goal and we haven’t done that yet here at Cagazzi Racing,” said Coughlin shortly before the teammates squared off. “But a semifinal matchup is a good thing. We look at it as one car’s going to advance, we can’t foul that up.”
The hometown championship became easier to envision once the most dominating driver in the class was eliminated early.
Greg Anderson, the series points leader and the weekend’s top Pro Stock qualifier, was taken out in the first round by No. 16 Erica Enders. Enders moved up to the staging line and Anderson timed out, giving the bottom qualifier the victory. The upset opened up the field and gave Connolly a boost of confidence.
“If you can go a whole race without meeting up with that guy, your chances are a little bit better,” Connolly said. “They are one great team.”
It also allowed both Coughlin and Connolly to gain some momentum in the standings. Coughlin has 825 points and is second behind Anderson’s 992, while Connolly moved to 775. Jason Line is fourth with 682.
“Greg’s got such a big lead that we’re not really fighting for that,” Connolly said. “Me and Jeg just want to stay two and three and make that first cut, and kind of keep Jason away from us. Him going out in the second round was maybe key for us.”
The inaugural victory at Norwalk joins St. Louis for Connolly’s two wins of the season. He finished as runner-up in Topeka.
Connolly also has career wins in Atlanta, Topeka, Denver, Pomona, Las Vegas, Dallas, Chicago and a pair in Brainerd, but none was as special as the one he captured this weekend.
“I had cousins, grandparents, a lot of friends and family that came out here, so it was probably the biggest winner circle pictures we’ve had,” Connolly said. “We had to break out the wide-angle lens for that.
“My mom doesn’t get to come out to many races and she was able to make it out to this one, too.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.

SUNDAY’S RESULTS
Top Fuel
FIRST ROUND — No. 1 Rod Fuller (4.664) def. No. 16 Melanie Troxel (4.664); No. 8 David Grubnic (6.857) def. No. 9 Luigi Novelli (10.264); No. 13 Doug Kalitta (4.601) def. No. 4 Larry Dixon (4.632); No. 12 Bob Vandergriff Jr. (4.608) def. No. 5 Cory McClenathan (4.658); No. 15 Hillary Will (4.608) def. No. 2 Clay Millican (4.682); No. 10 Whit Bazemore (4.578) def. No. 7 Doug Herbert (4.863); No. 14 Tony Schumacher (4.581) def. No. 3 Brandon Bernstein (4.587); No. 11 J.R. Todd (4.637) def. No. 6 Scott Palmer (4.885). QUARTERFINALS — Fuller (4.552) def. Grubnic (11.986); Kalitta (4.586) def. Vandergriff (4.630); Bazemore (4.597) def. Will (NTR); Schumacher (4.618) def. Todd (6.255). SEMIFINALS — Fuller (4.738) def. Kalitta (5.209); Schumacher (4.618) def. Bazemore (7.322). CHAMPIONSHIP — Schumacher (4.537) def. Fuller (7.087).
Funny Car
FIRST ROUND — No. 1 Robert Hight (4.865) def. No. 16 Del Worsham (6.118); No. 8 Mike Ashley (4.848) def. No. 9 Jim Head (6.317); No. 13 Cruz Pedregon (4.848) def. No. 4 Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.972); No. 5 Jack Beckman (4.855) def. No. 12 John Force (5.081); No. 2 Ashley Force (4.898) def. No. 15 Gary Densham (4.961); No. 10 Kenny Bernstein (4.888) def. No. 7 Ron Capps (4.869); No. 3 Tony Pedregon (4.871) def. No. 14 Tony Bartone (5.610); No. 6 Tim Wilkerson (4.855) def. No. 11 Jeff Arend (6.649). QUARTERFINALS — Ashley (4.836) def. Hight (5.109); C. Pedregon (4.890) def. Beckman (4.918); Bernstein (4.815) def. Force (4.901); T. Pedregon (4.951) def. Wilkerson (5.052). SEMIFINALS — Ashley (4.865) def. C. Pedregon (6.092); Bernstein (4.889) def. T. Pedregon (4.992). CHAMPIONSHIP — Ashley (4.823) def. Bernstein (12.080).
Pro Stock
FIRST ROUND — No. 16 Erica Enders (6.732) def. No. 1 Greg Anderson (NTR); No. 9 Jeg Coughlin (6.651) def. No. 8 Kurt Johnson (6.676); No. 4 Dave Connolly (6.628) def. No. 13 Warren Johnson (9.728); No. 12 Greg Stanfield (6.684) def. No. 5 Tom Hammonds (6.670); No. 15 Larry Morgan (6.660) def. No. 2 Richie Stevens Jr. (6.646); No. 10 V Gaines (6.657) def. No. 7 Max Naylor (6.772); No. 3 Allen Johnson (6.665) def. No. 14 Jim Yates (6.677); No. 6 Jason Line (6.658) def. No. 11 Justin Humphreys (13.462). QUARTERFINALS — Coughlin (6.648) def. Enders (6.724); Connolly (6.651) def. Stanfield (6.709); Morgan (6.672) def. Gaines; Johnson (6.671) def. Line. SEMIFINALS — Connolly (6.684) def. Coughlin (11.344); Morgan (6.717) def. Johnson (6.702). CHAMPIONSHIP — Connolly (6.660) def. Morgan (6.718).
Pro Stock Motorcycle
FIRST ROUND — No. 1 Matt Smith (7.023) def. No. 16 Matt Guidera (13.219); No. 8 Peggy Llewellyn (7.031) def. No. 9 Craig Treble (7.106); No. 4 Angelle Sampey (6.992) def. No. 13 Michael Phillips (7.058); No. 5 Chris Rivas (7.053) def. No. 12 Geno Scali (7.073); No. 2 Chip Ellis (7.025) def. No. 15 Hector Arana (7.144); No. 10 Eddie Krawiec (7.036) def. No. 7 Karen Stoffer (7.053); No. 3 Andrew Hines (6.998) def. No. 14 Paul Gast (15.881); No. 11 Steve Johnson (7.125) def. No. 6 Antron Brown (7.144). QUARTERFINALS — Smith (7.039) def. Llewellyn (7.021); Sampey (6.989) def. Rivas (7.688); Ellis (7.012) def. Krawiec (7.037); Hines (6.978) def. Johnson (7.051). SEMIFINALS — Smith (7.060) def. Sampey (7.041); Hines (6.985) def. Ellis (7.073). CHAMPIONSHIP — Hines (6.988) def. Smith (10.961).