May 27, 2016

Partly sunny

NHRA Nationals: Noteworthy victories cap eventful weekend in Norwalk

Antron Brown, top fuel dragster winner; John Force, funny car winner; Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock winner;  and Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle winner; ride into the winners circle together on July 6.   KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

Antron Brown, top fuel dragster winner; John Force, funny car winner; Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock winner; and Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle winner; ride into the winners circle together on July 6. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

NORWALK — Race fans certainly got their money’s worth this weekend at the eighth annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.

Those in attendance watched every elapsed time and speed record among the four pro series get shattered, then saw four milestone victories Sunday.

Three champions — Antron Brown in Top Fuel, John Force in Funny Car and Erica Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock — won for the first time at Norwalk, while Andrew Hines won the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship for a record fourth time at the event.

“It’s been a blessing to be at this track this weekend,” said Brown, who breezed to victory when top qualifier Shawn Langdon smoked his tires early in the final round. “There’s no bad lane here. In either lane, you have a chance to win. The track is that good.

“We needed it, too, because this class is so tight right now. It’s tough to win a round let alone an event.”

Brown nearly missed his chance to win the title.

His crew didn’t catch some repairs that needed to be made during an inspection of his car after the semifinals. Instead, the issues were found when warming up the car just 15 minutes before the final.

“That’s the closest we’ve ever been to not making a final round,” Brown said. “But nobody got in a panic, nobody got rushed. They managed to get that car back to perfection. That’s when I knew that this is a championship team.”

Force knows a little something about championship teams … he’s been on 16 of them. But he admitted he was nervous that he’d yet to win the Norwalk event after seven attempts.

“I just couldn’t get a national event win here … and I’ve won them all,” he said. “I really wanted this win. It was special to me. I came here way back … you could say decades.”

Force finally got the job done with a narrow win over Ron Capps — 4.113 to 4.135. The win was the 140th of his career, second in four finals appearances this season and moved him from No. 3 to No. 2 in the Funny Car points standings.

“Calls were being made and they were being made right,” Force said.

Force said the team has been in a groove lately after a less-than-stellar start to the season.

“I lost five first rounds in a row,” he said. “We’ve made some changes and now we’re back on track.”

Enders-Stevens has been on track all season. The Pro Stock series points leader added to her lead with a dominating two days of qualifying and then captured her 10th career event win.

The double-digit victory total has been accomplished by only two other female drivers — Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey.

“It’s crazy to have my name on a list like that,” Enders-Stevens said. “Those are two extremely talented ladies. They were able to break down the barriers for the female drivers today.

“Shirley has followed me and calls me occasionally to see how I’m doing.”

The win also broke a drought for the Pro Stock top qualifying position that stretched back to the Indianapolis race last season, and was the 199th Pro Stock win for Chevrolet.

“I felt good all weekend and said yesterday that I think we could break that jinx,” Enders-Stevens said. “I missed out on the 100th win for female drivers, but we had the 99th and 101st, so hopefully we can get (Chevrolet’s 200th).”

Hines came to Norwalk with a brand-new motorcycle, and was ready to give it away after qualifying 10th.

“We decided to turn a third chassis we had in the shop into a motorcycle,” he said. “It took three 14-hour days, but we got it done.

“It was a relief to get the bike built and get it here by Friday, but after the (qualifying) performance I was like, ‘Man, I want my old bike back.’”

Hines bounced back with a great Sunday, capped by a 6.901-to-6.924 victory over Hector Arana in the final.

“Today it was four straight runs and that’s the key to putting up big speeds,” Hines said. “The fourth win light was definitely the prettiest of the day. I think we learned exactly what we need to do going forward.”


  • The Sportsman winners were: Mike Strasburg in Top Alcohol Dragster, Steve Harker in Top Alcohol Funny Car, David Rampy in Competition Eliminator, Brad Zaskowski in Super Stock, Sal Biondo in Stock Eliminator, Scott Richardson in Super Comp, Philip Smida in Super Gas, Mike Coughlin in Top Sportsman, Tyson Fabish in Top Dragster and Troy Coughlin in Pro Mod.
  • While all the ETs and speed records were broken during qualifying, Brittany Force did it again Sunday when she set the Top Fuel speed record at 329.83 mph.
  • Special awards given at the close of the event included Best Appearing Crew — Lynn Ellison in Top Dragster; Best Engineered Vehicle — Greg Curtis in Top Dragster; and NHRA Best Appearing Car — Thomas Martino in Top Dragster.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @ShaunBennettct.

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About Shaun Bennett

Shaun Bennett is a sportswriter for The Chronicle-Telegram, with primary beats of Ohio State football and high school wrestling. He can be reached at 329-7137 or Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.