Tanner from TMashPhotos was sent to cover the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals – St Louis, MO this past weekend in an action packed event that was one of the closest races of season to date.
Antron Brown raced to his sixth Top Fuel victory of the season Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, and in the process, increased his championship points lead. Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were winners of their respective events, this was also a return for the NHRA in St. Louis as the NHRA had been on a hiatus for more than two years.
Brown defeated championship rival Spencer Massey in the final round and moved 21 points ahead of the Texas driver with only three races remaining in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Brown, who battled side-by-side with Massey all weekend, took the victory with a final-round performance of 3.766 seconds at 325.22 mph in his Matco Tools/Aaron’s dragster while Massey trailed with a 3.812 at 324.05 in his FRAM/Prestone dragster.
“Our team hit a grand slam here this weekend,” Brown said. “We qualified No. 1 and took it one round at a time. It was a great weekend, but it’s always a struggle. This class is very competitive, and these guys aren’t playing anymore. You have your struggles here and there, and you have to keep on overcoming them. I’m just so happy for our Aaron’s/Matco guys.”
Brown beat Bruce Litton, Steve Torrence, and Brandon Bernstein in early rounds before unleashing his quickest run of the day in the final against Massey. “It was a stressful day where we matched up against some great competition,” Brown said. “Matching up against my teammate [Massey] in the final was big — we’ve been back and forth in the points. It’s great to have six wins, but right now, they’re all in the past. We need to go back to the shop and get focused on these last three races. It’s just so competitive out here, and this points race is going to go down to the last race.”
Beckman moved to within 30 points of Funny Car points leader Ron Capps by racing to his third victory of the season. He took the final-round win in his Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger over Matt Hagan, who fouled at the start in his DieHard Dodge Charger. “It’s nice to know that we have a car that can challenge for the championship,” said Beckman, who beat Alexis DeJoria, Jeff Arend, and Tony Pedregon to advance to the final round. “This wasn’t do or die, but it’s getting pretty close. I’m not saying we counted points, but we had a tablet going with a lot of cross marks and updated math. Losing to Capps by four-thousandths in Dallas hurt a lot, but today went a long way towards healing that. It’s awesome to know that we have three races to go and are only 30 points back. All we want is a fighting chance going into Pomona.”
Points leader Capps lost in the second round to Hagan, a non-Countdown performer and the defending world champ who has now advanced to back-to-back final rounds in the playoffs. Beckman was surprised when he saw Hagan blast away from the line so early in the final. “From my perspective, you’re ready to go up there and squeeze the trigger if anything happens,” Beckman said. “I heard noise, saw the red light come on, and saw the big DieHard logo from Matt’s car. We have a big respect for that car. Over the last four races, it might be the best-running car on average.”
In Pro Stock, Enders earned her fourth victory of the season and first ever in the playoffs by using a reaction time advantage to defeat series points leader Allen Johnson in the final round. She powered her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt to a 6.540 at 211.79 to finish just inches in front of Johnson’s Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, who posted a quicker but losing run of 6.538 at 212.13. “This is the win I wanted to get in Texas last week, but I’ll take it,” Enders said. “We were definitely consistent this weekend, and that’s why we got to the final so I could race my bud [Allen Johnson] and get to the winner’s circle.”
Enders outran Shane Gray, teammate Dave Connolly, and event top qualifier Jason Line to advance to her second straight Countdown final-round appearance. “It is a total team effort every week,” she said. “My team is the reason why I get to do this. They’re great. They helped me get down a tricky track when other guys were getting in pedalfests. We were a little behind performancewise in the final, but we made a good run, and I did my job.”
With the runner-up finish and third straight final-round appearance in the Countdown playoffs, Johnson increased his series lead to 109 over Line, and Enders moved to third in the standings, 126 back of Johnson. Krawiec claimed his seventh Pro Stock Motorcycle victory of the season and increased his points lead to 33 over his final-round opponent and teammate, Andrew Hines. Krawiec took his 18th career victory when Hines fouled on his identically prepared Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
Krawiec took three of his round-wins via red-light starts by his opponents, including his first-round win over Steve Johnson and second-round win over Chip Ellis. Krawiec used a strong performance on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson to outrun Hector Arana Sr.’s Lucas Oil Buell in the semifinals. “Andrew and I were lucky to take out the Hectors in the semi’s, and that really helped us in the points,” Krawiec said. “I lost in Dallas due to rider error. I had a .066 light which is unacceptable. This week, I was good on the Tree and had a good bike, which is what it takes to win some rounds. Yes, I had three red-lights against me here, but I did well, and all my runs were good. I pushed it a little in the final, but I know the potential of what he [Andrew] has. He crushed me in Charlotte.”
Troy Coughlin raced to the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx victory Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park. Coughlin outran Danny Rowe in the final round to score his first career victory in the high-horsepower Doorslammer category and move to third in the points standings with only one race remaining in the NHRA Pro Mod season. Coughlin powered his turbocharged JEGS.com ’68 Camaro to a final-round performance of 5.873 seconds at 257.58 mph to take the victory over Rowe, who had problems getting his supercharged Sterling Bridge ’68 Camaro to start for the final. Once Rowe got his machine fired, the car had issues going down the track and finished in 6.732 at 179.42. “When I let the button go at the starting line in the final, I knew it was over when I didn’t see him because those blower cars accelerate fast,” Coughlin said. “From then on, I just focused on making a clean run. It was just our time to win.”
Coughlin defeated Rickie Smith, Charlotte winner Leah Pruett, and Pete Farber to advance to the final round. Coughlin is a three-time winner in NHRA Pro Stock competition, and he claimed a 2005 Pro Mod exhibition victory in Englishtown, but this is his first Wally in official NHRA Pro Mod competition. “My guys Steve Petty, Bryan Metzenheim, Mike Rees, Nick Gaylord, and all the folks at JEGS.com deserve all the credit in the world,” Coughlin said. “Pro Line, our engine shop, has given us a fantastic race car all year. We beat a five-star team today.” Coughlin moved to third in the points standings, 42 back of leader Mike Castellana and one point back of second-place Smith. “Going into the last race out in [Las] Vegas with this kind of momentum is important,” Coughlin said. “There are still some spots up for grabs, and everything is still pretty tight. Any time you can go to the end of an NHRA season and be in the running for a top three for four spot in your class, that’s saying something.”
The NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs continues with round four of six, Oct. 4-7, with the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading. The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx world champion will be crowned at the season-finale, Oct. 25-28, during the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.