Author: Burgess, Phil; Jodauga, John; Benson, Candida
Date published: March 2, 2012
PHOENIX - Every drag race can only have as many winners as there are classes, so a lot more teams leave the track disappointed each weekend than celebrating. For Antron Brown, Robert Hight, and Jason Line, the fact that the NHRA Arizona Nationals was scheduled just a week after the season-opening O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries was a comforting thought, and the trio salved the wounds of a disappointing kickoff to their seasons by making good on their individual promise shown in Pomona with big victories at Firebird Int'l Raceway.
The event, contested under brilliant blue skies at the desert oasis outside of Phoenix, also featured an interesting finalround flavor as all three Full Throttle money rounds were contested between teammates, a first in NHRA history.
Brown, driver of the Matco Tools dragster, bounced back from a disappointing runner-up in Pomona to teammate Spencer Massey to not only beat his other teammate, Tony Schumacher, but also to take the points lead.
Hight, who had qualified his Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang No. 1 in Funny Car in Pomona only to be upset in round one, went the distance this time from the No. 8 spot, besting teammate Mike Neff in the final.
And Line, who like Hight had qualified No. 1 in Pomona only to be stopped short of victory, not only avenged his semifinal loss at the season opener to teammate Greg Anderson, but also did so in an all-KB Racing/Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac final round.
Brown's Top Fuel victory was his 16th in his four full seasons plus in the class and matches the total he earned in his 10 years aboard Pro Stock Motorcycles on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series circuit. Brown's 32nd win did not come easily: He qualified his Brian Corradi- and Mark Oswald-tuned machine fifth, more than four-hundredths behind Shawn Langdon, then had to fight his way past a determined Terry McMillen, Pomona champ Massey, and Langdon to reach the final, his 32nd in the class.
Schumacher, appearing in his class- leading 111th Top Fuel title round, did everything right in the final, leaving with a .057 light and running 3.813, but Brown did it better, launching on a .054 reaction time and powering to his quickest run of the event, a 3.793, to seal the victory.
"It was an incredible day," Brown acknowledged. "The competition in Top Fuel now, pound for pound, is like a 324-mph Pro Stock class. Even though the odds were against us, we dug down deep and believed in our Matco Tools boys. We took it one round at a time and really had to battle with these guys. Making it to the final round for the second race in a row is a real huge statement. But it's not how you start, it's how you finish, especially when the Countdown gets tight.
"I really liked our situation going into the final. We ran a 3.83 in the left lane in the semi's with a dropped hole. We went back and fixed the problem, and the car did what we wanted it to do, running a 3.79. We had to get after it, and everything fell in place at the right time."
Hight followed team boss and Pomona champ John Force into the Funny Car winner's circle and, like Brown, added his name to the list of competitors for the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout later this season. Unfortunately for their teammate Neff, the victories by Force and Hight were capped with wins over the talented tuner/driver, who despite again having the best car left as frustrated as he was in Pomona but for the fact that he's now the points leader, with Hight in second and Force in third. Force dropped in the standings after being upset in round one by his daughter, rookie Courtney, who reached the semifinals and sits an impressive sixth in points.
"It was a great weekend and a good way to start the season, especially after a first-round loss in Pomona," said Hight, who collected his 24th win on a close 4.13 to 4.16 count. "It's pretty exciting two weekends in a row having all- John Force Fords in the final. You have to cherish that because you know that's not going to keep happening. It's tough to do."
A second straight Force team victory had been assured after Neff ran 4.09 to end Jack Beckman's 11-round winning streak at the event, and Hight ended Courtney's dream outing, 4.15 to 4.19. The all-Force squad final was the 37th in team history but just the second not to include the boss (Hight over Neff, Topeka 2011).
"We didn't have a chance if Mike Neff would have run like he had been running all day," admitted Hight, who dedicated the win to Ron Armstrong, who joined John Force Racing in January as a team consultant. "I don't know what happened to his car, but really Jimmy [Prock, crew chief] just made it go down the left lane. We picked it up a little from the round before. I'll be honest, I wouldn't have bet on a 4.13 beating Mike Neff in the final."
The all-Summit Pro Stock final was the 19th between Line and Anderson, and Line moved a win closer to evening their score with his eighth win against his teammate, who had defeated him in the semifinals at the season opener.
Line, who led the field in Pomona, qualified No. 2 with a 6.539, milliseconds behind Mike Edwards' 6.536. Edwards fell to tire shake and Rodger Brogdon in round two. Anderson collected his seventh straight round-win of the season by defeating Brogdon in the semi's but lost lane choice to Line, who had beaten Pomona runner-up Jeg Coughlin Jr., Erica Enders, and Greg Stanfield with a blistering trio of passes: 6.549 (low e.t. of eliminations), 6.561, and 6.556. Line was unstoppable in the final as well, meting out a 6.558 to Anderson's 6.570 for his 28th win.
"This is a great start," said Line. "I felt like I had the best car at both races, but we just didn't get the job done in Pomona. This was the first off-season we've had in a while without any tragedies, and I think it shows in how we've started off the year. All in all, it was a great day and a great weekend.
"My car was very strong at this race. We had the best time in every round except Q3. We just had one slipup there." The event also was highlighted by Dan Fletcher's Super Stock victory, which was the milestone 75th win of his career. Only six drivers before him - John Force, Warren Johnson, Frank Manzo, Bob Glidden, David Rampy, and Pat Austin - had reached the 75-win plateau.