BROWN, J. FORCE, SHANE GRAY AND MATT SMITH WIN BIG IN LAS VEGAS: Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) hit the jackpot in their respective categories in Las Vegas by taking event wins at the NHRA Toyota Nationals. Force and Smith also clinched world championship titles during the course of the event. Force won his fourth race, his third consecutive win and his 16th championship.
“We’ve been having a lot of fun, and I’m going to be around a while because I truly love it,” Force said. “Sometimes luck just gets on your side, and we’ve been fortunate these past three races.”
Smith secured his second Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship with his fourth win of the season. “It’s pretty elite company to do that,” Smith said of his second championship title. “We pulled this off, and it’s just great.”
Brown notched his fourth win of the season and moved to second in points, 102 behind leader Shawn Langdon. “We struggled in the middle of this year, but what I’m proud of the most is the way we just kept our heads down and never gave up,” Brown said. “We just put our head down and worked harder. We just kept on digging.”
Shane Gray picked up his first win of the season after racing to four runner-up finishes this season. “The team needed a day like this,” Gray said. “I got a big boost of confidence today, and it’s amazing what winning will do. It lets you know that you are still capable of doing this, and anytime you can win a round on a holeshot, I think you’ve done something special.”
J. FORCE SECURES 16TH FUNNY CAR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: On the strength of four final-round appearances and three consecutive wins in the Countdown to the Championship, John Force powered to his 16th career Funny Car world championship at the recently completed event in Las Vegas. Force in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, defeated his daughter Courtney in the finals, and in doing so, clinched his first championship since 2010. He was a low as 12th in points during the season, but with the guidance of crew chief Jimmy Prock and his entire team, he brought home the title.
“I’d like to scream and say, ‘Gee, it was me,’ but the truth is [crew chief] Jimmy Prock and the team he’s got around him is unbelievable,” Force said. “It’s a team effort, and if there’s anything that I’ve ever done right in my life, it’s been the team effort. That’s what I’m really proud of, holding together when it looked like we were falling apart. We won Castrol and Ford another championship this year and next year we are going to try to win for them again. They have been nothing but good to us. My luck turned around in a year that I needed to win and sell Corporate America. I had luck on my side the last three races and that kind of sums it up. I am going to keep doing it because it’s what I love to do. "
M. SMITH CAPTURES PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE CHAMPIONSHIP: The Pro Stock Motorcycle category has been ultra-competitive this season but Matt Smith rose to the top of the two-wheel category and secured his second world championship and first since 2007. Smith started the season with a No. 1 qualifying position at the opening event in Gainesville, but it wasn’t until the event in Chicago that the Viper Motorcycle Company Buell hit their championship stride. Smith rode to seven final-round appearances in 10 races and took home four wins in that impressive stretch. Smith’s father Rickie won the Pro Mod Championship, and it is the first time a father and son have been NHRA world champions in the same season.
“This team has been awesome,” Smith said. “What else can you ask for? With me winning the championship and dad winning the Pro Mod championship, it’s been great. I don’t want to sound too confident, but we’ve almost been unstoppable. We’ve been to 10 finals since Epping and have six wins. It’s emotional. But for me and my dad to win the same race [Norwalk] and to win championships in the same year, in the whole motorsports world, there has never been a father-son who have won the same thing in any other form of major motorsports. That is just amazing in my opinion.”
LANGDON AND COUGHLIN MOVE CLOSER TO SEASON CHAMPIONSHIPS: The championships in Top Fuel and Pro Stock are still up for grabs as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series finishes the season at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, November 7–10. Shawn Langdon moved closer to his first Top Fuel world championship with a No. 1 qualifying position and racing to a semifinal finish. Langdon has a 102-point lead over defending champion Antron Brown but knows the team is up for the challenge.
"You have to surround yourself with great people," Langdon said. "I've been able to do that with the Al-Anabi Racing team. We have a great team and everybody is focused and dedicated to this team. Having that confidence and that belief in your team can carry you a lot further."
Four-time Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin is on the quest for his first title since 2008 on the strength of four wins. He has raced to semifinal or better finishes in four of five Countdown to the Championship events and has a 71-point lead over Jason Line. "We've got a bit of a lead going into the finale but certainly nothing we are resting on," Coughlin said. "We are looking forward getting to Pomona—the birthplace of NHRA drag racing—and putting on a great show and ultimately winning our fifth championship."
AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, November 7–10: The 2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series comes to a conclusion at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California, November 7–10. Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle), took home wins in 2012 and will attempt to end their seasons on a high note.
HE SAID, SHE SAID
“I raced Jr. Dragsters there; I raced Lucas Oil there and will have a lot of the friends and family out there. You start the season out there and you see a lot of new things and then you end the season there and racing for the championship and all the excitement that goes into it. It definitely, for me, is the most exciting race of the year.”
—Shawn Langdon, on ending the season at his home track of Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Langdon will attempt to win his second event of the year at the track as well as securing the Top Fuel world championship.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
199: Number of races since John Force has won three consecutive events. He last won a trio of events during the 2005 season when he won back-to-back-to-back events in Atlanta, Columbus and Topeka. During his storied career, he has won three consecutive events 15 times. Jimmy Prock has been the crew chief for these three wins and calling the shots for the crew during John's run to the championship.
"It felt great to see that win light come on and know we had clinched the championship," Prock said. "It was an awesome feeling to be able to get John another championship. He is the greatest drag racer ever. It is just a great feeling. We were down for a while, but we worked hard and we stuck together. We got rewarded for it."
DID YOU KNOW…
JOHNSON RETURNS TO FUNNY CAR COCKPIT IN 2014: Tommy Johnson Jr. returns to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series next season on a full-time basis, as he will pilot the Funny Car currently driven by Johnny Gray. The car out of the Don Schumacher Racing stable and sponsored by Terry Chandler, Gray's sister, will feature yet-to-be-named charities during "A Year of Giving" to raise awareness for special groups during the season. Gray will not compete for the points title in 2014 and is eager to see Johnson succeed with Rob Wendland and the team that has four wins this season.
"It's been a tough decision, figuring out who will drive the race car. But I think that my sister and Don made a very wise choice with TJ," Gray said. "He is an excellent driver, and I think he'll do her proud in the driver's seat. Tommy and my crew chief, Rob Wendland, have a relationship that goes back quite a ways, so I think it will be a real good fit for the car."