NHRA Top Fuel driver Antron Brown and Pro Stock driver Erica Enders-Stevens successfully defended their AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals titles from 2012 on Sunday at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis. John Force (Funny Car) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined them in the winner’s circle in the third race of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
Brown, who missed the first race of the Countdown with a DNQ, won his third race of the season over Khalid alBalooshi, who missed last week’s race. Brown earned round wins over Billy Torrence, Clay Millican and his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher on his way to the finals.
“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling a lot more than what we had hoped to, and we had hoped we could have had a turnaround a little sooner, but we’re not going to go out without a fight,” said Brown. “The class is at an all-time high where everybody is running strong, but we just want to get back in the groove because it’s not going to be over until it’s over.”
Enders-Stevens, who missed six of the “regular season’s” last eight race due to lack of sponsorship, took new sponsor Husky Liners to victory lane for the first time with her win over Mike Edwards. It was her second win of the season and sixth of her career.
“This helped validate the faith that Husky Liners had in me,” said Enders-Stevens, who beat Deric Kramer, Shane Gray and Rickie Jones in early rounds. “They are pleased with what we’ve done, and that’s big because this deal only came together four days before the first (Countdown race) in Charlotte. Now we’re up to fourth in points, and I think we’re three rounds out of the lead, and we’re going to do our best to keep winning. This was a make-or-break weekend because if we had exited first or second round, the championship would have been out of reach. Now, the way we see it, this is our championship, and they’re going to have to take it from us.”
Force took his second win of the season, beating defending Funny Car champ Jack Beckman in the finals. Force defeated Chad Head, Ron Capps and his John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight to earn the final-round appearance.
“We’ve got a (points) race now, and I’m excited,” said Force, who, at 64, is going for his 16th championship. “I had a good day. The most important thing for me was to see the crowd. They filled the bleachers. To win a championship you’ve gotta live it every day, and I’m not chasing a championship. I’ve been chasing Corporate America and taking care of our sponsors. My wife (Laurie) set me straight this morning, she said, ‘what you need to do is win. We need John Force to get back to winning races.’ Hey, I can do that. I ain’t going to say I will win another race or a championship, but I’ll be in the fight with these kids.”
An ill Smith took his second Wally of the season home by beating LE Tonglet in the PSM finals. Smith, who took early-round wins over Joe DeSantis, 2012 PSM champ Eddie Krawiec and Michael Ray, was sick with food poisoning Saturday night.
“I got sick last night with food poisoning, and I had an IV in me,” said Smith. “I have to say thanks to the doctors here or I wouldn’t be here today. I was hurting pretty bad. My blood pressure was really low, and they told me that if it didn’t improve, I wasn’t going to race today. I drank water all night, and at 9 a.m., they checked me again, and I felt a lot better. I was lucky I even got to race, and now I made it to the winner’s circle.”
The Countdown to the Championship gets back on track next weekend, Thursday through Sunday, October 3rd through 6th, with the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania. Keep up with NHRA action at www.nhra.com.
Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA.
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