Arend, Team Kalitta celebrate emotional NHRA win at Memphis
Jeff Arend and Funny Car team owner and NHRA icon Connie Kalitta celebrated an emotional, tearful victory Monday at the rain-delayed O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park.
Joining Arend in the winner's circle at the 21st of 24 races in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series were Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Arend, who replaced Connie's late son Scott Kalitta in the DHL Toyota Solara, turned in a blistering 4.091 at 310.41 in the final round to easily outrun Tony Pedregon's trailing 16.659 at 37.81 in the Quaker State Chevy Impala. The speed was the fifth fastest 1000-foot Funny Car speed recorded.
"Everyone had tears in their eyes at the end of the track, myself included," said an emotional Arend, who won for only the second time in his career and first time since Reading, 1996. "I know how big this is for Connie (Kalitta, team owner) after continuing to run this Funny Car after going through the ultimate tragedy (his son Scott's death at Englishtown, N.J. in June 2008). He did it, because what he and Scott wanted to do was to have a competitive Funny Car. I think we proved today that we have one now."
Meanwhile, by reaching the semifinals, Ashley Force Hood ascended into first place in Funny Car at the halfway point of NHRA's six-race playoff, the Countdown to 1. The 26-year old daughter of John Force is seeking to become the first woman in history to win a championship in NHRA's ultra-competitive Funny Car division.
Force Hood leads teammate Robert Hight by three points and Pedregon by 26 points.
In Top Fuel, Lucas (5.133 at 251.44) claimed his third victory of the season -- and third of his career after a five-year drought -- in the GEICO Powersports/Lucas Oil dragster with his tire-spinning win over first-place Tony Schumacher (8.216 at 75.19) and the U.S. Army Team, which extended their points lead over Larry Dixon and the Al-Anabi team to 54; Lucas moved into fifth place (133 points behind Schumacher).
"It's funny how wins happen," said Lucas. "Sometimes the car is on; sometimes you're on; sometimes you're both on. I felt like everything was working today. The last thing I thought about in the final was the car shaking, smoking the tires, or doing anything stupid. When it did, it was awesome, because it got sideways, got out of it, and thought I was going to go over the centerline for a second. It's so intense and emotional for only happening within a couple seconds."
"The championship isn't something I even considered at the beginning of the year, but we hope this is the momentum change that we needed," Lucas said.
In Pro Stock, Line jumped from fifth place to second place with his 6.576 at 210.05 in his Summit Racing Pontiac against Ron Krisher, who red-lighted. Line trails points leader Mike Edwards and the A.R.T./Young Life Pontiac team by 78 points with three races to go and Summit Racing teammate Greg Anderson is 81 points back.
"It was a lucky win in a lot of ways. We didn't have the performance advantage by any means; Mike Edwards was crushing us. Greg (Anderson) and I still have a great shot at winning the championship. We need to be perfect from here on out, but it's still possible."
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Michael Phillips won for the first time in six years aboard the Phillips Racing Suzuki when he clipped defending Series champ Eddie Krawiec aboard the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, 6.935 at 193.54 to 6.948 at 192.22.
"I didn't know I had so many fans, but they all came over and told me they like to cheer for the little guy. I won two divisionals here in Memphis, so this track has been good to me," Phillips said.
The Countdown to 1 continues next weekend in Richmond with the fourth race in the six-race playoff, the NHRA Virginia Nationals, Oct. 9-11, at Virginia Motorsports Park.