Matco Tools racer Antron Brown raced to the No. 1 qualifying spot in Top Fuel with style Saturday when he recorded the second-quickest pass in NHRA history during the team's final qualifying efforts at the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
"It's an awesome feeling. I grew up in this part of the country, so it feels great to do this in front of so many friends, family, and peers,” Brown said. “The Funny Car have been doing this (setting records) for a while, and it was the dragsters' turn.
Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also took advantage of the fast conditions Saturday and took over the No. 1 qualifying spots in their respective categories at the third race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship, NHRA's playoffs.
Brown's national record-setting pass of 3.766 at 325.30 came just one pair after reigning Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon set the national record right in front of him with a 3.769 at 323.43.
"I was sitting there watching 'Hot Rod' [Fuller], [Del] Worsham, and Morgan [Lucas] making great runs, and I knew it was out there," said Brown. "It felt awesome. It made a funky wiggle, and then it took off. The car put me back in the seat, and it was like, 'Let's go!' It was sashaying a little bit at the big end, and I'm like, 'Come on, baby. Don't scrub off speed.'"
Brown, who will face fellow Indianapolis resident Bruce Litton in the opening round of eliminations Sunday, is currently fighting for the Top Fuel championship with teammates, Spencer Massey and Tony Schumacher, and on-track rivals Al-Anabi Racing teammates, Dixon and Del Worsham. It's anyone's game with four races to go in the Countdown, so the 20-point bonus that comes with setting a national record, as long as no one betters the run during eliminations, is huge for the Matco Tools driver.
“The 20 points for the record aren't for sure yet and won't win you a championship without the round-wins to go with it,” Brown said, “but it'll sure help us sleep easier knowing we have it in our back pocket."
Dixon is qualified behind Brown in second, while Massey is third with a 3.771 at 316.82 and Worsham is fourth with his best qualifying lap of 3.780 at 327.90.
Service Central Dodge Charger driver Johnny Gray (LEFT), who is not a playoff driver in the Countdown, leads the 16-car Funny Car field with the third-quickest Funny Car pass in NHRA history. After competing in 177 national events in both Pro Stock and Funny Car, this is Gray's first No. 1 qualifying position of his professional career.
"My car's not in the Countdown, but, the way I look at it, we just helped DSR by taking qualifying points away from Force's team,” Gray said. "The track was awesome, and the air was really good. The car has run 4.02, 4.03 before. It made a little quiver at the (concrete-to-asphalt) transition last night, so the guys thought it would run good if we could just get rid of that. They gave me a great hot rod.”
Gray is flying a special paint scheme this weekend to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, a foundation with the goal to find a cure for children's cancer, will face Funny Car newbie Leah Pruett in round one Sunday.
“I'm also glad to do well in our second race with the Alex's Lemonade Stand car,” Gray said. “It's a great organization, and I felt awful when our car wouldn't run in Denver. After meeting some of those kids and seeing what they and their families were going through, it was a game-changer in my perspective at the races. Smoking the tires is really not a big deal."
Gray is followed by 2010 Funny Car champ John Force who's best run of qualifying was a 4.011 at 319.22, which set the track speed record, and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan sits third with a 4.012 at 316.67.
In Pro Stock, championship point leader Jason Line secured his 24th career No. 1, and seventh of the season, when he set the track record with a 6.513 at 211.36 during Saturday's qualifying efforts.
“I didn't realize that we had seven No. 1s this year. I'm proud of that,” Line said. “That's why we go to the shop and work hard so we can come back out and do it again the next week. “
With his second No. 1 at Maple Grove Raceway and fifth consecutive No. 1 this season, Line knows that his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP is ready for the first round match-up Sunday with Bob Benza.
“It's exciting to have five low qualifiers in a row,” Line said. “It would appear that we have it figured out but if you listen to us in pit area you wouldn't think so. Our crew still debates every run. Hopefully we can turn this into another win tomorrow."
Ronnie Humphrey's took his Genuine Hotrod Hardware Pontiac GXP to the second spot right behind Line with his 6.525 at 211.36. Friday's leader Mike Edwards fell to third with his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP's 6.528 at 211.76. Line's Summit Racing teammate, Greg Anderson sits fourth with a 6.533 at 212.03.
Lucas Oil rookie rider Arana Jr. set the track E.T. record in Pro Stock Motorcycle on his way to the qualifying lead, with his 6.824 at 195.48 run during the third qualifying session, after struggling to get down the track during Friday's efforts.
“After Dallas, we got back home and went through our old motor and we found out why we slowed down, “ Arana Jr. said. “We had a bad crank sensor. It went bad again this weekend and when the bike shut off, I almost went over handle bars. Now we have it welded so it won't be a problem again.”
The second generation racer and Auto Club Road to the Future Award candidate, NHRA's rookie of the year award, recognizes his father, Hector Arana, Sr. who sits third with a 6.831 at 195.03, is the one to thank for his Lucas Oil Buell's power and confidence he has as he heads into eliminations where Arana Jr. will face Bailey Whitaker in the opening round Sunday.
“I have to thank my dad for everything. I would not be in this position without him,” Arana Jr. said. “I feel like I'm in a position to win races because of him. We're looking to get the Wally this weekend.”
Friday's qualifying leader Eddie Krawiec fell to second with his 6.826 at 197.97 and his Vance and Hines/Screamin' Eagle Harley Davidson teammate, Andrew Hines, will start from fourth with a 6.845 at 193.54.
Eliminations for the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway are scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m.
Top Fuel 1. Antron Brown, 3.766 seconds, 325.30 mph vs. 16. Bruce Litton, 3.888, 310.70; 2. Larry Dixon, 3.769, 323.43 vs. 15. Pat Dakin, 3.876, 307.37; 3. Spencer Massey, 3.771, 323.89 vs. 14. Dom Lagana, 3.862, 316.82; 4. Del Worsham, 3.780, 327.90 vs. 13. Shawn Langdon, 3.854, 318.99; 5. Rod Fuller, 3.785, 325.53 vs. 12. Clay Millican, 3.851, 317.79; 6. Tony Schumacher, 3.807, 320.36 vs. 11. Brandon Bernstein, 3.822, 320.74; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.812, 319.29 vs. 10. Bob Vandergriff, 3.819, 321.42; 8. Morgan Lucas, 3.814, 319.67 vs. 9. David Grubnic, 3.818, 316.97.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Fred Farndon, 4.107, 276.58; 18. Rit Pustari, 4.390, 260.41; 19. Terry McMillen, 7.957, 301.27.
Funny Car 1. Johnny Gray, Dodge Charger, 4.010, 318.62 vs. 16. Leah Pruett, Toyota, 4.644, 212.43; 2. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.011, 319.22 vs. 15. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala SS, 4.481, 289.20; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.012, 316.67 vs. 14. Blake Alexander, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.193, 298.21; 4. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.027, 307.86 vs. 13. Tony Pedregon, Impala SS, 4.169, 297.22; 5. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.039, 317.94 vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.106, 308.85; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.059, 315.27 vs. 11. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.090, 312.21; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Solara, 4.060, 305.42 vs. 10. Jeff Arend, Solara, 4.084, 311.63; 8. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.066, 316.45 vs. 9. Jim Head, Solara, 4.077, 305.01.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Mike Smith, 4.696, 229.08; 18. Paul Lee, 4.999, 163.26; 19. Terry Haddock, 7.936, 96.76.
Pro Stock 1. Jason Line, Pontiac GXP, 6.513, 211.83 vs. 16. Bob Benza, GXP, 6.598, 208.68; 2. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.525, 211.20 vs. 15. Vincent Nobile, Dodge Avenger, 6.578, 210.93; 3. Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.528, 211.76 vs. 14. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.576, 210.21; 4. Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.533, 212.03 vs. 13. Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.571, 210.97; 5. Ron Krisher, GXP, 6.558, 210.87 vs. 12. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.570, 210.11; 6. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.560, 210.70 vs. 11. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.570, 210.41; 7. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.560, 210.67 vs. 10. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.567, 209.88; 8. Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.565, 210.93 vs. 9. Shane Gray, GXP, 6.567, 210.28.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Buddy Perkinson, 6.602, 209.92; 18. Grace Howell, 6.609, 209.07; 19. Mark Martino, 6.646, 208.14; 20. Frank Gugliotta, 6.681, 205.76.
Pro Stock Motorcycle 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.824, 195.48 vs. 16. Bailey Whitaker, Buell, 6.946, 191.24; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.826, 197.97 vs. 15. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.946, 191.51; 3. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.831, 195.28 vs. 14. Matt Guidera, Buell, 6.944, 189.34; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.845, 195.48 vs. 13. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.933, 192.58; 5.Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.858, 194.21 vs. 12. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 6.932, 193.35; 6. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.862, 194.52 vs. 11. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.913, 194.63; 7. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.866, 193.88 vs. 10. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.900, 193.13; 8. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.867, 194.58 vs. 9. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.893, 192.77.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Justin Finley, 6.955, 193.10; 18. Wesley Wells, 7.072, 186.61; 19. Joe DeSantis, 7.093, 186.41; 20. Stephen Terkowski, 7.143, 183.24; 21. Neil Jacobs, 8.863, 172.59.