Veteran Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson, the second-winningest driver in NHRA Full Throttle Series history, ended a four-year drought with his 97th career win Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway International Raceway. The other winners at the seventh event in the 23-race NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series were Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Johnson's improbable win in his K&N Filters Pontiac GXP – points leader Mike Edwards (in the semis) and third-place Jeg Coughlin (in the finals) each failed to get off the starting line – gave the 66-year-old driver and six-time NHRA Full Throttle Series champion his first victory since the NHRA Arizona Nationals in February 2006.
"I guess I woke up on the right side of the bed this morning...everybody I raced did something wrong," said Johnson, who moved to within five points of Shane Gray for the 10th and final playoff berth in Pro Stock. "I had to rely on luck and other people's mistakes (but) we'll still take it. There is no such thing as a bad win."
"I still realize that we're not where we want to be, performance-wise," Johnson continued. "We're down four or five hundredths, but we can fix that. Other racers have stepped up, but sooner or later we'll get back on top."
In Top Fuel, U.S. Army driver Tony Schumacher won for the second time this season and 63rd time in his career with a 3.849 at 317.87 to the 4.041 at 313.07 from the Rocky Boots team and driver Doug Kalitta, who is now 0-for-4 in final rounds this season.
"This was a great win. We outperformed everybody we raced and got a lucky break against Pat (Dakin, against whom he hazed the tires)," said Schumacher, who moved to within six wins of Kenny Bernstein (69) for fourth place on the NHRA Full Throttle Series' all-time wins list.
"I was talking with (crew chief) Mike (Green) and he said, 'Every time we back it down, we get in trouble.' He went for it and made some nice runs. If you look back, a lot of these races are won in the second round and semifinals by putting up a stout run and keeping lane choice in the late rounds."
In Funny Car, 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Series champion Robert Hight collected his first win of the 2010 season in the Auto Club Ford Mustang with a 4.149 at 304.25 to runner-up Jack Beckman's 4.204 at 296.44mph in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger. Hight improved from ninth place to sixth place, though he still trails points leader John Force by 189 points.
"We're starting to turn it around. We're not that far off," said Hight, who threw out the first pitch at the St. Louis Cardinals game on Wednesday on behalf of AAA Insurance of Missouri before proceeding to win the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals on Sunday. "It's been an unbelievable week. The timing for this was perfect. I wanted to come here and win and give a trophy to the folks at AAA of Missouri."
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, 20-year-old LE Tonglet (7.002 at 189.47) had a nearly perfect reaction time (.001) in his quest for his first career win in just his eighth career start, but Michael Phillips (6.926 at 193.99) had more than enough power to catch and pass him for his first win of the season.
"That kid didn't cut me any slack. He's a good rider and he's gonna be tough," said Phillips, who improved to fourth place and is just 91 points behind first-place Hector Arana. "Now that the Suzuki guys have bigger engines, it's going to be real competitive this year. It's not just going to be the V-Rods and the Buell's. Now, we can all make a statement."
The NHRA Full Throttle Series resumes racing May 14-16 with the 30th annual Summit Racing NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.