By Phillip Prichard
The Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway experienced the good, the bad and the ugly over the expanded four day event. In the good – exceptionally cool temperatures for May allowed Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) both to set new track records en route to current No. 1 qualifying efforts on Friday. Rickie Smith set a new track record in the Pro Mod Drag Racing series on Friday, also.
The bad category – rain showers on Saturday delayed the action for a short period of time, however persistent rain showers delayed the start of the racing on Sunday for more than eight hours. After four pairs of the top fuel dragsters experienced a variety of pedalfest runs and a scary run by Bob Vandergriff crossing the center line, almost flipping over. The Sunday race day was postponed until Monday.
The ugly moments started on Friday night when 2012 Top Fuel champion Antron Brown walked away unscathed from another terrible crash in the span of less than two years. Brown emerged uninjured from the cockpit of his Matco Tools dragster after the engine exploded taking out the tires and spoiler, causing the dragster to bounce off the wall, tumbling it down the track. The remainder of the session was canceled because of the extended track cleanup and deteriorating weather conditions. On Saturday, a pair of engine failures caused Tim Wilkerson and Jack Beckman to wipeout their Funny Car bodies.
During Saturday’s Q-3 session Tim Wilkerson suffered an engine explosion which blew a hole in the side of his Mustang. Wilkerson was uninjured, but a spectator was struck by debris from the incident, and suffered minor injuries. She was transported to Northridge Hospital in Commerce, Ga., for observation. A broken camshaft and two broken valves were the culprit of the engine failure.
Also on Saturday, Jack Beckman had an engine explode disintegrating the carbon fiber Funny Car body. Beckman is left unscathed and hops out of the car, even bowing in a theatrical style for NHRA Safety Safari crew who cleaned up the parts and shards of composite materials. On Monday, Tommy Johnson experienced an engine explosion after pedalfest but he won his round. Johnson stated the engines are not happy when the driver is on and off the throttle.
Eddie Krawiec was the dominant racer all weekend in Pro Stock Motorcycle, racing to victory as the No. 1 qualifier over teammate Andrew Hines with a final-round performance of 6.806 at 197.45 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. It was the first win of the season for Krawiec, a three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion. It was Krawiec’s third career win at Atlanta Dragway. He sits second in points behind runner-up Hines.
Jeg Coughlin Jr. powered his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart to his 57th career Pro Stock win with a 6.558 at 211.63, defeating rival Greg Anderson in the final. The win earned Coughlin, the five-time and reigning Pro Stock world champion, his third career victory at Atlanta and first of the season. Coughlin beat Johnson, Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, and Pomona winner Jason Line to advance to his final-round matchup with Anderson. Anderson, who was appearing in his second race since returning from heart surgery, drove his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro to consistent performances as he attempts to chase after a spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
Robert Hight raced to his third Funny Car victory in a row and fourth overall this season. Hight, the 2009 Funny Car world champion, defeated John Force Racing teammate Courtney Force in a thrilling final at Atlanta Dragway with a performance of 4.049 seconds at 315.05 mph in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. It was the sixth final-round appearance in a row for Hight, who extended the John Force Racing team’s consecutive final-round streak to 14 races. Hight stretched his points lead to 206 points over teammate John Force.
In Top Fuel, Spencer Massey beat Doug Kalitta with a 4.269 at 245.85 to claim his first win of the season and 15th of his career. Both Massey’s Battery Extender powered by Schumacher dragster and Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster lost traction at the start, but Massey won the pedalfest to earn his first Professional win at Atlanta Dragway. Massey became the third Don Schumacher Racing driver to win a Top Fuel event in 2014, joining teammates Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher. While it was only his first Pro win in Atlanta, Massey has a special fondness for the track. Kalitta regained the points lead from Antron Brown and heads to Topeka with a seven-point advantage.
The lady drivers were consistent all weekend chasing the 100th win for female drivers, but this milestone eluded them at Atlanta.
A tip of the hat goes out to magnitude fans who braved the weekend weather to witness days of spectacular racing, the NHRA Safety Safari for there untiring work in keeping the track safe and raceable and the crew of Atlanta Dragway for a fun filled weekend.