By Justin Whitaker
BROWNSBURG — For only the second time in its 58-year history, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway was postponed from the traditional Labor Day slot and for four drivers, it was worth the wait.
Top Fuel Dragster driver Tony Schumacher tied legendary driver Bob Glidden with nine career wins at the prestigious U.S. Nationals with his victory and broke his tie with "Big Daddy" Bob Garlits. Schumacher edged out his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey in the Top Fuel Dragster final round by leaving first on a run of 3.806 seconds at 315.34 mph.
“To leave on Spencer feels great,” Schumacher said of his .022 better reaction time. “I didn’t feel like I was stellar on the lights but my goal for the day was to leave on everybody and I did that.”
Tying Glidden and and passing Garlits to earn his ninth U.S. Nationals victory is an achievement that Schumacher truly appreciated.
“I really don’t want to feel like we’re taking anything away from (Glidden), he had a great record in a different time period and he accomplished so much,” Schumacher said. “Someday people are going to pass me too, that’s just the way it is. But what that man did was so different. We just drive the cars today; it’s a whole different world. Those guys built it, drove the tractor trailers and innovated the sport.”
The Brownsburg-based DSR team’s strength was on full display as three of their drivers were in the final four of the Top Fuel Dragster competition. Schumacher defeated Al-Anabi Racing’s Shawn Langdon and Massey dropped 2011 U.S. Nationals winner and teammate Antron Brown.
Mike Neff became a back-to-back Funny Car U.S. Nationals champion by beating 2003 winner Tim Wilkerson in the final round. Neff’s John Force Racing Castrol GTX Ford Mustang went 311.05 mph in 4.079 seconds, giving the Indianapolis resident two straight U.S. Nationals victories.
‘This is the U.S. Nationals and there is just something about it,” Neff said. “You just know there is a lot more at stake even though you try to tell yourself it’s just another race, but it’s just not. You can’t deny that.”
With Neff’s win, John Force Racing has taken home the last five U.S. Nationals trophies, showcasing the strength of the Brownsburg-based team at its home track.
“This place is kind of magic for it,” Neff said. “I think it’s the Castrol GTX that’s magic because that’s four-in-a-row for the Castrol GTX car because Ashley (Force-Hood) has two and now me two. We’re definitely bringing this thing back here.”
In the Pro Stock finals, No. 1 qualifier Erica Enders met teammate — her normal crew chief — and No. 15 qualifier Dave Connolly. Enders was looking to become the first female to win the U.S. Nationals in Pro Stock and win three races in row but the underdog did not roll over.
Connolly, a three-time winner, took victory with a final run of 6.589 seconds at 210.05 mph to Enders’ 6.580 seconds at 210. 31 mph.
Connolly has not raced in the U.S. Nationals since his back-to-back victories in 2007 and 08’ but beat the car he is usually in charge of tuning.
“It was definitely bittersweet in the final, running Erica,” Connolly said. “I think I’m more proud when she wins than when I do and I truly mean that. I hope she whupps my butt the next six finals. But it’s the U.S. Nationals and there is no laying over, it’s cutthroat.”
Brownsburg resident Andrew Hines, racing out of the Brownsburg Vance and Hines shop, won his first U.S. Nationals trophy in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Hines defeated 2009 winner Hector Arana with a run of 6.937 seconds at 191.70 mph.
“To finally get the Indy win and stand in the U.S. Nationals winner’s circle is something that I can look back on year’s from now,” Hines said.
As special as winning the U.S. Nationals is in the first place, there is an added benefit with Hines’ home and the Vance and Hines shop both being less than five minute drives away from Lucas Oil Raceway.
“It’s adds a ton because we haven’t had the success here before,” Hines said. “To finally get it with all of our co-workers out here in the stands and all of my family here, to get this with my sister, nieces, my mom, my dad and with my dad pushing me around the pits this weekend is a totally surreal feeling.”
During the early rounds, No. 9 seed Johnny Gray spoiled both of the Force’s U.S. Nationals chances in Funny Car action. Gray beat John Force in the first round and dropped No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in second round before falling to Wilkerson in the semifinals.
Six-time U.S. Nationals and 2011 Pro Stock winner Greg Anderson was slotted third but fell to Larry Morgan in the first round.
The defending back-to-back U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle champion LE Tonglet lost to Hector Arana Jr. in the second round.