MADISON — The stars of the NHRA Mello Yellow series rolled into Gateway Motorsports Park on Thursday for the 5th annual AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals.
The show kicked off Thursday night at Ballpark Village in St. Louis where some of the stars of the series showed off their race cars and met with the fans and continued with three memorable racing days in Madison, wrapping up on Sunday.
The racing began Friday with two qualifying rounds for all classes. Teams and their crew chiefs had their work cut out for them with unseasonably hot temperatures, high humidity, and very little cloud cover.
Leading the way after day one was Richie Crampton in Top Fuel, Robert Hight in Funny Car, Greg
Anderson in Pro Stock Car, and Chip Ellis in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Following final qualifying Richie Crampton and Robert Hight hung on to capture the No. 1 spot in their respective classes. However, in Pro Stock Car, Shane Gray overtook Anderson and Eddie Krawiec overtook Ellis in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Race Day began with a track temp of 111 degrees. This was on par with conditions for Friday and Saturday qualifying days. With a time of 3.810 at 322 MPH, Top Fuel Pole-sitter Ritchie Crampton beat Kebin Kinsley to advance. Other round-one winners were Team Force Monster Energy pilot Brittany Force, driver of the DeWalt Kalitta dragster Doug Kalitta, Don Schumacher Racing driver Shawn Langdon, the driver of the Army dragster Tony Schumacher, the Papa John’s pizza sponsored Leah Pritchett, another team Kalitta driver J. R. Todd, and Pat Dakin.
Funny car round-one went much the way of the higher qualified car. The only exception was John Force defeating defending series champ Del Worsham. No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight advanced to second round by clocking a 3.909 at 327 MPH. Also advancing were the driver of the Make-A-Wish car, Tommy Johnson Jr., the hometown hitter out of Springfield, Ill. Tim Wilkerson, Matt Hagan from Team Schumacher, the No. 2 qualifier Jack Beckman, the NAPA driver Ron Capps, and the driver of the Traxxas Chevrolet Courtney Force.
In Pro Stock Car, the No. 1 qualifier Gray advanced, defeating David River. Also advancing was Drew Skillman, Vincent Nobile, Alex Laughlin, Bo Butner, Chris McGaha, Greg Anderson and teammate Jason Line.
Pro Stock Motorcycle top seed Krawiec posted a 6.890 to defeat Joe DeSantis. Also advancing to
round-two was 42-time national event winner Angelle Sampay. Other qualifiers were: Sampay’s teammate Cory Reed, day-one pole sitter Chip Ellis, Jerry Savoie, Matt Smith, Hector Arana and with a hole-shot Andrew Hines.
With the sun beating down the track temp rose to 119 degrees by second round action. Crampton stayed hot in Top Fuel, posting a 3.783 at 322 MPH to top Brittany Force. Langdon also advanced to meet Crampton in the semifinals with a win over Kalitta.
Another Schumacher car moving on to the semis was Tony Schumacher by beating Leah Pritchett. Team Kalitta advanced one driver to the semis when J. R. Todd defeated Pat Dakin with a 3.798 to Dakin’s 3.827.
In Funny Car round two action Hight did not have enough to get around Johnson Jr. The Make-A-Wish car ran 3.930, which was .008 seconds quicker to the stripe. Also advancing to the semis were Wilkerson, Beckman, and Capps.
Line continued his dominance of the field in Pro Stock Car with a win over Anderson. Gray then continued his winning ways by besting Skillman.
The Gas Monkey car piloted by Laughlin defeated Nobile to advance and Butner drove his Chevrolet Camaro past McGaha.
Ellis continued to run strong in Pro Stock Motorcycle by taking out points leader Hines to the tune of 6.895 to 6.941 for Hines. Also advancing to the semifinals was Sampay, who defeated Arana. Reed and Savoie filled out the semifinal bracket.
For semifinals, the driver of the Sandvik Coromant Top Fuel dragster, Langdon continued his winning ways, besting Crampton 3.784 to 3.844. Joining Langdon in the finals was Schumacher. Laying down a 3.757, Schumacher powered by Todd’s 3.802.
In Funny Car semifinals action, the Don Schumacher team was in charge, with three of the four remaining cars.
In the first matchup, Johnson Jr. ran a stout 3.937 to best Wilkerson’s 3.993 time. In the other matchup Beckman defeated the points leader Capps, turning in a 3.954 to 4.112. Capps slowed near the end of the race, running just 285 MPH.
The Pro Stock Car semifinals included a mild upset when the point leader Line lost to Butner on a hole shot. Butner’s 6.678 would hold off Line’s quicker but losing 6.627.
Facing Butner in the final was Laughlin. By way of another hole shot win, Laughlin ran a slower but winning time of 6.634 to Gray’s quicker but losing 6.623.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle the alligator farmer out of Louisiana, Savoie, got off the line first and stayed ahead of Star Racing’s Reed. Star Racing qualified one rider into the finals when Sampay took out Ellis in the other semi race.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle final was the first to go off. Unfortunately, Sampay red lighted, handing over the championship to Savoie. It was Savoie's first win of the season.
“In my mind I try to convince myself it’s just another qualifying round. You have to be on your game, get amped up a little bit,” Savoie said.
In the Pro Stock Car final Laughlin took out Butner in their first ever final round matchup. Laughlin left the line first and held on to beat Butner 6.611 to 6.637.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling; it’s not even real at this point. Riding back on the golf cart, I was thinking this has got to be a dream,” said Laughlin, who until a couple days before the race was not planning to attend the event.
The Funny Car final pitted two Don Schumacher Racing cars. Beckman, who’s only other win of the
season came in Joliet, achieved his first career national event win against Johnson Jr. The Airforce veteran and cancer survivor, Beckman rumbled to a 3.928 at 324 MPH to Johnson’s 4.185 at 231 MPH. They were close at 330 feet, but Johnson slowed with motor issues.
“We swept Illinois. This is a perfect deal, the guys tuned smart, I did my job as a driver and we turned the win light on every time,” Beckman said.
Not many people can claim to hold a winning edge against Schumacher but Langdon could, owning a 4-1 advantage entering the Top Fuel finals. With a hole shot, Langdon ran a 3.798 to Schumacher’s quicker but losing 3.783.
“We didn’t really have a dominant car in qualifying, we had a car that was fourth, fifth quickest, but we just kept pecking away at it,” Langdon said.