Photo by Diane Cox
Fans fill the stands for the fourth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals on Sunday at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison. Track proprietor Curtis Francois said it was the best weekend in the four years of the event at Gateway.
Antron Brown, Del Worsham, Drew Skillman and Hector Arana Jr. claimed victories during Sunday’s NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison.
Yet the biggest winner of all may have been Curtis Francois, the owner and president of Gateway.
He oversaw another successful three-day show that energized pro drag racing fans. They got to see the NHRA’s main event set up shop in Madison.
“It’s hard to imagine that we could have topped the success we had last year,” Francois said. “This year has been the best yet. The cool weather and track conditions have been spectacular, and the national records that were set this weekend are proof positive that the investments we’ve made in this facility have really paid off for motorsports, for the fans and for this community.”
He added, “I’m in this to win, and the NHRA AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals is just an example of the great things that are happening here at Gateway Motorsports Park.
“I want to send a clear message to the St. Louis region that we have some really phenomenal events planned in the coming years. Major sanctioning bodies have taken notice of the incredible fan support we have in this region, and they are interested in making St. Louis a part of their schedules.”
Tim Wilkerson of Springfield seconds those emotions. Wilkerson, a Funny Car driver, said the annual trek to Southwestern Illinois is foremost on his season’s schedule.
“There’s so much we love about racing in St. Louis,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a great facility with totally committed ownership and that’s obvious when you pull into it. We always have a couple of thousand serious Warriors there with us because it’s so close to home. And the rest of the fans are as good as they get.”
Brown is building his own fan base locally. He earned his fourth consecutive Top Fuel win. Worhsam (Funny Car), Skillman (Pro Stock) and Arana Jr. (Pro Stock) joined him in celebrating a memorable weekend.
Brown defeated Dave Connolly in the final round to take his 53rd career victory and his fifth win overall at the track with a performance of 3.721 seconds at 325.92 mph. Connolly trailed with a time of 3.753 at 328.94.
“There are two words: truly blessed,” Brown said following his win, the sixth this season. “When Curtis Francois and (general manager) Chris Blair brought this track back in 2011, they brought it back better than ever.”
He added, “You can put a slew of runs together that are quick and fast, because you’re not worried about the track not being there. The class is so competitive right now that you’re going home if you throw out a high-.70.”
In Funny Car, Worsham continued his hot streak when he defeated Matt Hagan to earn his second consecutive victory in the playoffs. Worsham defeated No. 1 qualifier Hagan with a pass of 3.964 at 320.13 to the defending world champ’s runner-up run of 3.983 at 324.20.
“In my 25 years of racing, I don’t know if I’ve ever driven a Funny Car that made that many good runs,” Worsham said.
He also earned 20-bonus points during the event when he set a national elapsed time record of 3.899 seconds during qualifying. Worsham now has a 90-point lead over Hagan, the two-time and defending Funny Car world champion.
Pro Stock rookie Skillman raced to his first career victory when he defeated teammate Erica Enders. It was a rematch from the final in Indianapolis, which Enders won. In this matchup, Skillman powered to a winning time of 6.529 at 211.63.
“This is my fourth time to the finals and I knew that Erica has been insane on the Tree,” Skillman said. “A little luck came our way and we got it done this weekend. I lost the first three finals but I don’t know how you can get frustrated when you get to a pro category for the first time and have the kind of year we’re having.”
Enders, who was in her fourth consecutive final round, increased her series lead to 113 markers over Greg Anderson.
Arana Jr. raced to his second Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the season when he defeated his father Hector Arana in the finals.
Junior posted a winning time of 6.860 at 196.50 to his father’s trailing run of 6.932 at 195.03. It marked the first Gateway win for Arana Jr. The victory moved him to within 34 points behind Andrew Hines and capped a significant week.
“This has been a great week. I don’t know if I could ask for anything more,” Arana Jr. said. “Last Monday, I pulled the trigger and asked my beautiful girlfriend (Nicole Nobile) to marry me and to get this win is just icing on the cake.”