Photo by Michael Allio
Jack Beckman (right), in his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger NHRA Funny Car, is side by side with Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger NHRA Funny Car in the finals of the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison on Sunday. A large contingency of fans packed Gateway for the three-day national NHRA event.
The stars of the NHRA Mello Yellow Series rolled into Gateway Motorsports Park on Sept. 22 for the fifth annual AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals and kick-started a great weekend of drag racing.
It’s the 20th race in 24 racing events on the season for the Mello Yellow Series. It was a great weekend for Top Fuel racer Shawn Langdon, who won his third title of the season.
Langdon bested eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher on a hole shot in the finals. Not many people can claim to hold a winning edge against Schumacher except Langdon, who owned a 4-1 advantage going into the final. With a hole shot Langdon ran a 3.798 to Schumacher’s quicker, but losing, 3.783.
It was Langdon’s 14th career victory but his first at Gateway. He moved to third place in the points standings with the win.
“We didn’t really have a dominant car in qualifying; we had a car that was fourth, fifth quickest, but we just kept picking away at it,” Langdon said. “That’s what we’ve been doing since we got those two victories (earlier this year). The car has just responded well. All in all, this was a great team effort. The whole team did a great job and gave me a great race car today.”
Other winners on Sunday were: Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Laughlin wasn’t even planning on competing at the Midwest Nationals. His sponsorship funding came in last minute, allowing him to participate, so winning a title was extra special. It was his first career title and first career finals appearance.
“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,” Laughlin said. “The whole day has been a blur. Took it one round at a time and ended up coming up to the final. I was a little nervous but took a couple deep breaths and told myself, ‘It’s just like any other round, just go up there and do your deal.’ As soon as I let the clutch out, I knew my crew chief gave me a good car.”
Laughlin was clocked at 6.611 seconds to edge Bo Butner’s time of 6.637 seconds to nab the Pro Stock championship.
Beckman defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Funny Car finals in a race that showcased two Don Schumacher Racing team members. An Air Force veteran and cancer survivor, Beckman cruised to a 3.928 at 324 mph to Johnson’s 4.185 at 231 mph. Johnson Jr. slowed near the end because of motor issues.
Beckman was excited after picking up his other win at Joliet earlier in the season. It was the 24th career win and second at Gateway for the 2012 Funny Car world champ.
“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. “Our team was in a slump and we did what was incredibly difficult with the way our car was acting unpredictably. I’m not quite sure what changed, but I think I had a good outing as a driver today.”
Beckman moved to third in the points standings with the win.
Savoie’s win in Pro Stock Motorcycle was the first final to go off Sunday. His victory came when Angelle Sampay red lighted off the starting line. 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. “You go to the finals four times and win one, but out here the competition is so strong and it takes a little bit of luck. We got some luck in the finals. Losing hurts so bad, but winning feels so good. My team is a great team. Our bike is really consistent and we’ve had some issues, but today was our day.”
The finals day followed a strong two days of qualifying on Friday and Saturday.
Leading the way after Friday was Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock Car) and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Following final qualifying, Crampton and Hight hung on to capture pole position spots. However, in Pro Stock Car Shane Gray overtook Anderson and Eddie Krawiec overtook Ellis in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
By the time the semifinals rolled around, Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson of Springfield, Ill., Beckman and Ron Capps remained in Funny Car.
Johnson Jr. ran a stout 3.937 to beat Wilkerson’s 3.993 time. In the other matchup, Beckman rumbled to a 3.954 to top Capps and set up the finals showdown.
In the Pro Stock Car semifinals Butner, on a hole shot, took out Jason Line. In the other semi, Laughlin shut down Gray to set up the finals and cap Laughlin’s memorable weekend.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle semifinals played out with Savoie getting off the line first and staying ahead of Cory Reed for the win and Sampay dismissing Ellis to set up the final.
In Top Fuel semifinal action, Langdon ended Crampton’s weekend and Schumacher took out J.R. Todd.
It was another successful weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park, despite scorching heat for fans. A large contingency of racing aficionados filled the stands and enjoyed the three days.
Next up at Gateway will be the Mopar Drags on Oct. 1-2.
The NHRA Mello Yellow Series now heads to Reading, Pa., for the Dodge NHRA Nationals on Sept. 29-Oct. 2.
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