NHRA: Southern Nationals Set Records With Memorable Weekend

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

For the first time in years, the weather was perfect for the NHRA visit to the Atlanta Dragway for the Summit Racing Southern Nationals. Sell out crowds saw track records fall in Funny Car and Top Fuel, explosions and great racing all weekend!

With no chance of rain in the forecast and cool temperatures, fans were treated to great racing by the NHRA’s best this weekend. After five straight weeks of a female winner in a pro division, the ladies were taking an aim at number six in the 2016 season.

The story this weekend started with who was at the track and what car were they were driving. Leah Pritchett climbed into a Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel car for the first time. This was her third different car and team in four events. Since the closure of BVR she drove in a Lagana Racing car at the Four Wide Nationals in Charlotte. She got her old BVR team together in a BVR car for Houston, and this week was in a capsule car for the first time for DSR with her sponsor FireAid supporting the effort.

In Houston Leah struggled to get down the track during qualifying but was was able to turn it around and make it to the semifinals loosing to eventual event winner Doug Kalitta. Rumors were swirling around Houston and were later confirmed she would be joining DSR for two races this season. They scrambled to get a car together and hired her crew chief from BVR along with a couple other to get her team ready for the race at FireAid’s home town Atlanta.

During qualifying she was never able to make a full run without engine troubles but still put three sub-four second runs on the board. She qualified 9th only to face new DSR teammate Tony Schumacher in the first round with Tony having lane choice. Leah beat Tony on the tree and had her fourth sup four second pass, but engine trouble on the top end allowed the Sarge to drive by for the win.

The DSR chassis shop must have been boring the midnight oil since Houston. Terry McMillen had a spectacular wreck in Houston and look like he might not be able to make it to Atlanta. DSR got Terry a chassis, John Force and many other helped out with parts and time helping McMillen to even race. Without his signature alligator on his dragster he was able to qualify well in tenth but red lighted in his first round matchup with against Shawn Langdon.

Houston winner Doug Kalitta was able to take advantage of near perfect conditions on Friday night to qualify his Mac Tools dragster first with a track record 3.731 ET. He nearly matched his record ET in round one before defeating Tony Schumacher in a great side by side drag race. After defeating Antron Brown in the semifinals he set his sights on another event win. Facing teammate  JR Todd in the finals, Doug jumped of the line .02 quicker than Todd and won his second straight Wally by the same margin in the closest finish in Top Fuel history!

In Funny car it was the Don Schumacher Racing show almost all weekend. In qualifying all four DSR cars qualified in the top eight with Fast Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan leading the way one two. Beckman screamed down he track at a blistering 3.93 at 326.32, both track records. The cool dry conditions made for records to fall run after run in the night session for the funny cars with Jack being the last man standing.

During eliminations, Fast Jack put on a show first round with another track record ET 3.911 and speed of 328.86 before he had a parachute failure and ended up in the kitty litter. John Hale in his Circle K Funny Car had massive engine failure at the 400 foot mark blowing half the body straight in the air. Fortunately the body landed safely on the safety road between the track and the sold out grandstands.

Second round saw two sets of teammates facing each other. John Force Racing had last weeks winner Courtney Force facing team president Robert Height. Courtney left her boss not far from the starting line after Height goes up in smoke. A pair of DSR teammates, Ron Capps and a freshly cleaned Jack Beckman squared off in a great side by side battle. Beckman came out on top after beating Capps on the tree.

The semifinals was a DSR show with Courtney Force as a costar. Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. were square at the light until Fast Jack continued his weekend roll and drove ahead to lock up a place in the finals. In the other pair Matt Hagan got his Pennzoil DSR dragster off the line first and drove away as Courtney Force smoked the tires on her Traxxas dragster. That set up an all DSR finals with Hagan and Beckman.

A weekend that had everything going Fast Jack Beckman ended quickly when the light turned green. Hagan beat Beckman off the line by .01 then raced away as Beckman lit the tires up at about 40 feet. The win by Hagan was his first of 2016 and helped him move out of the last spot in the standings for the countdown.

The Pro Stock class has been dominated by KB Racing in 2016. The Summit racing cars and Bo Butner have been figured out the new Pro Stock rules and are running away with the class. Again in Atlanta 1,2,3 in qualifying and with Line and Anderson cruising all the way to the finals. When the light turned green in the final round, Line cut an astounding .015 light and needed it as his 6.611 beat teammate Andersons faster 6.593.

More racing: NHRA: Pritchett Inks Multi-Race Deal

The crowds were treated to a great show with great weather in Atlanta this weekend. All the classes except Pro Stock have had different teams in contention every week. 2016 is aping up to be a year to remember for the NHRA Mello Yello racing season. See you in Topeka next week for the Kansas Nationals!