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Winners: They Beat Flames And Cancer

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 11 2012

Antron Brown was crowned Top Fuel champion by NHRA president Tom Compton late Sunday. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

On a day when he couldn’t get from Point A-to-B, Antron Brown made motorsports history.

Despite a fiery, first-round Top Fuel loss, Brown became the first African-American driver to win a major U.S. auto racing championship at the 48th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.

Brown – eliminated by Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey in the opening round – spent the rest of Sunday watching teammate/seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher methodically march into the final against Brandon Bernstein. Winless in 69 races, Bernstein ‘s hole-shot (0.037-seconds) win touched-off an impromptu celebration by Brown, family/friends and crew.

“I’m just beside myself right now. I feel so blessed to be in this moment,” said Brown, a 36-year-old native of Chesterfield, N.J. “This is a big, huge moment. Don (Schumacher), I couldn’t be any happier than to be on one your race teams. You are a genuine and loving person and man. He always took me as one of his own family members. Every member of his family has taken me in with open arms. I’m just glad we could bring this championship to DSR. It feels incredible right now.”

Brown, who competed in Pro Stock Motorcycle from 1998-2007, already had established himself as one of the most popular drivers in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. While his emergence as the first driver of color to win an NHRA championship was significant, it almost was a footnote.

“I never sat back and thought about it,” said Brown, driver of the Matco Tools dragster. “But if I can be an inspiration for other kids out there – not just African-Americans, just Americans, period – give them somebody they can look up to that’s positive that actually never settled in life for things that people told them they may not ever achieve. Even some of my own family members told me that I could never be a professional racer. I even doubted myself that I would some day be a Top Fuel or Funny Car racer, because it just seemed to be so far out of reach.”

Brown, who earned six victories in 11 final rounds and was top qualifier three times, continued the NHRA’s history of diversity by joining pioneering champions Shirley Muldowney (Top Fuel), Cruz and Tony Pedregon (Funny Car) and Hector Arana and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Meanwhile, Jack Beckman claimed the 2012 Funny Car world championship when he outlasted and edged DSR

Jack Beckman raises his Funny Car championship trophy.

teammate Ron Capps by two points in the closest finish in the category’s 39-year history. Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), newly crowned world champion Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined Bernstein as race winners in the final event of the Countdown to the Championship at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Brown and his team needed help to achieve their milestone. After dealing with an explosion during Saturday night’s final qualifying session, a broken fuel line on Brown’s opening pass sent fire nipping at his legs and hands before he could exit the cockpit. The fire resulted in minor burns to Brown’s palms, and he watched the rest of the racing with gauze-bandaged hands.

Meanwhile, Schumacher gave every indication he was on a mission to complete another miraculous comeback at Pomona. Brown led the standings after the 21st of 23 national events, but “The Sarge” and his U.S. Army dragster had cut the lead to 67 points before eliminations began Sunday. To claim his eighth title, Schumacher needed to win his third event of the year.

Schumacher advanced to the final round but his 3.753-second 1,000-foot run at 325.53 mph wasn’t enough to catch Bernstein’s slower 3.762-second pass at 320.81 mph after the second generation driver posted a 0.017-second starting line advantage. Bernstein’s ProtectTheHarvest.com dragster prevailed by eighth-thousandths of a second.

“There’s a lot of joy for (Brown),” said Bernstein, who finished his first full-season as teammate to Morgan Lucas. “I’m not as close to Spencer or Schumacher as I am to Antron. It was nice to go out there and play spoiler for those two guys and see a great friend and a fellow -Toyota driver win the championship.” Bernstein posted the 19th win of his career and ended a drought dating to 2009 – Brown’s second full-season in Top Fuel.

“When you go through what we did today…there’s nothing you could do,” said Brown, who finished the season with a 49-17 won/lost record. “I felt like a kid back in elementary school when it seemed like days were 30 hours instead of 24 hours. You’re looking at people race and there’s nothing you can do about it. I would have rather it been where we were 20 points apart and Tony and I could race for it in the final, instead of you depending on someone else to do what you want to do. You want to race for it.”

Brown, who finished seven points in front of Schumacher, celebrated with crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, along with assistant Brad Mason after a disastrous start.

“It was definitely a surprise. We weren’t expecting that fire in the cockpit,” said Brown, the 18th different driver to win a Top Fuel world championship. “The flame was weird because it didn’t come from back behind me, it came from down by my feet. It torched my feet and torched my legs then came up and torched my hands pretty good. The only parts that got singed were my palms where I steer the car and where I pull the brake. I had to hold onto the brake longer to get the car slowed down.

“You know, the flames and fumes start taking your breath away. I didn’t want to go in panic mode, so I just stayed calm. Once I got the belts loose, I got out of the car as quick as I could. The Safety Safari was right there on-point and got out there and hosed me down.”

Brown, who promised the crowd the burns wouldn’t stop him from hoisting the championship Wally trophy, later removed the bandages for the official winner’s circles photos.

Beckman’s title gave the DSR juggernaut both nitro championships and more than $1-million dollars in earnings for the weekend, duplicating the team effort from 2005 when Tony Schumacher won in Top Fuel and Gary Scelzi took the Funny Car crown over Capps by eight points.

Pole-sitter Capps, who began the day two points behind Beckman, lost in the semifinals to rookie Courtney Force of John Force Racing to drop the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T out of title contention. Beckman was crowned champion sitting in the staging lanes before his semifinal loss against eventual race-winner Pedregon.

A cancer survivor who won the 2003 Super Comp championship, Beckman came on during the six-race Countdown and moved into contention with a win in Round 3 in Madison, Ill. Beckman, a 46-year-old native of San Fernando, Calif., took the point lead in Round 4 at Reading, Pa., where he set a national elapsed-time record and was the No. 1 qualifier.

“You think about this, and you dream about this,”  said “Fast Jack,” driver of the Valvoline NextGen Dodge tuned by Todd Smith. “It’s going to take me a while to wrap my head around this. We would have loved to have won it head-to-head (against Capps) in the final, but the trophy is going to shine just as well no matter what.

“Todd Smith is the baddest hombre in the nitro pits right now. Those nine Valvoline guys gave me a chance to live my fantasy.”

Beckman had to win the last 12 rounds of the season to win the Super Comp world championship in ‘03.  “They’re both incredibly special,” Beckman said of his championships. “This is different because there are so many more people who helped us get here from our crew to all the guys back in our fab shop and machine shop in Brownsburg, Ind., that build these cars. They bust their cans all year long. I still can’t believe we’ve done this.”

Pedregon raced to his first Funny Car victory of the season and 30th of his career, pulling away from Force in the final. Pedregon drove his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry to a performance of 4.035-seconds at 306.12 mph, while Force lost traction in her Traxxas Ford Mustang at the hit of the throttle.

“We’ve probably left five or six races on the table this year and we put it together this weekend,” said Pedregon, a two-time world champion. “We’ve always had a fast car. We placed third overall last year; after winning today we finished fourth this year and I think we’ve proved we belong with the top teams. We’re a smaller, independent team. But with the way we finished, I think we can build on this and be one of the favorites heading into next season.”

In Pro Stock, Johnson capped his championship with his seventh victory of the year and 16th of his career, powering his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger past Vincent Nobile in the final. Johnson posted a quarter-mile run of 6.528-seconds at 212.76 mph to hold off Nobile’s Mountain View Tire Avenger, which finished in 6.533-seconds at 211.66 mph.

“Our team is so awesome and the Mopar Dodge Avenger has just performed flawlessly,” said Johnson, who on Saturday gave Dodge its first Pro Stock championship since 1994 and fifth overall. “Determination and my father (engine-builder Roy) is what got us to this point. He wanted to do this all his life and my whole focus was winning this with him. We had a dominating performance in this Countdown, won a championship and ended with a win. What more can we do? That has added just a little more emotion to it.”

Hines defeated teammate/newly crowned Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Eddie Krawiec in the final via his sixth victory of the season and 31st of his career. Hines rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod to a track-record quarter-mile performance of 6.766-seconds at 198.29 mph to edge Krawiec, who trailed with a 6.805-second pass at 197.54 mph. “It was by far the best bike I had all year,” said Hines, like Krawiec a three-time world champion. “This was an absolutely phenomenal bike I had all weekend long. It was a total joy to get down the track.”

The rebadged 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is scheduled to open Feb. 14-17 with the 53rd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Finishing order (1-16) at the 48th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the final of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _1. Brandon Bernstein; 2. Tony Schumacher; 3. Bob Vandergriff Jr.; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Spencer Massey; 6. Khalid alBalooshi; 7. Cory McClenathan; 8. Mike Salinas; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Shawn Langdon; 11. Morgan Lucas; 12. Steve Torrence; 13. Doug Kalitta; 14. David Grubnic; 15. Antron Brown; 16. Terry McMillen.

Funny Car _1. Cruz Pedregon; 2. Courtney Force; 3. Jack Beckman; 4. Ron Capps; 5. Mike Neff; 6. Jeff Arend; 7. Robert Hight; 8. Tim Wilkerson; 9. Matt Hagan; 10. Tony Pedregon; 11. Johnny Gray; 12. Paul Lee; 13. Alexis DeJoria; 14. John Force; 15. Grant Downing; 16. Jim Head.

Pro Stock _1. Allen Johnson; 2. Vincent Nobile; 3. Erica Enders; 4. Mike Edwards; 5. Jason Line; 6. Ron Krisher; 7. Greg Anderson; 8. V. Gaines; 9. Chris McGaha; 10. Rodger Brogdon; 11. Greg Stanfield; 12. Larry Morgan; 13. Jerry Eckman; 14. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 15. Warren Johnson; 16. Shane Gray.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Andrew Hines; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Matt Smith; 4. LE Tonglet; 5. Hector Arana Jr.; 6. Steve Johnson; 7. Karen Stoffer; 8. Scotty Pollacheck; 9. Jim Underdahl; 10. Michael Ray; 11. Mike Berry; 12. Shawn Gann; 13. James Surber; 14. John Hall; 15. Hector Arana; 16. Chip Ellis.

Sunday’s final results from the 48th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona:

Top Fuel _ Brandon Bernstein, 3.762-seconds, 320.81 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 3.753-seconds, 325.53 mph.

Funny Car _ Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.035, 306.12 def. Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 7.878, 75.79.

Pro Stock _ Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.528, 212.76 def. Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.533, 211.66.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.766, 198.29 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.805, 197.54.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Chris Demke, 5.236, 274.00 def. Jim Whiteley, 5.248, 275.84.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ John Lombardo Jr., Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.599, 261.02 def. Tony Bartone, Ford Mustang, 5.641, 263.62.

Competition Eliminator _ Doug Lambeck, Pontiac Sunfire, 8.313, 160.90 def. Bo Butner, Chevy Cobalt, 8.285, 162.39.

Super Stock _ Abe Loewen, Pontiac Grand Am, 9.698, 139.91 def. Jimmy DeFrank, Chevy Cobalt, 10.631, 89.49.

Stock Eliminator _ Eric Waldo, Ford Mustang, 10.657, 125.24 def. Gary Waldo, Chevy Nova, foul.

Super Comp _ Cameron Ferre, Dragster, 8.943, 167.93 def. Matt Constant, Dragster, 8.927, 174.68.

Super Gas _ Ryan Herem, Chevy Corvette, 9.958, 147.17 def. Peter Bothe, Porsche, 9.868, 145.05.

Final round-by-round results from the 48th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona:

Top Fuel

Round One _ Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.810, 324.83 def. Steve Torrence, 6.268, 101.55; Spencer Massey, 3.915, 323.97 def. Antron Brown, 7.393, 51.68; Mike Salinas, 3.861, 304.74 def. Morgan Lucas, 4.915, 164.93; Brandon Bernstein, 3.776, 323.97 def. Terry McMillen, 8.674, 84.15; Cory McClenathan, 4.332, 284.69 def. Shawn Langdon, 4.668, 220.19; Tony Schumacher, 3.766, 324.59 def. J.R. Todd, 3.799, 323.27; Khalid alBalooshi, 3.776, 327.51 def. Doug Kalitta, 6.679, 113.38; Clay Millican, 4.421, 270.92 def. David Grubnic, 7.199, 90.22;

Quarterfinals _ Millican, 5.790, 251.16 def. Salinas, broke; Vandergriff, 3.836, 323.35 def. McClenathan, 4.107, 239.23; Bernstein, 3.805, 323.43 def. Massey, 3.842, 282.66; Schumacher, 3.764, 325.77 def. alBalooshi, 3.938, 322.81;

Semifinals _ Bernstein, 3.793, 322.73 def. Millican, 8.357, 82.92; Schumacher, 3.815, 291.95 def. Vandergriff, 3.842, 310.98;

Final _ Bernstein, 3.762, 320.81 def. Schumacher, 3.753, 325.53.

Funny Car

Round One _ Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 5.795, 263.56 def. Jim Head, Toyota Solara, DQ; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.055, 318.02 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.081, 304.87; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.092, 311.13 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.150, 278.92; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.191, 231.24 def. Grant Downing, Charger, 19.523, 129.39; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.038, 317.19 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 6.564, 98.95; Jeff Arend, Camry, 4.082, 312.06 def. John Force, Mustang, 7.618, 59.89; Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.227, 268.06 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.750, 171.23; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.529, 263.92 def. Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.640, 210.70;

Quarterfinals _ C. Pedregon, 4.082, 298.60 def. Neff, 4.058, 314.53; C. Force, 4.064, 317.12 def. Wilkerson, 9.821, 86.19; Capps, 4.071, 315.19 def. Hight, 5.452, 143.12; Beckman, 4.027, 317.79 def. Arend, 4.113, 311.92;

Semifinals _ C. Force, 4.069, 318.24 def. Capps, 4.091, 313.95; C. Pedregon, 4.023, 314.09 def. Beckman, 4.086, 311.99;

Final _ C. Pedregon, 4.035, 306.12 def. C. Force, 7.878, 75.79.

Pro Stock

Round One _ Vincent Nobile, Dodge Avenger, 6.589, 211.10 def. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Avenger, 6.624, 210.83; Ron Krisher, Pontiac GXP, 6.535, 211.79 def. Warren Johnson, GXP, 9.887, 95.22; Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.517, 212.26 def. Shane Gray, GXP, 11.826, 75.25; V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.586, 211.76 def. Jerry Eckman, GXP, 6.617, 208.33; Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.541, 211.93 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.613, 209.52; Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.513, 212.76 def. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.564, 210.77; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.513, 213.06 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.544, 210.67; Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.530, 212.79 def. Chris McGaha, Avenger, 6.541, 211.30;

Quarterfinals _ Edwards, 6.531, 212.66 def. Anderson, foul; Enders, 6.528, 212.43 def. Gaines, foul; A. Johnson, 6.520, 212.63 def. Krisher, 6.537, 211.79; Nobile, 6.546, 211.79 def. Line, 6.495, 213.13;

Semifinals_Nobile, 6.543, 211.49 def. Enders, 6.542, 211.86; A. Johnson, 6.526, 211.16 def. Edwards, 11.745, 64.64;

Final _ A. Johnson, 6.528, 212.76 def. Nobile, 6.533, 211.66.

Pro Stock Motorcycle

Round One _ Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.865, 195.14 def. Chip Ellis, Buell, foul; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.879, 192.91 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 8.754, 111.47; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.898, 193.93 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.876, 193.40; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.818, 198.12 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.981, 191.10; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.817, 197.59 def. James Surber, Buell, 7.071, 190.16; Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.890, 193.05 def. John Hall, Buell, 7.165, 191.48; Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.871, 191.76 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.990, 192.03; Matt Smith, Buell, 6.829, 195.93 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.884, 193.54;

Quarterfinals _ LE Tonglet, 6.890, 195.34 def. Pollacheck, 6.915, 192.11; Smith, 6.840, 195.51 def. Arana Jr., foul; Krawiec, 6.811, 198.29 def. Stoffer, foul; Hines, 6.788, 197.94 def. Johnson, 6.889, 194.58;

Semifinals _ Krawiec, 6.831, 197.42 def. LE Tonglet, 16.265, 47.76; Hines, 6.807, 198.00 def. Smith, 11.217, 67.44;

Final _ Hines, 6.766, 198.29 def. Krawiec, 6.805, 197.54.

Season-ending point standings (top-10) following the 48th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona:

Top Fuel _1. Antron Brown, 2,555; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,548; 3. Spencer Massey, 2,505; 4. Shawn Langdon, 2,450; 5. Brandon Bernstein, 2,450; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,341; 7. Morgan Lucas, 2,338; 8. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 2,336; 9. Steve Torrence, 2,300; 10. David Grubnic, 2,260.

Funny Car _1. Jack Beckman, 2,610; 2. Ron Capps, 2,608; 3. Mike Neff, 2,497; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 2,429; 5. Courtney Force, 2,383; 6. Johnny Gray, 2,357; 7. Robert Hight, 2,302; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 2,293; 9. John Force, 2,281; 10. Jeff Arend, 2,267.

Pro Stock _1. Allen Johnson, 2,756; 2. Jason Line, 2,571; 3. Vincent Nobile, 2,512; 4. Erica Enders, 2,507; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,365; 6. Mike Edwards, 2,347; 7. V. Gaines, 2,324; 8. Ron Krisher, 2,290; 9. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,271; 10. Larry Morgan, 2,198.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,773; 2. Andrew Hines, 2,691; 3. Hector Arana Jr., 2,502; 4. Hector Arana, 2,432; 5. Karen Stoffer, 2,386; 6. Matt Smith, 2,370; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,323; 8. Michael Ray, 2,316; 9. LE Tonglet, 2,292; 10. Shawn Gann, 2,239.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 11 2012