Qualifying runs at the 26th Annual NHRA Sonoma Nations at the Sonoma Raceway produced many exciting performances, but the July 28 eliminations added more. The outstanding track conditions seen during the Friday night qualifying sessions reappeared during the first round of eliminations, for those teams that could get the right tuning set up. With it came a few upsets, where lower qualified cars defeated higher qualified cars and track records lowered. In Top Fuel, Morgan Lucas in his Geico/Lucas Oil dragster defeated TJ Zizzo in his Peak Oil dragster with a 3.757 at 328.30 mph to 3.835 at 321.81 mph. This was Lucas’s best time of the event as he would march his way into the final round. For Zizzo, the 3.835 served to back up his career best 3.821 in qualifying and the 321.81 improved on his career best speed. The stout track conditions also contributed to the first major upset of the day, as Tommy Johnson Jr defeated the #2 qualfiier, Steve Torrance, from the 15th position. Johnson was able to step up and run strong 3.786 at324.51 mph effort to continue into the 2nd round, where., his day would end at the hands of 2012 Top Champion, Antron Brown. The final round featured #8 qualifier, Morgan Lucas, who took out David Grubnic (#1 qualifier), Spencer Massey (#5 qualifier) and reset the track speed record to 328.30 mph along the way, against Shawn Langdon. Langdon came in as the series point leader with his Al-Anabi dragster and had reset the track elapse time to 3.743 seconds. As the cars launched down track in the final, Langdon had the gained the starting line reaction advantage and drove away to a 3.90 at 240.47 mph win, as both cars suffered from loss of traction problems during the run. With the win, Langdon extended his lead in the series championship in the top fuel category
In Funny Car, Matt Hagan, who reset both ends of the class track records at 3.986 seconds and 320.51 during Friday qualifying, found himself on the wrong end of a first round upset. The #16 qualifier, Alexis DeJoria and her Tequila Petron Toyota put the #1 qualifier (Hagan) on the trailer, as she “out pedaled” Hagan when both cars lost traction. Where some teams missed the tuning setups for the track, others nailed it. Mike Kneff, crew chief for Robert Hight (John Force Racing AAA of Southern California Mustang), tuned the #8 qualifier to the quickest elapse time of eliminations with a 4.018 seconds at 317.49 mph taking out the Bob Tasca (#9 qualifier). Remember those upsets? DeJoria did, as she then took out the quickest car in eliminations in the second round, Robert Hight, to advance to the semi-final round. She did that by gaining a 0.040 second reaction time starting line advantage to defeat Hight’s quicker 4.127 second elapse time with a 4.145 second run. The other three semi-finalists utilized consistent performances to gain access. The popular Courtney Force ran 4.088 and 4.089 to take out Cruz Pedregon and Jack Beckman (#2 qualifier). She defeated Beckman with a “hole shot win” gaining a 0.056 to 0.094 starting line advantage to defeat his quicker 4.067 elapse time. The 15-time series funny car champion, John Force, seems to be back on his game after some early season struggles. Qualifying 4th with a 4.025 elapse time, Force ran 4.073 and 4.057 to get past Tony Pedregon and Johnny Gray to get to the semi-finals. Ron Capps, who qualified 3rd in his Napa Dodge at 4.012, turned in strong 4.066 and 4.099 elapse time efforts to get past Del Worsham and Jeff Arend for his semi-final match up against Courtney Force. In their semi-final round matchup, the “15-Time Champ” Force left first and drove away from Ms. Dejoria, winning with a 4.086 at 311.34 mph to 4.095 at 309.84 mph. Capps won over Ms. Force, when the latter had the super charger explode at about 660 feet out, with a strong 4.048 at 315.34 mph. The final round featured a “monster matchup” between Capps and John Force, with Capps having the choice of lanes based on the quicker elapse time the previous round. Force, who is usually “wired up” reaction time wise in final rounds, was uncharacteristically late this time. Capps gain a 0.078 to 0.105 reaction time advantage and held on for a 4.082 to (quicker) 4.072 win. The win moved Capps into 2nd place in the Funny Car series championship behind his team mate Matt Hagan. Force sits in the 4th position.
In Pro Stock young Vincent Nobile marched his way into the final round by taking out Jason Line in the opening round, then upsetting the #1 qualifier Mike Edwards in the 2nd round and Greg Anderson in the semi-final round. On the other side of the elimination ladder, Jeg Coughlin took out Roger Brogden in the opening frame and then used a better reaction time to defeat a quicker Shawn Gray in the 2nd round. In his semi-final match up with the 2012 series category champion, Allen Johnson, Jeg cut a near perfect 0.005 reaction time to take out the much quicker Johnson with a 6.556 at 211.53 to 6.539 at 211.63 run. Both drivers, Coughlin and Nobile, are known for their uncanny reaction time skills, setting the final round up as a real battle. Young Nobile got the starting line advantage (0.021 to 0.038) and drove on to the win, as Coughlin had to shut off early with problems at about half track. Nobile turned in a strong 6.572 at 208.59 mph performance for the win. Mike Edwards still leaves with the Pro Stock season series point lead with Nobile moving into 5th.
Pro Stock Motorcycle saw the #1 and #2 qualifiers march through eliminations for their final round match. Matt Smith, who was the top qualifier, raced by Shawn Gann (the class winner the week before in Denver), Eddie Krawiec (the 2012 season series category champion) and Hector Arana (the 2009 season series category champion) on his way to the final round. Hector Aran Jr marched past Scotty Pollacheck, Jerry Savoie and Katie Sullivan in route to his final round match up with Smith. Both riders came in with equal performing motorcycle (both were /Buells), as both had been running in the 6.82 to 6.85 range throughout eliminations. Starting line reaction times would be the determining factor. Young Hector Aran Jr was up to the task, getting a major 0.009 to 0.045 advantage and held off Smith’s slightly quicker 6.877 elapse time with a 6.878 to take the win. Both riders reached 195.45 mph at the finish line. With their final round finishes, both drivers clinched a spot in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Arana holds the top spot followed (149 points back) by Smith.
Oakdale Leader correspondents Mike and Jeff Burghardt contributed to this report.