NHRA - St. Louis

NHRA O'Reilly Midwest Nationals
St. Louis, MO.

By Bobby Bennett, Photos by Roger Richards, Brian Wood, Jim Compton, Sr./St. Louis Dispatch




Reigning Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher raced to his first victory of the season Sunday at the O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway International Raceway.

Tony Pedregon, Mike Edwards and Chip Ellis also were winners of the $1.3 million race, the 12th of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Schumacher powered his U.S. Army dragster to a 4.565 second run at 327.59 mph to hold off final round opponent and defending event winner Brandon Bernstein, whose Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster lost traction at the start. Schumacher carried a Purple Heart medal with him throughout eliminations and dedicated the victory, the 31st of his career, to the fallen Marine in the Winner's Circle.

"Today would have been the birthday of a young Marine we lost," Schumacher said as he clutched the medal. "Chris Belchik was killed in action August 22, 2004, but he was with me today. I might be the U.S. Army driver, but the men and women in the Armed Services are all together when it counts."

Season-long Top Fuel points leader Melanie Troxel had her series lead cut in half Sunday. She now leads Doug Kalitta by 24 points. Kalitta beat her in the second round before losing to Bernstein in the semifinals.

Funny Car winner Pedregon turned back former boss John Force after his rival's car quit just before the finish line. A broken blower belt on Force's Castrol GTX Ford Mustang left him without power at 1,100 feet and Pedregon's Q Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was able to zoom past and take the win in 4.859 seconds at 320.43 mph to Force's 4.904 at 269.35 mph.

"I heard him out there and I saw him put a fender on me at about 800 feet," Pedregon said. "In this class that's usually not a good thing.

But the cars have to run to 1,320 feet and I guess his fuse was a little short. I really like John. I was over there with him for a long time and learned a lot from him. To beat the 13-time champ is always special."

POWERade Series leader Ron Capps' first round loss, coupled with Force's runner-up finish, trimmed the Brut Dodge driver's lead to 44 points.

Pedregon moved up to fourth place, 247 out of the lead.

Young Life Pontiac GTO pilot Edwards continues to maintain championship contender status in Pro Stock. Sunday's .008-second holeshot win over good friend Larry Morgan was his second of the year and left him just 120 points, or six rounds, out of the POWERade lead with half a season remaining.

"There's a long way to go but I'd rather be 120 points out of the lead than 420 like we probably were at this time last year," said Edwards of his 13th career victory and second of the season. "Someone's gotta win that championship and I sure would like to do it. It's been a lifelong goal of mine. We've gotten close in the past. Maybe this could be our year. But there're a lot of guys saying that."

Three-time and reigning champion Greg Anderson is virtually even with teammate Jason Line in the championship chase after Line closed to within two points in the standings with a semifinal run Sunday. Top qualifier Anderson was upset on a holeshot by Steve Schmidt in the first round.

Ellis remained perfect in final round appearances, scoring his fourth NHRA victory in 26 starts. Ellis raced to a 7.153 at 183.84 on his Drag Specialties S&S Buell to hold off veteran rider Michael Phillips' Mini Rods Suzuki, which clocked a 7.298 at 184.83 mph.

"It takes rounds to win the championship so I'll stay focused on that," said Ellis of his first win of the season. "It's important to get down the track every time. We got lucky in the first round because we burned up some wires, but luckily for us Karen Stoffer had red-lighted. After that we had the quickest bike every round."

The victory lifted Ellis to within 82 points of the POWERade lead.

Current leader Angelle Sampey pushed her margin over Andrew Hines from 12 to 28 points. Sampey beat Hines in the second round, but lost to Ellis in the semis.

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, July 14-16 at scenic Bandimere Speedway near Denver.