Persistent rain pushed the NHRA's Auto-Plus Nationals eliminations at Reading, Pa., to Monday but not before Top Fuel's Antron Brown and Funny Car's Jack Beckman treated the Maple Grove Raceway faithful to milestone performances.
Saying, "Everybody was doing phenomenal runs," Brown used his winning quarterfinal elapsed time against Morgan Lucas for the most phenomenal of all. His 3.722-second pass in the Matco Tools Dragster was the quickest run in Top Fuel history. It surpassed the 3.728-second E.T. that Dave Grubnic and Spencer Massey shared. Grubnic ran his big number Saturday in qualifying No. 1 to tie Spencer Massey's run this June at Englishtown, N.J.
That gives Brown two of the top four elapsed times in the Top Fuel class -- and they have come within a seven-day stretch.
Beckman, Brown's Don Schumacher Racing teammate, dominated the Funny Car buzz all weekend and added to his achievements Sunday. The Schumacher Electric/Valvoline Dodge Charger driver took his pending national records for elapsed time (3.989 seconds) and speed (320.58 mph) into race day.
And he posted an even quicker time -- 3.986 seconds -- in his victory over Mike Smith in the first round. It was the second-quickest pass in Funny Car history.
"I don't think we were trying to lower the record," Beckman said after climbing from his car. "It's a poker thing. You take a chance on locking up those 20 points, because another car could take it. Zippy [John Force Racing's Mike Neff, the No. 3 qualifier] could still run the record. And we'd like to leave with that 20 points. But you don't want to risk that and the round-win," Beckman said.
When action resumes Monday morning, Beckman will square off against points leader and DSR mate Ron Capps -- and the NAPA Dodge crew that was his team for the first four races of the season. At stake is the points lead. Capps entered this race with a 30-point advantage over second-place Beckman, but Beckman has sliced the margin to 17 points, thanks to his qualifying bonus points.
Beckman said Sunday that his crew chiefs, Todd Smith and Terry Snyder, were "probably pleasantly surprised [with the 3.986-second pass], but they knew Friday with the 3.98 that there was more left in the car. I'm afraid there might be even more left."
Maybe his opponents should be more afraid.
Brown actually spoke about the respect he has for his opponents, including the ones who already had been eliminated Sunday.
"Ain't going to be no knockout blows here," he said. He knew he not only had to finish eliminations, which are set to resume at 11 a.m. Monday, but that he also has two more events to keep up his blistering pace. "We've got to go to Vegas and perform just like we've performed here and then we'll see where we're at."
The October 26-28 Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be the penultimate race of the season.
Brown said Sunday "was one of those days where the conditions were at their all-time. You had five guys in Top Fuel who had [3.]74 [-second E.T.s] first round. Those are some crazy-good passes." And Brandon Bernstein ran a 3.736-second, 330.31-mph effort in beating Tony Schumacher in the pairing immediately before Brown's.
Astonishingly, Brown said, "There's still a little bit more left on the table." He said crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald told him his engine dropped a cylinder just before the finish line, meaning he could have registered an even more staggering E.T.
"There's more out there. We're nowhere by any means on the safe side of having a record," Brown said. "You still have Shawn Langdon with the Al-Anabi car . . . and [Doug] Kalitta went a [3.]739. You still have two cars left [in the second round of Top Fuel eliminations]. Conditions are going to be better tomorrow -- still cool but with a little sun out. The track will be even better. They're going to go out there and throw down.
"We've got keep on and keep our head down and do what we've got to do and keep pressing hard if we want to try to get that record," he said. "And our main goal is try to get to the final. We have Brandon up in the semis, so we'll see if we can get by that round -- and keep on collecting points. That's the name of the game."
He said these are great conditions. "And the way you can tell they're great conditions is not by what one car defines what the track does but it's when you look at all the cars. If you ran a [3.]79, you're on the bottom half of the field. The bottom half of the ladder! I ran a [3.]758, which started me off third for that session, and my hopes were that would keep us in the top five. I know some people could come up and knock you down. But we ended up seventh.
"So when I saw that, I thought, 'Man, these cats are not playin' around.' This is the Countdown. All these teams want it and they're not scared to turn the screws up," Brown said.
Despite his over-the-top performance Sunday, Browns said he didn't think he can derail rival and DSR teammate Massey -- his closest rival -- this weekend. Massey fell in the first round to Khalid al Balooshi.
"I don't think I can deliver a knockout punch here if we win the race," Brown said, "because we can go to the next race and we might not even qualify."
Something similar happened last season to Massey. Here at Reading last October, he beat Del Worsham in the final round, despite Worsham setting the national E.T. record on that run. Then at the following race, at Phoenix, Massey had a title-killing DNQ.
Brown said if he should fail to make the field at Las Vegas, "Spencer has a car and their team is capable of going out there and wining the race." Moreover, he said, everybody counted Massey out after his team's Phoenix disaster, "and they came to the last race of the year two or four points out of first place because they came right back the first race after that [at Las Vegas] and won it. That's bow strong that FRAM car is. Ain't going to be no knockout blows here."
Meanwhile, Massey said his loss to al Balooshi was "a tough one to take. We ran great, but we just got beat. It just shows how tough it is out here. Not very often do you post a 3.77 and not get a win light. We just needed to be a little bit faster today."
Still, he said he admired his team. "These guys on my team haven't had an easy weekend. We had some problems in qualifying and hurt some parts, but our guys never stopped working. They've been grinding for six weeks now, and I couldn't be more proud of them," he said. "We'll just take these next two weeks off and relax and get recharged to make a strong run for it in these last two races. We may be down, but we aren't out of it yet."
Third-place driver Tony Schumacher, who drives DSR's U.S. Army Dragster, lost in the second round to Brandon Bernstein for the second straight weekend. # # #