(Images courtesy NHRA/National Dragster)

The Lucas Oil Nationals at Minnesota’s Brainerd International Raceway had more than a few surprises — some of them positive and some of them damaging. Although Eddie Krawiec’s Pro Stock Motorcycle victory continues the Harley-Davidson year-long sweep, nothing else was a yawner. Here’s the low-down . . .

DRAMATIC TURNAROUND – Ron Capps passed first-round loser Robert Hight to take over the Funny Car points lead for the first time since July 2009 (following the Seattle race that year). It marked the ultimate turnaround for the NAPA Dodge Charger driver, who closed March with a DNQ, eighth-place standing, and no crew chief.

“Don’t discount the way Robert’s car has been running,” Capps said. “I know they’ve been testing [clutch packages]. They’re going to come back. They’re going to be tough in the Countdown.”

Hight didn’t wallow in any self-doubt. He promised to “be ready for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. That will be a big race. We are in the Traxxas Shootout, so our goal is to win that $100,000 and then win the race. Once the Countdown starts it is a whole new ballgame.”

HERE COMES HAGAN – Matt Hagan cut No. 10 Bob Tasca’s 62-point advantage to just 19 with one race remaining until the Countdown to the Championship fields are set. Hagan took his Don Schumacher racing-owned Aaron’s Dodge Charger to the semifinals but lost to teammate Ron Capps. He had defeated teammate Jack Beckman, the No. 1 qualifier, in the quarterfinals. “We race at DSR,” Hagan said. “There are no gimmies.” His crew chief, Tommy DeLago, said, “No one should want to win that way. “I know we don’t. We want to earn it.” Capps said, “I want Matt to get in bad. Tommy is one of my best friends, but I know they want to get in the right way. Of course, I want Matt to get in, but I also wanted to win that round and the race.”

We race at DSR. There are no gimmies. – Matt Hagan

Said Hagan, “We’re not that far back and it is doable. We don’t wish for anyone to have a bad race. We just need to have a good one. It was the same against Beckman. That’s how we roll.”

HE’S UP, DOWN, OUT IN – Race day brought a roller-coaster of emotions for 11-time Brainerd winner John Force. He didn’t push his track-record total to 12, finishing as Funny Car runner-up to Ron Capps. However, he came closer to doing so than he probably deserved — and he gained a spot in the standings (from ninth to eighth).

In the opening round, against Alexis DeJoria, he committed a rare foul start, handing DeJoria the round-win. But she reacted to his red-light launch and committed the same infraction. By the NHRA’s “first or worst” rule, officials declared her the winner. But she didn’t know that and continued to try to slam her Tequila Patron Toyota down the track, thinking she was battling Force. Before she got word through her two-way radio that she could ease off the gas and coast to the victory, she was pedaling the car as it was losing traction and it fishtailed across the center line. So she lost by that same “first or worst” rule, because crossing the center line is considered worse than red-lighting. Force was reinstated, and he defeated Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson to advance to the final round.

Caught up in the confusion cost DeJoria her opportunity to make the Countdown field, and it likely doomed her chances for rookie-of-the-year consideration. DeJoria took it in stride, calling the incident “certainly a good learning experience for me.” Every weekend she says she’s “super-stoked” to be competing, but Sunday, she exited the race saying, “I super-screwed up.”

Force was more distraught in “victory.” He beat himself up, saying, “These young rookie drivers are learning, and it’s the old guy that screws up. My guys are going to beat the crap out of me. Somebody ought to kick me in the head.” Later he said that when he got back to the pits, “My boys asked me, ‘Force, what do you teach us? We are a team. We love you even when you are screwed up.’  . . . Mike Jenkins, the Traxxas president, bought my daughter a Rolex watch for winning Seattle. I don’t need no watch. I just need to win.”


ANYTHING YOU CAN DO . . . – No one could stop Erica Enders in Pro Stock. She led the class in qualifying, halting Allen Johnson’s streak of six No. 1 starts. Then she ran away from him in the final round for back-to-back victories [after winning at Seattle two weeks before] and her third in the past six races. She also came away with the track elapsed-time record at 6.542 seconds. Johnson matched it, but she did it first, in the pairing immediately before his in the opening round.

It marked the first time since Shirley Muldowney won at Brainerd in Top Fuel in 1986 that a woman has won at the track.

“That is really special,” Enders said. “Shirley is a hero of mine, and she’s done so much for this sport and especially for the females in it. To do what we did in Seattle with Courtney and myself and to make that history, and then to come here and do back-to-back, it’s unbelievable. If you would’ve told me we were going to win back-to-back and three races out of five, it blows my mind.

“It’s already surreal for me,” Enders said. “I’m so blessed to be in this position. I know that, and I know how quickly it can disappear. It’s a dream come true for me, and finally, after all the hard work, sweat, tears, pure frustration, and disgust, it’s nice to be with such a great team and have the chance to chase the championship.”

BACK IN THE HUNT – Morgan Lucas’ Top Fuel victory restored some shine to his GEICO/Lucas Oil team. Lucas had won twice and qualified atop the field three times earlier in the season but spiraled down to the middle of the pack. But Sunday he ran over some tough competition to earned his third victory in as many final rounds. He beat new points leader Antron Brown, who was making his eighth final-round appearance this season and seeking his class-best fifth victory and a fourth in the past six events.

Hopefully it’s a sign of good things to come for us. – Morgan Lucas

After Ron Capps won the Funny Car trophy, Lucas also spoiled Don Schumacher Racing’s chance for its fourth double-up performance in the past seven races.

“Hopefully it’s a sign of good things to come for us,” Lucas said after accepting his seventh career Wally statue from “trophy girl” mom Charlotte Lucas.

It marked the first time since the early June Englishtown race that he had any success beyond the first round. It broke a streak of one DNQ (at Bristol) and five straight first-round defeats — including the first two to Brown.

MASSEY WANTS IT BACK – Spencer Massey lost in the first round to fellow IHRA Top Fuel champion Bruce Litton, and that cost him his points lead. But Massey, who failed to qualify last fall at Phoenix in the Countdown and lost out on the championship, said, “Drag racing is full of ups and downs and at least we got our ‘down’ out of the way now. Now I’m ready for the upswing again. Hey, that was our only first-round loss of the year, and if we had to have one, it’s good to get it out of the way before Indy and before the Countdown.”

He said he’ll be aiming to take it back from Brown, who assumed the lead for the fifth time this season: “I want to get to Indy and get our No. 1 spot back before the Countdown.”

His FRAM/Prestone Dragster will be one of the cars on the track at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis for testing Wednesday and Thursday. “At least we won’t have to go to Indy right off a first-round loss. We’ll be there this week for testing and have the Prestone/FRAM dragster ready to win some rounds.”

IN THE COUNTDOWN – Funny Car rivals Johnny Gray and Mike Neff made it into the Countdown by simply making qualifying runs Friday. Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta qualified a ho-hum No. 6 but it was great, for it clinched a Countdown berth for him. Shawn Langdon knew he was in the Countdown when Dave Grubnic defeated Clay Millican in the pairing before his Sunday morning (although Langdon lost to Cory Mac minutes later). Morgan Lucas is in, thanks to his first-round victory. Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Karen Stoffer made it in Sunday.

RECORDS SET – Several track records fell during the weekend, some several times. In the end, Top Fuel’s Khalid al Balooshi set low elapsed time of the meet at 3.773 seconds and Morgan Lucas had the speed mark at 327.90 mph. In Funny Car, the standards belong to Jack Beckman (4.018 seconds) and Johnny Gray (316.75 mph). Erica Enders is BIR’s quickest Pro Stock driver at 6.542 seconds and Allen Johnson its fastest at 210.87 mph. Andrew Hines rewrote the Pro Stock Motorcycle track E.T. record at 6.865 seconds.