Auto racing: Line has to wait for elusive title after rain spoils day
BRAINERD — It appeared nobody could beat Jason Line at the 33rd annual Lucas Oil National Hot Rod Association Nationals this weekend at Brainerd International Raceway, so it took divine intervention to keep the native of Wright, Minn., from finally winning a Pro Stock race at his home track.
Rain cut short most of the Sunday’s racing at BIR, with Pro Fuel being the only Pro category to finish. The other Pro categories, Pro Stock and Funny Car, will be completed in two weeks at the NHRA Nationals at Indianapolis.
Line will face upstart David River in the semifinals at Indy. Line had the best elapsed time (6.573 seconds) and speed (209.69 mph) at BIR, but never got to finish what he started. Despite the rain, it appeared the Pro categories would still be completed before a nasty accident in Top Dragster, a support race, on Sunday night brought on a 45-minute delay.
“How about that?” Line said. “Victory has eluded me one more time. To win at Indy would still be special, but it wouldn’t be quite the same. Nothing would beat winning here in front of all my friends and family, but that’s the way it goes. That’s life. You move on.”
The good news for Line and his Summit Racing teammate Greg Anderson is they have the fastest Pro Stock cars on the planet right now.
Line took over the Pro Stock points lead with his performance, while Anderson strengthened his position to make the NHRA playoffs despite missing the first five races of the season after having heart surgery.
Anderson, a Duluth native, was knocked out of the first round of Sunday’s eliminations despite having what was the best ET (6.574) and speed (209.39 mph) up to that point. The reason? The start, as it so often is in drag racing, particular Pro Stock. Anderson stumbled out of the blocks with a .077 reaction time compared to a stellar .004 mark for Kramer. That .073 made all the difference despite Summit Racing’s clear horsepower advantage, as Kramer won by a bumper.
“I have to laugh,” Anderson said, cracking a big smile, “otherwise I’ll cry.”
Anderson’s reaction times had been solid all weekend until Sunday.
“We had the cars to beat, so to lose like that, it’s kind of a buzz kill,” Anderson said. “I had a chance to knock it out of the park, but I didn’t get it one. Apparently I like drama too much. I can’t explain it. It was a crazy day. I’m surprised we got in as much as we did.”
Sunday was overcast with temperatures in the low 60s, a big change from the muggy, 85-degree weather of the first two days. Final eliminations were supposed to begin at 11 a.m., but were repeatedly delayed because of sprinkles.
The first round of Top Fuel was completed and racing was fast. Track records were set for both elapsed time (Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.760 seconds) and speed (Richie Crampton, 328.54 mph), but both those drivers lost because of slower reaction times at the starting line.
Doug Kalitta later broke the Top Fuel ET record with an afternoon pass of 3.722, only to fall that night to Morgan Lucas in the Top Fuel only about 20 minutes before complete darkness descended on the track.
The Top Fuel final summed up the day. Lucas and Kalitta exchanged the lead as neither could gain traction, with Lucas, of Brownsburg, Ind., limping across the finish line first in a relatively pedestrian 4.886 seconds at 229.55 mph.
“That’s going to make for great TV,” said Lucas, the son of Lucas Oil Products founder and event sponsor Forrest Lucas.
Another drizzle started to fall as the Top Fuel final ended and NHRA officials said enough was enough and put a stop to it just before John Force was to meet Ron Capps in the Funny Car final. The Pro Stock semifinals and finals had already been postponed to Indy by that point. The Pro Stock cars can be more fickle because they create less down force, and Anderson figured officials got scared after the late crash in Top Dragster, even though the Pro Stock semifinalists wanted to go.
That, of course, included Line, a two-time national champion who tried to put a positive spin on it.
“Long days are better than short days in this business,” said Line, 45. “It is what it is. I did all I could. I never got beat, but that’s the way it goes. It was still a great weekend. I think most of Wright was here. It makes it fun to go to the race track, that’s for sure. I’m proud of where I’m from. I’m proud to be from Wright.”
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
After earning the No. 1 qualifying position in Funny Car on Saturday, NHRA legend Force was asked if he was heading to the “Zoo,” the beloved yet notorious BIR camping area known for its parties and affinity for every kind of motorized contraption imaginable.
“I’ve come out here before and done crazy stuff, so right now, we go home, get a good night’s rest and stay out of the ‘Jungle,’” Force said, while going on to explain why he uses that word for the Zoo. “It’s the Jungle, because we’ve lost a couple men there, swear to God. On the road to the championship, (driver) Robert Hight’s guy went over there, fell off the fence and broke his arm. My guy fell off the fence and broke his leg. And you’ve got no clutch guy the next day, and you’re all messed up. We don’t let them go. We’re focused, and we ain’t letting them go.”
Force, 65, has won 11 times at Brainerd, with his first coming in 1988. He said it was a different era back then.
The colorful Force is the patriarch of a drag racing family that includes current NHRA drivers Brittany and Courtney Force. They even had their own A&E reality show “Driving Force.” John was asked if he ever let his daughters go to the Zoo, “back in the day.”
“What do you mean, back in the day? They weren’t old enough, back in the day,” Force said. “Before I was married, I used to go over there and spend the night. I’d wake up the next day with a hangover and say, ‘Where am I? Oh, oh. It’s time to race.’ But I don’t do that anymore.”