Sunny, cool, windy conditions and a slick racing surface at Firebird International Raceway led to plenty of slipping and sliding at the Arizona Nationals, the second round of 24 in the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
In the Top Fuel final between Tony Schumacher and Morgan Lucas, both drivers smoked the tires and struggled to regain control of their rail dragsters over the course of the 1,000-foot run. Schumacher ultimately prevailed, his U.S. Army sponsored entry run by Don Schumacher Racing crossing the line at 213.20 mph after 4.606 seconds. A charging Lucas was running 45 mph faster when he broke the beam, but it was .046 seconds too late.
"When you can win ugly like that it is so much fun," exclaimed Schumacher, who made his fourth consecutive final-round appearance, dating to the final two events of the 2012 season. "Both cars were set up to run really fast, and we both lost it and smoked the tires. It was lift, pedal, lift, pedal all the way down. I could hear Morgan beside me the whole time.
"As a driver that kind of race is so much fun and I enjoy winning like that more than a record run."
It was Schumacher's 70th career NHRA event win, and he took over the Top Fuel points lead after defeating Sidnei Frigo, Khalid alBalooshi and Antron Brown to advance to the finals. Schumacher's semifinal race against DSR teammate Brown was one of the best of the day, with "The Sarge" netting the win via quicker reaction time despite a slower elapsed time of 3.765 to Brown's 3.752.
"I'm just glad a DSR car won it all," Brown said. "And with Ron Capps winning in Funny Car it made it a great weekend for Don Schumacher."
Capps backed up his final-round appearance at Pomona by besting Matt Hagan in an all-DSR Funny Car final round at Firebird. Don Schumacher Racing has now claimed 198 NHRA event victories in the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories.
Capps was bubbling with enthusiasm after driving his NAPA Dodge Charger to a 4.064 second/314.90 mph pass in the final. Hagan clocked 4.158/300.33.
"We're starting to feel like we are getting into the same rhythm that we were in last year when we went to six finals in a row," Capps said. "I think that both Rahn [Tobler, crew chief] and I built up some confidence in each other at Pomona, and now here.
"This new car really likes to be planted early, so Tobler has been working on a new clutch package," he added. "We finally found out what it really liked, and when you give Tobler a new combination that works, he's going to 'bracket car' it to death."
Pomona Funny Car winner Courtney Force qualified third at Firebird, but smoked the tires and was defeated in the first round of eliminations by Todd Lesenko.
"Man, you know things happen," Force said. "It's definitely a tricky racetrack and we stumbled in the first round."
However, the NHRA season still started for the first time with female winners in the first two events because Erica Enders-Stevens took a close-fought victory in the Pro Stock category.
Enders-Stevens' fifth career win came at the expense of No. 1 qualifier Mike Edwards, who actually ran a quicker ET (6.520 seconds at 213.74 mph vs. 6.538 at 211.99) but lost out on reaction time.
All of Enders-Stevens' wins have come since July 2012, but her confidence was shaken by a first-round exit in the season opener at Pomona.
"Coming off the season we had last year, and starting the way that we did this year, it was a kind of a gut check in that we wondered if we could ever get it done again," Enders-Stevens said. "Our guys really worked their butts off during the winter, but we didn't get the chance to test a lot. And I was a little bit nervous coming into this year because the other big teams got to test a lot.
"But our guys proved that they can pick up where they left off, and I'm excited."
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series now takes a two-week break before resuming with the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, set for March 14-17 at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Fla.