NHRA: Live blog from U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis — Lucas, Beckman, Enders and Savoie win

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana — It’s hot both forecast-wise (expected high in the mid-to-high 90s) and action-wise at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.

MotorSportTalk will bring you continuous updates throughout the day, as well as full coverage of the final rounds in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

4:55 pm ET UPDATE — The final round for all four pro classes is underway. This is for all the marbles!

First up, PRO STOCK MOTORCYLE — This is the seventh consecutive year that the PSM winner will be a first-time champ at Indy.

It’s Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie with the win, as No. 1 qualifier Chip Ellis’ bid for the victory falls short with a red-light start. Savoie earns his second victory of the season and his first win in three final-round appearances at Indy.

Next up, PRO STOCK  It’s defending series champ Erica Enders vs. rookie Drew Skillman.

Befitting of her role as U.S. Nationals Grand Marshal this weekend, Enders (6.11 seconds at 201.75 mph) wins her first U.S. Nationals title, defeating Elite Motorsports teammate Skillman.

It’s Enders’ sixth win of the season and 18th of her career, tying her with legendary three-time Top Fuel champ Shirley Muldowney.

Next up, FUNNY CAR — It’s Robert Hight vs. “Fast Jack” Beckman. We’re about ready to go.

This is the eighth time both drivers have raced in a final round, with Hight winning seven. The only time Beckman beat Hight was seven years ago at Phoenix.

But this season, Beckman and the Infinite Hero team is an undefeated 14-0 in round wins vs. John Force Racing.

Beckman (4.058 seconds at 310.77 mph) leaves the starting line and goes on to win his sixth win of the season, but more importantly, his first-ever win in the U.S. Nationals. Make that 15-0 vs. JFR in 2015 for Beckman in his Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car.

Next up, TOP FUEL — It’s Morgan Lucas against Dave Connolly. Ironically, three years ago, Connolly defeated Enders to win the Pro Stock title at Indy.

And it’s Lucas with the win with a run of 3.86 seconds at 319 mph, while Connolly smoked the tires at half-track.

It’s quite fitting as Lucas’ family is the entitlement sponsor of Lucas Oil Raceway.

So, there are your winners — Morgan Lucas in Top Fuel, Jack Beckman in Funny Car, Erica Enders in Funny Car and Jerry Savoie in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Congratulations to all!

And how about this: all four winners are first-time winners at Indy, the second year in a row that has occurred.

Thanks to everyone who checked today’s live blog. We hope you enjoyed it.

We’ll have more stories on the individual winners coming up shortly on MotorSportsTalk. Please check back soon.

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4 pm ET UPDATE — We’ve gone through the first three rounds of eliminations and are preparing for the final round of all four professional categories. Look for a start time around 5 pm ET.

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ROUND THREE (3:25 pm ET) — We’re underway with the semifinals of pro eliminations

First up, PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: No. 1 qualifier Chip Ellis (6.877 seconds at 196.47 mph) continues his run through the field, defeating Angelle Sampey (7.130/176.53).

In the other match, Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (6.878/194.77) defeated Hector Arana Jr. (6.963/195.48).

So it’ll be Ellis vs. Savoie in the final round coming up in a little over an hour from now. 

Next up, PRO STOCK: The amazing story of Pro Stock rookie Drew Skillman continues. Skillman has now reached his third final round of the season. Skillman (6.619 seconds at 209.88 mph) defeated Vincent Nobile (6.655/209.75).

In the other semifinal, defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders bids for her first career U.S. Nationals title. Enders (6.618/209.39) topped former two-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson (6.591/210.41).

So it’ll be Enders vs. Skillman in the final round. 

Next up, FUNNY CAR: For the 10th consecutive edition of the U.S. Nationals, a driver from John Force Racing has reached the finals of the sport’s biggest race of the season.

JFR president Robert Hight (4.047 seconds at 313.58 mph) roared to victory over Tommy Johnson Jr. (8.885/81.08), who lost traction shortly after leaving the starting line.

In the other semifinal match, “Fast Jack” Beckman continues to close in on the coveted U.S. Nationals title. Beckman (4.058/307.72) defeated Del Worsham (4.189/299.20) in the semifinal.

So in the final round, it will be Hight vs. Beckman for the U.S. Nationals Funny Car title. And in an ironic twist, this is Beckman’s third final round at the U.S. Nationals. The driver he lost to both previous times? Robert Hight.

“We intend to reverse fortunes today,” Beckman said.

One other note on Beckman: he is 11-0 against all three JFR drivers this season in elimination rounds. Looks like Hight and JFR will have their work cut out for them.

Up next: TOP FUEL SEMIFINAL — Both Morgan Lucas and Brittany Force lost traction shortly after leaving the starting line and each driver tried to correct things.

Lucas, whose family is entitlement sponsor of Lucas Oil Raceway, won before he even reached the finish line, as Force’s dragster crossed the center line, resulting in immediate disqualification.

In the other semifinal, Dave Connolly held off Shawn Langdon. In a way, Connolly’s win helped lessen the disappointment of teammate and No. 1 qualifier Larry Dixon being eliminated in the first round today.

In addition, Connolly gets an even bigger bonus: by defeating Langdon, Connolly qualifies for the Countdown to the Championship.

So in the final round of Top Fuel, it’ll Connolly vs. Lucas. 

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2:25 pm ET — We’re through the first two rounds of eliminations in the pro categories, with two more rounds to go. The semifinals are expected to go off after 3 pm ET. Here’s the highlights of Round Two:

ROUND TWO (1:30 pm ET) — We’re underway with second round of pro eliminations. Cars are hitting the staging lanes, with Top Fuel first.

The track temperature is 134 degrees.

TOP FUEL: Shawn Langdon (3.913 seconds at 292.33 mph) powered to a win over Doug Kalitta (5.125 seconds at 146.24 mph), who lost traction at about 60 feet.

Brittany Force (4.058 seconds at 264.29), looking to earn her first career national event win in Top Fuel, advances to the semifinals with a win over Billy Torrence (smoked tires).

In another upset of the day, Dave Connolly (3.828/323.74) upset Antron Brown (3.825/317.72) by .0017 of a second. Brown was hoping to sweep the weekend, having won Saturday’s Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuelers.

In a battle of Lucas Oil teammates, Morgan Lucas (3.902/297.41) defeated last year’s U.S. Nationals winner, Richie Crampton (3.899/302.62).

Here’s the semifinal matchups: Langdon vs. Connolly and B. Force vs. Lucas.

FUNNY CAR: Courtney Force, who hoped to make the Countdown to the Championship, fell short in her quarterfinal match with Tommy Johnson Jr. As a result, Alexis DeJoria, who Force beat in the first round, makes the Countdown.

“Say thank you, Alexis,” Johnson said. “I don’t have one of those trophies. We’re hungry.”

In a battle of two other John Force Racing teammates, Robert Hight (4.064/312.57) defeated father-in-law John Force (4.085, 316.25). Force’s hopes of earning a fifth U.S. Nationals title, and his first since 2002, will have to wait until next year’s race.

Top qualifier “Fast Jack” Beckman (4.057 seconds at 311.41 mph) advanced to the semifinals with a win over Ron Capps (4.51, 219 mph). And Del Worsham (4.130/309 mph) held off Tim Wilkerson (4.132/306 mph).

Here’s the semifinals matchups: Hight vs. Johnson Jr. and Beckman vs. Worsham.

PRO STOCK: In a classic battle between defending series champ Erica Enders (6.617 seconds at 209.01 mph) and veteran Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan (6.613/209.52), Enders won off the starting line and advanced to the semifinals. Enders is looking for her first career U.S. Nationals title.

In other matches, Vincent Nobile (6.621/209.30) defeated Jason Line, who red-lighted. Also, Greg Anderson (6.605/209.39) held off Bo Butner (6.633/209.04) and Drew Skillman (6.619/209.30) defeated Shane Gray (6.614/209.85).

Here’s the semifinal matchups: Nobile vs. Skillman and Enders vs. Anderson.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Former series champion Angelle Sampey closed in on her bid to make this season’s Countdown to the Championship, defeating veteran rider Matt Smith.

Jerry Savoie beat two-time U.S. Nationals winner Steve Johnson, while Hector Arana Jr. upset defending series champ Andrew Hines. Lastly, pole-sitter Chip Ellis continued his run, defeating last year’s U.S. Nationals winner, Eddie Krawiec.

Here’s the semifinal matchups: Sampey vs. Ellis and Savoie vs. Arana Jr.

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ORIGINAL POST STARTS HERE

11:00 am ET — After the National Anthem, the kings of the sport, Top Fuel, took center stage first.

Two big surprises came in both the first run of the day and the last run of the same round.

First, pole-sitter Larry Dixon (3.819 seconds/326.16 mph) lost to 16th qualifier Doug Kalitta (3.808/317.42).

But an even bigger shock came in the final pair of the first round when No. 9 seed and eight-time and defending Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher (4.264/212.83), who was looking for a record 10th U.S. Nationals win, lost to No. 8 Shawn Langdon (3.841/313.44).

In the rest of the Top Fuel ranks: No. 2 qualifier Billy Torrence (3.804/326.16) got past No. 15 TJ Zizzo (4.001/255.29), No. 3 Steve Torrence (4.666/201.79) was upset by defending U.S. Nationals winner and No. 14 qualifier Richie Crampton (4.159/205.51).

No. 4 Dave Connolly (3.820/324.59) topped No. 13 Khalid alBalooshi (3.809/326.08), No. 5 J.R. Todd (3.905/311.34) lost to No. 12 Antron Brown (3.796/318.17).

No. 6 Morgan Lucas (3.787/323.89) defeated No. 11 Leah Pritchett (3.816/320.05) and No. 7 Brittany Force (3.853/318.99) topped No. 10 Pat Dakin (3.901/314.17).

Here’s the second-round matchups: Kalitta vs. Langdon, Connolly vs. Brown, B. Torrence vs. B. Force and Crampton vs. Lucas.

In Funny Car, one day after winning the $100,000 Traxxas Funny Car Shootout, pole-sitter “Fast Jack” Beckman (3.047 seconds/302.55 mph) continued on his quest to sweep the weekend with an easy first round win over No. 16 Bob Bode (5.022/157.65).

No. 2 Robert Hight (4.078/315.78) defeated No. 15 John Bojec (4.384/285.41), No. 3 Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.054/312.42) held off No. 14 John Hale (4.777/177.32) and No. 4 Del Worsham (4.345/237.46) held off No. 13 Chad Head (6.626/83.41).

No. 5 Tim Wilkerson (4.270/259.91) held off No. 12 Tony Pedregon (4.511/198.88), while No. 6 and last year’s Funny Car U.S. Nationals winner Alexis DeJoria (4.085/307.02) was upset by No. 11 Courtney Force (4.064/316.67). In so doing, Force keeps her hopes to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship alive.

In the 99th career meeting between the two, four-time U.S. Nationals winner and No. 10 seed John Force (4.079/316.15) won for the 67th time over No. 7 Cruz Pedregon (4.088/307.72). Force is seeking his first U.S. Nationals victory since 2002.

Force’s win sets up a quarterfinals matchup with Hight, his teammate and president of John Force Racing.

Lastly,No. 8 and defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan (4.528/211.63) fell to No. 9 Ron Capps (5.022/157.65).

Here’s the second-round matchups: Beckman vs. Capps, Worsham vs. Wilkerson, Hight vs. J. Force and Johnson Jr. vs. C. Force.

In Pro Stock, No 1 qualifier Greg Anderson (6.602/209.85) roared to an easy win over No. 16 Aaron Stanfield, who failed to stage in time.

In a huge upset, No. 2 Jonathan Gray red-lighted and lost to No. 15 Vincent Nobile (6.630 seconds at 209.59 mph). Also, No. 3 Drew Skillman (6.605/209.59) held off No. 14 Alex Laughlin (6.632/209.33).

Defending series champ and No. 4 seed Erica Enders (6.604/209.49), who was also Grand Marshal for this event, held off No. 9 V. Gaines (6.637/209.10), while in a battle between two veterans of the sport, No. 12 Larry Morgan (6.603/209.85) defeated No. 5 Allen Johnson (6.621/209.17).

No. 6 Shane Gray (6.624/209.69), who won the Pro Stock class in last year’s U.S. Nationals, beat No. 11 Chris McGaha (6.641/209.17) by a half-fender.

No. 7 Jason Line (6.626/208.59) held off No. 10 Deric Kramer (6.665/208.42), while No. 8 Bo Butner (6.650/209.10) upset No. 9 five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.626/208.84).

Here’s the second round matchups: Anderson vs. Butner, Enders vs. Morgan, Nobile vs. Line and Skillman vs. S. Gray.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three riders red-lighted and a fourth broke in the first round.

Pole-sitter Chip Ellis (6.880 seconds at 195.59 mph) defeated No. 16 Angie Smith (red-lighted). No. 2 Andrew Hines (6.916/193.82) defeated No. 15 Scotty Pollacheck (7.171/188.33), No. 3 Jerry Savoie (6.877/194.46) defeated Chaz Kennedy (broke at starting line) and No. 4 Angelle Sampey (6.910/192.99) stopped Karen Stoffer (6.911/194.69).

No. 5 Matt Smith (6.915/192.85) beat No. 12 Shawn Gann (red-lighted), No. 6 Hector Arana (6.977/194.83) was upset by No. 11 Steve Johnson (6.945/193.38), No. 7 Hector Arana Jr. (6.904/195.36) defeated Jim Underdahl (red-lighted) and No. 8 L.E. Tonglet (6.919/195.56) fell to last year’s U.S. Nationals winner, No. 9 Eddie Krawiec (6.873/193.96).

Here’s the second-round matchups: Ellis vs. Krawiec, Sampey vs. M. Smith, Hines vs. Arana Jr., and Savoie vs. Johnson. 

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.