NHRA: B. Force, Worsham, Skillman and Hines are Brainerd winners

(Photo and videos courtesy NHRA)

Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were the winners in Sunday’s final of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has completed 17 of its scheduled 24 events, with the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis being the final race for drivers to qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Force captured her third win of both her career and season in four final round appearances in 2016.

Force (4.169 seconds at 180.21 mph) defeated defending Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown (6.566 seconds/103.47 mph).

Brown not only lost traction shortly after leaving the starting line, Force had her own problems as her dragster backfired and then prematurely released her parachute before reaching the finish line.

“It’s awesome to be able to win here,” said Force, who is fourth in the Top Fuel points standings. “I felt good coming in this weekend because we had some success last year and I’m pretty sure we did well the year before.

“We are exactly where we want to be as we go into the Countdown and our biggest race of the season in Indy. It feels so good to bring home another win.”

Even with the defeat, Brown remains atop the Top Fuel point standings.

In Funny Car, Worsham, who is seeking his second consecutive championship, had a winning run of 3.908 seconds at 327.27 mph, defeating former champ Matt Hagan (8.095 seconds/71.33 mph), who lost traction early in his run.

It was Worsham’s first win in the regular season, his first career win at Brainerd Raceway, the 39th win of his career and 31st of his Funny Car career.

Last season, Worsham failed to win any races in the 18-race regular season, but then roared to four wins in the six-race Countdown to capture the championship, becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to earn titles in both Funny Car and Top Fuel.

“Brainerd has always been a special place to me,” said Worsham, who moved up to third in the Funny Car point standings. “Going back to 1991, my first No. 1 qualifier came here 25 years ago. I’m excited to be here. It’s a great place, great facility and the team did a great job. I’m happy to get the win, go to Indy and start the NHRA Mello Yello Series Countdown.”

Still, even with Worsham’s win, it wasn’t a complete loss for Hagan. During Saturday’s qualifying, he set a new NHRA Funny Car elapsed time record of 3.822 seconds, breaking Worsham’s mark that was set two weeks ago at Seattle.

Also of note, points leader Ron Capp sewed up the No. 1 seed in the Countdown, reaching the semifinals Sunday.

In Pro Stock, Skillman (6.648 seconds at 208.97 mph) captured his first win of the season, defeating points leader Jason Line (6.681 seconds/206.64 mph).

The win clinches a berth in the Countdown for Skillman, who was the 2015 Rookie of the Year.

“My guys have been working very hard and this is for their hard work today,” Skillman said. “(The class) is getting much, much closer. I think by the end of the season we’ll be very tight and next year I think you will see a very competitive class across the board.”

Lastly, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines pulled off a rarity en route to winning his fourth race of the season: he cut a perfect .000 reaction time and went on to win his final round match with a 6.866 second/194.94 mph effort over runner-up Jerry Savoie (6.863 seconds/194.88 mph).

Last season’s defending series champion, it was also Hines’ third win at Brainerd and 46th of his overall career.

“I was definitely a little nervous because we came here with the intentions of preparing for the Countdown,” said Hines, the winningest Pro Stock Motorcycle racer in NHRA history. “We put brand new tires on the bike which turned out, in hindsight, to be a very bad decision because the track is so good here.

“We were battling with the tune up on Friday. We just pecked away at it all weekend. We took our chance at it in the final round, put an old tire back on it, and it went nice and straight. I was pressing it because I knew I needed an advantage over Jerry.”

It was the third runner-up finish for Savoie in as many final round appearances this season.

The next race, the biggest of the season on the NHRA circuit, is Aug. 31-Sept. 5 in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis.

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TOP FUEL: 1.  Brittany Force; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  Shawn Langdon; 4.  Tony Schumacher; 5.  Doug Kalitta; 6. Terry McMillen; 7.  J.R. Todd; 8.  Clay Millican; 9.  Steve Torrence; 10.  Chris Karamesines; 11. Richie Crampton; 12.  Terry Haddock; 13.  Scott Palmer; 14.  Luigi Novelli; 15.  Morgan Lucas; 16. Leah Pritchett.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Del Worsham; 2.  Matt Hagan; 3.  Ron Capps; 4.  Courtney Force; 5.  Tim Wilkerson; 6.  Robert Hight; 7.  Jack Beckman; 8.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 9.  John Force; 10.  John Bojec; 11.  Cruz Pedregon; 12.  Dale Creasy Jr.; 13.  Chad Head; 14.  John Hale; 15.  Brian Stewart; 16.  Bob Bode.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Drew Skillman; 2.  Jason Line; 3.  Erica Enders; 4.  Vincent Nobile; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Bo Butner; 7.  Chris McGaha; 8.  Allen Johnson; 9.  Shane Gray; 10.  Alex Laughlin; 11.  Deric Kramer; 12.  Jeg Coughlin; 13.  Alan Prusiensky; 14.  Mark Hogan; 15.  Dave River.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Jerry Savoie; 3.  Eddie Krawiec; 4.  Hector Arana Jr; 5.  Angelle Sampey; 6. Matt Smith; 7.  Karen Stoffer; 8.  Cory Reed; 9.  Chip Ellis; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck; 11.  Hector Arana; 12.  Michael Ray; 13.  Steve Johnson; 14.  Jim Underdahl; 15.  Angie Smith; 16.  LE Tonglet.

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TOP FUEL: Brittany Force, 4.169 seconds, 180.21 mph  def. Antron Brown, 6.566 seconds, 103.47 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.908, 327.27  def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 8.095, 71.33.

PRO STOCK: Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.648, 208.97  def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.681, 206.64.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.866, 194.94  def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.863, 194.88.

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TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Clay Millican, 3.696, 326.32 def. Leah Pritchett, 10.748, 77.27; Doug Kalitta, 3.726, 322.73 def. Morgan Lucas, 5.879, 119.32; Brittany Force, 3.725, 324.75 def. Terry Haddock, 4.242, 212.66; Shawn Langdon, 4.206, 258.17 def. Luigi Novelli, 4.706, 162.31; Antron Brown, 3.730, 325.06 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.118, 222.91; Tony Schumacher, 3.748, 316.67 def. Scott Palmer, 4.299, 197.45; Terry McMillen, 3.793, 318.47 def. Steve Torrence, 3.855, 314.75; J.R. Todd, 3.736, 329.10 def. Richie Crampton, 4.165, 255.87; QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.753, 322.34 def. McMillen, 4.221, 205.10; Brown, 3.735, 315.19 def. Millican, 6.190, 103.70; Langdon, 3.729, 330.96 def. Todd, 4.885, 156.68; Force, 3.711, 325.53 def. Kalitta, 3.939, 265.01; SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.726, 322.58 def. Schumacher, 3.754, 326.16; Force, 3.717, 324.36 def. Langdon, 3.736, 328.86; FINAL — Force, 4.169, 180.21 def. Brown, 6.566, 103.47.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.859, 330.15 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.838, 163.45; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.390, 182.43 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.966, 165.13; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.899, 324.59 def. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, 4.368, 204.23; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.890, 329.26 def. Bob Bode, Solara, 9.320, 103.13; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.919, 322.42 def. John Hale, Charger, 6.435, 101.45; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.878, 328.54 def. Brian Stewart, Ford Mustang, 8.074, 89.38; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.923, 324.75 def. John Force, Camaro, 3.954, 288.39; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.885, 330.96 def. Chad Head, Camry, 5.194, 162.45; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 3.913, 327.19 def. Johnson Jr., 9.760, 86.82; Capps, 3.909, 305.56 def. Beckman, 4.087, 238.85; Hagan, 3.869, 332.34 def. Hight, 3.915, 321.35; Worsham, 3.904, 328.06 def. Wilkerson, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Worsham, 3.926, 324.20 def. C. Force, 7.129, 84.36; Hagan, 3.893, 331.20 def. Capps, 3.923, 319.29; FINAL — Worsham, 3.908, 327.27 def. Hagan, 8.095, 71.33.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.591, 209.56 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.616, 209.95; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.629, 209.52 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Dart, 6.622, 207.62; Erica Enders, Dart, 6.619, 207.94 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.593, 209.36; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.625, 209.04 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.633, 208.10; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.599, 208.68 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 7.259, 150.75; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.589, 209.49 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.720, 205.26; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.611, 209.52 was unopposed; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.605, 208.97 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.776, 202.88; QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.656, 207.40 def. Johnson, 6.732, 189.34; Skillman, 6.626, 209.46 def. Butner, 6.626, 209.07; Nobile, 6.625, 208.71 def. Anderson, 6.625, 208.97; Line, 6.592, 210.01 def. McGaha, 6.642, 209.07; SEMIFINALS — Skillman, 6.613, 209.36 def. Nobile, 10.523, 83.36; Line, 6.595, 209.79 def. Enders, 6.644, 207.75; FINAL — Skillman, 6.648, 208.97 def. Line, 6.681, 206.64.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.817, 195.82 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.871, 193.52; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.856, 195.19 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.924, 192.66; Cory Reed, Buell, 6.835, 194.16 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.897, 193.85; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.820, 195.25 def. Chip Ellis, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.804, 197.10 def. Angie Smith, 6.950, 191.16; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.929, 195.14 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 18.101, 40.16; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.836, 195.25 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.898, 193.52; Matt Smith, 6.833, 196.07 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.885, 195.05; QUARTERFINALS — Hines, 6.893, 193.60 def. Reed, 8.178, 113.22; Arana Jr, 6.871, 194.83 def. M. Smith, 6.920, 192.74; Krawiec, 6.911, 195.39 def. Stoffer, 7.622, 130.73; Savoie, 6.831, 196.82 def. Sampey, 6.829, 196.16; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.822, 195.93 def. Krawiec, 6.872, 194.83; Hines, 6.893, 194.27 def. Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light; FINAL — Hines, 6.866, 194.94 def. Savoie, 6.863, 194.88.

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TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 1,424*; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 1,257*; 3.  Steve Torrence, 1,216*; 4.  Brittany Force, 1,161*; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 1,117*; 6.  J.R. Todd, 998*; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 968*; 8.  Richie Crampton, 840*; 9.  Clay Millican, 822; 10.  (tie) Terry McMillen, 637; Leah Pritchett, 637.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,413**; 2.  Courtney Force, 1,198*; 3.  Del Worsham, 1,192*; 4.  Jack Beckman, 1,146*; 5.  Matt Hagan, 1,115*; 6.  Robert Hight, 1,040*; 7.  John Force, 1,003*; 8.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 999*; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 915*; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 765.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line, 1,761*; 2.  Greg Anderson, 1,683*; 3.  Bo Butner, 1,207*; 4.  Allen Johnson, 1,054*; 5.  Vincent Nobile, 1,004*; 6.  Drew Skillman, 953*; 7.  Shane Gray, 825; 8.  Chris McGaha, 802; 9.  Erica Enders, 742; 10.  Jeg Coughlin, 729.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 898*; 2.  Andrew Hines, 856*; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 659*; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 651*; 5.  LE Tonglet, 522*; 6.  Hector Arana, 459; 7.  Chip Ellis, 454; 8.  Matt Smith, 402; 9.  Hector Arana Jr, 386; 10.  Steve Johnson, 331.

* Clinched berth in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship

** Clinched No. 1 spot in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship

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Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”