NHRA: Ageless John Force takes first step towards 17th title, wins Countdown opener

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Drag racing is a sport of numbers – but 67-year-old John Force proved Sunday that age is not one of them.

The winningest driver in NHRA history, Force kicked off his bid for what he hopes ultimately results in his record 17th Funny Car championship, earning his 146th career national event victory in Sunday’s Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in suburban Charlotte.

“I love this job,” Force said of his third win of the season. “Being old is all in your head, trust me. We’re going to give you a show in this Countdown. We may not win it, but I’ll be in the hunt.”

Force (3.946 seconds at 324.05 mph) held off a strong run by Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.987 seconds at 315.71 mph) to open the six-race Countdown on the right foot. Force moves up to third place in the standings with the win.

Five races now remain in the playoffs for all four professional classes, with the next race this coming weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis.

In Top Fuel, Antron Brown took the first step towards repeating last year’s championship and to earn his third overall Top Fuel title in the last five seasons.

Brown (3.763 seconds at 319.29 mph) defeated Doug Kalitta (3.811 seconds at 320.28 mph), who is seeking his first career Top Fuel championship, in Sunday’s final round. It was Brown’s fifth win of the season.

“When the competition rises up, it makes us rise up,” said Brown, who recorded his 59th career NHRA win, including 43 in Top Fuel.

It was Brown’s second consecutive win at Charlotte to kick off the Countdown, having also won last year’s event.

“I’m dreaming right now. Somebody needs to come pinch me,” Brown said. “When you come here, this is how you want to start the Countdown off … We just kept digging. That was the key. Just keep digging. The track got to be the hottest it’s been all year long (132 degrees). We had to navigate it and we had to face some of the toughest matchups we’ve had all year … We put the work in today and we were fortunate enough to win.”

In Pro Stock, Jason Line (6.621 seconds at 209.39 mph) earned his series-high eighth win of the season, defeating teammate Greg Anderson (6.639 seconds at 209.20 mph).

“It was a great day for us,” Line said. “If you want to win the championship you’ve just got to come out smoking. To race Greg in the final is a great thing. It’s good, but it’s bad because he’s the last guy you want to see over there in the final. He gets the best of me most of the time, but today was my day.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Chip Ellis (6.879 seconds at 194.88 mph) pulled off a huge upset in the final round, defeating defending series champion and points leader Andrew Hines (6.908 seconds at 193.49 mph).

It was Ellis’ seventh career PSM win — but also his first since 2008.

“This is the most important win of my career, just for (team owner Junior) Pittman,” Ellis said. “I’m really proud to be a part of his team. It’s an amazing deal. We work really hard, putting in a lot of hours … Our bike is amazing. Our guys are doing a great job on the bike and it showed this weekend.”

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FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Doug Kalitta; 3.  Wayne Newby; 4.  Pat Dakin; 5.  Brittany Force; 6.  Leah Pritchett; 7.  Steve Torrence; 8.  Cameron Ferre; 9.  Shawn Langdon; 10.  J.R. Todd; 11.  Scott Palmer; 12.  Ike Maier; 13.  Clay Millican; 14.  Tony Schumacher; 15.  Richie Crampton; 16.  Chris Karamesines.

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

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Vincent Nobile; 4.  Alex Laughlin; 5.  Bo Butner; 6.  Chris McGaha; 7.  Jeg Coughlin; 8.  Shane Gray; 9.  Curt Steinbach; 10.  Allen Johnson; 11.  Matt Hartford; 12.  Kenny Delco; 13.  Shane Tucker; 14.  Drew Skillman; 15.  John Gaydosh Jr; 16.  Alan Prusiensky.

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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Antron Brown, 3.763 seconds, 319.29 mph  def. Doug Kalitta, 3.811 seconds, 320.28 mph.

FUNNY CAR: John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.946, 324.05  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.987, 315.71.

PRO STOCK: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.621, 209.39  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.639, 209.20.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.879, 194.88  def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.908, 193.49.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Leah Pritchett, 3.840, 310.20 def. Richie Crampton, 7.051, 97.33; Antron Brown, 3.762, 318.99 def. Clay Millican, 5.606, 117.33; Brittany Force, 3.759, 321.81 def. Chris Karamesines, Broke; Doug Kalitta, 3.768, 324.20 def. Ike Maier, 5.535, 128.37; Cameron Ferre, 4.138, 226.73 def. Tony Schumacher, 6.860, 99.72; Steve Torrence, 4.416, 240.47 def. Scott Palmer, 4.849, 152.16; Wayne Newby, 3.982, 246.71 def. Shawn Langdon, 4.121, 263.36; Pat Dakin, 3.811, 319.90 def. J.R. Todd, 4.667, 173.85; QUARTERFINALS — Newby, 3.849, 316.90 def. Torrence, 3.843, 280.25; Dakin, 5.327, 127.65 def. Ferre, Broke – No Show; Kalitta, 3.817, 320.20 def. Pritchett, 3.836, 320.13; Brown, 3.796, 319.60 def. Force, 3.797, 320.97; SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.879, 311.13 def. Newby, 4.096, 225.41; Brown, 3.870, 311.85 def. Dakin, 6.090, 101.73; FINAL — Brown, 3.763, 319.29 def. Kalitta, 3.811, 320.28.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 5.330, 132.70 def. Bob Gilbertson, Chevy Monte Carlo, Broke; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.972, 318.99 def. John Hale, Charger, 26.289, 23.60; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.965, 324.75 def. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 4.295, 271.19; John Bojec, Toyota Solara, 4.059, 308.78 def. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, Foul – Centerline; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.976, 321.12 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.275, 220.37; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.029, 312.28 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.172, 253.99; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.916, 327.51 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.828, 175.25; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.975, 323.89 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.024, 308.85; QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 4.013, 319.90 def. Wilkerson, 7.401, 103.50; Capps, 3.983, 314.31 def. Hight, 4.008, 320.51; Worsham, 4.045, 317.34 def. Bojec, Foul – Red Light; Johnson Jr., 3.970, 320.74 def. Hagan, 3.992, 322.11; SEMIFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.949, 321.19 def. Worsham, 3.990, 322.27; J. Force, 3.957, 323.27 def. Capps, 4.003, 317.57; FINAL — J. Force, 3.946, 324.05 def. Johnson Jr., 3.987, 315.71.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.689, 207.72 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.718, 208.52; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.649, 208.97 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.708, 207.75; Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.687, 206.76 def. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.703, 207.98; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.658, 208.36 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.714, 207.40; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.624, 209.17 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.736, 205.94; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.639, 208.94 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.715, 207.46; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.642, 209.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.762, 205.35; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.637, 208.49 def. Curt Steinbach, Camaro, 6.700, 206.07; QUARTERFINALS — Anderson, 6.663, 208.39 def. McGaha, 6.690, 208.10; Line, 6.642, 209.01 def. Butner, 6.672, 209.75; Nobile, 6.660, 207.94 def. Coughlin, 6.705, 206.61; Laughlin, 6.681, 208.78 def. Gray, 6.952, 209.01; SEMIFINALS — Anderson, 6.673, 208.59 def. Laughlin, 6.674, 209.36; Line, 6.630, 209.20 def. Nobile, 6.646, 209.30; FINAL — Line, 6.621, 209.39 def. Anderson, 6.639, 209.20.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.924, 193.29 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.895, 194.21; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.920, 193.07 def. Matt Smith, 6.915, 192.03; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.875, 194.74 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.959, 191.92; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 10.044, 97.19 def. Mark Paquette, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.971, 190.16 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, 7.073, 188.15; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.884, 195.25 def. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.997, 192.30; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.932, 194.18 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.948, 193.74; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.901, 194.86 def. Hector Arana, Buell, Broke; QUARTERFINALS — Underdahl, 6.956, 192.49 def. Stoffer, 7.011, 193.32; Sampey, 6.896, 194.02 def. Arana Jr, 6.954, 193.74; Ellis, 6.905, 194.24 def. Tonglet, 7.125, 174.93; Hines, 6.921, 193.29 def. Johnson, 6.926, 192.74; SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.955, 191.40 def. Underdahl, 6.972, 194.44; Ellis, 6.890, 194.16 def. Sampey, 10.377, 77.18; FINAL — Ellis, 6.879, 194.88 def. Hines, 6.908, 193.49.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,226; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,184; 3.  Steve Torrence, 2,126; 4.  Brittany Force, 2,110; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 2,099; 6.  J.R. Todd, 2,074; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 2,067; 8.  Leah Pritchett, 2,054; 9.  Clay Millican, 2,052; 10.  Richie Crampton, 2,046.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 2,194; 2.  Del Worsham, 2,152; 3.  John Force, 2,144; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,132; 5.  Matt Hagan, 2,122; 6.  Courtney Force, 2,094; 7.  Robert Hight, 2,093; 8.  Jack Beckman, 2,084; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,067; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,036.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line, 2,233; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,183; 3.  Vincent Nobile, 2,129; 4.  Bo Butner, 2,123; 5.  Allen Johnson, 2,095; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,082; 7.  Shane Gray, 2,081; 8.  Drew Skillman, 2,073; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,052; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,020.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,205; 2.  Chip Ellis, 2,161; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 2,156; 4.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,120; 5.  LE Tonglet, 2,106; 6.  Jerry Savoie, 2,099; 7.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,083; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,052; 9.  Matt Smith, 2,042; 10.  Cory Reed, 2,032.

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Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.