NHRA: John Force, Schumacher, Gray, Krawiec chomp down Gatornationals wins

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You might say John Force, Tony Schumacher, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec were chomping at the bit coming into this weekend’s NHRA national event in Gainesville, Florida.

Maybe it was the race’s name – the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. But whatever the reason, the four drivers bit off all they could chew and then some, with each earning their first wins of the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

A record 16-time Funny Car champion, the seemingly ageless Force (for the record, he turns 68 in May) extended his streak as the NHRA’s winningest driver, earning the 148th national event win of his career.

Force (3.928 seconds at 328.14 mph) defeated Jonnie Lindberg (3.971 at 314.83) in Sunday’s Funny Car final round to capture the victory – his eighth career Gatornationals win.

“I found myself,” Force said. “A lot of things are about heart, and about luck. You always feel somebody up there likes you.

“I believe hard work, dedication and what we went though, it’s been a draining day. I’m not accepting that I’m done. I’ve been real lucky.”

In addition to the event win, Force’s final round triumph was the 2,500th Funny Car round-win for John Force Racing.

In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher, an eight-time national champion, extended his own mark as winningest driver in Top Fuel history, earning the 83rd win of his career.

Schumacher (3.703 seconds, 329.26 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and two-time defending (and three times in the last five seasons) Top Fuel champ Antron Brown (3.764 seconds at 322.65 mph).

It was also Schumacher’s fifth career Gatornationals Top Fuel, both an event and Gainesville Raceway track record.

“We have great, great people working together. I’m loving driving the car,” Schumacher said in a media release. “We’re in the fight every day, every race.”

This weekend marked the third race of the 24-race 2017 campaign. Leah Pritchett won the first two races (Pomona, California and Phoenix), but DSR teammate Schumacher is ready to have his time in the spotlight now.

“It’s going to be a fun year, man,” Schumacher said. “I’m comfortable driving the car. It’s running right down the middle. It’s running extremely fast. It doesn’t have any part on the race track where I feel that I’m in danger. It’s doing everything that a driver dreams about sitting in a Top Fuel car.”

In Pro Stock, Gray (6.535 seconds at 212.96 mph) earned his sixth career win, defeating Greg Anderson (6.560 at 213.43).

“I wasn’t supposed to win,” Gray said. “When you’re testing parts you’re just not supposed to win which is basically what we’re doing with my car.

“We had a lucky day today. There were some round wins when the car pulled me out of the hole and there were a couple rounds where I pulled the car out of the hole. It was a complete team effort today.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three-time champ Krawiec just barely missed breaking the 200 mph barrier (6.763 seconds at 199.76 mph), defeating teammate and fellow Harley Davidson rider Andrew Hines (6.802, 197.10).

It was Krawiec’s 37th career PSM win and fifth in the Gatornationals.

It also was the first race of PSM’s 16-race season.

“This helps set the pace for the year,” Krawiec said. “Get that first win off your back, keep that momentum rolling, get the points.

“You know once you win one or two races you kind of solidify your spot. With the extra competitive class we have this year it definitely helps.

“There’s a lot of great motorcycles. My Harley-Davidson this weekend really has been really fast, we just haven’t been able to harness that power and get it sorted out. I think as the year goes on we’re going to get better.”

The NHRA’s next national event is in two weeks (March 31-April 2) at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER

TOP FUEL: 1.  Tony Schumacher; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  Doug Kalitta; 4.  Steve Torrence; 5.  Leah Pritchett; 6.  Clay Millican; 7.  Brittany Force; 8.  Troy Coughlin Jr.; 9.  Ike Maier; 10.  Chris Karamesines; 11.  Terry McMillen; 12.  Shawn Reed; 13.  Smax Smith; 14.  Pat Dakin; 15.  Scott Palmer; 16.  Larry Dixon.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  John Force; 2.  Jonnie Lindberg; 3.  Matt Hagan; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 5.  Robert Hight; 6.  Jack Beckman; 7.  Jim Campbell; 8.  Ron Capps; 9.  Tim Wilkerson; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Bob Tasca III; 12.  Dave Richards; 13.  Courtney Force; 14.  J.R. Todd; 15.  Del Worsham; 16.  Cruz Pedregon.

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

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Eddie Krawiec; 2.  Andrew Hines; 3.  Joey Gladstone; 4.  Steve Johnson; 5.  Jerry Savoie; 6.  LE Tonglet; 7.  Scotty Pollacheck; 8.  Matt Smith; 9.  Hector Arana; 10.  Cory Reed; 11.  Angie Smith; 12.  Melissa Surber; 13.  Mike Berry; 14.  Angelle Sampey; 15.  Karen Stoffer; 16.  Hector Arana Jr.

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FINAL RESULTS

TOP FUEL: Tony Schumacher, 3.703 seconds, 329.26 mph  def. Antron Brown, 3.764 seconds, 322.65 mph.

FUNNY CAR: John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.928, 328.14  def. Jonnie Lindberg, Toyota Camry, 3.971, 314.83.

PRO STOCK: Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.535, 212.96  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.560, 213.43.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.763, 199.76  def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.802, 197.10.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Clay Millican, 3.741, 315.42 def. Terry McMillen, 5.345, 135.21; Leah Pritchett, 3.716, 323.12 def. Scott Palmer, Broke; Brittany Force, 3.716, 328.54 def. Larry Dixon, Broke; Tony Schumacher, 3.724, 321.27 def. Smax Smith, Foul – Red Light; Doug Kalitta, 3.706, 328.70 def. Ike Maier, 3.929, 289.69; Antron Brown, 3.711, 327.98 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.157, 231.00; Steve Torrence, 3.740, 325.22 def. Shawn Reed, 5.467, 120.80; Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.724, 322.42 def. Pat Dakin, Foul – Red Light;

QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.751, 326.24 def. Millican, 3.776, 322.42; Torrence, 3.759, 325.77 def. Force, 6.507, 90.02; Brown, 3.787, 321.42 def. Coughlin Jr., Foul – Outer Boundary; Kalitta, 3.754, 325.14 def. Pritchett, 3.738, 323.97;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.719, 326.24 def. Kalitta, 3.738, 327.03; Schumacher, 3.715, 326.40 def. Torrence, 4.069, 266.64;

FINAL — Schumacher, 3.703, 329.26 def. Brown, 3.764, 322.65.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.863, 328.46 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 12.342, 71.13; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.828, 334.82 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.967, 321.04; John Force, Camaro, 3.881, 331.45 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 10.453, 77.20; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.898, 331.94 def. Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.054, 287.05; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.370, 209.26 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 6.531, 104.87; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.895, 330.96 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.925, 328.46; Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 4.735, 187.05 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 10.000, 74.70; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.899, 329.83 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.906, 327.66;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 6.019, 177.37 def. Campbell, 8.841, 109.74; Lindberg, 3.980, 322.19 def. Hight, 7.776, 89.83; J. Force, 3.916, 328.14 def. Beckman, 8.835, 82.48; Hagan,  def. Capps, Foul – Centerline;

SEMIFINALS — Lindberg, 3.948, 324.98 def. Hagan, 4.300, 244.69; J. Force, 3.955, 324.05 def. Johnson Jr., 5.544, 134.32;

FINAL — J. Force, 3.928, 328.14 def. Lindberg, 3.971, 314.83.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.558, 213.06 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.539, 212.93; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.529, 212.46 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.523, 212.79; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.526, 211.73 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.557, 211.93; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.502, 213.91 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.551, 211.96; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.521, 213.33 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.584, 208.84; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.481, 213.84 was unopposed; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.495, 214.18 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.493, 213.87 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.566, 211.13;

QUARTERFINALS — Anderson, 6.565, 212.90 def. Coughlin, 11.527, 77.14; McGaha, 6.540, 212.73 def. Butner, 6.578, 213.54; S. Gray, 6.518, 213.13 def. Enders, 12.220, 71.88; Line, 6.513, 213.64 def. T. Gray, Broke;

SEMIFINALS — S. Gray, 7.116, 207.18 def. McGaha, 17.189, 46.84; Anderson, 6.543, 212.90 def. Line, 6.542, 213.37;

FINAL — S. Gray, 6.535, 212.96 def. Anderson, 6.560, 213.43.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.790, 197.22 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, Broke; Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.876, 194.41 def. Hector Arana, Buell, Foul – Red Light; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.805, 197.19 def. Cory Reed, 6.952, 190.16; Matt Smith, 6.826, 195.99 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, Broke; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.764, 198.52 def. Angelle Sampey, 10.641, 69.49; Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.881, 195.65 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.965, 186.30; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.888, 194.32 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.977, 191.78; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.876, 195.31 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.956, 192.08;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson, 6.863, 195.08 def. Savoie, 6.803, 197.39; Gladstone, 6.839, 195.96 def. Tonglet, 6.839, 196.04; Krawiec, 6.793, 197.65 def. M. Smith, 6.901, 192.63; Hines, 6.827, 196.27 def. Pollacheck, 6.870, 194.41;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.793, 197.36 def. Johnson, 9.767, 77.55; Krawiec, 6.766, 198.70 def. Gladstone, 6.886, 195.85;

FINAL — Krawiec, 6.763, 199.76 def. Hines, 6.802, 197.10.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS

TOP FUEL: 1.  Leah Pritchett, 300; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 279; 3.  Antron Brown, 243; 4.  Doug Kalitta, 220; 5.  Brittany Force, 202; 6.  Steve Torrence, 185; 7.  Troy Coughlin Jr., 143; 8.  Shawn Reed, 136; 9.  Clay Millican, 133; 10.  Scott Palmer, 116.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Matt Hagan, 308; 2.  John Force, 238; 3.  Ron Capps, 235; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 209; 5.  Courtney Force, 177; 6.  Robert Hight, 150; 7.  Jim Campbell, 148; 8.  Jack Beckman, 144; 9.  J.R. Todd, 138; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 117.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Greg Anderson, 319; 2.  Jason Line, 281; 3.  Shane Gray, 226; 4.  Bo Butner, 198; 5.  Jeg Coughlin, 187; 6.  Tanner Gray, 181; 7.  Erica Enders, 167; 8.  Drew Skillman, 157; 9.  Vincent Nobile, 149; 10.  Chris McGaha, 139.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 120; 2.  Andrew Hines, 97; 3.  Joey Gladstone, 81; 4.  Steve Johnson, 74; 5.  Jerry Savoie, 63; 6.  LE Tonglet, 58; 7.  (tie) Scotty Pollacheck, 52; Matt Smith, 52; 9.  Hector Arana, 36; 10.  Hector Arana Jr, 35.

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Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”