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Ladies Day in Las Vegas: Brittany Force, Enders among NHRA winners

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Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Brittany Force (Top Fuel) not only celebrated the 150th and 151st wins by females in NHRA pro drag racing history Sunday in the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, they also significantly tightened the battle for their respective championships with just one race remaining in the season.

Other winners in the penultimate event of the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s how Sunday’s final rounds in the fifth race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs played out:

In Top Fuel: Force, daughter of 16-time Funny Car champion and the winningest driver in NHRA history, John Force, capped off a spectacular weekend that included recording the fastest pass in Top Fuel annals at 338.17 mph during Friday’s qualifying session (she also holds the quickest record in Top Fuel history, as well).

Force (3.652 seconds at 334.73 mph) defeated points leader and defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence (3.719 seconds at 330.63 mph) in Sunday’s final round – the 900th Top Fuel race in NHRA history. Force is now just 16 points behind Torrence heading into the season finale November 17 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

It was Force’s 10th win of her career. She won the Top Fuel championship in 2017 and is seeking her second title in three seasons.

This weekend has been incredible for this team,” Force said. “I’ve always wanted to win here. We set the MPH record here and we’ve accomplished a lot, but what we’re really going after is a championship together. I felt good coming in and we got the job done.

It was pretty cool to (win) 151 and 150 with Erica today. David Grubnic has been awesome to work with and I’m very blessed to have him as my crew chief. I want to go straight to Pomona and I’m going to do everything I can to stay in this thing. I’ll be ready when Pomona gets here. We’ve been there before and we want to do it again with this Advance Auto Parts team.”

In Funny Car: Hagan (3.876 seconds at 331.36 mph) earned his second consecutive win, defeating Jonnie Lindberg (3.945 seconds at 321.12 mph). The win moves Hagan to third in the points, just 56 points behind Funny Car points leader Robert Hight and 10 points behind second-ranked Jack Beckman. It was Hagan’s fourth win of the season and 33rd of his career.

I’m excited and fired up right now,” Hagan said. “When you have that opportunity to come into Pomona still in the championship hunt, that is why we do this. That’s what gets me fired up and motivated.

I’m just so proud of my guys. They’re killing it and they all just rise to occasion. I feed off that and coming into Pomona, I wish it were tomorrow. To come out and turn four win lights on at a Dodge-sponsored race, that’s a fairy tale. It’s hard to win back-to-back races, and it just shows you what we’re capable of. We’re going into Pomona and we’re going to work as hard as we can.”

In Pro Stock: Enders (6.617 seconds at 208.04 mph) closed in on her third Pro Stock championship, earning her second win of the season and 25th of her career, defeating Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.620 seconds at 201.70 mph).

Enders now leads Coughlin by a fairly commanding 92-point edge for the Pro Stock crown. And if past history is any indication, Enders potentially has championship No. 3 all but locked up: her first two championships included wins in the fall race in Las Vegas, as well.

My guys just keep on giving me a really good racecar,” Enders said. “It’s been a great day and to get the 150th (win by a female), I’m just really proud to be part of the group of such smart, strong, talented females out there.

It was definitely taxing (today) and to have an all-Elite final, that was just the icing on the cake. It was huge to win today and we were able to rise to the occasion. We’re going to go out to Pomona to win the race. Anything can happen and I’ve been part of that. Winning in St. Louis and then Las Vegas, it’s not a big enough cushion for me. I’m excited about the opportunity.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Defending champ Matt Smith earned his first win of the playoffs and second overall win of the season (6.855 seconds at 195.90 mph) over Steve Johnson (6.863 seconds at 194.04 mph).

The win elevates Smith to fourth place in the standings, but he still trails points leader Andrew Hines by 117 points heading to Pomona.

It’s not totally and mathematically over yet,” Smith said. “I told everybody we were going to shoot for the moon in the finals, and it stuck. When it stuck, there’s nobody going to catch us when it runs like that. We just pulled it off in the final and did our job.”

Hines leads Jerry Savoie by 115 as he closes in on his sixth world title.

Here are the final statistics from Sunday’s action:

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FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Brittany Force; 2. Steve Torrence; 3. Billy Torrence; 4. Doug Kalitta; 5. Mike Salinas; 6. Austin Prock; 7. Terry McMillen; 8. Leah Pritchett; 9. Shawn Reed; 10. Clay Millican; 11. Antron Brown; 12. Cameron Ferre; 13. Richie Crampton; 14. Scott Palmer; 15. Pat Dakin; 16. Justin Ashley.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Jonnie Lindberg; 3. Bob Tasca III; 4. Jack Beckman; 5. Robert Hight; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 7. John Force; 8. Cruz Pedregon; 9. Ron Capps; 10. J.R. Todd; 11. Paul Lee; 12. Steven Densham; 13. Tim Wilkerson; 14. Terry Haddock; 15. Jim Campbell; 16. Shawn Langdon.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Jason Line; 4. Bo Butner; 5. Greg Anderson; 6. Aaron Stanfield; 7. Kenny Delco; 8. Alex Laughlin; 9. Chris McGaha; 10. Fernando Cuadra; 11. Steve Graham; 12. Cristian Cuadra; 13. Matt Hartford; 14. Deric Kramer; 15. Shane Tucker; 16. Val Smeland.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith; 2. Steve Johnson; 3. Scotty Pollacheck; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Jerry Savoie; 6. Angelle Sampey; 7. Eddie Krawiec; 8. Angie Smith; 9. Hector Arana Jr; 10. Hector Arana; 11. Kelly Clontz; 12. Ron Tornow; 13. Karen Stoffer; 14. Katie Sullivan; 15. Ryan Oehler; 16. Melissa Surber.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Brittany Force, 3.652 seconds, 334.73 mph def. Steve Torrence, 3.719 seconds, 330.63 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.876, 331.36 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 3.945, 321.12.

PRO STOCK: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.617, 208.04 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.620, 201.70.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Matt Smith, EBR, 6.855, 195.90 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.863, 194.04.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.722, 324.67 def. Shawn Reed, 3.734, 322.58; Austin Prock, 3.743, 331.04 def. Richie Crampton, 4.497, 195.96; Terry McMillen, 3.736, 326.24 def. Antron Brown, 3.908, 318.69; Leah Pritchett, 3.869, 310.55 def. Cameron Ferre, 3.980, 303.16; Brittany Force, 3.689, 333.16 def. Pat Dakin, 7.786, 74.09; Billy Torrence, 3.708, 329.91 def. Justin Ashley, 10.477, 79.27; Mike Salinas, 3.720, 327.98 def. Clay Millican, Foul – Red Light; Steve Torrence, 3.690, 328.62 def. Scott Palmer, 6.643, 99.16; QUARTERFINALS — Kalitta, 3.737, 323.81 def. Pritchett, 9.039, 50.45; B. Torrence, 3.728, 320.28 def. McMillen, 3.735, 327.66; Force, 3.709, 330.72 def. Prock, 3.732, 331.69; S. Torrence, 3.712, 326.79 def. Salinas, 3.704, 330.55; SEMIFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.689, 330.55 def. Kalitta, Broke; Force, 3.714, 329.99 def. B. Torrence, 3.710, 332.10; FINAL — Force, 3.652, 334.73 def. S. Torrence, 3.719, 330.63.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Cruz Pedregon, Dodge Charger, 4.015, 289.82 def. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 7.723, 104.15; Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 3.893, 326.00 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.913, 327.90; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.927, 325.92 def. Steven Densham, Mustang, 3.958, 320.20; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.879, 329.67 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.048, 306.81; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.894, 327.27 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.160, 299.93; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.911, 329.83 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.911, 329.67; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.909, 332.34 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.927, 325.45; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.893, 329.75 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.970, 315.64; QUARTERFINALS — Lindberg, 3.899, 328.54 def. Pedregon, 4.039, 290.26; Hagan, 3.869, 330.31 def. Johnson Jr., 3.907, 328.54; Beckman, 3.907, 325.92 def. Hight, 3.891, 329.75; Tasca III, 3.891, 331.61 def. Force, 4.027, 321.73; SEMIFINALS — Lindberg, 3.930, 325.30 def. Beckman, 3.915, 330.07; Hagan, 3.881, 331.77 def. Tasca III, 3.909, 326.48; FINAL — Hagan, 3.876, 331.36 def. Lindberg, 3.945, 321.12.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.625, 206.70 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.698, 205.69; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.636, 206.10 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.653, 207.37; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.629, 207.85 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.622, 205.91 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.656, 206.64; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.611, 205.98 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 12.221, 70.90; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.650, 206.57 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 7.102, 154.07; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.603, 207.62 def. Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.631, 206.73 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.672, 205.69; QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.631, 207.53 def. Laughlin, 7.043, 188.86; Coughlin, 6.624, 206.07 def. Stanfield, 6.650, 207.30; Butner, 6.623, 205.91 def. Delco, 6.832, 171.40; Line, 6.649, 206.89 def. Anderson, 6.628, 206.39; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.631, 206.32 def. Line, 6.641, 207.18; Enders, 6.638, 207.46 def. Butner, 6.645, 206.20; FINAL — Enders, 6.617, 208.04 def. Coughlin, 6.620, 201.70.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Angie Smith, 6.994, 191.92 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.105, 192.99; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.915, 192.22 def. Hector Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light; Scotty Pollacheck, 6.917, 194.46 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.910, 193.79 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, 11.776, 61.13; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.875, 195.05 def. Ryan Oehler, 7.446, 190.54; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.860, 192.55 def. Ron Tornow, Buell, 7.100, 185.69; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.902, 195.19 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.006, 190.16; Matt Smith, 6.897, 196.99 def. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.153, 184.65; QUARTERFINALS — Pollacheck, 6.926, 194.21 def. Krawiec, 6.960, 192.82; M. Smith, 6.903, 195.85 def. A. Smith, 6.970, 192.91; Johnson, 6.888, 189.92 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light; Hines, 6.937, 193.54 def. Savoie, 6.901, 194.58; SEMIFINALS — M. Smith, 6.895, 196.19 def. Hines, Foul – Red Light; Johnson, 6.876, 193.82 def. Pollacheck, 6.953, 194.83; FINAL — M. Smith, 6.855, 195.90 def. Johnson, 6.863, 194.04.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,488; 2. Brittany Force, 2,472; 3. Doug Kalitta, 2,433; 4. Billy Torrence, 2,402; 5. Leah Pritchett, 2,353; 6. Austin Prock, 2,330; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,322; 8. Antron Brown, 2,279; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,261; 10. Clay Millican, 2,241.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,494; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,448; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,438; 4. John Force, 2,422; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,390; 6. Ron Capps, 2,334; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,312; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,306; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,274; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,223.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,517; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,425; 3. Bo Butner, 2,404; 4. Jason Line, 2,401; 5. Matt Hartford, 2,399; 6. Greg Anderson, 2,360; 7. Deric Kramer, 2,359; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,291; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,250; 10. Val Smeland, 2,155.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,540; 2. Jerry Savoie, 2,425; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,424; 4. Matt Smith, 2,423; 5. Karen Stoffer, 2,416; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,306; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,302; 8. Angie Smith, 2,233; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,191; 10. Hector Arana, 2,160.

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NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

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The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

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Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

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When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

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Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

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