They pretty much threw out the form book at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway near Houston.
True, Cruz Pedregon broke through to become the first two-time winner in the Funny Car category in 2013. And Hector Arana Jr. maintained his perfect record by claiming his third Pro Stock Motorcycle event in three attempts this year.
But Pro Stock produced a new-for-2013 winner in the form of 2011 category champion Jason Line. And the biggest surprise came in Top Fuel, where the dominant Don Schumacher Racing team didn’t advance beyond the second round of eliminations, allowing Bob Vandergriff Jr. to score a popular victory.
Vandergriff, following a personal tradition, jogged from the finish line back to the start line to join his crew in celebrating his third career Top Fuel event win.
It was a banner weekend for Bob Vandergriff Racing, as the team expanded to run three cars, adding a third entry for J.R. Todd alongside regular runners Vandergriff and Clay Millican. In addition, the team had more than 700 guests on hand from sponsor C&J Energy Services.
[+] EnlargeBob Vandergriff Jr.
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
Bob Vandergriff Jr. hoists his Wally after winning the Top Fuel event at Royal Purple Raceway on Sunday.
After starting his career 0-13 in final-round matchups, Vandergriff has won his past three.
“What a great day!” the 48-year old exclaimed to the live ESPN2 television audience after a winning pass of 3.904 seconds/316.38 mph.
“It’s always great to win, but you couldn’t pick a better place to win than Houston. You couldn’t write a movie like that. Great for our guys — we did a great job and we just kept battling and battling to get to go out on the racetrack. And we finally did. All three teams helped us out for the final round.”
Later, he told reporters: “After qualifying, winning this race was the farthest thing from my mind. We just started picking away and got to the point where we made a great run in the final.”
Tricky weather conditions undoubtedly helped shake up the results at Houston as rain ruled out most of Saturday’s final qualifying round and washed the accumulated rubber off the track surface.
Several high-profile teams struggled to adapt, most notably Don Schumacher Racing and John Force Racing.
DSR failed to put a car in the final round of Top Fuel or Funny Car for the first time since July 10, 2011, at Route 66 Raceway.
Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown failed to advance past the first round, with Brown losing out to No. 14 qualifier Vandergriff after lining up as the No. 4 seed.
“We’re really disappointed with our result this weekend,” Brown said. “The track got really tricky for everybody. That’s just what happens sometimes. The track just didn’t come around and we just got beat.
“You can’t take Bob Vandergriff or anyone in this class lightly.”
In Funny Car, the lack of JFR and DSR cars beyond the first two rounds produced a final-round matchup of Pedregon’s Toyota Camry versus Tim Wilkerson’s Ford Mustang.
Wilkerson smoked the tires while Pedregon laid down a 4.246-second/296.96 mph run to earn his second win of the season.
“Today was a challenging day, dealing with the track conditions,” said Pedregon, who serves as his own crew chief.
Laughing, he added: “I had to whack my crew chief just once because he went over-center a bit on the tuneup for the first round, but after that everything was good. It takes a totally different mindset to run a 4.18 and a pair of 4.20s like we did today [in the preliminary elimination rounds], and we did some things to the car that we’ve never done before. It was a great weekend all around.”
Line scored the 30th Pro Stock win of his career but the first since October 2012 at Charlotte.
He and fellow finalist Shane Gray covered the 1,000 feet in an identical 6.589 seconds, but Line’s reaction-time advantage of 0.007 seconds (0.048 versus Line’s 0.055) made the difference.
“We’ve been trying to win a race since Pomona, but until now, we haven’t been able to do it. so this was a good win,” Line remarked. “It was very difficult to win with today’s conditions, especially because we’ve been lost [with our tuneup]. Even in the first round today, which was my fastest run, it was a disaster.
“The big difference this weekend is that we made six good runs in a row, and the car responded well to the changes in our tuneup,” Line said. “That’s the first time we’ve been able to do that in a while.”
Riding a Buell, Arana is off to a dominant start in Pro Stock Motorcycle, adding a win at Houston to the ones he already earned this year.
Arana is just the third racer in Pro Stock Motorcycle history to win the first three events of the season, joining Matt Hines and Dave Schultz.
“This feels great,” said Arana, who beat his father, Hector Arana Sr., in the second round and Scotty Pollacheck in the final with a 6.912-second, 194.74 mph pass.
“Of the three wins, this was the most nervous I’ve been because I know how hard it is to keep going,” Arana Jr. said. “There are so many excellent riders out here. My bike has not been the fastest, but we’ve been the most consistent. As a rider, I’ve also been very consistent, and that’s a lethal combination. We just want to keep going.”
The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues with the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway May 3-5.