Should John Force reach the final round of today’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, and there is a strong possibility that he will, that will mark the 2,000th round of the Funny Car competition for the all-time winning leader of the NHRA. After a win last week at Topeka, Force entered Brainerd with a record 1,376-620, which was 1,996 rounds. Force made his first appearance at Brainerd Int’l Raceway in 1986 and lost in the first round to Jim Head. He won the first of his 11 Brainerd victories in 1998 when he defeated John A. Martin in the final. Perhaps the most impressive stat of all is Force’s overall winning record at Brainerd Int’l Raceway, which stands at an impressive 78-22.
UPDATE: With its first round loss, Force can reach 2,000 rounds with a semifinal appearance at Indy.
The first NHRA national event held in Brainerd was held in 1983 and the professional champions were certified Hall of Famers Joe Amato (Top Fuel), Kenny Bernstein (Funny Car) and Bob Glidden (Pro Stock). At the same event, the Stock champion was Minnesota Gene Mosbek, which is still running almost 40 years later. Mosbek competed in this year’s Lucas Oil Nationals driving Scott Carlson’s vintage Dodge, but couldn’t replicate his success of previous years by losing to Mike Cotten in the first round.
In one of the most puzzling mysteries of the 2021 season, Kalitta’s team continued to wrestle in the first round at Brainerd with their Top Fuel teammates. Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon both suffered losses. Kalitta, who entered the Brainerd race as the No. 10 seed in the countdown, ran a 3,809 which was not enough to cover Clay Millican’s 3,729. Kalitta will advance to the NHRA playoffs because he’s attended all of the regular season’s events, but barring a dramatic turnaround at Indy, he’ll have plenty of ground to catch up to catch up with the leaders.
Langdon also lost when he smoked the tires against Antron Brown, who had long started with a 3.749. Langdon entered Brainerd as the No.5 seed in Top Fuel, but lost a spot to Mike Salinas. The beauty of the countdown is that anyone who qualifies can win the championship, so there is still time for a fortune reversal, but with just the Dodge // SRT US Nationals looming before the start of the seven-race playoffs. , the clock is definitely ticking.
In drag racing, you don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes you just need to be a little luckier than your opponent and that certainly applies to Paul lee who came off with a first-round victory over former Brainerd winner Bob Bode. Lee’s McLeod Clutches entry dropped one cylinder and he slowed down to 4.320, but that was more than enough to clinch the win after Bode let loose and knocked over a pair of sync blocks with his Arbee Dodge.
Aferwards, Lee described the race as disastrous.
“Burnout has also been kind of a disaster,” Lee said. “If there isn’t an equal amount of water under each tire, one tire will try to catch and the other won’t and it will tend to drag you to the side. It was not good. Then we’ll go to the race and about halfway down the track it locked up, the tires started to spin and leaned slightly and we were lucky to get out of it.
For Lee, the win marked her third win of the season and her first since knocking out Bob Tasca III in the opening round in Denver. Lee entered the Lucas Oil Nationals 122 points from a countdown spot, so he’s a long way from qualifying for the playoffs, but with extra points available at Indy, he’s yet to come out.
After a semi-final last week in Topeka, Blake Alexander scored another big win when he knocked out Alexis DeJoria’s RoKit / Bandero Tequila Toyota in what many have described as the best race of the round. Alexander pushed Jim Head’s Mustang to a 3.939 to stop DeJoria’s 3.940 in a race that was settled by just 0.002 seconds at the finish line. Alexander will face weak qualifier Bob Tasca III in the quarter-finals.
Candidate for the Pro Mod Championship Justin bond got into a mad dash in the first round of the playoffs when his Bahrain1 Camaro made contact with the retaining wall after the finish line. Bond, on a single run, did what appeared to be a perfect 5.76 run, but the drama began shortly after the parachutes deployed. The car made a sharp left turn into the retaining wall, severely damaging the front. Bond stopped the car and quickly climbed on his own, but his day is almost certainly over and it’s likely that Brandon Snider will get his second straight single in the final round.