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Five Things We Learned at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals

What a weekend punctuated by firsts, upsets, surprises and close calls. In the end, it was Gaige Herrera, Dallas Glenn, Matt Hagan and Antron Brown who claimed Wallys and Eric Dillard got the job done in NHRA Pro Mod at the Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance at Route 66 Raceway.

Let’s get right into what we learned from the weekend in the Windy City.

Don Schumacher’s Impact Runs Deep in Drag Racing

KZ Photography photo

One of the underlying themes of the weekend was Don Schumacher and the footprint he left behind in drag racing. The NHRA Route 66 Nationals started on Friday with a Celebration of Life for “The Shoe,” where his son and Top Fuel driver, Tony Schumacher, unveiled a throwback tribute livery on his car at what they considered their home track. The livery paid homage to the 1970 Plymouth Funny Car the elder Schumacher piloted when he won the NHRA U.S. Nationals that same year.

The remembrance of Don didn’t stop there – many drivers throughout the weekend, like TJ Zizzo, Antron Brown, and others, mentioned how the motorsports legend played an intricate part in their careers. 

Pro Stock Rivalries Flare Up 

NHRA photo

It’s safe to say we definitely felt the rivalry between Elite Motorsports and KB Titan in the Windy City. Though the tensions are usually felt in the pit, this time they were at the surface with an extra layer of us vs. them with the GETTRX NHRA Pro Stock All-Star Callout. 

On Friday, Elite Motorsports’ Erica Enders called out KB Titan’s Greg Anderson during the All-Star Callout production, stating, “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.” 

Things didn’t quite go Enders’, the No. 1 seed, way on Saturday when it came down to competing in the race within a race. I definitely didn’t see this one coming – Anderson defeated Enders in the first round of the NHRA Pro Stock Callout after her car and the racing surface failed to work together. What’s more, Anderson went on to win the trophy and the cash from the special race.

Then comes race day. I think, to many’s shock, Enders went out in round one on a holeshot delivered by John DeFlorian, who has been racing in PDRA Extreme Pro Stock and NHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock for several years, then ADRL Extreme Pro Stock and (we believe) a bit of ADRL Pro Nitrous for some time. He currently holds the PDRA XPS E.T. world record with a 4.000. He’s also the shop foreman at Jerry Haas Race Cars.

DeFlorian was driving a backup car for Matt Harford, who had words for Enders after the defeat.

“I didn’t do my job, but John did. He just whipped that red car’s butt,” Hartford said. To which Enders retaliated with, “Matt Hartford likes to chirp a little bit, but as we like to say at Elite Motorsports, ‘What are your credentials?’”

At the end of the day, it was Team KB Dallas Glenn who scored his second straight win at the venue when he defeated Elite’s Aaron Stanfield. Glenn didn’t have much to say about the rivalry other than, “I don’t say too much. I prefer to let my car do the talking.”

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All we can say is, stay tuned.

Eric Dillard Does the Trick as Fill-In Driver

NHRA photo

During an interesting showcase of Pro Mods at Route 66 Raceway, Sunday started with a .000 reaction time, followed by a loss, wild rides that veered towards the centerline and masterful driving by the 16 who made the field.

But it was fill-in driver Eric Dillard who emerged victorious. Dillard was filling in for former world champion Jose Gonzalez and was impressively consistent throughout eliminations in the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by LearnEV+ on Sunday. 

Qualifying second, and going either 5.75 or 5.76 in every round, Dillard defeated Stan Shelton, Justin Bond and Billy Banaka to reach the final round. He left with AlBalooshi and then drove off for the victory to finish off a stellar weekend.

“It’s crazy I even get to come out here and do this,” Dillard said. “I’ve got to thank Jose and this team. They carried me today and I’m just blessed to be able to come out here and race. I can’t thank everybody enough for supporting what we do. This is awesome and I appreciate everyone on this team. It’s all the people behind me. This thing was on point all day. At the end of the day, that’s what teamwork is all about. I got carried today and it felt pretty good.”

This marks the second win for Gonzalez in the 2024 season.

TJ Zizzo Puts on Career Performance at Home Track

Sports is about rooting for the underdog, the home team to win, and this past weekend, that was TJ Zizzo and the Rust-Oleum Top Fuel dragster team. I received a press release earlier in the week headlined “Never Count TJ Zizzo Out in Chicago,” and I must admit that I was excited every time I heard Zizzo’s name, followed by the No. 1 qualifier. During qualifying, Zizzo posted the quickest run in three of the four qualifying sessions for the Top Fuel class, earning nine total bonus points. 

Zizzo made it to the quarterfinals at his home track after he and his crew worked on their new Top Fuel dragster, contributed to the Rust-Oleum team by Don Schumacher, during the offseason. 

“Don Schumacher is one of the major reasons Zizzo Racing is still getting to do what we love at the highest level,” said Zizzo. “He was a great friend and mentor. His impact on racing and the Chicago business community was massive. I think about him every day and every time I go into the shop, I am thankful for every opportunity, every conversation, and the words of encouragement he gave me and our team. He was one of the iconic figures in our sport, and this weekend will be a celebration of his generosity and impact.”

Zizzo faced Canada’s Dan Mercier in a strong side-by-side race that brought the crowd to their feet, but Mercier reached the finish line with a winning elapsed time of 3.842 seconds just in front of Zizzo’s 3.930-second pass.

Zizzo and the Rust-Oleum Top Fuel team will be back in action at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, June 28-30 at Summit Motorsports Park.

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Antron Brown Notches 75th Career Win

Former Pro Stock Motorcycle racer turned three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown secured his first win since last year’s U.S. Nationals. 

It was Brown’s 59th Top Fuel win, joining his 16 victories in Pro Stock Motorcycle to reach the 75-win milestone. Brown also became the winningest nitro racer at Chicago with six wins, tying Jeg Coughlin Jr. for most overall at the facility.  

“Seventy-five wins is huge,” Brown said. “That’s a testament to our whole AB Motorsports organization and all of the partners that help us – Matco Tools, Lucas Oil, Hangsterfer’s, FVP Batteries, Toyota, Sirius XM, FVP and everyone else who’s been a part of this over the years.”

Brown, who also attended the Celebration of Life for Don Schumacher as a previous driver for the super-team, dedicated the win to his former mentor. Schumacher was Brown’s team owner at various points in Brown’s career in both Pro Stock Motorcycle and Top Fuel. He also helped Brown achieve his dream of owning his own team, AB Motorsports.

“For Don Schumacher, our boss, our guy that got us all out here, I’m dedicating this to him and his family,” Brown said. “I got to share the winner’s circle with my old teammate Matt Hagan today, it was like one of those old school DSR double-ups; it brought a tear to my eye.”

Other Notes

Wilgus/John Force Racing photo

Things I didn’t see happening this weekend – Brittany Force not qualifying (in the PEAK TF dragster) and Tony Stewart not making the Top Fuel field until Q4.

The black track was green. Many drivers commented on the state of the racing surface throughout the weekend. Whether it was green, greasy or great, everyone had to get down the same strip. Did lane choice matter? Sure – to some, it’s everything. But also to take into consideration, the track isn’t used but only once a year and that’s where many of the racers and crew were chiming in about a “green track.”

NHRA photo

Oh, and Gaige Herrera, in winning his eighth consecutive race, now ties Dave Schultz for the most consecutive wins in Pro Stock Motorcycle history.

This story was originally published on May 21, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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Since 2005, DI has informed, inspired and educated drag racers from every walk of the racing life - weekend warrior and street/strip enthusiasts to pro-level doorslammer and Top Fuel racers. From award-winning writing and photography to binge-worthy videos to electric live events, DI meets hundreds of thousands of racers where they live, creating the moments that create conversations.