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RETURN ROAD: The Best and Worst of the NHRA Sonoma Nationals

Once a year, the National Hot Rod Association and the NHRA Mello Yello Series rolls into peaceful Sonoma County, California with enough thundering horsepower to knock the grapes right off their vines. The 28th Annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals was a race to remember for sure, for a number of reasons not limited to those listed below.

The nitro clouds and accompanying marine fog have lifted, the customary Sonoma Champion Goblets have been raised and the teams are moving on to the last leg of the Western Swing in Seattle. It’s time to take a look back at some of the best and worst moments from the NHRA Sonoma Nationals.

Most Jaw-Dropping Performance: Jack Beckman

Two words: Prock Rocket. Jack Beckman and his Jimmy Prock-tuned Infinite Hero Funny Car simply dominated this race. The duo made five three-second runs over the course of the weekend, grabbing the headlines, the number one qualifying position and the NHRA Sonoma Nationals Wally along the way. First it was the stupifying 3.921 elapsed time during the second qualifying session, the quickest Funny Car run in history. Then Beckman ran an equally impressive 3.958, the second-quickest run in history, to back up the national record by just two thousandths of a second. “Fast Jack” didn’t slow much when eliminations started, first dispatching Tony Pedregon and Chad Head with 3.993 and 3.979 ets, respectively. Beckman repeated his semifinal elapsed time to the thousandth of a second in the final round, running 4.037 to defeat Don Schumacher Racing teammate and fellow Terry Chandler-funded driver Tommy Johnson Jr. And in case you forgot, Beckman and Prock also won in Denver last weekend, so they’re still eligible to sweep the Western Swing.

Most Gratifying Moment: Chris McGaha’s First Pro Stock Win

Pro Stock driver Chris McGaha and his family have been chasing an NHRA Wally for some time now – right around 30 years. The Texan started off in the Sportsman ranks and made the leap to Pro Stock in 2011. He’s been close to a win on several occasions, but all of the pieces didn’t come together until last Sunday when he defeated V. Gaines, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Jonathan Gray to take home the coveted first national event Wally. “I really want more, but if I only get one of these (Wally trophies), I can live to be content with that,” McGaha said after the final round.

Worst Luck in Eliminations: Shawn Langdon

Guy Fieri greets fans near the Alan Johnson Racing pits.

Guy Fieri greets fans near the Alan Johnson Racing pits.

2013 Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon and his Alan Johnson Racing team have been struggling this season after losing primary sponsorship, and they definitely wanted to turn that around this weekend. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who is helping the team find a major sponsor, was in attendance with a number of his family and local friends cheering on the team. Langdon was on track to make the quickest run of E1 before a broken camshaft ended his day against former AJR driver Larry Dixon. To make the loss sting even more, the California native dropped two spots to 10th in points.

Best Historic Moment: Too many to Choose from

This was an epic event for the drag racing statisticians out there. From Jack Beckman’s aforementioned performances to Antron Brown’s 35th Top Fuel victory, which ties him on the all-time win list with “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, the event was filled with historic and noteworthy moments. Don Schumacher Racing celebrated their 50th double-up when Brown and Beckman won Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively. For the first time in NHRA history, all four number one qualifiers went on to win the event. Our hat’s off to all of the aforementioned drivers, crew chiefs and teams for playing their part in such a memorable race.

This story was originally published on August 4, 2015. Drag Illustrated

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