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June 22. 2014 8:10PM

Capps, Schumacher tops in New England Nationals in Epping


Driver Tony Schumacher is greeted by fans after winning the Top Fuel race final at the 2nd Annual Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping Sunday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

EPPING — National Hot Rod Association drivers Alexis DeJoria and Ron Capps messed up the Force family Funny Car reunion at the Auto-Plus New England Nationals at New England Dragway on Sunday.

No matter.

There were plenty of story angles to go around — including another family one or two — for an afternoon of thunderous engines and tight races under glorious skies for the second NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series visit to the drag strip.

The races — the Funny Car title went to Capps, and Tony Schumacher took top honors in the Top Fuel Division — played to grandstands packed with more than 20,000 fans and a live audience on ESPN.

“It’s been Chamber of Commerce weather all weekend,” said New England Dragway general manager Joe Lombardo. “You can’t beat it. And the fans have been phenomenal.”

Schumacher, a seven-time champion, knocked off Top Fuel points lead Doug Kalitta to earn his second Wally Trophy of the season.

Schumacher, who qualified eighth, got up to 323.27 miles per hour down the quarter-mile drag strip.

Winners get a coveted Wally — a trophy in the likeness of and named for NHRA founder Wally Parks — for their efforts.

“I haven’t seen one of these in a while,” said Capps with his Wally.

“It will be with me on Delta Airlines tomorrow. It will be a fun trip home.”

Capps, who hit 315.19 mph and beat DeJoria in the finals, won his last Funny Car title in August last year at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway.

Capps and Schumacher both drive for Don Schumacher Racing, the team owned by Tony’s drag racing legend of a dad.

“It’s been a long time since both of us have had to stay late for pictures,” Schumacher said.

They liked the feeling.

Tony was delighted to add his Wally to the hardware his family collected this week: His 10-year-old son Michael got a trophy for a youth baseball championship.

Schumacher and Capps said they loved the track and commented on the quality and level of competition.

“It’s scary stout,” Capps said. “I can’t wait to watch (the day’s races) on TV. Talk about side-by-side racing.”

Last year, Courtney Force beat her father in the Funny Car finals here.

They looked to be on a fast-track to a rematch. Then came the semifinals.

John Force had struggled coming into the New England Nationals. He lost in the first round of eliminations each of the past five events.

He got past that hurdle with wins over Matt Hagan in the first round and Robert Hight — the Funny Car season points leader and his son-in-law — the next round Then DeJoria knocked him out in the semifinals and in the process jumped past him in points and took over his No. 2 slot.

Capps knocked Courtney Force out in the semis.

Angie Smith topped Matt Smith, her husband, to win her first Wally in the Pro Stock Motorcycle division in the first NHRA Pro final matching spouses.

She topped out at 191.89 mph and won when Matt’s motor broke.

Dave Connolly beat Jonathan Gray in the Pro Stock finals to close out the Pro divisions.

.

Lombardo was more than happy with the crowds and the weekend.

He didn’t have final numbers, but thought Sunday’s crowd was probably close to 22,000, which would be the best single day attendance in the two years of the event.

“We did about 60,000 people (for the four days) last year and I think we’re going to be over that,” he said. “We had some glitches last year with traffic and parking. I was up working the parking lot yesterday for the better part of the day. People were saying they came last year and were not sure they were coming this year and we’re glad they did. I’ve really got to thank the police. They’ve been awesome.”

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Brian Khoury of Derry was the runnerup on Sunday in the Super Gas division of bracket racing where races must come as close as possible to a finish time they predict ... Kyle Cultrera of Eliot, Maine, was runnerup in Super Comp.

alessels@unionleader.com


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