BRAINERD, Minn. -- At the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, defending Central Region champ Gord Gingles upset reigning national champ Jim Whiteley for his first career national event victory in Top Alcohol Dragster, and Frank Manzo rode a string of 5.50s to what surprisingly is his first national event win all year in Top Alcohol Funny Car.
In the final, Gingles left with a .030-second lead and crossed the finish line first by the same amount when both drivers ran almost identical e.t.s - 5.313 for Gingles and 5.314 for Whiteley, who lost for just the sixth time in 26 career national finals.
Whiteley's J&A Service/YNot Racing blown-alcohol dragster and Gingles' Manitoba-based Bull A/Fueler qualified 1-2 and ran within a hundredth of a second of each other all day. Following a first-round single Saturday afternoon when Dr. Jerry Powell was unable to appear, Gingles ran a 5.28 against many-time national event champion Marty Thacker in round two. Earlier in that round, Whiteley made the only other run in the 5.20s in eliminations, a 5.277 that held up for low e.t., to cover Robin Samsel's 5.43.
Gingles grabbed the upper hand in the semifinals with a 5.30 win over Randy Meyer, who taken out Mark Taliaferro on a huge holeshot the round before, 5.50 to 5.33. Whiteley followed one pair later with a close 5.31 to 5.36 decision over Topeka winner Alan Bradshaw in a battle of former national champs.
In the final, Gingles, who had the best reaction time of the event, .026, in the second round, got the jump on Whiteley, .061 to .091, and won by half a car-length despite Whiteley's six-mph faster speed, 270 to 264. Whiteley also set top speed of the meet at 272.83 mph in qualifying.
In Top Alcohol Funny Car, Manzo won the Minnesota race for the second year in a row, the fourth time in five years, and the seventh time overall, including the inaugural event in 1982. What might have been a side-by-side final ended when Dale Brand, Manzo's nemesis this year, banged the blower at about the 500-foot mark. Manzo cruised to his 100th Top Alcohol Funny Car win and 101st national event title overall with a 5.56, his third mid-.50 of the day, as Brand slowed to a 6.88 at 118 mph.
"The car has been trying to turn the corner for about a month now, but I ruined it every chance I got," Manzo said. "This time, I decided to let the car win the race for me, and it did."
The victory was Manzo's 40th in a row in national event finals, three times more than any other driver in any class in drag racing history. His last national event runner-up was to Jay Payne at the 2006 Winternationals.
Brand eliminated Lance Van Hauen in round one with a 5.62 and Payne in the quarterfinals with a 5.59, then shut off to a 5.66 at just 220 mph on a semifinal single that may have been his most impressive run of the weekend. Manzo, who lost to Brand at the Gatornationals and in the final round of the Cordova regional this year, tested the track on his first-round, single, then took out Annie Whiteley, who narrowly fouled, in round two, and 2011 Brainerd winner Kris Hool, who gave him his best race of the weekend in the semi's, with times of 5.55 (low e.t.), and 5.57.
The win moved Manzo up to sixth in the national standings, 71 points behind leader Tony Bartone. "I'm pretty far behind," he said. "It's going to be tough."
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