NHRA: Antron Brown, Matt Hagan score Route 66 wins on weekend remembering Don Schumacher

Hagan tops John Force in Funny Cars final

Antron Brown wins the Top Fuel final at the NHRA’s Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway on Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Joliet.

JOLIET – There was a common denominator running through the wins of Antron Brown in Top Fuel and Matt Hagan in Funny Car during Sunday’s finals of the NHRA Gerber Collision and Glass Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

Don Schumacher gave each their first seat in a car in drag racing’s big leagues. In Brown’s case, it was by luring him over from a successful Pro Stock Motorcycle career. In Hagan’s, it was in seeing Hagan beat his drivers at the U.S. Nationals.

Schumacher died in December at 79 after fighting cancer. The boss of Schumacher Electric, long headquartered in the north suburbs, ran dragsters and built a one-car Don Schumacher Racing team into one of the dominant teams in the sport across a quarter-century by finding drivers such as Brown and Hagan.

A memorial service was held at Route 66 on Friday morning, but Sunday felt like a revival meeting with Brown and Hagan first getting their win lights and then speaking fondly of the tough taskmaster whose red shirt was as much a trademark for him as it is for Tiger Woods.

Antron Brown celebrates after winning the Top Fuel championship race at the NHRA’s Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway on Sunday, May 19, 2024 in Joliet.

“I remember winning races here for Don in Top Fuel, and he came over and said, ‘Thank you. You won my home race,’ " Brown recalled. “He’s looking down on all of us now, seeing Matt winning and seeing us win. That was like an old DSR double.”

Brown, now driving for AB Motorsports, knew he had his work cut out going against Shaun Langdon in Sunday’s final.

“You’ve got to step up when you race a team like that,” Brown said after beating Langdon to the finish line by 0.0472 seconds to capture the title, his 75th including Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown lost half his ignition system on the starting line for his opening-round race but survived it and more gremlins in the quarterfinals, beating Jasmine Salines and Justin Ashley. A semifinal win over Steve Torrence set up the title race.

Hagan edged legend John Force in the title race, then thanked Schumacher for hiring him out of the IHRA circuit in 2009.

“I crossed over to Indy [the NHRA’s U.S. Nationals] and outqualified Force, Gary Scelzi and Tommy Johnson Jr. Scelzi was one of Don’s drivers. He and Don were butting heads a little bit. Don strolled through my pit and said, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I don’t know – I’m just here to race.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you sell your hunk of junk and come drive for me?’ That was huge to me.

“He drove me to be the man I am today, to be a four-time world champion.”

John Force, left, and Matt Hagan take off in the Funny Car championship race at the NHRA’s Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway on Sunday, May 19, 2024 in Joliet.

Hagan, the No. 11 seed who now drives for Tony Stewart, took down sixth-seed Ron Capps, third-seed Paul Lee, second-seed Bob Tasca and then Force, the No. 4 seed and NHRA’s all-time winner. Hagan picked up his 51st career victory in denying 75-year-old Force his 157th.

Gaige Herrera won his NHRA-record-tying eighth straight Pro Stock Motorcycle race by knocking off Chase Van Sant in the final. Herrera ran all four rounds Sunday with trap speeds of over 200 mph.

“This is an all-time high for me,” Herrera said.

Dallas Glenn, seeded seventh after qualifying, knocked off three higher seeds en route to the victory in Pro Stock, including fifth-seeded Aaron Stanfield in the championship race. Glenn also won at Route 66 last year.

“I do well at tracks with good starting lines,” Glenn said. “This has some teeth.”

Upsets knocked out the top qualifiers in Top Fuel and Funny Car before the semifinals. Dan Mercier of St. Michel, Quebec, bounced Lincolnshire’s T.J. Zizzo, the Top Fuel top speedster, in the quarterfinals after Zizzo beat Stewart in the first round. Mercier had never won a round before beating Tony Schumacher, Don’s son and another local favorite, in the first round.

Funny Car top qualifier Austin Prock also was ousted in the quarterfinals. Dan Wilkerson beat Prock to the 1,000-foot line by 0.0151 seconds to set up a semifinal showdown with Force.

Pro stock top qualifier Erica Enders also was eliminated, and in the opening round. Enders, who usually dominates at Route 66, fell to 16th-seeded John DeFlorian Jr.

Race fans pack the stands for NHRA’s Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway on Sunday, May 19, 2024 in Joliet.