NORWALK — In its early goings on Sunday, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals appeared to be a series of upsets.
Yet in one of the final drag races of the day, the difference between winning and losing came down to the width of a steak knife between a pair of top-ten drivers.
Johnny Gray and Ron Capps kept identical, side-by-side paces through the course of Sunday’s Funny Car final before Gray won the title on a hole shot on Sunday at Summit Motor Sports Park. The drivers had identical times of 4.103 seconds on the marquees above the finish line, but Gray edged Capps by 6/1,000ths of a second.
“I didn’t have a clue where Ron was, but I rolled in a little bit and at that last split second I thought, I made the lane choice, and I dug in a little deeper,” said Gray, who is second in the Funny Car points standings, two spots ahead of Capps. “I know Ron did the same thing.
“Everybody said it was just back-and-forth all the way down the race track.”
Gray still had no idea how the race unfolded by the time he reached the finish line. After he found out, he demonstrated the distance between winning and losing by holding his thumb and his forefinger less than an inch apart.
“I asked, what happened to him?’ ” said Gray, who reaffirmed Sunday that this is his final season as a full-time NHRA driver. “And he said, ‘well, I think I got beat about that far.’ Close.”
Gray finished the day as one of four winners in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Khalid al Balooshi won the Top Fuel title, while Mike Edwards won the Pro Stock title and Matt Smith won the Pro Stock Motorcycle title.
The early rounds of eliminations brought about a handful of upsets to set up the afternoon finals.
Chris Karamesines knocked out Tony Schumacher, the seven-time Top Fuel champion and No. 2 qualifier, in the first round of eliminations. Schumacher smoked his tires 300 feet into the run, allowing Karamesines to pass him.
En route to winning the Top Fuel title at Norwalk, al Balooshi defeated Antron Brown for the fourth time in as many meetings.
And Bob Tasca III, who struggled all weekend and qualified 15th in Funny Car competition, eliminated No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight, who lost traction less than 350 feet into the run. Courtney Force, however, dispatched Tasca in the second round of Funny Car competition.
Only al Balooshi, who qualified 10th, continued through the course of eliminations.
“Last year, the last race I lost in the first round on this track,” said al Balooshi, who eliminated Karamesines in the second round and defeated Doug Kalitta for his first event win of the season. “When I won the first trophy, it was this year, and it was here.”
Edwards entered Norwalk as the Pro Stock points leader but had struggled in recent appearances there. Racing against Allen Johnson, the 2012 NHRA Pro Stock Champion, Edwards pulled away when Johnson’s tires shook after the starting line.
“I never could get a handle on this place but, man, does it feel good to finally come here and win a race here,” Edwards said. “We had a car that could really go down the right lane and when we got lane choice before the finals, I was pleased.”
Smith beat Scotty Pollacheck for the Pro Stock Motorcycle title but took on a certain challenge from fellow Pro Stock Motorcycle driver Michael Ray.
Smith said he considers Ray a friend and a rival and beat Ray in the second round of motorcycle competition.
Last Sunday at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Ill., Ray defeated Smith.
“He told me last week, ‘if that’s the best you need to do, then you need to retire,’ ” Smith recalled. “I told him, ‘I’ll show you what I can do the next race.’ ”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.