Matt Hartford was a dream-killer on Sunday at Texas Motorplex. Four-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson came oh-so-close to sealing the deal on the 95th Pro Stock win of his career at this weekend’s AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, but Hartford took umbrage at his charge and squashed the giant’s hopes in the final seconds of the event.
Utilizing KB Racing horsepower and his clutch foot to cut a powerful path through eliminations, Hartford blasted past Chris McGaha in the first round and then scored the victory in the second round over KB Racing cohort Bo Butner. The Total Seal CIP1 Chevrolet Camaro pilot’s semifinals win over Texan Erica Enders was credited to deftness with his left foot; a .008-second reaction time was the decider as he knocked out the incoming points leader on a holeshot, 6.641, 206.76 to a .025 and 6.625, 207.43.
“That semifinal run was the one that really set this day apart for us,” said Hartford. “Obviously everybody is going to say that I strung her out, I was tardy getting in and ask what took me so long to stage, and that’s all the truth. But we have every right to do whatever we want. She pre-staged fairly quickly, and I just decided I was going to take my time, relax, take a couple of deep breaths, and not be in a hurry. There was a lot on the line.”
Hartford’s disposal of Enders was impressive and particularly beneficial to KB Racing teammate Jason Line and the silver Summit Racing Chevy – Line is thick in the points battle but was eliminated in the second round. At the end of the day, the three-time Pro Stock champion was just 31 points out of the lead with two races remaining on the 2020 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule.
“It was a shorter day than we anticipated for the silver Summit Racing Chevy Camaro, but the good news is that my teammates were helpful in making sure we still have a reasonable shot at the championship,” said Line, who will retire from Pro Stock driving at the conclusion of the year. “Tomorrow is a new day, and we’ll see what Houston [the next event on the tour] holds for us. We’ve got two more races before the Finish Line Tour comes to an end for me, and I’d like to get another one of these trophies.”
On the other side of the ladder from Hartford, Anderson had a tough customer in the first round of eliminations in KB Racing teammate Kyle Koretsky. The rookie Pro Stock driver was on his game in their mid-morning meeting and launched first with a .016-second reaction time, but Anderson came charging from behind in his Summit Racing Chevy with a low-of-the-round 6.566-second pass at 207.85 mph to oust a 6.590, 208.33.
The margin of victory was just .001-second, but it was enough to get the job done, and Anderson’s bold elapsed time was good for lane choice over Alex Laughlin in the second round.
There, Anderson surged ahead to take the lead by half track and kept right on going, illuminating the scoreboard with a winning 6.590, 207.88 to defeat a 6.629, 206.23. The quickest run of the round was exchanged, once again, for lane choice over his competitor – this time in a semifinals meeting with Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Anderson and his well-tuned hot rod held a 57-46 advantage against Coughlin in prior events, and the four-time Pro Stock champ extended the record with a swift 6.612, 207.40 to best a 6.627, 206.07. With the win, the Minnesota native and Mooresville, N.C., transplant was handed a ticket to the 158th final round of his career.
Hartford and his Total Seal team, including longtime crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia, buckled down to prepare for the ninth final round of his career and second this season. He knew he would have his hands full with Anderson in the other lane and left nothing on the table when the two came to the starting line. Hartford launched first with a .018-second reaction time and parlayed the head start into victory with a 6.625, 206.39 to Anderson’s .066 and 6.588 at 207.94.
Anderson took full responsibility for the outcome of their race.
“Today all day, Texas was good to us,” said Anderson. “My Summit Racing Chevy was fantastic, it was the best car I had all year by a mile. But I can’t seem to get the two things together, the car and the driver, to win a race right now. You have to have both of those things just right. My guys did a great job and saved my bacon all day long, and they tried again in the final, but I dropped the ball. I’m not a guy who cuts a .060 light, so I need to figure out what I’m doing wrong. That’s what I’m going to be working on before Houston. If I can get that figured out, we’re going to win.”
For Hartford, the win was particularly sweet as it was the first Pro Stock win in the new era of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
“Our team pulled together and made some good changes, and Greg dominated us on the track – we just left on him,” said Hartford. “For the Total Seal CIP1 Chevy Camaro team, holding the first-ever Camping World Drag Racing Series Wally in Pro Stock will never be forgotten. It’ll be a trivia question in 20 years: who won the first Camping World Series Wally in every category? For me, that’s incredible.
“It was not an easy road to get one of these world-famous Texas Motorplex cowboy hats today. McGaha, Bo, Erica, Greg. But look, we’ve had a really good car all year long. At Gainesville I made a really bad rookie mistake and went red. I screwed up staging and it cost me. We got here and I said, ‘Here’s our redemption. Let’s go ahead and close this deal and win this race.’ And that’s exactly what we did.”
The next stop on the 2020 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series tour is the Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil at Houston Raceway Park, October 23-25.