Stock Eliminator (along with Super Stock) is a unique category in drag racing, in that it is both a performance-based and a dial-in bracket category. There are 71 different classifications within Stock, and eliminations are conducted in a bracket racing format — with the exception of matchups between two racers within the same classification. In that case, it’s a .500 sportsman tree, heads-up, first-to-the-finish-line, all-out drag race. For that purpose — and because drag racers, even those who are largely bracket racing, are always pursuing better performance and the right to own a national record — competitors toil with their machines in earnest to run quicker and faster than everyone else in their class. And when a couple of cars in the same class line up — particularly cars that are close in elapsed time — it’s always exciting.
The Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis is unequivocally the holy grail of Stock and Super Stock racing, with 160 of the best racers from around the country all in one place at one time to compete for coveted Wally trophies in the heads-up class runoffs that precede the eliminator itself held later in the weekend. For many, it’s the one time all season they get the opportunity to race heads-up and show what their machine is made of.
Class eliminations at Indy creates an electric atmosphere not only for the on-track action, but for the mechanical component and the gamesmanship of it all: racers bring fresh engines, switch to lightweight oil (and even remove oil to reduce parasitic loss), put ice on their intake manifolds, and push the cars through the lanes to keep them cool to give themselves every competitive advantage possible. Many creatively stretch the rules, only adding to the magic of the whole deal.
Ohio’s Matt Antrobius and Texas’ Austin Williams were entered in H/Stock Automatic, one of the most well represented classes at 11 cars strong. Antrobius’ ’89 Camaro clocked a 10.950 in qualifying, well ahead of Williams’ 11.070 in his ’69 Camaro owned by Butch Marlow. Both fell short of the finale as Chris Butcher powered to victory with a class-leading 10.91 on Thursday afternoon. Little did Antrobius and Williams know, however, that they’d get another shot at a Wally in yet another heads-up affair. But it would take another five days to do so.
After a day of tear-down inspections following class eliminations and a second day of further delays due to inclement weather and on-track incidents, the 128-car qualified field of Stock Eliminator cars finally took to the track Sunday morning for the first of seven rounds of competition.
Antrobius and Williams clawed their way through the ensuing rounds on Labor Day as the field whittled itself down to four. Amazingly, out of 160 cars on the property, it came down to three H/SA cars and the lone D/SA of Andrew Hill, assuring a heads-up final and rewarding those who stayed into the late evening hours with an epic drag race with the biggest of prizes — a coveted Indy Wally — on the line.
Antrobius ousted Hill on a breakout run to punch his ticket to the final on his side of the ladder. Williams, for his part, pulled out all the stops moments later to drive around his fellow H/SA opponent, Eddie Brooks, 11.101 to a losing 11.175, after Brooks pinned him to the tree, .021 to .051.
In a day filled with in incredible final round matchups with climactic conclusions, this one was perhaps its most anticipated — yet so few were there to witness it, long after the Mello Yello Series finals had concluded and the crowds had gone home.
High drama! Heads up Stock final at Indy! Watch! #NHRA
Posted by Joe Castello on Monday, September 2, 2019
With ice on the intakes and the engines silent so as to wring every thousandth of a second possible out of their machines, the crews of Antrobius and Williams pushed their cars to the line for a winner-take-all affair under the lights. Based on qualifying, Williams knew there was a strong likelihood he couldn’t run with Antrobius, but he was determined to give it everything he had.
In a fitting conclusion to a raceday that won’t soon be forgotten, Williams, with as much ice in his veins as atop his engine, threw a perfect .000 reaction time — a bag of donuts as announcer Alan Reinhart called it — and held off a charging Antrobius at the stripe,11.058 to a quicker 11.043….116.50 mph to a charging 119.49. It was Williams’ first U.S. Nationals victory, his ninth national event win in all.
“I knew, given the ladder, that there was a possibility of a heads-up race once we got to the fourth round,” Williams explains. “The problem we had was the concession stands and everything were all shut down, because the crowd had already left, and I had to figure out where to get ice in case we got to that point. When I won at 16 cars, I told my parents we had to find some ice because I potentially had a heads-up race the following round. I sent my mother over to Bo Butner’s pit and we grabbed a couple bags of ice,” he goes on to share.
“Once I saw Matt win his semifinal in front of us, I knew we were going to have another heads-up race if I won. After that round, we already had a plan and had even more ice at our disposal,” he continues.
For his semifinal match, Williams pulled 15-pounds of ballast out of the Camaro, circulated chilled water through the block and heads, and laid bags of ice over the intake manifold. For the final, knowing a U.S. Nationals crown was on the line, he removed 3/4 of a quart of oil out of the engine, took five additional pounds of weight out of the rear of the car, iced the intake down with a combination of dry ice and regular ice, raised the tire pressure 2-pounds, and upped the launch chip 200 RPM. Go big or go home.
“When I was rolling into the water I looked down and the engine temperature was at 42-degrees, so it was pretty chilly,” Williams says.
Williams had been in this position before and understood the pressure — at the NHRA Cajun SportsNationals in Louisiana in 2014, he was victorious in a rare heads-up final round, which he also won on a holeshot.
“I thought I might be able to get within .06 or .07-seconds of him [Antrobius], based on how we’d both run on Thursday, but I still believed he had me outrun. I think if he’d had a little more time to better chill his engine before the final, he’d have run a little better. When we staged, he got on the two-step before I was even staged, and I think he may have either flinched or the car moved as the tree was coming down and it messed him up,” Williams says.
In the end, it took not only all of Austin’s mechanical efforts, but his driving prowess on the Christmas tree to get the job done.
“When I left I thought I was about .020 on the tree — I knew I had moved on him at the line, but I had no idea it was a perfect light,” he shares.
“I couldn’t believe we won. Everyone dreams of winning Indy, but having to win Indy with a heads-up race and a perfect light, it was just the perfect story,” Williams says of his U.S. Nationals triumph. “I didn’t have a ton of hope going into the final because I knew he could outrun me, and as long as he did his job, he’d have me beat. But I felt if we could catch a break there we’d have a chance.”