Line Crosses Line First, by 5 Thousandths, to win BIR

John Gilbert

Jason Line, near lane, got off to an even start in Sunday’s Pro Stock final against  Erica Enders, and Line won by .005 seconds. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Jason Line, near lane, got off to an even start in Sunday’s Pro Stock final against Erica Enders, and Line won by .005 seconds. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Leah Pritchett, near lane, thundered to her second BIR Top Fuel victory in three  years. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Leah Pritchett, near lane, thundered to her second BIR Top Fuel victory in three years. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Ron Capps, an adopted Minnesotan, demonstrated a “hole shot” in the far lane to  beat Tommy Johnson Jr. for his sixth BIT Funny Car title. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Ron Capps, an adopted Minnesotan, demonstrated a “hole shot” in the far lane to beat Tommy Johnson Jr. for his sixth BIT Funny Car title. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Brainerd, MN

Jason Line was having the perfect day to conclude the perfect weekend at BIR Sunday. It seemed as tho-ugh the whole town of Wright. Minnesota, had driven an hour West on Hwy. 210 to watch their hometown hero in action, as they always do. It’s fast and exciting, and this time Line was at his best, round after round. He had been fastest qualifier in all four Pro Stock qualifying sessions Friday and Saturday, and with as competitive a field as 16 race cars can make the Pro Stock bracket on Sunday, Line knocked off three opponents in succession to reach the final round.

But his opponent in the final was Erica Enders, whose Camaro had been running as flawlessly as Line’s Camaro. The difference between the two was measured in thousandths of a second. In the second round, for example, they won against other foes in the identical quarter-mile sprint timing of 6.583 seconds. They are so close that the margin of victory most likely would depend on who was quicker at the starting lights. And that is a major trick in drag racing, where racers cut the starting light as close as possible but can’t leave too soon or they draw a red light and are disqualified. Enders is the best there is at timing the starting lights, and Line knows it.

This time, however, the day belonged to Jason Line. “My goal was not to leave first, but to be close, because she’s quicker than I am,” Line said. “My goal was to be close to her at the start, and try to outrun her.”

Line pulled it off. Enders had a superb reaction time of .014 seconds, her best of a day when her reaction times were .041, .015, .029 and .014. Line, on the other hand, had clocked .056, .043, and .071to get to the final, but under pressure, Line cut a .016-second reaction time — by far his best of the three days. The two Camaros thundered down the quarter-mile side by side. “I could see her car next to me,” Line said. “And I can’t say what I said in the car…It was super close, and when the win light came on in my lane, I was a little surprised. I thought she had won!”

In the final, the finishing lights told the story. Line had clocked an elapsed time of 6.597 at 209.10 miles per hour, while Enders had a 6.604 at 207.59 mph. When shown in stop action at the finish line, Line won by 0.005 seconds — about 4 inches. It was the 49th Pro Stock triumph in Line’s NHRA career, and he has 52 runner-up finishes. Enders has won 23 with 25 runner-ups, and two of her victories have come at BIR, once against Line in the final.

In Funny Car, popular favorite John Force was beaten in the first round, but Ron Capps went on to win the upset-filled segment, and he is sort of an adopted Minnesotan. He beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final, clocking a 3.946-second blast of supercharged power at 324.28 mph, to Johnson’s 3.947  at 319.98. And Leah Pritchett won Top Fuel, with a 3.732-second pass at 321.04 mph to beat Mike Salinas’s 4.066 and 235.72.

Capps, who is from Carlsbad, Calif., said, “I love it here, it’s the only place we race where I come back from the finish line and hear people yell ‘Ronnie.’ Nobody else calls me Ronnie. I wish we had more than one race here, because this is meh sixth win here. My wife’s family is all from Minnesota, and after we leave here we’re going to a family reunion in Lindstrom (Mn.). So for Jason Line to win here on his home track, it’s so cool.”

It was the 64th victory for Capps and he stands fourth in points behind Robert Hight, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Force. In Top Fuel, meanwhile, Leah Pritchett’s victory was her second at BIR, having won two years ago, and her 14th of her career. “I love coming to this track,” Pritchett said. “This place is set up for fast, and when you win here, you are the people’s champ.”

The announcer on the NHRA’s national television broadcast caught Jason as soon as he got out of his car at the finish line and Jason told him it was very emotional to win for the first time at BIR with his wife, two kids, and his dad, Leonard, and mom, Maxine, and his two brothers and a sister — all of whom race stock eliminator cars prepared by Line Engineering in Wright. “But there won’d be any tears, there’s no crying in racing,” Line said. The announcer heckled him, saying that he was such a tough guy, “you beat a girl in the finals.”

Jason Line after winning his first  trophy at his home track.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
Jason Line after winning his first trophy at his home track. Photo credit: John Gilbert
 Leah Pritchett’s Top Fuel victory  proves gender equality has arrived in  racing. Photo credit: John Gilbert
 Leah Pritchett’s Top Fuel victory proves gender equality has arrived in racing. Photo credit: John Gilbert

That comment would get a real announcer at a real network fired immediately, but Line handled it flawlessly, saying he doesn’t think of Enders as “a girl,” because she’s beaten him many times and she’s better than almost all of the guys. When he got off the air, Enders came up and congratulated him with a huge hug, because she knew how big it was for him to come home and win. The elusive first home victory was almost achieved in 2014, when rain washed out the final round and he had to wait for the Labor Day U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis to win the final. 

The long, slinky Top Fuel Dragsters and the explosively powerful Funny Cars are inevitably the primary attractions at every National Hot Rod Association national event, but at Brainerd International Raceway, they are loud and highly entertaining preliminaries to Northern Minnesota race fans, who come to BIR to cheer on the Summit Racing team’s 1-2 punch in Pro Stock.

And on Sunday, August 18, 2019, their patience paid off, when Jason Line, from Wright, Minnesota, won the Lucas Oil NHRA National championship in Pro Stock — his first time capturing the big trophy on his home track, where he’s been racing since he was a teenager. Line partners with Greg Anderson of Duluth in their KB Racing Summit Racing headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., and the class has gotten extremely competitive, unlike the previous decade, where Anderson won four season championships, three of them before Line joined him, and Line added three more for the team, winning in 2006, 20121, and 2016.

But this has been a tough season for Line, who only reached one final, in the season opener at Pomona, and he hadn’t won a national since last fall at Charlotte. By comparison, Greg Anderson had been dominant, standing second in season points to Bo Butner, coming in. But Anderson’s car was ragged in qualifying and seemed to have lost the rhythm it had for the previous two months. Alex Laughlin beat him in the first race of the day in Pro Stock, and Laughlin stands third in points, but Line took out Laughlin in the second round, then beat Deric Kramer in the semifinals, before beating Enders, a daylong performance that moves Line up to fourth in season points.

But this one will always be special, and it proved you can go home again. “My dad is kind of a numbers guy,” Line said. “He makes a big deal out of me having won at least one each year that I’ve run.”