Our regular readers will probably remember the story from The Sports Report we published last February with two-time NHRA World Champion Anthony Bertozzi. The story has highlighted Bertozzi’s well-known generosity to others and the pleasure he takes in watching his teammates win.
Fast forward to this week’s NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, where Bertozzi showed that one can indeed have his cake (ice cream) and eat it too, because he not only earned a victory. for himself but was also able to share the winner’s circle with his teammates, Joe Santangelo and John Labbous Jr.
Bertozzi almost scored the second double of his career with a victory in Super Stock and a second place in Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers. Meanwhile, Labbous scored in Super Comp and Santangelo won the Stock title. Team Bertozzi finally returned home with three Wally NHRAs and three of the coveted Summit Motorsports Park Custom Ice Cream Scoops, making for a hugely successful weekend.
“I’ve been racing for a long time, and I can honestly say I’ve never had a weekend like this,” said Bertozzi. “I overtook once in Epping, and saw some of my teammates win the same race that I won, but I never took four cars to the races and had all four in the final, then I came away with three wins, which made it a pretty special day.
With victories in the foreground, Bertozzi couldn’t help but think of the one who escaped, the Top Dragster final against Al Kenny. Another world champion, Kenny made things extremely difficult for Bertozzi with a perfect reaction time of .000. The end result was a narrow loss that disrupted an otherwise perfect weekend.
“How about ‘Big Al’ with a triple-oh light?” Then it turns off to pass one. It’s hard to beat, ”said Bertozzi. “He kind of stopped the show when it came to our sweeping chances. It would have been nice to get that fourth win, but you can’t look at what you lost, but rather appreciate what you won.
Although they run in different classes, Bertozzi, Labbous, and Santangelo work as a team, sharing data related to track conditions, weather changes, and whatever else they think is useful to each other. Bertozzi subscribes to the theory that there isn’t too much information, and his teammates are happy to help.
“We stayed in touch throughout the race,” said Bertozzi. “I do a crazy amount of homework and we think before each race to make a plan and see if we agree on what each car will perform. Most of the time, Santangelo is the guinea pig because it’s in stock, and they’re usually the first to come down the trail.
When it comes to his Super Stock Grand Am, Bertozzi usually doesn’t worry about much. He considers it the most consistent car in his fleet of nearly 20 racing cars, and as such, it is his favorite car. Bertozzi also thinks it’s fitting that he earned his historic 25th NHRA career victory behind the wheel of the old JEGS machine.
In the Norwalk final, Bertozzi actually left five thousandths ahead on the green light, but by then the race was over because fellow world champion Ricky Decker had already committed a foul. Bertozzi and Decker were two of seven former or current NHRA World Champions competing in Super Stock at the event, making it one of the most competitive fields of the year.
“It sucked that we had to race the Top Dragster final first because I wanted to come out first in Super Stock,” said Bertozzi. “My Super Stock car is almost always made up, but I thought I was at a disadvantage in the dragster, especially since I was one of the slower cars out there. In the final I was able to Look up and see Al catching up with me really quickly, he was perfect on the Tree and was probably dead, so I don’t think I could have done much.
Santangelo, who won the Norwalk Comp title in 2015 and returned a year later to win in Stock, added a third title when he won the Stock final against Don Belles. Santangelo, driving Bertozzi’s ’69 Camaro, won for the 18th time in his career after a 0.014 second foul on Belles.
As for Labbous, he has been one of the most prominent drivers in the entire NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series this season with multiple wins in Super Comp and Super Gas. 2017 world champion Labbous lost in the third round of Super Gas but traveled the distance in Super Comp, leading one of Bertozzi’s dragsters to a victory over first-time runner-up Alison Prose, who committed a foul. . Labbous now has nine national wins, including a double at the Charlotte event in spring 2017.
Labbous and Santangelo also won the most recent NHRA national event in Epping, although they did so in different classes. Labbous won the Super Gas title and Santangelo was the Super Stock champion. Labbous also shared the feelings of many runners at Norwalk in the final round when he held up a sign reading “4U Kyle,” a reference to longtime runner and promoter Kyle Seipel, who died on June 21 as a result of a battle against cancer. His loss was felt by almost everyone, including his longtime friend Bertozzi.
“I like to think Kyle played a big part in this win,” Bertozzi said. “When we got here we all said we had to win one for Kyle, and we got three. I think he would have been proud. I felt like he was talking to me every turn. In the Top Dragster finale, I could hear his voice telling me what a fool [expletive] I am.
“It reminds me of when Labbous was getting closer to the Super Gas championship [in 2017]. Kyle was on the phone saying, ‘This is not an elementary school. This is your final exam. Get your [expletive] get out of your ass and go finish it. He had a great way to motivate people. I would give anything to have a recording of this call. Without Kyle’s passing, it would have been an even bigger celebration. It still hurts, but I think it meant a lot to get three wins for him.