The road to a championship is often paved with unexpected turns and tricky matchups.
Sometimes you find yourself matched up against a new racer you know little about, other times it is a former champion standing in your way. But what happens when you have to face someone a little closer in your life? Someone, say, you like to share your personal time with away from the racetrack? And what happens when that matchup comes in the semifinals of a race that determines a championship?
Ah, the dilemmas.
That is exactly the situation young Kevin Brannon found himself in during the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions presented by AMSOIL earlier this year when he matched up against his girlfriend, Ivey Hutto, in the semifinals of the IHRA’s championship competition.
While not the most ideal of situations, Brannon put the relationship aside for seven seconds and bested Hutto to advance to the championship round. Once there, he defeated Chris Cadle in the deciding round to win the 2014 IHRA Top Dragster World Championship at the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals at Memphis International Raceway.
“I told her good luck and whoever wins it, earned it,” Brannon said. “This was the fourth time we have had to run each other this year and we discussed that if it ever came down to the two of us, we don’t take it easy on each other.”
In that semifinal matchup, Brannon and Hutto were nearly identical on the tree – a .003 for Brannon to Hutto’s .007 – as Brannon put together a 6.985-second lap on a 6.97 dial at 183.00 mph to get around Hutto’s 7.098 on a 7.08 at 186.20 mph. So what was the discussion prior to their race? “Between rounds I tried to keep the talk as short and simple as I could,” Brannon said with a laugh.
Once past Hutto, Brannon found himself matched up with Division 3 champion Chris Cadle in the championship-deciding round. Once again Brannon was spot-on on the tree, posting a perfect .000 reaction time paired with a 6.964 on a 6.97 at 184.47 mph to take the win. Cadle had a .010 on the tree and ran a 7.527 on a 7.55 at 173.41 mph in the runner-up effort.
Summit Tournament of Champions Top Dragster Final: Chris Cadle (near) vs. Kevin Brannon
“This was definitely different for me. There was a lot of pressure, but once you put a helmet on, you just try to focus and do what I know I needed to do,” Brannon said. “I knew Chris (Cadle) was good, I have had to run him a time or two, so I know he is a good driver. So going into the final, I knew I had to step it up, so I tried to get on it as hard as I could.”
With the fastest car all weekend long, Brannon put together four solid rounds on championship Sunday to take the win. In addition to his victories over Cadle and Hutto, Brannon also recorded wins over Clayton Roberts and Jack Trussell to reach the final. In his four elimination rounds, Brannon had reaction times of .004, .007, .003 and .000 on his way to his first championship.
“The car was pretty flawless all weekend. We had the fastest car there and it ran the numbers almost all weekend,” Brannon said. “It was definitely working good, all I had to do was turn it loose.”
Runner-up Chris Cadle had wins over Chad Traylor, Marty Dabney and David Johns on his way to the final.
On the season, Brannon had three wins at Carolina Dragway and twice at London Dragway en route to the Division 2 championship. Hutto finished third in the division, facing Brannon four times during the season.
“It was definitely a good year for me. We won three races, which is pretty amazing considering we only ran six,” Brannon said. “We did well all over the place, won some big money bracket races, but this was my first win with the IHRA. I work at PAR Race Engines and my boss is a four-time Quick Rod World Champion. To say that I am a world champ like he is, that means a lot.”
But most importantly, Brannon dedicated his victory in Memphis to his mother, who passed away right before Brannon clinched the division.
“I recently lost my mom and this is definitely for her and for my dad as well,” Brannon said. “There are so many people that help us out. I also want to thank PAR Race Engines, Paul’s Transmissions, Maddox Race Cars, Ivey Hutto Golf Carts, FTI Converters, Mickey Thompson Tires and the Lord for all of his blessings.”